If I Could Only Take One

My desert island song by Roxy Music

I can’t believe it’s Wednesday again and we’re almost in July! This would be the perfect time for a summer vacation, and a beautiful tropical island sounds like an attractive proposition. But wait, before I can leave on yet another imaginary trip to some remote island in the sun, once again, I have to pick one song to take with me.

In case you’re a first-time visitor, there are a few rules that limit my options, which make the exercise both challenging and interesting at the same time. My pick cannot be a tune by a music act I’ve frequently written about. Ideally, it should be a band or artist I haven’t covered yet. It can only be one track, not an entire album. And picks must be in alphabetical order.

This week I’m up to “r.” Bands and artists (last names) starting with that letter include Radiohead, Bonnie Raitt, Ramones, R.E.M., Red Hot Chili Peppers, Otis Redding, Lou Reed, Keith Richards, The Rolling Stones, Linda Ronstadt and Roxy Music, among others.

Based on the above criteria, Bonnie Raitt, The Rolling Stones and Linda Ronstadt were immediately excluded from further consideration. For some of the other artists, sadly, I had to search my own blog to refresh my memory to what extent I had covered them before. At the end, it came down to picking Radiohead or Roxy Music, and I decided to go with the latter and More Than This.

More Than This, written by Bryan Ferry, first appeared in April 1982 as the lead single of Roxy Music’s eighth and final studio album Avalon, released the following month. It’s just a gorgeous pop tune I’ve loved from the very first moment I heard the band playing it on the radio at the time it came out.

More Than This was popular, reaching no. 6 in each the UK and Australia, but it wasn’t the group’s biggest hit. The latter was their great cover of John Lennon’s Jealous Guy, which they recorded and released as a non-album single in February 1981 to honor the ex-Beatle who had been senselessly killed by a deranged individual in New York in December 1980.

Art and pop rock group Roxy Music were founded by Ferry, the band’s lead vocalist and main songwriter, and bassist Graham Simpson in England in 1970. While they have been on and off ever since, their active recording period spanned 1972 to 1982. During these 10 years, Roxy Music released eight studio albums, three of which topped the UK charts: Stranded (1973), Flesh and Blood (1980) and the above-noted Avalon.

In 1982, at the height of their commercial success, Ferry who at that time was the only original member together with Andy Mackay (saxophone, oboe, keyboards, backing vocals), decided to dissolve Roxy Music and focus on his solo career, which he had launched in parallel to the group in 1973.

Roxy Music have since reunited several times for tours and are currently gearing up to be on the road again starting in September to celebrate their 50th anniversary. In addition to co-founders Ferry and Mackay, this includes Phil Manzanera  (guitar) and Paul Thompson (drums), who were all part of the group’s lineup that recorded Roxy Music’s 1972 eponymous debut album. The schedule of the five-week tour, which includes dates in Canada, the U.S. and the UK, is here.

Following are a few additional tidbits on More Than This from Songfacts:

Written by lead singer Bryan Ferry, this song is about a love affair that fell apart. Asked in 2014 by Entertainment Weekly why the song endures, Ferry replied, “For some reason, there’s something in the combination of the melody and the lyric that works for people.”

In America, this song got some traction when it featured in Sofia Coppola’s 2003 film Lost In Translation in a scene where Bill Murray sings it in a Tokyo karaoke bar. When the song was first released, however, it had little impact on the charts, bubbling under at just #102 on the Hot 100. Many college radio stations played the song, but commercial stations stayed away for the most part.

Roxy Music occupied just a small niche in America, where they hit the Top 40 just once (“Love Is the Drug” – #30 in 1975), but they were far more successful in the UK.

Ferry told The Mail on Sunday June 28, 2009 about the Avalon album: “I started writing the songs while on the west coast of Ireland, and I like to think that some of the dark melancholy of the album comes from that place.”

10,000 Maniacs covered this in 1997 on their album Love Among The Ruins. Mary Ramsey sang lead, as original Maniacs lead singer Natalie Merchant had just left the band to go solo.

Sources: Wikipedia; Roxy Music website; Songfacts; YouTube

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island song by Suzi Quatro

Happy Wednesday with another decision which one tune to take on an imaginary trip to a desert island.

In case you’re new to this weekly recurring feature, the idea is to pick one song by an artist or band I’ve only rarely mentioned or not covered at all on my blog to date. This excludes many popular options like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Pink Floyd, Steely Dan, Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, Neil Young, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Carole King and Bonnie Raitt, to name some of my longtime favorite artists. I’m also doing this exercise in alphabetical order, and I’m up to the letter “q”.

How many bands or artists do you know whose names/last names start with “q”? The ones that came to my mind included Quarterflash, Queen and Quiet Riot. And, of course, my pick, Can the Can by Suzi Quatro. Yes, perhaps it’s not the type of song that would be your first, second or even third pick to take on a desert island, but it’s a great kickass rock tune anyway!

Can the Can, penned by songwriters and producers Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn, was Quatro’s second solo single and her first to chart. And it was a smash, topping the charts in the UK, Germany, Switzerland and Australia. It also climbed to no. 2 in Austria and no. 5 in Ireland. In Quatro’s home country the U.S., the tune fared more moderately, reaching no. 56 on the Billboard Hot 100. American music listeners just weren’t as much into glam rock as audiences in other parts of the world, especially in Europe. Can the Can was also included on Quatro’s eponymous debut album, released in October 1973.

Here’s a bit of additional background on Suzie Quatro from her bio on AllMusic: With her trademark leather jump suit, instantly hooky songs, and big bass guitar, Suzi Quatro is a glam rock icon with a window-rattling voice and rock & roll attitude to spare. After getting her start in garage and hard rock bands, 1973’s breakthrough single “Can the Can,” a stomping blast of glam rock that combined ’50s-style song craft with Quatro’s powerful vocals, made her an international star. She followed up with a string of similar-sounding singles and albums — and made an impression on TV viewers with her role on the hit sitcom Happy Days — before softening her sound and scoring a hit with the 1978 ballad “Stumblin’ In.” While her work in the future would encompass everything from new wave pop on 1983’s Main Attraction to starring in a musical based on the life of Tallulah Bankhead in 1991, Quatro never lost her instincts as a rocker, as evidenced by albums like 2006’s Back to the Drive and 2021’s The Devil in Me.

When I heard Can the Can for the first time in the mid-’70s, it was not by Suzi Quatro but by German vocalist Joy Fleming. While I don’t know much about Fleming except for a 1974 live album titled Joy Fleming Live, I know one thing. She was a hell of a vocalist! Check this out!

Here are a few additional tidbits on Can the Can and Suzie Quatro from Songfacts:

…Quatro is an American who joined Mickie Most’s RAK label roster, becoming part of the glam rock revolution. Most produced her first single, “Rolling Stone,” but it went nowhere, so he asked songwriters Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman to write and produce her next single. The result was “Can The Can.”

When asked what “Can The Can” means, Nicky Chinn replied: “It means something that is pretty impossible, you can’t get one can inside another if they are the same size, so we’re saying you can’t put your man in the can if he is out there and not willing to commit. The phrase sounded good and we didn’t mind if the public didn’t get the meaning of it.”

Suzi Quatro: “I can hear a record for the first time and know whether it will be a hit. And I knew as soon as we had finished recording that we had a big hit on our hands.” (above quotes from 1000 UK #1 Hits by Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh)

This was the first #1 UK hit for a solo female artist since “Those Were The Days” by Mary Hopkin in 1968.

Quatro never hit it big in her native America, although she did have a memorable role on the TV series Happy Days playing Leather Tuscadero. She landed several more UK hits, including the #1 “Devil Gate Drive,” and influenced a generation of female rockers, notably Joan Jett.

Quatro wrote many of her own songs, but they tended to be album cuts, with the Chapman/Chinn team getting the singles. In a Songfacts interview with Quatro, she explained: “I was very boogie-based, very bass-based. And they went away and wrote ‘Can the Can.’ We had the arrangement where I could write the albums, and they would write the three-minute single – although I did have singles out myself, like ‘Mama’s Boy.’ I didn’t learn anything from their songwriting, because I always had my own thing. Whatever I did, I did.”

Suzi Quatro, who turned 72 a few weeks ago, continues to rock on. And tour. Her current schedule is here. Here’s Can the Can captured at London’s Royal Albert Hall in April this year. What a cool lady!

Sources: Wikipedia; Suzi Quatro website; YouTube

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by Poco

Happy Wednesday! Are you ready for another imaginary desert island trip? To me that sounds like an attractive proposition, except once again, I have the near-impossible decision to make which one song to take with me – not an album, just one tune!

For first-time visitors of this weekly feature, there are some additional rules to the madness. And they don’t make picking a song any easier. At the same time, going through this exercise is kind of fun, since I usually end up highlighting music I haven’t covered before or only noted in passing.

My pick must be by an artist or band I’ve only rarely written about or not covered at all. Additionally, I’m making the selections in alphabetical order, and I’m up to “p.” This means eligible artists (last name) and bands must start with that letter.

Looking at my music library revealed artists and bands like Tom Petty, Pink Floyd, The Pointer Sisters, The Police, Elvis Presley, Pretenders, Prince and Procul Harum. And my pick is Barbados by Poco.

Admittedly, I’m bending my own rules a bit this time, since I covered Poco before (though rarely), unlike Plain White T’s who also showed up in my search, and I do like Hey There Delilah. But the desert island theme and a tune titled Barbados just looked like a perfect fit. And I think it’s a great song!

Barbados was written by Paul Cotton, Poco’s lead guitarist and one of the band’s vocalists, who first joined the group in 1970. The tune appears on their 11th studio album Legend, released in November 1978. My former German band mate and longtime music buddy gave me this great record on vinyl in the late ’80s. I still own that copy!

I loved Barbados and the entire Legend LP from the get-go, and it was actually my introduction to Poco. It’s puzzling to me why Barbados was never released as a single. Three other tunes were, including the title track, Heart of the Night and Crazy Love. The last tune became Poco’s biggest hit. In the U.S., it topped Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart and reached no. 17 on the mainstream Hot 100. In Canada, the tune peaked at no. 4 on the adult contemporary chart and climbed to no. 15 on the main pop chart.

Interestingly, I couldn’t find any more information on Barbados. Songfacts instead features a song of the same title from 1975 by a British duo called Typically Tropical. Apparently, “their” Barbados, the duo’s debut single, became a no. 1 in the UK. Since they obviously don’t own the name “Barbados”, I really can’t imagine this had anything to do with the decision not to release Poco’s song as a single.

Poco were one of two bands that emerged in 1968 following the break-up of Buffalo Springfield. The group’s former guitarists Richie Furay and Jim Messina formed Poco, together with Rusty Young (pedal steel guitar, banjo, dobro, guitar, mandolin, vocals), Randy Meisner (bass, vocals) and George Grantham (drums, vocals).

Poco in 1971

Meanwhile, Stephen Stills, David Crosby  and Graham Nash founded Crosby, Stills & Nash. Neil Young launched his solo career and, of course, later joined CSN on various occasions, resulting in the mighty Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Buffalo Springfield might as well have been called “Buffalo Springboard”!

Poco are considered to be one of the pioneers of country rock, years before the Eagles popularized the genre. Their debut album Pickin’ Up the Pieces came out in May 1969. By the time it appeared Meisner already had left the group, angered by Furay’s insistence to be excluded from the final mix playback sessions for the album – egos in music! Meisner went on to join the Stone Canyon Band and became a founding member of the Eagles in September 1971.

Meisner was replaced by Timothy B. Schmit who later joined the Eagles as well. Messina left Poco in 1970 and was replaced by Cotton. The group’s line-up kept changing. It took Poco until their third release, a live album, to enjoy some chart success: No. 26 and no. 42 on the U.S. and Canadian charts, respectively. Appropriately, the album was titled Deliverin’.

Poco were active until April 2021 when Rusty Young passed away at the age of 75. Technically, he had retired in late 2013 but participated in reunion concerts thereafter. Paul Cotton died in August that year. He was 78. Altogether, Poco released 19 studio albums, nine live records and multiple compilations. In January 2015, Poco were inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame. Unlike the Eagles, who were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, Poco has yet to receive that recognition.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by The O’Jays

It’s it really Wednesday again? Yep, the calendar doesn’t lie. This means it’s time to pack my bags anew and head to that imaginary desert island. But before leaving, I must pick one song to take along.

It can’t be just any tune. It must be a song by an artist or a band I’ve rarely covered or not covered at all. And it must be an artist or a band whose name starts with the letter “o” since I’m doing this exercise alphabetically and did my pick for “n” last week.

For the letter “n”, some of the choices included Oasis, Sinead O’Connor, Phil Ochs, Old Crow Medicine Show, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD), Roy Orbison and Ozzy Osborne. And my pick is a smooth Philly soul tune I’ve always loved but not covered yet: Back Stabbers by The O’Jays.

Back Stabbers, co-written by Philadelphia International label songwriters Leon Huff, Gene McFadden and John Whitehead, is the title track of The O’Jays’ sixth studio album. Released in August 1972, it was their breakthrough and the first for Philadelphia International Records, a label that had only been founded in 1971. I dig the nice contrast between Levert’s rough voice and Williams’ smooth singing.

The O’Jays originally hailed from Canton, Ohio and were formed in 1958 as The Mascots by Eddie Levert, Walter Lee Williams, William Powell, Bobby Massey and Bill Isles while they were still in high school. They changed their name to The Triumphs before becoming The O’Jays in 1963 in tribute to Eddie O’Jay, a Cleveland radio DJ.

In 1963, The O’Jays released Lonely Drifter, their first charting U.S. single, which reached no. 93 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song also appeared on their debut album that came out in 1965. But as noted above, the group’s breakthrough didn’t happen until they signed with Philadelphia International Records and released the Back Stabbers album. By that time, The O’Jays had become a trio featuring Levert, Williams and Powell.

After 64 years, The O’Jays are still around, with Levert and Williams remaining part of the current line-up that also includes Eric Nolan Grant. In fact, they have upcoming tour dates in July and August. To date, they have released 29 studio albums, 20 compilations, one live album and nearly 100 singles. The O’Jays were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame (2004), Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (2005) and National Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame (2013).

Back Stabbers ranks among The O’Jays most successful U.S. singles, topping the R&B chart and reaching no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. Only Love Train, another track from Back Stabbers, ever topped the Hot 100. Other hits included Put Your Hands Together (1973), For the Love of Money (1974), I Love Music (1975), Livin’ For the Weekend (1976) and Use ta Be My Girl (1978).

Here’s a nice clip of The O’Jays’ 2005 Rock Hall induction performance, a medley of Back Stabbers, For the Love of Money and Love Train.

Following are some additional tidbits on Back Stabbers from Songfacts:

This song starts with a piano roll that Leon Huff played. He explained in an interview with National Public Radio: “‘Back Stabbers sounds like something eerie, so that roll was like something horrible, because that’s what back stabbers are. It reflected that type of drama.”

Regarding the elaborate production and orchestral sound, he added: “Our dream was to play so many counter-melodies that came with those songs, and the orchestra was able to put that together. Plus, stereo radio had just come around, and you had a lot of space to fill up. Stereo was much more soothing than mono, so we thought about the mixes we could do. The music was funky and classical at the same time.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; O’Jays website; YouTube

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by The Neville Brothers

It’s Wednesday and I’m back with my little exercise to pick one tune to take with me on an imaginary trip to a desert island. Given my arbitrary self-imposed rules, perhaps I should change the title of the recurring feature. When most folks hear the term ‘desert island song’, understandably, they associate with it their most favorite music. That’s not what I’m doing here, at least not on an absolute scale.

The idea of this feature is to pick an artist or band I have rarely or not covered at all to date and select one song from them I like. Oftentimes, the choice comes down to only a handful of their tunes I know. As such, this excludes many of all-time favorites like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Carole King, Neil Young, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Bonnie Raitt, Buddy Guy or Steely Dan who otherwise would be preferred picks. Another restricting factor is I’m doing this exercise in alphabetic order.

What that said, let’s get to today’s pick. I’m up to the letter “n”. Looking in my music library reveals artists and bands, such as Graham Nash, Johnny Nash, Nazareth, Willie Nelson, Randy Newman, Nilsson and Nirvana. My pick is Yellow Moon by The Neville Brothers.

Sadly, The Neville Brothers are among the music acts whose names I had known for years but had not been able to identify a specific tune. To inform the above pick I sampled tracks of two compilations, including the one pictured in the clip, Uptown Rulin’, which came out in 1999.

I couldn’t find much information on Yellow Moon. This groovy tune is credited to band co-founder, keyboarder and vocalist Arthur Neville, who was also known as Art Neville, and Jack Neville who based on my findings in AllMusic was a songwriter, predominantly for country artists. Here’s a nice live version of the tune, featuring the great John Hiatt as a guest. While the group’s sax player Charles Neville introduces him, he notes the Nevilles had performed a song written by Hiatt on their 1978 eponymous debut album (Washable Ink).

Yellow Moon was the title track of a studio album The Neville Brothers released in March 1989. According to Wikipedia, it peaked at no. 66 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200. Notably, the album was produced by Daniel Lanois who also worked with Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Peter Gabriel, Emmylou Harris and Willie Nelson, among others. He also collaborated with Brian Eno to produce various albums for U2 including my favorite The Joshua Tree.

A review of Yellow Moon by Ron Wynn for AllMusic notes the album charted and remained there for many weeks, while the Nevilles toured and generated lots of interest. It didn’t become a hit, but it did respectably and represents perhaps their finest overall pop LP. The group won a 1990 Grammy for Best Instrumental Pop Performance for another track on that album, titled Healing Chant.

The seeds for The Neville Brothers were planted in 1976 during a recording session of The Wild Tchoupitoulas. This Mardis Gras Indian group was led by the Nevilles’ uncle, George Landry, known as Big Chief Jolly. In addition to the previously noted Art Neville (keyboards, vocals) and Charles Neville (saxophone), The Neville Brothers featured Aaron Neville (vocals) and Cyril Neville (vocals, percussion). All four were siblings and participated in the above recording session.

AllMusic and Wikipedia list nine studio albums The Neville Brothers released during their active period between 1976 and 2012. In the latter year, they formally disbanded but reunited one more time in 2015 for a farewell concert in New Orleans. Charles Neville and Art Neville passed away in April 2018 and July 2019 at the ages of 79 and 81, respectively. Aaron Neville, now 81, is retired. Seventy-two-year-old Cyril Neville, the youngest of the four brothers, still appears to be an active musician.

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; YouTube

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by Madonna

Happy Wednesday and welcome to another installment of my desert island song exercise. If you’re a first-time visitor, I hope you’ll stick around and come back.

My song choice this week falls outside my ’60s and ’70s core wheelhouse, so in case you dig music from these two decades but are less excited about this pick, I hope you’ll check out some of the other posts and return. Should you love the tune I selected but are less sure about the ’60s and ’70s, come back anyway and allow me to demonstrate how much great music these two decades have to offer. BTW, you’ll also find some contemporary music on this blog.

After this shameless attempt of self-promotion, here are the rules: I’m about to embark on an imaginary trip to a desert island and need to decide which one song (not an album!) to take with me. Moreover, it must be a tune by an artist or a band I’ve only rarely written about or not covered at all. I’m doing this exercise in alphabetical order, based on my music library, and I’m up to the letter “m”.

Artists (their last names) and bands starting with the letter “m” are a sizeable pool in my music universe and, for example, include The Mamas & The Papas, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, Paul McCartney, John Mellencamp, Men At Work, The Moody Blues and Mumford & Sons. And my pick is La Isla Bonita by Madonna.

Yes, I like a good number of her songs but must immediately qualify for the most part I’m referring to music on her first four albums. I’m also not familiar at all with her two most recent albums Rebel Heart (March 2015) and Madame X (June 2019). I vaguely recall sampling a few tunes from MDNA (March 2012). Afterwards, I stopped paying attention altogether. Other contenders for my specific song choice included Borderline, Into the Groove, Papa Don’t Preach and Like a Prayer. Not only has La Isla Bonita been among my favorite Madonna tunes for many years, but I also felt it’s a perfect fit for the occasion.

The Spanish pop-flavored tune was co-written by Madonna and co-producers Patrick Leonard and Stephen Bray. It first appeared on Madonna’s third studio album True Blue, which came out in May 1986. The song was also released separately as the album’s fifth and last single in February 1987.

Both the single and the album enjoyed substantial international chart success. La Isla Bonita went to no. 1 in Canada, France, Germany, Switzerland in the UK, while the album topped the charts in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the UK. Europe definitely loved Madonna!

True Blue also became Madonna’s most commercially successful record globally, with more than 25 million units sold worldwide, and her third-highest seller in the U.S. where it reached 7x Platinum certification (verified sales of 7 million units) as of February 1995. In a review for AllMusic, Stephen Thomas Erlewine called True Blue “the album where Madonna truly became Madonna the Superstar – the endlessly ambitious, fearlessly provocative entertainer who knew how to outrage, spark debates, get good reviews — and make good music while she’s at it.” The album was also well-received by many other music critics.

How about La Isla Bonita gypsy style. This cool live reinterpretation captured in 2007 features guitarist Eugene Hütz and violinist Sergey Ryabtsev, both from Gogol Bordello, a gypsy punk band formed in New York City in 1999. Check this out – man, what a performance!

I’m leaving you with a few additional tidbits from Songfacts:

“La Isla Bonita” means “The Beautiful Island” in Spanish. In the song, Madonna sings about the beautiful island of San Pedro, where she longs to be. San Pedro is not a real island. In a 2009 interview with Rolling Stone, Madonna said, “I don’t know where that came from. I don’t know where San Pedro is. At that point, I wasn’t a person who went on holidays to beautiful islands. I may have been on the way to the studio and seen an exit ramp for San Pedro.”

This song provided yet another look and sound for Madonna, as it had a Spanish theme. In an interview with the New York Times, she called the song, “A tribute to the beauty and mystery of Latin American people.”

Songwriter and producer Patrick Leonard wrote this for Michael Jackson, but Jackson claimed he didn’t like the title and turned down the song. Leonard then offered it to Madonna, who rewrote some of the lyrics in her style. Leonard worked with Madonna on many of her other hits including: “Live To Tell,” “Who’s That Girl,” “The Look Of Love,” “Like A Prayer,” “Cherish,” “Oh, Father,” “Frozen” and “Nothing Really Matters.”

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; Songfacts; YouTube; Spotify

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by Los Lobos

It’s Wednesday and time again for another imaginary trip to a desert island. And that also means I have to pick a song I would take with me by an artist or band I like but haven’t written about or only rarely covered. Thank goodness I don’t have to do this in real life – I’d go nuts with one song only and the other “rules”.

I’m doing this little exercise in alphabetic order and I’m up to “l”. Artists/ bands in my music library, who start with that letter, include Larkin Poe, Cindy Lauper, Led Zeppelin, Little Richard, The Lovin’ Spoonful and Lynyrd Skynyrd, among others. And my pick are Los Lobos and Kiko and the Lavender Moon, a really cool tune I wouldn’t have picked without the above restrictions. Frankly, this was a tough decision for me, since I still don’t know the band from East L.A. very well.

Kiko and the Lavender Moon appeared on the band’s sixth studio album Kiko released in May 1992. The tune was written by co-founding members David Hildago (guitars, accordion, violin, banjo, piano, percussion, vocals) and Louie Pérez (drums, vocals, guitars, percussion). Both remain part of the group’s present line-up. I dig the vibe of this tune, though it’s tricky to characterize. I can hear some retro jazz and a dose of Latin groove. If it doesn’t speak to you the first time, I’d encourage you to give it at least one more listen!

Los Lobos, who blend rock & roll, Tex-Mex, country, zydeco, folk, R&B, blues and soul with traditional Spanish music like cumbia, bolero and norteño, were founded by Hildago and Pérez in East Los Angeles in 1973. When they met in high school, they realized they liked the same artists, such as Fairport ConventionRandy Newman and Ry Cooder. Subsequently, they asked their fellow students Frank Gonzalez (vocals, mandolin, arpa jarocha), Cesar Rosas (vocals, guitar, bajo sexto) and Conrad Lozano (bass, guitarron, vocals) to join them, completing band’s first line-up. Rosas and Lozano are also still around.

In early 1978, the band, then still known as Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles, self-released their eponymous debut album in Spanish. By the time of sophomore album How Will the Wolf Survive?, their first major-label release from October 1984, the band had shortened their name to Los Lobos and started to write songs in English. In 1987, Los Lobos recorded some covers of Ritchie Valens tunes for the soundtrack of the motion picture La Bamba, including the title track, which became their biggest hit. While it’s a great cover, I deliberately avoided it. Los Lobos are much more than a one-hit wonder! To date, they have released more than 20 albums, including three compilations and four live records. 

Here’s how Kiko and the Lavender Moon and Los Lobos sound in 2022:

Following are some additional insights from Songfacts:

This song is about a magical, albeit lonely character called Kiko, who comes out at night to “dance and dance.” In our interview, Los Lobos’ drummer and songwriter, Louie Pérez, told us he reflected upon his childhood when writing the lyrics: “I took this remembrance of the little house that I grew up in and Mom’s dresser-top altar, and was able to fold that into a song.”

In 1993, Los Lobos performed this on Sesame Street, changing the lyrics to “Elmo and the Lavender Moon.”

Kiko saw Los Lobos adopt a more experimental sound, that mixed blues, rock, folk and psychedelic influences. Perez spoke to us about the spiritual experience that was the making of Kiko, which is his favorite Los Lobos album: “There’s a point when all songwriters fall into this vacuum where it seems so amorphic and almost surreal… all of us were on this crazy trip. It was like a canoe into the fog, all of us were right there paddling away, and knowing we just have to paddle. We don’t know where we’re going, but we just trusted it. And it was amazing.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube; Songfacts

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by Kansas

Happy Wednesday! By now it’s safe to assume more frequent visitors of the blog know that I have to make another important decision today. For less frequent flyers or first-time visitors, I’m about to leave for an imaginary desert island. Since survival without music would be impossible, I have to pick what to take with me on the trip, but there’re a few twists.

I can only select one song at a time. Albums don’t qualify. It also needs to be a tune by a band or an artist I’ve only rarely written about or not covered at all to date. I’m doing this exercise in an alphabetical fashion, largely relying on my own music library.

We’re up to the letter “K”. Some of the options I could have selected include B.B. King, Carole King, The Kinks, Kiss, The Knack, Lenny Kravitz and Kris Kristofferson. Based on the above criteria, my pick is Kansas and Carry On Wayward Son.

I can’t claim much familiarity with the American rock band beyond their best-known tunes, but once I decided to select Kansas, my specific song choice was easy. Carry On Wayward Son is one of my favorite ’70s rock tunes. While I’m usually in the camp of less is more when it comes to guitar riffs, I find the guitar work on this song really cool, even though it’s pretty complex.

Carry On Wayward Son was penned by guitarist Kerry Livgren, one of the band’s founding members, who also played keyboards and sang backing vocals. The song first appeared on the group’s fourth studio album Leftoverture released in October 1976. In November of that year, it also became the record’s first of two singles and the band’s first charting song.

In the U.S., Carry On Wayward Son climbed to no. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100. It would be the group’s second-highest charting single there after Dust in the Wind, the 1978 ballad that reached no. 6 and brought Kansas on my radar screen. Elsewhere, Carry On Wayward Son charted in Canada (no. 5), the UK (no. 51) and Australia (no. 58). Undoubtedly, the tune’s performance helped propel Leftoverture to 5X Platinum certification status in the U.S., making it the band’s highest-selling album to date.

Except for a 7-month break-up period between August 1984 and March 1985, Kansas have been active since 1970. Their origins go back to 1969 when Kerry Livgren and Don Montre (keyboards, backing vocals), who had played together in a group called Reasons Why, formed a new band, Saratoga, together with Dan Wright (keyboards) and Lynn Meredith. In 1970, that group became Kansas. They were joined by Dave Hope (bass) and Phil Erhart (drums). Greg Allen (lead and backing vocals) and Larry Baker (saxophone) completed the inaugural line-up.

After some twists and turns, Kansas released their eponymous debut album in March 1974. It would be the first of 16 records that have appeared to date. The most recent album The Absence of Presence came out in July 2020. At the time, I featured one of the tracks in a Best of What’s New installment.

As you would imagine, Kansas have gone through multiple line-up changes. One of the more significant chapters in the band’s long history was the departure of Livgren in 1983, who had been one of their major songwriters. In the late ’70s, Livgren became a born-again Christian. His lyrics increasingly reflected a Christian perspective, which resulted in growing tension among members of the band and eventually to their above noted short break-up in August 1984.

In March 1985, Ehart and longtime Kansas members Rich Williams (guitars, backing vocals) and Steve Walsh (lead and backing vocals, keyboards, percussion) reunited, joined by Billy Greer (bass, acoustic guitar, backing and lead vocals) and Steve Morse (lead and rhythm guitars, backing vocals). Ehart, Williams and Greer remain with the group’s current line-up.

The current line-up of Kansas (from left): David Ragsdale, Phil Ehart, Ronnie Platt, Richard Williams, Tom Brislin, and Billy Greer. CREDIT: EMILY BUTLER PHOTOGRAPHY

Following are some additional insights in Carry On Wayward Son from Songfacts:

According to Livgren, the song was not written to express anything specifically religious, though it certainly expresses spiritual searching and other ideas.

Livgren became an evangelical Christian in 1980, and has said that his songwriting to that point was all about “searching.” Regarding this song, he explained: “I felt a profound urge to ‘Carry On’ and continue the search. I saw myself as the ‘Wayward Son,’ alienated from the ultimate reality, and yet striving to know it or him. The positive note at the end (‘surely heaven waits for you’) seemed strange and premature, but I felt impelled to include it in the lyrics. It proved to be prophetic.”

…Sitting at his parent’s home, in front of the family organ, Livgren composed the music for what would become “Carry On Wayward Son.” In late 2011, Livgren stated in a short interview at his home that the lyrics were partially about himself and the struggles and pressures he was facing at the time when the band’s career was on the line. The piano interlude and accompanying verse express how happy the band’s success had made him, as well as how sad and fearful he was that it might possibly be over (“I was soaring ever higher, but I flew too high”). However, the chorus expresses hope that everything will work out and that he must simply keep going. (“Carry on, my wayward son. There’ll be peace when you are done”).

In reality, the song was almost not included on the album, and thus contributes to the album’s title of Leftoverture. The album title comes from the idea that many of the songs are leftover songs from the band’s past. For instance, the string part at the end of the second track, “The Wall”, was an old song idea that was added on to the end of the song for the record. The album, while met with mixed reviews by critics, was commercially successful, going platinum five times. “Carry On” became the bands’ first Top 40 hit (peaking at #11), and is often regarded as one of the greatest rock songs of all time. It gave Kansas the staying power it needed to keep producing records with Kirshner, and earned Kerry Livgren the reputation as one of the most respected musicians and lyricists in rock and roll.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by James Gang

Another Wednesday is upon us, which means time to pick another tune to take to that imaginary desert island. I’m up to the letter “J”, and taking a look at my music library reveals artists and bands like Joe Jackson, The Jackson 5, The Jayhawks, Jean-Michel Jarre, Nora Jones and Janis Joplin. Each would be a good choice, except I’ve covered them more often than my pick James Gang.

I only know a handful of James Gang tunes, which made my selection pretty easy: Funk #49. Co-written by band members Joe Walsh (vocals, guitars, percussion, piano, keyboards), Jim Fox (drums, percussion, organ, piano, keyboards) and Dale Peters (bass guitar, percussion, vocals), the song is from the group’s sophomore album James Gang Rides Again, released in July 1970. It also appeared separately as a single that same year.

Like James Gang’s other charting songs, Funk #49 was moderately successful in the U.S., reaching no. 59 on the Billboard Hot 100. It did better in Canada where it climbed to no. 26, marking their highest-charting single there. This doesn’t change the fact that I love this tune!

Following are some additional insights from Songfacts:

The James Gang is best known for their guitarist, Joe Walsh, whose playing on this track helped establish him as a superstar axeman. Walsh joined the Cleveland-based group in 1969 after making a name for himself as one of the top guitar men in Ohio. He replaced Glenn Schwartz in the band, who Walsh considers a mentor. They were a 5-piece when Walsh joined, but were down to three (like popular acts Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience) when they released their second album James Gang Rides Again.

With just three members, it meant Walsh had to play both rhythm and lead guitar parts, and also sing (he got a lot more help when he joined the Eagles in 1975). It was quite a learning experience for Walsh, who left the James Gang in 1971 after recording three studio albums with the group.

The song is about a girlfriend whose wild ways the singer just can’t tame…There isn’t much in the way of lyrics, as the song is mostly a showcase for Walsh’s guitar work. He explained in the book The Guitar Greats, “I came up with the basic guitar lick, and the words never really impressed me intellectually, but they seemed to fit somehow. It was a real good example of how we put things together, bearing in mind that it was a three piece group, and I don’t think that there was any overdubbing. The only thing we really added was the percussion middle part, which the three of us actually played, putting some parts on top of the drums, but that’s the three piece James Gang, and that’s the energy and kind of the symmetry we were all about.”

“Funk #49” became a staple of Album Oriented Rock and Classic Rock radio, but it wasn’t the biggest chart hit for the James Gang – that would be “Walk Away,” which made #51 in 1971 and was later reworked for Walsh’s 1976 solo album You Can’t Argue with a Sick Mind. “Funk #49” is one of Joe Walsh’s most popular songs, and by the mid-’70s he admitted that he couldn’t stand playing it any more, but did so because fans loved it.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by The Impressions

All my bags are packed/I’m ready to go/I’m standin’ here outside your door/I hate to wake you up to say goodbye…In case these words sound familiar, they are the opening lines of Leaving On a Jet Plane. While I’ve always loved this 1966 song by John Denver, it’s not my desert island pick for this week, but the lyrics fit well thematically.

Doing this feature alphabetically based on my song library, I’m up to the letter “I”. It turned out there weren’t too many choices: The Isley Brothers; two German acts, Ina Deter Band and Ich + Ich and, nope it’s not an illusion, Imagination. And, of course, the music act I picked: The Impressions. When it comes to this great doo-wop, gospel, soul and R&B group one song has always stood out to me in particular: People Get Ready.

Written by Curtis Mayfield, one of my all-time favorite artists, People Get Ready is the title track of The Impressions’ fourth studio album released in February 1965, the group’s first and only record to top Billboard’s R&B Chart. It also became their biggest success on the mainstream Billboard 200, climbing to no. 23. The beautiful tune also appeared as a single, reaching no. 3 and no. 14 on the U.S. R&B and Billboard Hot 100 charts, respectively.

The gospel-influenced, which reflected a growing sense of social and political awareness in his writing, rightfully has received much recognition. Rolling Stone named it the 24th greatest song of all time in its list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. The magazine also ranked it at no. 20 on their list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Tracks. Mojo named it as one of Top 10 Best Songs of All Time. Additionally, People Get Ready is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll, the Grammy Hall of Fame and the National Recording Registry, a list of sound recordings that “are culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant, and/or inform or reflect life in the United States.”

Not surprisingly, the tune has been covered by a broad range of other artists. Some include Bob Marley, Aretha Franklin, The Staple Singers, Bob Dylan, Greg Lake and Jeff Beck who teamed up with Rod Stewart. Following is a Spotify playlist featuring some of the song’s renditions.

Here are some additional tidbits from Songfacts:

The song embodies a deep sense of spirituality and community, but with enough popular appeal to make it a hit. Mayfield based the song’s lyric on various sermons he heard in church. He wrote the music first, and the gospel feel dictated the words.

This song resonated with African Americans during the civil rights struggles of the ’60s. The song speaks for the downtrodden, and Mayfield made it clear that transcended race. “It doesn’t matter what color or faith you have,” he told Goldmine in 1997. “I’m pleased the lyrics can be of value to anybody.”…

After Curtis Mayfield was paralyzed in 1990 (a light rig fell on him, crushing three vertebrae), royalties from this song – especially the Rod Stewart version – helped keep him financially sound, which he credited for helping him fend off depression and remain active as a songwriter and singer despite his condition. Mayfield released the acclaimed album New World Order two years before his death in 1999...

…Train imagery was popular in traditional spirituals, with songs like “The Gospel Train,” “I Got My Ticket,” and “I’m Gwine Home on de Mornin’ Train” looking forward to a joyous passage to the afterlife aboard the heavenly locomotive. In the decades leading up to the US Civil War, “conductors” of the Underground Railroad, a network of safe routes and shelters that helped slaves escape to free states, used these songs as codes to alert slaves throughout their journey.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify