The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Happy Sunday! I always look forward to putting together this weekly recurring feature, which allows me to explore music from different styles and decades without any limits, except keeping it to six tracks I dig. Are you ready to accompany me on another excursion? Hop on and let’s go!

Mose Allison/Crespuscular Air

Today our journey begins in November 1957 with Local Color, the sophomore album by Mose Allison. Shoutout to Bruce from Vinyl Connection whose recent post about the American jazz and blues pianist inspired me to include him in a Sunday Six. According to Wikipedia, Allison has been called “one of the finest songwriters in 20th-century blues.” Let’s just put it this way: Pete Townshend felt Allison’s Young Man Blues was good enough to be featured on The Who’s Live at Leeds album released in February 1970. John Mayall was one of the dozens of artists who recorded Allison’s Parchman Farm for his 1966 debut album with the Blues Breakers, Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton. Allison’s music has also influenced many other artists, such as Jimi Hendrix, J. J. Cale, the Yardbirds, The Rolling Stones and Tom Waits. Here’s Crespuscular Air, a mellow jazz instrumental composed by Allison and included on the above-mentioned Local Color – the same record that featured Parchman Farm.

Steve Earle/Goodbye

Our next stop takes us to February 1995, which saw the release of Steve Earle’s fifth studio album Train a Comin’. I’m still relatively new to Earle but have quickly come to appreciate his music, which over the decades has included country, country rock, rock, blues and folk. Train a Comin’, while not a commercial or chart success, was an important album for Earle who had overcome his drug addiction in the fall of 1994. The bluegrass, acoustic-oriented album was his first in five years and marked a departure from the more rock-oriented predecessor The Hard Way he had recorded with his backing band The Dukes. Goodbye, penned by Earle, is one of nine original tunes on Train a Comin’, which also includes four covers.

Boz Scaggs/Georgia

For this next pick, let’s go back to February 1976. While I’ve known the name Boz Scaggs for many years, mainly because of his ’70s hits Lowdown and Lido Shuffle, I’ve yet to explore his music catalog. Scaggs started his career in 1959 in high school as vocalist in Steve Miller’s first band The Marksmen. The two musicians continued to play together in a few other groups, including Steve Miller Band. After staying with the group for the first two albums, Scaggs secured a recording deal for himself and focused on his solo career. Georgia, a smooth groovy song written by Scaggs, is included on his seventh solo album Silk Degrees, which is best known for the aforementioned Lowdown and Lido Shuffle. Now 78 years, Scaggs still appears to be active and has released 19 solo albums to date.

Clarence Clemons & Jackson Browne/You’re a Friend of Mine

Are you ready for some ’80s music? Yes, You’re a Friend of Mine definitely can’t deny the period during which it was recorded, but it’s such an upbeat song – I love it! It brought together dynamite saxophone player Clarence Clemons and legendary singer-songwriter Jackson Browne. Co-written by Narada Michael Walden and Jeffrey Cohen, the tune was released in October 1985 as the lead single of Clemons’ solo debut album Hero, which came out in November of the same year. By that time Clemons had best been known as the saxophonist of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, which “The Big Man” had joined in the early ’70s. Sadly, Clemons who also appeared in several movies and on TV died of complications from a stroke in June 2011 at the age of 69. Man, what an amazing sax player. He could also sing!

The Jimi Hendrix Experience/Voodoo Child (Slight Return)

All right, time to jump back to the ’60s and some psychedelic rock by an artist who I trust needs no introduction: Jimi Hendrix. Voodoo Child (Slight Return), written by Hendrix, was included on Electric Ladyland, the third and final album by The Jimi Hendrix Experience released in October 1968. The tune also appeared separately as a single, first in the U.S. at the time of the album and subsequently in the UK in October 1970, one month after Hendrix had passed away in London at the age of 27. Prominent American guitarist Joe Satriani has called Voodoo Child “the greatest piece of electric guitar work ever recorded.” Regardless of whether one agrees with the bold statement, it’s a hell of a song. Stevie Ray Vaughan, one of my favorite electric blues guitarists, included an excellent cover on his 1983 sophomore album Couldn’t Stand the Weather.

Shemekia Copeland/It’s 2 A.M.

Time to wrap up another Sunday Six with a real goodie. Since I recently witnessed part of a live gig of Shemekia Copeland and reviewed her new album Done Come Too Far, this great blues vocalist has been on my mind. Shemekia, the daughter of Texas blues guitarist Johnny Copeland, started to sing as a child and by the time she was 16 knew she wanted to pursue a music career. After high school graduation in 1997, Copeland signed with Chicago-based independent blues label Alligator Records and recorded her debut album Turn the Heat Up! It’s 2 A.M., written by Rick Vito, is the excellent opener of her sophomore album Wicked that came out in September 2000. I could totally picture The Rolling Stones play this song. Check it out!

And, of course, I won’t leave you without a Spotify playlist featuring the above songs.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Musings of the Past

What I’ve Been Listening to: Dire Straits/Making Movies

Featuring Dire Straits in my most recent Sunday Six installment reminded me of Making Movies, which next to their eponymous debut is my favorite album by the British rock band. I also recalled a dedicated post from December 2017 and thought it would be worthy to republish. Here is a slightly edited version that features an added Spotify link.

What I’ve Been Listening To: Dire Straits/Making Movies

Dire Straits’ third studio album is crown jewel of their catalog

This week’s official announcement that Dire Straits are among the 2018 inductees to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame reminded me of their great music. While the British rock band is best remembered for their 1985 masterpiece  Brothers In Arms, I’ve always been more drawn to their earlier work.

I think Dire Straits’ eponymous first studio album was a great debut. The standout Sultans Of Swing remains one of my all-time favorite guitar-driven rock songs to this day. Communiqué was a fine sophomore release that largely mirrored the sound of its predecessor, for which the band was criticized. And then in October 1980 came what in my opinion is one of their best records:  Making Movies.

The album kicks off with Tunnel Of Love. From the beginning, this tune has a very different feel compared to previous Dire Straits songs. Instead of Mark Knopfler’s signature Fender Stratocaster, the tune opens with E Street Band keyboarder Roy Bittan playing a part of Carousel Waltz from Carousel, a 1945 musical by Richard Rodgers (music) and Oscar Hammerstein (book and lyrics). The instrumental then blends into a short piano bridge before Knopfler comes in on guitar, together with the rest of the band.

The sound and Knopfler’s singing are more dynamic throughout the record than on the previous two albums. Clocking in at 8:11 minutes, the tune is the band’s longest to date. Its ups and downs further add to the dynamic. The track ends with a great extended melodic guitar solo that blends into a gentle piano outro. It’s just beautifully executed. But enough already with the words, here’s a clip.

Next up is Romeo And Juliet, another highlight on the album. One of the song’s key characteristics is the 1937 National Style “O” resonator guitar Knopfler plays. The same guitar is featured on the front cover of the Brothers In Arms album. Like in the opener, Bittan’s piano adds beautiful texture.

According to Wikipedia, the lyrics were inspired by Knopfler’s failed romance with Holly Vincent who led the American punk pop band Holly and The Italians. Apparently, the song has been covered by a wide range of artists including Indigo Girls and The Killers. Who knew?

Skateaway, the third track on the album, is another musical standout. The song’s chorus includes the lines from which the album’s title is derived: She gets rock n roll a rock n roll station/And a rock n roll dream/She’s making movies on location…The tune’s accompanying video, which featured musician Jayzik Azikiwe (1958-2008) as Rollergirl, became popular on MTV. Rollergirl, don’t worry, DJ, play the movies all night long.

For the last tune I’d like to call out let’s go to Side two (speaking in vinyl terms): Solid Rock. It’s an uptempo rocker with a great groove. I wish the honky tonk style piano one can hear in the beginning would also be prominent in other parts of the song. It’s easy to see why the track became a staple during Dire Straits’ live shows.

Making Movies was recorded at the Power Station in New York between June and August 1980. The album was co-produced by Knopfler and Jimmy Iovine, who had a major impact on the record’s sound. Knopfler reached out to Iovine after he had listened to his production of Because The Night by Patti Smith, a co-write with Bruce Springsteen. Iovine had also worked on Born To Run and Darkness On The Edge Of Town, Springsteen’s third and fourth studio records from 1975 and 1978, respectively. In addition, he brought in Bittan who enriched the sound of the recordings.

At the time of the album’s release, Dire Straits’ members in addition to Mark Knopfler included John Illsley (bass, backing vocals) and Pick Withers (drums, backing vocals). Mark’s younger brother David Knopfler left the band during the recording sessions. His guitar tracks, which had almost been completed, were re-recorded by Mark, and David was not credited on the album. The sessions continued with Sid McGinnis on rhythm guitar. Shortly before the record’s release, Hal Lindes (guitar) and Alan Clark (keyboards) joined Dire Straits as permanent members.

During an interview with Rolling Stone for their 100 Best Albums of the Eighties, which ranks Making Movies at 52, Iovine said, “I think he [Knopfler] wanted to take Dire Straits to that next step, especially in terms of the songs, and to have the album really make sense all together, which I think it does. It’s a really cohesive album. He stunned me, as far as his songwriting talents. The songs on that album are almost classical in nature.”

Commenting on the recording sessions for Making Movies, Bitton told Rolling Stone, “We went in and really took time to capture the emotion and paint the picture…They were not very straightforward songs. The subtleties of emotion that he was trying to capture was something real special — it reminded me of Bruce, you know?”

Making Movies was a success, especially in Europe, where it peaked at no. 4 on the UK Albums Chart and topped the albums charts in Italy and Norway. In the U.S., it climbed to No. 19 on the Billboard 200. Eventually, the album reached platinum certification in the U.S. and double-platinum in the UK.

– End –

The original post, which was published on December 17, 2017, ended here. Nothing more to add except a Spotify link to the album:

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Hope everybody is enjoying their weekend. I’d like to welcome you to another Sunday Six zigzag journey to the beautiful world of music, six tunes at a time. While writing about music typically makes me a happy camper, I always particularly look forward to putting together another installment of this weekly feature. As long as I dig the track, these posts can include any type of music. Not being limited to a particular album or specific theme feels very liberating. Let’s do it!

Clifford Brown and Max Roach/Sandu

Today, I’d like to start our little trip in 1956. Clifford Brown was an American jazz trumpeter and composer, who during only four years of recording left an impressive legacy. Sadly, he passed away in a car accident at the age of 25 en route to Chicago for a gig, along with pianist Richie Powell and Powell’s wife Nancy Powell who was at the wheel when their car went off the road for unknown reasons. Max Roach, a pioneer of bebop, is regarded as one of the most important drummers in history. In 1954, the two musicians formed a quintet and over the next few years recorded a series of albums. One of them was Study In Brown, which included the great Brown composition Sandu. In addition to Brown, Roach and Powell, at the time, the quintet featured Harold Land (tenor saxophone) and George Morrow (double bass). My kind of music for a Sunday morning to get in the mood…

Bruce Springsteen/Bobby Jean

I trust Herr Springsteen doesn’t need an introduction. While I’ve covered The Boss multiple times since I started penning this blog in June 2016, based on a quick search, apparently, this is only the second time I feature Bruuuuuuuuce in The Sunday Six. With so many songs Bruce Springsteen has written over nearly six decades, it’s hard to pick one. I decided to go back to June 1984 and the album that brought the New Jersey rocker on my radar screen: Born in the U.S.A. One of the tunes I’ve always loved and think would have made a good single is Bobby Jean. The story about a guy who wants to visit somebody important to him only to find out the person left is “a good song about youthful friendship”, according to Springsteen, as noted by Songfacts. Apparently, the tune was written as a farewell message to E Street Band guitarist Steven Van Zandt, who during the Born in the U.S.A. recording sessions decided to leave to focus on his solo career. Of course, Little Steven has been back since 1999 and is set to join Bruce and the band for a 2023 international tour. Man, it just feels so good hearing the great Clarence Clemons blowing that saxophone – nobody did it quite like the big man!

Otis Redding/(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay

I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for some sweet soul music. And when it comes to that genre, nowadays, my first preference tends to be Stax – you know, the real good stuff! The Memphis soul label is associated with so many great artists like Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas and Kim Weston. And, of course, Otis Redding, who by the time (Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay was released as a single on January 8, 1968, had become the label’s biggest star. Sadly, he wasn’t able to witness the huge success of the tune, which became his only no. 1 hit on the U.S. mainstream chart Billboard Hot 100. Only three days earlier, Redding had died in a plane crash at the age of 26. The song, co-written by him and Steve Cropper, the guitarist of Stax killer house band Booker T. & the M.G.’s, also became the de facto title track of Redding’s seventh studio album The Dock of the Bay, which he had finished recording two days prior to his untimely death. And, yep, you guessed it correctly, the record also became Redding’s most successful on the Billboard 200. Life can be so unfair!

Dwight Twilley Band/I’m On Fire

Going from Otis Redding to the Dwight Twilley Band does seem to be a leap. Who’s Dwight Twilley anyway? But you see, to borrow from a famous Tom Hanks movie, I’d like to think of The Sunday Six like a box of chocolate: You never know what you’re going to get! BTW, had you asked me about Twilley a couple of weeks ago, I would have drawn a blank. Then Spotify served up I’m On Fire as a listening suggestion. While it perhaps didn’t set me on fire, I quite liked how this catchy tune rocks. If you don’t know it, you should give it try. It turned out I’m On Fire, first released as a single in April 1975, is one of two U.S. top 20 singles Twilley is best known for, according to Wikipedia. The other one is called Girls (1984). I’m On Fire, written by Twilley, was also included on Sincerely, his debut album released as Dwight Twilley Band. The “band” really was a duo and in addition to Twilley (guitar, piano, lead and harmony vocals) only included his music partner Phil Seymour (drums, bass, percussion, lead and harmony vocals). They released a second studio album in 1977. Each subsequently recorded solo albums. Seymour also sang backing vocals on Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers‘ tunes American Girl and Breakdown. Twilley still seems to be around. Sadly, Seymour passed away from lymphoma at age 41 in August 1993.

Sonny Landreth/Congo Square

Time for a stop-over in the ’90s before heading to our final destination. If you’re into guitar-driven blues chances are you’ve heard of Sonny Landreth. If you haven’t, I’d encourage you to check out this slide guitarist from Louisiana, who has been active for nearly 50 years and released close to 20 albums under his name. Given his talent, it’s not surprising he’s played with the likes of John Hiatt, John Mayall, Mark Knopfler, Gov’t Mule and Little Feat. Congo Square, which Landreth wrote together with Roy Melton and David Ranson, is a tasty tune from his fourth studio album South of I-10. Released in February 1995, the record marked the first time Landreth collaborated with Knopfler who played guitar on Congo Square and two other tunes. Cool stuff!

Dirty Honey/The Wire

Let’s go out with a great rocker: Gypsy by Dirty Honey. If you’re a frequent reader of the blog, you may recall me raving about this contemporary rock band from L.A., founded in 2017. I just love their classic rock sound, which reminds me of groups like AerosmithLed Zeppelin and The Black Crowes. To date, they have released a self-titled EP and debut album, as well as a bunch of singles. The Wire, credited to the band, is from their first album that came out in April 2021. It was also released separately as the third single. Dirty Honey aren’t reinventing classic rock, but this is kick ass and I love it – and that’s good enough for me!

This post wouldn’t be complete without an accompanying Spotify playlist. Hope you’ll find something here you dig!

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; Bruce Springsteen website; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

It’s Sunday morning and time again to embark on another eclectic music mini-journey. Somehow it doesn’t feel a week has gone by since the last published installment of The Sunday Six, but the calendar doesn’t lie. This time, my picks include some saxophone-driven jazz, rock, funk and country, touching the 1950s, ’70s, ’80s and 2021. I actually skipped one of my favorite decades, the ’60s, which is a rare occurrence!

Sonny Rollins/St. Thomas

This time, I’d like to start with some saxophone jazz by Sonny Rollins. I first featured the American tenor saxophonist, who is very influential in the jazz world, earlier this year in this Sunday Six installment from March. Over an incredible 70-year-plus career, Rollins has recorded more than 60 albums as a leader and appeared on many additional records as a sideman. He has played with the likes of Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Max Roach and Modern Jazz Quartet. St. Thomas is the lead track off his breakthrough album Saxophone Colossus from 1957. The title of his sixth record became Rollins’ nickname. Credited to Rollins, St. Thomas is based on a nursery song his mother sang to him when he was a child. On the recording, he was joined by Tommy Flanagan (piano), Doug Watkins (bass) and Max Roach (drums). Earlier this month, Rollins turned 91.

Dave Mason/Let It Go, Let It Flow

Dave Mason had been a familiar name to me in connection with Traffic, the English rock band he founded together with Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood in April 1967. Over the course of his 50-year-plus career, Mason also played and recorded with many other artists, such as Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Fleetwood Mac and Leon Russell. Between 1993 and 1995, Mason was a member of Fleetwood Mac and appeared on their 16th studio album Time from October 1995. In addition to that, he launched a solo career in 1970 and has released 15 albums to date. Let It Go, Let It Flow, written by Mason, is from his seventh solo record Let It Flow that appeared in April 1977. This is a catchy tune – I love the singing and the harmony guitar action, as well as the organ (Mike Finnegan) and bass work (Gerald Johnson). Let It Go, Let It Flow also was released separately as a single and reached no. 45 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100.

Cold Chisel/When the War is Over

A recent post by Robert Horvat from Rearview Mirror about Cold Chisel reminded me of When the War is Over, another song by the Australian rock band. Not only do I love this tune, especially the vocals, but it also brings back memories of my years as a bassist in a band when I was in my early ’20s. In addition to originals written by the group’s leader, we also did some covers. And, yes, this included When the War is Over, a track from Cold Chisel’s fourth studio album Circus Animals that came out in March 1982. Written by the band’s drummer and backing vocalist Steve Prestwich, When the War is Over also became the album’s third single in July 1982, climbing to no. 25 on the Australian charts. The song has been covered by various other artists, including Little River Band and Scenic Drive. ‘Who the hell is Scenic Drive?’ you might wonder. Hint: A German band that focused on West Coast-oriented pop rock and existed between 1987 and 1989.

Stevie Wonder/Superstition

After a beautiful rock ballad, it’s time for something more groovy, something funky. Superstition by Stevie Wonder was the first track that came to my mind in this context. One of my all-time favorite tunes by Wonder, Superstition became the lead single of his 15th studio album Talking Book from October 1972. It also yielded his first no. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 since Fingertips – Part 2 from 1963 when he was still known as Little Stevie Wonder. Jeff Beck who participated in the recording sessions for Talking Book came up with the opening drum beat. Wonder improvised the guitar-like riff, playing a Hohner clavinet. They created a rough demo of the tune with the idea that Beck would record the song for his next album. However, by the time Beck did so, Wonder had recorded the tune for Talking Book, and at the insistence of Berry Gordy who saw a hit, it had been released as a single. Apparently, Beck wasn’t happy and made some comments to the press Wonder didn’t appreciate. Eventually, Beck released his version of Superstition on his 1973 eponymous debut album with Beck, Bogert & Appice.

Scott Hirsch/Dreamer

For this next pick, let’s jump to the present and beautiful music from a forthcoming album by producer and singer-songwriter Scott Hirsch. From his Facebook page: You’ve heard the sound of Scott Hirsch. You might not know it, but his audio production has lurked deep in the cut of many admired recordings from the late 1990s to the present. A founding member of Hiss Golden Messenger, he was integral to the band’s formative years in the studio and on the road. His sonic imprint remains on their productions; most recently mixing the forthcoming album Quietly Blowing It. He recorded and mixed a Grammy nominated record by the legendary folk-singer Alice Gerrard and has produced and played on records by William Tyler, Mikael Jorgensen, Orpheo McCord and Daniel Rossen. I’m completely new to Hirsch who released his solo debut Blue Rider Songs in 2016. Dreamer, which features folk and alt. country singer-songwriter Kelly McFarling, is a mellow country-oriented tune from Hirsch’s upcoming third solo album Windless Day scheduled for October 8. He released the tune upfront on August 13.

The Robbin Thompson Band/Brite Eyes

And once again, it’s time to wrap up this latest music zig-zag excursion. Let’s pick up the speed with a great tune by Robbin Thompson. Thompson was a member of Steel Mill, an early Bruce Springsteen band that existed from November 1969 to January 1971 and included three members of the future E Street Band: Vini Lopez, Danny Federici and Steve Van Zandt. Thompson also worked with Timothy B. Schmit, Phil Vassar, Butch Taylor and Carter Beauford. Between 1976 and 2013, he recorded a series of albums that appeared under his and other names. Thompson passed away from cancer in 2015 at the age of 66. Here’s Brite Eyes, a track from Two B’s Please, an album released in 1980 by The Robbin Thompson Band. The seductive rocker also became a single and a minor national hit in the U.S., peaking at no. 66 on the Billboard Hot 100. It’s got a bit of a Jackson Browne flair, while the harmony singing is reminiscent of America. Also, check out that great bassline – what an awesome tune!

Sources: Wikipedia; Scott Hirsch Facebook page; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Welcome to the first installment of Best of What’s New for 2021. Hope everybody had a great and safe transition into the new year. I don’t you how you feel, but I’ve already forgotten 2020 – I wish, but well, not quite. In any case, good riddance and hopefully on to a better year!

I’m kicking off the year with three lesser known bands/artists and something new by a band that had their heyday in the ’70s: Badfinger. Yep, you read that correctly, though there are some caveats. It’s really Joey Molland, the only surviving member from their classic line-up who with a little help from some friends has come out with newly recorded versions of Badfinger tunes. Are you ready? Let’s get to it!

The Dirty Nil/Done with Drugs

Yes, as hard as it’s to believe, there are actually some new music releases dated January 1st, though based on Apple Music, I could only find a handful. One is from The Dirty Nil, a Canadian alternative rock band from Hamilton, Ontario. They were formed in 2006 after their members Luke Bentham (vocals, guitar), Ross Miller (bass) and Kyle Fisher (drums) had started playing together in high school. The band’s debut single Fuckin’ Up Young in 2011 was followed by a series of additional singles and EPs before they released their first full-length studio album High Power in 2016. In 2017, The Dirty Nil won the Canadian Juno Award for Breakthrough Group of the Year. Done with Drugs is from their new album out today cheerfully titled Fuck Art. The song “is actually my commentary on people’s interaction with social media and posting all their resolutions and stuff on the internet, which I just find fascinating…rather than just making life decisions by themselves and being private about it,” Bentham told Apple Music. The band, which combines punk and grunge music with relatively catchy melodies, reminds me a bit of Green Day.

Jarod Clemons and The Late Nights/Ramblewood Parkway

Ramblewood Parkway, a great blues rocker, is the new single by Jarod Clemons and The Late Nights, which was released on December 25. I’ve written before about this New Jersey rock band led by singer-songwriter and guitarist Jarod Clemons, the youngest son of the late Clarence Clemons, the amazing saxophone player of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band. Founded in June 2019, the band also includes Zach Tyler (guitar, backing vocals), Stephen Verdi (keyboards), Alex Fuhring (bass) and John DiNunzio (drums/percussion).

Henry Nowhere/Sad Songs

Henry Nowhere couldn’t have chosen a better stage name, since background information on him is nowhere to be found. Neither his Facebook page nor his Soundcloud include a profile. I’m sorry but I really don’t get it, especially in this day and age! After a bit of detective work, I came across this Billboard story, which provided some clues. Born Henry Moser, he used to be the touring bassist for Day Wave, an Oakland, Calif. indie rock project formed by musician Jackson Phillips in 2015. In September 2018, Nowhere struck out by himself with an EP, Not Going Back. Again, the title appears to have been appropriate, since Nowhere evidently has continued his solo career and released what appears to be his second EP on December 18: Think About Me. Which definitely would be easier with more of an online presence! Anyway, here’s Sad Songs.

Badfinger featuring Sonny Landreth/Suitcase

Joey Molland, the only surviving member from Badfinger’s classic line-up, has been pretty busy lately. Apart from releasing Be True to Yourself in mid October, his first new solo album in 10 years, Molland has teamed up with different guest artists to put out new versions of various Badfinger songs this year, all released under the Badfinger name. The most recent example is a great remake of Suitcase featuring Sonny Landreth on slide guitar, which appeared December 8. Written by Molland, Suitcase originally was included on Badfinger’s fourth studio album Straight Up, which was first released in the U.S. in December 1971. Other previous newly recorded Badfinger tunes include Midnight Caller (with The Legendary Pink Dots – October 26), Come and Get It (with Rick Wakeman – September 29), Day After Day (with Ian Anderson and Terry Reid – July 30) and Baby Blue (with Matthew Sweet – May 28).

Sources: Wikipedia; Facebook; Billboard; Apple Music; YouTube

My Playlist: The Boss

Before getting to The Boss, I’d like to acknowledge the untimely death of Eddie Money who passed away yesterday (Sep. 13) at the age of 70 from complications from heart valve surgery in a Los Angeles hospital, only three weeks after he had revealed his diagnosis of stage 4 esophageal cancer. The first thing that came to my mind when I saw the news was his 1986 studio album Can’t Hold Back. I got it on CD at the time, primarily because of Take Me Home Tonight, a nice pop rock tune I dig to this day. I always liked his vocals. In my view, Money deserves more than a paragraph, so I’m planning to do a post on him in the near future.

Turning to Bruce Springsteen, I feel I never really need a particular reason to write about The Boss. As frequent visitors know, I’ve done so numerous times on these pages since I’ve started the blog in June 2016. It ain’t rocket science and all comes down to this: I just love Springsteen – his music, his lyrics, his down-to-earth personality, his amazing live shows. He’s the total package! I’ve been fortunate to see him twice over the past 30 years or so – undoubtedly, these concerts will stay with me forever. I think at least when it comes to live music, Springsteen truly is in a league of his own. Name another notch present day artist who plays 3 to 4-hour shows with seemingly endless energy – pretty remarkable at any age, but even more so for a guy who is about to turn 70!

Bruce Springsteen

To be clear, while music is both my passion and my therapy that more than once has helped me keep my shit together, I’m a fan, not a fanatic – not even when it comes to my all-time favorite band The Beatles. A phenomenon like Beatlemania actually scares me more than anything else. Had John Lennon or Paul McCartney asked their audience to go out and kill somebody, sadly, I have no doubt some lunatic would have acted on that. Obviously, this didn’t happen. My point here is that out of control fandom isn’t healthy, neither for fans nor music artists. With that being said, I still like to celebrate music artists I dig. But similar to drinking alcohol or driving, let’s do so in a responsible way!

The reason why Springsteen has been on my mind for the past few days is his upcoming 70th birthday on September 23rd. Obviously, countless pieces have been written about The Boss. In fact, Springsteen himself released his acclaimed autobiography Born To Run in September 2016. As such, there is really is no need for yet another write-up about his life! Instead, I’d like to focus on Springsteen’s music with a playlist of songs, which I haven’t featured in the blog before. This means leaving out gems like Born To Run, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out and Bobby Jean, to name a few of my all-time favorite Springsteen tunes. Of course, the good news is The Boss has a mighty catalog to choose from, so let’s get to it in chronological order.

I’d like to kick things off with a track that according to Songfacts was one of the tunes that convinced Columbia Records to sign Springsteen in 1972: Growin’ Up. The lyrics about adolescence were inspired by his own troubles in school and frequent quarrels with his old man during his teenage ages. The track was included on Springsteen’s debut album Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J., which appeared in January 1973. One of the things I learned when researching this post was that David Bowie recorded a version of the song in 1974 during the sessions for his Diamond Dogs studio album, featuring Ronnie Wood on lead guitar. While it’s actually pretty cool, apparently the take wasn’t released until 1990, when it was included as a bonus track on a reissue of Bowie’s Pin Ups album.

Of course, there’s no way I can leave out my favorite Springsteen record from this playlist: Born To Run, a pivotal album for The Boss, who at that time badly needed a commercially viable record. Well, he hit the mark, and the rest is history. In addition to the title track, the album includes other classics like Thunder Road, Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, Jungleland and the tune I’d like to feature here: Backstreets. According to Songfacts, Springsteen told Rolling Stone in 2016 the song is about “Just youth, the beach, the night, friendships, the feeling of being an outcast and kind of living far away from things in this little outpost in New Jersey. It’s also about a place of personal refuge. It wasn’t a specific relationship or anything that brought the song into being.”

The River has become one of my other favorite Springsteen records. I listened intensely to his fifth studio album from October 1980, leading up to my second and most recent Springsteen gig I saw in August 2016 during The River Tour – ironically, only to realize that by the time The Boss hit New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium, the setlist hardly included any tracks from the record. Here’s Ramrod, a great garage rocker! Come on, come on, come on little sugar, Dance with your daddy and we’ll go ramroddin’ tonight…

Another album I can’t skip is the one that brought Springsteen on my radar screen back in Germany in the ’80s: Born In The U.S.A. Obviously, it did the same for millions of other folks around the world. With hits like the title track, Dancing In The Dark and I’m On Fire, it became Springsteen’s most commercially successful release and one of the highest selling records of all time. Here is one of the few tunes I believe were not released as a single: Downbound Train. The Boss first recorded this song as an acoustic demo in May 1982 during the sessions for his Nebraska album, along with several other tracks that ended up on Born In The U.S.A.

For the next selection, I’m jumping to the early ’90s: Lucky Town, Springsteen’s 10th studio album that was released at the end of March 1992, simultaneously with Human Touch. I still remember I bought both on CD at the same time. Here is the opener Better Days, which also became the lead single released 10 days ahead of the album. “With a young son and about to get married (for the last time) I was feelin’ like a happy guy who has his rough days rather than vice versa,” commented Springsteen, according to Songfacts. It’s a fairly simple track with a straightforward chord progression, but I just love the sound.

An important album in Springsteen’s catalog is The Rising from July 2002. Not only did it mark his first record in seven years, it also was the first with the E Street Band since Born In The U.S.A. Hitting the right mood in the aftermath of 9/11, the album debuted at no. 1 on the Billboard 200, selling more than 500,000 copies in just the first week. While not all the tracks dealt directly with the terrorist attacks, here’s one that did: Into The Fire, a dedication to the firefighters who were lost that day: The sky was falling and streaked with blood/I heard you calling me, then you disappeared into the dust/Up the stairs, into the fire/Up the stairs, into the fire/I need your kiss, but love and duty called you someplace higher/Somewhere up the stairs/Into the fire…

In January 2009, Springsteen released his 16th studio album Working On A Dream. “Towards the end of recording Magic [his preceding studio record from September 2007], excited by the return to pop production sounds, I continued writing,” Springsteen stated about the album. “When my friend producer Brendan O’Brien heard the new songs, he said, ‘Let’s keep going.’ Over the course of the next year, that’s just what we did, recording with the E Street Band during the breaks on last year’s tour. I hope ‘Working on a Dream’ has caught the energy of the band fresh off the road from some of the most exciting shows we’ve ever done. All the songs were written quickly, we usually used one of our first few takes, and we all had a blast making this one from beginning to end.” Here’s the official video for the title track.

I’d like to conclude this playlist with Springsteen’s latest record Western Stars, which appeared in June this year. It’s his first album of solo material since Devils & Dust from April 2005. While I don’t dislike the record, I have to admit I’m still getting used to both Springsteen’s singing and the sometimes lush sound – not many edges here. Here’s Tucson Train, the tale of a construction worker who left San Francisco and a difficult relationship to start a new life in Arizona, only for him and his woman to realize they miss each other, so she’s coming there to see him again.

Sources: Wikipedia, Songfacts, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Dire Straits/Making Movies

Dire Straits’ third studio album is crown jewel of their catalog

This week’s official announcement that Dire Straits are among the 2018 inductees to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame reminded me of their great music. While the British rock band is best remembered for their 1985 masterpiece Brothers In Arms, I’ve always been more drawn to their earlier work.

I think Dire Straits eponymous first studio album was a great debut. The standout Sultans Of Swings remains one of my all-time favorite guitar-driven rock songs to this day.  Communiqué was a fine sophomore release that largely mirrored the sound of its predecessor, for which the band was criticized. And then in October 1980 came what in my opinion is their best record: Making Movies. 

Dire Straits_Making Movies_Vinyl Side 1

The album kicks off with Tunnel Of Love. From the beginning, this tune has a very different feel compared to previous Dire Straits songs. Instead of Mark Knopfler’s signature Fender Stratocaster, the tune opens with E Street Band keyboarder Roy Bittan playing a part of Carousel Waltz from Carousel, a 1945 musical by Richard Rodgers (music) and Oscar Hammerstein (book and lyrics). The instrumental then blends into a short piano bridge before Knopfler comes in on guitar, together with the rest of the band.

The sound and Knopfler’s singing are more dynamic throughout the record than on the previous two albums. Clocking in at 8:11 minutes, the tune is the band’s longest to date. Its ups and downs further add to the dynamic. The track ends with a great extended melodic guitar solo that blends into a gentle piano outro. It’s just beautifully executed. But enough already with the words, here’s a clip.

Next up is Romeo And Juliet, another highlight on the album. One of the song’s key characteristics is the 1937 National Style “O” resonator guitar Knopfler plays. The same guitar is featured on the front cover of the Brothers In Arms album. Like in the opener, Bittan’s piano adds beautiful texture.

According to Wikipedia, the lyrics were inspired by Knopfler’s failed romance with Holly Vincent who led the American punk pop band Holly and The Italians. Apparently, the song has been covered by a wide range of artists including Indigo Girls and The Killers. Who knew?

Skateaway, the third track on the album, is another musical standout. The song’s chorus includes the lines from which the album’s title is derived: She gets rock n roll a rock n roll station/And a rock n roll dream/She’s making movies on location…The tune’s accompanying video, which featured musician Jayzik Azikiwe (1958-2008) as Rollergirl, became popular on MTV.

The last tune I’d like to call out is Solid Rock. It’s an uptempo rocker with a great groove. I wish the honky tonk style piano one can hear in the beginning would also be prominent in other parts of the song. It’s easy to see why the track became a staple during Dire Straits’ live shows.

Making Movies was recorded at the Power Station in New York between June and August 1980. The album was co-produced by Knopfler and Jimmy Iovine, who had a major impact on the record’s sound. Knopfler reached out to Iovine after he had listened to his production of Because The Night by Patti Smith, a co-write with Bruce Springsteen. Iovine had also worked on Born To Run and Darkness On The Edge Of Town, Springsteen’s third and fourth studio records from 1975 and 1978, respectively. In addition, he brought in Bittan who enriched the sound of the recordings.

At the time of the album’s release, Dire Straits’ members in addition to Mark Knopfler included John Illsley (bass, backing vocals) and Pick Withers (drums, backing vocals). Mark’s younger brother David Knopfler left the band during the recording sessions. His guitar tracks, which had almost been completed, were re-recorded by Mark, and David was not credited on the album. The sessions continued with Sid McGinnis on rhythm guitar. Shortly before the record’s release, Hal Lindes (guitar) and Alan Clark (keyboards) joined Dire Straits as permanent members.

Dire Straits_On Location Tour Poster

During an interview with Rolling Stone for their 100 Best Albums of the Eighties, which ranks Making Movies at 52, Iovine said, “I think he [Knopfler] wanted to take Dire Straits to that next step, especially in terms of the songs, and to have the album really make sense all together, which I think it does. It’s a really cohesive album. He stunned me, as far as his songwriting talents. The songs on that album are almost classical in nature.”

Commenting on the recording sessions for Making Movies, Bitton told Rolling Stone, “We went in and really took time to capture the emotion and paint the picture…They were not very straightforward songs. The subtleties of emotion that he was trying to capture was something real special — it reminded me of Bruce, you know?”

Making Movies was a success, especially in Europe, where it peaked at no. 4 on the UK Albums Chart and topped the albums charts in Italy and Norway. In the U.S., it climbed to No. 19 on the Billboard 200. Eventually, the album reached platinum certification in the U.S. and double-platinum in the UK.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, YouTube

* The clips in this post were updated and the content was slightly edited on 9/05/22.

In Memoriam of Chuck Berry

When I listened to Johnny B. Goode for the first time, I instantly realized Chuck Berry sounded differently than any other guitarist I had ever heard.

When I saw a push message in my smartphone yesterday about the death of Chuck Berry, I was in disbelief at first. Sure, I knew the man had turned 90 last October, so he wasn’t exactly a teenager any longer. But I also recalled Berry had used that happy occasion to announce his first new record in 38 years slated for release sometime this year. I suspect it will become a big seller, which would be a cruel irony that happened to many other music artists after they passed away.

Chuck Berry’s influence on rock & roll music cannot be overstated. To begin with, there was simply no guitarist at the time who could play the electric guitar “like a ringing bell.” Berry’s style may sound crude at times, but try playing his licks, and you quickly realize it’s much more sophisticated than you might think – I found out myself! Admittedly, I was always much more an acoustic guy, and the electric guitar certainly did not come naturally to me.

In addition to being an innovative guitarist who created his own signature sound, Berry was an incredible showman. Perhaps the move for which he is best remembered is the “duckwalk” he popularized in the 1950’s – a whooping 30 years before another walk made music history: Michael Jackson’s moonwalk in 1983. While the origins of the duckwalk reportedly go back to 1930’s performance by T-Bone Walker, one of Berry’s influences, it was Berry who put the move on the map and who is typically credited as its inventor.

And then there are of course all the iconic classic rock & roll tunes Berry wrote: Maybellene, Roll Over Beethoven, Too Much Monkey Business, School Day, Rock and Roll Music, Sweet Little Sixteen, Johnny B. Goode, Carol, Little Queenie – and the list goes on! Remarkably, none of these amazing songs topped the mainstream U.S. charts. Sweet Little Sixteen came closest, reaching no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1958; it did hit no. 1 on the R&B Best Sellers chart the same year. Berry’s only no. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 was My Ding-a-Ling in 1972. While I read he always stood by the tune, I think it’s fair to say an important reason why the song became so successful was the ill-fated refusal from many radio stations to play it because of its lyrics.

Many of Berry’s tunes were covered by other artists. In fact, the very first single from The Rolling Stones in 1963, Come On, is a Berry tune he had first released in 1961. The Beatles were also big fans of Berry and did excellent covers of Roll Over Beethoven and Rock and Roll Music – in fact, I have to say I prefer the latter to the original version! Yet another great example of a Berry cover is the Yardbirds’ Too Much Monkey Business on their 1964 debut live album Five Live Yardbirds with Eric Clapton on lead guitar – nothing “slowhand” about this absolute killer version!

Reportedly, Berry was not an easy person to deal with offstage. He had certain rules that could not be broken. He always demanded payment in advance of any performance and a specific guitar amplifier. He also insisted on a limousine for his shows, which he would drive himself. Instead of relying on a standing set of touring musicians, he asked concert promoters to hire local backup bands for him. Together with not providing set lists in advance of gigs, it’s not surprising this sometimes impacted the quality of his live shows. But I also read other accounts suggesting Berry was a very kind-hearted man who was simply reluctant to trust people he didn’t know well, since he felt life had betrayed him in the past.

Not surprisingly, when an influential artist like Chuck Berry passes away, social media lights up with present or past sentiments expressed by other great rock guitarists. I’d like to share some of them. For Rolling Stone’s December 2010 feature 100 Greatest Artists, Aerosmith’s Joe Perry wrote, “I heard Chuck Berry Is On Top – and I really freaked out! That feeling of excitement in the pit of my stomach, in the hair in the back of my neck: I got more of it from Chuck Berry than from anybody else.”

For a rock music fan, it’s easy to understand Perry’s reaction. Released in July 1959, Berry’s third studio album included some of his greatest gems, such as Carol, Maybellene, Johnny B. Goode, Little Queenie and Roll Over Beethoven – all on one album and all written by him!

Bruce Springsteen, who set the stage on fire playing Johnny B. Goode with Berry and the E Street Band during a 1995 concert for the opening of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s museum, tweeted, “Chuck Berry was rock’s greatest practitioner, guitarist, and the greatest pure rock ‘n’ roll writer who ever lived.”

Keith Richards wrote on Facebook, “One of my big lights has gone out.” The post was accompanied by a photo showing Richards standing on stage next to Berry with the following caption: “I don’t even know if Chuck realizes what he did. I don’t think he does…It was just such a total thing, a great sound, a great rhythm coming off the needle of all of Chuck’s records. It’s when I knew what I wanted to do.” More specifically, that moment came for Richards when as a teenager he saw Berry perform Sweet Little Sixteen at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival, which was captured in the film documentary Jazz on a Summer’s Day, as he told Rolling Stone.

Perhaps the most beautiful take came from the E Street Band’s Little Steven on the Facebook page of his excellent radio show Little Steven’s Underground Garage: 

“Chuck Berry.

Chuck Berry was the King of Rock and Roll. Period. Richard brought the Passion, Elvis the Heartbreak, Bo the Beat, Jerry Lee the Abandon, Buddy let the Everyman in, Chuck brought the Storytelling. The words that Bob Dylan would evolve into an Artform. He led the teenage takeover of Pop Music that the Beatles and Stones would complete. He invented Rock guitar and made it look like fun. He gave the previously ignored age group between adolescence and adulthood an identity, a mythology, a chance to see themselves. He gave them Respect. And those teenagers would return that respect to Rock and Roll for the next 60 years and counting.

– Little Steven, March 18 2017”

I have nothing to add, except offering a clip of Berry’s amazing performance of Too Much Monkey Business, which features a very cool solo by Keith Richards, of course played Chuck Berry style! It’s taken from Taylor Hackford’s 1987 music documentary Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll, shot to celebrate Berry’s 60’s birthday. In addition to Richards, other artists performing with Berry included Linda Ronstadt, Eric Clapton, Robert Cray, Etta James, Johnnie Johnson, Steve Jordan, Bobby Keys, Julian Lennon and Joey Spampinato.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube