The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Happy Sunday and welcome to another installment of my weekly time travel into the wonderful world of music. As always, we will visit six tunes from six different decades in different flavors. Let’s fasten our seat belts and off we go!

Ahmad Jamal Trio/Beat Out One

Our first stop is the year 1956 and some groovy piano jazz by the Ahmad Jamal Trio. According to his website, Jamal was born in July 1930 in Pittsburgh, Pa. and already began playing the piano at the age of 3. By the age of 10, Jamal was composing, orchestrating and performing works by Franz Liszt, exploring the music of Duke Ellington, Art Tatum, Nat Cole, Erroll Garner and a host of music notables... At 17, he left home at the request of the George Hudson Orchestra and began touring the country...He formed his own group in 1951 and with the help of John Hammond started his recording career with Okeh Records. This brings me to Count ‘Em 88, an album Jamal recorded with Israel Crosby (bass) and Walter Perkins (drums) in 1956 and released the same year as Ahmad Jamal Trio. Jamal who is still alive at age 92 continued to frequently tour and record well into his ’80s. Let’s listen to his composition Beat Out One, off Count ‘Em 88. And, yes, feel free to snip along!

Pretenders/Brass in Pocket

Let’s move on to 1979 and the eponymous debut album by Pretenders. Interestingly, Nick Lowe produced the English-American rock band’s first single Stop Your Sobbing but felt they were going nowhere, so didn’t continue with them – boy was he wrong! Chris Thomas, who had worked with the likes of The Beatles, Procol Harum, Pink Floyd, Badfinger and Roxy Music before, took over and the rest is history. Pretenders charged out of the gate strongly, with the album topping the UK charts, and climbing to no. 2, no. 2, no. 5, no. 6 and no. 9 in New Zealand, Sweden, Canada, Australia and the U.S., respectively. Brass in Pocket, written by co-founders Chrissie Hynde and James Honeyman-Scott, became the record’s third single in November 1979 and their most successful song overall, including their only no. 1 hit in the UK. While Pretenders have had many line-up changes over the years, they are still going strong, with Hynde and drummer Martin Chambers remaining as original members. Their most recent album Hate for Sale from July 2020, which I reviewed here, sounds mighty.

Quasi/It’s Hard to Turn Me On

If you happened to read my most recent Best of What’s New installment, the name Quasi should ring a bell. Or perhaps you knew this American indie rock band from Portland, Ore. all along. They were founded in 1993 by former husband and wife Sam Coomes (vocals, guitar, keyboards, bass) and Janet Weiss (vocals, drums). This next tune takes us to April 1998 and Quasi’s third studio album Featuring “Birds”. At that time, they were still a duo, at least in the studio, playing all instruments except for one track. Quasi’s music frequently features flavors of the ’60s. After expanding into a trio from 2007 to 2011, they’ve been back to being a duo since Mole City, their second most recent album. Here’s It’s Hard to Turn Me On, penned by Coomes. I just find their retro and at times slightly weird sound pretty charming!

Barbara Blue/The Shoals (feat. Davor Hačić)

Next, we return to the present and the Shoals – that would be Muscle Shoals, Ala, baby! You may have heard of FAME Studios where artists like Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Duane Allman and Gregg Allman recorded. The session musicians who worked at FAME became known as the Muscle Shoals Horns and the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, aka the Swampers – famously referenced in Lynyrd Skynyrd’s classic Sweet Home Alabama. In other words, Muscle Shoals is holy ground in music. As such, when coming across a song titled The Shoals the other day, I paid attention immediately. It turned out to be a track on the new album From the Shoals by Barbara Blue. The Memphis-based blues and soul vocalist, who apparently is known as the “reigning queen of Beale Street,” has been active since 1977. The album, her 13th independent release, came out two weeks ago on January 27. It was recorded at the NuttHouse Recording Studio in Sheffield, Ala., about 3 miles away from FAME. Here’s the great funky and soulful opener The Shoals, co-written by Blue and her Croatian songwriting partner Davor Hačić. Love this! Based on what else I’ve heard thus far, the album sounds sweet as well.

The Smiths/This Charming Man

Time to pay a visit to the ’80s, specifically, October 1983. That’s when English indie rock and jangle pop band The Smiths, who had come together the previous year in Manchester, released their second single This Charming Man. And charming it was indeed. Co-written by guitarist Johnny Marr and vocalist Morrissey, the tune was the band’s first to make the mainstream UK Singles Chart, where it peaked at no. 25. It also became the first of the group’s multiple singles to top the UK Independent Singles Chart. Notably, in 1992, five years after The Smiths had broken up, the single was reissued and got to no. 8 on the UK Singles Chart. While I find the ego clashes between Marr and Morrissey that led to The Smiths’ breakup and subsequent litigation over royalties brought by former members Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce less than charming, I love the tune’s jangly guitar sound.

The Yardbirds/Heart Full of Soul

Our final destination on today’s time travel is June 1965. Did you really think I’d skip the ’60s? No way! On June 4 of that year, The Yardbirds released their single Heart Full of Soul in the UK. Written by Graham Gouldman who in 1972 would become a co-founder of 10cc, Heart Full of Soul was The Yardbirds’ first single after Jeff Beck had replaced Eric Clapton as lead guitarist. The tune appeared three months after For Your Love, which had also been penned by Gouldman. Heart Full of Soul climbed to no. 2 in the UK, a notch higher than For Your Love, which had reached no. 3 there. In the U.S., where Heart Full of Soul was released on July 2, 1965, the picture was reversed. For Your Love reached no. 6, while Heart Full of Soul climbed to no. 9. Notably, The Yardbirds initially recorded Heart Full of Soul with an Indian sitar player but didn’t like the outcome. According to Beck, he couldn’t get the 4/4 time signature right, so Beck ended up emulating the sitar on his guitar, using a fuzz box.

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist of the above tunes. As always, I hope there’s something you dig.

Sources: Wikipedia; Ahmad Jamal website; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to the first Sunday Six of 2022 and once again Happy New Year! Frequent visitors of the blog know what’s about to unfold. In case you’re here for the first time, welcome, and I hope you’ll be back for more. The Sunday Six is a weekly recurring feature celebrating music in different flavors from the past 70 years or so, six tunes at a time I typically present in a zig-zag fashion. Ready to embark on my first music mini-excursion of 2022? Fasten your seatbelt and let’s go!

Regina Spektor/New Year

Since it’s the beginning of 2022, I thought why not kick off this installment with a song titled New Year. It’s a nice ballad by Regina Spektor, a Russian-American singer-songwriter and pianist. Spektor, who was born in 1980 in Moscow, then the Soviet Union, has lived in the U.S. since 1989 when her parents emigrated to New York. After studying classical piano until she was 17, Spektor started to become interested in other music, including hip-hop, rock and punk. She initially gained prominence as part of New York’s so-called anti-folk scene. According to Wikipedia, anti-folk emerged in the 1980s to protest the mainstream music scene with mocking and clever lyrics. In July 2001, Spektor self-released her debut album 11:11, a jazz and blues-influenced record. New Year is a bonus track from her seventh and most recent studio album Remember Us to Life that appeared in September 2016.

Miles Davis Quintet/Airegin

Next, let’s turn to a great jazz standard composed in 1954 by tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins. The tune was first recorded in June that year by the Miles Davis Quintet for a 10″ LP titled Miles Davis with Sonny Rollins. In addition to Davis (trumpet) and Rollins (tenor sax), the musicians included Horace Silver (piano), Percy Heath (bass) and Kenny Clarke (drums). Rollins also made four additional albums with Davis, in addition to 50-plus studio and live records as a bandleader over a 60-year recording career, as well as more than 20 albums as a sideman. The latter included The Rolling Stones’ 1981 studio album Tattoo You.

Bronski Beat/It Ain’t Necessarily So

While I’ve never been a synth-pop fan, I’ve always loved It Ain’t Necessarily So by Bronski Beat. The timing of featuring this tune isn’t coincidental. Sadly, the trio’s co-founder Steve Bronski passed away on December 7, 2021, at the untimely age of 61. Bronski who due to a stroke in 2018 had limited mobility, reportedly died from smoke inhalation due to a fire at his apartment in London, England. In addition to him (keyboards, percussion), Bronski Beat also included Jimmy Somerville (vocals) and Larry Steinbachek (keyboards, percussion). It Ain’t Necessarily So, composed by George Gershwin with lyrics by his brother Ira Gershwin, is from Gershwin’s 1935 opera Porgy and Bess. Bronski Beat recorded the tune for their debut album The Age of Consent released in October 1984. Here’s the official video – such a cool rendition!

The Yardbirds/For Your Love

English blues rock group The Yardbirds are best known for featuring three of the top British guitarists: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. Clapton replaced the band’s first lead guitarist Anthony “Top” Topham in October 1963. When Clapton left in March 1965, he recommended Jimmy Page as his replacement. But Page declined and Jeff Beck took over on lead guitar. Page ended up joining the group on bass in 1966 and switched to lead guitar after Beck’s departure in November that year. The Yardbirds split in 1968 and reformed in 1992, including original members Chris Dreja (rhythm guitar, bass) and Jim McCarty (drums). They are still around with McCarty remaining the sole founding member in the current line-up. For Your Love, first released as a single in the UK in March 1965, became the band’s first hit. It marked a departure from their blues roots to a more commercial sound, which was the key reason for Clapton’s departure. For Your Love was written by Graham Gouldman who subsequently co-founded 10cc. That harpsichord played by organist Brian Auger and the different sections of the song are just cool!

Smash Mouth/Walkin’ on the Sun

Retro group Smash Mouth were formed in San Jose, Calif. in 1994. The initial line-up consisted of Steve Harwell (lead vocals), Greg Camp (guitar), Paul De Lisle (bass) and Kevin Coleman (drums). By the time they recorded their debut album Fush Yu Mang, Michael Klooster had joined on keyboards. Released in July 1997, the album included Walkin’ on the Sun, the band’s debut single. Written by Camp, the tune surged to no. 2 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, hit no. 3 in Canada and reached no. 7 in Australia. It also became a top 20 hit in the UK (no. 19) and charted in various other European countries – smashing!

10cc/Dreadlock Holiday

I’d like to end this first 2022 Best of What’s New installment on a groovy note with Dreadlock Holiday by 10cc. Released in July 1978, this catchy funky tune was the lead single of the English band’s sixth studio album Bloody Tourists that appeared in September of the same year. Co-written by two of the group’s founding members, Eric Stewart and the above-mentioned Graham Gouldman, Dreadlock Holiday was based on real events Stewart and Moody Blues vocalist Justin Hayward had experienced in Barbados, and Gouldman had encountered in Jamaica. The tune was a no. 1 in the UK and also became 10cc’s first no. 1 hit outside the UK, topping the charts in Belgium, The Netherlands and Australia. I recall this song got lots of play on my favorite mainstream pop FM radio station in Germany at the time. 10cc remain active and with Gouldman still have an original member. The current line-up also includes Paul Burgess (drums, percussion, backing vocals) and Rick Fenn (guitar, backing and lead vocals, bass, keyboards) who already were around for Dreadlock Holiday. The group has announced a UK tour starting in March 2022. I love it (Eh!).

Last but not least, here’s a playlist with the above tunes. Hope you enjoy!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

My Playlist: 10cc

The other day, Apple Music served up the eponymous debut album from 10cc as a suggestion, based on my listening habits. It’s actually a bit strange since I don’t recall having listened to similar music recently, as it’s generally not part of my core wheelhouse, at least nowadays. However, the British art pop rockers were on my radar screen for sometime during my teenage years in Germany when you couldn’t listen to the radio there without encountering I’m Not In Love and Dreadlock Holiday.

So I decided to listen to the above album and kind of liked it, even though I’d call tracks like Donna and Rubber Bullets “goof rock.” But they are brilliantly executed and undoubtedly catchy. I think Apple Music’s description perfectly captures this: “Above all else, 10cc valued fun. This band loved motion and color and humor. Even within the complexity of its arrangements and the elasticity of its vocals, the group radiates a giddiness rarely seen in rock music, especially during the cement-footed ’70s.”

After listening to 10cc’s debut album, I started sampling some of their other studio records, as well as a live album/DVD titled Clever Clogs. While doing this, I rediscovered a good number of their tunes and, voila, this triggered the idea to put together a playlist. But first some background on the band, which came into being in Stockport, England in 1972, when four musicians who had written and recorded songs together for a few years started to perform under that name: Graham Gouldman (bass, vocals guitar), Eric Stewart (guitar, keyboards, vocals), Kevin Godley (drums, vocals) and Lol Creme (guitar, keyboards, vocals).

10cc
Left to Right: Kevin Godley, Graham Gouldman, Lol Creme and Eric Stewart

By the time they became 10cc, the four artists had experienced some initial success. Gouldman had established himself as a hit songwriter with tunes like For Your Love, Bus Stop and No Milk Today he had penned for The Yardbirds, The Hollies and Herman’s Hermits, respectively. Godly and Creme had recorded some songs together and secured a contract with Marmalade Records. Stewart had scored two hits as a member of Wayne Fontana And The Mindbenders (later known simply as The Mindbenders) with The Game Of Love and A Groovy Kind Of Love.

In July 1968, Stewart became a partner in a recording studio in Stockport, which in October that year was moved to a bigger space and renamed Strawberry Studios. Gouldman, Godley and Creme also wound up at the studio, and by 1969, the four founding members of 10cc were working there together frequently. They wrote, performed (as session musicians) and produced a serious of singles, which were released under different names through a production partnership Gouldman had established with American bubblegum pop writers and producers Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz of Super K Productions.

Strawberry Studios

After the production partnership had ended, Gouldman worked as a staff songwriter for Super K Productions in New York, while Stewart, Godley and Creme continued outside production work at Strawberry Studios. Following Gouldman’s return to Stockport, they co-produced and played on the Neil Sedaka studio album Solitaire. The record’s success prompted the four musicians to start recording their own material as a band. An initial tune, Waterfall, was rejected by Apple Records, the label that had been founded by The Beatles in 1968. Success came with Donna, which the band presented to producer Jonathan King, who signed them to his label UK Records in July 1972. It was also King who came up with the name 10cc.

Donna was released in September 1972 and climbed all the way to no. 2 on the UK Official Singles Chart. While the follow-up single Johnny Don’t Do It indeed didn’t do it, that is match the success of Donna, the band’s third single Rubber Bullets became their first no. 1 hit in the U.K. and also performed well internationally. 10cc’s eponymous debut album appeared in July 1973. The band has since released 10 additional studio albums, three live records and multiple compilations. Starting with Godley’s and Creme’s departure in 1976, 10cc has had different line-ups and was disbanded from 1983 to 1991 and 1995 to 1999. In 1999, Gouldman revived the band with a new line-up that he continues to lead to the present day. It doesn’t include any of the other three co-founding members. Time to get to the playlist!

I’d like to kick things off with the above mentioned Rubber Bullets from 10cc’s eponymous debut album. Co-written by Godley, Creme and Gouldman, the tune is a satirical take of a prison riot one could picture in an old movie. The music is reminiscent of The Beach BoysSongfacts quotes an excerpt from an interview Godley gave to Uncut: “We were big movie buffs in those days, me and Lol, so it was one of those kind of films… you know, with a prison riot, and there’s always a padre there, and a tough cop with a megaphone. It was caricaturing those movies.” The song created some controversy at the time, since the British Army was using rubber bullets to quell riots in Northern Ireland. As a result, some radio stations refused to play it.

The Wall Street Shuffle, one of the best known 10cc songs, appeared on the band’s sophomore album Sheet Music, which was released in May 1974. Featuring one of the most catchy rock guitar riffs of the ’70s, the tune was co-written by Stewart and Gouldman and became the best-performing of the album’s three singles. The lyrics were inspired by the hefty fall of the British pound against other currencies at the time.

In May 1975, 10cc released I’m Not In Love, the second single from their third studio album The Original Soundtrack, which had come out in March that year. Co-written by Stewart and Gouldman, the ballad became the band’s second no. 1 single in the U.K. and their breakthrough hit worldwide. Among others, it also topped the charts in Canada and Ireland and peaked at no. 2 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. One of the song’s distinct features are the lush backing harmonies, which according to Songfacts encompass some 256 dubs of the band’s vocals. Largely fueled by the tune, the album was a major commercial success for 10cc.

Arts For Arts Sake was the lead single from 10cc’s fourth studio record How Dare You!, released in November 1975, two months prior to the album – the last featuring the band’s original line-up. The song was written by Stewart and Gouldman. According to Songfacts, the title referred to the values of the music business and was inspired by Gouldman’s father who used to say, “Boys, art for art’s sake. Money for God’s sake, okay!”

Following the release of How Dare You!, Godley and Creme left 10cc to form the duo Godley & Creme. Stewart and Gouldman decided to keep the band going and brought in Paul Burgess (drums, percussion). They recorded 10cc’s fifth studio album Deceptive Bends and released The Things We Do For Love as its lead single in December 1976. Co-written by Stewart and Gouldman, the catchy tune became another hit, reaching no. 1 in Canada, No. 2 in Ireland, No. 5 in the U.S. and no. 6 in the U.K.

By the time of their sixth studio album Bloody Tourists from September 1978, 10cc had become a six-piece band. The new members included Rick Fenn (guitar, backing vocals, saxophone, keyboards), Stuart Tosh (drums, percussion, backing vocals) and Duncan Mackay (keyboards, violin, percussion, backing vocals). The album’s lead single was Dreadlock Holiday, another Stewart-Gouldman co-write that appeared in July that year. It became the band’s last major hit, topping the charts in the U.K. and several other countries and pushing the album to no. 3 on the U.K. albums chart. According to Songfacts, the lyrics are inspired by actual events that happened to Stewart and Justin Hayward of The Moody Blues during a vacation in Barbados.

One-Two-Five is from 10cc’s seventh studio album Look Hear?, released in March 1980, and became the record’s lead single. It was co-written by Stewart and Gouldman. The album was significantly less successful than its predecessors, reaching no. 35 in the U.K. and no. 180 in the U.S.

In November 1981, 10cc released their eighth studio album Ten Out Of 10 in the U.K. The U.S. version, which only shared four tracks with the U.K. edition and included six different songs, appeared in 1982. The album didn’t chart in any of the countries. Here’s Don’t Ask, which was penned by Gouldman and the opener of both versions.

…Meanwhile from May 1992 was the band’s 10th studio album and the first following its recess that had started in 1983. It brought together the four co-founding members one last time. It also featured many guest musicians, who among others included David Paich and Jeff Porcaro of Toto, Dr. John and Paul McCartney. Here is Don’t Break The Promises, a Stewart-Gouldman-McCartney co-write. Stewart had a previous working relationship with McCartney and had appeared on the ex-Beatle’s solo albums Tug Of War (1982), Pipes Of Peace (1983) and Press To Play (1986), as well as the soundtrack Give My Regards To Broad Street (1984).

The last song I’d like to call out is from 10cc’s most recent studio album to date, Mirror Mirror, which appeared in June 1995 and was their first not to be released on a major label. Like predecessor …Meanwhile, it failed to chart and led to Stewart’s departure from 10cc and their second disbanding. Here’s Yvonne’s The One, another co-write by Stewart and McCartney, which appeared on the record’s European version. There are also U.S. and Japanese editions.

In 1999, Gouldman put together the current line-up of 10cc, which in addition to him features Fenn (guitar, vocals), Burgess (drums), Mike Stevens (keyboards, vocals) and Iain Hornal (guitar, vocals). As recently as this April, 10cc was touring. Currently, Gouldman is taking a break from the band. Last December, he announced he had accepted an invitation by Ringo Starr to join his All Starr Band for a summer 2018 European tour. Ringo and his All Star Band including Gouldman will also perform 20 dates in the U.S. in September.

Sources: Wikipedia, Apple Music, Songfacts, Graham Gouldman website, Ringo Starr website, YouTube