If I Could Only Take One

My desert island song by The Velvet Underground

Happy Wednesday and welcome to another installment of my desert island song challenge. Before I can head out to the imaginary island in the sun, I need to pick one song to take with me.

In case you’re new to this weekly feature, there are a few additional rules that guide my picks. The tune must be by an artist or band I’ve only rarely written about or not covered at all. And I’m doing the song selections in alphabetical order. This means the band’s or artist’s name (last name) must start with a specific letter, which this week is “v”.

Frankly, even after doing a bit of research, I only found a handful of bands and music artists whose names start with “v”: Van Halen; Steven Van Zandt, aka Little Steven; Vangelis and The Velvet Underground. Of course, there’s also the great former Lynyrd Skynyrd lead vocalist Ronnie Van Zant, but I’m not aware of any solo music that appeared under his name.

Applying my criteria, it came down to Vangelis or The Velvet Underground. And my pick is Sunday Morning by The Velvet Underground. While I’ve only heard a handful of the band’s tunes and as such, it was a bit of a tricky decision, I’m quite happy with my choice!

Penned by Lou Reed, the band’s lead guitarist, vocalist and main songwriter, Sunday Morning was the opener of their debut album The Velvet Underground & Nico, which appeared in March 1967. It featured German vocalist Nico (born Christa Päffgen) on three tracks, at the insistence of their manager Andy Warhol who co-produced the album with Tom Wilson. Earlier in the ’60s, Wilson had produced three of Bob Dylan’s albums as well as the debut by Simon & Garfunkel.

The Velvet Underground were formed in 1964 in New York City. By the time they recorded their above-mentioned debut, their line-up included co-founders Lou Rood (vocal, guitar, piano), John Cale (viola, bass, keyboards, vocals) and Sterling Morrison (guitar, bass, backing vocals), along with Moe Tucker (drums) who had replaced the band’s original percussionist Angus MacLise in late 1965.

By the early 1970s, Doug Yule who had joined The Velvet Underground in 1968 to replace John Cale, was the group’s only remaining member. While there was one more album released under The Velvet Underground name (Squeeze, February 1973), essentially it was a Yule solo album he recorded together with a few backing musicians. Yule subsequently did some session and touring work for Lou Reed who had left the band in 1970 to launch a solo career.

In 1992, The Velvet Underground reunited for a European tour featuring Reed, Cale, Morrison and Tucker. But it was short-lived and a discussed U.S. tour didn’t materialize when Cale and Reed fell out again – the old story of egos in rock & roll! In August 1995, Morrison passed away from non-Hodgkin lymphoma at the age of 53. Reed, Tucker and Cale reformed the group one last time in 1996 when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Reed died from liver disease in October 2013. He was 71. In 2017, Cale and Tucker came together at the Grammy Salute to Music Legends concert for a performance of I’m Waiting for the Man, a tune from The Velvet Underground’s first album. They remain the only survivors of the group’s original line-up.

Following are some additional tidbits on Sunday Morning from Songfacts:

Lou Reed wrote this on a Sunday morning around 6 a.m. Andy Warhol, who helped finance the album, suggested he write a song about the paranoia associated with the effects of a drug wearing off.

Reed wrote this for Nico but then decided not to let the German ex-model sing it. Instead he impersonated her himself.

The production on this song is more lavish than the other tracks on the album. It was intended for release as a single and they wanted to make it radio friendly...

…This song is all about last-minute changes. The inclusion of the track on their first album was literally penciled in, Reed decided to take over vocals at the last minute as they walked into the studio to record it, and John Cale noticed a celesta in the studio and decided to include the instrument for the song on the spot. Cale also played the viola on the song.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Another Sunday morning is upon us, at least in my neck of the woods (Central New Jersey, USA). Of course, this means it’s time to embark on another journey to celebrate music of the past six decades, six tunes at a time.

Julius Rodriguez/Gift of the Moon

This trip starts in the present. The immediate present. Julius Rodriguez, aka Orange Julius, is an American pianist, drummer and composer, whose music combines elements of jazz, avant-garde, R&B, hip-hop and pop. He started studying classical piano at a young age, or I should say at an even younger age – he’s only 23 years old! His father, a jazz connoisseur, introduced him to artists like Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and John Coltrane. Rodriguez has been an active touring member of New York jazz combo Onyx Collective, and has worked as a sideman with numerous other artists like Macy Gray, Wynton Marsalis and Nick Hakim. And, yes, in addition to all of that, Rodriguez has been releasing music under his own name and the Orange Julius moniker since 2015. Here’s Gift of the Moon, off his new album Let Sound Tell All, which appeared on June 10.

John & Yoko & Plastic Ono Band/New York City

Now let’s kick it up with some great rock & roll. One artist I’ve always loved in this context is John Lennon. I recall reading somewhere that John said the rock & roll covers The Beatles played at the Star-Club in Hamburg and the Cavern in Liverpool before they were famous were the best music they ever performed. Of course, John said many things about The Beatles after they had broken up, which seemed to dismiss their original music. While I don’t agree with some of his remarks, I think he’s right The Beatles were a great rock & roll band. John was a great rock & roll singer, which he not only demonstrated on his 1975 covers album Rock ‘n’ Roll but also on this tune: New York City, a track that appeared in June 1972 on a double LP titled Some Time in New York City, released as John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band with Elephant’s Memory – rolls right of your tongue! Go, Johnny, go – que pasa New York!

Creedence Clearwater Revival/Born On the Bayou

I don’t know about you, I’m in the mood for more rock. Let’s go to 1969 and the swamp. I trust Creedence Clearwater Revival, aka CCR, don’t need an introduction. If you’d like a crash course, check this AllMusic bio. Like most CCR tunes, Born On the Bayou was penned by the group’s leader John Fogerty. Yes, the man had pretty strong opinions, which he oftentimes imposed on his bandmates. And, yes, I feel sometimes they don’t get the credit they deserve. But there’s no doubt John knew what he was doing. Born On the Bayou is the lead track of CCR’s sophomore album Bayou Country, which appeared in January 1969. It also was released separately as the B-side to the record’s single Proud Mary. In my humble opinion, Born On the Bayou should have been a separate single, and it should have been an A-side – man, I love this tune!

Asia/Heat of the Moment

And next, we find ourselves back in ’82. When I caught Heat of the Moment by Asia on the radio the other day, it reminded me of what a catchy tune it is. Growing up in the ’80s back in Germany, I loved much of the music that came out during that decade. I suppose you could say, well, it was in the heat of the moment! While I can’t deny a certain remaining weak spot, nowadays I’m no longer as fond of ’80s music. That being said, some songs are holding up pretty well to me. One is Asia’s debut single, co-written by the band’s John Wetton (lead vocals, bass) and Geoff Downes (keyboards, vocals), which appeared on their eponymous debut album, released in March 1982. After they broke up in 1986, Asia reunited in 1989 and remain active to this day, with Downes as the only original member.

The Wallflowers/Shy of the Moon

Undoubtedly, being a music artist and offspring of Bob Dylan poses challenges. But I feel Jakob Dylan, a son of Bob and his first wife Sara Dylan (born Shirley Marlin Noznisky), has done pretty well. While Jakob played guitar in various high school bands and was featured as a guitar player on his friends’ group’s eponymous 1987 album, Trash Matinee, he didn’t start focusing on a professional music career until 1989. Together with his childhood friend Tobi Miller (lead guitar) he began forming a band called The Apples. After Barrie Maguire (bass), Peter Yanowitz (drums) and Rami Yafee (keyboards) had joined the group, they changed their name to The Wallflowers and released their eponymous debut album in August 1992. The Wallflowers are still around, though it’s now a music project by Dylan with a revolving cast of touring musicians. Here’s Shy of the Moon, the great openers of The Wallflowers’ above-noted eponymous debut album. Like all except one of the remaining tracks on the album, the tune was penned by Dylan.

Southern Avenue/Keep On

And once again another music trip has arrived at its final stop. If you’re a more frequent visitor of the blog, you probably recall Southern Avenue are one of my favorite contemporary bands. They are also among the nicest, down-to-earth professional musicians I’ve met. The group from Memphis, Tenn., which has been around since 2015, blends blues and soul with flavors of contemporary R&B. I also love the racial diversity they represent. Southern Avenue are Israeli blues guitarist Ori Naftaly; two amazing African American ladies, lead vocalist Tierinii Jackson and her sister Tikyra Jackson who plays the drums and sings backing vocals; white bassist Evan Sarver; and African American keyboarder Jeremy Powell. Tellingly, in 2016 they became the first new act signed to Stax Records in many years. Here’s the great title track of their sophomore album Keep On, released in May 2019.

This post wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify playlist of the above tunes. Hope there’s something you enjoy!

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; YouTube, Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Welcome to another installment of my weekly new music revue. This time, my picks include art pop, jangle pop, jazz and garage-oriented alternative rock. Once again, all artists are new to me. All tunes are included on albums that appeared yesterday (March 11).

Jenny Hval/Year of Love

Jenny Hval is a Norwegian singer-songwriter, record producer, musician and novelist. Before she released her solo debut EP Cigars in 2006, Hval was the vocalist in a gothic metal band called Shellyz Raven and subsequently studied at the University of Melbourne. During her time there, she sang in Australian groups iPanic and Folding For Air, and released an EP with the latter in 2004. To date, she has released 10 studio albums, two of which appeared under the name Rockettothesky. Hval’s solo music has been characterized as avant-garde, art pop and experimental folk. Her Apple Music profile notes she was inspired by Kate Bush, Jimmy Somerville, and the ambitious, androgynous feel of ’80s pop. This brings me to Classic Objects, Hval’s new album, and the opener Year of Love, written by her.

Young Guv/Good Time

Young Guv is a solo project of Toronto-based guitarist and vocalist Ben Cook, a co-founder of Canadian hardcore punk band No Warning that was initially formed in 1998 under the name As We Once Were. After the band’s break-up in late 2005, Cook joined another local hardcore punk cheerfully named Fucked Up. In 2015, Cook released his solo debut album Ripe 4 Luv, the first of four that have appeared to date under the Young Guv moniker. Cook’s Young Guv music is power pop-oriented and as such very different from his hardcore punk roots. His latest album Guv III has a nice jangle pop sound. Here’s Good Time, co-written by Cook and James Matthew DeLong.

Walter Smith III & Matthew Stevens/Loping

What do you get when combining American jazz saxophonist Walter Smith III and Canadian jazz guitarist Matthew Stevens? Walter Smith III & Matthew Stevens who just released their third collaboration album In Common III, which follows In Common II and In Common from 2020 and 2018, respectively. Smith began playing the saxophone at the age of seven and has performed with many other notable jazz artists like Terence Blanchard, Roy Haynes and Christian McBride. His debut album as a leader, Casually Introducing, appeared in 2006. Matthew Stevens, who has been active since 2004, is regarded as one “most exciting up-and-coming jazz guitarists” in his generation, according to Wikipedia. His 2015 debut album as a leader, Woodwork, garnered rave reviews from critics. On In Common III, Smith and Stevens are backed by Kris Davis (piano), Dave Holland (bass) and Terri Lyne Carrington (drums). Here’s a track titled Loping composed by Stevens. I like it!

The Mysterines/Life’s a Bitch (But I Like it So Much)

Wrapping up this post is new music by The Mysterines, an alternative rock band from Liverpool, England. Their members are Lia Metcalfe (vocals, guitar), Callum Thompson (guitar), George Favager (bass) and Paul Crilly (drums). According to Apple Music, Metcalfe is a fan of The Doors with a passion for poetry like her hero Jim Morrison [who] started writing songs at the age of nine. Her teenage years provided more meaningful material to write about, much of which formed a basis for songs on Reeling [the group’s debut album]…The Mysterines specialize in an emotive brand of garage rock that takes inspiration from a variety of sources. Musically, the debut albums by The Strokes and Arcade Fire were the blueprint for youthful swagger and experimentalism, respectively; the films of directors Alejandro Jodorowsky and Terrence Malick provided canvases on which the quartet could imagine new soundtracks. Here’s the opener Life’s a Bitch (But I Like it So Much). I dig the tune’s raw sound.

As usual, following is a Spotify playlist with the above and a few additional tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; YouTube; Spotify