Time For Some Additional German Music

This post was inspired by a recent short trip back to Germany, the country in which I was born and lived for the first 26 years of my life. While I didn’t have time to look for new CDs by German music artists, I ended up listening to a playlist of German rock and pop songs while driving on the Autobahn from Frankfurt to the beautiful Rhine city of Bad Honnef near Bonn.

Once again, I was reminded there is some great German music out there, except it’s barely known beyond the country’s borders. To be clear, what I’m talking about is German language music, not German bands singing in English like Scorpions or electronic pioneers Kraftwerk. While I already previously posted about German music artists here and here, I thought this would be a good time for an encore. Since I left Germany more than 25 years ago, I’m not aware of any younger acts, so I’m revisiting artists I’ve known and liked for many years.

I’d like to kick things off with Wolf Maahn, a singer-songwriter, actor and producer. Born on March 25, 1955 in Berlin, Maahn got his initial start in 1976 as a founding member of the Food Band, which mixed soul, jazz, pop and rock and sang in English. His German language music debut was the album Deserteure from 1982. In 1985, he gained broad popularity as the first German act performing during Rockpalast Nacht, a recurring live six-hour concert event broadcast throughout Europe. To date, more than 20 studio, live and compilation Maahn albums have appeared. Slow-Mo In New York is his recently released latest single from an upcoming new studio album titled Break Out Of Babylon. ‘Wait a moment,’ you might think, didn’t I just note this post is about German language music? Yep, the lyrics are in German – for the most part. 🙂

Another longtime German music artist is Marius Müller-Westernhagen, also simply known as Westernhagen. The rock musician, who was born on December 6, 1948 in Düsseldorf, started his career as an actor at the age of 14. While he became interested in music during the second half of the ’60s, success didn’t come until the release of his fourth studio album Mit Pfefferminz Bin Ich Dein Prinz in 1978. Today, with 19 studio albums and various live and compilation records, Westernhagen is one of the most successful German music artists. Here’s a clip of Mit 18 from his upcoming release titled Das Pfefferminz-Experiment (Woodstock Recordings Vol. 1), scheduled for November 8. Based on what I’ve seen on the web, this appears to be a remake of the above album with new stripped down versions of the tracks. The album was recorded at Dreamland Studio in Woodstock with American musicians. This included multi-instrumentalist Larry Campbell, who has worked with the likes of Bob Dylan, Levon Helm, Sheryl Crow and Paul Simon. I have to admit the orginal Mit 18 is one of my favorite Westernhagen tunes, but after having listened to the remake a few times, I find it intriguing.

Udo Lindenberg, born on May 17, 1946 in Gronau, is a rock musician, writer and painter. He entered the music scene as a 15-year-old drummer playing in bars in Düsseldorf. In 1968, Lindenberg went to Hamburg and joined the City Preachers, Germany’s first folk-rock band. In 1969, he left and co-founded the jazz-rock formation Free Orbit. They released an album in 1970, Lindenberg’s first studio recording. Only one year later, his enponymous solo album appeared. Commerical breakthrough came with the third studio album Alles Klar Auf Der Andrea Doria. While Lindenberg has consistently recorded throughout the decades, success began to vane in the mid ’80s. Since 2008 and his 35th studio album Stark Wie Zwei, Lindenberg has experienced a late career surge. Today, the 73-year-old continues to go strong. His most recent album MTV Unplugged 2: Live vom Atlantik appeared last year. Here is Du Knallst In Mein Leben, which first appeared on Lindenberg’s 1983 studio album Odyssee. In this version, he shares vocals with German indie pop artist Deine Cousine.

Herbert Grönemeyer is one of the most versatile German artists. The musician, producer, vocalist, composer, songwriter and actor was born on April 12, 1956 in Göttingen. After his acting role in the acclaimed 1981 motion picture Das Boot, which also became an international success, Grönemeyer increasingly focused on music. His big national breakthrough as a music artist came in 1994 with his fifth studio record Bochum. To date, Grönemeyer has released 15 studio albums, as well as various compilations and live records. With more than 18 million units, he has sold more records than any other music artist in Germany since 1975, according to Wikipedia. While Grönemeyer has written some rock-oriented songs, for the most part, I would characterize his music as straight pop. Here is the ballad Warum from his most recent album Tumult, which came out in November 2018.

