Song Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

It’s Wednesday, folks, and I hope this week has been kind to you. This also means it’s that time again when I take a closer look at a song I’ve only mentioned in passing or haven’t covered at all to date. My pick for this installment of Song Musings is In Your Eyes, one of my longtime favorite tunes by Peter Gabriel.

I first heard Gabriel unknowingly on the radio back in Germany after Genesis had released their single The Carpet Crawlers. Had you asked me whether that song was a hit, I would have said ‘yes’ without any doubt. But according to Wikipedia, it didn’t even chart – I’m still in disbelief! It was on the radio pretty frequently.

The first Peter Gabriel solo tune I recall hearing back in Germany was the live version of Solsbury Hill, which appeared as a single in August 1983, off his first live album Plays Live. While I liked the song from the get-go, it wasn’t until Gabriel’s fifth solo album So from May 1986 that I started to explore his music.

With Solsbury Hill and the tracks on So being pretty pop-oriented, much of Gabriel’s earlier music was an acquired taste. But I came around fairly quickly and still dig a good number of his songs that are on albums that preceded So. That said, So still remains my favorite.

This brings me to In Your Eyes. Written by Gabriel, the tune also appeared separately as So’s second single in September 1986. I still get chills when listening to this song and Gabriel’s vocals. Speaking of vocals, In Your Eyes also features Senegalese singer-songwriter Youssou N’Dour who sings a part at the end translated into his native Wolof – quite appropriate for a tune with lyrics that per Wikipedia were “inspired by an African tradition of ambiguity in song between romantic love and love of God.”

In Your Eyes didn’t match the chart success of the album’s lead single Sledgehammer, which hit, well, like a sledgehammer, topping the pop charts in the U.S. and Canada, and climbing to no. 3 in each Australia, New Zealand and Ireland. By comparison, In Your Eyes reached no. 26 and no. 29 on the U.S. and Canadian mainstream charts, respectively. That said, thanks to strong radio play and MTV rotation, it ended up topping Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. Elsewhere, the single got to no. 50 in New Zealand and no. 97 in Australia.

Here’s a cool extended live version from Gabriel’s concert film Secret World Live, which was released simultaneously with a companion live album of the same name in August 1994. The footage was captured during two concerts in Modena, Italy in November 1993, conducted as part of Gabriel’s tour that supported his sixth solo album Us, released in September 1992. I had not watched this clip until I did some research for this post – wow!

Songfacts provides a ton of additional insights about In Your Eyes, including the tune’s prominent use in the 1989 U.S. teen romantic comedy-drama motion picture Say Anything… directed by Cameron Crowe, and starring John Cusack, Ione Skye and John Mahoney. Full disclosure: I knew nothing about the film until the late ’90s after I had gotten married to my dear wife who is a huge John Cusack fan.

While some of the other Songfacts content gets into territory that could be characterized as inside baseball, especially if you’re not a musician, I didn’t want to cut anything. So here it is in its full beauty. The clip from the movie was my brilliant addition! 🙂

According to Gabriel, the lyrics could refer to either the love between a man and woman or the relationship between a person and God.

The West African musician Youssou N’Dour sang backup on this track, giving it a distinctive vocal texture. Gabriel learned about him in 1984 when N’Dour was performing in England. They became friends and collaborators, with a mutual respect for each others’ music. N’Dour joined Gabriel on the So tour and was very well received – he was part of an extended version of “In Your Eyes” and also sang on “Biko.” In 1991 Gabriel performed the song in N’Dour’s native country of Senegal before a crowd of 70,000.

This was featured in the 1989 movie Say Anything in a scene where John Cusack plays this from a Boom Box he holds over his head to win the heart of Ione Skye. Cameron Crowe, who directed the film, was going to use Billy Idol’s “Got To Be A Lover,” but it didn’t work with the scene. Crowe got the idea to use this when he played a tape from his wedding which had the song on it. Because it was a deeply personal song, Gabriel did not want to let him use it, but when Crowe called and sent him a tape of the movie, Gabriel loved it and gave his approval.

The producers of Say Anything were charged about $200,000 to use the song, but it was worth the price as it became one of the most famous scenes in movie history. The scene became a cultural touchstone, which was a little strange for Gabriel. He told Rolling Stone in 2012: “I’ve talked to John Cusack about that. We’re sort of trapped together in a minuscule moment of contemporary culture.”

Gabriel combined various real and electronic instruments to create the song. He worked the Fairlight CMI synthesizer and the Linn drum machine, and also played piano. Other musicians on the track, along with N’Dour, were:

David Rhodes – guitar, backing vocals
Jerry Marotta – drums
Richard Tee – piano
Larry Klein, Tony Levin – bass
Manu Katche – drums, talking drum, percussion
Ronnie Bright – bass vocals
Jim Kerr (from Simple Minds), Michael Been – backing vocals

A special 7:14 mix of this song was released to radio stations by Geffen Records. It features extended singing by Youssou N’Dour. This promotional copy also included a 6:15 version of the song, and an 8:36 of Gabriel’s “Biko.”

Peter Gabriel produced the So album with Daniel Lanois, who had worked on U2’s 1984 album The Unforgettable Fire and after finishing up with Gabriel, started work on The Joshua Tree. Lanois will develop an understanding of a song on an emotional level and craft the production accordingly, which lyricists like Bono and Gabriel appreciate. In a Songfacts interview, he explained what this song means to him: “‘In Your Eyes,’ Peter had this idea that by looking into someone’s eyes, you would see, quite specifically in the lyric, the doorway to a thousand churches. I think it’s as simple as that – the power of commitment and care and love will be stronger.”

This is one of the few slow songs that gets consistent airplay on rock radio. It was not very popular when it came out, but continues to get constant airplay on a variety of formats, as listeners never seem to tire of it.

Peter Gabriel’s elaborate concerts are highly choreographed, but with “In Your Eyes,” he made sure there was lots of room for improvisation. His keyboard player on the So tour, David Sancious, told Songfacts how it came together. “We were rehearsing the song and Peter said he wanted to extend the ending,” said Sancious. “There was going to be a break where I’d just play something, make up something for like eight bars. It’s just a drumbeat and piano. Manu KatchĂ© is playing the drums and would give me a signal to come back in.

So that was different every night and he very much enjoyed it when I would come up with different things. It was a gospel-y kind of break and then it went back to the chorus of ‘In Your Eyes.’ And there were other points where I got to do little different things that weren’t the same every night, and he enjoyed that.”

In 1994, Gabriel did a version of “In Your Eyes” live, which appears on Disc 2 of the double CD set of Secret World Live, and lasts 11:34. On this version, he improvises a lot in the song with the backup singers.

According to Daniel Lanois, the drums on this song add a lot of flavor and power the song along. “Everything on that record was cut to a beatbox initially, as was the case with ‘In Your Eyes,'” he told Songfacts. “Manu Katche from Paris – a great drummer – played that beautiful drum part. So that ‘down push,’ it’s an old carnival beat – it keeps it motoring along. Even though it’s quite a contemplative song, it has a little bit of carnival in its engine that keeps the zip in the step going and keeps you interested in the lyrics.”

When Guitar Player magazine questioned whether David Rhodes was upset over his 12-string being buried beneath synthesizers, the guitarist replied: “I think that’s fine. Often, I prefer that. I think sometimes it can be unnecessary to have a lot of definition between instruments. All the instruments should blend to make the song work, to build the atmosphere. The fact that you can’t hear your part, a particular sound, shouldn’t worry you at all. A lot of guitarists enjoy playing very loud and doing big solos. I’m not into that.”

He added: “The idea of making things work appeals to me a lot more. I approach things texturally and build them up, giving the music space to develop. With Peter, we use a lot of effects, so that it sounds as little like a guitar as possible.”

In addition to Say Anything, this was also used in these TV shows:

The Righteous Gemstones (“Better Is The End Of A Thing Than Its Beginning” – 2019)
It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia (“The Gang Gets Romantic” – 2019)
The Last Man On Earth (“Not Appropriate For Miners” – 2017)
The Flash (“Gorilla Warfare” – 2015)
Lilyhammer (“Out Of Africa” – 2013)
The Goldbergs (“The Ring” – 2013)
Glee (“Girls (And Boys) On Film” – 2013)
Cold Case (“Family” – 2005)
American Dad! (“It’s Good To Be The Queen” – 2006)
Felicity (“Pilot” – 1998)

And in these movies:

Yes, God, Yes (2019)
Deadpool 2 (2018)
The Rocker (2008)

Co-producer Daniel Lanois explained to Sound On Sound how a small musical toolbox created a dynamic album. “It’s a mysterious album,” he said. “What’s interesting about that record, is that if you listen closely there aren’t that many unusual instruments on it but it sounds sonically innovative.

It was created with a fairly limited supply of tools, if you like. Most of the keyboards are acoustic piano, Yamaha electric piano and Prophet 5 – an old Prophet 5 polysynth, one of the very first ones to come out. Also an old Fairlight Series II with some good sampled sounds. Yet So has a variety of sounds and you don’t get the feeling that it’s the same things over and over again. It’s another lesson in the theory of the small toolbox and learning to love your tools. Learning the difference between that setting and this setting and not necessarily using wildly different instruments or components to come up with variety but using a concentrated small area and drawing a lot from them.”

The singer/guitarist Jeffrey Gaines recorded a popular version of this song that got a lot of airplay on Adult Contemporary radio and appears on his 2001 album Always Be. Gaines writes most of his own material, but his cover of “In Your Eyes” has become his best-known work. When we asked him about performing a song written by someone else, he replied: “The conviction I have within that material is my joy of singing.”

The rock band SR-71 did a cover of this song that appears on their 2004 album Here We Go Again. They performed it live at the Gravity Games that year.

Peter Gabriel wanted to use “In Your Eyes” as So’s final track, but its prominent bassline meant it had to be placed earlier on the vinyl edition to give the phonograph stylus more room to vibrate. This restriction was no longer an issue for later CD releases, so the track was placed at the end.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Keep On Rocking 40-Plus Years and Counting

The most famous line-up of my all-time favorite band The Beatles existed from August 1962 until September 1969 when they collectively recorded their last song appropriately titled The End, the final track of the Abbey Road album – not a bad duration for a band, given the music business oftentimes is dominated by larger-than-life egos. Yet as productive as The Fab Four were, these seven years look pretty moderate compared to the groups featured in this post, who have been rocking for more than 40 years – in one case even reaching 60 years!

Following are three criteria a band needed to satisfy to be considered for the post. They need to have at least one remaining original member. A group’s duration was measured in terms of active years, not how long they have been together on paper. For example, while Deep Purple were founded in 1968, they “only” have played together for 48 years, not 54 years, if you consider their break-up between 1976 and 1984. Last but not least, I solely included bands I like.

Following I’m highlighting six groups in chronological order of when they were founded with one tune from each. A Spotify playlist at the end of the post includes those tracks, plus songs from a few additional bands meeting the above criteria. Altogether, I decided to include 10 picks. Let’s get to it.

The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones, formed in 1962, have been active for an incredible 60 years, making them the longest-running band on this list. With Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, they still have two original members who have been key to the group. It’s also noteworthy that Ronnie Wood has been part of the line-up since 1975. Sadly, the Stones lost their long-time drummer Charlie Watts last August. He had joined them back in 1963. To date, the Stones have released 30 studio albums, 33 live records and 29 compilations, among others. On November 23, 2021, they finished their most recent tour (No Filter Tour) in Hollywood, Fla. Here’s Jumpin’ Jack Flash, which first appeared in May 1968 as a non-album single.

The Who

Approximately two years after the Stones, in 1964, another dynamite British rock band was formed: The Who. Like their compatriots, the group has two original and essential members to this day, guitarist Pete Townshend and lead vocalist Roger Daltrey. Counting various breaks along the way, The Who have been active for 50 years. Their catalog includes 12 studio albums, 16 live recordings and 32 compilations, among others. Just on Monday this week, The Who announced a 2022 North American tour, The Who Hits Back, scheduled to kick off on April 22 at Hardrock Live in Hollywood, Fla. – the very same venue where the Stones wrapped up their tour last year. Messrs. Daltrey and Townshend and their band are playing New York’s Madison Square Garden on May 26 – damn, this is tempting! Here’s Going Mobile from my favorite Who album Who’s Next.

Deep Purple

On to my favorite hard rock band of all time, Deep Purple, who were initially established in 1968. One of the founding members, drummer Ian Paice, remains part of the group’s current formation. Two additional present members, bassist Roger Glover and lead vocalist Ian Gillan joined in 1969, and as such were part of the group’s classic line-up that also included guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and organist Jon Lord. Deep Purple’s discography encompasses 22 studio albums, 45 live records and 28 compilations. The band is also touring this year starting in May, mostly in Europe. Here’s the epic Child in Time, a track from their fourth studio album Deep Purple in Rock released in June 1970 – the first to feature the classic line-up.

Aerosmith

The bad boys from Boston were formed in 1970. Remarkably, four of the group’s current five members are co-founders: Steven Tyler (lead vocals, harmonica, percussion), Joe Perry (guitar, backing vocals), Tom Hamilton (bass) and Joey Kramer (drums, percussion). Second guitarist Brad Whitford joined in 1971. While Perry and Whitford, respectively, had five and three-year interruptions in-between and missed the 1982 Rock in a Hard Place album, Tyler, Hamilton and Kramer have played on all of the band’s 15 studio records to date. Aerosmith’s catalog also includes six live records and 16 compilations. On January 31, the group announced the cancellation of their European tour that had been planned for June and July, citing uncertainty around the pandemic. Here’s Janie’s Got a Gun, one of my favorite Aerosmith tunes off their 10th studio album Pump, released in September 1989.

AC/DC

Australian rock and rollers AC/DC have been around since 1973. Not counting their hiatus between 2016 and 2020, this amounts to 45 years. Lead guitarist Angus Young remains as the only founding member. There are three other longtime members: Phil Rudd (drums), Cliff Williams (bass, backing vocals) and Brian Johnson (lead vocals), who first joined the band in 1975, 1977 and 1980, respectively. AC/DC’s catalog features 17 studio albums, three live records and two box sets, among others. Here’s Play Ball, a great track from the group’s 16th studio album Rock or Bust that appeared in November 2014, featuring all of the above members.

U2

The last group I’d like to highlight in this upfront section of the post are Irish rockers U2 who were formed in Dublin in 1976 under the name Feedback. It’s the only band on this list whose current members were all co-founders. That being said, their present line-up is not the group’s initial formation, which during their first year also included a second guitarist, Dik Evans, the older brother of David Evans known as The Edge. U2’s other members are Paul Hewson (Bono), Adam Clayton (bass) and Larry Mullen Jr. (drums). To date, the band’s discography consists of 14 studio albums, one live record and three compilations, among others. U2 were most recently on the road in 2019 for the second part of The Joshua Tree Tour. I caught one of the shows during the first part of that tour in 2017 – my only U2 concert so far, and a memorable experience! Here’s Red Hill Mining Town, a track from my favorite U2 album The Joshua Tree that came out in March 1987.

Following is the aforementioned Spotify list.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Who website; Deep Purple website; Aerosmith website; YouTube; Spotify

Clips & Pix: U2/Pride (In the Name of Love)

One man come in the name of love/One man come and go/One man come here to justify/One man to overthrow…

As the U.S. observes Martin Luther King Jr. Day today, I decided to repost a piece I published on that occasion last year. It has been slightly edited. I also added a clip and some images.

Pride (In the Name of Love) may have been over-exposed. It’s certainly been criticized for its lyrics, as have U2 for their grandiose concerts. I can also see why Bono’s frequent political activism for hunger, the poor and other causes while becoming a very wealthy man in the course of it all can rub people the wrong way. Yet I’ve always loved this song. And, call me naive, I also feel that being a force for good while being rich don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Bono’s vocals are simply amazing, while The Edge provides a cool and unique guitar sound that’s truly signature. Meanwhile, bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. keep the rhythm going. The lyrics may not teach a lot about Dr. King, but I still believe the words are powerful.

…In the name of love/One more in the name of love/In the name of love/
One more in the name of love…

Pride (In the Name of Love), composed by U2 with lyrics by Bono, is a tribute to Martin Luther King Jr. The lyrics were inspired by U2’s visit of the Chicago Peace Museum in 1983, which featured an exhibit dedicated to the civil rights leader. Initially, Bono had intended to write a song criticizing then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan for his pride in America’s military might.

…One man caught on a barbed wire fence/One man he resist/One man washed up on an empty beach/One man betrayed with a kiss…

But as Songfacts notesBono came to the conclusion lyrics condemning Reagan weren’t working. “I remembered a wise old man who said to me, don’t try and fight darkness with light, just make the light shine brighter,” he told NME. “I was giving Reagan too much importance, then I thought Martin Luther King, there’s a man. We build the positive rather than fighting with the finger.”

…In the name of love/One more in the name of love/In the name of love/One more in the name of love…

The melody and chords to Pride were conceived during a soundcheck in November 1983 prior to a U2 show in Hawaii. It was a gig during the band’s supporting tour for their third studio album War that had been released in February of the same year. Like all U2 soundchecks, it was recorded. U2  continued work on the track after the tour and it was subsequently finished as part of the recording sessions for their next album The Unforgettable Fire.

…Early morning, April four/Shot rings out in the Memphis sky/Free at last, they took your life/They could not take your pride…

Pride erroneously suggests Dr. King was shot in the early morning of April 4, 1968. The murder actually occurred just after 6:00 pm local Memphis time – a surprising mistake for Bono who seems to be well-read. He later acknowledged his error and in concerts sometimes sings “early evening, April 4.” Why he simply didn’t make that a permanent adjustment beats me – rhythmically, I don’t see an issue.

…In the name of love/One more in the name of love/In the name of love/One more in the name of love…

From rockumentary Rattle and Hum, 1988

Pride was first released in September 1984 as the lead single of The Unforgettable Fire, appearing one month ahead of the album. It was U2’s first major international hit, topping the charts in New Zealand; climbing to no. 2 and no. 3 in Ireland and the UK, respectively; and becoming the band’s first top 40 hit in the U.S.

…In the name of love/One more in the name of love/In the name of love/One more in the name of love.

Despite initially getting mixed reviews from music critics, Pride has since received many accolades. Haven’t we seen this movie many times before? The tune was ranked at no. 388 on Rolling Stone’s list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time in December 2003. Pride is also included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

The Hump Day Picker-Upper

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

For those of us taking care of business during the regular workweek, I guess it’s safe to assume 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!

Today’s remedy is Beautiful Day by U2. With lyrics by Bono and the music credited to the band, Beautiful Day was first released on October 9, 2000, as the lead single of U2’s 10th studio album All That You Can’t Leave Behind, which appeared at the end of that month.

Beautiful Day became one of the Irish band’s biggest hits to date, reaching Platinum status in the UK and Australia, and securing Gold certification in the U.S. The tune topped the charts in U2’s native Ireland, as well as the UK, The Netherlands, Canada and Australia. In the U.S., it climbed to no. 21 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song’s performance helped fuel the album’s Platinum status in multiple markets and U2 win three Grammys in 2001 for Song of the Year, Record of the Year and Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.

According to Songfacts, The lyrics were inspired by Bono’s experience with Jubilee 2000, a benefit urging politicians to drop the Third World Debt. Bono describes the song as about “a man who has lost everything, but finds joy in what he still has.”…The Edge recalled the recording of this tune to Mojo Magazine July 2010: “(The song) had come through various different incarnations and though we’d always felt it had something it was kind of hard to see where it was going. Really, the moment it got exciting was when Bono hit on the lyric: ‘It’s a beautiful day.’ It seems in some ways such a banal sort of lyric, but combined with the music something wild happened and we all recognized it. Then Brian (Eno) contribution was that fantastically Euro kick drum opening and keyboard line, and that gave us the clue as to where it should go next.”

In full transparency, Beautiful Day isn’t my favorite U2 song, but it definitely has an upbeat vibe. To me, this makes it a good pick to address any Wednesday work blues you may experience.

That’s all for today, boys and girls! Happy Hump Day, and always remember the words of the wise George Harrison: All things must pass!

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

Welcome to a new Sunday Six and another hot weekend, at least in my area of Central New Jersey. This is the latest installment of my recurring weekly feature that celebrates music I love in different flavors and from different periods, six tunes at a time.

In some cases, my picks are songs that I earmarked over the course of the week. On other occasions, the posts are coming together pretty spontaneously at the last minute. This one predominantly falls into the latter category. I’m happy with the way it turned out. Hope you find something in here you dig!

Colin McLeod/Old Soul (featuring Sheryl Crow)

Starting this week’s set is Colin McLeod, a Scottish singer-songwriter and farmer I had not heard of until yesterday. McLeod got my attention when I spotted a clip on Facebook, featuring a song he recorded with Sheryl Crow and included on his new album Hold Fast, which was released on June 18. The mellow atmospheric tune spoke to me right away – I love these types of coincidences! For a bit of additional background, here’s an excerpt from his Apple Music profile: Raised on the Isle of Lewis, the largest island of Scotland’s Outer Hebrides archipelago, MacLeod amassed a wide array of influences, from regional folk and pop to widescreen Springsteen-esque rock, before leaving the island in 2009 to test his mettle as a performer. An A&R scout from Universal caught one of MacLeod’s gigs in Aberdeen, which resulted in the release of his debut album Fireplace, which he issued under the moniker Boy Who Trapped the Sun in 2010. The experience left a bad taste in his mouth, so, exhausted and homesick, he returned to the Isle of Lewis, where he spent his days raising sheep and growing crops. It proved to be a fortuitous move. Inspired by the sights, sounds, smells, and stories of his remote part of the world, MacLeod was able to parlay those experiences into his music, culminating in the release of the acclaimed Ethan Johns-produced Bloodlines, his first collection of songs to be issued under his own name. McLeod’s new album is his sophomore release. Old Soul was written by him. Call me crazy, I can hear a bit of Bono in his voice. I also think his vocals beautifully blend with Sheryl Crow’s.

Buddy Guy/Kiss Me Quick (featuring Kim Wilson)

On to some great electric guitar blues. Yes, it’s quite a leap. But you see, that’s the thing about The Sunday Six – it can be arbitrary. If you’re into the blues and see the names Buddy Guy and Kim Wilson, you know you’re in for a treat. What can I say about the amazing Buddy Guy? He’s the last man standing from the old Chicago blues guard, who played with the likes of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Little Walter. Guy who is turning 85 in July is a force of nature. I’ve been fortunate to see him live twice over the past five years. Wilson, of course, is best known as the lead vocalist and frontman of blues rockers The Fabulous Thunderbirds. I’d love to see these guys as well! So what do get when combining the two artists? A nice blues shuffle titled Kiss Me Quick that appeared on Guy’s 17th studio album appropriately titled Born to Play Guitar, which won the Grammy for Best Blues Album in 2016. The tune was co-written by Richard Fleming and producer Tom Hambridge. Makes me want to listen to the entire bloody album!

The Who/The Real Me

Let’s kick things up a notch with The Who and The Real Me. Why pick the second track from side one of Quadrophenia? To begin with, The Who’s sixth studio album from October 1973 is one of the gems in their catalog. Another reason why I chose this particular tune is John Entwistle and his outstanding bass work. As a former hobby bassist, perhaps I pay closer attention and get a little bit more excited about bass runs than some other folks. All I can tell you is this: Seeing The Ox with The Who at New York’s Madison Square Garden in 2001 was an unforgettable event. In typical fashion, Entwistle was standing pretty much motionless on one side of the stage, while Pete Townshend launched from one windmill attack to the other, Roger Daltrey engaged in impressive lasso acrobatics with his microphone, and Zak Starkey (yep, Ringo Starr’s son) was working that drum kit. It was really something else! Sadly, Entwistle passed away about six months after that show in Las Vegas, the day before The Who were scheduled to kick off their 2002 U.S. tour. He was only 57 years old – what a loss!

