The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another installment of The Sunday Six, my weekly zig-zag excursions celebrating music I dig from different genres, spanning the past 70 years or so. I think I put together another nice and eclectic set of six tracks, including jazz, heartland rock, ’60s British rock, ’80s pop, ’90s alternative rock and some kickass hard rock & roll from 2014. Let’s play ball!

Thelonius Monk/‘Round Midnight

Starting us off today is beautiful soothing jazz by Thelonious Monk. This pick was inspired by fellow blogger Lisa from Tao Talk, who not only impresses me with her poetry writing but her music picks she oftentimes uses to accompany her poems – like in this case, a great jazz piece by Charlie Haden and Chet Baker. When I checked out the corresponding album, I noticed another track called ‘Round Midnight. Instead of taking this rendition, I decided to go with the original composed by jazz pianist Thelonious Monk. The track has become a standard that has been recorded by many jazz musicians. Apparently, there is some debate when Monk wrote it. The earliest noted date is 1936 when he was just 19 years old. Other accounts put it to 1940 or 1941. Trumpeter Cootie Williams was the first artist who recorded the tune in August 1944. Monk’s earliest recording is on a compilation titled Genius of Modern Music Vol. 1 from 1951.

John Mellencamp/A Little Night Dancin’

While it’s safe to assume most readers have heard of John Mellencamp, I imagine this may not necessarily include his pre-1980s music. My entry to the heartland artist was his 1985 Scarecrow album. Only in the ’90s did I begin to explore Mellencamp’s earlier catalog including John Cougar, his third record from July 1979. Prior to the release of Mellencamp’s debut album Chestnut Street Incident in October 1976, his manager Tony Defries had changed his name to Johnny Cougar, convinced an artist with the last name Mellencamp wouldn’t generate much interest. Mellencamp who hated the name kept “Cougar” through Scarecrow before finally adopting his real name John Mellencamp for the follow-on release The Lonesome Jubilee from August 1987. Here’s A Little Night Dancin’, the opener of the John Cougar album. The tune was also released in 1980 as a single but didn’t match the U.S. chart performance of I Need a Lover. While the latter reached no. 28 on the Billboard Hot 100, A Little Night Dancin’ stalled at no. 105. Still, not only do I dig that tune, but I also think it’s much better than I Need a Lover. I can hear a bit of a Van Morrison vibe in this song. Fifteen years later, Mellencamp recorded an excellent cover of Morrison’s Wild Night for his 1994 studio album Dance Naked. Perhaps that’s for a future installment.

Small Faces/Sha-La-La-La-Lee

In last week’s Sunday Six, I did something I rarely do – skip the ’60s, my favorite decade in music apart from the ’70s. I vowed not to repeat it this time, so here’s a tune I’ve loved from the very first moment I heard it during my teenage years back in Germany: Sha-La-La-La-Lee by Small Faces. It’s from the English rock band’s eponymous debut album that came out in May 1966. The song was written by co-producer Kenny Lynch together with Mort Schuman. The band’s initial line-up included Steve Marriott (vocals, guitar, harmonica, keyboards), Ian McLagan (keyboards, vocals, guitar, bass), Ronnie Lane (bass guitar, vocals, guitar) and Kenney Jones (drums, percussion, vocals). In March 1968, the Small Faces disbanded and Marriott went on to form Humble Pie with Peter Frampton. McLagan, Lane and Jones teamed up with former Jeff Beck Group members Ronnie Wood (guitar) and Rod Stewart (vocals) and became Faces. Small Faces reemerged in 1975 after Faces had broken up. They recorded two more albums before disbanding for good in 1978.

Madonna/La Isla Bonita

Here’s a pick that might surprise some folks who visit my blog more frequently. While I’m not a fan of Madonna, there is no denying she’s one of the most influential pop artists of our time. And, yes, while I can’t necessarily say the same for other ’80s tunes I used to dig at the time, I still like some of her songs. This includes the catchy La Isla Bonita, which always puts me in a holiday mood. The track is from Madonna’s third studio album True Blue that came out in June 1986. She co-wrote and co-produced the entire record with Stephen Bray and Patrick Leonard who also collaborated with Madonna on some of her other albums. La Isla Bonita also became the record’s fifth and final single and yet another major hit in the U.S. , Canada, Australia and various European countries.

The Cranberries/Linger

Next let’s jump to the ’90s and Irish alternative pop rock band The Cranberries. Initially, the group was formed as The Cranberry Saw Us in mid-1989 by brothers Noel Hogan (lead and rhythm guitar) and Mike Hogan (bass), together with Fergal Lawler (drums) and Niall Quinn (vocals). Following Quinn’s departure in early 1990, Dolores O’Riordan joined the band as lead vocalist, completing the line-up that in April 1991 became The Cranberries. In March 1993, they released their first full-length album Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? The record became a major success, topping the charts in Ireland and the UK, and placing in the top 20 in the U.S., Canada, New Zealand and some European countries. After four additional albums, The Cranberries went on hiatus in September 2003. They reunited in 2009 and recorded two more albums until the sudden death of O’Riordan in January 2018, who drowned in a London hotel bathtub due to sedation by alcohol poisoning. In April 2019, The Cranberries released their final album In the End, which featured O’Riordan’s vocals taken from demo tapes that had been recorded prior to her death. Here’s the beautiful Linger from the above mentioned debut album. It was also released as a single and became their first major hit, peaking at no. 3 in Ireland, and reaching no. 4, 8 and 14 in Canada, the U.S. and the UK, respectively.

AC/DC/Play Ball

Is it really time to wrap up things again? It is since I’d like to keep these installments to six tunes; otherwise, I could go on forever! But there’s always the next installment! I trust Australian rockers AC/DC need no further introduction. After much drama, including the death of co-founding member and rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young in November 2017 and vocalist Brian Johnson’s forced departure in April 2016 during the band’s tour that year due to hearing loss, against all odds, AC/DC officially reunited in September 2020 and released their 17th studio album Power Up in November that year. There are so many great AC/DC tunes to pick from. I haven’t even mentioned Bon Scott, their original lead vocalist! I decided to go with what I consider a true late career gem: Play Ball, off AC/DC’s 16th album Rock or Bust from November 2014. It was the first record without Malcolm Young who had been forced to retire in 2014 due to dementia and been replaced by his nephew Stevie Young. This is classic AC/DC – tight kickass rock & roll!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

John Mellencamp’s Good Samaritan Tour 2000 Revisited

A new documentary and companion live album celebrate heartland artist’s historic series of free summer concerts across the U.S.

I’ve listened to John Mellencamp since 1982 and Jack & Diane when he was still known as John Cougar and would call myself a fan. But until last Friday, I had not been aware of his Good Samaritan Tour, a series of free, stripped down and unannounced concerts he gave across the U.S. in the summer of 2000. Now the tour is revisited in a documentary that started to stream on the YouTube channel of Turner Classic Movies (TCM) on August 27. It also coincided with the release of a companion album, The Good Samaritan Tour 2000.

According to Mellencamp’s website, the documentary is “narrated by Academy® Award winner Matthew McConaughey,” chronicling his “historic tour in 2000 when he performed for free in public parks and common spaces across the country. The film was executive produced by Federal Films, produced by John Mellencamp and Randy Hoffman, directed by Shan Dan Horan, mixed by Andy York and has special contributions by Nora Guthrie.” Nora is the daughter of Woodie Guthrie, one of Mellencamp’s big influences.

As the documentary notes in the beginning, Mellencamp viewed the tour as a way to thank his fans for all their support they had given him throughout the years. The impromptu gigs were performed without official permission from local authorities. “We also want to say this is not a concert,” Mellencamp tells an audience in Chicago. “I’m just playing on the street. So if you can’t hear I’m sorry, but we didn’t bring a big PA system because we didn’t want it to be a concert.”

However, Mellencamp did bring along two young musicians: accordion player Mike Flynn and violinist Merritt Lear. There was also Harry Sandler, Mellencamp’s road manager at the time, who helped organize where the trio would play. There was no road crew. “It was really kind of a hippy thing to do, you know,” Mellencamp notes in the documentary. “It reminded me of what I had seen happen in Washington Square, you know, during the ’60s when, you know, people would play in Washington Square and people would sit around, like it was a folk thing.”

John Mellencamp - Official Website :: News Articles
From left: Merritt Lear, Mike Flynn, John Mellencamp and Harry Sandler

“I had my little accordion, Merritt had a fiddle, John had his two acoustic guitars,” Flynn recalls in the film. “It was really raw and stripped down is to say the least.” Adds Lear: “My whole involvement with this tour started with a completely cold phone call…Mike and I had dated, broken up, and he put me up for the tour, coz they needed a violin player at the last second…They needed someone and he said , ‘call Merritt, she’ll be psyched to do it…And they called me and they said, ‘would you like to go on a summer tour with John Mellencamp? We’re leaving soon. I was shocked and then I quit my job and we were off and running.”

“The idea for the tour came to light and was a vague notion on what Woodie Guthrie had done when he would go and play in the fields for the workers in California,” Mellencamp explains. For the most part, the free performances featured songs he liked, not tunes he had written. While the free gigs were very well received by the public and the crowds grew larger at each appearance, the authorities in Detroit were less than pleased when they learned about Mellencamp’s concert there. Harry Sandler was even told they would get arrested if they played there. While many cops showed up at the concert, fortunately, everything stayed peaceful and nobody was arrested. The documentary can be watched here. Time for some music!

Let’s kick it off with In My Time of Dying, a traditional gospel tune that has been recorded by numerous artists. Blind Willie Johnson’s recording from December 1927 is the first known published version.

Here’s Bob Dylan’s All Along the Watchtower, which first appeared on his eighth studio album John Wesley Harding from December 1967. The most famous version of the song was recorded around the same time by Jimi Hendrix for Electric Ladyland, the third and final studio album by The Jimi Hendrix Experience released in October 1968.

Next up: Street Fighting Man, The Rolling Stones’ classic that first appeared as a U.S. single in August 1968, ahead of the Beggars Banquet album from December of the same year.

Let’s do two more: Here’s Cut Across Shorty, which was first popularized by Eddie Cochran in March 1960 as a rock & roll style tune. It’s been covered by various other artists including Rod Stewart, Faces and, obviously, John Mellencamp.

The last track I’d like to highlight is a Mellencamp original: Pink Houses, which he recorded for his seventh studio album Uh-Huh that appeared under his transitional artist name John Cougar Mellencamp in October 1983. In this take, Merritt Lear got to sing the first verse.

I really dig John Mellencamp’s transition from his early straight heartland rock years to an artist who embraces a more stripped back roots and Americana sound. As such, the prominence of the accordion and the fiddle on these Good Samaritan song renditions are right up my alley.

Here’s the full track list of the album:

1.     Small Town
2.     Oklahoma Hills
3.     In My Time Of Dying
4.     Captain Bobby Stout
5.     Key West Intermezzo (I Saw You First)
6.     All Along The Watchtower
7.     The Spider And The Fly
8.     Early Bird Café
9.     Hey Gyp
10.   Street Fighting Man
11.   Cut Across Shortly
12.   Pink Houses

While cynics might dismiss the Good Samaritan Tour as a PR stunt, John Mellencamp doesn’t strike me as the kind of artist who would that. Sure, I guess he didn’t mind the buzz his free summer tour generated. But Mellencamp, one of the co-founders of Farm Aid, is a person who supports social causes, so I buy that his primary motivation for the free concerts was to give back to his fans.

Sources: Wikipedia; John Mellencamp website; YouTube