The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday Six – jeez, it only feels like yesterday since I put together the previous installment. For newbies to the blog, this weekly feature celebrates great music over the past six decades or so, six tunes at a time. I’d like to think of it as going on an imaginary time travel to visit music of different eras. Hope you join me for the ride!

Elmo Hope/It’s a Lovely Day Today

Today, our journey shall start in 1953 with some groovy music by American jazz pianist, composer and arranger Elmo Hope. Born in New York City in 1923, Hope started playing the piano as a 7-year-old. His recording career began in 1953 with an album that originally appeared as Elmo Hope Trio. It subsequently was packaged with his second record Elmo Hope Quintet, Volume 2, and released as Trio and Quintet in 1989. Tragically, Hope’s life was cut short in May 1967 when he passed away in New York City from heart failure, a few weeks after he had been hospitalized for pneumonia. During his active period, Hope recorded about 20 albums, counting both releases as a leader and as a sideman. Among others, he played with Lou Donaldson, Clifford Brown and Sonny Rollins. It’s a Lovely Day, composed by Irving Ball, is from Hope’s above-mentioned first album. He was backed by Percy Heath (double bass) and Philly Joe Jones (drums) – my kind of music to get me in the mood on a Sunday morning!

George Thorogood & The Destroyers/Bad to the Bone

Our next stop is August 1982 to catch some b-b-b-b-b-b-bad music, a song that’s b-b-b-b-b-b-bad, bad to the bone – coz that’s how we roll here! It’s the title track of the fifth studio album by George Thorogood and the Destroyers, Bad to the Bone. Thorogood began his career in the early ’70s as a solo acoustic performer in the style of Robert Johnson and Elmore James. In 1973, he formed the Delaware Destroyers, who subsequently dropped Delaware from their name. The group’s eponymous debut album appeared in October 1977. Thorogood has since released 14 additional studio albums with the group and one solo record. He remains active to this day and is currently on what looks like an extensive tour of Europe, the U.S., New Zealand, Australia and Canada, with dates booked all the way to May 2023. Catching a show with him should f-f-f-f-f-f-fun! Meanwhile, let’s enjoy this classic from August 1982!

James Brown/I Got You (I Feel Good)

It’s kind of tough to follow George Thorogood. Perhaps it does take who was known as “Mr. Dynamite” and the “hardest working man in show business”: Jaaaaaaaaames Brown! And we’re not stingy here. The year was 1965 and the month was October when James Brown released I Got You (I Feel Good) as a single. Initially, the tune had been recorded for his ninth studio album Out of Sight that came out in September 1964. But the song wasn’t included and the version that appeared as a single a year later was an alternate take. Penned by Brown, I Got You (I Feel Good) peaked at no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it his highest-charting tune on the U.S. pop chart. It also became his third single to top the R&B chart after Try Me (October 1958) and Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag (June 1965). Man, all I can say is I would have loved to see James Brown live!

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers/Swingin’

I trust Tom Petty, one of my favorite artists of all time, needs no introduction. Not only did this man write so many great songs, but he also had a true appreciation of music by other artists. And with the Heartbreakers, he had a terrific band. These guys could simply play anything. If you haven’t listened to it, check out the terrific box set The Live Anthology and you’ll know what I mean. Let’s turn to Swingin’, a track from the 10th studio album by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Titled Echo, it was released in April 1999. It didn’t enjoy the same chart and commercial success as Damn the Torpedoes (October 1979), Hard Promises (May 1981) and Into the Great Wide Open (July 1991), or his solo albums Full Moon Fever (April 1989) and Wildflowers (November 1994), for that matter. But Petty didn’t care much about chart success and sales anyway. It was always about the music. Swingin’, written solely by him, also became one of five singles from Echo. Sadly, we lost Tom Petty way too early in October 2017. He was only 66 years old!

The Guess Who/Dancin’ Fool

For our second-to-last stop on today’s journey let’s jump back to 1974 and a tune I had earmarked several weeks ago for a Sunday Six: Dancin’ Fool by The Guess Who. When I heard It was a Saturday night without a whole lot shakin’/Ooh my, ooh my, I was bored, I thought, ‘ooh my, ooh my, that would be a cool tune to feature!’ And here we are. Co-written by the Canadian rock band’s Burton Cummings (lead vocals, keyboards) and Domenic Troiano (guitar, mandolin, backing vocals), Dancin’ Fool became the opener of The Guess Who’s 13th studio album Flavours. By that time, Cummings and drummer Garry Peterson were the only remaining original members. The present version of the group, which no longer includes any founding members, is currently touring the U.S. It looks like that line-up also recorded the most recent Guess Who album When We Were Young, released in September 2018.

AC/DC/Play Ball

And once again, it’s time to wrap up another Sunday Six. Let’s make it count with what I feel is a late-career gem by epic Australian rockers AC/DC. I’ve written about them and their long and tragic history multiple times, for example here, so I’m not going to repeat myself in this post. Play Ball is the terrific opener of AC/DC’s 16th studio album Rock or Bust, which came out in November 2014. It was the band’s first album recorded without co-founding member and long-term rhythm guitarist and song co-writer Malcolm Young who had been forced to retire earlier that year due to dementia. He passed away from the disease in November 2017 at the age of 64. Notably, all tunes on the album were constructed largely by lead guitarist Angus Young from material he and his brother had worked on during the recording sessions of previous records. As such, Play Ball and all other songs on Rock or Bust are credited to Angus Young and Malcolm Young.

Here’s a Spotify playlist of the above tunes. Hope there’s something there you dig!

Sources: Wikipedia; George Thorogood website; The Guess Who website; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Another week flew by and I can’t believe we’re in June. Time to take a fresh look at new music releases. All of my picks for this revue are on albums released yesterday (June 3).

The Black Moods/Youth Is Wasted On The Young

Let’s kick it off with rock from Tempe, Ariz. The Black Moods, a trio of Josh Kennedy (vocals, guitar), Jordan Hoffman (bass) and Chico Diaz (drums), have been around since 2012. From their Apple Music profile: Combining a bluesy hard rock approach with a bit of grungy swagger, the Black Moods rose from regional Arizona bar band status to major-label touring act with the release of their sophomore LP, Medicine, in 2016. A classic guitar-bass-drums power trio, the band takes inspiration from a host of hard-hitting bands from Led Zeppelin to Foo Fighters, adding their own distinctive nuances to the rock & roll canon…Nicking their name from an offhand comment made by Ray Manzarek describing one of Jim Morrison’s stormy moods in a Doors documentary, they self-released their eponymous debut in 2012 and began establishing themselves as a road band, touring the country…gigs with acts like Jane’s Addiction, Shinedown, Everclear, and Doors guitarist Robby Krieger helped boost their profile over the next couple of years. This brings me to Into the Night, the fourth and latest studio album by The Black Moods and Youth Is Wast On the Young. Credited to the three members of the band and producer Johnny Karkazis, the album opener is a nice rocker!

Crobot/Better Times

Let’s throw in some more rock with Cobot who hail from Pottsville, Pa., a small city about 50 miles west of Allentown. Formed in mid-2011, the band currently includes co-founders Brandon Yeagley (lead vocals, harmonica) and Chris Bishop (guitar, backing vocals), together with Tim Peugh (bass) and Dan Ryan (drums). AllMusic characterizes their music as “rooted in groove-laden, fuzz-drenched hard rock delivered with greasy swagger and reckless abandon.” The group’s new album, their fourth, is titled Feel This. “This is the record we’ve been wanting to do ever since we started,” Yeagley stated on the band’s website. “We’ve always thought of ourselves as a live act,” he explained, adding they recorded 16 songs live in-studio in just 21 days. How about a sample? Here’s Better Times, co-written by Yeagly, Bishop and Ryan. This is fun when you’re in the mood for kickass rock!

Andrew Bird/Faithless Ghost

Time to take it down a notch. Andrew Bird doesn’t fit well into a specific genre. From his AllMusic bio: A virtuosic violinist, singer, songwriter, composer, actor, and expert whistler, Andrew Bird’s career has undergone a variety of stylistic shifts since his early days playing jazz and swing music. While folk and roots music has always played a part in his music, he’s also conversant in contemporary pop and indie rock, and he’s consistently shown a willingness to experiment, even within his more traditionally oriented projects. Bird has been active since 1992 and has released 16 studio albums to date, which includes his latest, Inside Problems. Here’s Faithless Ghost, which like all except one of the 10 other tracks on the album was penned by Bird. It’s an unusual yet catchy tune. In addition to singing, Bird also plays guitar and violin. I like the latter in particular.

Lettuce/RVA Dance

My last pick for this week is new music by American jazz and funk band Lettuce, who I first featured in a June 2020 Best of What’s New installment. Initially, the group was formed in Boston in the summer of 1992 when all of its founding members attended Berklee College of Music as teenagers. While it was a short-lived venture that lasted just this one summer, the members reunited in 1994 when all of them had become undergraduate students at Berklee. In 2002, their debut album Outta There appeared. And outta there they’ve been, with seven additional albums having since appeared. This includes their latest release Unify. Check out opener RVA Dance. I could picture James Brown singing to this funky groove. But it’s pretty cool as is, sans vocals!

And, yes, before wrapping up, here’s a Spotify playlist featuring the above and a few other tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Crobot website; YouTube; Spotify

Musings of the Past

Where Stars Are Born And Legends Are Made

It’s already been more than a month since the last installment of this irregular feature, so I thought this would be a good time to unearth another previously published post. This one, about the storied Apollo Theater in New York City, first appeared in November 2017, about one and a half years into my blogging journey. It has been slightly edited.

Where Stars Are Born And Legends Are Made

The history of the Apollo Theater and a list of artists who performed at the legendary venue

The Apollo Theater has fascinated me for a long time. At around 2003 or so, I watched a great show there, featuring Earth, Wind & Fire and The Temptations. According to its website, the storied venue in New York’s Harlem neighborhood  “has played a major role in the emergence of jazz, swing, bebop, R&B, gospel, blues and soul.” When you take a look at the artists who are associated with the performance venue, I guess the claim is not an exaggeration.

To start with, Ella FitzgeraldBillie HolidayCount Basie OrchestraSarah VaughanSammy Davis Jr.James BrownGladys Night and “Little” Stevie Wonder are some of the artists whose journey to stardom began at the Apollo.  Countless other major artists, such as Miles DavisAretha FranklinB.B. King  and Bob Marley, have performed there. Oh, and in February 1964, a 21-year-old guitarist won first place in the Amateur Night contest. His name? Jimi Hendrix.

The long history of the venue starts with the construction of the building in 1913 to 1914, which would later become the Apollo Theater. Designed by architect George Keister, it was first called the Hurtig and Seamon’s New Burlesque Theater after its initial producers  Jules Hurtig and Harry Seamon. As was sadly common during those times, they enforced a strict “Whites Only” policy until the theater closed its doors in 1928. In 1933, the property was purchased by businessman Sidney Cohen and following extensive renovations reopened as the Apollo Theater in January 1934. Cohen and his business partner Morris Susman adopted a variety revue show format and targeted Harlem’s local African-American community. They also introduced Amateur Night, which quickly became one of New York’s most popular entertainment events.

After Cohen’s death, the Apollo merged with the Harlem Opera House in 1935. This transaction also changed its ownership to Frank Schiffman and Leo Brecher whose families operated the theater until the late ’70s. From 1975 to 1982, the Apollo was owned by Guy Fisher, the venue’s first black owner. Unfortunately, Fisher was also part of African-American crime syndicate  The Council that controlled the heroin trade in Harlem during the ’70s. He has been serving a life sentence at a New York federal prison since 1984. Following the death of an 18-year-old due to a shooting, the Apollo was closed in 1976.

The theater reopened under new management in 1978, before shutting down again in November 1979. In 1983, Percy Sutton purchased the venue. Under the ownership of the prominent lawyer, politician and media and technology executive, the Apollo was equipped with a recording and TV studio. It also obtained federal and city landmark status. In 1991, the State of New York purchased the theater and created the non-profit Apollo  Theater Foundation, which runs the venue to this day. The years 2001 and 2005 saw restorations of the building’s interior and exterior, respectively. In celebration of its 75th anniversary, the Apollo established a historical archive during 2009-10 season, and started an oral history project in collaboration with Columbia University.

Now comes the part of the post I enjoy the most: clips capturing performances of some of the artists who have performed at the Apollo Theater. First up: Count Basie Orchestra playing One O’ Clock Jump and He Plays Bass In The Basie Band. Apparently, this footage is from a 1955 show. I just get a kick out of watching these guys and the obvious fun they had on stage.

Sarah Vaughan was one of the many artists who won Amateur Night at the Apollo in 1942. According to Wikipedia, her prize was $10 and a promised engagement at the venue for one week. The latter materialized in the spring of 1943 when she opened for Ella Fitzgerald. Here’s a clip of a tune called You’re Not The Kind Of A Boy, which apparently was captured in 1956.

Perhaps the artist who is best known for his legendary shows at the Apollo  is James Brown. Various of his gigs there were recorded and published as live albums, such as 1963’s Live At The Apollo and 1968’s Live At Apollo, Volume II, both with The Famous Flames, and Revolution Of The Mind: Live At The Apollo, Volume III (1971). Here’s a clip of a medley including It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World and a few other songs. The footage is from James Brown: Man To Man, a concert film recorded live at the Apollo in March 1968 and broadcast as an hour-long TV special. The intensity of Brown is just unreal. No wonder they called him “Mr. Dynamite” and “The Hardest Man Working In Show Business.”

In 1985, the Apollo celebrated a renovation with a 50th-anniversary grand reopening and a TV special called Motown Salutes the Apollo. Very fittingly, one of the performers included Stevie Wonder. While I wish he would have played Sir Duke in its full length, I just find Wonder’s tribute to the great Duke Ellington beautiful and inspirational.

The Apollo is mostly known to focus on African-American acts, but white artists have performed there as well throughout its history. More recent examples include Guns N’ Roses, who were there in July to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their 1987 studio album Appetite For Destruction. In October 2015, Keith Richards played at the Jazz Foundation of America’s  annual benefit concert. Here’s a great clip of Gimme Shelter, which he performed in honor of Merry Clayton. The American soul and gospel singer sang on the original studio version. Richards was backed by Waddy Wachtel (guitar), Ivan Neville  (keyboards), Willie Weeks (bass) and Steve Jordan (drums), his solo band also known as the X-Pensive Winos, as well as Sarah Dash (vocals), and longtime Rolling Stones backup singers Lisa Fischer and Bernard Fowler.

Today, music remains at the core of the Apollo Theater’s offerings. The Amateur Night at the Apollo competition is still part of the theater’s regular schedule. In fact, the current schedule lists Amateur Night at the Apollo Quarterfinal for tomorrow night (May 25), the first time the competition returns after being dark for nearly two years. The organization’s programming also extends to dance, theater, spoken word and more.

– End –

Pre-COVID, the Apollo Theater attracted an estimated 1.3 million visitors annually. I imagine it is going to take some time to restore this kind of visitor traffic. But the level of activity seems to be picking up.

Sources: Wikipedia, Apollo Theater website, Rolling Stone, YouTube

Buddy Guy Reminds New Jersey Why He Was Born to Play the Guitar

Wednesday night, I saw Buddy Guy at Wellmont Theater, a lovely 2,500-seat concert venue in Montclair, N.J. My ticket had been a last-minute impulse purchase triggered by a post from a Facebook friend. Age has been kind to Guy, and it felt as if time had stood still since I had first seen him in July 2016.

If I see this correctly, the now 85-year-old is the last man standing from the old generation of Chicago blues artists, such as Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon, Elmore James and Luther Allison. Guy still proved to be an incredible guitarist, compelling vocalist and a great showman.

Key aspects of Guy’s show like hitting his guitar with a drum stick, cursing like a sailor and walking off the stage into the audience while playing were familiar from the two previous occasions I had seen him. While as such you could say there were no big surprises, I take predictability when it’s delivered at such a high caliber.

Buddy Guy with Colin James

Before getting to some of Guy’s music, I’d like to say a few words about Canadian blues-rock guitarist and singer-songwriter Colin James who opened the night. According to his website, His career has spanned over 30 years, with a track record that includes 19 studio albums, 7 Juno Awards, 27 Maple Blues Awards and multi-platinum record sales. His most recent album Miles To Go garnered worldwide attention, debuting on the Billboard Blues Charts and holding a position on the RMR Blues Chart for 24 weeks, 14 weeks in the top 10. He continues to sell out shows across Canada with over 80,000 tickets sold on tours over the past 3 years. Colin was inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2014.

I was completely new to Colin James and greatly enjoyed his 45-minute set. For some of his songs, he was joined by Guy’s excellent pianist and organist Marty Sammon. Here’s one of these tunes, the title track from James’ new album Open Road, which appeared in November 2021. James came back for one song in Guy’s set.

After a short break, the time had come for Buddy Guy. And he made it damn clear right from the get-go that he meant business with Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues. The title track of his seventh studio album from July 1991 was penned by Guy.

One thing Guy likes to do is to combine songs, which can result in lengthy jam-like performances. Not only can this make it tricky to distinguish between songs, but it also becomes an endurance test for filming! 🙂 Anyway, here’s one such example from Wednesday night: The Willie Dixon standard I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man and the Muddy Waters tune She’s Nineteen Years Old. Both songs were first recorded by Waters in 1954 and 1958, respectively.

I leave you with one more clip: Skin Deep, the title track of Guy’s 14th studio album from July 2008, which I felt was one of the highlights of the night. The soulful tune was co-written by Guy and his long-time collaborators Tom Hambridge and Gary Nicholson. Such a great tune!

Other songs in Guy’s set I could recognize included Feels Like Rain (written by John Hiatt; title track of Guy’s 1993 studio album), Got My Mojo Working (written by Preston “Red” Foster; from Guy and Junior Wells’ Live in Montreux, 1978), a snippet of Cream’s Sunshine of Your Love, Someone Else Is Steppin’ In (written by Denise LaSalle; from Guy’s 1994 studio album Slippin’ In), I Go Crazy (written by James Brown; from Feels Like Rain), Drowning On Dry Land (co-written by Mickey Gregory and Allen Jones; from Guy’s 2008 live album 2008-06-28: Glastonbury Festival) and Cheaper to Keep Her (co-written by Bonny Rice, Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer; from Guy’s 2005 studio album Bring ‘Em In).

This review wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging Guy’s excellent backing group The Damn Right Blues Band. Apart from Marty Sammon, the line-up includes dynamite guitarist Ric “JazGuitar” Hall, Orlando Wright (bass) and the above-mentioned Tom Hambridge on drums.

Guy is taking his show to the Kodak Center in Rochester, N.Y. tonight. Other upcoming dates include Massey Hall, Toronto, Canada (April 9); Revolution Hall, Portland, Ore (April 21) and Moore Hall, Seattle, Wash. (April 22). The tour also includes a show scheduled for July 30, Guy’s 86th birthday, at Taft Theater in Cincinnati, Ohio. The schedule for his entire 2022 tour, which currently has gigs until September, is here.

I find Buddy Guy an amazing inspiration. If you dig electric blues Chicago-style and don’t mind cursing, I can highly recommend the man who truly was born to play the guitar and who damn right has got the blues.

Sources: Wikipedia; Colin James website; Buddy Guy website; YouTube

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by Barclay James Harvest

Time again to make the tough choice to pick only one tune by a select artist or band I would take to a desert island. Hopefully, this will never happen, as it’s pretty much mission impossible. We’re up to the letter “b”, so choices include The Beatles, Badfinger, Bad Company, Chuck Berry, James Brown, David Bowie and The Byrds, to name some. I decided to go with Barclay James Harvest.

‘Who the hell is that?’ some of you may wonder, and why didn’t he take his favorite band of all time, The Beatles? Well, let me remind you one criterion for this feature is to pick an artist or band I haven’t covered yet or only a few times – call it a little twist to the exercise! This post is the first about Barclay James Harvest (BJH), a British group I was very much into during my teenage years, growing up in Germany. If I recall it correctly, they were pretty popular there at the time.

BJH (from left): Stuart “Woolly” Wolstenholme, John Lees, Mel Pritchard and Les Holroyd

BJH were formed in September 1966 by John Lees (guitar, vocals), Stuart “Woolly” Wolstenholme (keyboards, vocals), Les Holroyd (bass, vocals) and Mel Pritchard (drums, percussion). Their eponymous debut album appeared in 1970. Various configurations of the group have since released close to 20 additional studio albums, as well as numerous live and compilation records.

BJH are oftentimes classified as prog-rock and art rock. This sounds pretty accurate to me, especially for their earlier albums. I think one can also add symphonic rock, folk rock and pop rock. Currently, there are two touring versions of the group, John Lees’ Barclay James Harvest and Barclay James Harvest featuring Les Holroyd, which are each led by an original member. In case you’re interested to learn more, you can visit their respective websites here and here.

This finally brings me to the song I decided to pick: Mocking Bird, a tune that appeared on BJH’s sophomore album Once Again from February 1971. Written by John Lees, the symphonic rock tune is very reminiscent of The Moody Blues.

Six years after Once Again had appeared, Lees wrote a song titled Poor Man’s Moody Blues. But what could be viewed as an acknowledgment that the group was influenced by the Moodys apparently was an angry reaction to a journalist who had called BJH “a poor man’s Moody Blues.” The tune deliberately sounded very similar to Nights in White Satin.

Understandably, Justin Hayward, who wrote the renowned Moody Blues song, was less than pleased. Had this happened in the U.S., I think it’s safe to assume there would have been a big lawsuit. Years later, Hayward received an apology from Les Holroyd when they met each other.

Sources: Wikipedia; John Lees’ Barclay James Harvest website; Barclay James Harvest featuring Les Holroyd website; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: February 7

Once again I’ve decided to do another installment in my recurring and now more regular music history feature. This time it’s February 7, and it turns out I found a number of events that sufficiently intrigued me to highlight.

1959: New Orleans blues guitarist Guitar Slim passed away from pneumonia in New York at the untimely age of 32. Born Eddie Jones in Greenwood, Miss. on Dec 10, 1926, he had a major impact on rock and roll and influenced guitarists like Buddy Guy, Albert Collins, Frank Zappa and Jimi Hendrix. In fact, he experimented with distorted overtones 10 years before Hendrix did. Slim is best known for writing the blues standard The Things That I Used to Do, arranged and produced by a young Ray Charles. After the tune was released in the fall of 1953, it topped Billboard’s R&B chart for weeks and sold more than a million copies, becoming one of label Specialty Records’ biggest hits. Guitar Slim was a favorite of Hendrix who recorded an impromptu version of The Things That I Used to Do in 1969, featuring Johnny Winter on slide guitar. The tune, which is on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll, was also covered by Pee Wee Crayton, Tina Turner, James Brown and Stevie Ray Vaughan, among others.

1963: Please Please Me, The Beatles’ first U.S. single and their second single overall was released by Vee-Jay Records. This followed rejections by Capitol Records, EMI’s U.S. label, and Atlantic. Chicago radio station WLS‘s Dick Biondi, a friend of Vee-Jay executive Ewart Abner, became the first DJ to play a Beatles record in the U.S. Initially, the tune, written by John Lennon and credited to him and Paul McCartney, was a moderate success, peaking at no. 35 on the WLS “Silver Dollar Survey.” It would take until the song’s re-release in January 1964 that Please Please Me became a major U.S. hit, reaching no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in mid-March 1964, trailing I Want to Hold Your Hand and She Loves You. Three weeks later, The Beatles held the top 5 spots on the U.S. chart, with Please Please Me at no. 5. Chart-topper Can’t Buy Me Love was followed by Twist and Shout, She Loves You and I Want to Hold Your Hand.

1970: Led Zeppelin topped the Official Albums Chart in the UK for the first time with their sophomore album Led Zeppelin II. The record also became a chart-topper in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Germany and The Netherlands, and reached no. 2 in Austria, Norway and Sweden.  Recording sessions for the album had taken place at several locations in both the UK and North America between January and August 1969. Zep guitarist Jimmy Page was credited as producer. Eddie Kramer, who by that time had already worked with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Small Faces, Traffic and Jimi Hendrix, served as engineer. Here’s the opener Whole Lotta Love, one of my favorite Zep rockers that also was released separately as a single. The tune was credited to all four members of the band and, following settlement of a lawsuit in 1985, to Willie Dixon. Once again, the group had borrowed from somebody else’s work without acknowledgment. It’s an unfortunate pattern by one of my all-time favorite rock bands!

1970: Meanwhile, in the U.S., Dutch rock band Shocking Blue topped the Billboard Hot 100 with Venus. Their biggest hit also reached no. 1 in Canada, Australia and New Zealand and France, no. 2 in Germany and Norway, and no. 3 in The Netherlands. According to Wikipedia, the song’s music is from the 1963 tune The Banjo Song by American folk trio The Big 3 with lyrics by Shocking Blue guitarist Robbie van Leeuwen. Officially, only van Leeuwen was credited – sounds a bit like the previous item! Shocking Blue who at the time of Venus also included Mariska Veres (lead vocals), Klaasje van der Wal (bass) and Cor van der Beek (drums), were active from 1967 until 1974 and had a few short-lived reunions thereafter. In 1986, British girl group Bananarama took Venus back to no. 1 in the U.S. and various other countries. While I appreciate they revived a great song, I much prefer the original.

1976: Paul Simon scored his first and only no. 1 hit in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 with 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover, one of my all-time favorites by the American singer-songwriter. Penned by Simon, the song was the third single off his fourth solo album Still Crazy After All These Years from October 1975. The distinct drum part, one of the coolest I can think of, was performed by highly regarded session drummer Steve Gadd. He also played drums on Steely Dan song Aja and has worked with numerous other renowned artists. Backing vocals on 50 Ways were performed by Patti Austin, Valerie Simpson and Phoebe Snow. According to Songfacts, In a 1975 interview published in Rock Lives: Profiles and Interviews, Simon told the story of this song: “I woke up one morning in my apartment on Central Park and the opening words just popped into my mind: ‘The problem is all inside your head, she said to me…’ That was the first thing I thought of. So I just started building on that line. It was the last song I wrote for the album, and I wrote it with a Rhythm Ace, one of those electronic drum machines so maybe that’s how it got that sing-song ‘make a new plan Stan, don’t need to be coy Roy’ quality. It’s basically a nonsense song.”

1993: Neil Young recorded an installment of the MTV series Unplugged. Apparently, Young was not happy with the performances of many of his band members. It was his second attempt to capture a set he felt was suitable for airing and release. In spite of Young’s displeasure, the album still appeared in June that year. It was also published on VHS. Here’s Unknown Legend, a tune from his then-latest studio album Harvest Moon that had come out in November 1992. My ears can’t find anything wrong with how this sounds. Of course, it’s always possible certain kinks were fixed in the production process.

Sources: Wikipedia; This Day In Music; Songfacts Music History Calendar; YouTube

‘Tis the Season – Lighten Up!

If you’d asked me over the past couple of weeks whether I was ready for Christmas and New Year’s, most days, I would have said ‘nope’ to the former and ‘hell yes!’ to the latter. Undoubtedly, the second year of this dreadful pandemic has brought many challenges, and with omicron spreading quickly and furiously, the outlook for the near future isn’t great either. Still, while it’s always easy to find reasons to complain, I feel I really shouldn’t do it.

Instead, I should be grateful for many things I oftentimes take for granted: A loving wife and son who haven’t gotten sick; the fact thus far I’ve been able to escape the bloody virus; a roof above my head, even though we literally just needed to have it replaced, which wasn’t cheap; a job I’ve been able to do from home for the past two years; writing this blog about music, a topic I love; and so on and so forth.

As such, it’s time to stop having the blues about the inconveniences the pandemic has brought, especially missing out on live music, and to embrace the holiday season. And, yes, you guessed it, music can help. Following are some contemporary Christmas songs in different genres, including pop, rock, punk, rap, funk, classic rock & roll and even hard rock – as well as one breathtaking rendition of a traditional Christmas carol. I’m borrowing picks from a post I did four years ago. All songs are also captured in a Spotify playlist at the end.

John Lennon/Happy Xmas (War Is Over) (1971)

Chuck Berry/Run Rudolph Run (1958)

The Pogues/Fairytale Of New York (1987)

Run-D.M.C./Christmas In Hollis (1987)

AC/DC/Mistress For Christmas (1990)

José Feliciano/Feliz Navidad (1970)

James Brown/Santa Claus, Go Straight To The Ghetto (1968)

The Ravers/(It’s Gonna Be) A Punk Rock Christmas (1978)

Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band/Santa Claus Is Coming To Town (2007)

The Temptations/Silent Night

Below is the Spotify playlist. In the case of (It’s Gonna Be a) Punk Rock Christmas, the version by The Ravers wasn’t available, but I found another rendition of the song by what sounds like a female punk band, The Majorettes.

Happy Holiday Season! If you don’t celebrate Christmas and/or the New Year, I hope this won’t prevent you from having a great time anyway!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

The Hump Day Picker-Upper

Cheering you up for a dreadful Wednesday, one song at a time

For those of us taking care of business during the regular work week, I guess it’s safe to assume we’ve all felt that dreadful Wednesday blues. Sometimes, that middle point of the work week can be a true drag. But help is on the way!

With the fourth post on the fourth Wednesday in a row, it’s starting to look like I might be able to sustain The Hump Day Picker-Upper as a weekly recurring feature.

My pick for today is I Got You (I Feel Good) by James Brown. Written by the hardest working man in show business, the song first appeared on Brown’s album Out of Sight from September 1964. An alternate take was released as a single in October 1965. The song also was the title track of a compilation album that came out in January 1966.

The above single version of I Got You (I Feel Good) became Brown’s highest charting mainstream hit in the U.S., reaching no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was his third no. 1 on the Hot Rhythm & Blues Singles chart. It’s hard to believe that none of Brown’s other gems like Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag, It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World or Cold Sweat ever topped the Billboard Hot 100.

Happy Hump Day, and always remember the words of the wise George Harrison: All things must pass!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Another Sunday is upon us, which means the time has come again to go a music excursion where the only thing that’s certain is that nothing is certain. Because anything goes, any genre, any decade, as long as I dig the music. It feels very liberating not to limit myself to a specific album or theme in these posts. Perhaps not surprisingly, The Sunday Six continues to be my favorite feature of the blog.

Dr. Lonnie Smith/For Heaven’s Sake

I’d like to start this little music journey with Dr. Lonnie Smith, a jazz Hammond B3 organist I’ve featured a few times before. Sadly, he passed away from pulmonary fibrosis on September 28 at the age of 79. Smith first came to prominence in the mid-60s when he joined the quartet of jazz guitarist George Benson. After recording two albums with Benson, he launched his solo career with his debut album Finger Lickin’ Good Soul Organ in 1967 – then still known as Lonnie Smith. At some point, he decided to become Dr. Smith and wear a traditional Sikh turban. While he neither obtained an academic doctor title nor did he covert to Sikhism, Dr. Lonnie Smith was an amazing musician in my book. As a fan of the Hammond B3 sound, this isn’t exactly a leap for me. I’d like to celebrate the doctor’s music with For Heaven’s Sake, a track he wrote and recorded for his 2016 album Evolution. The backing band included Jonathan Kreisberg (guitar), Joe Lovano (saxophone), John Ellis (bass clarinet) and two drummers: Joe Dyson and Johnathan Blake.

Norah Jones/Don’t Know Why

For this next tune, let’s go back 14 years to February 2002 and the first album by jazz-oriented singer-songwriter and pianist Norah Jones. Come Away With Me was one heck of a debut for the then-23-year-old. It surged to no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200 and received Grammy Awards for Album of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Album. Jones, the daughter of sitar maestro Ravi Shankar and Sue Jones, a New York concert promoter, has since released six additional solo albums, as well as various collaboration records, EPs and compilations. Here’s Don’t Know Why, the lead single off Jones’ debut album. The tune was written by American singer-songwriter Jesse Harris who first recorded it for his 1999 sophomore album Jesse Harris & the Ferdinandos. Until today, I had not heard the lovely guitar-based original. I’ve always loved Jones’ version.

The Traveling Wilburys/Rattled

Let’s pick up the pace with a great tune by The Traveling Wilburys. The super-group was conceived by George Harrison and Jeff Lynne during recording sessions for Harrison’s 1987 comeback album Cloud Nine that was co-produced by Lynne. The Wilburys came together in April 1998 and in addition to Harrison and Lynne included Roy Orbison, Tom Petty and Bob Dylan. While initially Harrison had envisaged a series of Wilburys albums and a film about the band, the group ended up releasing only two records. Six weeks after the release of their debut album Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 in October 1988, Roy Orbison died from a heart attack at age 52. The second and final Wilburys album Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3 appeared in October 1990. While Lynne, Petty and Dylan were interested in continuing the group, it was Harrison who apparently lacked enthusiasm to keep things going. Here’s Rattled, a neat rockabilly tune from the Wilburys’ first album, featuring Lynne on lead vocals – rrrrrrrrr!

James Brown/It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World

Time to go back to the ’60s and James Brown. I trust the Godfather of Soul who by the early ’70s had become a major funk artist needs no introduction. It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World, which first appeared as a single in April 1966, was co-written by Brown and Betty Jean Newsome. It became Brown’s third no. 1 on the Billboard Hot Rhythm & Blues Singles chart and his third top 10 hit on the mainstream Billboard Hot 100. It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World also was the title track of a compilation album that was released in August of the same year. Each time I listen to this tune, I still get goosebumps. Here’s an extended live version that nicely illustrates what an amazing performer Brown was – the singing, the passion, the moves – just incredible!

Elvis Costello and the Imposters/Go Away

For this next pick, let’s return to the current millennium and a tune I love by Elvis Costello and the Imposters. Costello has frequently used this backing band since his 2002 album When I Was Cruel. The group includes Steve Nieve (keyboards), Davey Farahger (bass, backing vocals) and Pete Thomas (drums). Go Away, written by Costello, is the closer of Momofuku, his 21st studio album from April 2008. The tune was also released separately as a single. The album reached a meager no. 112 in the UK on the Official Albums Chart and peaked at no. 59 on the U.S. Billboard 200, while the single didn’t chart at all. At the time, Costello explained the record’s title was a tribute to Momofuku Ando, the inventor of the Cup Noodle, as reported by Billboard. “Like so many things in this world of wonders, all we had to do to make this record was add water,” he said.

Pete Townshend & Ronnie Lane/Rough Mix

And once again, this brings me to the sixth and final tune. This instrumental is the title track of a collaboration album released in September 1977 by Pete Townshend and Ronnie Lane, who was best known as the bassist and founding member of Small Faces and that band’s successor Faces. Rough Mix was Townshend’s second record outside The Who and is his only collaboration album to date. While Lane also wanted to co-write songs with Townshend, the title track is the only tune where that happened. Rough Mix enjoyed moderate chart success in the UK and the U.S., reaching no. 44 and no. 45 on the respective mainstream album charts. The title track is a groovy tune, which among others features Eric Clapton (guitar) and John Bundrick (organ).

Sources: Wikipedia; Billboard; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

Is it really Sunday again? It is. Crazy how time seems to be flying. On the upside, Sunday is fun day and time for my favorite recurring feature. I think I’ve put together another set of six tunes that celebrates the beauty of music in its different flavors. Hope you enjoy it!

Henry Mancini/The Pink Panther Theme

Long before I had ever heard of Peter Sellers, Inspector Jacques Closeau and The Pink Panther movies, I was familiar with The Pink Panther Theme. That’s because I watched the cartoon series as a child growing up in Germany. I always loved the instrumental theme, which was composed by Henry Mancini in 1963 for the first movie in the series titled The Pink Panther. When that track came to my mind the other day, I figured it would be great to feature one of the coolest jazz instrumentals I know in a Sunday Six installment. Apart from being included in the film’s soundtrack album, The Pink Panther Theme also became a top 10 single in the U.S. on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart, then known as Middle Road Singles. And it won three Grammy Awards. Undoubtedly, the standout is the tenor saxophone solo played by American soul-jazz and hard bop tenor saxophonist Plas Johnson who is still alive at 89 years.

Solomon Burke/A Change Is Gonna Come

Solomon Burke may not have enjoyed the chart success of peers like James Brown, Wilson Pickett or Otis Redding, but he still is considered to be one of the founding fathers of soul music in the ’60s. Atlantic Records’ Jerry Wexler called him “the greatest male soul singer of all time.” Burke was also known as “King Solomon”, the “King of Rock ‘n’ Soul”, “Bishop of Soul” and the “Muhammad Ali of Soul”. No matter what you want to call him, there’s no doubt that Burke was an amazing vocalist, and I got a powerful example to illustrate my point: His amazing rendition of A Change Is Gonna Come, which has literally brought me to tears. The tune was written by Sam Cooke and first appeared on his final studio album Ain’t That Good News from February 1966, 10 months prior to his mysterious death from a gun shot at a Los Angeles motel in December 1964. Burke who passed away in October 2010 recorded A Change Is Gonna Come as the title track of a studio album that appeared 1986. If you haven’t heard this cover, you need to check it out. It’s incredibly moving!

Curtis Mayfield/Move On Up

At the time I decided to feature the previous Solomon Burke tune, I also thought of Move On Up by Curtis Mayfield. Then I saw fellow blogger Music Enthusiast featured the same song earlier this week in one of his posts and considered scrapping it. When I told him, Music Enthusiast encouraged me to keep it, saying “It’s a great song that shouldn’t be forgotten and deserves the widest audience possible.” He’s right. Move On Up is the title track of Mayfield’s debut solo album Curtis, which came out in September 1970. Addressing challenges faced by many African Americans, the album was somewhat comparable to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, except it predated Gaye’s seminal record by eight months. Move On Up, which like all other tracks on the record was written by Mayfield, appeals to listeners not to let obstacles get in the way to pursue dreams and make the best of life. As such, the tune has a more upbeat message than some of the other darker tracks on the album. Sometimes, I can get a bit impatient when it comes to long songs. Not so in this case where I love each and every second of the 8:49 minutes: The horns, the congas, the cool bass line, Mayfield’s falsetto vocals – it’s just perfect!

Jean-Michel Jarre/Oxygène (Part IV)

Let’s continue with the idea of moving up. Way up. All the way to outer space. To those who have followed my blog for a long time and have witnessed my occasional criticism of “artificial music” that is “generated by computers,” the selection of Jean-Michel Jarre may come as a bit of a surprise. After all, we’re talking electronic music that’s entirely generated by synthesizers. Not even the drums are real. So what’s up with that seemingly contradictory pick? Well, perhaps Jarre is the exception that proves my rule! 🙂 It’s simple. I’ve always had a thing for space music and Oxygène, Jarre’s third studio album released in December 1976, is exactly that. The best way to listen to this album is with headphones. The sound effects are just amazing, and before you know it, you feel like floating in space. I’ve listened to this music countless times to fall asleep. Here’s the best known track from the album, Oxygène (Part IV). It also appeared separately and became the most successful single of Jarre’s still-ongoing recording career, topping the charts in Spain and reaching the top 10 in various other European countries and in New Zealand. Happy floating!

Héroes del Silencio/Entre dos tierras

Héroes del Silencio were a Spanish rock band from Zaragoza. They were formed as Zumo de Vidrio in 1984 by guitarist Juan Valdivia and vocalist Enrique Bunbury. Bassist Joaquín Cardiel and drummer Pedro Andreu completed the line-up of the band, which in 1985 changed their name to Héroes del Silencio. The group’s debut EP Héroe de Leyenda from 1987 was followed by full-length debut album El Mar No Cesa, which came out in October 1988. The breakthrough came with sophomore studio release Senderos de traición from May 1990. It topped the charts in Spain and reached no. 17 in Germany. Altogether, Héroes del Silencio recorded four studio and various live and compilation albums before they disbanded in 1996. In 2007, as part of a 20th anniversary celebration, the band organized a 10-concert world tour. Entre dos tierras, credited to all members of the group, is the opener to their aforementioned sophomore album. While it’s the only Héroes del Silencio tune I know, I’ve always liked its amazing sound.

The Who/Success Story

I guess we’ve already reached the point again when it’s time to wrap up. Let’s do so with another rocker: Success Story by The Who. The track from their seventh studio album The Who by Numbers from October 1975 may not be the most popular or best tune by The Who. But when I coincidentally stumbled across the song the other day, I immediately earmarked it for a Sunday Six. Notably, it’s one of the few tunes written by John Entwistle. I also dig the lyrics, which Songfacts calls “a cynical autobiography of The Who.” Songfacts further notes, The line, “I’m your fairy manager” is an allusion to The Who’s gay manager Kit Lambert, who they were in the process of suing. Referring to a preacher becoming a rock musician, Entwistle also poked fun at Pete Townshend who followed Indian spiritual master Meher Baba and included spirituality in his songs. Perhaps most importantly, this song simply rocks and is bloody catchy!

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube