When the Music Does the Singing

A collection of guitar-driven instrumentals

Frequent visitors of the blog and others who have a good idea about my music taste know I really dig vocals, especially multi-part harmony singing. In fact, when it comes to artists like The Temptations, I could even do without any backing music. That’s why felt like shaking things up a little and putting together this collection of tracks that shockingly don’t have any vocals. Once I started to reflect, it was surprisingly easy to find instrumentals I really like – yes, they do exist and, no, I don’t miss the vocals!

Since I still play guitar occasionally (only to realize how rusty I’ve become!), I decided to focus on primarily guitar-driven tracks. While I’m sure you could point me to jazz instrumentals I also find attractive, the reality is I’m much more familiar with other genres, especially in the rock and blues arena. Most of the tracks in this post came to my mind pretty quickly. The John Mayall and the Blues Breakers and Steve Vai tunes were the only ones I picked from a list Guitar World put together.

The Shadows/Apache

I’ve always thought Hank Marvin had a really cool sound. Here’s Apache, which was written by English composer Jerry Lordan and first recorded by Bert Weedon in 1960, but it was the version by The Shadows released in July of the same year, which became a major hit that topped the UK Singles Chart for five weeks.

John Mayall and the Blues Breakers/Steppin’ Out

Steppin’ Out is a great cover of a Memphis Slim tune from the debut studio album by John Mayall and the Blues Breakers from July 1966. It was titled Blues Breakers with Clapton featuring, you guessed it, Eric Clapton, who had become the band’s lead guitarist following the release of their first live album John Mayall Plays John Mayall that appeared in March 1965.

Pink Floyd/Interstellar Overdrive

My Pink Floyd journey began with their ’70s classics Wish You Were Here and The Dark Side of the Moon. Much of their early phase with Syd Barrett was an acquired taste, especially experimental tunes like Interstellar Overdrive from Floyd’s debut The Piper at the Gates of Dawn released in August 1967. It’s one of only two tracks on the album credited to all members of the band at the time: Barrett, Roger Waters, Richard Wright and Nick Mason.

Deep Purple/Wring That Neck

Wring That Neck is a kick-ass tune from Deep Purple’s sophomore album The Book of Taliesyn that appeared in October 1968. As was quite common for the band, Jon Lord’s mighty Hammond organ pretty much had equal weight to Ritchie Blackmore’s guitar. That’s always something I’ve loved about Deep Purple, as much as I dig guitar-driven rock. Wring That Neck was co-written Blackmore, Lord, bassist Nick Semper and drummer Ian Paice.

Fleetwood Mac/Albatross

Yes, I know, I featured this gem only recently on July 25 when Peter Green sadly passed away at the age of 73. I’m also still planning to do a follow-up on this extraordinary guitarist. But I just couldn’t skip Albatross in this collection, which Green wrote and recorded with Fleetwood Mac in October 1968. The track was released as a non-album single the following month. It’s a perfect example of Green’s style that emphasized feeling over showing off complexity, speed and other guitar skills. With it’s exceptionally beautiful tone, I would rate Albatross as one of the best instrumentals, perhaps even my all-time favorite, together with another track that’s still coming up.

The Allman Brothers Band/Jessica

Jessica first appeared on The Allman Brothers Band’s fourth studio album Brothers and Sisters from August 1973. It also became the record’s second single in December that year. Written by lead guitarist Dickey Betts, the tune was a tribute to jazz guitar virtuoso Django Reinhardt. Betts named the tune after his daughter Jessica Betts who was an infant at the time. When you have such beautiful instrumental harmonies, who needs harmony vocals? Yes, I just wrote that! 🙂

Santana/Europa (Earth’s Cry Heaven’s Smile)

Santana’s Europa (Earth’s Cry Heaven’s Smile) is the other above noted tune, which together with Albatross I would perhaps call my all-time favorite guitar-driven instrumental. In particular, it’s the electric guitar tone that stands out to me in both of these tracks. Co-written by Carlos Santana and his longtime backing musician Tom Coster who provided keyboards, Europa was first recorded for Santana’s seventh studio album Amigos from March 1976. It also appeared separately as a single and was also one of the live tracks on the Moonflower album released in October 1977.

Steve Vai/The Attitude Song

When it comes to guitarists and their playing, I’m generally in the less-is-more camp. That’s why I really must further explore Peter Green whose style should be up right up my alley. Sometimes though shredding is okay. I was going to include Eddie Van Halen’s Eruption, but it’s really more an over-the-top guitar solo than an instrumental. So I went with Steve Vai and The Attitude Song, a track from his solo debut album Flex-Able from January 1984. I definitely couldn’t take this kind of music at all times. In fact, as I’m listening to the tune while writing this, it’s actually making me somewhat anxious. While the harmony guitar and bass action sound cool, like most things, I feel it should be enjoyed in moderation! 🙂

Stevie Ray Vaughan/Scuttle Buttin

Scuttle Buttin’ by Stevie Ray Vaughan isn’t exactly restrained guitar playing either. But while like The Attitude Song it’s a shredder, the tune has never made me anxious. I think that’s largely because I really dig Vaughan’s sound. Yes, he’s playing very fast and many notes, yet to me, it comes across as less aggressive than Vai who uses more distortion. Written by Vaughan, Scuttle Buttin’ appeared on his excellent second studio album Couldn’t Stand the Weather released in May 1984.

Jeff Beck/A Day in the Life

The last artist I’d like to feature in this collection is another extraordinary guitarist with an amazing tone: Jeff Beck. His unique technique that relies on using his thumb to pick the guitar strings, the ring finger to control the volume knob and his pinkie to work the vibrato bar of his Fender Stratocaster creates a unique sound no other guitar player I’ve heard has. Here’s Beck’s beautiful rendition of The Beatles tune A Day in the Life. It was included on In My Life, an album of Fab Four covers compiled and produced by George Martin, which appeared in October 1998.

Sources: Wikipedia; Guitar World; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Paul McCartney/A Day in the Life/Give Peace a Chance and Let It Be

I literally just came across this beautiful clip and simply couldn’t resist posting it. Apparently, this footage was captured at Paul McCartney’s inaugural concerts at New York’s Citi Field, where he played three dates – July 17, 18 and 21 – during his summer 2009 tour. These gigs also resulted in the live album Good Evening New York City, which appeared in November of the same the year.

Yes, Sir Paul plays Let It Be during all his solo shows, but it remains a timeless classic. Plus, I don’t think the same can be said about A Day in the Life. And how about that snippet from Give Peace a Chance? This almost looks like he was doing a memorial medley, for John Lennon, who mostly wrote A Day in the Life and of course also penned Give Peace a Chance.

To me, Macca is the born live artist. It’s remarkable how after all these decades he still seems to get so much joy from performing. I just love it! Yes, nowadays, his voice is showing some signs of wear. But let’s not forget the man is 78 years old. And, honestly, I feel his enthusiasm makes up for it! I’ve seen him twice and hope I can see him again at least one more time!

Sources: Wikipedia; Setlist.fm; YouTube

The Venues: Royal Albert Hall

The first reference to the Royal Albert Hall I recall was in A Day in the Life, the magnificent final track of my favorite Beatles album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Though at the time I didn’t realize the line Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall referred to the famous U.K. performance venue in London’s South Kensington district. The Royal Albert Hall, which had received a copy of the album prior to its release, did and was less than pleased.

According to this item in the concert hall’s archive, the Hall’s then-chief executive Ernest O’Follipar wrote a letter to Brian Epstein, maintaining the “wrong-headed assumption that there are four thousand holes in our auditorium” threatened to destroy the venue’s business overnight. Not only were the lyrics not changed, but John Lennon wrote back to the Hall, refusing to apologize. The venue retaliated with banning the song from ever being performed there.

Excerpt of letter from Royal Albert Hall CEO Ernest O’Follipar to Beatles manager Brian Epstein

The history of the Hall, which initially was supposed to be named Central Hall of Arts and Sciences, began long before The Beatles. In fact, it dates back to the 1900s and Queen Victoria. It was her majesty who in memory of her husband Prince Albert decided to change the name to the Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences when the building’s foundation stone was laid in 1867. I suppose this makes her a pretty nice girl, though she actually did have a lot to say!

It was also Queen Victoria who opened the Hall in 1871. The building was designed by Captain Francis Fowke and Major-General Henry Y. D. Scott, who were civil engineers of the Royal Engineers. The facility, which today can seat close to 5,300 people, was built by Lucas Brothers, a leading British building construction firm at the time. The design was strongly influenced by ancient amphitheatres, as well as the ideas of German architect Gottfried Semper and his work at the South Kensington Museum.

The Royal Albert Hall has seen performances by world-leading artists from many genres. Since 1941, it has been the main venue for the so-called Proms, an eight-week summer season of daily orchestral classical music concerts. The venue hosts more than 390 shows in its main auditorium each year, including classical concerts, ballet, opera, film screenings with live orchestral accompaniment, sports, awards ceremonies, school and community events, charity performances and banquets and, of course, rock and pop concerts.

This July 2019 story in London daily newspaper Evening Standard, among others, lists the following concerts as part of the “10 iconic musical moments in the venue’s history”: The Great Pop Prom (September 15, 1963), which featured The Beatles and The Rolling Stones on the same bill with other groups – only one of a handful of times the two bands performed together in the same show; Bob Dylan (May 26 and 27, 1966); Jimi Hendrix (February 18 and 24, 1969); Pink Floyd (June 26, 1969); The Who and Friends (November 27, 2000); and David Gilmour and David Bowie (May 29, 2006). Obviously, this list isn’t complete!

Let’s get to some music. As oftentimes is the case, it’s tough to find historical concert footage from the ’60s and ’70s, especially when it’s tied to a specific venue. One great clip I came across is this Led Zeppelin performance of Whole Lotta Love from a 1970 gig. Credited to all four members of the band plus Willie Dixon (following a 1985 lawsuit!), the tune was first recorded for the band’s second studio album ingeniously titled Led Zeppelin II, released in October 1969.

Since 2000, Roger Daltrey has been a patron for the Teenage Cancer Trust and raised funds for the group through concerts. The first such show was a big event at the Royal Albert Hall on November 27, 2000. In addition to The Who, it featured Noel Gallagher, Bryan Adams, Paul Weller, Eddie Vedder, Nigel Kennedy and Kelly Jones. The choice of venue was somewhat remarkable, given The Who in 1972 became one of the first bands to be impacted by the Hall’s then instituted ban on rock and pop. Here’s the Pete Townshend penned Bargain, which first appeared on The Who’s fifth studio album Who’s Next that came out in August 1971.

In early May 2005, Cream conducted four amazing reunion shows at the Hall, which were captured and subsequently published in different formats. Here’s White Room, co-written by Jack Bruce with lyrics by poet Pete Brown, and originally recorded for Cream’s third album Wheels of Fire from August 1968. Gosh, they just sounded as great as ever!

The last clip is from the above mentioned show by David Gilmour from May 29, 2006, during which he invited David Bowie on stage. As the Evening Standard noted, not only was it Bowie’s first and only appearance at the Hall, but it also was his last ever public performance. Gilmour and Bowie did Arnold Layne and Comfortably Numb together. Here’s their epic performance of the latter, which was co-written by Gilmour and Roger Waters for Pink Floyd’s eleventh studio album The Wall from November 1979. Interestingly, just like The Who, Pink Floyd was barred from performing at the Hall following their June 1969 gig there. It was the first nail in the coffin for rock and pop concerts at the venue that led to a complete, yet short-lived ban in 1972 because of “hysterical behaviour of a large audience often encouraged by unthinking performers.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Royal Albert Hall website; Evening Standard; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: May 26

I can’t believe it’s been six weeks since my last installment in this recurring music history feature. And even though to me it feels like I’ve covered so many dates already, the reality is I have more than 300 left to go. Do without further ado, let’s take a look at May 26!

1964: Lenny Kravitz was born in New York City as Leonard Albert Kravitz. He was the only child of actress Roxie Roker and Sy Kravitz, a news producer at NBC Television. Both of his parents have passed away. Kravitz was drawn to music since he was tiny. At age 3, he began using pots and pans as drums, and two years later, he apparently knew he wanted to become a professional musician. After his family had moved to Los Angeles in 1974, Kravitz started listening to rock music like The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Creedence Clearwater Revival. When he set out to get a record deal, initially, he was given a hard time, with record labels either telling him he wasn’t “black enough” or “white enough.” Fortunately, Kravitz was able to overcome this BS, and in September 1989 his debut studio album Let Love Rule appeared. He has since released 10 additional studio records, in addition to a greatest hits compilation, as well as various box sets and EPs. My introduction to Kravitz was his sophomore album Mama Said from April 1991. Here’s a great rocker from that record he co-wrote with Slash: Always On the Run.

1967: The Beatles released their eighth studio album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. If I could only choose one of their records, a nearly impossible task, this would be it most days. On other occasions, I might go with Abbey Road or Revolver. You can read more about Sgt. Pepper and why I dig that album here. Following is the record’s grande final A Day in the Life, a tune that was mostly written by John Lennon. Paul McCartney’s main contribution is the middle section.

1969: Janis Joplin made the cover of Newsweek. The headline declared Janis Joplin: Rebirth of Blues. Seventeen months later, on October 4, 1970, Joplin was found dead in her room at the Landmark Motor Hotel in Los Angeles after she had not appeared for a recording session at Sunset Sound Recorders studios. An autopsy by L.A. coroner Thomas Noguchi determined she had passed away from a heroin overdose, possibly compounded by alcohol. Joplin, undoubtedly one of the most compelling female blues vocalists, was only 27 years old.

1972: English rock band Mott the Hoople, which despite their cult status in England were on the verge of disintegration due to lack of commercial viability, recorded All the Young Dudes, a song that had been given to them by one of their fans: David Bowie, who also produced the single, played guitar, sang backing vocals and clapped. All of that happened in the middle of the night at Olympic Studios in London, where Bowie had managed to get them some time. The tune was released on July 28, 1972 and climbed all the way to no. 3 on the UK Singles Chart. In the U.S., All the Young Dudes became a top 40 hit, reaching no. 37 on the Billboard Hot 100. It ended up saving the band and extending their life until 1976.

1973: Deep Purple release Smoke on the Water as the third and final single from their sixth studio album Machine Head, another gem of a record, in my opinion. The tune, which must be a living nightmare of many folks working at guitar stores, was credited to all members of the band at the time: Ritchie Blackmore, Ian Gillan, Roger Glover, Jon Lord and Ian Paice. The song was inspired by a fire at the casino in Montreux, Switzerland on December 4, 1971, where Deep Purple were about to get underway with recording sessions for the Machine Head album. But some stupid with a flare gun/Burned the place to the ground – the night before after a Frank Zappa concert. Perhaps he had not liked Zappa’s performance! Whatever the case may have been, the tragic fire, which claimed all of Zappa’s equipment, led to one of the most iconic rock songs of the ’70s.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts Music History Calendar; This Day in Music; YouTube

On This Day In Rock & Roll History: May 20

Earlier today it occurred to me that I hadn’t done a post for this recurring feature for quite some time. I oftentimes find it intriguing what these look-backs on rock & roll history can unearth. As in previous installments, this overview is selective and as such by no means meant to be complete. Here we go.

1964: Rudy Lewis, the lead vocalist of The Drifters, suddenly passed away at age 28. It was the night before the band was scheduled to record Under The Boardwalk, which would become one of their biggest hits. Lewis had performed lead vocals on most of The Drifters’ best known songs since the departure of Ben E. King in 1960. Instead of rescheduling studio time to find a new frontman, the band decided to bring back Johnny Moore, who first had been their lead vocalist in the mid-50s.

Rudy Lewis
Rudy Lewis

1966: The Who were scheduled to play a concert at Ricky Tick Club in Windsor, England. When John Entwistle and Keith Moon didn’t show up in time for the gig, Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey grabbed the bass player and the drummer of a local band that had opened up for them and took the stage. Moon and Entwistle finally arrived in the middle of the set. Words started flying, and a fight broke out that culminated with Townshend hitting Moon in the head with his guitar – thinking how Townshend was infamous for furiously smashing his guitar at the end of Who performances, it’s not a pretty picture to imagine. Moon and Entwistle quit the band over the incident. But it only took them a week before realizing they just couldn’t walk away from one of the greatest rock & roll bands – the perks that came with it likely also played a role!

The Who In 1966
The Who in full harmony in a 1966 press photo. From left to right: John Entwistle, Keith Moon, Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

1967: The Beatles’ new album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was given an official preview on Where It’s At, a radio show broadcast on the BBC Light Programme. The preview was a pre-taped feature by DJ Kenny Everett and included interviews with John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. There were also extracts from each of the Sgt. Pepper tunes except for one – A Day In The Life. The day prior to the broadcast, the BBC decided to ban the song over lyrics it considered to promote a permissive attitude toward taking drugs. I suppose they must have gotten their knickers twisted over the words in the song’s middle section, Found my coat and grabbed my hat/Made the bus in seconds flat/Found my way upstairs and had a smoke/And somebody spoke and I went into a dream – oh, Paul, how could you!

1972: T. Rex were on top of the British singles chart with Metal Guru. Written by Marc Bolan, it was the British rock band’s fourth and final no. 1 single in the U.K. The song did not chart in the U.S. and peaked at no. 45 in Canada. Metal Guru was the second single from The Slider, the glam rockers’ seventh studio album that came out in July that year.

Sources: This Day In Rock, This Day In Music, The Beatles Bible, Wikipedia, YouTube

 

My Longtime Favorite Albums

Ten records I continue to enjoy after more than three decades

Earlier this week, I got nominated on Facebook to name 10 music albums that have made an impact on me and that I continue to enjoy today. The task was to post one album cover daily, and each time when doing so to nominate somebody else to do the same. Usually, I don’t participate in these types of chain activities, so initially, I ignored it. But since it was a close relative, who had nominated me, and music is my passion after all, I decided to go along. The exercise of identifying the 10 records inspired this post.

Because I found it impossible to limit myself to just 10 albums, I decided to narrow the field to only those records I started listening to as a teenager and in my early 20s. This explains why some of my favorite artists like The Allman Brothers Band, Buddy Guy and even The Rolling Stones are “missing.” It was only later that I started exploring them and many other artists I like today in greater detail. Without further ado, here is the list in no particular order, together with one song from each album.

As frequent readers of the blog know, I’m a huge fan of The Beatles. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, their 8th studio album from May 1967, is my favorite among their records.

The Beatles_Sgt. Pepper

Here’s the great closer A Day In The Life, which except for the middle section was mainly written by John Lennon, though as usually was credited to him and Paul McCartney.

Tapestry by Carole King was one of the earliest albums I listened to when I was 10 years old or so. Back then, I didn’t understand the lyrics but liked the music. Today, I dig the record for both the music and the lyrics. There is a timeless beauty in King’s tunes, and to me Tapestry is perhaps the ultimate singer-songwriter record.

carole-king-tapestry

There are so many great songs on this gem from February 1971, so it’s hard to chose one. Here’s Way Over Yonder. King’s soulful singing and the saxophone solo are two of the tune’s features I’ve always liked.

The Eagles’ Hotel California is an album I’ve owned on vinyl since I guess the early ’80s. It was released in December 1976 as the band’s fifth studio record.

Eagles_Hotel California

Here’s a live version of the epic title song, which is included in the album’s 40th anniversary deluxe edition that appeared in November last year. The tune was co-written by Don Felder, Don Henley and Glenn Frey. The distinct extended guitar interplay at the end featured Felder and Joe Walsh. This tune just never gets boring!

It was the Born In The U.S.A. album from June 1984, which put Bruce Springsteen on my radar screen.

Bruce Springsteen_Born In The USA

Here’s Bobby Jean, one of the album’s few tunes that wasn’t also released separately as a single. On this one, I particularly love the saxophone solo by Clarence Clemons, who was such an ace player.

Deep Purple to this day remains my first choice when it comes to hard rock, and Machine Head from March 1972 is the crown jewel in their catalog. The band’s sixth studio album featured their best line-up that included Ian Gillan (vocals), Ritchie Blackmore (guitar), Jon Lord (keyboards), Roger Glover (bass) and Ian Paice (drums, percussion).

Deep Purple_Machine Head

Here’s Pictures Of Home, which like all tracks on the album were credited to all members of the band. In addition to Lord’s great keyboard work, one of the tune’s characteristic features is a cool bass solo by Glover (starting at 3:40 minutes).

My introduction to John Mellencamp was Scaregrow, his eighth studio album from August 1995, but it was the follow-up record The Lonesome Jubilee, released in August 1987, that turned me into a fan.

John Mellencamp_The Lonesome Jubilee

Here is the great opener Paper In Fire, which also became the album’s lead single. Like all tunes except one, it was written by Mellencamp.

While it was pretty clear to me that a Pink Floyd album needed to be among my longtime top 10 records, the decision which one to pick wasn’t easy. I decided to go with The Dark Side Of The Moon but also could have gone with Wish You Were Here. I started listening to both albums at around the same time during the second half of the ’70s.

Pink Floyd_The Dark Side Of The Moon

I’ve chosen to highlight The Great Gig In The Sky. I’ve always liked the incredible part by vocalist Clare Torry.

I believe the first Steely Dan song I ever heard was Do It Again on the radio. By the time I got to Aja, I already knew the band’s debut record Can’t Buy A Thrill and, because of Rikki Don’t Lose That Number, their third album Pretzel Logic. While I liked both of these records, the Aja album from September 1977 became my favorite, after a good friend had brought it to my attention.

Steely Dan_Aja

Here is Deacon Blues, which also was released separately as the album’s second single. Like all tunes on the record, it was co-written by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen.

I was hooked to Live Rust the very first time I listened to it. Neil Young’s album from November 1979 pretty much is a live compilation of his greatest ’70s hits.

Neil Young_Live Rust

My, My, Hey, Hey (Out Of The Blue) is among the record’s highlights. The song was co-written by Young and Jeff Blackburn.

Led Zeppelin wasn’t exactly love at first sight. My first exposure was Led Zeppelin IV, the band’s fourth studio album from November 1971. I bought the record because of Stairway To Heaven.

Led Zeppelin_Led Zeppelin IV

I had listened to Stairway on the radio where they always faded it out before the heavy rock section at the end of the tune. I still remember the shock when I listened to the song in its entirety for the first time. I had just started taking classic guitar lessons and was very much into acoustic guitar. I simply couldn’t understand how Zep could have “ruined” this beautiful song by giving it a heavy metal ending. Well, today it is exactly because of its build why this track has become one of my favorite tunes. But instead of Stairway, I’d like to finish this post with Going To California, a beautiful acoustic ballad co-written by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube