If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by Barclay James Harvest

Time again to make the tough choice to pick only one tune by a select artist or band I would take to a desert island. Hopefully, this will never happen, as it’s pretty much mission impossible. We’re up to the letter “b”, so choices include The Beatles, Badfinger, Bad Company, Chuck Berry, James Brown, David Bowie and The Byrds, to name some. I decided to go with Barclay James Harvest.

‘Who the hell is that?’ some of you may wonder, and why didn’t he take his favorite band of all time, The Beatles? Well, let me remind you one criterion for this feature is to pick an artist or band I haven’t covered yet or only a few times – call it a little twist to the exercise! This post is the first about Barclay James Harvest (BJH), a British group I was very much into during my teenage years, growing up in Germany. If I recall it correctly, they were pretty popular there at the time.

BJH (from left): Stuart “Woolly” Wolstenholme, John Lees, Mel Pritchard and Les Holroyd

BJH were formed in September 1966 by John Lees (guitar, vocals), Stuart “Woolly” Wolstenholme (keyboards, vocals), Les Holroyd (bass, vocals) and Mel Pritchard (drums, percussion). Their eponymous debut album appeared in 1970. Various configurations of the group have since released close to 20 additional studio albums, as well as numerous live and compilation records.

BJH are oftentimes classified as prog-rock and art rock. This sounds pretty accurate to me, especially for their earlier albums. I think one can also add symphonic rock, folk rock and pop rock. Currently, there are two touring versions of the group, John Lees’ Barclay James Harvest and Barclay James Harvest featuring Les Holroyd, which are each led by an original member. In case you’re interested to learn more, you can visit their respective websites here and here.

This finally brings me to the song I decided to pick: Mocking Bird, a tune that appeared on BJH’s sophomore album Once Again from February 1971. Written by John Lees, the symphonic rock tune is very reminiscent of The Moody Blues.

Six years after Once Again had appeared, Lees wrote a song titled Poor Man’s Moody Blues. But what could be viewed as an acknowledgment that the group was influenced by the Moodys apparently was an angry reaction to a journalist who had called BJH “a poor man’s Moody Blues.” The tune deliberately sounded very similar to Nights in White Satin.

Understandably, Justin Hayward, who wrote the renowned Moody Blues song, was less than pleased. Had this happened in the U.S., I think it’s safe to assume there would have been a big lawsuit. Years later, Hayward received an apology from Les Holroyd when they met each other.

Sources: Wikipedia; John Lees’ Barclay James Harvest website; Barclay James Harvest featuring Les Holroyd website; YouTube

My Playlist: Fastball

When I recall a song I haven’t heard in ages, I tend to revisit the band or artist who performed it, especially if I don’t know them well beyond a tune or two. That’s what happened with Fastball when I remembered The Way the other day and included the cool tune in my last Sunday Six feature. After sampling a bunch of other songs from different albums by the American alternative-rock-turned-power pop band, I liked what I heard and decided to put together this profile and playlist.

Fastball were formed in 1994 in Austin, Texas by Tony Scalzo (vocals, bass, keyboards, guitar), Miles Zuniga (vocals, guitar) and Joey Shuffield (drums, percussion). After Shuffield had introduced Zunigo to Scalzo who had been with California group The Goods, the three of them decided to start their own group.

Following a series of names, including Star 69, Magneto, Magneto USA, Ed Clark’s Business Bible and Starchy, they decided on Fastball. What appears to be a baseball metaphor is definitely more memorable than some of the other names they had considered. Fastball managed to quickly gain popularity in the Austin music scene. After a local journalist had seen them perform, they brought them to the attention of Hollywood Records, which led to a record deal soon thereafter.

Up to that point, Fastball’s story almost looked like a fairytale. Other bands struggle for years to sign with a label if they ever get that far. But the Texas group’s ride wouldn’t be without bumps. While their debut album Make Your Mama Proud from April 1996 yielded a win in the “Best Pop Band” category at the Austin Music Awards (tied with The Wannabes, another Austin group), the record sold poorly (about 5,500 copies as of April 1998). Suddenly, the future was wide open, to creatively borrow from Tom Petty, and all of the band’s members felt compelled to keep their day jobs.

Then came their break – again, something many music artists never get. And it was a big one. In February 1998, Fastball released the above-mentioned The Way, the lead single of their then-upcoming sophomore album All the Pain Money Can Buy. The Way, which only was the group’s second single, hit no. 1 on Billboard’s Alternative Airplay chart, as well as in Canada on both the mainstream and alternative rock charts. Overseas, it also reached no. 7 in Sweden and no. 21 in the UK.

By September, only six months after its release, All the Pain Money Can Buy had sold more than a million copies in the U.S. alone, thus reaching Platinum certification by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Interestingly, the album “only” reached no. 29 on the Billboard 200. It did better in Canada where it climbed to no. 18 and also charted in a few European countries. Fastball had arrived. But their commercial and chart performance would be short-lived – again, an all-too-familiar playbook in the brutal music business.

In September 2000, Fastball’s third album appeared. It was appropriately titled The Harsh Light of Day. While it received positive reviews, once again, it turned out to be a record that didn’t sell well. As of January 2004, sales totaled a mere 84,000 copies – definitely a harsh drop compared to the predecessor’s million units sold in just six months! It also was the group’s last album to make the Billboard 200, reaching no. 97.

Despite lacking chart and commercial success, Fastball managed to soldier on. They remain active to this day in their original line-up and have since released four additional studio albums. Their catalog also includes two live records and a compilation. I’d say the time has come to take a closer look at some of their songs. And there’s definitely more to this band than The Way.

I’d like to do this in chronological order starting with Fastball’s debut album Make Your Mama Proud from April 1996. Compared to their sophomore record, the songs on their debut effort sound a bit rawer and remind me a little of Green Day’s 1994 album Dookie. Here’s the title track, written by Scalzo.

Turning to Fastball’s hugely successful second album All the Pain Money Can Buy, I’m skipping The Way, since I just covered it (though the tune is included in the Spotify playlist at the bottom of this post). Instead, I’d like to highlight Out of My Head, the only other song that had sounded vaguely familiar when checking out the band’s music. Penned by Scalzo, the song also became the third single off the album and the last to make the Billboard Hot 100, climbing to no. 20 – interestingly outperforming The Way, which missed the U.S. mainstream chart but as noted above was pretty successful elsewhere.

You’re an Ocean is a catchy pop-rock tune from Fastball’s third album The Harsh Light of Day, the last appearing on the band’s original label Hollywood Records. Once again, the song was written by Scalzo. The record featured some notable guests, including Billy Preston and Brian Setzer.

In June 2004, Fastball released their fourth album. Previously, they had signed with new record label Rykodisc. The record was mixed by Bob Clearmountain who is known for having worked with major acts like Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, Toto and Bon Jovi. Two tracks, Someday and Red Light, were produced by Adam Schlesinger who among others founded Fountains of Wayne. Here’s Someday written by Miles Zuniga – nice power pop! The album did not chart.

The Beatlesque The Malcontent (The Modern World) is from Fastball’s fifth studio album Keep Your Wig On that came out in April 2009. The band had switched labels, and the record appeared on MRI/RED Distribution. It was co-produced by Miles Zuniga and CJ Eiriksson, with mixing once again done by Bob Clearmountain.

The last tune I’d like to highlight is Friend or Foe, the opener of Fastball’s seventh and most recent studio album The Help Machine from October 2019. The song was written by Zuniga. The record appeared on the group’s own 33 1/3 label.

It’s a pity Fastball have largely been under the radar screen for the past 20 years or so. I find their melodic rock and power pop that oftentimes is reminiscent of The Beatles and Badfinger enjoyable. Here’s a Spotify playlist featuring the above and some additional tunes by the group.

“When I look at our catalog, there’s not a bad record in there,” notes drummer Joey Shuffield in the band’s online bio, “We’ve been through our ups and downs, but I think we’ve really found our groove over the last few years.”

“We spent a lot of time on a major label, so initially the transition back to being an indie band was a little bumpy,” Shuffield further points out. “But now it feels comfortable being responsible for everything ourselves, because that way we’re more likely to get it right. We’re all so into the music now, and I think you can hear that on the last couple of albums.”

Adds Tony Scalzo: “It’s only natural that you get better at what you do as you get older and more experienced. But you can’t always figure that out when you’re in your 20s. Now that we’re on our own label, the pressure’s all on us, and that’s fine. All I ever really wanted was a consistent creative outlet, and we’ve got that now.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Fastball website; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Hope everybody is enjoying their Sunday. I find it hard to believe we’ve already come to the end of January. Once again it’s time to embark on another mini-excursion to explore music of the past and present, six tunes at a time. Fasten your seatbelt and off we go!

Jimmy Smith/The Organ Grinder’s Swing

Our first stop on today’s time travel is groovy jazz by organist Jimmy Smith who helped popularize the magnificent Hammond B-3. Smith was already on stage in clubs as a 6-year-old when he joined his father for a song-and-dance routine. After Smith had taught himself how to play the piano, he won a Philadelphia radio talent contest as a boogie-woogie pianist when he was nine years old. Following service in the U.S. Army, Smith attended Royal Hamilton College of Music in Hamilton, Ontario in 1948, followed by Leo Ornstein School of Music in Philadelphia a year later. He began exploring the Hammond organ in 1951, and played piano and organ in various Philadelphia R&B bands before switching to organ permanently in 1954. When Alfred Lion, co-founder of jazz label Blue Note Records, heard Smith perform in a local club, he signed him right away. Already his sophomore release The Champ from 1956 established Smith as a new jazz star. Between 1956 and 2005, he released an enormous amount of albums both as a leader and as a sideman playing with other prominent jazz musicians. The Organ Grinder’s Swing, a composition by Will Hudson, Irving Mills and Mitchell Parish, is from a 1965 album titled Organ Grinder Swing. It features Kenny Burrell on guitar and Grady Tate on drums. Take it away, boys!

Santana/Anywhere You Want to Go

After this groovy start, let’s jump to April 2016 and keep groovin’ while adding some Latin flavor. If you are a more frequent visitor of the blog, chances are you have seen me write that I dig Carlos Santana, particularly his first three albums with the classic Santana band, which appeared between 1969 and 1971. As such, I was quite excited when I learned in 2016 that Carlos had reunited most of the band’s surviving members for a new album aptly called Santana IV. It was released in April that year, and Santana also toured with the band. I caught one of the fantastic shows in Allentown, Pa. You can see the setlist here. And here’s a tune from Santana IV, Anywhere You Want to Go. Keyboarder Gregg Rolie wrote that song, which they also played during the above-mentioned show. Other original members from the classic Santana band playing on the album and during the tour included Neal Schon (guitar, vocals), Michael Shrieve (drums) and Michael Carabello (congas, percussion, backing vocals).

Bonnie Raitt/All At Once

For my next pick, I’m slowing things down with a beautiful tune by Bonnie Raitt, another artist I’ve loved for many years. Not only is Raitt an outstanding slide guitarist, but she’s also a no BS artist: What you get is what you see! All At Once, penned by her, is from Luck of the Draw, Raitt’s 11th studio album. It appeared in June 1993 and became her second hugely successful record following Nick of Time from March 1989, her commercial breakthrough that had come after years of personal and professional struggles. While unlike Nick of Time it didn’t top the U.S. charts (but reached a close no. 2), Luck of the Draw sold even more copies than its predecessor. Raitt dedicated the album to Stevie Ray Vaughan who had died in a helicopter crash in 1990 and had encouraged her to stop drinking. Apparently, Vaughan’s encouragement had a huge impact on Raitt’s becoming sober.

Badfinger/No Matter What

I would now like to turn to Badfinger, a band I’ve come to appreciate largely thanks to fellow blogger Max, aka badfinger20 from PowerPop. The Welsh rock band, widely recognized for their influence on ’70s power pop, evolved from The Iveys, a group formed in 1961. In 1968, they became the first band that was signed by The Beatles’ Apple label. Following the release of their debut album Maybe Tomorrow in July 1969, the group changed their name to Badfinger. From 1970 until 2000, nine albums appeared under that name. While Badfinger had four consecutive hits between 1970 and 1972, things tragically unraveled after Apple folded in 1973, and they struggled with a host of legal, managerial and financial problems. It drove two of the band’s members to commit suicide, Pete Ham in 1975 and Tom Evans in 1983 – one of the saddest stories in pop rock history! Here’s No Matter What, Badfinger’s second hit released in the U.S. and UK in October and November 1970, respectively. Written by Ham, the beautiful power pop tune was also included on the group’s third studio album No Dice, released in November of the same year.

You’re Among Friends/Don’t Borrow Trouble

The next stop on this musical journey is the present. Shout-out to fellow blogger Eclectic Music Lover who does a great job in highlighting contemporary artists and bands who oftentimes aren’t widely known. One great example is You’re Among Friends, an indie rock band from Cleveland, Ohio. According to their blog/website, they were formed in 2007 by Anthony Doran (lead vocals and guitars) and Kevin Trask (bass, keyboards and backing vocals), together with Chris Tarka (drums). Their current drummer Mike Janowitz has been with the group since 2019. Their website notes, Tagged as “casual rock” by Powerpopaholic, their music has been described as having “rollicking blues at its core with a sugary coating of power pop” by Cleveland Scene and as “a laid-back style of funky, blues-infused folk rock” by Eclectic Music Lover. To date, You’re Among Friends have released four full-length albums, as well as a couple of EPs and singles. Don’t Borrow Trouble is the catchy opener of the band’s fourth and latest album Good Enough Sometimes, released on January 10 this year.

Men At Work/Down Under

And, once again, this brings me to the sixth and final pick. This one’s by a band that came from a land down under: Men at Work. The group was formed in Melbourne in 1979 by Colin Hay (lead vocals, guitar), Ron Strykert (bass) and Jerry Speiser (drums), who were subsequently joined by Greg Ham (flute, sax, keyboards). By the time Men at Work recorded their debut album Business as Usual in 1981, they had added John Rees on bass and Strykert had switched to guitar. Down Under, co-written by Hay and Strykert, became the record’s second single in November that year and Men at Work’s biggest hit, topping the charts in Australia, the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, the UK and various other European countries. The tune introduced most of the world to the Vegemite sandwich, an Australian snack, as well as Australian slang terms, such as “fried-out” (overheated) and “a head full of zombie” (a marijuana reference). Late last year, Australian producer Christian “Luude” Benson remixed Down Under featuring Hay on vocals, which in January charted in the UK and Australia at no. 32 and no. 48, respectively – not my cup of tea, though I really like the original.

As usual, here’s a playlist with all of the above tunes. Hope there’s something for you.

Sources: Wikipedia; You’re Among Friends website; YouTube; Spotify

My Top Singles Turning 50

A final look at 1971, one of the most exciting years in music

As 2021 is drawing to a close, I decided to revisit 1971 one more time. With releases, such as Who’s Next (The Who), Tapestry (Carole King), Led Zeppelin IV (Led Zeppelin), Sticky Fingers (The Rolling Stones) and Meddle (Pink Floyd), it truly was an extraordinary year in music. And let’s not forget At Fillmore East by The Allman Brothers Band, perhaps the ultimate southern and blues-rock record, and certainly a strong contender for best live album ever.

I wrote about the above and other records in a three-part series back in April, which you can read here, here and here. What I didn’t do at the time was to look at singles that came out in 1971. I’ve put my favorites in a playlist at the end of this post. Following I’m highlighting 10 of them, focusing on songs I didn’t cover in the aforementioned three-part series.

Marvin Gaye/What’s Going On

I’d like to start this review with What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye, released in January 1970. Co-written by him, Al Cleveland and Four Tops co-founding member Renaldo “Obie” Benson, this classic soul gem was inspired by an incident of police brutality Benson had witnessed in May 1969 while The Four Tops were visiting Berkely, Calif. The tune became Gaye’s first big U.S. hit in the ’70s, climbing to no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topping the Best Selling Soul Singles chart.

Deep Purple/Strange Kind of Woman

In February 1970, Deep Purple released Strange Kind of Woman as a non-album single. The follow-on to Black Night was credited to all members of the band: Ian Gillan, Ritchie Blackmore, Jon Lord, Roger Glover and Ian Paice, their most compelling lineup, in my view. The song reached no. 8 in the UK and Germany, but didn’t chart in the U.S. The track was also included in the U.S. and Canadian editions of Deep Purple’s fifth studio album Fireball from July 1971 in lieu of Demon’s Eye on the UK edition.

Jethro Tull/Hymn 43

Hymn 43 is a great rock song by Jethro Tull. Penned by Ian Anderson, it appeared in late June 1971 as the second single off Aqualung, the group’s fourth studio album that had come out in March of the same year. Hymn 43 followed lead single Locomotive Breath. Incredibly, it only charted in Canada and the U.S., reaching an underwhelming no. 86 and no. 91, respectively.

T. Rex/Get It On

In July 1970, glam rockers T. Rex released one of their signature tunes, Get It On. In the U.S., it was re-titled Bang a Gong (Get It On), since there was a song with the same title by American jazz-rock band Chase. Get It On, written by T. Rex frontman Marc Bolan, was the lead single from the British band’s sophomore album Electric Warrior that appeared in September that year. Get It On became the band’s second no. 1 in the UK and their only U.S. top 10 hit (no. 10) on the Billboard Hot 100.

Santana/Everybody’s Everything

In September 1970, Santana released their third studio album Santana III and lead single Everybody’s Everything. The tune was co-written by Carlos Santana, Milton Brown and Tyrone Moss. The classic Santana rock song became the band’s last top 20 hit (no. 12) in the U.S. until the pop-oriented Winning from 1981.

Sly and the Family Stone/Family Affair

Family Affair is a track off Sly and the Family Stone’s fifth studio album There’s a Riot Goin’ On that came out in November 1971. Released the same month, the psychedelic funk tune was the first single from that album. It became the group’s third and final no. 1 hit in the U.S., topping both the mainstream Billboard Hot 100 and Hot Soul Singles chart.

Badfinger/Day After Day

Day After Day, first released in the U.S. in November 1971 followed by the UK in January 1972, became the biggest hit for British power pop-rock band Badfinger. Written by Pete Ham, the tune, off their third studio album Straight Up from December 1971, climbed to no. 4 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 and reached no. 10 in the UK. In Canada, it went all the way to no. 2. This gem was produced by George Harrison who also played slide guitar along with Ham.

Elton John/Levon

Levon is one of Elton John’s beautiful early songs that first appeared on his fourth studio album Madman Across the Water from early November 1970. Composed by John with lyrics by Bernie Taupin, the ballad also became the record’s first single in late November. Producer Gus Dudgeon has said Taupin’s lyrics were inspired by Levon Helm, co-founder, drummer and singer of The Band, a favorite group of John and Taupin at the time. Levon reached no. 24 on the Billboard Hot 100 and climbed to no. 6 in Canada.

The Beach Boys/Surf’s Up

Various music connoisseurs have told me their favorite album by The Beach Boys is Surf’s Up from late August 1971. I can’t say it’s been love at first sight for me, but this record is definitely growing on me. The Beach Boys released the title track as a single in late November that year. Co-written by Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks, Surf’s Up originally was supposed to be a track for Smile, an unfinished album that was scrapped in 1967. Brian and Carl Wilson completed the tune. By the time Surf’s Up was released as a single, the last major hit by The Beach Boys Good Vibrations was five years in the past. While the single didn’t chart, the album reached no. 29 on the Billboard 200, their highest-charting record in the U.S. since Wild Honey from 1967.

The Kinks/20th Century Man

The last song I’d like to call out is 20th Century Man by The Kinks. Penned by Ray Davies, the tune in December 1970 became the sole single off the group’s 10th studio album Muswell Hillbillies. The record had appeared in late November that year. 20th Century Man stalled at no. 106 in the UK and reached no. 89 in Australia. It didn’t chart in the U.S. The album didn’t fare much better, though it received positive reviews and remains a favorite among fans.

Check out the playlist below for additional 1971 singles I dig.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

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