Space, the Final Frontier

Yesterday’s successful landing of NASA’s robotic explorer Perseverance on Mars once again reminds us of humankind’s fascination with distant planets and what’s out there beyond our galaxy. Not surprisingly, many music artists have embraced the theme of space in their songs. The first who always comes to my mind in this context is David Bowie, who repeatedly wrote about the topic in tunes like Space Oddity, Starman, Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes. There are plenty of additional examples. This playlist features some of these songs, ordered according to their release date.

The Byrds/Mr. Spaceman

While birds cannot fly in space, this didn’t prevent The Byrds from recording this happy-sounding tale about a kid who wakes up from the light of a flying saucer and cheerfully asks the ETs for a space ride. Mr. Spaceman, written by Roger McGuinn, appeared on the band’s third studio album Fifth Dimension from June 1966.

Pink Floyd/Astrodomine

This Syd Barrett tune, an early example of space rock, was the opener of Pink Floyd’s debut studio album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Released in August 1967, this early phase Floyd gem also featured another track in the same genre: Interstellar Overdrive. I decided to go with the shorter tune! 🙂

The Rolling Stones/2000 Light Years From Home

2000 Light Years from Home is a song from Their Satanic Majesties Request, a lovely psychedelic album by The Rolling Stones, which appeared only a few months after Floyd’s debut in December 1967. Co-written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the tune also became the B-side to the American single She’s a Rainbow that was released in November of the same year. Charmingly weird! 🙂

Steve Miller Band/Space Cowboy

Listening to Space Cowboy by Steve Miller Band was the tune that inspired this post, not the Mars rover, though I guess the timing worked out nicely. Co-written by Steve Miller and the band’s keyboarder at the time Ben Sidrin, the song was included on their third studio album Brave New World that came out in June 1969. The vibe of the main riff is a bit reminiscent of Peter Gunn, the theme music for the American detective TV show of the same name, composed by Henry Mancini in 1958. In 1979, Emerson, Lake & Palmer popularized that theme on their live album Emerson, Lake and Palmer in Concert.

Deep Purple/Space Truckin’

Time to go for some Space Truckin’ with Deep Purple. This track is the closer of the band’s sixth studio album Machine Head from March 1972, which to me remains their Mount Rushmore to this day. Like all remaining tracks on the record, Space Truckin’ was credited to all members of the band: Ritchie Blackmore (guitar), Ian Gillan (vocals, harmonica), Jon Lord (keyboards), Roger Glover (bass) and Ian Paice (drums, percussion).

Elton John/Rocket Man

One of my all-time favorites by Elton John happens to be related to space as well: Rocket Man, from his fifth studio album Honky Château that came out in May 1972. As usual, Sir Elton composed the music while Bernie Taupin provided the lyrics. Honky Château became John’s first no. 1 record in the U.S. He was literally flying on top of the word – six additional no. 1 albums in America would follow in a row!

David Bowie/Starman

I guess 1972 was a year, during which space themes were particularly popular in rock and pop music. In June 1972, only one and three months after Honky Château and Machine Head, respectively, David Bowie released his fifth studio album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. I have to say I tend to like him best during his glam rock period, and Ziggy Stardust is my favorite Bowie album. Like all except for one tune, Starman was written by Bowie.

Stevie Wonder/Saturn

Even soul great Stevie Wonder got into the “space business.” Saturn, co-written by Michael Sembello and Wonder, became a bonus track to Songs in the Key of Life, his magnum opus from September 1976.

The Police/Walking on the Moon

The year was 1979 when The Police released their sophomore album Reggatta de Blanc in October. Walking on the Moon, written by Sting, is the first track on the B-side. Yes, this was still pre-CDs, not to mention music streaming! I’ve always liked the reggae vibe of this tune.

R.E.M./Man on the Moon

Let’s wrap up this collection of space-themed songs with Man on the Moon by R.E.M. The tune, a tribute to American comedian and performer Andy Kaufman, was credited to the entire band: Michael Stipe (lead vocals), Peter Buck (guitar, mandolin, bass), Mike Mills (bass, keyboards, accordion, backing vocals) and Bill Berry (drums, percussion, keyboards, melodica, bass, backing vocals). It was recorded for R.E.M.’s eighth studio album Automatic for the People from October 1992. The album became their second major international success after Out of Time that had been released in March 1991.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

It’s that time of the week again to take a look at newly released music. This installment of Best of What’s New features tunes from an Irish instrumental post-rock band, a Nashville-based singer-songwriter, as well as a hard rock outfit and a blues rock band, which are both from New York. All music except for one noted tune came out yesterday (February 12).

The Pretty Reckless/Rock and Roll Heaven

The Pretty Reckless are a hard rock band that was formed in New York in 2009. The group is fronted by Taylor Momsen (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), a former actress and model. The other members, who have each been part of the band since 2010, include Ben Phillips (lead guitar, backing vocals), Mark Damon (bass) and Jamie Perkins (drums). After signing with Interscope, they released their eponymous debut EP in June 2010, followed by their first full-length album Light Me Up in August of the same year. The band’s studio albums have enjoyed decent success on mainstream albums charts in the U.S. and the UK. According to Wikipedia, The Pretty Reckless also hold the distinction of being the only female-fronted band to date with five no. 1 singles on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. Rock and Roll Heaven, co-written by Phillips and Momsen, is from their fourth and new album Death by Rock and Roll.

God Is An Astronaut/In Flux

God Is An Astronaut are an instrumental post rock band from Ireland, formed in 2002 by brothers Torsten Kinsella (guitars, keyboards) and Niels Kinsella (bass, guitars). The current line-up also includes Jamie Dean (keyboards, synthesizer, guitar) and Lloyd Hanney (drums). The band’s Apple Music profile notes their music combines the epic melodies of post-rock, the precision of electronic-fueled Krautrock à la Tangerine Dream, and elements of space rock…[The brothers], the group’s driving force,…played in a number of local bands before teaming up with drummer Lloyd Hanney, the disciple of the famous jazzman Johnny Wadham, to form God Is an Astronaut. Their electro-tinged album The End of the Beginning came out on their own label, Revive Records, in 2002. The two singles off the CD, “The End of the Beginning” and “From Dust to the Beyond,” got airplay on several European MTV channels. Their second album, All Is Violent, All Is Bright, followed in 2005, and included the single “Fragile.” The band has continued to issue new albums pretty frequently. In Flux is from God Is An Astronaut’s new album (their 10th) Ghost Tapes #10. While I prefer music with vocals most of the time, I find the band’s spacey sound pretty cool.

Jillette Johnson/Jealous

Jillette Johnson, who grew up in New York, is a Nashville-based singer-songwriter. According to her website, she started writing songs at age 8; by her teens, she was playing three-hour sets of original music at a restaurant near her suburban New York home. Soon, she was generating enough outside interest that she attended her public high school only one day a year while she developed and recorded her music. That dedication landed Johnson a record deal that resulted in two albums, 2013’s Water in a Whale and 2017’s All I Ever See in You Is Me, the latter of which was produced by fellow Nashvillian Dave Cobb. She began touring 200+ days each year, earning slots at major music festivals, TV appearances and press accolades from outlets ranging from Billboard, Rolling Stone Country, and Paste  to Marie Claire, Elle, and Cosmopolitan. Jealous is a tune from Johnson’s third album It’s a Beautiful Day and I Love You – nice pop rock tune that has a bit of a Sheryl Crow vibe.

Jane Lee Hooker/Jericho

Jane Lee Hooker are a dynamic blues rock band from New York I have covered on a few previous occasions, for example here and here. Formed in 2013, the band consists of Dana “Danger” Athens (vocals), Tracy Hightop  (guitar), Tina “T-Bone” Gorin (guitar), Hail Mary Z (bass) and ‘Lightnin’ Ron Salvo (drums), who joined last year after the departure of original drummer Melissa “Cool Whip” Houston. In 2015, Jane Lee Hooker signed with German independent blues label Ruf Records and released their debut No B! in April 2016. This was followed by their sophomore release Spiritus from November 2017. Jericho is the band’s new single that came out on January 29. “Jericho is one of those songs that kind of wrote itself, the music and lyrics just poured out of me,” stated Athens on the group’s website.  “A lot of songs have been written about the Battle of Jericho, it’s a timeless anecdote for having the strength inside to use our voices to break down the walls that divide us and change our world for the good.” 

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Jillette Johnson website; Jane Lee Hooker website; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: January 28

In the past, I tended to wait several weeks before compiling the next installment of my music history feature. Not so this time. Let’s take a look at events that happened on January 28 in rock and pop history.

1956: Elvis Presley made his debut on national U.S. television with an appearance on the Stage Show, a popular variety show on CBS. Backed by guitarist Scotty Moore and upright bassist Bill Black, Presley performed covers of Shake, Rattle & Roll, Flip, Flop and Fly and I Got a Woman. Apparently, the show liked it. Elvis, Scotty and Bill returned five more times over the next two months that same year. Here’s a clip of Shake, Rattle & Roll, written by Charles F. Calhoun and first recorded and released by Big Joe Turner in 1954.

1965: The Who appeared on the popular British rock and pop music TV show Ready Steady Go!, marking their debut on television in the UK. They performed their brand new single I Can’t Explain, which had been released two weeks earlier. Written by Pete Townshend, it was the band’s second single and first released as The Who. To help ensure a successful visual outcome, manager Kit Lambert placed members of the band’s fan club in the audience, who were asked to wear Who football scarves.

1969: Stevie Wonder released the title track of his 11th studio album My Cherie Amour as a single, seven months ahead of the record. Co-written by him, Sylvia Moy and producer Henry Cosby, the tune was about Wonder’s girlfriend he had met at the Michigan School for the Blind in Lansing, Mich. The song peaked at no. 4 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. It also climbed to no. 4 on the UK singles chart, making it one of Wonder’s highest charting tracks there.

1978: Van Halen introduced the world to Eddie Van Halen’s furious signature guitar sound with their first single You Really Got Me. Written by Ray Davis and first released by The Kinks in August 1964 in the UK, the cover garnered a good amount of radio play and helped Van Halen kick off their career. It did quite well in the charts, reaching no. 36 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, climbing to no. 49 in Canada and peaking at no. 11 in Australia. The tune was also included on Van Halen’s eponymous debut album that came out two weeks after the single.

1980: The J. Geils Band released their ninth studio album Love Stinks. It became their first top 20 album on the Billboard 200 since Bloodshot from April 1973, reaching no. 18. In Canada, it went all the way to no. 4. Their biggest album Freeze-Frame would still be 16 months away. Yes, The J. Geils Band’s earlier records may have been better, but bands also need to have some hits every now and then to make a living. Here’s the title track, co-written by Peter Wolf and Seth Justman. I guess like some other folks, I will forever associate the tune with the 1998 American picture The Wedding Singer. Now it’s stuck in my head!

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts Music History Calendar; This Day in Music; uDiscoverMusic; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

It’s that time of the week again where I’d like to take a peek at newly released music. All of the selections in this Best of What’s New installment are truly new. They were all released yesterday. I’m also pleased the collection features a good deal of variety, including indie pop grunge, alternative pop, country rock, heavy rock and even some African music. Most importantly, no matter what you call it, it’s all great music, so let’s get to it!

Viji/Are You in My Head

Are You in My Head is the title track of what appears to be the debut EP by Viji. Unfortunately, there is very little publicly available information on this young artist. According to her Spotify profile, Viji is the moniker of Austrian-Brazilian, London-based singer-songwriter Vanilla Jenner. She creates imaginative and original music that crosses the worlds of alternative pop and lo-fi indie weirdness. A review by Dork Magazine includes some commentary from the artist on the song and the EP. “The song ‘Are You In My Head’ is about the internal struggle of relationships. Especially how little things can blow up in your head if you’re in a bad mood…The EP is the first body of work that I’ve ever brought out. I finished writing all the songs for it around this time last year, and then took a few months to record it…The sound is very raw, and we kept a lot of my tracks from the demos. It’s pop melodies over lofi indie chords.” While the music falls outside my core wheelhouse, I can’t deny there’s something charming about it.

Shenandoah/High Class Hillbillies (featuring Cody Johnson)

How about a nice country rocker with the lovely title High Class Hillbillies? This is from the new album Every Road by Shenandoah, a country music band founded in Muscle Shoals, Ala. in 1984. Their eponymous debut album appeared in September 1987. According to Billboard, Every Road is a collaboration album “featuring some of today’s top hitmakers” and the band’s first album in 26 years with all new music. One of the collaborators is country singer-songwriter Cody Johnson, who contributes vocals on High Class Hillbillies. The tune was co-written by Marty Raybon (lead vocals, guitar) and Mike McGuire (drums, backing vocals), the band’s two remaining original members, together with songwriters Jim Collins and Wade Kirby.

Benee/Happen to Me

Benee (born Stella Rose Bennett) is a 20-year-old singer-songwriter from Auckland, New Zealand. According to Apple Music’s artist profile, With her introspective lyrics and smoky, stylized vocals, BENEE combines the sophisticated R&B of artists like Sade and Corinne Bailey Rae with the atmospheric, head-voice electronics of Billie Eilish. In 2017, during her final year in high school, Benee began posting music covers to Soundcloud. Her debut single Tough Guy appeared later that year. This was followed by her debut EP Fire on Marzz from June 2019, which included the lead single Soaked that climbed to no. 14 on the Official New Zealand Music Chart. Supalonely featuring American singer Gus Dapperton, a single from Benee’s second EP Stella & Steve, gained her international popularity. Happen to Me is the opener of Hey u, x, Benee’s first full-length album. Again, it’s not the kind of music I typically listen to, but there’s just something to it.

Chris Stapleton/Arkansas

Arkansas is another great country rocker. It appears on the fourth studio album Starting Over by Chris Stapleton. The singer-songwriter, who has been active since the early 2000s, released his debut studio in May 2015. It was well received, earned Stapleton several awards and remains his most successful record to date. Billboard is pretty upbeat about his latest release: You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better country album this year than Starting Over…From Stapleton’s ragged, soulful vocals to Dave Cobb’s feral production, Starting Over is all untamed emotion. What triggered my attention in part is the involvement of two former members of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers I dig: Guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboarder Benmont Tench. Arkansas is one of two tunes on the album Stapleton co-wrote with Campbell who has an album with his own band The Dirty Knobs set for release on November 20.

Phil Campbell and the Bastard Sons/We’re the Bastards

Let’s crank it up a notch with a crunchy rocker by Phil Campbell and the Bastard Sons: We’re the Bastards. This Welsh band was formed in 2016 by Campbell, longtime guitarist of Motörhead, following the death of frontman Ian Fraser Kilmister, better known as Lemmy. We’re the Bastards is the title track of the band’s new album, the second full-length record after 2018’s The Age of Absurdity. The band’s remaining members include Phil’s three sons Todd Campbell (guitar, harmonica), Tyla Campbell (bass) and Dane Campbell (drums), along with lead vocalist Neil Starr. Take it away, boys!

Star Feminine Band/Femme Africaine

I almost would have skipped over this last group, but how many all-girl female bands from Africa you know? According to The Vinyl Factory, the members of Star Feminine Band from the West African country Benin range from 10 to 17 years. The line-up inclides Angélique Balaguemon (drums, vocals), Julienne Sayi (bass guitar), Marguerite Kpetekout (drums), Grâce Marina Balaguemon (keyboard, vocals), Anne Sayi (electric guitar), Urrice Borikapei (percussion, vocals) and Sandrine Ouei (keyboard). The group came together after they responded to a local radio station’s advert inviting girls to participate in a series of free music training sessions. Femme Africaine is from their eponymous debut album, which The Vinyl Factory notes incorporates elements of highlife, garage rock, Congolese rumba, Beninese sato, and psychedelia as they address themes of equality, empowerment and female genital mutilation. Check out this video, which is such a joy to watch!

Sources: Wikipedia; Spotify; Dork Magazine; Billboard; Apple Music; The Vinyl Factory; YouTube

AC/DC Roar Back With Power Up

New album dedicated to Malcolm Young

When AC/DC finished their world tour four years ago in support of their previous album Rock or Bust, they looked more bust than rock. Now the Aussie band is back in full force with a new album, released yesterday, and suddenly it feels like time was turned back 40 years. While Power Up may not have anthems like Hells Bells, Back in Black and You Shock Me All Night Long, AC/DC’s 17th studio album delivers plenty of the kind of straight kick-ass rock & roll that have made them such a widely beloved band among rock fans.

The fact AC/DC are still alive borders on a miracle. In April 2016, six months prior to the end of the Rock or Bust tour, lead vocalist Brian Johnson had to bow out due to severe hearing issues. This forced the band to reschedule the remaining 22 gigs and bring in Axl Rose of Guns N’ Roses to finish the tour. At the end of the tour, bassist Cliff Williams was a spent force and announced his retirement. Drummer Phil Rudd had missed the entire tour in the first place due to legal issues. As had rhythm guitarist and songwriter Malcolm Young, who had been forced to retire in 2014 due to dementia. He passed away in November 2017 at the age of 64.

AC/DC in 2020 (from left): Cliff Williams, Phil Rudd, Angus Young and Stevie Young

Essentially, this only left lead guitarist Angus Young, who had formed AC/DC with his older brother Malcolm in 1973. Fast-forward to August 2018 when Angus Young; Stevie Young, who had joined the band in April 2014 following the departure of his uncle Malcolm; Phil Rudd; Cliff Williams; and Brian Johnson who thanks to a special hearing aid is able to sing again were photographed near a recording studio in Vancouver, Canada. Ever since rumors had been floating around about a new album. The long wait is over.

Produced by Brendan O’Brien who had also worked with AC/DC on their previous two albums Rock or Bust and Black Ice, Power Up was largely recorded in Vancouver over a six-week period between August and September 2018. All of the songs had been co-written by Angus and Malcolm during the period between the Stiff Upper Lip (February 2000) and Black Ice (October 2008) albums. Power Up is a tribute to Malcolm, another parallel to the above mentioned Back in Black that was dedicated to Bon Scott, Johnson’s predecessor who died in February 1980 due to acute alcohol poisoning.

After so much death and despair, how about some music! Here’s the opener Realize. With the power guitar riffs and Johnson’s screaming vocals, it sounds like classic AC/DC. The tune also appeared separately as a single three days ago.

Shot in the Dark became the album’s lead single released on October 11. It’s perhaps the “hit” on the record, reaching the top of the U.S. Billboard Mainstream Rock chart. Here’s the official video.

When a band like AC/DC names a track Demon Fire, you know pretty much what to expect.

Wild Reputation has a great main riff that sounds a bit Stonesy.

Let’s do one more: Here’s the cool closer Code Red.

“Malcolm and myself over the years, whenever we’d come to an album we always walked in with a lot of A-grade songs,” Angus Young told the Associated Press. “We always had a stack full more left that were all great, great tracks…I concentrated on the ones I knew were Mal’s favorites. It’s a fitting project for him. He always liked being simple and direct, so I felt, what better than his music?”

“We all felt Malcolm around us, he was there,” added Brian Johnson. “We’re not spiritual type people, but, boy, oh boy. Malcolm was a very strong character in real life, and him passing away wasn’t gonna stop that. He was there, everywhere, and I think you can tell it on the record.”

It’s fair to say AC/DC aren’t breaking any new ground on Power Up. While for many other bands this may be a point of criticism, AC/DC have been great at what they’ve done for decades, so you really don’t want them to change. Plus, there may be more. During a separate interview with Apple Music, Angus Young revealed there are hundreds of unpublished songs in the AC/DC vault he and Malcom had written together. Young also joked, “You can’t call an album ‘rock or bust’ and then go bust.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Associated Press; Apple Music; YouTube

My Playlist: Aerosmith

While bands like Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin typically remain my first choice when I’m in the mood for more heavy-oriented rock, I’ve also come to appreciate Aerosmith over the decades. Like Zeppelin, “the Bad Boys from Boston” were an acquired taste. The song that started my Aerosmith journey was the power ballad Dream On, which I first heard on the radio in Germany sometime during the second half of the ’70s. I think it’s fair to say the tune has been burned a bit by overexposure, but I still dig it.

Before getting to some music by Aerosmith, here’s a bit of background on the band that was formed in Boston in 1970. This means they’ve been around for 50 years, which is remarkable; though not without drama, as you’d probably expect. Steven Tyler (lead vocals), who was in a band called Chain Reaction, and Joe Perry (guitar, vocals), Tom Hamilton (bass) and Joey Kramer (drums), who all were members of Jam Band, aka Joe Perry’s Jam Band, first met in 1970 when their respective bands performed at the same venue.

Tyler immediately was turned on by Jam Band’s sound and proposed to combine the two bands, insisting he’d front the combined group as their lead singer. The other guys agreed, and the members of the new band moved together to a place in Boston where they stared rehearsing and writing songs. Apparently, it was Kramer who came up with the name Aerosmith, after he had listened to Harry Nilssen album Aerial Ballet and recalled writing the word “areosmith” all over his notebooks when he was in school.

From left: Tom Hamilton, Joe Perry, Steven Tyler, Joey Kramer & Brad Whitford

Prior to playing their first gig as Aerosmith in Mendon, Mass. in November 1970, the band hired Ray Tabano, a childhood friend of Tyler, as rhythm guitarist. The following year, Tabano was replaced by Brad Whitford, completing the line-up that went on to sign a deal with Columbia Records in mid-1972 and that remains in place to this day. Soon thereafter, Aerosmith went into the studio to record their eponymous debut album that appeared in January 1973 – the first of 15 studio records to date. That’s no exactly an extensive catalogue, considering the band has been around for five decades. But, as hinted above, there has been good deal of drama throughout their history.

Even though it’s perhaps a bit lame to select the obvious tune, I’d like to kick off this playlist with Dream On, written by Tyler, which also became Aerosmith’s first single. It peaked at No. 59 on the Billboard Hot 100 and made it to No. 87 on the Canadian Singles Chart. While the album wasn’t a success initially, in addition to Dream On, it included tracks like Mama Kin and Walkin’ the Dog that became staples during Aerosmith’s live shows and on rock radio. Eventually, Aerosmith was certified 2x Platinum.

Following extensive touring, Aerosmith released their sophomore album Get Your Wings in March 1974. It was the first produced by Jack Douglas and the beginning of a long and successful studio collaboration that resulted in four additional albums. While contemporary reviews were mostly favorable, at first, the album didn’t do very well either. But similar to the debut, Get Your Wings eventually became a commercial success, securing 3x Platinum status. Here’s the band’s excellent cover of Train Kept A-Rollin’, a tune co-written by Tiny Bradshaw and Lois Mann, aka Syd Nathan, and first recorded by Bradshaw in 1951. In addition to Aerosmith, many other artists, such as Johnny Burnette, The Yardbirds and Led Zeppelin, have covered the song.

Toys in the Attic, Aerosmith’s third studio album from April 1975, catapulted them to international stardom. It reached No. 11 on the Billboard 200 and remains the band’s most commercially successful album in the U.S. to date, with more than 8 million copies sold. It was ranked at No. 229 on Rolling Stone’s 2012 version of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, though it no longer made the cut for the list’s latest revision published in September this year. Here’s Sweet Emotion, co-written by Tyler and Hamilton, one of their best known tunes that also became their second charting single in the U.S., reaching No. 36 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Aerosmith followed up Toys in the Attic with Rocks in May 1976, an instantly successful seller that also became their highest charting album of the ’70s in the U.S., reaching No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also made Rolling Stone’s 2012 list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time (No. 176). Unlike Toys, it’s still included in the most recent revision, ranking at No. 366. By the time they recorded Rocks, Aerosmith were well into living the rock & roll lifestyle and heavy drug indulgence, but apparently this wasn’t hampering them yet. Here’s the hard hitting opener Back in the Saddle, co-written by Tyler and Perry.

In the late ’70s, the band’s drug use started to take its toll and tensions among the members rose. After a fight between Tyler and Perry following a gig in Cleveland in July 1979, Perry left and formed The Joe Perry Project shortly thereafter. Whitford and long-time writing partner Richie Supa took on some of Perry’s guitar parts on Aerosmith’s next album Night in the Ruts. Eventually, the band hired Jimmy Crespo as their new lead guitarist. In 1981, during the recording sessions for Rock in a Hard Place, Aerosmith’s seventh studio album, Whitford departed and was replaced by Rick Dufay. In 1984, Perry and Whitford were back in the fold. Following a reunion tour, Aerosmith recorded their next studio album Done With Mirrors. Here’s the opener Let the Music Do the Talking, a Perry tune he originally had recorded as the title track for the Joe Perry Project’s debut.

While Aerosmith were back with their original line-up, the band members’ drug addiction continued to pose challenges. In 1986, Tyler successfully completed drug rehab. The rest of the band also completed such efforts over the next few years. In August 1987, Aerosmith released Permanent Vacation, their ninth studio album, a comeback that became their best seller in over a decade with more than 5 million copies. It marked their first effort that brought in songwriters from outside the band. Here’s Dude (Look Like a Lady), co-written by Tyler, Perry and Desmond Child, their first charting single in the ’80s, climbing to No. 14 on the Billboard Hot 100.

One of my favorite Aerosmith tunes, Janie’s Got a Gun, appeared on the follow-on Pump from September 1989. It became the band’s highest-charting ’80s album in the U.S., reaching No. 3 on the Billboard 200. Co-written by Tyler and Hamilton, the Janie’s Got a Gun climbed to No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it their second most successful U.S. single of the decade. Here’s the official video.

The 1990s saw Aerosmith’s highest-charting U.S. albums with Get a Grip (April 1993) and Nine Lives (March 1997) topping the Billboard 200. Get a Grip also became the band’s best-selling studio album worldwide, with sales exceeding 20 million copies. Like on Permanent Vacation and Pump, the record featured numerous external song collaborators. Seven of the album’s tracks were released as singles, of which three made the U.S. charts: Cryin (No. 12), Amazing (No. 24) and Crazy (No. 17). The tune I’d like to highlight is Line Up, a co-write by Tyler, Perry and Lenny Kravitz who also provided backing vocals.

Let’s do two additional songs from the current century. Here’s the title track of Aerosmith’s 13th studio album Just Push Play, which came out in March 2001. The tune was co-written by Tyler, Mark Hudson and Steve Dudas. Though I feel like it got decent radio play, the song failed to chart on the Billboard Hot 100. It did climb to No. 10 on Billboard’s U.S. Rock Chart, which I find interesting since to me it’s more of a cross-over pop-rock song.

In November 2012, Aerosmith released their 15th and most recent studio album to date, Music from Another Dimension! While it climbed to No. 5 on the Billboard 200, I do seem to recall reading press accounts at the time, with Joe Perry saying this may be the band’s last album – possibly a sign of frustration over the long process it apparently took to make the record. Here’s lead single Legendary Child co-written by Tyler, Perry and Jim Vallence, which appeared in May 2012. Originally, the song had been written and recorded in 1991 during the sessions for the Get a Grip album but had never been released. Here’s the official video. The narrative in the beginning nicely sums up Aerosmith’s eventful history.

Between 2014 and 2018, Tyler and Perry largely focused on side projects. For much of last year, Aerosmith did a concert residency called Aerosmith: Deuces are Wild, mostly in Las Vegas. A European tour that had been planned for the summer of 2020 and a 50th anniversary show at Boston’s Fenway Park in September have all officially been rescheduled until next year.

The band’s current outlook does appear to be somewhat uncertain. Following some drama and lawsuits at the beginning of the year over the band’s refusal to allow drummer Joey Kramer to rejoin the line-up after his recovery from a shoulder injury, Brad Whitford during an interview on the Steve Gorman Rocks radio show in August 2020 expressed doubts over Aerosmith’s future. According to Wikipedia, citing ongoing dysfunction within the group, Whitford said, “I don’t really know what they want to do. And, I don’t really care because, um, truthfully, I’m not interested any more.”

It seems to me drama has been a near-constant during much of Aerosmith’s long history, and there’s a reason why Steven Tyler and Joe Perry have become known as the “Toxic Twins.” But while the band’s best days may be over, I think it’s safe to assume they still have a ton of fans out there who would love to see them once concert tours can resume. I could well see Aerosmith mirror Deep Purple and embark on a “never-ending” farewell tour.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Best of What’s New

This is the 30th installment of Best of What’s New. When I started the new music feature 30 weeks ago, I wasn’t sure I’d find enough material I dig to blog on a weekly basis. So far it’s been a rewarding experience, and I’m optimistic I can get going at that rate.

Usually, I keep the installments to four tunes. This time, however, before I knew it, I found eight songs I could have featured. I decided to cut down the selection to the following six tunes. The set is quite rock-oriented, but there’s also a great jazz tune that just makes me happy and a beautiful guitar instrumental.

Black Stone Cherry/Again

Black Stone Cherry are a hard rock band formed in Edmonton, Ky. in 2001. Chris Robertson (lead vocals, lead and rhythm guitar) and John Fred Young (drums, percussion, piano, backing vocals) had played together since they were young teenagers. They were soon joined by Ben Wells (rhythm and lead guitar, backing vocals) and Jon Lawhon (bass, backing vocals) to complete the band’s lineup. In May 2006, they released their eponymous debut album. Again is a track from the band’s upcoming 7th studio album The Human Condition scheduled for October 30. Black Stone Cherry announced the album on August 6 and debuted the tune and music video. “There was a real urgency and fear of the unknown during those sessions – it was a scary time,” Young told Louder.  “Every song on this album tells a story of the experiences we all go through – our happiness, our struggles, and how we have to adapt.” I hardly listen to present day hard rock, but this tune got something.

Puscifer/The Underwhelming

Puscifer is a project from rock singer-songwriter and producer Maynard James Keenan, who also is the lead vocalist and primary lyricist of rock bands Tool and A Perfect Circle. Between these bands, Keenan has released 12 albums over the past 30 years. Other members of Puscifer, which is currently a trio, include Carina Round (vocals, guitar, ukelele, tambourine) and Mat Mitchell (lead guitar). The Underwhelming is a tune from Puscifer’s upcoming fourth studio album Existential Reckoning due out October 30. The tune became the album’s second single on September 17.

Elvis Costello/Hey Clockface/How Can You Face Me?

I believe Hey Clockface/How Can You Face Me? is the first jazz tune I ever heard by Elvis Costello. When I came across it yesterday, I immediately knew I had to include it in this installment of Best of What’s New. According to a review in Stereogum, Costello recorded it together with a small jazz ensemble in Paris about a month before Covid-19 changed the world. It also turns out the tune and Costello’s other singles he has released over the past few months are all part of a new studio album titled Hey Clockface scheduled for October 30. According to Wikipedia’s count, it should be Costello’s 33rd studio release. Hey Clockface/How Can You Face Me? first appeared as the album’s fourth upfront single on September 11. This tune just has an infectious groove. Check it out!

Ben Harper/Paris

American singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Ben Harper has been a recording artist since 1992. He began playing guitar as a child and had his first gig at the age of 12. During his teenage years in the ’80s, Harper began playing slide guitar, influenced by Delta blues artist Robert Johnson. In 1992, he recorded the album Pleasure and Pain with Tom Freund. This was followed by his solo debut Welcome to the Cruel World from February 1994. Since then, he has released 13 additional studio albums. In 2010, Harper formed folk rock-oriented band Fistful of Mercy, together with George Harrison’s son Dhani Harrison and singer-songwriter Joseph Arthur. Harper has also collaborated with Charlie Musslewhite and various other artists. Paris is a beautiful, sparse instrumental featuring only Harper on his lap steel guitar. It’s on an upcoming new all-instrumental album, Winter Is For Lovers, set to appear on October 23. Two other tunes, Inland Empire and London, from the 15-track collection are already out as well, and they sound just as great!

Blue Öyster Cult/The Alchemist

While Blue Öyster Cult is a very familiar name, the rock band that was founded all the way back in 1967 in Stony Brook, N.Y. had not released new music since Curse of the Hidden Mirror from June 2001. That changed yesterday (October 9) with The Symbol Remains, their 15th studio album. Of course, Blue Öyster Cult have had numerous line-up changes over the decades, though founding member and lead guitarist Donald Roeser, known as Buck Dharma, is still around. As is Eric Bloom, who joined BÖC as lead vocalist, guitarist and keyboarder in April 1969, replacing Les Braunstein. Like Dharma, Bloom has been on all of the band’s albums released to date. Here’s The Alchemist, written by Richie Castellano, who has been part of Blue Öyster Cult since 2004. This makes The Symbol Remains his first studio with the band after 16 years – remarkable! The Alchemist may not be Cities On Flame With Rock and Roll, (Don’t Fear) the Reaper or Burnin’ For You, but it still sounds pretty cool to me. Check out the sweet harmony guitar playing featuring Dharma and Castanello, which starts at about 3:33 minutes. These guys are still rockin’!

Greta Van Fleet/My Way, Soon

Speaking of rockin’, what could be a better way to end this installment than with the latest single by Greta Van Fleet, one of the most exiting contemporary bands, in my opinion: May Way, Soon, which was also released just yesterday. “This song was inspired by what three years of touring did by opening so many doorways,” vocalist Josh Kiszka told Louder. “This is my truth, how I feel about all of our travels, but I know it echoes the experiences and changes of perspectives for [his GVF bandmates] Jake, Sam, and Danny as well.” May Way, Soon is the first tune from Greta’s next studio album (title and release date still to be announced). “The definition of ’normal’ has very much broadened over the past couple of years, and it has affected us as musicians, especially in the writing and recording of this new album,” added drummer Danny Wagner. While My Way, Soon delivers the energetic type of rock fans of the band have come to dig, it sounds less influenced by Led Zeppelin. I think only does this show Greta is evolving musically, but it’s also a good thing from a longevity perspective.

Sources: Wikipedia; Louder; Stereogum; YouTube

On Occasions When I’m Up For Heavy Action

A collection of favorite hard rock tunes

My recent “desert island” collection of 10 studio albums included Deep Purple’s Machine Head, which after more than 40 years of listening remains the ultimate hard rock album to me. In that post, I also noted that these days heavy rock no longer is my primary music choice. But occasionally, I still enjoy it, which triggered the idea to put together this playlist. I guess just like with many other things, when it comes to music, it’s all about moderation, except of course for The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Neil Young, live concerts, music equipment… 🙂

As more frequent visitors of the blog know, I find doing rankings nearly impossible. But since I suppose there needs to be some system to the madness, the following list is in chronological order from oldest to most recent. And, yes, I suppose in some cases you could question whether a pick is really hard, heavy or metal rock, or is it just rock? The boundaries can be pretty fluid. Plus, to some extent, it’s also a bit subjective. At the end of the day, it’s all about music I dig when the occasion is right. With all these caveats out of the way, let’s get to it.

SteppenwolfBorn to be Wild

This classic from Steppenwolf’s eponymous debut album from January 1968 sometimes has been called the first heavy metal song – in part because of the second line of the second verse, “heavy metal thunder.”Born to be Wild was written by Canadian rock musician and songwriter Dennis Edmonton, aka Mars Bonfire. The tune also appeared separately as a single in June 1968 and became Steppenwolf’s biggest hit next to Magic Carpet Ride. It will forever be associated with the 1969 biker cult picture Easy Rider. Every time I hear that opening line Get your motor runnin’, I feel like climbing on my chopper and heading down Route 18 to the Jersey shore. Then reality sets in. I don’t own a bike, not to mention the minor detail I don’t really know how to ride one. But when I get the urge to look for adventure, there’s always my sexy family crossover SUV! 🙂

Led ZeppelinWhole Lotta Love

While Led Zeppelin IV is my favorite Zep album, Whole Lotta Love possibly is my favorite tune among their crunchy rockers. Credited to all four members, the track first appeared on Led Zeppelin’s sophomore album that came out in October 1969, ingeniously titled Led Zeppelin II. The following month, Whole Lotta Love was also released as a single and became their best chart-performing song, reaching no. 1 in Australia and Germany, and peaking at no. 4 in the U.S. Notably, it didn’t chart in their home country. From today’s perspective, the fact that Whole Lotta Love became such a big hit looks unreal. You need cooling/Baby I’m not fooling/I’m gonna send ya/Back to schooling//A-way down inside/A-honey you need it/I’m gonna give you my love/I’m gonna give you my love//Want to whole lotta love/Want to whole lotta love/Want to whole lotta love/Want to whole lotta love…

Deep PurpleSpeed King

Obviously, it was only a matter of time until I would feature a Deep Purple tune in this post. But while Machine Head was their Mount Rushmore, there’s more to the British hard rockers than this 1972 gem. One great example is the opener to the band’s fourth studio album Deep Purple in Rock released in June 1970: Speed King. Credited to the entire band, the song’s lyrics are made up of titles of classic rock & roll tunes by Chuck Berry and Little Richard, which I always thought was a cool idea. Good golly, said little Miss Molly/When she was rockin’ in the house of blue light/Tutti Frutti was oh so rooty/Rockin’ to the east and west/Lucille was oh so real/When she didn’t do her daddies will/Come on baby, drive me crazy, do it, do it.. This is one kick-ass rocker!

Black SabbathParanoid

While I can’t claim to be a Black Sabbath fan, there’s just no way you can leave out these English rockers from any heavy rock collection. It would be like doing a post about the British Invasion and excluding The Beatles. And, to be clear, I’m not just featuring Sabbath because I felt I had to. I’ve always loved Paranoid, the title track of their second studio album that came out in September 1970. Credited to the entire band, Paranoid first appeared as a single in August of the same year. It became their biggest hit, topping the charts in Germany, and reaching no. 2, 3 and 4 in Switzerland, Austria and the UK, respectively. Apparently, audiences were less receptive in America, where the tune stalled at no. 61 on the Billboard Hot 100. Here’s a cool official clip, even though it’s all playback. Check out Tony Iommi’s cool Gibson SG. One day when I grow up I’m gonna get an ax like this – it even plays rhythm and solo at the same time! 🙂

Uriah HeepBird of Prey

Yep, Uriah Heep with their crazy high vocals can border a bit on the weird, but these guys were rockin’, especially in their early days. I seem to remember when I bought the album Salisbury as a young teenager, my six-year older sister who accompanied me to the record store was a bit embarrassed about my choice. Come on, sis’, while with Carole King’s Tapestry, CSNY’s Déjà Vu and Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, to name a few, you undoubtedly introduced me to some of the best recorded music ever, your taste also varied – let’s just leave it at that! 🙂 Credited to the band members Ken Hensley, Mick Box, Paul Newton and Keith Baker, Bird of Prey is the furious opener of Heep’s sophomore album from February 1971. That tune rumbles just like the tank on the album cover – “geil,” as was fashionable to say in Germany back in the day!

RainbowLong Live Rock ‘n’ Roll

I don’t care how you feel about Rainbow, and my thoughts about them are mixed these days, Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll just is an epic rocker. Co-written by former Deep Purple guitarist and Rainbow founder Ritchie Blackmore and the band’s powerhouse lead vocalist Ronnie James Dio, Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll was the title track of Rainbow’s third studio album released in April 1978. It also became the record’s lead single in March of the same year. To me, this is Rainbow’s best song. Apparently, audiences felt differently, at least the time, and far preferred some of their later songs, on which Blackmore adopted a more commercial sound along the lines of Foreigner.

Gary MooreVictims of the Future

Before Gary Moore fully embraced electric blues during his solo career, the Irish guitarist released heavy rock album Victims of the Future in December 1983. The big hit off that record was the power ballad Empty Rooms, which was played to death on the radio in Germany. I don’t even recall hearing the title track, which was co-written by Moore, Neil Carter (keyboards), Neil Murray (bass) and Ian Paice (drums) – and, yep, that’s the Ian Paice from Deep Purple. The song wasn’t released as a single; clocking in at more than six minutes, it wouldn’t have been radio-friendly to begin with. Admittedly, this is a pretty aggressive tune I can only tolerate occasionally, but when I’m in the mood for some heavy action, I still enjoy it. According to Wikipedia, Moore later dismissed the record as “just one of my feeble attempts at heavy rock”. It’s certainly quite different from his electric blues music he released starting in the early ’90s all the way until his premature death at age 58 in February 2011.

Guns N’ RosesSweet Child o’ Mine

My sentiments about Guns N’ Roses in general are similar to the previous pick. Sometimes, their music is simply too aggressive, so again, I need to be in the right mood. When I am, I actually enjoy a good number of their tunes. On these occasions, Sweet Child o’ Mine is one of my favorites. It’s a track off their debut album Appetite for Destruction from July 1987. Credited to the entire band, the tune also became the album’s third single in August of the same year. It was one of the songs that fueled the record’s massive international chart success, turning it into Guns N’ Roses’ biggest album. The guitar work on this song is just killer!

ScorpionsRaised on Rock

I suppose writing a post about heavy rock without acknowledging German veterans Scorpions would border on treason. The band from the city of Hannover first entered my radar screen with Love at First Sting, their hugely successful ninth studio album they released in March 1984, 12 years into their recording career. I seem to recall reading somewhere there were times before then when Scorpions were more famous elsewhere than in their home country. With hits, such as Rock You Like a Hurricane, Big City Nights and Still Loving You, Love at First Sting definitely changed that. Scorpions continue to rock and roll to this day. In April, they released a new tune, Sign of Hope, a classic Scorpions-style ballad, inspired by COVID-19. According to a statement on their website, they have been working on songs for a new album. The tune I decided to feature here appeared 26 years after Love at First Sting. Raised on Rock is the opener to the band’s 17th studio album Sting in the Tail from March 2010, which together with the supporting tour was positioned as their farewell. Then, they decided they simply couldn’t stop.

AC/DCPlay Ball

Let’s wrap up things with a great late-career rocker by AC/DC. Play Ball is from their 16th studio album Rock or Bust, which is the band’s most recent to date from November 2014. There have been reports about a new album for some time, largely fueled by Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider, who apparently is close to AC/DC. According to this NME story from late July, the album is already in the can, but it’s release has been delayed due to COVID-19. It sounds like thanks to some technology wizardry, it will feature the classic lineup including Malcolm Young and be the band’s final album. For now, let’s focus on actually released AC/DC music. Co-written by Malcolm Young prior to his forced retirement due to dementia and his younger brother Angus Young, Play Ball was the lead single from Rock or Bust, which appeared in October 2014, preceding the album by one month – a classic AC/DC rocker!

Jeez, after listening to ten heavy rock tunes, my ears are exhausted. Yesterday, the long-awaited reissue of The Rolling Stones’ Goat Heads Soup came out. I think I’m just about ready for Angie. A-Angie, A-Angie/When will this hard rock disappear/Angie, Angie/where will it lead from here…

Sources: Wikipedia; Scorpions website; NME; YouTube

It Was 35 Years Ago

A look back on Live Aid benefit concert – Part 3

The last part of this mini-series reviews highlights from the U.S. portion of Live Aid at John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia. Things there got underway at close to 9:00 a.m. EDT (2:00 p.m. BST) on July 13, 1985. The British concert at London’s Wembley Stadium ended at 10 pm BST (5:00 pm EDT). As such, both shows overlapped by eight hours. Unfortunately, this meant viewers could not see all artist performances on their television broadcasts.

The Philly concert included reunions of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, the original Black Sabbath with Ozzy Osbourne and The Beach Boys with Brian Wilson. It also featured a less than stellar appearance of Led Zeppelin with Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones who were joined by Phil Collins and Tony Thompson on drums.

With Page’s guitar out of tune and Plant’s hoarse voice, unfortunately, it was one of Zep’s poorest performances. Later, Page blamed the drumming of Collins who had played at Wembley earlier and traveled to the U.S. by supersonic jet, so he could perform in Philly as well – the only artist who pulled off that stunt. It seems to me the reality of the fiasco was a combination of factors, including lack of rehearsal, some technical challenges and probably a portion of bad luck.

While white artists were well represented at Live Aid, the same cannot be said for artists of color, especially at Wembley, where I believe only two performed: Sade and Brandon Marsalis – a bit of an oddity for a charity concert put on for the African nation of Ethiopia. The U.S. did better in this regard. The show line-up featured The Four Tops, Billy Ocean, Run-D.M.C., Ashford & Simpson, Patti LaBelle, as well as Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin of The Temptations. In addition, U.S.A. for Africa performed their charity single We Are the World, which included additional artists of color, such as Lionel Richie, Harry Belafonte and Dionne Warwick.

Let’s kick off this last part with one of the above noted reunions: Black Sabbath with Ozzy Osbourne. Here’s Paranoid, the epic title track of the band’s sophomore album from September 1970. The music was credited to all members of Sabbath, while the lyrics were written by bassist Geezer Butler.

One of my favorite bands performing in Philly were Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. They closed their mini-set with Refugee, one of their best songs, in my opinion. Co-written by Tom Petty and Mike Campbell, the tune is from Damn the Torpedoes, the band’s third studio album released in October 1979. It also became the record’s second single that appeared in January 1980.

Neil Young is another of my all-time favorite artists. Here is Powderfinger, a beloved tune among Young fans. He first recorded the song for his live album Rust Never Sleeps from June 1979. It was also included on various other live albums he released thereafter.

As a fan of Cream, of course, I couldn’t skip Eric Clapton and his rendition of White Room. Composed by Jack Bruce with lyrics by poet Pete Brown, the classic tune was included on Wheels of Fire, Cream’s third studio album that appeared in August 1968.

The last clip I’d like to call out is a great medley of tunes by The Temptations performed by Hall & Oates, together with Eddie Kendricks und David Ruffin: Get Ready, Ain’t Too Proud To Beg and My Girl, which all first appeared as singles. Get Ready from February 1966 was penned by Smokey Robinson. Ain’t Too Proud To Beg, co-written by Norman Whitfield and Edward Holland Jr., came out in May 1966. And My Girl was first released in December 1964. Robinson and Ronald White wrote that tune together.

While you may not agree with Bob Geldof who in his introduction to Live Aid 35 said it was commonly called the ‘greatest concert of all time,’ I think there can be no doubt Live Aid was a one of a kind event. Sure, there were other historic concerts like Woodstock and the Monterey Pop Festival that brought together many of the leading music artists at the time. One must also mention the Concert for Bangladesh, the first benefit music event of significant magnitude. But none of these concerts came anywhere close to Live Aid in terms of audience reach and logistics – and in the case of the Concert for Bangladesh the scale of fundraising.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube