The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Good morning/good afternoon/good evening, wherever you are when reading this. It’s Sunday morning in my neck of the woods in lovely central New Jersey where you can always run into a confused deer or encounter a suicidal squirrel that jumps right before your moving vehicle. Why the hell am I saying this? Coz I just felt like it, plus how many times can you introduce a recurring feature that’s now in its 65th week?

Jean-Michel Jarre/Last Rendez Vous

Today, our music journey shall start in space with Jean-Michel Jarre, one of the pioneers of electronic, ambient and new-age music. The French composer who has been active since 1969 broke through with his third studio album Oxygène from December 1976. That record catapulted Jarre to the top of the French charts and the top 10 in various other European countries, including the UK (no. 2), Sweden (no. 3), The Netherlands (no. 4), Germany (no. 8), Norway (no. 9) and Austria (no. 10). Evidently, Europeans loved it, which in no small part was driven by the track Oxygène (Part IV) that subsequently became a single mirroring the album’s chart performance in Europe. Success was more moderate in the U.S. where the album peaked at no. 78 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Australia (no. 29) – still remarkable, given the genre! Last Rendez Vous is the closing track of Jarre’s eighth studio album Rendez-Vous, released in April 1986 – not quite as spacy as Oxygène but still very relaxing. That beautiful saxophone part was played by Pierre Gossez.

Drive-By Truckers/Gravity’s Gone

For the next tune, let’s travel to 2006 and pick up the speed with some great Southern rock by Drive-By Truckers. The group was formed in Athens, Ga. in 1996 by Patterson Hood (guitar, vocals, mandolin) and his longtime friend and musical partner Mike Cooley (guitar, vocals, banjo, harmonica). Both remain in the band’s current line-up, which also includes Jay Gonzalez (keyboards, guitar, accordion, saw, backing vocals), Matt Patton (bass, backing and lead vocals) and Brad “EZB” Morgan (drums). Drive-By Truckers helped launch the career of Jason Isbell who joined them at age 21 in 2001 and remained a member until April 2007. He recorded three albums with them, including A Blessing and a Curse, the group’s sixth record from April 2006. Here’s Gravity’s Gone, a great tune with a Stonesy vibe, written by Cooley. Since then, Drive-By Truckers have released seven additional studio albums, the most recent of which is The New OK from October 2020.

Todd Rundgren/I Saw the Light

When that song was served up to me by my streaming music provider the other day, I immediately decided to earmark it for a Sunday Six. The seductive power pop tune by Todd Rundgren reminds me of George Harrison. In fact, when I heard that slide guitar, I was near-100% sure this has to be Harrison. But, nope, the versatile Rundgren played all instruments and provided all vocals on this tune, which is the opener of his third album Something/Anything?. Released as a double-LP in February 1972, Something/Anything? became Rundgren’s commercial breakthrough as a solo artist. Peaking at no. 29 and no. 34 in the U.S. and Canada, respectively, Something/Anything? remains his most successful album to date. As of February 1975, it was certified gold by RIAA, based on 500,000 units sold. I Saw the Light also appeared separately as a single, reaching no. 16 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and no. 15 in Canada. Elsewhere, it climbed to no. 21 in Australia and no. 36 in the UK. The album also featured Rundgren’s biggest hit single Hello It’s Me.

Leonard Cohen/Suzanne

Leonard Cohen/Suzanne

Time to play some ’60s. And, nope, for a change, it’s not a rocker. I can’t quite recall when I heard Suzanne by Leonard Cohen for the first time – must have been in the ’70s. What I do still remember is this song drew me in immediately. Frankly, I’m not even sure I already understood a word of English at the time. But Cohen’s vocals, the beautiful melody and the sparse instrumentation did the trick. Penned by the Canadian poet, novelist and singer-songwriter, Suzanne was the opener of Cohen’s debut album Songs of Leonard Cohen, which appeared in December 1967. It would be the first of fifteen studio albums he recorded over a close to 50-year-recording career. Cohen passed away from leukemia in Los Angeles in November 2016 at the age of 82 years. Suzanne sounds just as powerful today as it did back then.

Soundgarden/Black Hole Sun

Our next stop is the ’90s. It surprises me time and again how little I seem to know about this decade where alternative rock and grunge were all the rage. Well, I’m happy to report I was aware of Black Hole Sun by Soundgarden. In fact, when that tune came out in May 1994, I was in my second year of grad school in the U.S., and it seemed to be everywhere. Unless you lived under a rock, there really was no way you’d miss it! Black Hole Sun, written by Chris Cornell, became the third single off Soundgarden’s fourth studio album that ironically was titled Superunknown. Topping the charts in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand, reaching the top 5 in the UK, Sweden and Norway, and making the top 20 in The Netherlands, Germany and Austria, Superunknown not only became the Seattle band’s breakthrough but also their most successful album. Even though Black Hole Sun doesn’t have what you would call a catchy melody in the traditional sense, it still can easily get stuck in your brain!

Goodbye June/Stand and Deliver

And once again it’s time to wrap up another six-track journey. For my last pick, I’d like to jump to the present and Goodbye June, an exciting band that has been around since 2005. I love their embrace of classic rock, so it’s not surprising I’ve featured the band several times since I first came across them in December 2021. Goodbye June are comprised of Landon Milbourn (lead vocals), Brandon Qualkenbush (rhythm guitar, bass, backing vocals) and Tyler Baker (lead guitar), who are all cousins. The group was formed in honor of Baker’s brother who died in a car accident in June 2005. In 2009, they relocated to Nashville where they gained a reputation for their fiery live shows. Three years later, the band’s debut album Nor the Wild Music Flow came out. Stand and Deliver is a track from Goodbye June’s fourth and most recent studio release See Where the Night Goes, which appeared on February 18. I can hear some great ’70s style rock in here like AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith – love it!

And, last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist of today’s songs.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

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Bond, James Bond…

“Bond, James Bond…” These words fascinated me from the very first 007 picture I saw when I was a kid growing up in Germany. I can’t remember how old I was but believe it was Goldfinger. On television. Sean Connery as the British super-spy, the silver Aston Martin DB5 with all the cool features, German actor Gert Fröbe as the ultimate bad guy Mr. Goldfinger – and, since this blog isn’t about movies – the killer title track performed by Shirley Bassey, an amazing vocalist!

Between TV and the movie theater, I pretty much have seen all of the 24 pictures released in the series to date. Of course, the difference between then and now is that I have so much matured that I would never want to be James Bond, driving down a winding road in a DB5 with an attractive woman sitting next to him. But taking a look at the 007 soundtracks sounds legitimate for a music blogger, doesn’t it?

Sean Connery 007 with Aston Martin
Sean Connery with the classic Aston Martin DB5 from Goldfinger

Okay, when it comes to Bond music, we’re not exactly talking Hendrix, Clapton or The Beatles here, though in one case we come close. Plus, 007 title tracks have been performed by an impressive array of artists, such as Carly Simon, Paul McCartney, Tina Turner, Duran Duran and Sheryl Crow, to name a few. Let’s get to some of them – of course, shaken, not stirred! Hence in chronological order.

What could possibly be a better way to kick things off than with the classic James Bond Theme, which first appeared in the film that started it all: Dr. No. from 1962, introducing the movie world to “my 007”, Sean Connery. The piece was written by Monty Norman. John Barry, who composed the soundtracks for 11 Bond movies, arranged it for Dr. No. I’ve always dug the combination of the cool guitar theme that reminds me a bit of Hank Marvin and the jazz orchestra. It’s a timeless movie classic, in my opinion, right up there with Casablanca.

If I could only select one 007 title song, I think it would be the above noted Goldfinger, composed by John Barry with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley. This also happens to be my favorite Bond picture. Bassey’s killer vocal performance still gives me goosebumps to this day. Goldfinger peaked at no. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100, giving the vocalist born in Wales, England her only top 40 hit in the U.S., and a no. 21 on the UK Singles Chart.

On to Sir Paul and Live and Let Die. The 1973 picture was the first in the series to star Roger Moore as 007, my second favorite Bond actor and very close to Sean Connery. Co-written by Paul McCartney and his then-wife Linda McCartney, and recorded by McCartney’s band Wings, the tune became the most successful Bond title track up to that point, peaking at no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and reaching no. 9 on the UK Singles Chart. The song also reunited McCartney with Fab Four producer George Martin

In 1977, the 10th Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me came out. The title track Nobody Does It Better, composed by Marvin Hamlish with lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager, was performed by Carly Simon. It became Simon’s second most successful single in the U.S. and the UK, reaching no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and no. 7 on the UK Singles Chart, respectively.

Jumping to the ’80s, here’s the only Bond track to date that ever topped the Billboard Hot 100A View to a Kill from the 1985 picture, the last to feature Roger Moore. Co-written by Duran Duran and John Barry and performed by the English new wave band, the song also climbed to no. 2 in the UK, giving Duran Duran one of their biggest hits

The last Bond movie of the ’80s was License to Kill starring Timothy Dalton as 007, not my favorite choice; but I guess following Sean Connery and Roger Moore almost was mission impossible. The title track was co-written by Narada Michael Walden, Jeffrey Cohen and Walter Afanasieff. Gladys Knight performed the tune, marking her last charting solo single in the UK with a no. 6 top position.

This brings us to the ’90s. Who would have ever thought that Bono and U2 would get into the 007 action? Well, they did, writing the title track for the 95 picture GoldenEye, the first to star Pierce Brosnan in the lead role. He’s my favorite “late” 007. The title track, which incorporates a clever dose of nostalgia into a contemporary pop song, was performed by Tina Turner, who may not quite match Bassey’s Goldfinger but undoubtedly was a compelling vocalist.

Let’s pick another one from the same decade: Tomorrow Never Dies from 1997, Brosnan’s second lead role as 007. The title track was co-written by Shery Crow and the song’s producer Mitchell Froom. While the song peaked at no. 12 in the UK, it didn’t chart in the U.S.

This brings us to the current century. I’m not gonna beat around the bush here. The 007 movies and their title tracks haven’t gotten better over the decades. I still wanted to capture two examples from the 21st Century. Here’s You Know My Name from the 2006 picture Casino Royale, the first installment with Daniel Craig. Co-written by Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell and soundtrack composer David Arnold, the tune was performed by Cornell. If I see this correctly, it was Cornell’s most successful single as a solo artist in the UK, where it hit no. 7. It also reached the top 10 in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Switzerland; it was less successful in the U.S., where it climbed to no. 79.

Last but not least, perhaps you wonder how a 007 title track sounds these days. Ask and you shall receive. Here’s No Time to Die from the upcoming picture, the 25th in the series. Scheduled to hit U.S. movie theaters on April 10, it once again stars Daniel Craig as 007. Co-written by Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas O’Connell, the tune is performed by Eilish. It was released as a single on February 13th and debuted on top of the UK Singles Chart and the Irish Singles Chart. At age 18, the American singer is the youngest artist to write and perform a Bond title track. Apparently, the song is also the first 007 theme track to top the British charts – the times they are a changin!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame Celebrates 2018 Inductees

Bon Jovi, The Cars, Dire Straits, The Moody Blues, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Nina Simone Join Rock Hall

I know many of the folks who may see this post have strong opinions about the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Discussions about inductees and who hasn’t been inducted but should be in there are sure to continue. The selection process certainly looks less than perfect. One could even question the name of the institution. After all, rock & roll certainly doesn’t come to mind when it comes to the amazing Nina Simone, one of the 2018 inductees. So should The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame be renamed to “The Music Hall of Fame?” But if that would be done, wouldn’t this imply such a broad scope that would make it an even more daunting task to identify nominees and select inductees?

While I acknowledge the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is flawed, I still like the idea of celebrating rock & roll music. And let’s be honest, being in the company of the likes of Chuck Berry, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen and the Eagles, to name a few, is pretty cool. I think it’s safe to assume that many artists dream about joining such an exclusive club, whether they admit it or not.

Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Plaques

Following are highlights from last night’s induction ceremony in Cleveland, based on Rolling Stone’s reporting. Unfortunately, most of the current clips on YouTube sound distorted. I’m actually wondering whether this is done on purpose, so people don’t widely share the material. Also, keep in mind the HBO broadcast of the festivities is still ahead on May 5. Perhaps, better quality clips will become available thereafter I could use to replace some of the current footage. We shall see.

Interestingly, the night kicked off with Bon Jovi who were inducted by Howard Stern. It’s fair to say the Jersey boys, who by far won the fan vote, were the most anticipated artists of the night. One of the questions was whether former guitarist Richie Sambora would join his former band mates – he did, unlike Mark Knopfler who was a no-show. Since ultimately it’s the fans who have made these bands successful by purchasing their music and going to their shows, it’s unfortunate when artists cannot put aside their reservations at least for one night. Knopfler’s absence meant Dire Straits did not perform, which must have been a real bummer to many of their fans!

Anyway, here is Bon Jovi’s performance of Livin’ On A Prayer from their third studio album Slippery When Wet from 1986, which catapulted them to international super-stardom and more than 130 million albums sold to date.

Next it was the turn for Dire Straits. Three former members showed up, including bassist and co-founder John Illsley, initial keyboarder Alan Clark and the band’s second keyboarder Guy Fletcher. While Knopfler was absent, I still feel somebody should have inducted the band. Here is a clip of their acceptance speech.

One of the artists I was particularly pleased to see inducted is Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a true trailblazer of early rock & roll. She was inducted by Brittany Howard, the lead vocalist of Alabama Shakes. After her speech, Howard grabbed a guitar to perform That’s All, a Tharpe tune from 1938 – that’s 80 years ago! Howard was backed by a band that included Roots drummer Questlove and Paul Shaffer, among others.

Next up were the Cars, an American new wave, power pop rock band that had a string of hits between 1978 and 1988. They were inducted by Brandon Flowers, the lead singer and keyboarder of The Killers. “The Cars were the first band I fell in love with,” he noted. “And you never forget your first…They achieved greatness and left a comet trail behind them, writing and recording songs that have transcended into classics.” Here’s You Might Think, one of the band’s hits from their fifth studio album Heartbeat City, which was released in March 1984.

Nina Simone was inducted by Mary J. Blige. “Nina was bold, strong, feisty and fearless, and so vulnerable and transparent all at the same time,” she said. “Her voice was so distinctive and warm and powerful; I never heard anything like it. She knew who she was and she was confident in what she did and why she did it. But it was often the lack of confidence in herself that people could relate to. Nina sang for all her pain, her joy, her confusion, her happiness, her sickness, her fight. She fought through all the stereotypes. She fought for her identity. She fought for her life.”

Simone was honored with a two-part tribute. Part one was performed by the Roots and singer-songwriter Andra Day. For the second part, Lauryn Hill, formerly with the Fugees, took the stage. Here is Hill’s entire set, which consisted of Ne Me Quitte Pas, Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair and Feeling Good.

The last honoree of the night were The Moody Blues. They were inducted by Ann Wilson, formerly with Heart. Referring to the band’s iconic second studio album Days Of Future Past, she said, “In 1967, The Moody Blues made a record that changed the face of popular music and influenced an entire generation of progressive musicians, including Yes, Genesis, ELO and many, many others. For the first time, mellotron was introduced to the rock and roll mainstream and rock married classic orchestra. There was no progressive showboating or self-indulgent, mathematical noodling; just great, classy music that expanded your mind, sang to your heart, took you inward and lifted you higher.” Nicely said! Here’s a clip of the band’s best known song from that album: Nights In White Satin.

The evening also included tributes to Tom Petty and Chris Cornell of Soundgarden, performed by The Killers and Wilson and Jerry Cantrell, respectively. Here are The Killers playing  American Girl, throwing in some lyrics of Free Fallin’ at the end – too bad the clip’s sound sucks!

And here are Wilson and Cantrell with their rendition of Black Hole Sun, Soundgarden’s best known song. Written by Cornell, the tune appeared on the Seattle rock band’s fourth studio album Superunknown from March 1994.

Last but not least, Steve Van Zandt came on stage with a surprise announcement. “We all know the history of rock and roll can be changed with just one song, one record,” he noted. “This year, we are introducing a new category to the Rock Hall. We’re calling it The Rock and Roll Singles. It’s a recognition of the singles that shaped rock and roll, a kind of Rock Hall jukebox by artists that aren’t in the Rock Hall, which is not to say these artists won’t ever be in the Rock Hall. They just aren’t at this moment.”

The first six singles in this new category include Rocket 88 (Ike Turner’s King’s of Rhythm), Rumble (Link Wray), The Twist (Chubby Checker), Louie Louie (Kingsmen), A Whiter Shade of Pale (Procul Harum) and Born To Be Wild (Steppenwolf) – cool choices!

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, YouTube