When the World’s Greatest Rock & Roll Band Goes Country

A playlist of country-influenced songs by The Rolling Stones

With the recent passing of Charlie Watts, The Rolling Stones have been on my mind lately. When my streaming music provider served up Far Away Eyes the other day, the seed for this post was planted. In addition to rock & roll and blues, the “greatest rock & roll band in the world” has always had a thing for country, so I thought it would be fun to put together a list of country-influenced Stones songs.

“As far as country music was concerned, we used to play country songs, but we’d never record them – or we recorded them but never released them,” Mick Jagger is quoted on Songfacts. “Keith and I had been playing Johnny Cash records and listening to the Everly Brothers – who were SO country – since we were kids. I used to love country music even before I met Keith. I loved George Jones and really fast, s–t-kicking country music, though I didn’t really like the maudlin songs too much.” For all of those among us who aren’t native English speakers like myself, maudlin means “drunk enough to be emotionally silly” and “weakly and effusively sentimental,” as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

All featured tracks in this list were credited to Jagger and Keith Richards, as usual. One could argue most picks aren’t “pure” country and mix in elements from blues and other genres. While I suppose there isn’t much debate that a tune like I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry qualifies as maudlin, it’s really hard to define what is a pure country song in the first place. After all, with all the crossover action that has been going on in country for many years, I would argue the genre has become one of the broadest in music. Should we be shattered? Does it matter?

Dear DoctorBeggars Banquet (1968)

Let’s kick off this list with Dear Doctor from Beggars Banquet. The tune featured Brian Jones on harmonica and slide guitar. Sadly, Beggars Banquet was the last Stones album that appeared during his lifetime. “The country songs, like “Factory Girl” or “Dear Doctor” on Beggars Banquet were really pastiche,” Jagger said. “There’s a sense of humor in country music, anyway, a way of looking at life in a humorous kind of way – and I think we were just acknowledging that element of the music.” The Stones clearly seemed to have fun with Dear Doctor.

Country HonkLet It Bleed (1969)

Country Honk is the country version of Honky Tonk Women. “On Let It Bleed, we put that other version of ‘Honky Tonk Women’ on because that’s how the song was originally written, as a real Hank Williams/Jimmie Rodgers, ’30s country song,” Richards explained, as captured by Songfacts. “And it got turned around to this other song by Mick Taylor, who got into a completely different feel, throwing it off the wall completely.” Wikipedia notes the fiddle was played by Byron Berline in a park, who by his own account had been recommended for the part by Gram Parsons.

Dead FlowersSticky Fingers (1971)

Dead Flowers, the tune every bar band must know how to play, perhaps is the most famous country-influenced song by the Stones. I’ve really come to love it over the years. The guitar fill-ins by Richards and Taylor are among the very best the Stones have ever played, in my humble opinion. Here’s another quote from Jagger Songfacts provides in connection with this tune: “I love country music, but I find it very hard to take it seriously. I also think a lot of country music is sung with the tongue in cheek, so I do it tongue-in-cheek. The harmonic thing is very different from the blues. It doesn’t bend notes in the same way, so I suppose it’s very English, really. Even though it’s been very Americanized, it feels very close to me, to my roots, so to speak.”

Sweet VirginiaExile on Main St. (1972)

Another country-influenced Stones gem is Sweet Virginia, off what many fans regard as the band’s best album, Exile on Main St. Among others, the track features great harmonica and saxophone parts by Jagger and Bobby Keys, respectively. The backing vocalists include Dr. John. “‘Sweet Virginia’ – were held over from Sticky Fingers,” Richards said in 2003, per Songfacts. “It was the same lineup and I’ve always felt those two albums kind of fold into each other… there was not much time between them and I think it was all flying out of the same kind of energy.” Okay, let’s scrape that s–t right off our shoes! 🙂

Far Away EyesSome Girls (1978)

Obviously, I can’t skip the tune that triggered the brilliant idea for this post. In addition to being included on Some Girls, Far Away Eyes became the B-side to the album’s lead single Miss You. Referring to a 1978 interview with Rolling Stone, Songfacts includes the following quote by Jagger: “You know, when you drive through Bakersfield [Calif. – CMM] on a Sunday morning or Sunday evening, all the country music radio stations start broadcasting black gospel services live from LA. And that’s what the song refers to.” During that same interview, Jagger also confirmed that the girl in the song was “a real girl.” Well, that’s a shocker!

The WorstVoodoo Lounge (1994)

Let’s finish this post with The Worst, one of two tunes from Voodoo Lounge Keith Richards sang. Among others, the track features Chuck Leavell on piano and fiddle and flute player Frankie Gavin, a member of De Danaan, a traditional folk group from Ireland where the Stones recorded the album. “It’s funny, but a lot of these songs were written in kitchens,” said Richards in 1994, according to Songfacts. “That one I wrote in the kitchen in Barbados, and I thought, That’s a pretty melody, but what to do with it, I really didn’t know. I guess that’s where Ireland comes in, because Ireland has its own traditional music, and it’s not country music as such, but it’s the roots of it, you know? It’s that Irish feel.” Pirate laughter – okay, I made that up, but I could just picture him do it!

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

The Who Played by Others

When it comes to popular bands whose songs have widely been covered by other artists, The Beatles are always the first who come to mind, and it’s no wonder. Fellow blogger Hans from Slicethelife has been doing a long-running series “Under the Covers” (see one recent installment here) and I believe has yet to find a Fab Four tune that hasn’t been covered by somebody else. While in my completely unbiased opinion, The Beatles are the best band that ever existed [ 🙂 ], obviously, there are many other outstanding groups with terrific songs. One of my favorites in this context are The Who. Following is a playlist featuring renditions of some of their songs.

David Bowie/I Can’t Explain

I’m doing this list chronologically by date when The Who first released the featured tune. First up is David Bowie’s cover of I Can’t Explain, off his seventh studio album Pin Ups from October 1973. Like all other tracks in this post, I Can’t Explain was written by Pete Townshend. It was the first single that appeared under the name of The Who in December 1964. Interestingly, the song came out in the U.S. before it did in the U.K. where it was released in January 1965. I’ve always loved it. After listening to Bowie’s slower take twice, I find it intriguing as well, especially the neat saxophone work that was largely done by Bowie himself!

Green Day/My Generation

One of favorite early tunes by The Who is My Generation, the title track of their debut album from December 1965. I still get amazed by John Entwistle’s bass solo, even though I’ve listened to it countless times. With its aggressive sound, My Generation really is an early punk song. So perhaps it was only fitting that Green Day included a cover on their sophomore studio album Kerplunk that appeared in December 1991 – not bad!

Vanilla Fudge/I Can See For Miles

I Can See For Miles became the only single from The Who’s third studio album The Who Sell Out – love that tune! Released in September and October 1967 in the U.S. and UK, respectively, it reached no. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 and no. 10 in the UK. Yet Townshend was disappointed, feeling it should have been a no. 1 – oh, well! Regardless, it’s one of the gems in The Who’s catalog. Here’s a nice funky take by Vanilla Fudge from their most recent 2015 studio album Spirit of ’67. Apparently, the band is still around, with three of its original four members remaining in the current line-up.

Elton John/Pinball Wizard

Elton John’s version of Pinball Wizard is a great illustration of how the piano man could rock. Since I heard it first many years ago, I’ve always thought this is the length the original should have had instead of what feels like a premature ending where the tune suddenly fades out. Pinball Wizard first appeared in March 1969 as the lead single of The Who’s fourth studio album Tommy released in May that year. John’s rendition became part of the soundtrack of the rock opera’s 1975 film adaptation. It also appeared separately as a single, climbing to no. 7 in the UK on the Official Singles Chart.

Rush/The Seeker

In March 1970, The Who released The Seeker as a non-album single. I dig this tune that was subsequently included on their 1971 compilation Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy. While I’m not much into Rush, the Canadian rockers recorded a neat version on an EP they released in June 2004 titled Feedback. Check it out, this nicely rocks!

The Dear Abbeys/Baba O’Riley

Baba O’Riley is the majestic opener of The Who’s fifth studio album Who’s Next, which just passed its August 14 50th anniversary release and hasn’t lost any of its magic. Here’s an incredible a cappella version by The Dear Abbeys, an all-male acapella group who according to their website were formed in February 1992 at Boston University and “have gained a reputation in the a cappella community for musical precision, complex and unique arrangements and an energetic style of live performance that’s difficult to match.” Well, they certainly passed my audition with Baba O’Riley, which was included on an album from January 2007. It sounds pretty neat!

The Natural Mystics/Love Reign O’er Me

This groovy version of Love Reign O’er Me was done by The Natural Mystics, a reggae band who recorded the song for a self-titled album released in June 2013. Originally, it’s the closer of Quadrophenia, The Who’s mighty sixth studio album from October 1973. It also became the second single off that record released the day after the album had come out.

Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’/Squeeze Box

In May 2017, Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ issued a great collaboration album titled TajMo. It includes this fun Cajun version of Squeeze Box, a tune The Who recorded for The Who by Numbers, their seventh studio album from October 1975. Listening to Taj Mahal’s deep vocals in the chorus, one can literally picture a swamp alligator – really dig that rendition!

The Binghamton Crosbys/You Better You Bet

How about some more a cappella action? Ask and you shall receive. Meet The Binghamton Crosbys, aka The Crosbys, a group formed in 1983 at Binghamton University in Binghamton, N.Y. Wikipedia lists 13 albums released between 1987 and 2016. Their 2006 record Roadtrip to Munzville includes this fun rendition of You Better You Bet. The Who recorded this tune as the opener of their ninth studio album Face Dances that came out in March 1981. The song was also released separately as the record’s lead single, giving The Who their first top 10 hit in the UK (no. 9) since 1976 when a reissued single of Substitute reached no. 7. In the U.S., You Better You Bet topped Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart and climbed to no. 18 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Casey Wickstrom/Eminence Front

Let’s do one more: Eminence Front, a track from The Who’s 10th studio album It’s Hard that appeared in September 1982. Unlike for most other songs in this list, I found numerous covers of the tune. I was particularly drawn to this bluesy take by Casey Wickstrom, a young artist from California. According to his website, he is a multi-instrumentalist and live looping artist, vocalist, music producer, writer, and film editor. He sings and plays guitar, lap slide guitar, cigar box guitar, bass, harmonica, and other instruments. Wickstrom released Eminence Front as a single in June 2019.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Dear Abbeys website; Casey Wickstrom website; YouTube

It’s Only A Cover But I Like It

The Rolling Stones done by other artists

Cover versions of songs can be intriguing and sometimes even better than the originals. An example of the latter I always come back to is Joe Cocker’s incredible rendition of With a Little Help From My Friends. There are also other great covers of Beatles tunes. Fellow blogger Hanspostcard is currently dedicating an entire series to this topic, titled Under The Covers: Other Artists Covering Beatles Songs. In part, it was his great series that inspired the idea for this post. Since I already wrote about covers of Fab Four tunes, I decided to focus on another of my all time favorite bands: The Rolling Stones.

While I figured it shouldn’t be very difficult to find renditions of Stones tunes by other artists, I only knew a handful of covers and wasn’t sure what else I would find. It turned out that seven of the 10 covers I ended up selecting for this post were new to me. My picks span the Stones’ music from the ’60s and early ’70s, which is I generally feel is their best period. All tunes were written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Let’s get to it.

The Grass Roots/Tell Me

Kicking it off are The Grass Roots, an American rock band that has been around since 1965. Their debut studio album Where Were You When I Needed You from October 1966 featured a few covers including Tell Me, a tune that first appeared on The Rolling Stones’ eponymous debut album in the UK released in April 1964. The U.S. version, which had a slightly different track list, appeared six weeks later.

Mekons/Heart of Stone

In 1988, British post punk rock band Mekons released their seventh studio album So Good It Hurts. It included this nice rendition of Heart of Stone, a Stones tune that first came out in December 1964 as a U.S. single. It also was included on the U.S. and U.K. albums The Rolling Stones, Now! (February 1965) and Out of Our Heads (September 1965), respectively.

The Who/The Last Time

After Mick Jagger and Keith Richards had been busted and imprisoned on drug charges in 1967, their friends The Who went to the studio to record a single intended to help them make bail: The Last Time, backed by Under My Thumb. Even though everything was done in a great rush, by the time the single hit the stores, the Glimmer Twins already had been released. Since John Entwistle was away on his honeymoon, he gave his okay to proceed without him. Pete Townshend ended up overdubbing the bass parts. Initially, The Last Time was the first original The Rolling Stones song released as a single in the UK in February 1965, yielding their third no. 1 hit on the Singles Chart. It came out in the U.S. two weeks later, reaching no. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Alexis Korner/Get Off Of My Cloud

Alexis Korner, who has rightfully been called “a founding father of British blues,” had a major influence on the British music scene in the 1960s. His band Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated was a breeding ground for UK musicians who at various times included artists like Jack Bruce, Graham Bond, Ginger Baker, Cyril Davies, as well as then-future Rolling Stones members Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts. Get Off Of My Cloud became the title track of Korner’s 1975 studio album. Originally, the Stones released the song as the follow-on single to (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction in September 1965, matching that tune’s previous chart-topping success in the U.S., UK and Germany. Get Off Of My Cloud was also included on the Stones’ fifth U.S. album December’s Children (And Everybody’s) released in December that year.

Melanie/Ruby Tuesday

Ruby Tuesday has been among my favorite Stones tunes for a long time. I also think the cover by American singer-songwriter Melanie is among the most compelling renditions of Stones songs. Melanie’s great version first appeared on her third studio album Candles in the Rain from April 1970 and was also released as a single in December of the same year. The Stones recorded the original for their 1967 studio album Between the Buttons that appeared in January and February that year in the UK and U.S., respectively. The song also became the album’s lead single and another no. 1 hit in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. In the UK, it climbed to no. 3 on the Singles Chart.

Molly Tuttle/She’s a Rainbow

While I’ve featured Molly Tuttle’s version of She’s a Rainbow before, I simply couldn’t resist including it in this post as well. Similar to Ruby Tuesday and Melanie, the tune represents both one of my favorite Rolling Stones songs and one of the greatest renditions I know. Tuttle, an incredibly talented acoustic guitarist, included it on her most recent album …but i’d rather be with you, which came out in August 2020. She’s a Rainbow first appeared on Their Satanic Majesties Request, a studio album the Stones put out in December 1967. Two weeks after its release, it also became the record’s second single.

Bettye LaVette/Salt of the Earth

Here’s another really cool cover: Salt of the Earth by American vocalist Bettye LaVette, who has touched many genres, including soul, blues, rock & roll, funk, gospel and country. She recorded Salt of the Earth for an album titled Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook and released in May 2010. The soul and gospel vibe is perfect for this tune, which the Stones included on their Beggars Banquet album from December 1968.

Larry McCray/Midnight Rambler

Larry McCray is an American blues guitarist and singer, who has been active since the ’80s and released his debut album Ambition in 1990. I had not heard of him before. His cover of Midnight Rambler is included on a Stones tribute album from August 2002, which is called All Blues’d Up: Songs of The Rolling Stones. I haven’t listened to the rest of the album yet, but based on the track list and other participating artists, it surely looks intriguing. The Stones recorded Midnight Rambler for their studio album Let It Bleed that came out in December 1969. According to Wikipedia, Keith Richards has called it “the quintessential Jagger-Richards song.”

Santana/Can’t You Hear Me Knocking (feat. Scott Weiland)

Now we’ve come to Can’t You Hear Me Knocking, a gem from what I consider to be the best Stones album: Sticky Fingers released in April 1971. Carlos Santana covered the tune on his 21st studio album Guitar Heaven from September 2010, a compilation of classic rock covers featuring many guest vocalists: In this case, Scott Weiland, former lead vocalist of Stone Temple Pilots. Weiland who had struggled with addiction and other health issues for many years died in December 2015 from a drug overdose.

The Pointer Sisters/Happy

I’d like to wrap up this post on a happy note, literally, with a great rendition of Happy by The Pointer Sisters. It was included on their sixth studio album Priority, which came out in September 1979 and was their second foray into rock. Their first was predecessor Energy from November 1978, which among others featured one of their biggest hits: Fire, the Bruce Springsteen tune. Originally, Happy appeared on what many Stones fans consider the band’s best album: Exile on Main St. from May 1972. Happy, backed by All Down the Line, also became the record’s second single in July 1972.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Here Comes the Spring

While mornings in Central New Jersey are still on the chilly side, it’s slowly starting to feel like spring. Recently, when I stepped out for a morning walk prior to starting home office, I could hear birds singing. And just yesterday, I had the same experience again, so chances are the birds are real and not just in my head! Hoping this won’t jinx the start of the milder season, I’ve decided to put together this little playlist featuring songs that are about spring, at least in a broader sense.

The Beatles/Here Comes the Sun

I can hardly think of a more perfect tune to mark the upcoming season than Here Comes the Sun. The song, which appeared on The Beatles’ real final album Abbey Road from September 1969, remains one of my favorite George Harrison tunes.

Electric Light Orchestra/Mr. Blue Sky

Admittedly, this song doesn’t mention spring anywhere (neither does Here Comes the Sun), but I feel the lines Mr. Blue Sky/Please tell us why/You had to hide away for so long? can be interpreted as a reference to winter having passed. Written by Jeff Lynne, the tune is included on Electric Light Orchestra’s seventh studio album Out of the Blue released in October 1977. It also became one of the record’s five singles and was one of ELO’s higher charting songs in the UK, climbing to no. 6 on the Official Singles Chart.

Johnny Nash/I Can See Clearly Now

This is one of the best picker-uppers I know. Again, the tune could be about sunshine following the rain in pretty much any season. But heck, let’s not over-complicate things here! I Can See Clearly Now was written by Johnny Nash as the title track of his 1972 studio album. The tune was also released as a single and became Nash’s biggest hit topping the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S., as well as the charts in Canada and South Africa. It’s been covered by Jamaican reggae singer Jimmy Cliff and many other artists. There’s just something about Nash’s soft vocals in that tune that always puts me at ease.

Judy Collins/So Early, Early in the Spring

While I just cleverly noted there’s no reason to overthink things, you still may find it a bit peculiar that up this point none of the featured songs in this post have the word “spring” in the title or the lyrics. Okay, I shall relent and offer you So Early, Early in the Spring by Judy Collins, a pretty tune with a nice Joni Mitchell vibe. Collins included this traditional on her 1977 compilation So Early in the Spring… The First 15 Years. BTW, now 81 years old, the American folk singer is still active, some 62 years into her career. According to her website, Collins performed two online concerts in New York two weeks ago – incredible!

Indigo Girls/Southland in the Springtime

Without striving to be a spring song over-achiever, here’s another lovely tune that clearly names the season: Southland in the Springtime written by Emily Saliers, who together with Amy Ray makes up American folk rock duo Indigo Girls. This is a track from their third studio album Nomads Indians Saints that came out in September 1990. Really like this!

The Flaming Lips/Can’t Stop the Spring

Let’s wrap up this set of spring tunes with a rocker. And, yes, it’s yet another track that has “spring” in the title: Can’t Stop the Spring by The Flaming Lips. While I would put this tune in the weirdly catchy department, it’s got a good motto to me. Can’t Stop the Spring, credited to the entire band, is from their sophomore album Oh My Gawd!!! released in January 1987. Formed in Oklahoma City in 1983, The Flaming Lips are still around. Last September, I featured a tune from their most recent album American Head in a Best of What’s New installment.

Sources: Google; Wikipedia; Judy Collins website; YouTube

Space, the Final Frontier

Yesterday’s successful landing of NASA’s robotic explorer Perseverance on Mars once again reminds us of humankind’s fascination with distant planets and what’s out there beyond our galaxy. Not surprisingly, many music artists have embraced the theme of space in their songs. The first who always comes to my mind in this context is David Bowie, who repeatedly wrote about the topic in tunes like Space Oddity, Starman, Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes. There are plenty of additional examples. This playlist features some of these songs, ordered according to their release date.

The Byrds/Mr. Spaceman

While birds cannot fly in space, this didn’t prevent The Byrds from recording this happy-sounding tale about a kid who wakes up from the light of a flying saucer and cheerfully asks the ETs for a space ride. Mr. Spaceman, written by Roger McGuinn, appeared on the band’s third studio album Fifth Dimension from June 1966.

Pink Floyd/Astrodomine

This Syd Barrett tune, an early example of space rock, was the opener of Pink Floyd’s debut studio album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Released in August 1967, this early phase Floyd gem also featured another track in the same genre: Interstellar Overdrive. I decided to go with the shorter tune! 🙂

The Rolling Stones/2000 Light Years From Home

2000 Light Years from Home is a song from Their Satanic Majesties Request, a lovely psychedelic album by The Rolling Stones, which appeared only a few months after Floyd’s debut in December 1967. Co-written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the tune also became the B-side to the American single She’s a Rainbow that was released in November of the same year. Charmingly weird! 🙂

Steve Miller Band/Space Cowboy

Listening to Space Cowboy by Steve Miller Band was the tune that inspired this post, not the Mars rover, though I guess the timing worked out nicely. Co-written by Steve Miller and the band’s keyboarder at the time Ben Sidrin, the song was included on their third studio album Brave New World that came out in June 1969. The vibe of the main riff is a bit reminiscent of Peter Gunn, the theme music for the American detective TV show of the same name, composed by Henry Mancini in 1958. In 1979, Emerson, Lake & Palmer popularized that theme on their live album Emerson, Lake and Palmer in Concert.

Deep Purple/Space Truckin’

Time to go for some Space Truckin’ with Deep Purple. This track is the closer of the band’s sixth studio album Machine Head from March 1972, which to me remains their Mount Rushmore to this day. Like all remaining tracks on the record, Space Truckin’ was credited to all members of the band: Ritchie Blackmore (guitar), Ian Gillan (vocals, harmonica), Jon Lord (keyboards), Roger Glover (bass) and Ian Paice (drums, percussion).

Elton John/Rocket Man

One of my all-time favorites by Elton John happens to be related to space as well: Rocket Man, from his fifth studio album Honky Château that came out in May 1972. As usual, Sir Elton composed the music while Bernie Taupin provided the lyrics. Honky Château became John’s first no. 1 record in the U.S. He was literally flying on top of the word – six additional no. 1 albums in America would follow in a row!

David Bowie/Starman

I guess 1972 was a year, during which space themes were particularly popular in rock and pop music. In June 1972, only one and three months after Honky Château and Machine Head, respectively, David Bowie released his fifth studio album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. I have to say I tend to like him best during his glam rock period, and Ziggy Stardust is my favorite Bowie album. Like all except for one tune, Starman was written by Bowie.

Stevie Wonder/Saturn

Even soul great Stevie Wonder got into the “space business.” Saturn, co-written by Michael Sembello and Wonder, became a bonus track to Songs in the Key of Life, his magnum opus from September 1976.

The Police/Walking on the Moon

The year was 1979 when The Police released their sophomore album Reggatta de Blanc in October. Walking on the Moon, written by Sting, is the first track on the B-side. Yes, this was still pre-CDs, not to mention music streaming! I’ve always liked the reggae vibe of this tune.

R.E.M./Man on the Moon

Let’s wrap up this collection of space-themed songs with Man on the Moon by R.E.M. The tune, a tribute to American comedian and performer Andy Kaufman, was credited to the entire band: Michael Stipe (lead vocals), Peter Buck (guitar, mandolin, bass), Mike Mills (bass, keyboards, accordion, backing vocals) and Bill Berry (drums, percussion, keyboards, melodica, bass, backing vocals). It was recorded for R.E.M.’s eighth studio album Automatic for the People from October 1992. The album became their second major international success after Out of Time that had been released in March 1991.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

My Playlist: The Black Crowes

The recent appearance of the previously unreleased Charming Mess by The Black Crowes, which I included in my latest Best of What’s New installment, reminded me of this great band. While I wouldn’t call myself an outright fan, I’ve always enjoyed their songs, especially their ’70s style blues rockers. This triggered the idea to put together a career-spanning post about their music.

Chris Robinson (lead vocals, guitar) and his younger brother Rich Robinson (lead guitar) formed the band in Marietta, Ga. in 1984 while they were still in high school. Initially called Mr. Crowe’s Garden after the children’s book Johnny Crowe’s Garden by Leonard Leslie Brookes, they were influenced by R.E.M., classic southern rock and ’60s psychedelic pop before embracing ’70s style blues rock.

In 1987, the band recorded their first demos at A&M Records. Two years later, they met A&R executive George Drakoulias, who signed them at Def American Recordings (now American Recordings), the label founded by Rick Rubin. Apparently, Drakoulias had an important influence, turning the band’s attention to The Faces and Humble Pie, and encouraging them to cover Rolling Stones tunes.

 Rich and Chris Robinson talk about their Black Crowes reunion
Rich Robinson (left) and Chris Robinson

By the time the band released their debut album Shake Your Money Maker in February 1990, they had changed their name to The Black Crowes. In addition to the Robinson brothers, the group included Jeff Cease (guitar), Johnny Colt (bass) and Steve Gorman (drums). Their line-up would frequently change over the years, with the Robinson brothers as the only constant members.

After releasing five more studio and two live albums between 1992 and 2001, The Black Crowes went on hiatus, and the Robinson brothers recorded solo albums. In early 2005, the brothers reassembled the group with a new line-up. Two studio and several live and compilation albums followed, together with more line-up changes before The Black Crowes came to an end for the second time in January 2015. Apparently, it was due to differences between the brothers regarding ownership of the band – in other words, a typical rock & roll story!

The current chapter of The Black Crowes started in late 2019 when the Robinson brothers during an interview with Howard Stern revealed they had overcome their disagreements and were planning to revive the band for a 2020 tour to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Shake Your Money Maker album. The newly reformed group premiered on November 11, 2019 at The Bowery Ball Room New York City with a backing band comprised of Isiah Mitchell (guitar), Tim Lefebvre (bass), Joel Robinow (keyboards) and Raj Ojha (drums). The tour was stopped by COVID-19 and is now set to resume in Florida in late June.

Time for some music. Let’s kick it off with the excellent Jealous Again from the Shake Your Money Maker debut. Like all originals, the tune was co-written by the Robinson brothers.

Here’s another track from the same album I really dig: She Talks to Angels.

In May 1992, The Black Crowes released their sophomore record The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion. It topped the Billboard 200, fueled by four singles that each hit no. 1 on the Mainstream Rock chart. Here’s one of them: Remedy.

A Conspiracy, off the band’s third album Amorica from November 1994, features some cool wah-wah guitar action and is reminiscent of Led Zeppelin, especially in the beginning.

Three Snakes and One Charm, the fourth album by The Black Crowes, appeared in July 1996. Here’s Blackberry.

On By Your Side from January 1999, The Black Crowes returned to a more straightforward approach from their debut album. According to Wikipedia, it drew praise from many reviewers while some critics dismissed it as a knock off of Rod Stewart and The Rolling Stones – well, I suppose you can’t make everybody happy. Here’s the dynamic opener Go Faster.

May 2001 saw Lions, the band’s sixth studio release and the last prior to their hiatus. Apple Music calls the Don Was-produced work “the most unusual album in The Black Crowes’ catalog.” Soul Singing, which became the album’s second single, has a soul and gospel touch.

Warpaint, released in March 2008, was the first album by The Black Crowes after they had reemerged from hiatus and their seventh studio effort overall. It became their first top 10 album on the Billboard 200 since their 1992 sophomore release, peaking at no. 5. Here’s Wounded Bird, which also appeared separately as the second single in June of the same year.

This brings me to Before the Frost…Until the Freeze, the eighth and to date most recent studio album by The Black Crowes. It was recorded at The Barn, Levon Helm’s studio in Woodstock, N.Y., before a live audience. Here’s the tasty opener Good Morning Captain.

I’d like to wrap things up with a track from Croweology, a compilation of new acoustic-based recordings of songs from The Black Crowes’ first six studio albums. Hotel Illness initially appeared on their 1992 sophomore release The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; YouTube

My Playlist: Steely Dan

Together with a handful of other bands and artists I’ve dug for many years, I couldn’t think of a better group to dedicate the first playlist of 2021 than to the amazing Steely Dan. While I’ve covered them on previous occasions, this is the first time I’ve put together a career-spanning playlist.

Before getting to some music, as usual, I’d like to provide a bit of background, for which I’m going to borrow from previous posts. The original masterminds behind Steely Dan, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, first met in 1967 as students at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. Fagen was impressed with Becker’s guitar skills. They soon discovered they liked similar music and decided to write songs together. They also started playing together in various local bands.

The seeds for Steely Dan were sown in the summer of 1970, when Fagen and Becker responded to a Village Voice ad by guitarist Denny Dias, looking for a “bassist and keyboard player with jazz chops.” Becker was playing bass at the time and would switch to the electric guitar later. When they met Dias, Becker and Fagen had already written a good amount of original music.

Donald Fagan & Walter Becker
Walter Becker (left) and Donald Fagen

Steely Dan’s first lineup was assembled in December 1971, after Becker, Fagen and Dias had moved to Los Angeles. The additional members included Jeff “Skunk” Baxter (guitar), Jim Hodder (drums) and David Palmer (vocals). Earlier, Gary Katz, a staff producer at ABC Records, had hired Becker and Fagen as staff song writers. It was also Katz who signed the band to the label.

In 1972, Steely Dan’s first single Dallas was released but sold poorly. The debut studio album Can’t Buy a Thrill followed in November that year. The producer was Katz, who also served in that role for each of the band’s following seven studio albums: Countdown To Ecstasy (1973), Pretzel Logic (1974), Katy Lied (1975), The Royal Scam (1976), Aja (1977) and Gaucho (1980).

Steely Dan: The Very Best Of | Music | Entertainment | Express.co.uk
Steely Dan in 1972 (from left): Jeff ‘Skunk’ Baxter, Walter Becker, David Palmer, Denny Dias, Donald Fagen and Jim Hodder

In June 1981, Fagen and Becker disbanded and went on a 20-year recording hiatus. Becker and his family moved to Maui where he became sober from drug use and eventually started working as a record producer. Fagen went on to launch a solo career.

In 1993, Fagen and Becker reunited for an American tour in support of Fagen’s second studio album Kamakiriad, which had appeared in May that year and had been produced by Becker. While Fagen and Becker continued Steely Dan tours, it took until February 2000 before their next new album Two Against Nature appeared. One more album followed: Everything Must Go from June 2003.

UPDATED] Walter Becker Estate Issues Statement Regarding Donald Fagen  Lawsuit
Walter Becker (left) and Donald Fagen

After the release of Fagen’s third solo album Morph the Cat in March 2006, Steely Dan resumed regular touring. At the same time, Becker and Fagan occasionally released solo albums without involvement of the other partner. On September 3, 2017, Becker passed away from esophageal cancer at the age of 67.

At the time of Becker’s death, Donald Fagen said on his Facebook page, “I intend to keep the music we created together alive as long as I can with the Steely Dan band.” And that’s exactly what he has been doing until COVID-19 hit. I was fortunate to see him twice in 2018 and wrote about it here and here. I’m currently scheduled to see him again open air in early July together with Steve Winwood – keeping fingers crossed. Time for some music!

I’d to kick things off with the aforementioned Dallas, Steely Dan’s first single. Like all tracks in this post, the song was co-written by Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. Sung by drummer Jim Hodder, the county-flavored tune was not included on Steely Dan’s debut album but appeared in 1978 on a compilation titled Steely Dan.

Perhaps my favorite early Dan tune is the rocker Reelin’ In the Years, which first appeared on the band’s debut album Can’t Buy a Thrill from November 1972. It also became the album’s second single in March 1973. The song’s kickass guitar solo was played by session musician Elliott Randall, which none other than Jimmy Page called his favorite guitar solo of all time.

Countdown to Ecstasy, Steely Dan’s sophomore release from July 1973, was the band’s first album without vocalist David Palmer that saw Donald Fagen sing lead on every tune. Here’s the album’s second single My Old School. While the record didn’t have a hit and couldn’t match the debut’s chart success, it was well received by critics at the time, and My Old School became a fan favorite.

Pretzel Logic, Dan’s third studio album released in February 1974, was the last to feature the full core lineup of Fagen, Becker, Dias, Baxter and Hodder. It also included contributions from many prominent LA musicians, such as future Toto members David Paich (piano, keyboards) and Jeff Porcaro (drums), then-Poco bassist and vocalist Timothy B. Schmit (backing vocals) who would later join the Eagles, and session bassist Chuck Rainey. Here’s opener Rikki Don’t Lose That Number, which also became the lead single in April 1974.

By the time Steely Dan’s next album Katy Lied came out in March 1975, most of their original members had left. The band essentially became Becker and Fagen who continued to hire top-notch musicians to support their recording sessions. In addition to Paich and Porcaro, the latter included Rick Derringer and Michael McDonald. Katy Lied also became the first Dan album to feature amazing session guitarist Larry Carlton. Here’s Doctor Wu. The alto saxophone solo was played by jazz saxophonist Phil Woods.

Next up: Kid Charlemagne, the lead single from The Royal Scam, Steely Dan’s fifth studio album. Both appeared in May 1976. The funky tune features the above noted Larry Carlton whose guitar solo was ranked #80 in Rolling Stone’s list of The 100 Greatest Guitar Songs in May 2008. I also dig Chuck Rainey’s bass work on that tune.

This brings me to Aja, which to me is Steely Dan’s Mount Rushmore. Released in September 1977, this album is pure perfection. While I could have selected any track, I simply couldn’t ignore my all-time favorite Dan tune: Deacon Blues. Even after having listened to it countless times, I still get excited about this song. I think it represents a perfect blend of jazz, pop and rock, and I love the smooth sound. BTW, Becker played bass on this one. But the real standout are the horns.

Steely Dan’s next album Gaucho from November 1980 proved to be a huge challenge to make, which ultimately resulted in the above breakup in June 1981. Driven by Fagen’s and Becker’s perfectionism, the recording sessions used at least 42 musicians and took more than a year. In January 1980, Becker’s girlfriend Karen Roberta Stanley died of a drug overdose at his home. Her family subsequently brought a $17.5 million lawsuit, charging he had introduced her to drugs. The case was settled out of court. Shortly after Stanley’s death, Becker was hit by a taxi shattering his right leg. During his six-month recovery, he and Fagen collaborated via phone. Here’s the album’s lead track Babylon Sisters.

February 2000 saw the release of Two Against Nature, Fagen’s and Becker’s first new Steely Dan studio album in 20 years since Gaucho. It became one of their most successful albums. In addition to earning a Platinum certification in the U.S., Two Against Nature won four Grammy Awards in 2001, including Album of the Year. Here’s the groovy Cousin Dupree, which won Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.

The last tune I’d like to call out is the title track of Steely Dan’s ninth studio album Everything Must Go, the final with Walter Becker, released in June 2003. I think Apple Music correctly notes the lyrics sound like the song is a permanent sign-off: Guess it’s time for us to book it/Talk about the famous road not taken/In the end we never took it/And if somewhere on the way/We good a few good licks in/No one’s ever gonna know/Cause we’re goin’ out of business/Everything must go.

If Everything Must Go indeed signaled Steely Dan’s final studio album, it wasn’t a total sign-off. Fagen and Becker continued to tour as Steely Dan almost every year thereafter until 2017. Becker’s final performance was on May 27 that year at the Greenwich Town Party in Greenwich, Conn.

Steely Dan have sold more than 40 million albums worldwide. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March 2001. In December 2015, Rolling Stone ranked Steely Dan at No. 15 on its list of 20 Greatest Duos of All Time.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; YouTube

My Playlist: Electric Light Orchestra

If somebody asked me what I thought about the music by Electric Light Orchestra, I’d say ‘weirdly catchy.’ This may not sound exactly positive, but I’ve actually enjoyed their songs for more than four decades. To me, especially during their early stage, ELO oftentimes feel like a combination of The Beatles with a wall of sound on steroids, featuring classical music and other heavy arrangements. While I generally find big production can be a mixed bag, when it comes to ELO, their brilliant execution won me over a long time ago. Plus, in my book it’s pretty cool when a band manages to develop a sound that’s instantly recognizable and different from pretty much any other group on the planet.

Before getting to some music, I’d like to provide a little bit of background. ELO got their start in 1970 in Birmingham, England, when songwriters and multi-instrumentalists Jeff Lynne and Roy Wood got together with drummer Bev Bevan as an offshoot of The Move. Lynne was excited about Wood’s concept to create a group to “pick up where The Beatles left off” by combining rock with classical instruments like violins, string basses and woodwinds. In June 1970, the vision came into focus with 10538 Overture, ELO’s first tune and debut single. This was followed by the band’s first UK studio album The Electric Light Orchestra, which came out in December 1971. In the U.S., it was titled No Answer and released in March 1972.

ELO (from left): Roy Wood, Bev Bevan and Jeff Lynne

After Wood’s departure in July 1972, Lynne became ELO’s sole leader. In March 1973, the band’s sophomore album ELO 2 appeared in the UK (called Electric Light Orchestra II in the U.S.). Ten additional albums followed until the summer of 1986 when Lynne disbanded ELO, though no formal announcement was made at the time. In 1989, Bevan with Lynne’s blessing picked up the pieces and went on as ELO Part II. Bevan left in 1999, and the remaining members of the band continued under the new name The Orchestra, a formation that exists to this day.

In 2001, Lynne reformed ELO and, mostly relying on guest musicians who included George Harrison and Ringo Starr, released the new album Zoom in June that year. The next 13 years saw reissues of ELO’s back catalog and various mini reunions, which included an appearance as Jeff Lynne and Friends at the Children in Need Rocks concert in London in November 2013. The success of that performance led to a gig at BBC Radio 2’s Festival in a Day at London’s Hyde Park in September 2014 as Jeff Lynne’s ELO. Tickets sold out in 15 minutes after BBC Radio 2 had announced the show.

Jeff Lynne’s ELO have since issued two studio albums and conducted various tours. The supporting tour for the most recent album From Out of Nowhere, which had been scheduled to start in October 2020, was canceled due to COVID-19. Currently, there appears to be no word on when Lynne and his band are planning to hit the road again. Time for some music!

Let’s start where it all began. Here’s 10538 Overture, ELO’s first single from June 1972. Written by Lynne, it was also included on their debut album The Electric Light Orchestra (No Answer).

Many artists have covered Chuck Berry’s Roll Over Beethoven. None of these versions come anywhere close to ELO’s cover, which blends elements of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony with Berry’s classic rock & roll tune. It’s completely over the top and it’s just brilliant! I was going to include a clip of the original studio recording from ELO’s sophomore album ELO 2 (Electric Light Orchestra II). Then I remembered Lynne’s performance at the 2017 Rock and Hall of Fame induction and thought it’s just too much fun to ignore. Come on, Beethoven, let’s tell Tchaikovsky the news!

In November 1973, ELO released their third studio album On the Third Day. Here’s kickass rocker Ma-Ma-Ma Belle, featuring Marc Bolan on twin lead guitar – my-my-my! Unlike 10538 Overture and Roll Over Beethoven, which peaked at no. 9 and no. 6 in the UK, respectively, ELO’s third single only made it to No. 22. In the U.S., the first top 10 chart success on the Billboard Hot 100 would come with the next tune.

Can’t Get It Out of My Head was the lead single of ELO’s fourth studio album Eldorado from September 1974. It became the band’s first U.S. hit, climbing to no. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100. Apparently, folks were less fond of the ballad in the UK where it failed to chart altogether.

Starting with their fifth studio album Face the Music, ELO began moving away from large-scale orchestral sound to embrace a more radio friendly pop rock style. It paid off and resulted in a series of well-selling albums. Here’s Mr. Blue Sky from Out of the Blue, ELO’s seventh studio release from October 1977. The double LP became one of their most commercially successful records.

ELO first entered my radar screen with Discovery, their eighth studio album that came out in May 1979 when the disco era was in full swing. I got it on vinyl at the time and still own that copy. The record generated five singles that became hits in numerous countries. The most successful one was Don’t Bring Me Down. The track I’d like to feature is Last Train to London, which was included in a playlist served up earlier today by my streaming music provider. It also triggered the idea for finally doing a dedicated post about ELO.

Ticket to the Moon appeared on ELO’s ninth studio album Time from July 1981. It also was released separately as a single in December.

I’d also like to acknowledge some of ELO’s music after Lynne revived the band. Here’s Alright, the opener to the above mentioned Zoom from June 2001, the first official ELO album since Balance of Power, which had come out in February 1986, five months before Lynne had quietly disbanded ELO.

Let’s do two more. First up: When I Was a Boy, the opening track from Alone in the Universe released in November 2015, the first album appearing as Jeff Lynne’s ELO. The 13th studio album overall in the band’s catalog was well received and peaked at an impressive no. 4 on the Official Albums Chart in the UK where it also scored Platinum certification. In the U.S., Alone in the Universe climbed to no. 2 on the Billboard Top Rock Albums chart.

From Out of Nowhere, which appeared in November 2019, is the most recent studio album by Jeff Lynne’s ELO. Here’s Down Came the Rain featuring nice Beatle-esque harmony vocals. Like on the predecessor, Lynne played most of the instruments and sang all lead and backing vocals.

During their original 13-year recording period, ELO sold more than 50 million records worldwide. Between 1972 and 1986, they scored 27 top 40 tunes on the UK Official Singles Chart and 15 top 20 hits in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. According to Wikipedia, ELO also hold the distinction for being the only band with the most Billboard Hot 100 top 40 hits (20) in U.S. chart history without having had a no. 1 single – who is tracking this kind of stuff? Last but not least, ELO (Roy Wood, Jeff Lynne, Bev Bevan and Richard Tandy) were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

My Playlist: Rockin’ Elton

Elton John and his lyricist Bernie Taupin primarily are known for great pop songs they wrote, especially during John’s most productive period during the first half of the ’70s. Your Song, Rocket Man, Daniel and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road are some that come to mind. Occasionally, they also came up with more rock-oriented tunes. I thought it would be fun to put together a playlist focused on the latter.

Rock and Roll Madonna

Rock and Roll Madonna was released as a non-album single in Britain in June 1970. It didn’t chart. Even though the beginning and the end sound like a live recording, the audience noise was added, a technique John would use again some four years later for Bennie and the Jets, one of his various chart toppers in the U.S. and Canada during the 70s. Rock and Roll Madonna featured Deep Purple bassist Roger Glover.

Crocodile Rock

Crocodile Rock first appeared in October 1972 as the lead single for John’s sixth studio album Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player from January 1973. The tune, which has a late ’50s and early ’60s flair, became John’s first no. 1 single in the U.S. In 1974, a lawsuit alleged John and Taupin had illegally copied the falsetto of Speedy Gonzalez, a song that been popularized by Pat Boone in 1962. The case was settled out of court.

Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting

Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting perhaps is my favorite rocker by Elton John. It appeared on the excellent Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, his seventh studio album from October 1973. It also was released separately in June that year as the lead single. The tune prominently features Scottish rock guitarist Davey Johnstone, a longtime collaborator who had become a full-time member of John’s band for his fifth studio album Honky Château released in May 1972.

The Bitch Is Back

Another nice rocker is The Bitch Is Back – sounds like it could be the title of Stones song. The tune was recorded for John’s eighth studio album Caribou from June 1974. It also became the record’s second single in August of the same year. Dusty Springfield sang backing vocals.

Pinball Wizard (Tommy soundtrack, March 1975)

Obviously, Pinball Wizard isn’t a John-Taupin song, but I just couldn’t leave it out. I almost like this excellent cover better than the original by The Who. When I heard John’s version for the first time, I thought this is how Pete Townshend should have written this rock gem instead of what feels like arbitrarily fading out the song at less than 3 minutes. John’s cover is part of the soundtrack for the 1975 film version of Tommy, in which he also starred, along with numerous other music artists like Eric Clapton, Tina Turner and the members of The Who.

(Gotta Get A) Meal Ticket

Two months after the film version of Tommy had been released, John’s ninth studio album Captain Fantastic and the Dirt Brown Cowboy appeared in May 1975. It features (Gotta Get A) Meal Ticket, another great rock tune.

Grow Some Funk of Your Own

The ’70s were a very productive period for John, especially the first half, during which he released nine albums. Rock of the Westies was John’s second studio record in 1975, which appeared in October that year, only five months after Captain Fantastic and the Dirt Brown Cowboy. Here’s Grow Some Funk of Your Own, for which Davey Johnstone received a co-writing credit. The song was also released separately in January 1976 and became the album’s second single.

I’m Still Standing

I’d like to wrap up this playlist with the only track that’s not from the ’70s: I’m Still Standing, from Too Low for Zero, John’s 17th studio album that appeared in May 1983. Coming on the heels of four less successful records, especially compared to his releases during the first half of the ’70s, Too Low for Zero marked a comeback. It ended up being John’s best-selling album of the ’80s. I did like it at the time and still do. Here’s I’m Still Standing.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

It’s That Time of the Year Again for a Rock Marathon

Next Wednesday morning, right before Thanksgiving, classic rock radio station Q104.3 starts their annual marathon of counting down the “Top 1,043 Classic Rock Songs Of All Time.” The list, which takes a broad definition that goes beyond classic rock in the traditional sense, is based on listener submissions of their top 10 favorite songs.

Playing the entire list from song no. 1,043 all the way down to no. 1 will take from Wednesday, November 25, 9:00 a.m. (EST) until Sunday, November 29, sometime in the evening, usually between 9:00 – 10:00 p.m. On Thanksgiving Day at noon, the countdown is interrupted for Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant.

This year marks the 20th time of Q104.3’s holiday tradition. Each year, Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven has been the eternal no. 1. While the station doesn’t disclose actual vote counts, each year I’ve listened they said Stairway won by a substantial margin.

Rigged voting? I don’t think so. Q104.3 plays plenty of Zep as part of their regular rotation. One of their DJs, Carol Miller, who has been on the air since 1973, is a huge Led Zeppelin fan, and hosts the long running segment Get the Led Out. As such, I think it’s safe to assume many folks who listen to Q104.3 dig Zeppelin. And, honestly, if I could only choose one classic rock song, I also would go with Stairway.

Admittedly, the entire exercise is a bit nerdy but quite appealing to a music nut like myself. BTW, each submission is weighted equally, so the order of the picks doesn’t matter. But think about it, when can you ever hear 1,043 different songs in a row on the radio? Most stations tend to play a limited set of tracks over and over again.

Above is an image of my picks for this year and below are clips of the corresponding tunes. While I still dig all of my picks from last year, this time, I deliberately decided to shake things up and submit an entirely new list. And it doesn’t even include two of my favorite bands of all time, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, not to mention Led Zeppelin. Here are my choices without further explanation, other than these are all songs I dig, though they aren’t necessarily my all-time favorites.

The Jimi Hendrix ExperiencePurple Haze (non-album single, March 1967)

Creedence Clearwater RevivalBorn on the Bayou (Bayou Country, January 1969)

The Allman Brothers BandBlack Hearted Woman (The Allman Brothers Band, November 1969)

The WhoThe Seeker (non-album single, March 1970)

Bruce SpringsteenBobby Jean (Born in the U.S.A., June 1984)

Tom Petty and the HeartbreakersMary Jane’s Last Dance (Greatest Hits, November 1993)

Lenny KravitzRock and Roll Is Dead (Circus, September 1995)

Sheryl CrowIf It Makes You Happy (Sheryl Crow, September 1996)

PretendersHate for Sale (Hate for Sale, July 2020)

AC/DCShot in the Dark (Power Up, November 2020)

Sources: Wikipedia; Q104.3 website; YouTube