Musings of the Past

What I’ve Been Listening to: Dire Straits/Making Movies

Featuring Dire Straits in my most recent Sunday Six installment reminded me of Making Movies, which next to their eponymous debut is my favorite album by the British rock band. I also recalled a dedicated post from December 2017 and thought it would be worthy to republish. Here is a slightly edited version that features an added Spotify link.

What I’ve Been Listening To: Dire Straits/Making Movies

Dire Straits’ third studio album is crown jewel of their catalog

This week’s official announcement that Dire Straits are among the 2018 inductees to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame reminded me of their great music. While the British rock band is best remembered for their 1985 masterpiece  Brothers In Arms, I’ve always been more drawn to their earlier work.

I think Dire Straits’ eponymous first studio album was a great debut. The standout Sultans Of Swing remains one of my all-time favorite guitar-driven rock songs to this day. Communiqué was a fine sophomore release that largely mirrored the sound of its predecessor, for which the band was criticized. And then in October 1980 came what in my opinion is one of their best records:  Making Movies.

The album kicks off with Tunnel Of Love. From the beginning, this tune has a very different feel compared to previous Dire Straits songs. Instead of Mark Knopfler’s signature Fender Stratocaster, the tune opens with E Street Band keyboarder Roy Bittan playing a part of Carousel Waltz from Carousel, a 1945 musical by Richard Rodgers (music) and Oscar Hammerstein (book and lyrics). The instrumental then blends into a short piano bridge before Knopfler comes in on guitar, together with the rest of the band.

The sound and Knopfler’s singing are more dynamic throughout the record than on the previous two albums. Clocking in at 8:11 minutes, the tune is the band’s longest to date. Its ups and downs further add to the dynamic. The track ends with a great extended melodic guitar solo that blends into a gentle piano outro. It’s just beautifully executed. But enough already with the words, here’s a clip.

Next up is Romeo And Juliet, another highlight on the album. One of the song’s key characteristics is the 1937 National Style “O” resonator guitar Knopfler plays. The same guitar is featured on the front cover of the Brothers In Arms album. Like in the opener, Bittan’s piano adds beautiful texture.

According to Wikipedia, the lyrics were inspired by Knopfler’s failed romance with Holly Vincent who led the American punk pop band Holly and The Italians. Apparently, the song has been covered by a wide range of artists including Indigo Girls and The Killers. Who knew?

Skateaway, the third track on the album, is another musical standout. The song’s chorus includes the lines from which the album’s title is derived: She gets rock n roll a rock n roll station/And a rock n roll dream/She’s making movies on location…The tune’s accompanying video, which featured musician Jayzik Azikiwe (1958-2008) as Rollergirl, became popular on MTV. Rollergirl, don’t worry, DJ, play the movies all night long.

For the last tune I’d like to call out let’s go to Side two (speaking in vinyl terms): Solid Rock. It’s an uptempo rocker with a great groove. I wish the honky tonk style piano one can hear in the beginning would also be prominent in other parts of the song. It’s easy to see why the track became a staple during Dire Straits’ live shows.

Making Movies was recorded at the Power Station in New York between June and August 1980. The album was co-produced by Knopfler and Jimmy Iovine, who had a major impact on the record’s sound. Knopfler reached out to Iovine after he had listened to his production of Because The Night by Patti Smith, a co-write with Bruce Springsteen. Iovine had also worked on Born To Run and Darkness On The Edge Of Town, Springsteen’s third and fourth studio records from 1975 and 1978, respectively. In addition, he brought in Bittan who enriched the sound of the recordings.

At the time of the album’s release, Dire Straits’ members in addition to Mark Knopfler included John Illsley (bass, backing vocals) and Pick Withers (drums, backing vocals). Mark’s younger brother David Knopfler left the band during the recording sessions. His guitar tracks, which had almost been completed, were re-recorded by Mark, and David was not credited on the album. The sessions continued with Sid McGinnis on rhythm guitar. Shortly before the record’s release, Hal Lindes (guitar) and Alan Clark (keyboards) joined Dire Straits as permanent members.

During an interview with Rolling Stone for their 100 Best Albums of the Eighties, which ranks Making Movies at 52, Iovine said, “I think he [Knopfler] wanted to take Dire Straits to that next step, especially in terms of the songs, and to have the album really make sense all together, which I think it does. It’s a really cohesive album. He stunned me, as far as his songwriting talents. The songs on that album are almost classical in nature.”

Commenting on the recording sessions for Making Movies, Bitton told Rolling Stone, “We went in and really took time to capture the emotion and paint the picture…They were not very straightforward songs. The subtleties of emotion that he was trying to capture was something real special — it reminded me of Bruce, you know?”

Making Movies was a success, especially in Europe, where it peaked at no. 4 on the UK Albums Chart and topped the albums charts in Italy and Norway. In the U.S., it climbed to No. 19 on the Billboard 200. Eventually, the album reached platinum certification in the U.S. and double-platinum in the UK.

– End –

The original post, which was published on December 17, 2017, ended here. Nothing more to add except a Spotify link to the album:

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; YouTube; Spotify

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When Two Make One

A playlist of songs by duos

The other day, fellow blogger Max from PowerPop posted about Cathy’s Clown, a great tune by The Everly Brothers. He wrote, “When Phil and Don would sing….their two voices would become one.” I couldn’t agree more! In this context, I thought about Simon & Garfunkel, another example of beautiful vocals in perfect harmony. Sometimes it takes two artists to make magic happen, not only when it comes to singing but also when creating music – a good topic for a post, I thought!

After doing a bit of research, I was quickly reminded of the large number of musical duos. The following doesn’t include one-offs. I’m also excluding songwriting partnerships like John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Carole King and Gerry Goffin, or Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, to name a few. All of my picks were or are permanent pairings. Apart from six tracks released in different decades, which are highlighted in the upfront, I’ve included numerous additional tunes in a playlist at the end of the post.

The Everly Brothers/Wake Up Little Susie

Since this post was inspired by an Everly Brothers tune, it felt right to kick things off with a song they performed. Wake Up Little Susie, co-written by Felice Bryant and Boudleaux Bryant, was my introduction to Don Everly and Phil Everly sometime during my teenage years back in Germany. First released as a single in September 1957, Wake Up Little Susie became their first no. 1 on the U.S. mainstream Billboard Hot 100. What a great acoustic rock & roll tune!

Simon & Garfunkel/The Sound of Silence

One of my favorite songs by Simon & Garfunkel is The Sound of Silence. Penned by Paul Simon, this gem is off their debut studio record Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. from October 1964. It was also released separately as a single in September 1965 and became their first hit, topping the Billboard Hot 100, climbing to no. 2 in New Zealand, and reaching no. 3 in each Australia and Austria. It also charted in a few other European countries.

Hall & Oates/She’s Gone

While Daryl Hall and John Oates have written many great tunes, I’m mostly drawn to their ’70s output. Here’s She’s Gone, a track from their sophomore album Abandoned Luncheonette that appeared in November 1973. The song was also released as a single that same month and became their first charting tune in the U.S., reaching no. 60 on the Billboard Hot 100. I’ve always loved its great soul vibe.

Eurythmics/Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)

When I think about duos and the ’80s, Hall & Oates, Tears For Fears and Eurythmics come to mind first. The first time I heard of Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart was in 1983 when they came out with Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This). Penned by Stewart and released in January that year, the tune became their first big hit. Among others, it topped the charts in the U.S. and Canada, and reached no. 2 in the UK, Ireland and New Zealand. While I’m generally not fond of synth pop, this is a pretty catchy tune and Annie Lenox’s voice is stunning!

Indigo Girls/Galileo

Amy Ray and Emily Saliers first met in elementary school and were performing together by the time they were in high school. After going separate ways, they again found themselves studying at the same institution (Atlanta’s Emory University) in the mid-’80s and became Indigo Girls. Galileo, written by Saliers, is from their fourth studio album Rites of Passage, which came out in May 1992. The tune was the first single off the record and their only top 10 hit in the U.S., reaching no. 10 on Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks chart.

The White Stripes/Seven Nation Army

This brings me to the present century and the last tune I’d like to call out: Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes. Written by Jack White, it first appeared in March 2003 as the lead single of their fourth studio album Elephant released the following month. Seven Nation Army topped the Alternative Airplay chart in the U.S., making it one of the biggest hits of the duo, which also includes Meg White. I dig the song’s raw garage feel.

Last but least, here’s the above-mentioned playlist:

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

It’s Saturday, which means the time has come again to take a fresh look at newly-released music. As more frequent visitors of the blog know, my favorite decades are the ’60s and the ’70s, which can make finding contemporary music that speaks to me a tough proposition. But after having written this weekly feature for some 20 months, I can safely say there’s still some new music out there I dig. Some weeks it’s a longer process to find it than others. This time, putting together the post went pretty quickly. My picks include some country, rock and indie rock. All tunes are on albums that were released yesterday (October 29).

Emily Scott Robinson/Things You Learn the Hard Way

I’d like to start with Emily Scott Robinson, who according to her website is a Colorado-based singer-songwriter: Robinson grew up in Greensboro, North Carolina, and turned toward guitar at age 13, after a summer camp counselor closed out the nights by playing songs by Joni Mitchell, Cat Stevens, and Dar Williams every night. She taught herself to play in the early 2000s by printing guitar tabs from the internet and singing to CDs by Indigo Girls and James Taylor. But she didn’t pursue songwriting until after seeing Nanci Griffith perform in Greensboro in 2007… Graduating from Furman University with degrees in history and Spanish, Robinson took a job as a social worker and translator in 2011…In 2013, she found kindred spirits at Planet Bluegrass’ The Song School, a songwriting retreat in Lyons, Colorado, where other participants encouraged her talent, and just as importantly, showed her that being a touring musician could be a viable financial option. I wonder how many other young artists share that view. Robinson’s debut album Magnolia Queen appeared in 2016. Things You Learn the Hard Way is a track from her new album American Siren, a mix of bluegrass, country and folk. Like all other tunes on the record, the song was written by her – pretty music, and I also like Robinson’s voice.

Jerry Cantrell/Brighten

Jerry Cantrell is best known as lead guitarist, lead vocalist and the main songwriter of Seattle rock band Alice in Chains, which he formed in 1987. While I definitely know their name, I don’t believe I’ve heard any of their music. In addition to recording six albums with the group and collaborations with Ozzy Osborne and other artists, Cantrell has released four solo albums to date, starting with Boggy Depot from March 1998. Brighten, written by Cantrell, is the title track of his new album. Nice rocker!

Charlotte Cornfield/Blame Myself

Charlotte Cornfield is a Canadian singer-songwriter who was born in Toronto. According to Wikipedia, her music has been compared to the likes of The Band, Bob Dylan, Townes Van Zandt and Neil Young. Cornfield has also mentioned David Bowie, Joni Mitchell and Gillian Welch among her influences – many big names here! During her childhood, Cornfield played the piano, drums and French horn. Following her relocation to Montreal where she studied jazz drumming at Concordia University, Cornfield decided to pursue a professional career as a solo artist. Her debut EP It’s Like That Here came out in 2008. Her first full-length album Two Horses was released in March 2011. Blame Myself, penned by Cornfield, appears on her new album Highs in the Minuses, her fouth.

The War on Drugs/Change

The War on Drugs are an indie rock band that was founded in Philadelphia in 2005. Again, while I’m definitely familiar with their name, I can’t identify any of their songs. According to their profile on Apple Music, the group has been a vehicle for singer-songwriter Adam Granduciel, whose synth-infused folk-rock storytelling has drawn comparisons to Bruce Springsteen. The War on Drugs began as a duo with Granduciel and singer-songwriter Kurt Vile, who appeared on 2008’s debut Wagonwheel Blues before making a name for himself as a solo artist. Their breakout LP Slave Ambient, which landed at No. 5 on Billboard’s Heatseekers Albums chart, was named on Pitchfork’s list of the Top 50 Albums of 2011. This brings me to the band’s fifth and new studio album I Don’t Live Here Anymore. Here’s a great tune called Change, co-written by Granduciel, together with band members Anthony LaMarca (guitar, percussion, drums, vibraphone, pedal steel guitar) and Dave Hartley (bass, guitar). Based on this and a few other songs I’ve heard from the new album, I want to further explore this band.

Sources: Wikipedia; Emily Scott Robinson website; Apple Music; YouTube

Planes, Trains and Automobiles – Part I

A three-part mini series of songs related to the three transportation modes

The other day, the 1987 American comedy picture Planes, Trains and Automobiles randomly came to my mind. It’s about a marketing executive (Steve Martin) and a sweet but annoying traveling sales guy (John Candy) ending up together as they are trying to get from New York home to Chicago for Thanksgiving. Their plane’s diversion to Wichita due to bad weather in Chicago starts a three-day odyssey and one misadventure after the other, while the two, seemingly incompatible men use different modes of transportation to get to their destination.

What does this movie have to do with music? Nothing, except it gave me the idea to put together lists of songs that are related to – you guessed it – planes, trains and automobiles. To be fully transparent, in mid-2017, I published tw0 posts with songs for the road and songs for the train. As such, the theme isn’t really new but, hey, it’s been almost four years. Plus, I feel it’s okay to repeat fun ideas every now and then.

In order to avoid creating what would be a rather lengthy post, I decided to make it a mini series and break things up in three parts, with each featuring five tracks listed in chronological order. Here’s part I: Songs related to planes, an entirely new idea! 🙂

Jefferson Airplane/Blues From an Airplane

Blues From an Airplane is the opener of Jefferson Airplane’s debut album Jefferson Airplane Takes Off from August 1966. The psychedelic rock tune was co-written by Marty Balin and Skip Spence, Airplane’s lead vocalist/rhythm guitarist and drummer, respectively. The tune also became the b-side of the band’s second single Come Up the Years, which was released ahead of the album in May 1966. Airplane’s actual was take-off, Surrealistic Pillow, was still six months away. The record only reached no. 128 on the Billboard 200, while the single failed to chart altogether.

The Beatles/Back in the U.S.S.R.

Why Back in the U.S.S.R., given the tune doesn’t have “plane” or a related word in the title? Since it’s my bloody list, and it cannot be without my favorite band of all time. Plus, there’s a sound of a jet engine in the beginning and at the very end of the tune, and the first verse prominently includes a rough flight. Written by Paul McCartney and credited to John Lennon and him as usual, is actually a parody to Back in the U.S.A. and California Girls by Chuck Berry and The Beach Boys, respectively, poking fun at their patriotic sentiments about the U.S. The song, included on The White Album from November 1968, was recorded without Ringo Starr who temporarily had left the group after McCartney had criticized his drumming. Instead John, Paul and George Harrison created a composite drum track from numerous takes.

Steve Miller Band/Jet Airliner

Jet Airliner was one of the first tunes that came to my mind when thinking about plane songs. The other two were Jet by Paul McCartney and Wings and John Denver’s Leaving on a Jet Plane. Since I decided to include Back in the U.S.S.R., I skipped Jet. While Leaving on a Jet Plane is a lovely tune, it would have been another pick from the ’60s. Written by Paul Penna in 1973, Jet Airliner was popularized by Steve Miller Band when they released it in April 1977 as the lead single of their 10th studio album Book of Dreams that appeared the following month. It yielded their fourth and last ’70s top 10 hit on the U.S. mainstream chart.

Indigo Girls/Airplane

After three rockers I thought it was time to include something that’s a bit lighter, so I’m glad I found this lovely acoustic, folk-oriented tune by Indigo Girls. Written by Emily Saliers, who together with Amy Ray makes up the duo, Airplane is from their fourth studio album Rites of Passage that appeared in May 1992. I really dig the vocals and the harmony singing on this song.

The Black Keys/Aeroplane Blues

There they are again, The Black Keys. The rock duo of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney entered my radar screen recently when I included a tune from their new album Crawling Kingsnake in a Best of What’s New feature. Aeroplane Blues is another edgy blues rock tune, which shall wrap up this first installment. Written by Auerbach and Carney, it appeared on their third studio album Rubber Factory released in September 2004.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Here Comes the Spring

While mornings in Central New Jersey are still on the chilly side, it’s slowly starting to feel like spring. Recently, when I stepped out for a morning walk prior to starting home office, I could hear birds singing. And just yesterday, I had the same experience again, so chances are the birds are real and not just in my head! Hoping this won’t jinx the start of the milder season, I’ve decided to put together this little playlist featuring songs that are about spring, at least in a broader sense.

The Beatles/Here Comes the Sun

I can hardly think of a more perfect tune to mark the upcoming season than Here Comes the Sun. The song, which appeared on The Beatles’ real final album Abbey Road from September 1969, remains one of my favorite George Harrison tunes.

Electric Light Orchestra/Mr. Blue Sky

Admittedly, this song doesn’t mention spring anywhere (neither does Here Comes the Sun), but I feel the lines Mr. Blue Sky/Please tell us why/You had to hide away for so long? can be interpreted as a reference to winter having passed. Written by Jeff Lynne, the tune is included on Electric Light Orchestra’s seventh studio album Out of the Blue released in October 1977. It also became one of the record’s five singles and was one of ELO’s higher charting songs in the UK, climbing to no. 6 on the Official Singles Chart.

Johnny Nash/I Can See Clearly Now

This is one of the best picker-uppers I know. Again, the tune could be about sunshine following the rain in pretty much any season. But heck, let’s not over-complicate things here! I Can See Clearly Now was written by Johnny Nash as the title track of his 1972 studio album. The tune was also released as a single and became Nash’s biggest hit topping the Billboard Hot 100 in the U.S., as well as the charts in Canada and South Africa. It’s been covered by Jamaican reggae singer Jimmy Cliff and many other artists. There’s just something about Nash’s soft vocals in that tune that always puts me at ease.

Judy Collins/So Early, Early in the Spring

While I just cleverly noted there’s no reason to overthink things, you still may find it a bit peculiar that up this point none of the featured songs in this post have the word “spring” in the title or the lyrics. Okay, I shall relent and offer you So Early, Early in the Spring by Judy Collins, a pretty tune with a nice Joni Mitchell vibe. Collins included this traditional on her 1977 compilation So Early in the Spring… The First 15 Years. BTW, now 81 years old, the American folk singer is still active, some 62 years into her career. According to her website, Collins performed two online concerts in New York two weeks ago – incredible!

Indigo Girls/Southland in the Springtime

Without striving to be a spring song over-achiever, here’s another lovely tune that clearly names the season: Southland in the Springtime written by Emily Saliers, who together with Amy Ray makes up American folk rock duo Indigo Girls. This is a track from their third studio album Nomads Indians Saints that came out in September 1990. Really like this!

The Flaming Lips/Can’t Stop the Spring

Let’s wrap up this set of spring tunes with a rocker. And, yes, it’s yet another track that has “spring” in the title: Can’t Stop the Spring by The Flaming Lips. While I would put this tune in the weirdly catchy department, it’s got a good motto to me. Can’t Stop the Spring, credited to the entire band, is from their sophomore album Oh My Gawd!!! released in January 1987. Formed in Oklahoma City in 1983, The Flaming Lips are still around. Last September, I featured a tune from their most recent album American Head in a Best of What’s New installment.

Sources: Google; Wikipedia; Judy Collins website; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Dire Straits/Making Movies

Dire Straits’ third studio album is crown jewel of their catalog

This week’s official announcement that Dire Straits are among the 2018 inductees to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame reminded me of their great music. While the British rock band is best remembered for their 1985 masterpiece Brothers In Arms, I’ve always been more drawn to their earlier work.

I think Dire Straits eponymous first studio album was a great debut. The standout Sultans Of Swings remains one of my all-time favorite guitar-driven rock songs to this day.  Communiqué was a fine sophomore release that largely mirrored the sound of its predecessor, for which the band was criticized. And then in October 1980 came what in my opinion is their best record: Making Movies. 

Dire Straits_Making Movies_Vinyl Side 1

The album kicks off with Tunnel Of Love. From the beginning, this tune has a very different feel compared to previous Dire Straits songs. Instead of Mark Knopfler’s signature Fender Stratocaster, the tune opens with E Street Band keyboarder Roy Bittan playing a part of Carousel Waltz from Carousel, a 1945 musical by Richard Rodgers (music) and Oscar Hammerstein (book and lyrics). The instrumental then blends into a short piano bridge before Knopfler comes in on guitar, together with the rest of the band.

The sound and Knopfler’s singing are more dynamic throughout the record than on the previous two albums. Clocking in at 8:11 minutes, the tune is the band’s longest to date. Its ups and downs further add to the dynamic. The track ends with a great extended melodic guitar solo that blends into a gentle piano outro. It’s just beautifully executed. But enough already with the words, here’s a clip.

Next up is Romeo And Juliet, another highlight on the album. One of the song’s key characteristics is the 1937 National Style “O” resonator guitar Knopfler plays. The same guitar is featured on the front cover of the Brothers In Arms album. Like in the opener, Bittan’s piano adds beautiful texture.

According to Wikipedia, the lyrics were inspired by Knopfler’s failed romance with Holly Vincent who led the American punk pop band Holly and The Italians. Apparently, the song has been covered by a wide range of artists including Indigo Girls and The Killers. Who knew?

Skateaway, the third track on the album, is another musical standout. The song’s chorus includes the lines from which the album’s title is derived: She gets rock n roll a rock n roll station/And a rock n roll dream/She’s making movies on location…The tune’s accompanying video, which featured musician Jayzik Azikiwe (1958-2008) as Rollergirl, became popular on MTV.

The last tune I’d like to call out is Solid Rock. It’s an uptempo rocker with a great groove. I wish the honky tonk style piano one can hear in the beginning would also be prominent in other parts of the song. It’s easy to see why the track became a staple during Dire Straits’ live shows.

Making Movies was recorded at the Power Station in New York between June and August 1980. The album was co-produced by Knopfler and Jimmy Iovine, who had a major impact on the record’s sound. Knopfler reached out to Iovine after he had listened to his production of Because The Night by Patti Smith, a co-write with Bruce Springsteen. Iovine had also worked on Born To Run and Darkness On The Edge Of Town, Springsteen’s third and fourth studio records from 1975 and 1978, respectively. In addition, he brought in Bittan who enriched the sound of the recordings.

At the time of the album’s release, Dire Straits’ members in addition to Mark Knopfler included John Illsley (bass, backing vocals) and Pick Withers (drums, backing vocals). Mark’s younger brother David Knopfler left the band during the recording sessions. His guitar tracks, which had almost been completed, were re-recorded by Mark, and David was not credited on the album. The sessions continued with Sid McGinnis on rhythm guitar. Shortly before the record’s release, Hal Lindes (guitar) and Alan Clark (keyboards) joined Dire Straits as permanent members.

Dire Straits_On Location Tour Poster

During an interview with Rolling Stone for their 100 Best Albums of the Eighties, which ranks Making Movies at 52, Iovine said, “I think he [Knopfler] wanted to take Dire Straits to that next step, especially in terms of the songs, and to have the album really make sense all together, which I think it does. It’s a really cohesive album. He stunned me, as far as his songwriting talents. The songs on that album are almost classical in nature.”

Commenting on the recording sessions for Making Movies, Bitton told Rolling Stone, “We went in and really took time to capture the emotion and paint the picture…They were not very straightforward songs. The subtleties of emotion that he was trying to capture was something real special — it reminded me of Bruce, you know?”

Making Movies was a success, especially in Europe, where it peaked at no. 4 on the UK Albums Chart and topped the albums charts in Italy and Norway. In the U.S., it climbed to No. 19 on the Billboard 200. Eventually, the album reached platinum certification in the U.S. and double-platinum in the UK.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, YouTube

* The clips in this post were updated and the content was slightly edited on 9/05/22.