My Playlist: David Crosby

Shining a light on influential singer-songwriter’s late-stage career

Last week (January 18), David Crosby sadly passed away at the age of 81, which according to a family statement came “after a long illness.” By now it’s safe to assume this isn’t news to anybody, given the significant number of obituaries that have appeared in the wake of his death. As such, I’m not going to write yet another summary of the influential singer-songwriter’s eventful private life and career. Instead, I’d like to highlight Crosby’s music, particularly his last nine years, during which he was pretty prolific.

When reflecting on David Crosby, I feel it’s fair to say most people primarily think of him as a co-founder of the Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash/Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Some perhaps also recall his February 1971 solo debut If I Could Only Remember My Name and his ’70s collaborative albums with CSN bandmate Graham Nash. But unless you’ve followed him more closely, his post-’70s output is probably less familiar. I certainly belong to that group.

David Crosby with his son and musical collaborator James Raymond

In January 2014, Crosby released Croz, his fourth solo album and first such effort in 20 years, beginning a remarkably productive late stage in his career. On several occasions over the past couple of years, he noted his remaining time was limited, so he wanted to focus on music as much as possible. And that he certainly did. After Croz four additional studio albums appeared between October 2016 and July 2021. In his final interview with Songfacts two months ago, Crosby also revealed he had completed another studio album with his so-called Lighthouse Band, to be titled Hello Moon, and was working on two additional albums. This didn’t include the then-forthcoming live release David Crosby & the Lighthouse Band Live at the Capitol Theatre, which has since appeared on December 9.

Following I’m highlighting one song from each of Crosby’s last five studio albums. While I don’t want to guarantee these are the best tracks, I can confidently say I dig each of these songs. In any case, of course, it’s all pretty subjective. I’m also including a career-spanning playlist focused on songs Crosby wrote or co-wrote, as opposed to tunes on which he sang and/or played guitar. That is by no means to undermine his important role as a vocalist and musician. The Byrds and CSN/CSNY wouldn’t have sounded the same without Crosby’s vocal and instrumental contributions.

Set That Baggage DownCroz (January 2014)

Crosby wrote that tune together with English guitarist Shane Fontayne who has been active since the ’70s and worked with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Ian Hunter, Joe Cocker, Graham Nash and Mick Ronson. “That’s a thing you learn in AA [Alcoholics Anonymous – CMM],” Crosby told Rolling Stone, as noted by Songfacts. “I went there for about fourteen and half years. You have to look at what got you there. You have to look at the mistakes, and I made some horrific ones, and then you have to learn from them, figure out how to not wind up there again. You have to set that baggage down and walk on. If you spend all your life looking over your shoulder at the things you did wrong, you’re gonna walk smack into a tree.”

Somebody Other Than YouLighthouse (October 2016)

This political tune, co-written by Crosby and Snarky Puppy bandleader Michael League, appears on Lighthouse, Crosby’s first album with what became known as his Lighthouse Band. In addition to League, the group also featured vocalist and songwriter Becca Stevens and Michelle Willis, a Canadian singer-songwriter and keyboarder. “There are these politicians in Washington who are run by the corporations, ’cause corporations gave them the money to get elected, and they send our kids off to war,” Crosby explained to Classic Rock magazine, according to Songfacts. “I’m deeply offended by the fact that these politicians send your kids and not theirs.”

Sky TrailsSky Trails (September 2017)

Sky Trails is the title track of Crosby’s sixth solo album, which appeared less than 12 months after the predecessor. Sky Trails also became the name of Crosby’s second band, which featured his son James Raymond who also produced various of Crosby’s albums, and “anybody we decide we want to work with,” as Crosby put it to Songfacts during his above final interview. In the case of this tune, it was Becca Stevens who co-wrote it with Crosby. “We both spend a lot of time on the road,” Crosby told Billboard magazine, as documented by Songfacts. “And when you’re on the road, after the second or third week you don’t know where you are. You’re out there somewhere, and all the cities look roughly the same, and you lose track.” My full review of Sky Trails is here.

1974Here If You Listen (October 2018)

1974, a partially wordless song, was co-written by Crosby and his Lighthouse Band members Becca Stevens, Michelle Willis and Michael League, and appeared on Here If You Listen, the second album Crosby made with the group. The title is a nod to a demo of the song, which Crosby recorded in 1974. “It was a song without words that I was fooling around with,” he told Songfacts. “I used to do that a lot: I’d have a set of changes but I didn’t have a set of words, so I would stack vocals like horn parts. I’m basically doing a horn record with voices. I had a bunch of those.”

Rodriguez For a NightFor Free (July 2021)

The last tune I’d like to highlight is Rodriguez For a Night, a great track from Crosby’s eighth and most recent solo album. A longtime Steely Dan fan, Crosby had long sought to collaborate with Donald Fagen. It finally happened with this tune, for which Fagen provided the lyrics while Crosby’s son Raymond James wrote the music with some help from his father. “[Fagan] just sent the words and stood back to see what would happen,” Crosby told Uncut magazine, according to Songfacts. “He knew what our taste was and he knew what we would probably try to do. He’s an extremely intelligent guy and I think he knew what would happen. We know his playbook pretty well, so we deliberately went there – complex chords, complex melodies. We Steely Damned him right into the middle of this as far as we could! And fortunately, Donald liked it, so I couldn’t be more grateful.”

Last but not least, here’s the above-noted career-spanning playlist. Crosby named Eight Miles High (and Turn! Turn! Turn!) when asked to identify the ultimate Byrds song during the above Songfacts interview. Separately, Songfacts notes Crosby thought Everybody’s Been Burned was “the first actually passable song that I wrote,” quoting him from an interview with his friend Steve Silberman, an American journalist with whom he hosted a podcast.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube; Spotify

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Those Were the Days: My Favorite Year in Music

A “Turntable Talk” contribution

Music fellow blogger Dave from A Sound Day has a great recurring feature, Turntable Talk, for which he invites other bloggers to contribute their thoughts about a given topic. This time, he called it “Those Were the Days My Friend,” I guess a nod to the tune popularized by Mary Hopkin in 1968. Or as he summed it up: Simply put, we’re asking the contributors to write about “music’s best year.” Following is my contribution, which first ran on Dave’s blog yesterday. For this post, I added some clips, as well as a Spotify playlist at the end.

Here we are with another great topic for Turntable Talk – thanks for continuing to host the fun series, Dave, and for having me back.

Interestingly, when prompted to think about what I feel is the best year in music, I instantly had the answer – or so I thought until I started having second thoughts.

Admittedly, this is typical for me who oftentimes tends to overthink things. That’s why I also keep emphasizing that I’m “ranking-challenged.” Anyway, after careful agony, guess what happened? I stuck with my initial spontaneous choice: 1969 – what an amazing year in music!

From an overall perspective, the year saw two epic moments and a less-than-glorious event: The first was the three-day Woodstock festival in mid-August with an incredible line-up of bands and artists, such as Santana, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Who, Joe Cocker, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Jimi Hendrix. Can you imagine a music event of that caliber these days?

At the same time, I don’t want to romanticize things either and will add it was probably a near-miracle Woodstock didn’t end in complete disaster, given the overcrowding and horrible sanitary conditions. Also, let’s not forget the three lives that were lost: two drug overdoses and another fatality when a 17-year-old sleeping in a nearby hayfield was run over by a tractor.

Then there was that other concert by one of the bands who would decline to perform at Woodstock: On January 30, 1969, The Beatles played an impromptu gig on the rooftop of their Apple Corps headquarters in London. Commonly known as the rooftop concert, it became their final public appearance as a band.

Speaking of concerts, again, I’d be remiss in not to least briefly acknowledging The Rolling Stones’ performance at Altamont Speedway in California on December 9, 1969. The gig became infamous for its violence, including a fan who was stabbed to death by members of the biker gang Hells Angels who had been hired to provide security for $500 worth of beer. I guess you can put this mind-boggling arrangement into the ‘you can’t make up this stuff’ and ‘what were they thinking?’ departments!

Next, I’d like to highlight some of the great albums that were released in 1969. Looking in Wikipedia, I easily came up with 20-plus – obviously way too many to cover in this post. As such, I decided to narrow it down to five. I’m briefly going to touch on each in the following, in chronological order. I’m also picking one track from each I like in particular.

January 5: Creedence Clearwater Revival released their sophomore album Bayou Country, the first of three(!) records they put out in 1969. Here’s Proud Mary, which like all other songs except one was written by John Fogerty.

May 23: The Who put out their fourth studio album Tommy, Pete Townshend’s first rock opera. While the production oftentimes feels unfinished, the double LP is a gem. One of my favorite songs has always been We’re Not Gonna Take It. Like most of the other tunes, it was solely penned by Townshend.

September 23: Of course, it was a forgone conclusion any favorite year in music while The Beatles were still together would include one of their albums. In this case, it’s Abbey Road, which actually was their final record, even though it appeared prior to Let It Be. Two of the best tracks on the album were written by George Harrison. Here’s one of them: Something.

August 22: Santana’s eponymous debut album was released in the wake of the band’s legendary performance at Woodstock. Here’s the amazing instrumental closer Soul Sacrifice.

October 22: Last but not least, on that date, Led Zeppelin released their sophomore album Led Zeppelin II, only nine months after their January 12 debut. One of my all-time favorite Zep tunes is Whole Lotta Love, initially credited to all members of the band, with the subsequent addition of Willie Dixon. Once again, unfortunately, it took litigation to give credit where credit was due!

In the final section of this post, I’m going to look at a few additional great songs that were released as singles in 1969.

First up are The Rolling Stones and Honky Tonk Women, a non-album single that appeared on July 4. Co-written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, it was the first of two versions of the song. The second version, Country Honk, which has slightly different lyrics, appeared on the Stones’ Let It Bleed album that came out on December 5 of the same year.

Suspicious Minds is one of my all-time favorite tunes performed by Elvis Presley, which was released on August 26 as a single. Written and first recorded by American songwriter Mark James in 1968, Suspicious Minds topped the Billboard Hot 100, giving Elvis his first no. 1 on the U.S. pop chart since 1962, helping revive his chart success in America, following his ’68 Comeback Special, a concert special that had aired on NBC on December 3, 1968. The song also was a major hit in many other countries.

Let’s do two more: First up is Reflections of My Life by Scottish band Marmalade, a song I loved from the very first moment I heard it on the radio back in Germany many moons ago. Co-written by the group’s lead guitarist Junior Campbell and vocalist Dean Ford, this gem was first released as a single in the UK on November 14 and subsequently appeared on their 1970 studio album Reflections of the Marmalade.

I’d like to close out this post with what remains one of my favorite David Bowie songs to this day: Space Oddity. Written by Bowie, the tune was first released as a single on July 11. It also was the opener of his sophomore eponymous album, which subsequently became commonly known as Space Oddity because of the song and to distinguish it from Bowie’s 1967 debut album, which was also self-titled. Bowie’s tale of fictional astronaut Major Tom was used by the BBC during its coverage of the Moon landing.

I can hardly think of another year in music that was as rich as 1969. That said, I was considering 1971. And 1972 didn’t look shabby either. Now that I think about it, let me go back to further reflect!😊

Following is a Spotify playlist of the above and some additional tunes from 1969.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Is it really Sunday again? What happened to the bloody week? Okay, let’s try this again: Happy Sunday and I hope everybody had a great week and is enjoying an even better weekend! Nearly anything you can do gets better with great music, so I invite you to join me on another time travel trip. As usual, I’m taking you to six different stops. Are you in? Let’s go!

Duke Ellington & John Coltrane/In a Sentimental Mood

What do you get when combining jazz piano great Duke Ellington and saxophone dynamo John Coltrane? Well, Duke Ellington & John Coltrane, a collaboration album released in January 1963, and the first stop on our journey today. Jazz artists love to team up, and this record is one of many collaborative efforts Sir Duke undertook in the early 1960s, which also included artists, such as Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins, Max Roach and Charles Mingus. Rather than a big band setting, it placed Ellington in a quartet, which in addition to Coltrane featured Jimmy Garrison or Aaron Bell (bass) and Elvin Jones or Sam Woodyard (drums). My specific pick is In a Sentimental Mood, which Ellington had composed more than 25 years earlier in 1935, with lyrics written by Manny Kurtz. I guess Ellington’s manager Irving Mills was in the mood for a percentage of the publishing and gave himself a writing credit!

The Jayhawks/Martin’s Song

Our next stop takes us to September 1992 and Hollywood Town Hall, the third studio album by The Jayhawks. Since “discovering” them in August 2020, I’ve come to dig this American alt. country and country rock band. Initially formed in Minneapolis in 1985, The Jayhawks originally featured Mark Olson (acoustic guitar, vocals), Gary Louris (electric guitar, vocals), Marc Perlman (bass) and Norm Rogers (drums). By the time Hollywood Town Hall was released, Rogers had been replaced by Ken Callahan. After four additional albums and more line-up changes, the group went on hiatus in 2004. They reemerged with a new formation in 2019, which still includes Louris and Pearlman. Going back to Hollywood Town Hall, here’s the album’s great closer Martin’s Song, penned by Olson and Louris.

Stephen Stills/Right Now

How ’bout some ’70s? Ask and you shall receive! My pick is Stephen Stills – yep the guy who co-founded Canadian-American rock band Buffalo Springfield with that Canadian fellow Neil Young in 1966, and two years later got together with David Crosby and Graham Nash to form Crosby, Stills & Nash. In 1969, they added Young, became Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, played Woodstock and released the classic Déjà Vu in March 1970. Following CSNY’s success, Stills launched a solo career, just like the other three members of the group. In late 1971, he teamed up with Chris Hillman (formerly of The Byrds) to form the band Manassas. The group also included Al Perkins (steel guitar, guitar), Paul Harris (keyboards), Calvin “Fuzzy” Samuels (bass, backing vocals), Joe Lala (percussion, backing vocals) and Dallas Taylor (drums). Their eponymous debut from April 1972 was the first of two studio albums the group released, as Stephen Stills/Manassas – I assume for name recognition reasons. Plus, Stills wrote or co-wrote all except one of the tunes. Right Now is among the songs solely penned by him – love that tune!

Paul Simon/You Can Call Me Al

In August 1986, Paul Simon released what remains my favorite among his solo albums: Graceland. Evidently, many other folks liked it as well, making it Simon’s best-performing album, both in terms of chart success and sales. It also won Grammy Awards for Album of the Year (1987) and Record of the Year (1988) – confusing titles! While the first honors an album in its entirety, the second recognizes a specific track. Graceland features an eclectic mixture of musical styles, including pop, a cappella, zydeco, isicathamiya, rock and mbaqanga. The album involved recording sessions in Johannesburg, South Africa, featuring local musicians. Therefore, it was criticized by some for breaking the cultural boycott of South Africa because of its policy of apartheid. One can only imagine what kind of firestorm a comparable activity would likely unleash nowadays with so much polarization boosted by social media! If I would have to pick one track from the album, I’d go with You Can Call Me Al, an infectious tune that among others features a crazy bass run by South African bassist Bakithi Kumalo.

Little Steven/Soulfire

Let’s keep the groove going with guitarist, songwriter, actor and (unofficial) music professor, the one and only Steven Van Zandt, aka Little Steven or Miami Steve. Van Zandt gained initial prominence as guitarist in various Bruce Springsteen bands, such as Steel Mill, Bruce Springsteen Band, and, of course, the mighty E Street Band. In 1981, Van Zandt started fronting an on-and-off group known as Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul. The following year, while still being an official member of the E Street Band, he released his debut solo album Men Without Women, credited as Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul. In April 1984, just before the release of the Born in the U.S.A. album, Van Zant officially left and recorded a series of additional solo albums. After a brief stint in 1995, he permanently rejoined Springsteen’s backing band in 1999. He also got into acting, which most notably included his role as mafioso and strip club owner Silvio Dante in the American TV crime drama series The Sopranos. This finally brings us to Soulfire, his sixth solo album from May 2017. The great title track was co-written by Van Zandt and Anders Bruus, the former guitarist of Danish rock band The Breakers. Here’s a cool live version!

The Sonics/Cinderella

And once again, we’re reaching our final destination of yet another Sunday Six excursion. For this one, let’s go back to the ’60s with some raw garage rock by The Sonics – coz why not! Formed in Tacoma, Wa. in 1960, they have often been called “the first punk band” and were a significant influence for American punk groups like The Stooges, MC5 and The Flesh Eaters. Cinderella is a track from the band’s sophomore release Boom, which appeared in February 1996. The tune was written by Gerry Roslie, the group’s keyboarder at the time. The line-up on the album also included founding members Larry Parypa (lead guitar, vocals) and his brother Andy Parypa (bass, vocals), along with Rob Lind (saxophone) and Bob Bennett (drums). Based on Wikipedia, The Sonics still appear to be around, with Roslie, Lind and Larry Parypa among their current members.

Of course, this post wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify playlist of the above tracks. Hope there’s something for you!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by Poco

Happy Wednesday! Are you ready for another imaginary desert island trip? To me that sounds like an attractive proposition, except once again, I have the near-impossible decision to make which one song to take with me – not an album, just one tune!

For first-time visitors of this weekly feature, there are some additional rules to the madness. And they don’t make picking a song any easier. At the same time, going through this exercise is kind of fun, since I usually end up highlighting music I haven’t covered before or only noted in passing.

My pick must be by an artist or band I’ve only rarely written about or not covered at all. Additionally, I’m making the selections in alphabetical order, and I’m up to “p.” This means eligible artists (last name) and bands must start with that letter.

Looking at my music library revealed artists and bands like Tom Petty, Pink Floyd, The Pointer Sisters, The Police, Elvis Presley, Pretenders, Prince and Procul Harum. And my pick is Barbados by Poco.

Admittedly, I’m bending my own rules a bit this time, since I covered Poco before (though rarely), unlike Plain White T’s who also showed up in my search, and I do like Hey There Delilah. But the desert island theme and a tune titled Barbados just looked like a perfect fit. And I think it’s a great song!

Barbados was written by Paul Cotton, Poco’s lead guitarist and one of the band’s vocalists, who first joined the group in 1970. The tune appears on their 11th studio album Legend, released in November 1978. My former German band mate and longtime music buddy gave me this great record on vinyl in the late ’80s. I still own that copy!

I loved Barbados and the entire Legend LP from the get-go, and it was actually my introduction to Poco. It’s puzzling to me why Barbados was never released as a single. Three other tunes were, including the title track, Heart of the Night and Crazy Love. The last tune became Poco’s biggest hit. In the U.S., it topped Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart and reached no. 17 on the mainstream Hot 100. In Canada, the tune peaked at no. 4 on the adult contemporary chart and climbed to no. 15 on the main pop chart.

Interestingly, I couldn’t find any more information on Barbados. Songfacts instead features a song of the same title from 1975 by a British duo called Typically Tropical. Apparently, “their” Barbados, the duo’s debut single, became a no. 1 in the UK. Since they obviously don’t own the name “Barbados”, I really can’t imagine this had anything to do with the decision not to release Poco’s song as a single.

Poco were one of two bands that emerged in 1968 following the break-up of Buffalo Springfield. The group’s former guitarists Richie Furay and Jim Messina formed Poco, together with Rusty Young (pedal steel guitar, banjo, dobro, guitar, mandolin, vocals), Randy Meisner (bass, vocals) and George Grantham (drums, vocals).

Poco in 1971

Meanwhile, Stephen Stills, David Crosby  and Graham Nash founded Crosby, Stills & Nash. Neil Young launched his solo career and, of course, later joined CSN on various occasions, resulting in the mighty Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Buffalo Springfield might as well have been called “Buffalo Springboard”!

Poco are considered to be one of the pioneers of country rock, years before the Eagles popularized the genre. Their debut album Pickin’ Up the Pieces came out in May 1969. By the time it appeared Meisner already had left the group, angered by Furay’s insistence to be excluded from the final mix playback sessions for the album – egos in music! Meisner went on to join the Stone Canyon Band and became a founding member of the Eagles in September 1971.

Meisner was replaced by Timothy B. Schmit who later joined the Eagles as well. Messina left Poco in 1970 and was replaced by Cotton. The group’s line-up kept changing. It took Poco until their third release, a live album, to enjoy some chart success: No. 26 and no. 42 on the U.S. and Canadian charts, respectively. Appropriately, the album was titled Deliverin’.

Poco were active until April 2021 when Rusty Young passed away at the age of 75. Technically, he had retired in late 2013 but participated in reunion concerts thereafter. Paul Cotton died in August that year. He was 78. Altogether, Poco released 19 studio albums, nine live records and multiple compilations. In January 2015, Poco were inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame. Unlike the Eagles, who were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, Poco has yet to receive that recognition.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by The Hollies

It’s Wednesday, which means it’s time again to pack my bags for yet another imaginary desert island trip. Of course, before I leave I must make an important decision about which song I should take along from a band or artist I haven’t covered on the blog or only mentioned once or twice.

I’m up to the letter “H” for this little fun exercise. Looking at my song library, picks could have included Hall & Oates, Jimi Hendrix, Herman’s Hermits, The Hooters and Huey Lewis and the News. Based on the above selection criterion, I decided to go with The Hollies and Bus Stop, a song I loved from the very first time I heard it many moons ago!

The Hollies were formed in December 1962 in Manchester, England. Their original line-up included Allan Clarke (vocals), Vic Steele (lead guitar), Graham Nash (rhythm guitar, vocals), Eric Haydock (bass) and Don Rathbone (drums). Over their now 60-year career, the group has seen numerous line-up changes, with Clarke remaining as the only original member. Wikipedia notes that together with The Rolling Stones, they are one of the few UK groups from the early ’60s, who never disbanded.

Bus Stop, written by then-future 10cc co-founder Graham Gouldman, is one of the best-known tunes by The Hollies. I also believe it’s their first song I heard on the radio while growing up in Germany. The band’s distinctive three-part harmony singing grabbed me right away. You just don’t hear such great vocals anymore these days.

While at the time it was released as a single in June 1966 The Hollies already had scored a few hits, especially in the UK, Bus Stop became their first top 10 single in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, climbing to no. 5. Elsewhere, the title track of the band’s fourth studio album from October 1966 topped the charts in Canada and New Zealand, and reached no. 2 in the UK, no. 3 in Norway, no. 4 in The Netherlands and no. 9 in Germany.

Following are some additional insights from Songfacts:

This song is about a couple who meet one rainy day at a bus stop. Love blooms when they share an umbrella.

In a Manchester newspaper, Graham Gouldman said he wrote it whilst riding on the No. 95 bus, which ran from East Didsbury – the route went through Manchester city centre, to Sedgeley Park, Cheetham Hill, Prestwich, and on to Whitefield near Bury. Gouldman was living with his family on this route in Broughton Park Salford at the time.

Graham Gouldman’s father was a talented and creative writer who often helped his son with song ideas. Graham had the idea for bus stop setting, and his dad came up with the first line: “Bus stop, wet day, she’s there, I say, ‘please share my umbrella.'” From that starting point, he was able to finish the song.

In a Songfacts interview with Gouldman, he explained: “He gave me those words and I immediately, as I was reading them, heard the melody in my head, and it just kind of wrote itself. And then the middle part of the song I wrote – I got the melody and the words all in one chunk.”

The timeline in this song is a little askew. We know that love bloomed over the summer, but then we get the line, “Came the sun, the ice was melting.” This harkens spring, so apparently time has passed. In Gouldman’s Songfacts interview, he clarified: “Winter is over, the snow is passed because the sun has melted it, so there’s no need to shelter anymore under the umbrella. You could say the snow is underfoot so you don’t need an umbrella anyway, but it’s poetic license: it could have been snowing so the umbrella can protect you from the snow as well as the rain.”

Graham Nash of The Hollies [who later became part of Crosby, Stills & Nash and Crosby, Stills, Nash & YoungCMM] recalls learning about this song when their manager, Michael Cohen, told them about “this little Jewish kid who lives down the street,” which was Graham Gouldman. When Gouldman played it for them, they knew they had a winner. Nash says they recorded it in just an hour and 15 minutes.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Neil Young’s Harvest Turns 50

On February 1, 1972, Neil Young released his fourth studio album Harvest. The 50th anniversary of what is among my all-time favorite Young records almost escaped my attention. I mistakenly had assumed the release date was February 14.

Young recorded Harvest following the breakup of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young in July 1970 after the end of their tour that year, which had strained relationships among the four members. It would take until 1974 before they would get back together again for a reunion tour.

For Harvest Young assembled a backing band he called The Stray Gators. The members were Jack Nitzsche (piano), Ben Keith (steel guitar), Tim Drummond (bass) and Kenny Buttry (drums). In addition to The Stray Gators, Harvest featured various notable guests, including James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt and, interestingly, each of Young’s former CSNY’s bandmates.

Let’s take a look at some of the songs. Side one kicks off with the beautiful Out on the Weekend. Like all other tracks, the tune was written by Young.

A Man Needs a Maid is a song about Young’s girlfriend at the time, the actress Carrie Snodgress. According to Songfacts, initially, the tune was coupled with Heart of Gold and played on piano. “It was like a medley,” Young said in [the autobiography – CMM] Shakey, “the two went together.”

Speaking of Heart of Gold, a post celebrating the 50th anniversary of Harvest wouldn’t be complete without this song. One of Neil Young’s best-known tunes, it also appeared separately as the album’s lead single in January 1972 and became his biggest hit. James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt provided backing vocals. Taylor also played banjo.

On to Side two. Here’s Old Man, a tune Young wrote about the caretaker of the ranch he bought in 1970 as a 25-year-old. Like on Heart of Gold, backing vocals were provided by Taylor and Ronstadt, with Taylor also contributing banjo. Songfacts quotes Ronstadt from an interview with music magazine Mojo: “I can’t remember why Neil wanted me to sing with him – I guess he just figured I was there and could do it – but we went in there and they were doing ‘Heart of Gold’ and ‘Old Man’ and I thought they were such beautiful songs.” Old Man also became the album’s second single in April 1972.

Another great tune on Side two is Alabama. According to Songfacts, This song can be seen as a follow-up to Young’s 1970 song “Southern Man” from After The Gold Rush. Canadian-born Young abhorred the idea of racism and spoke out – loudly – about his feelings. This song went unnoticed by most, but combined with the previous effort, it caused Lynyrd Skynyrd to pen their Southern Rock classic “Sweet Home Alabama” in response to Young’s assertions...In his 2012 autobiography  Waging Heavy Peace, Neil Young said of this song, “I don’t like my words when I listen to it today. They are accusatory and condescending, not fully thought out, and too easy to misconstrue.” Stephen Stills and David Crosby provided backing vocals.

The last song I’d like to highlight is The Needle and the Damage Done, a tune about heroin use and what this drug sadly will do to many who get into it. Young wrote this song about ex-Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten who struggled with heroin addiction. In fact, Young hired him in April 1972 to join rehearsals for his tour to support the Harvest album. But Whitten wasn’t up to the task and Young ended up firing him on November 18 that year, giving him $50 and a plane ticket to Los Angeles. Once Whitten got there, he overdosed on alcohol and Valium, which killed him – making Young feel guilty for many years.


Harvest topped the Billboard 200 for two weeks and became the best-selling album of 1972 in the U.S. While most music artists would have been pleased with such success, Neil Young felt alienated. He followed up Harvest with what became known as the “ditch trilogy”: the live album Time Fades Away (October 1973), as well as the studio records On the Beach (July 1974) and Tonight’s the Night (June 1975). While these three records didn’t match Harvest’s chart and sales performance, they became favorites of many Young fans.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

It’s hard to believe another week just flew by and it’s Sunday morning again. Let’s get ready for more music time travel. The six stops of this trip include smooth saxophone jazz from 1980, folk-rock from 1967, acoustic guitar pop from 2002, rock from 1976, bluesy folk-rock from 1993 and guitar jazz from 1989. And off we go…

Grover Washington Jr./Winelight

Sunday mornings are perfect for some smooth jazz, so I’d like to start this little music excursion with one of my favorite saxophonists, Grover Washington Jr. In October 1980, he released what became his most successful album in the U.S. mainstream charts, Winelight, which climbed to no. 5 on the Billboard 200. Undoubtedly, much of that performance was fueled by the popularity of the catchy and groovy single Just the Two of Us, a no. 2 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, featuring the great Bill Withers on vocals. Both the record and the tune won Grammy awards for Best Jazz Fusion Performance and Best R&B Song, respectively. Here’s the album’s great opener and title track, a piece composed by William Eaton. The smooth saxophone combined with the funky groove is sweet music to my ears.

Buffalo Springfield/For What It’s Worth

For our next stop on this mini-excursion, let’s go back to December 1966 when Buffalo Springfield released For What It’s Worth. Written by Stephen Stills, the tune was the Canadian-American folk-rock band’s third single and became their biggest hit, reaching no. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100, no. 5 in Canada and no. 19 in New Zealand. The song was also added to the second pressing of their eponymous debut album from March 1967, which originally had come out in December 1966. In 1968, Stills; David Crosby who had been kicked out of The Byrds; and Graham Nash, previously with The Hollies, formed Crosby, Stills & Nash. Neil Young, who had played with Stills in Buffalo Springfield, joined CSN in mid-1969. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young debuted at Woodstock in August that year and released their debut album Déjà Vu the following March. Okay, before I get carried away any further, here’s For What It’s Worth!

Sheryl Crow/Weather Channel

When my streaming music provider served up Weather Channel by Sheryl Crow the other day, I immediately felt this relaxing acoustic pop tune would be a nice pick for a Sunday Six. Instead of adding it to my list and having it linger there, which has happened for some other tunes, I decided to use it right away. Weather Channel, written by Crow, is the closer of her fourth studio album C’mon C’mon from April 2002 – coincidentally the same record from which I featured another song in my latest Hump Day Picker-Upper: Soak Up the Sun. Unlike that tune, which became one of the album’s four singles and a top 20 mainstream hit in the U.S., Weather Channel is an album track only and what I would call a deep cut – pretty enjoyable!

Boston/More Than a Feeling

When it comes to ’70s rock, I can’t think of many other tunes that sound as great as More Than a Feeling by Boston. Named after the band’s hometown, Boston is the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and recording wizard Tom Scholz. After graduating in 1970 with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from MIT, Scholz worked for a few years as a senior design engineer at Polaroid Corporation. Using his salary, he built his own home recording studio and started working on music demos. For the first few years, his demos didn’t gain any traction at record labels. Eventually, Scholz gained interest at Epic Records, which signed him and his vocalist Brad Delp. After some back and forth with the label, Boston’s eponymous debut album appeared in August 1976. The record became a massive success, surging to no. 3 on the Billboard 200 and charting in many other countries, including Canada (no. 7), UK (no. 11) and Australia (no. 16), among others. More Than a Feeling, released as the lead single in September that year, closely matched the album’s performance. Like most of the other tracks on the record, it was solely written by Scholz who also played most of the instruments. This is true sound perfection!

Cowboy Junkies/Hard to Explain

For this next tune, let’s jump to the ’90s, which is generally not a decade that has been much on my radar screen. After the ’80s had passed, I started paying less attention to contemporary music and primarily focused on the ’60s and ’70s, which remain my favorite decades to this day. Of course, this doesn’t mean there isn’t any ’90s music I love. A great example is Hard to Explain by Cowboy Junkies, another listening suggestion from my streaming music provider. When I heard the tune for the first time the other day, I immediately dug it. Other than their name, I don’t know anything about this Canadian alternative country and folk-rock band. Founded in Toronto in 1986, Cowboy Junkies remain active to this day, apparently with their original line-up. Their sizable catalog includes 18 studio albums, along with multiple live records, compilations, EPs and singles. Hard to Explain, by the band’s songwriter and guitarist Michael Timmins, is from their fifth studio album Pale Sun, Crescent Moon released in November 1993. It’s got a great bluesy sound.

Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble/Riviera Paradise

And once again, this brings me to the sixth and final destination of this Sunday Six installment, and it’s a true gem: Riviera Paradise, a beautiful jazzy instrumental by electric blues guitar virtuoso Stevie Ray Vaughan backed by his band Double Trouble. Composed by Vaughan, Riviera Paradise is the final track of Vaughan’s fourth studio album In Step that appeared in June 1989. Here’s a clip of a beautiful live version I found. Vaughan’s guitar playing was just out of this world! Perhaps, him playing jazz is a side of Vaughan you may not be as familiar with – I have to say I wasn’t. Check it out, this is so good!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Rock the Farm Triumphantly Returns to Jersey Shore

Ten-hour open air festival for great cause features top-notch music tribute acts

After taking a break last year due to this seemingly never-ending pandemic, Rock the Farm 2021 had felt a long time coming – especially the weeks leading up to it! Yesterday (September 25), the wait was finally over. The annual event in Seaside Heights, N.J., organized by the CFC Loud n Clear Foundation, combines music performed by outstanding tribute bands with raising funds and awareness for programs that support individuals and families struggling with addiction. CFC’s efforts aim to fill the gap after clinical treatment, a period when staying sober and remaining on track can be particularly challenging. You can read more about this nonprofit organization and their important work here.

Rock the Farm 2021 marked the seventh time the festival took place. As in years past, the line-up of tribute acts was impressive: One Fine Tapestry (Carole King), Coo Coo Cachoo (Simon & Garfunkel), Walk This Way (Aerosmith), Decade (Neil Young), The Traveling Milburys (The Traveling Wilburys), Guns 4 Roses (Guns N’ Roses), TUSK (Fleetwood Mac) and Tramps Like Us (Bruce Springsteen).

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Just imagine for a moment these would have been the real acts. Apart from being non-affordable for most music fans, obviously, it wouldn’t have been possible to have all these artists appear at the same festival. Creating a unique music experience is a key idea behind Rock the Farm! And it’s definitely part of what makes it so much fun to attend!

Following are some highlights from the 10-hour music marathon that took place on two stages next to each other. I’m going in chronological order, featuring one clip per tribute act that are all from New Jersey except when noted otherwise.

One Fine Tapestry/I Feel the Earth Move

As in years past, One Fine Tapestry, a tribute to Carole King, kicked off Rock the Farm. At the core of this act are Gerard Barros and Diane Barros, a versatile husband and wife duo performing a variety of different tribute shows. Yesterday, they were backed by a full band. Here’s I Feel the Earth Move, a tune from King’s Tapestry album that appeared in February 1971 – one of the many gems celebrating their 50th anniversary this year!

Coo Coo Cachoo/Mrs. Robinson

Coo Coo Cachoo are Thomas Johnston and Ed Jankiewicz, who have been performing Simon & Garfunkel songs since they met in high school close to 50 years ago – that’s just remarkable! Here’s their set opener Mrs. Robinson. Written by Paul Simon, the tune was included on Simon & Garfunkel’s fourth studio album Bookends from April 1968. It also became the record’s lead single and, of course, was part of the soundtrack for the romantic comedy drama The Graduate released in December 1967.

Walk This Way/Love in an Elevator

Walk This Way are a Dallas, Texas-based tribute to Aerosmith, featuring Ian Latimer as Steven Tyler (vocals), David Semans as Joe Perry (guitar, backing vocals), Chris Bender as Tom Hamilton (bass), Martin Turney as Joey Kramer (drums), Eamonn Gallagher as Brad Whitford (guitar) and Chris Loehrlein as Russ Irwin (keyboards). They opened their set with Love in an Elevator, a track co-written by Perry and Tyler, and included on Aerosmith’s 10th studio album Pump that appeared in September 1989. It also became the record’s second single.

Decade/Almost Cut My Hair

Decade are a band around Neil Young tribute artist John Hathaway (guitar, vocals), who has performed with different line-ups over the years. Yesterday’s backing band included Gordon Bunker Strout (guitar, backing vocals), Joseph Napolitano (pedal steel guitar), Billy Siegel (keyboards), John Perry (bass), Bob Giunco (drums) and Pam McCoy (backing vocals). In addition to Young songs, they also throw in a few tunes by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, such as this great rendition of Almost Cut My Hair featuring Pam McCoy on lead vocals. Penned by David Crosby, the song is from the Déjà Vu album, the first CSN record with Neil Young, released in March 1970.

The Traveling Milburys/Telephone Line

Traveling Wilburys tribute act The Traveling Milburys feature Nelson Milbury as George Harrison, Lefty Milbury as Roy Orbison, Charlie T. Milbury as Tom Petty, Otis Milbury as Jeff Lynne and Lucky Milbury as Bob Dylan. Also part of this Canadian band are Rick Hyatt (keyboards), Mike Berardelli (bass) and Danny Sandwell (drums). Apart from Wilburys songs, the group plays many tunes from the individual artists that made up the Wilburys. Here’s Telephone Line, a track written by Lynne from ELO’s sixth studio album A New World Record that came out in September 1976.

Guns 4 Roses/Sweet Child o’ Mine

Guns 4 Roses, another Dallas-based band, are a tribute to Guns N’ Roses. Their members are Laz as Axl Rose (lead vocals), Eamonn as Slash (guitar), Chris as Duff McKagan (bass), David as Dizzy Reed (keyboards), Martin as Steven Adler (drums) and Chris as Izzy Stradlin (guitar). Here’s Sweet Child o’ Mine from Guns N’ Roses’ debut album Appetite for Destruction released in July 1987. The tune, which also became the record’s third single, was credited to the entire band. These guys were truly rockin’ the farm!

TUSK/You Make Loving Fun

TUSK are a tribute band focused on the pop rock period of Fleetwood Mac. The group includes Kathy Phillips as Stevie Nicks (vocals), Kim Williams as  Christine McVie (keyboards, vocals), Scott McDonald as Lindsey Buckingham (guitar, vocals), Randy Artiglere as John McVie (bass) and Tom Nelson as Mick Fleetwood (drums). Their harmony singing is just incredible! Here’s You Make Loving Fun written by Christine McVie and from the Rumours album that appeared in February 1977. It also became the record’s fourth and final single.

Tramps Like Us/Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out

Closing out Rock the Farm 2021 was music by The Boss performed by longtime Bruce Springsteen tribute Tramps Like Us – great way to end a 10-hour music marathon! Formed in 1990, the band features front man Mark Salore as Bruce Springsteen (vocals, guitar), together with Jon Malatino (acoustic guitar, percussion, backing vocals), Ken Hope (piano, organ, keyboards, backing vocals), Tom LaRocca (saxophone, keyboards, guitar, backing vocals), Scott Bennert (bass, backing vocals) and Marty Matelli (drums, percussion). Here’s Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, one of my favorite tunes from Born to Run, Springsteen’s third studio album from August 1975.

This was my fourth Rock the Farm in a row. While except for The Traveling Milburys I had seen all other tribute acts at previous Rock the Farm and/or other concerts, this event truly has been a gift that keeps on giving. Admittedly, my decision to attend this year did not come as easily as in the past, given COVID-19. After all, I had stayed away from most music events over the summer. Rock the Farm was the one I simply didn’t want to miss!

Sources: Wikipedia; CFC Loud n Clear Foundation website; One Fine Tapestry website; Coo Coo Cachoo Facebook page; Walk This Way website; Decade Facebook page; Traveling Milburys website; Guns 4 Roses website; TUSK website; Tramps Like Us website; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: America/ History: America’s Greatest Hits (Re-Post)

America’s vocal harmonies and smooth folk rock sound make for one of the best ’70s greatest hits compilations

On Monday, I found myself listening to America. I realize the trio has been dismissed by some critics as a Crosby, Stills & Nash knockoff. If anything, frankly, I would consider sounding like one of the best harmony-singing bands of all time as a compliment. But that may just be me. In any case, I’ve loved America’s music for many years and always enjoy revisiting it.

My listening experience made me want to post about the album that started my America journey as a nine- or 10-year-old back in Germany: History: America’s Greatest Hits. Then, I nebulously recalled a previous musing about their first compilation from November 1975. Checking my blog revealed a post from September 2018. Yes, I sometimes have to search my own stuff to remember what I previously wrote! 🙂

When it comes to old posts, sometimes, I wish I had written them differently. My views may have evolved. I also guess there’s a certain learning curve here. In this case, I was happy to see that I continue to fully stand behind each word I wrote almost three years ago. Therefore, I decided to do something I rarely do: Re-publish a previous post.

– Re-Post –

I was nine or 10 years old when I listened to History: America’s Greatest Hits for the first time. The album grabbed me right from the beginning. It was one of the vinyl records my older sister had, which among others also included Carole King’s TapestryCrosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Déjà Vu; and Simon & Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits – all albums I dig to this day.

Recently, I rediscovered History. To me, it’s one of the best greatest hits compilations I know, which were released in the ’70s. Others that come to my mind are Neil Young’s DecadeEagles’ Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975), Santana’s Greatest HitsSteely Dan’s Greatest Hits and the aforementioned Simon & Garfunkel album. There are probably some others I’m forgetting – in any case, it’s not meant to be a complete list.

I recall reading somewhere that America were dismissed by some as a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young knock-off. While I generally don’t think highly of music critics in the first place, I feel this notion is silly. Yes, America’s three-part harmony vocals are reminiscent of CSN/CSNY, but this doesn’t make them a copycat or somehow bad artists! On the contrary, if anything, the vocal similarity to CSN/CSNY is a huge accomplishment – after all, there aren’t many bands that can harmonize like CSN/CSNY did! On to History.

America
America (from left): Gerry Beckley, Dan Peek & Dewey Bunnell

Released in November 1975, History encompasses America’s 11 most successful singles at the time, plus an edited take of Sandman from their December 1971 eponymous debut. In addition to that album, History includes material from four additional studio records: Homecoming (November 1972), Hat Trick (October 1973), Holiday (June 1974) and Hearts (March 1975).

History opens with one of my favorite America tunes: A Horse With No Name from their debut album. It was written by Dewey Bunnell, who formed America with Dan Peek and Gerry Beckley in London in 1970. The three had met there in the mid-’60s as high school students whose fathers were stationed on a nearby U.S. Air Force base.

A Horse With No Name became America’s most successful single topping the Billboard Hot 100. It also stirred some controversy due to the similarity of Bunnell’s voice to Neil Young, and what some viewed as mediocre lyrics. Coincidentally, the song knocked Young’s Heart Of Gold off the Billboard Hot 100 top spot. I really don’t care whether it sounds like Young, who by the way is one of my favorite artists. With its two chords and killer harmony vocals, this tune simply gives me goosebumps each time I hear it.

Ventura Highway, another Bunnell composition, is from the Homecoming album. When I listen to this song and close my eyes, I can literally picture myself in an open convertible driving on the Pacific Coast Highway 1 from L.A. up north to San Francisco. I actually did that trip in 1980 as a 14-year-old, together with my parents. Even though we had a lame station wagon as a rental, not some hot convertible, it was an unforgettable experience! Ventura Highway became a top 10 Billboard single for America, reaching no. 8 and no. 3 on the Hot 100 and Easy Listening charts, respectively.

Another beautiful tune is Lonely People, which was credited to Dan Peek and his wife Catherine Peek. The song was written a few weeks after their marriage. An obituary in TMR that appeared in the wake of Peek’s death in July 2011 at the age of 60 quotes him: “I wrote it probably within a month of getting married to my long-lost love Catherine…I always felt like a melancholy, lonely person. And now I felt like I’d won.” America  initially recorded Lonely People for their fourth studio album Holiday. It topped the Billboard Easy Listening chart and peaked at no. 5 on the Hot 100.

One of my favorite songs on History written by Gerry Beckley is Sister Golden Hair. Recorded for America’s fifth studio album Hearts, the tune also became the band’s second no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The lyrics were inspired by Jackson Browne. In this context, John Corbett’s America Revisited quotes Beckley: “Jackson Browne has a knack, an ability to put words to music, that is much more like the L.A. approach to just genuine observation as opposed to simplifying it down to its bare essentials… and it was that style of his which led to a song of mine, “Sister Golden Hair,” which is probably the more L.A. of my lyrics.” I guess this means in addition to CSN/CSNY, America also stole from Browne – unbelievable!

The last song I’d like to call out is the final track on the History compilation:  Woman Tonight. It’s another tune from the Hearts album and was written by Peek. Released as the third single, it charted within the top 50 in the U.S.

History was produced by none other than George Martin, who had started working with America on their fourth studio album Holiday. Martin also remixed the first seven tracks on History, which he had not produced originally. The compilation became a huge success in the U.S., giving America a no. 3 on the Billboard 200. In October 1986, the Recording Industry Association of America certified the album 4X Multi-Platinum.

Since History, America have released 12 additional studio albums, 10 live records and numerous other compilations. Now in their 51st year [updated from original post – CMM], America continue to perform, featuring co-founders Beckley and Bunnell. Peek left the band in May 1977, long before his death, after he had renewed his Christian faith.

– End of Re-Post –

Apparently, America will be touring the U.S. starting in late summer. According to their current schedule listed on their website, things are set to kick off in North Bethesda, Md. on August 13. Some of the other gigs include Hyannis, Mass. (Aug 27); Mulvane, Kan. (Sep 11); Lawrence, Kan. (Sep 25); Reno, Nev. (Oct 2), Mankato, Minn (Oct 22); and San Antonio (Nov 14). The last currently listed show is Sarasota, Fla. (Nov 21). I saw America once in the late ’90s on Long Island, N.Y., and they sounded fantastic.

Sources: Wikipedia; TMR; John Corbett: “America Revisited”, AccessBackstage.com, May 29, 2004; RIAA Gold & Platinum certifications; America website; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Neil Young & Graham Nash/Birds (Demo)

This nice demo of Neil Young and Graham Nash performing Young’s Birds appears on the massive Déjà Vu 50th Anniversary Reissue that appeared last Friday, May 14. In addition to remastered edits of the original tunes, the reissue features 38 previously unreleased tacks, including session recordings, outtakes and demos.

Déjà Vu, the sophomore studio album by Crosby, Stills & Nash, and their first as a quartet with Neil Young, originally was released on March 11, 1970. Due to the pandemic and some bad blood between the former band mates, the reissue was delayed by more than a year. Plus, as Rolling Stone sarcastically reported, these guys always broke the rules, starting with the use of their names as a band.

While I’ve only heard bits and pieces so far, the reissue looks like something fans of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young are going to enjoy. More casual listeners of CSNY will probably get less out of it. The box set is available in five-vinyl-LP and four-CD/ one vinyl-LP formats. Both boxes come with a 12×12 hardback book.

While David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young at least each gave their blessing to the reissue, it mostly appears to have been Nash and Stills who were committed to it. Among the additional tracks, Young is only represented with two: The above Birds and an alternate take of Helpless.

According to Ultimate Classic Rock, Crosby told Rolling Stone, “I am very proud of the record, [but] this is like a repackaging. It’s probably a good thing, but it’s not that big a deal to me. The guy who looks backwards and does this kind of stuff is Nash. He always has been. I don’t really give much of a shit about that.” If anybody was harboring any hope of a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young reunion, insensitive commentary like this certainly doesn’t help!

Let’s end it on a more positive note. Here’s what Nash had to say to Rolling Stone about the demo of Birds with Young. “I know it’s just me and Neil doing it with his acoustic guitar, but that’s a beautiful piece of music. It’s me trying to be the best harmony singer I can be with somebody of the stature of Neil Young. I don’t want to stick out singing extra words that he’s not singing. I have to be on my game. And ‘Birds’ is a perfect example of that.” Young included a piano version of Birds on his third solo album After the Gold Rush from September 1970.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; Ultimate Classic Rock; YouTube