The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Happy Sunday and welcome to another mini-excursion into the great world of music, six tunes at a time. Most of the U.S. including my neck of the woods fell back to standard time overnight. If this affects you as well, don’t forget to adjust your watch – if you didn’t and believe you must head out for an activity that starts at a specific time, relax, you have an additional hour! This means you may have time to join me on today’s music trip! Even if you turned back your clocks by an hour, hop on anyway!

Ornette Coleman/Lonely Woman

Let’s start today’s journey in November 1969 with American jazz great Ornette Coleman. The saxophonist, violinist, trumpeter and composer is known as a principal founder of the free jazz genre, a term derived from his 1961 album Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation. Coleman who hailed from Fort Worth, Texas, began playing R&B and bebop in the late ’40s before joining Silas Green from New Orleans, a traveling show that was part revue, part musicomedy, part minstrel show. Later on, he became part of the band of R&B, blues guitarist and vocalist Pee Wee Crayton. He ended up in California, assembled his own band and recorded his debut album Something Else!!!! By the time his sophomore release Tomorrow Is the Question! had come out, Coleman had shaken up the jazz world with his “alien” music. Apparently, some jazz musicians went as far as calling him a fraud. None other than conductor Leonard Bernstein disagreed, praising him. Lonely Woman, composed by Coleman, is a track from his third album confidently titled The Shape of Jazz to Come, which was released in November 1959. Coleman (alto saxophone) is backed by Don Cherry (cornet), Charlie Haden (double bass) and Billy Higgins (drums).

Steve Earle/You’re Still Standin’ There

Our next stop takes us to March 1996 and a tune by roots-oriented singer-songwriter Steve Earle, which was love at first listen: You’re Still Standin’ There, off his six studio album I Feel Alright. And that is safe to assume he did after he had overcome his drug addiction to cocaine and heroin in the fall of 1994. Like all other tracks on the album, You’re Still Standin’ There was penned by Earle. Lucinda Williams, another artist I’ve come to dig, joined him on vocals for this great Dylan-esque tune. I can also hear some Springsteen in here! After playing music for nearly 55 years and a recording career of more than 35 years, Earle is still going strong. His most recent album with his longtime backing band The Dukes, Jerry Jeff, came out on May 27 this year.

Cream/Politician

Time to hop to the ’60s, coz why not! Politician is one of my absolute favorites by British power trio Cream. I love that super cool guitar riff. With important midterm elections coming up in America, which could significantly impact the direction of the county, I also have to admit the song choice isn’t entirely coincidental. To the extent possible, I’d like to keep this blog uplifting and free of politics, which has become so toxic. All I will say is this: Never take anything for granted. The right to vote is a privilege. If you have it, exercise it! Politician, co-written by Cream bassist and vocalist Jack Bruce and English poet, lyricist, and singer Pete Brown, appears on Cream’s third album Wheels of Fire, a part studio, part live double LP that first came out in the U.S. in June 1968, followed by the UK in August of the same year.

Dire Straits/Tunnel of Love

Fellow blogger Bruce from Vinyl Connection had a great post earlier this week about Love Over Gold, the excellent fourth studio album by Dire Straits, for which I’ve gained new appreciation. That’s why I’m featuring a song from the British rock band’s predecessor Making Movies, which came out in October 1980! 🙂 Joking aside, both of these albums rank among my top three Dire Straits releases, together with their eponymous debut that features this great signature Fender Stratocaster sound by Mark Knopfler. While that album and the similar-sounding sophomore CommuniquĂ© were great, Making Movies represented a leap in Knopfler’s songwriting. Here’s the excellent opener Tunnel of Love.

The Rolling Stones/Dead Flowers

Recently, I participated in another round of Turntable Talk, a fun recurring feature by Dave from A Sound Day, for which he invites fellow bloggers to provide their thoughts on a topic he suggests. This time, he asked contributors to write about their favorite year in music. The submissions were amazing (not talking about mine, though “my” year obviously was the best! 🙂 ). One key takeaway from this latest installment is how much great music appeared, especially in the 1965-1975 timeframe. A close second to my choice, 1969, was 1971, though frankly, I pretty much could have picked any other year during the above period. Longwinded way of bringing me to Sticky Fingers, my favorite album by The Rolling Stones released in April 1971 and a tune I absolutely love: Dead Flowers. Credited to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the country-oriented song was influenced by Richards’ friendship with Gram Parsons. I just don’t get tired of the great honky tonk guitar fill-ins by Richards and the amazing Mick Taylor. Did somebody say they don’t like country?

Giovannie and the Hired Guns/Can’t Answer Why

For the final tune of this installment of The Sunday Six, we’re going all the way to the present with a great tune by Giovannie and the Hired Guns, a rock band from Texas I recently featured as part of my Best of What’s New music revue series. The group from Stephenville around frontman Giovannie Yanez, which also includes guitarists Carlos Villa and Jerrod Flusche, bassist Alex Trejo and Milton Toles on drums, taps into a variety of genres, such as Southern rock, country, stoner metal, musica norteña and even Latin hip-hop. Here’s Can’t Answer Why, credited to Yanez and the band, off their third and latest full-length album Tejano Punk Boyz. Great melodic rock!

‘So where’s the Spotify playlist featuring the above tunes’, you might wonder. Ask you shall receive. As always, thanks for reading and listening, and hope there’s something you dig!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

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Song Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

Happy Wednesday and welcome to another installment of Song Musings. This recently introduced recurring feature looks at tunes I haven’t covered yet or only mentioned in passing. It pretty much could be any song regardless of whether the band or artist is famous or more obscure.

Well, my pick for this week definitely falls into the former category. How about “the world’s greatest rock & roll band?” And how about a tune that isn’t exactly what you typically associate with them?

Of course, I’m talking about The Rolling Stones, who I trust need no further introduction. But unless you’re a Stones fan you may be less familiar with a song titled Hot Stuff. At least I can say it hadn’t been on my radar screen until I stumbled across it on Twitter this past Sunday.

Hot Stuff, credited to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, is the opener of Black and Blue, the 13th British and 15th American studio album the Stones released in April 1976, and the first they recorded after Mick Taylor’s departure in December 1974. While it may not be the best they’ve ever done, it’s a cool funky tune that makes you want to move!

The song starts off with a nice funky guitar played by Richards. Drummer Charlie Watts and bassist Bill Wyman add an infectious groove. The Stones also got a little help from some friends: Harvey Mandel, formerly of Canned Heat, provides some neat wah-wah guitar action. The great Billy Preston is on piano and also contributes backing vocals, together with Richards and guitarist Ronnie Wood. There’s also prolific session musician Ollie E. Brown on percussion.

Hot Stuff also appeared separately as a promo single in the U.S. where it reached no. 49 on the Billboard Hot 100 – decidedly less hot than Fool to Cry, the album’s lead single that became an internal hit, peaking at no. 2, no. 6, no. 8 and no. 10 in France, the UK, The Netherlands and the U.S., respectively.

Here’s another cool clip, which according to the description captures a rehearsal of Hot Stuff on August 16, 2002 in Toronto. This jives with a record on Setlist.fm, according to which the Stones played Palais Royale Ballroom there that day as part of their Licks World Tour.

Following are a few additional tidbits from Songfacts:

With Mick Taylor gone, The Stones were auditioning lead guitarists while recording Black And Blue. Harvey Mandel from Canned Heat played on this, but Ron Wood got the job.

This was dangerously close to disco – Donna Summer had a disco hit three years later with a the same title. [Let’s not forget about Miss You, which Richards, who at the time the Stones recorded the tune was absent, facing serious legal problems over a previous arrest for drug possession in Toronto, dismissively called Mick’s disco song – CMM]

“Hot Stuff” was the working title for the album until they decided on Black And Blue.

Sources: Wikipedia; Setlist.fm; Songfacts, YouTube

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island song by XTC

Welcome to another installment of my recurring Wednesday feature where I need to pick one song to take with me on an imaginary trip to a desert island. It must be a tune from an artist or band I’ve only rarely or not covered on this blog to date. And the picks are happening in alphabetical order.

This week, I’m up to “x”, meaning it needs to be a band or artist (last name) who starts with that letter. Frankly, how many such music acts you know? I only came up with two: XTC and X-Pensive Winos, a band Keith Richards formed in 1987 to back him on his solo efforts, which included Waddy Wachtel (guitar), Ivan Neville (keyboards), Bobby Keys (saxophone), Charley Drayton on bass and Steve Jordan (drums, percussion).

Kingclover, a frequent visitor and commentator who was aware of my challenge, also mentioned X, an ’80s punk rock band, and another punk band from the ’70s or ’80s called X-Ray Spex. He cheerfully added the latter really sucked! In any case, I don’t know any of them.

While I haven’t covered the X-Pensive Vinos per se, I’ve written multiple times about Keef and the Stones, so it really came down to XTC. But at this time, essentially, I know this English rock band by name only and that fellow blogger Graham at Aphoristic Album Reviews is a fan. He also noted the band’s only song I could name: Making Plans For Nigel. Since I happen to like that tune, this made my pick an easy decision.

Making Plans for Nigel was written by Colin Moulding (bass, vocals), one of the group’s founding members. The tune first appeared in August 1979 on XTC’s third studio album Drums and Wires. The following month, it became the record’s lead single and marked the band’s commercial breakthrough. In addition to reaching no. 17 in the UK, it also charted in Canada (no. 12), New Zealand (no. 29), The Netherlands (no. 32) and Australia (no. 94).

XTC were formed in Swindon, South West England in 1972. Initially, they were known as Star Park (1972–1974) and The Helium Kidz (1974–1975) before becoming XTC in 1975. Here’s more from their AllMusic bio: XTC was one of the smartest — and catchiest — British pop bands to emerge from the punk and new wave explosion of the late ’70s. From the tense, jerky riffs of their early singles to the lushly arranged, meticulous pop of their later albums, XTC’s music has always been driven by the hook-laden songwriting of guitarist Andy Partridge and bassist Colin Moulding. While popular success has eluded them in both Britain and America, the group has developed a devoted cult following in both countries that remains loyal over two decades after their first records.

In January 1978, XTC released their debut album White Music. Eleven additional studio releases followed. Eventually, Patridge’s and Moulding’s musical partnership unraveled, and the group effectively came to an end in 2006/2007. There was no official announcement of a breakup.

Following are some additional tidbits on Making Plans For Nigel from Songfacts:

This was XTC’s breakthrough single. It was written by bassist Colin Moulding, who shared vocal and songwriting duties with guitarist Andy Partridge.

Moulding: “Partly biographical, this one. My dad prompted me to write it. He wanted a university future for me and was very overpowering in trying to persuade me to get my hair cut and stay on at school. It got to the point where he almost tried to drag me down the barber’s shop by my hair. I know the song tells of a slightly different situation, but it all boils down to the same thing – parental domination.”

Partridge: “Quite early on it had been decided that Making Plans For Nigel was going to be the single. We spent five times longer messing with that song than any of my tracks. At one point I was fuming because my songs were being ignored.”

The Rembrandts, Primus and Robbie Williams all covered this.

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; Songfacts; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

It’s Sunday, July 3 and a long holiday weekend for folks in the U.S. Perfect timing to embark on another mini-excursion to celebrate music from different decades, six tunes at a time. If you don’t have anything better to do, hop on; if you’re busy, hop on anyway – most things go better with great music! 🙂

Lettuce/Insta-Classic

Usually, I start these trips with a jazz instrumental from the past. This time, let’s get underway with music from the presence by Lettuce, a neat American jazz and funk band I first featured in a June 2020 Best of What’s New installment. Initially, this group came together in Boston in the summer of 1992 when all of its founding members attended Berklee College of Music as teenagers. While it was a short-lived venture that lasted just this one summer, they reunited in 1994 when all of them had become undergraduate students at Berklee. In 2002, Lettuce released their debut album Outta There. They have been pretty productive since then with seven additional albums. Insta-Classic is a cool-sounding track from their latest release Unify, which appeared on June 3.

Keith Richards/Take It So Hard

I trust guitarist Keith Richards doesn’t need an introduction. Obviously, Keef is best known as co-founder of The Rolling Stones and for his longtime writing partnership with Mick Jagger. But, of course, no good rock & roll story is without big egos and drama, and the Glimmer Twins are no exception. By the time Richards’ solo debut Talk Is Cheap came out, his relationship with Jagger was, well, on the rocks. The Stones were in their third decade. While Jagger wanted to stay hip and follow music trends, Richards wanted to preserve the band’s roots. After Jagger had released two solo albums in relatively short order (She’s the Boss, 1985; and Primitive Cool; 1987) and appeared to be more interested in continuing his solo career, Keef decided to strike out by himself as well. The result was the above-mentioned Talk Is Cheap, his first of three solo efforts to date. Let’s check out Take It So Hard, which Keef wrote with co-producer Steve Jordan who also provided bass and backing vocals – good traditional Stonesy tune I frankly take any day over Undercover of the Night.

Elvis Presley/Blue Suede Shoes

While I haven’t watched the new Elvis biopic, I can’t deny the movie is the reason why Elvis Presley is on my mind again these days. I’ve mentioned before I adored Elvis when I was a young kid. It all goes back to the start of my music journey. Soon after I got my first turntable (must have been around the age of 10 – frankly, I don’t remember), I received a 40 greatest hits sampler as a Christmas present. The 2-LP set had pink discs, which I thought was pretty cool. While I’ve since matured (at least that’s what I want to believe) and no longer idolize Elvis or anybody else for that matter, I still get a kick out of the King of Rock and Roll. In particular, I keep going back to his ’50s classic rock & roll tunes he recorded and performed with guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black. One of my favorites remains their rendition of Blue Suede Shoes, which also features D.J. Fontana on drums. The classic was written and first released by Carl Perkins in January 1956. Elvis’ version, which appeared in September of the same year, surged to no. 2 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart – almost matching Perkins who scored his only no. 1 with Blue Suede Shoes on the same chart. Let’s go, cats!

Dr. Feelgood/She Does It Right

Let’s slightly slow it down but keep rockin’ and rollin’ with a killer tune by Dr. Feelgood. I guess the first time I heard of the English pub and blues rockers was in the late ’70s when they scored their biggest hit with Milk and Alcohol, a tune I loved from the get-go. Dr. Feelgood were formed on Canvey Island, England in 1971 by Wilko Johnson (guitar, piano, vocals), Lee Brilleaux (lead vocals, harmonica, slide guitar) and John B. “Sparko” Sparks (bass, backing vocals), who soon added John Martin (drums). That line-up remained in place until 1977 and recorded the group’s dynamite debut album Down by the Jetty (January 1975), as well as two additional records. Dr. Feelgood are still around, though their current line-up hasn’t included any founding members since 1994. She Does It Right, penned by Johnson, is a tune off Down by the Jetty. Man, I love their raw sound!

Gregg Allman/My Only True Friend

Alrighty, after a series of rockers the time has come to really take it down. Gregg Allman is another artist I trust doesn’t need an introduction. For the longest time, the only tune I had known by The Allman Brothers Band had been Ramblin’ Man. Finally, eight or nine years ago, I decided to explore what has since become one of my favorite groups – just in time to see them once in New Jersey in the summer of 2014, a few months prior to their final curtain at the Beacon Theater in New York City. Soon my exploration of the Brothers also led to Gregg Allman’s solo work. Even though he started releasing albums by himself early, in 1973, his solo catalog is relatively moderate, featuring seven studio albums, two live recordings and a few compilations. My Only True Friend, co-written by Allman and guitarist Scott Sharrad, is the great opener of Allman’s final studio album Southern Blood. It was released in September 2017, four months after his death at the age of 69 due to complications from liver cancer. Sharrad who also served as musical director had been a member of Allman’s backing band since 2008. Gosh, I love this tune and album!

Lenny Kravitz/Always On The Run

And once again, another Sunday Six excursion is coming to an end. For this last pick, let’s go back to April 1991 and Mama Said, the sophomore album by Lenny Kravitz. It came less than two years after his debut Let Love Rule, which he wrote and produced nearly all by himself and on which he played nearly all instruments. For Mama Said, he got a little help from some friends, including Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash. Kravitz has since released nine additional studio albums, with the most recent being Raise Vibration in September 2018. I previously reviewed here. Back to Mama Said and the album’s great lead single Always On The Run. Kravitz wrote the tune together with Slash, who also played guitar including a cool solo – just a great funky rocker!

Before wrapping up, here’s a Spotify list featuring the above tunes. Hope there’s something you like!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island song by Roxy Music

I can’t believe it’s Wednesday again and we’re almost in July! This would be the perfect time for a summer vacation, and a beautiful tropical island sounds like an attractive proposition. But wait, before I can leave on yet another imaginary trip to some remote island in the sun, once again, I have to pick one song to take with me.

In case you’re a first-time visitor, there are a few rules that limit my options, which make the exercise both challenging and interesting at the same time. My pick cannot be a tune by a music act I’ve frequently written about. Ideally, it should be a band or artist I haven’t covered yet. It can only be one track, not an entire album. And picks must be in alphabetical order.

This week I’m up to “r.” Bands and artists (last names) starting with that letter include Radiohead, Bonnie Raitt, Ramones, R.E.M., Red Hot Chili Peppers, Otis Redding, Lou Reed, Keith Richards, The Rolling Stones, Linda Ronstadt and Roxy Music, among others.

Based on the above criteria, Bonnie Raitt, The Rolling Stones and Linda Ronstadt were immediately excluded from further consideration. For some of the other artists, sadly, I had to search my own blog to refresh my memory to what extent I had covered them before. At the end, it came down to picking Radiohead or Roxy Music, and I decided to go with the latter and More Than This.

More Than This, written by Bryan Ferry, first appeared in April 1982 as the lead single of Roxy Music’s eighth and final studio album Avalon, released the following month. It’s just a gorgeous pop tune I’ve loved from the very first moment I heard the band playing it on the radio at the time it came out.

More Than This was popular, reaching no. 6 in each the UK and Australia, but it wasn’t the group’s biggest hit. The latter was their great cover of John Lennon’s Jealous Guy, which they recorded and released as a non-album single in February 1981 to honor the ex-Beatle who had been senselessly killed by a deranged individual in New York in December 1980.

Art and pop rock group Roxy Music were founded by Ferry, the band’s lead vocalist and main songwriter, and bassist Graham Simpson in England in 1970. While they have been on and off ever since, their active recording period spanned 1972 to 1982. During these 10 years, Roxy Music released eight studio albums, three of which topped the UK charts: Stranded (1973), Flesh and Blood (1980) and the above-noted Avalon.

In 1982, at the height of their commercial success, Ferry who at that time was the only original member together with Andy Mackay (saxophone, oboe, keyboards, backing vocals), decided to dissolve Roxy Music and focus on his solo career, which he had launched in parallel to the group in 1973.

Roxy Music have since reunited several times for tours and are currently gearing up to be on the road again starting in September to celebrate their 50th anniversary. In addition to co-founders Ferry and Mackay, this includes Phil Manzanera  (guitar) and Paul Thompson (drums), who were all part of the group’s lineup that recorded Roxy Music’s 1972 eponymous debut album. The schedule of the five-week tour, which includes dates in Canada, the U.S. and the UK, is here.

Following are a few additional tidbits on More Than This from Songfacts:

Written by lead singer Bryan Ferry, this song is about a love affair that fell apart. Asked in 2014 by Entertainment Weekly why the song endures, Ferry replied, “For some reason, there’s something in the combination of the melody and the lyric that works for people.”

In America, this song got some traction when it featured in Sofia Coppola’s 2003 film Lost In Translation in a scene where Bill Murray sings it in a Tokyo karaoke bar. When the song was first released, however, it had little impact on the charts, bubbling under at just #102 on the Hot 100. Many college radio stations played the song, but commercial stations stayed away for the most part.

Roxy Music occupied just a small niche in America, where they hit the Top 40 just once (“Love Is the Drug” – #30 in 1975), but they were far more successful in the UK.

Ferry told The Mail on Sunday June 28, 2009 about the Avalon album: “I started writing the songs while on the west coast of Ireland, and I like to think that some of the dark melancholy of the album comes from that place.”

10,000 Maniacs covered this in 1997 on their album Love Among The Ruins. Mary Ramsey sang lead, as original Maniacs lead singer Natalie Merchant had just left the band to go solo.

Sources: Wikipedia; Roxy Music website; Songfacts; YouTube

Musings of the Past

Where Stars Are Born And Legends Are Made

It’s already been more than a month since the last installment of this irregular feature, so I thought this would be a good time to unearth another previously published post. This one, about the storied Apollo Theater in New York City, first appeared in November 2017, about one and a half years into my blogging journey. It has been slightly edited.

Where Stars Are Born And Legends Are Made

The history of the Apollo Theater and a list of artists who performed at the legendary venue

The Apollo Theater has fascinated me for a long time. At around 2003 or so, I watched a great show there, featuring Earth, Wind & Fire and The Temptations. According to its website, the storied venue in New York’s Harlem neighborhood  “has played a major role in the emergence of jazz, swing, bebop, R&B, gospel, blues and soul.” When you take a look at the artists who are associated with the performance venue, I guess the claim is not an exaggeration.

To start with, Ella FitzgeraldBillie HolidayCount Basie OrchestraSarah VaughanSammy Davis Jr.James BrownGladys Night and â€śLittle” Stevie Wonder are some of the artists whose journey to stardom began at the Apollo.  Countless other major artists, such as Miles DavisAretha FranklinB.B. King  and Bob Marley, have performed there. Oh, and in February 1964, a 21-year-old guitarist won first place in the Amateur Night contest. His name? Jimi Hendrix.

The long history of the venue starts with the construction of the building in 1913 to 1914, which would later become the Apollo Theater. Designed by architect George Keister, it was first called the Hurtig and Seamon’s New Burlesque Theater after its initial producers  Jules Hurtig and Harry Seamon. As was sadly common during those times, they enforced a strict “Whites Only” policy until the theater closed its doors in 1928. In 1933, the property was purchased by businessman Sidney Cohen and following extensive renovations reopened as the Apollo Theater in January 1934. Cohen and his business partner Morris Susman adopted a variety revue show format and targeted Harlem’s local African-American community. They also introduced Amateur Night, which quickly became one of New York’s most popular entertainment events.

After Cohen’s death, the Apollo merged with the Harlem Opera House in 1935. This transaction also changed its ownership to Frank Schiffman and Leo Brecher whose families operated the theater until the late ’70s. From 1975 to 1982, the Apollo was owned by Guy Fisher, the venue’s first black owner. Unfortunately, Fisher was also part of African-American crime syndicate  The Council that controlled the heroin trade in Harlem during the ’70s. He has been serving a life sentence at a New York federal prison since 1984. Following the death of an 18-year-old due to a shooting, the Apollo was closed in 1976.

The theater reopened under new management in 1978, before shutting down again in November 1979. In 1983, Percy Sutton purchased the venue. Under the ownership of the prominent lawyer, politician and media and technology executive, the Apollo was equipped with a recording and TV studio. It also obtained federal and city landmark status. In 1991, the State of New York purchased the theater and created the non-profit Apollo  Theater Foundation, which runs the venue to this day. The years 2001 and 2005 saw restorations of the building’s interior and exterior, respectively. In celebration of its 75th anniversary, the Apollo established a historical archive during 2009-10 season, and started an oral history project in collaboration with Columbia University.

Now comes the part of the post I enjoy the most: clips capturing performances of some of the artists who have performed at the Apollo Theater. First up: Count Basie Orchestra playing One O’ Clock Jump and He Plays Bass In The Basie Band. Apparently, this footage is from a 1955 show. I just get a kick out of watching these guys and the obvious fun they had on stage.

Sarah Vaughan was one of the many artists who won Amateur Night at the Apollo in 1942. According to Wikipedia, her prize was $10 and a promised engagement at the venue for one week. The latter materialized in the spring of 1943 when she opened for Ella Fitzgerald. Here’s a clip of a tune called You’re Not The Kind Of A Boy, which apparently was captured in 1956.

Perhaps the artist who is best known for his legendary shows at the Apollo  is James Brown. Various of his gigs there were recorded and published as live albums, such as 1963’s Live At The Apollo and 1968’s Live At Apollo, Volume II, both with The Famous Flames, and Revolution Of The Mind: Live At The Apollo, Volume III (1971). Here’s a clip of a medley including It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World and a few other songs. The footage is from James Brown: Man To Man, a concert film recorded live at the Apollo in March 1968 and broadcast as an hour-long TV special. The intensity of Brown is just unreal. No wonder they called him “Mr. Dynamite” and “The Hardest Man Working In Show Business.”

In 1985, the Apollo celebrated a renovation with a 50th-anniversary grand reopening and a TV special called Motown Salutes the Apollo. Very fittingly, one of the performers included Stevie Wonder. While I wish he would have played Sir Duke in its full length, I just find Wonder’s tribute to the great Duke Ellington beautiful and inspirational.

The Apollo is mostly known to focus on African-American acts, but white artists have performed there as well throughout its history. More recent examples include Guns N’ Roses, who were there in July to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their 1987 studio album Appetite For Destruction. In October 2015, Keith Richards played at the Jazz Foundation of America’s  annual benefit concert. Here’s a great clip of Gimme Shelter, which he performed in honor of Merry Clayton. The American soul and gospel singer sang on the original studio version. Richards was backed by Waddy Wachtel (guitar), Ivan Neville  (keyboards), Willie Weeks (bass) and Steve Jordan (drums), his solo band also known as the X-Pensive Winos, as well as Sarah Dash (vocals), and longtime Rolling Stones backup singers Lisa Fischer and Bernard Fowler.

Today, music remains at the core of the Apollo Theater’s offerings. The Amateur Night at the Apollo competition is still part of the theater’s regular schedule. In fact, the current schedule lists Amateur Night at the Apollo Quarterfinal for tomorrow night (May 25), the first time the competition returns after being dark for nearly two years. The organization’s programming also extends to dance, theater, spoken word and more.

– End –

Pre-COVID, the Apollo Theater attracted an estimated 1.3 million visitors annually. I imagine it is going to take some time to restore this kind of visitor traffic. But the level of activity seems to be picking up.

Sources: Wikipedia, Apollo Theater website, Rolling Stone, YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Happy Saturday and welcome to another Best of What’s New installment. My latest look at new music releases is coming together at the last minute, so without further ado, let’s get to it. All picks except for the last tune appear on albums that were released yesterday (May 6).

Halestorm/Brightside

I’m kicking things off with high-energy hard rock by Halestorm. Here’s a bit of background from their Apple Music profile: Emerging in the late 2000s, Halestorm immediately distinguished themselves in hard-rock circles thanks to powerhouse vocalist/guitarist Lzzy Hale. The Pennsylvania native showed off both a silver-plated yowl and a dynamic lower range on the band’s 2009 breakthrough hit, “I Get Off,” while later singles unleashed a belting siren call (“I Miss the Misery”) and snarling metal ferocity (the Grammy-winning “Love Bites (So Do I)”). Halestorm’s roots date back to the late ’90s, when Hale and her younger brother Arejay, a drummer, started making music together. Following the release of several EPs as a duo, the group expanded into a quartet and made their major-label debut in 2006 with the One and Done live EP. A 2009 self-titled album established Halestorm as a band eager to slip between hard rock, post-grunge, and metal. In addition to Lzzy Hale (lead vocals, rhythm guitar, acoustic guitar, keyboards, piano) and Arejay Hale (drums, backing vocals), Halestorm’s current line-up also features Joe Hottinger (lead guitar, acoustic guitar, backing vocals) and Josh Smith (bass, keyboards, piano, backing vocals). Here’s Brightside, a track co-written by Lzzy Hale and Scott Stevens, off the band’s fifth and latest album Back From the Dead. I like it but can’t listen to this level of intensity for too long!

Belle and Sebastian/Prophets On Hold

For this next pick by Scottish indie-pop group Belle and Sebastian, we’re taking it down a few notches. The band started out as a project in Glasgow in 1994 by Stuart Murdoch (vocals, guitar, keyboards) and Stuart David (bass). They had both enrolled in a program for unemployed musicians at Stow College where together with their music professor they recorded some demos. This resulted in the release of their first full-length album Tigermilk on the college’s label Electric Honey. The album’s positive reception led Murdoch and David to recruit additional musicians and turn Belle and Sebastian into a full-time band. In August 1996, they signed with Jeepster Records and released their sophomore album If You’re Feeling Sinister in November of the same year. Today, the group consists of Murdoch, Stevie Jackson (guitar, vocals, piano), Sarah Martin (vocals, violin, guitar, flute, keyboards, recorder, percussion), Chris Geddes (keyboards, piano, percussion), Bobby Kildea (guitar, bass), Dave McGowan (bass, keyboards, guitar) and Richard Colburn (drums, percussion). Here’s Prophets On Hold from Belle and Sebastian’s new album A Bit of Previous. The catchy tune is credited to all members of the band.

Rolling Blackout Coastal Fever/The Way It Shatters

Rolling Blackout Coastal Fever are an Australian indie rock band founded in Melbourne in 2013. According to the Apple Music profile, Playing bright, energetic indie rock with lively guitar lines, sharp hooks, and dry wit, the Australian group Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever turn the clock back to the glory days of 1980s jangle pop while giving it a tough, no-nonsense three-guitar update in the process. After two EPs, the band’s first two albums — 2018’s Hope Downs and 2020’s Sideways to New Italy — showed they were in firm control of their songcraft and sound. The band maintains their original line-up to this day: Fran Keaney (vocals, acoustic guitar), Tom Russo (vocals, guitar), Joe White (vocals, lead guitar, keyboards, harmonica), Joe Russo (bass) and Marcel Tussie (drums, percussion). The Way It Shatters, co-written by Keaney, White, Tussie and Tom Russo, appears on the band’s latest album Endless Rooms, their third full-length release. I love their sound!

Simple Plan/Wake Me Up (When This Nightmare’s Over)

Simple Plan are a Canadian pop-rock band formed in Montreal in 1999. Their members include Pierre Bouvier (lead vocals, guitar, percussion, bass), Jeff Stinco (lead guitar), SĂ©bastien Lefebvre (rhythm guitar, backing vocals) and Chuck Comeau (drums, percussion), who have been with the group since its inception. Their debut album No Pads, No Helmets…Just Balls appeared in March 2002. While the pop-punk record received mixed reviews, it enjoyed significant chart success in Canada and various other countries and reached double-platinum certification in Canada and the U.S. Simple Plan have since issued five additional albums including their latest Harder Than It Looks. Here’s the opener Wake Me Up (When This Nightmare’s Over), co-written by Comeau, Bouvier and Nate Campany. Quite catchy!

Sheryl Crow/Live With Me

I just couldn’t resist and throw in two bonus tracks by two of my long-time favorite artists who need no introductions. Technically, these aren’t new songs, but both appear on newly released albums. First up is a great cover of Rolling Stones tune Live With Me from the soundtrack of Sheryl, a documentary directed by Amy Scott about Sheryl Crow, which debuted yesterday evening on Showtime. From a previous statement on Crow’s website: An intimate story of song and sacrifice, “Sheryl” navigates an iconic yet arduous musical career while the artist battles sexism, ageism, depression, cancer, and the price of fame, before harnessing the power of her gift. A career spanning album package including her classic hits and several new tracks will accompany the film, released via Big Machine Label Group, in cooperation with Universal Music Group. Co-written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Live With Me first appeared on the Stones album Let It Bleed from November 1969. Crow’s rendition features Jagger on harmonica.

Neil Young & The Restless/Heavy Love

Wrapping up this new music revue is Heavy Love, a great rocker by Neil Young & The Restless. It appears on the EP Eldorado, which originally was released in April 1989 in Japan and Australia only. As of April 29 this year, it’s available worldwide. Heavy Love and Cocaine Eyes, which I featured in a previous Best of What’s New installment, are not available on any other recording, while the three remaining tracks Don’t Cry, On Broadway and Eldorado subsequently appeared on Young’s 17th studio album Freedom from October 1989, though in different mixes. The EP is also included in Young’s latest archives vinyl box set titled Neil Young Official Release Series Discs 13, 14, 20 & 21. Like Cocaine Eyes, Heavy Love would have been a great addition to Freedom.

Here’s a Spotify playlist with the above tunes except for Neil Young, as well as a few additional tracks. Young earlier this year asked that his music be pulled from there in protest to Spotify providing a platform to prominent podcaster Joe Rogan who has been criticized for promoting misinformation about the coronavirus and vaccines.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Sheryl Crow website; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday Six, a celebration of the diversity of music of the past and the present, six tracks at a time. If you’ve looked at the blog before chances are you know what’s about to unfold. In case this is your inaugural visit welcome, and I hope you’ll be back. The first sentence pretty much sums up the idea behind the weekly feature. So without further ado, let’s get to it.

Gerald Clayton/Peace Invocation (feat. Charles Lloyd)

I’d like to embark on today’s journey with beautiful music by Dutch-born American contemporary jazz pianist Gerald Clayton. From his website: The four-time GRAMMY-nominated pianist/composer formally began his musical journey at the prestigious Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, where he received the 2002 Presidential Scholar of the Arts Award. Continuing his scholarly pursuits, he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Piano Performance at USC’s Thornton School of Music under the instruction of piano icon Billy Childs, after a year of intensive study with NEA Jazz Master Kenny Barron at The Manhattan School of Music. Clayton won second place in the 2006 Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Piano Competition...Inclusive sensibilities have allowed him to perform and record with such distinctive artists as Diana Krall, Roy Hargrove, Dianne Reeves, Ambrose Akinmusire, Dayna Stephens, Kendrick Scott, John Scofield…[the list goes on and on – CMM] Clayton also has enjoyed an extended association since early 2013, touring and recording with saxophone legend Charles LloydThe son of beloved bass player and composer John Clayton, he enjoyed a familial apprenticeship from an early age. Clayton honors the legacy of his father and all his musical ancestors through a commitment to artistic exploration, innovation, and reinvention. This brings me to Bells on Sand, Clayton’s brand new album released on April 1. Peace Invocation, composed by Clayton, features the above-mentioned now-84-year-old sax maestro Charles Lloyd. Check out his amazing tone – feels like he’s caressing you with his saxophone!

Billy Joel/Allentown

Next, let’s go to another piano man and the year 1982. When I think of pop and piano men, the artists who come to mind first are Elton John and Billy Joel. While John recently announced the remaining dates of his Farewell Yellow Brick Road The Final Tour, as reported by Billboard, the piano man from New York apparently has no plans to retire. Instead, he continues to sell out show after show at Madison Square Garden, even though he hasn’t released any new pop music since August 1993 when his 12th studio album River of Dreams came out. I was fortunate to see the man at MSG in the early 2000s, and it was a really great show – in terms of the atmosphere think Bruce Springsteen playing MetLife Stadium in New Jersey! The Nylon Curtain, Joel’s eighth studio release from September 1982, remains among my favorites. Here’s Allentown, his blue-collar anthem about the plight and resilience of steelworkers in the Allentown, Pa. region in the early ’80s following Bethlehem Steel’s decline and eventual closure.

Buddy Guy/Cognac (feat. Jeff Beck, Keith Richards)

Hopefully, I don’t jinx myself with this next pick, but I just couldn’t help it! Undoubtedly, more frequent visitors of the blog have noticed my love of the blues, especially electric guitar blues. One of the artists I keep going back to in this context is the amazing, now 85-year-old Buddy Guy. I’m beyond thrilled I got a ticket to see him on Wednesday night at a midsize theater in New Jersey – a total impulse purchase! It would be my third time. After a near-70-year career, Guy continues to be a force of nature. Here’s Cognac, a track from his most recent studio album The Blues Is Alive and Well, released in June 2018. Co-written by Guy, Richard Fleming and producer Tom Hambridge who also plays drums, the song features Jeff Beck and Keith Richards. It really doesn’t get much better when three guitar legends come together to play some blistering blues while taking sips of liquid gold! You can read more about the album here.

The Rolling Stones/The Last Time

Getting to The Rolling Stones from Keith Richards isn’t a big leap, but there’s more to it than you may realize. Long before Keef got together with Buddy Guy and Jeff Beck to play guitar and sip some cognac, there was a special connection between British blues rock-oriented artists, such as Eric Clapton, Beck and the Stones, and American blues greats like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Buddy Guy. When U.S. musical variety TV series Shindig! invited the Stones in 1965 to perform on the program, Mick Jagger agreed under one condition: They would have to let Muddy Waters on as well. Apparently, the bookers had no clue who that was. “You mean to tell me you don’t know who Muddy Waters is?”, Jagger asked in complete disbelief. Guy likes to tell the story during his shows to this day – and to express his appreciation that British acts like the Stones, Beck and Clapton played a key role to introduce white American audiences to African American blues artists. Here’s one of my favorite early Stones songs. The Last Time, which first appeared in February 1965 as a single in the UK, holds the distinction of being the first original Stones tune released as an A-side. Credited to Jagger/Richards, as would become usual, the tune was also included on the U.S. version of Out of Our Heads, the band’s fourth American studio record from July 1965.

Christopher Cross/Ride Like the Wind

Our next stop takes us to the late ’70s and Christopher Cross. Call me a softie, I’ve always had a thing for the American singer-songwriter whose eponymous debut album from December 1979 is regarded as a key release of the yacht rock genre. Perhaps it helped that one of his best-known songs was titled Sailing and appeared on that record. On a more serious note, I think Cross has written some nice songs. Here’s my favorite, Ride Like the Wind, which together with Sailing and Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do) became his biggest hits. Cross dedicated the catchy tune to Little Feat co-founder and leader Lowell George who had passed away in June 1979. It features Michael McDonald on backing vocals and a pretty good guitar solo played by Cross. Now 70 years old, Cross is still around and to date has released 15 studio albums. Apart from the debut I’ve only listened to his sophomore release Another Page.

Stone Temple Pilots/Plush

And once again we’ve reached the end of our journey. I’ll leave you with some ’90s alternative rock by Stone Temple Pilots. Plush, off their debut album Core, became their first single to top Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart and one of their biggest hits. Frankly, I mostly know the band by name, but that tune seemingly was everywhere when it came out in May 1993 as the album’s second single. The song was co-written by Scott Weiland, Eric Kretz and Robert DeLeo, who at the time were the Pilots’ lead vocalist, drummer and bassist, respectively. Kretz and DeLeo remain with the band’s current lineup, which also includes DeLeo’s older brother and co-founder Dean DeLeo (guitar) and Jeff Gutt (lead vocals). The Pilots’ eighth and most recent album Perdida appeared in February 2020. Excluding the group’s 5-year hiatus between 2003 and 2008, they have been around for some 28 years – pretty impressive! Perhaps I should check ’em out one of these days.

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist with the above songs.

Sources: Wikipedia; Gerald Clayton website; Billboard; YouTube; Spotify

Keep On Rocking 40-Plus Years and Counting

The most famous line-up of my all-time favorite band The Beatles existed from August 1962 until September 1969 when they collectively recorded their last song appropriately titled The End, the final track of the Abbey Road album – not a bad duration for a band, given the music business oftentimes is dominated by larger-than-life egos. Yet as productive as The Fab Four were, these seven years look pretty moderate compared to the groups featured in this post, who have been rocking for more than 40 years – in one case even reaching 60 years!

Following are three criteria a band needed to satisfy to be considered for the post. They need to have at least one remaining original member. A group’s duration was measured in terms of active years, not how long they have been together on paper. For example, while Deep Purple were founded in 1968, they “only” have played together for 48 years, not 54 years, if you consider their break-up between 1976 and 1984. Last but not least, I solely included bands I like.

Following I’m highlighting six groups in chronological order of when they were founded with one tune from each. A Spotify playlist at the end of the post includes those tracks, plus songs from a few additional bands meeting the above criteria. Altogether, I decided to include 10 picks. Let’s get to it.

The Rolling Stones

The Rolling Stones, formed in 1962, have been active for an incredible 60 years, making them the longest-running band on this list. With Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, they still have two original members who have been key to the group. It’s also noteworthy that Ronnie Wood has been part of the line-up since 1975. Sadly, the Stones lost their long-time drummer Charlie Watts last August. He had joined them back in 1963. To date, the Stones have released 30 studio albums, 33 live records and 29 compilations, among others. On November 23, 2021, they finished their most recent tour (No Filter Tour) in Hollywood, Fla. Here’s Jumpin’ Jack Flash, which first appeared in May 1968 as a non-album single.

The Who

Approximately two years after the Stones, in 1964, another dynamite British rock band was formed: The Who. Like their compatriots, the group has two original and essential members to this day, guitarist Pete Townshend and lead vocalist Roger Daltrey. Counting various breaks along the way, The Who have been active for 50 years. Their catalog includes 12 studio albums, 16 live recordings and 32 compilations, among others. Just on Monday this week, The Who announced a 2022 North American tour, The Who Hits Back, scheduled to kick off on April 22 at Hardrock Live in Hollywood, Fla. – the very same venue where the Stones wrapped up their tour last year. Messrs. Daltrey and Townshend and their band are playing New York’s Madison Square Garden on May 26 – damn, this is tempting! Here’s Going Mobile from my favorite Who album Who’s Next.

Deep Purple

On to my favorite hard rock band of all time, Deep Purple, who were initially established in 1968. One of the founding members, drummer Ian Paice, remains part of the group’s current formation. Two additional present members, bassist Roger Glover and lead vocalist Ian Gillan joined in 1969, and as such were part of the group’s classic line-up that also included guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and organist Jon Lord. Deep Purple’s discography encompasses 22 studio albums, 45 live records and 28 compilations. The band is also touring this year starting in May, mostly in Europe. Here’s the epic Child in Time, a track from their fourth studio album Deep Purple in Rock released in June 1970 – the first to feature the classic line-up.

Aerosmith

The bad boys from Boston were formed in 1970. Remarkably, four of the group’s current five members are co-founders: Steven Tyler (lead vocals, harmonica, percussion), Joe Perry (guitar, backing vocals), Tom Hamilton (bass) and Joey Kramer (drums, percussion). Second guitarist Brad Whitford joined in 1971. While Perry and Whitford, respectively, had five and three-year interruptions in-between and missed the 1982 Rock in a Hard Place album, Tyler, Hamilton and Kramer have played on all of the band’s 15 studio records to date. Aerosmith’s catalog also includes six live records and 16 compilations. On January 31, the group announced the cancellation of their European tour that had been planned for June and July, citing uncertainty around the pandemic. Here’s Janie’s Got a Gun, one of my favorite Aerosmith tunes off their 10th studio album Pump, released in September 1989.

AC/DC

Australian rock and rollers AC/DC have been around since 1973. Not counting their hiatus between 2016 and 2020, this amounts to 45 years. Lead guitarist Angus Young remains as the only founding member. There are three other longtime members: Phil Rudd (drums), Cliff Williams (bass, backing vocals) and Brian Johnson (lead vocals), who first joined the band in 1975, 1977 and 1980, respectively. AC/DC’s catalog features 17 studio albums, three live records and two box sets, among others. Here’s Play Ball, a great track from the group’s 16th studio album Rock or Bust that appeared in November 2014, featuring all of the above members.

U2

The last group I’d like to highlight in this upfront section of the post are Irish rockers U2 who were formed in Dublin in 1976 under the name Feedback. It’s the only band on this list whose current members were all co-founders. That being said, their present line-up is not the group’s initial formation, which during their first year also included a second guitarist, Dik Evans, the older brother of David Evans known as The Edge. U2’s other members are Paul Hewson (Bono), Adam Clayton (bass) and Larry Mullen Jr. (drums). To date, the band’s discography consists of 14 studio albums, one live record and three compilations, among others. U2 were most recently on the road in 2019 for the second part of The Joshua Tree Tour. I caught one of the shows during the first part of that tour in 2017 – my only U2 concert so far, and a memorable experience! Here’s Red Hill Mining Town, a track from my favorite U2 album The Joshua Tree that came out in March 1987.

Following is the aforementioned Spotify list.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Who website; Deep Purple website; Aerosmith website; YouTube; Spotify

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: January 21

Dare I say it, it looks like my irregularly recurring music history feature is becoming more frequent. But with nearly 300 dates left to cover, I still have a long way to go, so it’s safe to assume this series won’t end anytime soon. With that said, let’s take a look at some of the events in music that happened on January 21 over the past six decades or so. I would also like to briefly acknowledge the untimely death of operatic rock artist Meat Loaf, which was reported overnight. He was believed to have been 74 years old. The cause of death has not been revealed.

1963: Since nearly everything in my little music world starts or finishes with The Beatles, let’s get this bloody item out of the way. According to The Beatles Bible, the ultimate source of truth about the band, On this day The Beatles appeared on the EMI plug show The Friday Spectacular, at EMI House, 20 Manchester Square, London. They chatted to hosts Shaw Taylor and Muriel Young, and studio recordings of ‘Please Please Me’ and ‘Ask Me Why’ were played. The show was recorded before an audience of around 100 teenagers, and was broadcast live on Radio Luxembourg. The overwhelming crowd size tells you this was still pre-Beatlemania. Though their press officer Tony Barrow said that during the recording, “I was finally convinced that The Beatles were about to enjoy the type of top-flight national fame which I had always believed that they deserved.” Side note: Three years later on that same date, George Harrison married his first wife Pattie Boyd, with Paul McCartney serving as best man.

1966: The Trips Festival, a three-day landmark event in the development of psychedelic music, kicked off at Longshoreman’s Hall in San Francisco. According to Songfacts Music History Calendar, Produced by Ken Kesey, Ramon Sender, and Stewart Brand, the event is largely recognized as the first to bring together what would be called the “hippie” movement. The sold-out festival, which drew 10,000 people, featured the Grateful Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company and Jefferson Airplane, among others. And some 6,000 people drinking punch spiked with LSD, who witnessed one of the first fully developed light shows of the era. I also found this trippy clip!

1978: Saturday Night Fever, the soundtrack album of the 1977 motion picture starring John Travolta, stood at no. 1 on the Billboard 200, the first of 24 weeks on top of the U.S. mainstream chart. It also reached no. 1 in Canada, the UK, Australia and many other countries. Saturday Night Fever became one of the best-selling albums in music history. With more than 40 million copies sold worldwide, it remains the second-biggest selling soundtrack of all time after The Bodyguard. But, as oftentimes is the case, what goes up must come down. Not even three years later, the Bee Gees, the group most associated with the soundtrack and disco, called it quits, finding themselves caught in the furious backlash toward disco including bomb threats – something you could sadly picture nowadays as well! I said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t care whether you call Bee Gees music disco, R&B, disco-influenced or anything else – I dig it!

1984: British progressive rock stalwarts Yes hit no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 with Owner of a Lonely Heart. Co-written by band members Trevor Rabin (guitar, keyboards, vocals), Jon Anderson (lead vocals) and Chris Squire (bass vocals), together with co-producer Trevor Horn, the catchy pop rocker was first released in October 1983 as the lead single for the group’s 11th studio album 90125, which came out the following month. Owner of the Lonely Heart became Yes’s first and only no. 1 on the U.S. mainstream chart. It also did well in Europe, especially in The Netherlands where it peaked at no. 2. While earlier singles like Yours Is No Disgrace, Roundabout and And You and I are great songs as well, they simply weren’t radio-friendly. Yes, Owner of a Lonely Heart has a commercial ’80s sound, but it’s a hell of a catchy tune!

1987: Aretha Franklin, the “Queen of Soul”, was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame by Keith Richards during the Rock Hall’s second annual induction ceremony. Here’s what the Rock Hall posted on their website: Lady Soul. The first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Aretha Franklin was an artist of passion, sophistication and command, whose recordings remain anthems that defined soul music. Long live the Queen. And here are The Rolling Stones guitarist’s live remarks from that night – let’s just say it was a classic Keith Richards speech!

Sources: Wikipedia; The Beatles Bible; Songfacts Music History Calendar; Rock & Roll Hall of Fame website; YouTube