The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Hope everybody is enjoying their Sunday. I find it hard to believe we’ve already come to the end of January. Once again it’s time to embark on another mini-excursion to explore music of the past and present, six tunes at a time. Fasten your seatbelt and off we go!

Jimmy Smith/The Organ Grinder’s Swing

Our first stop on today’s time travel is groovy jazz by organist Jimmy Smith who helped popularize the magnificent Hammond B-3. Smith was already on stage in clubs as a 6-year-old when he joined his father for a song-and-dance routine. After Smith had taught himself how to play the piano, he won a Philadelphia radio talent contest as a boogie-woogie pianist when he was nine years old. Following service in the U.S. Army, Smith attended Royal Hamilton College of Music in Hamilton, Ontario in 1948, followed by Leo Ornstein School of Music in Philadelphia a year later. He began exploring the Hammond organ in 1951, and played piano and organ in various Philadelphia R&B bands before switching to organ permanently in 1954. When Alfred Lion, co-founder of jazz label Blue Note Records, heard Smith perform in a local club, he signed him right away. Already his sophomore release The Champ from 1956 established Smith as a new jazz star. Between 1956 and 2005, he released an enormous amount of albums both as a leader and as a sideman playing with other prominent jazz musicians. The Organ Grinder’s Swing, a composition by Will Hudson, Irving Mills and Mitchell Parish, is from a 1965 album titled Organ Grinder Swing. It features Kenny Burrell on guitar and Grady Tate on drums. Take it away, boys!

Santana/Anywhere You Want to Go

After this groovy start, let’s jump to April 2016 and keep groovin’ while adding some Latin flavor. If you are a more frequent visitor of the blog, chances are you have seen me write that I dig Carlos Santana, particularly his first three albums with the classic Santana band, which appeared between 1969 and 1971. As such, I was quite excited when I learned in 2016 that Carlos had reunited most of the band’s surviving members for a new album aptly called Santana IV. It was released in April that year, and Santana also toured with the band. I caught one of the fantastic shows in Allentown, Pa. You can see the setlist here. And here’s a tune from Santana IV, Anywhere You Want to Go. Keyboarder Gregg Rolie wrote that song, which they also played during the above-mentioned show. Other original members from the classic Santana band playing on the album and during the tour included Neal Schon (guitar, vocals), Michael Shrieve (drums) and Michael Carabello (congas, percussion, backing vocals).

Bonnie Raitt/All At Once

For my next pick, I’m slowing things down with a beautiful tune by Bonnie Raitt, another artist I’ve loved for many years. Not only is Raitt an outstanding slide guitarist, but she’s also a no BS artist: What you get is what you see! All At Once, penned by her, is from Luck of the Draw, Raitt’s 11th studio album. It appeared in June 1993 and became her second hugely successful record following Nick of Time from March 1989, her commercial breakthrough that had come after years of personal and professional struggles. While unlike Nick of Time it didn’t top the U.S. charts (but reached a close no. 2), Luck of the Draw sold even more copies than its predecessor. Raitt dedicated the album to Stevie Ray Vaughan who had died in a helicopter crash in 1990 and had encouraged her to stop drinking. Apparently, Vaughan’s encouragement had a huge impact on Raitt’s becoming sober.

Badfinger/No Matter What

I would now like to turn to Badfinger, a band I’ve come to appreciate largely thanks to fellow blogger Max, aka badfinger20 from PowerPop. The Welsh rock band, widely recognized for their influence on ’70s power pop, evolved from The Iveys, a group formed in 1961. In 1968, they became the first band that was signed by The Beatles’ Apple label. Following the release of their debut album Maybe Tomorrow in July 1969, the group changed their name to Badfinger. From 1970 until 2000, nine albums appeared under that name. While Badfinger had four consecutive hits between 1970 and 1972, things tragically unraveled after Apple folded in 1973, and they struggled with a host of legal, managerial and financial problems. It drove two of the band’s members to commit suicide, Pete Ham in 1975 and Tom Evans in 1983 – one of the saddest stories in pop rock history! Here’s No Matter What, Badfinger’s second hit released in the U.S. and UK in October and November 1970, respectively. Written by Ham, the beautiful power pop tune was also included on the group’s third studio album No Dice, released in November of the same year.

You’re Among Friends/Don’t Borrow Trouble

The next stop on this musical journey is the present. Shout-out to fellow blogger Eclectic Music Lover who does a great job in highlighting contemporary artists and bands who oftentimes aren’t widely known. One great example is You’re Among Friends, an indie rock band from Cleveland, Ohio. According to their blog/website, they were formed in 2007 by Anthony Doran (lead vocals and guitars) and Kevin Trask (bass, keyboards and backing vocals), together with Chris Tarka (drums). Their current drummer Mike Janowitz has been with the group since 2019. Their website notes, Tagged as “casual rock” by Powerpopaholic, their music has been described as having “rollicking blues at its core with a sugary coating of power pop” by Cleveland Scene and as “a laid-back style of funky, blues-infused folk rock” by Eclectic Music Lover. To date, You’re Among Friends have released four full-length albums, as well as a couple of EPs and singles. Don’t Borrow Trouble is the catchy opener of the band’s fourth and latest album Good Enough Sometimes, released on January 10 this year.

Men At Work/Down Under

And, once again, this brings me to the sixth and final pick. This one’s by a band that came from a land down under: Men at Work. The group was formed in Melbourne in 1979 by Colin Hay (lead vocals, guitar), Ron Strykert (bass) and Jerry Speiser (drums), who were subsequently joined by Greg Ham (flute, sax, keyboards). By the time Men at Work recorded their debut album Business as Usual in 1981, they had added John Rees on bass and Strykert had switched to guitar. Down Under, co-written by Hay and Strykert, became the record’s second single in November that year and Men at Work’s biggest hit, topping the charts in Australia, the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, the UK and various other European countries. The tune introduced most of the world to the Vegemite sandwich, an Australian snack, as well as Australian slang terms, such as “fried-out” (overheated) and “a head full of zombie” (a marijuana reference). Late last year, Australian producer Christian “Luude” Benson remixed Down Under featuring Hay on vocals, which in January charted in the UK and Australia at no. 32 and no. 48, respectively – not my cup of tea, though I really like the original.

As usual, here’s a playlist with all of the above tunes. Hope there’s something for you.

Sources: Wikipedia; You’re Among Friends website; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another installment of The Sunday Six where I’d like to present six songs from the past six decades or so. The rules are there are no rules, and pretty much any music genre goes, as long as I like the track. I suppose this means the outcomes may vary. At the end of the day, my goal is to celebrate great music, which can come in many different flavors.

Kenny Burrell/Saturday Night Blues

I’d like to start today’s mini-journey with a great bluesy jazz instrumental by American jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell. Burrell started picking up the guitar in 1943 as a 12-year-old. Among his influences were jazz guitarists Charlie Christian, Oscar Moore and Django Reinhardt. Burrell’s recording debut occurred in 1951 with Dizzy Gillespie’s sextet while he was a student at Wayne State University. The first album he recorded under his own name was Introducing Kenny Burrell, released in September 1956. Subsequently, an enormous amount of additional records appeared, both featuring Burrell as a leader, as well as a sideman to many other jazz artists, especially organist Jimmy Smith. Saturday Night Blues is from Midnight Blue, a Burrell album from May 1963. Other musicians on the recording include Stanley Turrentine (tenor saxophone), Major Holley (bass), Ray Barretto (conga) and Bill English (drums). This tune may be called Saturday Night Blues, but for me, it works just as well for a Sunday morning!

Robert Palmer/Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley

British songwriter and vocalist Robert Palmer joined his first band The Mandrakes in 1964 as a 15-year-old high school student. After playing in two other groups, he co-founded soul/rock band Vinegar Joe in 1971. Follwing three albums, the group disbanded in 1974, and Palmer launched a solo career. In 1984, he formed English-American supergroup The Power Station, together with Duran Duran members Andy Taylor (guitar) and John Taylor (bass), as well as former Chic drummer Tony Thompson. The following year, Palmer left the group that subsequently disbanded to record his next solo album, the highly successful Riptide. It featured the single Addicted to Love, which became a no. 1 in the U.S. and Australia, as well as a top 5 hit in the UK, Ireland, Canada and New Zealand. Palmer recorded six additional solo albums and one 1996 reunion album with The Power Station. He died from a sudden heart attack in Paris in September 2003. Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley, written by Allen Toussaint, is the groovy title track from Palmer’s debut solo album that came out in September 1974.

Tracy Chapman/Give Me One Reason

For this next pick, let’s jump to the ’90s and a great tune by Tracy Chapman I recall the song somewhat surprised me coming from her at the time it appeared. The singer-songwriter from Cleveland, Ohio burst on the scene in April 1988 with her eponymous folk-oriented debut album. Her singles Talkin’ ‘about a Revolution and especially Fast Car struck a chord with many listeners, including this blogger. Chapman has since released seven additional studio albums and two compilations. According to this website, Chapman is still in the music business but not really active lately. From a 2015 interview: “Being in the public eye and under the glare of the spotlight was, and it still is, to some extent, uncomfortable for me, but there are some ways by which everything that has happened in my life has prepared me for this career. That has made me perhaps not the ideal person for this job.” I certainly hope we’ll hear more from Tracy Chapman. For now, let’s listen to Give Me One Reason, a terrific blues tune penned by Chapman. It appeared on her fourth studio album New Beginning from November 1995.

Meat Loaf/Dead Ringer for Love

As widely reported, Meat Loaf passed away during the night of January 20 to January 21. While it’s safe to assume his operatic, heavily produced output isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, many people bought his music. How many? How about 65 million-plus records sold worldwide! Meat Loaf whose real name was Michael Lee Aday was rock opera on steroids. His bombastic productions were somewhat comparable to Queen and ELO. Altogether, the Texan released a dozen studio albums between October 1977 (Bat Out of Hell) and September 2016 (Braver Than We Are). Aday struggled with health issues, including severe back problems, which largely sidelined him since the mid-2010s. I recall reading somewhere last year that he was working on new music. Here’s one of my favorite Meat Loaf songs: Dead Ringer for Love from his sophomore album Dead Ringer that appeared in September 1981. Written by Aday’s longtime songwriter Jim Steinman, who passed away in April of last year at the age of 73, the tune features Cher on vocals. Hot patootie, bless your soul, I really loved your rock & roll!

Lenny Kravitz/The Chamber

I trust most readers have heard of American singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer and actor Lenny Kravitz. Following challenges in his early career, where some clever music industry officials told him he didn’t sound “black enough” (what does this even mean?!) while others opined his music embraced too many influences of terrible artists like Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles (you just can’t make this stuff up!), Kravitz has established himself with more than 40 million records sold worldwide and multiple awards. I think these smartass industry folks have since shut up. Here’s a cool groovy tune called The Chamber from Kravitz’s 10th studio album Strut released in September 2014. It was co-written by Kravitz and Craig Ross, who also played guitar and handclaps on the album. The song had first appeared in June that year as the lead single. Be careful, boys and girls, the video may harm you. And, Lenny, how could you, that bass groove sounds way too much like Chic!

Parquet Courts/Watching Strangers Smile

And once again this brings me to the sixth and final pick for this installment, a tune by Parquet Courts. ‘Who?’ you might think? I kind of had a similar initial reaction when I stumbled upon this New York City-based rock band, founded in 2010 by then-University of North Texas students Andrew Savage (vocals, guitar) and Austin Brown (vocals, guitar, keyboard). Sean Yeaton (bass, backing and lead vocals) and Max Savage (drums, percussion, backing vocals) completed the line-up, which remains in place to this day. Wikipedia notes the group’s music has been characterized as indie rock, post-punk, art punk and garage punk. To date, Parquet Courts have released eight studio albums. Here’s what appears to be their most recent tune, Watching Strangers Smile, a non-album single that came out on January 12 this year. I think it sounds pretty cool – check it out!

Here’s a Spotify playlist featuring all of the above picks. Hope you find something that’s for you.

Sources: Wikipedia; About Tracy Chapman website; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

I can’t believe it’s Sunday again – boy, this first week of 2022 flew by really quickly! Well, this means it’s time for another installment of my favorite weekly feature where I time-travel to celebrate music of the past and sometimes the present, six tunes at a time. Off we go!

Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble/Chitlins con Carne

Let’s kick it off with a great jazzy instrumental by Stevie Ray Vaughan, one of my favorite electric blues guitarists. Chitlins con Carne is from the fifth and final album of Vaughan and his backing band Double Trouble, appropriately titled The Sky Is Crying. This record appeared in November 1991, 14 months after Vaughan’s tragic and untimely death in a helicopter crash. He was only 35 years old – what a huge loss! Chitlins con Carne, composed by jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell, was first released on his 1963 album Midnight Blue. In case you’re curious you can check out the original here. Following is Vaughan’s excellent rendition!

Christine McVie/Got a Hold on Me

Christine McVie is best known as keyboarder, vocalist and songwriter of Fleetwood Mac, which she joined in 1970, coming from British blues band Chicken Shack. At the time she became a member of the Mac, she was the wife of bassist John McVie whom she had married in 1968. Their union fell apart after Christine had an affair with the band’s lighting engineer Curry Grant during the production of the Rumours album in 1976. Let’s just say there were many on and off relationships within Fleetwood Mac! Christine McVie wrote some of the band’s best-known songs, such as Don’t Stop, You Make Loving Fun (about her affair with Grant, though at the time she claimed it was about a dog!) and Say You Love Me. To date, she has also recorded three solo albums. Got a Hold on Me, co-written by her and Todd Sharp, is from her second solo effort Christine McVie, which came out in January 1984. I’ve always loved this pop-rock tune – simple and a bit repetitive, but quite catchy!

James Taylor/Fire and Rain

Last Sunday, I caught a great CNN documentary, Carole King & James Taylor: Just Call Out My Name, focused on their 2010 Troubadour Reunion Tour – I could still kill myself that I completely missed that tour! Anyway, one of the tunes they played was Fire and Rain, my favorite James Taylor original song. I also love his rendition of King’s You’ve Got a Friend. Fire and Rain is off Taylor’s sophomore album Sweet Baby James from February 1970. The tune also appeared separately as a single in August that year. It became his first hit, reaching no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100, no. 2 in Canada and no. 6 in Australia. It also charted in the UK (no. 48) and The Netherlands (no. 18). Here’s a beautiful live performance captured from the BBC’s In Concert series in November 1970. James Taylor, his smooth voice and his great guitar-playing – that’s really all you need!

Them/Gloria

Next, let’s jump back further to December 1964 and some dynamite British garage rock: Gloria by Them, a band formed in April 1964 in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Fronted by Van Morrison (lead vocals, saxophone, harmonica), the group’s original line-up also included Billy Harrison (guitar, vocals), Eric Wrixon (keyboards), Alan Henderson (bass) and Ronnie Milling (drums). Gloria, penned by Morrison, was first released in November 1964 as the B-side to Baby, Please Don’t Go, Them’s second single. The tune was also included on the group’s debut album The Angry Young Them from June 1965, which in the U.S. was simply titled Them. This song’s just a classic. I wish I could say the same about Van Morrison these days!

Elvis Presley/Heartbreak Hotel

As frequent visitors of the blog may recall, my childhood idol was Elvis Presley who, btw, would have turned 87 yesterday (January 8). While I no longer idolize him or anyone else for that matter, I still dig Elvis, especially his early period. One of the coolest songs I can think of in this context is Heartbreak Hotel. Credited to Tommy Durden, Mae Boren Axton and Presley, the slow jazzy blues tune first appeared as a single in January 1956 and became Elvis’ first big hit. Among others, it topped the charts in the U.S., Canada and The Netherlands, and reached no. 2 in the UK. Heartbreak Hotel was also included on the compilation Elvis’ Golden Records from March 1958. In addition to Presley’s regular backing musicians Scotty Moore (electric guitar) and Bill Black (double bass), the recording featured Chet Atkins (acoustic guitar), Floyd Cramer (piano) and D.J. Fontana (drums). Feel free to snip along!

Mark Knopfler/Prairie Wedding

And once again, this brings me to the sixth and final track in this installment. It’s yet another tune my streaming music provider recently served up as a listening suggestion: Prairie Wedding by Mark Knopfler. The song is from the former Dire Straits frontman’s second solo album Sailing to Philadelphia that came out in September 2000. Written by Knopfler like all other tunes on the album, the track features Gillian Welch and her musical partner David Rawlings on backing vocals, as well as Guy Fletcher on keyboards. Fletcher also served in that role in Dire Straits from 1984 until the band’s final dissolution in 1995. Great tune with a nice cinematic feel!

Here’s a playlist of the above tunes:

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify