If I Could Only Take One

My desert island song by Wet Wet Wet

It’s Wednesday, which means it’s time again to pick a song to take on an imaginary trip to a desert island. If you’re a frequent flyer on this blog, chances are you’ve seen previous installments of this recurring feature. For first-time travelers, the idea is to pick one tune only, not an album, I would take to an island in the sun. There are a few additional rules to guide my selections.

The song must be by an artist or band I’ve only rarely covered or not written about at all. Selections are in alphabetical order, meaning the band’s or artist’s name (last name) must start with a specific letter. This week, I’m up to “w.”

Options that came to mind include The Wallflowers, The Walker Brothers, The Waterboys, Weather Report, The White Stripes, The Who, Steve Winwood, Stevie Wonder and World Party, among others. And my pick is Wet Wet Wet and the Scottish soft rock band’s cover of Love Is All Around.

Love Is All Around was written by Reg Presley, lead vocalist of The Troggs. It also was the British garage rock band, who first released the song as a single in October 1967, giving them a no. 5 hit on the British charts. Fast-forward 27 years to May 1994, when Wet Wet Wet released their rendition of the song and took it to no. 1 on the UK Singles Chart, a position it held for 15 consecutive weeks. The tune was part of the soundtrack of the popular 1994 British romantic comedy Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Wet Wet Wet were formed in 1982 as Vortex Motion at a local high school in Clydebank, Scotland. The original line-up of the group, which initially mostly played covers of The Clash and Magazine, featured Mark McLachlan (vocals), Lindsey McCauley (guitar), Neil Mitchell (keyboards), Graeme Clark (bass) and Tommy Cunningham (drums). By the time Graeme Duffin replaced McCauley as guitarist in 1983, the band had already changed their name to Wet Wet Wet.

In March 1987, their debut single Wishing I Was Lucky came out, reaching an impressive no. 6 on the British Singles Chart. The tune was also included on Wet Wet Wet’s debut album Popped In Souled Out released in September of the same year. Three additional studio albums followed before the group started to unravel in 1997.

Wet Wet Wet reformed in 2004 and recorded Timeless, their sixth studio album that appeared in November 2007. Fourteen years later, in November 2021, the group’s seventh and most recent album The Journey was released. Earlier this year, Cunningham and keyboarder Niel Mitchell departed, leaving the band with Clark and lead vocalist Kevin Simm as their only current members.

Following is some additional background on Love Is All Around from Songfacts:

Troggs lead singer Reg Presley wrote this in about 10 minutes. He was inspired by the Joy Strings Salvation Army band he’d seen on TV. The song is a gentle folk ballad and a far cry from The Troggs previous hit “Wild Thing.”…

…The UK record for longest stay at #1 is held by Bryan Adams’ “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You).” Wet Wet Wet’s record company tried to tie this record by announcing they were pulling the single after 16 weeks, hoping people would rush out to buy it. The plan failed and Whigfield knocked them out of #1 with “Saturday Night.” Wet Wet Wet claimed they asked their record company to pull the song because they were sick of it. Their version does hold the record for most weeks at #1 for a UK based act. In the US it reached #41.

When this was revived by Wet Wet Wet, Reg Presley got massive royalties as the songwriter. He denoted the proceeds to crop circle research.

R.E.M. did a cover of this as well, which they played on an episode of MTV Unplugged. The video for this can be found on their VHS/DVD This Film Is On, featuring all the videos for the songs off their 1991 album Out Of Time.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

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What I’ve Been Listening to: Jake Thistle/Down the Line

Young New Jersey singer-songwriter with incredible story looks like star in the making

As a music lover for 40-plus years, I enjoy coming across young talented artists. I also love a great story. New Jersey singer-songwriter Jake Thistle represents both. It’s safe to assume most of my readers haven’t heard of the recent high school graduate. My gut tells me this may change, and I’m not only referring to this post.

If I recall it correctly, I first came across Thistle about a year ago on Facebook where he’s pretty active and has amassed some 14,000 likes. The other day, I saw him at a free summer outdoor concert, performing a Jackson Browne show – a perfect fit, in my view, since he reminds me of Browne. During the gig, Thistle casually mentioned a CD. Before getting to that, I’d like to touch on his cool story.

The following is based on an interview the then 14-year-old Thistle gave to New York classic rock radio station Q104.3 four years ago. One month prior to his fourth birthday, he watched the 2008 Super Bowl halftime show featuring Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. It turned out to be a life-changing moment for the little boy. I guess you could call it the equivalent of seeing The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Jake Thistle at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park, N.J.

Bitten by the Tom Petty bug, Thistle began watching videos of the man from Gainesville, Fla. on YouTube. The platform soon also suggested other similar artists and before long, the young boy became a classic rock fan. Listening to great music eventually turned into picking up the guitar at the age of nine; and starting to post his own videos on YouTube. And then something really incredible happened.

Tom Petty saw one of Thistle’s videos and sent him front-row tickets for Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. Not only did Thistle get to see one of his music heroes, but he also met the man and the Heartbreakers backstage. It sounds like Mike Campbell was instrumental in all of this happening. Thistle told Q104.3 host Jim Kerr he does an annual fundraiser for Rock the Dogs, an animal charity co-founded by Campbell, who wanted to meet the young musician.

Thistle has also played with John Hiatt and met Steve Winwood. As a 13-year-old, he was hired to play at a Bruce Springsteen tribute festival in the UK. Thistle’s website also mentions an impressive array of other music artists he has met and/or shared bills with, such as Jackson Browne, Stevie Nicks, Foo Fighters, Eddie Vedder, Roger McGuinn, Steve Earle and Tom Morello – not bad for a young cat who just graduated high school!

Jake Thistle with Steve Ferrone, former drummer of the Heartbreakers

This brings me to Down the Line, Thistle’s first CD that came out in June 2021. It was not what he initially had envisaged. “I’ve been wanting to get more original music out for a long time,” he explained in a Q&A on his website. “I had a deal in place with a major studio for a full, professionally-produced EP that I was going to record with some great musicians in the Spring, and I had some amazing offers to record at other studios with some of my heroes that I was looking forward to—then COVID happened, and those things had to be put on hold for now.”

But Thistle still wanted to put out some of his music, so he recorded the album at his home studio, using instruments he knew how to play himself. “I’ve never been one of those musicians who likes to sit in front of a computer—I like to play music— so I bought a new soundboard that allowed me to record and mix tracks right on the board…In addition to arranging and recording every instrument myself, I didn’t use any computer-based enhancements, instruments or sounds.”

After eight graphs into this post, I’d say it’s time to get to some music. Let’s kick it off with the album’s opener and title track. When I listened to the tune for the first time, I was immediately struck by how mature Thistle sounds – certainly not your usual high school student. To be clear, I love when high school students get into music, so it’s not meant in a disparaging way. But just check out the remarkable songwriting and Thistle’s voice – so good!

In addition to the guitar, Thistle also managed to pick up the piano. Here’s a beautiful example: Frontier of Time. I could totally picture Jackson Browne playing this song. In fact, as I mentioned at the outset, if there’s any particular artist Thistle reminds me of it’s Browne. The slight occasional rasp in his voice is a bit reminiscent of Bryan Adams.

Another gem on the album is Lines On the Road. Check out the lyrics: Well I’m hypnotized by lines rushing by on the road/Measuring a time in song, feeling the highway below/I’m not worried about figuring out my life/No one ever seems to make it out alive/No I’m just seeing how long I can survive… This is mature singer-songwriter material. “The inspiration was from that sense of serenity and hope I’d get when taking long road trips, often for gigs in other states,” a then-16-year-old Thistle told American Songwriter in December 2020. “I’m a year away from being able to drive myself, so I have a lot of time to look out the window.”

Let’s do one more: Hometown, another neat piano-driven track. While it would be interesting to hear more produced renditions of the album’s 12 tunes, I actually find Thistle’s stripped-down approach pretty engaging. He certainly did a remarkable job leveraging the means he had to his full advantage. I couldn’t find a clip off the album, so here’s a live version from what looks like Thistle music cave at home. Some nice stuff hanging on the wall behind him, including what looks like a Rickenbacker 360/12.

So what’s next for Thistle? Apparently, he still has plans to record in the studio, which would be the logical next step. “Yes, the offers I had are still open, but we need to wait for the effects of the pandemic to get better,” he noted in the above Q&A. “I have a wide range of songs, and some I think would better for a full band with a studio. I write all the time, and I’m very much looking forward to getting in the studio for the next album even as I’m just releasing this one.”

I feel a full band and studio production would also allow Thistle to record some more uptempo rock-oriented songs a la Running On Empty, to stay with Jackson Browne. In the meantime, take a listen to Thistle’s CD below. It’s also available on Apple Music and on Amazon. Or you can purchase it for download on Thistle’s website here.

I think Jake Thistle is on an exciting path. There’s no question he’s both a very talented songwriter and a pretty solid musician. And, again, think about it: He’s only 18 and already so good! The remarkable relationships he has built with other music artists also look like great opportunities. My gut tells me we may well be looking at a classic singer-songwriter star in the making. I certainly look forward to hearing more music from him!

Sources: Jake Thistle website; Q104.3; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

Another Sunday morning means it’s time for another selection of six tunes that don’t reflect any overarching theme. Pretty much anything is fair game as long as I like it. In general, I also aim to make these posts a bit eclectic. This installment includes beautiful new age style harp music (a first!), soulful blues, country rock, pop, pop rock and edgy garage rock.

Andreas Vollenweider/Behind the Gardens, Behind the Wall, Under the Tree…

Andreas Vollenweider is a harpist from Zurich, Switzerland. His instrument is no ordinary harp but an electro-acoustic harp he created. A New York Times article from October 1984 characterized his music as “swirling atmospheric”, evoking “nature, magic and fairy tales.” This story appeared ahead of Vollenweider’s U.S. tour debut at the Beacon Theatre in New York City in October of the same year. According to Wikipedia, he was introduced by Carly Simon who had come across his music the previous year. Vollenweider ended up collaborating with Simon 10 years later on his first album to include vocals. He also has worked with Luciano Pavarotti, Bryan Adams and Bobby McFerrin, among others. Behind the Gardens, Behind the Wall, Under the Tree… is the title track of Vollenweider’s second studio album from 1981. To date, he has released 13 additional albums. Until the other day when I randomly remembered his name, I had completely forgotten about Vollenweider and his beautiful and relaxing music. It’s perfect to kick off a Sunday morning.

Chicken Shack/I’d Rather Go Blind

My dear longtime friend and music connoisseur from Germany pointed me to this beautiful song recently. Coincidentally, around the same time, Music Enthusiast mentioned the band Chicken Shack in an installment of his previous four-part series about Fleetwood Mac’s middle period. So what’s the connection between Chicken Shack and the Mac you might ask? Christine Perfect (later Christine McVie) who sang lead and played keyboards in Chicken Shack before recording her eponymous solo album Christine Perfect and joining Fleetwood Mac in late 1970. Chicken Shack released I’d Rather Go Blind as a single in 1969, scoring a no. 14 on the British charts. Written by Ellington Jordan, the tune was first recorded by Etta James in 1967 and appeared on her seventh studio album Tell Mama from February 1968. Perfect’s vocals on Chicken Shack’s cover are – well – just perfect! BTW, Chicken Shack are still around, with the current lineup including founding member Stan Webb (guitar, vocals).

Blue Rodeo/Hasn’t Hit Me Yet

Canadian country rock band Blue Rodeo were founded in 1984 in Toronto. They were formed by high school friends Jim Cuddy (vocals, guitar) and Greg Keelor (vocals, guitar), who had played together in various bands before, and Bob Wiseman (keyboards). Cleave Anderson (drums) and Bazil Donovan (bass) completed the band’s initial lineup. After gaining a local following in Toronto and signing with Canadian independent record label Risque Disque, the group released their debut album Outskirts in March 1987. They have since released 14 additional studio albums, the most recent of which, 1000 Arms, came out in October 2016. Blue Rodeo have enjoyed significant success in Canada. Hasn’t Hit Me Yet was co-written by Keelor and Cuddy who together with Donovan are part of Blue Rodeo’s current lineup. The tune is included on the band’s fifth studio album Five Days in July from October 1993, their best-selling record in Canada to date.

Bruce Hornsby & The Range/The Way It Is

The debut album by American singer-songwriter and pianist Bruce Hornsby with his backing band The Range quickly became one of my favorites when it came out in September 1986. After I hadn’t touched it in many years, I listened to it again about a week ago – turns out I still like it. Hornsby went on to record two additional albums with The Range. His fourth studio album Harbor Lights from April 1993 was the first solely credited to him. Four additional solo albums and four albums with his touring band The Noisemakers have since come out. Hornsby also was a touring member of the Grateful Dead in the early ’90s and has collaborated with numerous other artists. After his first two albums with The Range, Hornsby had dropped off my radar screen. Here’s the title track of his debut. Both the album and the tune enjoyed major international chart success. Not hard to understand way – it’s pretty catchy pop.

Rainbirds/Blueprint

For some reason, the above Chicken Shack tune trigged my memory of German pop rock band Rainbirds. Other than the fact that both tunes feature female vocalists, they really don’t have anything in common – funny how the brain sometimes works! The group around singer-songwriter Katharina Franck, which was formed in Berlin in 1986 and named after a Tom Waits instrumental, enjoyed significant success in Germany with their first two albums. After the band dissolved in 1999 and Franck pursued a solo career, Franck reformed the group in 2013 with a new lineup. Another album appeared the following year. While Rainbirds haven’t released new music since, the group still appears to exist. Blueprint, co-written by Franck (guitar, vocals) and fellow band members Michael Beckmann (bass) and Wolfgang Glum (drums), is from Rainbirds’ eponymous debut album released in January 1987.

The Kinks/All Day and All of the Night

I felt this Sunday Six needed a dose of real rock. The Kinks and All Day and All of the Night looked like a great choice. I love the raw sound, which is very much reminiscent of You Really Got Me, the band’s third single from August 1964 and their first no. 1 in the UK. Written by Ray Davies, All Day and All of the Night came out in October of the same year. It almost matched the success of You Really Got Me, climbing to no. 2 on the British charts. In the U.S., both tunes peaked at no. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100. Oh, get ’em hard!

Sources: Wikipedia; The New York Times; YouTube

The Venues: Royal Albert Hall

The first reference to the Royal Albert Hall I recall was in A Day in the Life, the magnificent final track of my favorite Beatles album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Though at the time I didn’t realize the line Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall referred to the famous U.K. performance venue in London’s South Kensington district. The Royal Albert Hall, which had received a copy of the album prior to its release, did and was less than pleased.

According to this item in the concert hall’s archive, the Hall’s then-chief executive Ernest O’Follipar wrote a letter to Brian Epstein, maintaining the “wrong-headed assumption that there are four thousand holes in our auditorium” threatened to destroy the venue’s business overnight. Not only were the lyrics not changed, but John Lennon wrote back to the Hall, refusing to apologize. The venue retaliated with banning the song from ever being performed there.

Excerpt of letter from Royal Albert Hall CEO Ernest O’Follipar to Beatles manager Brian Epstein

The history of the Hall, which initially was supposed to be named Central Hall of Arts and Sciences, began long before The Beatles. In fact, it dates back to the 1900s and Queen Victoria. It was her majesty who in memory of her husband Prince Albert decided to change the name to the Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences when the building’s foundation stone was laid in 1867. I suppose this makes her a pretty nice girl, though she actually did have a lot to say!

It was also Queen Victoria who opened the Hall in 1871. The building was designed by Captain Francis Fowke and Major-General Henry Y. D. Scott, who were civil engineers of the Royal Engineers. The facility, which today can seat close to 5,300 people, was built by Lucas Brothers, a leading British building construction firm at the time. The design was strongly influenced by ancient amphitheatres, as well as the ideas of German architect Gottfried Semper and his work at the South Kensington Museum.

The Royal Albert Hall has seen performances by world-leading artists from many genres. Since 1941, it has been the main venue for the so-called Proms, an eight-week summer season of daily orchestral classical music concerts. The venue hosts more than 390 shows in its main auditorium each year, including classical concerts, ballet, opera, film screenings with live orchestral accompaniment, sports, awards ceremonies, school and community events, charity performances and banquets and, of course, rock and pop concerts.

This July 2019 story in London daily newspaper Evening Standard, among others, lists the following concerts as part of the “10 iconic musical moments in the venue’s history”: The Great Pop Prom (September 15, 1963), which featured The Beatles and The Rolling Stones on the same bill with other groups – only one of a handful of times the two bands performed together in the same show; Bob Dylan (May 26 and 27, 1966); Jimi Hendrix (February 18 and 24, 1969); Pink Floyd (June 26, 1969); The Who and Friends (November 27, 2000); and David Gilmour and David Bowie (May 29, 2006). Obviously, this list isn’t complete!

Let’s get to some music. As oftentimes is the case, it’s tough to find historical concert footage from the ’60s and ’70s, especially when it’s tied to a specific venue. One great clip I came across is this Led Zeppelin performance of Whole Lotta Love from a 1970 gig. Credited to all four members of the band plus Willie Dixon (following a 1985 lawsuit!), the tune was first recorded for the band’s second studio album ingeniously titled Led Zeppelin II, released in October 1969.

Since 2000, Roger Daltrey has been a patron for the Teenage Cancer Trust and raised funds for the group through concerts. The first such show was a big event at the Royal Albert Hall on November 27, 2000. In addition to The Who, it featured Noel Gallagher, Bryan Adams, Paul Weller, Eddie Vedder, Nigel Kennedy and Kelly Jones. The choice of venue was somewhat remarkable, given The Who in 1972 became one of the first bands to be impacted by the Hall’s then instituted ban on rock and pop. Here’s the Pete Townshend penned Bargain, which first appeared on The Who’s fifth studio album Who’s Next that came out in August 1971.

In early May 2005, Cream conducted four amazing reunion shows at the Hall, which were captured and subsequently published in different formats. Here’s White Room, co-written by Jack Bruce with lyrics by poet Pete Brown, and originally recorded for Cream’s third album Wheels of Fire from August 1968. Gosh, they just sounded as great as ever!

The last clip is from the above mentioned show by David Gilmour from May 29, 2006, during which he invited David Bowie on stage. As the Evening Standard noted, not only was it Bowie’s first and only appearance at the Hall, but it also was his last ever public performance. Gilmour and Bowie did Arnold Layne and Comfortably Numb together. Here’s their epic performance of the latter, which was co-written by Gilmour and Roger Waters for Pink Floyd’s eleventh studio album The Wall from November 1979. Interestingly, just like The Who, Pink Floyd was barred from performing at the Hall following their June 1969 gig there. It was the first nail in the coffin for rock and pop concerts at the venue that led to a complete, yet short-lived ban in 1972 because of “hysterical behaviour of a large audience often encouraged by unthinking performers.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Royal Albert Hall website; Evening Standard; YouTube

What Would Summer Be Without Great Music?

A list of fun summer songs

Summer means many things – sun, swimming, beaches, outdoor barbecues, biking, vacation…the list goes on and on. All of these activities wouldn’t even be half as much fun without great music. So I thought I put together a list of tunes that capture summer associations.

Jan & Dean/Surf City (1963)

The Lovin’ Spoonful/Summer In the City (1966)

Eric Burdon & The Animals/San Franciscan Nights (1967)

The Who/Summertime Blues (1967)

Seals And Crofts/Summer Breeze (1972)

America/Ventura Highway (1972)

Bryan Adams/Summer of ’69 (1985)

The Beach Boys/Kokomo (1988)

Sheryl Crow/Soak Up the Sun (2002)

Kid Rock/All Summer Long (2008)

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

The Venues: Rockpalast/Rockpalast Nacht

The 6-hour German TV live program featured top music artists between 1977 and 1986

Rockpalast is a live music program broadcast on the German television station Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR). It became particularly known for Rockpalast Nacht, a six-hour live late-night show featuring concerts from top international artists.

The inaugural Rockpalast Nacht aired on July 23 and 24, 1977. The line-up included Rory Gallagher, Little Feat and Roger McGuinn’s Thunderbyrd. Fifteen additional shows followed until the 17th and final Rockpalast Nacht on March 15 and 16, 1986. That show featured Big Country, Jackson Browne and the German rock band BAP.

The concert events were conducted at Grugahalle, a well known concert hall in the German town of Essen, and broadcast throughout Europe. The TV show was simulcast on various radio stations, so viewers could mute their TV sets and instead use their home stereos to listen to the sound for better quality.

Rockpalast Nacht mostly featured three or four rock bands. Typically, it mixed relatively unknown artists with top international acts, such as Peter Gabriel, The Police or The Who. The program helped put various music artists on the map in Europe, such as ZZ Top and Bryan Adams. Rockpalast Night gained cult status and is considered a unique program in German and European television history.

Following are clips from throughout the program’s 10-year history.

Roger McGuinn’s Thunderbyrd/Turn! Turn! Turn!, Mr. Tambourine Man & Eight Miles High (1st Rockpalast Nacht, July 23-24, 1977)

Peter Gabriel/Solsbury Hill (3rd Rockpalast Nacht, June 15-16, 1978)

ZZ Top/Dust My Broom (6th Rockpalast Nacht, April 19-20, 1980)

The Police/Message In a Bottle (7th Rockpalast Nacht, October 18-19, 1980)

The Who/Baba O’Riley (8th Rockpalast Nacht, March 28-29, 1981)

The Kinks/Add It Up (10th Rockpalast Nacht, April 3-4, 1982)

Joe Jackson/I’m the Man (12th Rockpalast Nacht, April 16-17, 1983)

Cheap Trick/Surrender (13th Rockpalast Nacht, October 15-16, 1983)

Wolf Maahn & Die Deserteure/Der Clown Hat Den Blues (15th Rockpalast Nacht, March 30-31, 1985)

BAP/Verdamp Lang Her (17th Rockpalast Nacht, March 15-16, 1986)

With the 17th Rockpalast Nacht, the program stopped in 1986. Rockpalast resumed production in 1995 and continues to air to this day, though Rockpalast Nacht remains history.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rockpalast website/Archive, YouTube