If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by Barclay James Harvest

Time again to make the tough choice to pick only one tune by a select artist or band I would take to a desert island. Hopefully, this will never happen, as it’s pretty much mission impossible. We’re up to the letter “b”, so choices include The Beatles, Badfinger, Bad Company, Chuck Berry, James Brown, David Bowie and The Byrds, to name some. I decided to go with Barclay James Harvest.

‘Who the hell is that?’ some of you may wonder, and why didn’t he take his favorite band of all time, The Beatles? Well, let me remind you one criterion for this feature is to pick an artist or band I haven’t covered yet or only a few times – call it a little twist to the exercise! This post is the first about Barclay James Harvest (BJH), a British group I was very much into during my teenage years, growing up in Germany. If I recall it correctly, they were pretty popular there at the time.

BJH (from left): Stuart “Woolly” Wolstenholme, John Lees, Mel Pritchard and Les Holroyd

BJH were formed in September 1966 by John Lees (guitar, vocals), Stuart “Woolly” Wolstenholme (keyboards, vocals), Les Holroyd (bass, vocals) and Mel Pritchard (drums, percussion). Their eponymous debut album appeared in 1970. Various configurations of the group have since released close to 20 additional studio albums, as well as numerous live and compilation records.

BJH are oftentimes classified as prog-rock and art rock. This sounds pretty accurate to me, especially for their earlier albums. I think one can also add symphonic rock, folk rock and pop rock. Currently, there are two touring versions of the group, John Lees’ Barclay James Harvest and Barclay James Harvest featuring Les Holroyd, which are each led by an original member. In case you’re interested to learn more, you can visit their respective websites here and here.

This finally brings me to the song I decided to pick: Mocking Bird, a tune that appeared on BJH’s sophomore album Once Again from February 1971. Written by John Lees, the symphonic rock tune is very reminiscent of The Moody Blues.

Six years after Once Again had appeared, Lees wrote a song titled Poor Man’s Moody Blues. But what could be viewed as an acknowledgment that the group was influenced by the Moodys apparently was an angry reaction to a journalist who had called BJH “a poor man’s Moody Blues.” The tune deliberately sounded very similar to Nights in White Satin.

Understandably, Justin Hayward, who wrote the renowned Moody Blues song, was less than pleased. Had this happened in the U.S., I think it’s safe to assume there would have been a big lawsuit. Years later, Hayward received an apology from Les Holroyd when they met each other.

Sources: Wikipedia; John Lees’ Barclay James Harvest website; Barclay James Harvest featuring Les Holroyd website; YouTube

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

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: January 10

A look on the calendar revealed January 10 was a date I had not covered yet as part of my recurring music history feature that has become a bit more regular over the past few months. Not sure yet whether this is going to remain the case. For now, let’s look at some of the events that happened on January 10 throughout rock history.

1958: Jerry Lee Lewis topped the UK Official Singles chart with Great Balls of Fire, one of his best-known songs. Co-written by Otis Blackwell and Jack Hammer, the rock & roll classic had been recorded on October 8, 1957, at Sun Studio in Memphis, Tenn., and released on November 11 that year. The tune also became a big hit in the U.S. where it topped the Billboard country and R&B charts and peaked at no. 2 on the mainstream Billboard Hot 100. The song was also featured in the American rock & roll picture Jamboree from 1957. “The Killer” remains alive at age 86.

1964: The Rolling Stones released their eponymous debut EP in the UK. It came on the heels of their second single I Wanna Be Your Man in November 1963, a cover of a Beatles tune that had yielded the first top 20 hit for the Stones in the UK. The EP featured four other covers of tunes written by Chuck Berry, Berry Gordy and Janie Bradford, Arthur Alexander and songwriting duo Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Here’s the Alexander song You Better Move On, which also became the Stones’ fourth single in January 1964. Unlike I Wanna Be Your Man, You Better Move On did not make the British charts, though it charted in Australia at an underwhelming no. 94. I’ve actually always liked this rendition.

1969: George Harrison quit The Beatles while they were at Twickenham Film Studios, where their rehearsals for the Get Back/Let It Be sessions were being captured on camera. If you watched the Peter Jackson documentary The Beatles: Get Back, you could see that George’s frustration about the tensions within the group had been building up. When they broke for lunch, he had had it and told his bandmates, “I think I’ll be leaving, I’m leaving the band now.” Asked by John Lennon, “When?”, Harrison replied, “Now. Get a replacement.” His last words before walking out were, “See you ’round the clubs.” A few days later, he returned after he had received assurances the concert The Beatles had planned would be canceled and that his other wishes would be respected. Fortunately, things turned out to be different with the famous roof concert, though if you watched the above documentary, you saw it was up in the air until the very last minute.

1977: American blues legend Muddy Waters released Hard Again, the first of his final three studio albums that were produced by electric blues guitar virtuoso Johnny Winter. That’s pretty much all the facts you need to have to know this has got to be great. The album, which was recorded live in-studio in just three days, won the Grammy Award for Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk Recording. Here’s The Blues Had a Baby and They Named It Rock and Roll, Pt. 2, co-written by Waters (credited as McKinley Morganfield, his real name) and Brownie McGhee.

2016: David Bowie passed away from liver cancer in New York at the age of 69. He had received his diagnosis 18 months earlier and decided not to make it public. Just two days earlier, his 26th and final studio album Blackstar had been released. The recording had taken place in secret at a studio in New York. Co-producer Tony Visconti called the album Bowie’s “parting gift” for his fans before his death. While I understand many fans like Blackstar, admittedly, it’s not my cup of tea. I much prefer Bowie’s first decade, in particular his glam rock period. Here’s one of my favorites, Suffragette City, off his fifth studio album The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars from June 1972. To quote the instruction on the back cover, “To be played at maximum volume”! 🙂

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

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: December 28

Welcome to the 75th installment of my irregularly recurring music history feature where I celebrate birthdays of notable artists and look back at events that happened on a certain date throughout the decades. Today, my picks revolve around December 28.

1968: The Miami Pop Festival kicked off north of Miami, Fla. The three-day event took place at Gulfstream Park, a horse racing track in Hallandale. Not to be confused with another festival that had been held at the same place seven months earlier, the Miami Pop Festival was the first major rock festival on the U.S. East Coast, drawing approximately 100,000 people. Performing acts came from a wide variety of music and included Chuck Berry, José Feliciano, Marvin Gaye, Joni Mitchell and Steppenwolf, among others. The only footage I could find is this clip of Turn On Your Lovelight by Grateful Dead. Good tune, actually, and it’s only 12 and a half minutes long! 🙂

1970: John Lennon released Mother as a single in the U.S. The haunting tune became the lead single of Lennon’s debut solo album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band that had appeared two weeks earlier on December 11. Songfacts notes Lennon wrote this while he was undergoing “Primal Scream” therapy, where he was dealing with a lot of issues that were detailed in the lyrics: He lost his mother at a crucial period in his life to a drunk-driving, off-duty policeman who ran her over in a crosswalk, and his aunt Mimi raised him, which explains the line, “Mother you had me, but I never had you.” His father, a merchant seaman, left him for the sea and for work. “I wanted you, you didn’t need me” explains his feelings about his dad. Lennon’s primal screaming on this song expresses the pain of his childhood. It’s one of Lennon’s most personal and powerful songs.

1976: Guitarist Freddie King, who together with B.B. King and Albert King was known as one of the “Three Kings of the Blues Guitar,” died at age 42 from complications of stomach ulcers and acute pancreatitis. King who hailed from Gilmer, Texas, picked up the guitar as a six-year-old, initially learning from his mother and uncle. He moved to Chicago as a teenager and eventually got a deal with Federal Records after Chess Records had repeatedly turned him down. In 1960, King recorded his first single Have You Ever Loved a Woman with that label. Written by Billy Myles, the tune also appeared on King’s 1961 debut album Freddy King Sings. Over his 14-year recording career, he released 13 studio records.

1978: Rolling Stone magazine voted Some Girls by The Rolling Stones as album of the year. The band’s 16th studio release became their sixth no. 1 album in a row on the U.S. Billboard 200 since 1971’s Sticky Fingers and is considered to be among their best records by many of their fans. It also holds the distinction of being the only Stones record to be nominated for a Grammy in the Album of the Year category. There was some controversy surrounding the cover showing the Stones with select female celebrities and lingerie ads. Following the threat of legal action from the likes of Lucille Ball, Farrah Fawcett and Liza Minnelli, the album was quickly reissued with a different cover that replaced all celebrities with black and punk-style garish colors with the phrase “Pardon our appearance – cover under re-construction”. Here’s a track off the record, When the Whip Comes Down, credited to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards as usual.

Sources: Wikipedia; This Day In Music; Songfacts; Songfacts Music History Calendar; The Current/Minnesota Public Radio; YouTube

‘Tis the Season – Lighten Up!

If you’d asked me over the past couple of weeks whether I was ready for Christmas and New Year’s, most days, I would have said ‘nope’ to the former and ‘hell yes!’ to the latter. Undoubtedly, the second year of this dreadful pandemic has brought many challenges, and with omicron spreading quickly and furiously, the outlook for the near future isn’t great either. Still, while it’s always easy to find reasons to complain, I feel I really shouldn’t do it.

Instead, I should be grateful for many things I oftentimes take for granted: A loving wife and son who haven’t gotten sick; the fact thus far I’ve been able to escape the bloody virus; a roof above my head, even though we literally just needed to have it replaced, which wasn’t cheap; a job I’ve been able to do from home for the past two years; writing this blog about music, a topic I love; and so on and so forth.

As such, it’s time to stop having the blues about the inconveniences the pandemic has brought, especially missing out on live music, and to embrace the holiday season. And, yes, you guessed it, music can help. Following are some contemporary Christmas songs in different genres, including pop, rock, punk, rap, funk, classic rock & roll and even hard rock – as well as one breathtaking rendition of a traditional Christmas carol. I’m borrowing picks from a post I did four years ago. All songs are also captured in a Spotify playlist at the end.

John Lennon/Happy Xmas (War Is Over) (1971)

Chuck Berry/Run Rudolph Run (1958)

The Pogues/Fairytale Of New York (1987)

Run-D.M.C./Christmas In Hollis (1987)

AC/DC/Mistress For Christmas (1990)

José Feliciano/Feliz Navidad (1970)

James Brown/Santa Claus, Go Straight To The Ghetto (1968)

The Ravers/(It’s Gonna Be) A Punk Rock Christmas (1978)

Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band/Santa Claus Is Coming To Town (2007)

The Temptations/Silent Night

Below is the Spotify playlist. In the case of (It’s Gonna Be a) Punk Rock Christmas, the version by The Ravers wasn’t available, but I found another rendition of the song by what sounds like a female punk band, The Majorettes.

Happy Holiday Season! If you don’t celebrate Christmas and/or the New Year, I hope this won’t prevent you from having a great time anyway!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Yep, hard to believe it’s Sunday again. While I find it amazing how another week just flew by, on the upside, this also means it’s time again for my favorite feature, The Sunday Six. For first-time visitors, these weekly posts are mini excursions exploring different styles of music in zig-zag fashion over the past 70 years, six tunes at a time.

My picks for this installment include instrumental acoustic guitar music, classic rock & roll, rock, soul and pop rock. The journey starts in 2021 and then makes stops in 1959, 1979, 1967 and 1995 before it comes to an end in 2003. All on board and fasten your seatbelts!

Hayden Pedigo/Letting Go

As is often the case in this series, I’d like to start with an instrumental track. This time, instead of a jazz tune, I’ve picked some lovely acoustic guitar music by Hayden Pedigo, a 27-year-old American artist whose music I first encountered about a month ago. According to Wikipedia, Pedigo started taking guitar lessons as a 12-year-old. His diverse influences include Stevie Ray Vaughan and Ry Cooder, as well as artists of the so-called American Primitive Guitar style, such as John Fahey, Robbie Basho, Daniel Bachman and Mark Fosson. Pedigo has also studied Soft Machine and King Crimson, and jazz artists like Miles Davis and Pharoah Sanders. In 2013, he released his debut album Seven Years Late. Since then, seven additional records have come out, including his latest, Letting Go, which appeared on September 24. Here’s the title track. I find this music very nice, especially for a Sunday morning.

Chuck Berry/Little Queenie

Just in case you dozed off during that previous track, it’s time to wake up again with some classic rock & roll by one of my favorite artists of the genre, Chuck Berry. I trust the man who John Lennon called “my hero, the creator of rock & roll” needs no further introduction. While of course no one single artist invented rock & roll, I think it’s safe to say rock & roll would have been different without Chuck Berry. Apart from writing widely covered gems like Maybellene, Roll Over Beethoven, Rock and Roll Music and Johnny B. Goode, Berry influenced many other artists like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, Faces, The Yardbirds and The Kinks with his electric guitar licks. Here’s Little Queenie, which Berry wrote and first released as a single in March 1959. The tune also became part of the soundtrack of the rock & roll motion picture Go, Johnny Go that came out in June of the same year.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers/What Are You Doin’ in My Life?

Let’s keep rockin’ with a great tune by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: What Are You Doin’ in My Life? I have to credit my streaming music provider for including the track in a recent “Favorites Mix” playlist. While this song is on my favorite Tom Petty album Damn the Torpedoes from October 1979, it had not quite registered until it was served up to me recently. I think it’s fair to say Petty’s third studio album with the Heartbreakers is better known for tunes like Refugee, Here Comes My Girl, Even the Losers and Don’t Do Me Like That. What Are You Doin’ in My Life? is more of deep track. Like most of the other songs on the album, it was solely written by Petty.

Sam & Dave/Soul Man

Next I’d like to go back to the ’60s and some dynamite soul by Stax recording artists Sam & Dave. Soul Man, co-written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter, became the R&B duo’s biggest U.S. mainstream hit surging all the way to no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. The tune was first released as a single in September 1967 and was also included on Sam & Dave’s third studio album Soul Men that came out the following month. The backing music was provided by Stax’s excellent house band Booker T. & the M.G.’s. In fact, the exclamation in the song, “Play it, Steve,” refers to the band’s guitarist Steve Cropper. Sam & Dave performed as a duo between 1961 and 1981. Sadly, Dave Prater passed away in a single-car accident in April 1988 at the age of 50. Sam Moore is still alive and now 86.

Del Amitri/Roll to Me

I had not heard of Del Amitri in a long time until I did earlier this week on the radio. In fact, other than the name and that tune, Roll to Me, I know nothing about this Scottish alternative rock band that was formed in Glasgow in 1980. During their initial run until 2002, the group released six studio albums and two compilations. Since Del Amtri reemerged from hiatus in 2013, it looks like they have mainly been a touring act. Only one live record, one compilation and one studio album have since appeared. Notably, the latter, Fatal Mistakes, came out this May, 19 years after their last studio album. The band’s current line-up includes original member and main songwriter Justin Currie (vocals, guitar, piano), along with Iain Harvie (guitar), Kris Dollimore (guitar), Andy Alston (keyboards, percussion) and Ash Soan (drums). Roll to Me, written by Currie, is from the group’s fourth studio album Twisted from February 1995. It also was released separately as a single in June that year and became their biggest hit in the U.S. where it reached no. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 – quite a catchy pop rock tune!

Pat Metheny/One Quiet Night

And this once again brings me to the sixth and final track. I decided to pick another acoustic guitar instrumental: One Quiet Night by Pat Metheny. While I’m very familiar with the name Pat Metheny, I believe the only music I had ever heard before is American Garage, the second album by Pat Metheny Group from 1979. That’s easily more than 30 years ago, so I don’t recall the record but oddly remember its title. Metheny who has been active since 1974 has an enormous catalog between Pat Metheny Group, his solo work and other projects. One Quiet Night, written by him, is the title track of a solo acoustic guitar album he released in May 2003. It won the 2004 Grammy Award for Best New Age Album. Both my streaming music provider and Wikipedia tagged it as jazz, the genre that first comes to my mind when I think of Metheny. Whatever you want to label it, it’s nice instrumental music and shall close this post.

Sources: Wikipedia; Discogs; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band/You Never Can Tell

I have to credit fellow blogger Music Enthusiast and his latest post about the forthcoming release of Bruce Springsteen’s The Legendary 1979 No Nukes Concerts film, and I suppose serendipity. When I looked up the film trailer on YouTube, I kept it running and the next clip was the above – simply too great not to post it!

Apparently, this footage was captured during a concert Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band played in Leipzig, Germany in July 2013. I just love the improvised feel of this performance. And that piano and these horns truly rock – and so does everybody else on that stage!

Also known as C’est La Vie or Teenage Wedding, You Never Can Tell was written by Chuck Berry in the early ’60s while he was serving a federal prison sentence for alleged sex with a 14-old girl whom he had transported across state lines to work as a hatcheck girl at his club – a pretty dark looking chapter in Berry’s life.

First released in August 1964 as a single, the tune became Berry’s final top 40 hit in the U.S. until the embarrassing My Ding-a-Ling from October 1972, his only mainstream no. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100. You Never Can Tell was also included on Berry’s seventh studio album St. Louis to Liverpool that appeared in November 1964.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Planes, Trains and Automobiles – Part III

A three-part mini series of songs related to the three transportation modes

This is the third and final part of this mini-series featuring songs related to planes, trains and automobiles. Parts I and II focused on planes and trains. This leaves automobiles.

In case you missed the two previous installments, the theme of the mini series was inspired by the 1987 American comedy picture Planes, Trains and Automobiles. The film is about a marketing executive (Steve Martin) and a sweet but annoying traveling sales guy (John Candy) ending up together as they are trying to get from New York home to Chicago for Thanksgiving. Their plane’s diversion to Wichita due to bad weather in Chicago starts a three-day odyssey and one misadventure after the other, while the two, seemingly incompatible men use different modes of transportation to get to their destination.

Chuck Berry/Maybellene

I couldn’t think of a better way to start this final installment of the mini-series than with a car chase told by Chuck Berry in a classic rock & roll tune. Credited to him, Russ Fratto and Alan Freed, and partially adapted from a Western swing fiddle tune titled Ida Red, the song tells the tale of a guy in a V8 Ford, chasing after his unfaithful girlfriend Maybellene who is driving a Cadillac Coupe de Ville. Initially released as a single in July 1955, Maybellene became Berry’s first hit, reaching no. 1 on Billboard’s Rhythm & Blues chart and no. 5 on the mainstream Hot 100 chart. The tune is an early example of Berry’s gift to write lyrics that appealed to both young African American and young white people. Maybellene also became part of the soundtrack of the motion picture Rock, Rock, Rock! from December 1956, and was included on Berry’s third studio album Chuck Berry Is on Top. The latter might as well have been titled “The Greatest Hits of Classic Rock & Roll.”

The Beach Boys/409

The Beach Boys released various car-related tunes in the ’60s. I guess hot rods and surfing made for good friends. Here’s one of my favorites: 409. Songfacts notes 409 refers to a Chevrolet Bel Air 409 sport coupé, a 360-horsepower beast that with some tuning could be boosted to more than 400 horsepower. If you’re into cars, you can view some images here. Co-written by Brian Wilson, Mike Love and Gary Usher, the tune first appeared in June 1962 as the B-side to the band’s second single Surfin’ Safari. It was also included on two studio albums: Surfin’ Safari, The Beach Boys’ debut record from October 1962, and Little Deuce Coupe, their fourth studio release that came out in October 1963 and featured car songs. Giddy up, giddy up 409!

Wilson Pickett/Mustang Sally

The first time I heard Mustang Sally and fell in love with the tune was in the 1991 music comedy picture The Commitments, which not only is hilarious but also features outstanding Stax style soul – a film I can highly recommend. Originally, the song was written and first recorded by Mack Rice in 1965. But it wasn’t until the following year when Wilson Pickett released a cover that popularized the song, taking it to no. 6 and no. 23 on the U.S. Billboard R&B and Hot 100 charts, respectively. The tune was also included on Pickett’s 1967 studio album The Wicked Pickett.

Golden Earring/Radar Love

When it comes to ’70s car songs, the ones that always come to my mind first are Deep Purple’s Highway Star and Golden Earring’s Radar Love. I decided to go with the Dutch rock band, which included the tune on their ninth studio album Moontan from July 1973. Co-written by their guitarist and lead vocalist George Kooymans and Barry Hay, respectively, Radar Love became Golden Earring’s most successful song. It hit no. 1 in the Netherlands, reached the top 10 in the UK and various other European countries, and climbed to no. 13 in the U.S. If you’re stickler, the one thing that isn’t clear is whether the driver in the song is in a car or in a truck. For the purposes of this post, let’s assume it’s the former. And since I’m not fooling around with any single edits, here’s the 6:26-minute LP version. It’s a hell of a rock tune that deserves to be heard in its full length.

Bruce Springsteen/Ramrod

Let finish with The Boss and what I feel is more of a deep cut from The River, especially when considering this album also includes tunes like The Ties That Bind, Sherry Darling, Independence Day, Hungry Heart and, of course, the title track. This doesn’t change the fact that Ramrod is a great song. There’s a reason why it has remained a staple during Bruce Springsteen concerts. Springsteen originally wrote and recorded Ramrod for Darkness on the Edge of Town but didn’t use it until The River album, which was released in October 1980. I dig the tune’s 60s garage rock vibe. Let’s go ramroddin’!

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Planes, Trains and Automobiles – Part I

A three-part mini series of songs related to the three transportation modes

The other day, the 1987 American comedy picture Planes, Trains and Automobiles randomly came to my mind. It’s about a marketing executive (Steve Martin) and a sweet but annoying traveling sales guy (John Candy) ending up together as they are trying to get from New York home to Chicago for Thanksgiving. Their plane’s diversion to Wichita due to bad weather in Chicago starts a three-day odyssey and one misadventure after the other, while the two, seemingly incompatible men use different modes of transportation to get to their destination.

What does this movie have to do with music? Nothing, except it gave me the idea to put together lists of songs that are related to – you guessed it – planes, trains and automobiles. To be fully transparent, in mid-2017, I published tw0 posts with songs for the road and songs for the train. As such, the theme isn’t really new but, hey, it’s been almost four years. Plus, I feel it’s okay to repeat fun ideas every now and then.

In order to avoid creating what would be a rather lengthy post, I decided to make it a mini series and break things up in three parts, with each featuring five tracks listed in chronological order. Here’s part I: Songs related to planes, an entirely new idea! 🙂

Jefferson Airplane/Blues From an Airplane

Blues From an Airplane is the opener of Jefferson Airplane’s debut album Jefferson Airplane Takes Off from August 1966. The psychedelic rock tune was co-written by Marty Balin and Skip Spence, Airplane’s lead vocalist/rhythm guitarist and drummer, respectively. The tune also became the b-side of the band’s second single Come Up the Years, which was released ahead of the album in May 1966. Airplane’s actual was take-off, Surrealistic Pillow, was still six months away. The record only reached no. 128 on the Billboard 200, while the single failed to chart altogether.

The Beatles/Back in the U.S.S.R.

Why Back in the U.S.S.R., given the tune doesn’t have “plane” or a related word in the title? Since it’s my bloody list, and it cannot be without my favorite band of all time. Plus, there’s a sound of a jet engine in the beginning and at the very end of the tune, and the first verse prominently includes a rough flight. Written by Paul McCartney and credited to John Lennon and him as usual, is actually a parody to Back in the U.S.A. and California Girls by Chuck Berry and The Beach Boys, respectively, poking fun at their patriotic sentiments about the U.S. The song, included on The White Album from November 1968, was recorded without Ringo Starr who temporarily had left the group after McCartney had criticized his drumming. Instead John, Paul and George Harrison created a composite drum track from numerous takes.

Steve Miller Band/Jet Airliner

Jet Airliner was one of the first tunes that came to my mind when thinking about plane songs. The other two were Jet by Paul McCartney and Wings and John Denver’s Leaving on a Jet Plane. Since I decided to include Back in the U.S.S.R., I skipped Jet. While Leaving on a Jet Plane is a lovely tune, it would have been another pick from the ’60s. Written by Paul Penna in 1973, Jet Airliner was popularized by Steve Miller Band when they released it in April 1977 as the lead single of their 10th studio album Book of Dreams that appeared the following month. It yielded their fourth and last ’70s top 10 hit on the U.S. mainstream chart.

Indigo Girls/Airplane

After three rockers I thought it was time to include something that’s a bit lighter, so I’m glad I found this lovely acoustic, folk-oriented tune by Indigo Girls. Written by Emily Saliers, who together with Amy Ray makes up the duo, Airplane is from their fourth studio album Rites of Passage that appeared in May 1992. I really dig the vocals and the harmony singing on this song.

The Black Keys/Aeroplane Blues

There they are again, The Black Keys. The rock duo of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney entered my radar screen recently when I included a tune from their new album Crawling Kingsnake in a Best of What’s New feature. Aeroplane Blues is another edgy blues rock tune, which shall wrap up this first installment. Written by Auerbach and Carney, it appeared on their third studio album Rubber Factory released in September 2004.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

John Hiatt’s New Collaboration Album with Jerry Douglas is a Blues-Oriented Americana Gem

In late March, I spotted and covered Mississippi Phone Booth, a tune from John Hiatt’s then-upcoming new collaboration album with Dobro resonator guitar master Jerry Douglas. Leftover Feelings since came out last Friday, May 21. While based on my still relatively limited knowledge of Hiatt’s previous catalog he doesn’t break new ground, I love the sound and high-quality handcrafted feel of the music, and feel confident enough to say if you dig Hiatt you’ll like this album!

As I noted in my previous post, while Hiatt and Douglas had known each other for years, the album marked the first time they recorded music together. Initially, Leftover Feelings was supposed to be released in April of last year. Like in so many other cases, COVID-19 threw a monkey wrench into everything. But there was one upside.

Hiatt and Douglas recorded the album at Nashville’s historic RCA Studio B during the shutdown, which they otherwise couldn’t have done. Usually, the space is used by the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum for public tours. The cool thing is the storied studio is the very same place where they likes of Elvis Presley, The Everly Brothers and Waylon Jennings once recorded.

From left: Jerry Douglas, Daniel Kimbro & John Hiatt

“The room’s just got a feel to it,” Hiatt told Paste. “My mind started pedaling back to when I was a little boy hearing ‘Blue Christmas’ every Christmas and ‘Love Me Tender,’ and all of the great songs recorded there just kinda blew my mind.”

“The whole time you’re there, when you’re not playing, you’re thinking about who has been in that room and played,” added Douglas. “All these great music producers and musicians walked in and out through that room, and it was their playhouse.” One can only imagine what a thrill it must have been to record in this famous place!

This brings me to the musicians playing on the album. Apart from Hiatt (vocals, acoustic guitar) and Douglas (Dobro, lap steel guitar, backing vocals), they include Jerry Douglas Band members Mike Seal (acoustic and electric guitar), Daniel Kimbro (bass, string arrangements) and Christian Sedelmyer (fiddle). In addition, there’s Carmella Ramsey (backing vocals). ‘So who’s playing the drums?’ you might ask yourself. Well, nobody – frankly, there’s no drummer needed in this case!

Let’s get to some music. Here’s opener Long Black Electric Cadillac. Like all of the 10 other tracks, the song was written by Hiatt. As this review by The Associated Press cleverly observed, the tune introduces “a new musical form — the 12-bar blues gone green.” A little excerpt from the lyrics helps illustrate the point: I got a long black electric Cadillac/She goes a thousand miles on a charge/I got a long black electric Cadillac/She goes a thousand miles on a charge/I’m runnin’ subterranean air conditioning/And a full electron photo array in my backyard…

While Mississippi Phone Booth is one of my early favorite tunes, I’m skipping it here, given I covered it before and go right to All the Lilacs in Ohio. It’s an acoustic stripped back version of a song Hiatt previously recorded for The Tiki Bar is Open, a studio album released on September 11, 2001.

I’m in Ashville is “a song about a guy who’s left his lover in all but his mind and heart,” Hiatt told Relix. “Jerry’s aching steel guitar floating above the rolling fiddle and the pulse of the bass and rhythm just expands on the dubious decision this fellow has made.” I love this tune. The warm sound is just beautiful!

On Little Goodnight things become slightly more electric, which is good for sound variety. It’s another tune Hiatt had released previously, in this case on his 2012 compilation Collected.

Let’s do one additional track: Keen Rambler. The above AP review characterizes the song as “spirited” (agree), comparing it to “a Chuck Berry car song, but it’s about walking.” Less sure about that. What I do know is I like the tune and that’s good enough for me to highlight it in this post.

Leftover Feelings is Hiatt’s 26th album and follows The Eclipse Sessions, his second live album from 2018. It was produced by Douglas and mastered by engineer Paul Blakemore. The album appears on New West Records, Hiatt’s eighth release on that label based in Nashville, Tenn. and Athens, Ga.

Sources: Wikipedia; Paste; Associated Press; Relix; YouTube