On This Day in Rock & Roll History: Thanksgiving

As I was listening to Q104.3’s countdown of the greatest 1043 classic rock songs of all time, which they do each year around Thanksgiving, I thought it would be fun to take a twist on this recurring feature of the blog.

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Following are some events in rock history that happened on Thanksgiving throughout the decades:

Thanksgiving 1966 (Nov 24): The Beatles go into the studio and devote an entire session to recording John Lennon’s gem Strawberry Fields Forever. It came after John, Paul, George and Ringo took a break following their decision to stop touring. The song was supposed to be included on the band’s next album, which would become Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Instead, it was released as a single in February 1967, together with Penny Lane. Both tunes were also included on the B-side (1967 singles) of Magical Mystery Tour, the soundtrack to the 1967 film of the same name.

Thanksgiving 1967 (Nov 23): The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Pink Floyd, The Move, The Nice, The Outer Limits, The Eire Apparent and Amen Corner play their seventh night at the Sophia Gardens Pavilion in Cardiff, Wales, UK. The show was part of a 16-date tour these artists performed together.

Thanksgiving 1969 (Nov 27): The Rolling Stones play the first of four shows at New York City’s Madison Square Garden during their 1969 North American tour. Altogether, about 55,000 people saw the Stones over the four nights. It was the band’s first U.S. tour since July 1966 and the inaugural with Mick Taylor who had replaced Brian Jones in June that year. Shortly thereafter (July 3, 1969), Jones passed away under somewhat mysterious circumstances at the age of 27.

Thanksgiving 1974 (Nov 28): John Lennon joins Elton John on stage in a surprise guest appearance at Madison Square Garden. Previously, Lennon promised John he would join him, if Whatever Gets You Thru the Night, which featured John on piano and backing vocals, would hit the top of the charts – it did and was Lennon’s only solo No. 1 in the U.S. during his lifetime! In addition to the song, they played I Saw Her Standing There and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Only 10 days earlier, John had released a single with a cover version of Lucy, which featured Lennon on guitar and backing vocals under the pseudonym Dr. Winston O’Boogie. The Madison Square Garden performance with John would be Lennon’s last concert appearance. Following his death, John wrote a moving tribute song titled Empty Garden (Hey Hey Johnny).

Thanksgiving 1976 (Nov 25): The Last Waltz, the final concert of The Band, is held at Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco. The epic show featured more than a dozen high-caliber special guests, including Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Ringo Starr, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Ronnie Wood and Eric Clapton, among others. Martin Scorsese filmed the event and together with The Band’s lead guitarist, Robbie Robertson, turned it into a documentary. Released in 1978, the film has been hailed by many critics as one of the best rock concert movies ever. But The Band’s drummer Levon Helm, in his 1993 autobiography, claimed that Scorsese and Robertson (the film’s producer) essentially portrayed the band as Robertson’s sidemen.

 

 

 

Rocking Your Thanksgiving with Q104.3’s Top 1,043 Classic Rock Songs of All Time

It’s almost here again -Q104.3 ‘s great Thanksgiving tradition to count down the 1,043 greatest classic rock songs of all time, as voted by the station’s listeners.

Q104.3, one of my favorite classic rock radio stations, has this great annual tradition for Thanksgiving, where they ask their listeners to submit their picks for their 10 favorite rock songs. Then they tabulate all the votes and voila – out comes a list with the 1,043 greatest classic rock songs of all time, ranked in the order of popularity. Q104.3 then plays the entire list from No. 1,043 all the way to No. 1.

1,043 rock songs mean many hours of great rock music. In order to play all these tunes, Q104.3 needs to start the countdown the day before Thanksgiving at 1:00 pm ET and go all the way to Sunday evening – a fantastic listening experience for any rock fan! It’s also a nice break from listening to the 50 or so songs they tend to play all the time – just like most other radio stations do!

As regular listeners know, Q104.3’s DJs are big fans of Led Zeppelin. They frequently play Zeppelin songs and one of their DJs, Carol Miller, has a recurring segment called Get the Led Out – not to be confused with the terrific American Led Zeppelin  cover band Let the Led Out.

Q104.3 has done the above list and countdown for many years. From what I understand, each year Stairway to Heaven has been No. 1. Don’t get me wrong – I’m a fan of Led Zeppelin, and there is no doubt Stairway is one of the greatest rock songs to this day. I’m also not suggesting the station’s voting system is somehow rigged. That being said, I think it would be nice if another song would get the top spot this year.

While I find it almost impossible to select the Top 10 songs, following are my picks for this year. And, yes, wouldn’t it be nice to stir up the pot a little?

  1. Carry On Wayward Son (Kansas)
  2. Tush (ZZ Top)
  3. Stairway to Heaven (Led Zeppelin)
  4. Midnight Rider (The Allman Brothers Band)
  5. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (The Beatles)
  6. Won’t Get Fooled Again (The Who)
  7. Layla (Derek & The Dominoes)
  8. Sweet Home Alabama (Lynyrd Skynyrd)
  9. Whiskey, Beer & Wine (Buddy Guy)
  10. Like a Rolling Stone (Bob Dylan)

You might say, ‘no Rolling Stones?!’ Where’s the Boss?? And how about Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen? I like all of them, and they would be great choices. But you only get to pick 10 songs, which is really hard!

Anyway, this is my list for this year. If you like to submit your own choices, you can do so here. Happy voting but most of all, happy listening!

 

 

 

 

 

Sting Comes Roaring Back

Sting’s first new pop rock album in 13 years proves he still got the magic touch.

After the rapid sinking of his musical The Last Ship and two albums with traditional English renaissance and Christmas songs, many people including myself were wondering whether the “old” Sting would ever return. Well, he just did! And to me it very much feels like 1991 again when Sting released The Soul Cages, his third studio album.

I had a pretty good feeling about 57th & 9th from the get-go when I listened for the first time to I Can’t Stop Thinking About You, the album’s first single released on September 1st. It proves Sting still has a great ear for catchy pop rock tunes. Not surprisingly, the song made it all the way to No. 3 on Billboard’s Adult Alternative Songs chart. I also immediately liked Petrol Head, the third single that came out earlier this month, an upbeat rocker with a refreshing dose of rawness to it.

Another standout on the album is 50,000, a eulogy for rock stars. According to an interview Sting gave to Rolling Stone in July, he wrote the song during the week of Prince’s death.Undoubtedly, 2016 has been a rough year in music, which in addition to Prince saw David Bowie, Glenn Frey and Keith Emerson pass away, among many others. Two other tunes I like to call out are Down, Down, Down and One Fine Day. Both could have appeared on Soul Cages, one of my favorite Sting albums.

57th & 9th was produced by Martin Kierszenbaum, who has produced for Lady Gaga and Madonna, among others. Kierszenbaum also plays organ, piano, mellotron and keyboards on the album. The title is named after the intersection in New York City  Sting crossed every day on his way to the studio where much of the music was recorded.

Sting co-wrote the majority of songs with Dominic Miller, Lyle Workman and Josh Freese. Miller, a British guitarist, has worked with Sting for more than 20 years. Workman is an American session musician and producer, who played with Sting during his 2006 Broken Music tour and at Live 8. Freese is an American multi-instrumentalist who among others played drums for Guns N’ Roses from 1997 to 2000.

I’ve always admired Sting, both for his musical craftsmanship and his songwriting. I also have a lot of respect for artists who step away from their formula that brought them success to explore something new. Sting has certainly done that and probably gained some inspiration from it. Maybe that’s what it took to come back and make another great pop rock album.

 

What I’ve been listening to: The Allman Brothers At Fillmore East

Like many other folks in the U.S., I haven’t been exactly cheerful over the past few days. Music including this 1971 classic can be great to overcome the post-election blues.

I certainly don’t want to trivialize the outcome of the U.S. presidential election, which does concern me a great deal. Turning to the blues in this situation may also seem to be ironical. But I find there is something in this great music that puts me at ease, providing a welcome distraction from all the post-election media coverage and analysis.

At Fillmore East is the third album by The Allman Brothers Band. I agree with critics who consider it to be one of the best live albums in rock music. It captures material from three concerts the band performed at Fillmore East, a legendary late 60s/early 70s music venue in New York City, which also featured other icons like Jimi Hendrix, The Kinks and Led Zeppelin.

Even though the Allman Brothers had already released two excellent studio albums, their eponymous debut (1969) and the follow-up Idlewild South (1970), it was At Fillmore East that gave them their commercial breakthrough. It’s really not a surprise, since the band was such an amazing live act.

At Fillmore East showcases the Allman Brothers’ outstanding musical craftsmanship. It features long jams mixing blues and rock with country and jazz elements. Of the seven songs on the original release only two are Allman Brothers compositions: Dickey Betts’ In Memory of Elizabeth Reed from Idlewild South, and Gregg Allman’s Whipping Post. Both are among the album’s highlights blending amazing dual lead guitar parts by Duane Allman and Dickey Betts with the treffic sound of Gregg Allman’s Hammond.

Statesboro Blues nicely showcases Duane’s slide guitar work. Another standout is Stormy Monday. The tune starts off as a slow blues, picks up to a jazz grove driven by Gregg’s organ and then slows down again to a blues tune. It’s just brilliant!

Released July 1971, At Fillmore East reached No. 13 on the Billboard 200 and received RIAA Gold certification in October that year. Eventually, it was certified platinum in August 1992. The album is No. 49 on Rolling Stones’ 500 Greatest Albums of All Time and was one of the 50 recordings the Library of Congress selected in 2004 to be added to the National Recording Registry.

At Fillmore East is the last album the band released when all of its original members were still alive: Duane Allman (slide guitar, lead guitar), Gregg Allman (piano, organ, vocals), Dickey Betts (lead guitar), Berry Oakley (bass guitar), Jai Johanny Johanson (drums, congas, timbales) and Butch Trucks (drums, tympani). A few months after the album had come out Duane Allman was killed in a motorcycle accident.

Bon Jovi’s New Album Hits the Mark

The New Jersey rocker delivers a solid set of new songs.

On Friday (Nov 4), Bon Jovi released his 13th studio album, This House Is Not For Sale – the first without Richie Sambora. For the most part, it sounds like classic Bon Jovi.

When Sambora left in 2013 after 30 years, many people were wondering whether Bon Jovi could continue. My initial doubts were largely pushed aside after seeing one of the band’s shows that year in New Jersey. I always thought Sambora was such an integral part of the band who would be hard to replace, but I have to say Phil X did a great job. As such, I’m not surprised he appears on the new album as a core member of the band.

Another new official member is Hugh McDonald. After having worked with Bon Jovi in the studio since the band’s inception and been its bassist since 1994, this was long overdue. The remaining line-up includes original members Tico Torres (drums, percussion) and David Bryan (keyboards, piano).

Bon Jovi has always had a great gift to combine rock music with catchy hook lines. The album’s title song, which was previously released as a single in August, perfectly illustrates this. While it’s probably hard to write another Livin’ On a Prayer, the tune could well have been included on Crush, Have a Nice Day or The Circle, Bon Jovi’s studio releases from 2000, 2005 and 2009, respectively. I have no doubt it will become a crowd pleaser during future live shows, as will Knockout, the second single released last month.

Some of the reviews I’ve seen note Sambora brought a certain edginess to Bon Jovi’s sound that’s missing on the new album. Sure, the songs don’t rock quite as hard as on the band’s releases from the 80s. But their music started to evolve from pop metal to more of a pop rock formula while Sambora was still there.

Sambora may have left the band in 2013, but he certainly continued to be on Jon Bon Jovi’s mind. While in various interviews Bon Jovi suggested the door isn’t necessarily shut for Sambora to return, he was quick to add he didn’t think this was possible after having been absent for such a long time. He is probably right.

The album’s second song, Living with the Ghost, is said to reflect Bon Jovi’s thoughts on Sambora’s departure. While Bon Jovi has denied rumors about a fall-out over money, Sambora’s departure remains mysterious to this day. Regardless of the specific circumstances, the lyrics suggest some bitter feelings, at least on Bon Jovi’s end:

“I ain’t living with the ghost

No future living in the past

I’ve seen what hate has done to hope

Tomorrow wasn’t built to last

I ain’t living with the ghost

How can I scream? I’m scared to breathe

I wrote each word, you gave the toast

But we were fire and gasoline

I ain’t living with the ghost…”

Labor of Love, a ballad, has guitar portions that remind me a bit of Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game. The album also includes two other slow songs. To me the standout among these tunes is Scars on This Guitar.

Jon Bon Jovi co-wrote most of the album’s songs with Billy Falcon and John Shanks, both musical collaborators on previous studio releases. Shanks also became the band’s touring rhythm guitarist this year.

Now that the new album is out, Bon Jovi fans won’t have to wait for too long for a chance to see the band return to the stage. According to a Rolling Stone story from last month, Bon Jovi is planning a six-week tour in 2017 in support of the new album. The 20-gig tour is supposed to kick off on Feb 8 in Greenville, SC and conclude on March 22nd in Indianapolis.

Gems of German Rock

This post shines a light on great German rock artists who are largely unknown beyond Germany’s border, mostly because they sing in German.

Most people who are not from Germany probably name the Scorpions first when asked about German rock music. Some heavy metal fans may also note Accept. But there is a lot more to German rock music, especially once you start including artists who sing in German. While their popularity is largely confined to Germany, many of these artists match international standards. Following are four I like in particular.

 

BAP

If I had to name my favorite German-singing rock band, it would be BAP. This band around singer-songwriter, Wolfgang Niedecken, was founded in 1976 in the area of Cologne, West Germany. They sing most of their songs in Koelsch, the traditional dialect from that region. This largely explains why for the first few years BAP was mostly a regional act.

BAP’s driving force is Niedecken who after 40 years is the only remaining original member. He is a huge fan of Bob Dylan, which is particularly obvious in some of the band’s early work. Wat Ess? (What’s the Matter?) from BAP’s second album Affjetaut (Defrosted) essentially is a Koelsch version of Ballad of a Thin Man. Niedecken also created a Koelsch version of Like a Rolling Stone, which appears on BAP’s fourth studio album. The band’s other influences include The Rolling Stones, The Kinks and Bruce Springsteen. In fact, Niedecken is friends with the Boss and during concerts in Germany has been invited by Springsteen to join him on stage to play a song together.

BAP’s national breakthrough happened in 1981 when they released their third studio album, fuer usszeschnigge (to cut out). The single Verdamp lang her (It’s been a long time) received a lot of radio play and really put the band on the map. That’s when I started listening to them as well. I haven’t stopped since!

To date BAP has released 17 studio albums, six live albums and three compilation albums. Unfortunately, almost none of the band’s impressive catalogue is available in the U.S. stores of iTunes or other providers. The only album you can get in the iTunes U.S. store is the 2008 release Radio Pandora, which includes a plugged and an unplugged version. While it’s a pretty good album, I think it does not capture the band’s best music. Here is a link to a clip of Verdamp lang her. This happens to be from a concert in the German town of Neu-Ulm in June this year, which I had a chance to visit. For more, see my previous post.

Wolf Maahn

Wolf Maahn started his music career in the mid-seventies, around the same time Wolfgang Niedecken did. He was a co-founder of the Food Band, which released two albums in English between 1979 and 1981. His German debut was Deserteure  (deserters) from 1982. It pretty much set the tone for Maahn’s style, which is reminiscent of American rock music a la Springsteen and John Mellencamp.

While Deserteure received positive reviews, it really was Irgendwo in Deutschland, Maahn’s third studio album from 1984 that brought him national popularity. The single Fieber (fever) is a fantastic rock song that could have become an international hit, had it not been for its German lyrics that limited its appeal beyond Germany. In 1988, Maahn released another English-language album, Third Language, his fifth studio recording. I don’t believe it did much to broaden his international success. All albums that followed were in German.

Last year, Maahn released his most recent studio album, Sensible Daten (sensitive data), his 14th studio album. His catalogue also includes four live albums and one best-of compilation. Unlike BAP, a decent amount of Maahn’s music is available in iTunes’ U.S. store, including the three most recent studio albums and the first two studio records, in addition to two of his live albums. Of these albums, I recommend Lieder vom Rand der Galaxis (Songs from the edge of the galaxy), a live acoustic solo album. It features some of my favorite songs, including Irgendwo in Deutschland (Somewhere in Germany), Ich Wart Auf Dich (I’m Waiting For You) and Der Clown Hat Den Blues (The Clown Is Feeling Blue). A pretty good clip of the last song is here. It must have been recorded during a concert in the 80s.

Marius Müller-Westernhagen

Marius Müller-Westernhagen is another long-time German rocker who started out in the mid-70s. However it wasn’t until his fourth studio album, 1978’s Mit Pfefferminz bin ich dein Prinz (With peppermint I am your prince), before he adopted his signature blues rock style, which sometimes resembles The Rolling Stones.

While the album wasn’t a flop, it only established its commercial success over time. Today, it has cult status among Westernhagen fans. Tunes like the title song, Mit 18 (At age 18) and Johnny W remain crowd pleasers during Westernhagen’s shows to this day. In addition to these songs, other great Westernhagen tunes include Lass Uns Leben (Let Us Live), Sexy, Schweigen Ist Feige (Not Speaking Up is Being Coward) and Freiheit (Freedom).

Excluding his first three records, Westernhagen has released 16 studio albums to date. The most recent one, Alphatier (Alpha Male), is from 2014. Westernhagen’s catalogue also includes five live albums, including the just released MTV Unplugged, and two compilation albums. Most of his music is available in the iTunes U.S. store.

In addition to being one of Germany’s most successful music artist, Westernhagen is also an actor. His acting career, which he already started as a 14-year-old in 1962, includes appearances in 30 films, mostly for TV. Since 1987 he has entirely focused on music.

A live clip of Westernhagen’s signature song, Mit Pfefferminz bin ich dein Prinz, is here.

Udo Lindenberg

This short list would not be complete without Udo Lindenberg who at age 70 is the oldest artist of the pack. In addition to being a musician, he is also a writer and a painter. Lindenberg was one of the first German artists to write lyrics in German and as such is considered to be one of the pioneers of Deutschrock.

Lindenberg started his music career as a drummer. After drifting for various years, he joined Die City Preachers, Germany’s first folk rock band in 1968. In 1969, he co-founded the jazz rock formation Free Orbit, which released an English album in 1970, his first studio recording. Lindenberg also became known as a session musician. Among others, he played on the debut album of Passport, the band of German jazz saxophonist, Klaus Doldinger.

Lindenberg’s eponymous debut album, which still was all English, appeared in 1971. His first German release, Daumen in Wind (Thumbs in the Wind) was released a year later. Lindenberg’s commercial breakthrough came with the 1973 release of Alles klar auf der Andrea Doria (All is well on the Andrea Doria). Since then he has released more than 30 additional studio albums, as well as various compilations and live albums.

The quality of Lindenberg’s prolific recordings has varied over the decades. In general, my favorite albums are his releases from the 70s, as well as the two most recent studio albums, Stark Wie Zwei (As Strong As Two) and Staerker Als Die Zeit (Stronger Than Time). Released in 2008, Stark Wie Zwei was a triumphant comeback for Lindenberg, reaching triple platinum certification in Germany. Staerker Als Die Zeit, which was released earlier this year and stylistically sounds like a continuation to the 2008 release, has also been selling well.

The iTunes U.S. store includes some of Lindenberg’s enormous catalogue. The album I would recommend the most is Livehaftig. This live double album from 1979 (the release year is wrongly indicated as 1976) captures the highlights of Lindenberg’s 70s rock albums.

Here is a clip of a live performance of Mein Ding (My Thing), one of the songs from Lindenberg’s 2008 comeback album.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On This Day in Rock History: October 29

It’s been a while that I have looked on the rock history calendar, so let’s see what comes up for October 29.

Just like the feature’s previous installments, this list is not meant to be complete. And, yes, it fully reflects my taste and as such is arbitrary.

1944: Denny Laine was born in Birmingham, England. Denny was part of the original line-up of The Moody Blues and can be heard on the band’s 1965 debut album, The Magnificent Moodies. He co-wrote four of the album’s songs and was the lead vocal on the band’s first hit, Go Now. Laine also played with Paul McCartney as part of Wings from 1971-1981. Between 1973 and 1976, he recorded 11 solo albums. Happy birthday, Denny!

1963: George Martin mixed all the 14 tracks from The Beatles’ album With The Beatles in stereo, according to The Beatles Bible, which by the way is a terrific resource for Fab Four nerds like myself. Supposedly, all it took was three hours, and he only ended up spending some additional time on one song the following day, Money (That’s What I Want). I suppose it all reflects that The Beatles never cared much about the stereo mixes of their songs but would spend days on the mono versions. Even Martin once said, “You’ve never really heard Sgt. Pepper until you’ve heard it in mono.”

1965: The Who released their single My Generation, the band’s signature 60s song. Written by Pete Townsend, the tune captured the anxiety of teenagers at the time. The single hit No. 2 in the U.K., making it The Who’s highest charting single there. The song is also No. 11 in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. The Who have released so much great music that I would be hard pressed to say which song is my favorite. My Generation is definitely among their tunes I like the most. One of its outstanding features is John Entwistle’s amazing bass solo.

1971: Duane Allman, one of the greatest rock guitarists of all time, was killed in a motor cycle accident at the young age of 24. Duane was a co-founder of The Allman Brothers Band and led them for two and a half short years. He played on the band’s first three studio albums and At Fillmore East, which some music critics have called one of the greatest live albums in rock music. Duane was also a highly sought after session musician. He can be heard on recordings from many famous artists, such as Wilson Pickett, Aretha Franklin, Percy Sledge, Boz Scaggs and, of course, Derek and the Dominoes. While Allman received no credit for Layla, he came up with the song’s epic guitar riff.

1983: Pink Floyd’s masterpiece The Dark Side of the Moon reached 491 consecutive weeks on the Billboard Album Chart, setting a new record. It would stay on the list for another 250 consecutive weeks before falling off. Altogether, Dark Side has been in the Billboard 200 for 923 weeks, making it by far the album with the most weeks on the chart. As a huge Pink Floyd fan, I like many of their albums, but if I would have to select my favorite, it would be this one.