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

Another Posthumous Album Highlights Some of Tom Petty’s Most Productive Years

“Angel Dream” is reconfigured and remastered 25th anniversary version of 1996 “She’s the One” soundtrack album

While I would call myself a Tom Petty fan and dearly miss him, I’m mostly familiar with his catalog until 1994. Except for his final album with the Heartbreakers, Hypnotic Eye, my knowledge gets spotty when it comes to anything Petty released after his second solo album Wildflowers, alone or together with his longtime band. Among the latter was the August 1996 soundtrack Songs and Music from the Motion Picture “She’s the One”. That changed over the past few days with Angel Dream, a reconfigured and remastered 25th anniversary edition released on July 2. Listening to the anniversary issue not only led me to check out the original, but also to discover Tom Petty music I really like.

Officially titled Angel Dream (Songs and Music from the Motion Picture “She’s the One”), the latest Tom Petty posthumous release is being characterized as a “reimagined reissue.” This 25th anniversary edition keeps eight tunes of the original album, eliminates seven and adds four previously unreleased songs. As such, I’m okay with the characterization. But I can also see how some music fans like hotfox63 view the “reimagined reissue” label as a cynical marketing gimmick. Whatever the main motives behind a reissue may be, I think there can be no doubt that money is always part of the equation. Notably, Petty was involved in working on the mixes for Angel Dream with his longtime engineer and co-producer Ryan Ulate prior to his untimely death in October 2017.

I’d like to start this review with Angel Dream (No. 2), the album’s beautiful opener, a tune that also appeared on the original edition. During a recent interview on SiriusXM’s Tom Petty Radio (channel 31), Heartbreakers co-founder and keyboarder Benmont Tench called it “one of the loveliest songs Tom ever wrote,” as transcribed in this Rock Cellar Magazine review. Essentially, Angel Dream (No. 2) bookends the album, with the second bookend being an instrumental reprise titled French Disconnection, one of the previously unreleased tracks.

Among the highlights of the original album and this reissue is Change the Locks, a tune written by Lucinda Williams, which she recorded for her 1988 eponymous third studio album under the slightly different title Changed the Locks. Petty’s cover is more straight rock than the more bluesy original. Nice!

One of Life’s Little Mysteries is among the previously unreleased tracks. The song’s jazzy groove reminds me a bit of Full Grown Body, a tune from the aforementioned Hypnotic Eye. The music certainly fits the lyrics. An excerpt: Go to work in the morning/Try to make a buck/Do everything you’re told/And you’re still outta luck/It’s one of life’s little mysteries…

Here’s another cool cover and previously unreleased track: Thirteen Days, a J.J. Cale tune included on his fifth studio album 5 that came out in August 1979. “We had a lot of fun playing that song live and it’s great to have a recording of it from the studio,” said Mike Campbell, ex-Heartbreakers guitarist, during the above SiriusXM interview. I can definitely see why!

The last song I’d like to call out is yet another previously unreleased tune: 105 Degrees, which also is the album’s lead single. I realize I already covered this song in my last Best of What’s New installment, but since it’s an early favorite, I simply couldn’t skip it. I just love how this tune is shuffling along!

“‘She’s The One’ was originally a great way to include some of the songs that didn’t make it on to Wildflowers, but it has its own thing to it, its own charm, and putting it out now in a restructured form makes for a sweet little treat,” Benmont further noted. “At the time in the studio, it was fun working as a band to improvise the scoring cues for the movie rather than playing to preset click tracks and a written score. And it was interesting to try to cut covers of others’ songs for a record, instead of learning covers just for live shows.”

Here’s another tidbit I learned about “She’s the One” when doing some research for this post. It’s only album by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers that was recorded without an official drummer. The studio sessions happened following the departure of the band’s original drummer Stan Lynch. The album featured contributions from three other drummers: Curt Bisquera, Ringo Starr and Steve Ferrone. Ferrone, who had also played on Wildflowers, became the official drummer of the Heartbreakers shortly after “She’s the One” had been recorded.

Angel Dream (Songs and Music from the Motion Picture She's the One) CD – Tom  Petty
CD softpak with 12-page booklet.

“These songs are extremely special,” added Petty’s widow Dana Petty, who together with their two daughters Adria and Annakim manages the Tom Petty estate. “I am grateful this record is getting the recognition it deserves. The remix Ryan Ulyate did sounds amazing, and the unreleased gems are a lovely bonus. Annakim, Adria, and I took a lot of time finding artwork that reflects the mood of the album. I think we finally achieved that with Alia Penner’s work. It is surreal and beautiful, just like life during that time.”

Angel Dream, which appears on Warner Records and is available in CD and vinyl formats, as well as in digital music platforms, is the fifth posthumous Tom Petty album. It is also the third album with a connection to Wildflowers, widely considered to be one of Petty’s best records. October 2020 saw the release of Wildflowers & All the Rest. The super deluxe edition of that reissue, titled Finding Wildflowers, included a disc featuring alternate versions of Wildflowers’ 15 tracks, plus You Saw Me Comin’, a previously unreleased original song. That CD was released as a standalone under the title Finding Wildflowers (Alternate Versions) in April this year.

I will admit the standalone release does smack a bit like a money grab, since they could have offered it as a separate option when Wildflowers & All the Rest came out. Instead, they waited for six months. In the meantime, if fans wanted to own the alternate versions and that new song, they needed to buy the whole enchilada. I wonder how Tom Petty would have felt about that. After all, he once successfully battled his label MCA when they wanted to sell his then-latest record Damn the Torpedoes at a premium price of $9.98 instead of the usual list price of $8.98.

Sources: Wikipedia; Tom Petty website; Rock Cellar Magazine; YouTube

Raising Money For Parkinson’s Rocks

Light of Day Winterfest includes benefit concerts in New Jersey, New York and Philadelphia

Listening to my favorite music live is an experience I greatly enjoy. I find it even more powerful when it also involves raising money for an important cause, such as fighting hunger, poverty or disease. Last Sunday, I attended a Light of Day Winterfest 2019 event at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park, N.J. It was part of a series of regional concerts conducted between January 11 and January 21 to raise money for Parkinson’s disease and other related neurodegenerative disorders. My mother-in-law has had Parkinson’s for more than 10 years, which gave the event additional special meaning.

The annual series of concerts is the key fundraising vehicle of the Light of Day Foundation. According to its website, the New Jersey-based nonprofit funds research into possible cures, improved treatments and support for people living with Parkinson’s and related diseases and their caregivers. The foundation was established by music industry veteran and manager Bob Benjamin and some of his friends in 1998, shortly after he had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Light of Day is the title of a song written by Benjamin’s friend Bruce Springsteen for a 1987 motion picture with the same name.

The annual concerts have been held since 2000. Over the years, they grew from a one-day event in Asbury Park to a 10-day series of concerts held in different locations. In addition to the Jersey shore town, which remains the main hub, LOD Winterfest 2019 includes shows in Montclair, N.J., New York City, Philadelphia and Rockland County, N.Y. Light of Day concerts have also expanded beyond the U.S. to Canada, Australia and Europe. The most recent overseas shows took place in England, Germany, Switzerland and various other European countries in late November and December 2018.

Apart from Bruce Springsteen, who has appeared at various Light of Day concerts, other performers over the years have included prominent music artists, such as Southside Johnny, Jakob Dylan and Gary US Bonds, as well as numerous lesser known local artists. To date, Light of Day has raised more than $4.5 million for its support to find a cure for Parkinson’s.

Following are some clips I captured from the event, which mostly focused on tributes. I’d like to kick it off with The Bell Bottom Blues, a Jersey band that captures music by Eric Clapton. This includes his solo career and his work in bands like Cream, Blind Faith and Derek And The Dominoes. Here’s one of my favorite Cream tunes, White Room,  from Wheels Of Fire, Cream’s third studio album released in August 1968.

Bob Burger & Friends played a great Tom Petty tribute set. Burger is a singer-songwriter, who according to his website has about 40 published songs to his credit. He has opened for other artists like Meatloaf, Robert Palmer, Hootie And The Blowfish and Southside Johnny And The Asbury Jukes. Among others, Burger was joined by some of his band mates from The Weeklings, a tribute to The Beatles that apart from renditions plays originals inspired by The Fab Four. Here’s Refugee, which Petty recorded with The Heartbreakers for their excellent third studio album Damn The Torpedoes from October 1979.

Next up: CSN Songs, a great tribute to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. On their website, the seven-piece band characterizes itself as the only national CSN&Y tribute show of its kind. CSN Songs does a beautiful job at replicating CSN&Y’s four-part harmony vocals. Here’s their rendition of Woodstock, the classic Joni Mitchell tune CSN&Y recorded for their second album DĂ©jĂ  Vu that came out in March 1970.

The last band I’d like to highlight is Best Of The Eagles (BTOE). Previously, I had seen a couple of other Eagles tribute bands. While they were pretty good, BTOE has been the best so far. According to their website, BTOE were founded in 2012 by guitarist/vocalist Joe Vadala and a group of professional New Jersey musicians. In addition to Eagles songs, they also played Don Henley and Joe Walsh solo tunes, including a blistering rendition of Rocky Mountain Way. Here’s their take of Witchy Woman from the Eagles’ eponymous debut album released in June 1972.

During the current concert series the Light of Day Foundation aims to reach the $5.5 million mark in total fundraising. The schedule of remaining LOD Winterfest 2019 events is here.

Sources: Light of Day Foundation website, Wikipedia, The Bell Bottom Blues Facebook page, Bob Burger website, CSN Songs website, Best Of The Eagles website, YouTube

The Hardware: Vox Continental

Compact keyboard with characteristic sound became hit among touring bands in ’60s

When I listened to Light My Fire by The Doors the other day, I was reminded of Ray Manzarek’s distinct keyboard on that tune, a sound I’ve always loved. It also came to me that I hadn’t done a post on important music hardware in a long time – two good reasons to write about the Vox Continental, a handy and cool-looking organ that became popular in the ’60s and can be heard on many songs released during that decade and thereafter.

For those who are visiting my blog for the first time or haven’t seen one of my previous hardware posts, I’d like to reiterate that I’m not an engineering guy; in fact, having two left hands, it’s more of the opposite! As such, one could say there’s a certain degree of irony that I write about the subject. But while I’m not exactly a techie and therefore don’t go deeply into the technical aspects, music gear can still excite me like a little child, primarily from a sound and visual perspective. With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s get to it.

Thomas Walter Jennings
Jennings Organ Company founder Thomas Walter Jennings at his Dartford factory in Kent, England in 1964

Prior to the Vox Continental’s introduction in England in 1962, the Vox brand name had been synonymous with guitar amplifiers, especially the Vox AC30 used by The Shadows, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks and other ’60s bands. However, as its name already indicates, the company that made the amps, The Jennings Organ Company founded by Thomas Walter Jennings in Kent, England after the Second World War and renamed Jennings Musical Industries (JMI) in 1957, started out as a manufacturer of home and church organs. Their first successful product was the Univox, an electronic keyboard similar to the Clavioline.

The Vox Continental is a so-called combo keyboard. Does it come with French fries and a Coke you might ask? Well, not quite. Combo actually is another (British) term for band. Okay, it’s a keyboard for a band, but so is a Hammond or a regular piano, so what’s the big deal? While pianos were frequently used in the recording studio, amplifying their sound during live performances was tricky. Hammond organs like the mighty B3 certainly could meet volume requirements, but they were pretty clunky. A compact combo keyboard like the Vox Continental offered a great solution. It also looked pretty cool!

Vox Continental Electronics
The electronic inside of a Vox Continental

The Vox Continental was made possible by the invention of transistors that were less heavy and smaller than the electron tubes used in big electronic organs. The handy keyboard came in two basic variations, a single manual and a dual manual. One of the Continental’s distinct visual features is its reversed colored keys: what on a regular keyboard are the white keys are black, while the traditionally black keys are white (see image on top of the post). The top part covering the electronics with its orange or grey finish stands out as well. The curving and removable chrome stand is another distinct feature. Without a bass section, no bass pedals, no percussion, no sustain and only a single-speed vibrato, the Vox Continental was fairly archaic. Yet because of its sound and the aforementioned design features, the instrument became very popular.

Initially, Vox Continental keyboards were made at two plants in Kent: JMI’s facility in Dartford and the Vox Sound plant in Erith. In 1964, Jennings signed a licensing deal with the Thomas Organ Company in the U.S. JMI and Thomas subsequently also formed EME (Elletronica Musicale Europea), a joint venture with Italian guitar and keyboard manufacturer EKO. With the advent of the Moog and other more elaborate keyboards by the early ’70s, the appeal of Vox Continental organs started to decrease, and production was phased out. While it continued to have a significant following and remains sought-after, it took until September 2017 that Vox revived the Continental with an updated version. Since 1992, the company has been owned by Japanese electronics corporation Korg.

As noted at the outset, the Vox Continental is featured in many songs released during the ’60s and thereafter. This post wouldn’t be complete without some examples.

The House Of The Rising Sun (The Animals)

The version of the traditional by The Animals featuring Alan Price on keys is one of the most compelling showcases of the Vox Continental, in my humble opinion as somebody who isn’t a keyboard player. Sure, the sound isn’t as fat and growling as the Hammond B3; in fact, it’s rather thin by comparison, and yet it still sounds awesome at least to my ears!

Because (The Dave Clark Five)

Written by Dave Clark, Because was recorded for the band’s third U.S. studio album American Tour from August 1964. The song also appeared as a single and became the band’s second most successful hit in the U.S., peaking at no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. Here’s a nice clip of an appearance on American music variety TV program Shindig! from 1965. While it is much less dominant than in The House Of The Rising Sun, one can nicely see Mike Smith playing the organ.

I’m A Believer (The Monkees)

I’m A Believer appeared on More Of The Monkees, the band’s second studio album released in January 1967, and as the record’s lead single in November the previous year. Written by Neil Diamond, the song became the band’s most successful hit, topping the charts in many countries, including the U.S., Canada, U.K., Australia and Germany, among others. While Peter Tork had known how to play keyboards, the keyboarder on the studio recording was Stan Free. Initially formed a musical acting quartet for a TV series, all of The Monkees eventually learned how to play their instruments.

Light My Fire (The Doors)

Credited to all members of the band, Light My Fire was included on The Doors’ eponymous debut album issued in January 1967. It also became the record’s second single released in April that year. It was the first of their two no. 1 U.S. hits on the Billboard Hot 100. The tune is another great example where the Vox Continental is quite dominant.

In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (Iron Butterfly)

In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida is the title track of Iron Butterfly’s second studio album from June 1968. It was written by the band’s lead vocalist and keyboarder Doug Ingle. Clocking at more than 17 minutes, the track makes up the record’s entire side B. Iron Butterfly also released a single version, which was shortened to just under three minutes. Here’s a clip of the track in its entire mighty.

Watching The Detectives (Elvis Costello)

After production of Vox Continental keyboards had seized, the combo organs remained popular, as previously noted. One of their champions was Steve Nieve, who among others became known as keyboarder in Elvis Costello’s backing band The Attractions. Here’s a clip of Watching The Detectives from Costello’s debut album My Aim Is True, released in July 1977. Written by Costello, the tune became his first hit, peaking at no. 15 on the U.K. Official Singles Chart.

Don’t Do Me Like That (Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers)

Don’t Do Me Like That, the last song I’d like to highlight in this post, is another post ’60s example featuring a Vox Continental, played by Benmont Tench in this case. It appears on Damn The Torpedoes, the third studio album by Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers from October 1979. In November that year, the song also came out as the record’s lead single. Written by Petty, it became the band’s first top 10 hit in the U.S., reaching no. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Sources: Wikipedia, Engineering And Technology History Wiki (ETHW), Combo Organ Heaven, YouTube