If I could only select one German rock band, it would be BAP, a group around singer-songwriter Wolfgang Niedecken, which nowadays performs as Niedecken’s BAP. The band has been around with different line-ups since 1976, and I’ve followed them since the early 1980s. They perform their songs in the dialect spoken in the region of Cologne, the home town of Niedecken who remains the group’s only original member. Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen are among his key influences. In fact, Niedecken is also friends with the Boss and has performed with him on the same stage. Niedecken’s BAP’s most recent release is a live album, Live & Deutlich, which was released in November 2018. Here’s Nix Wie Bessher, a track that first appeared on BAP’s excellent 10th studio album Amerika from August 1996.

Sources: Wikipedia; Wolf Maahn website; Westernhagen website; Udo Lindenberg website; Herbert Grönemeyer website; BAP website; YouTube

Phil Ochs, Brilliant Yet Widely Obscure Troubador

What do Robert Allen Zimmerman and Philip David Ochs have in common? Both wrote brilliant protest songs in the ’60s. The difference? Robert changed his name to Bob Dylan and became one of the most famous music artists of our time. Philip chose to perform as Phil Ochs and remained largely obscure outside singer-songwriter circles.

Until recently, I had never heard of Phil Ochs myself. Then I saw somebody ranting on Facebook that Bob Dylan undeservedly gets all the credit for being this brilliant protest singer when the recognition should really go to Ochs. The truth is while both artists at some point were important protest singer-songwriters, none of them invented the genre. According to Wikipedia, the tradition of protest songs in the U.S. long predates the births of Dylan and Ochs – in fact going all the way back to the 18th century.

One of the important forerunners to the 1950s and 1960s protest singer-singwriters were the Hutchinson Family Singers, who starting from 1839 became well known for singing about social issues, such as abolition, war and women’s suffrage. And let’s not forget Woody Guthrie, who was born in 1912 and started learning folk and blues songs during his early teens. Over a 26-year-period as an active music artist, Guthrie wrote hundreds of political, folk and children’s songs. He was a major influence on numerous other songwriters who in addition to Dylan and Ochs included Johnny Cash, Pete Seeger, Harry Chapin, Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp and many other former and contemporary artists.

Hutchinson Family Singers
Hutchinson Family Singers in 1845 painting by an unkown artist

‘I get it,’ you might think, ‘but who the hell is Phil Ochs?’ Sadly, it’s a pretty rough story, and it doesn’t have a Hollywood happy ending.

Ochs was born on December 19, 1940 in El Paso, Texas. His dad Jakob “Jack” Ochs was a physician from New York, and his mom Gertrude Finn Ochs hailed from Scotland. The two met there and got married in Edinburgh where Jack was attending medical school at the time. After their wedding, they moved to the U.S. Jack joined the army as a doctor and was sent overseas close to the end of World War II. He returned as a sick man with bipolar disorder and depression.

Jack’s health conditions prevented him from establishing a successful medical practice. Instead, he ended up working at a series of hospitals around the country and frequently moving his family. As a result, Phil Ochs grew up in different places, along with an older sister (Sonia, known as Sonny) and a younger brother (Michael). His father was distant from the family, eventually got hospitalized for depression, and passed away from a brain bleeding in April 1963. Phil’s mother died in March 1994.

Phil Ochs as teen with clarinet
Phil Ochs as a teenager playing the clarinet

During his teenage years, Ochs became a talented clarinet player. Prior to the age of 16, he was principal soloist with the orchestra at the Capital University Conservatory of Music in Columbus, Ohio. Although Ochs had become an accomplished classical instrumentalist, he soon discovered the radio and started listening to the likes of Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, Hank Williams and Johnny Cash.

Initially, Ochs wanted to become a journalist. Well, he of sort did, combining his interest in writing about politics with music. During his journalism studies at Ohio State University, he met fellow student, activist and future folk singer Jim Glover in the fall of 1960, who introduced him to the music of Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and The Weavers, and taught him how to play guitar. It wouldn’t take long before Ochs merged his interest of politics and music and started writing his own songs. He preferred to characterize himself as a topical rather than a protest singer.

Glover and Ochs started performing as a duo called The Singing Socialists and later The Sundowners but broke up before their first professional gig. Glover went to New York, while Ochs started performing professionally at a local fok club in Cleveland. In 1962, he went to the Big Apple as well and soon established himself in the Greenwich Village folk music scence. Ochs described himself as a “singing journalist,” explaining his songs were inspired by stories he saw in Newsweek. By the summer of 1963, he had developed a sufficiently high profile and was invited to perform at the Newport Folk Festival, along the likes of Dylan, Joan Baez and Peter, Paul & Mary.

Ochs’ debut album All The News That’s Fit To Sing, an allusion to The New York Times‘ slogan “All the news that’s fit to print,” appeared in 1964. Here is Ballad of William Worthy. The tune tells the story about an American journalist who traveled to Cuba despite the U.S. embargo and was forbidden to return to the U.S. Check out the brilliant lyrics of this tune – safe to assume Ochs’ words didn’t endear him to the Johnson Administration.

In 1965, Ochs’ sophomore album I Ain’t Marching Anymore came out. Here’s the excellent satirical anti-war tune Draft Dodger Rag, which quickly became an anthem of the anti-Vietnam war movement.

After Ochs’ first three albums with Electra Records had gone nowhere commercially speaking, he signed with A&M Records and in October 1967 released his fourth studio record Pleasures Of The Harbor. Unlike his first three folk music-oriented records, the album went beyond folk, featuring elements of classical, rock & roll, Dixieland and even experiental synthesized music. Apparently, the idea was to produce a folk-pop crossover. While the album included great tunes, it’s safe to say it didn’t bring Ochs commercial success. Here is Outside Of A Small Circle Of Friends, which became one of Ochs’ most popular songs. The tune was inspired by the case of a 28-old woman who was stabbed to death in front of her home in Queens, New York, while dozens of her neighbors reportedly ignored her cries for help.

Tape From California is Ochs’ fifth album. Released in July 1968 on A&M Records, it continued his shift away from straight folk-oriented protest songwriting, though he was far from abandoning topical songs. The War Is Over is a tune that was inspired by poet Allen Ginsberg who in 1966 declared the Vietnam war was over. Ochs decided to adopt the idea and organize an anti-war rally in Los Angeles, for which he wrote the song.

Phil Ochs’ final studio album came out in February 1970. Weirdly, it was called Greatest Hits, even though it was not a compilation but a collection of 10 new tracks. Most of the record was produced by Van Dyke Parks, who previously had appeared on Tape From California, contributing piano and keyboards to the title track. Greatest Hits featured an impressive array of guest artists, including Clarence White and Gene Parsons, both from The Byrds; Ry Cooder; Jim Glover; and members of Elvis Presley’s backing band, among others. The album cover was an homage to Elvis, showing Ochs in a gold lamé suit reminiscent of the outfit Elvis wore for the cover of his 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong greatest hits compilation. Here is Jim Dean Of Indiana, a tune about the actor James Dean, who like Elvis was one of Ochs’ idols.

Greatest Hits was Ochs’ final attempt to connect with average Americans, who he was convinced weren’t listening to topical songs. Disillusioned by key events of 1968, including the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, the police riot in Chicago around the Democratic National Convention and the election of Richard Nixon, Ochs felt he needed to be “part Elvis Presley and part Che Guevara,” as Wikipedia puts it. Ochs supported the album with a tour, performing in the Elivs-like suit and being backed by a rock band, singing his own songs, along with tunes by Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley and Merle Haggard. But his fans weren’t sure what to make of the “new Phil Ochs.”

Pretty much from there, things went downhill for Ochs. He developed writer’s block and slipped into depression and alcoholism. He did not release any additional records. On April 9, 1976, Ochs committed suicide by hanging himself in the home of his sister Sonny. He was only 35 years old.

I’d like to conclude this post with a few quotes I found on Life of a Rebel, a blog dedicated to Ochs. “As a lyricist, there was nobody like Phil before and there has not been anybody since,” said fellow folk singer Dave Van Ronk. “He had a touch that was so distinctive that it just could not be anybody else. He had been a journalism student before he became a singer, and he would never sacrifice what he felt to be the truth for a good line.” In a note to Ochs in 1963, Pete Seeger wrote, “I wish I had one tenth your talent as a songwriter.” And what did the mighty Bob Dylan tell Broadside magazine in 1964? “I just can’t keep up with Phil. And he’s getting better and better and better.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Life of a Rebel; YouTube

Rolling Stones Can’t Get No Satisfaction And Release New Live Concert Film/Album

I suppose after more than 25 predecessors, it’s fair to ask whether we really need another live album from The Rolling Stones, especially knowing there will never be a repeat of Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out. As somebody who has enjoyed listening to the Stones for some 40 years, I don’t have a problem with it; while I don’t necessarily love each and every new Stones record, I always find it cool when they release new albums, though it’s safe to assume I’m biased here.

Bridges To Bremen first and foremost is a concert film that’s also available in audio-only formats. It captures the Stones’ full show at Weserstadium in Bremen, Germany on September 2, 1998 during what was the fifth and final leg of their Bridges To Babylon tour. For the most part, it is a collection of the band’s greatest hits, combined with some songs from their then-new album Bridges To Babylon.

Rolling Stones Bridges To Bremen Concert Shot
The Stones in action at Bremen’s Weserstadium (from left): Ronnie Wood, Keith Richards and Mick Jagger

According to the Stones’ website, Ever the innovators, Bridges To Babylon was a tour of firsts – the first time the band went on the road with a permanent B-stage, and also the first time where fans could vote on the band’s website for a track they wanted to hear on the setlist – Memory Motel in the case of the Bremen fans. This concert film has been meticulously restored from the original masters, and the audio remixed and remastered from the live multitrack recordings.

Interestingly, the Stones opted to kick off the show with their best known song that is oftentimes reserved until the end of their concerts: (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. The tune was first released as a single in the U.S. in June 1965 and was also included on the band’s U.S. version of Out Of Our Heads, their fourth studio release in America. I wouldn’t have called it out, would it not have been for the fact that there are currently only two clips on YouTube from the concert film and I didn’t want to settle for audio clips only. Plus, let’s be honest here, while I must have listened to the friggin’ tune more than one thousand times, I still get a kick watching Keith Richards launch into the song’s signature riff.

The other clip I’d like to highlight is a nice cover of Like A Rolling Stone. Obviously, the band’s formation predates the Bob Dylan tune, so there’s no connection between the song and Stones’ name. In fact, the latter was inspired by a 1950 Muddy Waters track called Rollin’ Stone. Dylan first released Like A Rolling Stone as a single in July 1965. The tune also was included on his fifth studio album Highway 61 Revisited that came out in August that year.

Bridges To Bremen came out today. Here’s the complete track list:

1. (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction
2. Let’s Spend The Night Together
3. Flip The Switch
4. Gimme Shelter
5. Anybody Seen My Baby?
6. Paint It Black
7. Saint Of Me
8. Out Of Control
9. Memory Motel
10. Miss You
11. Thief In The Night
12. Wanna Hold You
13. Its Only Rock ‘n’ Roll (But I Like It)
14. You Got Me Rocking
15. Like A Rolling Stone
16. Sympathy For The Devil
17. Tumbling Dice
18. Honky Tonk Women
19. Start Me Up
20. Jumpin’ Jack Flash
21. You Can’t Always Get What You Want
22. Brown Sugar

In addition, the concert film comes with four bonus tracks that were captured in Chicago during the same tour:

1. Rock And A Hard Place
2. Under My Thumb
3. All About You
4. Let It Bleed

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stones website, setlist.fm, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Bonnie Raitt/Slipstream

I think Slipstream is one of the gems in Bonnie Raitt’s close to 40-year recording career. I hadn’t heard the album in a while until this morning. Afterwards, I spontaneously decided to cover it.

Raitt is one of my favorite music artists, and I’ve written about her before. If you’re curious about her background, you can read more here. In this post, I’d like to focus on the music from Slipstream, Raitt’s 16th studio album released in April 2012. It came seven years after the predecessor Souls Alike, the last album for her longtime record company Capitol Records. The album is the first issued on her independent label Redwing Records, which she launched in 2011.

Slipstream kicks off strongly with the groovy Used To Rule A World. The tune also became one of two tracks that appeared separately as a single. It was written by singer-songwriter and session multi-instrumentalist Randall Bramblett. In addition to Raitt, he has played with the likes of Gregg Allman, Robbie Robertson and Steve Winwood. Apart from Raitt’s funky guitar, I particularly dig the Hammond B3 part performed by Mike Finnegan. He’s another session musician with an impressive resume, including Jimi Hendrix, Joe Cocker, Buddy Guy, Etta James and Crosby, Stills and Nash, to name some.

Right Down The Line, the second single off the album, is a nice cover of a tune by Gerry Rafferty. The Scottish singer-songwriter included it on his sophomore album City To City from January 1978. That record is best known for the mega hit Baker Street, which makes me want to listen to the song and other music from Rafferty. I haven’t done that in a long time either – could become a separate blog topic in the future!

Down To You is another tune for which Bramblett got a credit. The other co-writers are George Marinelli, who also plays guitar, as well as Raitt who wrote the lyrics – her only credit on the album. But if you interpret songs, sing and play slide guitar like Raitt, I think it becomes a minor detail whether or not you actually write the songs. Marinelli, a founding member of Bruce Hornsby and The Range, has been part of Raitt’s band since 1993.

Raitt slows things down on Not Cause I Wanted To, a ballad about the breakup of a relationship. I wonder whether the tune, which was co-written by Al Anderson and Bonnie Bishop, has some autobiographic connection. According to Wikipedia, Raitt’s marriage to actor Michael O’Keefe ended in divorce in late 1999, apparently because their careers caused them to spend much time apart.

The last tune I’d like to call out is Standing In The Doorway, another track on the quieter side. It was written by Bob Dylan, who included it on this 30th studio album Time Out Of Mind from September 1997. Interestingly, Slipstream also features another Dylan cover from the same record, Million Miles. When covering songs, Raitt oftentimes makes them her own, but in this case, she chose to stay closely to the original – in any case, a beautiful take!

Slipstream entered the Billboard 200 at no. 6, making it Raitt’s highest-charting album in the U.S. in 18 years since 1994’s chart-topper Longing In Their Hearts. She also won Best Americana Album for Slipstream at the 2013 Grammy Awards.

Sources: Wikipedia, Bonnie Raitt website, YouTube

When Bs Should Have Been As

While I suspect most folks can tell an anecdote where they feel a teacher or professor did them wrong, you probably figured this post isn’t about academic grades, though it is somewhat related to grading. I’m talking about the good old-fashioned single from the last Century. Yep, it’s hard to believe that in the age of online streaming and digital downloads there was once was a time when music artists would release singles on vinyl and people would actually buy them!

The most common format of the vinyl single was the 7-inch 45 rpm, which according to Wikipedia was introduced by RCA Victor in March 1949 as a more durable and higher-fidelity replacement for 78 rpm shellac discs. Historically, singles had an A-side and a B-side, and placing a song on the A-side implied it was better than the tune on the flip side. In December 1965, The Beatles disrupted this tradition when they released the first so-called double-A side: We Can Work It Out and Day Tripper. The 70s saw yet another type called double-B, where you had one song on the A-side and two tunes on the B-side. Also known as maxi singles, the initial format was 7 inches and, starting from the mid-70s, 12 inches.

Do singles even matter you might ask. At the end of the day, it’s all music, so who cares how it’s called. Well, I guess I’m a bit of a music nerd, so I get excited about it. That being said, I never got much into buying 45 rpms myself. In retrospect, that’s a good thing, since the handful I ended up were all pretty awful.  Three I can still remember include I Was Made For Loving You (Kiss), Heart of Glass (Blondie) and How Could This Go Wrong (Exile) – indeed, how could things have gone so wrong? Well, to my defense it was the disco era and, perhaps more significantly, I was like 12 or 13 years old and slightly less mature!:-)

Before I go any further with this post, I have to give credit where credit is due. The initial inspiration for the topic came from a story on Ultimate Classic Rock about B-sides that became big hits. Then I also remembered that fellow blogger Aphoristic Album Reviews has a recurring feature called Great B-sides. Both together made me curious to do some research and there you have it: a playlist of tunes that initially were released as B-sides, which in my opinion would have deserved an A-side placement or perhaps double-A side status. This doesn’t necessarily mean I feel the corresponding A-sides were inferior. With that being said, let’s get to it!

What better artist to kick off a rock playlist than with Mr. Rock & Roll, Chuck Berry. In September 1956, he released Brown Eyed Handsome Man, a single from his debut album After School Session. The B-side was Too Much Monkey Business, which I personally prefer over the A-side. Both tunes were written by Berry. Like many of his songs, Too Much Monkey Business was widely covered by others like The Beatles, The Kinks and The Yardbirds. Naming them all would be, well, too much monkey business!

Another 1950s artist I dig is Buddy Holly, a true rock & roll and guitar pioneer who during his short recording career released such amazing music. Here’s Not Fade Away, the B-side to Oh, Boy!, a single that appeared in October 1957 under the name of Holly’s band The Crickets. Not Fade Away was credited to Charles Hardin, Holly’s real name, and Norman Petty. In February 1964, The Rolling Stones released a great cover of the tune, their first U.S. single and one of their first hits.

In November 1964, Them fronted by 19-year-old Van Morrison released a cover of Baby, Please Don’t Go, a traditional that had first been popularized by delta blues artist Big Joe Williams in 1935. While Them’s take was a great rendition, it was the B-side, Morrison’s Gloria, which became the band’s first hit, peaking at no. 10 on the British singles charts. Following the song’s big success, apparently, Gloria was re-released as a single in 1965, with the garage rocker getting its well-deserved A-side placement. G.L.O.R.I.A., Gloria, G.L.O.R.I.A., Gloria – love this tune!

Another great B-side is I’ll Feel A Lot Better by The Byrds, which they put on the flip side of their second single All I Really Want To Do from June 1965. It was written by founding member Gene Clark, the band’s main writer of original songs between 1964 and early 1966. Like the Bob Dylan tune All I Really Want To Do, I’ll Feel A Lot Better appeared on The Byrds’ debut album Mr. Tambourine Man. I’m a huge fan of Roger McGuinn’s Rickenbacker jingle-jangle guitar sound. Another reason I’ve always liked The Byrds is because of their great harmony singing. It’s the kind of true music craftsmanship you hardly hear any longer these days.

My next selection won’t come as a shock to frequent readers of the blog: I’m The Walrus by The Beatles. Other than the fact that The Fab Four are my all-time favorite band, there’s another valid reason I included them in this playlist. You can file this one under ‘what were they thinking relegating the tune to the B-side and giving the A-side to Hello Goodbye.’ Hello? According to The Beatles Bible, not only was John Lennon’s push to make Walrus the A-side overturned by Paul McCartney and George Martin, who both felt Hello Goodbye would be more commercially successful, but it created real resentment from Lennon. And frankly who can blame him! After the band’s breakup, he complained “I got sick and tired of being Paul’s backup band.” Yes, Hello Goodbye ended up peaking at no. 1 but also as one of the worst Beatles singles!

Next up: Born On The Bayou by Creedence Clearwater Revival, the B-side to Proud Mary, a single released in January 1969. Unlike the previous case, I think this is a great example of two killer tunes that are each A-side material. Written by John Fogerty, both songs appeared on CCR’s second studio album Bayou Country that also came out in January 1969.

In October 1969, Led Zeppelin issued Led Zeppelin II, only nine months after their debut, and one of their best albums, in my opinion. The opening track Whole Lotta Love was released as a single in November that year. The B-side was Living Loving Maid (She’s Just A Woman). It may not be quite on par with Whole Lotta Love, but it sure as heck is an excellent tune with a great riff. The song was co-written by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant.

The Needle And The Damage Done is one of my favorite songs from one of my all-time favorite artists: Neil Young. It became the B-side to Old Man, which Young released as a single in April 1972 off Harvest, his excellent fourth studio album that had appeared in February that year.

Also in April 1972, David Bowie came out with Starman, the lead single from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, his fifth studio album and my favorite Bowie record. The B-side was Suffragette City, a kick-ass glam rocker. Like all tracks on Ziggy Stardust, it was written by Bowie.

Of course, this playlist wouldn’t be complete without featuring a tune from one of my other all-time favorite bands, The Rolling Stones. I decided to go with When The Whip Comes Down, the B-side to Beast Of Burden, which was released as a single in September 1978. As usually co-written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, both tunes appeared on Some Girls, the Stones’ 14th British and 16th U.S. studio album from June that year. That’s according to Wikipedia – I didn’t count them myself!

Sources: Wikipedia, Ultimate Classic Rock, Radio X, Smooth Radio, Forgotten Hits, The Beatles Bible, YouTube

Clips & Pix: Bob Dylan/Hurricane

Hurricane has been among my favorite Bob Dylan songs for a long time. I’ve always dug the amazing violin playing by Scarlet Rivera, which gives the tune a very distinct sound. And while the lyrics take some creative liberties, I think Hurricane represents excellent cinematic story-telling and is one of the most compelling protest songs I know.

Co-written by Bob Dylan and Jacques Levy, Hurricane is the opener of Dylan’s 17th studio album Desire that came out in January 1976. The above clip is from Dylan’s appearance on the American live concert TV series Soundstage in December 1975.

Hurricane tells the story of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, an American middleweight boxer who along with his friend John Artis was wrongfully convicted of a triple murder that occurred at a bar in Patterson, N.J. in 1966. After he had been sent to prison, Carter continued to maintain his innocence and, helped by a writer, published his autobiography in 1974. Knowing about Dylan’s civil rights engagement, Carter had a copy sent to Dylan.

rubin carter and bob dylan
Bob Dylan visiting Rubin Carter in prison in December 1975

Prompted by the autobiography, Dylan visited Carter in prison in December 1975. He and Levy wrote Hurricane thereafter, based on the book and news accounts. Dylan also raised money for Carter’s legal defense during two shows of his Rolling Thunder Revue tour at the time.

Following the autobiography’s publication, two of the prosecution’s key witnesses changed their testimony. In 1976, Carter’s and Artis’ convictions were overturned, but only a few months later, both men were found guilty again during a second trial. Appeals continued. Artis was paroled in 1981. In 1985, a U.S. district judge in New Jersey exonerated Carter, noting the prosecution had been “predicated upon an appeal to racism rather than reason, and concealment rather than disclosure.”

Carter was finally set free in November 1985, after 19 years in prison. He relocated to Toronto, earned Canadian citizenship and became an advocate for people who like him had become victims of judicial injustice. From 1993 until 2005, he was executive director of the Association in Defence of the Wrongly Convicted. Carter passed away from prostate cancer in April 2014.

After Carter’s second conviction, Dylan had moved on and never performed Hurricane live again. Apparently, Carter was still grateful for everything Dylan had done for him and did not hold the artist’s apparent lack of interest after his second conviction against him.

Sources: Wikipedia, Songfacts, 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