Another Wednesday is upon us, which means time to pick another tune to take to that imaginary desert island. I’m up to the letter “J”, and taking a look at my music library reveals artists and bands like Joe Jackson, The Jackson 5, The Jayhawks, Jean-Michel Jarre, Nora Jones and Janis Joplin. Each would be a good choice, except I’ve covered them more often than my pick James Gang.
I only know a handful of James Gang tunes, which made my selection pretty easy: Funk #49. Co-written by band members Joe Walsh (vocals, guitars, percussion, piano, keyboards), Jim Fox (drums, percussion, organ, piano, keyboards) and Dale Peters (bass guitar, percussion, vocals), the song is from the group’s sophomore album James Gang Rides Again, released in July 1970. It also appeared separately as a single that same year.
Like James Gang’s other charting songs, Funk #49 was moderately successful in the U.S., reaching no. 59 on the Billboard Hot 100. It did better in Canada where it climbed to no. 26, marking their highest-charting single there. This doesn’t change the fact that I love this tune!
Following are some additional insights from Songfacts:
The James Gang is best known for their guitarist, Joe Walsh, whose playing on this track helped establish him as a superstar axeman. Walsh joined the Cleveland-based group in 1969 after making a name for himself as one of the top guitar men in Ohio. He replaced Glenn Schwartz in the band, who Walsh considers a mentor. They were a 5-piece when Walsh joined, but were down to three (like popular acts Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience) when they released their second album James Gang Rides Again.
With just three members, it meant Walsh had to play both rhythm and lead guitar parts, and also sing (he got a lot more help when he joined the Eagles in 1975). It was quite a learning experience for Walsh, who left the James Gang in 1971 after recording three studio albums with the group.
…The song is about a girlfriend whose wild ways the singer just can’t tame…There isn’t much in the way of lyrics, as the song is mostly a showcase for Walsh’s guitar work. He explained in the book The Guitar Greats, “I came up with the basic guitar lick, and the words never really impressed me intellectually, but they seemed to fit somehow. It was a real good example of how we put things together, bearing in mind that it was a three piece group, and I don’t think that there was any overdubbing. The only thing we really added was the percussion middle part, which the three of us actually played, putting some parts on top of the drums, but that’s the three piece James Gang, and that’s the energy and kind of the symmetry we were all about.”
…“Funk #49” became a staple of Album Oriented Rock and Classic Rock radio, but it wasn’t the biggest chart hit for the James Gang – that would be “Walk Away,” which made #51 in 1971 and was later reworked for Walsh’s 1976 solo album You Can’t Argue with a Sick Mind. “Funk #49” is one of Joe Walsh’s most popular songs, and by the mid-’70s he admitted that he couldn’t stand playing it any more, but did so because fans loved it.
This Musings of the Past revisits a post about the British television music show The Old Grey Whistle Test. It was originally published in July 2017. In case you haven’t seen any previous installments, Musings of the Past is a recurring feature in which I republish posts that first appeared when the blog got less traffic or content I feel otherwise deserves a second exposure.
A key reason for me to republish this post is what I feel are great clips of artists like Neil Young, David Bowie, Joni Mitchell, John Lennon, Bonnie Raitt and Emmylou Harris. It was fun to revisit this content. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
The Venues: The Old Grey Whistle Test
The British television music show featured an impressive array of artists
This post and the related new category I’m introducing to the blog was inspired by a dear friend from Germany, who earlier today suggested searching YouTube for “Old Grey Whistle Test,” just for fun! Since he shares my passion for music and always gives me great tips, I checked it out right away and instantly liked the clips that came up. This triggered the idea to start writing about places where rock & roll has been performed throughout the decades.
At this time, I envisage The Venues to include famous concert halls and TV shows. Many come to mind: The Fillmore, The Beacon Theater, The Apollo, The Hollywood Bowl, Candlestick Park, Winterland Ballroom, The Ed Sullivan Show, Rockpalast – the list goes on and on! Given it was my dear friend who inspired me, it feels right to start with The Old Grey Whistle Test.
I admit that until earlier today, I had never heard about The Old Grey Whistle Test. According to Wikipedia, the British television show aired on the BBC between September 1971 and January 1988. The late night rock show was commissioned by British veteran broadcaster Sir David Attenborough and conceived by BBC TV producer Rowan Ayers.
The show aimed to emphasize “serious” rock music, less whether it was chart-topping or not – a deliberate contrast to Top of the Pops, another BBC show that was chart-driven, as the name suggests. Based on the YouTube clips I’ve seen, apparently, this was more the case in the show’s early days than in the ’80s when the music seems to have become more commercial. Unlike other TV music shows, the sets on The Old Grey Whistle lacked showbiz glitter – again, probably more true for the ’70s than the ’80s period.
During the show’s early years, performing bands oftentimes recorded the instrumental tracks the day before the show aired. The vocals were performed live most of the time. After 1973, the show changed to an all-live format. In 1983, the title was abridged to Whistle Test. The last episode was a live 1987/88 New Year’s Eve special, including a 1977 live performance of Hotel California by The Eagles and Meat Loaf’sBat Out of Hell.
So what kind of music did the show feature? Let’s take a look at some of these YouTube clips.
Neil Young/Heart of Gold (1971)
Steppenwolf/Born to Be Wild (1972)
David Bowie/Oh, You Pretty Things (1972; not broadcast until 1982)
Rory Gallagher/Hands Off (1973)
Joni Mitchell/Big Yellow Taxi (1974)
John Lennon/Slippin’ & Slidin’ (1975)
Bonnie Raitt/Angel From Montgomery (1976)
Emmylou Harris/C’est La Vie (1977)
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers/American Girl (1978)
Joe Jackson/Sunday Papers (1979)
Ramones/Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio?
Los Lobos/Don’t Worry Baby (1984)
Simply Red/Holding Back the Years (1985)
U2/In God’s Country (1987)
This post was originally published on July 1, 2017.The original clip of Ooh Las Vegas by Emmylou Harris has been replaced with C’est La View since the original clip was no longer available on YouTube.
Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time
Little darling, it’s been a long, cold lonely winter – well, it actually wasn’t that bad, at least here in lovely Central New Jersey, but the line from George Harrison’s Here Comes the Sun was the first thing that came to mind in connection with spring, which officially started today! With that being said, let’s get to the first spring edition of The Sunday Six.
Tangerine Dream/Underwater Twilight
Today’s trip starts with a soothing instrumental by German electronic music stalwarts Tangerine Dream. This track was part of a “chill mix” playlist my streaming music provider served up the other day. Founded as a five-piece in 1967 by Edgar Froese, the group has seen numerous line-up changes over its long and still ongoing history. Wikipedia notes their best-known line-up was a trio, which in addition to Froese (keyboards, guitars) included Christopher Franke (keyboards, drums) and Peter Baumann (keyboards). Spanning the years 1971-1975, that line-up’s albums included Alpha Centauri (March 1971), Zeit (August 1972), Atem (March 1973), Phaedra (November 1973) and Rubycon (March 1975). To get to Underwater Twilight, a track from Tangerine Dream’s 16th studio album Underwater Sunlight, we need to jump forward 11 years to August 1986. By that time, Froese and Franke were joined by Paul Haslinger (synthesizer, grand piano, guitar). Froese remained with Tangerine Dream until his death in January 2015. The group’s current line-up has no original members. The only connection to the past remains Froese’s widow Bianca Froese-Acquaye who acts as the group’s manager.
Grant Lee Buffalo/Rock of Ages
Our next stop takes us to the ’90s and Grant Lee Buffalo, a rock band from Los Angeles, who initially were active between 1991 and 1999. Their members included Grant-Lee Phillips (vocals, guitar), Paul Kimble (bass) and Joey Peters (drums). All of the group’s four studio albums came out during that period. After they disbanded in early 1999, Phillips launched a solo career. In late 2010 and early 2011, Grant Lee Buffalo briefly came back together for a reunion tour. Rock of Ages, penned by Phillips, is a great track from the group’s sophomore album Mighty Joe Moon, released in September 1994. Its vibe reminds me a bit of Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door. I’m completely new to this group and dig what I’ve heard so far. I’d welcome listening tips any of you may have.
For this tune, we’re gonna step on the gas and go back to October 1979 and the sophomore album by Joe Jackson, aptly titled I’m the Man. The record, which I received as a present for my 14th birthday in 1980, was my introduction to the British artist. Initially, he gained popularity with post-punk and new wave before embracing a jazz-oriented pop sound. With Joe Jackson’s Jumpin’ Jive from June 1981, he also did an all-out jump blues and swing record. His most recent album Fool, which I reviewed here, appeared in January 2019. It’s quite compelling! Back to I’m the Man and Friday, which was penned by Jackson. One of his ingredients is excellent bassist Graham Maby, who continues to play with Jackson to this day. Check out Maby’s pulsating bassline – so good! I should also acknowledge Gary Sanford (guitar) and David Houghton (drums, vocals), which rounded out Jackson’s band at the time – the best backing group he has had, in my view.
The Association/Never My Love
After three tunes into our journey, it’s high time to visit my favorite decade the ’60s. And, boy, do I have a sunshine pop goodie that has California written all over it. The Association have been active since 1965, except for a short one-year break-up from 1978 to 1979. Their heyday was in the ’60s where they had a series of top 10 hits. The group also opened the Monterey International Pop Festival that took place June 16-18, 1967. Never My Love, co-written by American siblings Don Addrisi and Dick Addrisi, is among The Association’s biggest hits, climbing to no. 2 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 and topping the Canadian charts. The tune first appeared on the band’s third album Insight Out from June 1967, before being released as a single in August that year. The Association are still around. As one can imagine, they have had numerous line-up changes, and if I see this correctly, only guitarist and vocalist Jules Alexander remains as an original member. Check out that beautiful harmony singing – gives me goosebumps!
Mindi Abair and The Boneshakers/Vinyl
A few days ago, I featured The Boneshakers in a post dedicated to blues and blues rock. This cool group was formed in the early 1990s by Was (Not Was) guitarist Randy Jacobs and Hillard “Sweet Pea” Atkinson, one of the group’s vocalists, after Was (Not Was) had gone on hiatus. Since 2015, The Boneshakers have repeatedly worked with American saxophonist and vocalist Mindi Abair. This lady is one firecracker. Check out Vinyl, the opener of an album titled The EastWest Sessions that came out in September 2017. Love the funky groove and the soulfulness of this tune!
The Flaming Lips/Can’t Stop the Spring
As we’re once again reaching the final destination of our six-tune music time travel, I thought it would make sense to end this post where it started – spring! I give you Can’t Stop the Spring by psychedelic rock band The Flaming Lips, which I found through a search of my streaming provider’s music library. Somehow that title sounded familiar, so I searched my own blog, which sadly I’ve done more than once to see whether I already covered an artist or song. And, full disclosure, I previously included the tune in a post from March 2021 titled Here Comes the Spring. There’s nothing wrong to repeat a song, even if it’s what I like to call weirdly catchy. As I noted at the time, Can’t Stop the Spring, credited to the entire band, is from their sophomore album Oh My Gawd!!!…, released in January 1987. Formed in Oklahoma City in 1983, The Flaming Lips are still around.
Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time
Welcome to Sunday and another installment of The Sunday Six, a journey celebrating music six random tunes at a time. If you’re impacted by tropical storm Henri, I hope you are safe. My area of Central New Jersey has been under a tropical storm warning since Friday afternoon, but other than rain, so far, so good -knock on wood!
Weather Report/A Remark You Made
The fact I’m kicking off this post with jazz fusion group Weather Report has nothing to do with the storm but instead can be attributed to coincidence. A few days ago, my streaming music provider served up A Remark You Made as a listening suggestion. While jazz fusion remains a largely unknown genre to me, this track blew me away immediately. Appearing on Weather Report’s eighth studio album Heavy Weather from March 1977, the tune undoubtedly has to be one of the most beautiful instrumentals I’ve heard in a long time. Written by Austrian jazz keyboarder and Weather Report co-founder Joe Zawinul, the track also features Wayne Shorter (tenor saxophone), Jaco Pastorious (fretless bass) and Alex Acuña (drums). What matters more to me than all these big names is the incredible music, especially Pastorious who literally makes his fretless bass sing – check out that amazing tone! As a huge saxophone fan, I’m also drawn to Shorter’s tenor sax playing – just incredibly beautiful and a perfect match to the singing fretless bass! I realize this very accessible jazz fusion isn’t typical for the genre. Perhaps not surprisingly, Heavy Weather became Weather Report’s highest charting album on the U.S. mainstream chart Billboard 200 where it peaked at no. 30. It also was one of the group’s two records to top Billboard’s jazz albums chart.
Joe Jackson/Geraldine and John
Let’s stay in the ’70s and move to October 1979. Joe Jackson’s sophomore album I’m the Man brought the versatile British artist on my radar screen in 1980, when I received it on vinyl as a present for my 14th birthday – still have that copy. The album is probably best known for its singles I’m the Man, It’s Different for Girls and Kinda Cute, while the song I picked, Geraldine and John, is more of a deeper but nevertheless great cut. And it’s another bassist who absolutely shines on that tune, in my view: Graham Maby. He still plays with Jackson to this day. Rounding up Jackson’s backing band were guitarist Gary Sanford and drummer David Houghton. Jackson worked with them on his first three albums that are among my favorites by the man. Check out Maby’s great melodic bassline on Geraldine and John!
Speaking of great basslines, here’s yet another master bassist who conveniently also played in my favorite band of all time. Not only is Something from the Abbey Road album among the absolute gems written by George Harrison, but I think it’s also The Beatles tune with the best bassline Paul McCartney has ever come up with. In addition to Harrison (vocals, lead guitar) and McCartney (bass, backing vocals), the tune featured John Lennon (piano), Ringo Starr (drums) and Billy Preston (Hammond). BTW, Something is also a good example of Ringo’s creative drumming. The Beatles Biblenotes the song was recorded and mixed during six sessions between April 16 and August 15, 1969. At this late stage of The Beatles when they took full advantage of the studio, McCartney oftentimes recorded his bass as one of the last instruments. That way he could hear all other instrumental tracks and come up with complementary basslines. In this case, the outcome was truly magnificent!
Sheryl Crow/If It Makes You Happy
Okay, time to get off my little bass obsession – something I admittedly can get excited about as a former bassist! On to Sheryl Crow, an artist I have dug since her debut album Tuesday Night Music Club from 1993. Oh, did I mention she also plays bass in addition to guitar and piano? 🙂 Perhaps my favorite tune by Crow is If It Makes You Happy from her eponymous sophomore album that came out in September 1996. She co-wrote the nice rocker with Jeff Trott who became a longtime collaborator and appeared on almost every Sheryl Crow album thereafter. In August 2019, Crow released what she said would be her final full-length album, Threads, citing changed music consumption habits where most listeners make their own playlists with cherry-picked songs rather than listening to entire albums. I previously reviewed it here. Well, the good news is Crow’s statement at the time apparently didn’t include live albums. On August 13, she released Live From The Ryman & More, a great looking 27-track career spanning set I’ve yet to check out. Meanwhile, here’s the excellent If It Makes You Happy. Yep, it surely does!
Neil Young/Hangin’ On a Limb
Next I like to come back to Hangin’ On a Limb, a Neil Young tune I first had planned to include in the August 1 Sunday Sixinstallment. But inspired by a tornado warning that had been issued for my area of central New Jersey a few days earlier, I decided to go with Like a Hurricane instead. BTW, earlier this week, we had another tornado warning and as noted above, there is a tropical storm warning in effect for my area. You can’t make this stuff up – climate change is real, whether the naysayers like it or not! Anyway, Hangin’ On a Limb is a beautiful tune featuring Linda Ronstadt on backing vocals. It’s from Young’s 17th studio album Freedom that appeared in October 1989 and is best known for the epic Rockin’ in the Free World.
And this brings me again to the final tune. Wrapping it up is Buzz, a great track from Hate for Sale, the 11th and most recent album by Pretenders released in July 2020. Time has been kind to Chrissie Hynde’s voice that sounds just as compelling as back in 1980, the year the band’s eponymous debut album came out. There’s another commonality: Original drummer Martin Chambers who had returned after eight years. Apart from Hynde (rhythm guitar, lead vocals, harmonica) and Chambers, Pretenders’ current line-up also includes James Walbourne (lead guitar, backing vocals), Eric Heywood (pedal steel guitar, backing vocals) Carwyn Ellis (keyboards) and Nick Wilkinson (bass). Hate for Sale is pretty solid. In case you’re curious, check out my previous review here. Like all other songs on the album, Buzz was co-written by Hynde and Walbourne.
Welcome to another installment of The Sunday Six. For first-time visitors, this recurring feature celebrates music in many different flavors and from different eras. If you are in my neck of the woods, hope you’re staying cool coz now you’re getting some hot music on top of the heat! 🙂
Dr. Lonnie Smith/Seesaw
Is there a doctor in the house? Okay, I stole that line from Bon Jovi, who I believe frequently uses it during live shows to announce the band’s song Bad Medicine. I got a very cool doctor for you, and I’ve featured him before: Dr. Lonnie Smith, a jazz Hammond B3 organist who first came to prominence in the mid-60s when he joined the quartet of jazz guitarist George Benson. After recording two albums with Benson, Smith 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. Why? Nobody really knows but why not? Here’s a cover of Seesaw from Smith’s third album Turning Point that came out in 1969. The tune was co-written by Don Covay and Steve Cropper, and first released as a single in September 1965 by Don Coway and the Goodtimers. The song also became the title track of Coway’s sophomore album from 1966. BTW, the mighty doctor is now 78 and is still practicing. His most recent album Breathe appeared in March this year. Okay, nuff said, let’s get some of his groovy medicine!
Stealers Wheel/Stuck in the Middle With You
Warning: When I heard this tune for the first time, it got stuck right in the middle my head. The same may happen to you. But, hey, at least it’s a great song! Steelers Wheel were a Scottish folk rock band formed in 1972 by school friends Joseph Egan and Gerry Rafferty. By the time they disbanded in 1975, three albums had come out. A version of the band that included two members from the original line-up, Rod Coombes (drums) and Tony Williams (bass), briefly reformed in 2008 but only lasted for a few months. Post Steelers Wheel, Rafferty focused on his solo career. In February 1978, he released his biggest hit, the majestic Baker Street, which I featured in a previous Sunday Six installment. Sadly, Rafferty passed away from liver failure on January 4, 2011 at the young age of 63. His Steelers Wheel partner in crime Joseph Egan still appears to be alive. Stuck in the Middle With You, co-written by Rafferty and Egan and included on their eponymous debut album from October 1972, became their biggest hit. It climbed to no. 6 and no. 8 in the U.S. and UK mainstream single charts, respectively, and peaked at no. 2 in Canada. According to Wikipedia, Rafferty’s lyrics are a dismissive tale of a music industry cocktail party written and performed as a parody of Bob Dylan’s paranoia (the vocal impression, subject, and styling were so similar, listeners have wrongly attributed the song to Dylan since its release). This is one catchy tune! Aren’t you glad to be stuck with it? 🙂
Crowded House/Don’t Dream It’s Over
Since I included a new song by the reformed Crowded House in yesterday’sBest of What’s New, the Aussie pop rockers have been on my mind. In particular, it’s their biggest hit Don’t Dream It’s Over, released in October 1986 as the fourth single of their eponymous debut album that had appeared two months earlier. Crowded House were formed in Melbourne in 1985 by former Split Enz members Neil Finn (vocals, guitar, piano) and Paul Hester (drums, backing vocals), along with Nick Seymour (bass). Together with various guest musicians, who included producer Mitchell Froom (keyboards) and Jim Keltner (drums), among others, they recorded their debut album. The band first broke up in June 1996, had a couple of reunions thereafter and was reformed by Finn in December 2019 after he had finished his 2018-2019 tour with Fleetwood Mac. Including their new album Dreamers Are Waiting, Crowded House have released seven albums to date. Don’t Dream It’s Over was written by Neil Finn. Even though it was overexposed, I’ve always loved that song.
Joe Jackson Band/Awkward Age
For this next tune, let’s jump to the current century and Joe Jackson, a versatile British artist I’ve enjoyed listening to for many years. My introduction to Jackson was his second album I’m the Man from October 1979, which I received on vinyl as a present for my 14th birthday the following year. I still own that copy! I’m the Man was recorded by Jackson’s initial band, which apart from him (lead vocals, piano) included Gary Sanford (guitar), Graham Maby (bass, backing vocals) and David Houghton (drums, backing vocals). Which brings me to Awkward Age and Volume 4, Jackson’s 16th studio album released in March 2003, featuring the same classic lineup. While the sound of Volume 4 isn’t quite as raw as on I’m the Man, there are some clear similarities between the two albums. Like all other tracks on the record, Awkward Age was written by Jackson. I saw the man in May 2019 in the wake of his most recent album Fool that had come out in January that year and thought he still looked sharp.
Rod Stewart/Maggie May
For several months, I’ve wanted to feature this tune in The Sunday Six, but there was always a reason why I didn’t do it, such as avoiding to have too many ’70s songs in the same installment. Screw it, the time has come to get what is one of my longtime favorite Rod Stewart songs out of my system. Maggie May dates back to the days when the man with the smoky voice did what he does best: Performing roots and blues-oriented rock! Co-written by Stewart and British guitarist Martin Quittenton, the catchy song is from Stewart’s third solo album Every Picture Tells a Story that came out in May 1971 – yet another great record that recently had its 50th anniversary! Quittenton was among the many musicians that backed Stewart on this record, who also included his Faces mates Ronnie Wood, Ronnie Lane, Ian McLagan and Kenney Jones, among others. Stewart remained a member of Faces until they disbanded in December 1975, though tensions between him and the rest of the band had been brewing since the making of their final studio album Ooh La La from March 1973. Maggie May was also released separately in July 1971 as the b-side to the album’s first single Reason to Believe. Both songs became major hits, as did the album, which topped the charts in the U.S., Canada, UK and Australia.
The Beatles/If I Needed Someone
Time to wrap up this installment with my favorite band of all time. The song selection was triggered by a recent post from fellow blogger Hans at slicethelife about the top 100 Beatles songs, as voted as the listeners of The Beatles Channel on SiriusXM and presented over the recent Memorial Day holiday. While If I Needed Someone made the list, I thought the placement at no. 70 was measly and it bugged me. I happen to love this tune that was written by George Harrison and included on Rubber Soul, The Beatles’ studio album from December 1965 and the second record they released that year after Help! The track wasn’t featured on the North American release of Rubber Soul. Instead, it appeared on Yesterday and Today, the U.S. album that caused a storm over its cover showing The Beatles dressed in white coats and covered with decapitated baby dolls and pieces of raw meat. I guess you can put that one in the “What were they thinking?!” department. If I Needed Someone is a simple tune and more of a deep cut, but I still dig it. In fact, I would even go as far as calling it my favorite Beatles tune, depending on the day of the week! Ah, that jingle-jangle Rickenbacker sound did it once again! 🙂
Welcome to another Sunday Six. In case you’re a first time visitor of the blog, this recurring feature celebrates the beauty of music six random tunes at a time, meaning songs from different genres and different decades. Pretty much anything goes in the same post. A jazz instrumental from the ’50s could be followed by a ’70s hard rock tune. A blues track from the ’60s could appear together with a pop song from the ’80s. My only condition is I have to like the tracks and how they work together. With that being said, let’s get to it!
John Barry & Orchestra/James Bond Theme
“Bond, James Bond.” These words started to fascinate me when I was a young teenager back in Germany. I still like the James Bond movies, as ridiculously unrealistic as they are. Especially the older pictures with Sean Connery and Roger Moore are classics in my book. Of course, part of every Bond picture is the soundtrack, including the James Bond Theme, which has been featured in every 007 film since the first one, Dr. No, from 1962. The signature theme was written by English singer and film composer Monty Norman and arranged by John Barry, a composer and conductor of film music. Barry also wrote the scores for 11 Bond pictures between 1963 and 1987. I always loved the track’s distinct guitar part played by English session guitarist Vic Flick, using a Clifford Essex Paragon De Luxe electric/acoustic vintage guitar from 1939.
Al Jarreau/Take Five
I know of no other artist who had such an amazing ability to use his voice as an instrument like Al Jarreau. Perhaps the most compelling example is his rendition of jazz standard Take Five, which was included on a May 1977 live album titled Look to the Rainbow. I’ve always loved the original written by Paul Desmond and first recorded by the Dave Brubeck Quartet for the album Time Out from December 1959. But Al Jarreau took the track to a different level. I guess many folks at the time agreed. Look to the Rainbow became Jarreau’s breakthrough in Europe and the U.S. It won the 1978 Grammy Award for Best Vocal Jazz Performance. If you haven’t heard this, check it out. If you already know Jarreau’s rendition, listen to it again anyway! 🙂
Joe Jackson/Down to London
Let’s jump to the late ’80s with a great tune by Joe Jackson. The British singer-songwriter first entered my radar screen in 1980, when I received his excellent sophomore studio album I’m the Man for my 14th birthday. I still own that vinyl copy. I’ve since listened on and off to Jackson, a versatile artist who has played many genres over the decades, including punk, new wave, pop, rock, jazz and Latin. He’s also fun live. I saw him in May 2019 at a mid-size theater in New Jersey. You can read about it here and watch some clips I took. Down to London is one of my favorite tracks from Blaze of Glory, Jackson’s 10th studio album that came out in April 1989. Like all other tunes on the record, he wrote the song.
The Wallflowers/6th Avenue Heartache
Next we’re on to the ’90s. I guess, I’m going chronologically this time. When The Wallflowers released their sophomore album Bringing Down the Horse in May 1996, they were still a standing roots rock-oriented band. Their origins date back to 1989 when Jakob Dylan (lead vocals, guitar, piano) and his childhood friend Tobi Miller (lead guitar) began forming a band called The Apples. Jakob is a son of Bob Dylan and his first wife Sara Dylan (nee Noznisky). After Barrie Maguire (bass), Peter Yanowitz (drums) and Rami Yafee (keyboards) had joined the group, they changed their name to The Wallflowers. The band signed with Virgin Records in 1991 and released their eponymous debut album in August 1992. Five additional studio albums appeared thereafter until 2012. Since 2013, Dylan has been the only remaining original member, relying on touring musicians for shows. A new album titled Exit Wounds is slated for July 9, the first to appear under The Wallflowers name in nine years. Apparently, it will be supported by a tour. For now, here’s 6th Avenue Heartache, written by Dylan, one of the band’s best known tunes and certainly one of my favorites.
Alicia Keys is an interesting artist in my book. While much of her music falls outside my core wheelhouse, I still like her. Undoubtedly, Keys’ amazing voice has a lot to do with it, but it’s also her stage presence. There’s just something about Keys that draws me in. It’s like she’s radiating – I can’t quite explain it. Anway, Fallin’ is a breathtaking tune from Keys’ debut album Songs in A Minor, which came out in June 2001. The record had a long history, which I hadn’t known until I read about it in Wikipedia. Keys, a classically trained pianist, already began writing songs for the record as a 14-year-old in 1995. She recorded the album in 1998 for Columbia Records, but the label rejected it. Eventually, it appeared in June 2001 on J Records, a new label that had been formed by Clive Davis who had sensed Keys’ talent and bought her contract from Columbia. His instincts turned out to be right. Songs in A Minor topped the Billboard 200 and won five Grammy Awards in 2002. As of 2015, the album had sold 7.5 million copies in the U.S. and more than 12 million worldwide. Fallin’ was solely written by Keys. That tune still gives me goosebumps.
Dirty Honey/Tied Up
I guess this already brings me to the last track of this Sunday Six installment. It’s time for some kickass rock and one of my new “discoveries,” Dirty Honey. I first featured this great rock band from Los Angeles a week ago in this Best of What’s Newinstallment. The band, which has been around since 2017, features Marc Labelle (vocals), John Notto (guitar), Justin Smolian (bass) and Corey Coverstone (drums). Their classic rock-oriented sound is reminiscent of groups like Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith and The Black Crowes. Here’s Tied Up, credited to the entire band, from their eponymous studio debut album released on April 23. This is a fun tune that nicely rocks!
Highlights of my rock & roll journey during the past 12 months
It feels unreal to me Christmas and New Year’s are upon us again – not to mention a new decade! I still recall a conversation with a school friend when we were 12 years old. He and I imagined where we might be when the year 2000 comes. At the time, the turn of the century was still more than two decades out. It seemed so far away. Now, not only has 2000 come and go, but we’re 20 years down the road, baby – crazy how time flies!
Well, this post doesn’t span decades. The idea is much more moderate: Looking back at my personal music journey over the past 12 months, as documented by this blog. While to some extent it reflects what happened in music this year, it’s not a broad review piece. Since I mostly listen to ’60s and ’70s artists or new music they release, I couldn’t do a legitimate comprehensive look-back on 2019 in music.
In the past, I’ve said more than once most new music nowadays lacks true craftsmanship and sounds generic and soulless to me. And while I still largely ignore what dominates today’s charts, I’ve finally come to accept contemporary music isn’t inherently bad. It’s just different and I generally don’t like it. Here’s the good news: I don’t have to. There’s so much “old” music out there I’ve yet to discover, and while artists may retire or pass away, their music will stay. Forever. That’s the beauty of music. It means for those of us who dig it, rock & roll will never die! Okay, enough with the wise-cracking and on to some highlights of my music journey this year.
As a retired band-turned-closet musician, live music remains the ultimate thrill to me. Yes, ticket prices continue to be outrageous for most top acts, and that’s not going to change. But this hasn’t deterred me yet from seeing artists I dig. However, it did require being more selective (for example, I skipped Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers, since I had seen both in 2018) and oftentimes settling for cheaper seats.
My two concert highlights this year were The Rolling Stones at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. in early August and The Who at New York’s Madison Square Garden in May. I had seen both before, but since they are among my longtime favorite bands and in the twilight of their careers, I simply did not want to miss the opportunity. I’m glad I was able to catch both, especially The Who. At the time I bought my ticket, I had not realized this wasn’t a “regular” gig but The Who backed by a symphonic orchestra. Had I understood this, it may have deterred me. But the concept worked pretty well, so I’m happy I didn’t read the fine print! Here’s a clip from each show: Jumpin’ Jack Flash and the Love Reign O’er Me, two tunes that will never go out of style in my book!
I also saw various other great shows: Walter Trout (The Iridium, New York, April 9), Joe Jackson (State Theatre, New Jersey, New Brunswick, May 18), Govt’ Mule (The Stone Pony, Asbury Park, N.J., June 28), Southern Avenue (The Wonder Bar, Asbury Park, N.J., July 11) and Hall & Oates (Fairgrounds, Allentown, Pa.). I wouldn’t have gone to that last concert, had it not been for my wife. While I wouldn’t call myself a Hall & Oates fan, it was a great show.
As King/Emperor of Tribute Bands (blame Music Enthusiast for the title! 🙂 ), this concert section wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the many tribute shows that continued to attract me. I know some folks roll their eyes when they hear the word tribute band. I find nothing wrong listening to music I dig, especially when it’s faithfully captured. Among the many tribute concerts I saw, two stood out: Pink Floyd tribute Brit Floyd (Sands Bethlehem Event Center, Bethlehem, Pa., March 30) and the annual Rock The Farm Tribute Festival (Seaside Heights, N.J., September 28). Here’s a clip from the Brit Floyd gig: Comfortably Numb – epic!
And then there’s of course Woodstock’s 50th anniversary. I finally got to see the director’s cut of the documentary on the big screen. While I can’t deny 224 minutes is pretty massive, I enjoyed every minute of it. Here’s the main post I did to commemorate the festival. And here’s a clip of one of the most iconic rock performances of all time: Joe Cocker and With A Little Help From My Friends.
As stated above, for the most part, new music means new albums released by “old” artists I dig. As I looked back through my previous posts, I was surprised to find that I reviewed 22 new albums. Granted this number includes three live albums (The Doobie Brothers/Live From The Beacon Theatre, The Rolling Stones/Bridges To Bremen and Paul McCartney/Amoeba Gig) and an excellent posthumous compilation by Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers (The Best Of Everything), which do not feature new music. Even if you exclude these, it still leaves you with 18 albums. This makes me wonder what I would do if I also paid more attention to contemporary artists. It pretty much would be impossible to review their new music as well, given I have a family and a full-time job – another good reason to focus on what I trulydig! 🙂
Albums by “old hands” I’d like to call out are The Who (WHO), Booker T. (Note By Note), Neil Young (Colorado), Ringo Starr (What’s My Name), Santana (Africa Speaks), Little Steven And The Disciples of Soul (Summer of Sorcery), Joe JacksonFool and Sheryl Crow (Threads). One artist who seems to be missing here is Bruce Springsteen and Western Stars. While I dig Springsteen and don’t think it’s a bad record, it just doesn’t speak to me the way other music by The Boss does, so I ended up skipping a review. Crow said Threads is her final full-fledged release, explaining in the age of streaming music, most people make playlists and no longer listen to entire albums. Boy, this statement really reflects how much listening habits and the music business have changed! Here’s Live Wire, a nice bluesy tune co-written by Crow and Jeff Trott and featuring Bonnie Raitt and Mavis Staples.
There were also some new blues releases I enjoyed by both older and younger artists, including Walter Trout (Blues Survivor), Jimmie Vaughan (Baby, Please Come Home), Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band (The Traveler) and “wunderkind” Jontavious Willis (Spectacular Class), as Taj Mahal has called him. How about some music from Willis’ sophomore album? By the way, it was executive-produced by Mahal. Here’s opener Low Down Ways.
I also would like to call out albums from three other contemporary artists: Rick Barth (Fade), SUSTO (Ever Since I Lost My Mind) and Southern Avenue (Keep On). If you’re a more frequent visitor of the blog, you may recall Southern Avenue is one of the very few young bands I truly dig. I just love how these guys blend blues, soul and R&B, and the vocals are just killer! Here’s the title track from the above album, which is their second one. The tune was co-written by guitarist Ori Naftaly, lead vocalist Tierini Jackson and producer Johnny Black. There’s just something about Southern Avenue’s sound I find really seductive.
I think I came across a number of great clips I posted throughout the year. One of the best has to be this footage of The Who performing Won’t Get Fooled Again. That’s the raw power of rock & roll! It was filmed on May 25, 1978 at England’s Shepperton Studios, about 20 miles southwest of London, for the closing sequence of the band’s rockumentary The Kids Are Alright. And then, there’s this very different but equally mesmerizing clip: a live demonstration of the Hammond B3 by the amazing Booker T. Jones. To really get excited about it, I realize maybe you need to be a musician.
2019 marks the third full year I’m doing this blog. While I really wanted to start writing about my passion, I wasn’t sure whether I could keep it going when I set out in June 2016. Due to personal reasons, I had to slow down a bit during the past couple of months. But music and writing about artists I dig is therapy to me, so I have every intention to continue and hopefully pick up the pace again. When starting the blog, I also felt I’m doing this for myself first and foremost, not to become some “Internet sensation.” While that is still the case, I can’t deny it’s great to see visitors and that traffic has trended up nicely. Of course, growing from tiny numbers is relatively easy, and there is realistically no way I can keep up the current momentum.
I’m leaving you with a clip from my most popular post this year (measured by total views): The above mentioned Rock The Farm Tribute Festival. The positive reception made me really happy, since it’s great music for a great cause. Here’s It’s Late by Canadian Queen tribute Simply Queen.
I’d like to thank all visitors for reading and especially those who go through the trouble of leaving comments. I always love getting feedback, even if I may not agree with everything folks say. But that’s cool.
I almost would have missed Joe Jackson, just like my recent Who concert. Here’s to hoping that my apparent lack of music attention doesn’t become a trend, though it would probably not hurt my wallet! 🙂 Wait, what did I want to say? Right, the British artist who they called an “angry young man” when he broke through with his studio debut Look Sharp! in January 1979. While I don’t know whether Jackson was pissed then, he certainly doesn’t look angry to me these days! Instead, the man who once sang, “Everybody wants a happy ending,” comes across as feeling very comfortable in his skin and happy to still be making music people want to hear. I suppose that’s really all you can ask for as an artist!
By the time Jackson’s ongoing Four Decade Tour registered on my radar screen, all tickets I could afford seemed to be gone, and I just wasn’t willing to throw hundreds of bucks at some greedy reseller! Then I received an email from State Theatre New Jersey, a nice midsize venue in New Brunswick, cheerfully announcing Jackson’s gig there. I thought, ‘what the hell,’ so checked out the situation one more time. And, voila, while there weren’t many seats left, I managed to get one without losing my blue shirt. Last night was showtime – and, yes, you probably already guessed it, after 40 years as a professional recording artist, Jackson continued to look sharp and proofed he’s definitely still the man!
“So, here comes a big tour,” Jackson said in an announcement last October. “We want to celebrate the fact that this is happening after 40 years – anything else, would be like sulking in a room by yourself on your own birthday party. Looking for some way to organize a show out of 40 years’ worth of material, I decided to draw on five albums, each representing a decade: Look Sharp (1979) Night And Day (1982) Laughter And Lust (1991) Rain (2008) and Fool (2019). We’ll also throw in a couple of songs from other albums and some new covers. I can’t wait. Let’s party.”
And, boy, what a party it was! In addition to singing splendid lead vocals, Jackson played keyboards – something I read he typically didn’t do during past tours. If that’s true, it was certainly great he changed his mind this time. After all, he’s a true musician and multi-instrumentalist, who spent three years in his late teens and early twenties at London’s Royal Academy of Music, studying composition, piano and percussion. During that period, Jackson also learned jazz at the Academy and in the National Youth Jazz Orchestra. Apart from writing pop-oriented songs in genres like punk, new wave, rock, jazz and Latin, Jackson has also composed classical music. The question really becomes what the man has NOT done musically!
Once again the notion that great musicians tend to play with other great musicians turned out to be true. Jackson’s backing band was simply top-notch! The first guy I need to call out here is Graham Maby – and yes, I’m probably bassed, I mean biased. One of my favorite bassists, Maby still has a superb tone and a great sense for rhythmic and melodic basslines. Paul McCartney is who I wanna be when I grow up, but I’d also happily settle with Maby! 🙂 Jackson’s long-time friend and musical collaborator effectively drove the groove together with excellent drummer Doug Yowell, who by the way hails from New Jersey. They really breed musicians in the Garden State – just sayin’! Last but not least, Teddy Kumpel did an outstanding job on guitar. Man, what a fucking great band! Okay, I think it’s time to get to some music, shall we?
The set kicked off with Alchemy, the closer from Jackson’s great new album Fool, released this January, and then launched right into the furious One More Time, the opener from his debut Look Sharp! – a cool 40-year jump back in time, not to mention style, and a nice illustration of the band’s versatility. I thought Kumpel’s guitar-playing shined in particular during the more rock-oriented tunes. Unfortunately, my smartphone outsmarted me at the wrong time, so I’m relying on another clip I found that cut off the beginning of Alchemy, but it still gives a good impression of the tune.
Jackson’s new album featured prominently in the show with three tracks, one of which (Alchemy) was repeated at the very end, providing nice bookends to the set. I have to say the new songs absolutely held up to his older, better known material. Here’s Fabulously Absolute, a rocker that was also released as a single. Stylistically, the tune isn’t that much different from Jackson’s first two albums. Whatever genre the man plays, he always has a great ear for catchy melodies, though he never aspired to become a pop star and never did – at least not in the traditional sense.
Next is a track from an album I don’t know well: Goin’ Downtown from Laughter And Lust, released in April 1991. The tune is co-credited to Jackson and a British singer-songwriter named Drew Barfield.
My personal highlight of the evening was a medley of three songs: A cover of Rain by The Beatles, Invisible Man and It’s Different For Girls. Jackson announced it by saying they are now playing the title track from an album called Rain (January 2008). He dryly added no such track exists, so they borrowed it, deciding to change some of the chords. Invisible Man is the opener of Rain, a fantastic song I frankly had forgotten about, which reminds me a little bit of Steely Dan. Apparently, Jackson digs the Dan; in fact, later in the show, he covered King Of The World from Countdown To Ecstasy, Steely Dan’s sophomore album from July 1973. And then there’s It’s Different For Girls, featuring Jackson’s lyrics reversing the stereotypical roles of men and women when it comes to sex and love – one of two tunes he played from I’m The Man.
His sophomore release from October 1979 remains my favorite Joe Jackson album. In fact, it was my introduction to him when I received it as a birthday present in July 1980. I own the vinyl record to this day, and it’s still in perfect shape! Instead of relying on his band, Jackson treated the audience to a solo performance of It’s Different For Girls. Okay, nuff said! This is a long clip, and the video is sometimes out of focus, but, hey, it least it’s authentic! Plus, the sound is pretty decent and, most of all, the musicianship is just outstanding. What I’m trying to say in so many words is if you dig Jackson, you should watch the friggin’ clip!
Another Jackson tune I’ve always liked is You Can’t Get What You Want. It appeared on his March 1984 gem Body And Soul blending pop, jazz and Latin. Even though the horns from the studio version are “missing” and Jackson plays their fill-ins on keyboards instead, I think the band does a beautiful job capturing the tune. Check out Kumpel’s funky guitar, which is really cool!
The last track of the regular set was I’m The Man. The title track from Jackson’s sophomore album was another highlight of the evening, which once again showed this band can rock. Not surprisingly, it brought the audience up to their feet!
The regular set was followed by a three-track encore, starting with Jackson’s biggest hit: Steppin’ Out, from the Night And Day album released in June 1982. I’m not a fan of drum machines, and that aspect has always bothered me about an otherwise great tune; but I just couldn’t resist filming it, especially after Jackson noted they’re about to do something truly shocking – playing a song almost exactly the way it appears on an album! Jackson is known for altering studio tracks for live performances, which has frustrated some of his fans in the past – a fact he acknowledged during the announcement of the tune, teasingly adding he doesn’t quite get it, since it’s so much fun changing up songs.
Next a roadie walked out on stage, carrying a small box. It was the original drum machine Jackson had used for the recording. He proudly explained he got that drum machine in 1979, adding it’s pretty much impossible to get this gear nowadays. On Night And Day, Jackson played all of the instruments by himself, except for the drum snare, which doubled the drum machine’s snare, a natural task for Yowell. Jackson also explained the other instruments on the studio recording, including a Glockenspiel that last night was played by Maby. Of course, they also had the programmed synthesizer bassline – again, something else I’m less than fond of! Kumpel took over the organ part on the keyboards, while Jackson handled the electric piano. The following clip captures some of Jackson’s introductory explanations. If you’re bit of a music nerd like I am, this footage may be for you.
Joe Jackson is definitely worthwhile seeing, and I’m glad I finally did so! The ongoing second U.S. leg of the Four Decade Tour lasts until June 1. Some of the upcoming gigs include Miami (May 24), New Orleans (May 28), Houston (May 29) and Dallas (June 1). Afterwards, Jackson is returning to Europe, with shows in Germany, France, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Italy and Spain. The last date on the current schedule is Tel Aviv, Israel on July 28.
Sources: Wikipedia, Joe Jackson website, Setlist.fm, YouTube
Lately, I’ve been listening quite a bit to I’m The Man by Joe Jackson. His sophomore album from October 1979 is my favorite among his records I know. The timing is not entirely a coincidence.
One of the reasons I dig the album is because of the bass parts by Graham Maby, with whom Jackson works to this day. A few months ago, I decided to get inexpensive bass equipment for home use to see whether I could revive the moderate skills I once had close to 30 years ago.
Since I’ve always liked Maybe’s bass playing, I’ve been working to figure out some of his bass parts. I’m not gonna lie – some of this stuff ain’t easy, especially when you’re rusty, but fortunately there’s YouTube. Plus, I’m doing this to relax and have some fun, not because of any bigger ambitions. I simply don’t have the time to take things to any higher level, not to mention that my skills would certainly need to improve!
Anyway, this is where Geraldine And John came into the picture. Except for a cover of Chuck Berry’sCome On, all tracks on the album were written by Jackson. Not only do I love the laid back groove of the tune, but I also dig Maybe’s bass line. It’s not super complicated, which is why I guess I’ve been able to figure it out 95 percent. But it’s just great, both rhythmically and melodically, effectively helping propel the song forward – exactly what a bassist is supposed to do!
I also like to acknowledge the two other musicians in Jackson’s band at the time: Gary Sanford (guitar) and David Houghton (drums, backing vocals), who both do an excellent job as well. On December 15, 1980, the band played their last gig in the Netherlands in the wake of Jackson’s third studio album Beat Crazy. Jackson decided to reunite them for his 2003 album Volume 4. They also toured together leading up to the record’s release and thereafter.
Boy, this is quite a seductive record, which I stumbled across yesterday. And it actually gets even better after you listen to it for a few times! I had completely missed Joe Jackson’s 20th studio album Fool when it was released on January 18. How foolish of me! It has all the elements I’ve liked about Jackson for many years: His great sense of melody, his versatility as a musician and good lyrics. Moreover, despite having been a heavy smoker for many years, Jackson’s voice still pretty much sounds like on his 1979 debut Look Sharp!
As is typically the case on most of his albums, all songs were written, arranged and produced by Jackson. Here is the opener Big Black Cloud. “It is a dark song but it’s also defiant, ’cause I’m saying, ‘Well I’m not giving in to this. I’m not gonna be scared,'”, Jackson toldEntertainment Weekly.
Fabulously Absolute is the album’s lead single. The tune combines rock elements that are reminiscent of Jackson’s early punk-influenced days with a new wave keyboard sound. I feel Jackson is oftentimes at his best when he mixes different styles.
Perhaps the catchiest song on the record is Friend Better. It could come right from Jackson’s 10th studio album Blaze Of Glory from April 1989. I just dig that groove!
The last tune I want to highlight is the title track Fool. In particular, I like the Latin piano solo and the bass part of longtime Jackson friend and musical collaborator Graham Maby, one of my favorite bassists. “I had this idea a while ago to write a song about the importance of humor, and I didn’t really know how to do it,” Jackson pointed out during a recent interview with People. “And then I settled on this idea of the fool, the Shakespearean fool or the jester, being kind of a superhero.I actually find it’s very important because I’m actually amazed at how humorless most people are in this business. I really am.”
Interestingly, Jackson recorded the album in Boise, Idaho, right after the end of his last tour. “I’m not the only artist to have ever said this by a long way, but when you write a bunch of songs and record an album and then go out on tour, you find after a while that it always gets better,” he explained during the above People interview. “The band’s playing better, you know the songs inside out, and everything gets better. I find I’m singing better. You wish that you could record the album now instead of back when you did.”
“So I always wanted to do a tour and then go straight in the studio, like the day after the last show. And we finally did it…We did a tour that was long enough that we got to play all the new songs a lot, but not so long that we’d be exhausted at the end of it. We toured for a month, and wherever we ended up, we were gonna go in the studio the next day. It turned out to be Boise, Idaho, which I think is great because everyone I tell says, “What? Where?!” I just think that’s great. Everyone records in L.A. and New York and so on.”
I feel that last statement is signature Joe Jackson, who has always wanted to avoid appearing to be trendy. Undoubtedly, his approach has served him very well over the past 40 years.
In addition to Maby, Jackson’s current band includes Teddy Kumpel (guitar) and Doug Yowell (drums). “One of my inspirations for this album was the band I’ve been touring with on and off for the last 3 years,” Jackson notes on this website. I’ve had many different line-ups but this one is special. I met Graham Maby when I was 18, and he’s still one of the best bassists around. Doug Yowell is a vortex of energy on drums and Teddy Kumpel is the guitarist I always wanted to work with but could never find. Like my first album, this was a band effort, recorded and mixed (brilliantly, by Pat Dillett) in about a month.”
Fool appears on earMUSIC, a division of independent German record label Edel. The album’s release coincides with Jackson’s 40th year as a recording artist, which he is currently celebrating with the Four Decade Tour. Says Jackson on his website: “Looking for some way to organize a show out of 40 years’ worth of material, I decided to draw on five albums, each representing a decade: Look Sharp (1979) Night And Day (1982) Laughter And Lust (1991) Rain (2008) and Fool (2019). We’ll also throw in a couple of songs from other albums and some new covers.”
The tour kicked off in the U.S. on February 5 in Knoxville, Tenn. The first U.S. leg wrapped up on March 9 in Phoenix. Currently, Jackson and his band are touring Europe. In May, they are coming back to the U.S. and Canada before returning to Europe again toward the end of June. The current schedule is here. After four decades, Joe Jackson still looks like he’s the man.
Sources: Wikipedia, Joe Jackson website, Entertainment Weekly, People, YouTube