If I Could Only Take One

My desert island song by Suzi Quatro

Happy Wednesday with another decision which one tune to take on an imaginary trip to a desert island.

In case you’re new to this weekly recurring feature, the idea is to pick one song by an artist or band I’ve only rarely mentioned or not covered at all on my blog to date. This excludes many popular options like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Pink Floyd, Steely Dan, Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, Neil Young, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Carole King and Bonnie Raitt, to name some of my longtime favorite artists. I’m also doing this exercise in alphabetical order, and I’m up to the letter “q”.

How many bands or artists do you know whose names/last names start with “q”? The ones that came to my mind included Quarterflash, Queen and Quiet Riot. And, of course, my pick, Can the Can by Suzi Quatro. Yes, perhaps it’s not the type of song that would be your first, second or even third pick to take on a desert island, but it’s a great kickass rock tune anyway!

Can the Can, penned by songwriters and producers Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn, was Quatro’s second solo single and her first to chart. And it was a smash, topping the charts in the UK, Germany, Switzerland and Australia. It also climbed to no. 2 in Austria and no. 5 in Ireland. In Quatro’s home country the U.S., the tune fared more moderately, reaching no. 56 on the Billboard Hot 100. American music listeners just weren’t as much into glam rock as audiences in other parts of the world, especially in Europe. Can the Can was also included on Quatro’s eponymous debut album, released in October 1973.

Here’s a bit of additional background on Suzie Quatro from her bio on AllMusic: With her trademark leather jump suit, instantly hooky songs, and big bass guitar, Suzi Quatro is a glam rock icon with a window-rattling voice and rock & roll attitude to spare. After getting her start in garage and hard rock bands, 1973’s breakthrough single “Can the Can,” a stomping blast of glam rock that combined ’50s-style song craft with Quatro’s powerful vocals, made her an international star. She followed up with a string of similar-sounding singles and albums — and made an impression on TV viewers with her role on the hit sitcom Happy Days — before softening her sound and scoring a hit with the 1978 ballad “Stumblin’ In.” While her work in the future would encompass everything from new wave pop on 1983’s Main Attraction to starring in a musical based on the life of Tallulah Bankhead in 1991, Quatro never lost her instincts as a rocker, as evidenced by albums like 2006’s Back to the Drive and 2021’s The Devil in Me.

When I heard Can the Can for the first time in the mid-’70s, it was not by Suzi Quatro but by German vocalist Joy Fleming. While I don’t know much about Fleming except for a 1974 live album titled Joy Fleming Live, I know one thing. She was a hell of a vocalist! Check this out!

Here are a few additional tidbits on Can the Can and Suzie Quatro from Songfacts:

…Quatro is an American who joined Mickie Most’s RAK label roster, becoming part of the glam rock revolution. Most produced her first single, “Rolling Stone,” but it went nowhere, so he asked songwriters Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman to write and produce her next single. The result was “Can The Can.”

When asked what “Can The Can” means, Nicky Chinn replied: “It means something that is pretty impossible, you can’t get one can inside another if they are the same size, so we’re saying you can’t put your man in the can if he is out there and not willing to commit. The phrase sounded good and we didn’t mind if the public didn’t get the meaning of it.”

Suzi Quatro: “I can hear a record for the first time and know whether it will be a hit. And I knew as soon as we had finished recording that we had a big hit on our hands.” (above quotes from 1000 UK #1 Hits by Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh)

This was the first #1 UK hit for a solo female artist since “Those Were The Days” by Mary Hopkin in 1968.

Quatro never hit it big in her native America, although she did have a memorable role on the TV series Happy Days playing Leather Tuscadero. She landed several more UK hits, including the #1 “Devil Gate Drive,” and influenced a generation of female rockers, notably Joan Jett.

Quatro wrote many of her own songs, but they tended to be album cuts, with the Chapman/Chinn team getting the singles. In a Songfacts interview with Quatro, she explained: “I was very boogie-based, very bass-based. And they went away and wrote ‘Can the Can.’ We had the arrangement where I could write the albums, and they would write the three-minute single – although I did have singles out myself, like ‘Mama’s Boy.’ I didn’t learn anything from their songwriting, because I always had my own thing. Whatever I did, I did.”

Suzi Quatro, who turned 72 a few weeks ago, continues to rock on. And tour. Her current schedule is here. Here’s Can the Can captured at London’s Royal Albert Hall in April this year. What a cool lady!

Sources: Wikipedia; Suzi Quatro website; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday Six where I’d like to celebrate the beauty of music in different flavors over the past 60 years or so, six tunes at a time. Let’s embark on today’s journey.

Wayne Shorter/Infant Eyes

Getting us underway today is soothing jazz by saxophonist and composer Wayne Shorter. In addition to being a sideman playing with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and Miles Davis’ Second Great Quintet, Shorter started his recording career as a bandleader in 1959 with Introducing Wayne Shorter – the first of more than 20 additional albums he has made in that role. In 1970, Shorter became a co-founder of jazz fusion band Weather Report. Here’s Infant Eyes, a beautiful track he composed for his sixth album Speak No Evil, which appeared in June 1966. After an incredible 60-year-plus recording career Shorter (88 years) is now retired.

John Cougar Mellencamp/Rain On The Scarecrow

Next, let’s go to August 1985 and the eighth studio album by heartland-turned-roots rock artist John Mellencamp, who I trust doesn’t need much of an introduction. Scarecrow was the record that brought Mellencamp on my radar screen. At the time, he was still known as John Cougar Mellencamp and nine years into his recording career that had started in 1976 with the Chestnut Street Incident, released as Johnny Cougar. His manager at the time, Tony Defries, had come up with this name, 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 album The Lonesome Jubilee from August 1987. While Scarecrow is best known for its U.S. top 10 hits R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A., Small Town and Lonely Ol’ Night, I decided to highlight Rain On The Scarecrow, a tune I’ve always loved. Mellencamp penned it together with his childhood friend and longtime writing partner George Green.

The Byrds/Tiffany Queen

Every time I hear the name The Byrds, my first thought is the jingle-jangle guitar sound perfected by Rickenbacker maestro guitarist and vocalist Roger McGuinn. From the very first moment I heard songs like Mr. Tambourine Man, All I Really Want to Do and Turn! Turn! Turn! I was hooked, and I still get excited about the sound of a Rickenbacker to this day. While I knew there was more to The Byrds than a jangly guitar sound and great harmony singing, until the other day, I had not been aware of Tiffany Queen. Written by McGuinn, it became the opener of their 11th studio album Farther Along from November 1971. By that time, McGuinn was the band’s only original member, though the other co-founders Gene Clarke, David Crosby, Michael Clarke and Chris Hillman reunited with McGuinn one more time for the group’s 1973 eponymous final album. Here’s Tiffany Queen, which compared to the three above-mentioned tunes has more of a straight rock sound- I like it!

Fats Domino/Blueberry Hill

Yes, it may seem a bit arbitrary to throw in Blueberry Hill by Fats Domino. But then again, this goes to the central idea of The Sunday Six to feature music from different eras, in a zig-zag fashion. Plus, it’s a timeless classic! Written by Vincent Rose with lyrics by John L. Rooney, Blueberry Hill was first recorded by the Sammy Kaye Orchestra in May 1940, featuring Tommy Ryan on vocals. In 1940 alone, the tune was recorded five more times, including by the Glenn Miller Orchestra, the most successful of the six versions, which reached no. 2 on the U.S. charts. But to this day, Blueberry Hill is best remembered by Fats Domino’s amazing rendition released in 1956. It was also included on Domino’s third studio album This Is Fats Domino!, which came out in December that year. It became his sixth no. 1 on the U.S. R&B chart and his biggest hit on the mainstream Billboard Hot 100 (no. 2), then-called the Top 100. Feel free to groove along!

Peter Gabriel/Steam

Recently, fellow blogger Dave from A Sound Day hosted another great installment of his Turntable Talk feature, which focused on the MTV music video era. Dave was kind enough to invite me back to participate, and as I noted in my contribution, Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer would get my vote for best video. With the ex-Genesis lead vocalist on my mind, perhaps it’s not a big surprise a Gabriel tune is included in this Sunday Six. While I generally prefer So and his earlier albums, I decided to pick a song from Us, the follow-on to So, released in September 1992. Here’s Steam, a nice funky pop tune. It also appeared separately as a single in January 1993 and became Gabriel’s final significant chart success. This included a no. 1 in Canada and top 10 placements in the UK, Ireland and New Zealand. In the U.S., the song steamed to no. 2 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart. Songfacts notes similarities to Sledgehammer, including prominent horn lines and lyrics “loaded with sexual references.” I guess that’s a fair observation. It doesn’t bother me!

Sheryl Crow/Real Gone

And once again it’s time to wrap up. Since Sheryl Crow entered my radar screen in 1993 with All I Wanna Do, her breakthrough hit from her debut album Tuesday Night Music Club, I’ve enjoyed listening to her music. When she released Threads in August 2019, which I reviewed here, she noted the collaboration album was her final full-length release. Crow cited changed listening habits where most people build their own playlists rather than listen to albums. As sad as it is, it’s a fair point. Plus, Crow hasn’t retired from the music business and has since released a few additional singles. Plus, she’s currently on the road. Real Gone is a nice rock tune from the soundtrack of the 2006 animated film Cars, which appeared in May 2006. My son was four and a half years old at the time and liked the toy cars from Cars – dad liked them as well! Real Gone, which also was released in June 2006 as the second single from the soundtrack, was co-written by Crow and John Shanks who also produced the tune.

Last but least, here’s a Spotify list featuring the above picks.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; Sheryl Crow website; YouTube; Spotify

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by Madonna

Happy Wednesday and welcome to another installment of my desert island song exercise. If you’re a first-time visitor, I hope you’ll stick around and come back.

My song choice this week falls outside my ’60s and ’70s core wheelhouse, so in case you dig music from these two decades but are less excited about this pick, I hope you’ll check out some of the other posts and return. Should you love the tune I selected but are less sure about the ’60s and ’70s, come back anyway and allow me to demonstrate how much great music these two decades have to offer. BTW, you’ll also find some contemporary music on this blog.

After this shameless attempt of self-promotion, here are the rules: I’m about to embark on an imaginary trip to a desert island and need to decide which one song (not an album!) to take with me. Moreover, it must be a tune by an artist or a band I’ve only rarely written about or not covered at all. I’m doing this exercise in alphabetical order, based on my music library, and I’m up to the letter “m”.

Artists (their last names) and bands starting with the letter “m” are a sizeable pool in my music universe and, for example, include The Mamas & The Papas, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, Paul McCartney, John Mellencamp, Men At Work, The Moody Blues and Mumford & Sons. And my pick is La Isla Bonita by Madonna.

Yes, I like a good number of her songs but must immediately qualify for the most part I’m referring to music on her first four albums. I’m also not familiar at all with her two most recent albums Rebel Heart (March 2015) and Madame X (June 2019). I vaguely recall sampling a few tunes from MDNA (March 2012). Afterwards, I stopped paying attention altogether. Other contenders for my specific song choice included Borderline, Into the Groove, Papa Don’t Preach and Like a Prayer. Not only has La Isla Bonita been among my favorite Madonna tunes for many years, but I also felt it’s a perfect fit for the occasion.

The Spanish pop-flavored tune was co-written by Madonna and co-producers Patrick Leonard and Stephen Bray. It first appeared on Madonna’s third studio album True Blue, which came out in May 1986. The song was also released separately as the album’s fifth and last single in February 1987.

Both the single and the album enjoyed substantial international chart success. La Isla Bonita went to no. 1 in Canada, France, Germany, Switzerland in the UK, while the album topped the charts in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the UK. Europe definitely loved Madonna!

True Blue also became Madonna’s most commercially successful record globally, with more than 25 million units sold worldwide, and her third-highest seller in the U.S. where it reached 7x Platinum certification (verified sales of 7 million units) as of February 1995. In a review for AllMusic, Stephen Thomas Erlewine called True Blue “the album where Madonna truly became Madonna the Superstar – the endlessly ambitious, fearlessly provocative entertainer who knew how to outrage, spark debates, get good reviews — and make good music while she’s at it.” The album was also well-received by many other music critics.

How about La Isla Bonita gypsy style. This cool live reinterpretation captured in 2007 features guitarist Eugene Hütz and violinist Sergey Ryabtsev, both from Gogol Bordello, a gypsy punk band formed in New York City in 1999. Check this out – man, what a performance!

I’m leaving you with a few additional tidbits from Songfacts:

“La Isla Bonita” means “The Beautiful Island” in Spanish. In the song, Madonna sings about the beautiful island of San Pedro, where she longs to be. San Pedro is not a real island. In a 2009 interview with Rolling Stone, Madonna said, “I don’t know where that came from. I don’t know where San Pedro is. At that point, I wasn’t a person who went on holidays to beautiful islands. I may have been on the way to the studio and seen an exit ramp for San Pedro.”

This song provided yet another look and sound for Madonna, as it had a Spanish theme. In an interview with the New York Times, she called the song, “A tribute to the beauty and mystery of Latin American people.”

Songwriter and producer Patrick Leonard wrote this for Michael Jackson, but Jackson claimed he didn’t like the title and turned down the song. Leonard then offered it to Madonna, who rewrote some of the lyrics in her style. Leonard worked with Madonna on many of her other hits including: “Live To Tell,” “Who’s That Girl,” “The Look Of Love,” “Like A Prayer,” “Cherish,” “Oh, Father,” “Frozen” and “Nothing Really Matters.”

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; Songfacts; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday Six, a celebration of music in different flavors of the past and the present, six tunes at a time. To those celebrating, Happy Easter! If you don’t observe the holiday, I still hope you’re enjoying the weekend. And just in case you’re looking for some great music, I have some humble suggestions. Hope on our magical time machine and let’s go!

Ahmad Jamal/For All We Know

Today’s journey starts in 1960 with relaxing jazz music by Ahmad Jamal. According to his website, he was born in July 1930 in Pittsburgh, Pa. and already began playing the piano at the age of 3. By the age of 10, Jamal was composing, orchestrating and performing works by Franz Liszt, exploring the music of Duke Ellington, Art Tatum, Nat Cole, Erroll Garner and a host of music notables...At 17, he left home at the request of the George Hudson Orchestra and began touring the country...He formed his own group in 1951 and with the help of John Hammond started his recording career with Okeh Records. Today, more than 70 years later, the now-91-year-old Jamal still appears to be active. His most recent album Ballads appeared in September 2019 – what an amazing career! For All We Know, which initially had been published in 1934 with music by J. Fred Coots and lyrics by Sam M. Lewis, was included on Happy Moods, a 1960 album Jamal recorded with Israel Crosby on bass and Vernel Fournier on drums – my type of music to start a Sunday morning!

Big Star/September Gurls

Next, we turn to the ’70s and power-pop band Big Star, to which Max from PowerPop blog introduced me and safe to assume other readers a while ago. Formed in Memphis, Tenn. in 1971 by Alex Chilton (guitars, piano, vocals), Chris Bell (guitars, vocals), Andy Hummel (bass, vocals) and Jody Stephens (drums), the group was initially active until 1975, during which they recorded two albums. While each received excellent reviews, both records were “commercial failures” due to ineffective marketing and other record label issues. For more on the band’s unfortunate history, I’d encourage you to visit Max’s blog, who has written about them various times, most recently here. One of Big Star’s best-known tunes is September Gurls, written by Chilton, off their sophomore album Radio City that appeared in February 1974. It’s hard to believe this catchy power-pop gem didn’t become a hit at the time. Twelve years later, the Bangles included a great cover on their hugely successful second album Different Light, the version I had known and loved for many years. When I listened to the original first, I immediately dug it just as much!

Bonnie Raitt/Made Up Mind

I’m very excited about this next pick, which is the most recent single by one of my all-time favorite artists: Bonnie Raitt. If you’re a more frequent visitor of the blog, you’ve probably seen me rave about Raitt and her great musicianship as a slide guitarist before. I think she’s an exceptional artist who has battled and overcome significant challenges during her 50-year-plus career. Made Up Mind, released on February 25, is from Raitt’s upcoming new album Just Like That…, slated for April 22. The tune was co-written by David Landreth, Joseph Sydney Landreth and Jonathan Singleton. Damn, now I want to see Bonnie again even more than I did before! If you like her music and haven’t been to one of her shows, I’d encourage you to catch her if you can. Her current national tour kicked off last evening in Hampton, N.H. Here’s the schedule. This lady is just amazing!

John Mellencamp/Paper in Fire

As fellow blogger Dave from A Sound Day posted a few days ago, April 12, 2022, marked the 40th anniversary of American Fool, the fifth studio album by John Mellencamp who at the time was still known as John Cougar. The thought the little ditty about Jack and Diane was on the radio four decades ago is mind-boggling to me! In a comment, I noted that my favorite album by the heartland rocker from Indiana is The Lonesome Jubilee, which appeared in August 1997. Don’t get me wrong, I also still dig Mellencamp’s straight rock albums he put out during the first half of the ’80s. But I love his transition into roots rock even more. It started on The Lonesome Jubilee with the introduction of instruments like accordion, fiddle and banjo. Here’s Paper in Fire, which was also released separately as a lead single a week ahead of the album. Like all other tracks except one, the song was written by Mellencamp.

Red Hot Chili Peppers/Under the Bridge

Including two songs by Red Hot Chili Peppers off their latest album Unlimited Love in recent Best of What’s New posts here and here reminded me of a band I had known primarily by name for many years. One of the few songs I could name was Under the Bridge, a tune I’ve always liked. Credited to all four members of the band – Anthony Kiedis (lead vocals); Michael Peter Balzary, known as Flea (bass, trumpet, piano, backing vocals); John Frusciante (guitars, keyboards, backing vocals); and Chad Smith (drums, percussion) – Under the Bridge is from their fifth studio album Blood Sugar Sex Magik, released in September 1991. Today, 21 years and seven albums later, the group from the city of angels is rocking on with the same line-up. One of the things I dig about Under the Bridge is Frusciante’s guitar part. That sound is just awesome!

Green Day/Wake Me Up When September Ends

Okey-doke, time to wrap up another Sunday Six. My final pick for this installment takes us back to the ’90s and one of the best-known tunes by Green Day: Wake Me Up When September Ends, off their seventh studio album American Idiot, released in September 2004. I’ve always liked how this band, which has been around since 1987, oftentimes combines grunge, punk and alternative rock with pop, especially on this album. Wake Me Up When September Ends was written by Green Day lead vocalist and guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong about the death of his father when he was 10 years old. Bandmates Mike Dirnt (bass, backing vocals) and Tré Cool (drums, percussion, backing vocals) received co-writing credits for the music. The three of them still form Green Day’s current core line-up. Beware, this is a bloody catchy tune that might get stuck in your head! 🙂

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist of the above tracks. Hope there’s something you like!

Sources: Wikipedia; Ahmad Jamal website; Bonnie Raitt website; YouTube; Spotify

John Mellencamp Delivers Warm Roots Music and Cranky Lyrics on New Album

“I’m not for everybody,” John Mellencamp told NPR about his new album Strictly A One-Eyed Jack – a fair observation, and I say this as a longtime fan. I also saw this statement in some of the other reviews I read about the record that was released on Friday, January 21. It’s evident to me the heartland former straight rocker who turned 70 last October has found his sweet spot with roots music. He gradually embraced that style starting with The Lonesome Jubilee from August 1987, which remains one of my favorite Mellencamp records to this day. If you dig his previous records like Plain Spoken (2014) and Sad Clowns & Hillbillies, I think it’s a safe bet you will like his new album – unless perhaps you expect something new.

Strictly A One-Eyed Jack was written and produced by Mellencamp at his own Belmont Mall Studios in Bloomington, Ind., notes his website. His 24th studio album, the first with new original songs since the above-mentioned Sad Clowns & Hillbillies, includes three collaborations with Bruce Springsteen. One of the tunes, Wasted Days, was first released as an upfront single on December 10, 2021. I covered it here at the time. Overall, I can hear some musical and lyrical traces from other artists like Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Steve Earle and Woody Guthrie, and of course Mellencamp’s familiar style, including a raspy voice shaped by more than 50 years of smoking.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the songs starting with the opener I Always Lie to Strangers. Like most other tunes on the album, it was solely written by Mellencamp. During an interview with Forbes.com, he elaborated on the title: “The average person hears 300 or 400 lies a day and will tell 150 himself and not even know it. ‘Cause you turn the news on, you get lies. You turn advertising on, you get lies. You talk to people, they lie to you. Even as simple as, “How are you doing today?” “I’m doing great.” No, they’re not, but they say it anyway. So it was just that simple of the thought that led to that song.” While I don’t know the source of Mellencamp’s highly inflated-looking stats, I guess his general point is legit.

The title of the bluesy I’m A Man That Worries pretty much says it all. Here’s the first verse for illustration:

I am a man that worries
Worries occupy my brain
I’m worried about tomorrow

I worry about today
I’m worried about the words I’m hearing
I’m worried about all this bad news
I know it’s a curse
That ain’t ever gonna go away

So how about some of these collaborative tunes with Springsteen? I’m skipping Wasted Days since as noted above, I already wrote about it previously. Here’s one of the other two tunes: Did You Say Such A Thing. I love the rock feel Springsteen’s guitar-playing adds. As reported by Ultimate Classic Rock, he also plays the solo. Hearing the two sing together sounds pretty cool as well. During the Forbes.com interview, Mellencamp characterized the collaboration as “quite by accident.” He said, “For my entire career I was always like the poor man’s Bruce Springsteen. And Bruce and I have known each other for years…But we did a rainforest thing for Sting…And all of a sudden he was like my big brother, and he treated me like I was his sibling, and I treated him with respect. And then we became really good friends, and it just kind of happened. He came to Indiana, he stayed at the house. It was great.” If only all accidents would have such great outcomes!

Gone So Soon surprised me a bit with its jazzy feel. I suppose this proves that while John Mellencamp clearly has become a roots-oriented artist, he isn’t a one-trick pony. Based on credits available on Discogs, the great piano part of this tune is played by Troye Kinnett, while Joey Tartell provides the beautiful trumpet solo. I also love the backing vocals by Merritt Lear. It all gets perfectly complemented with Mellencamp’s rough vocals. Check it out – very moody!

Here’s the title track. When asked, ‘Who is the one-eyed Jack to you?’, during the Forbes.com interview, Mellencamp explained, “You can’t write about yourself all the time. But I have grown to be a good observer and good listener, so I hear what other people think and what people say. Then I’m open to suggestions, which means that sometimes I’ll be doing something and a voice in my head will go, “Well, you better write this down.” And I think, “Ah, f**k I’m painting, I don’t want to write this down.” And I’m like, “You need to write this down, John.” And that happened quite a bit with this record.” BTW, that one-eyed Jack portrait of Mellencamp was painted by Speck Mellencamp, his younger son with his ex-wife, the model Elaine Irwin. John Mellencamp is an avid painter as well. His artwork has been exhibited numerous times, including at museums like the Tennessee State Museum in Nashville and the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio.

The final track I’d like to highlight is the album’s closer. A Life Full Of Rain is another collaborative recording with Springsteen. Unlike the two other songs, this tune is on the quieter side. Lyrically, it’s yet another not exactly cheerful song.

Following is how Mellencamp summed up the album to Forbes.com: “I’m not for everyone anymore. I was someplace the other night and some guy came up to me and he said, “You know, music is just not the same.”And he said, “It’s just not the same. And there’s not any good songwriters anymore.” And I went, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa.” I go, “Wait a minute. Have you heard my last record?” [Mellencamp clearly doesn’t lack self-confidence, though I agree with him – CMM] He goes, “No.” I go, “Have you heard Bruce’s last record?” He goes, “No”. I go, “Have you heard Dylan’s last record?” He went, “No.” I go, “Have you heard Woody Guthrie’s last record?” He said, “No.” I said, “Maybe there’s still music out there. You’re just not listening. There’s the problem. You’re not listening. It’s still being made. It’s still out there, but you’re just not listening. You grew up. Too bad for you.”

I don’t want to wrap up this review without acknowledging the other musicians on the album, who do a beautiful job: Music director Andy York (acoustic and electric guitar, autoharp, banjo, bass, backing vocals), Mike Wanchic (electric guitar, backing vocals), Miriam Sturm (violin), Jon Gunnell (bass) and Dane Clark (drums, percussion) – the same musicians who backed up Mellencamp on his two previous albums. In fact, Sturm has played on all of his records since Mr. Happy Go Lucky from September 1996. York and especially Wanchic go back with Mellencamp even further. For York, it’s until Dance Naked, Mellencamp’s 13th studio album that appeared in June 1994. And for Wanchic the oldest Mellencamp album I could verify is Uh-huh from October 1983. These are remarkable long-term relationships in an ego-driven industry that’s notorious for volatility.

Sources: Wikipedia; John Mellencamp website; NPR; Forbes.com; Ultimate Classic Rock; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Welcome to another Best of What’s New where I typically highlight four new songs. Since I only started paying closer attention to contemporary music on a regular basis when launching this weekly recurring feature close to two years ago, most of the artists included in these posts are new to me. In this installment, that’s the case for my first three picks. The last is one of my longtime favorite artists.

Johnny Marr/Lightning People

I’d like to start with new music by English guitarist and singer-songwriter Johnny Marr, who first gained prominence in the ’80s as a co-founder of English indie rock band The Smiths. Following the group’s break-up, Marr played in various other bands, including Pretenders, The The, Electronic, Modest Mouse and The Cribs. In February 2013, Marr released his solo debut album The Messenger, which climbed to no. 10 in the UK on the Official Albums Chart. Two additional albums have since come out and another one, Fever Dreams Pts. 1-4, is scheduled for February 25, 2022. Marr has started to release songs from the forthcoming record as EPs. Here’s Lightning People, a track from Fever Dreams Pt. 2 that came out yesterday (December 17). Like the other three songs on the EP, it was co-written by him and James Doviak, co-producer and guitarist in Marr’s band. Sounds pretty good to me!

Arlie/Crashing Down

Arlie are an indie rock band from Nashville. Essentially, that’s all I know, based on this short review in Melodic Magazine. Apple Music lists an EP, Wait, from September 2018, and six singles including the latest titled Crashing Down that appeared on December 14. The tune was co-written by Hayes Helsper and Nathaniel Banks. “”Crashing down” is about this feeling of “everything I’ve built my sense of security upon might suddenly crumble” and how that can really make you re-evaluate your priorities,” Banks who is the band’s lead vocalist told Melodic Magazine. “It’s about how a dream scared me enough to snap me out of taking a lot of things for granted, and enough to make me realize how much I care about being in the physical presence of the people I love most.” When listening to the tune’s upbeat music without paying attention to the lyrics, you’d never guess the song’s topic.

Jack Kays & Travis Barker/Sideways

In connection with his debut album Mixed Emotions from January this year, Apple Music describes Jack Kays as a multi-talented artist who creates a blend of emo rap, pop-punk, and folk music that boldly grapples with questions of insecurity and addiction. This description also is a good fit for Sideways, a track from My Favorite Nightmares, a collaborative EP released December 10. Kays recorded it with Travis Barker, drummer of American pop rock band Blink-182. According to this press release, the 4-track project continues Jack’s exploration of themes surrounding mental health. The release also quotes Kays: “I feel like society loves to romanticize the successful recovery from mental illness but doesn’t like to address people during the process as they’re trying to combat and overcome it. When people listen to this project, I want those who are experiencing that to feel heard and feel accepted.” Here’s the official video.

John Mellencamp/Chasing Rainbows

Rounding out this post is John Mellencamp whose music I’ve enjoyed for more than 30 years. I trust the heartland straight-turned-roots rocker doesn’t need an introduction. Arguably, Seymour, Ind.’s most famous son who turned 70 on October 7, Mellencamp has been active for 45 years. Chasing Rainbows, released December 10, is the second upfront track from his upcoming 24th studio album Strictly A One-Eyed Jack, scheduled for January 21, 2022. Co-written by Mellencamp and John Young, the tune follows Wasted Days, which appeared on September 29 and features Bruce Springsteen. Previously, I wrote about it here. Chasing Rainbows is another reason I look forward to the new album.

Sources: Wikipedia; Melodic Magazine; Apple Music; Columbia Records press release; YouTube

Five Picks From a Pretty Good Playlist

I don’t mean to make any advertising for Apple Music. Other music streaming platforms are probably just as good and some may even be better. It just so happens that 20 years ago, I decided to get iTunes and I’ve stuck with Apple ever since. Nowadays, I mostly use their streaming service Apple Music. Once you’re entrenched in one platform, switching becomes hard, so you’re kind of stuck with it.

In the early years of Apple Music, which I started using pretty much when it was introduced in 2015, I made fun of how they categorized music and what kind of listening suggestions they served up. Over time their algorithms have gotten much better. Nowadays, Apple Music pretty much knows what makes me tick. In a way that’s a bit scary.

Similar to Facebook, the presentation of new content based on previous choices can also work to your advantage. A good illustration is the latest “Favorites Mix” Apple Music generated, based on my listening habits. I pretty much dig each tune on here. Following are five of the 25 tracks. I deliberately picked songs I haven’t featured in a while or at all on the blog.

John Mellencamp/Grandview (feat. Martina McBride)

John Mellencamp has been among my favorite artists since the mid-’80s. While I still dig the straight heartland rock from his earlier years, I mostly prefer the roots-oriented music he plays nowadays. Grandview is a great tune from Mellencamp’s 23rd studio album Sad Clowns & Hillbillies that came out in April 2017. Much of that album includes contributions from country artist Carlene Carter. Grandview, co-written by Mellencamp and Bobby Clark, is an exception, featuring another country artist: Martina McBride. Love that tune!

Bonnie Raitt/Sugar Mama

My dear longtime music friend from Germany initially introduced me to Bonnie Raitt in the late ’80s. If you’re a more frequent visitor of the blog you likely know how much I dig that lady. For the most part, Raitt relies on other writers. Her picks tend to be excellent. Here’s Sugar Mama, co-written by Delbert McClinton and Glen Clark, and first released as Sugar Daddy on McClinton’s 1972 debut album Delbert & Glen. Raitt’s funky rendition of the tune was included on her fifth studio album Home Plate, which appeared in 1975.

Jackson Browne/Our Lady of the Well

My introduction to Jackson Browne was the iconic Running On Empty album from December 1977. I believe my brother-in-law had it on vinyl. My guess is I heard it first in the early ’80s – can’t quite remember! I’ve listened to Browne on and off ever since. Our Lady of the Well, written by him, is from his sophomore album For Everyman that came out in October 1973. Browne’s just a great songwriter!

David Bowie/It Ain’t Easy

If I could only pick one David Bowie record, I’d go with The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, his fifth studio album released in June 1972. I’ve always loved Bowie’s glam rock period. On Ziggy Stardust, he wrote all except one tune: It Ain’t Easy. That song was penned by American songwriter Ron Davies who first recorded it for his 1970 debut album Silent Song Through The Land. It proved to be a popular cover song. In addition to Bowie, Three Dog Night, Long John Baldry, Dave Edmunds and Shelby Lynne are among the other artists who covered it. I guess the explanation is simple: It’s a great tune!

Genesis/Land of Confusion

Let me preface this final pick by saying I used to like Land of Confusion by Genesis much more when it came out back in 1986 than I do nowadays. Like many other ’80s tunes, to me, it doesn’t hold up that well. Still, I can’t deny a certain weak spot for the ’80s, the decade during which I grew up. Land of Confusion, credited to all three core members of Genesis at the time – Tony Banks, Phil Collins and Mike Rutherford – appeared on the group’s 13th studio album Invisible Touch from June 1986. It also became one of five singles. Perhaps the most memorable aspect of the tune is its remarkable video featuring caricature puppets of political leaders like Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Leonid Brezhnev and Helmut Kohl. The video, which got heavy play on MTV, won a Grammy for Best Concept Music Video in 1987. It was also nominated for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Awards that same year but lost to Sledgehammer by former Genesis lead vocalist Peter Gabriel.

Below is a link to the entire playlist. While I supposedly copied the embed code, it doesn’t embed. Oh, well, not sure whether this has anything to do with my computer or my computer skills, which is entirely possible, or whether it’s, dare I say, a bug in Apple Music. I’ve seen fellow bloggers successfully embed Spotify playlists. Perhaps I should have chosen that platform instead – dang it!

https://embed.music.apple.com/us/playlist/favorites-mix/pl.pm-20e9f373919da0805cb3b48850c61e6a

Sources: Wikipedia; Discogs; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Bob Dylan & Friends/My Back Pages

I watched this clip on Facebook last evening and simply couldn’t resist posting it: Roger McGuinn, Tom Petty, Neil Young, Eric Clapton and George Harrison sharing the stage with Bob Dylan to perform My Back Pages – what a terrific moment in music history! It all happened at New York City’s Madison Square Garden on October 16, 1992, to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Dylan’s eponymous debut album, the start of a recording career that continues to this day, 29 years later.

Written by Dylan who first recorded it for his fourth studio album Another Side of Bob Dylan released in August 1964, My Back Pages has been covered by various artists. The best-known rendition and the version I first heard and came to dig is by The Byrds, so I guess it’s only appropriate that Roger McGuinn kicked off the song.

The Byrds included My Back Pages on their fourth studio album Younger Than Yesterday, which came out in February 1967. The tune also became the record’s second single in March of the same year and the group’s last top 40 hit in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, climbing to no. 30. My Back Pages has also been covered by Keith Jarrett, Ramones, Steve Earle and The Hollies – quite a diverse group of artists! Frankly, I don’t believe I’ve heard any of these additional versions. I surely will look them up!

Just check out McGuinn, Petty, Young, Clapton and Harrison in this clip. They all seem to have a ball, especially Neil Young who smiles various times – he’s not exactly known for showing his emotions like that. I also have to call out Eric Clapton who plays a beautiful solo and does a solid job when it comes to his turn singing lead vocals.

My Back Pages - Bob Dylan All Star Jam! - Keeping the Blues Alive

Additionally, I should mention the other musicians on stage: The surviving members of Booker T. & the M.G.s, Booker T. Jones (organ), Steve Cropper (guitar), Donald “Duck” Dunn (bass) and Anton Fig (drums, filling in for the late Al Jackson Jr.), along with Jim Keltner as a second drummer. That’s one hell of a band, even for a maestro like Bob Dylan! Speaking of Dylan, he sounds great as well. And while he isn’t smiling, at least not visibly, I have to believe he was smiling inside!

In case you’re curious to read more about Bobfest or watch additional clips of Dylan renditions by artists like John Mellencamp, Stevie Wonder, Tracy Chapman and Chrissie Hynde, you can check out my previous, more comprehensive post on Bobfest from March 2020.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Are we really already in October? Hard to believe that’s the case! September, one of my favorite months here in New Jersey, flew by way too fast. ‘Nuff with the whining and on to the business at hand, which is newly released music. My latest picks include some Americana, indie rock, roots rock and acoustic blues. Unless noted otherwise, the tracks are on studio releases that came out yesterday (October 1).

Strand of Oaks/Easter

I’d like to kick off this revue with music by Strand of Oaks, a project by Austin, Texas-based songwriter and producer Timothy Showalter I first introduced in a Best of What’s New post a few weeks ago. You’d think that after 79 installments of the weekly series, including previously featured artists would happen fairly frequently, but at least so far, that’s not been the case. According to Showalter’s Apple Music profilehe specializes in bold and anthemic indie Americana that draws from classic rock and folk. Skillfully blending traditional singer/songwriter introspection with stadium-ready melodies in the vein of artists like War on Drugs and My Morning Jacket, Showalter emerged in 2009 with Leave Ruin. Six additional studio albums, one EP and various singles have since appeared under the Strand of Oaks moniker. Here’s Easter, another tune I like from his new album In Haven.

Arms Akimbo/Now I Know

Atwood Magazine has called Arms Akimbo “one of the West Coast’s hidden treasures.” They also could have characterized them as “mystery”, since neither their website, Facebook page or Soundcloud includes any information on the Los Angeles-based trio. It surprises me time and again when artists don’t post bios or some other background on their website and social media properties, especially when they’re less known! Based on Atwood Magazine, the alternative and indie rock band has been around for five years. Their members are Peter Schrupp (guitar, lead vocals), Colin Boppell (bass), and Matt Sutton (drums). Apparently, they used to be a four piece until the recent departure of their founding member Christopher Kalil (guitar, vocals). Now I Know (that’s the song title, not exactly my state of knowledge about the group) is a track from Arms Akimbo’s new EP Just Basics.

John Mellencamp/Wasted Days (featuring Bruce Springsteen)

I was quite excited to learn that two of my favorite artists, John Mellencamp and Bruce Springsteen, came together to cut a single – the first time they have done this, according to an announcement on Mellencamp’s website. Wasted Days was released on September 29, along with the below official video filmed in New Jersey last month. The video was directed and produced by Thom Zimny, a filmmaker who frequently collaborates with Springsteen. The tune is the lead single of a new album by Mellencamp that’s slated for 2022. I also came across this intriguing quote by Springsteen on AZLyrics.com from an interview on Sirius XM’s E Street Radio in June: “I worked on three songs on John’s album and I spent some time in Indiana with him. I love John a lot. He’s a great songwriter and I have become very close and had a lot of fun with him. I sang a little bit on his record.” While the lyrics aren’t exactly on the cheerful side, I love Wasted Days, which sounds like classic Mellencamp – a tune you could imagine on 1987’s The Lonesome Jubilee, one of my favorite Mellencamp albums. The Boss adds a nice vocal flavor to it – and based on the above, we can look forward to more of the two together!

Buffalo Nichols/How to Love

Let’s wrap up this week’s installment with some great acoustic blues by guitarist Buffalo Nichols. From his website: Since his earliest infatuations with guitar, Buffalo Nichols has asked himself the same question: How can I bring the blues of the past into the future? After cutting his teeth between a Baptist church and bars in Milwaukee, it was a globetrotting trip through West Africa and Europe during a creative down period that began to reveal the answer...Born in Houston and raised in Milwaukee’s predominantly Black North end, the guitar was Nichols’ saving grace as a young man. The instrument captured his fascination, and provided him with an outlet for self-expression and discovery in isolation. While other children chased stardom on the field, court, or classroom, Nichols took to his mother and siblings’ music collections, searching feverishly for riffs to pick out on his instrument. On October 15, Nichols will release his eponymous debut album featuring demos and studio recordings. Here’s How to Love, the third upfront track that became available on September 21 – love that Dobro and Nichols’ singing, and look forward to the album!

Sources: Apple Music; Atwood Magazine; John Mellencamp website; AZLyrics.com; Buffalo Nichols website; YouTube

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