Seals & Crofts/Summer Breeze

Time to slow things down again. And since summer is in full swing, here’s one of the warmest sounding tunes I can think of in this context: Summer Breeze by Seals & Crofts. Every time I hear this song, it puts me at ease. Behind the soft rock duo were multi-instrumentalists James Eugene “Jim” Seals  and Darrell George “Dash” Crofts. Summer Breeze, the title track of their fourth studio album from September 1972, probably is their best known song. It peaked at no. 7 and no. 6 on the U.S. and Canadian mainstream charts, respectively. The album marked their commercial breakthrough. Seals & Crofts also scored two other hits: Diamond Girl (1973) and Get Closer (1976). Unlike Summer Breeze, I had to sample these tracks to remember them. Then the hits stopped, and in 1980, after their record company had dropped them, Seals & Crofts decided to go on hiatus. They have since reunited a few times. There are also younger torch bearers. Wikipedia notes in 2018, Jim Seals’ cousin Brady Seals and Darrell Crofts’ daughter Lua Crofts began touring as Seals and Crofts 2, performing Seals & Crofts music as well as some originals.

The Zombies/She’s Not There

The first time I heard She’s Not There was the cover by Santana from their excellent 1977 Moonflower album. Since it certainly sounds very much like a Carlos Santana tune, I simply assumed it was their song. Only years later did I find out She’s Not There was written by Rod Argent, the keyboarder of The Zombies. The tune first appeared in the UK in July 1964 as the British rock band’s debut single. Two months later, it came out in the U.S. She’s Not There was also included on The Zombies’ debut album. In this case, the self-titled U.S. version was first out of the gate in January 1965. The U.K. edition, titled Begin Here, appeared in April that year. As was common at the time, there were some differences between the two versions. After the breakup of The Zombies in 1969 and a couple of impersonating bands, Argent and original lead vocalist and guitarist Colin Blunstone reunited in 2000, moved to the U.S. and recorded an album, Out of the Shadows, released in 2001. Starting from 2004, they began touring again as The Zombies. There have also been three additional albums since, released under the name Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent/The Zombies. The most recent one, Still Got That Hunger, appeared in October 2015. The band is still around. Ticketmaster currently lists some gigs for 2022.

Gregg Allman/My Only True Friend

The time has come again to wrap up things. My final pick is by Gregg Allman. He and The Allman Brothers Band were a very late discovery for me. Fortunately, it happened just in time to see them once in New Jersey on their very last tour in 2014, a couple of months before their final curtain at the Beacon Theatre in New York. After exploring the band, I also got into Gregg Allman’s solo catalog. I particularly dig Low Country Blues from January 2011 and his final album Southern Blood, which I got on vinyl. It came out in September 2017, four months after Allman had passed away at the age of 68 due to complications from liver cancer. Even though I had only become fond of his music a few years earlier, his death really moved me. I still get emotional about it. There was something very special about Gregg Allman when he was singing and hitting those keys of his Hammond B3. I can’t quite explain it. Here’s Southern Blood’s opener My Only True Friend, the sole track on the album that was co-written by Allman. The other writer was Scott Sharrad, lead guitarist and musical director of Allman’s backing band. You can read more about the album here.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: March 9

This is the 60th installment of my music history feature, which explores select happenings on a specific date over time, mostly focusing on the ’60s and ’70s. While not surprisingly by now I have a well-defined system in place how I go about gathering facts for these posts, I still enjoy writing them. So let’s embark on another time travel journey and take a look back at some of the events on March 9 throughout rock and pop music history. As always, the selections reflect my music taste and, as such, are not meant to be a complete list.

1967: The Beatles began work on Getting Better in Studio 2 of Abbey Road’s EMI Studies as part of the recording sessions for their next studio album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The song was mainly written by Paul McCartney with some lyrical input from John Lennon. During the late evening session, the tune’s rhythm track was recorded: McCartney’s rhythm guitar and Ringo Starr’s drums on track one; McCartney’s guide vocals on track two; a pianette (type of electric keyboard) played by George Martin on track three; and some additional drums on track four. Subsequently, a so-called reduction mix was created to free up additional tracks on the tape (eight-track recording would only start to become available in 1968). The Beatles and the studio crew called it a night, or I guess I should rather say an early morning, at 3:30 am (March 10). They devoted three additional sessions to the tune, evidently figuring it was getting better all the time. How do I know all of that? I don’t! Wait, what?! Well, there’s The Beatles Bible that captures all these details for the music geeks among us. 🙂

1973: American blues and boogie rockers Canned Heat released their ninth studio album The New Age. It was the first to feature guitarist James Shane and keyboarder Ed Beyer. At that time, Canned Heat had already lost key co-founder Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson who had died from a drug overdose in September 1970. Wilson had written and co-written the band’s biggest U.S. hit singles Going Up the Country and On the Road Again, respectively, and sung lead vocals on both. Here’s the opener Keep Clean written by Bob Hite, the band’s other key co-founder who since passed away as well in April 1981, also due to drugs. Unfortunately, Canned Heat has been hit hard with drug-related deaths. Fun fact: According to Wikipedia, renowned rock critic Lester Bangs was fired by Rolling Stone for writing a “disrespectful” review of the album at the time it came out.

1987: Irish rock band U2 released their fifth studio album The Joshua Tree. Fueled by hit singles With or Without You, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For and Where the Streets Have No Name, it topped the charts in more than 20 countries and became U2’s all-time top-seller. With over 25 million copies sold, it’s also one of the world’s best-selling albums. Produced by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, The Joshua Tree yielded two 1988 Grammy awards for Album of the Year and Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. While it undoubtedly created over-exposure for U2, I feel The Joshua Tree is holding up pretty well to this day. Here’s one of the tunes that wasn’t released as a single, which I’ve come to dig over the years as one of my favorites: Red Hill Mining Town. Like all other tracks on the album, Bono provided the lyrics, while the music was credited to the entire band.

1993: Sting put out his fourth solo album Ten Summoner’s Tales, which remains my all-time favorite by the ex-Police front man. If I see this correctly, it became Sting’s best-selling album. It also received six 1994 Grammy nominations and won three: Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical, Best Music Video, Long-Form, and Best Vocal Performance, Male (for If I Ever Lose My Faith in You). Here’s the beautiful Shape of My Heart, co-written by Sting and his longtime sideman, guitarist Dominic Miller.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts Music History Calendar; The Beatles Bible; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

This is the fourth installment in a row of my recently introduced feature that highlights six random songs I like. I’m becoming cautiously optimistic I can keep up the pace and make this a weekly recurring series.

Clannad/Caisleán Õir

Irish folk group Clannad was formed in 1970 in the parish of Gweedore located on the Atlantic coast in northwest Ireland by siblings Ciarán Brennan, PĂłl Brennan and Moya Brennan, together with their twin uncles Pádraig Duggan and Noel Duggan. Initially known as Clann as Dobhar and since 1973 as Clannad, according to Wikipedia, the group has adopted various musical styles over the decades. This includes folk, folk rock, as well as traditional Irish, Celtic and new-age music, often incorporating elements of smooth jazz and Gregorian chant. Clannad’s eponymous debut album came out in 1973. They have since released 15 additional studio albums, the most recent of which, NádĂşr, appeared in September 2013. The group remains active to this day, with Ciarán, Moya, PĂłl and Noel still being part of the line-up. Pádraig passed away in August 2016. Caisleán Ă•ir is the breathtaking opener of Macalla, their eighth studio album from 1985. It became one of their most successful records, partially because of a collaboration between U2’s Bono and Clannad vocalist Moya Brennan on the tune In a Lifetime. Macalla brought Clannad on my radar screen in the mid-’80s. The vocals on Caisleán Ă•ir, co-written by Ciarán Brennan and Máire Brennan, still make my neck hair stick up. I recommend using headphones for that tune!

Fretland/Could Have Loved You

Fretland are an Americana band from Snohomish, Wa., which I featured last May in a Best of What’s New installment. Unfortunately, it appears the situation hasn’t changed, and publicly available information on this band continues to be very limited. Fretland were founded by singer-songwriter Hillary Grace Fretland  (vocals, guitar). The line-up also includes Luke Francis (guitar), Jake Haber (bass) and Kenny Bates (drums). Could Have Loved You is the opener and title track of the band’s upcoming sophomore album scheduled for March 26. Here’s the official video of the pretty tune, which was written by Hillary Grace Fretland. Her voice reminds me a bit of Sarah McLachlan.

 John Mellencamp & Carlene Carter/Indigo Sunset

Heartland rock and Americana singer-songwriter John Mellencamp, one of my long-time favorite artists, needs no introduction. To country music fans, the same is probably true for Carlene Carter, the daughter of June Carter Cash and her first husband Carl Smith, who just like June was a country singer. June’s third husband, of course, was the man in black, Johnny Cash. With so much country in the gene pool, it’s perhaps not surprising Carlene became a country artist as well – and a pretty talented one I should add! During Mellencamp’s 2015–2016 Plain Spoken Tour, where Carter opened each show for him, the two artists started writing songs together. Eventually, this resulted in Sad Clowns & Hillbillies, Mellencamp’s 23rd and most recent studio album of original material, which was released in April 2017. Here’s one of the tunes Mellencamp and Carter wrote and performed together, the beautiful Indigo Sunset. I absolutely love this song. Check out the incredibly warm sound. I also think Mellencamp’s and Carter’s voices go perfectly with each other, even though they couldn’t be more different.

Simply Red/If You Don’t Know Me By Now

British pop and soul band Simply Red were formed in Manchester in 1985. They came very strongly right out of the gate with their studio debut Picture Book from October 1985. The album, which spawned various popular singles including Money’s Too Tight (to Mention) and Holding Back the Years, brought the group around smooth lead vocalist and singer-songwriter Mick Hucknall on my radar screen. After a four-year break between 2011 and 2015, they remain active to this day and have released 12 albums as of November 2019. Their amazing cover of If You Don’t Know Me By Now was included on their third album A New Flame that appeared in February 1989. It became hugely successful, topping the charts in the UK, Switzerland and New Zealand, and placing within the top ten in various other countries, except the U.S. where it stalled at no. 22. If You Don’t Know Me By Now was co-written by songwriting and production duo Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, who are credited for developing the so-called Philly sound. The tune was first recorded and released in 1972 by Philly soul group Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes. Man, Hucknall’s got soul – so good!

America/Ventura Highway

Formed in London in 1970, folk and pop rock group America was one of the bands my sister unknowingly introduced me to as a 7 or 8-year-old. She had their first greatest hits compilation History: America’s Greatest Hits, a fantastic introduction to the group. I realize the trio that originally consisted of Dewey Bunnell (vocals, guitar), Dan Peek (vocals, guitar) and Gerry Beckley (vocals, bass) sometimes is dismissed as a copy of Crosby, Stills & Nash. Even if you think that’s true, I’d consider it to be a compliment; because that comparison largely stems from America’s harmony singing. How many bands can you name that sing in as perfect harmony as CSN? Or America, for that matter? Anyway, Ventura Highway, written by Dewey Bunnell, is the opener of America’s sophomore album Homecoming from November 1972. Every time I hear that song, I picture myself driving in some convertible on the California coastal Highway 1, with the free wind blowin’ through my hair. BTW, America exist to this day, with Bunnell and Beckley still being around. Peek, who left the group in 1977 and became a born again Christian, passed away in July 2011 at the age of 60.

Cream/Strange Brew

You didn’t really think I could do a Sunday Six without at least one ’60s tune, did ya? Of course, you didn’t! I trust you’ve heard about British rock trio of ingenious bassist and vocalist Jack Bruce, guitar god Eric Clapton and drummer extraordinaire Ginger Baker. Co-written by Clapton, producer Felix Pappalardi and Gail Collins, Strange Brew is the opener of Cream’s second studio album Disraeli Gears that came out in November 1967. If you had asked me, I would have bet Sunshine of Your Love was the highest-charting song from the album. Not so, at least not in the U.K. – turns out Strange Brew climbed to no. 17 there, while Sunshine of Your Love peaked at no. 25. In the U.S. it was different. Sunshine surged all the way to no. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100, while Brew didn’t chart at all. Funny how these things can go – perhaps it was too strange for American taste!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Clips & Pix: U2/Pride (In the Name of Love)

One man come in the name of love/One man come and go/One man come here to justify/One man to overthrow…

As the U.S. observes Martin Luther King Day today, it felt right to feature this tune. Pride (In the Name of Love) may have been over-exposed. It’s certainly been criticized for its lyrics, as have U2 for their grandiose concerts. I can also see why Bono’s frequent political activism for hunger, the poor and other causes while becoming a very wealthy man in the course of it all can rub people the wrong way. And yet I’ve always loved this song.

Bono’s singing is simply amazing, while The Edge provides a cool and unique guitar sound that’s truly signature. While the lyrics may not teach a lot about Dr. King, I still believe the words are powerful. And, call me naive, I also believe being a force for good while becoming rich don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

…In the name of love/One more in the name of love/In the name of love/
One more in the name of love…

Pride (In the Name of Love), composed by U2 with lyrics by Bono, is a tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. The lyrics were inspired by U2’s visit of the Chicago Peace Museum in 1983, which featured an exhibit dedicated to the civil rights leader. Initially, Bono had intended to write a song criticizing then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan for his pride in America’s military might.

…One man caught on a barbed wire fence/One man he resist/One man washed up on an empty beach/One man betrayed with a kiss…

But as Songfacts notes, Bono came to the conclusion lyrics condemning Reagan weren’t working. “I remembered a wise old man who said to me, don’t try and fight darkness with light, just make the light shine brighter,” he told NME. “I was giving Reagan too much importance, then I thought Martin Luther King, there’s a man. We build the positive rather than fighting with the finger.”

…In the name of love/One more in the name of love/In the name of love/One more in the name of love…

The melody and chords to Pride were conceived during a soundcheck in November 1983 prior to a U2 show in Hawaii. It was a gig during the band’s supporting tour for their third studio album War that had been released in February of the same year. Like all U2 soundchecks, it was recorded. U2 continued work on the track after the tour and it was subsequently finished as part of the recording sessions for their next album The Unforgettable Fire.

…Early morning, April four/Shot rings out in the Memphis sky/Free at last, they took your life/They could not take your pride…

Pride erroneously suggests Dr. King was shot in the early morning of April 4, 1968. The murder actually occurred just after 6:00 pm local Memphis time – a surprising mistake for Bono who seems to be well read. He later acknowledged his error and in concerts sometimes sings “early evening, April 4.” Why he simply didn’t make that a permanent adjustment beats me – rhythmically, I don’t see an issue.

…In the name of love/One more in the name of love/In the name of love/One more in the name of love…

Pride was first released in September 1984 as the lead single of The Unforgettable Fire, appearing one month ahead of the album. It was U2’s first major international hit, topping the charts in New Zealand; climbing to no. 2 and no. 3 in Ireland and the UK, respectively; and becoming the band’s first top 40 hit in the U.S.

…In the name of love/One more in the name of love/In the name of love/One more in the name of love.

Despite initially getting mixed reviews from music critics, Pride has since received many accolades. Haven’t we seen this movie many times before? The tune was ranked at no. 388 on Rolling Stone’s list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time in December 2003. Pride is also included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube