The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Good morning/good afternoon/good evening, wherever you are when reading this. It’s Sunday morning in my neck of the woods in lovely central New Jersey where you can always run into a confused deer or encounter a suicidal squirrel that jumps right before your moving vehicle. Why the hell am I saying this? Coz I just felt like it, plus how many times can you introduce a recurring feature that’s now in its 65th week?

Jean-Michel Jarre/Last Rendez Vous

Today, our music journey shall start in space with Jean-Michel Jarre, one of the pioneers of electronic, ambient and new-age music. The French composer who has been active since 1969 broke through with his third studio album Oxygène from December 1976. That record catapulted Jarre to the top of the French charts and the top 10 in various other European countries, including the UK (no. 2), Sweden (no. 3), The Netherlands (no. 4), Germany (no. 8), Norway (no. 9) and Austria (no. 10). Evidently, Europeans loved it, which in no small part was driven by the track Oxygène (Part IV) that subsequently became a single mirroring the album’s chart performance in Europe. Success was more moderate in the U.S. where the album peaked at no. 78 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Australia (no. 29) – still remarkable, given the genre! Last Rendez Vous is the closing track of Jarre’s eighth studio album Rendez-Vous, released in April 1986 – not quite as spacy as Oxygène but still very relaxing. That beautiful saxophone part was played by Pierre Gossez.

Drive-By Truckers/Gravity’s Gone

For the next tune, let’s travel to 2006 and pick up the speed with some great Southern rock by Drive-By Truckers. The group was formed in Athens, Ga. in 1996 by Patterson Hood (guitar, vocals, mandolin) and his longtime friend and musical partner Mike Cooley (guitar, vocals, banjo, harmonica). Both remain in the band’s current line-up, which also includes Jay Gonzalez (keyboards, guitar, accordion, saw, backing vocals), Matt Patton (bass, backing and lead vocals) and Brad “EZB” Morgan (drums). Drive-By Truckers helped launch the career of Jason Isbell who joined them at age 21 in 2001 and remained a member until April 2007. He recorded three albums with them, including A Blessing and a Curse, the group’s sixth record from April 2006. Here’s Gravity’s Gone, a great tune with a Stonesy vibe, written by Cooley. Since then, Drive-By Truckers have released seven additional studio albums, the most recent of which is The New OK from October 2020.

Todd Rundgren/I Saw the Light

When that song was served up to me by my streaming music provider the other day, I immediately decided to earmark it for a Sunday Six. The seductive power pop tune by Todd Rundgren reminds me of George Harrison. In fact, when I heard that slide guitar, I was near-100% sure this has to be Harrison. But, nope, the versatile Rundgren played all instruments and provided all vocals on this tune, which is the opener of his third album Something/Anything?. Released as a double-LP in February 1972, Something/Anything? became Rundgren’s commercial breakthrough as a solo artist. Peaking at no. 29 and no. 34 in the U.S. and Canada, respectively, Something/Anything? remains his most successful album to date. As of February 1975, it was certified gold by RIAA, based on 500,000 units sold. I Saw the Light also appeared separately as a single, reaching no. 16 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and no. 15 in Canada. Elsewhere, it climbed to no. 21 in Australia and no. 36 in the UK. The album also featured Rundgren’s biggest hit single Hello It’s Me.

Leonard Cohen/Suzanne

Leonard Cohen/Suzanne

Time to play some ’60s. And, nope, for a change, it’s not a rocker. I can’t quite recall when I heard Suzanne by Leonard Cohen for the first time – must have been in the ’70s. What I do still remember is this song drew me in immediately. Frankly, I’m not even sure I already understood a word of English at the time. But Cohen’s vocals, the beautiful melody and the sparse instrumentation did the trick. Penned by the Canadian poet, novelist and singer-songwriter, Suzanne was the opener of Cohen’s debut album Songs of Leonard Cohen, which appeared in December 1967. It would be the first of fifteen studio albums he recorded over a close to 50-year-recording career. Cohen passed away from leukemia in Los Angeles in November 2016 at the age of 82 years. Suzanne sounds just as powerful today as it did back then.

Soundgarden/Black Hole Sun

Our next stop is the ’90s. It surprises me time and again how little I seem to know about this decade where alternative rock and grunge were all the rage. Well, I’m happy to report I was aware of Black Hole Sun by Soundgarden. In fact, when that tune came out in May 1994, I was in my second year of grad school in the U.S., and it seemed to be everywhere. Unless you lived under a rock, there really was no way you’d miss it! Black Hole Sun, written by Chris Cornell, became the third single off Soundgarden’s fourth studio album that ironically was titled Superunknown. Topping the charts in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand, reaching the top 5 in the UK, Sweden and Norway, and making the top 20 in The Netherlands, Germany and Austria, Superunknown not only became the Seattle band’s breakthrough but also their most successful album. Even though Black Hole Sun doesn’t have what you would call a catchy melody in the traditional sense, it still can easily get stuck in your brain!

Goodbye June/Stand and Deliver

And once again it’s time to wrap up another six-track journey. For my last pick, I’d like to jump to the present and Goodbye June, an exciting band that has been around since 2005. I love their embrace of classic rock, so it’s not surprising I’ve featured the band several times since I first came across them in December 2021. Goodbye June are comprised of Landon Milbourn (lead vocals), Brandon Qualkenbush (rhythm guitar, bass, backing vocals) and Tyler Baker (lead guitar), who are all cousins. The group was formed in honor of Baker’s brother who died in a car accident in June 2005. In 2009, they relocated to Nashville where they gained a reputation for their fiery live shows. Three years later, the band’s debut album Nor the Wild Music Flow came out. Stand and Deliver is a track from Goodbye June’s fourth and most recent studio release See Where the Night Goes, which appeared on February 18. I can hear some great ’70s style rock in here like AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith – love it!

And, last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist of today’s songs.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by Atlanta Rhythm Section

Today I’m launching a new feature titled If I Could Only Take One…The idea is pretty simple: If I had to move to a desert island and could only take one song by artist or band x, which tune would I pick? This weekly series replaces The Hump Day Picker-Upper feature I retired last week.

For now, I’ve decided to identify the artists and bands by going through my streaming music library in alphabetic order, picking one of each, a to z. This would already translate into 26 posts. If I have more endurance, the same process could be repeated with different picks for each letter.

To minimize redundant content, I also envisage focusing on artists and bands I haven’t covered or only covered a few times. This would exclude bands like AC/DC, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and artists, such as Bob Dylan, Carole King or Neil Young, to name a few of the regulars on the blog.

My pick for the inaugural installment is Spooky by Atlanta Rhythm Section. In this case, the decision of which song to pick was fairly simple since I only know a handful of tunes by the Southern rock band that has been around since 1970. Their take of the groovy tune was included on their eighth studio album Underdog from June 1979. I’ve always dug it!

Spooky, one of ALR’s best-known songs, was also released separately as a single in August 1979. In the U.S., it reached no. 17 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also charted in Canada and Australia.

Originally, Spooky was written as an instrumental by saxophonist Mike Shapiro and Harry Middlebrooks Jr. Performed by Shapiro and released under the name Mike Sharpe, the track first appeared in 1967 and climbed to no. 57 on the U.S. pop charts. That was all complete news to me!

The next iteration of Spooky occurred in 1968 when a band called Classics IV recorded it as the title track of their debut album – again something I had not heard before. The group’s guitarist and songwriter James Cobb and producer Buddy Buie added lyrics, for which they earned credits. Mike Shapiro played the saxophone solo. And this is how it sounded – pretty similar to ALR.

Two years later, Classics IV keyboarder Dean Daughtry became a co-founding member of Atlanta Rhythm Section, along with Rodney Justo (vocals), Barry Bailey (guitar), Paul Goddard (bass) and Robert Nix (drums). James Cobb joined in 1972.

Spooky has also been recorded by numerous other artists, including Dusty Springfield, Percy Sledge, Martha Reeves, R.E.M. and David Sanborn.

Here’s a playlist of different renditions of Spooky. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the original instrumental on Spotify.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Goodbye June’s New Album Rocks, Classic Style

Goodbye June first entered my radar screen last December when I featured the title track of their then-forthcoming album See Where the Night Goes in a Best of What’s New installment. After listening to Breathe and Attack, which I included in my latest new music revue edition, it was an easy decision to dedicate an entire post to the group’s now-released fourth studio record, which came out on February 18.

See Where the Night Goes is the latest proof that while classic-style rock no longer is mainstream, it isn’t dead as is oftentimes claimed. Goodbye June, formed in Memphis, Tenn. in 2005, are part of what a July 2021 story in Guitar World called the New Wave of Classic Rock. Some of the other groups they noted in this context include Dirty Honey, Greta Van Fleet and Rival Sons. One band the story didn’t mention is Fortune Child, who were only founded in 2021 and may be the most recent in the pack. I featured one of their songs in yesterday’s Sunday Six installment.

Goodbye June are comprised of Landon Milbourn (lead vocals), Brandon Qualkenbush (rhythm guitar, bass, backing vocals) and Tyler Baker (lead guitar), who are all cousins. According to their AllMusic bio, they had first started making music together in their local church. The group was formed in honor of Baker’s brother who died in a car accident in June 2005. In 2009, they relocated to Nashville where they gained a reputation for their fiery live shows. Three years later, the band’s debut album Nor the Wild Music Flow came out.

Following extensive regional and some international touring, Goodbye June won first prize in 2014 in the Unsigned Music Competition. The band’s growing visibility led to a deal with Interscope Records. Their sophomore album Magic Valley appeared on that major label in May 2017. Let’s take a look at some music from See Where the Night Goes.

The album kicks off with Step Inside, credited to the three members of the band, as well as producer Paul Moak. The multi-instrumentalist from Nashville also contributed electric guitar, acoustic guitar, Clavinet, Mellotron, bass and percussion. Here’s the official video of the AC/DC-style rocker that pretty much sets the tone of the record.

Since I previously covered the title track and Breathe and Attack, I’m skipping these tunes here and go directly to Take a Ride. Like the opener, it was co-written by the band and Moak and is reminiscent of AC/DC as well. I could also see this tune on a Greta Van Fleet album.

Even high-energy rockers sometimes need to slow down. Here’s the rock ballad What I Need, credited to the band and Scott Stevens, another local Nashville artist. Call me crazy, I’m hearing some Lenny Kravitz here!

Let’s do two more: Here’s Baby, I’m Back, another Milbourn/Qualkenbush/ Baker/Moak co-write.

A tune titled Three Chords by a band like Goodbye June sounds promising, and it certainly doesn’t disappoint: Give ’em three chords/And the Holy Ghost/They’ll start a-moving/And shaking on the floor…Come on, boys, take us to rock & roll church!

Yes, Goodbye June aren’t exactly reinventing the classic rock wheel on See Where the Night Goes. And that’s precisely why I love it!

Sources: Wikipedia; Guitar World; AllMusic; Discogs; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Another Saturday is upon us. Today, Best of What’s New is hitting a milestone of sorts with its 100th installment. Since the publication of the weekly feature’s inaugural post on March 21, 2020, I’ve covered more than 400 newly released songs. Discovering tunes I sufficiently like can be a challenge, given I’m primarily into the ’60s and ’70s. But I continue to be encouraged it’s still possible to find decent new music, as long as you are willing to look for it. Let’s get to this week’s picks, which all are on albums that were released yesterday (February 18).

Gregor Barnett/Driving Through the Night

I’d like to kick things off with new music from the debut solo album by Gregor Barnett. He is best known as a co-founder of Philadelphia-based punk band The Menzingers, which has been around since 2006. Here’s an excerpt from Barnett’s bio on the website of his label Epitaph Records: “It was this perfect storm,” says Menzingers guitarist/co-vocalist Gregor Barnett. “The band couldn’t tour, I was going through a really difficult time, and I was stuck at home watching my family struggle with illness and death and hardship. The only thing I could do was write my way through it.”And yet, despite all the turbulence surrounding its creation, there’s something deeply hopeful and reassuring about Don’t Go Throwing Roses In My Grave, Barnett’s debut release under his own name. Written and recorded in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the collection is a sonic departure from Barnett’s more punk-leaning work with The Menzingers, drawing on the gritty, off-kilter Americana of Tom Waits or Warren Zevon as it faces down loss and doubt in search of relief and redemption. Here’s Driving Through the Night, which like all other tracks on the album was penned by Barnett. I like his sound!

The Heavy Hours/Wasting All Our Time

The Heavy Hours are an alternative rock band from Cincinnati, Ohio. Here’s more from their website: On the heels of releasing their acclaimed Wildfire EP (2021) in the midst of a global pandemic, The Heavy Hours now return with Gardens, a full-length album that further exemplifies their distinctive strain of warm-hearted, open-armed alternative rock. The Cincinnati, Ohio-based quartet recorded Gardens several years ago, long before the group had management, an agent or a record label in their corner. With money they had collectively saved up, each of the members took a week off of work and set out to record a pocket full of songs at Montrose Recording located on remote farmland in Richmond, Virginia with producer Adrian Olsen (Nate Smith, Foxygen, Futurebirds). Somehow these early studio recordings found their way into the hands of multi GRAMMY award-winning producer/songwriter and Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach who immediately took a shine to the band and in turn led to organizing a writing session in Nashville, TN, which crafted tracks released on the Wildfire EP. This brings me to Gardens, which according to this mini-documentary was recorded in 2018. Here’s Wasting All Our Time, credited to all four members of the band: Andrew Yorio, Michael Marcagi, Jonathan Todd Moon and Ian Malott. I’m glad The Heavy Hours were finally able to release this great music.

Sarah Shook & the Disarmers/Been Lovin’ You Too Long

Sarah Shook & the Disarmers are a band around country singer-songwriter Sarah Shook. According to her Apple Music profile, Shook was born in Rochester, New York in 1985. She was raised in a deeply religious household, home schooled, and only allowed to listen to classical or Christian praise music as she grew up. Despite these restrictions, Shook taught herself to play guitar in high school and began writing songs…In 2010, she put together her first band, Sarah Shook & the Devil, who issued an EP in 2013, Seven. By the end of 2013, that band had split, and Shook & the Devil guitarist Eric Peterson started over with the group Sarah Shook & the Dirty Hand, a stopgap project that played live around the Chapel Hill area. Meanwhile, Shook had found a fan in producer and engineer Ian Schreier, who was eager to make a record with her. In 2015, she and Peterson assembled a new band to record with Schreier, which also included Aaron Olivia on bass, Phil Sullivan on pedal steel, and John Howie, Jr. (who is also Shook’s partner) on drums. The new combo, dubbed the Disarmers, cut their debut album live in the studio with Schreier at the controls. Sidelong was self-released in late 2015. Fast-forward about six years and two months to Nightroamer, the third album by Sarah Shook & the Disarmers. All tunes on the record were written by Shook. Here’s Been Lovin’ You Too Long.

Goodbye June/Breathe and Attack

My last pick for this week is by Goodbye June, a rock band from Nashville, Tenn., formed in 2005. I first featured them in a Best of What’s New installment in December 2021. The group consists of Landon Milbourn (lead vocals), Brandon Qualkenbush (rhythm guitar, bass, backing vocals) and Tyler Baker (lead guitar), who are all cousins. Apple Music describes them as a hard rock band who blend a rootsy sound with big guitars and plenty of strutting style. Their debut album Nor the Wild Music Flow came out in 2012. Breathe and Attack is from their fourth and latest studio album See Where the Night Goes. I said it before, I’ll say it again: This band reminds me of AC/DC. Milbourn has some of that Bon Scott swagger, and their guitar-playing stylistically is pretty similar to the rock & roll band from down under. Check it out!

Before I wrap up, here’s a playlist of the above tunes. As usual, I threw in a few others by the featured bands.

Sources: Wikipedia; Epitaph Records website; The Heavy Hours website; Apple Music; YouTube; Spotify

Keep On Rocking 40-Plus Years and Counting

The most famous line-up of my all-time favorite band The Beatles existed from August 1962 until September 1969 when they collectively recorded their last song appropriately titled The End, the final track of the Abbey Road album – not a bad duration for a band, given the music business oftentimes is dominated by larger-than-life egos. Yet as productive as The Fab Four were, these seven years look pretty moderate compared to the groups featured in this post, who have been rocking for more than 40 years – in one case even reaching 60 years!

Following are three criteria a band needed to satisfy to be considered for the post. They need to have at least one remaining original member. A group’s duration was measured in terms of active years, not how long they have been together on paper. For example, while Deep Purple were founded in 1968, they “only” have played together for 48 years, not 54 years, if you consider their break-up between 1976 and 1984. Last but not least, I solely included bands I like.

Following I’m highlighting six groups in chronological order of when they were founded with one tune from each. A Spotify playlist at the end of the post includes those tracks, plus songs from a few additional bands meeting the above criteria. Altogether, I decided to include 10 picks. Let’s get to it.

The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones, formed in 1962, have been active for an incredible 60 years, making them the longest-running band on this list. With Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, they still have two original members who have been key to the group. It’s also noteworthy that Ronnie Wood has been part of the line-up since 1975. Sadly, the Stones lost their long-time drummer Charlie Watts last August. He had joined them back in 1963. To date, the Stones have released 30 studio albums, 33 live records and 29 compilations, among others. On November 23, 2021, they finished their most recent tour (No Filter Tour) in Hollywood, Fla. Here’s Jumpin’ Jack Flash, which first appeared in May 1968 as a non-album single.

The Who

Approximately two years after the Stones, in 1964, another dynamite British rock band was formed: The Who. Like their compatriots, the group has two original and essential members to this day, guitarist Pete Townshend and lead vocalist Roger Daltrey. Counting various breaks along the way, The Who have been active for 50 years. Their catalog includes 12 studio albums, 16 live recordings and 32 compilations, among others. Just on Monday this week, The Who announced a 2022 North American tour, The Who Hits Back, scheduled to kick off on April 22 at Hardrock Live in Hollywood, Fla. – the very same venue where the Stones wrapped up their tour last year. Messrs. Daltrey and Townshend and their band are playing New York’s Madison Square Garden on May 26 – damn, this is tempting! Here’s Going Mobile from my favorite Who album Who’s Next.

Deep Purple

On to my favorite hard rock band of all time, Deep Purple, who were initially established in 1968. One of the founding members, drummer Ian Paice, remains part of the group’s current formation. Two additional present members, bassist Roger Glover and lead vocalist Ian Gillan joined in 1969, and as such were part of the group’s classic line-up that also included guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and organist Jon Lord. Deep Purple’s discography encompasses 22 studio albums, 45 live records and 28 compilations. The band is also touring this year starting in May, mostly in Europe. Here’s the epic Child in Time, a track from their fourth studio album Deep Purple in Rock released in June 1970 – the first to feature the classic line-up.

Aerosmith

The bad boys from Boston were formed in 1970. Remarkably, four of the group’s current five members are co-founders: Steven Tyler (lead vocals, harmonica, percussion), Joe Perry (guitar, backing vocals), Tom Hamilton (bass) and Joey Kramer (drums, percussion). Second guitarist Brad Whitford joined in 1971. While Perry and Whitford, respectively, had five and three-year interruptions in-between and missed the 1982 Rock in a Hard Place album, Tyler, Hamilton and Kramer have played on all of the band’s 15 studio records to date. Aerosmith’s catalog also includes six live records and 16 compilations. On January 31, the group announced the cancellation of their European tour that had been planned for June and July, citing uncertainty around the pandemic. Here’s Janie’s Got a Gun, one of my favorite Aerosmith tunes off their 10th studio album Pump, released in September 1989.

AC/DC

Australian rock and rollers AC/DC have been around since 1973. Not counting their hiatus between 2016 and 2020, this amounts to 45 years. Lead guitarist Angus Young remains as the only founding member. There are three other longtime members: Phil Rudd (drums), Cliff Williams (bass, backing vocals) and Brian Johnson (lead vocals), who first joined the band in 1975, 1977 and 1980, respectively. AC/DC’s catalog features 17 studio albums, three live records and two box sets, among others. Here’s Play Ball, a great track from the group’s 16th studio album Rock or Bust that appeared in November 2014, featuring all of the above members.

U2

The last group I’d like to highlight in this upfront section of the post are Irish rockers U2 who were formed in Dublin in 1976 under the name Feedback. It’s the only band on this list whose current members were all co-founders. That being said, their present line-up is not the group’s initial formation, which during their first year also included a second guitarist, Dik Evans, the older brother of David Evans known as The Edge. U2’s other members are Paul Hewson (Bono), Adam Clayton (bass) and Larry Mullen Jr. (drums). To date, the band’s discography consists of 14 studio albums, one live record and three compilations, among others. U2 were most recently on the road in 2019 for the second part of The Joshua Tree Tour. I caught one of the shows during the first part of that tour in 2017 – my only U2 concert so far, and a memorable experience! Here’s Red Hill Mining Town, a track from my favorite U2 album The Joshua Tree that came out in March 1987.

Following is the aforementioned Spotify list.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Who website; Deep Purple website; Aerosmith website; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Perhaps it’s not surprising that checking iTunes yesterday hardly revealed any new music releases dated December 24. Which artist would really want to issue an album or a single that day when many folks are focused on Christmas and are done with gift shopping. Of course, I realize release dates are mostly determined by record labels, though December 24 shouldn’t be in their best interest either. Anyway, I still found some music I like that came out fairly recently and, as such, still qualifies as new, at least in my book. My picks this week all fall within different types of rock. Here we go!

Black Map/Witching Hour

Black Map are a post-hardcore supergroup formed in 2014 in San Francisco after the trio’s respective bands had gone on hiatus. Their members include Dredg guitarist Mark Engles; vocalist and guitarist Ben Flanagan, from The Trophy Fire; and drummer Chris Robyn, formerly with Far (all groups I don’t know). A debut EP, Driver, released in February 2014 was followed by the group’s first full-length album …And We Explode in October that year. Witching Hour is an upfront track from Black Map’s upcoming third full-length studio release Melodoria scheduled for Feb 18, 2022. It appeared on December 17. I can hear a bit of U2 here – check out the neat sound!

Goodbye June/See Where the Night Goes

Nashville, Tenn. group Goodbye June were formed in 2005. Their lineup features Landon Milbourn (lead vocals), Brandon Qualkenbush (rhythm guitar, bass, backing vocals) and Tyler Baker (lead guitar), who are all cousins. Apple Music describes them as a hard rock band who blend a rootsy sound with big guitars and plenty of strutting style. Their debut album Nor the Wild Music Flow came out in 2012. See Where the Night Goes is the title track of the band’s upcoming fourth album set to drop on February 18, 2022. Released on December 14, this tune sounds very classic rock. I find it great to see contemporary bands embrace a genre that has often been called dead. Reminds me a bit of AC/DC!

Austin Meade/Loser Mentality

I hardly could find any public information on Texas rock guitarist and vocalist Austin Meade. Not even his own website includes a bio! According to his Apple Music mini-profile, he cranks out twangy hard-rock albums like 2021’s Black Sheep that boast growling riffs and an outlaw swagger that would make Tyler Childers proud. Wikipedia describes Childers as an American singer-songwriter who blends neotraditional country, bluegrass and folk. I guess this shall suffice. Loser Mentality is Meade’s new single, released on December 9. It was co-written by him and David James Willie. I like it!

Superchunk/Endless Summer

Superchunk are an indie rock band from Chapel Hill, N.C., which were formed in 1989. Their members include Mac McCaughan (vocals, guitar), who I featured in a previous Best of What’s New installment this September; Jim Wilbur (guitar), Laura Ballance (bass) and Jon Wurster (drums). Since the release of their eponymous debut album in September 1990, 10 additional records have come out. Endless Summer is a track from Superchunk’s upcoming 12th studio album, Wild Loneliness, scheduled for February 25, 2022. Credited to the entire group, the melodic rock tune was released on December 7 – nice!

Here’s a playlist that includes the above tunes.

Once again, to those celebrating, Merry Christmas!

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; YouTube

‘Tis the Season – Lighten Up!

If you’d asked me over the past couple of weeks whether I was ready for Christmas and New Year’s, most days, I would have said ‘nope’ to the former and ‘hell yes!’ to the latter. Undoubtedly, the second year of this dreadful pandemic has brought many challenges, and with omicron spreading quickly and furiously, the outlook for the near future isn’t great either. Still, while it’s always easy to find reasons to complain, I feel I really shouldn’t do it.

Instead, I should be grateful for many things I oftentimes take for granted: A loving wife and son who haven’t gotten sick; the fact thus far I’ve been able to escape the bloody virus; a roof above my head, even though we literally just needed to have it replaced, which wasn’t cheap; a job I’ve been able to do from home for the past two years; writing this blog about music, a topic I love; and so on and so forth.

As such, it’s time to stop having the blues about the inconveniences the pandemic has brought, especially missing out on live music, and to embrace the holiday season. And, yes, you guessed it, music can help. Following are some contemporary Christmas songs in different genres, including pop, rock, punk, rap, funk, classic rock & roll and even hard rock – as well as one breathtaking rendition of a traditional Christmas carol. I’m borrowing picks from a post I did four years ago. All songs are also captured in a Spotify playlist at the end.

John Lennon/Happy Xmas (War Is Over) (1971)

Chuck Berry/Run Rudolph Run (1958)

The Pogues/Fairytale Of New York (1987)

Run-D.M.C./Christmas In Hollis (1987)

AC/DC/Mistress For Christmas (1990)

José Feliciano/Feliz Navidad (1970)

James Brown/Santa Claus, Go Straight To The Ghetto (1968)

The Ravers/(It’s Gonna Be) A Punk Rock Christmas (1978)

Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band/Santa Claus Is Coming To Town (2007)

The Temptations/Silent Night

Below is the Spotify playlist. In the case of (It’s Gonna Be a) Punk Rock Christmas, the version by The Ravers wasn’t available, but I found another rendition of the song by what sounds like a female punk band, The Majorettes.

Happy Holiday Season! If you don’t celebrate Christmas and/or the New Year, I hope this won’t prevent you from having a great time anyway!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday Six where I time-travel through the past 70 years or so to celebrate the diversity of music by picking six tunes. This installment features saxophone jazz from 2013, pop from 1980, rock & roll from 1977, blues-rock from 1990, rockabilly from 1957 and rock from 1969. Can you guess what and the last one might be?

Kenny Garrett/Homma San

Today, I’d like to kick off our little music excursion with American post-bop jazz saxophonist Kenny Garrett. According to his Apple Music profile, Garrett is among the most distinctive instrumentalists to emerge from Detroit’s 1980s and 1990s jazz scenes. A versatile musician, he is equally at home playing classic jump-and-rhythm & blues, standards, modal music and jazz-funk. Garrett’s professional career took off in 1978 when he became a member of the Duke Ellington Orchestra as an 18-year-old. He also played and recorded with Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw, among others. In 1985, he released his debut album as a bandleader, Introducing Kenny Garrett. Wikipedia lists 16 additional records in this capacity to date. Here’s Homma San, a Garrett composition that’s perfect for a Sunday morning. It’s from a September 2013 studio album titled Pushing the World Away. It reached no. 6 on the Billboard Top Jazz Albums chart and received a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Instrumental Album.

Paul Simon/Long Long Day

Let’s stay on the mellow side with this beautiful tune by Paul Simon. Long Long Day is a song from the soundtrack of One-Trick Pony, a 1980 film written by and starring Simon as a once-popular but now struggling folk-rock musician. The soundtrack, Simon’s fifth solo album released in August 1980, is best known for Late in the Evening. The Grammy-nominated tune reached no. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100, marking Simon’s final top 10 hit on the U.S. mainstream chart. Long Long Day became the B-side of the album’s second single One-Trick Pony. Written by Simon, Long Long Day features Patti Austin on backing vocals. Other musicians on the recording, among others, include Richard Tee (piano), Toni Levin (bass) and Steve Gadd (drums), who also appeared in the film as members of Simon’s backing band.

AC/DC/Whole Lotta Rosie

After two quiet tunes, I’d say it’s time to push the pedal to the metal. In order to do that I could hardly think of any better band than hard-charging Australian rock & rollers AC/DC. Here’s one of my favorites among their early tunes: Whole Lotta Rosie, off their fourth studio album, Let There Be Rock from March 1977. Co-written by the band’s Angus Young (lead guitar), Malcolm Young (rhythm guitar) and Bon Scott (lead vocals), Whole Lotta Rosie also appeared separately as the album’s second single. It became AC/DC’s first charting tune in the U.K. and The Netherlands where it reached no. 68. and no. 5, respectively. Their international breakthrough hit Highway to Hell was still two years away. Whole Lotta Rosie rocks just as nicely!

Gary Moore/Walking By Myself

Let’s keep up the energy level with some electric blues-rock by Gary Moore. The Northern Irish guitarist started his career in the late ’60s as a member of Irish blues-rock band Skid Row. In 1971, he left to start a solo career. Following the release of the album Grinding Stone in May 1973, credited to The Gary Moore Band, he became a member of Thin Lizzy in early 1974. This reunited him with Phil Lynott, Skid Row’s lead vocalist at the time Moore joined that group. While still playing with Thin Lizzy, Moore released his first album solely under his name, Back on the Streets, in 1978. After his departure from the band in 1979, he focused on his solo career. This brings me to Walking By Myself, a great cover of a blues tune written by Jimmy Rogers and released in 1956, together with Little Walter and Muddy Waters. Moore’s rendition was included on his eighth solo album Still Got the Blues from March 1990. It became his most successful solo record climbing to no. 13 in the UK and no. 5 in Australia, topping the charts in Finland and Sweden, and charting within the top 5 in Germany, Norway and Switzerland. Walking By Myself also appeared as a single in August that year, reaching no. 48 and no. 55 in the UK and Australia, respectively.

Carl Perkins/Matchbox

For this next pick, let’s go back to early 1957 and rockabilly classic Matchbox by Carl Perkins. According to Wikipedia, the tune was sparked when Perkins’ father Buck told him to write a song based on some lines of lyrics he remembered from Match Box Blues, a tune Blind Lemon Jefferson had recorded in 1927. As Perkins began to sing these lyrics at Sun Studios in Memphis, Tenn. in December 1956, a session pianist called Jerry Lee Lewis started playing a boogie-woogie riff. In turn, this prompted Perkins to improvise on his guitar, and the rest is history. While Matchbox ended up as the B-side to Perkins’ single Your True Love, it still became one of his best-known songs. The tune was also included on his debut record Dance Album Of Carl Perkins that appeared in 1957. Matchbox has been covered by various other artists, most notably The Beatles who included it on their UK EP Long Tall Sally released in June 1964. In the U.S., it appeared on their fifth American album Something Else from July 1964 and subsequently as a single in August of the same year.

The Beatles/Don’t Let Me Down

Speaking of The Beatles, having just watched the Disney+ premiere of Peter Jackson’s docuseries The Beatles: Get Back, not surprisingly, the four lads have been very much on my mind. As such, I’d like to end this installment of The Sunday Six with Don’t Let Me Down. Written by John Lennon as a love song for Yoko Ono and credited to him and Paul McCartney as usual, the tune became the B-side of the single Get Back that came out in April 1969. Not only did both songs feature Billy Preston on electric piano, but they also were released as The Beatles with Billy Preston. Here’s a clip with footage from the rooftop performance in late January 1969, the last time The Beatles played in front of an audience.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; YouTube

Turkey Day Rock Marathon Is On Again

Earlier this evening, it dawned on me it’s Thanksgiving week, which means New York classic rock radio station Q104.3 once again is doing their annual countdown of the Top 1,043 Classic Rock Songs Of All Time. The countdown is based on submissions from listeners who each can select 10 songs. All picks are then tabulated to create the big list.

The countdown starts tomorrow morning at 9:00 am EST and stretches all the way to sometime this Sunday evening. That’s how long it takes to play all 1,043 songs. The only interruption of the countdown will happen at noon on Thanksgiving when Q104.3 plays Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant, all 18 and a half minutes of it – just wonderful!

While after 20 years in a row (yep, that’s how long they’ve done this!) it’s a forgone conclusion that Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven once again will be no. 1 and the top 20 will be largely occupied by the same songs from previous years, listening to the countdown is still fun. Think about it, when can you ever hear 1,043 different songs in a row on the radio. Most stations have a much smaller set of songs in rotation.

Below is a screenshot of my selections for this year. Once again, I decided to come up with 1o previously unpicked songs. This time, I included two tunes from 2021: California Dreamin’ (Dirty Honey) and Side Street Shakedown (The Wild Feathers). Both are probably very long shots to make the list, as are I Don’t Understand (The Chesterfield Kings) and Cinderella (The Fuzztones), but that’s okay

Following are clips of my selections:

Dirty Honey/California Dreamin’Dirty Honey, April 2021

The Wild Feathers/Side Street ShakedownAlvarado, October 2021

The Black Crowes/Twice As HardShake Your Money Maker, February 1990

AC/DC/It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘N’ Roll)High Voltage, April 1976

The Beatles/Helter SkelterThe Beatles, November 1968

David Bowie/Suffragette CityThe Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, June 1972

Queen/Tie Your Mother DownA Day at the Races, December 1976

The Who/The Real MeQuadrophenia, October 1973

The Chesterfield Kings/I Don’t UnderstandThe Mindbending Sounds Of…The Chesterfield Kings, August 2003

The Fuzztones/CinderellaLysergic Emanations, 1985

I’m sure I’ll be listening to Q104.3’s countdown at different times over the next five days. Though this year, there will be stiff competition from Peter Jackson’s Get Back Beatles three-part docu-series!

Sources: Wikipedia; Q104.3 website; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Neil Young & Crazy Horse/Heading West

On October 28, Neil Young announced Heading West on his Neil Young Archives website, the second upfront tune from his upcoming new album with Crazy Horse, Barn. The below official video appeared on November 4.

The crunchy electric rocker follows the acoustic folk tune Song of the Seasons from October 15, which I previously featured here. Both of these tracks sound like classic Neil, and I’m looking forward to the album that’s scheduled to drop on December 10.

My mom and I travelled across the country together, heading west, Young wrote on his website. She was on her way back home to start over. I was on my way there with her. Here’s a song about me and my mom and those ‘growing up’ times. It’s so great to remember her this way!

Heading West features Young (guitar, lead vocals) and his Crazy Horse band mates Nils Lofgren (piano, backing vocals), Billy Talbot (bass, backing vocals) and Ralph Molina (drums). The tune was recorded in the Rocky Mountains on June 21 this year at Le Mobile Remote Recording Studio. Housed in a remote recording truck, Le Mobile is a rolling recording studio that over its nearly 50-year history has been used by countless music artists from AC/DC to ZZ Top.

I think this comment by Young perfectly sums the ragged melodic tune: What a great ride with the Horse on this one! Larry Cragg [Young’s longtime guitar tech – CMM] had my guitar sounding so alive.

Neil Young with his mother Edna Blow Ragland “Rassy” Young (1918–1990) – undated photo from Neil Young Archives

In a separate statement on his website, Young also had this to say about the forthcoming album: All of BARN is real. It came from the heart. We may have cried after some takes…in happiness…in elation…A band of brothers, we have all known one another since our beginnings. We made ‘Only love can break your Heart’ and ‘Southern Man’ on the same album. We made ‘Round and Round’ and ‘Down by the River’ on the same album. We made ‘Don’t forget about Love’ and ‘Human Race’ on the same album. Welcome back. It’s not the same. Barn may be our best album ever.

That conclusion certainly doesn’t suggest a lack of confidence. One of the things I find intriguing about Neil Young is his spontaneity. He doesn’t seem to overthink his recording projects. Overall, I feel this approach has served him well, though it’s also fair to say the outcomes have varied.

Young is also known for having made impulsive decisions and having scrapped entire albums at the last minute. It doesn’t look like that’s going to be the case for Barn. If anything, for the past few years, Young seems to have been on a mission to release more of his music, as evidenced by his Archives Performance Series, not withhold it. Keeping fingers crossed!

Sources: Wikipedia; NeilYoungArchives.com; Le Mobile website; YouTube