Musings of the Past

The Venues: The Old Grey Whistle Test

This Musings of the Past revisits a post about the British television music show The Old Grey Whistle Test. It was originally published in July 2017. In case you haven’t seen any previous installments, Musings of the Past is a recurring feature in which I republish posts that first appeared when the blog got less traffic or content I feel otherwise deserves a second exposure.

A key reason for me to republish this post is what I feel are great clips of artists like Neil Young, David Bowie, Joni Mitchell, John Lennon, Bonnie Raitt and Emmylou Harris. It was fun to revisit this content. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

The Venues: The Old Grey Whistle Test

The British television music show featured an impressive array of artists

This post and the related new category I’m introducing to the blog was inspired by a dear friend from Germany, who earlier today suggested searching YouTube for “Old Grey Whistle Test,” just for fun! Since he shares my passion for music and always gives me great tips, I checked it out right away and instantly liked the clips that came up. This triggered the idea to start writing about places where rock & roll has been performed throughout the decades.

At this time, I envisage The Venues to include famous concert halls and TV shows. Many come to mind: The FillmoreThe Beacon TheaterThe ApolloThe Hollywood BowlCandlestick ParkWinterland BallroomThe Ed Sullivan Show, Rockpalast – the list goes on and on! Given it was my dear friend who inspired me, it feels right to start with The Old Grey Whistle Test.

I admit that until earlier today, I had never heard about The Old Grey Whistle Test. According to Wikipedia, the British television show aired on the BBC between September 1971 and January 1988. The late night rock show was commissioned by British veteran broadcaster Sir David Attenborough and conceived by BBC TV producer Rowan Ayers.

The show aimed to emphasize “serious” rock music, less whether it was chart-topping or not – a deliberate contrast to Top of the Pops, another BBC show that was chart-driven, as the name suggests. Based on the YouTube clips I’ve seen, apparently, this was more the case in the show’s early days than in the ’80s when the music seems to have become more commercial. Unlike other TV music shows, the sets on The Old Grey Whistle lacked showbiz glitter – again, probably more true for the ’70s than the ’80s period.

During the show’s early years, performing bands oftentimes recorded the instrumental tracks the day before the show aired. The vocals were performed live most of the time. After 1973, the show changed to an all-live format. In 1983, the title was abridged to Whistle Test. The last episode was a live 1987/88 New Year’s Eve special, including a 1977 live performance of Hotel California by The Eagles and Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell.

So what kind of music did the show feature? Let’s take a look at some of these YouTube clips.

Neil Young/Heart of Gold (1971)

Steppenwolf/Born to Be Wild (1972)

David Bowie/Oh, You Pretty Things (1972; not broadcast until 1982)

Rory Gallagher/Hands Off (1973)

Joni Mitchell/Big Yellow Taxi (1974)

John Lennon/Slippin’ & Slidin’ (1975)

Bonnie Raitt/Angel From Montgomery (1976)

Emmylou Harris/C’est La Vie (1977)

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers/American Girl (1978)

Joe Jackson/Sunday Papers (1979)

Ramones/Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio?

Los Lobos/Don’t Worry Baby (1984)

Simply Red/Holding Back the Years (1985)

U2/In God’s Country (1987)

– End-

This post was originally published on July 1, 2017. The original clip of Ooh Las Vegas by Emmylou Harris has been replaced with C’est La View since the original clip was no longer available on YouTube.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Neil Young’s Harvest Turns 50

On February 1, 1972, Neil Young released his fourth studio album Harvest. The 50th anniversary of what is among my all-time favorite Young records almost escaped my attention. I mistakenly had assumed the release date was February 14.

Young recorded Harvest following the breakup of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young in July 1970 after the end of their tour that year, which had strained relationships among the four members. It would take until 1974 before they would get back together again for a reunion tour.

For Harvest Young assembled a backing band he called The Stray Gators. The members were Jack Nitzsche (piano), Ben Keith (steel guitar), Tim Drummond (bass) and Kenny Buttry (drums). In addition to The Stray Gators, Harvest featured various notable guests, including James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt and, interestingly, each of Young’s former CSNY’s bandmates.

Let’s take a look at some of the songs. Side one kicks off with the beautiful Out on the Weekend. Like all other tracks, the tune was written by Young.

A Man Needs a Maid is a song about Young’s girlfriend at the time, the actress Carrie Snodgress. According to Songfacts, initially, the tune was coupled with Heart of Gold and played on piano. “It was like a medley,” Young said in [the autobiography – CMM] Shakey, “the two went together.”

Speaking of Heart of Gold, a post celebrating the 50th anniversary of Harvest wouldn’t be complete without this song. One of Neil Young’s best-known tunes, it also appeared separately as the album’s lead single in January 1972 and became his biggest hit. James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt provided backing vocals. Taylor also played banjo.

On to Side two. Here’s Old Man, a tune Young wrote about the caretaker of the ranch he bought in 1970 as a 25-year-old. Like on Heart of Gold, backing vocals were provided by Taylor and Ronstadt, with Taylor also contributing banjo. Songfacts quotes Ronstadt from an interview with music magazine Mojo: “I can’t remember why Neil wanted me to sing with him – I guess he just figured I was there and could do it – but we went in there and they were doing ‘Heart of Gold’ and ‘Old Man’ and I thought they were such beautiful songs.” Old Man also became the album’s second single in April 1972.

Another great tune on Side two is Alabama. According to Songfacts, This song can be seen as a follow-up to Young’s 1970 song “Southern Man” from After The Gold Rush. Canadian-born Young abhorred the idea of racism and spoke out – loudly – about his feelings. This song went unnoticed by most, but combined with the previous effort, it caused Lynyrd Skynyrd to pen their Southern Rock classic “Sweet Home Alabama” in response to Young’s assertions...In his 2012 autobiography  Waging Heavy Peace, Neil Young said of this song, “I don’t like my words when I listen to it today. They are accusatory and condescending, not fully thought out, and too easy to misconstrue.” Stephen Stills and David Crosby provided backing vocals.

The last song I’d like to highlight is The Needle and the Damage Done, a tune about heroin use and what this drug sadly will do to many who get into it. Young wrote this song about ex-Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten who struggled with heroin addiction. In fact, Young hired him in April 1972 to join rehearsals for his tour to support the Harvest album. But Whitten wasn’t up to the task and Young ended up firing him on November 18 that year, giving him $50 and a plane ticket to Los Angeles. Once Whitten got there, he overdosed on alcohol and Valium, which killed him – making Young feel guilty for many years.


Harvest topped the Billboard 200 for two weeks and became the best-selling album of 1972 in the U.S. While most music artists would have been pleased with such success, Neil Young felt alienated. He followed up Harvest with what became known as the “ditch trilogy”: the live album Time Fades Away (October 1973), as well as the studio records On the Beach (July 1974) and Tonight’s the Night (June 1975). While these three records didn’t match Harvest’s chart and sales performance, they became favorites of many Young fans.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Albums Turning 50 This Year

A first look back at 1972, another outstanding year in music

With the 50-year anniversaries of 1971 gems like The Who’s Who’s Next, Carole King’s Tapestry, Led Zeppelin’s Led Zeppelin IV, The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers and Pink Floyd’s Meddle now behind us, it’s time to take a first look at 1972 albums that are hitting the big milestone this year. And like in the case of 1971, I think the caliber of music released in 1972 is just breathtaking!

Checking Wikipedia revealed an impressive amount of records that appeared 50 years ago. Of these albums, I picked 30 studio releases that are represented in the below Spotify playlist with one song each. Following, I’d like to briefly highlight six of them. I’m planning more in-depth posts timed to their and possibly some of the other albums’ actual 50th-anniversary dates.

Neil Young/Harvest (February 1, 1972)

Undoubtedly, Neil Young’s fourth studio album Harvest is one of his best known and most beloved. With gems like Heart of Gold, The Needle and the Damage Done, Old Man and A Man Needs a Maid, it’s no wonder. Not only did Harvest top the Billboard 200 for two weeks, but it also became the best-selling album of 1972 in the U.S. But Neil Young, who is always good for a surprise, had a different reaction. Feeling alienated by the huge success of Harvest, he decided to release what became known as the “ditch trilogy”: the live album Times Fades Away (October 1973), as well as the studio records On the Beach (July 1974) and Tonight’s the Night (June 1975). While the ditch albums didn’t perform as well as Harvest, let’s just say they didn’t exactly harm Neil’s standing with his fans!

Deep Purple/Machine Head (March 25, 1972)

Machine Head, Deep Purple’s sixth studio release, remains the ultimate ’70s hard rock album in my book. While I literally dig each of the record’s seven tracks, the band’s most commercially successful album is best-known for the classics Smoke on the Water, which is safe to assume must be a nightmare for anybody working in a store selling electric guitars, and Highway Star. Machine Head topped the charts in the UK, Australia, Canada, Finland, Germany, Italy and The Netherlands – yes, I had to name them all, hoping Wikipedia’s account is accurate and complete! The thought of a hard rock album topping the mainstream charts is unreal, especially from today’s perspective! In the U.S., Machine Head reached no. 7 on the Billboard 200, making it their highest-charting record there.

The Rolling Stones/Exile on Main St. (May 12, 1972)

While I prefer Sticky Fingers, there’s no doubt Exile on Main St. is among the top albums by The Rolling Stones. Many Stones fans regard the double LP as their best record – hey, I won’t argue, it’s great rock & roll, and I like it! Some of the highlights include Rocks Off, Rip This Joint, Tumbling Dice, Sweet Virginia, Happy and All Down the Line. Given Keith Richards’ frequent no-shows to the recording sessions since he was, well, stoned, while Mick Jagger and Bill Wyman oftentimes were absent as well, supposedly for other reasons, it’s a near-miracle to me how great this album turned out. That being said, initial reactions among critics were mixed, but as is not uncommon, opinions subsequently changed.

David Bowie/The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (June 6, 2022)

Of course, there was no way this upfront section would skip my favorite David Bowie album of all time. The British artist’s fifth studio release, revolving around a bi-sexual alien rock musician who becomes widely popular among teenagers before his fame ultimately kills him, is a true glam rock gem. Similar to Deep Purple’s Machine Head, I feel there’s no weak song on this record. Starman, Suffragette City, Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide and the title track are a few of the amazing tunes that come to mind. The Ziggy Stardust album climbed to no. 5 in the UK and also charted in various other European countries. In the U.S., where there was generally less of an appetite for glam rock, the record still reached a respectable no. 21 on the Billboard 200.

Curtis Mayfield/Superfly (July 11, 1972)

Curtis Mayfield is another longtime favorite artist of mine, so I’m more than happy to call out Superfly. His third studio album appeared as the soundtrack of the Blaxploitation motion picture of the same name. Rightfully, this record is widely considered a classic of ’70s soul and funk music. In addition to the title track, some of the other tunes on the album include Pusherman, Freddie’s Dead and Eddie You Should Know Better. Superfly was hugely successful in the U.S., topping both the Billboard 200 and the R&B chart. It also became Mayfield’s highest-charting album in the UK where it reached no. 26. Side note: It seems to me music listeners in the UK were into glam rock but not so much into psychedelic soul and funk.

Santana/Caravanserai (October 11, 1972)

The final album I’d like to highlight in this section of the post is a less obvious choice for me. I absolutely love the first three studio albums by Santana, which make up the band’s so-called classic period. I find the combination of Latin rhythms and rock electrifying. On Caravanserai, Carlos Santana and his band went in a very different direction. The album mostly features jazz-like, improvisational instrumentals – definitely posing a challenge for a guy like me who digs catchy hooks and great vocals, especially harmony singing. But sometimes it’s good to push beyond your comfort zone. Musically, I think there’s no question Caravanserai is an outstanding record. Given its radical departure from Santana’s first three albums, it did remarkably well in the charts. In the UK it peaked at no. 6, matching its predecessor Santana III, which previously had been the band’s highest-charting album there. It did even better in The Netherlands, climbing to no. 3, again matching Santana III. Elsewhere, Caravanserai reached no. 8 in the U.S., no. 10 in Norway and no. 16 in Australia.

Following is a playlist featuring the above tracks, as well as tunes from 24 other albums that were released in 1972. Since Spotify, unfortunately, doesn’t have Status Quo’s Piledriver (neither does Apple Music!), I included a pretty good, more recent live version of Paper Plane. Again, I have to say 1972 was another amazing year in music!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

What I’ve Been Listening To: America/ History: America’s Greatest Hits (Re-Post)

America’s vocal harmonies and smooth folk rock sound make for one of the best ’70s greatest hits compilations

On Monday, I found myself listening to America. I realize the trio has been dismissed by some critics as a Crosby, Stills & Nash knockoff. If anything, frankly, I would consider sounding like one of the best harmony-singing bands of all time as a compliment. But that may just be me. In any case, I’ve loved America’s music for many years and always enjoy revisiting it.

My listening experience made me want to post about the album that started my America journey as a nine- or 10-year-old back in Germany: History: America’s Greatest Hits. Then, I nebulously recalled a previous musing about their first compilation from November 1975. Checking my blog revealed a post from September 2018. Yes, I sometimes have to search my own stuff to remember what I previously wrote! 🙂

When it comes to old posts, sometimes, I wish I had written them differently. My views may have evolved. I also guess there’s a certain learning curve here. In this case, I was happy to see that I continue to fully stand behind each word I wrote almost three years ago. Therefore, I decided to do something I rarely do: Re-publish a previous post.

– Re-Post –

I was nine or 10 years old when I listened to History: America’s Greatest Hits for the first time. The album grabbed me right from the beginning. It was one of the vinyl records my older sister had, which among others also included Carole King’s TapestryCrosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Déjà Vu; and Simon & Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits – all albums I dig to this day.

Recently, I rediscovered History. To me, it’s one of the best greatest hits compilations I know, which were released in the ’70s. Others that come to my mind are Neil Young’s DecadeEagles’ Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975), Santana’s Greatest HitsSteely Dan’s Greatest Hits and the aforementioned Simon & Garfunkel album. There are probably some others I’m forgetting – in any case, it’s not meant to be a complete list.

I recall reading somewhere that America were dismissed by some as a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young knock-off. While I generally don’t think highly of music critics in the first place, I feel this notion is silly. Yes, America’s three-part harmony vocals are reminiscent of CSN/CSNY, but this doesn’t make them a copycat or somehow bad artists! On the contrary, if anything, the vocal similarity to CSN/CSNY is a huge accomplishment – after all, there aren’t many bands that can harmonize like CSN/CSNY did! On to History.

America
America (from left): Gerry Beckley, Dan Peek & Dewey Bunnell

Released in November 1975, History encompasses America’s 11 most successful singles at the time, plus an edited take of Sandman from their December 1971 eponymous debut. In addition to that album, History includes material from four additional studio records: Homecoming (November 1972), Hat Trick (October 1973), Holiday (June 1974) and Hearts (March 1975).

History opens with one of my favorite America tunes: A Horse With No Name from their debut album. It was written by Dewey Bunnell, who formed America with Dan Peek and Gerry Beckley in London in 1970. The three had met there in the mid-’60s as high school students whose fathers were stationed on a nearby U.S. Air Force base.

A Horse With No Name became America’s most successful single topping the Billboard Hot 100. It also stirred some controversy due to the similarity of Bunnell’s voice to Neil Young, and what some viewed as mediocre lyrics. Coincidentally, the song knocked Young’s Heart Of Gold off the Billboard Hot 100 top spot. I really don’t care whether it sounds like Young, who by the way is one of my favorite artists. With its two chords and killer harmony vocals, this tune simply gives me goosebumps each time I hear it.

Ventura Highway, another Bunnell composition, is from the Homecoming album. When I listen to this song and close my eyes, I can literally picture myself in an open convertible driving on the Pacific Coast Highway 1 from L.A. up north to San Francisco. I actually did that trip in 1980 as a 14-year-old, together with my parents. Even though we had a lame station wagon as a rental, not some hot convertible, it was an unforgettable experience! Ventura Highway became a top 10 Billboard single for America, reaching no. 8 and no. 3 on the Hot 100 and Easy Listening charts, respectively.

Another beautiful tune is Lonely People, which was credited to Dan Peek and his wife Catherine Peek. The song was written a few weeks after their marriage. An obituary in TMR that appeared in the wake of Peek’s death in July 2011 at the age of 60 quotes him: “I wrote it probably within a month of getting married to my long-lost love Catherine…I always felt like a melancholy, lonely person. And now I felt like I’d won.” America  initially recorded Lonely People for their fourth studio album Holiday. It topped the Billboard Easy Listening chart and peaked at no. 5 on the Hot 100.

One of my favorite songs on History written by Gerry Beckley is Sister Golden Hair. Recorded for America’s fifth studio album Hearts, the tune also became the band’s second no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The lyrics were inspired by Jackson Browne. In this context, John Corbett’s America Revisited quotes Beckley: “Jackson Browne has a knack, an ability to put words to music, that is much more like the L.A. approach to just genuine observation as opposed to simplifying it down to its bare essentials… and it was that style of his which led to a song of mine, “Sister Golden Hair,” which is probably the more L.A. of my lyrics.” I guess this means in addition to CSN/CSNY, America also stole from Browne – unbelievable!

The last song I’d like to call out is the final track on the History compilation:  Woman Tonight. It’s another tune from the Hearts album and was written by Peek. Released as the third single, it charted within the top 50 in the U.S.

History was produced by none other than George Martin, who had started working with America on their fourth studio album Holiday. Martin also remixed the first seven tracks on History, which he had not produced originally. The compilation became a huge success in the U.S., giving America a no. 3 on the Billboard 200. In October 1986, the Recording Industry Association of America certified the album 4X Multi-Platinum.

Since History, America have released 12 additional studio albums, 10 live records and numerous other compilations. Now in their 51st year [updated from original post – CMM], America continue to perform, featuring co-founders Beckley and Bunnell. Peek left the band in May 1977, long before his death, after he had renewed his Christian faith.

– End of Re-Post –

Apparently, America will be touring the U.S. starting in late summer. According to their current schedule listed on their website, things are set to kick off in North Bethesda, Md. on August 13. Some of the other gigs include Hyannis, Mass. (Aug 27); Mulvane, Kan. (Sep 11); Lawrence, Kan. (Sep 25); Reno, Nev. (Oct 2), Mankato, Minn (Oct 22); and San Antonio (Nov 14). The last currently listed show is Sarasota, Fla. (Nov 21). I saw America once in the late ’90s on Long Island, N.Y., and they sounded fantastic.

Sources: Wikipedia; TMR; John Corbett: “America Revisited”, AccessBackstage.com, May 29, 2004; RIAA Gold & Platinum certifications; America website; YouTube

Neil Young Releases Another Live Gem From His Archives

Solo acoustic gig from January 1971 is among the earliest concert footage of Young released to date

Since I first had learned about it a few weeks ago, I had been looking forward to the latest release by Neil Young, which came out Friday, March 26. Not only is Young Shakespeare a brilliant title, but it’s yet another highlight from Young’s archives. The live album and concert film comes only four weeks after Way Down in the Rust Bucket, which captures a terrific November 1990 live performance with Crazy Horse I previously reviewed here, and four months following the massive box set Neil Young Archives Volume II: 1972–1976.

Young Shakespeare documents an acoustic solo concert at the Shakespeare Theater in Stratford, Conn. on January 22, 1971. Neil Young was 25 years old at the time and had just entered what arguably is the best period of his solo career. Only four months earlier, he had released After the Gold Rush. Harvest, On the Beach and Tonight’s the Night were still about one, three and four years into the future, respectively.

Part of Young’s Journey Through the Past solo tour, the Shakespeare gig happened only three days after the famous Massey Hall show in Toronto Canada. The latter concert was captured on Live at Massey Hall 1971, which came out in March 2007 as the second release from Young’s Archives Performance Series. A vast amount of additional albums have since appeared in the series. If I see this correctly, Young Shakespeare is the second release of Volume 03, even though it’s registered as Volume 03.5. Well, I’m not an archivist.

As reported by NME, initially, video footage of the concert was filmed by German television at the time, but it never aired. Only bits and pieces recorded by visitors that night had been floating around among Young fans. Young considers the gig as superior to the Massey Hall show, calling it “a more calm performance, without the celebratory atmosphere of Massey Hall” on his archives website last year. “Young Shakespeare’ is a very special event,” he added. “To my fans, I say this is the best ever. ‘Young Shakespeare’ is the performance of that era. Personal and emotional, for me, it defines that time.”

I think Young may be right. The true magic of Young Shakespeare isn’t the set list. Neil Young fans have heard these songs a million times before. What I find fascinating are his announcements that illustrate what went through his mind at the time. They also convey Young’s great sense of humor. The entire gig comes across as very intimate. It’s almost like you’re in the same room with Young, and he’s chatting and cracking jokes while tuning his guitar for the next song. How about some music?

The first tune I’d like to call out is one of my all-time favorites: The Needle and the Damage Done. Mind you, when Young performed the song that night, it had not been recorded yet. I was included on his fourth studio album Harvest released in February 1972.

Dance Dance Dance is a track from Crazy Horse’s eponymous debut album that came out in February 1971. At the time of the Shakespeare gig, it was another yet-to-be-released tune. Young cheerfully calls it hoedown music.

Here’s a medley of A Man Needs a Maid and Heart of Gold, performed on the piano. Young introduces it by saying he hasn’t played the piano for a long time and usually screws it up. He cheerfully adds, “But you’ve never heard it before anyway, so you probably think that’s the way it is, and it’ll be alright.” Obviously, Young was correct. Both songs would appear on Harvest.

In addition to yet-to-be released songs at the time, Young played some old tunes. After all, his solo tour was titled Journey Through the Past. Here’s one of them, Down by the River, a song from his second album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere released in May 1969.

The last track I’d like to highlight is the album’s closer Sugar Mountain. Young wrote this song on November 12, 1964, which was his 19th birthday. The tune’s first official release was a live version, which became the b-side of Young’s first solo single The Loner from February 1969. It’s always been on of my favorite Neil tunes. It also cracks me up when Young says, “If you don’t know the words…just, you know, you’re all university students. Just memorize them after the first time!”

Here’s the full track list:

1. Tell Me Why
2. Old Man
3. The Needle and the Damage Done
4. Ohio
5. Dance Dance Dance
6. Cowgirl in the Sand
7. A Man Needs a Maid/Heart of Gold
8. Journey Through the Past
9. Don’t Let It Bring You Down
10. Helpless
11. Down by the River
12. Sugar Mountain


NME notes Young Shakespeare is only predated by footage from Young’s gigs at New York’s Café Feenjon in June 1970, and the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young concert at Fillmore East in March 1970. Obviously, there’s also the aforementioned Live at Massey Hall 1971, so I assume NME referred to video recordings. The new release is available on CD, vinyl and major streaming platforms. The DVD is available exclusively in Young’s own store.

Sources: Wikipedia; NME; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Neil Young/Tell Me Why

Neil Young has been on a roll releasing material from his archives. The above clip is from an upcoming album and concert film titled Young Shakespeare. Scheduled for March 26, it captures an acoustic gig at the Shakespeare Theater in Stratford, Conn. on January 22, 1971. As reported by Ultimate Classic Rock, this is the earliest known footage of Young in concert.

Recorded three days after the famous show at Toronto’s Massey Hall (released as Live at Massey Hall 1971 in March 2007), the footage was taken for German TV. Apparently, it never aired and wasn’t released otherwise until now.

Neil Young Announces 'Young Shakespeare' Live LP and Concert Film

Tell Me Why, written by Young, is the opener of the album and film. It also is the first track of his third studio album After the Gold Rush, which came out in September 1970, only four months prior to the Shakespeare and Massey Hall shows.

While I like many of Neil Young’s electric tunes with Crazy Horse, I think oftentimes he’s even better solo with just his acoustic guitar and harmonica or piano. Notably, Young Shakespeare features various tunes from Harvest, the follow-on to After the Gold Rush, which had not been released at the time. These songs include classics A Man Needs a Maid, Heart of Gold and The Needle and the Damage Done. Following is the official film trailer.

Here’s the track list:

1. Tell Me Why
2. Old Man
3. The Needle and the Damage Done
4. Ohio
5. Dance Dance Dance
6. Cowgirl in the Sand
7. A Man Needs a Maid/Heart of Gold
8. Journey Through the Past
9. Don’t Let It Bring You Down
10. Helpless
11. Down by the River
12. Sugar Mountain


Young Shakespeare will be available on vinyl, CD, DVD and streaming platforms. It comes on the heels of Way Down in the Rust Bucket, another excellent live album Young released on February 26, which I previously covered here.

Sources: Wikipedia; Ultimate Classic Rock; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: America/ History: America’s Greatest Hits

America’s vocal harmonies and smooth folk rock sound make for one of the best ’70s greatest hits compilations

I was nine or 10 years old when I listened to History: America’s Greatest Hits for the first time. The album grabbed me right from the beginning. It was one of the vinyl records my older sister had, which among others also included Carole King’s Tapestry; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Déjà Vu; and Simon & Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits – all albums I dig to this day.

Recently, I rediscovered History. To me, it’s one of the best greatest hits compilations I know, which were released in the ’70s. Others that come to my mind are Neil Young’s Decade, Eagles’ Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975), Santana’s Greatest HitsSteely Dan’s Greatest Hits and the aforementioned Simon & Garfunkel album. There are probably some others I’m forgetting – in any case, it’s not meant to be a complete list.

I recall reading somewhere that America were dismissed by some as a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young knock-off. While I generally don’t think highly of music critics in the first place, I feel this notion is silly. Yes, America’s three-part harmony vocals are reminiscent of CSN/CSNY, but this doesn’t make them a copycat or somehow bad artists! On the contrary, if anything, the vocal similarity to CSN/CSNY is a huge accomplishment – after all, there aren’t many bands that can harmonize like CSN/CSNY did! On to History.

America
America (from left): Gerry Beckley, Dan Peek & Dewey Bunnell

Released in November 1975, History encompasses America’s 11 most successful singles at the time, plus an edited take of Sandman from their December 1971 eponymous debut. In addition to that album, History includes material from four additional studio records: Homecoming (November 1972), Hat Trick (October 1973), Holiday (June 1974) and Hearts (March 1975).

History opens with one of my favorite America tunes: A Horse With No Name from their debut album. It was written by Dewey Bunnell, who formed America with Dan Peek and Gerry Beckley in London in 1970. The three had met there in the mid-’60s as high school students whose fathers were stationed on a nearby U.S. Air Force base.

A Horse With No Name became America’s most successful single topping the Billboard Hot 100. It also stirred some controversy due to the similarity of Bunnell’s voice to Neil Young, and what some viewed as mediocre lyrics. Coincidentally, the song knocked Young’s Heart Of Gold off the Billboard Hot 100 top spot. I really don’t care whether it sounds like Young, who by the way is one of my favorite artists. With its two chords and killer harmony vocals, this tune simply gives me goosebumps each time I hear it.

Ventura Highway, another Bunnell composition, is from the Homecoming album. When I listen to this song and close my eyes, I can literally picture myself in an open convertible driving on the Pacific Coast Highway 1 from L.A. up north to San Francisco. I actually did that trip in 1980 as a 14-year-old, together with my parents. Even though we had a lame station wagon as a rental, not some hot convertible, it was an unforgettable experience! Ventura Highway became a top 10 Billboard single for America, reaching no. 8 and no. 3 on the Hot 100 and Easy Listening charts, respectively.

Another beautiful tune is Lonely People, which was credited to Dan Peek and his wife Catherine Peek. The song was written a few weeks after their marriage. An obituary in TMR that appeared in the wake of Peek’s death in July 2011 at the age of 60 quotes him: “I wrote it probably within a month of getting married to my long-lost love Catherine…I always felt like a melancholy, lonely person. And now I felt like I’d won.” America  initially recorded Lonely People for their fourth studio album Holiday. It topped the Billboard Easy Listening chart and peaked at no. 5 on the Hot 100.

One of my favorite songs on History written by Gerry Beckley is Sister Golden Hair. Recorded for America’s fifth studio album Hearts, the tune also became the band’s second no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. The lyrics were inspired by Jackson Browne. In this context, John Corbett’s America Revisited quotes Beckley: “Jackson Browne has a knack, an ability to put words to music, that is much more like the L.A. approach to just genuine observation as opposed to simplifying it down to its bare essentials… and it was that style of his which led to a song of mine, “Sister Golden Hair,” which is probably the more L.A. of my lyrics.” I guess this means in addition to CSN/CSNY, America also stole from Browne – unbelievable!

The last song I’d like to call out is the final track on the History compilation: Woman Tonight. It’s another tune from the Hearts album and was written by Peek. Released as the third single, it charted within the top 50 in the U.S.

History was produced by none other than George Martin, who had started working with America on their fourth studio album Holiday. Martin also remixed the first seven tracks on History, which he had not produced originally. The compilation became a huge success in the U.S., giving America a no. 3 on the Billboard 200. In October 1986, the Recording Industry Association of America certified the album 4X Multi-Platinum.

Since History, America have released 12 additional studio albums, 10 live records and numerous other compilations. Now in their 48th year, America continue to perform, featuring co-founders Beckley and Bunnell. Peek left the band in May 1977, long before his death, after he had renewed his Christian faith.

The band’s current tour schedule on their website is filled with dates until January 2019. After playing the MTV music festival Gibraltar Calling in the British overseas territory on September 21, the band is off to a series of gigs in the U.S., including Denver (Sep 27), Emporia, KS (Sep 28), Dodge City, KS (Sep 29), San Jose (Oct 4) and San Diego (Oct 5),  before going back over the Atlantic to Israel and doing some shows in Europe.

Sources: Wikipedia; TMR; John Corbett: “America Revisited”, AccessBackstage.com, May 29, 2004; RIAA Gold & Platinum certifications; America website; YouTube

Neil Young Triumphantly Returns To Boston

Solo set at Wang Theatre spans various decades

“One of my first solo shows was in the Wang Theater, then called the Music Hall,” wrote Neil Young on his website in May, talking about his 2018 solo tour that officially ended last night with the second of two dates at the landmark venue in Boston’s Theatre District. “It’s a real beauty folks – a chapel of soul and music. I hope it still sounds as good as it did then and that I do too!” While I wasn’t around when Young played Music Hall in January 1971, I saw him at Wang Theatre on Wednesday night, the first of his two concerts there, and he surely sounded amazing to me!

Wang Theatre
View of Wang Theatre auditorium from stage

Young was right. The venue is pretty impressive. Take a closer look at the above photo, and you can see the rich ornaments and decorative painting. In addition to its looks, he certainly also well remembered the Wang Theatre’s acoustic, which was great.

While it must be about 40 years ago that Young entered my radar screen with Heart Of Gold, I had never been to one of his shows. When I read about his solo tour a few months ago and noticed it would bring him to Boston, it didn’t take long for me to decide that seeing him was worth a five-hour drive from my house, especially given the tour only had six dates: Two in each Chicago and Boston, and one in each Detroit and St. Louis.

Neil Young

But before I further get to Young, I’d like to acknowledge William Prince, a folk and country singer-songwriter, who like Young hails from Canada. Punctually at 8:00 PM, he walked on stage with just an acoustic guitar and opened the night. Prince is a member of the Pegius First Nation from Manitoba.

In 2015, he released his debut album Earthly Days, for which he won a Western Canadian Music Award for Aboriginal Artist of the Year in 2016 and the 2017 the Juno Award for  Contemporary Roots Album of the Year. From that album, here’s Breathless. The look and feel of the performance, which apparently was captured in December, is very similar to Wednesday night. I thought his voice and guitar-playing sounded really nice. Visit his website for more information.

And then it was time for Young. To get an idea what to expect, I checked the previous shows from the tour on setlist.fm. I noticed the sets were relatively constant and included a mix of well-known songs and other tunes that at least to me were deeper cuts. A friend of mine, who is a Neil Young connoisseur and the lead vocalist in an excellent Neil Young tribute band, thought it was a selection for longtime fans.

The stage setup looked a little like a music workshop. It featured areas with different instruments, including an array of acoustic guitars, a semi-hollow electric guitar, two grand pianos and two organs. Young also had multiple harmonicas on hand. During the show, he shared anecdotes about most of the instruments. For example, one of the grand pianos was from the 19th century, and the bottom had been burned during a fire. Young maintained this gave it a very unique sound, adding this tour was the first time he took it on the road. He also pointed to guitars that had once been owned by Stephen Stills and Hank Williams.

Time for some music. I tried capturing some of the songs, and while the audio came out okay, the quality of the video varies quite a bit. The latter was due to challenging lighting conditions and my seat up on the balcony in the back of the theater. There was also what looked like an illuminated stripe in the background above the stage. I’m wondering whether this may have been done on purpose to discourage taking videos, which officially was strictly forbidden.

While I get they don’t want flash photography, I generally find these “no video rules” complete nonsense. Unless you walk in with a professional camera that enables you to record footage you could sell, what damage are you going to do with clips taken with a smartphone? On the contrary, in my opinion, taking and posting such clips on Facebook or elsewhere actually helps promote the artist. Okay, I’m stopping going off on a tangent now. The following is a combination of my own clips and footage from other recent solo gigs.

First up: Pocahontas, a song by Young that first appeared on the Rust Never Sleeps live album from July 1979. Initially, he recorded a version of the tune in the mid-70s for Chrome Dreams, a then-planned but unreleased album.

Ohio was the only Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young tune Wednesday night and one of two songs Young played on the electric guitar. Written by him in the wake of the Kent State shootings on May 4, 1970, the track was released by CSNY as a single in June that year. It was also included on the band’s 4 Way Street live album from April 1971 and the studio compilation So Far, released in August 1974. The tune also appeared on Young’s solo compilation albums Decade (Oct 1977) and Greatest Hits (Nov 2004).

A highlight of the show and perhaps my favorite moment of the night was After The Gold Rush. Young played the title track of his third studio album from September 1970 on a pipe organ. The church-like sound was just incredible. He slightly updated the lyrics by singing, Look at mother nature on the run in the 21st century/Look at mother nature on the run in the 21st century. The performance was incredibly powerful and gave me the goosebumps!

Among Young’s more recent tunes was Love And War. He recorded the song for his 30th studio album Le Noise, which appeared in September 2010. This clip was captured at his June 28 show in St. Louis.

Young finished his regular set with two gems from Harvest, his fourth studio album released in February 1972: The Needle And The Damage Done and Heart Of Gold. Unfortunately, the following clip of Needle, shot in Chicago on July 1, is cut in the beginning but otherwise 10 times better than my attempt to film it.

Here’s the mighty Heart Of Gold. Young may be getting old (though he sounded great!), but not the song.

Young came back for one encore: Tumbleweed, a tune from the deluxe edition of his 34th studio album Storytone from November 2014. He performed it with a ukulele. This clip is from the above St. Louis clip.

For now, Young’s second gig in Boston last night marked the final show of his solo tour. In September, he is scheduled to perform back-to-back at Farm Aid (Hartfort, Conn., Sep 22) and, together with Promise Of The Real, at another Willie Nelson event (Saratoga, N.Y., Sep 23).

Sources: Wikipedia, Neil Young official website, William Prince official website, setlist.fm, YouTube

 

On This Day In Rock & Roll History: March 11

1968: (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay by Otis Redding was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Co-written by Redding and Stax house band Booker T. & the M.G.’s guitarist Steve Cropper, the song had only been released as a single on January 8 that year, following Redding’s untimely death in a plane crash on December 10, 1967 at the age of 26. The tune, which topped the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and climbed to no. 3 on the UK Singles Chart, became his biggest hit. As of December 13, 2017, it has reached 3x Multi-Platinum certification.

1970: The Beatles released Let It Be in the U.S., five days after the song had appeared in the UK, their last single prior to the announcement of their official breakup. Credited to John Lennon and Paul McCartney, the ballad was actually written by McCartney who also sang lead. Undoubtedly one of the best known Beatles songs to this day, Let It Be gave the band another no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and peaked at no. 2 in the UK.

1970: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young released Déjà Vu, the first studio album by the quartet and second studio record by Crosby, Stills & Nash. The record, which became the band’s most successful album, includes numerous gems like Carry On, Teach Your Children, Our House and the brilliant cover of Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock. The aforementioned songs also appeared as singles, and each charted in the Billboard Hot 100, with Woodstock reaching the highest position at no. 11. The album topped the Billboard 200 in May 1970 and stayed in the charts for 97 weeks. RIAA certified the record Gold on March 25, 1970, only two weeks after its release. As of November 4, 1992, Harvest has reached 7x Multi-Platinum certification, numbers that are unheard of these days. Here’s a clip of the mighty Woodstock.

1972: Neil Young’s fourth studio album Harvest hit no. 1 on the Billboard 200, staying in that position for two weeks. The record featured various notable guest vocalists, including David Crosby, Graham Nash, Linda Ronstadt, Stephen Hills and James Taylor. The album includes some of Young’s best known songs, such as Old Man, The Needle And The Damage Done and Heart Of Gold, his first and only no. 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100. That tune also topped the charts in Young’s native Canada, as did the record. Harvest was certified Gold by RIAA less than three weeks after its release and became the best selling album of 1972 in the U.S. As of June 27, 1994, the album has reached 4x Multi-Platinum status. Here’s a clip of The Needle And The Damage Done.

1975: English Art rockers 10cc came out with their third studio album The Original Soundtrack. The record is best known for I’m Not In Love, which was also released separately as a single on May 23, 1975. Co-written by Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman, the ballad is one of the band’s most popular songs and enjoyed massive radio play. It became 10cc’s second of three chart-topping singles in the UK, and their best performing U.S. single, peaking at no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. The album’s lead single Life Is A Minestrone climbed to no. 7 on the UK Singles Chart but did not chart in the U.S.

Sources: Wikipedia, This Day In Music, The Beatles Bible, RIAA.com, Billboard Chart History, YouTube