Song Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

Happy Hump Day and welcome to another installment of Song Musings where I take a closer look at tunes I’ve only mentioned in passing or not covered at all to date. My pick for this week is Kodachrome, a great song by Paul Simon I was reminded of the other day when putting together a post about notable albums turning 50 this year.

One of these records is There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, his third solo album released on May 5, 1973. Not only is Kodachrome the opener of the album, but it also became its first single on May 19 that year. I’ve always loved the tune’s upbeat melody. Additionally, When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school is among the best memorable opening lines of a pop song I can think of.

Kodachrome became Simon’s highest-charting solo single at the time, peaking at no. 2 on both the U.S. and Canadian pop charts. Elsewhere, it climbed to no. 8 in France, no. 15 in The Netherlands and no. 40 in Australia. It was one of three charting singles off the album that altogether spawned six singles.

The tune also helped fuel the success of the album, which topped the charts in Sweden and climbed to no. 2, no. 3, no. 4 and no. 5 in the U.S., Canada, the UK and France, respectively. It also charted in Norway (no. 6), Australia (no. 7) and Finland (no. 17) – yes, I had to count them all! Here’s a nice live version from Simon’s 2012 gig at the Hard Rock Calling Festival in London’s Hyde Park.

Simon, who last October turned 81, officially is retired from touring. He played his final regular concert in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens, New York, on September 22, 2018. But apparently, Simon is not done with music. Last August, Spin reported he is working on a new album provisionally titled The Seven Psalms. It would be Simon’s first with new material since June 2016 when he released Stranger to Stranger.

Following are some additional insights about Kodachrome from Songfacts:

Kodachrome is a registered trademark of the Kodak company. It is a method of color transparency, but more commonly known as a type of color film the company started marketing in 1935. Paul Simon was working on a song with the title “Coming Home” when the word “Kodachrome” came to him. He had no idea what it meant, but knew it would make for a much more interesting song than “Coming Home.” The song became an appreciation of the things that color our world, and a look at how our memories are framed to fit our worldviews.

This was not a hit in England, partly because UK radio stations rarely played it. The BBC had very strict rules about commercial endorsements, and they would not allow stations to play songs that seemed to push products. It’s the same reason The Kinks had to re-record part of “Lola.” The lyrics were, “We drink champagne and it tastes just like Coca-Cola,” But Ray Davies had to redo them as “…Just like cherry cola” so the song could get airplay in Great Britain.

Paul Simon recorded this at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Alabama with the famous Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. He sought out the musicians when he found out they played on “I’ll Take You There” by the Staple Singers, and was surprised to learn that they were not Jamaican musicians, but four white guys from the South. Simon went to Muscle Shoals to record just one song: “Take Me To The Mardi Gras,” but when they finished that one much sooner than he expected, he also recorded “Kodachrome” and “Loves Me Like A Rock.” Simon was the first big rock artist to record at the studios – Bob Seger and The Rolling Stones were some of the others who recorded there in the ’70s.

David Hood, the bass player in the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, told us this story: “When Paul Simon walked into our studio, he thought, God, what a funky place. Because it was. He was used to working at A&R and Columbia Studios in New York, and studios in England and different places. And when he came and saw our little place, he probably thought, man, this is a rat trap.

It just so happened that the roof leaked in our studio right over the recording console, and as a short term fix, we taped sanitary pads across the ceiling just to absorb the water so it wouldn’t drop down on the recording console. So we had Paul Simon, who’s got hit record after hit record walking in and seeing this place with Kotex on the ceiling. He must have thought, what in the world have I gotten myself into? But we cut this track for him in two takes, and I think he thought, wow, well these guys know what they’re doing. It doesn’t really matter.”

In the song, Kodak film gets the title, but Simon uses a Nikon camera. That’s because it scans well in the line “I got a Nikon camera” – try inserting Kodak or Canon in there and it won’t sound right.

Simon sometimes sings the line “Everything looks worse in black and white” as “Everything looks better in black and white.” He changes it a lot, and claims he can’t remember which way he wrote it.

On June 22, 2009, Kodak officially retired Kodachrome color film after 74 years. Photographers had turned to more recent Kodak products and digital technologies, which led to Kodachrome’s decline.

Sources: Wikipedia; Spin; Songfacts; YouTube

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Song Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

Happy Wednesday and hope this week has been treating you well. I’d like to welcome you to another installment of my weekly feature, in which I’m taking a closer look at songs I’ve only mentioned in passing or not covered at all to date. Over the weekend, I finally watched Moonage Daydream, the Brett Morgen documentary about David Bowie. While it’s not a traditional music documentary or biopic but a collage of concert and other footage from Bowie’s personal archives, I actually liked the film more than I thought. It also inspired this week’s song pick: Life On Mars?

Written by David Bowie, the tune first appeared on his fourth studio album Hunky Dory released in December 1971. It was the first record with Bowie’s new backing band featuring Mick Ronson (guitar), Trevor Bolder (bass) and Mick Woodmansey (drums), the group that subsequently became The Spiders from Mars. Life On Mars? was also released as a single in the UK, but only in June 1973 at the height of Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust period. It peaked at no. 3 there.

Life On Mars? has a bit of a history, which started in 1968 when Bowie was commissioned to write English lyrics for Comme d’habitude, a song by French music artist Claude François. But Bowie’s lyrics were rejected and it was songwriter Paul Anka who took the tune and turned it into My Way, which was popularized by Frank Sinatra in 1969. Apparently annoyed about the success of My Way, Bowie used the song as a template and wrote Life On Mars?, intended as a parody of Sinatra’s recording.

Wikipedia notes that Life On Mars? has been described as a “soaring, cinematic ballad.” Combining elements of glam rock, cabaret and art rock, the tune has a pretty complex structure with different chord changes throughout. The string arrangement was composed by Ronson. Rick Wakeman, who at the time was still a member of English folk rock group The Strawbs, played the piano. Soon thereafter, he would join Yes. Here’s a live version of the song, captured in Paris in October 1999.

Critics and biographers have called Life On Mars? one of Bowie’s best songs. The tune has been covered by various other music artists, including Barbra Streisand and Nine Inch Nails members Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. After Bowie’s untimely death in January 2016, the song entered the charts in many countries and became a frequent tribute tune for Bowie. Tributes by organist Nicholas Freestone and singer Lorde gained broad popularity.

Following are some additional tidbits from Songfacts:

The lyricism is very abstract, though the basis of this song is about a girl who goes to watch a movie after an argument with her parents. The film ends with the line “Is there life on Mars?”

Bowie has labeled the song “a sensitive young girl’s reaction to the media” and added, “I think she finds herself disappointed with reality… that although she’s living in the doldrums of reality, she’s being told that there’s a far greater life somewhere, and she’s bitterly disappointed that she doesn’t have access to it.”

The lyrics also contain imagery suggesting the futility of man’s existence, a topic Bowie used frequently on his early albums...

…In 2008, Bowie recalled writing this song to the Mail on Sunday: “This song was so easy. Being young was easy. A really beautiful day in the park, sitting on the steps of the bandstand. ‘Sailors bap-bap-bap-bap-baaa-bap.’ An anomic (not a ‘gnomic’) heroine. Middle-class ecstasy. I took a walk to Beckenham High Street to catch a bus to Lewisham to buy shoes and shirts but couldn’t get the riff out of my head. Jumped off two stops into the ride and more or less loped back to the house up on Southend Road. Workspace was a big empty room with a chaise lounge; a bargain-price art nouveau screen (‘William Morris,’ so I told anyone who asked); a huge overflowing freestanding ashtray and a grand piano. Little else. I started working it out on the piano and had the whole lyric and melody finished by late afternoon. Nice. Rick Wakeman [of prog band, Yes] came over a couple of weeks later and embellished the piano part and guitarist Mick Ronson created one of his first and best string parts for this song which now has become something of a fixture in my live shows.”

…Mick Rock, a photographer who shot the covers of Lou Reed’s Transformer album and Queen’s Queen II, directed the song’s official video, which he filmed backstage at Earls Court, London, in 1973. Bowie appears in a turquoise suit and makeup, performing the song against a white backdrop.

Rock ended up producing two more versions of the video, first in the ’80s when he treated it with a bleached look, then in 2016 when the Parlophone label commissioned him to do a new edit. “The new version is my favorite, because there are all kinds of things you can do technically, including playing around with the colors and lots things,” Rock told Songfacts. [The first clip is the 2016 version – CMM]

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Song Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

Happy Wednesday and welcome to another installment of Song Musings, a weekly feature taking a closer look at tunes I’ve only mentioned in passing or not written about at all to date. Today, I’m turning to Unknown Legend by Neil Young, one of my favorite artists.

Unknown Legend is the opener of Harvest Moon, which I think is one of the best albums by the Canadian-American singer-songwriter, released in November 1992. Young wrote this great country-flavored tune prior to the release of his 1978 album Comes a Time. Some critics saw a stylistic similarity to that record, pointing in particular to the song Motorcycle Mama – other than the motorcycle and a female singer supporting Young on vocals, it doesn’t seem to be very obvious to me!

The gorgeous backing vocals in the refrain of Unknown Legend were provided by Linda Ronstadt. The album’s co-producer Ben Keith played the great pedal steel guitar on the recording. It’s a simple yet beautiful song!

Even though Unknown Legend wasn’t released as a single, it proved to be popular, reaching no. 38 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. The album continued Young’s commercial resurgence that had started with his two previous releases Freedom (October 1989) and Ragged Glory (September 1990), eventually outselling both. In Canada, Harvest Moon also won the 1994 Juno Award for Album of the Year. Here’s a nice “electric” live version of the song.

Following are some additional insights about Unknown Legend from Songfacts:

The woman in “Unknown Legend” is Neil Young’s wife (at the time), Pegi Morton Young. The two met in 1974, while Morton was working as a waitress at a diner near Young’s ranch.

The song talks about a waitress, now mother of two, who had once lived a life of travel and restlessness. The chorus harks back to her years of riding a Harley Davidson through the desert, with its chrome and steel “Collidin’ with the very air she breathes.” The song sounds both triumphant and sad. It laments the woman’s situation (“Now she’s dressin’ two kids, lookin’ for a magic kiss”) while celebrating the wild rambling imagery of her past, all while sweetly observing her graceful movements across the diner floor.

A historically interesting note is that “Unknown Legend,” which is an ode to Pegi, appeared on an entire album Young had made about keeping marriage alive. “This album here [Harvest Moon], it’s about making things last, how to keep that interest, how to keep the fire burning,” Young told New Musical Express in 1992. “Never get bored with the fact that you’ve been with someone for a long time, it’s a good thing, not a bad thing. Relationships should enrichen with age, that kind of thing.”

The marriage did indeed enrichen for over a decade after the song’s release, but then collapsed. In that same New Musical Express piece, writer Gavin Martin prophetically wrote, “No marriages are easy, rock ‘n’ roll relationships are particularly fraught. Placid and healing on the surface, Harvest Moon doesn’t try to deny the troubles and heartbreak beneath.”

Pegi spoke a lot about her divorce from Young on her album Raw. It’s an interesting dynamic – the “Unknown Legend” herself singing candidly about the harsher aspects of being married to the man who once immortalized her in song.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Song Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

Welcome to the first 2023 installment of Song Musings and I hope you’re off to a great start into the new year. In this weekly feature, I’m taking a closer look at tunes I’ve only mentioned in passing or not covered at all to date. My pick for today is It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me by Billy Joel.

Penned by Joel, the song first appeared on his seventh studio album Glass Houses released in March 1980. It also became the album’s third single in May 1980 and Joel’s first no. 1 hit in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. It stayed in that position for two weeks, spent 11 weeks in the top 10 altogether, and was the seventh biggest hit of 1980.

It’s Still Rock and Roll to me also topped the charts in Canada. Elsewhere, it climbed to no. 10 in Australia, no. 11 in Ireland, no. 14 in the UK and no. 21 in New Zealand. The tune is one of Joel’s biggest hits. He only had two other no. 1 songs in the U.S.: Tell Her About It (1983) and We Didn’t Start the Fire (1989).

The lyrics convey Joel’s criticism of the music business and press. It comments on new musical styles and trends, especially new wave, which in Joel’s opinion was a rehash of older musical styles rather than something truly new. Here’s a live version from a show on Long Island, which looks like it was captured at the time the tune came out.

Following are some additional insights from Songfacts:

Around this time [early 1980 – CMM], Joel was often abased in the music press as a provider of middle-of-the-road dreck. Popular artists are often targets for journalist derision, but while most of these artists choose to ignore it, Joel responded in this song. The lines, “It doesn’t matter what they say in the papers, ’cause it’s always been the same old scene” and “There’s a new band in town, but you can’t get the sound from a story in a magazine,” were specifically written to attack the press that was bringing him down. While you can real all you want about a singer or band, the only way you’ll really know what they sound like is by listening.

“Sometimes the press gave me a hard time, and liked giving them a hard time back,” Joel told Howard Stern in 2014. “In my neighborhood, somebody hits you, you hit them right back.” [I wonder whether such criticism may have played a role in his decision to stop releasing new pop music after his 1993 album River of Dreams. Evidently, it hasn’t done much harm to the popularity of Joel who continues to do very well on the concert circuit – CMM]…

…”Miracle Mile,” as mentioned in the line “Should I get a set of white wall tires? Are you gonna cruise a miracle mile?” is a stretch of road (about a mile long) full of various stores in Manhasset, Long Island near where Joel grew up.

After he wrote this song, Joel says he realized that the chords were the same ones Bob Dylan used on “Lay Lady Lay.” [Frankly, I don’t hear it but trust Joel as a professional musician is right about it – CMM].

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Song Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

Happy hump day and welcome to another installment of Song Musings where I take a closer look at tunes I’ve only mentioned in passing or not covered at all. Today’s pick falls into the former category and is by an artist I’ve dug since she busted on the scene in 1993 with her successful debut album Tuesday Night Music Club: Everyday Is a Winding Road by Sheryl Crow.

Co-written by Crow, Jeff Trott and Brian McLeod, the song first appeared on her eponymous sophomore album released in September 1996. It also became the record’s second single in November of the same year. While it didn’t match the sales success of lead single If It Makes You Happy, its chart performance was close to its predecessor. Both tunes topped the Canadian charts. In the U.S., Everyday Is a Winding Road climbed to no. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100. It did best on the Pop Airplay chart where it peaked at no. 4. Elsewhere, it hit the top 20s in the UK (no. 12), Japan (no. 20) and Iceland (no. 14).

Everyday Is a Winding Road was one of five singles that helped drive the success of Crow’s second album. From a charts perspective, the record did best in Switzerland, the UK, the U.S., Sweden, Austria and Belgium where it reached no. 3, no.5, no. 6, no. 8, no. 8 and no. 10, respectively. It also placed in the top 20 in Canada (no. 12), Australia (no. 12), Germany (no. 17) and Norway (no. 20). Sheryl Crow has sold the most copies in the U.S. and the UK where it has been certified 3X Platinum.

When releasing her 11th album Threads in August 2019, which I reviewed here at the time, Crow said this was her last such full-length studio effort. She cited changing habits, especially among young listeners who prefer putting together playlists with songs by their favorite artists rather than listening to entire albums. At the same time, she reassured fans she wasn’t planning to retire, and so far, there are indeed no signs Crow is calling it quits altogether. Going back to Everyday Is a Winding Road, here’s a nice live performance of the tune from 2010 on the then-American TV show Late Show with David Letterman.

Following is some additional background on the tune from Songfacts:

This bit of fortune cookie wisdom was written by Sheryl Crow along with her collaborators Jeff Trott and Brian MacLeod. The trio wasn’t thrilled with it when they wrote the song, so they were happy to give it up for the 1996 film Phenomenon, starring John Travolta.

Once they started stripping it down at the request of the movie’s music supervisor, something great began to emerge. Trott told Songfacts: “We realized by pulling back all that stuff that, wow there actually is a really good song in there, and it’s just being covered with layer, upon layer, of instruments.”

The song debuted in the movie, but didn’t appear on the soundtrack. The film was released in July 1996 and the song was included on Crow’s self-titled sophomore album, which was issued in September…

…Crowded House lead singer Neil Finn provided backing vocals. The Australian band’s former drummer, Paul Hester, was the inspiration for the song. Crow explained before a Top of the Pops performance in 2003: “He inspired the song because he was so… he was such a character and so full of life, and it’s basically about the search for the meaning of life.”

…Crow elaborated on the song’s theme in an interview with CMT: “‘Everyday is a Winding Road’ started out as kind of a road song, and it really wound up being about being in the moment and not always looking to the next moment and analyzing things. As I look at this record, stepping away from it, I realize thematically a lot of it is about levity, finding levity in life and balance and trying to figure out how to make all things work simultaneously without grand disruption. That’s kind of what the song is about. It’s about jumping in a truck with a guy who just lives life every minute, by the minute. Every once in a while, I have to catch myself and remind myself that life is right now. It’s not two minutes from now.”

This was nominated for Record of the Year at the 1998 Grammy Awards, but it lost to Shawn Colvin’s “Sunny Came Home.”

This was also featured in the 2000 biographical drama Erin Brockovich, starring Julia Roberts.

Prince covered this on his 1999 album, Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Song Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

Hope your Wednesday is treating you nicely. It’s time to take a closer look at another song I’ve only mentioned in passing or not covered at all to date. The context for today’s pick is rather sad – the recent death of Christine McVie who suddenly passed away last Wednesday at the age of 79 after a short illness. The cause was not disclosed. While in Fleetwood Mac McVie oftentimes may have been overshadowed by Stevie Nicks, she wrote and sang some of the group’s most popular songs, including Everywhere, Little Lies, Don’t Stop, You Make Loving Fun and my pick for today: Songbird.

Songbird appeared on the Mac’s magnum opus Rumours, their 11th studio album released in February 1977. The beautiful tune also became the B-side to the record’s second single Dreams, which appeared in March 1977. Two of McVie’s above-noted songs, Don’t Stop and You Make Loving Fun, were A-side singles. Songbird should have been one as well, in my view.

Christine McVie (born Christine Perfect) joined Fleetwood Mac in 1970 after her departure from blues band Chicken Shack who had toured with the Mac, and the recording of her eponymous debut album Christine Perfect. By the time she became an official member of Fleetwood Mac, she had married bassist John McVie. In 1984, she released her second solo album, Christine McVie. By 1999, McVie had not only grown tired from touring but had also developed a phobia about flying, and decided to retire from music. She officially rejoined Fleetwood Mac in 2014 and was part of their last world tour that ended in Las Vegas in November 2019. Mick Fleetwood subsequently said it probably was the band’s last such tour.

In June 2022, Christine McVie released a solo compilation titled Songbird: A Solo Collection. The album features remixed versions of tunes from her above-mentioned 1984 solo album and In the Meantime, another solo record from September 2004, together with two previously unreleased tracks and the following orchestrated version of Songbird.

Last but not least, here’s a nice live version of Songbird, which became a beloved tune among Fleetwood Mac fans. It was often performed by McVie and guitarist Lindsey Buckingham as their show closer. This footage was captured in December 2014 at a gig in San Diego, Calif.

Following are some additional tidbits about Songbird from Songfacts.

Christine McVie said that this song held Fleetwood Mac together during their hard times while recording Rumours. Once the members heard this song, they thought about what they had been through and how much love they shared...

Christine McVie liked to pen her songs from another person’s point of view rather than writing about herself. She told Uncut: “If you take ‘Songbird’ as an example, that was written in about half an hour. If I could write a few more like that, I would be a happy girl. It doesn’t really relate to anybody in particular; it relates to everybody. A lot of people play it at their weddings or at bar mitzvahs or at their dog’s funeral. It’s universal. It’s about you and nobody else. It’s about you and everybody else. That’s how I like to write songs.”

Christine McVie penned the song after she woke up in the middle of the night with it in her head. She recalled to Mojo in 2015: “Stevie and I were in a condominium block and the boys were all in the Sausalito Record Plant house raving with girls and boozer and everything. I had a little transistorized electric piano next to my bed and I woke up one night at about 3:30 a.m. and started playing it. I had all, words, melody, chords in about 30 minutes. It was like a gift from the angels, but I had no way to record it. I thought I’m never gonna remember this. So I went back to bed, and couldn’t sleep. I wrote the words down quickly.

Next day, I went into the studio shaking like a leaf’ ’cause I knew it was something special. I said, ‘Ken, (Caillat, Rumours’ co-producer/engineer) put the 2-track on, I want to record this song!’ I think they were all in there, smoking opium.”

“Songbird” was recorded away from the studio at the University of California’s Zellerbach Auditorium with just McVie alone at the piano. The idea was to have it sound like she was singing alone after everyone had left a concert. It was recorded using a mobile unit.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Song Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

It’s Wednesday and I hope you’re having a great day. Wednesday also means it’s time again for taking a closer look at a particular song I’ve only mentioned in passing or not covered at all. My pick for today is Train to Birmingham by John Hiatt, a great singer-songwriter I had known by name for many years but only started to explore about 18 months ago.

While Hiatt has written songs for 50-plus years and recorded close to 30 albums, his tunes oftentimes became hits for other artists. Perhaps the most prominent examples are Thing Called Love and Have a Little Faith in Me, which became hits for Bonnie Raitt and Joe Cocker, respectively. Hiatt’s songs have also been covered by an impressive and diverse array of other artists like B.B. KingBob DylanBuddy GuyEmmylou HarrisJoan BaezLinda RonstadtThe Nitty Gritty Dirt Band  and Willy DeVille.

Train to Birmingham, penned by Hiatt, is what I would call a deep cut from a studio album titled Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns, which Hiatt released in August 2011. Unlike many of his other records, this one fared better in the charts, reaching no. 7 in the U.S. on Billboard’s Independent Albums chart and climbing to no. 59 on the Billboard 200. Elsewhere, it peaked at no. 17 in Sweden, no. 20 in The Netherlands and no. 61 in Germany, among others. The tune was never released as a single.

Train to Birmingham was covered by American country music artist Kevin Welch on his sophomore album Western Beat, released in April 1992 as Kevin Welch @nd The Overtones. Good rendition!

Following are some additional tidbits on Train to Birmingham from Songfacts:

American folk-rock singer-songwriter John Hiatt wrote this song in his late teens, but it didn’t make it onto a disc until his 2011 album Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns. He explained why he finally decided to record the track in an interview with American Songwriter: “You know what, my wife really loves the song. And she’s been asking me to record it for years, and it kind of seemed right on this record. We were doing all of these songs about cities and different locations and going from the city and the country and back and forth. It’s our 25th wedding anniversary this year back in June, so I just thought I’d record this song for her.”

Hiatt told the story of how he came to pen a train song to American Songwriter: “I wrote it when I was about 19. I’d been in Nashville a year — I came to Nashville when I was about 18, and I was writing for Tree Publishing Company, and I wasn’t a country songwriter by any stretch, but I was surrounded by those guys. Like Bobby Braddock, who wrote a lot of George Jones and Tammy Wynette hits. And Curly Putnam,who wrote ‘Green Green Grass of Home’ and ‘Red Lane,’ all these hit country songwriters of the day. I was writing my little folk songs, or whatever they hell they were, and I was trying to pick up the craft, at any rate, and I said, ‘Well how do you write a country song?’ and one of them said one day, ‘Well, you gotta have a train song.’ And I though well s–t, I think I can write a song about a train.

And back in those days on Music Row, all the publishing companies were just in little houses, and the songwriters lived right next door. I lived in a little house with four or five other writers, and none of us were really country writers. One guy was from upstate New York trying to get some rock and roll thing going. Those were some real interesting times in Nashville, as it always is. But this one guy was from Birmingham and he kept going home every damn weekend like he couldn’t stand to be away. And I just though well s–t, there’s my ‘Train To Birmingham.'”

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Song Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

Welcome to another Song Musings, my weekly recurring feature that takes a closer look at a tune I’ve only mentioned in passing or not covered at all to date. My pick this time is Walls (Circus) by Tom Petty, one of my favorite artists of all time. In fact, I was really surprised it took me six and a half years to write about this song.

Walls (Circus), written by Petty and featuring then-Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham on backing vocals, first appeared in late July 1996 as the lead single of Songs and Music from the Motion Picture “She’s the One”, the ninth studio album by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. As the title implies, the album served as a soundtrack to She’s the One, an American romantic comedy picture written and directed by Edward Burns and starring Jennifer Aniston and Cameron Diaz. Here’s the official video clip.

Incredibly, Walls (Circus) only reached no. 69 in the U.S. on the main pop chart Billboard Hot 100, though it did much better on other Billboard charts, including Mainstream Rock (no. 6) and Adult Alternative Airplay, which it topped. In Canada, it peaked at no. 2.

The album fared better overall, climbing to no. 14 on the Billboard 200. Elsewhere, it did best in Sweden (no. 5) and also charted in various other countries, including Germany (no. 20), Norway (no. 22), Austria and Switzerland (each no. 27) and the UK (no. 37).

The soundtrack album also featured a different faster version of the tune titled Walls (No. 3). It has the same lyrics and melody, but the intro is different and the song in general has less emphasis on the instruments. It was later covered by Glen Campbell on his 2008 album Meet Glen Campbell and by The Lumineers on the first anniversary of Petty’s death. Walls (No. 3) also appeared on Angel Dream (Songs and Music from the Motion Picture “She’s the One”), a reconfigured and remastered 25th-anniversary reissue of the soundtrack album, released in July 2021, which I reviewed here.

Following is some additional background on Walls from Songfacts.

Not to be confused with the 2011 track by The View, this 1990s ballad is a favorite of Tom Petty’s fans. It is also the song he “lost,” as he explained to a live audience in a 1999 episode of VH1 Storytellers: “One time this guy come to me and asked me to write some music for his film and that’s another way you can jog your mind into things. I wrote this song for him and I liked it so much I wanted to take it back, but he wouldn’t let me take it back.”

Tom Petty was going through a transitional phase when he wrote this song. In 1994, he released Wildflowers, his second album without The Heartbreakers (following Full Moon Fever in 1989). After touring for the album, his marriage fell apart, and in 1996 he got divorced from his first wife, Jane, whom he married in 1974. He was living on his own in a rented house when he wrote “Walls,” which explores the swingline of life in very poetic terms, starting with the first verse:

Some days are diamonds
Some days are rocks
Some doors are open
Some roads are blocked

In the end, it’s a hopeful song, aimed at a girl with a heart so big she could “crush this town.” She’s bound to reach him eventually, because even walls fall down.

When he played this live, Petty would typically do a downtempo, acoustic version, which is how he played it on Storytellers.

The “Circus” version of this song got a high-end music video directed by Phil Joanou, who also did Petty’s “You Don’t Know How It Feels.” It takes place at a psychedelic circus, where the elephants are purple and the horses are green. It doesn’t contain any footage from She’s The One, but does feature cameos from two of its stars: Jennifer Aniston shows up is leaning against the tiger cage, and Edward Burns is the taxi driver.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Song Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

Happy humpday and welcome to another installment of Song Musings where I take a closer look at tunes I’ve only mentioned in passing or not covered at all. If you’ve been a frequent visitor to my blog or are aware of my music taste otherwise, you probably know John Mellencamp has been one of my favorite artists for many years. As such, it was only a matter of time before I would cover him as part of this weekly recurring feature.

I guess the heartland-straight-rock-turned-roots-artist from Seymour, Indiana doesn’t need much of an introduction. Mellencamp, who at the time still was John Cougar, first entered my radar screen in 1982 with a little ditty about Jack & Diane, his second big hit single in the U.S. and Canada. Strangely, according to Wikipedia, the tune, off his fifth studio album American Fool, didn’t chart in Germany, even though I seem to remember hearing it on my then-favorite mainstream radio station all the time. The first Mellencamp album I bought was Scarecrow released in August 1985.

By the time Big Daddy appeared in 1989, Mellencamp had started his transition from straight heartland to more roots and Americana-oriented rock. He had begun to take that direction on his 1987 album The Lonesome Jubilee, which remains among my favorite Mellencamp albums to this day. While I continue to dig his earlier straight rock sound, I’ve come to prefer his roots-focused music. I also like how his vocals have become much rougher over the decades.

This brings me to my song pick for this week: Big Daddy of Them All, from the aforementioned Big Daddy, Mellencamp’s 10th studio album – the last released as John Cougar Mellencamp. He hated the Cougar name, which had been given to him by his former manager Tony DeFries who insisted “Mellencamp” was too hard to market and pretty much imposed the awkward stage name Johnny Cougar on him.

Big Daddy of Them All did not become one of the album’s four singles. Like all except one track, it was penned by Mellencamp. While overall Big Daddy didn’t match the chart and sales success of its predecessor The Lonesome Jubilee, it still did pretty well, becoming Mellencamp’s first album to top the Australian charts, climbing to no. 3 and no. 7 in Canada and the U.S., respectively, and charting in various European countries. Eventually, Big Daddy reached 2X Platinum status in Canada and Platinum certification in the U.S. and Australia.

Here’s a live version of the tune from 2005, captured during Mellencamp’s Words and Music Tour.

Following are some additional tidbits on Big Daddy of Them All from Songfacts:

“Big Daddy Of Them All” was inspired by Burl Ives’ portrayal of Big Daddy in the 1958 movie version of Tennessee Williams’ Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. Mellencamp said in the liner notes for the On The Rural Route 7609 box set: “This song was more or less a postcard to myself, saying, ‘You think Burl Ives wasn’t so nice? Guess what, John.'”

This song is one of the more personal in Mellencamp’s canon. By his own admission, he could be bossy and dismissive, and outright hostile to the media. Still, he was one of the most successful recording artists of the ’80s, earning money, fame, and adulation. Just one problem: None of those things were important to him.

In this song, he draws a parallel to the Big Daddy character in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof. Big Daddy was rich, philandering, and cantankerous, which did him no good when he reached the end of his life. Mellencamp was still in his 30s, but he could see where his life was headed. At the time, his second marriage was crumbling down.

This is the lead track on Mellencamp’s Big Daddy album, and the song that provided the title. It has a very rootsy feel, with a prominent violin (by Lisa Germano) and accordion (by John Cascella). This kind of instrumentation is prominent throughout the Big Daddy album.

It’s worth noting that Paul Newman stars in the 1958 adaptation of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, which inspired this song. He plays Brick, Big Daddy’s son. Paul Newman movies also made their way into Mellencamp’s songs “Paper In Fire,” which cribs a line from Hud, and “Rain On The Scarecrow,” which borrows from dialogue in Cool Hand Luke.

This song was a milestone for Mellencamp, who had a bit of a revelation. “At one time I thought I had all this stuff figured out, then I realized I didn’t,” he explained. “And I realized, like I said in ‘Big Daddy,’ when you live for yourself it’s hard on everybody. I didn’t realize I was hard to live with. It never dawned on me.”

“You gotta grow up and deal with what’s real,” he added. “Happiness, finding out who you are, and learning how to be a human being is what’s real.” (This interview appears in his VH1 “Coming Of Age” documentary.)

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Song Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

It’s Wednesday and this means time again to take a closer look at a tune I’ve only mentioned in passing or not covered at all to date. Today’s pick falls into the latter category, and when I came across the song for the first time not too long ago, I loved it right away: Ridgetop by Jesse Colin Young.

Jesse Colin Young (born Perry Miller) is best known as a co-founder and lead vocalist of ’60s American folk-rock group The Youngbloods. During their original run from 1965 until 1972, they only scored one true hit with the beautiful Get Together, which peeked at no. 5 on the U.S. pop chart Billboard Hot 100 in 1969 after it had been re-released.

Following The Youngbloods’ dissolution in 1972, Young launched a solo career that led to a series of fairly successful albums, especially between 1973 (Song for Juli) and 1977 (Love On the Wing). Young, who on November 22 is turning 81, released his most recent solo album Dreamers in February 2019.

This brings me to Ridgetop, a track from the above-mentioned Song for Juli, Young’s fourth solo album that appeared in September 1973. The smooth and groovy tune was penned by him. In addition to his warm tenor voice, I love the saxophone work, which gives the track a jazzy flavor.

Sadly, Ridgetop wasn’t released as a single, though it’s fair to say that at just over 7 minutes, it wouldn’t have been ideal for radio. Peaking at no. 51, Song for Juli just missed the top 50 on the Billboard 200. It also became Young’s first album to chart in Canada.

Here’s a nice live version of Ridgetop, which apparently was captured in June 2017. In this case, young instrumentalist Jack Sheehan played the saxophone. According to his website, the now 26-year-old “has become a growing force on the alto saxophone, having already performed alongside artists such as Terence Blanchard and John Clayton, to name a few.” He certainly did an outstanding job here. Young’s singing is still pretty cool!

Following are some additional tidbits on Ridgetop from Songfacts:

Jesse Colin Young wrote this song about his home in Point Reyes, California (north of San Francisco) that he called “Ridgetop.” He bought it after moving to the area from New York with his band, The Youngbloods, in 1967 when their song “Get Together” caught on in the region (two years later, the song became a national hit).

Young gives rather specific details when describing the home, singing about the pine needles on the lawn and the ruts in the road. It’s the kind of place that appeals to those looking to keep in touch with nature at the cost of convenience.

In 1995, Young’s Ridgetop home burned to the ground, torched by wildfires that swept through the area. In a Songfacts interview, he talked about losing the home and what it was like performing the song after it was destroyed. “It was difficult when it first happened,” he said. “It was hell. I had to go out on the road right after the house burned down. We were in papers all over the country when that happened, so maybe audiences wanted to reminisce about it too. I still have the property and my recording studio, one of them, is there. It was built down in a gully and that fire was so hot and the trees so tall – big, 100-foot pines – that the firemen said it just sucked all the oxygen out from down low, and way down there in the gully was the recording studio.

There were five scorched boards on the deck and our four-story house was burnt down to like a foot of ash. So, what a blessing that was to save the studio. I guess as time goes on you let pain go and concentrate on the blessings.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Jack Sheehan website; Songfacts; YouTube