A Music Cover I Like

A “Turntable Talk” Contribution

This is another contribution for “Turntable Talk“, a feature hosted by fellow blogger Dave at A Sound Day.

When Dave recently reached out to introduce the new topic for this round of “Turntable Talk,” I didn’t hesitate one minute to participate again. Thanks, Dave, for having me back and your continued efforts to host this fun series!

When it comes to music, I think it’s fair to say we generally like to focus most of our attention on original tracks. That’s certainly the case for me. I always like to explore new songs, especially if they are written by an artist or a band I dig. But a good cover can also get my attention.

What’s a good cover? I think there’s no standard definition here. However, what it doesn’t mean, at least in my opinion, is that a cover has to be a faithful rendition of the original. In fact, one could argue what’s the point of covering a song when it exactly sounds like the original. As such, I tend to find it more intriguing when an artist or a band take some liberties and put their own spin on a song. In this case I prefer to use the term remake rather than cover.

There are some excellent remakes. My all-time favorite is Joe Cocker’s version of With a Little Help From My Friends. Two other terrific remakes that come to mind are Love Hurts by Nazareth and Proud Mary by Ike & Tina Turner. Not only did Cocker, Nazareth and Ike & Tina Turner make the respective songs their own, but they took them to the next level. I like all three renditions better than the originals!

In some cases, the original tunes are so great that tampering doesn’t make much sense. Two good examples I thought of are the covers of If I Needed Someone and Hard to Handle by Roger McGuinn and The Black Crows, respectively.

Yet another rendition I think is absolutely killer is Elton John’s version of The Who’s Pinball Wizard. To me, this falls somewhere in-between a straight cover and a remake. In any case, John did what I always wished The Who would have done – make this fantastic song longer instead of fading it out in a seemingly arbitrary fashion.

Finally, this brings me to my “bold cover” I’d like to select for this post. I deliberately wanted to go with a tune that looked like an unlikely pick by any of the other participants. In fact, it’s not even a remake of a rock tune but a jazz standard: Al Jarreau’s amazing rendition of Dave Brubeck classic Take Five.

In case it’s been a while since you’ve heard it last or if you haven’t listened to it at all, here’s the original. Composed by saxophonist Paul Desmond, the track was first released by the Dave Brubeck Quartet in December 1959 on their album Time Out. This was one of the first jazz tunes I ever heard many moons ago. Even though I wasn’t into jazz at the time, I’ve always loved it!

And here’s where Al Jarreau took the tune on his December 1977 live album Look to the Rainbow: Live In Europe. When I heard his rendition for the first time, I was blown away. How Jarreau used his voice here as an instrument is just super cool. In fact, this type of rendition is called scat singing, which per Wikipedia is “vocal improvisation with wordless vocables, nonsense syllables or without words at all.”

Songfacts notes Take Five is one of the rare jazz tunes that became a hit. In the U.S., it peaked at no. 25 on the pop chart in October 1961. Elsewhere it did even better, especially in the UK (no. 6), Australia (no. 7), New Zealand (no. 8) and The Netherlands (no. 8). Take Five has also been used in movies, including Mighty Aphrodite (1995), Pleasantville (1998) and Constantine (2005). And it’s one of the most compelling remakes.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; Wikipedia

Musings of the Past

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– End –

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

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Elton John’s Honky Château at 50 Remains a Classic

While I know a good number of Elton John songs from throughout his 50-plus-year recording career, I cannot make that claim when it comes to his 30 studio albums. So why pick Honky Château to highlight in a post? Well, to start with, it includes Rocket Man, one of my all-time favorite tunes by John. I’ve also always dug Honky Cat. But the main reason for writing about Honky Château again today is the album’s 50th anniversary, another 1972 classic to hit the big milestone.*

Released on May 19, 1972, and named after Château d’Hérouville, an 18th-century French castle where it was recorded, Elton John’s fifth studio album is a gem that definitely has more to offer than the above-noted tunes. Moreover, it’s a significant album in his recording career. Honky Château became John’s first of seven consecutive no. 1 records in the U.S. on the Billboard 200. It also performed very well elsewhere: No. 2 in the UK, no. 3 in Canada and no. 4 in Australia, to name a few countries where it charted. John truly ruled during the first half of the ’70s!

Honky Château also marked the first record to feature core members of John’s road band: David Johnstone (acoustic and electric guitars, steel guitar, mandolin, backing vocals), Dee Murray (bass) and Nigel Olsson (drums). Murray and Olsson had joined John’s touring band from The Spencer Davis Group. Johnstone, a session musician, had first played with John on predecessor Madman Across the Water from November 1971. He pretty much has been with John ever since. Johnstone, Murray and Olsson became instrumental in shaping Elton John’s sound during the ’70s.

Let’s get to some music, and what better way to start than with the opener  Honky Cat. Like all other songs on the record, the music was composed by John with lyrics from his long-time partner in crime Bernie Taupin. I always liked the tune’s New Orleans vibe. The brass section, which was arranged by producer Gus Dudgeon, featured Jacques Bolognesi  (trombone), Ivan Jullien (trumpet), as well as saxophonists Jean-Louis Chautemps and Alain HatotHonky Cat also appeared separately as the album’s second single in July 1972, backed by Slave.

I Think I’m Going to Kill Myself has some of Honky Cat’s New Orleans vibe as well. According to Songfacts, John said the song about a moody teenager’s suicide thoughts isn’t to be taken too seriously. I’m not sure a tune like this could be released today without causing controversy. Of course, the times they are a-changin’, and you could make the same observation for other ’70s tunes. The tap-dancing routine was performed by “Legs” Larry Smith, the former drummer of the comedy satirical rock group the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. Smith was friends with George Harrison who would include a tribute song about him, His Name Is Legs (Ladies and Gentlemen), on his 1975 studio album Extra Texture (Read All About It).

Closing out Side 1 is the majestic Rocket Man (I Think It’s Going to Be a Long, Long Time), as it’s officially titled. Not surprisingly, the tale about a Mars-bound astronaut’s mixed feelings about leaving his family behind to carry out his mission became the album’s big hit. Separately released as the lead single in April 1972, backed by Susie (Dramas), it rose all the way to no. 2 in the UK and reached no. 6 in the U.S. Rocket Man also was a hit in various other countries, including Canada (no. 8), Germany (no. 18), Ireland (no. 6) and New Zealand (no. 11). It truly is a timeless classic!

Side 2 opens with Salvation. There isn’t much to say about this tune other than it’s the kind of ballad John excelled at in the ’70s, in my view.

Amy is another nice tune on Side 2. The song about young lust has a great groove. It features French jazz violinist and composer Jean-Luc Ponty on electric violin.

The last track I’d like to highlight is Honky Château’s closer Hercules. Initial plans to make Hercules the album’s third single did not materialize. While I haven’t read this anywhere, I’m wondering whether there may have been concerns it could have interfered with Crocodile Rock. One of John’s biggest hits, it was released in October 1972 as the lead single for his next studio album Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player.

Here’s a Spotify link to the entire album.

Honky Château was generally well received by music critics at the time and is regarded as one of Elton John’s best albums. In October 1995, the record was certified Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America  (RIAA), meaning it had reached certified sales of one million units.

In 2003, Honky Château was ranked at no. 357 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, a position that remained nearly unchanged (no. 359) in the 2012 list. Interestingly, the album moved up by more than 100 spots to no. 251 in the list’s most recent revision from September 2020.

* This post was originally published on May 31, 2021. It has been slightly updated.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday Six, a celebration of the diversity of music of the past and the present, six tracks at a time. If you’ve looked at the blog before chances are you know what’s about to unfold. In case this is your inaugural visit welcome, and I hope you’ll be back. The first sentence pretty much sums up the idea behind the weekly feature. So without further ado, let’s get to it.

Gerald Clayton/Peace Invocation (feat. Charles Lloyd)

I’d like to embark on today’s journey with beautiful music by Dutch-born American contemporary jazz pianist Gerald Clayton. From his website: The four-time GRAMMY-nominated pianist/composer formally began his musical journey at the prestigious Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, where he received the 2002 Presidential Scholar of the Arts Award. Continuing his scholarly pursuits, he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Piano Performance at USC’s Thornton School of Music under the instruction of piano icon Billy Childs, after a year of intensive study with NEA Jazz Master Kenny Barron at The Manhattan School of Music. Clayton won second place in the 2006 Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Piano Competition...Inclusive sensibilities have allowed him to perform and record with such distinctive artists as Diana Krall, Roy Hargrove, Dianne Reeves, Ambrose Akinmusire, Dayna Stephens, Kendrick Scott, John Scofield…[the list goes on and on – CMM] Clayton also has enjoyed an extended association since early 2013, touring and recording with saxophone legend Charles LloydThe son of beloved bass player and composer John Clayton, he enjoyed a familial apprenticeship from an early age. Clayton honors the legacy of his father and all his musical ancestors through a commitment to artistic exploration, innovation, and reinvention. This brings me to Bells on Sand, Clayton’s brand new album released on April 1. Peace Invocation, composed by Clayton, features the above-mentioned now-84-year-old sax maestro Charles Lloyd. Check out his amazing tone – feels like he’s caressing you with his saxophone!

Billy Joel/Allentown

Next, let’s go to another piano man and the year 1982. When I think of pop and piano men, the artists who come to mind first are Elton John and Billy Joel. While John recently announced the remaining dates of his Farewell Yellow Brick Road The Final Tour, as reported by Billboard, the piano man from New York apparently has no plans to retire. Instead, he continues to sell out show after show at Madison Square Garden, even though he hasn’t released any new pop music since August 1993 when his 12th studio album River of Dreams came out. I was fortunate to see the man at MSG in the early 2000s, and it was a really great show – in terms of the atmosphere think Bruce Springsteen playing MetLife Stadium in New Jersey! The Nylon Curtain, Joel’s eighth studio release from September 1982, remains among my favorites. Here’s Allentown, his blue-collar anthem about the plight and resilience of steelworkers in the Allentown, Pa. region in the early ’80s following Bethlehem Steel’s decline and eventual closure.

Buddy Guy/Cognac (feat. Jeff Beck, Keith Richards)

Hopefully, I don’t jinx myself with this next pick, but I just couldn’t help it! Undoubtedly, more frequent visitors of the blog have noticed my love of the blues, especially electric guitar blues. One of the artists I keep going back to in this context is the amazing, now 85-year-old Buddy Guy. I’m beyond thrilled I got a ticket to see him on Wednesday night at a midsize theater in New Jersey – a total impulse purchase! It would be my third time. After a near-70-year career, Guy continues to be a force of nature. Here’s Cognac, a track from his most recent studio album The Blues Is Alive and Well, released in June 2018. Co-written by Guy, Richard Fleming and producer Tom Hambridge who also plays drums, the song features Jeff Beck and Keith Richards. It really doesn’t get much better when three guitar legends come together to play some blistering blues while taking sips of liquid gold! You can read more about the album here.

The Rolling Stones/The Last Time

Getting to The Rolling Stones from Keith Richards isn’t a big leap, but there’s more to it than you may realize. Long before Keef got together with Buddy Guy and Jeff Beck to play guitar and sip some cognac, there was a special connection between British blues rock-oriented artists, such as Eric Clapton, Beck and the Stones, and American blues greats like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Buddy Guy. When U.S. musical variety TV series Shindig! invited the Stones in 1965 to perform on the program, Mick Jagger agreed under one condition: They would have to let Muddy Waters on as well. Apparently, the bookers had no clue who that was. “You mean to tell me you don’t know who Muddy Waters is?”, Jagger asked in complete disbelief. Guy likes to tell the story during his shows to this day – and to express his appreciation that British acts like the Stones, Beck and Clapton played a key role to introduce white American audiences to African American blues artists. Here’s one of my favorite early Stones songs. The Last Time, which first appeared in February 1965 as a single in the UK, holds the distinction of being the first original Stones tune released as an A-side. Credited to Jagger/Richards, as would become usual, the tune was also included on the U.S. version of Out of Our Heads, the band’s fourth American studio record from July 1965.

Christopher Cross/Ride Like the Wind

Our next stop takes us to the late ’70s and Christopher Cross. Call me a softie, I’ve always had a thing for the American singer-songwriter whose eponymous debut album from December 1979 is regarded as a key release of the yacht rock genre. Perhaps it helped that one of his best-known songs was titled Sailing and appeared on that record. On a more serious note, I think Cross has written some nice songs. Here’s my favorite, Ride Like the Wind, which together with Sailing and Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do) became his biggest hits. Cross dedicated the catchy tune to Little Feat co-founder and leader Lowell George who had passed away in June 1979. It features Michael McDonald on backing vocals and a pretty good guitar solo played by Cross. Now 70 years old, Cross is still around and to date has released 15 studio albums. Apart from the debut I’ve only listened to his sophomore release Another Page.

Stone Temple Pilots/Plush

And once again we’ve reached the end of our journey. I’ll leave you with some ’90s alternative rock by Stone Temple Pilots. Plush, off their debut album Core, became their first single to top Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart and one of their biggest hits. Frankly, I mostly know the band by name, but that tune seemingly was everywhere when it came out in May 1993 as the album’s second single. The song was co-written by Scott Weiland, Eric Kretz and Robert DeLeo, who at the time were the Pilots’ lead vocalist, drummer and bassist, respectively. Kretz and DeLeo remain with the band’s current lineup, which also includes DeLeo’s older brother and co-founder Dean DeLeo (guitar) and Jeff Gutt (lead vocals). The Pilots’ eighth and most recent album Perdida appeared in February 2020. Excluding the group’s 5-year hiatus between 2003 and 2008, they have been around for some 28 years – pretty impressive! Perhaps I should check ’em out one of these days.

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist with the above songs.

Sources: Wikipedia; Gerald Clayton website; Billboard; YouTube; Spotify

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

Nothing strange and nothing to spit on

After a 62-day streak of publishing one post each day (my initial goal was 50 days, after I had reached 40 posts in a row), I’ve decided that starting from next week, I’m going to reduce the frequency of blogging back to what it used to be, which is about three to four posts a week. While I love writing about my favorite subject music, publishing seven days a week has taken a significant amount of time – time I obviously haven’t been able to spend otherwise.

Along with this reduction in posting frequency, I’m also planning a few other changes. This includes retiring Wednesday’s Hump Day Picker-Upper posts and replacing them with a new weekly feature I’m going to unveil next Wednesday. I’m also considering consolidating some of my current blog categories. The current number of 20 does seem to be a bit excessive. Obviously, any reduction in categories and reindexing of previous posts are more of behind-the-scenes changes.

Since this is a music blog, of course, this post wouldn’t be complete with at least one song. Perhaps not surprisingly, the first tune that came to mind in the current context is one of my favorite songs by David Bowie: Changes.

Written by Bowie, Changes first appeared on the British artist’s fourth studio album Hunky Dory from December 1971. The song was also released separately as the record’s first single in January 1972.

To my surprise, Changes didn’t chart in the UK at the time it came out. In the U.S., it initially climbed to no. 66 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1972. It re-entered that chart in 1974 and peaked at no. 41. In the UK, the song resurfaced as well and got to no. 49, but it wasn’t until 2016 following Bowie’s death. Wikipedia doesn’t list any other chart placements – strange!

Here’s some additional background on the great tune from Songfacts: This is a reflective song about defying your critics and stepping out on your own. It also touches on Bowie’s penchant for artistic reinvention. Bowie wrote this when he was going through a lot of personal change. Bowie’s wife, Angela, was pregnant with the couple’s first child, Duncan. Bowie got along very well with his father and was very excited to have a child of his own. This optimism shines through in “Changes.”

According to Bowie, this started out as a parody of a nightclub song – “kind of throwaway” – but people kept chanting for it at concerts and thus it became one of his most popular and enduring songs. Bowie had no idea it was going to become so successful, but the song connected with his young audience who could relate to lyrics like “These children that you spit on as they try to change their worlds, are immune to your consultations, they’re quite aware of what they’re going through.”

Bowie played the sax on this track, and his guitarist, Mick Ronson, arranged the strings. Rick Wakeman, who would later become a member of the prog rock band, Yes, played the piano parts at the beginning and end. Bowie gave Wakeman a lot of freedom, telling him to play the song like it was a piano piece. The piano Wakeman played was the famous 100-year old Bechstein at Trident Studios in London, where the album was recorded; the same piano used by Elton John, The Beatles and Genesis.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

My Playlist: Billy Joel

As previously noted, while I’ve listened to Billy Joel on and off for more than 40 years and occasionally included him or one of his songs in some previous pieces, I had not dedicated a post to him. After more than five years of writing this blog, it’s about time to change that. It was all seeded by this recent post from fellow blogger Graham at Aphoristic Album Reviews. In turn, this led me to include the piano man in that post, which then triggered the idea to do this profile and playlist.

Billy Joel was born William Martin Joel on May 9, 1949 in The Bronx, New York, and grew up on Long Island where he has one of his residences to this day. Ironically, Joel wasn’t into the piano initially and only took it up reluctantly after his mother insisted. To be fair, he was only four years old at the time. During his teenage years, Joel got into boxing but decided to stop after he had suffered a broken nose in his 24th boxing match.

While attending high school, Joel was playing piano at a bar to help support himself, as well as his mother and his sister. His parents had divorced when he was eight years old. When he found himself with an insufficient amount of credits to graduate, he decided to forgo his high school diploma. After he had seen The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show, Joel knew he wasn’t going to Columbia University but to Columbia Records, according to the 2006 biography Billy Joel: The Life and Times of an Angry Young Man, by Hank Bordowitz.

Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden, New York, in 2014

In 1965, Joel joined British Invasion cover band The Echoes and played on some of their recordings. By the time he left the group in 1967, they had gone through a couple of name changes and were called Lost Souls. Joel’s new band, The Hassles, had a deal with United Artists Records, and over the next two years released two albums and a few singles, none of which were commercially successful.

In 1969, Joel and Lost Souls’ drummer Jon Small departed, formed the duo Attila and released an eponymous debut album in July 1970. Things unraveled after Joel had started an affair with Small’s wife Elizabeth Weber Small who eventually became Joel’s first wife in 1973 and manager. Making music and getting into relationships oftentimes don’t mix well!

Joel subsequently signed with Family Productions and launched his solo career with the album Cold Spring Harbor, which appeared in November 1971. It was the first of 12 pop albums Joel released between 1971 and 1993. In September 2001, Joel came out with a classical music album, Fantasies & Delusions, his last to date and I guess by now we can safely assume is his final release of original music.

This shall suffice for background. Let’s get to some music. Following, I’ll highlight six songs that are included in a Spotify playlist, together with some additional tunes. Here’s She’s Got a Way, a sweet love song that most likely is about Joel’s above-mentioned wife Elizabeth.

In October 1974, Joel released his third studio album Streetlife Serenade. In The Entertainer, he gets cynical about the music business and being subject to changing public taste where one day an artist is in only to find themselves out the next day.

After a series of only marginally successful records, Joel scored his breakthrough in September 1977 with the release of his fifth studio album The Stranger. It was the first of four records produced by Phil Ramone who worked with the likes of Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, Elton John, Paul McCartney and Paul Simon. Here’s Only the Good Die Young. Wikipedia notes the song’s lyrics about a young man’s determination to have premarital sex with a Catholic girl stirred controversy. Pressure from religious groups to have the tune banned from radio stations turned a relatively obscure single into a highly demanded tune overnight and a top 30 hit on the Billboard Hot 100.

Joel followed up his breakthrough album The Stranger with 52nd Street in October 1978, his first of four records to reach the top of the Billboard 200. It also earned him two Grammys. Here’s the catchy uptempo song My Life, which became the lead single. Reaching no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, it also was one of Joel’s highest-charting songs at the time.

If you’d ask me to name my favorite Billy Joel album, I’d go with The Nylon Curtain from September 1982. Joel’s eighth studio album isn’t among the four previously mentioned no. 1 records, though it did pretty well, reaching no. 7 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200. The opener Allentown, about the plight of American steelworkers following Bethlehem Steel’s decline and eventual closure, is one of my favorite Joel songs.

The last tune I’d like to highlight is from Joel’s most recent and likely final pop album River of Dreams, released in August 1993. At that time, I was a grad student, on Long Island of all places, and frequently listened to the album’s title track on the radio. I also got the record on CD when it was released. The song became Joel’s biggest hit of the ’80s, reaching no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, his last top 10 single. I’ve always loved the tune’s combination of pop and gospel elements.

Here’s the above-mentioned Spotify playlist, which includes the previously featured songs, as well as additional tunes from each of Joel’s 12 pop albums.

Billy Joel is one of the best-selling music artists of all time, with over 160 million records sold worldwide. During his 22-year pop recording career, he had 33 top 40 hits in the U.S., including three that topped the Billboard Hot 100. Joel was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame (1992), Rock and Rock Hall of Fame (1999) and the Long Island Music Hall of Fame (2006). Frankly, I had no idea the latter existed – always nice to learn something new when putting together posts.

While the above accomplishments are very impressive, what I find most amazing is that the piano man continues to sell out one show after the other as part of his monthly residency at New York’s Madison Square Garden. That’s about 20,000 tickets each time. And all of that despite not having released any new pop music in close to 30 years!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

With highs in the low ’60s and high ’50s yesterday and today, respectively, dare I say it, it does feel a bit like spring. Or perhaps global warming, since having spring in mid-February really sounds way too early? In any case, looks like it’s short-lived: In typical New York-New Jersey-Connecticut tri-state area fashion, tomorrow, the forecast high is 35.

What the heck does any of this have to do with music? Nothing, so why don’t we get to some new releases! All my picks this week appear on albums that came out yesterday. Once again, it’s a mix of artists who are entirely new to me and two names I’ve known for a long time, though I can’t claim deep familiarity with their music either.

Spoon/The Devil & Mr. Jones

Kicking it off today are Spoon, a rock band from Austin, Texas, formed as a trio in 1993. They named themselves after a song by German avant-garde group Can. Only Britt Daniel (lead vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards, percussion) and Jim Eno (drums, percussion, programming) remain as original members in the band’s current line-up, which also includes Alex Fischel (keyboards, guitar, backing vocals), Gerardo Larios (guitar, keyboards, backing vocals) and Ben Trokan (bass, keyboards). Spoon, whose music Apple Music characterizes as being inspired by new wave, power pop and soul-influenced rock, released their debut album Telephono in April 1996. The Devil & Mr. Jones, penned by Daniel and fellow Austin songwriter Andrew Cashen, is a track from Spoon’s 10th and new album Lucifer on the Sofa. Good tune!

alt-j/Bane

alt-j are an English alternative rock band. According to their Apple Music profile, they wear their geeky math side with pride, right down to their name, a reference to the keyboard shortcut for a delta (triangle) sign. But it was their proclivity for the liberal arts that brought them together in 2007 at Leeds University, where lead singer/guitarist Joe Newman, guitarist/bassist Gwil Sainsbury, and drummer Thom Green studied fine art and keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton read English literature. The quartet first started tinkering with minimal equipment in their dorm rooms, but soon after graduation their sound had evolved into multilayered melodies that mixed, mashed, and manipulated elements of indie pop, trip-hop, folk, dubstep, psychedelia, and a capella harmonies. It all came together beautifully on tracks like “Breezeblocks” and “Tessellate” from their 2012 debut album, An Awesome Wave, which garnered them the coveted Mercury Prize. Fast-forward 20 years to The Dream, the latest album by alt-j who since Sainsbury’s departure in 2014 have been a trio. Here’s Bane, credited to all three members. Admittedly, it’s outside my core wheelhouse but there’s something about it!

Eddie Vedder/Try

Eddie Vedder is a name I first and foremost associate with Pearl Jam, the Seattle rock band he co-founded in 1990 and whose lead vocalist and guitarist he remains to this day. In addition to his work with Pearl Jam, Vedder has also released three solo albums starting in 2007 with Into the Wild, which was based on his contributions to the soundtrack of a biographical adventure drama picture of the same name. Vedder’s latest effort, Earthling, is his first solo record in nearly 11 years since Ukulele Songs, a folk-oriented album released in May 2011. Here’s Try featuring Stevie Wonder on harmonica, one of three prominent guests on Earthling. The other two are Elton John and Ringo Starr. Mrs. Mills, the tune with Ringo on drums, is included in the Spotify playlist at the end of the post. Try was co-written by Vedder, former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist and drummer Josh Klinghoffer and Chad Smith, respectively, and producer Andrew Votman, aka Andrew Watt. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard Stevie Wonder play on a rock song, but he proves he’s definitely up to the task!

Slash feat. Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators/The River is Rising

Closing out today’s Best of What’s New is Guns N’ Roses lead guitarist Slash (born Saul Hudson). In addition to the band he’s best known for and joined shortly after they were formed in 1985, Slash has been involved in various other music projects. Primarily, that was the case following his departure from Guns N’ Roses in 1996 until his return in 2016. One of these projects has been billed to Slash featuring Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators. The first album Slash recorded with that backing band was Apocalyptic Love, released in May 2012. The fourth and latest is appropriately titled 4. Here’s the opener The River is Rising, which first had appeared as the lead single in October 2021. Co-written by Hudson and Kennedy, the tune has some of that Guns N’ Roses swagger in it, minus Axl Rose whose voice I find a bit difficult to take after a few songs.

Last but not least here’s the above noted Spotify playlist. Hope there’s something for you.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; YouTube; Spotify

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: February 3

It’s time to take another look at music history. As always, these posts reflect my music taste and, as such, are not meant to be a complete account of events that happened on the select date. With that reminder out of the way, let’s take a look at February 3.

1959: Sadly, the first item here is the tragic and untimely death of early rock & roll star Buddy Holly at age 22. During a short 7-year professional career, the man from Lubbock, Texas recorded such original gems as That’ll Be the Day, Words of Love, Everyday, Not Fade Away and It’s So Easy, as well as great tunes penned by other songwriters like Peggy Sue and Oh, Boy! On January 3, 1959, Holly and his band embarked on the Winter Dance Party tour. Following a gig in Clear Lake, Iowa, they were supposed to travel to their next show in Mason City, Iowa. After Holly’s drummer Carl Bunch had been hospitalized for frostbites in his toes due to icy conditions on the tour bus, Holly decided to look for alternate transportation and chartered a small propeller plane. But the four-seat Beechcraft Bonanza never reached its destination. In the early morning hours of February 3, it crashed into a frozen cornfield close to Mason City, instantly killing Holly and the three other people on board: Fellow rock & roll artists Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson (aka The Big Bopper), as well as the pilot Roger Peterson. In 1971, the tragic event became known as “The Day the Music Died” in American singer-songwriter Don McLean’s tune American Pie.

1967: The Beatles were at Abbey Road’s EMI Studios to add overdubs to A Day in the Life, one of my all-time favorite tunes from the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band studio album. According to The Beatles Bible, the session began at 7:00 pm and finished at 1:15am the following morning. Each of the overdubs replaced previously-recorded parts: Paul McCartney’s and Ringo Starr’s bass and drums parts they had recorded on January 20. McCartney then overdubbed his lead vocals to correct a wrong word sung during the previous session. Starr’s drum part recorded that night became one of his most- admired upon the album’s release in May of the same year. Here’s a neat clip.

1973: Elton John hit no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 with Crocodile Rock. According to Songfacts, John said the retro tune contains flavors of a lot of his favorite early rock songs, including “Little Darlin'”, “At The Hop” and “Oh Carol” as well as songs by The Beach Boys and Eddie Cochran. The title is a play on the Bill Haley song “See You Later Alligator” – Haley’s “Rock Around The Clock” even gets a mention, as that’s what the other kids were listening to while our hero was doing the Crocodile Rock. With music written by John and lyrics penned by Bernie Taupin, Crocodile Rock was John’s first no. 1 hit in the U.S. It also topped the charts in other countries, including Canada, New Zealand and Switzerland, and became a top 5 hit in Australia, the UK and a few other European countries. Crocodile Rock was also included on John’s sixth studio album Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player, which had been released in January that same year.

1979: The Blues Brothers featuring comedians and actors John Belushi (“Joliet” Jake Blues ) and Dan Aykroyd (Elwood Blues) proved they were no joke, topping the Billboard 200 in the U.S. with their debut Briefcase Full of Blues. Capturing a live gig in Los Angeles from September 1979, the album also featured a formidable backing band. Among others, it included guitarist Steve Cropper and bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn, both formerly of Booker T. & the M.G.’s., and blues guitarist Matt “Guitar” Murphy who had worked with the likes of Howlin’ Wolf, Memphis Slim, Buddy Guy and Etta James. Belushi, Aykroyd, Cropper, Dunn and Murphy all would appear the following year in the cult comedy picture The Blues Brothers. Here’s their rendition of the 1967 Sam & Dave classic Soul Man, a tune written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter.

1986: Dire Straits were on top of the UK chart with their fifth studio album Brothers in Arms. The British band’s second-to-last studio release turned out to be their most successful one. It also reached no. 1 in the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand and various other European countries. Additionally, with more than 30 million copies sold globally, Brothers in Arms is one of the world’s best-selling albums. It also holds the distinction of being one of the first albums recorded all digitally (DDD). One could argue its extremely clean sound gave it a bit of a sterile feel. Here’s the beautiful Your Latest Trick penned by Mark Knopfler, the group’s leader and main songwriter. The stunning saxophone part was played by American jazz saxophonist Michael Brecker.

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

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: January 4

Welcome to the first 2022 installment of On This Day in Rock & Roll History. While the approximately 70 different dates I’ve covered since the start of this irregular music history feature in 2016 feel like a lot of ground, the reality is this still leaves close to 300 dates I can pick. Today it’s going to be January 4.

1967: The Doors released their eponymous debut album, which proved to be a smash. Not only would it become the Los Angeles band’s best-selling record, but it also was a huge chart success. In the U.S., it surged to no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also performed well in Europe, reaching no. 3, no. 4 and n0.6 in France, Norway and Austria, respectively, as well as no. 43 in the UK, among others. Some of the album’s highlights include the singles Break on Through (To the Other Side) and Light My Fire, as well as the epic closer The End. Here’s the latter credited to all members of the group: Jim Morrison (vocals), Robbie Krieger (guitar, backing vocals) Ray Manzarek (organ, piano, backing vocals) and John Densmore (drums, percussion, backing vocals).

1972: Roundabout by Yes, the only single from their fourth studio album Fragile came out. Co-written by singer Jon Anderson and guitarist Steve Howe, the tune became the English prog rockers’ most successful U.S. single of the ’70s, reaching no. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100. Notably, it missed the charts in the UK. The album did much better in both countries, climbing to no. 4 and 7, respectively. Below is the 8:30-minute album version of Roundabout, one of my favorite Yes tunes. Since there was no way radio stations would play such a long track, the single edit was shortened to 3:27 minutes.

1975: Elton John stood at no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 with his rendition of Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds. The recording featured backing vocals by his friend John Lennon (under the pseudonym Dr. Winston O’Boogie), who wrote most of the original. Credited to him and Paul McCartney, as usual, Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds first appeared on The Beatles’ studio album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band from May 1967. John took the tune to no. 1 in the U.S., which according to Wikipedia makes it one of only two songs credited to Lennon-McCartney to top the U.S. charts by an artist other than The Beatles. John’s version was also successful elsewhere, hitting no. 1 in Canada, no. 2 in New Zealand and no. 3 in Australia. In the UK, it peaked at no. 10.

1980: American rock band The Romantics released their eponymous debut album. It reached no. 61 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200 – not bad for a first record. Below is What I Like About You, which first appeared as the album’s lead single in December 1979. The garage rock-flavored tune was co-written by band members Wally Palmar (lead vocals, rhythm guitar, harmonica), Mike Skill (lead guitar, backing vocals) and Jimmy Marinos (vocals, drums, percussion). The Romantics remain active to this day, with Palmar and Skill still being part of the current line-up.

1986: Phil Lynott, who had best been known as a founding member, lead vocalist, bassist and principal songwriter of Irish rock band Thin Lizzy, passed away at the age of 36. The cause was pneumonia and heart failure due to blood poisoning (septicemia). Lynott’s final years of his life following the disbanding of Thin Lizzy in 1983 were marked by heavy drug and alcohol dependency. Here’s one of the group’s best tunes written by Lynott: The Boys Are Back in Town, off their sixth album Jailbreak from March 1976. It also became the record’s lead single the following month.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts Music History Calendar; This Day in Music; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

A Sunday morning (at least in my neck of the woods in lovely central New Jersey, U.S.A.) means another Sunday Six is in store. I’m also introducing a new technical feature. Alternatively, you could call it catching up with 21st century technology: Embedded Spotify playlists. Admittedly, I shamefully stole the idea from fellow bloggers like Music Enthusiast, Aphoristic Album Reviews and Eclectic Music Lover, who have been using embedded Spotify playlists forever. With that being said, let’s get to the six random tunes I picked for this installment. Hope you enjoy – and look for the paylist at the end!

Tangerine Dream/Para Guy

I’d like to kick it off with some electronic music, a genre that with a few exceptions like Jean-Michel Jarre and Klaus Schulze I’ve pretty much ignored in the past. That being said, I’ve always liked spacy music. That’s part of the reason Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were and The Dark Side of the Moon are among my all-time favorite albums. This brings me to electronic music pioneers Tangerine Dream, founded by Edgar Froese in 1967 in Berlin, Germany. According to their website, the group’s fifth studio album Phaedra from February 1974 became a milestone in electronic music and one of more than 100 studio albums they have released over the past 50-plus years. Para Guy is a from Tangerine Dream’s most recent EP Probe 6-8 that appeared a few weeks ago on November 26. The track is credited to band leader Thorsten Quaeschning, co-members Hoshiko Yamane and Paul Frick, as well as Froese who passed away in January 2015. Another current member of Tangerine Dream’s current line-up, which has been in place since Froese’s death, is Ulrich Schnauss.

Bob Dylan/Ballad of a Thin Man

If you asked me about my favorite Bob Dylan record, I’d pick Highway 61 Revisited, his sixth studio album from August 1965. Admittedly, the big caveat is my knowledge of Mr. Zimmerman’s catalog continues to have significant gaps. Regardless, I can’t imagine Dylan connoisseurs would argue over an album packed with gems, such as Like a Rolling Stone, Tombstone Blues, Desolation Row and Ballad of a Thin Man. According to Songfacts, While speculation remains rampant as to who “Mr. Jones” is and what exactly this song is supposed to mean, there is no definitive answer at this time. Shockingly, Dylan hasn’t hepled to clarify things. Asked about Mr. Jones at a press conference in 1965, he reportedly said, “I’m not going to tell you his first name. I’d get sued.” When prompted what the man does for a living, Zimmi answered, “He’s a pinboy. He also wears suspenders.” Frankly, I don’t really care much about any deeper meaning here, I just love everything about this tune: Dylan’s cynically sounding voice; the music, especially the keyboard; and the song’s dark feel!

Blind Melon/No Rain

Next let’s turn to the ’90s and a tune I’ve always found cool: No Rain by Blind Melon. The song is from the American rock band’s eponymous debut album that appeared in September 1992. It became their breakthrough single and biggest hit, climbing to no. 20 on the Billboard Hot 100; topping the charts in Canada; reaching no. 8 and no. 15 in Australia and New Zealand, respectively; and charting in various European countries. The tune is credited to all members of the band at the time: Shannon Hoon (lead vocals, acoustic guitar, percussion), Rogers Stevens (lead guitar), Christopher Thorn (rhythm guitar), Brad Smith (bass, backing vocals) and Glen Graham (drums), as well as producer Rick Parashar. Blind Mellon are still around, though they were inactive between 1999 and 2006 and 2008 and 2010. I guess in part this explains their modest catalog, which to date only includes three studio albums, a live record and a few compilations. That said, Blind Mellon have released four singles since 2019. The band’s current members include Stevens, Thorn and Graham, along with Travis Warren (lead vocals, acoustic guitar) and Nathan Towne (bass, backing vocals).

Pete Townshend/Give Blood

While the massive and monotonous drums on Face the Face, the lead single off Pete Townshend’s White City: A Novel, took a few listens before I found them cool, I immediately dug his fourth solo album when it came out in November 1985. I still do and wrote about it here back in February. Give Blood is the album’s excellent opener and also became its second single. Asked about the tune, following is what Townshend said, according to Wikipedia: Give Blood was one of the tracks I didn’t even play on. I brought in Simon Phillips [dums – CMM], Pino Palladino [bass -CMM] and David Gilmour [guitar – CMM] simply because I wanted to see my three favourite musicians of the time playing on something and, in fact, I didn’t have a song for them to work on, and sat down very, very quickly and rifled threw [sic] a box of stuff, said to Dave, “Do one of those kind of ricky-ticky-ricky-ticky things, and I’ll shout ‘Give Blood!’ in the microphone every five minutes and let’s see what happens.” And that’s what happened. Then I constructed the song around what they did.

Boz Scaggs/I’ve Got Your Love

When my streaming music provider served up I’ve Got Your Love by Boz Scaggs the other day, I immediately loved the tune’s soulful feel. Written solely by Scaggs, this song is from Come On Home, a studio album he released in April 1997. Even though Scaggs has put out records since 1965, sadly, the only tunes I can name are his two biggest hits Lowdown and Lido Shuffle, which were both included on his best-selling album Silk Degrees that came out in February 1976. Scaggs, who also played on the first two albums of Steve Miller Band in 1968, apparently remains active to this day. Damn, I’ve Got Your Love is such a great tune – so glad it was brought to me!

Elton John/Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding

For the sixth and final tune of this week’s zig-zag music journey, I picked a real classic off my favorite Elton John album Goodbye Yellow Brick Road from October 1973: Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding. Borrowing from a previous post I did in December 2020, here’s what I said about the album’s magnificent opener: The first part is an instrumental of music John felt he’d like to be played at his funeral – one wonders a bit in what state of mind he was! It’s followed by Love Lies Bleeding, which Songfacts describes as an angry song about a broken relationship. Had it not been fused together with Funeral, something producer Gus Dudgeon had come up with, I would have included Love Lies Bleeding in my previous post about great Elton John rockers. While due to the total length of over just 11 minutes the track initially wasn’t released as a single, it became a fan favorite and staple of John’s live set lists. It’s easy to understand why!

And here it is…drum roll…Christian’s Music Musings is embracing 21st-century technology…my first embedded Spotify list. Take that Apple Music, despite my brilliant computer skills, I couldn’t figure out how to embed playlists using your platform so I won’t, at least not for playlist embeds!

Sources: Wikipedia; Tangerine Dream website; Songfacts; YouTube