A ’70s Hard Rock Gem Is Turning 50

Today 50 years ago, Deep Purple released Machine Head. The British band’s sixth studio record remains my favorite hard rock album to this day, so celebrating this gem with a post was a no-brainer to me. Remarkably, Machine Head almost wasn’t meant to be.

Deep Purple had decided they wanted to record an album outside the confines of a traditional studio, hoping they could generate a sound that mirrored their live performances. After some research, the Montreux Casino on the shore of Lake Geneva in Switzerland had been identified as a suitable venue, and the Rolling Stones Mobile Studio had been hired for the project.

The day before the recording sessions were supposed to start, Deep Purple decided to see Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention for a matinée performance at the very same venue. But some stupid with a flare gun
burned the place to the ground
, as was later captured in the lyrics of one of the most epic hard rock songs I can think of, Smoke On the Water, which is safe to assume also is the nightmare for anybody working in a guitar store selling electrics!

“We were sitting in this kind of bar/restaurant, which was overlooking the lake, Lake Geneva, and about maybe a quarter of a mile from the casino, which had really taken the flames, two, three hundred feet in the air,” Deep Purple vocalist Ian Gillan said during an interview with In the Studio with Redbeard, recorded in 2017 on the occasion of the album’s 45th anniversary. “…And the wind was coming off down the mountains and blowing the flames and the smoke across the lake. And the smoke was just like a stage show, it was hanging on the water. I never forget Roger [bassist Roger GloverCMM] grabbed a napkin and wrote down on this napkin ‘smoke on the water.'”

With their original recording venue destroyed, Deep Purple had to find a new location to make the album. With the help of Claude Nobbs, founder and general manager of the Montreux Jazz Festival, who had become friends with the band, they found the Pavilion, a theatre in Montreux close to the casino. Unfortunately, there was no soundproofing, and after recording just one track, the police showed up and stopped the proceedings. Deep Purple had just lost another venue.

But Nobbs was determined to help the group and found the Grand Hotel, which was closed down for the season. It was located just outside of the sleepy resort town. With The Rolling Stones Mobile Studio parked at the main entrance, Deep Purple set up at the end of one of the corridors off the main lobby – yes, one of the greatest hard rock albums of all time was actually recorded in a hotel corridor! According to Wikipedia, An assortment of equipment and sound-insulating mattresses were installed, which meant the band had to walk through bedrooms and across balconies to get to the recording van. This proved so arduous that Deep Purple stopped listening to playbacks of their recordings, instead performing until they were satisfied.

“It [the hotel] was cold, there was no heating on,” recalled Roger Glover who joined Ian Gillan for the above interview. “But it had a ground floor corridor that was made of marble, and it was high ceilings – yeah, we could do this…We got an industrial heater in, a big kind of cylinder thing, and it was the roadies’ job to get to the place a couple of hours before we would do to start and turn this thing on to heat the room up – the room, the corridor!”

“The whole thing was recorded under dire circumstances,” Glover went on. “It was very cold and we were in this corridor. It’s beyond belief, actually, the desperation with which we were trying to finish this record.” And finish they did and, boy, what a record it tuned out to be. I’d say it’s time to revisit some of the goodies!

Opening side one is Highway Star, an outright danger if you find yourself in a car behind the wheel while listening to this tune. Like all other tracks on Machine Head, it was credited to the entire band, who in addition to Gillan and Glover also included Ritchie Blackmore (guitar), Jon Lord (keyboards, Hammond organ) and Ian Paice (drums, percussion) – what a killer line-up! Citing Glover, Songfacts notes the band wrote “Highway Star” on their tour bus on the way to a gig at the Portsmouth Guildhall (in the UK) on September 13, 1971, where they debuted the song. They wrote it because they were getting sick of their opening number, “Speed King;” [which I love as well, BTW – CMM]. “Highway Star” became their opener from that point on. The song evolved through live performances.

Perhaps one of the tunes that may not come to mind first when thinking about Machine Head is Pictures of Home. It’s not as famous as the opener or the above-mentioned Smoke on the Water, but it’s one hell of a tune with a great guitar riff and a cool bass solo. And that drum intro by Ian Paice is pretty neat as well. The man who remains with Deep Purple to this day as their only constant member is a true force of nature.

Closing out side one is Never Before, another deeper track I love. Interestingly, it became the album’s lead single on March 21, 1972, appearing four days ahead of the record.

And we’re on to side two. I guess any review celebrating Machine Head cannot ignore one of the most famous songs in hard rock history. And it’s based on a simple, yet brilliant guitar riff. As noted above, Smoke on the Water recalls the big fire at the Montreux Casino and the making of the album. “The riff and backing track had been recorded on the first day as a kind of soundcheck,” Gillan explained during an interview with Songfacts in August 2020. “There were no lyrics. The engineer told us on the last day, ‘Man, we’re several minutes short for an album.’ So, we dug it out, and Roger and I wrote a biographical account of the making of the record: ‘We all came out to Montreux…'”

Let’s do one more: Lazy, an incredible track that starts with one of the best Hammond intros by Jon Lord I can think of. Before Ian Gillan gets to sing the first word at around 4:20 minutes, Lord and Ritchie Blackmore are taking turns playing uptempo blues-oriented riffs on the guitar and Hammond, respectively. With its improvisational nature and groove, this brilliant track crosses over to jazz. Gillan also throws in a cool harmonica solo.

Here’s a link to the entire album in Spotify:

Machine Head became Deep Purple’s most commercially successful album. Only eight months after its release, it achieved Gold status in the U.S. (100,000 sold units, as certified by RIAA). As of October 1986, that total had exceeded two million copies and as such the album was certified 2X Multi-Platinum. The record also achieved Gold status in the UK, Italy and Japan, as well as 2X Gold status in France.

The album topped the charts in the UK, Australia, Canada, Finland, Germany and The Netherlands, climbed to no. 3 in Norway and reached no. 4 in Austria, Italy and Sweden. And where does this leave the U.S.? No. 7. By comparison, the album’s four singles showed a rather lackluster chart performance. According to Wikipedia, Highway Star didn’t chart at all, which I find hard to believe. The most successful single was Smoke on the Water, which reached no. 4 in the U.S. and no. 2 in Canada. However, it missed the charts in the UK!

Eduardo Rivadavia in his review for AllMusic called Machine Head “the Holy Trinity of English hard rock and heavy metal,” together with Led Zeppelin’s Led Zeppelin IV and Paranoid by Black Sabbath, “serving as the fundamental blueprints followed by virtually every heavy rock & roll band since the early ’70s.” Usually, I don’t care much about critics except when I agree with them! 🙂

Sources: Wikipedia; In the Studio with Redbeard; Songfacts; AllMusic; YouTube; Spotify

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by Donovan

Once again it’s time for tough decisions, decisions. The letter “d” in my music library revealed artists I’ve featured repeatedly here like Roger Daltrey, Dion, Deep Purple, Dire Straits and The Doors, to name some. And then there’s Donovan who by comparison I’ve covered less, so Donovan Phillips Leitch shall be the chosen one for my weekly desert island exercise.

While I can’t claim to be a Donovan expert, I can safely say I know more than two songs by the Scottish singer-songwriter, so I actually had to make a true decision which one to pick. If memory serves me right, Colours and Universal Soldier were the first two Donovan tunes I encountered. At the time, I was actively playing acoustic guitar and taking lessons. Especially Colours with its three chords was easy to learn, even if you didn’t have the skill set of a Jose Feliciano or Paul Simon – and I didn’t, not even at my best!

Back to the task at hand, which is answering the existential question, if I had to move to a desert island and could only take one Donovan song, which one would I pick? I decided to go with Sunshine Superman. I’ve always loved how this tune combines folk, blues and psychedelic music. It also turned out there’s a back story behind the song I had not been aware of.

Donovan wrote Sunshine Superman in response to the break-up with Linda Lawrence at the end of 1965. After the couple had dated for a short time, Lawrence, the former girlfriend of Rolling Stones founding member Brian Jones, ended the relationship, not wanting to repeat getting the attention of being a music artist’s girlfriend.

Sunshine Superman first appeared as a single in July 1966, leading up to Donovan’s third studio album with the same title, which was released the following month, except for the UK. The tune became his first big hit and his only song to top the Billhoard Hot 100 in the U.S. Due to a contractual dispute, the single didn’t appear in the the UK until December 1966. The album was pushed back as well until September that year. Sunshine Superman (the single) still did pretty well, climbing to no. 8 of the Offical Singles Chart. Sunshine Superman also proved to be popular in Australia (no. 4), The Netherlands (no. 2) and Germany (no. 7).

Following is how Donovan played Sunshine Superman in January 2007 at the Kodak Theatre in Los Angeles. This is taken from a DVD, Donovan: Live in L.A. at the Kodak Theatre, which appeared in January 2008. It’s a more funky version – not bad!

What else is there to say? Let’s take a look at Songfacts:

It’s not a normal love song, the singer told Mojo magazine June 2011. “On the face of it, the song is about being with Linda again. But sunshine is a nickname for acid. The Superman is the person capable of entering higher states because it’s not easy to go into the fourth dimension and see the matrix of the universe in which everything is connected. The line, ‘everybody’s hustling’ referred to the pop scene at the time, where you could lose yourself very easily. Gyp (Mills – Donovan’s lifelong friend and tour manager) would always keep my feet on the ground; we had left home at 16 to busk so we could see fame for what it is.”

Donovan was good friends with The Beatles, and they were both making very innovative and trippy music at the time. Donovan’s producer Mickie Most told him not to play the Sunshine Superman album to Paul McCartney under any circumstances, because he knew McCartney would be tempted to do something similar.

Donovan, as pictured on his website

Donovan recalled to Uncut magazine: “My arse was being sued by Pye after Sunshine Superman so, my masterwork, sat on the shelves for seven months. If you date it, it was at least a year and a half before Sgt Pepper and I remember Mickie saying to me, ‘Don’t play it to McCartney’ but of course everybody was sharing with everyone else and nicking from each other.”

“I played it to McCartney anyway,” he continued. “But they were already there, anyway, and George Martin was doing something similar with The Beatles, working out arrangements from ideas they had in their heads. George Martin was The Beatles’ guy and John Cameron was my guy and they both had an appreciation of jazz which was key.” Originally, the “Sunshine Superman” single was subtitled “For John And Paul,” a reference to Lennon and McCartney.

A few additional tidbits:

A busy session guitarist called Jimmy Page played lead guitar on the recording of Sunshine Superman.

Sunshine Superman is considered to be among the first overtly psychedelic pop songs.

Apparently, the tune made The Beatles’ video for A Day in the Life, in which it supposedly can be seen to spin on a turntable. Of course, the nerd in me had to check it out. While there is very brief footage of a spinning record around the 4:00 minute mark, frankly, I find it impossible to name it. Perhaps you need to be on a controlled substance to see it! 🙂

The trippy clip also features other music artists like Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull. At around 38 seconds, there’s a guy on the left side, who could be Donovan, though I’m not sure – again, a mind-enhancing pill might help! 🙂

The story behind Sunshine Superman had a happy end. In October 1970, Linda Lawrence became Donovan’s wife, and they remain together to this day. How many other music artists can you name, who have been married for 50-plus years?

Donovan, now 75 years old, is still active and maintains a website, where you can listen to his most recent single Gimme Some of That, which came out in October 2021.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; Donovan website; YouTube

Keep On Rocking 40-Plus Years and Counting

The most famous line-up of my all-time favorite band The Beatles existed from August 1962 until September 1969 when they collectively recorded their last song appropriately titled The End, the final track of the Abbey Road album – not a bad duration for a band, given the music business oftentimes is dominated by larger-than-life egos. Yet as productive as The Fab Four were, these seven years look pretty moderate compared to the groups featured in this post, who have been rocking for more than 40 years – in one case even reaching 60 years!

Following are three criteria a band needed to satisfy to be considered for the post. They need to have at least one remaining original member. A group’s duration was measured in terms of active years, not how long they have been together on paper. For example, while Deep Purple were founded in 1968, they “only” have played together for 48 years, not 54 years, if you consider their break-up between 1976 and 1984. Last but not least, I solely included bands I like.

Following I’m highlighting six groups in chronological order of when they were founded with one tune from each. A Spotify playlist at the end of the post includes those tracks, plus songs from a few additional bands meeting the above criteria. Altogether, I decided to include 10 picks. Let’s get to it.

The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones, formed in 1962, have been active for an incredible 60 years, making them the longest-running band on this list. With Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, they still have two original members who have been key to the group. It’s also noteworthy that Ronnie Wood has been part of the line-up since 1975. Sadly, the Stones lost their long-time drummer Charlie Watts last August. He had joined them back in 1963. To date, the Stones have released 30 studio albums, 33 live records and 29 compilations, among others. On November 23, 2021, they finished their most recent tour (No Filter Tour) in Hollywood, Fla. Here’s Jumpin’ Jack Flash, which first appeared in May 1968 as a non-album single.

The Who

Approximately two years after the Stones, in 1964, another dynamite British rock band was formed: The Who. Like their compatriots, the group has two original and essential members to this day, guitarist Pete Townshend and lead vocalist Roger Daltrey. Counting various breaks along the way, The Who have been active for 50 years. Their catalog includes 12 studio albums, 16 live recordings and 32 compilations, among others. Just on Monday this week, The Who announced a 2022 North American tour, The Who Hits Back, scheduled to kick off on April 22 at Hardrock Live in Hollywood, Fla. – the very same venue where the Stones wrapped up their tour last year. Messrs. Daltrey and Townshend and their band are playing New York’s Madison Square Garden on May 26 – damn, this is tempting! Here’s Going Mobile from my favorite Who album Who’s Next.

Deep Purple

On to my favorite hard rock band of all time, Deep Purple, who were initially established in 1968. One of the founding members, drummer Ian Paice, remains part of the group’s current formation. Two additional present members, bassist Roger Glover and lead vocalist Ian Gillan joined in 1969, and as such were part of the group’s classic line-up that also included guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and organist Jon Lord. Deep Purple’s discography encompasses 22 studio albums, 45 live records and 28 compilations. The band is also touring this year starting in May, mostly in Europe. Here’s the epic Child in Time, a track from their fourth studio album Deep Purple in Rock released in June 1970 – the first to feature the classic line-up.

Aerosmith

The bad boys from Boston were formed in 1970. Remarkably, four of the group’s current five members are co-founders: Steven Tyler (lead vocals, harmonica, percussion), Joe Perry (guitar, backing vocals), Tom Hamilton (bass) and Joey Kramer (drums, percussion). Second guitarist Brad Whitford joined in 1971. While Perry and Whitford, respectively, had five and three-year interruptions in-between and missed the 1982 Rock in a Hard Place album, Tyler, Hamilton and Kramer have played on all of the band’s 15 studio records to date. Aerosmith’s catalog also includes six live records and 16 compilations. On January 31, the group announced the cancellation of their European tour that had been planned for June and July, citing uncertainty around the pandemic. Here’s Janie’s Got a Gun, one of my favorite Aerosmith tunes off their 10th studio album Pump, released in September 1989.

AC/DC

Australian rock and rollers AC/DC have been around since 1973. Not counting their hiatus between 2016 and 2020, this amounts to 45 years. Lead guitarist Angus Young remains as the only founding member. There are three other longtime members: Phil Rudd (drums), Cliff Williams (bass, backing vocals) and Brian Johnson (lead vocals), who first joined the band in 1975, 1977 and 1980, respectively. AC/DC’s catalog features 17 studio albums, three live records and two box sets, among others. Here’s Play Ball, a great track from the group’s 16th studio album Rock or Bust that appeared in November 2014, featuring all of the above members.

U2

The last group I’d like to highlight in this upfront section of the post are Irish rockers U2 who were formed in Dublin in 1976 under the name Feedback. It’s the only band on this list whose current members were all co-founders. That being said, their present line-up is not the group’s initial formation, which during their first year also included a second guitarist, Dik Evans, the older brother of David Evans known as The Edge. U2’s other members are Paul Hewson (Bono), Adam Clayton (bass) and Larry Mullen Jr. (drums). To date, the band’s discography consists of 14 studio albums, one live record and three compilations, among others. U2 were most recently on the road in 2019 for the second part of The Joshua Tree Tour. I caught one of the shows during the first part of that tour in 2017 – my only U2 concert so far, and a memorable experience! Here’s Red Hill Mining Town, a track from my favorite U2 album The Joshua Tree that came out in March 1987.

Following is the aforementioned Spotify list.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Who website; Deep Purple website; Aerosmith website; YouTube; Spotify

Albums Turning 50 This Year

A first look back at 1972, another outstanding year in music

With the 50-year anniversaries of 1971 gems like The Who’s Who’s Next, Carole King’s Tapestry, Led Zeppelin’s Led Zeppelin IV, The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers and Pink Floyd’s Meddle now behind us, it’s time to take a first look at 1972 albums that are hitting the big milestone this year. And like in the case of 1971, I think the caliber of music released in 1972 is just breathtaking!

Checking Wikipedia revealed an impressive amount of records that appeared 50 years ago. Of these albums, I picked 30 studio releases that are represented in the below Spotify playlist with one song each. Following, I’d like to briefly highlight six of them. I’m planning more in-depth posts timed to their and possibly some of the other albums’ actual 50th-anniversary dates.

Neil Young/Harvest (February 1, 1972)

Undoubtedly, Neil Young’s fourth studio album Harvest is one of his best known and most beloved. With gems like Heart of Gold, The Needle and the Damage Done, Old Man and A Man Needs a Maid, it’s no wonder. Not only did Harvest top the Billboard 200 for two weeks, but it also became the best-selling album of 1972 in the U.S. But Neil Young, who is always good for a surprise, had a different reaction. Feeling alienated by the huge success of Harvest, he decided to release what became known as the “ditch trilogy”: the live album Times Fades Away (October 1973), as well as the studio records On the Beach (July 1974) and Tonight’s the Night (June 1975). While the ditch albums didn’t perform as well as Harvest, let’s just say they didn’t exactly harm Neil’s standing with his fans!

Deep Purple/Machine Head (March 25, 1972)

Machine Head, Deep Purple’s sixth studio release, remains the ultimate ’70s hard rock album in my book. While I literally dig each of the record’s seven tracks, the band’s most commercially successful album is best-known for the classics Smoke on the Water, which is safe to assume must be a nightmare for anybody working in a store selling electric guitars, and Highway Star. Machine Head topped the charts in the UK, Australia, Canada, Finland, Germany, Italy and The Netherlands – yes, I had to name them all, hoping Wikipedia’s account is accurate and complete! The thought of a hard rock album topping the mainstream charts is unreal, especially from today’s perspective! In the U.S., Machine Head reached no. 7 on the Billboard 200, making it their highest-charting record there.

The Rolling Stones/Exile on Main St. (May 12, 1972)

While I prefer Sticky Fingers, there’s no doubt Exile on Main St. is among the top albums by The Rolling Stones. Many Stones fans regard the double LP as their best record – hey, I won’t argue, it’s great rock & roll, and I like it! Some of the highlights include Rocks Off, Rip This Joint, Tumbling Dice, Sweet Virginia, Happy and All Down the Line. Given Keith Richards’ frequent no-shows to the recording sessions since he was, well, stoned, while Mick Jagger and Bill Wyman oftentimes were absent as well, supposedly for other reasons, it’s a near-miracle to me how great this album turned out. That being said, initial reactions among critics were mixed, but as is not uncommon, opinions subsequently changed.

David Bowie/The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (June 6, 2022)

Of course, there was no way this upfront section would skip my favorite David Bowie album of all time. The British artist’s fifth studio release, revolving around a bi-sexual alien rock musician who becomes widely popular among teenagers before his fame ultimately kills him, is a true glam rock gem. Similar to Deep Purple’s Machine Head, I feel there’s no weak song on this record. Starman, Suffragette City, Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide and the title track are a few of the amazing tunes that come to mind. The Ziggy Stardust album climbed to no. 5 in the UK and also charted in various other European countries. In the U.S., where there was generally less of an appetite for glam rock, the record still reached a respectable no. 21 on the Billboard 200.

Curtis Mayfield/Superfly (July 11, 1972)

Curtis Mayfield is another longtime favorite artist of mine, so I’m more than happy to call out Superfly. His third studio album appeared as the soundtrack of the Blaxploitation motion picture of the same name. Rightfully, this record is widely considered a classic of ’70s soul and funk music. In addition to the title track, some of the other tunes on the album include Pusherman, Freddie’s Dead and Eddie You Should Know Better. Superfly was hugely successful in the U.S., topping both the Billboard 200 and the R&B chart. It also became Mayfield’s highest-charting album in the UK where it reached no. 26. Side note: It seems to me music listeners in the UK were into glam rock but not so much into psychedelic soul and funk.

Santana/Caravanserai (October 11, 1972)

The final album I’d like to highlight in this section of the post is a less obvious choice for me. I absolutely love the first three studio albums by Santana, which make up the band’s so-called classic period. I find the combination of Latin rhythms and rock electrifying. On Caravanserai, Carlos Santana and his band went in a very different direction. The album mostly features jazz-like, improvisational instrumentals – definitely posing a challenge for a guy like me who digs catchy hooks and great vocals, especially harmony singing. But sometimes it’s good to push beyond your comfort zone. Musically, I think there’s no question Caravanserai is an outstanding record. Given its radical departure from Santana’s first three albums, it did remarkably well in the charts. In the UK it peaked at no. 6, matching its predecessor Santana III, which previously had been the band’s highest-charting album there. It did even better in The Netherlands, climbing to no. 3, again matching Santana III. Elsewhere, Caravanserai reached no. 8 in the U.S., no. 10 in Norway and no. 16 in Australia.

Following is a playlist featuring the above tracks, as well as tunes from 24 other albums that were released in 1972. Since Spotify, unfortunately, doesn’t have Status Quo’s Piledriver (neither does Apple Music!), I included a pretty good, more recent live version of Paper Plane. Again, I have to say 1972 was another amazing year in music!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

My Top Singles Turning 50

A final look at 1971, one of the most exciting years in music

As 2021 is drawing to a close, I decided to revisit 1971 one more time. With releases, such as Who’s Next (The Who), Tapestry (Carole King), Led Zeppelin IV (Led Zeppelin), Sticky Fingers (The Rolling Stones) and Meddle (Pink Floyd), it truly was an extraordinary year in music. And let’s not forget At Fillmore East by The Allman Brothers Band, perhaps the ultimate southern and blues-rock record, and certainly a strong contender for best live album ever.

I wrote about the above and other records in a three-part series back in April, which you can read here, here and here. What I didn’t do at the time was to look at singles that came out in 1971. I’ve put my favorites in a playlist at the end of this post. Following I’m highlighting 10 of them, focusing on songs I didn’t cover in the aforementioned three-part series.

Marvin Gaye/What’s Going On

I’d like to start this review with What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye, released in January 1970. Co-written by him, Al Cleveland and Four Tops co-founding member Renaldo “Obie” Benson, this classic soul gem was inspired by an incident of police brutality Benson had witnessed in May 1969 while The Four Tops were visiting Berkely, Calif. The tune became Gaye’s first big U.S. hit in the ’70s, climbing to no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topping the Best Selling Soul Singles chart.

Deep Purple/Strange Kind of Woman

In February 1970, Deep Purple released Strange Kind of Woman as a non-album single. The follow-on to Black Night was credited to all members of the band: Ian Gillan, Ritchie Blackmore, Jon Lord, Roger Glover and Ian Paice, their most compelling lineup, in my view. The song reached no. 8 in the UK and Germany, but didn’t chart in the U.S. The track was also included in the U.S. and Canadian editions of Deep Purple’s fifth studio album Fireball from July 1971 in lieu of Demon’s Eye on the UK edition.

Jethro Tull/Hymn 43

Hymn 43 is a great rock song by Jethro Tull. Penned by Ian Anderson, it appeared in late June 1971 as the second single off Aqualung, the group’s fourth studio album that had come out in March of the same year. Hymn 43 followed lead single Locomotive Breath. Incredibly, it only charted in Canada and the U.S., reaching an underwhelming no. 86 and no. 91, respectively.

T. Rex/Get It On

In July 1970, glam rockers T. Rex released one of their signature tunes, Get It On. In the U.S., it was re-titled Bang a Gong (Get It On), since there was a song with the same title by American jazz-rock band Chase. Get It On, written by T. Rex frontman Marc Bolan, was the lead single from the British band’s sophomore album Electric Warrior that appeared in September that year. Get It On became the band’s second no. 1 in the UK and their only U.S. top 10 hit (no. 10) on the Billboard Hot 100.

Santana/Everybody’s Everything

In September 1970, Santana released their third studio album Santana III and lead single Everybody’s Everything. The tune was co-written by Carlos Santana, Milton Brown and Tyrone Moss. The classic Santana rock song became the band’s last top 20 hit (no. 12) in the U.S. until the pop-oriented Winning from 1981.

Sly and the Family Stone/Family Affair

Family Affair is a track off Sly and the Family Stone’s fifth studio album There’s a Riot Goin’ On that came out in November 1971. Released the same month, the psychedelic funk tune was the first single from that album. It became the group’s third and final no. 1 hit in the U.S., topping both the mainstream Billboard Hot 100 and Hot Soul Singles chart.

Badfinger/Day After Day

Day After Day, first released in the U.S. in November 1971 followed by the UK in January 1972, became the biggest hit for British power pop-rock band Badfinger. Written by Pete Ham, the tune, off their third studio album Straight Up from December 1971, climbed to no. 4 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 and reached no. 10 in the UK. In Canada, it went all the way to no. 2. This gem was produced by George Harrison who also played slide guitar along with Ham.

Elton John/Levon

Levon is one of Elton John’s beautiful early songs that first appeared on his fourth studio album Madman Across the Water from early November 1970. Composed by John with lyrics by Bernie Taupin, the ballad also became the record’s first single in late November. Producer Gus Dudgeon has said Taupin’s lyrics were inspired by Levon Helm, co-founder, drummer and singer of The Band, a favorite group of John and Taupin at the time. Levon reached no. 24 on the Billboard Hot 100 and climbed to no. 6 in Canada.

The Beach Boys/Surf’s Up

Various music connoisseurs have told me their favorite album by The Beach Boys is Surf’s Up from late August 1971. I can’t say it’s been love at first sight for me, but this record is definitely growing on me. The Beach Boys released the title track as a single in late November that year. Co-written by Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks, Surf’s Up originally was supposed to be a track for Smile, an unfinished album that was scrapped in 1967. Brian and Carl Wilson completed the tune. By the time Surf’s Up was released as a single, the last major hit by The Beach Boys Good Vibrations was five years in the past. While the single didn’t chart, the album reached no. 29 on the Billboard 200, their highest-charting record in the U.S. since Wild Honey from 1967.

The Kinks/20th Century Man

The last song I’d like to call out is 20th Century Man by The Kinks. Penned by Ray Davies, the tune in December 1970 became the sole single off the group’s 10th studio album Muswell Hillbillies. The record had appeared in late November that year. 20th Century Man stalled at no. 106 in the UK and reached no. 89 in Australia. It didn’t chart in the U.S. The album didn’t fare much better, though it received positive reviews and remains a favorite among fans.

Check out the playlist below for additional 1971 singles I dig.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Deep Purple Demonstrate Cover Albums Can Be Fun

Machine Head by Deep Purple remains my most favorite hard rock album of all time, and I also like some of the English rockers’ other music, especially from their early period. But when I read a couple of weeks ago Deep Purple were coming out with an all-covers album, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Well, Turning to Crime has since appeared (November 26). Did we need renditions of great tunes like Cream’s White Room or Shapes of Things by The Yardbirds? Not really. Is it fun when Deep Purple plays them? Hell yes! In fact, I included their great cover of White Room in my last Best of What’s New installment.

Of course, I can see cynics say when a group of mostly septuagenarians releases a collection of covers or a Christmas album for that matter, they either ran out of ideas or are trying to make a quick buck or both. Well, to start with, good luck with making money these days by selling albums unless you’re perhaps Adele! Plus, in Deep Purple’s case, there are two other explanations: COVID-19 (sigh!), which didn’t allow the band to go on the road and left them idle, and the fact they always write original music together in the studio – again something they couldn’t do because of this dreadful pandemic.

“The whole idea came about during the lockdown,” long-time band member and bassist Roger Glover told music journalist and Forbes contributor Jim Ryan. “We didn’t want to twiddle our thumbs or anything…And we couldn’t write songs. Because we don’t write songs for Purple. We just jam together. That’s where the songs are born really – coming out of the jams. But we’ve got to be together to jam. So we couldn’t write. Well, we’ll let other people do the writing. We’ll cover songs. Then all we’ve got to do is perform it.”

Glover further noted each of the group’s five members came up with ideas for covers, with producer Bob Ezrin acting as “our kind of conductor.” Ezrin also worked with Deep Purple on their previous three albums. Eventually, they had a list of about 50 tunes, from which 12 were selected via vote. “But we weren’t just covering them straight,” Glover said. “We wanted to add something to them, Purpleize them if you like.”

Let’s take a closer look. Here’s Rockin’ Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu. How about that title! Co-written by Johnny Vincent and Huey Smith, the tune was first recorded in 1957 by Smith who was known as Huey ‘Piano’ Smith. It may not be Smoke On the Water, but damn, that boogie-woogie piano by the group’s keyboarder Don Airey surely smokes, as do the horns. Deep Purple lead vocalist Ian Gillan is in fine shape as well and is joined by Ezra on backing vocals.

How about some Peter Green era Fleetwood Mac? Oh Well. That’s actually the title of the song written by Green and first released as a non-album single in September 1969. Steve Morse, a solid guitarist and at age 67 the youngest current member of Deep Purple, does a great job. In fact, I just have to say this, the entire band kicks ass. Check it out!

Next up: Bob Dylan’s Watching the River Flow, a blues-rock tune the maestro penned and recorded in March 1971, and released as a single in June that year. Produced by Leon Russell, it was also included on the compilation Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits Vol. II from November 1971.

Let the Good Times Roll sounds like a good description of Deep Purple when they were recording this album, even though they weren’t physically together. It’s also the title of a jump blues co-written by Sam Theard and Fleecie Moore, and recorded by American saxophonist Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five in 1946. Hearing a hard rock band swing like this is certainly something unusual!

Let’s do one more. How about a dose of New Orleans-flavored R&B? Here’s a great rendition of Little Feat’s Dixie Chicken. Co-written by Lowell George and Fred Martin, the tune is the title track of the band’s third studio album from January 1973 and one of their most beloved songs. Did you ever expect to hear that track from Deep Purple? An intriguing pick and another remarkable cover.

While Turning to Crime is Deep Purple first all-covers album, the concept of recording songs written by other artists actually goes back to the group’s beginnings, so to some extent, they’ve come full circle. “We’ve covered songs before of course,” Glover told Ryan. ““Hush” [written by Joe South, Purple’s first single – CMM] was a cover [so were their next three singles, Neil Diamond’s Kentucky Woman, Ike & Tina Turner’s River Deep – Mountain High and The Beatles Help! – CMM]. But doing an album of covers with the intent of messing with them and having a bit of fun with them is very new to us.”

Turning to Crime, Deep Purple’s 22nd studio effort, was released just 15 months after predecessor Whoosh! from August 2020. This Ultimate Classic Rock review noted it’s the band’s fastest turnaround since the mid-’70s. That’s when they released their 10th studio album Come Taste the Band. What’s much more intriguing to me is the remarkable versatility and great musicianship Deep Purple demonstrate on the album – certainly no crime committed here! You also get a sense they had a great time putting together these covers, even though for the most part each member recorded their parts remotely.

Sources: Wikipedia; Forbes; Ultimate Classic Rock; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Once again it’s Saturday and time for another new music revue. For folks living in the U.S. and celebrating, I hope you had a nice Thanksgiving with delicious food and meeting family and/or friends. This latest installment of my weekly Best of What’s New feature turned out to be an all-rock affair. Each tune is from releases that came out yesterday (November 26).

Smith/Kotzen/Better Days

My first pick for this week is from a collaboration between Adrian Smith, guitarist of British heavy metal group Iron Maiden, and Richie Kotzen, guitarist and frontman of The Winery Dogs, an American rock band from Los Angeles. While Iron Maiden isn’t much my cup of tea and I’ve never heard of The Winery Dogs, I know one thing: I like Better Days, the title track of the new EP by the two guitarists who call their collaboration Smith/Kotzen. It’s their second release after their eponymous full-length debut album that appeared in March this year. In addition to guitar, Smith and Kotzen play most other instruments on their studio recordings and share writing and production duties. According to this preview in Loudwire, Better Days, which first appeared three weeks ago as an upfront track, was written in April. Here’s the official video. This nicely rocks while staying pretty melodic.

Julie Doiron/You Gave Me the Key

Let’s next turn to Canadian indie rock singer-songwriter Julie Doiron. According to her Apple Music profile, Doiron began her musical career in 1990, singing and playing bass for the Canadian indie rock band Eric’s Trip. As the group released numerous EPs and three albums for Sub Pop, Doiron also began writing her own largely acoustic material. When Eric’s Trip broke up in 1996, she released an album under the name Broken Girl on Sappy Records, her own label. Later that year, Doiron worked on her second album, Loneliest in the Morning, which came out on Sub Pop and was recorded with prominent indie rock producers and musicians like Doug Easley, Davis McCain, Giant Sand’s Howie Gelb, and the Grifters’ Dave Shouse. Fast-forward to I Thought of You, Doiron’s new and first full-length album in nine years. Here’s the catchy opener You Gave Me the Key. Check out that neat harmony guitar action!

Lars Frederiksen/Tomorrows Girls

Let’s keep rockin’ with Lars Frederiksen, who is best known as guitarist and vocalist of American punk rock band Rancid. Wikipedia notes he’s also currently playing guitar in Oxley’s Midnight Runners, Stomper 98 and The Last Resort – don’t know any of these groups. Frederiksen seems to be a busy man. According to this piece in Blabbermouth.net, the EP To Victory is Frederiksen’s first release under his name only. Here’s the crunchy rocker Tomorrows Girls. It reminds me a bit of solo music I’ve heard from Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong.

Deep Purple/White Room

My last pick for this week is from the latest release by Deep Purple. Since it’s “only a cover album,” I wasn’t going to feature it. Don’t get me wrong: I love Deep Purple; in fact, they are my favorite hard rock band. But I’m talking 1968 through 1972. While every now and then they had some decent songs thereafter, overall their music wasn’t as great as in their early years, in my humble opinion. As for Turning to Crime, I actually find it surprisingly fun to listen to, including this rendition of Cream classic White Room. Yes, Deep Purple didn’t exactly reinvent the wheel. But when it comes to an iconic tune like White Room, that’s just fine with me! I think they did a great job here!

Sources: Wikipedia; Loudwire; Blabbermouth.net; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

It’s an overcast and rainy weekend in my neck of the woods (central New Jersey), but this shall not take away any of the fun to present another eclectic set of six tunes, especially given The Sunday Six is hitting a mini-milestone today with its 20th installment. Plus, if the weather is a mixed bag in your area as well, it’s a perfect opportunity to listen to some music. And in case conditions are perfect to be outdoors, just take the music with you! 🙂

Dave Holland/Grave Walker

Kicking us off today is some brand new funky jazz by an old hand: Dave Holland, an English double bassist, composer and bandleader who has been active for five decades. Holland started out teaching himself how to play the ukulele as a four-year old, followed by the guitar and the bass. At the age of 15, he quit school, initially wanting to play pop before discovering jazz. Holland subsequently received a full-time scholarship for London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama. By age 20, he was a busy student and musician, who frequently performed at London’s premier jazz venue Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club. In 1968, Miles Davis saw Holland and invited him to join his band to replace Ron Carter. For the next two years, he worked with Davis and appeared on the albums In a Silent Way and Bitches’ Brew. His first record as a bandleader, Conference of the Birds by Dave Holland Quartet, appeared in 1973. In addition to Davis, Holland has worked with numerous other jazz artists, such as Thelonious Monk, Anthony Braxton, Stan Getz and John Abercrombie. According to his website, Holland’s “playing can be heard on hundreds of recordings, with more than thirty as a leader under his own name.” This brings me to Grave Walker, the great funky opener of Holland’s new album Another Land, which came out on Friday (May 28), featuring guitarist Kevin Eubanks and drummer Obed Calvaire. Groovy and great sound, baby!

Sam & Dave/Hold On, I’m Coming

Let’s keep on groovin’ and jump back 55 years to March 1966. That’s when Stax recording artists Sam & Dave released their new single Hold On, I’m Comin’. Co-written by the songwriting team of Isaac Hayes and David Porter, this gem became the soul duo’s first no. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot R&B Singles chart. It also was the title track of Sam & Dave’s debut studio album, which was released the following month. According to Wikipedia, Steve Cropper, lead guitarist of Stax house band Booker T. and the M.G.s, said the song’s title came out of a verbal exchange between Porter who was in the restroom at the Stax studio and an impatient Hayes who yelled for Porter to return to their writing session. When Porter responded, “Hold On, I’m Comin’,” they both thought this would make for a great song title and completed the tune within an hour. It’s amazing what bathroom breaks can do!

Squeeze/Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)

Pulling Mussels (From the Shell) may be one of only a handful of Squeeze songs I’ve heard but, hey, you don’t have to be an expert about a band to recognize a great power pop tune. When I came across the song in the process of researching this post, it was an easy decision to include. Co-written by Squeeze rhythm guitarist and vocalist Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook, the band’s lead guitarist and keyboarder, Pulling Mussels (From the Shell) is from their third studio album Argybargy released in February 1980. It also appeared separately as a single in April that year. To my big surprise, the tune only climbed to no. 44 in the UK and didn’t chart in the U.S. at all. BTW, Squeeze, which were initially founded by Difford and Tilbrook in March 1974, are still around, though they had some breaks in-between. The current incarnation has been active since 2007, released three new albums to date, and still includes Difford and Tilbrook.

Deep Purple/Pictures of Home

It’s time to push the pedal to the heavy metal coz why not? In this context, I couldn’t think of a better choice than Deep Purple, my all-time favorite hard rock band. The combination of Ritchie Blackmore’s guitar and Jon Lord’s roaring Hammond B3 still excites me. Pictures of Home is a track from Deep Purple’s sixth studio album Machine Head that came out in March 1972 and is their Mount Rushmore, in my view. Just about everything about this song is cool: The intro by Ian Paice, who is a beast of a drummer; the great main guitar riff by Ritchie Blackmore; Jon Lord’s sweet B3 work; Ian Gillan who was at the top of game as a lead vocalist; and let’s not forget about Roger Glover’s pumping bass and his neat short solo starting at about 3:40 minutes. Like all other tracks on the album, Pictures of Home was credited to all members of the band.

Mariah Carey featuring Trey Lorenz/I’ll Be There

Mariah Carey? Yep, you read that right! Have I lost my mind? I hope that’s not the case. Before causing too much confusion here, I generally don’t listen to Mariah Carey. However, together with Christina Aguilera, I believe she’s one of the strongest female contemporary vocalists. Then there’s I’ll Be There, a tune I loved from the moment I heard it first from The Jackson 5 as part of a Motown box set. It must have been in the early ’80s. Credited to Berry Gordy, producer Hal Davis, Bob West and Willie Hutch, I’ll Be There was released in late August 1970 as the lead single of the Jackson 5’s third studio album ingeniously titled Third Album that appeared two weeks later. Carey’s cover, which I think is even more compelling than the original, was included on her MTV Unplugged EP from June 1992. Apart from Carey’s strong rendition of Michael Jackson’s part, I’d like to call out R&B singer Trey Lorenz who does an amazing job singing Jermaine Jackson’s lines. It’s really the outstanding vocal performance that convinced me to feature this rendition.

3 Doors Down/It’s Not My Time

Just in case that previous tune shocked you, or perhaps did the opposite thing and put you in a sleepy mood, let’s finish this installment on a rock note: It’s Not My Time by 3 Doors Down. Formed in 1996 in Escatawpa, Miss., they broke through internationally with their first single Kryptonite from January 2000. Originally, that song had been recorded as a demo for a local Mississippi radio station. From there, it was picked up by other radio stations and became popular, topping Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Tracks chart and eventually reaching no. 3 on the Hot 100. Subsequently, 3 Doors Down signed with Republic Records and recorded their debut album The Better Life. Appearing in February 2000, it continued the band’s remarkable streak of success, climbing to no. 7 on the Billboard 200, charting in many other countries, and becoming their best-selling album that only the in the U.S. sold more than 5 million copies. It’s Not My Time is from 3 Doors Down’s eponymous fourth studio album from May 2008. Like all other songs on the record, the tune is credited to four of the band’s members at the time: Brad Arnold (lead vocals), Matt Roberts (lead guitar, backing vocals), Chris Henderson (rhythm guitar, backing vocals) and Todd Harrell (bass). Greg Upchurch (drums) completed their line-up. 3 Doors Down are still active, with Arnold, Henderson and Upchurch remaining part of the current formation.

Sources: Wikipedia; Dave Holland website; YouTube

Planes, Trains and Automobiles – Part III

A three-part mini series of songs related to the three transportation modes

This is the third and final part of this mini-series featuring songs related to planes, trains and automobiles. Parts I and II focused on planes and trains. This leaves automobiles.

In case you missed the two previous installments, the theme of the mini series was inspired by the 1987 American comedy picture Planes, Trains and Automobiles. The film is about a marketing executive (Steve Martin) and a sweet but annoying traveling sales guy (John Candy) ending up together as they are trying to get from New York home to Chicago for Thanksgiving. Their plane’s diversion to Wichita due to bad weather in Chicago starts a three-day odyssey and one misadventure after the other, while the two, seemingly incompatible men use different modes of transportation to get to their destination.

Chuck Berry/Maybellene

I couldn’t think of a better way to start this final installment of the mini-series than with a car chase told by Chuck Berry in a classic rock & roll tune. Credited to him, Russ Fratto and Alan Freed, and partially adapted from a Western swing fiddle tune titled Ida Red, the song tells the tale of a guy in a V8 Ford, chasing after his unfaithful girlfriend Maybellene who is driving a Cadillac Coupe de Ville. Initially released as a single in July 1955, Maybellene became Berry’s first hit, reaching no. 1 on Billboard’s Rhythm & Blues chart and no. 5 on the mainstream Hot 100 chart. The tune is an early example of Berry’s gift to write lyrics that appealed to both young African American and young white people. Maybellene also became part of the soundtrack of the motion picture Rock, Rock, Rock! from December 1956, and was included on Berry’s third studio album Chuck Berry Is on Top. The latter might as well have been titled “The Greatest Hits of Classic Rock & Roll.”

The Beach Boys/409

The Beach Boys released various car-related tunes in the ’60s. I guess hot rods and surfing made for good friends. Here’s one of my favorites: 409. Songfacts notes 409 refers to a Chevrolet Bel Air 409 sport coupé, a 360-horsepower beast that with some tuning could be boosted to more than 400 horsepower. If you’re into cars, you can view some images here. Co-written by Brian Wilson, Mike Love and Gary Usher, the tune first appeared in June 1962 as the B-side to the band’s second single Surfin’ Safari. It was also included on two studio albums: Surfin’ Safari, The Beach Boys’ debut record from October 1962, and Little Deuce Coupe, their fourth studio release that came out in October 1963 and featured car songs. Giddy up, giddy up 409!

Wilson Pickett/Mustang Sally

The first time I heard Mustang Sally and fell in love with the tune was in the 1991 music comedy picture The Commitments, which not only is hilarious but also features outstanding Stax style soul – a film I can highly recommend. Originally, the song was written and first recorded by Mack Rice in 1965. But it wasn’t until the following year when Wilson Pickett released a cover that popularized the song, taking it to no. 6 and no. 23 on the U.S. Billboard R&B and Hot 100 charts, respectively. The tune was also included on Pickett’s 1967 studio album The Wicked Pickett.

Golden Earring/Radar Love

When it comes to ’70s car songs, the ones that always come to my mind first are Deep Purple’s Highway Star and Golden Earring’s Radar Love. I decided to go with the Dutch rock band, which included the tune on their ninth studio album Moontan from July 1973. Co-written by their guitarist and lead vocalist George Kooymans and Barry Hay, respectively, Radar Love became Golden Earring’s most successful song. It hit no. 1 in the Netherlands, reached the top 10 in the UK and various other European countries, and climbed to no. 13 in the U.S. If you’re stickler, the one thing that isn’t clear is whether the driver in the song is in a car or in a truck. For the purposes of this post, let’s assume it’s the former. And since I’m not fooling around with any single edits, here’s the 6:26-minute LP version. It’s a hell of a rock tune that deserves to be heard in its full length.

Bruce Springsteen/Ramrod

Let finish with The Boss and what I feel is more of a deep cut from The River, especially when considering this album also includes tunes like The Ties That Bind, Sherry Darling, Independence Day, Hungry Heart and, of course, the title track. This doesn’t change the fact that Ramrod is a great song. There’s a reason why it has remained a staple during Bruce Springsteen concerts. Springsteen originally wrote and recorded Ramrod for Darkness on the Edge of Town but didn’t use it until The River album, which was released in October 1980. I dig the tune’s 60s garage rock vibe. Let’s go ramroddin’!

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

The Venues: Beat-Club

“Cult” German TV show featured prominent music acts from Alice Cooper to Zeppelin

A YouTube clip from Beat-Club I coincidentally caught on Sunday reminded me that I hadn’t done a post in my series about popular concert halls and music programs since July 2020. So I felt the popular German TV music show, which aired monthly between September 1965 and December 1972, would be a great topic for another installment.

Beat-Club was created by music producer Gerhard Augustin, who according to Wikipedia was Germany’s first professional disc jockey, and film director and writer Mike Leckebusch. Broadcast on one of Germany’s main national public TV channels ARD, the show was hosted by German architect-turned-singer-turned-TV presenter Uschi Nerke. Until early 1969, she was joined by Augustin and afterwards by Dave Dee, of Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich, before Nerke started hosting alone in 1970.

Uschi Nerke kommt – blacksheep Festival
Uschi Nerke

Beat-Club began as a live program with music guests performing in front of a plain brick wall. In 1967, the program was revamped to adapt a “more professional look,” which among others included large cards in the background that displayed the names of the performers. The new format also allowed for inclusion of artists who could not appear live. In these cases, a troupe of young women called the “Go-Go-Girls” was dancing to the featured songs – ouch! On a cooler note, in its later years, Beat-Club incorporated psychedelic visual effects during many performances. These effects became much more pronounced after the program switched to color in late 1969.

German TV personality Wilhelm Wieben opened Beat-Club’s first episode with the following words: “Hello, dear beat friends. The time has finally come. In just a few seconds starts the first show on German television, which exclusively was made for you. Ladies and gentlemen, I ask you who may not enjoy beat music for your understanding. It’s a live program with young people for young people. And now, let’s go!”

Beat Club (TV) - March 27, 1969 / Bremen | Led Zeppelin Official Website
Led Zeppelin at Beat-Club, March 1969

I guess Wieben and the master minds behind the program pretty much foresaw what would happen: While Beat-Club’s target audience embraced the show right way, the older generation in Germany was horrified. This probably ensured young people liked it even more. In fact, the show quickly reached “cult” status.

Over its seven-year run, Beat-Club featured an impressive array of music artists and bands. Badfinger, Chuck Berry, Cream, Deep Purple, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones and The Who were some among many others. Now on to the real fun part: Clips that capture some of the action. The year in parenthesis after each title marks the timing of the show episode. It’s all based on Beat-Club’s YouTube channel.

Cream/I Feel Free (1967)

The Jimi Hendrix Experience/Purple Haze (1967)

Canned Heat/On the Road Again (1968)

Joe Cocker/With a Little Help From My Friends (1968)

Chicago Transit Authority/I’m a Man (1969)

The Who/Sally Simpson & I’m Free (1969)

Black Sabbath/Paranoid (1970)

Muddy Waters/Honey Bee (1970)

Fleetwood Mac/Dragonfly (1971)

T. Rex/Jeepster (1971)

Ike & Tina Turner/Get Back (1972)

Manassas/Rock & Roll Crazies

Beat-Club eventually was replaced by another music program called Musikladen (music store). While I was too young to watch Beat-Club, I have some nebulous memories of Musikladen, and I’m afraid they aren’t great! Nerke co-moderated the program with main host Manfred Sexauer until September 1978. Subsequently, she hosted her own radio show Beat-Club until January 2013.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube