On This Day in Rock & Roll History: October 14

After a longer pause, it’s time again for another installment of my irregular feature where I explore what happened on an arbitrarily picked date throughout rock history. The only rule I have it that it must reflect my music taste and be a date I haven’t covered yet. The good news is I got plenty of choices left, including October 14, so without further ado, let’s get to it!

1957: The Everly Brothers hit no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 with Wake Up Little Susie. Written by husband-and-wife country and pop songwriting duo Felice Bryant (born Matilda Genevieve Scaduto) and Diadorius Boudleaux Bryant, the tune became the first of three no. 1 songs Don Everly and Phil Everly scored on the mainstream charts. The Bryants also wrote Bye Bye Love, the previous single by The Everly Brothers, as well as numerous of their other hits. Wake Up Little Susie reached the top of the Billboard country and R&B charts as well, and was included on The Everly Brothers’ 1958 eponymous debut album. It was the first song by them I heard in my early teens when I was still pretty much adoring Elvis Presley. While in my mind back then nobody could ever match Elvis when it came to rock & roll, The Everly Brothers quickly earned my respect.

1967: Of course, no music history post can be without The Beatles or related topics. In this case, it’s an artist who managed to knock out The Fab Four from the top of the charts. The great Bobbie Gentrie, who later became a woman of mystery, hit no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200 with her debut album Ode to Billie Joe, ending the 15-week reign of The Beatles with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. According to Wikipedia, it was the only record that managed to displace Sgt. Pepper from the top spot. Released on August 21 that year, Gentry’s debut album had been quickly assembled following her successful single with the same title. This is such a great tune!

1968: Next let’s turn to The Beatles themselves to see what they were up to. The year was 1968 and the location was Studio 2 at EMI Studies, Abbey Road, London. John, Paul and George were working on eight songs for the White Album – of course, The Beatles Bible had to count them all! The ultimate record of Beatles truth further notes Ringo Starr had left for a two-week family vacation to Sardinia and as such was absent. In fact, he had no further involvement in the album’s mixing and sequencing. The recording session saw the completion of work on one the tunes: Savoy Truffle, a song by George Harrison, which had been inspired by Eric Clapton. Eric has “got this real sweet tooth and he’d just had his mouth worked on,” Harrison explained. “His dentist said he was through with candy. So as a tribute I wrote, ‘You’ll have to have them all pulled out after the Savoy Truffle’. George’s sense of humor could be peculiar!

1971: Specialty Records, the company that held the rights to Little Richard’s songs, sued John Fogerty, charging the Creedence Clearwater Revival song Travelin’ Band plagiarized Richard’s Good Golly, Miss Molly. Here’s Richard’s tune. The CCR track is below. Great gosh a’mighty, if this is plagiarism, then pretty much all classic rock & roll songs are! I feel this is very different from Zep’s rip-off of Spirit’s Taurus or the similarity between George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord and The Chiffons’ record of He’s So Fine. Eventually, the case was settled out of court. Travelin’ Band first appeared in January 1970 as the B-side to Who’ll Stop the Rain, the lead single of CCR’s fifth studio album Cosmo’s Factory released in July of the same year.

1977: David Bowie released his 12th studio album Heroes. The second installment of Bowie’s so-called Berlin Trilogy only came nine months after predecessor Low. The third album in the series, Lodger, would appear in May 1979. Bowie recorded all three albums in West Berlin, Germany, in collaboration with Brian Eno and co-producer Tony Visconti. Bowie was quite busy in 1977. The making of Heroes followed his participation as keyboarder during a tour of his friend Iggy Pop and co-producing Pop’s second studio album Lust for Life. Heroes incorporated elements of art rock and experimental rock, and built on Low’s electronic and ambient approaches. In general, I’m more fond of Bowie’s late ’60s and glam rock period. That being said, I always liked the album’s title track that was co-written by Bowie and Eno. The record did pretty well in the charts, reaching no. 3 in the UK, the top 20 in various other European countries, no. 6 in Australia and no. 35 in the U.S. – overall largely matching the performance of Low.

1983: Let’s finish this little history post with another album release: She’s So Unusual, the solo debut by Cyndi Lauper. The record became a huge chart success and Lauper’s best-selling album with more than 16 million units sold worldwide as of 2008. It certainly was welcome news for Lauper who only a few years earlier had found herself forced to file for bankruptcy, a fallout from the aftermath of her previous band Blue Angel, a failed debut album and a lawsuit the band’s manager Steven Massarsky had brought against her and the band. Beware of hiring a lawyer as your manager! She’s So Unusual yielded several hit singles. Here’s the most successful and my favorite, Time After Time, co-written by Lauper and Rob Hyman who is best know as a founding member of American band The Hooters. The tune topped the mainstream charts in the U.S. and Canada, climbed to no. 3 in New Zealand, reached no. 5 in Australia, and became a top 10 hit in various European countries, including Austria (no. 6), Ireland (no. 2), France (no. 9), Germany (no. 6), The Netherlands (no. 8) and the UK (no. 3).

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

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday Six. Can you believe we’re already in August? It feels like July came and went before we knew it – crazy how time seems to fly these days! So what’s in store for this installment? In a nutshell six tracks representing different flavors of rock, a dose of Americana, and some classic rock & roll, spanning the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and the current decade. Ready to embark on another unpredictable music excursion? Let’s do it!

Spirit/I Got a Line on You

Kicking it off today are Spirit, and I’m not talking about liquor. The American rock band perhaps is best remembered for writing the signature acoustic guitar intro to Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven. Let me rephrase that. Somehow, Jimmy Page unconsciously got inspired by Spirit’s instrumental Taurus after Led Zeppelin had opened up for Spirit during their first American tour. Evidently, Messrs. Page and Robert Plant also had better lawyers, leading to a favorable verdict in a copyright infringement lawsuit the estate of Taurus composer Randy California had brought several years ago. To be clear, I love Stairway to Heaven and have come to dig Led Zeppelin big time. I just wish they would have given credit where credit was clearly warranted – nuff said! Let’s get to what I really wanted to highlight: I Got a Line on You, Spirit’s second single released in October 1968 and another tune written by California. The great song also appeared on the band’s second album The Family That Plays Together, which came out in December of the same year.

Beki Hemingway/Cost Me Everything

Beki Hemingway and her husband Randy Kirkman are an Americana wife and husband duo based in the Americana hot spot of Dundalk, Ireland. Shout-out to fellow blogger Darren Johnson who through his recent review of Hemingway’s latest album Earth & Asphalt brought the duo on my radar screen. For some additional context, following is an excerpt from Hemingway’s online bio: Her long and varied career has found her singing in several bands, including comical punk-rockers This Train, as well as singing live and studio backup vocals on everything from industrial to inspirational music. Things really clicked when she started collaborating with Randy Kerkman in the late 1990’s, releasing 5 CDs on the Minneapolis-based indie Salt Lady Records, performing up to 150 shows per year, and sharing the stage with nationally and internationally acclaimed singer/ songwriters such as Aimee Mann, Shawn Colvin, and Duke Special. After several years on hiatus living a “normal life” as a tour guide and Deputy Sheriff in Denver, Beki and Randy released a 6-song ep entitled I have big plans for the world and followed up with 2017’s Whins and Weather. Since the fall of 2016, Hemingway and Kirkman have lived in Ireland. Here’s Cost Me Everything, a tune from the aforementioned Earth & Asphalt album that was released in December 2020. Check out that beautiful warm sound!

Neil Young/Like a Hurricane

I trust Neil Young doesn’t need an introduction. A couple of weeks ago, my streaming music provider served up Hangin’ On a Limb, and I was going to feature this nice deep cut from Young’s 17th, 1989 studio album Freedom that’s best known for the anthemic Rockin’ in the Free World. Things changed on Thursday when my family and I found ourselves seeking shelter in our basement for two hours after a tornado warning had been issued for my area. Of course, tornadoes are pretty common in certain regions of the U.S. but in friggin’ central New Jersey? While there were several confirmed tornadoes that caused significant damage in other areas of the state, luckily, we were spared. It was a surreal and pretty humbling experience, and it wasn’t the first time. With getting blown away on my mind, I suppose Like a Hurricane wasn’t much of a leap. Appearing on American Stars ‘n Bars, Young’s eighth studio album from May 1977, the track also happens to be my all-time favorite among his crunchy rock songs.

ZZ Top/Heard It on the X

Sadly, longtime ZZ Top bassist Dusty Hill passed away on Wednesday at the age of 72. I think it’s fair to say guitarist Billy Gibbons has gotten most of the attention when it comes to the Texan rockers. That’s because he has played the cool guitar riffs and solos and has done most of the lead vocals. While I’ve enjoyed ZZ Top’s music since their 1983 Eliminator album and hits like Gimme All Your Lovin’, Sharp Dressed Man and Legs, I’m far from being an expert on the band. In fact, until the news about Hill’s untimely death, I had not realized it was actually Hill who sang lead on my favorite ZZ Top tune Tush. Well, he did! And here’s another track from the Fandango! album, featuring Hill on vocals – in this case sharing duties with Gibbons. When that record appeared in April 1975, the difference between their voices wasn’t as pronounced as in later years. Check out this cool clip from Live from Texas released in various video and audio formats in June 2008. It captured ZZ Top’s November 1, 2007 gig at Nokia Theatre in Grand Prairie, Texas. Makes you wonder a bit why Hill didn’t get to sing more often.

The Kinks/Sunny Afternoon

The other day, fellow blogger Hans from Slice the Life picked Waterloo Sunset by The Kinks as part of his ongoing fun 2021 song draft. Not only did this remind me of the great tune but also that The Kinks are among my longtime favorite British rock bands, together with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who and Cream, to name a few others. When it comes to the group from Muswell Hill, I’m mostly familiar with their ’60s and early ’70s output. I still love You Really Got Me, All Day and All of the Night, Got My Feet On the Ground, A Well Respected Man, Till the End of the Day, Dead End Street…The list of great tunes that were mostly written by Ray Davies goes on and on. One of my favorite songs by The Kinks is Sunny Afternoon, yet another track penned by Ray. It first appeared as a single in the UK in June 1966, yielding the band’s third and final no. 1 hit there. In the U.S., where it was released the following month, Sunny Afternoon peaked at no. 16 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was also included on The Kinks’ fourth studio album Face to Face that came out in October and December 1966 in the UK and U.S., respectively. According to Songfacts, Davies wrote the tune while recovering from a challenging period of group tensions and lawsuits. The song’s success “did bring Davies out of his funk for a while.”

Elvis Presley/Jailhouse Rock

And once again this brings me to the last tune for this installment. Elvis Presley was my childhood idol and, come to think of it, my only idol. Usually, I don’t idolize people, not even The Beatles, my all-time favorite band. Well, when I adored Elvis and would do crazy stuff like trying to impersonate him in front of a mirror I was pretty young – 12 years or so. Anyway, while I no longer idolize Elvis, I still think he was one of the most compelling music artists I know, especially during his early phase before he entered the U.S. Army. Here’s an absolute classic rock & roll gem: Jailhouse Rock, one of many great tunes co-written by the songwriting and record-producing duo of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. First released as a single in September 1957, Jailhouse Rock also became the title track of the third movie starring Elvis Presley. While Elvis movies are generally pretty dismal, this picture will forever be remembered for its amazing dance routine. In some regards, this feels like looking at an early version of a Michael Jackson video. The choreography is pretty stunning. Come on Spider Murphy, play that tenor saxophone, and Little Joe, blow that slide trombone!

Sources: Wikipedia; Beki Hemingway website; Songfacts; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

It’s Sunday and the end of yet another a busy week that left very little time for music. But this shall not prevent me from putting together a new installment of The Sunday Six – coz life without music is simply unthinkable! I think I got a pretty decent and diverse fresh set of six tunes. Hope you enjoy it!

Henry Mancini/Peter Gunn

As more frequent visitors of the blog know, I’m a huge fan of vocals, especially when sung in perfect harmony. But that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy a great instrumental, so let’s get started with a true classic. Peter Gunn by Henry Mancini was the opening track of the American television show of the same name. Starring Craig Stevens as private eye Peter Gunn, the series ran for three seasons between 1958 and 1961. The first version of the theme I heard was the live rendition by Emerson, Lake & Palmer from their 1979 album In Concert, which as I recall got decent radio play in Germany at the time. Peter Gunn was first released as a single in 1959 and also became the opener of the soundtrack album The Music from Peter Gunn. I find this combination of rock and jazz really cool. I wonder whether it inspired Monty Norman’s James Bond Theme from 1962.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers/Refugee

Tom Petty wrote many great songs, so I certainly had plenty of choice. If I could only pick one, I’d go with Refugee from Damn the Torpedoes, the third studio album by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Released in October 1979, it’s not only one of the most beloved Tom Petty records among his fans, but it’s also the band’s most commercially successful album in the U.S., and one of their highest charting on the Billboard 200 where it surged to no. 2. Moreover, perhaps not surprisingly, Damn the Torpedoes is on Rolling Stones’ list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Unlike many other older records on that list, remarkably, it moved up from no. 313 in 2003 to no. 231 in the latest revision from September 2020. Co-written by Petty and Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell, Refugee also appeared separately as the album’s second single in January 198o and became the band’s second top 20 song in the U.S., peaking at no. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100. Chart success was even bigger in Canada and New Zealand, where the tune reached no. 2 and no. 3, respectively. Such a great song!

The Beach Boys/Good Vibrations

How about some additional great vibes. While I wouldn’t call myself a fan of most Beach Boys songs, which to me can sound pretty repetitive, I always felt their harmony singing was out of this world. One of the greatest tunes I can think of in this context is Good Vibrations, my all-time favorite by The Beach Boys. Composed by the ingenious Brian Wilson with lyrics by Mike Love, the song was first released as a single in October 1966. Topping the charts in the U.S., UK and Australia, and surging to no. 2 in Canada, The Netherlands and Norway, Good Vibrations became The Beach Boys’ best-selling single reaching Platinum certifications in the U.S. and the UK. It also holds the distinction of becoming the costliest single ever recorded, involving a host of session musicians at four Hollywood studios and more than 90 hours of footage captured between February and September 1966. While that effort certainly sounds excessive, the outcome remains nothing short of breathtaking to this day. Initially, Good Vibrations was supposed to appear on Smile, but it remained an unfinished album at the time. Instead, the tune was included on Smiley Smile, The Beach Boys’ 12th studio record from September 1967. In September 2004, Brian Wilson released Brian Wilson Presents Smile, his forth solo album that featured all-new recordings of the tracks he had originally written for Smile.

Steely Dan/Deacon Blues

Continuing the theme of all-time favorite tracks, let’s turn to Steely Dan and the amazing Aja album. Their sixth studio release from September 1977 remains the Mount Rushmore of Donald Fagen’s and Walter Becker’s output, IMHO. It’s one of those rare albums without any tracks that feel like fillers or are otherwise not as compelling as the remaining tunes. Still, if I had to pick one, I’d go with Deacon Blues. The tune was mostly written at Fagen’s house in Malibu and, according to Wikipedia, was prompted by his observation that “if a college football team like the University of Alabama could have a grandiose name like the ‘Crimson Tide’ the nerds and losers should be entitled to a grandiose name as well.” Quoting Fagen from Anatomy of a Song: The Oral History of 45 Iconic Hits That Changed Rock, R&B and Pop (Marc Myers, 2016), Wikipedia adds: “The concept of the “expanding man” that opens the song may have been inspired by Alfred Bester’s The Demolished Man. Walter and I were major sci-fi fans. The guy in the song imagines himself ascending to the levels of evolution, “expanding” his mind, his spiritual possibilities, and his options in life.” Instead of continuing the near-impossible task of interpreting Steely Dan lyrics, let’s just listen to the bloody song!

The Chesterfield Kings/I Don’t Understand

If you’re familiar with my music taste, perhaps with the exception of the first track, none of the picks in this post thus far should have come as a big surprise. The picture might change a bit with this next track appropriately titled I Don’t Understand, by The Chesterfield Kings – well, let me explain and you will understand! It all started when fellow blogger Max who pens the PowerPop blog recently featured She Told Me Lies, another tune by this former American garage and psychedelic rock band from Rochester, N.Y. I loved their cool sound right away, which prompted me to listen to The Mindbending Sounds of the Chesterfield Kings, one of sadly only three albums that are currently available through my streaming music provider. I Don’t Understand is the opener of that 2003 album. Founded in the late ’70s by Greg Prevost, The Chesterfield Kings were instrumental in sparking the 1980s garage band revival, according to Wikipedia. A partial discography there lists 11 albums by the group that was active until 2009. Credited to The Chesterfield Kings, I Don’t Understand has a neat Byrds vibe – see, told ya, now you understand this pick! 🙂

Little Richard/Long Tall Sally

Once again, this brings me to the final tune of yet another fun zig-zag journey through music. Let’s make it count and tell Aunt Mary ’bout Uncle John: Long Tall Sally by the amazing Little Richard who I trust needs no further introduction. Co-written by Richard (credited with his birth name Richard Wayne Penniman), Robert Alexander “Bumps” Blackwell and Enotris Johnson, the classic rock & roll tune was released as a single in March 1956 and included on his debut album Here’s Little Richard that appeared at the same time – and, boy, what an album! It also featured Richard gems like Tutti Frutti, Slippin’ and Slidin’ and Jenny, Jenny. Perhaps it’s his equivalent to Chuck Berry’s third studio album Chuck Berry Is on Top from July 1959, which alternatively could have been titled The Greatest Hits of Classic Rock & Roll. Long Tall Sally became Richard’s first no. 1 on Billboard’s Hot R&B chart. Based on Wikipedia, the tune also was his most successful single on the mainstream chart where it peaked at no. 6.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: January 28

In the past, I tended to wait several weeks before compiling the next installment of my music history feature. Not so this time. Let’s take a look at events that happened on January 28 in rock and pop history.

1956: Elvis Presley made his debut on national U.S. television with an appearance on the Stage Show, a popular variety show on CBS. Backed by guitarist Scotty Moore and upright bassist Bill Black, Presley performed covers of Shake, Rattle & Roll, Flip, Flop and Fly and I Got a Woman. Apparently, the show liked it. Elvis, Scotty and Bill returned five more times over the next two months that same year. Here’s a clip of Shake, Rattle & Roll, written by Charles F. Calhoun and first recorded and released by Big Joe Turner in 1954.

1965: The Who appeared on the popular British rock and pop music TV show Ready Steady Go!, marking their debut on television in the UK. They performed their brand new single I Can’t Explain, which had been released two weeks earlier. Written by Pete Townshend, it was the band’s second single and first released as The Who. To help ensure a successful visual outcome, manager Kit Lambert placed members of the band’s fan club in the audience, who were asked to wear Who football scarves.

1969: Stevie Wonder released the title track of his 11th studio album My Cherie Amour as a single, seven months ahead of the record. Co-written by him, Sylvia Moy and producer Henry Cosby, the tune was about Wonder’s girlfriend he had met at the Michigan School for the Blind in Lansing, Mich. The song peaked at no. 4 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. It also climbed to no. 4 on the UK singles chart, making it one of Wonder’s highest charting tracks there.

1978: Van Halen introduced the world to Eddie Van Halen’s furious signature guitar sound with their first single You Really Got Me. Written by Ray Davis and first released by The Kinks in August 1964 in the UK, the cover garnered a good amount of radio play and helped Van Halen kick off their career. It did quite well in the charts, reaching no. 36 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, climbing to no. 49 in Canada and peaking at no. 11 in Australia. The tune was also included on Van Halen’s eponymous debut album that came out two weeks after the single.

1980: The J. Geils Band released their ninth studio album Love Stinks. It became their first top 20 album on the Billboard 200 since Bloodshot from April 1973, reaching no. 18. In Canada, it went all the way to no. 4. Their biggest album Freeze-Frame would still be 16 months away. Yes, The J. Geils Band’s earlier records may have been better, but bands also need to have some hits every now and then to make a living. Here’s the title track, co-written by Peter Wolf and Seth Justman. I guess like some other folks, I will forever associate the tune with the 1998 American picture The Wedding Singer. Now it’s stuck in my head!

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts Music History Calendar; This Day in Music; uDiscoverMusic; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: January 24

Time again for a dose of music history, which has recurred irregularly since June 2016 and is my longest running feature on the blog. For any new visitors, in a nutshell, the idea is to look at events that happened on a certain date throughout rock and pop history. As always, the selections reflect my music taste and do not aim to present a full account. With that, let’s embark on some music time travel!

1958: An obscure band called The Quarrymen hit the Cavern Club in London for their first live performance. They were billed as The Quarry Men Skiffle Group. “They’d only been playing for a short while so you wouldn’t expect them to be any good…,” recalled Cavern owner Alan Sytner. “At the time, they couldn’t play to save their lives and all I can remember is their cheek and their chat.” While it hasn’t been definitively documented, The Quarrymen are believed to have performed at the Cavern Club on several other occasions. Four years later, the group would change the music world forever with a different line-up. Their name? The Beatles. Here’s In Spite of All the Danger, one of the first songs recorded by The Quarrymen. Co-written by Paul McCartney and George Harrison, the tune is thought to have been recorded sometime between May and July 1958. It was shortly after Harrison (guitar, vocals) had joined the band, which at the time apart from McCartney (vocals, guitar) also featured John Lennon (vocals, guitar), John Lowe (piano) and Colin Hunton (drums).

1958: While The Quarrymen were getting their feet wet the Cavern Club, a music phenomenon from the U.S. stood at no. 1 of the UK singles chart: Elvis Presley. Jailhouse Rock became the first-ever single to enter the chart at no. 1 and was the second no. 1 for Elvis in the UK after All Shook Up. Co-written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, Jailhouse Rock was the title track of the picture of the same name that had hit the widescreen in September 1957. It also topped the charts in the U.S. and Canada and reached the top 10 in several other countries.

1967: Pink Floyd were at Sound Techniques Studios in Chelsea, London, to work on their debut single Arnold Layne, backed by Candy and a Currant Bun. Both tracks were written by the band’s initial leader Syd Barrett. When the band performed the latter tune live in 1967, it was titled Let’s Roll Another One and included the line I’m high – Don’t try to spoil my fun. Columbia (EMI) didn’t like the obvious references to drugs and forced Barrett to change the title and rewrite the corresponding line. Songfacts notes the outcome was still strange since the lyrics included the word “f–k,” making it one of the first songs to use the expletive.

1970: Dr. Robert Moog unveiled the Minimoog at a price of $2,000, an analogue synthesizer designed as a portable, simplified instrument that combined the most useful components of the Moog synthesizer in a single device. It became the first synthesizer sold in retail stores and quickly gained popularity among progressive rock and jazz musicians. It also ended up being widely used in disco, pop, rock and electronic music. Not everybody was enthusiastic. According to Songfacts Music History Calendar, The American Federation of Musicians feared the Minimoog’s realistic sounds would put horn and string sections out of business. Yes keyboarder Rick Wakeman, an early adopter of the Minimoog, said the synthesizer “absolutely changed the face of music.”

Minimoog.JPG

1975: Elton John, who was flying high, topped the Billboard 200 with his first compilation album Greatest Hits, bringing to a close an impressive 9-week run in the no. 1 spot. It became the most sold album of 1975 in the U.S. and remains his best-selling t0 date. The compilation, which featured 10 of John’s biggest singles, also topped the charts in Australia, Canada and the UK. Here’s one of my all-time favorites, Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to Be a Long, Long Time). Composed by John with lyrics by his longtime collaborator Bernie Taupin, the tune was first released as a single in March 1972 and included on John’s fifth studio album Honky Château that came out in May of the same year.

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

A-Wop-Bop-a-Loo-Bop-a-Wop-Bam-Boom!

In Memoriam of Little Richard

“I created rock ‘n’ roll! I’m the innovator! I’m the emancipator! I’m the architect! I am the originator! I’m the one that started it! There wasn’t anyone singing rock ‘n’ roll when I came into it. There was no rock ‘n’ roll.” No, Richard Wayne Penniman wasn’t exactly known for modest self-assessment. I think this comment he made during an interview with SFGATE.com, the website of the San Francisco Chronicle, in July 2003 also illustrates he was a showman who had a knack for memorable quotes.

I’m writing this, as the obituaries still keep pouring in for the man known as Little Richard, who passed away this morning in Tullahoma, Tenn. at the age of 87, according to The New York Times. CNN reported Richard’s former agent Dick Alen confirmed the cause of death was related to bone cancer. Apparently, Richard had not been in good health for some time.

Little Richard 2

Instead of writing yet another traditional obituary, I’d like to primarily focus on what I and countless other rock & roll fans loved about Little Richard, and that’s his music. While he is sadly gone, fortunately, his music is here to stay. And there is plenty of it, so let’s get started and rock it up!

Richard’s recording career started in 1951 close to his 19th birthday when RCA Victor released Every Hour. An original composition, the soulful blues ballad doesn’t exactly sound like A-Wop-Bop-a-Loo-Bop-a-Wop-Bam-Boom!, but one already can get an idea of Richard’s vocal abilities. While tune became a regional hit, it did not break through nationally, just like the other songs Richard recorded with RCA Victor, so he left in February 1952.

Following a few lean years and a struggle with poverty, which in 1954 forced Richard to work as a dishwasher in Macon, Ga., the breakthrough came when Specialty Records released Tutti Frutti as a single in November 1955. The record company had hired songwriter Dorothy LaBostrie to replace some of Richard’s sexual lyrics with less controversial words. Not only did the classic bring Richard long-sought national success, but the loud, hard-driving sound and wild (yet somewhat tamed) lyrics also became a blueprint for many of his tunes to come.

Tutti Frutti started a series of hits and the most successful two-year phase of Richard’s career. One of my favorites is the follow-up single Long Tall Sally from March 1956. Co-written by Richard, Robert “Bumps” Blackwell and Enotris Johnson, the song became Richard’s highest-charting U.S. mainstream hit, climbing to no. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also marked his first no. 1 on the Hot R&B Singles chart. Over the years, I must have listened to Long Tall Sally 100 times or even more. It still grabs me. I also dig the cover by The Beatles. Classic rock & roll doesn’t get much better.

Ready, Teddy, for another biggie? Yeah, I’m ready, ready, ready to a rock ‘n’ roll.

Lucille, you won’t do your sister’s will?
Oh, Lucille, you won’t do your sister’s will?
You ran off and married, but I love you still

Lucille, released in February 1957, was co-written by Richard and Albert Collins – and nope, that’s not the blues guitarist. The two just happen to share the same name. According to Wikipedia, “the song foreshadowed the rhythmic feel of 1960s rock music in several ways, including its heavy bassline and slower tempo.” Okay, I guess I take that. Lucille became Richard’s third and last no. 1 on the Hot R&B Singles. The song reached a more moderate no. 27 on the Billboard Hot 100. In the UK, on the other hand, it climbed to no. 10 on the Official Singles Chart. In addition to Richard’s vocals and piano, the horn work on this tune is just outstanding!

And then came that tour of Australia together with Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran in October 1957 that changed Richard’s trajectory. As Rolling Stone put it in their obituary, After what he interpreted as signs – a plane engine that seemed to be on fire and a dream about the end of the world and his own damnation – Penniman gave up music in 1957 and began attending the Alabama Bible school Oakwood College, where he was eventually ordained a minister. When he finally cut another album, in 1959, the result was a gospel set called God Is Real.

After Richard left the music business, his record label Specialty Records continued to release previously recorded songs until 1960 when his contract ended and he apparently agreed to relinquish any royalties for his material. One of these tunes was another classic, Good Golly, Miss Molly. Co-written by John Marascalco and Blackwell, and first recorded in 1956, the single appeared in January 1958. It became a major hit, peaking at no. 10 and 8 in the U.S. and UK pop, charts respectively, and reaching no. 4 on the Hot R&B Singles.

Here’s the title track from the above noted 1959 album God Is Real. The tune was written by gospel music composer Kenneth Morris.

In 1962, Richard started a gradual return to secular music. While according to Rolling Stone, a new generation of music artists like The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan welcomed him back, his music no longer sold well. When Richard performed at the Star-Club in Hamburg in the early ’60s, a then still relatively unknown British band called The Beatles opened up for him. The above Rolling Stone obituary included this quote from John Lennon: “We used to stand backstage at Hamburg’s Star-Club and watch Little Richard play…He used to read from the Bible backstage and just to hear him talk we’d sit around and listen. I still love him and he’s one of the greatest.”

In January 1967, Richard released a soul-oriented album titled The Explosive Little Richard. It was produced by his longtime friend Larry Williams and featured Johnny “Guitar” Watson. They co-wrote this tasty tune for Richard, Here’s Poor Dog (Who Can’t Wag His Own Tail). It also appeared as a single and reached no. 121 and 41 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Hot R&B Singles charts, respectively. The record didn’t chart.

While Richard enjoyed success as a live performer, his records continued to sell poorly. In April 1970, he had a short-lived comeback of sorts with Freedom Blues, a single from his album The Rill Thing released in August that year. Co-written by Richard and R&B singer Eskew Reeder, Jr., who had taught him how to play the piano, the tune reached no. 47 on the Billboard Hot 100 and peaked at no. 28 on the Hot R&B Singles.

During the remainder of the ’70s, Richard continued to perform and also had guest appearances on records by Delaney and Bonnie, Joe Walsh and Canned Heat, among others. He also became addicted to marijuana and cocaine. Eventually, his lifestyle wore him out, and in 1977, Richard quit rock & roll for the second time and returned to evangelism.

In 1984, he returned to music yet another time, feeling he could reconcile his roles as a rock & roll artist and an evangelist. Following a role in the movie picture Down and Out in Beverly Hills, Richard released another album, Lifetime Friend, in 1986. I actually got it on CD at the time. Here’s the nice opener Great Gosh A’Mighty, which Richard co-wrote with Billy Preston. Reminiscent of the old “A-Wop-Bop-a-Loo-Bop-a-Wop-Bam-Boom Richard,” the tune had also been included in the soundtrack of the aforementioned movie.

In 1992, Richard released Little Richard Meets Masayoshi Takanaka, which featured newly recorded versions of his hits. The final Little Richard album Southern Child appeared in January 2005. Originally, the record had been scheduled for release in 1972 but had been shelved. Richard continued to perform frequently through the ’90s and the first decade of the new millennium. Nerve pain in his left leg and hip replacement forced him to reduce concerts and eventually to retire in 2013.

Richard was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 as part of the very first group of inductees, which also included Chuck Berry, James Brown, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, The Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley. He also was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and received numerous awards. Four of his songs, Tutti Frutti (no. 43), Long Tall Sally (no. 55), Good Golly, Miss Molly (no. 94) and The Girl Can’t Help It (420), are in Rolling Stone’s list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time from April 2010.

I’d like to end this post with a few reactions from other music artists:

“He was the biggest inspiration of my early teens and his music still has the same raw electric energy when you play it now as it did when it first shot through the music scene in the mid 50’s” (Mick Jagger)

“So sad to hear that my old friend Little Richard has passed. There will never be another!!! He was the true spirit of Rock’n Roll!” (Keith Richards)

“He will live on always in my heart with his amazing talent and his friendship! He was one of a kind and I will miss him dearly” (Jerry Lee Lewis)

“God bless little Richard one of my all-time musical heroes. Peace and love to all his family.” (Ringo Starr)

“He was there at the beginning and showed us all how to rock and roll. He was a such a great talent and will be missed. Little Richard’s music will last forever.” (Brian Wilson)

Sources: Wikipedia; SFGATE.com; The New York Times; CNN; Rolling Stone; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Little Richard/Long Tall Sally & Tutti Frutti

I just saw the sad news that Little Richard passed away today at the age of 87. The cause of his death hasn’t been announced.

Born Richard Wayne Penniman in Macon, Ga. on December 5, 1932, Richard was one of my all-time favorite classic rock & roll music artists. In addition to writing and co-writing many rock & roll gems, Richard was an incredibly compelling performer.

Long Tall Sally, co-written with Robert “Bumps” Blackwell and Enotris Johnson, and released in March 1956; and Tutti Frutti, a co-write with Dorothy LaBostrie that appeared in October 1955, are among my favorites.

Little Richard certainly deserves more than just a quick notice and I’m planning to follow this up with a longer post.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Gary Clark Jr., Jon Batiste & Joe Saylor/Ain’t That A Shame & Maybellene (Medley)

The above clip captures one of the highlights from Sunday night’s 60th annual Grammy Awards ceremony: Gary Clark Jr. teaming up with Jon Batiste and Joe Saylor, the leader and drummer of the house band of the Late Night Show With Stephen Colbert, respectively, for Ain’t That A Shame and Maybellene. Featuring great piano and guitar solos, the medley was performed in honor of Fats Domino and Chuck Berry, who both passed away last year.

Ain’t That A Shame, co-written by Domino and Dave Bartholomew, appeared on Domino’s 1955 debut album Rock and Rollin’ With Fats Domino. It was also released as a single ahead of the record and became one of his biggest hits, peaking at no. 1 and no. 10 on the Billboard R&B Chart and Hot 100, respectively. Ranked at no. 438 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time list, the tune ended up selling one million copies.

Also recorded and released in 1955, Maybellene is credited to Berry, Russ Fratto and Alan Freed. An adaptation from Ida Red, a Western swing fiddle tune that first had been made famous in 1938 by Bob Willis and The Texas Playboys, Maybellene was Berry’s first single and became his first hit. Like Domino’s Ain’t That A Shame, it reached the top of the Billboard R&B chart and sold one million copies. It climbed to no. 5 on the Hot 100 and is included in the above Rolling Stone list at no. 18. The song also appeared on Berry’s third studio album Chuck Berry Is On Top, released in July 1959.

Sources: Rolling Stone, Wikipedia, YouTube

Pix & Clips: Little Richard/Long Tall Sally

There is actually nothing little about Richard Wayne Penniman, the giant artist better known as Little Richard. Long Tall Sally, which he co-wrote and recorded with Enotris Johnson and producer Robert Blackwell in 1956, is one of my favorite classic rock & roll tunes. It became Richard’s first no. 1 on the Billboard R&B chart and reached no. 7 on the Hot 100 pop chart. The song is also ranked at no. 55 on Rolling Stone’s The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

The above clip is from the 1956 musical picture Don’t Knock The Rock, which also included performances from Bill Haley & His Comets, The Treniers and studio band Dave Appell and the Applejacks. While it is obviously staged and the audience is kind of hilarious to watch, I still dig this clip, since it illustrates Richard’s great showmanship. And how how about this kick ass saxophone player jumping on Richard’s piano and playing a killer solo?

If I were a little kid watching this, I would want to learn how to play the piano like Richards and the sax like the saxophone guy. In fact, I still feel like learning these instruments. So maybe there is still a little child in me!

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Buddy Holly/Buddy Holly

Buddy Holly is the second studio album of a young artist who during a short career created an incredible legacy

While working on my previous post about the Fender Stratocaster electric guitar, I learned that Buddy Holly was one of the model’s early adopters and in fact became its first “hero” in the U.S. His 1957 appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show with his band The Crickets helped popularize the Strat. This gave me the idea to revisit the music of Holly, an artist I’ve liked from the very first moment I listened to Peggy Sue on the radio, which is longer ago than I want to remember!

Released in February 1958, technically, Buddy Holly, was Holly’s first solo album. For contractual reasons, his previous record, The “Chirping” Crickets, was credited to The Crickets, but the same band played on both releases. The then 21-year-old artist from Lubbock, Texas, who was a prolific writer, wrote or co-wrote six of the 12 tracks – similar to the predecessor, for which he co-wrote five of 12 songs.

The album kicks off with I’m Gonna Love You Too, a nice rockabilly tune. Officially, the song is credited to Crickets bassist and rhythm guitarist Joe B. Mauldin and Niki Sullivan, respectively, as well as Norman Petty, who produced the album. But Crickets drummer Jerry Allison later went on record saying it was actually Holly who primarily wrote the song.

Next up is Peggy Sue, which in my opinion is one of the greatest rock & roll tunes of all time. Credited to Holly, Allison and Petty, it was initially released as a single in July 1957. Amazingly, Peggy Sue “only” peaked at no. 3 on the Billboard Top 100. Here’s a clip from the above mentioned 1957 performance on Ed Sullivan.

Everyday is another classic appearing on the album. The song was written by Holly and Petty, and initially released as the B-side to the Peggy Sue single. The tune has two unusual features. The percussion was created by drummer Allison slapping his knees. There is also a celesta played by Petty, a keyboard instrument that creates a sound similar to a glockenspiel.

As a huge fan of The Beatles, I have to call out Words Of Love, which the Fab Four covered in 1964 on their fourth UK studio album Beatles For Sales. It is the only song on Buddy Holly that is solely credited to Holly. What stands out in this tune are the beautiful guitar lines. Seemingly effortlessly, Holly blended playing chords and picking-style. It reminds me a bit of The Byrds. He also harmonized with himself by combining tape recordings of each vocal part.

Another tune I’d like to highlight is Rave On, which became the album’s fourth and final single in April 1958. The song was written by Sonny West, Bill Tilghman and Petty. West recorded and released it first, but it was Holly’s version that ended up becoming a hit – one of six Holly tunes that entered the charts in 1958. Here’s a great clip – don’t know from which show.

While unlike its predecessor at no. 420, Buddy Holly is not included in Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, four of its tracks are in the magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time: That’ll Be the Day (No. 39), Rave On (No. 155), Peggy Sue (No. 197) and Everyday (No. 238). Altogether, five Holly tunes are on the list – the fifth being Not Fade Away (No. 108), a co-write with Petty included on The “Chirping” Crickets. And, yep, that’s the Not Fade Away The Rolling Stones recorded seven years later and issued as their first U.S. single.

Sadly, Buddy Holly was Holly’s final studio album that appeared during his life time. Not even a year later, his life was cut short at age 22 while touring the Midwest together with fellow rock & roll artists Richie Valens and J.P. Richardson (the Big Bopper). To get to their next gig, Holly chartered a small plane, which crashed during bad weather in the early morning hours of February 3, 1959, only minutes after takeoff from Mason City, Iowa.

Buddy Holly Plane Wreck
Photo of the plane wreck near Clear Lake, Iowa, taken by the Civil Aeronautics Board (precursor to the National Transportation Safety Board) the morning after the crash in the course of their investigation

On board and also killed were Valens, Richardson and the pilot, Roger Peterson. Valens had tossed a coin for a seat on the doomed plane with rockabilly singer Tommy Allsup, who was the guitarist of Holly’s band during the tour. Holly had parted ways with Petty and The Crickets in December 1958. Allsup passed away in January this year at the age of 85.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, YouTube