Song Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

Happy Wednesday and welcome to another installment of Song Musings, my weekly feature about tunes I’ve only mentioned in passing or not covered at all to date. The Tragically Hip are a very recent discovery for me, which I guess is tragic, given they were Canada’s best-selling band between 1996 and 2016 – well, better late than never, and I have to thank my fellow bloggers for finally bringing them on my radar screen. My song pick is Wheat Kings.

Credited to all five members of the group – Gord Downie (lead vocals), Paul Langlois (guitar, backing vocals), Bobby Baker (guitar), Gord Sinclair (bass, backing vocals) and Johnny Fay (drums, percussion) – Wheat Kings appeared on the Hip’s third studio album Fully Completely, released in October 1992. While that album spawned six singles, Wheat Kings wasn’t among them, if I see this correctly.

Wheat Kings is about David Milgaard, who was wrongfully convicted for the rape and murder of Gail Miller, a nursing student, in 1969 in Saskatoon and spent 23 years in prison. Milgaard was 16 years at the time of his arrest. He had been on a trip across Canada with two friends and was staying at a third friend’s house, close to where Miller’s body was found. Pressured by significant publicity around the murder, evidently, the local police coerced Milgaard’s friends into making false statements.

Milgaard was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison in January 1970, one year after Miller had been killed. Milgaard unsuccessfully appealed his conviction in 1971 and later attempted suicide due to harsh prison conditions, which among others included rape. Finally, after Milgaard’s family had tried to clear his name for many years, he was released from prison in April 1992. In July 1997, he was fully exonerated after a DNA test of semen samples on the victim’s clothing confirmed it had not originated from Milgaard – an incredible story!

It wasn’t a coincidence The Tragically Hip wrote Wheat Kings. Songfacts notes that Milgaard’s aunt reached out to the band, hoping they would support the cause to free a wrongfully convicted and incarcerated man. And they did. After learning from her about the case, the Hip helped the family gather signatures for a petition to reopen the case and raise funds for Milgaard’s legal defense. Milgaard’s release prompted them to write the song.

Following are some additional insights from Songfacts:

In the book Top 100 Canadian Singles, Gord Downie explained the inspiration for this song. “[It’s] about David Milgaard and his faith in himself,” he said. “And about his mother, Joyce, and her absolute faith in her son’s innocence. And about our big country and its faith in man’s fallibility. And about Gail Miller, all those mornings ago, just lying there, all her faith bleeding out into that Saskatoon snowbank.”

The title is a reference to the farmers in Saskatchewan, where the crime took place. They were known as “wheat kings” after developing a popular strain of wheat that fueled the area economy.

The Tragically Hip are distinctly Canadian, and this song opens with the sounds of loons, a bird that appears on the one-dollar coin in the country. According to guitarist Rob Baker, the man who recorded the sounds threatened legal action, so the band agreed to make a donation to the conservation group Ducks Unlimited in his name.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Song Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

Happy Wednesday, and I’d like to welcome you to my latest installment of Song Musings, where I take a closer look at tunes I’ve only mentioned or not covered at all today. Today’s pick comes from a great artist who only entered my radar screen last June when I saw her open for Bonnie Raitt in Philadelphia: Lucinda Williams. The more music I hear by the Americana and roots rock-oriented singer-songwriter, the more I dig her. My pick for this post is Everything But the Truth.

Like the majority of her tunes, Everything But the Truth was solely written by Williams. The great bluesy roots rocker was included on her 11th studio album Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone, an impressive collection of 20 tracks, which was released in September 2014.

The album only spawned one single and it wasn’t this song but a track called Burning Bridges. Even though it’s a great song as well, it didn’t chart. It’s hard to tell whether Everything But the Truth would have fared better.

The album did pretty well. In the U.S., it climbed to no. 13 on the pop chart Billboard 200 and topped each Billboard’s Folk Abums and Independent Albums charts. Elsewhere, it reached no. 11 in Denmark, no. 20 in Norway, no. 23 in the UK, no. 31 in each The Netherlands and Ireland, and no. 32 in Australia.

Interestingly, that’s a much better chart performance than the acclaimed and Grammy award-winning Car Wheels On a Gravel Road, Williams’ best-selling album that reached Gold certification in the U.S. (500,000 certified unit sales) and Silver status in the UK (200,000 certified sold units) in June 1999 and July 2013, respectively.

Here’s a nice live version of Everything But the Truth, captured in March 2014 at the Volcano Room at Cumberland Caverns. The spectacular venue is 333 feet underground inside Cumberland Caverns in McMinnville, Tenn. When announcing the tune, Williams wondered when somebody is recording an album in there. Check this out!

Following are some additional insights from Songfacts:

This is one of 14 songs from the soundtrack and concept album, The Lone Ranger: Wanted – Music Inspired by the Film. The movie’s director, Gore Verbinski, listened to the artists each day on the way to the studio and tapped them to record for the soundtrack.

Williams admitted to Billboard magazine that she was initially unsure if she would be able to fulfill the commission. “I wasn’t sure I was even going to have time to write and record this before leaving for a European tour but it all came together in a couple of days,” she said. “Sometimes the best things happen that way.”

Lucinda Williams went into a Los Angeles studio with her band during the fall of 2013 and recorded 35 tracks in 21 days. She put 20 of the cuts into a double album titled Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone. The songs came from several different sources – this one was originally penned by Williams for a collection of tunes on the theme of the Lone Ranger, a Walt Disney project tied to the Johnny Depp film. “I was asked to do different projects where I had to come up with a song,” Williams recalled to Billboard magazine. “For instance, that song ‘Everything Changes But the Truth,’ I wrote that for a compilation album of songs that were inspired by The Lone Ranger movie, so I came up with that fairly quickly. It was kind of a good exercise, and a lot of times that can spur other things.”

“We started recording in October of last year and didn’t really think about it,” she added. “We just kept going, and we suddenly got all these great tracks and realized we’re not going to narrow this down to one album.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Song Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

It’s Wednesday and I hope this week has been kind to you. As usual, this is the time for another installment of my weekly feature where I take a deeper dive into a tune I’ve only mentioned in passing or not covered at all so far. For this post, I’ve decided to highlight Anticipation by Carly Simon.

Anticipation, a beautiful song I’ve come to dig, is the title track of the singer-songwriter’s second studio album released in November 1971. Solely written by Simon, the tune also appeared separately as the album’s lead single that same month.

Anticipation was Simon’s second single. It pretty much matched the remarkable chart performance of That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be, released in April 1971 as the sole single off her eponymous debut album. In the U.S., Anticipation reached no. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 and surged to no. 3 on the Easy Listening chart (now called Adult Contemporary). Elsewhere, it climbed to no. 9 in Canada and no. 64 in Australia – not too shabby for an artist who at the time was only nine months into her solo career!

The Anticipation album also did pretty well. In the U.S., it peaked at no. 30 on the Billboard 200, matching its predecessor, while in Canada it got to no. 36, lower than Simon’s debut (no. 17) but still a top 40. It did best in Australia where it climbed to no. 12, significantly up from its predecessor (no. 55). In the U.S., the album reached Gold certification (500,000 certified sold units) as of September 1973, placing it in the group of Simon’s five best-selling studio albums. Here’s a nice acoustic live cut of Anticipation, captured during a September 2005 concert aboard the British transatlantic ocean liner Queen Mary 2, which appeared as a DVD at the time.

Apart from Anticipation, Carly Simon has had 12 additional top 40 singles on the Billboard Hot 100. Her biggest hits on the U.S. pop chart were You’re So Vain (1972); Mockingbird, with James Taylor who also was her husband at the time (1974); Nobody Does It Better (1977), the great theme song of the James Bond picture The Spy Who Loved Me; and Jesse (1980), her final big hit.

Overall, Simon has also done well on the album front. In the U.S. alone, 12 of her 23 studio albums released between 1971 and 2009 charted in the top 40 on the Billboard 200, including five in the top 10. Three were certified Platinum (1 million certified sold units) while two reached Gold certification. Her 1975 compilation The Best of Carly Simon hit a whopping 3xPlatinum in December 1997.

Simon whose 80th birthday is coming up on June 25 was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last year. She canceled her planned attendance after tragically losing both of her sisters Joanna Simon and Lucy Simon to thyroid and breast cancer, respectively, within one day of each other! Her brother Peter Simon had passed away from lung cancer in November 2018. Carly is a breast cancer survivor and underwent a mastectomy, chemotherapy and reconstructive surgery between 1997 and 1998.

Following are additional insights for Anticipation from Songfacts.

Carly Simon wrote “Anticipation” while waiting for Cat Stevens to come over for their first date (she was making chicken with a béarnaise sauce). She was his opening act for a concert at the Troubadour in Los Angeles on April 6, 1971, and they were set to play again at Carnegie Hall in New York City on June 5. Simon lived in the City, so she invited Stevens over for the date a few days before that show.

He was late, so Simon burned off some nervous energy by sitting down with her guitar. She imitated Stevens’ style (he was her favorite artist) from his song “Hard Headed Woman,” where he keeps it mellow but then ramps it up for a section when he sings, “I know many fine feathered friends.” Simon played loud, singing the word that came into her mind because she was waiting for Stevens: “Anticipation.”

“I was anticipating his arrival,” she said in the book Anthems We Love. “So I just started the song and I wrote the whole song, words and music, before he got there that night. So in about 15 minutes I wrote the whole song. Three verses and the choruses and the outro. That’s only one of three times that that’s ever happened to me. That I just sat down and wrote the whole song in just one stretch. It was only about 20 minutes that he was late.”

This song is very much about living in the moment. Simon isn’t sure this relationship is going to last, but she decides to just enjoy it while they’re together. “These are the good old days,” goes the refrain at the end.

Simon performed “Anticipation” for the first time when she opened for Cat Stevens at Carnegie Hall on June 5, 1971. The song got a great response, so she knew it was a winner. She added it to her repertoire and performed it a handful of times before recording it.

The romance between Cat Stevens and Carly Simon was short-lived, but they forged an enduring friendship Simon spoke of fondly many years later. She ended up marrying James Taylor in 1972 (they divorced in 1983)...

…Simon’s musical director Jimmy Ryan played bass on this track, but on the last verse he played guitar-style riffs on the instrument. The other personnel were Andy Newmark on drums, Paul Glanz on piano, and Simon on acoustic guitar and vocals.

Simon earned a Grammy nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, but she lost to Helen Reddy for “I Am Woman.”

Simon recorded an acoustic version with her son, Ben Taylor, for her 2009 album, Never Been Gone.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Music Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

Happy humpday and welcome to another installment of my weekly feature that takes a deeper dive on a tune I’ve only mentioned in passing or not covered at all so far. Today’s pick is Don’t Get Me Wrong by Pretenders who at the time they released the song were still known as The Pretenders.

Penned by co-founder, lead vocalist and guitarist Chrissie Hynde, who has been the band’s primary songwriter since their formation in 1978, Don’t Get Me Wrong first appeared in August 1986 as the lead single of the group’s fourth studio album Get Close, which came out in October of the same year.

In the U.S., Don’t Get Me Wrong peaked at no. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100, marking the band’s last big hit on the pop chart. It also topped Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart. Elsewhere, the single climbed to no. 8 in Australia, no. 10 in the UK, no. 11 in New Zealand, no. 14 in Canada and no. 25 in The Netherlands.

The album Get Close also did pretty well, reaching no. 6 in the UK and Sweden, no. 9 in Canada, no. 12 in Australia, no. 13 in New Zealand, no. 18 in Norway, no. 22 in The Netherlands and Switzerland, and no. 25 in the U.S. It reached Gold certification in the U.S. (0.5 million certified sold units) and the UK (100,000 certified sold units). This places Get Close within the group’s five most successful albums.

By the time Don’t Get Me Wrong and Get Close were released, Chrissie Hynde was the band’s only remaining original member. Co-founder James Honeyman-Scott (guitar) was found dead of cocaine-induced heart failure in June 1982, two days after original bassist Pete Farndon had been dismissed from The Pretenders. Farndon drowned in his bath in April 1983 after he had lost consciousness due to a heroin overdose. Honeyman-Scott and Farndon only were 25 and 30 years, respectively. Drummer Martin Chambers, whose enthusiasm was significantly impacted by the two deaths, left during the Get Close recording sessions. He rejoined the group in 1994.

In addition to Hynde (vocals, rhythm guitar), The Pretenders at the time of Get Close also included Robbie McIntosh (guitars), T.M. Stevens (bass) and Blair Cunningham (drums, percussion). Hynde, the band’s only constant member throughout its 40-plus-year existence, and Chambers remain part of the current line-up, which also features James Walbourne (lead guitar, keyboards, backing vocals), Eric Heywood (pedal steel guitar, backing vocals) and Nick Wilkinson (bass, backing vocals).

Following are additional insights from Songfacts:

Written by Pretenders lead singer Chrissie Hynde, this song describes the complexities of love from a female perspective – she’s inconsistent, but wonderful, and wants her lover to know that he shouldn’t get too worked up, because she could change quickly. Hynde put a lot of weather references in the lyrics, implying that her mood reacts in a similar fashion...

Chrissie Hynde wrote the song for tennis star John McEnroe, who was an aspiring musician. “He loved playing guitar,” she told Uncle Joe Benson on the Ultimate Classic Rock Nights radio show. “He’s a big music person, which is how I knew him, because he used to come to our shows and he was friendly with the band and stuff.”

Hynde added that she found inspiration while aboard a plane. “I had in mind that I was going to write this song for him to do. Years later, when I was on British [Airways], I heard an announcement – because I did write some of that song on a plane – and I think I nicked one of the top-line melodies from the overhead announcement: ‘Dong-dong-dong-dong … Welcome to British Airways.'”

The music video is based on the spy series The Avengers, which aired in Britain in the ’60s and was an influence on the Austin Powers movies. Most of the video is actual footage from the series, which starred Patrick Macnee and Diana Rigg, interspersed with shots of Chrissie Hynde as Rigg’s character. With their videos, the Pretenders made no attempts to appeal to the core MTV demographic of American teenage boys.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Music Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

It’s Wednesday, which means time again to take a closer look at a tune I’ve only mentioned in passing or not covered at all to date. My pick this time is Someday, Someway by Marshall Crenshaw – shoutout to Rich Kamerman from KamerTunesBlog whose recent post about Crenshaw’s eponymous debut album and subsequent tips inspired this installment.

Someday, Someway, written by Crenshaw appeared on his aforementioned debut album, which was released in April 1982. The upbeat power pop tune also became the record’s first single in May of the same year – and it turned out Crenshaw’s biggest hit and only song to make the Billboard Hot 100 where it peaked at no. 36. Someday, Somewhere also climbed to no. 25 on the Mainstream Rock chart. Outside the U.S., it placed on the Australian charts (no. 57).

Crenshaw wrote the tune in New York City where he had played John Lennon in the Broadway musical revue Beatlemania. However, it was American rockabilly singer Robert Gordon who first released a cover of the tune in 1981, taking it to no. 76 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Fueled by the single Someday, Someway, Crenshaw’s debut album also became his highest charting record to date, peaking at no. 50 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200 and climbing to no. 44 in Sweden. The album also featured some of Crenshaw’s other best-known tunes, including There She Goes Again, Cynical Girl and Mary Anne. To date, Crenshaw has released nine additional albums, with his most recent being Jaggedland (2009). He remains active as a touring act.

Crenshaw recorded Someday, Someway along with other tunes at the Power Station in New York, working with producer Richard Gottehrer after unsuccessful attempts to produce his debut album by himself. Gottehrer had written a couple of hits, including I Want Candy, first recorded by The Strangeloves in 1965, and My Boyfriend’s Back, a 1963 hit for American girl group The Angels. Gottehrer had also produced albums by Blondie and The Go-Go’s during the 1970s and 1980s.

The music video for Someday, Someway used footage from a concert Crenshaw played in San Francisco. “Warner Brothers sent a film crew, three cameras, and they sent a sound truck with a multi-track recording set up and they documented the show,” Crenshaw explained. “Their purpose in doing that was to send out VHS tapes to all of the distributors to let people know what we were about and what we looked like and sounded like. Back in the day, that concert was shown on MTV a couple of times and the video for ‘Someday, Someway’ from taken from that show as well.”

Following are some additional tidbits from Songfacts:

…While in New York, he recorded this song for Alan Betrock’s Shake Records, after which he was signed to Warner Bros. Records. “While I was there, I wrote ‘Someday, Someway’ and five or six of the other tunes on my first album,” he recalled to Spinner UK. “I wrote those in my hotel room. That was my next move in life, to be a recording artist. I actually had a sense of artistic direction and off I went.”

Crenshaw recalled the song’s origins to Spinner UK: “I was taking basic rhythmic grooves from some of my favorite old rock ‘n’ roll records,” he remembered. “There was a record that I really loved by Gene Vincent called ‘Lotta Lovin” that had a particular kind of beat to it. It just really did a thing to my nervous system.”

…Though his self-titled debut album was acclaimed as a pop masterpiece upon release, this song was to be his only Billboard Top 40 hit. However he has continued to record over the next few decades and has also had some success in Hollywood, appearing in the film Peggy Sue Got Married as well as portraying Buddy Holly in La Bamba.

Speaking to American Songwriter magazine, Crenshaw described the writing of this song as an ‘Eureka’ moment. He said: “By this time I’d already written ‘(You’re My) Favorite Waste of Time’ and some other good ones, but I really thought that “Someday” was a breakthrough. I liked that it had this hypnotic riff-type basis; I’d used the basic groove to ‘Lotta Lovin’ by Gene Vincent as a starting point, thought that that was cool. And I liked the lyrics, they were nice and spare but had some depth, lots of possible meanings and implications, etc. There was something kind of mysterious about it and I liked that. It was one of those ones that came out in a rush.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Music Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

Is it really only Wednesday, the oftentimes dreaded middle day of the week that can be a drag? It is but it also depends on what you make of it. One small thing I hope will give you some joy is to read another installment of Song Musings, my weekly feature that takes a closer look at a tune I’ve only mentioned in passing or not covered at all to date. Today, I have a real treat from an artist I’ve loved for many years: Bonnie Raitt.

Raitt is primarily known for her great interpretations of songs by other writers and of course for her dynamite guitar skills, especially on the electric slide guitar. From time to time, she also pens her own songs. One of the best she’s written to date is the title track of her 10th studio album Nick of Time released in March 1989 – a great song by a great lady!

The album came at the right time for Raitt who had struggled for years due to personal and professional reasons. Both led to depression, excessive eating, drinking and partying. A skiing accident and resulting hospitalization gave her the necessary time to reflect and fortunately, she managed to turn her life around and get sober. She also met Don Was who agreed to produce her next album and was able to get a new record deal with Capitol Records. Raitt’s previous label Warner Bros. Records had dropped her in 1983 over lackluster sales of her 1979 and 1982 albums The Glow and Green Light, respectively.

Nick of Time, which appeared in March 1989, enjoyed significant chart success, becoming Raitt’s first album to top the Billboard 200 in the US. It also was her first record to chart in various foreign countries, including the UK (no. 51), The Netherlands (no. 65), Germany (no. 68) and Australia (no. 58). By comparison, the title track, released as the album’s third single in May 1990, fared more moderately, reaching no. 92 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, no. 82 in the UK, no. 67 in The Netherlands and no. 73 in Germany. However, it did peak at no. 10 on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart. Nick of Time is one of the few songs featuring Raitt on keyboards as the following great live clip shows.

Following are additional insights from Songfacts:

Bonnie Raitt wrote this reflection on love and aging after enduring a personal and professional slump. The decade had been a tumultuous one: She was dropped from her record label, shattered by a failed romance, and addicted to drugs and alcohol. Fast approaching 40, she decided it was time to turn her life around and got clean and sober – just in the nick of time. Not only did the album revive her career, but it was also her first #1 hit on the Albums chart and earned three Grammy awards, including Best Female Rock Vocal Performance and Album of the Year. The title track, a Top 10 Adult Contemporary hit, won Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.

She told Anatomy of a Song author Marc Myers the midtempo ballad “came from a part of me that hadn’t yet seen the light of day. I wanted to dig deep and honor the changes in my life. Writing it gave me a sense of confidence and self-awareness that helped me break through some stifling self-doubt. While writing the song, instead of comparing myself to greats like Jackson Browne and Randy Newman and then giving up, I was just writing for myself, as a gift for the miracle that had happened.”

The song was inspired by a culmination of observations about aging. The first verse (“A friend of mine, she cries at night…”) was taken from a conversation she had with a heartbroken friend who was nearing middle age and desperately wanting a baby. “At one point she said she saw babies everywhere she went and would just burst into tears in the grocery store,” she explained.

The second verse (“I see my folks are getting on…”) was inspired by observing her elderly father sleeping in the car during a road trip. She recalled: “In his vulnerable state I could see he was getting older and could really feel what it was like for a body to age. This whole idea of time and it being more precious as you age, I realized this would be what I’d write about.”

The third verse (“You came along and showed me…”) pulled Raitt back from the edge of the abyss when love came to the rescue but, she said, it wasn’t about anyone in particular. “It was about a bigger, more universal love.”

As for the song title, Raitt said, “The double-edged meaning was apparent. ‘Nick,’ as in just in the nick of time, and also the wear and tear of time and the nicks it leaves on the body and the spirit.”

Raitt wrote most of the song during a week-long cabin retreat in Mendocino, California, so she had to get creative when it came to recording a demo. Her makeshift setup included her guitars, a portable electric keyboard balanced on a chair, a four-track cassette recorder, a microphone hung from a lamp, and an old compact drum machine that churned out hilarious disco effects.

Nick Of Time was Raitt’s debut album with Capitol Records and was produced by Don Was, co-founder of the group Was (Not Was). The pair met the year before when they collaborated on “Baby Mine,” a cover of the song from Dumbo for the Disney tribute album Stay Awake.

Ricky Fataar, an original member of the Beatles spoof band The Rutles and occasional drummer for the Beach Boys, played drums on the track. Raitt wanted a beat similar to heartbeat pulse on Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” There were no hand drums in the studio, but there were burlap sandbags used to hold down mike stands. Fataar miked one of the bags and played the heartbeat of the song with his hands.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Song Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

Happy Humpday and welcome to another installment of my weekly feature where I’m taking a closer look at a song I’ve only mentioned in passing or not covered at all to date. For today, I decided to write about a tune by one of my favorite singer-songwriters, who I also admire for his great acoustic guitar skills – the one and only James Taylor.

When thinking of Taylor, the first thing that comes to my mind is his warm smooth voice. I feel it has the amazing quality to instantly put listeners at ease. At least, I can confirm it does so for me! That said, this doesn’t mean Taylor is only singing about pretty things. In fact, the song I chose to highlight in this post is a great illustration: A Junkie’s Lament.

Taylor wrote A Junkie’s Lament for his seventh studio album In the Pocket released in June 1976. That record is best known for Shower the People, which became Taylor’s third single to top Billboard’s Easy Listening chart, following his covers of How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You) and You’ve Got a Friend in June 1975 and May 1971, respectively.

According to Wikipedia, A Junkie’s Lament was also released as a single, though I couldn’t find any evidence of that on What I did find is that Art Garfunkel and Carly Simon who was Taylor’s wife at the time provided duet vocals and backing vocals, respectively. The backing musicians included Leland Sklar (bass) and Russ Kunkel (drums), who along with guitarist Danny Kortchmar were core members of The Section, a band of top-notch session musicians who frequently can be heard on albums by Taylor and many other artists. Here’s a great live version from Taylor’s 2001 Pull Over Tour, which was also captured on DVD.

Following are some additional insights from Songfacts:

This is an autobiographical song about Taylor’s battles with addictions (primarily heroin), the “monkey on his back.”

Speaking with Rolling Stone in 2015, Taylor explained: “This one’s a warning not to think of a junkie as a complete functioning human being. Heroin should’ve killed me about five times, but it never did. My kids suffered from their father being an addict. I think there’s no way they can’t. People take drugs to be in control. They want to short-circuit any risk that they might take in life, any uncertainty, any anxiety. They just want to find the chemical route, to just push the button that gets the final result. So all of your relationships suffer, no question about it.”

You don’t think of mellow singer-songwriters like James Taylor as junkies, which made this song rather surprising. But drug addicts come in many forms, which is his point: the guy you see dropping off his kids at school could be shooting heroin an hour later. The song led to a better understanding of addiction. [I couldn’t have said it any better – while prospects of getting into drugs vary, the reality is nobody is immune, so this tune has an important message – CMM]

“A Junkie’s Lament” is the second track on Taylor’s seventh album, In The Pocket, following “Shower The People.” Taylor had taken some time off and wasn’t the hit-maker he was in the early ’70s, but his music didn’t suffer. He survived the decade and sustained a long and fruitful career that found him performing well into his 70s.

Well, he still is. In fact, I’m thrilled to say I have a ticket to see James Taylor in Philly on Saturday, July 1, my first time!

Last but not least, here are the song’s lyrics:

Ricky’s been kicking the gong, lickity-split, didn’t take too long.
A junkie’s sick, a monkey’s strong, that’s what’s wrong.
Well, I guess he’s been messing around downtown, so sad to see the man losing ground.
Winding down behind closed doors on all fours.

Mama, don’t you call him my name, he can’t hear you anymore.
Even if he seems the same to you, that’s a stranger to your door.
Go on, ask him what’s he come here for.

Oh my God, a monkey can move a man. Send him to hell and home again.
An empty hand in the afternoon, shooting for the moon.
It’s halfway sick and it’s halfway stoned. He’d sure like to kick but he’s too far gone.
They wind him down with the methadone, he’s all on his own.

But baby, don’t you throw your love away, I hate to seem unkind.
It’s only that I understand the man that the monkey can leave behind,
I used to think he was a friend of mine.

Oh, La la la la la la la la,
Oh, la la la la la la la la.
La la la, la la la, la la la la.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Song Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

It’s Wednesday, which means the time has come again for me to take a closer look at a tune I previously mentioned in passing only or have not covered at all to date. In this case, I’m bending the rules a bit since technically I already published a post about the song I decided to highlight today, but it was brief and dates back a few years to June 2019.

The first time I heard about Gino Vannelli must have been around 1980. I seem to recall my brother-in-law had the versatile Canadian singer-songwriter’s sixth studio album Brother to Brother on vinyl, which I ended up taping on music cassette. Released in September 1978, Vannelli’s most successful record is primarily known for the romantic ballad I Just Wanna Stop, a song that had been written by his brother Ross Vannelli, which Gino didn’t want to record initially since he didn’t like it!

The tune that I’ve picked for this post is the album’s title track. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find many details about it. But when I heard my good music friend Mike Caputo perform Brother to Brother last Saturday night with his excellent band Good Stuff who celebrate the music of Steely Dan, Stevie Wonder, Gino Vannelli and Sting, it reminded me what a killer of a tune it is musically speaking. Check this out – the musicianship is truly outstanding!

Like most other tunes on the album, Brother to Brother was written by Gino Vannelli. The tune wasn’t among the record’s four singles, which in addition to I Just Wanna Stop included Wheels of Love, The River Must Flow and Appaloosa. At 7:16 minutes, Brother to Brother wasn’t exactly radio-friendly, plus I guess it’s fair to say it wasn’t as “easily digestible” as those other songs, especially I Just Wanna Stop.

One of Brother to Brother’s highlights is the guitar solo by Carlos Rios, which starts at around 2:49 minutes. Also noteworthy is the great bass and drum action beginning at approximately 4:35 minutes by Jimmy Haslip, cofounder of American jazz fusion band Yellowjackets, and rock and jazz drummer Mark Craney, respectively. Here’s a nice live version of the tune from a 2015 recording titled Live in LA, featuring Gino’s other brother Joe Vannelli on keyboards. Like Ross (backing vocals), Joe (electric piano, synthesizers) played on the original recording. Both brothers, especially Joe, also played on many of Gino’s other records.

Gino Vannelli, who in June 2022 turned 70, remains active to this day. His most recent album is titled Wilderness Road and was released in 2019. Based on Wikipedia, since his 1973 debut Crazy Life, Vannelli has put out 20 additional albums. This total includes what looks like three live recordings and one compilation.

According to a recent news post on Vannelli’s website, a new album, The Life I Got, is scheduled for the summer. After nearly 3.5 years, he also resumed touring in early March with two shows in Florida. Currently, his schedule lists four upcoming gigs slated for September in California, Illinois and Michigan.

Admittedly, my knowledge of Gino Vannelli’s music remains limited. Based on what I’ve heard, he’s a talented, versatile and I think underappreciated artist.

Sources: Wikipedia; Gino Vannelli website; YouTube