The Year That Was 2019

Highlights of my rock & roll journey during the past 12 months

It feels unreal to me Christmas and New Year’s are upon us again – not to mention a new decade! I still recall a conversation with a school friend when we were 12 years old. He and I imagined where we might be when the year 2000 comes. At the time, the turn of the century was still more than two decades out. It seemed so far away. Now, not only has 2000 come and go, but we’re 20 years down the road, baby – crazy how time flies!

Well, this post doesn’t span decades. The idea is much more moderate: Looking back at my personal music journey over the past 12 months, as documented by this blog. While to some extent it reflects what happened in music this year, it’s not a broad review piece. Since I mostly listen to ’60s and ’70s artists or new music they release, I couldn’t do a legitimate comprehensive look-back on 2019 in music.

In the past, I’ve said more than once most new music nowadays lacks true craftsmanship and sounds generic and soulless to me. And while I still largely ignore what dominates today’s charts, I’ve finally come to accept contemporary music isn’t inherently bad. It’s just different and I generally don’t like it. Here’s the good news: I don’t have to. There’s so much “old” music out there I’ve yet to discover, and while artists may retire or pass away, their music will stay. Forever. That’s the beauty of music. It means for those of us who dig it, rock & roll will never die! Okay, enough with the wise-cracking and on to some highlights of my music journey this year.

Concerts

As a retired band-turned-closet musician, live music remains the ultimate thrill to me. Yes, ticket prices continue to be outrageous for most top acts, and that’s not going to change. But this hasn’t deterred me yet from seeing artists I dig. However, it did require being more selective (for example, I skipped Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers, since I had seen both in 2018) and oftentimes settling for cheaper seats.

My two concert highlights this year were The Rolling Stones at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. in early August and The Who at New York’s Madison Square Garden in May. I had seen both before, but since they are among my longtime favorite bands and in the twilight of their careers, I simply did not want to miss the opportunity. I’m glad I was able to catch both, especially The Who. At the time I bought my ticket, I had not realized this wasn’t a “regular” gig but The Who backed by a symphonic orchestra. Had I understood this, it may have deterred me. But the concept worked pretty well, so I’m happy I didn’t read the fine print! Here’s a clip from each show: Jumpin’ Jack Flash and the Love Reign O’er Me, two tunes that will never go out of style in my book!

I also saw various other great shows: Walter Trout (The Iridium, New York, April 9), Joe Jackson (State Theatre, New Jersey, New Brunswick, May 18), Govt’ Mule (The Stone Pony, Asbury Park, N.J., June 28), Southern Avenue (The Wonder Bar, Asbury Park, N.J., July 11) and Hall & Oates (Fairgrounds, Allentown, Pa.). I wouldn’t have gone to that last concert, had it not been for my wife. While I wouldn’t call myself a Hall & Oates fan, it was a great show.

As King/Emperor of Tribute Bands (blame Music Enthusiast for the title! 🙂 ), this concert section wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the many tribute shows that continued to attract me. I know some folks roll their eyes when they hear the word tribute band. I find nothing wrong listening to music I dig, especially when it’s faithfully captured. Among the many tribute concerts I saw, two stood out: Pink Floyd tribute Brit Floyd (Sands Bethlehem Event Center, Bethlehem, Pa., March 30) and the annual Rock The Farm Tribute Festival (Seaside Heights, N.J., September 28). Here’s a clip from the Brit Floyd gig: Comfortably Numb – epic!

And then there’s of course Woodstock’s 50th anniversary. I finally got to see the director’s cut of the documentary on the big screen. While I can’t deny 224 minutes is pretty massive, I enjoyed every minute of it. Here’s the main post I did to commemorate the festival. And here’s a clip of one of the most iconic rock performances of all time: Joe Cocker and With A Little Help From My Friends.

New Music

As stated above, for the most part, new music means new albums released by “old” artists I dig. As I looked back through my previous posts, I was surprised to find that I reviewed 22 new albums. Granted this number includes three live albums (The Doobie Brothers/Live From The Beacon Theatre, The Rolling Stones/Bridges To Bremen and Paul McCartney/Amoeba Gig) and an excellent posthumous compilation by Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers (The Best Of Everything), which do not feature new music. Even if you exclude these, it still leaves you with 18 albums. This makes me wonder what I would do if I also paid more attention to contemporary artists. It pretty much would be impossible to review their new music as well, given I have a family and a full-time job – another good reason to focus on what I truly dig! 🙂

Albums by “old hands” I’d like to call out are The Who (WHO), Booker T. (Note By Note), Neil Young (Colorado), Ringo Starr (What’s My Name), Santana (Africa Speaks),  Little Steven And The Disciples of Soul (Summer of Sorcery), Joe Jackson Fool and Sheryl Crow (Threads). One artist who seems to be missing here is Bruce Springsteen and Western Stars. While I dig Springsteen and don’t think it’s a bad record, it just doesn’t speak to me the way other music by The Boss does, so I ended up skipping a review. Crow said Threads is her final full-fledged release, explaining in the age of streaming music, most people make playlists and no longer listen to entire albums. Boy, this statement really reflects how much listening habits and the music business have changed! Here’s Live Wire, a nice bluesy tune co-written by Crow and Jeff Trott and featuring Bonnie Raitt and Mavis Staples.

There were also some new blues releases I enjoyed by both older and younger artists, including Walter Trout (Blues Survivor), Jimmie Vaughan (Baby, Please Come Home), Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band (The Traveler) and “wunderkind” Jontavious Willis (Spectacular Class), as Taj Mahal has called him. How about some music from Willis’ sophomore album? By the way, it was executive-produced by Mahal. Here’s opener Low Down Ways.

I also would like to call out albums from three other contemporary artists: Rick Barth (Fade), SUSTO (Ever Since I Lost My Mind) and Southern Avenue (Keep On). If you’re a more frequent visitor of the blog, you may recall Southern Avenue is one of the very few young bands I truly dig. I just love how these guys blend blues, soul and R&B, and the vocals are just killer! Here’s the title track from the above album, which is their second one. The tune was co-written by guitarist Ori Naftaly, lead vocalist Tierini Jackson and producer Johnny Black. There’s just something about Southern Avenue’s sound I find really seductive.

Coolest Clip

I think I came across a number of great clips I posted throughout the year. One of the best has to be this footage of The Who performing Won’t Get Fooled Again. That’s the raw power of rock & roll! It was filmed on May 25, 1978 at England’s Shepperton Studios, about 20 miles southwest of London, for the closing sequence of the band’s rockumentary The Kids Are Alright. And then, there’s this very different but equally mesmerizing clip: a live demonstration of the Hammond B3 by the amazing Booker T. Jones. To really get excited about it, I realize maybe you need to be a musician.

And Finally…

2019 marks the third full year I’m doing this blog. While I really wanted to start writing about my passion, I wasn’t sure whether I could keep it going when I set out in June 2016. Due to personal reasons, I had to slow down a bit during the past couple of months. But music and writing about artists I dig is therapy to me, so I have every intention to continue and hopefully pick up the pace again. When starting the blog, I also felt I’m doing this for myself first and foremost, not to become some “Internet sensation.” While that is still the case, I can’t deny it’s great to see visitors and that traffic has trended up nicely. Of course, growing from tiny numbers is relatively easy, and there is realistically no way I can keep up the current momentum.

Blog Stats

I’m leaving you with a clip from my most popular post this year (measured by total views): The above mentioned Rock The Farm Tribute Festival. The positive reception made me really happy, since it’s great music for a great cause. Here’s It’s Late by Canadian Queen tribute Simply Queen.

I’d like to thank all visitors for reading and especially those who go through the trouble of leaving comments. I always love getting feedback, even if I may not agree with everything folks say. But that’s cool.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas Emoji

Sources: Christian’s Music Musings; YouTube

Hall & Oates Bring Back That Lovin’ Feelin’ To Allentown Fairgrounds

Homecoming gig features duo’s hits from the ’70s and ’80s

Earlier this year, my wife saw Hall & Oates were going to tour the U.S. and suggested we get tickets. While I always liked the pop duo, especially for their smooth ’70s soul-oriented music, they weren’t exactly on my radar screen. Well, I’m glad my wife paid attention and convinced me to see them. In general, our music tastes are very different, and I end up going to most shows by myself. It’s nice when every now and then we find an act we both like. Last night was showtime at The Fairgrounds in Allentown, Pa. And, boy, I have to say Daryl Hall and John Oates, who are now in their early seventies, were in excellent shape, and we had a great time!

Christian & Frances
The music muser with his sweet wife

Before getting to Hall & Oates, I’d like to say a few words about opening act G. Love & Special Sauce. I had never heard of this trio from Philadelphia, featuring frontman Garrett Dutton, a.k.a G. Love (lead vocals, guitar, harmonica), Jeffrey Clemens (drums) and Jim Prescott (double bass). Wikipedia describes them as “an alternative hip hop band…known for their unique “sloppy” and “laid back” blues sound that encompasses classic R&B. Well, last night, I particularly heard and liked blues-oriented music with the occasional touch of hip hop. Playing as a trio is challenging, but these guys were really bringing it. There was even a bit of on-stage drama when Prescott broke a bass string – yikes! While he was calmly replacing the string and tuning, the two other guys carried on as a duo, as if nothing had happened. After a few songs into their set, I randomly decided to capture this tune called Shooting Hoops. It’s from their eponymous debut album released in May 1994.

On to Hall & Oates. Their gig last night was a homecoming. Daryl Hall was born in Pottstown, Pa., about 30 miles south of Allentown, while John Oates grew up in Philly suburb North Wales, which is approximately 40 miles southeast of Allentown. He was born in New York City. The duo opened their set with one of their biggest hits from the ’80s: Maneater. If I recall it correctly, that song was the first time I heard of Hall & Oates back in Germany. Co-written by John Oates, Daryl Hall and his then-girlfriend Sara Allen, it appeared on Hall & Oates’ 11th studio album H2O from October 1982. The track was also released separately as the record’s lead single and became their fifth no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. 

As noted above, I particularly dig Hall & Oates’ more soul-oriented tunes. Apart from loving the genre in general, I feel this type of music perfectly fits Daryl Hall’s vocals. Here’s their great rendition of You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.  Co-written by songwriting duo Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, together with producer Phil Spector, this classic was first recorded by The Righteous Brothers in 1964 and became their first major and biggest hit topping the charts in U.S., U.K. and Canada. Hall & Oates recorded their beautiful version for the Voices album from July 1980, their ninth studio release. It also became one of four singles from that record and a top 10 hit in the U.S.

Here’s another Hall & Oates classic and perhaps my favorite: She’s Gone, from their sophomore album Abandoned Luncheonette that came out in November 1973. Co-written by John Oates and Daryl Hall, the tune was also released as a single and became their first song to chart in the U.S., peaking at no. 60 on the Billboard Hot 100. While making the charts for a then-young pop duo in and of itself was a significant accomplishment, I find it somewhat mind-boggling the tune didn’t climb higher. The album fared better, hitting no. 33 on the Billboard 200, which was then called Top LPs and Tapes chart. After their debut Whole Oates had failed to make an impact, this was actually a quite important early milestone for Hall & Oates – certainly a nice consolation!

After 11 songs and I would say just over an hour, it was already time for the encore – perhaps the only thing I found a bit measly about the show. But Hall & Oates made it count with four additional nice tracks. Here’s the first: Rich Girl, another ’70s tune and one of my favorites. Written by Daryl Hall for their fifth studio album Bigger Than Both Of Us from August 1976, it became the duo’s first no. 1 hit in the U.S. Apparently, the song was written about an ex-boyfriend from Sara Allen who then was together in a relationship with Hall. But Hall didn’t feel rich boy sounded right, so he changed the lyrics.

The last track I’d to highlight is You Make My Dreams, the final song of the encore. Another track from the Voices album, it was co-written by Sara Allen, John Oates and Daryl Hall. It also became the album’s lead single in May 1981 and another hit, climbing to no. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. Hall & Oates were a hit machine during the first half of the ’80s, especially in the U.S. Between 1981 and 1984, they scored 10 top ten singles there, including five that reached no. 1.

This post wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging Hall & Oates’ great backing band – except it’s tricky to find info on the musicians on the Internet. On the duo’s official website, there is a section about band members, which when you click on it cheerfully reveals the comment “Coming soon…” Are you kidding me? According to setlist.fm, the U.S. leg of their tour titled Real Deal 2019 kicked off August 15. When exactly are you planning to list your touring musicians, the guys that help you sound as great as you do?! Luckily, this recent story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune has some of the details.

One of the standouts to me was multi-instrumentalist Charles DeChant, who plays saxophone, flute, keyboards and guitar. In addition to Hall & Oates, DeChant’s impressive credits include Mick Jagger, The Temptations, Tina Turner and Bonnie Raitt, among others. Shane Theriot handled lead guitar. He used to be musical director for the TV show Live from Daryl’s House. He has also recorded or performed with many other artists like The Neville Brothers, Dr. John, Sam Moore (of Sam & Dave) and Little Feat. The backing band also included a drummer, bassist, second keyboarder (in addition to guitar, Hall played keys as well) and a percussionist. Perhaps once the touring musicians are added to Hall & Oates’ official website, I’d be happy to name them. Yes, Daryl and John you can go for that, yes can do. Just tell your website guy to fix what was probably an oversight!

Setlist
1. Maneater
2. Out Of Touch
3. Adult Education
4. Method of Modern Love
5. Say It Isn’t So
6. One On One
7. You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’
8. (The Righteous Brothers cover)
9. She’s Gone
10. Sara Smile
11. Is It a Star
12. I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)

Encore
13. Rich Girl
14. Kiss on My List
15. Private Eyes
16. You Make My Dreams

On a more cheerful note about the Hall & Oates website, it does list upcoming U.S. gigs, which include Reno, Nev. (Sep 12), Puyallyp, Wash. (Sep 14) and Charleston, S.C. (Sep. 19). The full schedule is here.

Sources: Wikipedia, setlist.fm, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, YouTube

I Can Go For That (Yes Can Do)

A Hall & Oates playlist of soulful tunes

Much of my blog focuses on rock, blues and soul, so I imagine some of the more regular visitors may be surprised to see a post about Hall & Oates. Well, in addition to the aforementioned genres, I also listen to pop, though not as often as I used to. Two recent events put Hall & Oates back on my radar screen, where they essentially had not been much since the ’80s.

Earlier this year, my wife said she wanted to see the duo during their upcoming U.S. tour. Since our music tastes are different and she usually doesn’t accompany me to concerts I visit, I felt somewhat obliged to buy two tickets. A few weeks thereafter, a guitarist I know well told me he thinks Hall & Oates are the best blue-eyed soul act – certainly a bold statement. Both of these events inspired this post.

Daryl Hall (born Daryl Franklin Hohl on October 11, 1946 in Pottstown, Pa.) and John Oates (born John William Oates on April 7, 1948 in New York City) first met in Philadelphia in 1967 during a musical competition where they were each leading their own band. After realizing they dug the same music and were both students at Philly’s Temple University, they ended up spending time together and sharing apartments. In 1970, they also decided to work worth together professionally and formed a musical duo.

Hall & Oates 1976
John Oates (left) and Daryl Hall in 1976

Hall & Oates got their first contract with Atlantic Records and released their debut album Whole Oats in November 1972.  After their first three records, which weren’t very successful, they switched to RCA Records. Their eponymous fourth album, the first with the new label, yielded their first U.S. top 10 single Sara Smile, which climbed to no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in June 1976. They have since released 14 additional studio albums, the most recent of which, Home For Christmas, appeared in October 2006.

The duo’s most successful period were the ’80s with a series of platinum and multi-platinum albums and hits like Kiss On My List, Private Eyes, I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do) and Maneater. Their catalog also includes 12 live and numerous compilation records.  With an estimated 40 million albums sold, Hall & Oates are the best-selling music duo in history. In April 2014, they were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. They are also in the Songwriters Hall of Fame and rank at no. 18 on Billboard’s Greatest of All Time Hot 100 Artists. Time for some music!

While back in the ’80s I mostly listened to Hall & Oates’ straight pop tunes, including the above mentioned hits, these days I’m more fond of their soul oriented tracks. My preference is clearly reflected in the following song choices. I’d like to kick things off with Fall In Philadelphia, written by Hall and included on the duo’s 1972 studio debut.

She’s Gone is another nice song with a soul vibe. Credited to both musicians, it first appeared on their sophomore album Abandoned Luncheonette released in November 1973. When the track was first released as a single in February 1974, it was popular in the Philly market but didn’t gain much traction nationally. She’s Gone ended up becoming a national hit when Atlantic Records re-released the single in 1976, peaking at no. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100. At the time, Hall & Oates had already switched to RCA Records and had just scored a top 10 success with Sara Smile. Clearly, Atlantic’s decision to make a quick buck off their former contracted artists paid off handsomely – we call it riding the gravy train!

In January 1977, Hall & Oates released Rich Girl as a single from their fifth studio album Bigger Than Both Of Us. It’s another co-write, and it became their first of six no. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100.

With the arrival of the ’80s, Hall & Oates adopted a more straight pop-oriented sound, which brought them their most commercially successful decade. Their ninth studio album Voices from July 1980 became their first platinum record, fueled by the hits Kiss On My List and You Make My Dreams. Here’s Every Time You Go Away, written by Daryl Hall. Similar to She’s Gone, it would take a few more years before the song became a major hit. In this case, it was a cover by English vocalist Paul Young, released in February 1985, which hit the top 10 in various countries, including the U.S. (no. 1), Ireland (no. 2), Norway (no. 2) and the U.K. (no. 4).

In 1985, Hall & Oates performed at New York’s storied Apollo Theater. According to Something Else!, when the duo was invited to play there, they immediately had the idea to ask The Temptations to join them and reached out to Eddie Kendrick and David Ruffin. “David and Eddie were always friends of mine,” Hall told WATD. “So, I called Eddie and asked if he wanted to come on stage — and they hadn’t really worked together that much. At that time, they weren’t working together. It was sort of a reunion for them, and a reunion for them and me. It was one of those serendipitous, amazing moments in life where full circles come around — where my origins met my present. It’s really hard to describe.” Here’s their take of Stax classic When Something Is Wrong With My Baby. Co-written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter, the song was first recorded and released by Sam & Dave in 1967 – my kind of soul tune I can go for (yes can do)!

For the last track in this post, I’m jumping to Hall & Oates’ 14th studio album Change Of Season from March 1990. It features a nice cover of another Stax recording, Starting All Over Again. Written by Phillip Mitchell, the tune was released by Mel & Tim as a single in June 1972. It was the title track of their second studio album that appeared in July that year. Hall & Oates also released their cover as a single. It peaked at no. 10 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary Chart and no. 14 on the Canadian charts. It did not chart on the Billboard Hot 100 or in the charts of any other countries. That’s unfortunate. Personally, I take that cover any day over their smash ’80s hits like Maneater or Private Eyes, but I guess I’m out of touch, though hopefully not out of time! 🙂

Frankly, until my wife told me about their upcoming U.S. tour in August and September, I wasn’t even aware Hall & Oates are still performing together. I only knew about Daryl Hall and his online and TV series Live from Daryl’s House. Well, it turns out that while Hall & Oates haven’t released a new studio album since October 2006, they have been touring quite actively over the past few years. And why not?

Their current schedule for this year shows dates all the way until the end of September. After a series of gigs in Europe and South America, Hall & Oates start the U.S. leg of their tour in Canandaigua, N.Y. on August 15 – never heard of this place before, which is about 30 miles southeast of Rochester and actually looks quite lovely, based on Google photos! Some of the other dates include Madison, Wis (Aug 25), Atlantic City, N.J. (Aug 30), Allentown, Pa. (Sep 1) – the show for which I got tickets, and Reno, Nev. (Sep 12). The last currently listed show is on Sep 28 in Thackerville, OK.

Sources: Wikipedia, Something Else!, Hall & Oates website, YouTube