My Playlist: David Crosby

Shining a light on influential singer-songwriter’s late-stage career

Last week (January 18), David Crosby sadly passed away at the age of 81, which according to a family statement came “after a long illness.” By now it’s safe to assume this isn’t news to anybody, given the significant number of obituaries that have appeared in the wake of his death. As such, I’m not going to write yet another summary of the influential singer-songwriter’s eventful private life and career. Instead, I’d like to highlight Crosby’s music, particularly his last nine years, during which he was pretty prolific.

When reflecting on David Crosby, I feel it’s fair to say most people primarily think of him as a co-founder of the Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash/Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Some perhaps also recall his February 1971 solo debut If I Could Only Remember My Name and his ’70s collaborative albums with CSN bandmate Graham Nash. But unless you’ve followed him more closely, his post-’70s output is probably less familiar. I certainly belong to that group.

David Crosby with his son and musical collaborator James Raymond

In January 2014, Crosby released Croz, his fourth solo album and first such effort in 20 years, beginning a remarkably productive late stage in his career. On several occasions over the past couple of years, he noted his remaining time was limited, so he wanted to focus on music as much as possible. And that he certainly did. After Croz four additional studio albums appeared between October 2016 and July 2021. In his final interview with Songfacts two months ago, Crosby also revealed he had completed another studio album with his so-called Lighthouse Band, to be titled Hello Moon, and was working on two additional albums. This didn’t include the then-forthcoming live release David Crosby & the Lighthouse Band Live at the Capitol Theatre, which has since appeared on December 9.

Following I’m highlighting one song from each of Crosby’s last five studio albums. While I don’t want to guarantee these are the best tracks, I can confidently say I dig each of these songs. In any case, of course, it’s all pretty subjective. I’m also including a career-spanning playlist focused on songs Crosby wrote or co-wrote, as opposed to tunes on which he sang and/or played guitar. That is by no means to undermine his important role as a vocalist and musician. The Byrds and CSN/CSNY wouldn’t have sounded the same without Crosby’s vocal and instrumental contributions.

Set That Baggage DownCroz (January 2014)

Crosby wrote that tune together with English guitarist Shane Fontayne who has been active since the ’70s and worked with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Ian Hunter, Joe Cocker, Graham Nash and Mick Ronson. “That’s a thing you learn in AA [Alcoholics Anonymous – CMM],” Crosby told Rolling Stone, as noted by Songfacts. “I went there for about fourteen and half years. You have to look at what got you there. You have to look at the mistakes, and I made some horrific ones, and then you have to learn from them, figure out how to not wind up there again. You have to set that baggage down and walk on. If you spend all your life looking over your shoulder at the things you did wrong, you’re gonna walk smack into a tree.”

Somebody Other Than YouLighthouse (October 2016)

This political tune, co-written by Crosby and Snarky Puppy bandleader Michael League, appears on Lighthouse, Crosby’s first album with what became known as his Lighthouse Band. In addition to League, the group also featured vocalist and songwriter Becca Stevens and Michelle Willis, a Canadian singer-songwriter and keyboarder. “There are these politicians in Washington who are run by the corporations, ’cause corporations gave them the money to get elected, and they send our kids off to war,” Crosby explained to Classic Rock magazine, according to Songfacts. “I’m deeply offended by the fact that these politicians send your kids and not theirs.”

Sky TrailsSky Trails (September 2017)

Sky Trails is the title track of Crosby’s sixth solo album, which appeared less than 12 months after the predecessor. Sky Trails also became the name of Crosby’s second band, which featured his son James Raymond who also produced various of Crosby’s albums, and “anybody we decide we want to work with,” as Crosby put it to Songfacts during his above final interview. In the case of this tune, it was Becca Stevens who co-wrote it with Crosby. “We both spend a lot of time on the road,” Crosby told Billboard magazine, as documented by Songfacts. “And when you’re on the road, after the second or third week you don’t know where you are. You’re out there somewhere, and all the cities look roughly the same, and you lose track.” My full review of Sky Trails is here.

1974Here If You Listen (October 2018)

1974, a partially wordless song, was co-written by Crosby and his Lighthouse Band members Becca Stevens, Michelle Willis and Michael League, and appeared on Here If You Listen, the second album Crosby made with the group. The title is a nod to a demo of the song, which Crosby recorded in 1974. “It was a song without words that I was fooling around with,” he told Songfacts. “I used to do that a lot: I’d have a set of changes but I didn’t have a set of words, so I would stack vocals like horn parts. I’m basically doing a horn record with voices. I had a bunch of those.”

Rodriguez For a NightFor Free (July 2021)

The last tune I’d like to highlight is Rodriguez For a Night, a great track from Crosby’s eighth and most recent solo album. A longtime Steely Dan fan, Crosby had long sought to collaborate with Donald Fagen. It finally happened with this tune, for which Fagen provided the lyrics while Crosby’s son Raymond James wrote the music with some help from his father. “[Fagan] just sent the words and stood back to see what would happen,” Crosby told Uncut magazine, according to Songfacts. “He knew what our taste was and he knew what we would probably try to do. He’s an extremely intelligent guy and I think he knew what would happen. We know his playbook pretty well, so we deliberately went there – complex chords, complex melodies. We Steely Damned him right into the middle of this as far as we could! And fortunately, Donald liked it, so I couldn’t be more grateful.”

Last but not least, here’s the above-noted career-spanning playlist. Crosby named Eight Miles High (and Turn! Turn! Turn!) when asked to identify the ultimate Byrds song during the above Songfacts interview. Separately, Songfacts notes Crosby thought Everybody’s Been Burned was “the first actually passable song that I wrote,” quoting him from an interview with his friend Steve Silberman, an American journalist with whom he hosted a podcast.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube; Spotify

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Up-And-Comer Myron Elkins Shines On Debut Album

Young singer-songwriter from Michigan small town sounds like an old soul who has seen and done it all

Welcome to my second full-album review of 2023. Not only is it music by another contemporary artist, but it’s also brand new – a promising start of the year, which makes me very happy!

When I first came across Myron Elkins last Friday while doing research for my most recent Best of What’s New installment, I simply couldn’t believe I was listening to a 21-year-old artist. Based on his sound and especially his gritty vocals, you could picture this young singer-songwriter from Otsego, Mich. jam with the likes of The Allman Brothers Band, ZZ Top and Tom Petty back in the ’70s!

Photo: Jimmy Fontaine via Sacks & Co

Before getting to some music from Elkins’ debut album Factories, Farms & Amphetamines, released on January 13, I’d like to touch on his background story. According to his website, while being exposed to music as a kid, taught by his grandfather how to play guitar and starting to write his own songs at 14 or 15, Elkins did not set out to become a professional singer-songwriter. Instead, after high school graduation, the then-17-year-old became a welder in a local factory. Then his trajectory changed.

Three years ago, a relative signed Elkins up for a local battle of the bands competition, even though his music performance experience had been limited to the church and a few gigs at local bars. Elkins also had no band at the time, so he quickly gathered three cousins and a friend to join him. They had three weeks to rehearse. While Elkins’ band “only” came in second, the experience started to change his path.

Photo: Anna Sink

For the next three years, Elkins and his band members continued to practice nearly every day while working regular jobs. Recording in a studio was a big step forward for the nascent group, according to his website. Luckily, Elkins and his band were already fans of [producer] Dave Cobb’s live-band production style before signing with Elektra/Low Country Sound, and so they relished the chance to record with him at his studio, Nashville RCA Studio A. Cobb has worked with the likes of Chris StapletonBrandi CarlileJohn PrineSturgill SimpsonJason IsbellThe Highwomen and Rival Sons.

Time for some music. Here’s the album’s opener Sugartooth. To me, it sounds a bit like Tom Petty channeling Chuck Berry’s Memphis Tennessee. Check this out!

Since I highlighted the album’s title track in my aforementioned Best of What’s New installment, I’m skipping it here to go right to Hands To Myself. The groovy and soulful tune addresses the touchy subject of domestic use…You can hope you can pray that maybe someday/Someone will love someone will help and put you on some kind of shelf/Oh I swear ill never learn to keep my hands to myself…“I’m writing about where I come from,” Elkins explains on his website. “Things I’ve seen and things I’ve heard. I had only been out of Michigan one time—to Graceland—before I started the band, so that little part of Michigan is all I really knew when writing this album.”

Wrong Side Of The River has a country rock flavor. Elkins’ website notes the tune encourages embracing where you’re from, because a supportive home life can make all the difference even if you’re not living on the so-called right side of town.

On Nashville Money, a nice bluesy rocker, Elkins muses about life as a professional music artist…With that Nashville money/gonna take care of my hopes and dreams/With that Nashville money/Gonna make a big star out of me

Let’s take a look at one more tune: Machine, a funky rock tune with a cool bass line.

As briefly noted above, Factories, Farms & Amphetamines was recorded live in studio at the storied RCA Studio A in Nashville. In early 2016, Dave Cobb took over the historic landmark for his Low Country Sound record label imprint. Apart from Chris Stapleton and Jason Isbell, some of the other artists who worked there include The Beach Boys, Joe Cocker, Waylon Jennings, B.B. King, Loretta Lynn, The Monkees, Dolly Parton, Leon Russell and George Strait.

In addition to Elkins (guitar, vocals), the album also features the members of his touring band: Caleb Stamphler (guitar), Avery Whitaker (guitar), Nathan Johnson (bass) and Jake Bartlett (drums). Here’s a Spotify link to the entire album:

Reflecting on working with producer Dave Cobb, Elkins states on his website: “I came in with probably 30 songs that we had widdled down from 50-60. Dave would just sit down with us and say ‘ok, let’s hear what you got.’ He knew pretty quickly which ones he wanted to dive into, and from there, it was just kind of a Dave Cobb crash course. We’d only been in the studio one time before that, so there might have been a thing or two that we needed to learn.”

Encouraged by the experience, apparently, Elkins is already looking forward to recording more music. “Now when I’m writing songs, I have all these Dave-isms in my head—like, ‘Oh, yeah, there we go. All right, throw this here.’”, he notes. “Before we recorded Factories, Farms & Amphetamines, I thought maybe you had to be a superhero to make a record. Next time, it’s going be a little easier.”

Elkins is off to a great start as a recording artist, and he’s only 21 years old. I think we can look forward to more great music from this talented young artist.

Sources: Wikipedia; Myron Elkins website; YouTube; Spotify

Song Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

It’s Wednesday and I hope you’re having a great day. Wednesday also means it’s time again for taking a closer look at a particular song I’ve only mentioned in passing or not covered at all. My pick for today is Train to Birmingham by John Hiatt, a great singer-songwriter I had known by name for many years but only started to explore about 18 months ago.

While Hiatt has written songs for 50-plus years and recorded close to 30 albums, his tunes oftentimes became hits for other artists. Perhaps the most prominent examples are Thing Called Love and Have a Little Faith in Me, which became hits for Bonnie Raitt and Joe Cocker, respectively. Hiatt’s songs have also been covered by an impressive and diverse array of other artists like B.B. KingBob DylanBuddy GuyEmmylou HarrisJoan BaezLinda RonstadtThe Nitty Gritty Dirt Band  and Willy DeVille.

Train to Birmingham, penned by Hiatt, is what I would call a deep cut from a studio album titled Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns, which Hiatt released in August 2011. Unlike many of his other records, this one fared better in the charts, reaching no. 7 in the U.S. on Billboard’s Independent Albums chart and climbing to no. 59 on the Billboard 200. Elsewhere, it peaked at no. 17 in Sweden, no. 20 in The Netherlands and no. 61 in Germany, among others. The tune was never released as a single.

Train to Birmingham was covered by American country music artist Kevin Welch on his sophomore album Western Beat, released in April 1992 as Kevin Welch @nd The Overtones. Good rendition!

Following are some additional tidbits on Train to Birmingham from Songfacts:

American folk-rock singer-songwriter John Hiatt wrote this song in his late teens, but it didn’t make it onto a disc until his 2011 album Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns. He explained why he finally decided to record the track in an interview with American Songwriter: “You know what, my wife really loves the song. And she’s been asking me to record it for years, and it kind of seemed right on this record. We were doing all of these songs about cities and different locations and going from the city and the country and back and forth. It’s our 25th wedding anniversary this year back in June, so I just thought I’d record this song for her.”

Hiatt told the story of how he came to pen a train song to American Songwriter: “I wrote it when I was about 19. I’d been in Nashville a year — I came to Nashville when I was about 18, and I was writing for Tree Publishing Company, and I wasn’t a country songwriter by any stretch, but I was surrounded by those guys. Like Bobby Braddock, who wrote a lot of George Jones and Tammy Wynette hits. And Curly Putnam,who wrote ‘Green Green Grass of Home’ and ‘Red Lane,’ all these hit country songwriters of the day. I was writing my little folk songs, or whatever they hell they were, and I was trying to pick up the craft, at any rate, and I said, ‘Well how do you write a country song?’ and one of them said one day, ‘Well, you gotta have a train song.’ And I though well s–t, I think I can write a song about a train.

And back in those days on Music Row, all the publishing companies were just in little houses, and the songwriters lived right next door. I lived in a little house with four or five other writers, and none of us were really country writers. One guy was from upstate New York trying to get some rock and roll thing going. Those were some real interesting times in Nashville, as it always is. But this one guy was from Birmingham and he kept going home every damn weekend like he couldn’t stand to be away. And I just though well s–t, there’s my ‘Train To Birmingham.'”

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

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

Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book Turns 50

On October 27, 1972, Stevie Wonder released his 15th studio album Talking Book. While I missed the actual anniversary date, I did not want to skip this milestone. Not only does Talking Book represent a gem in Wonder’s long music catalog and marked the beginning of his “classic period”, but it also was an artistic turning point. This post borrows from a previous review of the album I published in May 2017.

Even though Stevie Wonder was only 22 years when he recorded Talking Book, he already had a 10-year recording career under his belt. Remarkably, he took the bold step to abandon the Motown template of radio-friendly songs that had brought him fame. As reported in this excellent NPR segment from 2000, the album proved his independence as an artist, his first real growth as a boy becoming a man…making all of the artistic decisions himself and relying less on Motown head Berry Gordy for direction.

The sound of Talking Book was largely shaped by Wonder’s keyboard work, especially his use of synthesizers. “I felt that the Moog synthesizer enabled me to reshape the oscillator, having control of the ataxias and sustained release,” Wonder explained to NPR. “I was able to really create various sounds, bass sounds and was able to bend notes the way that I heard them being bent, create different sounds of horns, string sounds and string lines and really arrange them in the way that I felt I wanted them to sound.”

A multi-instrumentalist, Wonder played most of the instruments himself, including drums, Fender Rhoades; Clavinet; Moog bass synthesizer; T.O.N.T.O., a massive multi-module synthesizer, and harmonica. Notable guest musicians included Jeff Beck (electric guitar), Buzz Feiten (electric guitar), Ray Parker Jr. (electric guitar) and David Sanborn (alto saxophone).

For the most part, the lyrics on Talking Book deal with love and heartbreak. A notable exception is Big Brother, where Wonder followed contemporary artists like Marvin GaveCurtis Mayfield and James Brown with socially conscious lyrics – an approach he would further embrace on his next studio album  Innervisions with songs like Too High and Living For the City.

Let’s get to some music with the beautiful opener of side one (speaking in vinyl terms), You Are the Sunshine of My Life. Wonder’s Fender Rhoades electric piano and the congas played by Daniel Ben Zebulon give this beautiful mid-tempo ballad a very relaxed feel. Wonder got some support on vocals from singers Jim GilstrapLani Groves and Gloria Barley. The tune became the album’s second single and Wonder’s third no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. In March 1974, it also won him the Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.

Next up is You and I (We Can Conquer the World), another love song. In addition to singing lead vocals, Wonder played all instruments, including piano, T.O.N.T.O. synthesizer and Moog bass. The tune has been covered by multiple other artists, such as Barbra Streisand, Joe Cocker and Macy Gray. According to Songfacts, it also holds the distinction of having served as the wedding song for former U.S. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, who are both huge Stevie Wonder fans.

Side two of Talking Book starts off with what became Wonder’s second U.S. no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and a signature tune: Superstition. That said, the album’s lead single ruffled some feathers. Jeff Beck who participated in the recording sessions for Talking Book came up with the opening drum beat. Wonder improvised the guitar-like riff, playing a Hohner Clavinet. They created a rough demo of the tune with the idea that Beck would record the song for his next album. However, by the time Beck did so, Wonder had recorded the tune for Talking Book, and at the insistence of Berry Gordy who saw a hit, it had been released as a single. In addition to Wonder (lead vocals, Clavinet, drums, Moog bass), the recording featured Trevor Lawrence (tenor saxophone) and Steve Madaio (trumpet). Apparently, Beck wasn’t happy and made some comments to the press Wonder didn’t appreciate. Eventually, he released his version of  Superstition on his 1973 eponymous debut album with Beck, Bogert & Appice.

Here is the above-mentioned Big Brother. It’s another tune entirely performed by Wonder (lead vocals, Clavinet, drums/percussion, harmonica, Moog bass). An excerpt from the lyrics: …Your name is big brother/You say that you got me all in your notebook/Writing it down everyday/Your name is I’ll see ya’ (Your name is I’ll see ya’)/I’ll change if you vote me in as the Pres’/ President of your soul/I live in the ghetto/You just come to visit me ’round election time…

The last track I’d like to call out is I Believe (When I Fall in Love It Will Be Forever), one of two tunes on Talking Book Wonder co-wrote with Yvonne Wright, a frequent collaborator for various of his other ’70s albums. Once again, it was solely performed by Wonder who in addition to singing lead and background vocals played piano, Clavinet, drums and Moog bass. The tune has been covered by Art Garfunkel, George Michael and British female vocal duo E’voke, among others.

Talking Book was produced by Wonder with some help from Robert Margouleff and Malcolm Cecil, with whom he had also worked on his preceding album  Music of My Mind. Following is a Spotify link to the album.

Talking Book became a major chart success, especially in the U.S. where it climbed to no. 3 on the Billboard 200 and was Wonder’s first album to top the R&B chart. Elsewhere, it reached no. 12 in Canada, no. 16 in the UK, no. 24 in Norway and no. 34 in Australia. The record was also well-received by critics. In a review at the time, Rolling Stone’s Vince Aletti called it, “an exceptional, exciting album, the work of a now quite matured genius and, with Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, Sly’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On (an answer album?) and Wonder’s own Music of My Mind, one of the most impressive recent records from a black popular performer.” AllMusic’s John Bush characterized the album as “a laser beam of tight songwriting, warm electronic arrangements, and ebullient performances.”

In 2003, Rolling Stone ranked Talking Book at no. 90 in its list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. In the most recent 2020 revision, it moved up to no. 59. The album was also voted no. 322 in the third edition of Colin Larkin’s All Time Top 1000 Albums, published in 2000.

Sources: Wikipedia; NPR; Songfacts; Rolling Stone, AllMusic; YouTube; Spotify

Musings of the Past

In Appreciation Of The Saxophonist

Time for another installment of this infrequent feature, in which I republish select content that first appeared in the earlier stage of the blog when I had fewer followers. The following post about my favorite saxophone players originally appeared in November 2017. I’ve slightly edited it and also added a Spotify playlist at the end.

In Appreciation Of The Saxophonist

A list of some of my favorite saxophone players and solos

Music instruments have always fascinated me. I also have a deep appreciation for musicians who master their gear. Oftentimes, I wish I would have learned more than just the guitar and the bass. For regular readers of the blog or those who know me otherwise, none of this should come as a big surprise. I’ve written a bunch of posts on some of the gear I admire, from guitars like the Fender StratocasterGibson Les Paul and Rickenbacker 360/12, to keyboards like the  Hammond B3, as well as some of my favorite drummers and bassists. One of the coolest instruments I haven’t touched yet is the saxophone.

Let me address the big caveat to this post right away: Since I know next to nothing about jazz, I’m focusing on genres that are in my wheelhouse: rock, blues and pop. While many of the saxophonists I highlight come from the jazz world, it’s still safe to assume I’m missing some outstanding players. On the other hand, where would I even start, if I broadened the scope to jazz? With that being out of the way, following is a list of some of favorite saxophonists and sax solos.

Update: Since subsequently I’ve started to explore the jazz world, mostly in my Sunday Six feature, I’m going to add some tracks in the Spotify playlist featuring some additional outstanding jazz saxophonists.

Raphael Ravenscroft

I imagine just like most readers, I had never heard of this British saxophonist until I realized he was associated with a ’70s pop song featuring one of the most epic sax solos: Baker Street by Gerry Rafferty. The breathtaking performance put Ravenscroft on the map. He went on to work with other top artists like Marvin Gaye (In Our Lifetime, 1981), Robert Plant (Pictures At Eleven, 1982) and Pink Floyd (The Final Cut, 1983). Ravenscroft died from a suspected heart attack in October 2014 at the age of 60. According to a BBC News story, he didn’t think highly of the solo that made him famous, saying, “I’m irritated because it’s out of tune…Yeah it’s flat. By enough of a degree that it irritates me at best.” The same article also noted that Ravenscroft “was reportedly paid only £27 for the session with a cheque that bounced while the song is said to have earned Rafferty £80,000 a year in royalties.” Wow!

Wayne Shorter

The American jazz saxophonist and composer, who started his career in the late ’50s, played in Miles Davis’ Second Great Quintet in the 1960s and co-founded the jazz fusion band Weather Report in 1971. Shorter has recorded over 20 albums as a bandleader and played as a sideman on countless other jazz records. He also contributed to artists outside the jazz realm, including Joni MitchellDon Henley and Steely Dan. For the latter, he performed a beautiful extended tenor sax solo for Aja, the title track of their 1977 gem.

Clarence Clemons

The American saxophonist, musician and actor was best known for his longtime association with Bruce Springsteen. From 1972 to his death in June 2011 at age 69, Clemons was a member of the E Street Band, where he played the tenor saxophone. He also released several solo albums and played with other artists, including Aretha FranklinTwisted Sister, Grateful Dead and  Ringo Starr and His All-Star Band. But it was undoubtedly the E Street Band where he left his biggest mark, providing great sax parts for Springsteen gems like Thunder RoadThe Promised Land and The Ties That Bind. One of my favorite Clemons moments is his solo on Bobby Jean from the Born In The U.S.A. album. What could capture “The Big Man” better than a live performance? This clip is from a 1985 concert in Paris, France.

Curtis Amy

The American West Coast jazz musician was primarily known for his work as a tenor and soprano saxophonist. Among others, Amy served as the musical director of Ray Charles’ orchestra for three years in the mid-60s. He also led his own bands and recorded under his own name. Outside the jazz arena, he worked as a session musician for artists like The Doors (Touch Me, The Soft Parade, 1969), Marvin GayeSmokey Robinson and Carole King (Tapestry, 1971). One of the tunes on King’s masterpiece is the ballad Way Over Yonder, which features one of the most beautiful sax solos in pop I know of.

Dick Parry

The English saxophonist, who started his professional career in 1964, has worked as a session musician with many artists. A friend of David Gilmour, Parry is best known for his work with Pink Floyd, appearing on their albums The Dark Side Of The Moon (1973), Wish You Were Here (1975), The Division Bell (1994) and Pulse (1995). He also worked with Procol Harum  guitarist Mick Grabham (Mick The Lad, 1972), John Entwistle (Mad Dog, 1975) and Rory Gallagher (Jinx, 1982), among others. One of Parry’s signature sax solos for Pink Floyd appeared on Money. Here’s a great clip recorded during the band’s 1994 Division Bell tour.

Ronnie Ross

Albert Ronald “Ronnie” Ross was a British jazz baritone saxophonist. He started his professional career in the 1950s with the tenor saxophone, playing with jazz musicians Tony KinseyTed Heath and Don Rendell. It was during his tenure with the latter that he switched to the baritone sax. Outside his jazz engagements during the 60s, Ross gave saxophone lessons to a young dude called David Bowie and played tenor sax on Savoy Truffle, a track from The Beatles’ White Album. In the 70s, his most memorable non-jazz appearance was his baritone sax solo at the end of the Lou Reed song Walk On The Wild Side. I actually always thought the solo on that tune from Reed’s 1972 record  Transformer was played by Bowie. Instead, he co-produced the track and album with Mick Ronson. According to Wikipedia, Bowie also played acoustic guitar on the recording.

Walter Parazaider

The American saxophonist was a founding member of Chicago and played with the band for 51 years until earlier this year (2017) when he officially retired due to a heart condition. In addition to the saxophone, Parazider also mastered the flute, clarinet, piccolo and oboe. Here is a clip of Saturday In The Park and 25 Or 6 To 4 from Chicago’s great 2016 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction performance, which features Parazaider on saxophone.

Alto Reed

Thomas Neal Cartmell, known as Alto Reed, is an American saxophonist who was a member of The Silver Bullet Band since it was founded by Bob Seger in the mid-70s. He toured with Seger and the band for 40-plus years, starting with Live Bullet in 1976. Reed has also performed with many other bands and musicians like FoghatGrand Funk RailroadLittle FeatThe Blues Brothers  and George Thorogood. Among his signature performances for Seger are the saxophone solo in Old Time Rock And Roll and the introduction to Turn the Page. Here’s a great live clip of Turn the Page from 2014.

Junior Walker

Autry DeWalt Mixon Jr., known by his stage name Junior Walker or Jr. Walker, was an American singer and saxophonist whose 40-year career started in the mid-1950s with his own band called the Jumping Jacks. In 1964, Jr. Walker & The All Stars were signed by Motown. They became one of the company’s signature acts, scoring hits with songs like Shotgun(I’m a) RoadrunnerShake And Fingerpop and remakes of Motown tunes Come See About Me and How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You). While Walker continued to record with the band and solo during the ’70s and into the early ’80s, one of his most memorable performances resulted from his guest performance on Foreigner’s 1981 album 4. His saxophone solo on Urgent is one of the most blistering in pop rock. Walker died from cancer in November 1995 at the age of 64.

Bobby Keys

No list of saxophonists who have played with rock and blues artists would be complete without Bobby Keys. From the mid-1950s until his death in December 2014, this American saxophonist appeared on hundreds of recordings as a member of horn sections and was a touring musician. He worked with some of the biggest names, such as The Rolling Stones, Lynyrd SkynyrdGeorge HarrisonJohn LennonEric Clapton and Joe Cocker. Some of these artists’ songs that featured Keys include Don’t Ask Me No Questions (Lynyrd SkynyrdSecond Helping, 1974), Whatever Gets You Thru The Night (John Lennon, Walls And Bridges, 1974) and Slunky (Eric Clapton, Eric Clapton, 1970). But he is best remembered for his sax part on Brown Sugar from the Stones’ 1971 studio album Sticky Fingers.

– End –

The original post, which was published on November 11, 2017, ended here. Here’s the previously mentioned Spotify list featuring all of the above and some additional saxophone greats.

Sources: Wikipedia; BBC; YouTube; Spotify

A Flaming One-Hit Wonder That Burned Out Quickly

A “Turntable Talk” contribution

Dave from A Sound Day blog has a great recurring feature titled Turntable Talk, for which he invites fellow bloggers to contribute their thoughts about a given topic. This time it was “Wonderful One Hit Wonders.” Following is my submission.

Thanks for inviting me back to Turntable Talk. When I saw the topic, one of the first one-hit wonders that came to my mind was Venus by Dutch rock band Shocking Blue. I’ve always loved that late ‘60s tune and thought it would be a good pick for this post – except it turned out Shocking Blue weren’t really a one-hit wonder.

Yes, it’s fair to say the group is best remembered for Venus. Plus, it was their only hit in the U.S., U.K. and Australia. But not so in their home country The Netherlands where in addition to Venus, a no. 2, Shocking Blue scored eight other top 10 hits, including a no. 1 (Never Marry a Railroad Man).

This poses the question what’s the definition of a one-hit wonder. According to Wikipedia, music journalist Wayne Jancik in The Billboard Book of One-Hit Wonders defined a one-hit wonder as “an act that has won a position on [the] national, pop, Top 40 record chart just once.” Wikipedia also notes, “one-hit wonders are usually exclusive to a specific market, either a country or a genre; a performer may be a one-hit wonder in one such arena, but have multiple hits (or no hits) in another.” I guess Shocking Blue would fall under that second more refined definition.

To me, a true one-hit wonder is an artist or a band who had one top 40 hit only, no matter in which music market(s). They also should have been around at least for a few years, so they had a real opportunity to score another hit. Some examples fitting that definition include Tommy Tutone (867-5309/Jenny), Zager & Evans (In the Year 2525), Norman Greenbaum (Spirit in the Sky), The Youngbloods (Get Together) and Ace (How Long). While each of the aforementioned one-hit wonders would have been a great to highlight, I decided to go with the God of Hellfire: The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Fire.

Fire was co-written by Brown and Crazy World of Arthur Brown keyboarder Vincent Crane, and is also credited to British songwriters Mike Finesilver and Peter Ker. The tune first appeared in June 1968 as a single in the UK and on the English rock band’s eponymous debut album. Fire topped the charts in the U.K. and Canada and climbed to no. 2 in the U.S. Elsewhere, it reached no. 3 in Belgium, Germany and Switzerland, no. 4 in The Netherlands and no. 7 in Austria.

The album was produced by Kit Lambert, the manager of The Who. Pete Townshend was credited as associate producer. After three years during which The Crazy World of Arthur Brown had been, well, on fire, sharing bills with the likes of The Who, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, The Small Faces and Joe Cocker, they burned out and broke up in 1970. While the band reunited in 2000 and remains active with the now 80-year God of Hellfire, they never came anywhere close to repeating the success of Fire – nowhere in the world, after so many years, making them a true one-hit wonder with a pretty cool song!

Following are some additional tidbits on Fire from Songfacts:

Growing up in England after World War II, Brown spent a lot of time around people whose lives were destroyed by the war, many of whom suffered from PTSD or other difficulties. When he started making music, instead of writing about girls, cars or relationships, he came up with a concept of an inner journey, developing a story about a man who faces his demons, heading into a figurative fire. Along this journey, he encounters the “God of Hellfire,” who shows up in “Prelude/Nightmare,” the first track on The Crazy World of Arthur Brown concept album. As the man enters the inferno, he finds himself deep in a psychedelic trip, which is described in the second track, “Fanfare/Fire Poem.”

As he falls into an abyss, the character returns, telling him: “I am the god of hellfire, and I bring you… Fire.”

This marks the beginning of the song “Fire,” where our hero is taken to burn. While it works best within the concept of the album, it also serves as a standalone track, as the lyric on its own can be interpreted as a story about a man facing up to his past. Running 2:52 with the ear-catching spoken intro, it was a tasty, digestible slice of a much more complex work.

Brown often performed this song while wearing a flaming hat…Brown got the idea for his flaming helmet after spotting a crown with candles in his Paris hotel. He was experimenting with makeup, costumes and other theatrical elements at the time, and when he tried on the crown, it sparked his imagination [Don’t try this at home – CMM].

Pete Townshend played a part in this song. The Who guitarist saw Brown perform at the UFO Club in London, and got Brown a deal with Track Records, the label owned by Townshend’s manager, Kit Lambert, to record The Crazy World of Arthur Brown album. Lambert produced the album and Townshend, who later covered “Fire” as part of his 1989 musical The Iron Man, is credited as associate producer. Townshend and Brown worked together again when they appeared in the 1975 movie Tommy, where Brown played The Priest.

Somehow, two other songwriters ended up listed on the credits to this song: Michael Finesilver and Peter Ker. Some sources say it was over a lawsuit claiming their song “Baby, You’re a Long Way Behind” was too similar to “Fire,” but there appears to be no record of that song, which doesn’t show up on writer’s credits for either Finesilver or Ker. The connection could be with an artist called Elli (Elli Meyer), who released a single called “Never Mind” in 1967 that was written by Finesilver and Ker and featured piano by Vincent Crane.

There you have it. BTW, did I mention that one of my previous shock rock picks, Boy Meets Girl, also were a one-hit wonder with Waiting For a Star to Fall? And you thought I would never ever mention that bloody tune again!

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Good morning (in my part of the woods, New Jersey, USA), good afternoon, good evening, wherever you are – welcome to another Sunday Six! If you’re a frequent traveler, you know what’s about to unfold. For first-time visitors, I hope you stick around to join me and others on a new excursion into the great world of music, six tunes at a time. Off we go!

Nat Adderley/Work Song

Today, our trip starts in 1960 with music by jazz musician Nat Adderley, who became best known for playing the cornet, a brass instrument similar to a trumpet. After starting to play the trumpet in 1946 as a 15-year-old, Adderley switched to the cornet in 1950. Together with his older brother, saxophonist Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, he co-founded Cannonball Adderley Quintet in 1956 and frequently worked with the group until its dissolution in 1975, following the death of his older brother. In addition to playing bebop, Cannonball Adderley Quintet became known for starting the soul jazz genre. Adderly also worked with Kenny Clarke, Wes Montgomery, Walter Booker, Ron Carter and Sonny Fortune, among others. Nat Adderley passed away in January 2000 at the age of 68 due to complications from diabetes. Work Song, composed by Adderley and Oscar Brown Jr., is the title track of an album Adderley released in 1960. The tune features Adderley (cornet), Montgomery (guitar), Bobby Timmons (piano), Percy Heath (bass) and Louis Hayes (drums). Groovy stuff but not too aggressive – perfect music to start a Sunday morning!

John Hiatt/Shredding the Document

The more I listen to John Hiatt, the more I dig the man! While Hiatt has written songs for 50-plus years and recorded close to 30 albums, his tunes oftentimes became hits for other artists. Perhaps the most prominent examples are Thing Called Love and Have a Little Faith in Me, which became hits for Bonnie Raitt and Joe Cocker, respectively. Hiatt’s songs have also been covered by an impressive and diverse array of other artists like B.B. KingBob DylanBuddy GuyEmmylou HarrisJoan BaezLinda RonstadtThe Nitty Gritty Dirt Band  and Willy DeVille. Shredding the Document, penned by Hiatt, is from Walk On, an album released in October 1995. Peaking at no. 48 on the Billboard 200, it ranks among his better performing records on the U.S. mainstream chart. Walk On did best in Belgium and Sweden, where it climbed to no. 10 and no. 13, respectively.

James Brown/The Boss

Next, let’s get funky with James Brown and The Boss, a tune from Black Cesar, the soundtrack album for the blaxploitation crime drama motion picture of the same name. The Boss was co-written by Brown, Charles Bobbit and Fred Wesley. The album and the film were released in February 1973. While reactions were mixed among music critics, Black Cesar peaked at no. 31 on the Billboard 200, making it Brown’s second highest-charting album on the U.S. pop chart in the ’70s. I love the guitar work on this tune. The lush horns give it a true ’70s feel.

Yes/Owner of a Lonely Heart

On to the ’80s and the biggest hit by English progressive rock band Yes: Owner of a Lonely Heart. After the group had disbanded in 1981, original co-founder Chris Squire (bass) and Alan White (drums) who had joined Yes in 1972 formed Cinema in January 1982, together with guitarist and singer-songwriter Trevor Rabin and original Yes keyboarder Tony Kaye. In November 1982, they started work on an album with a more pop-oriented sound. During the mixing stage, former Yes vocalist Jon Anderson joined Cinema, which subsequently became the new line-up of Yes. The album was titled 90125, after its catalog number of record label Atco. Owner of a Lonely Heart, written primarily by Rabin with contributions from Anderson, Squire and producer Trevor Horn, topped the Billboard Hot 100. Elsewhere, it climbed to no. 2 in The Netherlands, no. 14 in Australia, no. 28 in the UK and no. 30 in Ireland. 90125 became the group’s best-selling album, reaching 3x Platinum certification in the U.S., 2X Platinum in Canada, Platinum in Germany and Gold in the UK and France. Today, Yes (featuring longtime guitarist Steve Howe) are embarking on a U.S. tour to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their fifth studio album Close to the Edge. While Owner of a Lonely Heart has a commercial ’80s sound, it’s an awesome tune!

Pretenders/Alone

I trust the English-American rock band The Pretenders (known as Pretenders since 1990) don’t need much of an introduction. The group was formed in March 1978 and originally included Chrissie Hynde (lead and backing vocals, rhythm guitar, harmonica), James Honeyman-Scott (lead guitar, backing vocals, keyboards), Pete Farndon (bass, backing vocals) and Martin Chambers (drums, backing vocals, percussion). By the time the 10th album Alone was released in October 2016, Hynde was literally alone as the only remaining member. She relied on session musicians to record the album, essentially mirroring the same approach Hynde took once before, in 1990 for Packed!, the fifth album that appeared under the band’s name – the first released as Pretenders. Today, the group has a full line-up, with Chambers back in the fold. Here’s the defiant title track of Alone – I love Hynde’s feisty lyrics, which are a perfect match for the raw sound!

The Fuzztones/Barking Up the Wrong Tree

And once again we’ve arrived at our final destination, which takes us back to the present. This past April, American garage rock revival band The Fuzztones put out their latest studio release. Encore is “a collection of unreleased tracks packaged together as a way to say thank you to the faithful who have followed and supported the band through the years,” Tinnitist reported at the time. The Fuzztones were originally formed by singer and guitarist Rudi Protrudi in New York in 1982, who remains the only original member. Since their 1985 debut Lysergic Emanations, they have released eight additional albums including Encore. Barking Up The Wrong Tree, written by Protrudi, is the only original song. The other six tracks are covers of tunes by Rare Earth, The Wildwood and others. Fuzzy garage rock – I love that sound!

Of course, this post wouldn’t be complete with a Spotify playlist of the above songs. Hope there’s something you dig.

Sources: Wikipedia; Yes website; Tinnitist; YouTube; Spotify

If I Could Only Take One

My “real” desert island song playlist

If you’ve followed this feature over the past six months, perhaps by now you may think, ‘jeez, when is he going to get it over with?’ I got news for you: This is the final installment!

For first-time visitors, this weekly series looked at music I would take with me on a trip to a desert island, one tune at a time and in alphabetical order by the name of the picked band or artist (last name). In addition, my selections had to be by a music act I had only rarely covered or even better not written about at all.

In last week’s installment, I featured the playlist that resulted from the above exercise. Obviously, the criteria limited my choices, as I also noted to some commenters throughout the series. Today, I’d like to present my “real” desert island playlist. The only rule I kept was to pick one song by a band or artist’s last name in alphabetical order.

In the following, I’m going to highlight four tunes. The entire playlist can be found at the end of the post.

Jethro Tull/Hymn 43

Over the years, Hymn 43 by Jethro Tull has become one of my favorite tunes by the English rock band. Penned by Tull’s flutist, frontman and lead vocalist Ian Anderson, Hymn 43 is off their fourth studio album Aqualung. Released in March 1971, that record is best known for the epic Locomotive Breath, even though incredibly, the single missed the charts in the UK, just like Hymn 43! In the U.S., Locomotive Breath and Hymn 43 became Tull’s first charting singles, reaching no. 62 and no. 92 on the Billboard Hot 100, respectively. Of course, one could argue that Tull’s music wasn’t about the charts!

Randy Newman/Guilty

American singer-songwriter Randy Newman has penned many tunes and film scores over his 60-year-plus-and-counting career. Some like Short People (1977), I Love L.A. (1983) and You’ve Got a Friend in Me (1995) became well known under his name, while others such as Mama Told Me Not to Come (1966), I Think It’s Going to Rain Today (1968) and You Can Leave Your Hat On (1972) were popularized by Three Dog Night, UB40 and Joe Cocker, respectively. Many other artists covered Newman’s songs as well. One of my favorite tunes by Newman is Guilty, included on his fourth studio album Good Old Boys, which appeared in September 1974. Evidently, Cocker liked the ballad as well and recorded it for his 1974 studio album I Can Stand a Little Rain.

Stevie Ray Vaughan/Pride and Joy

If you’re a frequent visitor of the blog or know my music taste otherwise you know I love the blues and blues rock. When it comes to that kind of music, in my book, it doesn’t get much better than Stevie Ray Vaughan. Not only was the man from Dallas, Texas an incredible guitarist – perhaps the best electric blues rock guitarist ever – but he also elevated the blues to the mainstream in the ’80s thanks to his great live performances and albums. Vaughan did both original songs and covers. I would argue that his rendition of Voodoo Child (Slight Return) is better than the original by Jimi Hendrix! Anyway, here’s Pride and Joy, penned by Vaughan, off his debut studio album Texas Flood.

Yes/Roundabout

Full disclosure: My first pick for “y” would have been Neil Young and Like a Hurricane. But since most of Neil’s music was pulled from Spotify earlier this year, I went with Yes. I’ve never gotten much into progressive rock (not counting Pink Floyd and a few others whose music includes prog-rock elements). Yes are one of the few exceptions, together with Genesis. That said, my knowledge of the British band’s music is mostly limited to their earlier catalog. In this context, a song I’ve really come to love is Roundabout. Co-written by vocalist Jon Anderson and guitarist Steve Howe, the track is from the group’s fourth studio album Fragile, released in November 1971. Until Owner of a Lonely Heart (1983), the band’s songs weren’t exactly radio-friendly. That said, Roundabout was released as a single and became the first top 20 song Yes had in the U.S.

Last but not least, here’s the entire playlist. In addition to the above, it includes many of the suspects you’d expect to see if you know my music taste, such as AC/DC, The Beatles, Cream, Deep Purple, Marvin Gaye and The Rolling Stones, to name some.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify