The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday Six. I can’t believe we’ve already made it through the first month of 2023. I hope you’re feeling groovy and are in the mood for some time travel into the magic world of music. As always, the trip includes six stops in different decades. Fasten your seatbelt and let’s go!

Barney Kessel/A Foggy Day

Our journey today starts in 1956 with American jazz guitarist Barney Kessel, a name I first heard from my brother-in-law in the late ’70s or early ’80s, then still my sister’s boyfriend. Kessel, who was active from the early ’40s until the early ’90s when a stroke put an end to his career, was particularly known for chord-based melodies. He was a sought-after session guitarist who worked with many other jazz greats, such as Charlie Parker, Oscar Peterson and Ray Brown. During the ’60s, Kessel was a member of the prominent LA-based session group The Wrecking Crew, playing on recordings by The Monkees, The Beach Boys and others. Eventually, he left studio work to focus on his jazz career, both as a solo artist and sideman. In 1973, Kessel also co-founded Great Guitars, a jazz supergroup with fellow jazz guitarists Charlie Byrd and Herb Ellis. A Foggy Day, composed by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin, is a track from Kessel’s 1956 album Kessel Plays Standards. Check out this amazing guitar tone!

Donald Fagen/The Nightfly

Let’s next jump to October 1982 and The Nightfly by Donald Fagen. His solo debut and first release without his longtime Steely Dan collaborator Walter Becker remains my favorite Fagen album. The Nightfly came 16 months after Fagen and Becker had dissolved Steely Dan in the wake of the Gaucho album, whose recording had been hampered by numerous creative, personal and professional setbacks. Fagen’s first solo album touches on topics from his childhood in the late ’50s and early ’60s, including late-night jazz disc jockeys, fallout shelters and tropical vacations. As such, it is very autobiographical, unlike his earlier compositions for the Dan. Notably, due to writer’s block, it would take Fagen 10 years to release his second solo album Kamakiriad, which was produced by Walter Becker who also contributed guitar and bass. It also led to a supporting tour of Fagen and Becker, their first as Steely Dan since 1974. Coming back to The Nightfly, here’s the great title track.

Etta James/At Last

Time to pay a visit to the ’60s and the debut album by Etta James, an amazing vocalist who over a nearly 60-year career performed in multiple genres, such as gospel, blues, jazz, R&B, rock and roll and soul. James had an eventful life and career, which included heroin addiction, severe physical abuse and incarceration. In spite of her struggles, except for an eight-year gap in the ’80s, James released albums at a pretty steady pace. Following her 1988 comeback album Seven Year Itch, James received multiple recognitions, including inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1993), Grammy Hall of Fame (1999) and Blues Hall of Fame (2001), as well as a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (2003). Sadly, James passed away from leukemia in January 2012, five days prior to what would have been her 74th birthday. Let’s celebrate this outstanding artist with the title track of her very first album At Last! Co-written by Mack Gordon and Harry Warren for the 1941 musical film Sun Valley Serenade, the tune was first recorded by Glenn Miller and his Orchestra, becoming a no. 2 on the U.S. pop chart in 1942. James’ beautiful rendition, one of her best-known songs, reached no. 47 on the U.S. pop chart and no. 2 on the R&B chart. What a voice!

Ry Cooder/Little Sister

Our next stop is July 1979, which saw the release of Bop Till You Drop, the eighth studio album by Ry Cooder. If I recall it correctly, the first time I heard about him was in connection with the 1984 Wim Wenders picture Paris, Texas, for which Cooder wrote the score – one of the best acoustic slide guitar-playing I know. Cooder is a versatile artist who in addition to 17 film scores has released a similar amount of solo albums since his 1970 eponymous debut. Over his 55-year-and-counting career, Cooder has also collaborated with numerous other artists like John Lee HookerThe Rolling StonesRandy NewmanLinda Ronstadt and David Lindley. Bop Till You Drop, yet another album to which my then-bandmate and longtime music buddy from Germany introduced me, mostly is a collection of R&B and rock & roll covers. This includes the opener Little Sister, penned by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman and first recorded by Elvis Presley in 1961. While I dig that version, especially Hank Garland’s lead guitar, I like Ray Cooder’s soulful rendition even more!

Matthew Sweet/I Belong to You

I don’t know about you, but I’m in the mood for some sweet power pop. This takes us to the current century, more specifically May 2018 and Tomorrow’s Daughter, the 13th studio album by Matthew Sweet. I first came across the singer-songwriter in January 2021 when his most recent studio album Catspaw appeared, and featured one of the tunes in a Best of What’s New installment. After playing in various bands in the ’80s and releasing two unrecognized solo records (Inside, 1986; and Earth 1989), Sweet achieved commercial breakthrough with his third studio album Girlfriend, which came out in October 1991 and to date is one of two records that reached Gold certification in the U.S. Between 2006 and 2013, Sweet collaborated on a series of cover albums (Under the Covers Vol. 1 – Vol. 3) with Susanna Hoffs of The Bangles. I featured two of their great renditions in previous Sunday Six installments here and here. From the above-noted Tomorrow’s Daughter, here’s I Belong to You, a lovely pop rock tune.

Mudhoney/Blinding Sun

Before yet another musical journey comes to an end, let’s visit one more tune. The year is 1992 and the month is October. That’s when American band Mudhoney came out with their fourth studio album Piece of Cake. Formed in Seattle in 1988, the group is viewed as instrumental in creating grunge and an inspiration for many other bands who embraced that genre, as well as alternative rock. Mudhoney are still active and have released 10 studio albums to date. A new one, Plastic Eternity, is in the can and scheduled for April 7. At the time they recorded Piece of Cake, their only charting album in the U.S. on the Billboard 200 to date, Mudhoney featured Mark Arm (vocals, guitar, organ, piano), Steve Turner (guitar, harmonica, banjo, vocals) and Dan Peters (drums, percussion, vocals), who remain part of the current lineup, and Matt Lutkin (bass, vocals) who was replaced by Guy Maddison in 2001. Here’s Blinding Sun, credited to all members of the band at the time. I like their garage sound.

Last but not least, below is a Spotify playlist of the above goodies. As always, I hope there’s something here you enjoy!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

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The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Another Sunday is upon us, and the show must go on with a new explorative trip to celebrate great music of the past and present, six tunes at a time. This installment of The Sunday Six strikes out broadly, touching the ’40s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and 2017. Let’s do it!

Ry Cooder/I Think It’s Going to Work Out Fine

I’d like to start today’s journey with some beautiful instrumental music by Ry Cooder. I believe the first time I heard of him was in connection with the great 1984 Wim Wenders motion picture Paris, Texas, for which Cooder wrote the score. This is some of the best acoustic slide guitar-playing I’ve heard to date – if you don’t know the movie’s score, check it out! In addition to 17 film scores, the versatile Cooder has released the same amount of solo albums since his 1970 eponymous debut. Not surprisingly, Cooder has also collaborated with the likes of John Lee Hooker, The Rolling Stones, Randy Newman, Linda Ronstadt, David Lindley and numerous other artists. This brings me to Bop Till You Drop, Cooder’s eighth solo album from July 1979, which I received as a gift in the late ’80s from my longtime German music buddy and former bandmate. Here’s Cooder’s great instrumental rendition of It’s Gonna Work Out Fine. Written by Rose Marie McCoy and Joe Seneca, the tune first appeared as a single by Ike & Tina Turner in June 1961.

The Animals/It’s My Life

After a gentle start, I’d like to step on the gas a bit with one of my favorite ’60s blues rock and R&B bands: The Animals. Not surprisingly, I’ve covered the British group’s music on various previous occasions, which among others include this Sunday Six installment and this post dedicated to their original lead vocalist Eric Burdon, one of the best British blues vocalists I can think of! It’s My Life first came out as a single in October 1965. Notably, it was penned by Roger Atkins and Carl D’Errico. This was not the only time Brill Building songwriters wrote a tune for the group. In May 1966, The Animals released another single, Don’t Bring Me Down, co-written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King. It’s My Life was also included on the band’s first compilation The Best of The Animals, which appeared in the U.S. only in February 1966. I’ve always loved this great psychedelic-flavored tune.

Steve Winwood/Roll With It

When it comes to Steve Winwood, I generally prefer his early years with The Spencer Davis Group, Traffic and Blind Faith over his oftentimes more pop-oriented solo period. Perhaps the biggest exception is Windwood’s fifth solo album Roll With It from June 1988. While undoubtedly influenced by ’80s pop, this record is also quite soulful. It became his most successful album, topping the Billboard 200 in the U.S. and reaching no. 4 in the UK, with more than three million copies having been sold. Here’s the excellent opener and title track, a co-write by Winwood and Will Jennings. Subsequently, Motown songwriters Holland-Dozier-Holland received a co-credit due to the tune’s similarities publishing rights organization BMI saw to (I’m a) Roadrunner, which had been a hit in 1966 for Junior Walker & the Allstars.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe/Strange Things Happening Every Day

Next let’s turn to a trailblazer and true rock & roll pioneer, the amazing Sister Rosetta Tharpe. While John Lennon famously said, “If you were to try to give rock & roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry,” one of the genre’s early pioneers we must not forget was Tharpe. The prominent gospel singer started playing the guitar as a four-year-old and began her recording career at age 23 in 1938. She was one of the first popular recording artists using electric guitar distortion. Her technique had a major influence on British guitarists like Eric ClaptonJeff Beck and Keith Richards. She also influenced many artists in the U.S., including Elvis PresleyLittle Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry, to name a few. Tharpe has been called “the original soul sister” and “the godmother of rock & roll.” Unfortunately, her health declined prematurely and she passed away from a stroke in 1973 at the untimely age of 58. In May 2018, Tharpe was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as an Early Influence. Here’s Strange Things Happening Everyday, originally a traditional African American spiritual that became a hit for Tharpe in 1945. This recording is historic, as it’s considered to be one of the very first rock & roll songs. Tharpe’s remarkable guitar-playing, including her solos, distorted sound and bending of strings, is more pronounced on later tunes, but you can already hear some of it here. Check out this clip and tell me this amazing lady didn’t rock!

Prince/Cream

For this next pick, I’m jumping 46 years forward to 1991. Prince is an artist I’ve always respected for his remarkable versatility and amazing guitar skills, though I can’t say I’m an all-out fan. But I really like some of his songs. I must also add I’ve not explored his catalog in greater detail. It was largely my aforementioned German music buddy who introduced me to Prince. I recall listening together to his ninth studio Sign o’ the Times from March 1987. Cream, off Diamonds and Pearls that appeared in October 1991, is a tune I well remember hearing on the radio back in Germany. Based on Wikipedia’s singles chart, it looks like the song was Prince’s first big hit in the ’90s. Among others, it topped the U.S. charts, climbed to no. 2 in Canada and Australia, and reached the top 5 in France, Switzerland and Sweden. Here’s the official video. The actual tune starts at about 2:05 minutes into the clip. Sadly, we lost Prince way too early in April 2016 at age 57.

Greta Van Fleet/Safari Song

Last but not least, I’d like to turn to Greta Van Fleet, one of the contemporary bands that give me hope classic rock isn’t entirely dead yet. L.A. rockers Dirty Honey are another great example in this context. Greta Van Fleet were formed in Frankenmuth, Mich. in 2012 by brothers Josh Kiszka (lead vocals), Jake Kiszka (guitars, backing vocals) and Sam Kiszka (bass, keyboards, backing vocals), along with Kyle Hauck (drums). Other than Hauck who was replaced by Danny Wagner in 2013, the band’s line-up hasn’t changed. The group has been criticized by some as a Led Zeppelin knock-off, and the tune I’m featuring here probably is part of the reason. Selfishly, I don’t care since in my book, Zep are one of the greatest rock bands of all time. I would also add Greta Van Fleet’s sound has evolved since their early days. To me, their most recent album The Battle at Garden’s Gate from April 2021 bears very little if any resemblance to Zep. Here’s Safari Song, Greta’s second single released in October 2017. Credited to all members of the band, it was also included on their debut EP Black Smoke Rising that had come out in April of the same year. This just rocks and I could care less about the critics!

Here’s a playlist featuring all of the above tracks.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify