The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday Six, my weekly celebration of music in different flavors from the past seven decades, six tunes at a time. Get ready for another eclectic zigzag journey. It starts with some contemporary ambient electronic music. The trip then takes us to an acoustic folk gem from 1972, soft grunge from 1993, new wave from 1984 and a beautiful pop ballad from 2004, before we wrap up with a ’60s rock gem. Hop on board and let’s go!

Leif/Seven Hour Flight to Nowhere

I’d like to start this post with a music genre I rarely pick: Ambient electronic music. Recently, I stumbled upon British electronic music producer Leif Knowles. According to his Apple Music profile, Knowles who is known as Leif creates lush, emotive music ranging from the deep, smooth house of his 2013 debut Dinas Oleu to the warm, soothing ambient of 2019’s Loom Dream. Born in Barmouth, Wales and brought up by a musician father who played the Celtic harp and the guitar — which he taught his son — Leif grew up with a love of music, playing in guitar bands in high school. Through the radio, he was introduced to electronic acts such as Tricky and the Orb, before discovering house and techno through free outdoor raves in the forest…Owing to his formative experiences, his music was inspired by a fusion of the natural world and the dancefloor, and he incorporated organic elements such as guitar, bass, and percussion into a sound produced using a fairly simple setup of computer and synth. I’m completely new to Leif and can’t quite explain what drew me into Seven Hour Flight to Nowhere, a track from his new album 9 Airs released on October 29. I find it very soothing.

Jim Croce/Time in a Bottle

Next, I’d like to go back to April 1972 and a song I’ve always loved because of its beautiful lyrics, melody and neat acoustic guitar-playing: Time in a Bottle by Jim Croce. At the time I first heard this gem, I was taking (acoustic) guitar lessons. Croce’s great finger-picking was an immediate attraction and a motivation to work hard on my finger technique. Time in a Bottle is from Croce’s third studio album You Don’t Mess Around with Jim that appeared in April 1972. He wrote it like all other songs on the record. Sadly, in September of the following year, Croce became yet another music artist who perished in a plane crash. Time in a Bottle was also released separately as a single in the wake of Croce’s death in November 1973. It became his signature song and biggest hit, topping the mainstream charts in the U.S. and Canada. Reminds me of John Lennon and the post-mortem success of (Just Like) Starting Over – the bitter cruelty of an artist’s success when they have passed and can no longer enjoy it!

Collective Soul/Shine

This next song takes me back to my grad school days at SUNY Stony Brook on Long Island, N.Y. I can easily say these two years (1993 and 1994) were the most intense period of my student life where I felt I studied as much as during the prior six years of university in Germany! At the time, there was lots of academic freedom in Germany, and you pretty much could study at your own pace – let’s just say I allowed myself to be distracted and wasn’t exactly in a hurry to finish my graduate degree. Anyway, I well remember Shine by Collective Soul. The lead single, off their debut album Hints Allegations and Things Left Unsaid, received frequent play on the Connecticut FM mainstream radio station I usually had on in the car (blanking on the name now). Originally, the song was released in 1993 on the independent label Rising Storm Records. Subsequently, Collective Soul got a deal with Atlantic Records, which reissued the single and the album in October 1993 and March 1994, respectively. I find it a quite catchy tune and also like the soft grunge sound. Collective Soul, which were founded in 1992, are still together, with three original members remaining in the current lineup.

The Stranglers/No Mercy

Continuing a bit of nostalgia, let’s go back another 10 years to 1984 and The Stranglers. I hadn’t heard that name in ages until I saw their tune The Raven was picked by A Sound Day as part of a song draft by fellow blogger Hans from Slice the Life – thanks, guys! In my case, The Stranglers are similar to The Cars – I know a number of their songs based on radio play but haven’t further explored the group. The first Stranglers tune I recalled after the song draft prompt was Golden Brown, their first hit from 1992. When I checked Wikipedia, some of their other ’80s songs popped up like Always the Sun (1986), Skin Deep and my favorite No Mercy. The last two tracks were on the group’s eighth studio album Aural Sculpture from November 1984. Credited to all four members of the band at the time – Hugh Cornwell (vocals, guitar), Jean-Jacques Burnel (bass, vocals), Dave Greenfield (keyboards) and Jet Black (percussion) – No Mercy didn’t match Golden Brown’s chart success but still gave them a decent hit. Call me crazy: If The Rolling Stones would have gone new wave, this is how I imagine they could have sounded! BTW, like Collective Soul, The Stranglers exist to this day and released their 18th studio album Dark Matters on September 10. Based on sampling a few tunes, it doesn’t sound bad.

Anna Nalick/Breathe (2 AM)

Time to leave the ’80s and ’90s behind and travel to the current century, specifically the year 2004. In October that year, American singer-songwriter Anna Nalick released Breathe (2 AM), the lead single from her debut album Wreck of the Day that appeared in April of the following year. Let’s just say, both the beautiful ballad and the record weren’t exactly a wreck. They became Nalick’s most successful song and album, respectively. Breathe (2 AM) is the only tune by Nalick I can name. She’s still around (in fact she’s only 37) and has released three additional albums to date, most recently The Blackest Crow from December 2019. I find Breathe (2 AM) a pretty compelling and catchy pop ballad. Yes, it’s a bit on the lush side, but the intensity and Nalick’s vocals are just stunning!

The Moody Blues/Go Now

Sadly, on Thursday (November 11), Graeme Edge, co-founder and drummer of The Moody Blues, passed away from cancer at the age of 80. As such, I’d like to wrap up this post with some music by the Moodies whose 1967 sophomore album Days of Future Passed has become one of my favorite ’60s records. Pre-dating this gem is Go Now, the band’s second single from November 1964. Co-written by Larry Banks and Milton Bennett, the song originally was released by Larry’s wife, American soul singer Bessie Banks, in January 1964. But it was the version by The Moody Blues that gained international popularity, topping the charts in the UK, reaching no. 10 in the U.S. and The Netherlands, no. 2 in Canada and no. 12 in Australia. The tune was also included on the band’s debut album The Magnificent Moodies from July 1965, which in the U.S. and Canada was titled Go Now – The Moody Blues #1 and had a different song lineup. It was the only Moodies album to feature guitarist and vocalist Denny Laine who in 1971 joined Paul McCartney’s Wings.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

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What I’ve Been Listening to: Paul McCartney/Tug of War

As a huge fan of The Beatles and Paul McCartney, I was really excited when Tug of War was released in April 1982. Catching Take It Away on the radio yesterday prompted me to revisit McCartney’s third solo album, which I had not listened to for many years. It turned out I still dig it, though not for the primary reason that initially attracted me back then: Ebony and Ivory, a smash hit in Germany, as well as many other countries.

While McCartney’s duet with Stevie Wonder isn’t a bad tune, I think it’s fair to say both artists have written better songs. One also must remember the ’80s were a time period when high profile duets were very much en vogue. I still like the ballad’s message, as well as the idea to use the black and white keys on a keyboard as a metaphor for perfect harmony – sadly a state of affairs that nowadays seems to be more elusive than ever.

No matter how you feel about it, Ebony and Ivory was the big hit single from Tug of War, which came out about a month prior to the album. I have to say I wasn’t particular impressed with McCartney II and that record’s hit single Coming Up, even though both had impressive chart success as well. I thought Tug of War was a far superior album. I think I still do but like to caveat the statement by adding that I haven’t listened to McCartney II in a long time.

Tug of War was McCartney’s first album after the breakup of Wings. It also was his first record following the murder of John Lennon on December 8, 1980, which not only impacted the record’s timing but also its content. Initially, McCartney’s plan was to make another album with Wings, but then things changed.

While apparently he had grown weary about continuing his band, McCartney started rehearsing songs with them in October 1980. He brought in George Martin as producer, but they both felt McCartney’s latest compositions weren’t a good fit for Wings and decided to pursue a record without the band.

The project was paused for two months after Lennon had been killed. In February 1981, work on the album resumed. Between February 3rd and March 2nd, recording sessions took place in the Caribbean at AIR Studios in Montserrat, which included Wonder, bassist Stanley Clarke, Carl Perkins and Ringo Starr.

During Tug of War recording sessions at AIR Studios in Montserrat: Paul McCartney with Ringo Starr and I believe Eric Stewart.

Additional sessions at Martin’s AIR Studios in London followed over the summer. They also yielded songs McCartney would use for Pipes of Peace, the follow on to Tug of War from October 1983. Apparently, McCartney and Martin weren’t in a huge hurry and used the remainder of 1981 to put the finishing touches on the record. Time for some music!

I’d like to kick things off with the above noted Take It Away. Like all other tracks on the album except for one tune, it was written by McCartney. In June 1982, Take It Away also was released separately as Tug of War’s second single. While it charted in many countries, including the UK and the U.S. where it climbed to no. 15 and 10, respectively, the power pop tune didn’t match the success of Ebony and Ivory. It features Ringo Starr on drums, George Martin on piano and 10cc’s Eric Stewart on backing vocals. Take it away, boys!

In addition to Ebony and Ivory, Tug of War included a second duet with Stevie Wonder: What’s That You’re Doing. Apart from providing vocals, Wonder also co-wrote the funky tune with McCartney. In fact, to me it sounds more like a Stevie Wonder song. Stewart made another appearance on backing vocals.

Here Today is a moving tribute to John Lennon, which can still make me emotional. It may not be quite as compelling as Elton John’s Empty Garden, but I still find it beautiful. When I saw McCartney live last time in July 2016, he performed the tune solo with just his acoustic guitar – a quite powerful moment!

Next up: Ballroom Dancing, a nice pop rocker. Guests on this tune include Starr (drums), Stewart (backing vocals) and former Wings band mate Denny Laine (electric guitar).

The last track I’d like to call out is McCartney’s great duet with Carl Perkins, Get It. I love the tune’s rockabilly retro vibe and Perkins’s electric guitar work, which he provided in addition to vocals. You can also literally feel the fun they had when recording the track, and it’s not only because of Perkins’ laughter at the end.

The final words of this post shall belong to Paul McCartney. “I think, you know, with my songs, I have my own approach,” he told Andy Mackay in an in-depth interview about the album in August 1982, which is transcribed on fan website The Paul McCartney Project. “I’ll tell you the way I see it: the thing I like about my stuff, when I like it, is that the listener can take it the wrong way, it may apply to them, you know.”

Sources: Wikipedia; The Paul McCartney Project; YouTube

Beware Of Mr. Baker

In memoriam of a drumming giant with a 60-year-plus career

When I saw the name of Ginger Baker pop up in a CNN news alert on my phone yesterday morning, I immediately knew what had happened. Just a few days ago, I had spotted a story on Facebook, reporting Baker was in the hospital and critically ill. The legendary drummer passed away on October 6 at age 80.

Baker was a pretty wild character. His constant fights with Jack Bruce while they played together in The Graham Bond Organisation and lateron in “supergroup” Cream have widely been reported. Once he even pulled a knife on Bruce – yikes! Baker’s volatile behavior is also impressively captured in the fascinating 2012 American documentary Beware of Mr. BakerAt some point, he hits film maker Jay Bulger in the nose with his walking stick – a terrifying thought, especially coming from a drummer.

So, yes, Baker wasn’t exactly a saint. But I don’t feel it’s my place to judge. Plus, let’s be honest here: The same can be said about some other music artists, including one of my biggest heroes of all time, John Lennon. He certainly was a less than perfect husband to his first wife Cynthia Powell and father to Julian, his son from that marriage. Still, the fact Lennon’s behavior fell short doesn’t change my admiration for him as an artist. The same is true for Ginger Baker.

Ginger Baker 2

There are already many obituaries out there, and undoubtedly, there will be many more. I don’t want to add yet another such piece. If you feel like reading an obituary for Baker, you can do so here at Rolling Stone, for example. Instead, I’d like to commemorate Baker with some of his music. And there is quite a lot over a career that spanned more than 60 years.

Less than two years after Baker had started picking up the drums at age 16, he was initially playing Dixieland on London’s Soho jazz scene. He was also influenced by bebop and artists like Max Roach, Charlie Parker and Dizzie Gillespie. In fact, during a 2013 interview with jazz.fm91 he said, “Oh, for God’s sake, I’ve never played rock.” He also insisted Cream was a jazz band. “Cream was two jazz players and a blues guitarist playing improvised music. We never played the same thing two nights running…It was jazz.” Oh, well, I guess it all depends on how you define jazz. In any case, at the end of the day, who cares what you call it when you’re talking about Cream, one of the greatest bands of the 60s.

In 1962, following Charlie Watts’ departure to The Rolling Stones, 23-year-old Baker joined Blues Incorporated. The English blues band was led by guitarist Alexis Korner, who is often called “a founding father of British blues.” It is also there where Baker first met Jack Bruce. Here’s a great 1962 instrumental called Up-Town, which in addition to Korner (guitar), Bruce (bass) and Baker (drums) also featured Cyril Davies (harmonica), Dick Heckstall-Smith (tenor saxophone) and Johnny Parker (piano).

In 1963, Baker joined The Graham Bond Organisation, where he again played with Bruce, as well as other former Blues Incorporated members Graham Bond (vocals, keyboards, alto-saxophone) and Heckstall-Smith (tenor & soprano saxophone). Guitarist John McLaughlin rounded out the line-up of this jazz and R&B group. Here is Camels & Elephants, a tune featuring a Baker drum solo reminiscent of Toad, except it’s much shorter! 🙂

While Baker made a name for himself in The Graham Bond Organisation, it was his affiliation with next band that cemented his status as a legendary drummer: Cream. Most of the band’s orginal songs were written by Bruce and Eric Clapton. Between the two, they typically also handled vocals. But here is one Cream tune that not only was soley written by Baker but also sung by him: Blue Condition. The song appeared on their second studio album Disraeli Gears from May 1967.

Following the break-up of Cream and Baker’s participation in the short-lived Blind Faith, he founded jazz rock fusion group Ginger Baker’s Air Force. Apart from Baker, the supergroup’s initial formidable lineup included Steve Winwood (organ, vocals), Ric Grech (violin, bass), Jeanette Jacobs (vocals), Denny Laine (guitar, vocals), Chris Wood (tenor saxophone, flute), Graham Bond (alto saxophone), Harold McNair (tenor saxophone), Remi Kabaka (percussion), Alan White (drums) and jazz drummer Phil Seamen with whom Baker had taken lessons in the early ’60s. Here is Do What You Like, a tune Baker originally had written for Blind Faith, featuring Steve Winwood on lead vocals. It appeared on Air Force’s eponymous debut from March 1970, a live recording of a show at the Royal Albert Hall from January 15, 1970.

Just like Baker’s other music ventures, Air Force was short-lived, lasting only for a couple of years. In November 1971, he decided to move to Lagos, Nigeria where he set up a recording studio. It operated through the ’70s. One of the albums produced there was Band On The Run by Paul McCartney and Wings. In addition to putting out various solo albums during that time, Baker worked with Nigerian multi-instrumentalist and composer Fela Kuti, a pioneer of the Afrobeat music genre. One of these albums, Stratavarious, appeared in 1972 and included a track written by Kuti called Tiwa (It’s Our Own).

In 1974, Baker teamed up with brothers Adrian Gurvitz (guitar, vocals) and Paul Gurvitz (bass, vocals) to form Baker Gurvitz Army. Here is the title track and a Baker composition from the band’s third and last album Hearts On Fire, which was released in 1976.

After the demise of his recording studio in Nigeria, Baker relocated to Italy in the early 1980s. In 1987, he released African Force, a jazz fusion album. Here’s the opener Brain Damage, which was co-written by Baker and Jan Kazda.

In 1993, Baker teamed up with Bruce (amazing how often these two guys kept reuniting, despite all their bad past fights) and guitarist Gary Moore to form BBM (Bruce, Baker, Moore). Predictably, the power trio didn’t last long either, but they managed to release one album, Around The Next Dream. Here is Why Does Love (Have To Go Wrong?), which is credited to all three musicians.

The last track I’d like to highlight is from Baker’s final studio album Why?, another jazz  record that appeared in May 2014. It was his first solo record in 16 years. Here is Cyril Davis written by Baker. Other musicians on the album included Pee Wee Ellis (saxophone), Alec Dankworth (bass) and Abass Dodoo (percussion).

This post would be incomplete without a few thoughts from other music artists. Mick Jagger called Baker “a fiery but extremely talented drummer.” Recalling his work on the Band On The Run album in Baker’s studio in Nigeria, Paul McCartney characterized him as a “great drummer, wild and lovely guy.” Steven Van Zandt noted “Baker was one of the greatest drummers of all time” and recommended the album Disraeli Gears to those unfamiliar with him.

There were also some heartfelt words from Baker’s son Kofi Baker, the drummer in Cream tribute band Music Of Cream: “The other day, I had a beautiful visit with my dad…we talked about memories and music and he’s happy I’m keeping his legacy alive. Our relationship was mended and he was in a pieceful place.”

Sources: Wikipedia; CNN; Rolling Stone; Jazz.fm91; YouTube