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