John Lennon’s Imagine Turns 50

Exactly 50 years ago today, on September 9, 1971, John Lennon released Imagine, his second solo album. Initially, I had not planned to cover this milestone, especially given how many other records that are arguably better are also hitting their 50th anniversary this year. Imagine sounds much more produced than Lennon’s solo debut John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band – even lush at times, which isn’t surprising, given Phil Spector’s involvement. Still, listening to it the other day reminded me this is a pretty damn good album by a member of my all-time favorite band. Do I really need more justification to celebrate its 50th anniversary?

Let’s revisit some of the songs. Starting with the opening title track really is a no-brainer. Whether you agree that it’s a great tune or not, it’s undisputable Imagine is John Lennon’s signature song. One could criticize a certain degree of hypocrisy that Lennon sang about peace while at the same time he was ignoring his first son Julian. Yes, John Lennon wasn’t perfect, but tell me one music artist you consider to be one of your heroes who is! Plus, it doesn’t change the fact the tune is a beautiful ballad with thought-provoking lyrics. Imagine also appeared separately as a single in the U.S. in October 1971 and in the UK in 1975, reaching no. 3 and no. 6 on the national charts, respectively. It became the most successful single of Lennon’s solo career.

One of the nice things that can happen when revisiting albums is that you come across a song that you previously had not quite recognized. This is how I feel about Crippled Inside, the second track on side one (speaking in vinyl terms). I love how that tune sounds, in particular the salon style piano played by Nicky Hopkins. Another notable guest I’d like to call out is George Harrison, who played Dobro guitar. There was also Ted Turner. According to Songfacts, he received a phone call from Lennon at 11:00 pm while his band Wishbone Ash was recording their own album to ask whether Turner could join Lennon’s recording session right away. Turner did and provided acoustic rhythm guitar.

“When you’re in love with somebody, you tend to be jealous, and want to own them and possess them 100 percent, which I do,” Lennon said about Jealous Guy, as captured by Songfacts. “Intellectually, I thought owning a person is rubbish, but I love Yoko, I want to possess her completely. I don’t want to stifle her. You have so little as a child, I think once you find it, you want to hang onto it. You grab it so much, you tend to kill it.” Songfacts also notes Yoko Ono told music magazine Uncut in 1998, “He was jealous about the fact that I had another language in my head, you know, Japanese, that he can’t share with me. It was almost on a very conceptual, spiritual level. It wasn’t on a level of physical or anything ’cause I just would never give him a reason for that.”

Time to move on to side two and Gimme Some Truth, a song about Lennon’s frustration with slick and deceptive politicians. Songfacts adds the tune also refers to cover-ups like the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, with Lennon demanding simple truth. Lennon’s outspoken stance against America’s war engagement in Vietnam did not endear him to the Nixon Administration, which mounted deportation efforts against him. Ultimately, they failed and “Tricky Dicky” was forced to resign in disgrace! Once again, George Harrison guested, playing electric guitar and slide guitar. Sadly, sleazy politicians are still all too common, so these lyrics very much remain relevant today.

Perhaps the album’s most intense track is How Do You Sleep?, which Lennon wrote when his relationship with Paul McCartney was at rock bottom. The song was a response to what Lennon felt were McCartney’s attacks against him on the Ram album, including lines in the song Too Many People and a picture of two screwing beetles on the back cover – or as Songfacts puts it, as if Paul was telling John, ‘screw you from one Beatle to another.’ Songfacts also notes an interview Lennon gave to BBC Radio 1 on December 6, 1980, two days before he was killed, during which he said, “I used my resentment against Paul, that I have as a kind of sibling rivalry resentment from youth, to write a song. It was a creative rivalry… It was not a vicious vendetta.” How Do You Sleep? is another tune featuring nice slide guitar work by George Harrison. Lennon would revisit the melody of the chorus on Steel and Glass, a tune that appeared on his fourth solo album Walls and Bridges from September 1974.

Let’s do one more: Oh Yoko!, the closer. The Beatles Bible notes Lennon started work on the love song in 1968 in India while The Beatles were visiting guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The melody was inspired by Lost John, a song by skiffle artist Lonnie Donegan, one of Lennon’s early influences. Additionally, Oh Yoko! holds the distinction of Lennon playing harmonica for the first time since Rocky Raccoon and The White Album. It also turned out to be his last recording using the instrument.

In addition to George Harrison, Nicky Hopkins and Ted Turner, Imagine featured many other guests. Some included drummer Alan White who in 1972 joined Yes and is a member of the band to this day; Klaus Voormann who had been brought in by Harrison and played bass on all tracks; as well as Badfinger’s Joey Molland and Tom Evans who provided acoustic guitar on Jealous Guy and another tune titled I Don’t Wanna Be a Soldier, Mama.

Just like the title track, Imagine became Lennon’s most successful solo album, topping the charts in the U.S., the UK and various other European countries, as well as Australia and Japan. It has achieved 2X Platinum certification in the U.S. and Gold certification the UK. Imagine was ranked at no. 80 in Rolling Stone’s 2012 edition of the list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. As of 2020, it’s still on the list, coming in at no. 223.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; The Beatles Bible; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

Welcome to a new weekly celebration of music in different flavors from different eras, six tunes at a time. Today, The Sunday Six recurring feature is hitting another mini milestone with its 25th installment. And it’s the Fourth of July holiday here in the U.S., so to those who celebrate it, happy Fourth and please be safe!

Teenage Fanclub/The Sun Won’t Shine on Me

Kicking us off today is a band with the somewhat strange name Teenage Fanclub. If you follow the great PowerPop blog, you may have seen this Scottish power pop band was just featured there. In this context, Aphoristic Album Reviews, another music blog I highly recommend, noted that not only are Teenage Fanclub still around (after more than 30 years), but they recently came out with a new album. It’s titled Endless Arcade. Founded in Bellshill near Glasgow in 1989, the band’s initial formation largely included members of The Boy Hairdressers, another local group that had just dissolved. Following a well received more edgy rock-focused debut album, A Catholic Education from June 1990, Teenage Fanclub adopted their signature power pop-oriented sound inspired by groups like Big Star, Badfinger and the Byrds. The third album Bandwagonesque brought them more attention and significant success in the U.S. where the single Star Sign hit no. 4 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart. Not surprisingly, Teenage Fanclub’s line-up has changed over the decades and currently features co-founding members Norman Blake (vocals, guitar) and Raymond McGinley (vocals, guitar), together with Euros Childs (keyboards, vocals), Dave McGowan (keyboards, guitar, bass, vocals) and Francis Macdonald (drums, vocals). Frankly, I had never heard of the band until the above fellow bloggers brought them to my attention. Here’s The Sun Won’t Shine On Me, written by Blake, which appears on Teenage Fanclub’s new album released on April 30. While the lyrics are blue, I love the tune’s jangly guitar sound!

Steely Dan/Rikki Don’t Lose That Number

On to the great Steely Dan and one of my favorite songs from their early phase as a standing band. Rikki Don’t Lose That Number, off their third studio album Pretzel Logic from February 1974, also became Steely Dan’s biggest hit single, surging to no. 4 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. It did even better in Canada where it peaked at no. 3. Donald Fagen and Walter Becker were huge jazz fans. When writing Rikki Don’t Lose That Number, evidently, they were inspired by The Horace Silver Quartet and the intro to Song for My Father, which I covered in a previous Sunday Six installment. Pretzel Logic was the final Steely Dan album featuring the full quintet line-up of Becker, Fagen, Denny Dias, Jim Hodder and Jeff “Skunk” Baxter. It was the first to include significant contributions from L.A. session musicians, a concept Becker and Fagen fully embraced on subsequent albums after they had turned Steely Dan into a studio project that became an increasingly sophisticated and complex.

The Youngbloods/Get Together

I’ve always loved this next tune by The Youngbloods, and it’s been on my “list” for a Sunday Six for some time. Get Together appeared on their eponymous debut album from December 1966. Written by Chet Powers, who was also known as Dino Valenti and a member of psychedelic rock outfit Quicksilver Messenger Service, the song first appeared on a 1963 record by bluegrass band The Folkswingers. It was also included as Let’s Get Together on Kingston Trio’s live album Back in Town released in June 1964, as well as on Jefferson Airplane’s debut album Jefferson Airplane Takes Off from August 1966. But it was the rendition by The Youngbloods, which became most successful, giving them their only top 40 hit in the U.S. mainstream charts. Their cover reached a peak there in 1969 when it was reissued as a single and hit no. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. It’s a pity The Youngbloods did not achieve widespread popularity. After their fifth studio album High on a Ridge Top from November 1972, they called it quits.

Dire Straits/Skateaway

This next pick was also inspired by fellow blogger Aphoristic Album Reviews, who recently did a post on the 10 best songs by Dire Straits. I’ve always liked the British rock band and the great melodic guitar-playing by Mark Knopfler, especially on their 1978 eponymous debut album and Making Movies, their third studio release from October 1980. It’s widely considered as one of Dire Straits’ best records. Knopfler’s songwriting had matured, especially in comparison to sophomore release Communiqué from June 1979, which largely sounded like the eponymous debut. Personally, this never bothered me much, since I dig that first album. Here’s the great Skateway. Let’s go, roller girl! And…don’t worry/D.J. play the movies all night long

Chicago/Saturday in the Park

Given today is the Fourth of July, I thought it made sense to feature a tune that references the holiday. I decided to go with Saturday in the Park by Chicago. Written by Robert Lamm, the track appeared on the band’s fourth studio album Chicago V that came out in July 1972. Why calling it five when it was their fourth, you may wonder? Because the band, which was founded as Chicago Transit Authority in 1967, was in their fifth year at the time. Wikipedia notes two different background stories about the song. According to then-fellow band member Walter Parazaider, Lamm was inspired after he had seen steel drum players, singers, dancers and jugglers in New York’s Central Park on July 4, 1971. Lamm recalled it differently, telling Billboard in 2017 the song “was written as I was looking at footage from a film I shot in Central Park, over a couple of years, back in the early ‘70s.” Regardless of which recollection is accurate, there’s no doubt the tune was inspired by Central Park and that it became Chicago’s biggest U.S. mainstream hit at the time, peaking at no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in September 1972. It would take another five years before they had an even bigger hit with their single If You Leave Me Now released in July 1976 and topping the Hot 100 in October that year. Chicago are still around and are currently touring. Original members Lamm (keyboards, vocals), Lee Loughnane (trumpet, vocals) and James Pankow (trombone) are part of the present nine-piece line-up. The tour schedule is here. I’ve seen Chicago once more than 20 years ago and recall it as a solid show.

Magic Castles/Sunburst

Let’s wrap up this installment of The Sunday Six with some more recently released music. Again, I’d like to acknowledge a fellow blogger, Angie from The Diversity of Classic Rock, where I first read about psychedelic rock band Magic Castles. For background, here’s an excerpt from their Apple Music profile: The band formed in Minneapolis in 2006, growing out of singer/guitarist Jason Edmonds’ home-recording project as he tapped singer/guitarist Jeremiah Doering, bassist Paul Fuglestad, drummer Brendan McInerney, and Kait Sergenian. Magic Castles played their first show at a friend’s birthday party later that year, began recording their first record the following summer, and by June 2008 offered their self-released debut, The Lore of Mysticore. By then, the group had added keyboardist/singer Noah Skogerboe to further flesh out their sound, and Matt Van Genderen had replaced McInerney on the drums. This new incarnation pulled double duty in 2009, offering sophomore album Dreams of Dreams plus a limited-edition cassette, Sounds of the Forest. Fast-forward some 12 years to April 30, 2021 and Sun Reign, the band’s sixth studio album and their first since 2015. Here’s the seductive opener Sunburst. Written by Edmonds, the band’s only constant member, the tune has a cool ’60s garage rock vibe, featuring a great jangly guitar sound reminiscent of the Byrds. I’m definitely planning to take a closer look at the group.

Sources: Wikipedia; Billboard; Apple Music; Chicago website; YouTube

The Venues: Beat-Club

“Cult” German TV show featured prominent music acts from Alice Cooper to Zeppelin

A YouTube clip from Beat-Club I coincidentally caught on Sunday reminded me that I hadn’t done a post in my series about popular concert halls and music programs since July 2020. So I felt the popular German TV music show, which aired monthly between September 1965 and December 1972, would be a great topic for another installment.

Beat-Club was created by music producer Gerhard Augustin, who according to Wikipedia was Germany’s first professional disc jockey, and film director and writer Mike Leckebusch. Broadcast on one of Germany’s main national public TV channels ARD, the show was hosted by German architect-turned-singer-turned-TV presenter Uschi Nerke. Until early 1969, she was joined by Augustin and afterwards by Dave Dee, of Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich, before Nerke started hosting alone in 1970.

Uschi Nerke kommt – blacksheep Festival
Uschi Nerke

Beat-Club began as a live program with music guests performing in front of a plain brick wall. In 1967, the program was revamped to adapt a “more professional look,” which among others included large cards in the background that displayed the names of the performers. The new format also allowed for inclusion of artists who could not appear live. In these cases, a troupe of young women called the “Go-Go-Girls” was dancing to the featured songs – ouch! On a cooler note, in its later years, Beat-Club incorporated psychedelic visual effects during many performances. These effects became much more pronounced after the program switched to color in late 1969.

German TV personality Wilhelm Wieben opened Beat-Club’s first episode with the following words: “Hello, dear beat friends. The time has finally come. In just a few seconds starts the first show on German television, which exclusively was made for you. Ladies and gentlemen, I ask you who may not enjoy beat music for your understanding. It’s a live program with young people for young people. And now, let’s go!”

Beat Club (TV) - March 27, 1969 / Bremen | Led Zeppelin Official Website
Led Zeppelin at Beat-Club, March 1969

I guess Wieben and the master minds behind the program pretty much foresaw what would happen: While Beat-Club’s target audience embraced the show right way, the older generation in Germany was horrified. This probably ensured young people liked it even more. In fact, the show quickly reached “cult” status.

Over its seven-year run, Beat-Club featured an impressive array of music artists and bands. Badfinger, Chuck Berry, Cream, Deep Purple, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones and The Who were some among many others. Now on to the real fun part: Clips that capture some of the action. The year in parenthesis after each title marks the timing of the show episode. It’s all based on Beat-Club’s YouTube channel.

Cream/I Feel Free (1967)

The Jimi Hendrix Experience/Purple Haze (1967)

Canned Heat/On the Road Again (1968)

Joe Cocker/With a Little Help From My Friends (1968)

Chicago Transit Authority/I’m a Man (1969)

The Who/Sally Simpson & I’m Free (1969)

Black Sabbath/Paranoid (1970)

Muddy Waters/Honey Bee (1970)

Fleetwood Mac/Dragonfly (1971)

T. Rex/Jeepster (1971)

Ike & Tina Turner/Get Back (1972)

Manassas/Rock & Roll Crazies

Beat-Club eventually was replaced by another music program called Musikladen (music store). While I was too young to watch Beat-Club, I have some nebulous memories of Musikladen, and I’m afraid they aren’t great! Nerke co-moderated the program with main host Manfred Sexauer until September 1978. Subsequently, she hosted her own radio show Beat-Club until January 2013.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Pete Townshend/White City: A Novel

The other day, while listening to “my” radio station, which is fed by my streaming music provider based on my library and other previously played tunes, I came across Give Blood by Pete Townshend. The tune is the opener of White City: A Novel, released in November 1985. While I couldn’t remember the previous time I had listened to it, I recalled I had come to really dig this record back in the ’80s. This triggered my curiosity, and it turns out I still like Townshend’s fourth solo effort.

Interestingly, the first song I heard back in the ’80s didn’t impress me much initially: The lead single Face the Face. I felt the drums sounded monotonous and kind of retarded. Ironically, the drums track ended up becoming one of my favorite features of the tune, which in turn became one of my favorite songs on the album – go figure! But before getting to some music, let’s start with the bigger picture.

According to Wikipedia, White City: A Novel is a loose concept album around a low-income housing project in White City, a West London district located close to where Townshend had grown up. The themes revolve around cultural conflict, racial tension and youthful hopes and dreams in the ’60s.

There was also a 60-minute companion film, White City: The Music Movie, directed by Australian filmmaker Richard Lowenstein. It appeared on video in 1985 as well, starring Pete Townshend, and English actor and actress Andrew Wilde and Frances Barber, respectively. Now let’s get to some songs. Unless noted otherwise, all tracks were written by Townshend.

I’d like to kick things off with the aforementioned Give Blood featuring David Gilmour on guitar and prolific session bassist Pino Palladino. “Give Blood was one of the tracks I didn’t even play on,” Townshend recalled, per Wikipedia. “I brought in [drummer] Simon Phillips, Pino Palladino and David Gilmour simply because I wanted to see my three favourite musicians of the time playing on something and, in fact, I didn’t have a song for them to work on, and sat down very, very quickly and rifled threw [sic] a box of stuff, said to Dave, ‘Do one of those kind of ricky-ticky-ricky-ticky things, and I’ll shout ‘Give Blood!’ in the microphone every five minutes and let’s see what happens.” Now we know how to write a great song!

I don’t have much to say about the next tune, Brilliant Blues, except it was love at first listen. In particular, I dig Townshend’s vocals, his guitar sound and the catchy melody. He was backed by John “Rabbit” Bundrick (keyboards), Steve Barnacle (bass) and Mark Brzezicki (drums), who also played on most of the other tracks. BTW, I find Townshend’s singing pretty compelling throughout the album – a reminder he’s a decent vocalist, though it’s fair to say his voice sounds worn these days.

This brings me to Face the Face. “Face the Face was done on a new keyboard,… and I was very keen to get something very, very fast and upbeat knocked out, and I knocked out a few sections that I couldn’t play all together,” Townshend said. “This was very much a new age type of recording, and that’s why it sounds pretty modern, I think. Simon Philips overdubbed the drums [a drum loop from a box], we later overdubbed the brass, we overdubbed backing vocals, we overdubbed everything. It was all overdubbed onto Rabbit’s [John “Rabbit” Bundrick] synthesizer playing.”

Let’s do two more. First up: Crashing by Design. It’s another well written and quite catchy tune. Townshend definitely has a knack for coming up with melodies that are easy on the ears.

The last track I’d like to highlight is White City Fighting, a highlight on the album. Initially, David Gilmour had composed the song’s music for his second solo album About Face from March 1984 and asked Townshend to write the lyrics. Townshend did but Gilmour couldn’t relate to the words. The tune didn’t make Gilmour’s album and ended up on Townshend’s record with Gilmour playing guitar – certainly a great outcome!

White City: A Novel was produced by Chris Thomas, a prominent English record producer whose impressive credits include The Beatles, Pink Floyd, Badfinger, Elton John, Paul McCartney and Pretenders, among others. Thomas also had produced Townshend’s two previous solo albums All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes (June 1982) and Empty Glass (April 1980).

The performance of White City: A Novel didn’t match Townshend’s earlier solo albums, especially in the U.K., where it stalled at no. 70 on the Official Albums Chart. By comparison, Empty Glass had peaked at no. 11. The album did better in the U.S. where it reached no. 26 on the Billboard 200, though similar to the U.K., it couldn’t match Empty Glass, which had surged all the way to no. 5. In Australia, Germany, New Zealand, Sweden and Switzerland, on the other hand, White City: A Novel placed in the top 20, outperforming Empty Glass.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Welcome to the first installment of Best of What’s New for 2021. Hope everybody had a great and safe transition into the new year. I don’t you how you feel, but I’ve already forgotten 2020 – I wish, but well, not quite. In any case, good riddance and hopefully on to a better year!

I’m kicking off the year with three lesser known bands/artists and something new by a band that had their heyday in the ’70s: Badfinger. Yep, you read that correctly, though there are some caveats. It’s really Joey Molland, the only surviving member from their classic line-up who with a little help from some friends has come out with newly recorded versions of Badfinger tunes. Are you ready? Let’s get to it!

The Dirty Nil/Done with Drugs

Yes, as hard as it’s to believe, there are actually some new music releases dated January 1st, though based on Apple Music, I could only find a handful. One is from The Dirty Nil, a Canadian alternative rock band from Hamilton, Ontario. They were formed in 2006 after their members Luke Bentham (vocals, guitar), Ross Miller (bass) and Kyle Fisher (drums) had started playing together in high school. The band’s debut single Fuckin’ Up Young in 2011 was followed by a series of additional singles and EPs before they released their first full-length studio album High Power in 2016. In 2017, The Dirty Nil won the Canadian Juno Award for Breakthrough Group of the Year. Done with Drugs is from their new album out today cheerfully titled Fuck Art. The song “is actually my commentary on people’s interaction with social media and posting all their resolutions and stuff on the internet, which I just find fascinating…rather than just making life decisions by themselves and being private about it,” Bentham told Apple Music. The band, which combines punk and grunge music with relatively catchy melodies, reminds me a bit of Green Day.

Jarod Clemons and The Late Nights/Ramblewood Parkway

Ramblewood Parkway, a great blues rocker, is the new single by Jarod Clemons and The Late Nights, which was released on December 25. I’ve written before about this New Jersey rock band led by singer-songwriter and guitarist Jarod Clemons, the youngest son of the late Clarence Clemons, the amazing saxophone player of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. Founded in June 2019, the band also includes Zach Tyler (guitar, backing vocals), Stephen Verdi (keyboards), Alex Fuhring (bass) and John DiNunzio (drums/percussion).

Henry Nowhere/Sad Songs

Henry Nowhere couldn’t have chosen a better stage name, since background information on him is nowhere to be found. Neither his Facebook page nor his Soundcloud include a profile. I’m sorry but I really don’t get it, especially in this day and age! After a bit of detective work, I came across this Billboard story, which provided some clues. Born Henry Moser, he used to be the touring bassist for Day Wave, an Oakland, Calif. indie rock project formed by musician Jackson Phillips in 2015. In September 2018, Nowhere struck out by himself with an EP, Not Going Back. Again, the title appears to have been appropriate, since Nowhere evidently has continued his solo career and released what appears to be his second EP on December 18: Think About Me. Which definitely would be easier with more of an online presence! Anyway, here’s Sad Songs.

Badfinger featuring Sonny Landreth/Suitcase

Joey Molland, the only surviving member from Badfinger’s classic line-up, has been pretty busy lately. Apart from releasing Be True to Yourself in mid October, his first new solo album in 10 years, Molland has teamed up with different guest artists to put out new versions of various Badfinger songs this year, all released under the Badfinger name. The most recent example is a great remake of Suitcase featuring Sonny Landreth on slide guitar, which appeared December 8. Written by Molland, Suitcase originally was included on Badfinger’s fourth studio album Straight Up, which was first released in the U.S. in December 1971. Other previous newly recorded Badfinger tunes include Midnight Caller (with The Legendary Pink Dots – October 26), Come and Get It (with Rick Wakeman – September 29), Day After Day (with Ian Anderson and Terry Reid – July 30) and Baby Blue (with Matthew Sweet – May 28).

Sources: Wikipedia; Facebook; Billboard; Apple Music; YouTube