The Hump Day Picker-Upper

Cheering you up for a dreadful Wednesday, one song at a time

It’s the first Wednesday of 2022, and The Hump Day Picker-Upper is back. I just returned to work yesterday after a Christmas and New Year’s break, so I shouldn’t be complaining, and I’m not. But it’s safe to assume other readers didn’t have all of last week off, so to them, I suspect today pretty much feels like any other Wednesday.

For those of us taking care of business during the regular workweek, we’ve all felt that dreadful Wednesday blues. Sometimes, that middle point of the workweek can be a true drag. But help is on the way!

My proposition to chase any clouds away today: We Are the Champions by Queen. This rock anthem was penned by the British group’s killer vocalist Freddie Mercury. Sing along and feel like a winner. Take it away, Freddie!

We Are the Champions, paired with We Will Rock You, first appeared on October 7, 1977, as the lead single of Queen’s sixth studio album News of the World. The record followed three weeks thereafter on October 28.

Together with Bohemian Rhapsody, We Are the Champions and We Will Rock You for that matter became signature tunes for Queen. The single surged to no. 2 in the UK and was a major chart success in many other countries as well. Among others, this included The Netherlands (no. 2); Ireland and Canada (no. 3 in each); and the U.S. (no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100).

Happy Hump Day, and always remember the words of the wise George Harrison: All things must pass!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to The Sunday Six! Can you believe the next installment will be the day after Christmas? It’s unreal to me! Though I’m not going to lie – I can’t wait for this dreadful year to be over! Let’s turn to a more cheerful topic and frankly a good distraction: Music! This time, the little journey features jazz fusion, new wave, soul, alternative rock, pop rock and garage rock, touching the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. Let’s go!

Klaus Doldinger/Tatort

German saxophonist Klaus Doldinger, who has been active since 1953, is best known for jazz fusion band Passport, which he formed in 1971 as Klaus Doldinger’s Passport. Prior to starting Passport, he composed one of the best-known musical themes in Germany for what has become the longest-running police drama TV series: Tatort (crime scene), which has been on the air for more than 50 years. I watched it many times while growing up in Germany. One of the things I always liked about the series was the theme music, one of the coolest I know. BTW, Doldinger turned 85 earlier this year and remains active with Passport. That’s truly remarkable! Doldinger also wrote or co-wrote various other TV and film scores, most notably for World War II drama Das Boot (the boat, actually a submarine) from 1981, as well as the 1984 fantasy picture The NeverEnding Story. The original recording of Tatort from 1970 featured drummer Udo Lindenberg, who subsequently launched a solo career and became one of Germany’s most successful artists singing in German.

Tears For Fears/Everybody Wants to Rule the World

Tears For Fears has to be one of the best band names. The new wave and synth-pop group were initially formed in 1981 in Bath, England by Roland Orzabal (guitar, keyboards, vocals) and Curt Smith (bass, keyboards, vocals). They had known each other as teenagers and played together in English new wave and mod revival group Graduate. Ian Stanley (keyboards, backing vocals) and Manny Elias (drums, percussion) completed the original line-up. That formation lasted until 1986 and spanned the group’s first two albums. By 1991, Orzbal was the only remaining member. Relying on collaborators, he kept the name Tears For Fears alive and released two albums. In 2000, he reunited with Smith. Everybody Loves a Happy Ending, the group’s sixth studio album, appeared in 2014. A new album is scheduled for February 2022, the first in nearly 18 years. Everybody Wants to Rule the World, co-written by Orzabal, Stanley and Hughes and released as a single in March 1985, became Tears For Fears’ biggest hit. It was off their sophomore release Songs from the Big Chair, their best-selling album to date. Yes, it sounds very ’80s, but it’s a hell of a catchy tune!

Billy Preston/Will It Go Round in Circles

To folks who have watched the Peter Jackson docu-series The Beatles: Get Back, Billy Preston will be a very familiar name. The then-23-year-old keyboard player was invited by The Beatles to join their recording sessions for Get Back, which eventually became the Let It Be album. Preston’s involvement not only boosted the band’s sound but also their spirit – he may well have saved the project! The entirely self-taught Preston had first met The Beatles in Hamburg in 1962, when he was part of Little Richard’s backing band. At the time, the 16-year-old already had been six years into his performing career, which had started in 1956 to back several gospel singers like Mahalia Jackson. In 1963, Preston released his debut album 16 Yr. Old Soul. Four years later, he joined Ray Charles’ band. After signing with Apple Records, Preston released his fourth studio album That’s the Way God Planned It, which was produced by George Harrison. The title track became a hit in the UK. In the ’70s, Preston remained a sought-after session musician and played on various Rolling Stones albums. He also continued to put out his own solo records. Sadly, Preston passed away in June 2006 at the age of 59. Will It Go Round in Circles, co-written by him and Bruce Fisher, is from his seventh album Music Is My Life that came out in October 1972. The funky soul tune became his first no. 1 as a solo artist in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100.

Radiohead/Paranoid Android

Recently, I discussed Radiohead with fellow blogger Music Enthusiast. I still mostly know the English alternative rock band by name, which has been around since 1985. Remarkably, the group’s original line-up still is in place to this day: Thom Yorke (vocals, guitar, piano, keyboards), Jonny Greenwood (guitar, keyboards, ondes Martenot, orchestral arrangements), Ed O’Brien (guitar, effects, backing vocals), Colin Greenwood (bass) and Philip Selway (drums, percussion). Paranoid Android, credited to all members of the group, was the lead single off their third studio album OK Computer from May 1997. Reaching no. 3 in the UK on the Official Singles Chart, the tune became the band’s highest-charting single to date. According to Wikipedia, the song has been compared to The Beatles’ Happiness Is a Warm Gun and Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody – not sure that’s obvious to me, but it’s definitely a good tune!

Marmalade/Reflections of My Life

Next, let’s turn to one of my favorite songs from 1969: Reflections of My Life by Marmalade. The Scottish pop-rock band originally was formed in 1961 in Glasgow as The Gaylords. In 1966, they changed their name to The Marmalade, later shortened to Marmalade. The band enjoyed their greatest chart success between 1968 and 1972 when 10 of their tunes made the UK’s Official Singles Chart. One of the most successful tunes among them was Reflections of My Life, a no. 3 in the UK, and a no. 10 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was co-written by lead guitarist Junior Campbell and vocalist Dean Ford, two of the group’s founding members. It appeared on their 1970 studio album Reflections of the Marmalade. A version of Marmalade continues to be active, though none of their members are co-founders. Reflections of My Life relies on a repetitive chord progression, but it’s beautifully done. I just love it!

The Sonics/Psycho

For this last tune let’s accelerate with some great ’60s garage rock: Psycho by The Sonics. The American group was formed in Tacoma, Wa. in 1960. The initial line-up featured Larry Parypa (lead guitar), his brother Jerry Parypa (saxophone), Stuart Turner (guitar) and Mitch Jaber (drums). Larry’s and Jerry’s parents loved music and supported the band. In fact, their mother even filled in occasionally on bass during rehearsals. In 1961, Tony Mabin joined as the band’s permanent bassist. By the time their debut album !!!Here Are The Sonics!!! came out, only the Parypa brothers were left as original members, with Larry having switched to bass. Gerry Roslie (lead vocals, organ, piano), Rob Lind (saxophone, harmonica, vocals) and Bob Bennett (drums) completed the line-up. Lind remains a member of the group’s current touring line-up. Psycho, written by Roslie, is from The Sonics’ first record. It’s a great, hard-charging, raw tune. They have often been called “the first punk band” and were a significant influence for American punk groups like The Stooges, MC5 and The Flesh Eaters. The White Stripes have named The Sonics as one of the bands that influenced them the most, “harder than the Kinks, and punk long before punk.”

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Another Turkey Day Brings Another Rock & Roll Radio Marathon

I’m not much of a radio guy, not even in the car, where despite having access to Sirius XM, I prefer listening to music from my streaming provider most of the time. An exception for the past few years has been a massive four and a half-day countdown of songs New York classic radio station Q104.3 does around each Thanksgiving. Ingeniously, they call it the Top 1043 Classic Rock Songs of All Time.

To come up with the list, the station asks listeners to submit their top 10 songs in no particular order, which each counting as one vote. They then tally the submissions, determine the 1043 songs with the most votes, and play all of them in one shot, starting with the tune that got the least votes. The only interruption happens at noon on Thanksgiving, when they play Arlo Guthrie classic Alice’s Restaurant in its entire 18 minutes plus. The whole thing lasts from 1:00 pm ET on Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving until sometime on Sunday evening after the holiday!

Q104.3 Countdown

This year marks the 19th annual annual countdown. Wow, that’s what I call devotion – and smart marketing/audience engagement! Remarkably, each year Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven has been the most popular song. And while the station does not reveal actual vote totals, the hosts have said in the past the tune has always won by many votes.

Don’t get me wrong, I dig Stairway – big time. In fact, if I could only choose one rock song, it probably would be that Zep classic, even though The Beatles generally remain my all-time favorite band. There are other tunes that usually make the top 10, such as Hey Jude and Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody. Again, there’s nothing wrong with these songs and I like them as well.

But the recurrence of the above tracks makes the countdown predictable. To me this means it’s not as much fun as it could be. As I noted before, I think it’s time to shake things up a bit. Following is the set of tunes I submitted. I almost would have forgotten about it and literally did so at 3:00 am this morning when I went to the bathroom and remembered – okay, call me a loony! Here are my choices in no particular order.

Of course, it’s unlikely my selections will change much if anything. On the other hand it’s like elections. If everybody thought they couldn’t impact the outcome, nobody would vote. And that would indeed guarantee that nothing would ever change! So here’s to hoping for a new number one this year. How about Hey Jude?😆

Sources: Q104.3 website; Wikipedia; YouTube

 

 

 

Ultimate Classic Rock’s Take On 2018’s Biggest Rock Stories

The other day, I came across an article on Ultimate Classic Rock (UCR), which I thought provides a nice wrap-up of rock’s biggest headlines in 2018 and is worth highlighting. Following I’m going to address some of the stories included in the piece.

Bohemian Rhapsody, the biopic of Queen, which premiered on October 24 in the U.K. and on November 2 in the U.S., became a massive success at the box office. With more than $702 million in ticket sales, it was the eighth highest grossing picture in 2018 and the most successful film biopic to date. The movie has received various nominations, including a Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture – Drama. All this attention has also triggered renewed interest in Queen’s music. The Billboard 200 for the week of December 29 include the movie soundtrack (no. 8); The Platinum Collection: Greatest Hits I, II & III,  November 2000 (no. 33) and Greatest Hits, October 1981 (no. 122). Obviously, it’s not a coincidence that Queen in early December announced a North American Rhapsody tour with Adam Lambert in July and August 2019. Here’s the official trailer of the biopic.

About three and a half years after Fleetwood Mac had restored their most commercially successful line-up with the return of Christine McVie, Lindsey Buckingham was dismissed in April 2018, reportedly over disagreements about the band’s next tour. And before people knew it, Mike Campbell (formerly of Tom Petty’s band The Heartbreakers) and Neil Finn (former frontman of Crowded House) were hired to replace Buckingham. In early October, Fleetwood Mac embarked on their current world tour, which is scheduled to stretch all the way until June 2019. A lawsuit brought by Buckingham in October was settled earlier this month. Since I’ve seen the Mac a few years ago (with Buckingham but sans McVie), I currently don’t have any plans to see them again. That being said, based on clips I’ve seen, Campbell and Finn are doing a pretty decent job. Here’s a clip of Go Your Own Way, which apparently was captured in St. Louis in October.

Neil Young managed to pull off getting married to American actress and environmental activist Daryl Hannah in August and keeping the festivities a secret to the public – quite a feat in the age of social media! Young and Hannah certainly need to thank their 100 guests who kept quiet about the wedding, which Young officially confirmed in October. I suppose Neil Young doesn’t require any further introduction. Hannah, who started her acting career in 1978, has had roles in more than 70 films of different genres, including Blade Runner (1982), Wall Street (1987), Grumpy Old Men (1993) and Kill Bill Volume 1 & 2 (2003 and 2004, respectively). Young and Hannah had been in a relationship since 2014.

Daryl Hannah & Neil Young

In September, Paul McCartney released his 25th studio album and 17th solo record Egypt Station, which I previously reviewed here. While as a longtime fan of The Beatles, who generally also likes each member’s work thereafter, I may not be entirely objective here, I think Egypt Station may be Macca’s best album since Flowers In The Dirt from 1989. Remarkably, it became his first to debut at no. 1 on the Billboard 200. At 76 years, his voice sounds worn, but I actually feel it goes quite well with the songs. Here’s one of my favorites, I Don’t Know.

Gibson Brands, maker of legendary Gibson guitars like the Les Paul or the SG, re-emerged from bankruptcy in October. As part of the re-organization, a new management team was installed, and private equity firm Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. (KKR) assumed majority ownership control. KKR also brought in a guitarist and Gibson collector as chairman of the board: Nat Zilkha, former lead guitarist of Red Rooster, a New York-based band that describes itself as a folk collective with music rooted in Americana with an urban-infused sound. “I feel like I have a personal relationship with the product,” Zilkha told Bloomberg in an interview. “This is a great American brand that sort of lost its way. It’s almost like a responsibility to try to bring it back to what it’s supposed to be.” In May, the 124-year-old music company had filed for Chapter 11 protection with up to $500 million in debt, according to NPR.

Gibson SG Standard
Gibson SG Standard

Sources: Deriso, Nick (December 20, 2018) 2018’s Biggest Rock Stories. Ultimate Classic Rock. Accessed December 30, 2018; Wikipedia; Billboard Top 200 Albums; Red Rooster website; Bloomberg; NPR; YouTube

Queen/Live Aid Set

In memoriam of Freddie Mercury, the greatest rock and pop vocalist of all time

On this day twenty-seven years ago, Freddie Mercury passed away at the age of 45 from bronchopneumonia, a complication he had acquired from AIDS. No matter what you may think about him, I would go as far as calling Mercury the greatest rock and pop vocalist of our time. He also was a beast of a live performer, as illustrated by the above clip of Queen’s epic appearance at London’s Wembley Stadium during the Live Aid benefit concert on July 13, 1985.

According to Wikipedia, Mercury had a near five-octave range from a bass F2 to a soprano’s F6, something that’s extremely rare. Here’s what Spanish opera singer Montserrat Caballé said about his voice: The difference between Freddie and almost all the other rock stars was that he was selling the voice. His technique was astonishing. No problem of tempo, he sung with an incisive sense of rhythm, his vocal placement was very good and he was able to glide effortlessly from a register to another. He also had a great musicality. His phrasing was subtle, delicate and sweet or energetic and slamming. He was able to find the right colouring or expressive nuance for each word.”

Mercury admired and was friends with Caballé. He also recorded a collaborative album with her, Barcelona, which was released in October 1988. The record, which combined elements of pop and opera, was a commercial success but received mixed reception from critics. The title track became the official anthem of the 1992 Summer Olympic Games held in the Spanish city and received massive air play.

Queens above eight-song set at Live Aid featured a mix of old and then more current tunes (albums in parentheses): Bohemian Rhapsody (A Night At The Opera, November 1975); Radio Ga Ga and Hammer To Fall (The Works, February 1984), Crazy Little Thing Called Love (The Game, June 1980); We Will Rock You and We Are The Champions (News Of The World, October 1977) and Is This The World We Created…? (The Works).

Mercury and Queens oftentimes were pretty bombastic and over-produced, and I don’t like all of their songs, but there was simply no other band that sounded like them, and there was no none who sang like Freddie Mercury.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Almost Queen, One Hundred Percent Killer

Queen tribute band rocks New Jersey’s Asbury Park

Almost Queen couldn’t have come up with a better a name. These four guys from New York really make you feel like you’re watching Freddie Mercury, Brian May, John Deacon and Roger Taylor. While unfortunately this is no longer possible and, as such, they are almost Queen, this band is doing a true killer job. I caught their show last night at The Stone Pony in Asbury, N.J. They really blew the frigging roof off the place!

Queen has been on my radar screen on and off since the late ’70s/early ’80s. While I wouldn’t call myself a die-hard fan, I’m well familiar with their better known songs and like many of them. In fact, I had contemplated doing a post on the English rock band a couple of times before. Then I spotted a notification on Facebook about Almost Queen’s gig last night and watched a few YouTube clips. Since yours truly has been called the King Of The Tribute Bands, of course, I had to continue performing my duties to continue living up to the title. 🙂

Almost Queen 2
Almost Queen (from left to right): John Cappadona, Randy Gregg, Joseph Russo & Steve Leonard

Before getting to last night’s gig and of course some clips, a few words about the band. There isn’t a lot of public background information out there, so I’m quoting from their website: Almost Queen delivers a live performance showcasing signature four part harmonies and intricate musical interludes. Donning genuine costumes, Almost Queen captures the live energy and precision that is the penultimate Queen experience. Okay, you simply could have said they are a kick-ass tribute that sounds and looks pretty darn close to the real deal!

Almost Queen are Joseph Russo as Freddie Mercury, Steve Leonard as Brian May, Randy Gregg as John Deacon and John Cappadona as Roger Taylor. While I couldn’t find any bios on these guys, it’s pretty clear to me that Almost Queen isn’t their first trip to the rodeo – there’s simply too much serious musician craftsmanship going on here! Take it from a guitarist and former bassist, who may have been only moderately capable but who sure as heck knows skill when he sees or hears it! Okay, let’s get to some killer clips before we all get a sheer heart attack!

Almost Queen ticket

After the great opener Tie Your Mother Down, one of my favorite Queen tunes I unfortunately missed to capture, Leonard rhetorically asked, are you ready to get crazy?When the crowd unambiguously expressed their sentiments, the band appropriately kept their foot on the gas pedal with Stone Cold Crazy. The tune first appeared on Queen’s third studio album Sheer Heart Attack from November 1974 and was credited to all four members of the band. The track was also released separately as a single and became a staple of Queen’s live shows thereafter.

Next up: Killer Queen, another track from Sheer Heart Attack. Written by Freddie Mercury, the tune also became the album’s lead single in October 1974. Almost Queen did a great job with the harmony vocals here. These guys definitely can do both play and sing!

Another One Bites The Dust is from Queen’s eighth studio record The Game, released in June 1980. The funky tune was written by John Deacon and also came out separately as the album’s fourth single. Ever since I’ve heard the hilarious version by “Weird Al” Yankovic, who turned it into Another One Writes The Bus, his take is in my ears.

By the time Almost Queen got to Don’t Stop Me Now, there was absolutely no chance anything could get in their way. The crowd had fully embraced them right from the get-go of the show, and the room was cooking, fueled by the pulsating drums and pumping bass! Written by Freddie Mercury, Queen first recorded Don’t Stop Me Now for their seventh studio album Jazz from November 1978.  It also became the record’s second single released in January the following year.

Next up: Fat Bottomed Girls, another track from Jazz, written by Mercury. The tune also became the B-side to the album’s lead single Bicycle Race. Almost Queen made it another vocal gem.

Crazy Little Thing Called Love is not an Elvis Presley song, as Russo reminded the crowd, but yet another great Freddie Mercury composition from The Game. The cool rockabilly tune also became the album’s lead single in October 1979.

And then the time had come for Almost Queen to pay tribute to David Bowie with  Under Pressure. The collaboration with The Thin White Duke was included on Queen’s 10th studio release Hot Space from May 1982. It also appeared as the album’s lead single in October the previous year and became Queen’s second no. 1 hit in the U.K. after Bohemian Rhapsody, topping the Official Singles Chart for nine week. For Bowie it was his third no. 1 on that chart, following Ashes To Ashes and the 1975 reissue of Space Oddity. The track is credited to all members of Queen and David Bowie.

No Queen tribute show would be complete without the above mentioned Bohemian Rhapsody. In my humble opinion, it is one of the weirdest and the same time most brilliant rock songs I know. The epic track was first recorded by Queen for A Night At The Opera, their fourth studio album from November 1975. Written by Mercury and also released separately as the record’s lead single in October that year, the tune should have laid to rest any doubts anyone might ever have had that he could have been an opera singer as well. There aren’t many rock vocalists with that quality – the only other one that comes to my mind spontaneously is Roy Orbison.

And since all things must pass, including great rock & roll shows, the time had finally come for Almost Queen to wrap things up. And what better songs to choose than We Will Rock You and We Are The Champions, just like Queen did traditionally. Both songs appeared back to back as the openers on Queen’s sixth studio album News Of The World. Perhaps not surprisingly, the guitar rocker We Will Rock You was penned by Brian May, while We Are The Champions is yet another Freddie Mercury composition.

So here we are, nine clips later – can you tell somebody got a little bit excited here? I just wish the sound quality of the footage would be better, since I feel it doesn’t do full justice to the band. The audience’s ability to sing, on the other hand, is captured accurately, I’m afraid! 🙂 Oh well, ultimately live music should be about having a great time, and I highly doubt there was anyone last night walking out of the place and being disappointed.

While I obviously recorded a good deal of the show, obviously, there were many things I left out, including pretty impressive drum and guitar solos by Leonard and Cappadona, respectively. Each of the band’s guys is massively talented.

According to the tour schedule on their website, upcoming Almost Queen shows include Brooklyn, N.Y. (Sep 8), Beverly, Mass. (Sep 21) and Plymouth, N.H. (Sep 22). If you like Queen and these guys come to your neck of the woods, you should seriously consider them. Tickets are quite affordable. Take it from the King Of The Tribute BandsAlmost Queen truly is almost Queen! 🙂

Sources: Wikipedia, Almost Queen website, YouTube