Song Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

Happy Wednesday and hope this week has been treating you well. I’d like to welcome you to another installment of my weekly feature, in which I’m taking a closer look at songs I’ve only mentioned in passing or not covered at all to date. Over the weekend, I finally watched Moonage Daydream, the Brett Morgen documentary about David Bowie. While it’s not a traditional music documentary or biopic but a collage of concert and other footage from Bowie’s personal archives, I actually liked the film more than I thought. It also inspired this week’s song pick: Life On Mars?

Written by David Bowie, the tune first appeared on his fourth studio album Hunky Dory released in December 1971. It was the first record with Bowie’s new backing band featuring Mick Ronson (guitar), Trevor Bolder (bass) and Mick Woodmansey (drums), the group that subsequently became The Spiders from Mars. Life On Mars? was also released as a single in the UK, but only in June 1973 at the height of Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust period. It peaked at no. 3 there.

Life On Mars? has a bit of a history, which started in 1968 when Bowie was commissioned to write English lyrics for Comme d’habitude, a song by French music artist Claude François. But Bowie’s lyrics were rejected and it was songwriter Paul Anka who took the tune and turned it into My Way, which was popularized by Frank Sinatra in 1969. Apparently annoyed about the success of My Way, Bowie used the song as a template and wrote Life On Mars?, intended as a parody of Sinatra’s recording.

Wikipedia notes that Life On Mars? has been described as a “soaring, cinematic ballad.” Combining elements of glam rock, cabaret and art rock, the tune has a pretty complex structure with different chord changes throughout. The string arrangement was composed by Ronson. Rick Wakeman, who at the time was still a member of English folk rock group The Strawbs, played the piano. Soon thereafter, he would join Yes. Here’s a live version of the song, captured in Paris in October 1999.

Critics and biographers have called Life On Mars? one of Bowie’s best songs. The tune has been covered by various other music artists, including Barbra Streisand and Nine Inch Nails members Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. After Bowie’s untimely death in January 2016, the song entered the charts in many countries and became a frequent tribute tune for Bowie. Tributes by organist Nicholas Freestone and singer Lorde gained broad popularity.

Following are some additional tidbits from Songfacts:

The lyricism is very abstract, though the basis of this song is about a girl who goes to watch a movie after an argument with her parents. The film ends with the line “Is there life on Mars?”

Bowie has labeled the song “a sensitive young girl’s reaction to the media” and added, “I think she finds herself disappointed with reality… that although she’s living in the doldrums of reality, she’s being told that there’s a far greater life somewhere, and she’s bitterly disappointed that she doesn’t have access to it.”

The lyrics also contain imagery suggesting the futility of man’s existence, a topic Bowie used frequently on his early albums...

…In 2008, Bowie recalled writing this song to the Mail on Sunday: “This song was so easy. Being young was easy. A really beautiful day in the park, sitting on the steps of the bandstand. ‘Sailors bap-bap-bap-bap-baaa-bap.’ An anomic (not a ‘gnomic’) heroine. Middle-class ecstasy. I took a walk to Beckenham High Street to catch a bus to Lewisham to buy shoes and shirts but couldn’t get the riff out of my head. Jumped off two stops into the ride and more or less loped back to the house up on Southend Road. Workspace was a big empty room with a chaise lounge; a bargain-price art nouveau screen (‘William Morris,’ so I told anyone who asked); a huge overflowing freestanding ashtray and a grand piano. Little else. I started working it out on the piano and had the whole lyric and melody finished by late afternoon. Nice. Rick Wakeman [of prog band, Yes] came over a couple of weeks later and embellished the piano part and guitarist Mick Ronson created one of his first and best string parts for this song which now has become something of a fixture in my live shows.”

…Mick Rock, a photographer who shot the covers of Lou Reed’s Transformer album and Queen’s Queen II, directed the song’s official video, which he filmed backstage at Earls Court, London, in 1973. Bowie appears in a turquoise suit and makeup, performing the song against a white backdrop.

Rock ended up producing two more versions of the video, first in the ’80s when he treated it with a bleached look, then in 2016 when the Parlophone label commissioned him to do a new edit. “The new version is my favorite, because there are all kinds of things you can do technically, including playing around with the colors and lots things,” Rock told Songfacts. [The first clip is the 2016 version – CMM]

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

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Time Again for Another Thanksgiving Music Tradition

It’s hard to believe that here in the U.S. Thanksgiving is upon us again. This is also the time of the year when New York classic rock radio station Q104.3 does its annual countdown of the Top 1,043 Classic Rock Songs Of All Time. The following borrows from two related posts I published last year.

The countdown is based on submissions from listeners who each can select 10 songs. All picks are then tabulated to create the big list. The countdown starts at 9:00 am EST the day before Thanksgiving (Wednesday) and stretches all the way to sometime Sunday evening after the holiday. That’s how long it takes to get through all 1,043 songs. Obviously, they are all different tunes, as opposed to the much smaller rotation of songs most radio stations play over and over again.

The only interruption of the countdown happens at noon on Thanksgiving when Q104.3 plays Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant, all 18 and a half minutes of it – just wonderful! Officially titled Alice’s Restaurant Massacree and released in October 1967, Alice’s Restaurant is also the title track of Guthrie’s debut album.

The tune is a largely spoken satirical protest song against the Vietnam War draft. It’s based on a true though exaggerated story that started on Thanksgiving 1965 when Guthrie and his friend Ray Brock were arrested by the local police of Stockbridge, Mass. for illegally dumping trash. Guthrie’s resulting criminal record from the incident later contributed to his rejection by the draft board.

Perhaps not surprisingly given Guthrie’s cinematic story-telling, Alice’s Restaurant also inspired a 1969 comedy film of the same name, starring Guthrie as himself. It was directed by Arthur Penn who among others is known as the director of the 1967 classic biographical crime picture Bonnie and Clyde.

Coming back to the countdown, this year, I didn’t get to submit any picks. After having taken a look at what I did last year, I still stand behind these tunes and shaking up things a little with four artists I had not selected in previous years: California Dreamin’ (Dirty Honey) and Side Street Shakedown (The Wild Feathers), both songs from 2021, as well as I Don’t Understand (The Chesterfield Kings) and Cinderella (The Fuzztones), tunes released in 2003 and 1985, respectively.

Following are the songs I probably would have submitted again this year, if I had had the opportunity. They are in no particular order.

Dirty Honey/California Dreamin’ – Dirty Honey, April 2021

The Wild Feathers/Side Street Shakedown – Alvarado, October 2021

The Black Crowes/Twice As Hard – Shake Your Money Maker, February 1990

AC/DC/It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘N’ Roll) – High Voltage, April 1976

The Beatles/Helter Skelter – The Beatles, November 1968

David Bowie/Suffragette City – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, June 1972

Queen/Tie Your Mother Down – A Day at the Races, December 1976

The Who/The Real Me – Quadrophenia, October 1973

The Chesterfield Kings/I Don’t Understand – The Mindbending Sounds Of…The Chesterfield Kings, August 2003

The Fuzztones/Cinderella – Lysergic Emanations, 1985

I’m sure I’ll be listening on and off to the countdown over the coming days. Will Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven once again come in at no. 1, which it has every year since Q104.3 began their countdown? While I think that’s a foregone conclusion, I still enjoy listening to the countdown. It’s not all rock, but there is lots of great music with no repetition while it lasts!

Here’s a Spotify playlist of the above tunes.

Last but not least, if you celebrate it, Happy Thanksgiving! If you don’t, hope you have a rockin’ and rollin’ great time anyway!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Happy Saturday and welcome to another installment of Best of What’s New. I found a lot on the new music front this week that I like. All featured tracks are on releases that came out yesterday (Sep 16). Here we go!

Cape Francis/Gospel of Broken Arms

Getting us started today is Cape Francis, the moniker of New York-based singer-songwriter Kevin Olken Henthorn. From his website: Kevin Olken Henthorn has spent the past half-decade crafting quiet but intricate bedroom pop, gradually expanding and contracting his sound over the years. After a previous band fell through, he began the Cape Francis project as a way to express his creative energy, forging a creative partnership with producer and engineer Ariel Loh. After his third record, the reverb-drenched, winding Plateaus, Henthorn wanted to strip back, creating songs he could play by himself without requiring a full band. Writing during a lengthy early-pandemic move to Silver Lake with his partner, what started out as a back-to-basics record gradually became quietly ambitious, as Henthorn challenged himself to write more directly. The result is Don’t Let Your Heart Walk Away, his fourth and latest album. Here’s Gospel of Broken Arms.

Death Cab for Cutie/Here to Forever

Death Cab for Cutie are an American indie rock band formed in Bellingham, Wash. in 1997. Originally a solo project by Ben Gibbard (vocals, guitar, piano), Death Cab for Cutie expanded into a full band after he had released a demo, You Can Play These Songs with Chords, which became popular. Gibbard subsequently recruited Chris Walla (guitar), Nick Harmer (bass) and Nathan Good (drums). They signed with Barsuk Records and released their debut album Something About Airplanes in August 1998. Five years later, Death Cab for Cutie received broad recognition in the U.S. for their fifth studio album Plans, which peaked at no. 4 on the Billboard 200 and was nominated for two Grammys. In February 2008, it received Platinum certification, making it the band’s best-selling album to date. This brings me to Here to Forever, a tune from Death Cab’s 10th and new album Asphalt Meadows. The song was co-written by Gibbard and Zac Rae (keyboard, guitar). Harmer and Dave Depper (guitar, keyboards, backing vocals) complete the group’s current lineup. Catchy tune!

The Beths/When You Know You Know

On to New Zealand indie pop rock band The Beths who have been around since 2014. From their Apple Music profile: Fronted by their main songwriter, Elizabeth Stokes, New Zealand indie rock group the Beths combine energized guitar riffs, melodic hooks, and harmonized backing vocals in their impulsive, distinctly self-depreciating music. Having already won fans as a live act, the band released their first album, Future Me Hates Me, in 2018. The Beths’ 2021 live album Auckland, New Zealand, 2020 featured earworms from the debut and follow-up Jump Rope Gazers. Their third long-player, 2022’s anxious Expert in a Dying Field, was completed in a Los Angeles studio during tour. From that album, which is their latest, here’s When You Know You Know. Great tune, which in addition to Strokes (vocals, rhythm guitar) is credited to the band’s three other members Jonathan Pearce (lead guitar, vocals), Benjamin Sinclair (bass, vocals) and Tristan Deck (drums).

The Mars Volta/Backlight Shine

El Paso, Texas progressive rock band The Mars Volta came together in 2001. From their AllMusic bio: Picking up the pieces from At the Drive-In, Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez formed the Mars Volta and wasted little time branching out into elements of hardcore, prog, psychedelic rock, and avant-jazz and funk. As the ever-evolving Mars Volta, they immediately impressed with 2003’s gold-certified Deloused in the Comatorium for Universal. It eschewed conventional logic to push themselves in new artistic directions, while 2005’s Frances the Mute revealed a willingness to use concepts to underscore a provocative musical approach. Fast-forward 17 years to the present and the band’s new eponymous album, their seventh and first in 10 years! Check out Backlight Shine, an intriguing tune written by Rodríguez-López.

Starcrawler/Runaway

Starcrawler are a punk rock band from Los Angeles, founded in 2015. Their current members include Arrow de Wilde (lead vocals), Henri Cash (guitar), Bill Cash (pedal steel guitar, an unexpected instrument for a punk band – CMM), Tim Franco (bass) and Seth Carolina (drums). AllMusic characterizes their sound as “somewhere between the punk/hard rock of fellow L.A. natives the Runaways and the shock tactics of legendary metal band Black Sabbath.” AllMusic also notes “crunchy guitars, melodies that boast a bit of glam-influenced swagger (even when they’re in a minor key), and a heavy rhythmic stomp” to describe the band’s sound. Starcrawler who released their eponymous debut album in January 2018 are now out with their third studio project She Said. Let’s check out Runaway – I would call this punk with a tasty dose of pop!

Ringo Starr/Free Your Soul (feat. Dave Koz and José Antonio Rodriguez)

Wrapping up this week’s new music revue is a man who needs no introduction. Ringo Starr, who in July turned 82, has been on a remarkable roll, having released a full album and three EPs since October 2019, including his latest, aptly called EP3. One of the four tracks is called Free Your Soul. From a July 29 press release: Written by Ringo Starr and Bruce Sugar, the soothing, rhythmic sound of “Free Your Soul” transports the listener to an island beach on a clear warm night under a full moon. With Ringo on vocals, drums and handclaps, the song also features Dave Koz on tenor sax and José Antonio Rodriguez on nylon guitar, Nathan East on bass, Bruce Sugar on keyboards, percussion and horn arrangement, and Billy Valentine, Zelma Davis and Maiya Sykes providing backing vocals. When you’re Ringo Starr, I suppose you don’t have much if any problem finding a little help from some great friends. I can hear some of Sade’s Smooth Operator in this relaxing tune, especially in the beginning – to be clear, it’s meant to be a compliment!

This post wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify playlist of the above and a few additional tracks.

Sources: Wikipedia; Cape Francis website; Apple Music; AllMusic; Ringo Starr website; YouTube; Spotify

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island song by Suzi Quatro

Happy Wednesday with another decision which one tune to take on an imaginary trip to a desert island.

In case you’re new to this weekly recurring feature, the idea is to pick one song by an artist or band I’ve only rarely mentioned or not covered at all on my blog to date. This excludes many popular options like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Pink Floyd, Steely Dan, Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, Neil Young, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Carole King and Bonnie Raitt, to name some of my longtime favorite artists. I’m also doing this exercise in alphabetical order, and I’m up to the letter “q”.

How many bands or artists do you know whose names/last names start with “q”? The ones that came to my mind included Quarterflash, Queen and Quiet Riot. And, of course, my pick, Can the Can by Suzi Quatro. Yes, perhaps it’s not the type of song that would be your first, second or even third pick to take on a desert island, but it’s a great kickass rock tune anyway!

Can the Can, penned by songwriters and producers Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn, was Quatro’s second solo single and her first to chart. And it was a smash, topping the charts in the UK, Germany, Switzerland and Australia. It also climbed to no. 2 in Austria and no. 5 in Ireland. In Quatro’s home country the U.S., the tune fared more moderately, reaching no. 56 on the Billboard Hot 100. American music listeners just weren’t as much into glam rock as audiences in other parts of the world, especially in Europe. Can the Can was also included on Quatro’s eponymous debut album, released in October 1973.

Here’s a bit of additional background on Suzie Quatro from her bio on AllMusic: With her trademark leather jump suit, instantly hooky songs, and big bass guitar, Suzi Quatro is a glam rock icon with a window-rattling voice and rock & roll attitude to spare. After getting her start in garage and hard rock bands, 1973’s breakthrough single “Can the Can,” a stomping blast of glam rock that combined ’50s-style song craft with Quatro’s powerful vocals, made her an international star. She followed up with a string of similar-sounding singles and albums — and made an impression on TV viewers with her role on the hit sitcom Happy Days — before softening her sound and scoring a hit with the 1978 ballad “Stumblin’ In.” While her work in the future would encompass everything from new wave pop on 1983’s Main Attraction to starring in a musical based on the life of Tallulah Bankhead in 1991, Quatro never lost her instincts as a rocker, as evidenced by albums like 2006’s Back to the Drive and 2021’s The Devil in Me.

When I heard Can the Can for the first time in the mid-’70s, it was not by Suzi Quatro but by German vocalist Joy Fleming. While I don’t know much about Fleming except for a 1974 live album titled Joy Fleming Live, I know one thing. She was a hell of a vocalist! Check this out!

Here are a few additional tidbits on Can the Can and Suzie Quatro from Songfacts:

…Quatro is an American who joined Mickie Most’s RAK label roster, becoming part of the glam rock revolution. Most produced her first single, “Rolling Stone,” but it went nowhere, so he asked songwriters Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman to write and produce her next single. The result was “Can The Can.”

When asked what “Can The Can” means, Nicky Chinn replied: “It means something that is pretty impossible, you can’t get one can inside another if they are the same size, so we’re saying you can’t put your man in the can if he is out there and not willing to commit. The phrase sounded good and we didn’t mind if the public didn’t get the meaning of it.”

Suzi Quatro: “I can hear a record for the first time and know whether it will be a hit. And I knew as soon as we had finished recording that we had a big hit on our hands.” (above quotes from 1000 UK #1 Hits by Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh)

This was the first #1 UK hit for a solo female artist since “Those Were The Days” by Mary Hopkin in 1968.

Quatro never hit it big in her native America, although she did have a memorable role on the TV series Happy Days playing Leather Tuscadero. She landed several more UK hits, including the #1 “Devil Gate Drive,” and influenced a generation of female rockers, notably Joan Jett.

Quatro wrote many of her own songs, but they tended to be album cuts, with the Chapman/Chinn team getting the singles. In a Songfacts interview with Quatro, she explained: “I was very boogie-based, very bass-based. And they went away and wrote ‘Can the Can.’ We had the arrangement where I could write the albums, and they would write the three-minute single – although I did have singles out myself, like ‘Mama’s Boy.’ I didn’t learn anything from their songwriting, because I always had my own thing. Whatever I did, I did.”

Suzi Quatro, who turned 72 a few weeks ago, continues to rock on. And tour. Her current schedule is here. Here’s Can the Can captured at London’s Royal Albert Hall in April this year. What a cool lady!

Sources: Wikipedia; Suzi Quatro website; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: January 10

A look on the calendar revealed January 10 was a date I had not covered yet as part of my recurring music history feature that has become a bit more regular over the past few months. Not sure yet whether this is going to remain the case. For now, let’s look at some of the events that happened on January 10 throughout rock history.

1958: Jerry Lee Lewis topped the UK Official Singles chart with Great Balls of Fire, one of his best-known songs. Co-written by Otis Blackwell and Jack Hammer, the rock & roll classic had been recorded on October 8, 1957, at Sun Studio in Memphis, Tenn., and released on November 11 that year. The tune also became a big hit in the U.S. where it topped the Billboard country and R&B charts and peaked at no. 2 on the mainstream Billboard Hot 100. The song was also featured in the American rock & roll picture Jamboree from 1957. “The Killer” remains alive at age 86.

1964: The Rolling Stones released their eponymous debut EP in the UK. It came on the heels of their second single I Wanna Be Your Man in November 1963, a cover of a Beatles tune that had yielded the first top 20 hit for the Stones in the UK. The EP featured four other covers of tunes written by Chuck Berry, Berry Gordy and Janie Bradford, Arthur Alexander and songwriting duo Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. Here’s the Alexander song You Better Move On, which also became the Stones’ fourth single in January 1964. Unlike I Wanna Be Your Man, You Better Move On did not make the British charts, though it charted in Australia at an underwhelming no. 94. I’ve actually always liked this rendition.

1969: George Harrison quit The Beatles while they were at Twickenham Film Studios, where their rehearsals for the Get Back/Let It Be sessions were being captured on camera. If you watched the Peter Jackson documentary The Beatles: Get Back, you could see that George’s frustration about the tensions within the group had been building up. When they broke for lunch, he had had it and told his bandmates, “I think I’ll be leaving, I’m leaving the band now.” Asked by John Lennon, “When?”, Harrison replied, “Now. Get a replacement.” His last words before walking out were, “See you ’round the clubs.” A few days later, he returned after he had received assurances the concert The Beatles had planned would be canceled and that his other wishes would be respected. Fortunately, things turned out to be different with the famous roof concert, though if you watched the above documentary, you saw it was up in the air until the very last minute.

1977: American blues legend Muddy Waters released Hard Again, the first of his final three studio albums that were produced by electric blues guitar virtuoso Johnny Winter. That’s pretty much all the facts you need to have to know this has got to be great. The album, which was recorded live in-studio in just three days, won the Grammy Award for Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk Recording. Here’s The Blues Had a Baby and They Named It Rock and Roll, Pt. 2, co-written by Waters (credited as McKinley Morganfield, his real name) and Brownie McGhee.

2016: David Bowie passed away from liver cancer in New York at the age of 69. He had received his diagnosis 18 months earlier and decided not to make it public. Just two days earlier, his 26th and final studio album Blackstar had been released. The recording had taken place in secret at a studio in New York. Co-producer Tony Visconti called the album Bowie’s “parting gift” for his fans before his death. While I understand many fans like Blackstar, admittedly, it’s not my cup of tea. I much prefer Bowie’s first decade, in particular his glam rock period. Here’s one of my favorites, Suffragette City, off his fifth studio album The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars from June 1972. To quote the instruction on the back cover, “To be played at maximum volume”! 🙂

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

My Top Singles Turning 50

A final look at 1971, one of the most exciting years in music

As 2021 is drawing to a close, I decided to revisit 1971 one more time. With releases, such as Who’s Next (The Who), Tapestry (Carole King), Led Zeppelin IV (Led Zeppelin), Sticky Fingers (The Rolling Stones) and Meddle (Pink Floyd), it truly was an extraordinary year in music. And let’s not forget At Fillmore East by The Allman Brothers Band, perhaps the ultimate southern and blues-rock record, and certainly a strong contender for best live album ever.

I wrote about the above and other records in a three-part series back in April, which you can read here, here and here. What I didn’t do at the time was to look at singles that came out in 1971. I’ve put my favorites in a playlist at the end of this post. Following I’m highlighting 10 of them, focusing on songs I didn’t cover in the aforementioned three-part series.

Marvin Gaye/What’s Going On

I’d like to start this review with What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye, released in January 1970. Co-written by him, Al Cleveland and Four Tops co-founding member Renaldo “Obie” Benson, this classic soul gem was inspired by an incident of police brutality Benson had witnessed in May 1969 while The Four Tops were visiting Berkely, Calif. The tune became Gaye’s first big U.S. hit in the ’70s, climbing to no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topping the Best Selling Soul Singles chart.

Deep Purple/Strange Kind of Woman

In February 1970, Deep Purple released Strange Kind of Woman as a non-album single. The follow-on to Black Night was credited to all members of the band: Ian Gillan, Ritchie Blackmore, Jon Lord, Roger Glover and Ian Paice, their most compelling lineup, in my view. The song reached no. 8 in the UK and Germany, but didn’t chart in the U.S. The track was also included in the U.S. and Canadian editions of Deep Purple’s fifth studio album Fireball from July 1971 in lieu of Demon’s Eye on the UK edition.

Jethro Tull/Hymn 43

Hymn 43 is a great rock song by Jethro Tull. Penned by Ian Anderson, it appeared in late June 1971 as the second single off Aqualung, the group’s fourth studio album that had come out in March of the same year. Hymn 43 followed lead single Locomotive Breath. Incredibly, it only charted in Canada and the U.S., reaching an underwhelming no. 86 and no. 91, respectively.

T. Rex/Get It On

In July 1970, glam rockers T. Rex released one of their signature tunes, Get It On. In the U.S., it was re-titled Bang a Gong (Get It On), since there was a song with the same title by American jazz-rock band Chase. Get It On, written by T. Rex frontman Marc Bolan, was the lead single from the British band’s sophomore album Electric Warrior that appeared in September that year. Get It On became the band’s second no. 1 in the UK and their only U.S. top 10 hit (no. 10) on the Billboard Hot 100.

Santana/Everybody’s Everything

In September 1970, Santana released their third studio album Santana III and lead single Everybody’s Everything. The tune was co-written by Carlos Santana, Milton Brown and Tyrone Moss. The classic Santana rock song became the band’s last top 20 hit (no. 12) in the U.S. until the pop-oriented Winning from 1981.

Sly and the Family Stone/Family Affair

Family Affair is a track off Sly and the Family Stone’s fifth studio album There’s a Riot Goin’ On that came out in November 1971. Released the same month, the psychedelic funk tune was the first single from that album. It became the group’s third and final no. 1 hit in the U.S., topping both the mainstream Billboard Hot 100 and Hot Soul Singles chart.

Badfinger/Day After Day

Day After Day, first released in the U.S. in November 1971 followed by the UK in January 1972, became the biggest hit for British power pop-rock band Badfinger. Written by Pete Ham, the tune, off their third studio album Straight Up from December 1971, climbed to no. 4 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 and reached no. 10 in the UK. In Canada, it went all the way to no. 2. This gem was produced by George Harrison who also played slide guitar along with Ham.

Elton John/Levon

Levon is one of Elton John’s beautiful early songs that first appeared on his fourth studio album Madman Across the Water from early November 1970. Composed by John with lyrics by Bernie Taupin, the ballad also became the record’s first single in late November. Producer Gus Dudgeon has said Taupin’s lyrics were inspired by Levon Helm, co-founder, drummer and singer of The Band, a favorite group of John and Taupin at the time. Levon reached no. 24 on the Billboard Hot 100 and climbed to no. 6 in Canada.

The Beach Boys/Surf’s Up

Various music connoisseurs have told me their favorite album by The Beach Boys is Surf’s Up from late August 1971. I can’t say it’s been love at first sight for me, but this record is definitely growing on me. The Beach Boys released the title track as a single in late November that year. Co-written by Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks, Surf’s Up originally was supposed to be a track for Smile, an unfinished album that was scrapped in 1967. Brian and Carl Wilson completed the tune. By the time Surf’s Up was released as a single, the last major hit by The Beach Boys Good Vibrations was five years in the past. While the single didn’t chart, the album reached no. 29 on the Billboard 200, their highest-charting record in the U.S. since Wild Honey from 1967.

The Kinks/20th Century Man

The last song I’d like to call out is 20th Century Man by The Kinks. Penned by Ray Davies, the tune in December 1970 became the sole single off the group’s 10th studio album Muswell Hillbillies. The record had appeared in late November that year. 20th Century Man stalled at no. 106 in the UK and reached no. 89 in Australia. It didn’t chart in the U.S. The album didn’t fare much better, though it received positive reviews and remains a favorite among fans.

Check out the playlist below for additional 1971 singles I dig.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Five Picks From a Pretty Good Playlist

I don’t mean to make any advertising for Apple Music. Other music streaming platforms are probably just as good and some may even be better. It just so happens that 20 years ago, I decided to get iTunes and I’ve stuck with Apple ever since. Nowadays, I mostly use their streaming service Apple Music. Once you’re entrenched in one platform, switching becomes hard, so you’re kind of stuck with it.

In the early years of Apple Music, which I started using pretty much when it was introduced in 2015, I made fun of how they categorized music and what kind of listening suggestions they served up. Over time their algorithms have gotten much better. Nowadays, Apple Music pretty much knows what makes me tick. In a way that’s a bit scary.

Similar to Facebook, the presentation of new content based on previous choices can also work to your advantage. A good illustration is the latest “Favorites Mix” Apple Music generated, based on my listening habits. I pretty much dig each tune on here. Following are five of the 25 tracks. I deliberately picked songs I haven’t featured in a while or at all on the blog.

John Mellencamp/Grandview (feat. Martina McBride)

John Mellencamp has been among my favorite artists since the mid-’80s. While I still dig the straight heartland rock from his earlier years, I mostly prefer the roots-oriented music he plays nowadays. Grandview is a great tune from Mellencamp’s 23rd studio album Sad Clowns & Hillbillies that came out in April 2017. Much of that album includes contributions from country artist Carlene Carter. Grandview, co-written by Mellencamp and Bobby Clark, is an exception, featuring another country artist: Martina McBride. Love that tune!

Bonnie Raitt/Sugar Mama

My dear longtime music friend from Germany initially introduced me to Bonnie Raitt in the late ’80s. If you’re a more frequent visitor of the blog you likely know how much I dig that lady. For the most part, Raitt relies on other writers. Her picks tend to be excellent. Here’s Sugar Mama, co-written by Delbert McClinton and Glen Clark, and first released as Sugar Daddy on McClinton’s 1972 debut album Delbert & Glen. Raitt’s funky rendition of the tune was included on her fifth studio album Home Plate, which appeared in 1975.

Jackson Browne/Our Lady of the Well

My introduction to Jackson Browne was the iconic Running On Empty album from December 1977. I believe my brother-in-law had it on vinyl. My guess is I heard it first in the early ’80s – can’t quite remember! I’ve listened to Browne on and off ever since. Our Lady of the Well, written by him, is from his sophomore album For Everyman that came out in October 1973. Browne’s just a great songwriter!

David Bowie/It Ain’t Easy

If I could only pick one David Bowie record, I’d go with The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, his fifth studio album released in June 1972. I’ve always loved Bowie’s glam rock period. On Ziggy Stardust, he wrote all except one tune: It Ain’t Easy. That song was penned by American songwriter Ron Davies who first recorded it for his 1970 debut album Silent Song Through The Land. It proved to be a popular cover song. In addition to Bowie, Three Dog Night, Long John Baldry, Dave Edmunds and Shelby Lynne are among the other artists who covered it. I guess the explanation is simple: It’s a great tune!

Genesis/Land of Confusion

Let me preface this final pick by saying I used to like Land of Confusion by Genesis much more when it came out back in 1986 than I do nowadays. Like many other ’80s tunes, to me, it doesn’t hold up that well. Still, I can’t deny a certain weak spot for the ’80s, the decade during which I grew up. Land of Confusion, credited to all three core members of Genesis at the time – Tony Banks, Phil Collins and Mike Rutherford – appeared on the group’s 13th studio album Invisible Touch from June 1986. It also became one of five singles. Perhaps the most memorable aspect of the tune is its remarkable video featuring caricature puppets of political leaders like Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Leonid Brezhnev and Helmut Kohl. The video, which got heavy play on MTV, won a Grammy for Best Concept Music Video in 1987. It was also nominated for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Awards that same year but lost to Sledgehammer by former Genesis lead vocalist Peter Gabriel.

Below is a link to the entire playlist. While I supposedly copied the embed code, it doesn’t embed. Oh, well, not sure whether this has anything to do with my computer or my computer skills, which is entirely possible, or whether it’s, dare I say, a bug in Apple Music. I’ve seen fellow bloggers successfully embed Spotify playlists. Perhaps I should have chosen that platform instead – dang it!

https://embed.music.apple.com/us/playlist/favorites-mix/pl.pm-20e9f373919da0805cb3b48850c61e6a

Sources: Wikipedia; Discogs; YouTube

Turkey Day Rock Marathon Is On Again

Earlier this evening, it dawned on me it’s Thanksgiving week, which means New York classic rock radio station Q104.3 once again is doing their annual countdown of the Top 1,043 Classic Rock Songs Of All Time. The countdown is based on submissions from listeners who each can select 10 songs. All picks are then tabulated to create the big list.

The countdown starts tomorrow morning at 9:00 am EST and stretches all the way to sometime this Sunday evening. That’s how long it takes to play all 1,043 songs. The only interruption of the countdown will happen at noon on Thanksgiving when Q104.3 plays Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant, all 18 and a half minutes of it – just wonderful!

While after 20 years in a row (yep, that’s how long they’ve done this!) it’s a forgone conclusion that Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven once again will be no. 1 and the top 20 will be largely occupied by the same songs from previous years, listening to the countdown is still fun. Think about it, when can you ever hear 1,043 different songs in a row on the radio. Most stations have a much smaller set of songs in rotation.

Below is a screenshot of my selections for this year. Once again, I decided to come up with 1o previously unpicked songs. This time, I included two tunes from 2021: California Dreamin’ (Dirty Honey) and Side Street Shakedown (The Wild Feathers). Both are probably very long shots to make the list, as are I Don’t Understand (The Chesterfield Kings) and Cinderella (The Fuzztones), but that’s okay

Following are clips of my selections:

Dirty Honey/California Dreamin’Dirty Honey, April 2021

The Wild Feathers/Side Street ShakedownAlvarado, October 2021

The Black Crowes/Twice As HardShake Your Money Maker, February 1990

AC/DC/It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘N’ Roll)High Voltage, April 1976

The Beatles/Helter SkelterThe Beatles, November 1968

David Bowie/Suffragette CityThe Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, June 1972

Queen/Tie Your Mother DownA Day at the Races, December 1976

The Who/The Real MeQuadrophenia, October 1973

The Chesterfield Kings/I Don’t UnderstandThe Mindbending Sounds Of…The Chesterfield Kings, August 2003

The Fuzztones/CinderellaLysergic Emanations, 1985

I’m sure I’ll be listening to Q104.3’s countdown at different times over the next five days. Though this year, there will be stiff competition from Peter Jackson’s Get Back Beatles three-part docu-series!

Sources: Wikipedia; Q104.3 website; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Rod Stewart/Born to Boogie

Rod Stewart can still rock if he wants to. Usually, I don’t wanna talk about it when a music artist I once considered truly great goes off the ranch, singing stuff like Da Ya Think I’m Sexy? I wish he was only joking. Well, he wasn’t. But that doesn’t change the fact the British artist who has been around in music for some 60 years has one of the most distinct voices. And if he puts it to good use, the outcomes can be compelling to this day.

Born to Boogie (A Tribute to Marc Bolan), co-written by Stewart and his band’s guitarist Emerson Swinford, is a nice homage to the British glam rocker. It’s a track from Stewart’s new album The Tears of Hercules that came out on November 12. Based on what I’ve heard, his 32nd studio release is a mixed bag, but there are at least a couple of fairly decent tunes on there. And let’s be honest here: Stewart’s raspy smoky pipes remain pretty darn cool!

…He stood five-foot-four
But was a giant of his generation

Just an eastern kid who became a rock ‘n’ roll sensation
A dandy of a superstar
Who led a sexual revolution

Now when he played guitar he was a rock god, babyface assassin
He wore a black bowler hat and a jacket made of cherry red satin
He was a hero of mine
That’s why I wrote a song about him…

An announcement on Stewart’s website notes The Tears of Hercules is his fourth new album of original songs since 2013. He co-wrote nine of the 12 tracks. The album also includes covers of Some Kind of Wonderful, a 1967 tune by American R&B outfit Soul Brothers Six, and Johnny Cash’s These Are My People, a tune the man in black recorded for his 1972 concept album America: A 200-Year Salute in Story and Song.

“I’ve never said this before about any previous efforts, but I believe this is by far my best album in many a year,” Stewart confidently notes. Well, I seem to recall he has made similar statements about some of his previous albums in the past.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rod Stewart website; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

A busy week that hardly left any opportunity to read and comment on posts from fellow bloggers, not to mention post anything myself, is coming to an end. At least, I managed to carve out some time to write my weekly feature about newly released music. All of the picks in this installment fall into the rock realm. Each tune appeared on albums that were released yesterday (April 23), in some cases delayed due to COVID-19. What else is new?

Dirty Honey/California Dreamin’

Kicking off this Best of What’s New are Dirty Honey, a great rock band from Los Angeles that was founded in 2017. Apple Music characterizes them as a hard rock combo in the grand, riffy tradition of stadium titans like Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin, [which] rose out of Los Angeles’ club scene in 2019 with their self-titled debut EP. Singer Marc Labelle, guitarist John Notto, bassist Justin Smolian, and drummer Corey Coverstone cut their teeth developing a classic hard rock sound deeply indebted to the aforementioned rock giants as well as second wave purveyors like the Black Crowes. Their 2018 debut single “Fire Away” earned some national exposure and was followed in 2019 by their eponymous EP, which was produced by rock veteran Nick Didia (Pearl Jam, Rage Against the Machine). Here’s a nice tune from the band’s first full-length album titled Dirty Honey just like their previous 2019 EP: California Dreamin’, which is pretty representative of the other tracks on the album. All songs are credited to the entire group. As somebody who enjoys classic rock, it’s easy for me to dig this music.

Art d’Ecco/Desire

Art d’Ecco is a Canadian singer-songwriter from Victoria, B.C., who thanks to his fondness for makeup and platform shoes looks like a throwback to the ’70s glam rock era. But as Apple Music notes, while it has a retro vibe, his music blurs the boundaries of genres rather than capturing one specific style. D’Ecco’s web bio is primarily focused on his new album In Standard Definition and doesn’t provide much background on him. It notes a predecessor from 2018 titled Trespasser. Discogs also lists 2016 album Day Fevers. Here’s an excerpt from D’Ecco’s bio about his newest release, a concept album revolving around the role of entertainment in (some) people’s lives: Joining forces with producer/ engineer Colin Stewart (Black Mountain, New Pornographers, Destroyer) in ocean-side studio The Hive, In Standard Definition  sees d’Ecco packing his heftiest punch yet. Through Stewart’s vintage set up, a decoupage of authentic sounds was recorded to 2-inch tape on a 50-year-old console. Embellished with slick ‘70s drums production, it echoes with the textural ambition of Brian Eno’s Here Come The Warm Jets or Toni Visconti on Bowie’s Scary Monsters. Here’s the opener Desires, which like all other tunes of the album was written by d’Ecco. It’s not exactly in my core wheelhouse- still, it has something!

KALEO/Alter Ego

How many rock bands from Iceland you know? I had not been aware of any until I came across KALEO and their new album Surface Sounds. The band was formed in 2012 in Mosfellsbær, a small town in south-west Iceland, seven miles east of the country’s capital Reykjavík. JJ Julius Son (lead vocals, rhythm guitar, piano), Daniel Kristjansson (bass) and David Antonsson (drums), who had been close friends since elementary school, began playing music together when they were 17. Lead guitarist Rubin Pollock joined soon thereafter. Þorleifur Gaukur Davíðsson (harmonica, bongos, keyboards) rounds out the current line-up. In late 2012, KALEO signed with Iceland’s main record label Sena and recorded their eponymous studio album, which came out the following year. In early 2015, the band got a deal with Atlantic Records and relocated to Austin, Texas. Their sophomore album A/B, which appeared in June 2016, marked KALEO’s international breakthrough. It climbed to no. 16 on the Billboard 200, peaked at no. 2 in Canada, reached no. 29 in Australia, and charted within the top 30 in various European countries. Alter Ego, written by JJ Julius Son, is a tune from the aforementioned Surface Sounds, the band’s third album. Initially, it had been scheduled for June 2020, but the release was pushed back because of you know what. Alter Ego was first released as a single on March 20, 2020.

Dinosaur Jr./I Ain’t

Let’s wrap up things with some more rock. Dinosaur Jr. were founded in Amherst, Mass. in 1984. Initially a four-piece called Mogo, the band dissolved after their first gig and reformed as a trio shortly thereafter, consisting of J Mascis (guitar, vocals), Lou Barlow (bass) and Patrick Murphy (“Murph“) (drums) and calling themselves Dinosaur. They released their eponymous debut album in July 1985 on Homestead Records, the label by Mascis’ college friend Gerard Cosloy. Due to legal reasons, the band tweaked their name to Dinosaur Jr. in late 1987 shortly after their sophomore album You’re Living All Over Me had come out. By the time the band’s sixth studio album Without a Sound was released in August 1994, Mascis was the only remaining original member. The band, which essentially had become his project, released one additional album, Hand it Over (March 1997), before Mascis dissolved it and launched a solo career. In 2005, Mascis reunited with Barlow and Murphy to revive Dinosaur Jr. They have since released five additional albums including their latest Sweep It Into Space, another record that initially had been scheduled to appear last year. Here’s the opener I Ain’t, a melodic rocker written by Mascis.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Art d’Ecco website; Discogs; YouTube