If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by The Impressions

All my bags are packed/I’m ready to go/I’m standin’ here outside your door/I hate to wake you up to say goodbye…In case these words sound familiar, they are the opening lines of Leaving On a Jet Plane. While I’ve always loved this 1966 song by John Denver, it’s not my desert island pick for this week, but the lyrics fit well thematically.

Doing this feature alphabetically based on my song library, I’m up to the letter “I”. It turned out there weren’t too many choices: The Isley Brothers; two German acts, Ina Deter Band and Ich + Ich and, nope it’s not an illusion, Imagination. And, of course, the music act I picked: The Impressions. When it comes to this great doo-wop, gospel, soul and R&B group one song has always stood out to me in particular: People Get Ready.

Written by Curtis Mayfield, one of my all-time favorite artists, People Get Ready is the title track of The Impressions’ fourth studio album released in February 1965, the group’s first and only record to top Billboard’s R&B Chart. It also became their biggest success on the mainstream Billboard 200, climbing to no. 23. The beautiful tune also appeared as a single, reaching no. 3 and no. 14 on the U.S. R&B and Billboard Hot 100 charts, respectively.

The gospel-influenced, which reflected a growing sense of social and political awareness in his writing, rightfully has received much recognition. Rolling Stone named it the 24th greatest song of all time in its list of 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. The magazine also ranked it at no. 20 on their list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Tracks. Mojo named it as one of Top 10 Best Songs of All Time. Additionally, People Get Ready is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll, the Grammy Hall of Fame and the National Recording Registry, a list of sound recordings that “are culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant, and/or inform or reflect life in the United States.”

Not surprisingly, the tune has been covered by a broad range of other artists. Some include Bob Marley, Aretha Franklin, The Staple Singers, Bob Dylan, Greg Lake and Jeff Beck who teamed up with Rod Stewart. Following is a Spotify playlist featuring some of the song’s renditions.

Here are some additional tidbits from Songfacts:

The song embodies a deep sense of spirituality and community, but with enough popular appeal to make it a hit. Mayfield based the song’s lyric on various sermons he heard in church. He wrote the music first, and the gospel feel dictated the words.

This song resonated with African Americans during the civil rights struggles of the ’60s. The song speaks for the downtrodden, and Mayfield made it clear that transcended race. “It doesn’t matter what color or faith you have,” he told Goldmine in 1997. “I’m pleased the lyrics can be of value to anybody.”…

After Curtis Mayfield was paralyzed in 1990 (a light rig fell on him, crushing three vertebrae), royalties from this song – especially the Rod Stewart version – helped keep him financially sound, which he credited for helping him fend off depression and remain active as a songwriter and singer despite his condition. Mayfield released the acclaimed album New World Order two years before his death in 1999...

…Train imagery was popular in traditional spirituals, with songs like “The Gospel Train,” “I Got My Ticket,” and “I’m Gwine Home on de Mornin’ Train” looking forward to a joyous passage to the afterlife aboard the heavenly locomotive. In the decades leading up to the US Civil War, “conductors” of the Underground Railroad, a network of safe routes and shelters that helped slaves escape to free states, used these songs as codes to alert slaves throughout their journey.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another installment of The Sunday Six. I always look forward to writing these weekly posts. It feels very liberating to explore the music of the past 60 years or so with no set theme or rules other than I have to like it and keep my picks to six tracks at a time. That being said, frequent readers may have noticed that I’ve kind of settled into a groove on how I tend to structure these posts.

Usually, they kick off on a softer note, given I’m publishing these installments on Sunday mornings, at least in my neck of the woods. I feel these intros present a nice opportunity to feature some jazz and other instrumental music. From there, the posts are pretty much all over the place, jumping back and forth between different decades and featuring different genres. With my methodology behind the madness now having been officially revealed in case you hadn’t already noticed, let’s get to this week’s picks!

Federico Albanese/The Stars We Follow

I’d like to begin today’s journey with beautiful instrumental music by Federico Albanese, an Italian composer, pianist and music producer. He emerged in Spotify after I had looked up the latest composition by English contemporary pianist Neil Cowley I featured in two previous Sunday Six installments, most recently here. From Albanese’s website: Albanese’s compositions are airy and cinematic, blending classical music, pop and psychedelia...When Federico Albanese was just two years old, a local music store owner told his mother that her son had a gift for music...After an early childhood playing piano, the next stop on Albanese’s musical journey was jazz. Inspired by a Woody Allen film, his father gave the young teenager a clarinet, and booked him lessons...Next came the bass guitar, because he wanted to play in a punk rock band. In addition to playing in several rock bands, he and his friends were listening to new age music of the late 90s, from Brian Eno to William BasinskiAll of these musical interests have combined to influence his genre-fusing piano soundscapes, which also incorporate guitar, bass, violin and electronica. This brings me to The Stars We Follow, which is part of a soundtrack released in May 2019 Albanese wrote for a motion picture titled The Twelve. I find this music very relaxing and a nice way to start a Sunday morning.

Chuck Brown and Eva Cassidy/Dark End of the Street

Next, let’s turn to Eva Cassidy, a versatile American vocalist who was known for her interpretations of jazz, blues, folk, gospel, country and pop songs. Sadly, Cassidy’s life was cut short at age 33 when she passed away from melanoma. What a loss and at such a young age – truly heartbreaking! Cassidy gained most of her popularity after her death, especially overseas where three of her postmortem releases – a studio album, a live record and a compilation – topped the Offical Albums Chart in the UK and also reached the top 20 in various other European countries. Cassidy’s cover of Dark End of the Street appeared on The Other Side from January 1992, the only album released during her lifetime. She recorded it together with American guitarist, bandleader and vocalist Chuck Brown who was known as The Godfather of Go-Go. Written by Dan Penn and Chips Moman in 1967, Dark End of the Street was first recorded by R&B and soul singer James Carr that same year. Check out Cassidy’s beautiful rendition – I find it incredible!

The Box Tops/The Letter

After two mellow tracks, it’s time to speed things up. Here’s a great tune that became the first and biggest hit for American blue-eyed soul and rock band The Box Tops: The Letter, which first appeared as a single in May 1967. The tune, written by Wayne Carson, was also included on the group’s first album The Letter/Neon Rainbow. It was quickly put together and released in November of the same year after The Letter had reached no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. The Letter featured 16-year-old Alex Chilton on lead vocals, who after The Box Tops had disbanded in February 1970 became a co-founder of power pop group Big Star. The original line-up of The Box Tops also included Gary Talley (lead guitar, backing vocals), John Evans (keyboards, backing vocals), Bill Cunningham (bass, backing vocals) and Danny Smythe (drums, backing vocals). I’ve always loved The Letter, an excellent rendition of which was also recorded by Joe Cocker in 1970.

The Hooters/All You Zombies

While I was thinking about the ’80s the other day and a tune I could feature in a Sunday Six installment, suddenly, I recalled American rock band The Hooters. They became quite popular in Germany in the mid-’80s. The first song that brought them onto my radar screen was All You Zombies. I vaguely seem to recall rocking out on the dance floor to this great tune during high school parties and festivities as a young college student. The song was co-written by the band’s founding members Eric Brazilian (lead vocals, guitars, mandolin, harmonica, saxophone) and Rob Hyman (lead vocals, keyboards, accordion, melodica) who remain with the still-active group to this day. An initial version of All You Zombies first appeared on The Hooters’ debut album Amore and as a single, both released in 1983, and went unnoticed. I can see why it was the re-recorded and extended version from 1985, which became a hit. That take appeared on the band’s sophomore album Nervous Night from May 1985 and also separately as a single. The tune was most successful in Australia where it climbed to no. 8. It also charted in the top 20 in New Zealand and Germany (no. 16 and no. 17, respectively). In the U.S., it peaked at no. 11 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart and no. 58 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart.

Billy Joel/New York State of Mind

The other day, Graham who pens the great Aphoristic Album Reviews blog did a post titled “10 Worst Billy Joel Lyrics”. Just in case any Billy Joel fans are reading this, Graham digs the piano man, just not necessarily all of his lyrics, and I think he explains it very well. Joel also happens to be one of my longtime favorite singer-songwriters and I’ve yet to dedicate a post to him – I guess a new idea was just born. Perhaps one of the most remarkable things about the artist from Long Island, N.Y. is that while he hasn’t released a new pop album since his 12th studio record River of Dreams from August 1993, he remains as popular as ever. Joel is selling out one show after the other as part of his monthly residency at New York’s Madison Square Garden, a venue that can hold up to 20,000 people for concerts. One of my favorite songs by the piano man, especially musically, is New York State of Mind. The track appeared on Joel’s fourth studio album Turnstiles from May 1976. Surprisingly, this gem wasn’t released as a single at the time. Eventually, it appeared as a single in 2001, off a Tony Bennett album titled Playin’ with My Friends: Bennett Sings the Blues. You can check out Joel’s and Bennett’s jazzy bar tune-like take here – beautiful!

Jerry Lee Lewis/Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On

And once again, it’s time to wrap up, so let’s make it count. Are you ready to groovin’? Ready to movin’? Ready to rockin’? Ready to rollin’? Get shakin’ with one of the best tunes by The Killer. I give you Jerry Lee Lewis, who at age 86 is the last man standing of the classic rock & roll era, and Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On! Written by Dave “Curlee” Williams, the original jazzy version of the tune appeared as Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On by American R&B singer Big Maybelle in 1955. While it’s pretty groovy, Jerry Lee Lewis took the tune to a new level when he released his high-charged rendition as a non-album single in April 1957. Lewis’ propulsive boogie piano was backed by Sun Records session drummer J. M. Van Eaton and rockabilly guitarist Roland E. Janes, literally turning the tune into a killer rendition. “I knew it was a hit when I cut it,” a confident Lewis later proclaimed. “Sam Phillips [Sun Records founder – CMM] thought it was gonna be too risqué, it couldn’t make it. If that’s risqué, well, I’m sorry.” Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On became one of Lewis’ highest-charting hits, climbing to no. 3 in the U.S. on the mainstream Billboard Hot 100, and topping both Billboard’s country and R&B charts. In the UK, the tune reached no. 8. Since it’s so much fun, I give you both the studio version and an incredible extended live take from 1964- and, yes, feel free to shake along!

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist including the above picks!

Sources: Wikipedia; Federico Albanese website; YouTube; Spotify