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

My Top Singles Turning 50

A final look at 1971, one of the most exciting years in music

As 2021 is drawing to a close, I decided to revisit 1971 one more time. With releases, such as Who’s Next (The Who), Tapestry (Carole King), Led Zeppelin IV (Led Zeppelin), Sticky Fingers (The Rolling Stones) and Meddle (Pink Floyd), it truly was an extraordinary year in music. And let’s not forget At Fillmore East by The Allman Brothers Band, perhaps the ultimate southern and blues-rock record, and certainly a strong contender for best live album ever.

I wrote about the above and other records in a three-part series back in April, which you can read here, here and here. What I didn’t do at the time was to look at singles that came out in 1971. I’ve put my favorites in a playlist at the end of this post. Following I’m highlighting 10 of them, focusing on songs I didn’t cover in the aforementioned three-part series.

Marvin Gaye/What’s Going On

I’d like to start this review with What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye, released in January 1970. Co-written by him, Al Cleveland and Four Tops co-founding member Renaldo “Obie” Benson, this classic soul gem was inspired by an incident of police brutality Benson had witnessed in May 1969 while The Four Tops were visiting Berkely, Calif. The tune became Gaye’s first big U.S. hit in the ’70s, climbing to no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topping the Best Selling Soul Singles chart.

Deep Purple/Strange Kind of Woman

In February 1970, Deep Purple released Strange Kind of Woman as a non-album single. The follow-on to Black Night was credited to all members of the band: Ian Gillan, Ritchie Blackmore, Jon Lord, Roger Glover and Ian Paice, their most compelling lineup, in my view. The song reached no. 8 in the UK and Germany, but didn’t chart in the U.S. The track was also included in the U.S. and Canadian editions of Deep Purple’s fifth studio album Fireball from July 1971 in lieu of Demon’s Eye on the UK edition.

Jethro Tull/Hymn 43

Hymn 43 is a great rock song by Jethro Tull. Penned by Ian Anderson, it appeared in late June 1971 as the second single off Aqualung, the group’s fourth studio album that had come out in March of the same year. Hymn 43 followed lead single Locomotive Breath. Incredibly, it only charted in Canada and the U.S., reaching an underwhelming no. 86 and no. 91, respectively.

T. Rex/Get It On

In July 1970, glam rockers T. Rex released one of their signature tunes, Get It On. In the U.S., it was re-titled Bang a Gong (Get It On), since there was a song with the same title by American jazz-rock band Chase. Get It On, written by T. Rex frontman Marc Bolan, was the lead single from the British band’s sophomore album Electric Warrior that appeared in September that year. Get It On became the band’s second no. 1 in the UK and their only U.S. top 10 hit (no. 10) on the Billboard Hot 100.

Santana/Everybody’s Everything

In September 1970, Santana released their third studio album Santana III and lead single Everybody’s Everything. The tune was co-written by Carlos Santana, Milton Brown and Tyrone Moss. The classic Santana rock song became the band’s last top 20 hit (no. 12) in the U.S. until the pop-oriented Winning from 1981.

Sly and the Family Stone/Family Affair

Family Affair is a track off Sly and the Family Stone’s fifth studio album There’s a Riot Goin’ On that came out in November 1971. Released the same month, the psychedelic funk tune was the first single from that album. It became the group’s third and final no. 1 hit in the U.S., topping both the mainstream Billboard Hot 100 and Hot Soul Singles chart.

Badfinger/Day After Day

Day After Day, first released in the U.S. in November 1971 followed by the UK in January 1972, became the biggest hit for British power pop-rock band Badfinger. Written by Pete Ham, the tune, off their third studio album Straight Up from December 1971, climbed to no. 4 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 and reached no. 10 in the UK. In Canada, it went all the way to no. 2. This gem was produced by George Harrison who also played slide guitar along with Ham.

Elton John/Levon

Levon is one of Elton John’s beautiful early songs that first appeared on his fourth studio album Madman Across the Water from early November 1970. Composed by John with lyrics by Bernie Taupin, the ballad also became the record’s first single in late November. Producer Gus Dudgeon has said Taupin’s lyrics were inspired by Levon Helm, co-founder, drummer and singer of The Band, a favorite group of John and Taupin at the time. Levon reached no. 24 on the Billboard Hot 100 and climbed to no. 6 in Canada.

The Beach Boys/Surf’s Up

Various music connoisseurs have told me their favorite album by The Beach Boys is Surf’s Up from late August 1971. I can’t say it’s been love at first sight for me, but this record is definitely growing on me. The Beach Boys released the title track as a single in late November that year. Co-written by Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks, Surf’s Up originally was supposed to be a track for Smile, an unfinished album that was scrapped in 1967. Brian and Carl Wilson completed the tune. By the time Surf’s Up was released as a single, the last major hit by The Beach Boys Good Vibrations was five years in the past. While the single didn’t chart, the album reached no. 29 on the Billboard 200, their highest-charting record in the U.S. since Wild Honey from 1967.

The Kinks/20th Century Man

The last song I’d like to call out is 20th Century Man by The Kinks. Penned by Ray Davies, the tune in December 1970 became the sole single off the group’s 10th studio album Muswell Hillbillies. The record had appeared in late November that year. 20th Century Man stalled at no. 106 in the UK and reached no. 89 in Australia. It didn’t chart in the U.S. The album didn’t fare much better, though it received positive reviews and remains a favorite among fans.

Check out the playlist below for additional 1971 singles I dig.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Hard to believe it’s Saturday again, and another week just flew by since my last revue of newly released music. Most of the times, Best of What’s New features artists I’m not familiar with or only have heard of in passing. This week is different. Two of my picks include artists who have been around for more than five decades, and I’ve listened to each for some 40 years. I had not been aware of the other two, though they’re not new artists. All tunes except for the last one are on releases that came out yesterday (October 15).

Santana/Joy (feat. Chris Stapleton)

I’d like to start with Carlos Santana who I trust needs no introduction. He first entered my radar screen when I was 8 or 10 years old. That’s when I listened to his band’s first compilation Santana’s Greatest Hits from 1974, which my older sister had on vinyl. I loved the combination of Latin rhythms and rock right away, which was front and center on that record, since it covers Santana’s first three studio albums. Of course, Santana’s music has since evolved. Which brings me to the band’s new and 26th studio album Blessings and Miracles. After the Latin rock-focused Africa Speaks and Santana IV, released in 2019 and 2016, respectively, Blessings and Miracles is reminiscent of previous records like Supernatural and All That I Am, marking return to a more pop-oriented sound and a collaborative approach. Here’s Joy, a tune co-written by Carlos Santana and Chris Stapleton, one of the many guests on the new album, who also include Rob Thomas (remember Smooth?), Steve Winwood and Chick Corea, among others. I didn’t expect Stapleton to sing a reggae-like tune, but it works and has a cool groove!

Wilderado/The Worst of It

Wilderado are an indie rock band that originally hails from Tulsa, Okla. and is currently based in Los Angeles. According to their Apple Music profile, their expansive indie rock fuses soaring vocals and rumbling guitars with an open-road, Americana-inspired feel…Co-songwriters Max Rainer (vocals, guitar) and Tyler Wimpee (vocals, guitar) began working together in college, initially using the name Bird Dog. By 2016, the band also included bassist Colton Dearing and drummer Justin Kila and the quartet, now called Wilderado, released their debut EP, Misty Shrub. The Worst of It, written by all four members of the band, together with co-producers Chad Copelin and James McAlister, is a track from Wilderado’s new eponymous album, their first full-length release. I like this!

Erin Enderlin/Somebody’s Shot of Whiskey

Erin Enderlin is a Nashville-based county singer-songwriter who originally is from Conway, Ark. She has written songs for a number of other country artists, such as Alan Jackson, Lee Ann Womack, Randy Travis and Reba McEntire. Some became hits on the Billboard Country Chart, such as Jackson’s Monday Morning Church from 2004 and Womack’s Last Call from 2008, which reached no. 5 and no. 14, respectively. In August 2013, Enderlin released her debut album I Let Her Talk. Two additional records have since appeared, as well as Enderlin’s new EP Ballroom Mirrors. Here’s the opener Somebody’s Shot of Whiskey. The tune was co-written by Enderlin and Ben Chapman. Looks like it was first released back in July. I suppose three months still count as newish. Plus, the EP is definitely new.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse/Song of the Seasons

I’d like to finish this Best of What’s New post with the latest from Neil Young and Crazy Horse. Song of the Seasons is the first track from their forthcoming album Barn scheduled to drop on December 10. This is Young’s 40th studio album and his 14th with Crazy Horse, and follows Colorado from October 2019, which he also recorded with the band. According to a short statement on Young’s website, Song of the Seasons was written about a year ago (by him) and is the oldest tune on the record. Released on October 14, the song features Young (guitar, harmonica, vocals), together with band members Nils Lofgren (accordion, backing vocals), Billy Talbot (bass, backing vocals) and Ralph Molina (drums). This acoustic folk tune sounds like classic Neil Young – love it!

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Neil Young website; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Los Lobos/The Road to Gila Bend

Today, my music provider served up a “Chill Mix” that included a tune by Los Lobos titled The Town. It’s from their 12th studio album The Town and the City, which was released in September 2006. Earlier this evening, I sampled some other songs from this record and came across the fantastic The Road to Gila Bend.

I just love that rugged guitar sound. Rolling Stone hit the nail on the head when they called it “a hurricane of Neil Young-like guitar.” That’s probably why I dig it so much. The catchy tune was co-written by David Hildago and Louis Pérez, two of the founding members of Los Lobos who were formed in East Los Angeles in 1973.

According to Wikipedia, The Town and the City explores themes of longing, disillusionment, and loneliness in the Mexican-American immigration experience, and was well received when it came out. Rolling Stone called it their best album since Colossal Head from March 1996. I really need to further explore Los Lobos who remain active to this day.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Santana/Abraxas

1970 album is a highlight by the classic Santana band

Abraxas was the sophomore album by Santana. By the time it appeared in September 1970, the Latin jam rock band had gained significant popularity, fueled by a high-energy performance at the Woodstock Festival in August 1969 followed by the release of their eponymous debut record. While Santana established the sound and groove of the band’s classic lineup and was a successful album that peaked at no. 4 on the Billboard 200 in mid-November, I think Abraxas kicked things up a notch musically.

The album opens with Singing Winds, Crying Beasts, one of three all-instrumental tunes. Written by percussion and conga player Mike Carabello, the improvisational track with its mystic sounds almost feels like it wants to put listeners into a trance.

Next up: Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen, which undoubtedly is one of the record’s gems. It combines portions of the 1966 instrumental Gypsy Queen by Hungarian jazz guitarist Gábor Szabó and Black Magic Woman, a tune written by Fleetwood Mac founder and guitarist Peter Green. Fleetwood Mac, which at the time was a blues rock-oriented band, first released the track as a single in 1968. It was also included on the 1969 U.S. and UK compilation albums English Rose and The Pious Bird of Good Omen, respectively.

While doing some research for the post, I read that Green apparently encouraged Carlos Santana to record the tune. It turned out to be a good decision. Santana’s version of Black Magic Woman became a major hit, climbing to no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 in January 1971. The royalties Green received from the cover became a significant source of income after he had left Fleetwood Mac.

Pretty much the same thing happened with Oye Como Va, another album highlight that has become a signature Latin rock tune. The song was written by Latin jazz and mambo artist Tito Puente in 1963. And just like with Black Magic Woman, it was Santana’s rendition that turned the song into a hit, reaching no. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100. Keyboarder and lead vocalist Gregg Rolie’s Hammond B3, along with Santana’s guitar and the band’s rhythm section create a powerful sound and compelling groove that invites people to dance.

According to an NPR story, Puente autobiographer Steven Loza said Santana’s version “exposed the world to Tito Puente and to Latin music in general. And “Oye Como Va” helped catapult the salsa movement to the ’70s because it gave the music recognition all over the world. And that inspired a lot of people to go into salsa.” It also brought Puente an unexpected stream of royalties.

Samba Pa Ti is among Santana’s most popular tunes and one of the best known guitar-oriented instrumentals. An Ultimate Classic Rock story explains how the piece came about, quoting Santana: “‘Samba Pa Ti’ was conceived in New York City on a Sunday afternoon. I opened the window I saw this man in the street, he was drunk and he had a saxophone and a bottle of booze in his back pocket. And I kept looking at him because he kept struggling with himself. He couldn’t make up his mind which one to put in his mouth first, the saxophone or the bottle and I immediately heard a song […] I wrote the whole thing right there.”

I also found an interesting nugget about Santana’s guitar sound on the album and Samba Pa Ti in a background article on Gibson’s website titled, “Flashback 1970: How Carlos Santana Refined and Defined his Sound with Abraxas”: “Although the cornerstones of Santana’s sound on Abraxas are his Gibson SGs, volume and the pureness and control of his touch, there are spots where he audibly used a wah-wah pedal to attenuate his tone. On “Samba Pa Ti” he left the pedal cocked to an open position throughout the song, achieving a sweet, warm distortion that produced the album’s most subtle guitar tone.”

The last tune I’d like to highlight is Hope You’re Feeling Better, which was written by Rolie. His roaring Hammond B3 and Santana’s wah-wah-accentuated guitar make for an awesome sound. The song also became the album’s third single, though unlike Black Magic Woman and Oye Como Va, it didn’t chart.

Produced by Fred Catero and Carlos Santana in San Francisco, Abraxas became another major success for the band. It hit no. 1 on the Billboard 200 in October 1970 and remained in the chart for 88 weeks. The album also topped the charts in Australia and reached no. 2 in Canada, while in the UK it climbed to no. 7. It was certified 5X Multi-Platinum in April 2000 by the Recording Industry Association of America.

Abraxas was ranked number 207 on Rolling Stone magazine’s The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list from 2003. And last year, the record was selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry due to its “cultural, historic, or artistic significance.”

In addition to Santana, Rolie and Carabello, the band’s members included David Brown (bass), Michael Shrieve (drums) and José “Chepito” Areas (percussion, conga, timbales). The same lineup plus guitarist Neal Schon would record Santana III, the next and last studio album of the classic Santana band, which appeared in September 1971. In 2013, most of the band – Santana, Rolie, Carabello, Schon and Shrieve – reunited for another album, Santana IV, which was recorded together with Benny Rietveld (bass) and Karl Perazzo (timbales, percussion, vocals).

Sources: Wikipedia, NPR, Ultimate Classic Rock, Gibson website, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Santana/ Santana

Santana’s debut still rocks and grooves to this day and remains one of his greatest albums

I can still remember when I listened to Santana for the first time. It must have been in the late ’70s after my sister had gotten Santana’s Greatest Hits (on vinyl, of course!), the fantastic 1974 compilation album featuring highlights from the first three Santana albums.

To this day, it is the early phase of Santana I like the most. The band’s classic line-up with Gregg Rolie (lead vocals, keyboards), Carlos Santana (guitar, backing vocals), David Brown (bass), Michael Shrieve (drums), Michael Carabello (congas, percussion) and José “Chepito” Areas (timbales, congas, percussion) remains one of the best jam bands to this day.

Santana was the band’s 1969 debut. Its initial relatively modest reception was a bit surprising, given the album was released right after the band’s acclaimed performance at Woodstock. I think part of their challenge was that much of their music was instrumental, in fact, more than half on this album – something most listeners weren’t used to.

The record kicks off with the instrumental Waiting. Right from the get-go, the congas and the bass create a seductive groove that draws you in. And once Rolie starts coming in with his Hammond B3, it’s sheer magic! Here’s an audio clip of the piece from the band’s Woodstock performance.

Next up is Evil Ways. Written by Clarence “Sonny” Henry and originally recorded by jazz percussionist Willie Bobo in 1967, the tune was also released as the album’s second single in December 1969. It became Santana’s first top 10 hit in the U.S., climbing to no. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Chart. The fact that unlike Waiting this tune includes vocals undoubtedly made it more radio-friendly. Rolie does an outstanding job on lead vocals and plays a killer solo on the Hammond. Here’s a cool live clip of the tune, played a little faster than on the album.

Another highlight on the album is Jingo, a song written by Babatunde Olatunji, a Nigerian percussionist, and first released in 1959. The blend of African-derived rhythms and chants with Rolie’s Hammond and Santana’s guitar is simply amazing. Jingo also appeared as the album’s lead single in October 1969. While it is just as outstanding if not better than Evil Ways, Jingo didn’t have as much impact.

And then there is of course Soul Sacrifice, the instrumental composed by bassist Brown, Rolie, Santana and percussionist Marcus “The Magnificent” Malone, the band’s initial percussionist, when it was still known as the Carlos Santana Blues Band. And magnificent it is! Here’s a clip of the epic performance of the piece at Woodstock.

Initially, the music critics were less than impressed with Santana. Rolling Stone’s Langdon Winner at the time called it “a masterpiece of hollow techniques” and “fast, pounding, frantic music with no real content,” comparing the music’s effect to methedrine. The Village Voice’s Robert Christgau happily agreed with Winner’s sentiment, saying, “Just want to register my unreconstructed opposition to the methedrine school of American music. A lot of noise.” Wow, you wonder whether these guys were on the very drug they referenced when they made their clever assessments!

In fairness, Rolling Stone later revised its opinion of the album, characterizing it as “thrilling … with ambition, soul and absolute conviction – every moment played straight from the heart”. In 2012, the magazine also ranked Santana number 149 on their list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Not sure whether Christgau ever revised his opinion or whether he is still on methedrine – but who cares anyway!

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube, Rolling Stone