The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

It’s Sunday morning again, which means yet another week has flown by. But here in the U.S. it also brings us one week closer to the start of daylight savings time and another step toward spring – take this, winter! I’m also really happy how this latest installment of The Sunday Six came out. With smooth saxophone jazz, electric guitar-driven roots rock, pop, soul and some kickass rock, I think it’s another selection illustrating great music comes in many flavors.

Grover Washington Jr./Take Me There

I’d like to kick off the set with some beautiful smooth saxophone playing by Grover Washington Jr. with a tune from his 11th album Winelight released in 1980. When I listened to the record for the first time, which I believe was shortly after it had come out, I feel in love with the music right away. Hard core jazz fans may dismiss it as too pop-oriented. To me as an infrequent listener of jazz, I find it very accessible. More importantly, I really dig Washington Jr.’s smooth tone. Winelight, his highest charting album in the U.S. on the Billboard 200 (no. 5), became best known for Just the Two of Us, featuring the amazing Bill Withers on vocals. Take Me There was written by Washington Jr., who released 24 albums over a nearly 30-year recording career. His 25th and final record Aria appeared in March 2000 after his untimely death in December 1999 from a massive heart attack at age 56. What a loss!

Mark Knopfler/The Fizzy and the Still

Let’s do some more relaxing music. How about some magic Stratocaster played by maestro Mark Knopfler? The Fizzy and the Still is from his fifth solo album Kill to Get Crimson released in September 2007. I’ve always been a fan of Knopfler’s melodic guitar-playing ever since I listened to Dire Straits’ eponymous debut from October 1978. Like on all except one of his solo albums, Knopfler’s backing musicians included multi-instrumentalist Guy Fletcher, who had served as keyboarder in Dire Straits from 1984 until the band’s dissolution in 1995.

Cindy Lauper/Time After Time

Yep, this is an ’80s pop song. I dug Time After Time from the very first moment I heard it on the radio when it came out in 1984. Unlike many other ’80s tunes I also liked back then, this one holds up well to me. Time After Time was co-written by Cindy Lauper and Bob Hyman who is best known to be among the founding members of American rock band The Hooters (there’s another blast from the past!). The tune appeared on Lauper’s October 1983 debut album aptly titled She’s So Unusual. And what a start it was! Fueled by multiple hit singles, which in addition to Time After Time included Girls Just Want to Have Fun, She Bop and All Through the Night, She’s So Unusual became Lauper’s best-selling album. It also topped the charts in Canada, and made the top 10 in the U.S. (no. 4), Austria (no.5), Switzerland (no. 8), Australia (no. 5) and Japan (no. 5). Since then, Lauper has released 10 additional studio albums, various compilations and Broadway cast album Kinky Boots (2013), which was produced by Lauper who also wrote the songs. Now 67, Lauper remains active to this day.

The Rolling Stones/Hitch Hike

Let’s kick up the speed by a notch with a great cover by the The Rolling Stones: Hitch Hike. Originally, this tune was recorded and first released as a single in December 1962 by Marvin Gaye, who also co-wrote it with Clarence Paul and producer William “Mickey” Stevenson. Hitch Hike was also included on Gaye’s second studio album That Stubborn Kinda Fellow from January 1963. The Stones recorded the song for their fourth U.S. and third UK studio album Out of Our Heads released in July and September 1965, respectively. It was one of six tracks that appeared on both versions of the album.

Little Feat/Teenage Nervous Breakdown

The Stones may be the greatest rock & roll band in the world, but that doesn’t mean other groups can’t match them. Here’s the fun Teenage Nervous Breakdown by Little Feat. Penned by the band’s primary original guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Lowell George, the tune is from Little Feat’s sophomore album Sailin’ Shoes that came out in May 1972. Sadly, George died from a heart attack in June 1979 shortly after he had declared Little Feat would disband. The group reformed in 1987 and has since continued with different lineups. Vocalist and keyboarder Bill Payne remains as the only founding member in the current formation. To date, Little Feat have released 12 studio albums, as well as numerous live records and compilations. One of my favorites I feel like revisiting is Waiting for Columbus, which I previously reviewed here. For now, let’s have some fun with Teenage Nervous Breakdown. Tell me this doesn’t rock!

Queen/Tie Your Mother Down

And that we’re on this accelerating rock & roll train, let’s wrap things up with yet another rock gem in my book: Tie Your Mother Down by Queen. But before getting to it, I need to credit Angie Moon from The Diversity of Classic Rock blog, who brought the tune back on my radar screen with her recent post about Queen. Written by guitarist and astrophysicist Brian May CBE, Tie Your Mother Down first appeared on Queen’s fifth studio album A Day at the Races that came out in December 1976. It was also released separately as the album’s second single in March 1977. I just can’t get enough of that main guitar riff – Status Quo simple, to borrow from Angie who also compared it to Rory Gallagher, but so good!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Aw, The ’80s (Part 1: 1980-1984)

A two-part feature looking back at music of the decade

I’ve mentioned my weak spot for ’80s music on a few previous occasions. My taste has since evolved, and I now find myself wondering more often than not how I could have liked certain songs as much as I did back then. Well, obviously, I was a lot younger (though of course, I’m still young at heart!), and that music was all around me. It also triggers memories of school, parties, the first vacations with friends (and without my parents or any adults for that matter), the first hangover…in other words, it really was the soundtrack of growing up – okay, call me a sentimental fool!

This morning, I rode the car with my wife and put on¬†Duran Duran’s Rio album – she loves ’80s, so it was all her fault! ūüôā Anyway, listening to this 1982 record gave me the idea to reflect on music and some related events from that decade. Since it’s a big topic, I figured it would be best to divide my thoughts in two parts. Obviously, it’s still not possible to make this all-inclusive, so I’m going to be arbitrary and selective, focusing on things that are meaningful to me. Here’s part I spanning 1980 to 1984.

Prince_Purple Rain

Some of the first things that come to my mind when thinking about the ’80s are Madonna, Michael Jackson, Prince, the death of disco, new wave, the advent of the CD, hair metal bands and Live Aid. Of course, I could add many other buzz words, e.g., music videos. At the time, we didn’t have cable or satellite television at my house back in Germany, so I missed out on MTV and VH1. In fact, believe or not, it wasn’t until 1993 when I first came to the U.S. that I watched VH1 and kind of got hooked,¬†especially on their Behind The Music documentaries. For some reason, I never warmed to MTV.

1980

Some of the events I’d like to call out are Paul McCartney’s arrest in Tokyo for marijuana possession, which resulted in the cancellation of the remaining Wings tour that year (Jan 16); launch of Pink Floyd’s The Wall tour in Los Angeles (Feb 7); release of Back In Black, AC/DC’s first album with Brian Johnson who had replaced original lead vocalist Bon Scott (Jul 25); death of Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham (Sep 25); and murder of John Lennon who was shot by deranged Mark David Chapman¬†in front of his Manhattan residence after returning from the recording studio with Yoko Ono¬†(Dec 8).

The biggest hit singles of the year were¬†Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2) (Pink Floyd), Woman In Love (Barbara Streisand), (Just Like) Starting Over (John Lennon), Funkytown (Lipps) and Upside Down (Diana Ross). I dug all of these songs at the time. While from today’s perspective my favorite is the Lennon tune, the track I’d like to highlight in a clip is Call Me by Blondie. Co-written by Debbie Harry and producer Giorgio Moroder (remember that guy?), the song was released as a single in February that year and was also included on the soundtrack for the 1980 picture American Gigolo. It became the band’s biggest hit, topping the Billboard Hot 100, as well as the charts in the U.K. and Canada, and scoring in the top 20 in many other countries.

1981

Notable events include the release of Face Value, the first solo album by Phil Collins – like it or not, the Genesis drummer was just everywhere in the ’80s – with Genesis and solo! (Feb 9); first break-up of Yes (Apr 18) only to reunite less than two years later and release their biggest-selling album 90125; U2’s television debut in the U.S. on the NBC late night program The Tomorrow Show (Jun 4); official launch of MTV in New York (Aug 1); Simon & Garfunkel’s free reunion concert in the Big Apple’s¬†Central Park, drawing more than 500,000 visitors – no disputes over crowd attendance here! (Sep 9 ); and Rod Stewart show at Los Angeles Forum, broadcast live via satellite and watched by an estimated 35 million people worldwide – the first such broadcast since Elvis Presley’s 1973 Aloha From Hawaii special.

The top 5 hit singles of the year were Bette Davis Eyes (Kim Carnes), Tainted Love (Soft Cell), In The Air Tonight (Phil Collins), Woman (John Lennon) and Stars On 45 Medley (Stars On 45). Again, to me the Lennon tune holds up the best, though I also still like Bette Davis Eyes¬†and have to admit In The Air Tonight is kind of cool. Even though I feel I’ve been over-exposed to Collins, I admit he’s done some good songs. Here’s a clip of Down Under by Men At Work. Co-written by Colin Hay and Ron Strykert, and released in October, the song was the second single from the band’s debut album Business As Usual that appeared the following month. It was cool then, and I still dig this tune.

1982

Perhaps most notably, the year saw the debut of Madonna with Everybody¬†(Oct 2), the lead single from her first eponymous 1983 studio record, as well as the release of Michael Jackson’s Thriller album (Nov 30), which remains the world’s best-selling record to date. Some of the other events include the death of comedian and Blues Brothers vocalist John Belushi (March 5); premiere of Pink Floyd – The Wall, a film adaptation of the band’s 1979 album with the same title, at the Cannes Film Festival in France; and start of CD mass production by Dutch technology company and disc co-inventor Philips in Langenhagen near Hanover, Germany (Aug 17).

Eye Of The Tiger (Survivor), Down Under (Men At Work), I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll (Joan Jett & The Blackhearts), Come On Eileen (Dexys Midnight Runners) and Ebony And Ivory (Paul McCartney & Michael Jackson) were the biggest hit singles that year. Below is a clip of Come On Eileen, which appeared as a single in June. Co-written by Kevin Rowland, Jim Paterson and Billy Adams, the song was also included on the band’s second studio album Too-Rye-Ay, released the following month. I always found it cool how the catchy tune blended elements of Celtic folk with pop music.

1983

On March 2, CDs started to go on sale in the U.S., following their initial release in Japan the previous October. Some of the year’s other events in music include the debut of Let’s Spend The Night Together in New York, a film documenting the 1981 North American tour of The Rolling Stones (Feb 11); release of U2’s third studio album War, which debuts at no. 1 in the U.K. and features their first international hit single New Year’s Day (Feb 28); release of David Bowie’s commercially most successful studio album Let’s Dance (Apr 14); unveiling of Kiss’s faces without their make-up for the first time on MTV¬†(Sep 18) – yes, I do seem to recall that seeing their actual faces was a pretty big deal at the time!; and Quiet Riot’s Metal Health, the first heavy metal album to top the Billboard 200 (Nov 26).

The biggest hit singles of the year: Karma Chameleon (Culture Club); Billie Jean (Michael Jackson); Flashdance…What A Feeling (Irene Cara); Let’s Dance (David Bowie) and Every Breath You Take (The Police). Did I have all these songs? You betcha – in fact, I still do, mostly somewhere on music cassettes! Here’s Billie Jean, written by the King of Pop himself, and released as the second single from the Thriller album in January 1983.

1984

Some of the happenings in the music world that year: Announcement from BBC Radio 1 DJ Mike Read of this refusal to play Relax by Frankie Goes To Hollywood due to its suggestive lyrics (Jan 11), a ban that was put in place by the entire BBC around the same time – in a clear illustration that something forbidden oftentimes tends to make it more attractive, only 10 days later, the tune stood a no. 1 on the Official Singles Chart in the UK; death of one of the greatest soul artists,¬†Marvin Gaye, who following an argument was killed by his own father with a gun he had given to him as a Christmas present the previous year (Apr 1); release of Prince’s sixth studio album Purple Rain¬†(Jun 25), the soundtrack to the 1984 film of the same name – one of his most successful records and the third-best-selling soundtrack album of all time, exceeding more than 25 million copies sold worldwide; and the first annual MTV Music Awards held in New York, where Madonna raised some eyebrows with a racy performance of Like A Virgin (Sep 14) – Madonna being controversial?

The biggest hit singles of 1984 were Careless Whisper (George Michael), I Just Called To Say I Love You (Stevie Wonder), Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go (Wham!), Girls Just Want To Have Fun (Cyndi Lauper) and Relax (Frankie Goes To Hollywood). Since I was a good boy and never listened to Relax and Like A Virgin, here’s a clip of Borderline, a song¬†from Madonna’s debut record. On a more serious note, the tune that was written by producer Reggie Lucas¬†still is one of my favorite Madonna songs. It became the album’s fifth and last single released in February 1984, peaking at no. 2 in the U.K. and reaching no. 10 in the U.S., less successful than the scandalous Like A Virgin!

Stay tuned for part 2, which will cover the period from 1985 to 1989.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube