In general, I’m not much into electronic music. One of the exceptions is Oxygène by Jean-Michel Jarre, an album I loved right away when got it on vinyl as a teenager. This must have been around 1980. I own that copy to this day and it’s still in reasonable condition.
Jarre’s third studio album, released in December 1976, first entered my radar screen when I heard the single Oxygène (Part IV) on the radio back in Germany. It became quite popular, which is remarkable for an instrumental. On the other hand, I guess I’m not surprised. The track has a memorable melody, and that spacy sound is just cool, especially if you listen to it with headphones.
According to Wikipedia, Jarre recorded Oxygène in a makeshift home recording studio, using various analogue synthesizers, a digital synthesizer, and other electronic instruments and effects. You can see some of the gear in the below clip of Oxygène (Part IV).
Let’s take a closer look at the music, which was all composed by Jarre. Each of the six tracks is fairly long. Here’s the opener Oxygène (Part I).
Oxygène (Part III), the third and final track on side one (in vinyl speak), is the shortest. There isn’t really much to say about the individual tracks. I find this music perfect to relax. In fact, I’ve listened to it many times over the decades in bed to fall asleep.
This brings me to Side two and the tune that started my fascination with this record that makes you feel like you’re floating in space: Oxygène (Part IV).
And finally, here’s the last track Oxygène (Part VI). The sound effects are just amazing, which is why I highly recommend using headphones when listening to the album.
Even though many music critics were lukewarm about Oxygène, it enjoyed substantial mainstream chart success, hitting no. 1 in Jarre’s native France, no. 2 in the UK, no. 3 in Sweden, no. 4 in The Netherlands and no. 8 in Germany, among others. Except for Australia where it reached no. 10, the album’s success beyond Europe was more moderate: No. 29 in Australia and no. 78 in the U.S.
I also own Équinoxe on vinyl, the follow-on to Oxygène, which appeared in December 1978. Once again, it took Jarre to no. 1 in France, though overall, the album wasn’t as successful as Oxygène. While it’s not a bad record, for some reason, I like it much less than Oxygène – not exactly sure why. Perhaps, it no longer had the novelty factor.
Jean-Michel Jarre, who is now 73 years old, is still active. Since Équinoxe he has released 20 additional albums. His most recent, Amazônia, appeared in April this year. Other than Oxygène and Équinoxe, I haven’t explored his music.
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’sWhat’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 Songfactscalls “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!