Song Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

Happy Wednesday and hope this week has been treating you well. I’d like to welcome you to another installment of my weekly feature, in which I’m taking a closer look at songs I’ve only mentioned in passing or not covered at all to date. Over the weekend, I finally watched Moonage Daydream, the Brett Morgen documentary about David Bowie. While it’s not a traditional music documentary or biopic but a collage of concert and other footage from Bowie’s personal archives, I actually liked the film more than I thought. It also inspired this week’s song pick: Life On Mars?

Written by David Bowie, the tune first appeared on his fourth studio album Hunky Dory released in December 1971. It was the first record with Bowie’s new backing band featuring Mick Ronson (guitar), Trevor Bolder (bass) and Mick Woodmansey (drums), the group that subsequently became The Spiders from Mars. Life On Mars? was also released as a single in the UK, but only in June 1973 at the height of Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust period. It peaked at no. 3 there.

Life On Mars? has a bit of a history, which started in 1968 when Bowie was commissioned to write English lyrics for Comme d’habitude, a song by French music artist Claude François. But Bowie’s lyrics were rejected and it was songwriter Paul Anka who took the tune and turned it into My Way, which was popularized by Frank Sinatra in 1969. Apparently annoyed about the success of My Way, Bowie used the song as a template and wrote Life On Mars?, intended as a parody of Sinatra’s recording.

Wikipedia notes that Life On Mars? has been described as a “soaring, cinematic ballad.” Combining elements of glam rock, cabaret and art rock, the tune has a pretty complex structure with different chord changes throughout. The string arrangement was composed by Ronson. Rick Wakeman, who at the time was still a member of English folk rock group The Strawbs, played the piano. Soon thereafter, he would join Yes. Here’s a live version of the song, captured in Paris in October 1999.

Critics and biographers have called Life On Mars? one of Bowie’s best songs. The tune has been covered by various other music artists, including Barbra Streisand and Nine Inch Nails members Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. After Bowie’s untimely death in January 2016, the song entered the charts in many countries and became a frequent tribute tune for Bowie. Tributes by organist Nicholas Freestone and singer Lorde gained broad popularity.

Following are some additional tidbits from Songfacts:

The lyricism is very abstract, though the basis of this song is about a girl who goes to watch a movie after an argument with her parents. The film ends with the line “Is there life on Mars?”

Bowie has labeled the song “a sensitive young girl’s reaction to the media” and added, “I think she finds herself disappointed with reality… that although she’s living in the doldrums of reality, she’s being told that there’s a far greater life somewhere, and she’s bitterly disappointed that she doesn’t have access to it.”

The lyrics also contain imagery suggesting the futility of man’s existence, a topic Bowie used frequently on his early albums...

…In 2008, Bowie recalled writing this song to the Mail on Sunday: “This song was so easy. Being young was easy. A really beautiful day in the park, sitting on the steps of the bandstand. ‘Sailors bap-bap-bap-bap-baaa-bap.’ An anomic (not a ‘gnomic’) heroine. Middle-class ecstasy. I took a walk to Beckenham High Street to catch a bus to Lewisham to buy shoes and shirts but couldn’t get the riff out of my head. Jumped off two stops into the ride and more or less loped back to the house up on Southend Road. Workspace was a big empty room with a chaise lounge; a bargain-price art nouveau screen (‘William Morris,’ so I told anyone who asked); a huge overflowing freestanding ashtray and a grand piano. Little else. I started working it out on the piano and had the whole lyric and melody finished by late afternoon. Nice. Rick Wakeman [of prog band, Yes] came over a couple of weeks later and embellished the piano part and guitarist Mick Ronson created one of his first and best string parts for this song which now has become something of a fixture in my live shows.”

…Mick Rock, a photographer who shot the covers of Lou Reed’s Transformer album and Queen’s Queen II, directed the song’s official video, which he filmed backstage at Earls Court, London, in 1973. Bowie appears in a turquoise suit and makeup, performing the song against a white backdrop.

Rock ended up producing two more versions of the video, first in the ’80s when he treated it with a bleached look, then in 2016 when the Parlophone label commissioned him to do a new edit. “The new version is my favorite, because there are all kinds of things you can do technically, including playing around with the colors and lots things,” Rock told Songfacts. [The first clip is the 2016 version – CMM]

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

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Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Happy Saturday and hope your weekend is off to a great start! It’s been a busy week on my end, which is also why this Best of What’s New installment is coming out later than usual. The first two selections are on albums released yesterday (December 9), while for the final two picks, I went back to December 2.

River Tiber/In Between

First up this week is River Tiber, the moniker of Canadian singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Tommy Paxton-Beesley. Born and raised in Toronto, Paxton-Beesley also lived in Italy for a year near to the Tiber River, presumably the inspiration for this moniker. His AllMusic bio notes he is classically trained and picked up the cello at a young age before learning the drums, trombone and guitar. Prior to launching his solo career in 2013 with the debut EP The Star Falls, Paxton-Beesley wrote for hip-hop artists. Over the years, he has co-written charting songs, such as No Tellin’ by Drake, Broken Clocks by SZA, AstroThunder by Travis Scott and I Keep Calling by James Blake – frankly not the type of music that grabs me. By now you may be wondering why I decided to feature Paxton-Beesley. Well, his latest album Dreaming Eyes sounds different from the aforementioned music. By the time I got to the third track In Between, a co-write by Paxton-Beesley and Johnathan Mavrogiannis, I felt sufficiently intrigued.

Sam Ryder/Deep Blue Doubt

Sam Ryder is a British singer-songwriter who first rose to prominence with music covers he posted on TikTok in March 2020 during the first COVID lockdown period. Here’s more from his Apple Music profile: After years of playing in rock and metal bands and trying to break into the songwriting game in Nashville, Ryder took to posting cover songs to the internet during the 2020 pandemic lockdowns, and quickly caught the attention of stars like Sia and Justin Bieber. In short order, he skyrocketed to social media stardom. In 2021, he released his debut EP The Sun’s Gonna Rise, which has received over 100 million global streams. He also represented the UK at the 2022 Eurovision Song Contest with the song Space Man and finished second overall. Ryder has cited David Bowie, Elton John, and Queen as his artistic influences. He’s now out with his debut album There’s Nothing But Space, Man! Ryder’s high vocals remind me a bit of Sam Smith. His music, which I guess could be characterized as contemporary power pop, is a bit of a stretch to me. Let’s listen to the album’s opener Deep Blue Doubt, credited to Ryder, Ben Kohn, James Napier, Peter Kelleher and Tom Barnes.

Sophie Jamieson/Addition

Next up is Sophie Jamieson, a British singer-songwriter based in London. Here’s more from her AllMusic bio: Jamieson started writing songs as a teen and cites Elena Tonra, Sharon Van Etten, and Scott Hutchison among her later songwriting inspirations. She started playing live while living in Cambridge and taking in the university music scene. A Ben Walker-produced EP titled Where appeared in 2013 and led to an inclusion on Folkroom Records’ Anthology Two compilation. The double A-side “Stain/Other” followed in 2014. In the meantime, a bad recording session and mental breakdown ultimately resulted in a six-year break from music. The first of a pair of self-released EPs, hammer EP, appeared in March 2020 featuring hazy electric guitar and keyboard songs, usually with a rhythm section. Arriving in December of the same year, the four-song release EP, if slightly sparer, followed suit. This brings me to Jamieson’s full-length debut album Choosing. Apparently, it was written during a period in which the artist was struggling with alcohol. Here’s the powerful opener Addition, which drew me in.

Mthunzi Mvubu/Mom vs the Bad Man

Closing out this week’s new music revue is Mthunzi Mvubu, a South African-based saxophonist, flute player and composer. While I frequently feature jazz in my Sunday Six weekly feature, I rarely include it in Best of What’s New – frankly, I really don’t know why, especially when the music is as great as Mvubu’s! From his AllMusic bio: Possessed of a reedy yet smooth, nearly mellifluous tone on the horn, his playing style draws on the North American and African jazz traditions; he also has an extensive post-bop vocabulary. Playing professionally since he was 14, Mvubu has traveled globally with jazz luminaries since he was 18. He is also a member of Londoner Shabaka Hutchings’ Shabaka & the Ancestors. Mvubu is a founding member of the Amandla Freedom Ensemble and, for a decade, has played in drummer Tumi Mogorosi’s band, appearing on 2014’s Project Elo and 2022’s Group Theory: Black Music. While I admittedly know nothing about these albums and other artists, this sounds like a pretty impressive resume to me! Now, Mvubu can add his debut as a leader to his credits: The 1st Gospel, recorded with five other jazz musicians from South Africa. Check out Mom vs the Bad Man – love this!

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist of the above picks and a few additional tunes by each of the artists.

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; Apple Music; YouTube; Spotify

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: December 1

Time for another installment of my oldest and most infrequent recurrent feature on the blog, which looks at events that happened on a specific date throughout music history. Not sure why the series keeps falling by the wayside, given how enjoyable I find it to see what comes up. Today’s date is, well, today’s date: December 1. As always, these posts reflect my music taste and, as such, aren’t meant to be a full accounting of events on a specific date.

1957: Let’s start with one of the great early classic rock & roll stars: Buddy Holly. On this date 65 years ago, Holly and The Crickets appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show to perform their first two big hits, That’ll Be the Day and Peggy Sue, which had been released as singles in May 1957 and September 1957, respectively. The former tune was penned by Holly and Crickets drummer Jerry Allison, while the latter was a co-write by Allison and producer Norman Petty. The songs also appeared on the albums The “Chirping” Crickets (November 1957) and Buddy Holly (February 1958), respectively. Here’s Peggy Sue. Texas boys, do it! Man, I love that song!

1964: The Who performed their first of 22 Tuesday night shows at The Marquee Club in London. Each gig earned them £50 (approximately $1,065 today). Other artists and bands who played the prominent music venue in the ’60s included Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, Cream, Jethro Tull, Yes and Pink Floyd, among many others.

1969: The final edition of The Beatles Book, a fan magazine aka Beatles Monthly, was published. From The Beatles Bible: The Beatles Book had been published each month since August 1963 until this, the 77th and final issue. Published on 1 December 1969, the last edition included a leader column from editor Sean O’Mahoney, writing as Johnny Dean, in which he criticised The Beatles for encouraging drug experimentation among their fans. O’Mahoney took the decision to cease publication after it became obvious that The Beatles were unlikely to continue recording. However, it was revived in May 1976 with reissues of the original 77 editions, along with new content. The second run ended with issue 321 in January 2003. The image below shows the cover of edition no. 34 from May 1966.

1971: John Lennon released his Christmas and Vietnam war protest song Happy Xmas (War Is Over) in the U.S. Billed as John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band, the tune featured the Harlem Community Choir. It followed more than two years of peace activism Lennon and Yoko Ono had started with their bed-ins in March and May 1969. The song’s release was preceded by an international multimedia campaign that looked ahead of its time. It primarily included rented billboard space in 12 major cities around the world, displaying black & white posters declaring WAR IS OVER! If You Want It – Happy Christmas from John & Yoko. Unlike in the U.S. where the single enjoyed moderate chart success, it peaked at no. 4 in the UK on the Official Singles Chart after its release there in November 1972. Between December 1972 and February 1973, the song also entered the top 10 in Australia, Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway and Singapore.

1973: Carpenters were on top of the world and mainstream charts in the U.S., Canada and Australia with a tune appropriately titled Top of the World. Co-written by Richard Carpenter and John Bettis, the song first appeared on their fourth studio album A Song for You from June 1972. Initially, Carpenters intended the track to be an album cut only but changed their mind after country singer Lynn Anderson had released a cover that reached no. 2 on the country chart. It turned out to be a smart decision. Top of the World became the duo’s second of three no. 1 singles, following (They Long to Be) Close to You and preceding Please Mr. Postman.

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

Time Again for Another Thanksgiving Music Tradition

It’s hard to believe that here in the U.S. Thanksgiving is upon us again. This is also the time of the year when New York classic rock radio station Q104.3 does its annual countdown of the Top 1,043 Classic Rock Songs Of All Time. The following borrows from two related posts I published last year.

The countdown is based on submissions from listeners who each can select 10 songs. All picks are then tabulated to create the big list. The countdown starts at 9:00 am EST the day before Thanksgiving (Wednesday) and stretches all the way to sometime Sunday evening after the holiday. That’s how long it takes to get through all 1,043 songs. Obviously, they are all different tunes, as opposed to the much smaller rotation of songs most radio stations play over and over again.

The only interruption of the countdown happens at noon on Thanksgiving when Q104.3 plays Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant, all 18 and a half minutes of it – just wonderful! Officially titled Alice’s Restaurant Massacree and released in October 1967, Alice’s Restaurant is also the title track of Guthrie’s debut album.

The tune is a largely spoken satirical protest song against the Vietnam War draft. It’s based on a true though exaggerated story that started on Thanksgiving 1965 when Guthrie and his friend Ray Brock were arrested by the local police of Stockbridge, Mass. for illegally dumping trash. Guthrie’s resulting criminal record from the incident later contributed to his rejection by the draft board.

Perhaps not surprisingly given Guthrie’s cinematic story-telling, Alice’s Restaurant also inspired a 1969 comedy film of the same name, starring Guthrie as himself. It was directed by Arthur Penn who among others is known as the director of the 1967 classic biographical crime picture Bonnie and Clyde.

Coming back to the countdown, this year, I didn’t get to submit any picks. After having taken a look at what I did last year, I still stand behind these tunes and shaking up things a little with four artists I had not selected in previous years: California Dreamin’ (Dirty Honey) and Side Street Shakedown (The Wild Feathers), both songs from 2021, as well as I Don’t Understand (The Chesterfield Kings) and Cinderella (The Fuzztones), tunes released in 2003 and 1985, respectively.

Following are the songs I probably would have submitted again this year, if I had had the opportunity. They are in no particular order.

Dirty Honey/California Dreamin’ – Dirty Honey, April 2021

The Wild Feathers/Side Street Shakedown – Alvarado, October 2021

The Black Crowes/Twice As Hard – Shake Your Money Maker, February 1990

AC/DC/It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘N’ Roll) – High Voltage, April 1976

The Beatles/Helter Skelter – The Beatles, November 1968

David Bowie/Suffragette City – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, June 1972

Queen/Tie Your Mother Down – A Day at the Races, December 1976

The Who/The Real Me – Quadrophenia, October 1973

The Chesterfield Kings/I Don’t Understand – The Mindbending Sounds Of…The Chesterfield Kings, August 2003

The Fuzztones/Cinderella – Lysergic Emanations, 1985

I’m sure I’ll be listening on and off to the countdown over the coming days. Will Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven once again come in at no. 1, which it has every year since Q104.3 began their countdown? While I think that’s a foregone conclusion, I still enjoy listening to the countdown. It’s not all rock, but there is lots of great music with no repetition while it lasts!

Here’s a Spotify playlist of the above tunes.

Last but not least, if you celebrate it, Happy Thanksgiving! If you don’t, hope you have a rockin’ and rollin’ great time anyway!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

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

Musings of the Past

In Appreciation Of The Saxophonist

Time for another installment of this infrequent feature, in which I republish select content that first appeared in the earlier stage of the blog when I had fewer followers. The following post about my favorite saxophone players originally appeared in November 2017. I’ve slightly edited it and also added a Spotify playlist at the end.

In Appreciation Of The Saxophonist

A list of some of my favorite saxophone players and solos

Music instruments have always fascinated me. I also have a deep appreciation for musicians who master their gear. Oftentimes, I wish I would have learned more than just the guitar and the bass. For regular readers of the blog or those who know me otherwise, none of this should come as a big surprise. I’ve written a bunch of posts on some of the gear I admire, from guitars like the Fender StratocasterGibson Les Paul and Rickenbacker 360/12, to keyboards like the  Hammond B3, as well as some of my favorite drummers and bassists. One of the coolest instruments I haven’t touched yet is the saxophone.

Let me address the big caveat to this post right away: Since I know next to nothing about jazz, I’m focusing on genres that are in my wheelhouse: rock, blues and pop. While many of the saxophonists I highlight come from the jazz world, it’s still safe to assume I’m missing some outstanding players. On the other hand, where would I even start, if I broadened the scope to jazz? With that being out of the way, following is a list of some of favorite saxophonists and sax solos.

Update: Since subsequently I’ve started to explore the jazz world, mostly in my Sunday Six feature, I’m going to add some tracks in the Spotify playlist featuring some additional outstanding jazz saxophonists.

Raphael Ravenscroft

I imagine just like most readers, I had never heard of this British saxophonist until I realized he was associated with a ’70s pop song featuring one of the most epic sax solos: Baker Street by Gerry Rafferty. The breathtaking performance put Ravenscroft on the map. He went on to work with other top artists like Marvin Gaye (In Our Lifetime, 1981), Robert Plant (Pictures At Eleven, 1982) and Pink Floyd (The Final Cut, 1983). Ravenscroft died from a suspected heart attack in October 2014 at the age of 60. According to a BBC News story, he didn’t think highly of the solo that made him famous, saying, “I’m irritated because it’s out of tune…Yeah it’s flat. By enough of a degree that it irritates me at best.” The same article also noted that Ravenscroft “was reportedly paid only £27 for the session with a cheque that bounced while the song is said to have earned Rafferty £80,000 a year in royalties.” Wow!

Wayne Shorter

The American jazz saxophonist and composer, who started his career in the late ’50s, played in Miles Davis’ Second Great Quintet in the 1960s and co-founded the jazz fusion band Weather Report in 1971. Shorter has recorded over 20 albums as a bandleader and played as a sideman on countless other jazz records. He also contributed to artists outside the jazz realm, including Joni MitchellDon Henley and Steely Dan. For the latter, he performed a beautiful extended tenor sax solo for Aja, the title track of their 1977 gem.

Clarence Clemons

The American saxophonist, musician and actor was best known for his longtime association with Bruce Springsteen. From 1972 to his death in June 2011 at age 69, Clemons was a member of the E Street Band, where he played the tenor saxophone. He also released several solo albums and played with other artists, including Aretha FranklinTwisted Sister, Grateful Dead and  Ringo Starr and His All-Star Band. But it was undoubtedly the E Street Band where he left his biggest mark, providing great sax parts for Springsteen gems like Thunder RoadThe Promised Land and The Ties That Bind. One of my favorite Clemons moments is his solo on Bobby Jean from the Born In The U.S.A. album. What could capture “The Big Man” better than a live performance? This clip is from a 1985 concert in Paris, France.

Curtis Amy

The American West Coast jazz musician was primarily known for his work as a tenor and soprano saxophonist. Among others, Amy served as the musical director of Ray Charles’ orchestra for three years in the mid-60s. He also led his own bands and recorded under his own name. Outside the jazz arena, he worked as a session musician for artists like The Doors (Touch Me, The Soft Parade, 1969), Marvin GayeSmokey Robinson and Carole King (Tapestry, 1971). One of the tunes on King’s masterpiece is the ballad Way Over Yonder, which features one of the most beautiful sax solos in pop I know of.

Dick Parry

The English saxophonist, who started his professional career in 1964, has worked as a session musician with many artists. A friend of David Gilmour, Parry is best known for his work with Pink Floyd, appearing on their albums The Dark Side Of The Moon (1973), Wish You Were Here (1975), The Division Bell (1994) and Pulse (1995). He also worked with Procol Harum  guitarist Mick Grabham (Mick The Lad, 1972), John Entwistle (Mad Dog, 1975) and Rory Gallagher (Jinx, 1982), among others. One of Parry’s signature sax solos for Pink Floyd appeared on Money. Here’s a great clip recorded during the band’s 1994 Division Bell tour.

Ronnie Ross

Albert Ronald “Ronnie” Ross was a British jazz baritone saxophonist. He started his professional career in the 1950s with the tenor saxophone, playing with jazz musicians Tony KinseyTed Heath and Don Rendell. It was during his tenure with the latter that he switched to the baritone sax. Outside his jazz engagements during the 60s, Ross gave saxophone lessons to a young dude called David Bowie and played tenor sax on Savoy Truffle, a track from The Beatles’ White Album. In the 70s, his most memorable non-jazz appearance was his baritone sax solo at the end of the Lou Reed song Walk On The Wild Side. I actually always thought the solo on that tune from Reed’s 1972 record  Transformer was played by Bowie. Instead, he co-produced the track and album with Mick Ronson. According to Wikipedia, Bowie also played acoustic guitar on the recording.

Walter Parazaider

The American saxophonist was a founding member of Chicago and played with the band for 51 years until earlier this year (2017) when he officially retired due to a heart condition. In addition to the saxophone, Parazider also mastered the flute, clarinet, piccolo and oboe. Here is a clip of Saturday In The Park and 25 Or 6 To 4 from Chicago’s great 2016 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction performance, which features Parazaider on saxophone.

Alto Reed

Thomas Neal Cartmell, known as Alto Reed, is an American saxophonist who was a member of The Silver Bullet Band since it was founded by Bob Seger in the mid-70s. He toured with Seger and the band for 40-plus years, starting with Live Bullet in 1976. Reed has also performed with many other bands and musicians like FoghatGrand Funk RailroadLittle FeatThe Blues Brothers  and George Thorogood. Among his signature performances for Seger are the saxophone solo in Old Time Rock And Roll and the introduction to Turn the Page. Here’s a great live clip of Turn the Page from 2014.

Junior Walker

Autry DeWalt Mixon Jr., known by his stage name Junior Walker or Jr. Walker, was an American singer and saxophonist whose 40-year career started in the mid-1950s with his own band called the Jumping Jacks. In 1964, Jr. Walker & The All Stars were signed by Motown. They became one of the company’s signature acts, scoring hits with songs like Shotgun(I’m a) RoadrunnerShake And Fingerpop and remakes of Motown tunes Come See About Me and How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You). While Walker continued to record with the band and solo during the ’70s and into the early ’80s, one of his most memorable performances resulted from his guest performance on Foreigner’s 1981 album 4. His saxophone solo on Urgent is one of the most blistering in pop rock. Walker died from cancer in November 1995 at the age of 64.

Bobby Keys

No list of saxophonists who have played with rock and blues artists would be complete without Bobby Keys. From the mid-1950s until his death in December 2014, this American saxophonist appeared on hundreds of recordings as a member of horn sections and was a touring musician. He worked with some of the biggest names, such as The Rolling Stones, Lynyrd SkynyrdGeorge HarrisonJohn LennonEric Clapton and Joe Cocker. Some of these artists’ songs that featured Keys include Don’t Ask Me No Questions (Lynyrd SkynyrdSecond Helping, 1974), Whatever Gets You Thru The Night (John Lennon, Walls And Bridges, 1974) and Slunky (Eric Clapton, Eric Clapton, 1970). But he is best remembered for his sax part on Brown Sugar from the Stones’ 1971 studio album Sticky Fingers.

– End –

The original post, which was published on November 11, 2017, ended here. Here’s the previously mentioned Spotify list featuring all of the above and some additional saxophone greats.

Sources: Wikipedia; BBC; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Happy Sunday morning, afternoon, or evening, wherever you are! Are you ready to embark on another excursion into the great world of music? Six tunes at a time? I am and hope you’ll join me!

Oscar Peterson Trio/Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good)

There’s just something about jazz and Sunday mornings, which makes them a perfect match. Chances are you’ve heard of Oscar Peterson, even if you’re like me, meaning you’re not a jazz expert. In my case, I believe it was at my brother-in-law’s place where I first encountered the Canadian jazz pianist many moons ago. Over a 60-year-plus active career spanning the years 1945-2007, Peterson released more than 200 recordings and received many honors and awards, including seven Grammys, among others. None other than Duke Ellington called Peterson the “Maharaja of the keyboard.” Evidently, the admiration was mutual. Here’s I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good), originally released in 1942, with music by Sir Duke and lyrics by Paul Francis Webster. Ellington covered the tune on an album titled Night Train, which appeared in 1963 as the Duke Ellington Trio. He was backed by Ray Brown (double bass) and Ed Thigpen (drums).

Sting/If I Ever Lose My Faith In You

Next, let’s travel to May 1993 and another great artist who I trust needs no introduction: Sting. Born Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner, the British musician and actor first gained prominence as the frontman, songwriter and bassist of The Police. By the time the group played their last gig in June 1986 prior to their break-up, Sting had already launched his solo career with the album The Dream of the Blue Turtles from June 1985. My pick is from his fourth solo effort, Ten Summoner’s Tales, which I think is his Mount Rushmore: If I Ever Lose My Faith In You. Sting remains active to this day and in November 2021 released his 15th solo album The Bridge. He’s currently on the road for what looks like a fairly extensive international “My Songs” tour, which includes the U.S. and Europe. The schedule is here.

David Bowie/Rebel Rebel

While David Bowie was a pretty versatile artist, I’ve always been particularly drawn to his glam rock-oriented phase. You give me the Ziggy Stardust album any day, and I’m a happy camper! By the time Bowie released his eighth studio album Diamond Dogs in May 1974, his glam rock phase was largely over. His backing band The Spiders From Mars had disbanded. Mick Ronson’s absence prompted Bowie to take over guitar duties himself. On Rebel Rebel, he proved that worked out quite well!…Rebel, rebel, you’ve torn your dress/Rebel, rebel, your face is a mess/Rebel, rebel, how could they know?/Hot tramp, I love you so!

Patricia Bahia/Hold On

Our next stop takes us to the present with a compelling tune by a contemporary artist you may not have heard of: Patricia Bahia. I had not been aware of this Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter myself until recently. From her website: An award-winning songwriter, singer, cancer survivor, and coach, Patricia Bahia (pronounced bah-HEE-yah) is a multi-dimensional artist and songwriter-in-service who lives her bucket list and helps others to do the same. “Though I was always a singer, I didn’t write my first song until after receiving a cancer diagnosis in 2003. I’d spent my life doing what was expected of me, pursuing a career as a lawyer, living out someone else’s dream, while secretly harboring a dream of writing songs.”…Patricia encourages others to follow their own dreams, saying, “I am living proof that it is never too late to start living your dream. My mission is to spread love, healing, joy, and peace through the power of words and music, and to inspire others to follow their own dreams.” Here’s Hold On, a beautiful and powerful song Bahia released in September 2021.

John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band/On the Dark Side

Time to throw in some ’80s music. This next pick is from the soundtrack of the 1983 American musical drama picture Eddie and the Cruisers. The tale about the mysterious disappearance of cult rock star Eddie Wilson and his group Eddie and the Cruisers featured music by John Cafferty & The Beaver Brown Band, a group from Rhode Island that had started out as a bar band in 1972. The soundtrack, most of which was written by Cafferty and his band, gave them their international breakthrough. Despite some success with a self-released single in 1980, they were largely ignored by major record labels due to frequent critical comparisons of their music to Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band. When listening to On the Dark Side, the similarities are obvious. The tune sounds like a blend of Springsteen and John Mellencamp’s R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A. That being said, On the Dark Side preceded Mellencamp’s hit by two years! In any case, it’s a cool song, and the Springsteen flavor doesn’t bother me at all!

Jefferson Airplane/Somebody to Love

Let’s take off one last time for today and go back to February 1967 and Surrealistic Pillow, the sophomore album by Jefferson Airplane. At that time, they had been around for approximately two years and released their debut Jefferson Airplane Takes Off in August 1966. While that record made the U.S. charts, climbing to no. 128, it was Surrealistic Pillow that actually made them take off. It also was Airplane’s first record with vocalist Grace Slick and drummer Spencer Dryden, who together with Jorma Kaukonen (lead guitar, vocals), Marty Balin (rhythm guitar, vocals), Paul Kantner (rhythm guitar, vocals) and Jack Casady (bass) completed their line-up at the time. The album’s second single Somebody to Love became the band’s biggest U.S. hit, surging to no. 5 on the pop chart. Penned by Darby Slick, Grace’s brother-in-law and originally titled Someone to Love, the tune first had been released by Darby’s band The Great Society in February 1966. At that same time, Grace was a member of the group as well and also sang lead on the original recording.

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist of the above tracks. Hope you enjoyed today’s trip! The journey shall continue next Sunday!

Sources: Wikipedia; Sting website; Patricia Bahia website; YouTube; Spotify

Musings of the Past

What I’ve Been Listening To: David Bowie/ Ziggy Stardust

The other day while browsing the blog for older content that would be worthwhile to republish, I came across a post from August 2018 about my favorite David Bowie album. That’s when I realized that I had actually missed the 50th-anniversary date of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. But since June 16 only passed about four weeks ago, I felt it was still close enough to celebrate this milestone with a repost of the above.

What I’ve Been Listening To: David Bowie/ Ziggy Stardust

When it comes to David Bowie, I’ve always felt more drawn to his early years. Space OddityThe Man Who Sold The World and Changes are among my favorite tunes. Ditto for StarmanZiggy Stardust and Suffragette City. I was less fond of his Tin Machine venture and didn’t pay much attention to music he released thereafter. The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars is Bowie at his best, in my opinion. So guess what happened when I recently spotted a used audiophile vinyl copy of this gem at a small record store close to my house? Yep, I just couldn’t resist taking it home!

Often simply called Ziggy Stardurst, the record is Bowie’s fifth studio release and appeared in June 1972. Wikipedia characterizes it as a “loose concept album” revolving around a bi-sexual alien rock musician who becomes widely popular among teenagers before his fame ultimately kills him. Ziggy Stardust also became Bowie’s most notorious alter-ego during the massive tour that supported both this record and the follow-on Aladdin Sane from April 1973. Spanning the U.K., North America and Japan, the extended tour lasted from late January 1972 until early July 1973. One of the U.S. gigs, performed for radio broadcast in Santa Monica, Calif., became a fantastic bootleg. Since 2008 it’s been available officially as Live Santa Monica ’72.

David Bowie (second from right) with The Spiders From Mars (left to right): Trevor Bolder, Mick Woodmansey and Mick Ronson

Driven by his fondness for acting, Bowie liked to create on-stage personas for his music and totally immersed himself into the characters. In the case of Ziggy Stardust things got so intense that eventually he could no longer distinguish between himself and his alter-ego. Wikipedia quotes him from the biography  Bowie: Loving The Alien (Christopher Sanford, Da Capo Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1997): Stardust “wouldn’t leave me alone for years. That was when it all started to go sour … My whole personality was affected. It became very dangerous. I really did have doubts about my sanity.” Time for another cheerful topic – music about earth’s demise! 🙂

The album opens with Five Years, which like all other tunes except one was penned by Bowie. Telling about the planet’s upcoming destruction, musically, the song is a great built. Generally speaking, when it comes to music, to me the lyrics tend to be secondary to the melody and musical arrangement – in other words, usually, it takes the two latter for a song to grab me.

Next up: The excellent Soul Love, a tune with a distinct cool groove. In addition to singing lead and backing vocals, Bowie is also playing acoustic rhythm guitar and alto saxophone. I admire people who can master various instruments and always wanted to be a multi-instrumentalist myself. I only managed to learn the acoustic guitar and electric bass, each with moderate success, but I’m getting off-topic here!

Starman was the last song Bowie wrote for the album after RCA had noted it was lacking a single. Really? How about the catchy rocker Suffragette City? In any case, I’m glad Bowie obliged, since the result was one of his all-time greatest tunes: Starman. It ended up replacing a take of Chuck Berry’s  Around And Around, simply called Round And Round. That cover eventually became the B-side to Drive-In Saturday, an April 1973 single from the Aladdin Sane album. BTW, Suffragette City ended up as the B-side to Starman – I think it should have been its own (A-side) single!

The record’s title track is another highlight. I’ve always loved the guitar riff – simple yet effective! Plus, it’s about a guy playing guitar. Did I mention guitarists are cool dudes? 🙂

The last tune I’d like to highlight, perhaps you guessed it, is Suffragette City, the tune on the album I like best and perhaps my favorite Bowie song overall. It’s simply a kick-ass rocker – ahhh, wham bam, thank ya man! (taking some creative license here). Initially, Bowie had offered the song to then-struggling  Mott the Hoople. His condition: Don’t break up, guys! While the band declined that tune, they went with Bowie’s All The Young Dudes instead, another catchy song. Oh, and it became their biggest hit in the U.K. and extended their career for more than five years (until 1980) – not a bad outcome!

The album’s musical arrangements are credited to Bowie and Mick Ronson (guitar, piano, vocals), who was part of his excellent backing band The Spiders From Mars. The other members included Trevor Bolder  (bass) and Mick Woodmansey (drums). I need to check out whatever happened to these guys after their last performance with Bowie. That show at the  Hammersmith Odeon in London on July 3, 1973 was captured in the 1973 documentary Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars by D.A. Pennemaker, a film I’ve also yet to watch!

The Ziggy Stardust album was recorded at Trident Studios in London, U.K., and co-produced by Bowie and Ken Scott, one of the five main recording engineers for The Beatles. That in and of itself is already pretty cool, but there’s more: Scott has also worked with other big names, such as Elton JohnPink FloydMahavishnu OrchestraJeff Beck and Kansas. And he co-produced additional Bowie albums, including Hunky Dory (December 1971), Aladdin Sane and Pin Ups (October 1973).

Ziggy Stardust has been called Bowie’s breakthrough album. It peaked at no. 5 on the British Official Albums Chart and no. 75 on the Billboard Top LPs & Tape chart (now called the Billboard 200). The album has received numerous accolades over the years. It is ranked no. 35 in Rolling Stone magazine’s 2013 list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. In 1997, it was named the 20th greatest album of all time in a Music of the Millennium poll in the U.K. In 2017, the U.S. Library of Congress selected the record for preservation in the National Recording Registry, deeming it “culturally, historically, or artistically significant.”

– End –

The original post, first published on August 28, 2018, ended here. The following link to the album on Spotify has been added:

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Musings of the Past

The Venues: The Old Grey Whistle Test

This Musings of the Past revisits a post about the British television music show The Old Grey Whistle Test. It was originally published in July 2017. In case you haven’t seen any previous installments, Musings of the Past is a recurring feature in which I republish posts that first appeared when the blog got less traffic or content I feel otherwise deserves a second exposure.

A key reason for me to republish this post is what I feel are great clips of artists like Neil Young, David Bowie, Joni Mitchell, John Lennon, Bonnie Raitt and Emmylou Harris. It was fun to revisit this content. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

The Venues: The Old Grey Whistle Test

The British television music show featured an impressive array of artists

This post and the related new category I’m introducing to the blog was inspired by a dear friend from Germany, who earlier today suggested searching YouTube for “Old Grey Whistle Test,” just for fun! Since he shares my passion for music and always gives me great tips, I checked it out right away and instantly liked the clips that came up. This triggered the idea to start writing about places where rock & roll has been performed throughout the decades.

At this time, I envisage The Venues to include famous concert halls and TV shows. Many come to mind: The FillmoreThe Beacon TheaterThe ApolloThe Hollywood BowlCandlestick ParkWinterland BallroomThe Ed Sullivan Show, Rockpalast – the list goes on and on! Given it was my dear friend who inspired me, it feels right to start with The Old Grey Whistle Test.

I admit that until earlier today, I had never heard about The Old Grey Whistle Test. According to Wikipedia, the British television show aired on the BBC between September 1971 and January 1988. The late night rock show was commissioned by British veteran broadcaster Sir David Attenborough and conceived by BBC TV producer Rowan Ayers.

The show aimed to emphasize “serious” rock music, less whether it was chart-topping or not – a deliberate contrast to Top of the Pops, another BBC show that was chart-driven, as the name suggests. Based on the YouTube clips I’ve seen, apparently, this was more the case in the show’s early days than in the ’80s when the music seems to have become more commercial. Unlike other TV music shows, the sets on The Old Grey Whistle lacked showbiz glitter – again, probably more true for the ’70s than the ’80s period.

During the show’s early years, performing bands oftentimes recorded the instrumental tracks the day before the show aired. The vocals were performed live most of the time. After 1973, the show changed to an all-live format. In 1983, the title was abridged to Whistle Test. The last episode was a live 1987/88 New Year’s Eve special, including a 1977 live performance of Hotel California by The Eagles and Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell.

So what kind of music did the show feature? Let’s take a look at some of these YouTube clips.

Neil Young/Heart of Gold (1971)

Steppenwolf/Born to Be Wild (1972)

David Bowie/Oh, You Pretty Things (1972; not broadcast until 1982)

Rory Gallagher/Hands Off (1973)

Joni Mitchell/Big Yellow Taxi (1974)

John Lennon/Slippin’ & Slidin’ (1975)

Bonnie Raitt/Angel From Montgomery (1976)

Emmylou Harris/C’est La Vie (1977)

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers/American Girl (1978)

Joe Jackson/Sunday Papers (1979)

Ramones/Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio?

Los Lobos/Don’t Worry Baby (1984)

Simply Red/Holding Back the Years (1985)

U2/In God’s Country (1987)

– End-

This post was originally published on July 1, 2017. The original clip of Ooh Las Vegas by Emmylou Harris has been replaced with C’est La View since the original clip was no longer available on YouTube.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by Barclay James Harvest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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