My “Shocking” Song Revelations

A “Turntable Talk” contribution

Dave from A Sound Day hosts a fun recurring feature titled Turntable Talk, for which he asks fellow bloggers to share their thoughts on a given topic. I was happy when he recently invited me back to contribute. This time, it was a challenging topic he called “shock rock.”

In his own words: This time around, we’re calling it “Shock Rock.” But wait, there’s a twist – it’s not about Marilyn Manson and his contemporaries…unless our writers want it to be. Rather, it’s more about what some would call “guilty pleasures.” Songs or records that you like that would “shock” most people. Ones that go against the grain of most of what you listen to. I once asked a well-known radio DJ who loved new music, alternative and artsy rock if he had a musical guilty pleasure and he responded that he’d always liked “Moonlight feels Right” by Starbuck… a ’70s piece of laid back yacht rock with a xylophone solo! (Hey, we like it too!) Not his usual fare, but a song that he loves regardless. Maybe the heavy metal types have a soft spot for a bit of late night opera. Or an “all-60s rock” person loves Bruno Mars too. You get the idea.

I really had to think hard about the topic and what I would say that would be reasonably surprising or shocking. Following is what I submitted:

Thanks, Dave, for inviting me back to share my thoughts for another round of “Turntable Talk” – given the topic, hopefully, this won’t be the last time!😊

Since I feel I’ve been pretty transparent about my music taste on my blog and in comments, I really needed to figure out how to tackle this topic. Yes, I’m mostly a ‘60s and ‘70s guy who likes blues, British invasion, classic rock and soul. But on more than one occasion, I’ve also revealed preferences that clearly fall outside my core wheelhouse, which probably have surprised some readers.

For example, I’ve acknowledged I dig a good number of songs by Bon Jovi and Journey, bands I know are not particularly popular among some of my fellow bloggers. Additionally, I’ve admitted I like some disco, a genre that can make many rock fans break out in hives. I’ve also expressed positive sentiments about certain electronic/new age music artists like Jean-Michel Jarre and Klaus Schulze – something you could argue contradicts my general mantra that “good music” should be played with “real” instruments instead of synthesizers.

Given the above, I asked myself the question what I could say that might surprise readers who know my music taste based on my blog. At first, I had contemplated writing about ELO’s 1979 studio album Discovery, which has a bunch of disco/dance-oriented tunes I like. I also considered doing a post on Klaus Schulze’s Timewind, his fifth album from 1975. But based on what I noted at the outset of this post, I don’t think any of these choices would have been particularly revealing.

In the end, I decided to highlight three songs I like by artists who may surprise you. Warning: Some of you may be shocked!

Let’s start with something gentler. In February 1982, British trio Imagination released what would become their biggest hit: Just an Illusion. While it’s not disco, it’s definitely dance music. Wikipedia characterizes the album In the Heat of the Night, on which the tune appeared, as post-disco, funk and soul. And, nope, it’s not an illusion, I think this is a pretty groovy and catchy tune. Are you still with me?

Moving on to my next pick. How many of you would have thought I dig a tune by two French electronic music dudes who performed in robot outfits and concealed their faces with helmets? Yes, it’s Daft Punk, baby! And I’m talking about a song that became an international sensation in 2013. Not only did it top the charts in France, but it also hit no. 1 in Australia, Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Switzerland and the UK. In Sweden and the U.S., it peaked at no. 2. Aptly, it was titled Get Lucky and featured Pharrell Williams on vocals and Nile Rodgers on guitar. Like Just an Illusion, it’s really the groove that won me over. The latter is due to Rodgers’ seductive funky guitar sound. I also like Pharrell’s singing.

Okay, are you ready for one more shocker? Ready or not, here it comes, the one you may find a real stinker that may push you over the edge: Waiting For a Star to Fall, a top 10 hit in the U.S. (no. 5) and the UK (no. 9) in 1988 by Boy Meets Girl. There’s definitely more than one reason why I shouldn’t be fond of this song, including the outfit’s corny name and the lyrics. Waiting for a star to fall/And carry your heart into my arms/That’s where you belong/In my arms, baby, yeah…Not exactly Shakespeare. And yet I can’t deny I find this song pretty catchy. In fact, it’s been stuck in my brain since I remembered it when reflecting on the topic.

BTW, behind Boy Meets Girl are vocalists and songwriters George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam who at the time Waiting For a Star to Fall came out were a married couple. Now isn’t that sweet? But wait, there’s more. They also wrote two no. 1 hits for Whitney Houston: How Will I Know (1985) and I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me) (1987).

So, what’s the main takeaway to all of this? I guess there are two possible answers. Number one: I finally proved my music taste is terrible after all! Number two: Music doesn’t always make sense. Sometimes you like songs, even though they contradict your taste. I would argue that’s a good thing!

– END –

There you have it, my darkest music secrets, the songs I secretly sing in the shower! 🙂

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Leaving On a Jet Plane

Christian’s Music Musings is going on a short hiatus

Happy Thursday! I’m about to embark on a long-planned and previously postponed trip to Germany to finally see some family and friends there after more than 2.5 years. Instead of going nuts with pre-writing and scheduling posts, I’ve decided to take a short hiatus.

My plan is to resume blogging on August 13. In the meantime, I’ll probably keep an occasional eye on posts from fellow bloggers. You may also see my two cents here and there.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to thank my fellow bloggers and other visitors for reading the blog and commenting on posts. Not only do I feel I learn a lot about music in the process, but I also enjoy the engagement.

For now, I’m leaving you with a Spotify playlist of songs that are related to travel and holidays, at least in a broader sense. It’s a bit of a hodgepodge, and I decided to have some fun with it and take some liberties. But unlike the lyrics of the first tune, I know I’ll be back again. See y’all then! 🙂

Sources: Spotify

A Music Cover I Like

A “Turntable Talk” Contribution

This is another contribution for “Turntable Talk“, a feature hosted by fellow blogger Dave at A Sound Day.

When Dave recently reached out to introduce the new topic for this round of “Turntable Talk,” I didn’t hesitate one minute to participate again. Thanks, Dave, for having me back and your continued efforts to host this fun series!

When it comes to music, I think it’s fair to say we generally like to focus most of our attention on original tracks. That’s certainly the case for me. I always like to explore new songs, especially if they are written by an artist or a band I dig. But a good cover can also get my attention.

What’s a good cover? I think there’s no standard definition here. However, what it doesn’t mean, at least in my opinion, is that a cover has to be a faithful rendition of the original. In fact, one could argue what’s the point of covering a song when it exactly sounds like the original. As such, I tend to find it more intriguing when an artist or a band take some liberties and put their own spin on a song. In this case I prefer to use the term remake rather than cover.

There are some excellent remakes. My all-time favorite is Joe Cocker’s version of With a Little Help From My Friends. Two other terrific remakes that come to mind are Love Hurts by Nazareth and Proud Mary by Ike & Tina Turner. Not only did Cocker, Nazareth and Ike & Tina Turner make the respective songs their own, but they took them to the next level. I like all three renditions better than the originals!

In some cases, the original tunes are so great that tampering doesn’t make much sense. Two good examples I thought of are the covers of If I Needed Someone and Hard to Handle by Roger McGuinn and The Black Crows, respectively.

Yet another rendition I think is absolutely killer is Elton John’s version of The Who’s Pinball Wizard. To me, this falls somewhere in-between a straight cover and a remake. In any case, John did what I always wished The Who would have done – make this fantastic song longer instead of fading it out in a seemingly arbitrary fashion.

Finally, this brings me to my “bold cover” I’d like to select for this post. I deliberately wanted to go with a tune that looked like an unlikely pick by any of the other participants. In fact, it’s not even a remake of a rock tune but a jazz standard: Al Jarreau’s amazing rendition of Dave Brubeck classic Take Five.

In case it’s been a while since you’ve heard it last or if you haven’t listened to it at all, here’s the original. Composed by saxophonist Paul Desmond, the track was first released by the Dave Brubeck Quartet in December 1959 on their album Time Out. This was one of the first jazz tunes I ever heard many moons ago. Even though I wasn’t into jazz at the time, I’ve always loved it!

And here’s where Al Jarreau took the tune on his December 1977 live album Look to the Rainbow: Live In Europe. When I heard his rendition for the first time, I was blown away. How Jarreau used his voice here as an instrument is just super cool. In fact, this type of rendition is called scat singing, which per Wikipedia is “vocal improvisation with wordless vocables, nonsense syllables or without words at all.”

Songfacts notes Take Five is one of the rare jazz tunes that became a hit. In the U.S., it peaked at no. 25 on the pop chart in October 1961. Elsewhere it did even better, especially in the UK (no. 6), Australia (no. 7), New Zealand (no. 8) and The Netherlands (no. 8). Take Five has also been used in movies, including Mighty Aphrodite (1995), Pleasantville (1998) and Constantine (2005). And it’s one of the most compelling remakes.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; Wikipedia

Happy Anniversary

A post of blatant self-promotion

When I just returned home from running an errand, I found the above notification in my WordPress feed. Apparently, it was six years ago on June 25, 2016, that I started my blogging adventure by registering Christian’s Music Musings with WordPress. Usually, I’m not the type of person who likes to talk about their achievements but what the heck!

When I started writing this blog six years ago, I had no idea whether I would stick with it. In fact, other than the thought of covering my favorite topic – and, yes, dare I say it, passion – I didn’t have much of a plan. In case you’re curious, here’s my inaugural post.

A typical post in the early days would look something like this or like that. No embedded videos or photos. No embedded playlists. Just a feature image and a bunch of text paragraphs. Don’t get me wrong – while I find incorporating multimedia adds to the experience, there’s nothing wrong with plain posts.

Apart from having become more comfortable with writing and getting more traffic, I feel the most rewarding aspect is engaging with fellow bloggers. Not only do I learn a good deal about music and new artists and bands or music acts who are new to me, but most importantly it’s fun. And it’s the latter what it should all be about.

I’d like to use this opportunity to thank my fellow bloggers and other visitors for reading and commenting. I love comments, so please keep ’em coming! Of course, this post wouldn’t be complete without at least one embedded media asset – especially after I kind of bragged about it!

Sources: YouTube

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

Nothing strange and nothing to spit on

After a 62-day streak of publishing one post each day (my initial goal was 50 days, after I had reached 40 posts in a row), I’ve decided that starting from next week, I’m going to reduce the frequency of blogging back to what it used to be, which is about three to four posts a week. While I love writing about my favorite subject music, publishing seven days a week has taken a significant amount of time – time I obviously haven’t been able to spend otherwise.

Along with this reduction in posting frequency, I’m also planning a few other changes. This includes retiring Wednesday’s Hump Day Picker-Upper posts and replacing them with a new weekly feature I’m going to unveil next Wednesday. I’m also considering consolidating some of my current blog categories. The current number of 20 does seem to be a bit excessive. Obviously, any reduction in categories and reindexing of previous posts are more of behind-the-scenes changes.

Since this is a music blog, of course, this post wouldn’t be complete with at least one song. Perhaps not surprisingly, the first tune that came to mind in the current context is one of my favorite songs by David Bowie: Changes.

Written by Bowie, Changes first appeared on the British artist’s fourth studio album Hunky Dory from December 1971. The song was also released separately as the record’s first single in January 1972.

To my surprise, Changes didn’t chart in the UK at the time it came out. In the U.S., it initially climbed to no. 66 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1972. It re-entered that chart in 1974 and peaked at no. 41. In the UK, the song resurfaced as well and got to no. 49, but it wasn’t until 2016 following Bowie’s death. Wikipedia doesn’t list any other chart placements – strange!

Here’s some additional background on the great tune from Songfacts: This is a reflective song about defying your critics and stepping out on your own. It also touches on Bowie’s penchant for artistic reinvention. Bowie wrote this when he was going through a lot of personal change. Bowie’s wife, Angela, was pregnant with the couple’s first child, Duncan. Bowie got along very well with his father and was very excited to have a child of his own. This optimism shines through in “Changes.”

According to Bowie, this started out as a parody of a nightclub song – “kind of throwaway” – but people kept chanting for it at concerts and thus it became one of his most popular and enduring songs. Bowie had no idea it was going to become so successful, but the song connected with his young audience who could relate to lyrics like “These children that you spit on as they try to change their worlds, are immune to your consultations, they’re quite aware of what they’re going through.”

Bowie played the sax on this track, and his guitarist, Mick Ronson, arranged the strings. Rick Wakeman, who would later become a member of the prog rock band, Yes, played the piano parts at the beginning and end. Bowie gave Wakeman a lot of freedom, telling him to play the song like it was a piano piece. The piano Wakeman played was the famous 100-year old Bechstein at Trident Studios in London, where the album was recorded; the same piano used by Elton John, The Beatles and Genesis.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

For the One-Thousand’s Time on This Channel

The time has come for a bit of self-promotion, something I usually shy away from. While it’s not my personality to highlight my accomplishments, I felt the 1000th post on Christian’s Music Musings warrants an exception.

When I started the blog on June 25, 2016, I really had no idea whether I would stick with it. To me, looking back at my early posts feels funny and at times a bit embarrassing. Like with many other things I guess there’s a learning curve for blogging. I want to believe my writing and the look and feel of the blog have improved over time.

While at the end of the day my main goal is to have fun with this blog, I can’t deny receiving recognition feels reassuring. The stats WordPress provides draw a picture I find encouraging. I realize compared to other fellow bloggers my total numbers remain moderate, but thus far, the long-term trends look promising. Annual traffic of both total views and visitors has grown nicely over the past five years.

Annual number views and visitors

The picture is pretty similar for the numbers of “Likes” and “Comments.” The latter in particular is what I find most gratifying. I’d like to take this opportunity again to thank everybody who took the time to read and provide feedback. I enjoy exchanging facts and views, and hope you guys keep the comments coming!

Annual number of comments

My best-performing post to date is this piece from January 2018 about Bad Company’s 2016 album Live At Red Rocks. It has been seen more than 2,000 times and continues to get views – sometimes in what looks like random surges. While I’m not complaining and still stand behind the post, frankly, I don’t find anything special about it. I can safely say I invested significantly more time and effort in other posts.

Finally, since Christian’s Music Musings is a blog about a topic that has been a key hobby and passion for most of my life, this post would be incomplete without at least one song, don’t you agree? I figured the occasion calls for an upbeat tune that has the number 1,000 in the title: Land of 1000 Dances. I guess this is where my nerdy side emerged! 🙂

Written by American R&B singer and songwriter Chris Kenner, Land of 1000 Dances was first recorded and released by him in 1962. Wikipedia notes the song mentions the Pony, the Chicken, the Mashed Potatoe, the Alligator and 996 other dances. Just kidding, it’s actually 16 dances altogether – still pretty impressive!

The original has a slower tempo than the best-known version of the tune by Wilson Pickett I heard first and came to love many years ago. Recorded at the storied FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala., Pickett’s rendition first appeared as a single in July 1966. It was also included on his third studio album The Exciting Wilson Pickett from August of the same year. What a killer version!

And since three make a charm, let’s throw in another cover by the ultimate party group, The J. Geils Band. You just know when Peter Wolf and his bandmates take on a tune like Land of 1000 Dances it’s gotta be good! A live recording of their cover was included on the compilation Flashback: The Best of the J. Geils Band, which came out in March 1985. Here’s the official clip. It’s a perfect live song and The J. Geils Band are the perfect group to deliver it!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

This Is It – Arrivederci 2021!

The time has come again for the final post of the year – wow! As I previously said around Christmas, it would be easy to launch into a tirade. In fact, just over the past few days, I had two costly misfortunes. While it’s frustrating, that’s life and shit happens!

Plus, my grievances look rather trivial compared to the things other folks have gone through over the past year. As such, I feel I should be grateful for what I have. Instead of venting, I’d like to highlight a few songs that have a new year’s theme. You can find some additional tunes in the playlist at the end. Hope you enjoy!

The Breeders/New Year

The Breeders are an alternative rock band from Dayton, Ohio, who initially were formed in 1989. New Year is a tune off their sophomore album Last Splash from August 1993 – appropriately titled, as it turned out since the group went on a hiatus in 1995 and didn’t release their next album until May 2002. The Breeders are still around with two original members including founder Kim Deal being part of the present lineup.

Charlie Robison/New Year’s Day

New Year’s Day is a tune by country singer-songwriter Charlie Robison. He was active from 1996 until his early retirement in 2018 due to complications from a surgery that left him permanently unable to sing. Robison recorded New Year’s Day for his fourth studio album Good Times that appeared in September 2004.

Ella Fitzgerald/What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?

What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve? was written by American songwriter Frank Loesser in 1947. R&B group The Orioles took it first to the charts in 1949. Subsequently, the tune has been recorded by many other artists including Ella Fitzgerald for her 1960 album Ella Wishes You a Swinging Christmas. A classic!

George Thorogood & The Destroyers/New Year’s Eve Party

When high-energy boogie-blues artist George Thorogood does a party song, you know it’s gotta be good, g-g-g-good! Written by Thorogood, the tune became the b-side of his 1983 single Rock and Roll Christmas. Instead of blues rock, the tune has a nice soul vibe.

G. Love & Special Sauce/Happy New Year’s Blues

G. Love & Special Sauce, according to Wikipedia, are an alternative hip hop trio from Philadelphia, “known for their unique, “sloppy”, and “laid back” blues sound that encompasses classic R&B.” Happy New Year’s Blues is from their new album Coming Back Home for Christmas that came out on November 26. In fact, I saw this trio open for Hall & Oates in September 2019. Their music definitely is much more blues than hip hop and quite fun to watch!

Otis Redding Redding & Carla Thomas/New Year’s Resolution

The last new year-related song I’d like to highlight is New Year’s Resolution. This nice soul tune appeared on King & Queen, a studio album by Otis Redding and Carla Thomas, which came out in March 1967.

Check the playlist below for the above tunes and a few additional new year’s songs.

Last but not least, I’d like to thank all visitors of this blog for reading, especially my fellow bloggers who keep coming back and take the time to leave comments. Not only do I find it a lot of fun to discuss music, a topic I love, but I’m also grateful for the insights I learn from those who share their thoughts and tips. Reading their blogs is very rewarding as well and definitely has inspired more than one idea.

The show must and will go on in the new year. I’m looking forward to it!

I’d like to wish everybody all the best for 2022 and please stay well!

Sources: Wikipedia; Discogs; YouTube

Musings About “The Beatles: Get Back”

After weeks of publicity and anticipation, Peter Jackson’s documentary The Beatles: Get Back finally premiered on Disney+ last week. As I started watching the first episode on Thursday, two things became clear to me. As a long-time fan of The Beatles, it was a foregone conclusion I would write about the film. I also decided not to do a review. If you’re looking for the latter, I’d like to refer you to fellow Beatles fan and blogger Angie Moon who pens the excellent Diversity of Classic Rock blog and did a great job summarizing each of the three episodes here, here and here. Instead of a review, I’d like to share some of my takeaways.

Perhaps most importantly, I was glad to see The Beatles: Get Back is not an attempt to whitewash the band’s late-stage history. Instead, I feel it’s an effort to paint a more balanced picture of what was shown in the original 1970 documentary by director Michael Lindsay-Hogg. While the majority of Peter Jackson’s film features “happy footage”, it also captures the tensions between The Beatles. That’s especially the case in the first episode where you can see George Harrison’s growing frustration – even more so in his facial expressions than his actual words. There’s also a candid conversation between John Lennon and Paul McCartney in the second episode. I’ll come back to that shortly.

george harrison left the beatles

The task of having to complete 14 new songs for an album and a live TV show in just three weeks with no real plan looked pretty daunting, even for great writers and musicians like The Beatles – especially when you consider not all was easy-peasy between them. I also find it pretty remarkable how in spite of all the drama with George’s walkout seven days into the rehearsals at Twickenham Film Studios and the uncertainty of his return, the entire project didn’t completely get derailed then and there.

One of the documentary’s most intense moments happens off-camera and is the above-noted conversation between John and Paul in a cafeteria, presumably at Twickenham. They had no idea the filmmakers had placed a microphone in a flowerpot on the table to secretly record them. That was really pushing the envelope, to say the least! Here’s a transcribed excerpt:

John: ‘Cause there was a period when none of us could actually say anything about your arrangements…
Paul: Yeah.
John: ’cause you would reject it all.
Paul: Yeah, sure.
John: I’d have to tell George and I would just say, you know, like you do about me…
Paul: Oh yeah.
John: …you know, I’m Paul McCartney, and a lot of the times you were right, and a lot of the times you were wrong. Same as we all are, but I can’t see the answer to that. Because you…you’ve suddenly got it all, you see.
Paul: I really don’t want you…
John: Well, alright. I’m just telling you what I think. I don’t think The Beatles revolve around four people. It might be a fuckin’ job.
Paul: You know, I tell you what. I tell you one thing. What I think…The main thing is this: You have always been boss. Now, I’ve been, sort of, secondary boss.
John: Not always.
Paul: No, listen. Listen. No. always!
John: Well, I…
Paul: Really, I mean it’s gonna be much better if we can actually stick together and say, “Look, George, on ‘I’ve Got a Feeling’ I want you to do it exactly how I play it” and he’ll say, “I’m not you, and I can’t do it exactly like you do it.”
John: But this, this year, what you’ve been doing and what everybody’s been doing…I’ve not only felt guilty about the way we’re all guilty about our relationship to each other ’cause we could do more. And look, I’m not putting any blame on you. I’ve suddenly realized this, because that was my game, you know, but me goals, they’re still the same. Self-preservation, you know. I know what I like, I’ve let you do what you want and George too, you know.
Paul: Yeah I know.
John: If we want him, if we do want him, I can go along with that, because the policy has kept us together.
Paul: Well, I don’t know, you know. See, I’m just assuming he’s coming back.
John: Well, do you want…
Paul: If he isn’t, then he isn’t, then it’s a new problem. And probably when we’re all very old, we’ll all agree with each other, and we’ll all sing together.

Billy Preston’s appearance at the Apple studio on Savile Row, to where The Beatles had relocated from that awful Twickenham location, was truly priceless. He wasn’t called a “Fifth Beatle” for nothing – frankly, something I had not fully appreciated until I watched Jackson’s documentary. You can feel the immediate positive vibes created by Preston’s presence. Obviously, his keyboard work was great as well, especially on tunes like Get Back and Don’t Let Me Down, using a Fender Rhodes electric piano.

I don’t mean any disrespect to Yoko Ono. I realize how much she meant to John, but I just have to say I found her constant presence right next to him really odd. Of course, she wasn’t the only guest. There was also Linda Eastman (soon-to-become Linda McCartney), but at least she appeared to have a purpose to be there taking pictures. Later on in the film, one can also see Ringo Starr’s then-wife Maureen Cox and Paul’s brother Peter Michael McCartney. By far my favorite guest is Linda’s giggling daughter Heather who was about to turn seven years old and who subsequently became Paul’s adopted daughter. I love how at some point she’s hitting Ringo’s snare drum when he didn’t expect it, clearly scaring him!

The first and only time I saw the original Let It Be documentary was in Germany, which I believe was in the late ’70s. Perhaps I should have watched it again before seeing the Jackson documentary. I didn’t recall that until the morning of the rooftop concert, The Beatles still had not made their final decision whether they wanted to move forward with what would become their final public live performance. Lindsay-Hogg, George Martin and all other production staff seemed to take it in stride – that’s just remarkable!

The Beatles: Get Back gave me a new appreciation of the Let It Be album. Don’t get me wrong: I always considered it a decent record, but if asked for my top picks, I’d mention Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Abbey Road and Revolver. Now I would add Let It Be to that group.

I think the Jackson documentary is mostly suitable for Beatles fans. Folks who are new to the band or who are casual listeners probably won’t get as much out of it. While as a longtime fan and hobby musician I find it fascinating to watch John, Paul, George, Ringo and Billy in action, it’s safe to assume the constant rehearsals and even their goofing around aren’t everybody’s cup of tea. Even as a Beatles fan, I have to say I’m glad this documentary is presented as a three-part docuseries, given its total running time of close to eight hours. In fact, I think they should have broken it up into four episodes of two hours each.

Sources: Wikipedia; Disney+; YouTube

John Mellencamp’s Good Samaritan Tour 2000 Revisited

A new documentary and companion live album celebrate heartland artist’s historic series of free summer concerts across the U.S.

I’ve listened to John Mellencamp since 1982 and Jack & Diane when he was still known as John Cougar and would call myself a fan. But until last Friday, I had not been aware of his Good Samaritan Tour, a series of free, stripped down and unannounced concerts he gave across the U.S. in the summer of 2000. Now the tour is revisited in a documentary that started to stream on the YouTube channel of Turner Classic Movies (TCM) on August 27. It also coincided with the release of a companion album, The Good Samaritan Tour 2000.

According to Mellencamp’s website, the documentary is “narrated by Academy® Award winner Matthew McConaughey,” chronicling his “historic tour in 2000 when he performed for free in public parks and common spaces across the country. The film was executive produced by Federal Films, produced by John Mellencamp and Randy Hoffman, directed by Shan Dan Horan, mixed by Andy York and has special contributions by Nora Guthrie.” Nora is the daughter of Woodie Guthrie, one of Mellencamp’s big influences.

As the documentary notes in the beginning, Mellencamp viewed the tour as a way to thank his fans for all their support they had given him throughout the years. The impromptu gigs were performed without official permission from local authorities. “We also want to say this is not a concert,” Mellencamp tells an audience in Chicago. “I’m just playing on the street. So if you can’t hear I’m sorry, but we didn’t bring a big PA system because we didn’t want it to be a concert.”

However, Mellencamp did bring along two young musicians: accordion player Mike Flynn and violinist Merritt Lear. There was also Harry Sandler, Mellencamp’s road manager at the time, who helped organize where the trio would play. There was no road crew. “It was really kind of a hippy thing to do, you know,” Mellencamp notes in the documentary. “It reminded me of what I had seen happen in Washington Square, you know, during the ’60s when, you know, people would play in Washington Square and people would sit around, like it was a folk thing.”

John Mellencamp - Official Website :: News Articles
From left: Merritt Lear, Mike Flynn, John Mellencamp and Harry Sandler

“I had my little accordion, Merritt had a fiddle, John had his two acoustic guitars,” Flynn recalls in the film. “It was really raw and stripped down is to say the least.” Adds Lear: “My whole involvement with this tour started with a completely cold phone call…Mike and I had dated, broken up, and he put me up for the tour, coz they needed a violin player at the last second…They needed someone and he said , ‘call Merritt, she’ll be psyched to do it…And they called me and they said, ‘would you like to go on a summer tour with John Mellencamp? We’re leaving soon. I was shocked and then I quit my job and we were off and running.”

“The idea for the tour came to light and was a vague notion on what Woodie Guthrie had done when he would go and play in the fields for the workers in California,” Mellencamp explains. For the most part, the free performances featured songs he liked, not tunes he had written. While the free gigs were very well received by the public and the crowds grew larger at each appearance, the authorities in Detroit were less than pleased when they learned about Mellencamp’s concert there. Harry Sandler was even told they would get arrested if they played there. While many cops showed up at the concert, fortunately, everything stayed peaceful and nobody was arrested. The documentary can be watched here. Time for some music!

Let’s kick it off with In My Time of Dying, a traditional gospel tune that has been recorded by numerous artists. Blind Willie Johnson’s recording from December 1927 is the first known published version.

Here’s Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower, which first appeared on his eighth studio album John Wesley Harding from December 1967. The most famous version of the song was recorded around the same time by Jimi Hendrix for Electric Ladyland, the third and final studio album by The Jimi Hendrix Experience released in October 1968.

Next up: Street Fighting Man, The Rolling Stones’ classic that first appeared as a U.S. single in August 1968, ahead of the Beggars Banquet album from December of the same year.

Let’s do two more: Here’s Cut Across Shorty, which was first popularized by Eddie Cochran in March 1960 as a rock & roll style tune. It’s been covered by various other artists including Rod Stewart, Faces and, obviously, John Mellencamp.

The last track I’d like to highlight is a Mellencamp original: Pink Houses, which he recorded for his seventh studio album Uh-Huh that appeared under his transitional artist name John Cougar Mellencamp in October 1983. In this take, Merritt Lear got to sing the first verse.

I really dig John Mellencamp’s transition from his early straight heartland rock years to an artist who embraces a more stripped back roots and Americana sound. As such, the prominence of the accordion and the fiddle on these Good Samaritan song renditions are right up my alley.

Here’s the full track list of the album:

1.     Small Town
2.     Oklahoma Hills
3.     In My Time Of Dying
4.     Captain Bobby Stout
5.     Key West Intermezzo (I Saw You First)
6.     All Along The Watchtower
7.     The Spider And The Fly
8.     Early Bird Café
9.     Hey Gyp
10.   Street Fighting Man
11.   Cut Across Shortly
12.   Pink Houses

While cynics might dismiss the Good Samaritan Tour as a PR stunt, John Mellencamp doesn’t strike me as the kind of artist who would that. Sure, I guess he didn’t mind the buzz his free summer tour generated. But Mellencamp, one of the co-founders of Farm Aid, is a person who supports social causes, so I buy that his primary motivation for the free concerts was to give back to his fans.

Sources: Wikipedia; John Mellencamp website; YouTube