On This Day in Rock & Roll History: September 3

My last installment in this recurring irregular feature dates back to late June, so I thought it would be a good moment to do another post. In case you’re a first-time visitor of the blog or haven’t seen these types of posts before, the idea is to explore what happened on a specific date in music history. It’s not my intention to provide a comprehensive listing of events. Instead, the picks are quite selective and closely reflect my music taste. With these caveats being out of the way, let’s take a look at September 3.

1964: The Beatles played State Fair Coliseum in Indianapolis as part of their 30-date U.S. tour in August and September that year. It was the same tour during which they had met Bob Dylan in New York in August. According to The Beatles Bible, their Indianapolis engagement included two gigs that were attended by a total of 29,337 people – they had to count them all! The Beatles performed their standard 12-song set of Twist And Shout, You Can’t Do That, All My Loving, She Loves You, Things We Said Today, Roll Over Beethoven, Can’t Buy Me Love, If I Fell, I Want To Hold Your Hand, Boys, A Hard Day’s Night and Long Tall Sally. Prior to the first show, Ringo Starr decided to have some fun driving a police car around a nearby race track. Unfortunately, he completely forgot to check his watch and made it to the Coliseum just minutes before he and his bandmates were scheduled to go on stage. The Beatles Bible also notes the two concerts earned them $85,231.93, after $1,719.02 was deducted as state income tax. Be thankful they didn’t take it all!

Poster for The Beatles at State Fair Coliseum, Indianapolis, 3 September 1964

1966: Donovan hit no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with Sunshine Superman. The single, which also became the title track of his third studio album from August that year, had been released in the U.S. on July 1. Due to a contractual dispute, it did not appear in the UK until December 1966, where it reached no. 2 on the Official Singles Chart. Sunshine Superman remained Donovan’s only no. 1 and no. 2 hit in the U.S. and the UK, respectively. Sunshine Superman is an early example of psychedelia. The backing musicians, among others, included Jimmy Page (electric guitar) and John Paul Jones (bass), who were both busy session players at the time. They ended up playing together in the New Yardbirds the following year, the band that became Led Zeppelin.

1971: Fleetwood Mac released their fifth studio album Future Games. The record, the first with Christine McVie (keyboards, vocals) who at the time was still married to John McVie (bass), falls into an interesting transition period for the band. Their blues days with Peter Green were a matter of the past, and their classic period that started with Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks and the Fleetwood Mac album from 1975 was still a few years away. Future Games also was the first of five records to feature guitarist Bob Welch. The band’s remaining line-up at the time included Danny Kirwan (guitar, vocals) and Mick Fleetwood (drums, percussion). Welch immediately left his mark, writing both the title track and this song, Lay It All Down.

1982: The first of two Us Festivals (with Us pronounced like the pronoun, not as initials) kicked off near San Bernardino, 60 miles east of Los Angeles. The festivals were initiated by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak who partnered with rock concert promoter Bill Graham. The idea of the extravagant event, which Wozniak bankrolled with $8 million to pay for the construction of the open-field venue, was to celebrate the passing of the “Me” Decade (1970s) and encourage more community orientation and combine technology with rock music. Performing acts at the first three-day Us Festival included Talking Heads, The Police, Santana, The Kinks, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Grateful Dead, Jackson Browne and Fleetwood Mac, among others. A second (four-day) Us Festival took place nine months later around Memorial Day weekend 1983. Here’s Santana’s performance of the Tito Puente classic Oye Cómo Va at the 1982 event.

2017: Steely Dan co-founder Walter Becker passed away at the age of 67 from esophageal cancer at his home in New York City. Together with his longtime partner Donald Fagen, who he had met at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. in 1971 where both were students, Becker had formed the core of the group. By the time of Steely Dan’s fourth album Katy Lied from March 1975, Becker and Fagen had turned the group into a studio band, relying on top-notch session musicians to record their albums. After their seventh studio album Gaucho, Becker and Fagen split to pursue solo careers. They reunited in 1993, recorded two more albums and toured frequently until Becker’s death. Fagen has since continued to carry on the Steely Dan torch. Here’s Black Friday from Katie Lied, a nice example of Becker’s guitar chops. Oftentimes, he stepped back to let other musicians handle guitar duties – not so in this case where he did some killer soloing, using the guitar of Denny Dias, Steely Dan’s original guitarist during their early stage as a standing band. Dias appeared as a guest musician on the Katy Lied, The Royal Scam and Aja albums

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

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Another week has flown by, which means it’s time again to take a look at newly released music. After some digging, I think I’ve found a decent and diverse set of tunes. This installment of Best of What’s New features a great Hammond B-3 jazzy rendition of a popular Donovan song, melodic indie rock, pop folk-oriented alternative country and soulful Americana. All tunes appear on albums that came out yesterday (March 26). Sounds intriguing? Let’s get to it!

Dr. Lonnie Smith/Sunshine Superman (feat. Iggy Pop)

An artist calling himself Dr. Lonnie Smith who teams up with the godfather of punk Iggy Pop to cover a great Donovan tune was sure to get my attention. Born in Buffalo, N.Y. in July 1942, Smith is a jazz Hammond B3 organist who first came to prominence in the mid-60s when he joined the quartet of jazz guitarist George Benson. After recording two albums with Benson, Smith released his solo debut Finger Lickin’ Good Soul Organ in 1967. Twenty-six additional records have since appeared under his name. According to his website, Smith has recorded everything from covers of the Beatles, the Stylistics and the Eurythmics, to tribute albums of Jimi Hendrix, John Coltrane and Beck-all by employing ensembles ranging from a trio to a fifteen-piece big band. He also appeared on close to 80 albums by other artists, such as Lou Donaldson, Marvin Gaye, Jimmy Ponder, Ron Holloway, Eric Gale and Nora Jones. His artist profile on Apple Music notes Smith at some point became Dr. Lonnie Smith (for “no particular reason,” the same reason he gives for why he always wears a traditional Sikh turban). His rendition of Sunshine Superman, the title track of Donovan’s third studio album from August 1966, is the closer of the doctor’s new album Breathe. Iggy Pop provides vocals on this tune, as well as album opener Why Can’t We Live Together. This is just cool stuff!

Real Estate/Half a Human

Real Estate are an indie rock band from Ridgewood, N.J. According to their artist profile on Apple Music, Real Estate’s core members were childhood friends, but the band didn’t take shape until 2008, after they’d all completed college and returned to their hometown of Ridgewood, New Jersey. Arriving in 2009, the group’s self-titled debut album earned a Best New Music tag from Pitchfork—a distinction that was also given to their next two LPs. Days, their 2011 sophomore LP, hit No. 11 on  Billboard’s Alternative Albums chart, and 2014’s Atlas did even better, reaching No. 7. Following the departure of guitarist Matthew Mondanile in 2016, lo-fi pop specialist Julian Lynch—another childhood friend from New Jersey—took his place in the band. In addition to Lynch, Real Estate’s current lineup includes co-founders Martin Courtney (vocals, guitar) and Alex Bleeker (bass, vocals), along with Matt Kallman (keyboards) and Sammi Niss (drums). Half a Human, co-written by Bleeker, Lynch, Courtney, Kallman and the band’s former drummer Jackson Pollis, is the title track of their sixth and new album. The melodic and laid back sound of this tune drew me in right away.

Esther Rose/Songs Remain

Esther Rose is a country artist from New Orleans, La. She began her career by collaborating with her then-husband and guitarist Luke Winslow-King. In 2017, Rose released her solo debut album This Time Last Night. Songs Remain is a track from her third and latest album How Many Times. On this record, Rose expands her alt-country sound into a blossoming world of folk pop and tender harmonies, notes her website. A collection of complete takes recorded live to tape with rich instrumentation, soul-tugging hooks, and resonating vocal melodies, How Many Times carries you into the room in which it was made. There to help realize this was co-producer Ross Farbe of synthpop band Video Age, who Rose also credits for bringing a stereo pop glow to these new songs. I like what I’m hearing here!

Miko Marks & The Resurrectors/Ancestors

Let’s wrap up things with African American country singer Miko Marks who was born in Flint, Mich. In 2005, she released her debut single Freeway Bound, which also was the title track of her first studio album that appeared in September that year. The sophomore It Feels Good followed in August 2007. In 2006, Marks was named Best New Country Artist by U.S. trade magazine New Music Weekly. She also won various awards at the Independent Music Awards in 2006, 2007 and 2008. After a pretty successful looking early career, it appears things slowed down for Marks. Ancestors is the opener of Our Country, her first album since It Feels Good. She’s backed by The Resurrectors, the impressive sounding house band of Redtone Records. Well, it may have been more than 13 years since Marks’ last release, but it surely looks like the wait was worth it. I just love the soulful southern rock sound of Ancestors, which first appeared as a single in December 2020.

Sources: Wikipedia; Dr. Lonnie Smith website; Apple Music; YouTube

My Playlist: Music Artists Who Do It All

Some of my favorite singer-songwriters from the 1960s through the 2000s

The singer-songwriter category is very broad, depending on how you define it, spanning different music genres, including folk, rock, country and pop. According to Wikipedia, singer-songwriters are artists who write, compose and perform their own music, oftentimes solo with just a guitar or piano. All Music adds that although early rock & roll artists like Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly wrote and sang their own songs, the term singer-songwriter “refers to the legions of performers that followed Bob Dylan in the late 60s and early 70s.” You could make the same observation about blues pioneers like Lead Belly, Blind Lemon Jefferson, T-Bone Walker and Lightnin’ Hopkins.

Based on the above definition, artists who write and perform songs as part of a band are not singer-songwriters. Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger would be popular examples in this context. While I’ve seen Elton John being mentioned as a singer-songwriter, to me he’s not, at least not in the strict sense. While he has written the music to his songs and performed them, he has relied on Bernie Taupin for the lyrics. By comparison, the other big pop piano man of our time, Billy Joel, has written the music and lyrics for pretty much all of his songs, so he fits the category.

With the singer-songwriter definition being out of the way, let’s get to some of my favorite artists in that category. I’d like to tackle this chronologically, starting with the 60s and Bob Dylan. The Times They Are A-Changin’ is the title track from his third studio album, which appeared in January 1964. According to Songfacts, the tune “became an anthem for frustrated youth,” expressing anti-establishment sentiments and reflecting the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. Songfacts also quotes Dylan from the liner notes of his Biograph box set compilation album from November 1985: “I wanted to write a big song, some kind of theme song, with short, concise verses that piled up on each other in a hypnotic way. This is definitely a song with a purpose. I knew exactly what I wanted to say and who I wanted to say it to.” Sadly, the song has taken on new relevance in present-day America, especially over the past couple of years.

Next up: Donovan and Sunshine Superman, one of my longtime favorite ’60s tunes. The song is the title track of Donovan’s third album released in August 1966 in the U.S. It did not come out in the U.K. due a contractual dispute between British label Pye Records and U.S. label Epic Records. This also impacted the release of Donovan’s fourth album Mellow Yellow, which like Sunshine Superman appeared in the U.S. only. After the labels had worked out their issue, Pye Records released a compilation from both records in the U.K. in June 1967 under the title of Sunshine Superman.

Jumping to the ’70s, here’s Fire And Rain by James Taylor. Apart from his cover of the Carole King tune You’ve Got A Friend, the opener of his second album Sweet Baby James from February 1970 is my favorite Taylor song. It became his first big hit in the U.S., peaking at no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. Songfacts quotes Taylor from a 1972 interview with Rolling Stone, during which he explained how the song came about: “The first verse is about my reactions to the death of a friend [Susie Schnerr, “Suzanne”]. The second verse is about my arrival in this country [the U.S.] with a monkey on my back, and there Jesus is an expression of my desperation in trying to get through the time when my body was aching and the time was at hand when I had to do it. And the third verse of that song refers to my recuperation in Austin Riggs [from drug addiction] which lasted about five months.” Wow, certainly a lot of stuff packed in one song!

In November 1970, Cat Stevens (nowadays known as Yusuf/Cat Stevens) released Tea For The Tillerman, his fourth studio album. One of my favorite tunes from that record is Father And Son. According to Songfacts, while Stevens made up the story about a son wanting to join the Russian Revolution and his dad pleading with him to stay home to work on the farm, the lyrics were inspired by Stevens’ lonely childhood and differences of opinion between him and his father about his chosen path to become a professional musician.

I already mentioned Carole King, one of my favorite singer-songwriters of all time – in fact, make that one of my all-time favorite music artists! Sometimes one forgets that before becoming a recording artist and performer, King had a close to 10-year career writing songs for other artists, together her then-husband Gerry Goffin. More than two-dozen of these tunes entered the charts, and various became hits. Examples include Chains (The Cookies, later covered by The Beatles on their debut record), The Loco-Motion (Little Eva), One Fine Day (The Chiffons) and Pleasant Valley Sunday (The Monkees). King composed the music for these tunes, while Goffin wrote the lyrics. Then, in February 1971, Carole King released her second solo album Tapestry. Instead of obvious choices like I Feel The Earth Move, It’s Too Late or You’ve Got A Friend, I’d like to highlight Way Over Yonder. Among others, this gem features James Taylor on acoustic guitar and Curtis Amy who plays the amazing tenor saxophone solo. To me, this is as close to perfection as music can get – emotional, beautiful and timeless!

Joni Mitchell is one of those artists I really should know much better than I currently do. In June 1971, her fourth album Blue appeared, which according to Wikipedia is widely regarded by music critics as one of the greatest records of all time. Here’s This Flight Tonight. If you don’t know Mitchell’s original, yet the melody and the lyrics somehow sound familiar, you’ve probably heard the cover by Scottish hard rock band Nazareth. I certainly have, since they scored a no. 1 hit with it in Germany in 1973. The song also charted in the U.K. (no. 11), U.S. (no. 177) and Canada (no. 27).

More frequent visitors of the blog won’t be surprised about my next choice: Neil Young. Wait a moment, some might think, based on what I wrote in my clever introduction, should he be in the list? After all, he has been affiliated with bands like Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and he continues to perform frequently with Crazy Horse. Well, in addition to these bands, Young has done plenty of solo work, plus Crazy Horse is his backing band. At the core, there’s no doubt to me that Young nicely fits the singer-songwriter definition. Here’s The Needle And The Damage Done, one of Young’s finest songs first recorded for Harvest, his fourth studio album from February 1972. The tune was inspired by the death of Young’s friend and former Crazy Horse bandmate Danny Whitten from heroin addiction. With the U.S. battling a horrific opioid addiction crisis, eerily, the song’s lyrics remain as relevant today as they were more than 45 years ago.

While with the explosion of the singer-songwriter category in the late ’60s and 70s I could  go on featuring artists from that time period, I also would like to least touch on more recent decades. In the ’80s, Suzanne Vega emerged as one of the most popular artists in the category. At the time, I frequently listened to her second album Solitude Standing from April 1987 – yes, it’s the one with Tom’s Diner. While that song represents cinematic-type storytelling at its best and perfectly describes the New York morning rush, I’ve become a bit tired of the tune due to over-exposure. Interestingly though, it wasn’t much of a chart success at the time, unlike Luka, the track I’m featuring here, which became Vega’s biggest hit. The song’s upbeat melody is in marked contrast to the lyrics addressing the horrible subject of child abuse.

When it comes to ’90s singer-songwriters, one name that comes to mind is Alanis Morissette. In June 1995, the Canadian artist released her third studio album Jagged Little Pill, which became her first record that appeared worldwide and catapulted her to international stardom. The album became a chart topper in 13 countries, including Canada, the U.K. and the U.S., and is one of the highest-selling records of all time, exceeding more than 33 million copies worldwide. It won five Grammy Awards including Album of the Year. Here’s the record’s second single Hand In My Pocket, a nice rock tune Morissette co-wrote with Glen Ballard who also produced the album.

The last artist I’d like to highlight in this post is English singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse. During her career, which was tragically cut short in July 2011 when she died from alcohol poisoning at the age of 27, Winehouse only released two albums. Her acclaimed second record Back To Black from October 2007 won Best Pop Vocal Album at the 2007 Grammy Awards. With close to 3.6 million units sold in the U.K. alone, Back To Black became the U.K.’s second best-selling album of the 21st century; worldwide sales exceeded 12 million. Here’s the opener Rehab, which also was released separately as the album’s lead single. The lyrics describe Winehouse’s refusal to attend rehab for alcoholism following her management team’s suggestion. The tune has a nice soul vibe and like many of her other songs has a retro feel.

Sources: Wikipedia, All Music, Songfacts, YouTube