The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Hope everybody is enjoying their Sunday and has had a good week. Time again to embark on another music journey where the only thing that’s certain is that nothing is certain. In other words, anything goes as long as I like it. Oftentimes, these posts are pretty eclectic, and this installment is no different, featuring country rock, progressive rock, rockabilly, synth pop, folk rock and Chicano garage rock.

Poco/What a Day

A recent post about Rusty Young and Paul Cotton by fellow blogger Mike from Ticket 2 Ride brought country rock pioneers Poco back on my radar screen – and the realization I’ve yet to take a deeper dive into their music. My first encounter with Poco was in the ’80s when a dear longtime music friend introduced me to the band with their excellent 11th studio album Legend from November 1978. After they had released records for nearly a decade, it finally gave them a top 20 on the Billboard 200, reaching no. 14. Poco were formed in 1968 by former Buffalo Springfield members Richie Furay (vocals, rhythm guitar) and Jim Messina (lead guitar, vocals), together with Rusty Young (pedal steel guitar, banjo, dobro, guitar, mandolin, vocals), Randy Meisner (bass, vocals) and George Grantham (drums, vocals). In addition to 19 studio albums, the band’s catalog includes multiple compilations and live recordings. Poco have continued to perform with many different line-ups, though with the death of Young from a heart attack at age 75 in April this year, their current status is uncertain. Here’s a tune I love off their debut album Pickin’ Up the Pieces that came out in May 1969: What a Day, written by Furay. You can read more about that album here.

Genesis/The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

Let’s move to the ’70s and a dose of prog rock, a genre I’ve never really embraced with a few exceptions. One of them are Genesis. I began exploring the British group in the mid ’80s back in Germany when getting access to many of their albums through my best friend whom I’ve known since the second school grade. Genesis were formed in 1967 by Peter Gabriel (lead vocals, flute), Tony Banks (organ, piano, backing vocals), Anthony Phillips (lead guitar), Mike Rutherford (bass, guitar, backing vocals) and Chris Stewart (drums), who all attended a boarding school in the English town of Godalming. By the time their debut album From Genesis to Revelation appeared in March 1969, Stewart had been replaced on drums by Jonathan Silver. After a hiatus following their last studio album …Calling All Stations… from September 1997 and occasional reunions, Genesis reformed in March 2020 and announced The Last Domino? Tour set to kick off in mid-September Dublin, Ireland, and currently including 40 dates across Ireland, the UK, U.S. and Canada. The line-up features Banks, Collins and Rutherford, along with various touring musicians. Here’s the title track from the band’s sixth studio album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, which was released in November 1974 and was the last to feature Gabriel. Like the remaining tracks, the tune was credited to all members of the band, which at the time included Banks, Collins, Gabriel, Rutherford and guitarist Steve Hackett who had replaced Phillips on lead guitar in late 1970. For some additional thoughts on the album, you can check here.

Carl Perkins/Matchbox

After nearly 5 minutes of prog rock, I’m sure y’all are ready for some great rockabilly, a genre I’ve been digging the first time I heard it. Most likely, that was sometime during the second half of the ’70s when I started listening to the radio more frequently, in particular an oldies show that aired on Sunday evenings on my favorite station SWF3 (now SWR3). And it may well have been Carl Perkins or Bill Haley or Elvis Presley – frankly, I don’t remember. Perkins, a rockabilly pioneer, started his recording career in 1954 at Sam Phillips’ Sun Records. In February 1957, he released Matchbox as the B-side to Your True Love. Matchbox shares some lyric phrases with Blind Lemon Jefferson’s 1927 recording of Match Box Blues, though musically the tunes are different. Matchbox and Your True Love also appeared on Dance Album Of Carl Perkins, his debut full-length record from 1957. It’s probably best remembered by the classic Blue Suede Shoes, another Perkins song that became his only no. 1 on Billboard’s country chart. It also surged to no. 2 on the mainstream Billboard Hot 100, his best-performing single there as well. Carl Perkins who passed away in January 1998 at the age of 65, was inducted into the Rock Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 by Sam Phillips.

Prince/1999

Prince needs no further introduction. While I wouldn’t call myself a fan, I’ve admired him for many years because of his incredible musicianship and remarkable versatility. And I definitely like some of his songs. I was tempted to pick Purple Rain, the title track of Prince’s 1984 album, which brought him on my radar screen, and a tune I love to this day. Instead, I decided to go with another title track, 1999, from Prince’s fifth studio album that appeared in October 1982. To me, it’s one of the most infectious dance tunes I know. According to Songfacts, Prince wrote the party-like jam during the height of the Cold War. But while acknowledging Everybody’s got a bomb/We could all die any day, he resorted to an optimistic stance, telling people to enjoy their remaining time on earth: But before I’ll let that happen/I’ll dance my life away.

Mumford & Sons/I Will Wait

After some country rock, prog rock, rockabilly and a synth pop party tune about nuclear Armageddon, I think we’re ready for a dose of English folk rock, don’t you agree? Mumford & Sons were formed in London in late 2007 by multi-instrumentalists Marcus Mumford (lead vocals, guitars, drums), Ben Lovett (vocals, piano, keyboards, accordion), Winston Marshall (vocals, guitars, banjo, bass) and Ted Dwane (vocals, bass, double bass, drums). After their successful debut album Sigh No More from October 2009, which topped the charts in Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands and hit no. 2 in the UK and the U.S., the band gained even greater prominence with their sophomore release Babel that appeared in September 2012. The record debuted at no. 1 on the UK Albums Chart and the U.S. Billboard 200 and also reached the top of the charts in many other countries. Babel became the fastest selling record of 2012 in the UK and was the biggest selling debut of any album in the U.S. that year. Mumford & Sons have since continued to enjoy success with two additional albums. Marshall left earlier this year, leaving Mumford & Sons as a trio for now. Here’s I Will Wait from the above noted Babel album. Written by Marcus Mumford, it’s the band’s most successful single to date and I assume the song most people have heard. Here’s the official video with footage captured at the breathtaking Red Rocks Amphitheatre near Morrison, Col.

Thee Midniters/Empty Heart

And, once again, this brings me to the sixth tune that will conclude this week’s musical excursion. Let’s go back to the ’60s where the post started with a pick inspired by my recent review of Los Lobos’ great new album. Native Sons, which largely features covers by bands and artists from L.A. or who ended up there, celebrates the city’s rich musical heritage. The covers include a tune by Thee Midniters, another Chicano rock band who like Los Lobos were from East Los Angeles. Formed in the mid ’60s, their members included Willie Garcia (lead vocals), George Dominguez (lead guitar), Roy Marquez (rhythm guitar), Ronny Figueroa (organ), Larry Rendon (saxophone), Romeo Prado (trombone), Jimmy Espinoza (bass) and George Salaza (drums). After releasing a few albums, the band split in the early ’70s. According to Wikipedia, The Midniters have continued to perform over the decades, led by original members Espinoza and Rendon. I haven’t been able to verify the group’s current status. Here’s their cover of The Rolling Stones’ Empty Heart. Co-written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the Stones first recorded the tune for their second EP Five by Five released in August 1964. Check out this cooking rendition by Thee Midniters.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; Discogs; YouTube

My Playlist: Music Artists Who Do It All

Some of my favorite singer-songwriters from the 1960s through the 2000s

The singer-songwriter category is very broad, depending on how you define it, spanning different music genres, including folk, rock, country and pop. According to Wikipedia, singer-songwriters are artists who write, compose and perform their own music, oftentimes solo with just a guitar or piano. All Music adds that although early rock & roll artists like Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly wrote and sang their own songs, the term singer-songwriter “refers to the legions of performers that followed Bob Dylan in the late 60s and early 70s.” You could make the same observation about blues pioneers like Lead Belly, Blind Lemon Jefferson, T-Bone Walker and Lightnin’ Hopkins.

Based on the above definition, artists who write and perform songs as part of a band are not singer-songwriters. Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger would be popular examples in this context. While I’ve seen Elton John being mentioned as a singer-songwriter, to me he’s not, at least not in the strict sense. While he has written the music to his songs and performed them, he has relied on Bernie Taupin for the lyrics. By comparison, the other big pop piano man of our time, Billy Joel, has written the music and lyrics for pretty much all of his songs, so he fits the category.

With the singer-songwriter definition being out of the way, let’s get to some of my favorite artists in that category. I’d like to tackle this chronologically, starting with the 60s and Bob Dylan. The Times They Are A-Changin’ is the title track from his third studio album, which appeared in January 1964. According to Songfacts, the tune “became an anthem for frustrated youth,” expressing anti-establishment sentiments and reflecting the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. Songfacts also quotes Dylan from the liner notes of his Biograph box set compilation album from November 1985: “I wanted to write a big song, some kind of theme song, with short, concise verses that piled up on each other in a hypnotic way. This is definitely a song with a purpose. I knew exactly what I wanted to say and who I wanted to say it to.” Sadly, the song has taken on new relevance in present-day America, especially over the past couple of years.

Next up: Donovan and Sunshine Superman, one of my longtime favorite ’60s tunes. The song is the title track of Donovan’s third album released in August 1966 in the U.S. It did not come out in the U.K. due a contractual dispute between British label Pye Records and U.S. label Epic Records. This also impacted the release of Donovan’s fourth album Mellow Yellow, which like Sunshine Superman appeared in the U.S. only. After the labels had worked out their issue, Pye Records released a compilation from both records in the U.K. in June 1967 under the title of Sunshine Superman.

Jumping to the ’70s, here’s Fire And Rain by James Taylor. Apart from his cover of the Carole King tune You’ve Got A Friend, the opener of his second album Sweet Baby James from February 1970 is my favorite Taylor song. It became his first big hit in the U.S., peaking at no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. Songfacts quotes Taylor from a 1972 interview with Rolling Stone, during which he explained how the song came about: “The first verse is about my reactions to the death of a friend [Susie Schnerr, “Suzanne”]. The second verse is about my arrival in this country [the U.S.] with a monkey on my back, and there Jesus is an expression of my desperation in trying to get through the time when my body was aching and the time was at hand when I had to do it. And the third verse of that song refers to my recuperation in Austin Riggs [from drug addiction] which lasted about five months.” Wow, certainly a lot of stuff packed in one song!

In November 1970, Cat Stevens (nowadays known as Yusuf/Cat Stevens) released Tea For The Tillerman, his fourth studio album. One of my favorite tunes from that record is Father And Son. According to Songfacts, while Stevens made up the story about a son wanting to join the Russian Revolution and his dad pleading with him to stay home to work on the farm, the lyrics were inspired by Stevens’ lonely childhood and differences of opinion between him and his father about his chosen path to become a professional musician.

I already mentioned Carole King, one of my favorite singer-songwriters of all time – in fact, make that one of my all-time favorite music artists! Sometimes one forgets that before becoming a recording artist and performer, King had a close to 10-year career writing songs for other artists, together her then-husband Gerry Goffin. More than two-dozen of these tunes entered the charts, and various became hits. Examples include Chains (The Cookies, later covered by The Beatles on their debut record), The Loco-Motion (Little Eva), One Fine Day (The Chiffons) and Pleasant Valley Sunday (The Monkees). King composed the music for these tunes, while Goffin wrote the lyrics. Then, in February 1971, Carole King released her second solo album Tapestry. Instead of obvious choices like I Feel The Earth Move, It’s Too Late or You’ve Got A Friend, I’d like to highlight Way Over Yonder. Among others, this gem features James Taylor on acoustic guitar and Curtis Amy who plays the amazing tenor saxophone solo. To me, this is as close to perfection as music can get – emotional, beautiful and timeless!

Joni Mitchell is one of those artists I really should know much better than I currently do. In June 1971, her fourth album Blue appeared, which according to Wikipedia is widely regarded by music critics as one of the greatest records of all time. Here’s This Flight Tonight. If you don’t know Mitchell’s original, yet the melody and the lyrics somehow sound familiar, you’ve probably heard the cover by Scottish hard rock band Nazareth. I certainly have, since they scored a no. 1 hit with it in Germany in 1973. The song also charted in the U.K. (no. 11), U.S. (no. 177) and Canada (no. 27).

More frequent visitors of the blog won’t be surprised about my next choice: Neil Young. Wait a moment, some might think, based on what I wrote in my clever introduction, should he be in the list? After all, he has been affiliated with bands like Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and he continues to perform frequently with Crazy Horse. Well, in addition to these bands, Young has done plenty of solo work, plus Crazy Horse is his backing band. At the core, there’s no doubt to me that Young nicely fits the singer-songwriter definition. Here’s The Needle And The Damage Done, one of Young’s finest songs first recorded for Harvest, his fourth studio album from February 1972. The tune was inspired by the death of Young’s friend and former Crazy Horse bandmate Danny Whitten from heroin addiction. With the U.S. battling a horrific opioid addiction crisis, eerily, the song’s lyrics remain as relevant today as they were more than 45 years ago.

While with the explosion of the singer-songwriter category in the late ’60s and 70s I could  go on featuring artists from that time period, I also would like to least touch on more recent decades. In the ’80s, Suzanne Vega emerged as one of the most popular artists in the category. At the time, I frequently listened to her second album Solitude Standing from April 1987 – yes, it’s the one with Tom’s Diner. While that song represents cinematic-type storytelling at its best and perfectly describes the New York morning rush, I’ve become a bit tired of the tune due to over-exposure. Interestingly though, it wasn’t much of a chart success at the time, unlike Luka, the track I’m featuring here, which became Vega’s biggest hit. The song’s upbeat melody is in marked contrast to the lyrics addressing the horrible subject of child abuse.

When it comes to ’90s singer-songwriters, one name that comes to mind is Alanis Morissette. In June 1995, the Canadian artist released her third studio album Jagged Little Pill, which became her first record that appeared worldwide and catapulted her to international stardom. The album became a chart topper in 13 countries, including Canada, the U.K. and the U.S., and is one of the highest-selling records of all time, exceeding more than 33 million copies worldwide. It won five Grammy Awards including Album of the Year. Here’s the record’s second single Hand In My Pocket, a nice rock tune Morissette co-wrote with Glen Ballard who also produced the album.

The last artist I’d like to highlight in this post is English singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse. During her career, which was tragically cut short in July 2011 when she died from alcohol poisoning at the age of 27, Winehouse only released two albums. Her acclaimed second record Back To Black from October 2007 won Best Pop Vocal Album at the 2007 Grammy Awards. With close to 3.6 million units sold in the U.K. alone, Back To Black became the U.K.’s second best-selling album of the 21st century; worldwide sales exceeded 12 million. Here’s the opener Rehab, which also was released separately as the album’s lead single. The lyrics describe Winehouse’s refusal to attend rehab for alcoholism following her management team’s suggestion. The tune has a nice soul vibe and like many of her other songs has a retro feel.

Sources: Wikipedia, All Music, Songfacts, YouTube