Song Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

It’s Wednesday, folks, and I hope this week has been kind to you. This also means it’s that time again when I take a closer look at a song I’ve only mentioned in passing or haven’t covered at all to date. My pick for this installment of Song Musings is In Your Eyes, one of my longtime favorite tunes by Peter Gabriel.

I first heard Gabriel unknowingly on the radio back in Germany after Genesis had released their single The Carpet Crawlers. Had you asked me whether that song was a hit, I would have said ‘yes’ without any doubt. But according to Wikipedia, it didn’t even chart – I’m still in disbelief! It was on the radio pretty frequently.

The first Peter Gabriel solo tune I recall hearing back in Germany was the live version of Solsbury Hill, which appeared as a single in August 1983, off his first live album Plays Live. While I liked the song from the get-go, it wasn’t until Gabriel’s fifth solo album So from May 1986 that I started to explore his music.

With Solsbury Hill and the tracks on So being pretty pop-oriented, much of Gabriel’s earlier music was an acquired taste. But I came around fairly quickly and still dig a good number of his songs that are on albums that preceded So. That said, So still remains my favorite.

This brings me to In Your Eyes. Written by Gabriel, the tune also appeared separately as So’s second single in September 1986. I still get chills when listening to this song and Gabriel’s vocals. Speaking of vocals, In Your Eyes also features Senegalese singer-songwriter Youssou N’Dour who sings a part at the end translated into his native Wolof – quite appropriate for a tune with lyrics that per Wikipedia were “inspired by an African tradition of ambiguity in song between romantic love and love of God.”

In Your Eyes didn’t match the chart success of the album’s lead single Sledgehammer, which hit, well, like a sledgehammer, topping the pop charts in the U.S. and Canada, and climbing to no. 3 in each Australia, New Zealand and Ireland. By comparison, In Your Eyes reached no. 26 and no. 29 on the U.S. and Canadian mainstream charts, respectively. That said, thanks to strong radio play and MTV rotation, it ended up topping Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Tracks chart. Elsewhere, the single got to no. 50 in New Zealand and no. 97 in Australia.

Here’s a cool extended live version from Gabriel’s concert film Secret World Live, which was released simultaneously with a companion live album of the same name in August 1994. The footage was captured during two concerts in Modena, Italy in November 1993, conducted as part of Gabriel’s tour that supported his sixth solo album Us, released in September 1992. I had not watched this clip until I did some research for this post – wow!

Songfacts provides a ton of additional insights about In Your Eyes, including the tune’s prominent use in the 1989 U.S. teen romantic comedy-drama motion picture Say Anything… directed by Cameron Crowe, and starring John Cusack, Ione Skye and John Mahoney. Full disclosure: I knew nothing about the film until the late ’90s after I had gotten married to my dear wife who is a huge John Cusack fan.

While some of the other Songfacts content gets into territory that could be characterized as inside baseball, especially if you’re not a musician, I didn’t want to cut anything. So here it is in its full beauty. The clip from the movie was my brilliant addition! 🙂

According to Gabriel, the lyrics could refer to either the love between a man and woman or the relationship between a person and God.

The West African musician Youssou N’Dour sang backup on this track, giving it a distinctive vocal texture. Gabriel learned about him in 1984 when N’Dour was performing in England. They became friends and collaborators, with a mutual respect for each others’ music. N’Dour joined Gabriel on the So tour and was very well received – he was part of an extended version of “In Your Eyes” and also sang on “Biko.” In 1991 Gabriel performed the song in N’Dour’s native country of Senegal before a crowd of 70,000.

This was featured in the 1989 movie Say Anything in a scene where John Cusack plays this from a Boom Box he holds over his head to win the heart of Ione Skye. Cameron Crowe, who directed the film, was going to use Billy Idol’s “Got To Be A Lover,” but it didn’t work with the scene. Crowe got the idea to use this when he played a tape from his wedding which had the song on it. Because it was a deeply personal song, Gabriel did not want to let him use it, but when Crowe called and sent him a tape of the movie, Gabriel loved it and gave his approval.

The producers of Say Anything were charged about $200,000 to use the song, but it was worth the price as it became one of the most famous scenes in movie history. The scene became a cultural touchstone, which was a little strange for Gabriel. He told Rolling Stone in 2012: “I’ve talked to John Cusack about that. We’re sort of trapped together in a minuscule moment of contemporary culture.”

Gabriel combined various real and electronic instruments to create the song. He worked the Fairlight CMI synthesizer and the Linn drum machine, and also played piano. Other musicians on the track, along with N’Dour, were:

David Rhodes – guitar, backing vocals
Jerry Marotta – drums
Richard Tee – piano
Larry Klein, Tony Levin – bass
Manu Katche – drums, talking drum, percussion
Ronnie Bright – bass vocals
Jim Kerr (from Simple Minds), Michael Been – backing vocals

A special 7:14 mix of this song was released to radio stations by Geffen Records. It features extended singing by Youssou N’Dour. This promotional copy also included a 6:15 version of the song, and an 8:36 of Gabriel’s “Biko.”

Peter Gabriel produced the So album with Daniel Lanois, who had worked on U2’s 1984 album The Unforgettable Fire and after finishing up with Gabriel, started work on The Joshua Tree. Lanois will develop an understanding of a song on an emotional level and craft the production accordingly, which lyricists like Bono and Gabriel appreciate. In a Songfacts interview, he explained what this song means to him: “‘In Your Eyes,’ Peter had this idea that by looking into someone’s eyes, you would see, quite specifically in the lyric, the doorway to a thousand churches. I think it’s as simple as that – the power of commitment and care and love will be stronger.”

This is one of the few slow songs that gets consistent airplay on rock radio. It was not very popular when it came out, but continues to get constant airplay on a variety of formats, as listeners never seem to tire of it.

Peter Gabriel’s elaborate concerts are highly choreographed, but with “In Your Eyes,” he made sure there was lots of room for improvisation. His keyboard player on the So tour, David Sancious, told Songfacts how it came together. “We were rehearsing the song and Peter said he wanted to extend the ending,” said Sancious. “There was going to be a break where I’d just play something, make up something for like eight bars. It’s just a drumbeat and piano. Manu Katché is playing the drums and would give me a signal to come back in.

So that was different every night and he very much enjoyed it when I would come up with different things. It was a gospel-y kind of break and then it went back to the chorus of ‘In Your Eyes.’ And there were other points where I got to do little different things that weren’t the same every night, and he enjoyed that.”

In 1994, Gabriel did a version of “In Your Eyes” live, which appears on Disc 2 of the double CD set of Secret World Live, and lasts 11:34. On this version, he improvises a lot in the song with the backup singers.

According to Daniel Lanois, the drums on this song add a lot of flavor and power the song along. “Everything on that record was cut to a beatbox initially, as was the case with ‘In Your Eyes,'” he told Songfacts. “Manu Katche from Paris – a great drummer – played that beautiful drum part. So that ‘down push,’ it’s an old carnival beat – it keeps it motoring along. Even though it’s quite a contemplative song, it has a little bit of carnival in its engine that keeps the zip in the step going and keeps you interested in the lyrics.”

When Guitar Player magazine questioned whether David Rhodes was upset over his 12-string being buried beneath synthesizers, the guitarist replied: “I think that’s fine. Often, I prefer that. I think sometimes it can be unnecessary to have a lot of definition between instruments. All the instruments should blend to make the song work, to build the atmosphere. The fact that you can’t hear your part, a particular sound, shouldn’t worry you at all. A lot of guitarists enjoy playing very loud and doing big solos. I’m not into that.”

He added: “The idea of making things work appeals to me a lot more. I approach things texturally and build them up, giving the music space to develop. With Peter, we use a lot of effects, so that it sounds as little like a guitar as possible.”

In addition to Say Anything, this was also used in these TV shows:

The Righteous Gemstones (“Better Is The End Of A Thing Than Its Beginning” – 2019)
It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia (“The Gang Gets Romantic” – 2019)
The Last Man On Earth (“Not Appropriate For Miners” – 2017)
The Flash (“Gorilla Warfare” – 2015)
Lilyhammer (“Out Of Africa” – 2013)
The Goldbergs (“The Ring” – 2013)
Glee (“Girls (And Boys) On Film” – 2013)
Cold Case (“Family” – 2005)
American Dad! (“It’s Good To Be The Queen” – 2006)
Felicity (“Pilot” – 1998)

And in these movies:

Yes, God, Yes (2019)
Deadpool 2 (2018)
The Rocker (2008)

Co-producer Daniel Lanois explained to Sound On Sound how a small musical toolbox created a dynamic album. “It’s a mysterious album,” he said. “What’s interesting about that record, is that if you listen closely there aren’t that many unusual instruments on it but it sounds sonically innovative.

It was created with a fairly limited supply of tools, if you like. Most of the keyboards are acoustic piano, Yamaha electric piano and Prophet 5 – an old Prophet 5 polysynth, one of the very first ones to come out. Also an old Fairlight Series II with some good sampled sounds. Yet So has a variety of sounds and you don’t get the feeling that it’s the same things over and over again. It’s another lesson in the theory of the small toolbox and learning to love your tools. Learning the difference between that setting and this setting and not necessarily using wildly different instruments or components to come up with variety but using a concentrated small area and drawing a lot from them.”

The singer/guitarist Jeffrey Gaines recorded a popular version of this song that got a lot of airplay on Adult Contemporary radio and appears on his 2001 album Always Be. Gaines writes most of his own material, but his cover of “In Your Eyes” has become his best-known work. When we asked him about performing a song written by someone else, he replied: “The conviction I have within that material is my joy of singing.”

The rock band SR-71 did a cover of this song that appears on their 2004 album Here We Go Again. They performed it live at the Gravity Games that year.

Peter Gabriel wanted to use “In Your Eyes” as So’s final track, but its prominent bassline meant it had to be placed earlier on the vinyl edition to give the phonograph stylus more room to vibrate. This restriction was no longer an issue for later CD releases, so the track was placed at the end.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

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If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by The Neville Brothers

It’s Wednesday and I’m back with my little exercise to pick one tune to take with me on an imaginary trip to a desert island. Given my arbitrary self-imposed rules, perhaps I should change the title of the recurring feature. When most folks hear the term ‘desert island song’, understandably, they associate with it their most favorite music. That’s not what I’m doing here, at least not on an absolute scale.

The idea of this feature is to pick an artist or band I have rarely or not covered at all to date and select one song from them I like. Oftentimes, the choice comes down to only a handful of their tunes I know. As such, this excludes many of all-time favorites like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Carole King, Neil Young, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Bonnie Raitt, Buddy Guy or Steely Dan who otherwise would be preferred picks. Another restricting factor is I’m doing this exercise in alphabetic order.

What that said, let’s get to today’s pick. I’m up to the letter “n”. Looking in my music library reveals artists and bands, such as Graham Nash, Johnny Nash, Nazareth, Willie Nelson, Randy Newman, Nilsson and Nirvana. My pick is Yellow Moon by The Neville Brothers.

Sadly, The Neville Brothers are among the music acts whose names I had known for years but had not been able to identify a specific tune. To inform the above pick I sampled tracks of two compilations, including the one pictured in the clip, Uptown Rulin’, which came out in 1999.

I couldn’t find much information on Yellow Moon. This groovy tune is credited to band co-founder, keyboarder and vocalist Arthur Neville, who was also known as Art Neville, and Jack Neville who based on my findings in AllMusic was a songwriter, predominantly for country artists. Here’s a nice live version of the tune, featuring the great John Hiatt as a guest. While the group’s sax player Charles Neville introduces him, he notes the Nevilles had performed a song written by Hiatt on their 1978 eponymous debut album (Washable Ink).

Yellow Moon was the title track of a studio album The Neville Brothers released in March 1989. According to Wikipedia, it peaked at no. 66 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200. Notably, the album was produced by Daniel Lanois who also worked with Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Peter Gabriel, Emmylou Harris and Willie Nelson, among others. He also collaborated with Brian Eno to produce various albums for U2 including my favorite The Joshua Tree.

A review of Yellow Moon by Ron Wynn for AllMusic notes the album charted and remained there for many weeks, while the Nevilles toured and generated lots of interest. It didn’t become a hit, but it did respectably and represents perhaps their finest overall pop LP. The group won a 1990 Grammy for Best Instrumental Pop Performance for another track on that album, titled Healing Chant.

The seeds for The Neville Brothers were planted in 1976 during a recording session of The Wild Tchoupitoulas. This Mardis Gras Indian group was led by the Nevilles’ uncle, George Landry, known as Big Chief Jolly. In addition to the previously noted Art Neville (keyboards, vocals) and Charles Neville (saxophone), The Neville Brothers featured Aaron Neville (vocals) and Cyril Neville (vocals, percussion). All four were siblings and participated in the above recording session.

AllMusic and Wikipedia list nine studio albums The Neville Brothers released during their active period between 1976 and 2012. In the latter year, they formally disbanded but reunited one more time in 2015 for a farewell concert in New Orleans. Charles Neville and Art Neville passed away in April 2018 and July 2019 at the ages of 79 and 81, respectively. Aaron Neville, now 81, is retired. Seventy-two-year-old Cyril Neville, the youngest of the four brothers, still appears to be an active musician.

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: March 9

This is the 60th installment of my music history feature, which explores select happenings on a specific date over time, mostly focusing on the ’60s and ’70s. While not surprisingly by now I have a well-defined system in place how I go about gathering facts for these posts, I still enjoy writing them. So let’s embark on another time travel journey and take a look back at some of the events on March 9 throughout rock and pop music history. As always, the selections reflect my music taste and, as such, are not meant to be a complete list.

1967: The Beatles began work on Getting Better in Studio 2 of Abbey Road’s EMI Studies as part of the recording sessions for their next studio album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The song was mainly written by Paul McCartney with some lyrical input from John Lennon. During the late evening session, the tune’s rhythm track was recorded: McCartney’s rhythm guitar and Ringo Starr’s drums on track one; McCartney’s guide vocals on track two; a pianette (type of electric keyboard) played by George Martin on track three; and some additional drums on track four. Subsequently, a so-called reduction mix was created to free up additional tracks on the tape (eight-track recording would only start to become available in 1968). The Beatles and the studio crew called it a night, or I guess I should rather say an early morning, at 3:30 am (March 10). They devoted three additional sessions to the tune, evidently figuring it was getting better all the time. How do I know all of that? I don’t! Wait, what?! Well, there’s The Beatles Bible that captures all these details for the music geeks among us. 🙂

1973: American blues and boogie rockers Canned Heat released their ninth studio album The New Age. It was the first to feature guitarist James Shane and keyboarder Ed Beyer. At that time, Canned Heat had already lost key co-founder Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson who had died from a drug overdose in September 1970. Wilson had written and co-written the band’s biggest U.S. hit singles Going Up the Country and On the Road Again, respectively, and sung lead vocals on both. Here’s the opener Keep Clean written by Bob Hite, the band’s other key co-founder who since passed away as well in April 1981, also due to drugs. Unfortunately, Canned Heat has been hit hard with drug-related deaths. Fun fact: According to Wikipedia, renowned rock critic Lester Bangs was fired by Rolling Stone for writing a “disrespectful” review of the album at the time it came out.

1987: Irish rock band U2 released their fifth studio album The Joshua Tree. Fueled by hit singles With or Without You, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For and Where the Streets Have No Name, it topped the charts in more than 20 countries and became U2’s all-time top-seller. With over 25 million copies sold, it’s also one of the world’s best-selling albums. Produced by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, The Joshua Tree yielded two 1988 Grammy awards for Album of the Year and Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. While it undoubtedly created over-exposure for U2, I feel The Joshua Tree is holding up pretty well to this day. Here’s one of the tunes that wasn’t released as a single, which I’ve come to dig over the years as one of my favorites: Red Hill Mining Town. Like all other tracks on the album, Bono provided the lyrics, while the music was credited to the entire band.

1993: Sting put out his fourth solo album Ten Summoner’s Tales, which remains my all-time favorite by the ex-Police front man. If I see this correctly, it became Sting’s best-selling album. It also received six 1994 Grammy nominations and won three: Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical, Best Music Video, Long-Form, and Best Vocal Performance, Male (for If I Ever Lose My Faith in You). Here’s the beautiful Shape of My Heart, co-written by Sting and his longtime sideman, guitarist Dominic Miller.

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

My Playlist: Emmylou Harris

While I had known her name for decades, it really wasn’t until July 2017 that I started paying closer attention to Emmylou Harris when seeing her in Philadelphia as part of a concert headlined by John Mellencamp. There was something special about this lady with her all-white hair who recently had turned 70. Now 73, Harris has been active for more than 50 years, released dozens of solo and collaborative albums, scored 20 top 10 hits on the Billboard country charts and collected numerous Grammy and other awards. This playlist is an attempt to shine a light on her long and impressive career.

Harris was born on April 2, 1947 in Birmingham, Ala. Her dad, Walter Harris, was a Marine Corps officer, while her mom Eugenia was a wartime military wife. After high school graduation in Woodbridge, Va., Harris went to the School of Music, Theater and Dance at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro on a drama scholarship. It was there where she started to learn songs by Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez on guitar and develop her musical aspirations. Harris dropped out, moved to New York City during the second half of the ’60s, and started performing on the folk circle in Greenwich Village while waiting tables.

In 1969, Harris married fellow songwriter Tom Slocum who wrote the title track for her debut album Gliding Bird. The folk record also included five songs written by Harris. The label Jubilee Records went under shortly after the release, so all distribution and promotion was ceased. Subsequently, Harris disowned the record. She regards her second release Pieces of the Sky from February 1975 as her official debut.

In 1971, after he had seen her perform, Flying Burrito Brothers co-founder Chris Hillman introduced Harris to his music partner Gram Parsons who became a key figure in her early career. Harris worked with Parsons on his solo debut GP from January 1973 and toured as a member of his band the Fallen Angels. Later that year, she also worked with Parsons on his second and final solo album Grievous Angel, which was released in January 1974, following his death from an accidental overdose of drugs and alcohol in September 1973.

In February 1975, the aforementioned Pieces of the Sky appeared. It’s the album that launched Harris’ career as a country artist and established what she became mainly known, i.e., covering songs written by other artists. The album also coincided with the formation of The Hot Band, Harris’ high-profile backing band until 1991. The initial lineup included James Burton (guitar), Glen Hardin (piano), Hank DeVito (pedal steel guitar), Emory Gordy, Jr. (bass) and John Ware (drums).

To date, Harris has released 21 solo studio albums, three live records and a dozen compilations. Additionally, her impressive catalog includes seven collaboration albums with artists like Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Rodney Crowell. Harris also has worked as a guest with numerous other artists, including The Band, Glen Campbell, Johnny Cash, Guy Clark, Bob Dylan, Sheryl Crow and Steve Earle, among others. Let’s get to some music!

While perhaps not as representative of Harris as her other records, I’d like to kick off this playlist with a tune from 1969’s Gliding Bird, which was written by her: Black Gypsy.

If I Could Only Win Your Love from her second album Pieces of the Sky became Harris’ first hit single, climbing to no. 4 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart in 1975. Co-written by Charlie Louvin and Ira Louvin who formed the country and gospel duo The Louvin Brothers, it also marked the first of only a handful of Harris singles that charted on the Billboard Hot 100, in this case at no. 58. Linda Ronstadt sang backing vocals on the album.

While Emmylou Harris is best known as a country artist, her song choices can be eclectic. Here’s an example from her third studio album Elite Hotel released in December 1975: A beautiful cover of The Beatles tune Here, There and Everywhere. Credited to John Lennon and Paul McCartney, the McCartney ballad originally appeared on the Revolver album from August 1996.

Harris’ next album Luxury Liner from December 1976 included the first cover of Townes Van Zandt’s Pancho and Lefty, which subsequently became the revered singer-songwriter’s best known composition. The tune has also been covered by other artists, most notably Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, who recorded it as the title track of their collaboration album that came out in January 1983.

Roses in the Snow, Harris’ first ’80s album, appeared in May 1980. Unlike her preceding country and country rock records, this album was more bluegrass-oriented. Here’s a great rendition of the Paul Simon tune The Boxer, featuring beautiful harmony singing by Cheryl White and her sister Sharon White. The Boxer first appeared on Simon & Garfunkel’s final studio album Bridge Over Troubled Water from January 1970.

In February 1985, Harris released The Ballad of Sally Rose, a concept album loosely based on her relationship with Gram Parsons. The record also stood out for another reason. Like her debut 16 years earlier, it illustrates Harris is more than just a cover artist. All songs were co-written by her, mostly together with her then-second husband Paul Kennerley, an English singer-songwriter, musician and record producer, who also produced this record. Here’s White Line, one of the record’s two singles.

Next, I’d like to jump to the ’90s and Wrecking Ball, Harris’ 18th studio album. The record became her first since Pieces of the Sky that did not make the country charts. Perhaps that wasn’t too surprising, given the music moved away from her traditional acoustic to a more edgy and atmospheric sound. Producer Daniel Lanois who produced and co-produced various U2 albums like The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby undoubtedly had something to do with it. Here’s the title track written by Neil Young who also provided harmony vocals. Young had first recorded the tune for his 1989 studio album Freedom. And, coming back to U2, Larry Mullen, Jr. played drums on most of the album’s songs including this one.

Given the significance of collaboration albums in Harris’ catalog, I’d like to at least acknowledge one: Trio II from February 1999, the second album she did together with Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt. All tracks had actually been recorded in 1994, but label disputes and conflicting schedules had prevented the release at the time. While I’ve featured it on the blog before, I just couldn’t resist including the ladies’ angelic rendition of After The Gold Rush, the title track of Neil Young’s third studio album from September 1970. Interestingly, while the remake did not chart when it was released as a single from Trio II, it won the 2000 Grammy for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals. The intensity of this version is just killing me. This is why I dig vocals!

In September 2003, Harris released Stumble into Grace, her second album of the current century. Like some of her previous records, it includes a significant number of her own compositions. She also co-wrote most of the remaining tracks. Here’s the opener Here I Am, one of her tunes.

I’d like to wrap up this playlist with a track from what is Harris’ most recent solo album, Hard Bargain, released in April 2011. Her two latest records are collaborations with Rodney Crowell from February 2013 and March 2015. There’s also the Complete Trio Collection, a compilation of the Trio I and Trio II collaborative albums with Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt, which came out in September 2016. Given the enormous role of Gram Parsons, it felt right to highlight opener The Road, a tune Harris penned about her musical mentor – the first to focus on his death since Boulder to Colorado, a song from Pieces of the Sky. It’s also noteworthy that Hard Bargain became Harris’ highest chart entry since the above Roses in the Snow from 1980, peaking at no. 3 on the Billboard Top Country Albums. It also hit no. 18 on the Billboard 200, her highest mainstream chart success since 1977’s Luxury Liner, a remarkable late-stage career success.

Emmylou Harris has sold 75 million records in the U.S. alone. She has won 14 Grammy awards out of 48 for which she had been nominated. She has also won numerous country, bluegrass and Americana awards, and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in February 2008.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube