Those Were the Days: My Favorite Year in Music

A “Turntable Talk” contribution

Music fellow blogger Dave from A Sound Day has a great recurring feature, Turntable Talk, for which he invites other bloggers to contribute their thoughts about a given topic. This time, he called it “Those Were the Days My Friend,” I guess a nod to the tune popularized by Mary Hopkin in 1968. Or as he summed it up: Simply put, we’re asking the contributors to write about “music’s best year.” Following is my contribution, which first ran on Dave’s blog yesterday. For this post, I added some clips, as well as a Spotify playlist at the end.

Here we are with another great topic for Turntable Talk – thanks for continuing to host the fun series, Dave, and for having me back.

Interestingly, when prompted to think about what I feel is the best year in music, I instantly had the answer – or so I thought until I started having second thoughts.

Admittedly, this is typical for me who oftentimes tends to overthink things. That’s why I also keep emphasizing that I’m “ranking-challenged.” Anyway, after careful agony, guess what happened? I stuck with my initial spontaneous choice: 1969 – what an amazing year in music!

From an overall perspective, the year saw two epic moments and a less-than-glorious event: The first was the three-day Woodstock festival in mid-August with an incredible line-up of bands and artists, such as Santana, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Who, Joe Cocker, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Jimi Hendrix. Can you imagine a music event of that caliber these days?

At the same time, I don’t want to romanticize things either and will add it was probably a near-miracle Woodstock didn’t end in complete disaster, given the overcrowding and horrible sanitary conditions. Also, let’s not forget the three lives that were lost: two drug overdoses and another fatality when a 17-year-old sleeping in a nearby hayfield was run over by a tractor.

Then there was that other concert by one of the bands who would decline to perform at Woodstock: On January 30, 1969, The Beatles played an impromptu gig on the rooftop of their Apple Corps headquarters in London. Commonly known as the rooftop concert, it became their final public appearance as a band.

Speaking of concerts, again, I’d be remiss in not to least briefly acknowledging The Rolling Stones’ performance at Altamont Speedway in California on December 9, 1969. The gig became infamous for its violence, including a fan who was stabbed to death by members of the biker gang Hells Angels who had been hired to provide security for $500 worth of beer. I guess you can put this mind-boggling arrangement into the ‘you can’t make up this stuff’ and ‘what were they thinking?’ departments!

Next, I’d like to highlight some of the great albums that were released in 1969. Looking in Wikipedia, I easily came up with 20-plus – obviously way too many to cover in this post. As such, I decided to narrow it down to five. I’m briefly going to touch on each in the following, in chronological order. I’m also picking one track from each I like in particular.

January 5: Creedence Clearwater Revival released their sophomore album Bayou Country, the first of three(!) records they put out in 1969. Here’s Proud Mary, which like all other songs except one was written by John Fogerty.

May 23: The Who put out their fourth studio album Tommy, Pete Townshend’s first rock opera. While the production oftentimes feels unfinished, the double LP is a gem. One of my favorite songs has always been We’re Not Gonna Take It. Like most of the other tunes, it was solely penned by Townshend.

September 23: Of course, it was a forgone conclusion any favorite year in music while The Beatles were still together would include one of their albums. In this case, it’s Abbey Road, which actually was their final record, even though it appeared prior to Let It Be. Two of the best tracks on the album were written by George Harrison. Here’s one of them: Something.

August 22: Santana’s eponymous debut album was released in the wake of the band’s legendary performance at Woodstock. Here’s the amazing instrumental closer Soul Sacrifice.

October 22: Last but not least, on that date, Led Zeppelin released their sophomore album Led Zeppelin II, only nine months after their January 12 debut. One of my all-time favorite Zep tunes is Whole Lotta Love, initially credited to all members of the band, with the subsequent addition of Willie Dixon. Once again, unfortunately, it took litigation to give credit where credit was due!

In the final section of this post, I’m going to look at a few additional great songs that were released as singles in 1969.

First up are The Rolling Stones and Honky Tonk Women, a non-album single that appeared on July 4. Co-written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, it was the first of two versions of the song. The second version, Country Honk, which has slightly different lyrics, appeared on the Stones’ Let It Bleed album that came out on December 5 of the same year.

Suspicious Minds is one of my all-time favorite tunes performed by Elvis Presley, which was released on August 26 as a single. Written and first recorded by American songwriter Mark James in 1968, Suspicious Minds topped the Billboard Hot 100, giving Elvis his first no. 1 on the U.S. pop chart since 1962, helping revive his chart success in America, following his ’68 Comeback Special, a concert special that had aired on NBC on December 3, 1968. The song also was a major hit in many other countries.

Let’s do two more: First up is Reflections of My Life by Scottish band Marmalade, a song I loved from the very first moment I heard it on the radio back in Germany many moons ago. Co-written by the group’s lead guitarist Junior Campbell and vocalist Dean Ford, this gem was first released as a single in the UK on November 14 and subsequently appeared on their 1970 studio album Reflections of the Marmalade.

I’d like to close out this post with what remains one of my favorite David Bowie songs to this day: Space Oddity. Written by Bowie, the tune was first released as a single on July 11. It also was the opener of his sophomore eponymous album, which subsequently became commonly known as Space Oddity because of the song and to distinguish it from Bowie’s 1967 debut album, which was also self-titled. Bowie’s tale of fictional astronaut Major Tom was used by the BBC during its coverage of the Moon landing.

I can hardly think of another year in music that was as rich as 1969. That said, I was considering 1971. And 1972 didn’t look shabby either. Now that I think about it, let me go back to further reflect!😊

Following is a Spotify playlist of the above and some additional tunes from 1969.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

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When the World’s Greatest Rock & Roll Band Goes Country

A playlist of country-influenced songs by The Rolling Stones

With the recent passing of Charlie Watts, The Rolling Stones have been on my mind lately. When my streaming music provider served up Far Away Eyes the other day, the seed for this post was planted. In addition to rock & roll and blues, the “greatest rock & roll band in the world” has always had a thing for country, so I thought it would be fun to put together a list of country-influenced Stones songs.

“As far as country music was concerned, we used to play country songs, but we’d never record them – or we recorded them but never released them,” Mick Jagger is quoted on Songfacts. “Keith and I had been playing Johnny Cash records and listening to the Everly Brothers – who were SO country – since we were kids. I used to love country music even before I met Keith. I loved George Jones and really fast, s–t-kicking country music, though I didn’t really like the maudlin songs too much.” For all of those among us who aren’t native English speakers like myself, maudlin means “drunk enough to be emotionally silly” and “weakly and effusively sentimental,” as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

All featured tracks in this list were credited to Jagger and Keith Richards, as usual. One could argue most picks aren’t “pure” country and mix in elements from blues and other genres. While I suppose there isn’t much debate that a tune like I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry qualifies as maudlin, it’s really hard to define what is a pure country song in the first place. After all, with all the crossover action that has been going on in country for many years, I would argue the genre has become one of the broadest in music. Should we be shattered? Does it matter?

Dear DoctorBeggars Banquet (1968)

Let’s kick off this list with Dear Doctor from Beggars Banquet. The tune featured Brian Jones on harmonica and slide guitar. Sadly, Beggars Banquet was the last Stones album that appeared during his lifetime. “The country songs, like “Factory Girl” or “Dear Doctor” on Beggars Banquet were really pastiche,” Jagger said. “There’s a sense of humor in country music, anyway, a way of looking at life in a humorous kind of way – and I think we were just acknowledging that element of the music.” The Stones clearly seemed to have fun with Dear Doctor.

Country HonkLet It Bleed (1969)

Country Honk is the country version of Honky Tonk Women. “On Let It Bleed, we put that other version of ‘Honky Tonk Women’ on because that’s how the song was originally written, as a real Hank Williams/Jimmie Rodgers, ’30s country song,” Richards explained, as captured by Songfacts. “And it got turned around to this other song by Mick Taylor, who got into a completely different feel, throwing it off the wall completely.” Wikipedia notes the fiddle was played by Byron Berline in a park, who by his own account had been recommended for the part by Gram Parsons.

Dead FlowersSticky Fingers (1971)

Dead Flowers, the tune every bar band must know how to play, perhaps is the most famous country-influenced song by the Stones. I’ve really come to love it over the years. The guitar fill-ins by Richards and Taylor are among the very best the Stones have ever played, in my humble opinion. Here’s another quote from Jagger Songfacts provides in connection with this tune: “I love country music, but I find it very hard to take it seriously. I also think a lot of country music is sung with the tongue in cheek, so I do it tongue-in-cheek. The harmonic thing is very different from the blues. It doesn’t bend notes in the same way, so I suppose it’s very English, really. Even though it’s been very Americanized, it feels very close to me, to my roots, so to speak.”

Sweet VirginiaExile on Main St. (1972)

Another country-influenced Stones gem is Sweet Virginia, off what many fans regard as the band’s best album, Exile on Main St. Among others, the track features great harmonica and saxophone parts by Jagger and Bobby Keys, respectively. The backing vocalists include Dr. John. “‘Sweet Virginia’ – were held over from Sticky Fingers,” Richards said in 2003, per Songfacts. “It was the same lineup and I’ve always felt those two albums kind of fold into each other… there was not much time between them and I think it was all flying out of the same kind of energy.” Okay, let’s scrape that s–t right off our shoes! 🙂

Far Away EyesSome Girls (1978)

Obviously, I can’t skip the tune that triggered the brilliant idea for this post. In addition to being included on Some Girls, Far Away Eyes became the B-side to the album’s lead single Miss You. Referring to a 1978 interview with Rolling Stone, Songfacts includes the following quote by Jagger: “You know, when you drive through Bakersfield [Calif. – CMM] on a Sunday morning or Sunday evening, all the country music radio stations start broadcasting black gospel services live from LA. And that’s what the song refers to.” During that same interview, Jagger also confirmed that the girl in the song was “a real girl.” Well, that’s a shocker!

The WorstVoodoo Lounge (1994)

Let’s finish this post with The Worst, one of two tunes from Voodoo Lounge Keith Richards sang. Among others, the track features Chuck Leavell on piano and fiddle and flute player Frankie Gavin, a member of De Danaan, a traditional folk group from Ireland where the Stones recorded the album. “It’s funny, but a lot of these songs were written in kitchens,” said Richards in 1994, according to Songfacts. “That one I wrote in the kitchen in Barbados, and I thought, That’s a pretty melody, but what to do with it, I really didn’t know. I guess that’s where Ireland comes in, because Ireland has its own traditional music, and it’s not country music as such, but it’s the roots of it, you know? It’s that Irish feel.” Pirate laughter – okay, I made that up, but I could just picture him do it!

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

British Invasion Returns In Full Force To Atlantic City

Beatles, Rolling Stones and Who tribute bands set stage on fire

The British Invasion may have stopped some 50 years ago, though it surely didn’t feel like it yesterday in Atlantic City. If anything, three outstanding tribute bands illustrated how the music continues to be alive and kicking to this day, and why the British rock and pop music wave of the ’60s is one of the best imports the U.S. has ever seen, except perhaps for German cars!:-)

This was my second year at the British Invasion Festival at the Golden Nugget Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City. I greatly enjoyed the free outdoor one-day event last June when I went there for the first time, so was it worth a two-hour drive to return? You betcha, baby – if anything, I felt it was even better than last year! Britain’s Finest, The Glimmer Twins and Who’s Next once again were in top shape.

Britain’s Finest

Britain’s Finest are one of the most intriguing tributes to The Beatles I know, and as a longtime Beatles fan, I’ve seen quite a few over the decades. Founded in Los Angeles in 2011, the band consists of Benny Chadwick (Paul McCartney), Ruben Amaya (John Lennon),  Robert Bielma (George Harrison) and Luis Renteria (Ringo Starr).

Like last year, they focused on the Beatles’ live period, playing songs, such as From My To You, I Want To Hold Your Hand, Can’t Buy Me Love, A Hard Day’s Night, Help and Twist And Shout. What distinguishes Britain’s Finest from other Fab Four tribute acts I’ve seen is that in addition to a faithful execution of the music, the four guys also resemble John, Paul, George and Ringo, and assume their on-stage personas. This time for a change, I took video myself. Here are clips of From Me To YouCan’t Buy Me Love and Twist And Shout.

To further check out Britain’s Finest and their scheduled shows, visit their website. Most of their upcoming gigs are on the West Coast – given the band is based in L.A., perhaps that’s not a big surprise. They’ll be back east for a series of gigs in Miami starting in early August. But I suppose New Jersey fans may have to wait until next June when they are planning to return to Atlantic City.

The Glimmer Twins

Unlike The Beatles, I actually don’t recall having seen a tribute act to The Rolling Stones. But frankly, except for the original, I doubt it can get better than The Glimmer Twins. This band from Philly is led by Keith Call (lead vocals, harp) and Bernie Bollendorf (guitar), who in an incredible way bring to life Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, respectively. They are backed by excellent musicians, including Michael Rubino (guitar), Bobbie Corea (drums), Rob Ekstedt (bass), Rocco Notte  (keyboards), Bobby Michaels (saxophone, flute) and amazing vocalist Valorie Steel.

The Glimmer Twins play Stones gems, such as Start Me Up, Dead Flowers, Sympathy For The Devil, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Honky Tonk Women, Paint It Black and, of course, Satisfaction. Here are three the clips from their performance last night: opener Start Me UpJumpin’ Jack Flash and Honky Tonk Women. The latter prominently features Steel – that lady can sing!

The Glimmer Twins have a long schedule of summer shows in the tri-state area and beyond, including gigs in Tarrytown, N.Y. (June 22); Sea Isle City, N.J. (August 4); Manchester, Vt. (August 10); Bethlehem, Pa. (August 11); and Riverhead, N.Y. (August 18). For more about the band and their upcoming concerts, visit their website.

Who’s Next

This firecracker tribute to The Who was the perfect band to close out the night. Their members include Bill Canell as Pete Townshend, Dave McDonald as Roger Daltrey, Mike Conte as John Entwistle and Rich Savarese as Keith Moon. Similar to Britain’s Finest, not only do these four guys sound great, but the resemblance of each to their heroes is truly remarkable. The fact that none other than Messrs. Townshend and Daltrey acknowledged the band at a Who concert in May 2014 in Forest Hills, N.Y. speaks for itself.

Who’s Next play many of the tunes that come mind when you think of The Who: Baba O’Riley, Love Reign O’er Me, The Real Me, 5:15, Squeeze Box, Who Are You, Eminence Front, My Generation, and the list goes on and on. Below are clips of opener The Real Me/5:15 and Who Are You. I got really close for the second clip to better capture how meticulously each member plays and impersonates their part. Fortunately, they skip the destruction of equipment. As much as I can see the spectacle, watching Townshend smash his guitar always made me cringe. Instead, he should have given away the guitars to schools in underprivileged neighborhoods or something like that.

For more about Who’s Next, check out their website. At this time, it doesn’t list any upcoming shows, but I’m sure there will be more. The band already announced last night they are going to be back to Atlantic City for next year’s British Invasion Festival. While much can happen in a year, I have every intention to return as well!

Sources: Britainsfinestband.com, theglimmertwins.com, whosnexttribute.com, YouTube