Best of What’s New

This is the 30th installment of Best of What’s New. When I started the new music feature 30 weeks ago, I wasn’t sure I’d find enough material I dig to blog on a weekly basis. So far it’s been a rewarding experience, and I’m optimistic I can get going at that rate.

Usually, I keep the installments to four tunes. This time, however, before I knew it, I found eight songs I could have featured. I decided to cut down the selection to the following six tunes. The set is quite rock-oriented, but there’s also a great jazz tune that just makes me happy and a beautiful guitar instrumental.

Black Stone Cherry/Again

Black Stone Cherry are a hard rock band formed in Edmonton, Ky. in 2001. Chris Robertson (lead vocals, lead and rhythm guitar) and John Fred Young (drums, percussion, piano, backing vocals) had played together since they were young teenagers. They were soon joined by Ben Wells (rhythm and lead guitar, backing vocals) and Jon Lawhon (bass, backing vocals) to complete the band’s lineup. In May 2006, they released their eponymous debut album. Again is a track from the band’s upcoming 7th studio album The Human Condition scheduled for October 30. Black Stone Cherry announced the album on August 6 and debuted the tune and music video. “There was a real urgency and fear of the unknown during those sessions – it was a scary time,” Young told Louder.  “Every song on this album tells a story of the experiences we all go through – our happiness, our struggles, and how we have to adapt.” I hardly listen to present day hard rock, but this tune got something.

Puscifer/The Underwhelming

Puscifer is a project from rock singer-songwriter and producer Maynard James Keenan, who also is the lead vocalist and primary lyricist of rock bands Tool and A Perfect Circle. Between these bands, Keenan has released 12 albums over the past 30 years. Other members of Puscifer, which is currently a trio, include Carina Round (vocals, guitar, ukelele, tambourine) and Mat Mitchell (lead guitar). The Underwhelming is a tune from Puscifer’s upcoming fourth studio album Existential Reckoning due out October 30. The tune became the album’s second single on September 17.

Elvis Costello/Hey Clockface/How Can You Face Me?

I believe Hey Clockface/How Can You Face Me? is the first jazz tune I ever heard by Elvis Costello. When I came across it yesterday, I immediately knew I had to include it in this installment of Best of What’s New. According to a review in Stereogum, Costello recorded it together with a small jazz ensemble in Paris about a month before Covid-19 changed the world. It also turns out the tune and Costello’s other singles he has released over the past few months are all part of a new studio album titled Hey Clockface scheduled for October 30. According to Wikipedia’s count, it should be Costello’s 33rd studio release. Hey Clockface/How Can You Face Me? first appeared as the album’s fourth upfront single on September 11. This tune just has an infectious groove. Check it out!

Ben Harper/Paris

American singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Ben Harper has been a recording artist since 1992. He began playing guitar as a child and had his first gig at the age of 12. During his teenage years in the ’80s, Harper began playing slide guitar, influenced by Delta blues artist Robert Johnson. In 1992, he recorded the album Pleasure and Pain with Tom Freund. This was followed by his solo debut Welcome to the Cruel World from February 1994. Since then, he has released 13 additional studio albums. In 2010, Harper formed folk rock-oriented band Fistful of Mercy, together with George Harrison’s son Dhani Harrison and singer-songwriter Joseph Arthur. Harper has also collaborated with Charlie Musslewhite and various other artists. Paris is a beautiful, sparse instrumental featuring only Harper on his lap steel guitar. It’s on an upcoming new all-instrumental album, Winter Is For Lovers, set to appear on October 23. Two other tunes, Inland Empire and London, from the 15-track collection are already out as well, and they sound just as great!

Blue Öyster Cult/The Alchemist

While Blue Öyster Cult is a very familiar name, the rock band that was founded all the way back in 1967 in Stony Brook, N.Y. had not released new music since Curse of the Hidden Mirror from June 2001. That changed yesterday (October 9) with The Symbol Remains, their 15th studio album. Of course, Blue Öyster Cult have had numerous line-up changes over the decades, though founding member and lead guitarist Donald Roeser, known as Buck Dharma, is still around. As is Eric Bloom, who joined BÖC as lead vocalist, guitarist and keyboarder in April 1969, replacing Les Braunstein. Like Dharma, Bloom has been on all of the band’s albums released to date. Here’s The Alchemist, written by Richie Castellano, who has been part of Blue Öyster Cult since 2004. This makes The Symbol Remains his first studio with the band after 16 years – remarkable! The Alchemist may not be Cities On Flame With Rock and Roll, (Don’t Fear) the Reaper or Burnin’ For You, but it still sounds pretty cool to me. Check out the sweet harmony guitar playing featuring Dharma and Castanello, which starts at about 3:33 minutes. These guys are still rockin’!

Greta Van Fleet/My Way, Soon

Speaking of rockin’, what could be a better way to end this installment than with the latest single by Greta Van Fleet, one of the most exiting contemporary bands, in my opinion: May Way, Soon, which was also released just yesterday. “This song was inspired by what three years of touring did by opening so many doorways,” vocalist Josh Kiszka told Louder. “This is my truth, how I feel about all of our travels, but I know it echoes the experiences and changes of perspectives for [his GVF bandmates] Jake, Sam, and Danny as well.” May Way, Soon is the first tune from Greta’s next studio album (title and release date still to be announced). “The definition of ’normal’ has very much broadened over the past couple of years, and it has affected us as musicians, especially in the writing and recording of this new album,” added drummer Danny Wagner. While My Way, Soon delivers the energetic type of rock fans of the band have come to dig, it sounds less influenced by Led Zeppelin. I think only does this show Greta is evolving musically, but it’s also a good thing from a longevity perspective.

Sources: Wikipedia; Louder; Stereogum; YouTube

On Occasions When I’m Up For Heavy Action

A collection of favorite hard rock tunes

My recent “desert island” collection of 10 studio albums included Deep Purple’s Machine Head, which after more than 40 years of listening remains the ultimate hard rock album to me. In that post, I also noted that these days heavy rock no longer is my primary music choice. But occasionally, I still enjoy it, which triggered the idea to put together this playlist. I guess just like with many other things, when it comes to music, it’s all about moderation, except of course for The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Neil Young, live concerts, music equipment… 🙂

As more frequent visitors of the blog know, I find doing rankings nearly impossible. But since I suppose there needs to be some system to the madness, the following list is in chronological order from oldest to most recent. And, yes, I suppose in some cases you could question whether a pick is really hard, heavy or metal rock, or is it just rock? The boundaries can be pretty fluid. Plus, to some extent, it’s also a bit subjective. At the end of the day, it’s all about music I dig when the occasion is right. With all these caveats out of the way, let’s get to it.

SteppenwolfBorn to be Wild

This classic from Steppenwolf’s eponymous debut album from January 1968 sometimes has been called the first heavy metal song – in part because of the second line of the second verse, “heavy metal thunder.”Born to be Wild was written by Canadian rock musician and songwriter Dennis Edmonton, aka Mars Bonfire. The tune also appeared separately as a single in June 1968 and became Steppenwolf’s biggest hit next to Magic Carpet Ride. It will forever be associated with the 1969 biker cult picture Easy Rider. Every time I hear that opening line Get your motor runnin’, I feel like climbing on my chopper and heading down Route 18 to the Jersey shore. Then reality sets in. I don’t own a bike, not to mention the minor detail I don’t really know how to ride one. But when I get the urge to look for adventure, there’s always my sexy family crossover SUV! 🙂

Led ZeppelinWhole Lotta Love

While Led Zeppelin IV is my favorite Zep album, Whole Lotta Love possibly is my favorite tune among their crunchy rockers. Credited to all four members, the track first appeared on Led Zeppelin’s sophomore album that came out in October 1969, ingeniously titled Led Zeppelin II. The following month, Whole Lotta Love was also released as a single and became their best chart-performing song, reaching no. 1 in Australia and Germany, and peaking at no. 4 in the U.S. Notably, it didn’t chart in their home country. From today’s perspective, the fact that Whole Lotta Love became such a big hit looks unreal. You need cooling/Baby I’m not fooling/I’m gonna send ya/Back to schooling//A-way down inside/A-honey you need it/I’m gonna give you my love/I’m gonna give you my love//Want to whole lotta love/Want to whole lotta love/Want to whole lotta love/Want to whole lotta love…

Deep PurpleSpeed King

Obviously, it was only a matter of time until I would feature a Deep Purple tune in this post. But while Machine Head was their Mount Rushmore, there’s more to the British hard rockers than this 1972 gem. One great example is the opener to the band’s fourth studio album Deep Purple in Rock released in June 1970: Speed King. Credited to the entire band, the song’s lyrics are made up of titles of classic rock & roll tunes by Chuck Berry and Little Richard, which I always thought was a cool idea. Good golly, said little Miss Molly/When she was rockin’ in the house of blue light/Tutti Frutti was oh so rooty/Rockin’ to the east and west/Lucille was oh so real/When she didn’t do her daddies will/Come on baby, drive me crazy, do it, do it.. This is one kick-ass rocker!

Black SabbathParanoid

While I can’t claim to be a Black Sabbath fan, there’s just no way you can leave out these English rockers from any heavy rock collection. It would be like doing a post about the British Invasion and excluding The Beatles. And, to be clear, I’m not just featuring Sabbath because I felt I had to. I’ve always loved Paranoid, the title track of their second studio album that came out in September 1970. Credited to the entire band, Paranoid first appeared as a single in August of the same year. It became their biggest hit, topping the charts in Germany, and reaching no. 2, 3 and 4 in Switzerland, Austria and the UK, respectively. Apparently, audiences were less receptive in America, where the tune stalled at no. 61 on the Billboard Hot 100. Here’s a cool official clip, even though it’s all playback. Check out Tony Iommi’s cool Gibson SG. One day when I grow up I’m gonna get an ax like this – it even plays rhythm and solo at the same time! 🙂

Uriah HeepBird of Prey

Yep, Uriah Heep with their crazy high vocals can border a bit on the weird, but these guys were rockin’, especially in their early days. I seem to remember when I bought the album Salisbury as a young teenager, my six-year older sister who accompanied me to the record store was a bit embarrassed about my choice. Come on, sis’, while with Carole King’s Tapestry, CSNY’s Déjà Vu and Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, to name a few, you undoubtedly introduced me to some of the best recorded music ever, your taste also varied – let’s just leave it at that! 🙂 Credited to the band members Ken Hensley, Mick Box, Paul Newton and Keith Baker, Bird of Prey is the furious opener of Heep’s sophomore album from February 1971. That tune rumbles just like the tank on the album cover – “geil,” as was fashionable to say in Germany back in the day!

RainbowLong Live Rock ‘n’ Roll

I don’t care how you feel about Rainbow, and my thoughts about them are mixed these days, Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll just is an epic rocker. Co-written by former Deep Purple guitarist and Rainbow founder Ritchie Blackmore and the band’s powerhouse lead vocalist Ronnie James Dio, Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll was the title track of Rainbow’s third studio album released in April 1978. It also became the record’s lead single in March of the same year. To me, this is Rainbow’s best song. Apparently, audiences felt differently, at least the time, and far preferred some of their later songs, on which Blackmore adopted a more commercial sound along the lines of Foreigner.

Gary MooreVictims of the Future

Before Gary Moore fully embraced electric blues during his solo career, the Irish guitarist released heavy rock album Victims of the Future in December 1983. The big hit off that record was the power ballad Empty Rooms, which was played to death on the radio in Germany. I don’t even recall hearing the title track, which was co-written by Moore, Neil Carter (keyboards), Neil Murray (bass) and Ian Paice (drums) – and, yep, that’s the Ian Paice from Deep Purple. The song wasn’t released as a single; clocking in at more than six minutes, it wouldn’t have been radio-friendly to begin with. Admittedly, this is a pretty aggressive tune I can only tolerate occasionally, but when I’m in the mood for some heavy action, I still enjoy it. According to Wikipedia, Moore later dismissed the record as “just one of my feeble attempts at heavy rock”. It’s certainly quite different from his electric blues music he released starting in the early ’90s all the way until his premature death at age 58 in February 2011.

Guns N’ RosesSweet Child o’ Mine

My sentiments about Guns N’ Roses in general are similar to the previous pick. Sometimes, their music is simply too aggressive, so again, I need to be in the right mood. When I am, I actually enjoy a good number of their tunes. On these occasions, Sweet Child o’ Mine is one of my favorites. It’s a track off their debut album Appetite for Destruction from July 1987. Credited to the entire band, the tune also became the album’s third single in August of the same year. It was one of the songs that fueled the record’s massive international chart success, turning it into Guns N’ Roses’ biggest album. The guitar work on this song is just killer!

ScorpionsRaised on Rock

I suppose writing a post about heavy rock without acknowledging German veterans Scorpions would border on treason. The band from the city of Hannover first entered my radar screen with Love at First Sting, their hugely successful ninth studio album they released in March 1984, 12 years into their recording career. I seem to recall reading somewhere there were times before then when Scorpions were more famous elsewhere than in their home country. With hits, such as Rock You Like a Hurricane, Big City Nights and Still Loving You, Love at First Sting definitely changed that. Scorpions continue to rock and roll to this day. In April, they released a new tune, Sign of Hope, a classic Scorpions-style ballad, inspired by COVID-19. According to a statement on their website, they have been working on songs for a new album. The tune I decided to feature here appeared 26 years after Love at First Sting. Raised on Rock is the opener to the band’s 17th studio album Sting in the Tail from March 2010, which together with the supporting tour was positioned as their farewell. Then, they decided they simply couldn’t stop.

AC/DCPlay Ball

Let’s wrap up things with a great late-career rocker by AC/DC. Play Ball is from their 16th studio album Rock or Bust, which is the band’s most recent to date from November 2014. There have been reports about a new album for some time, largely fueled by Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider, who apparently is close to AC/DC. According to this NME story from late July, the album is already in the can, but it’s release has been delayed due to COVID-19. It sounds like thanks to some technology wizardry, it will feature the classic lineup including Malcolm Young and be the band’s final album. For now, let’s focus on actually released AC/DC music. Co-written by Malcolm Young prior to his forced retirement due to dementia and his younger brother Angus Young, Play Ball was the lead single from Rock or Bust, which appeared in October 2014, preceding the album by one month – a classic AC/DC rocker!

Jeez, after listening to ten heavy rock tunes, my ears are exhausted. Yesterday, the long-awaited reissue of The Rolling Stones’ Goat Heads Soup came out. I think I’m just about ready for Angie. A-Angie, A-Angie/When will this hard rock disappear/Angie, Angie/where will it lead from here…

Sources: Wikipedia; Scorpions website; NME; YouTube

The Hardware: The Mellotron

The electro-mechanical keyboards are known for amazing sound capabilities and quirks

Yesterday, when all my troubles seemed so far away, I came across this YouTube demo of the Mellotron. It reminded me what a cool musical instrument this type of keyboard is and that I hadn’t done a “hardware” post since this one about the Vox Continental from August 2018. Two great reasons for a new installment, don’t you agree? 🙂

I realize writing about musical gear can quickly get you into geeky territory. As a hobby musician, I can’t deny I get easily excited when it comes to instruments and their sounds and looks. I guess you could call that geeky. At the same time, I’m not exactly a tech wiz – in fact, far from it! As such, I mostly approach gear posts from the sound (and looks) side and keep the tech side relatively light.

Which brings me to the Mellotron. The first time I ever heard this marvelous keyboard in action, I didn’t realize I was listening to a Mellotron. Clever, huh? Well, it’s true. I suppose more frequent visitors of the blog may already have an idea where I’m going with this. I’ll give you a hint: Four lads from Liverpool…

Strawberry Fields Forever. Undoubtedly, my fellow Beatles fans already knew that! 🙂 This John Lennon gem from 1967, which was co-credited to him and Paul McCartney as usual, is perhaps the most famous example in pop rock of a Mellotron in action. I’m particularly referring to the beautiful flute sound intro, which was played by McCartney. According to The Beatles Bible, George Martin and Lennon also played two Mellotron parts, using the ‘swinging flutes’ and, towards the end of the song, ‘piano riff’ settings.

U.S. picture sleeve of “Strawberry Fields Forever”, released as a double A-side single with “Penny Lane” in February 1967

I could easily dedicate an entire post to Strawberry Fields Forever, which was one of the most complex tunes The Beatles ever recorded. Perhaps one day I will, but for now, let’s get back to the Mellotron and some history, as well as an attempt to explain how the mighty instrument works, based on my ingenious tech understanding. 🙂 And, of course, I’ll wrap things up with some examples that illustrate what Mellotron keyboards can do!

Let’s start with the technology. Fortunately, there’s Wikipedia! Basically, the Mellotron is what’s called a sampler, meaning it samples music instruments and other sounds, but instead of relying on digital sampling like the modern samplers do, it’s based on analogue samples recorded on audio tapes – essentially like an old-fashioned tape deck! When a player presses a key, a tape that’s connected to it gets pushed against a playback head, which in turn generates the sound. Once released, the tape moves back in its default position.

The tapes in a Mellotron include recordings of actual instruments, voices and other sounds, which is pretty neat when you think about it. Each tape recording lasts for about 8 seconds. This means a player cannot indefinitely hold down a key and get a sound – one of the instrument’s many quirks. There are others. As Sound on Sound explains, the Mellotron had 35 tape heads and other interconnected hardware, which made it quite challenging to maintain from a mechanical perspective.

Inside of a Mellotron M400. The tapes are underneath the brown-colored key extensions.

For example, if the springs that pull back the tapes to their start position malfunction, this could mean the sampled sound only starts in the middle of the tape, and a player would have even less than 8 seconds of sound; or I suppose no sound at all, if the spring gets stuck in a completely extended position. There are different Mellotron models, so I’m not sure they all have 35 tape heads. My point here is to illustrate the instrument’s delicacy!

As you’d expect, the Mellotron offers a variety of sounds. From Wikipedia: On earlier models, the instrument is split into “lead” and “rhythm” sections. There is a choice of six “stations” of rhythm sounds, each containing three rhythm tracks and three fill tracks. The fill tracks can also be mixed together.

Similarly, there is a choice of six lead stations, each containing three lead instruments which can be mixed. In the centre of the Mellotron, there is a tuning button that allows a variation in both pitch and tempo. Later models do not have the concept of stations and have a single knob to select a sound, along with the tuning control. However, the frame containing the tapes is designed to be removed, and replaced with one with different sounds.

Okay, I promised to keep it “light” on the technology, so the above shall be sufficient. Next, I’d like to touch on the Mellotron’s history. While tape samplers had been explored in research studios, it wasn’t until 1962 that the instrument’s commercial concept originated. And it took a little help not exactly from a friend, as would become clear later.

Bill Fransen, a sales agent for the California-based maker of the Chamberlin electro-mechanical keyboards, took two Chamberlin Musicmaster 600 instruments to England to find a suitable manufacturer that could make tape heads for future Chamberlin keyboards. He met Frank Bradley, Norman Bradley and Les Bradley of tape engineering company Bradmatic Ltd. in Birmingham. The Bradleys told him they could advance the original instrument design, and keyboard history started to change.

The Bradleys subsequently teamed up with BBC music conductor Eric Robinson, who not only agreed to arrange the recording of the necessary instruments and sounds for the tapes but also to help finance the effort. They also pulled in English magician and TV personality David Nixon and formed Mellotronics, a company to produce and market the Mellotron.

Bill Fransen with the first Mellotron off the production line, 1963. Photo credit: Sound on Sound

In 1963, Mellotronics started making the Mk I, the first commercially manufactured model of the Mellotron. The following year, the company introduced the Mk II, an updated version featuring the full set of sounds selectable by banks and stations. There are multiple other models that were developed thereafter, including the M400, which is pictured on top of this post and became a particular popular version.

There was only one hiccup. Fransen had never told the Bradleys that he wasn’t the original owner of the Chamberlin concept. Suffice to say the California company wasn’t exactly pleased that a British competitor essentially had copied their technology. After some back and forth, the two companies eventually agreed that each would be allowed to continue manufacture instruments independently.

In the ’70s, the Mellotron name was acquired by American company Sound Sales. After 1976, Bradmatic that had renamed themselves Streetly Electronics in 1970, manufactured and sold Mellotron type keyboards under the Novatron brand name. But eventually, the advent of modern electronic samplers caught up with both companies. As a result, they found themselves in dire financial straits by the mid ’80s. In 1986, Streetly folded altogether.

In 1989, Les Bradley’s son John Bradley and Martin Smith, who had built Mellotron keyboards for the Bradleys at the original factory in Birmingham, England, revived Streetly Electronics as a Mellotron support and refurbishment business. The company exists to this day. In 2007, they also developed a new model that became the M4000. It combined features of several previous models with the layout and chassis of the popular M400 but with a digital bank selector that emulated the mechanical original in the Mk II.

If you’re still with me, let’s now move on to the post’s final and actual fun section: Seeing and hearing Mellotron keyboards in action. And while many things in pop music start with The Beatles, the Mellotron is one of the exceptions that prove the rule! Apparently, in the mid ’60s, English multi-instrumentalist Graham Bond became the first rock artist to record with a Mellotron. He also was an early user of the legendary Hammond organ and Leslie speaker combination. Here’s Baby Can It Be True from The Graham Bond Organization’s 1965 sophomore album There’s a Bond Between Us. Per Wikipedia, the tune was the first hit song to feature a Mellotron Mk II.

Another early adopter of the Mellotron was Mike Pinder, who had worked as a tester at Streetly Electronics (then still called Bradmatic) for 18 months in the early 1960s and became the keyboarder and co-founder of The Moody Blues in 1964. Pinder started using the Mellotron extensively on each of the band’s albums from Days of Future Passed (1967) to Octave (1978). Here’s one of the former record’s absolute gems written by Justin Hayward: Tuesday Afternoon (Forever Afternoon). In addition to Mellotron, the album used plenty of actual orchestration.

And since it was Pinder who introduced The Beatles to the Mellotron, now it’s time to come back to Strawberry Fields Forever. Notably, George Martin was less than excited about the Mellotron, reportedly describing it “as if a Neanderthal piano had impregnated a primitive electronic keyboard” – ouch! Probably, he was referring to some of the instrument’s quirks I mentioned above! The Beatles still ended up using various Mellotron keyboards on their albums Magical Mystery Tour and The White Album.

Another well-known user of the Mellotron was Rick Wakeman. Before joining Yes in 1971, Wakeman was a full-time session musician. Among others, this included work with David Bowie on his second eponymous studio album and the mighty Space Oddity. As reported by Ultimate Classic Rock, the initial idea was for Wakeman to play a guide track with the Mellotron that would be replaced by an actual orchestra. But producer Tony Visconti decided to keep Wakeman’s Mellotron part.

Let’s do a few more Mellotron examples from the ’70s. These selections are taken from the previously noted Ultimate Classic Rock piece. First up: And You And I, a tune from Close to the Edge, the fifth studio album by Yes released in September 1972. The more than 10-minute track was co-written by Jon Anderson, Steve Howe (except the Eclipse section), Chris Squire and Bill Bruford. Wakeman used the Mellotron to capture stings, brass and flutes sounds, especially during the tune’s Eclipse section.

One month later, in October 1972, Genesis released their fourth studio album Foxtrot. Here’s the opener Watcher of the Skies, which like all of the record’s tracks was credited to all members of the band. Ultimate Classic Rock notes the sound of the Mellotron created by Tony Banks turned out to be so popular that the manufacturer introduced a “Watcher Mix” sound on the next version of the keyboard – pretty cool in my book!

Since all things must pass including epic gear blog posts, let’s wrap up things with one final – and I might add particularly mighty – example of Mellotron use: Kashmir, from Led Zeppelin’s sixth studio album Physical Graffiti, which came out in February 1975. Credited to Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and John Bonham, the closer of Side 2 of the double LP features plenty of orchestration arranged by John Paul Jones. This includes both Mellotron strings and an actual string and brass section. While this makes it tricky to distinguish between the Mellotron and “real instruments”, Ultimate Classic Rock notes, The consensus is that Jones’s fake strings are heard during the “All I see turns to brown…” bridge (starting around 3:25) and join up with the actual strings in the tune’s closing minutes, adding a weird and wonderful effect.

This post focused on the use of the Mellotron during its most popular period from the mid ’60s to the second half of the ’70s. One can also find occasional examples thereafter like Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark and XTC on albums they released during the first half of the ’80s, as well as Oasis and Radiohead on recordings made during the second half of the ’90s. I think it’s safe to assume some keyboarders continue to use Mellotrons to this day, though with the modern digital samplers, it has to be a niche product.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Beatles Bible; Sound on Sound; Streetly Electronics website; Ultimate Classic Rock; YouTube

The Venues: Royal Albert Hall

The first reference to the Royal Albert Hall I recall was in A Day in the Life, the magnificent final track of my favorite Beatles album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Though at the time I didn’t realize the line Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall referred to the famous U.K. performance venue in London’s South Kensington district. The Royal Albert Hall, which had received a copy of the album prior to its release, did and was less than pleased.

According to this item in the concert hall’s archive, the Hall’s then-chief executive Ernest O’Follipar wrote a letter to Brian Epstein, maintaining the “wrong-headed assumption that there are four thousand holes in our auditorium” threatened to destroy the venue’s business overnight. Not only were the lyrics not changed, but John Lennon wrote back to the Hall, refusing to apologize. The venue retaliated with banning the song from ever being performed there.

Excerpt of letter from Royal Albert Hall CEO Ernest O’Follipar to Beatles manager Brian Epstein

The history of the Hall, which initially was supposed to be named Central Hall of Arts and Sciences, began long before The Beatles. In fact, it dates back to the 1900s and Queen Victoria. It was her majesty who in memory of her husband Prince Albert decided to change the name to the Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences when the building’s foundation stone was laid in 1867. I suppose this makes her a pretty nice girl, though she actually did have a lot to say!

It was also Queen Victoria who opened the Hall in 1871. The building was designed by Captain Francis Fowke and Major-General Henry Y. D. Scott, who were civil engineers of the Royal Engineers. The facility, which today can seat close to 5,300 people, was built by Lucas Brothers, a leading British building construction firm at the time. The design was strongly influenced by ancient amphitheatres, as well as the ideas of German architect Gottfried Semper and his work at the South Kensington Museum.

The Royal Albert Hall has seen performances by world-leading artists from many genres. Since 1941, it has been the main venue for the so-called Proms, an eight-week summer season of daily orchestral classical music concerts. The venue hosts more than 390 shows in its main auditorium each year, including classical concerts, ballet, opera, film screenings with live orchestral accompaniment, sports, awards ceremonies, school and community events, charity performances and banquets and, of course, rock and pop concerts.

This July 2019 story in London daily newspaper Evening Standard, among others, lists the following concerts as part of the “10 iconic musical moments in the venue’s history”: The Great Pop Prom (September 15, 1963), which featured The Beatles and The Rolling Stones on the same bill with other groups – only one of a handful of times the two bands performed together in the same show; Bob Dylan (May 26 and 27, 1966); Jimi Hendrix (February 18 and 24, 1969); Pink Floyd (June 26, 1969); The Who and Friends (November 27, 2000); and David Gilmour and David Bowie (May 29, 2006). Obviously, this list isn’t complete!

Let’s get to some music. As oftentimes is the case, it’s tough to find historical concert footage from the ’60s and ’70s, especially when it’s tied to a specific venue. One great clip I came across is this Led Zeppelin performance of Whole Lotta Love from a 1970 gig. Credited to all four members of the band plus Willie Dixon (following a 1985 lawsuit!), the tune was first recorded for the band’s second studio album ingeniously titled Led Zeppelin II, released in October 1969.

Since 2000, Roger Daltrey has been a patron for the Teenage Cancer Trust and raised funds for the group through concerts. The first such show was a big event at the Royal Albert Hall on November 27, 2000. In addition to The Who, it featured Noel Gallagher, Bryan Adams, Paul Weller, Eddie Vedder, Nigel Kennedy and Kelly Jones. The choice of venue was somewhat remarkable, given The Who in 1972 became one of the first bands to be impacted by the Hall’s then instituted ban on rock and pop. Here’s the Pete Townshend penned Bargain, which first appeared on The Who’s fifth studio album Who’s Next that came out in August 1971.

In early May 2005, Cream conducted four amazing reunion shows at the Hall, which were captured and subsequently published in different formats. Here’s White Room, co-written by Jack Bruce with lyrics by poet Pete Brown, and originally recorded for Cream’s third album Wheels of Fire from August 1968. Gosh, they just sounded as great as ever!

The last clip is from the above mentioned show by David Gilmour from May 29, 2006, during which he invited David Bowie on stage. As the Evening Standard noted, not only was it Bowie’s first and only appearance at the Hall, but it also was his last ever public performance. Gilmour and Bowie did Arnold Layne and Comfortably Numb together. Here’s their epic performance of the latter, which was co-written by Gilmour and Roger Waters for Pink Floyd’s eleventh studio album The Wall from November 1979. Interestingly, just like The Who, Pink Floyd was barred from performing at the Hall following their June 1969 gig there. It was the first nail in the coffin for rock and pop concerts at the venue that led to a complete, yet short-lived ban in 1972 because of “hysterical behaviour of a large audience often encouraged by unthinking performers.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Royal Albert Hall website; Evening Standard; YouTube

Celebration Day All Over Again

Led Zeppelin’s 2007 tribute concert at London’s O2 arena to stream on band’s YouTube channel this Saturday

In 2007, the surviving members of Led ZeppelinRobert Plant, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones – reunited for a tribute concert for Ahmet Ertegün, which they performed on December 10 that year at London’s O2 Arena, together with drummer Jason Bonham, son of the late John Bonham. This Saturday, that show will stream live on Led Zeppelin’s YouTube channel at 8:00 p.m. BST (3:00 p.m. EST).

Ertegün was the co-founder and president of Atlantic Records, the label that issued the band’s first five albums. Zep’s tribute gig was their first full-length show in almost three decades. The tribute opened with an all-star band, including Keith Emerson, Chris Squire, Alan White and Simon Kirke, who were backed by the brass section from Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings. The concert also featured Paul Rodgers, Paolo Nutini and Foreigner as supporting acts, who played together with the Rhythm Kings as well. Other guests on the Rhythm Kings’ set were Maggie Bell and Alvin Lee.

Zep’s show, the headliner of the event, has been captured in various formats, including a limited big screen release in October 2012, DVD, home audio and CD. My streaming music provider includes the latter, and I listened to it this morning. While perhaps not quite as outstanding as Cream’s 2005 reunion concerts at the Royal Albert Hall, I think it’s pretty great stuff, especially, once you get past the opener Good Times Bad Times, where to me Plant sounds like he’s holding back a bit.

I’m certainly planning to watch this Saturday. Apparently, the stream will be up for two or three days. Here are two clips – a little appetizer, if you want! First up: Black Dog, from Led Zeppelin IV, the band’s forth studio album released in November 1971. The song was co-written by Page, Plant and Jones.

And here’s Kashmir, from Physical Graffiti. Co-written by Bonham, Page and Plant, I’ve always found this tune both a bit weird, yet brilliant at the same time. Physical Graffiti, which appeared in February 1975, was Zep’s sixth studio album, and the first record they released on their own label Swan Song Records, which the band had launched in May 1974.

Sources: Wikipedia; Facebook; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: May 26

I can’t believe it’s been six weeks since my last installment in this recurring music history feature. And even though to me it feels like I’ve covered so many dates already, the reality is I have more than 300 left to go. Do without further ado, let’s take a look at May 26!

1964: Lenny Kravitz was born in New York City as Leonard Albert Kravitz. He was the only child of actress Roxie Roker and Sy Kravitz, a news producer at NBC Television. Both of his parents have passed away. Kravitz was drawn to music since he was tiny. At age 3, he began using pots and pans as drums, and two years later, he apparently knew he wanted to become a professional musician. After his family had moved to Los Angeles in 1974, Kravitz started listening to rock music like The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and Creedence Clearwater Revival. When he set out to get a record deal, initially, he was given a hard time, with record labels either telling him he wasn’t “black enough” or “white enough.” Fortunately, Kravitz was able to overcome this BS, and in September 1989 his debut studio album Let Love Rule appeared. He has since released 10 additional studio records, in addition to a greatest hits compilation, as well as various box sets and EPs. My introduction to Kravitz was his sophomore album Mama Said from April 1991. Here’s a great rocker from that record he co-wrote with Slash: Always On the Run.

1967: The Beatles released their eighth studio album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. If I could only choose one of their records, a nearly impossible task, this would be it most days. On other occasions, I might go with Abbey Road or Revolver. You can read more about Sgt. Pepper and why I dig that album here. Following is the record’s grande final A Day in the Life, a tune that was mostly written by John Lennon. Paul McCartney’s main contribution is the middle section.

1969: Janis Joplin made the cover of Newsweek. The headline declared Janis Joplin: Rebirth of Blues. Seventeen months later, on October 4, 1970, Joplin was found dead in her room at the Landmark Motor Hotel in Los Angeles after she had not appeared for a recording session at Sunset Sound Recorders studios. An autopsy by L.A. coroner Thomas Noguchi determined she had passed away from a heroin overdose, possibly compounded by alcohol. Joplin, undoubtedly one of the most compelling female blues vocalists, was only 27 years old.

1972: English rock band Mott the Hoople, which despite their cult status in England were on the verge of disintegration due to lack of commercial viability, recorded All the Young Dudes, a song that had been given to them by one of their fans: David Bowie, who also produced the single, played guitar, sang backing vocals and clapped. All of that happened in the middle of the night at Olympic Studios in London, where Bowie had managed to get them some time. The tune was released on July 28, 1972 and climbed all the way to no. 3 on the UK Singles Chart. In the U.S., All the Young Dudes became a top 40 hit, reaching no. 37 on the Billboard Hot 100. It ended up saving the band and extending their life until 1976.

1973: Deep Purple release Smoke on the Water as the third and final single from their sixth studio album Machine Head, another gem of a record, in my opinion. The tune, which must be a living nightmare of many folks working at guitar stores, was credited to all members of the band at the time: Ritchie Blackmore, Ian Gillan, Roger Glover, Jon Lord and Ian Paice. The song was inspired by a fire at the casino in Montreux, Switzerland on December 4, 1971, where Deep Purple were about to get underway with recording sessions for the Machine Head album. But some stupid with a flare gun/Burned the place to the ground – the night before after a Frank Zappa concert. Perhaps he had not liked Zappa’s performance! Whatever the case may have been, the tragic fire, which claimed all of Zappa’s equipment, led to one of the most iconic rock songs of the ’70s.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts Music History Calendar; This Day in Music; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: March 22

Today, my recurring music history feature is hitting a bit of a milestone with the 50th installment. While 50 sounds like an impressive number, it means I still have 315 dates left to cover! The music nerd in me tells me that’s actually not a bad thing! Plus, it turns out there’s lots of fodder for March 22, so let’s get to it.

1963: Please Please Me, the debut studio album by The Beatles, appeared in the UK. According to The Beatles Bible, the record was rush-released to capitalize on the success of the singles Love Me Do and Please Please Me. Both singles were on the album, along with their b-sides P.S. I Love You and Ask Me Why, respectively. The remaining 10 tracks were recorded during a marathon session on February 11, 1963, which lasted just under 10 hours. The other fun fact about the record is that George Martin initially had planned to call it Off The Beatle Track – kind of clever, though he obviously abandoned the idea. Naming it after a successful single probably was also part of the plan to maximize sales. As was common on the early Beatles albums, Please Please Me featured various covers. Here’s one of my favorites: Twist and Shout, co-written by Phil Medley and Bert Berns, and first recorded by U.S. R&B vocal group The Top Notes in 1961.

1965: Robert Allen Zimmerman, the genius known as Bob Dylan, released his fifth studio album Bringing It All Back Home. It marked his first top 10 record in the U.S., climbing to no. 6 on the Billboard 200, and his second no. 1 studio release in the UK, following The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan from May 1963. Perhaps more significantly, Bringing It All Back Home was also Dylan’s first album to feature recordings with electric instruments; in fact, on the entire A-side, he was backed by an electric band. The b-side was acoustic. Four months later, on July 25, the electric controversy turned into a firestorm with Dylan’s appearance at the Newport Folk Festival. Here’s Maggie’s Farm. It was the much faster and more aggressive performance of that song at Newport, which caused most of the controversy there.

1971: John Lennon released his fifth solo single Power to the People in the U.S., 10 days after its debut in the UK. Credited to Lennon and Plastic Ono Band, the non-album tune peaked at no. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100, marking Lennon’s second most successful single to date. In the UK, the song climbed to no. 6. It performed best in Norway where it hit no. 3. Power to the People was recorded at Ascot Sound Studios in Berkshire, England as part of sessions that also yielded tunes for Lennon’s second solo album Imagine. “I wrote ‘Power to the People’ the same way I wrote ‘Give Peace a Chance,’ as something for the people to sing,” Lennon reportedly said. “I make singles like broadsheets. It was another quickie, done at Ascot.” Quickie or not, I think it’s safe to say it wasn’t his best tune.

1974: The Eagles dropped their third studio album On the Border. After two country-rock records, the band decided they wanted a more rock-oriented sound. Therefore, most of the album was produced by Bill Szymczyk, who had previously worked with then-future Eagles member Joe Walsh and The James Gang, among others. It also marked the band’s first record with rock guitarist Don Felder. Here’s Already Gone, featuring Felder on lead guitar and Glenn Frey on lead vocals. Co-written by Jack Tempchin and Robb Strandlund, the tune also appeared separately as the album’s lead single. It’s one of my favorite rockers by the Eagles.

1975: Led Zeppelin hit no. 1 on the Billboard 200 with their sixth studio album Physical Graffiti. The double LP, which includes recordings spanning from January 1970 to February 1974, maintained the top spot for 6 weeks and marked Zeppelin’s fourth no. 1 record in the U.S. The album also topped the charts in the UK and Canada. Viewed as one of the band’s strongest albums, Physical Graffiti was certified 16x Platinum in the U.S. in 2006, which means sales of more than eight million copies – unreal from today’s perspective! Here’s the bombastic Kashmir, co-written by Jon Bonham, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. It’s one of the most unusual rock songs I know; frankly, it wasn’t exactly love at first sight for me, though over the years, I’ve come to dig it.

1977: Stevie Wonder released Sir Duke, the third single off his 18th studio gem Songs in the Key of Life. Both are long-time favorites in my book. The tribute to jazz legend Duke Ellington marked Wonder’s fifth and last no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 during the ’70s. It also topped the R&B chart and became a hit internationally, reaching no.1 in Canada and top 10 positions in Germany, Switzerland and the UK. I just love the groove of this tune. The horn work is outstanding – take it away, Stevie!

1980: Pink Floyd scored their only no. 1 hit in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 with Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2), where it would stay for four weeks. Given the Roger Waters song, off Floyd’s 11th studio album The Wall, was their most pop-oriented, radio-friendly tune, perhaps that’s not exactly a surprise. It also became a chart-topper in the UK, Austria, France, Germany, Switzerland and New Zealand. I can confirm firsthand that it was played to death on the radio in Germany. On a lighter note, I also recall a funny incident at a school party when I was in seventh grade. For some reason, which I can’t remember, we had a little get-together in our classroom. When our English and homeroom teacher walked in, the song was blasting out of a boom box. He couldn’t suppress a brief smile before looking serious again. What happens when you think you don’t need no education is now vividly on display among some young people in the U.S. and other countries, who continue to hang out in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic as if nothing had happened.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Beatles Bible; This Day In Music; Songfacts Music History Calendar; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: March 8

Covering March 8 in rock history was a last-minute decision. In part, I was inspired by the last item on the list, which is related to The Beatles. Interestingly, it turned out this date also saw another event related to The Fab Four, which is the first item. What could be nicer than bookending this installment of my long-running recurrent music history feature with my all-time favorite band? Let’s get to it!

1963: Please Please Me by The Beatles placed at no. 40 on Chicago radio station WLS’s weekly Silver Dollar Survey, according to Songfacts Music History Calendar – the first time a Fab Four tune made a radio station survey in the U.S. This also means WLS may have been the first radio station in America to play one of their songs. As usual, the track was credited to John Lennon and Paul McCartney, though the original composition was by Lennon and the released studio version was significantly influenced by George Martin. About 11 months later, on February 9, 1964, The Beatles would conquer American TV households and start the British Invasion with their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.

1965: Bob Dylan released Subterranean Homesick Blues, the lead single to his fifth studio album Bringing It All Back Home, which appeared two weeks thereafter. The tune marked his first top 40 hit in the U.S., climbing to no. 39 on the Billboard Hot 100. In the UK, it did even better, reaching the top 10 on the Official Singles Chart. According to Songfacts, Dylan told the Los Angeles Times that musically “It’s from Chuck Berry, a bit of ‘Too Much Monkey Business’ and some of the scat songs of the forties.”

1968: The Fillmore East opened in New York City on Second Avenue near East 6th Street. The venue was a companion to rock promoter Bill Graham’s Fillmore Auditorium and its successor Filmore West in San Francisco. Until its closing on June 27, 1971, Fillmore East saw many notable music acts, such as Jimi Hendrix, The Allman Brothers Band, The Kinks, Jefferson Airplane and Led Zeppelin. Due to the venue’s great acoustics, many live albums were recorded there, including the legendary At Fillmore East by the Allmans in 1971. Here they are with the epic Whipping Post, captured on September 23, 1970. The band’s double guitar attack with Duane Allman and Dickey Betts, along with Greg Allman’s mesmerizing vocals and Hammond are on full display. The band was on fire that night. Live rock music simply doesn’t get better. Check it out!

1974: Queen released their sophomore album Queen II in the UK. The record peaked at no. 5 in the UK and cracked the top in the U.S., reaching no. 49 on the Billboard 200. Initially, Queen II was met with mixed reactions, but as is not uncommon with famous bands, eventually, it garnered praise from music critics, fans and fellow musicians. It also marked the first record for Queen where they used multi-layered overdubs, which became a signature feature on their later records. Here’s the lead single Seven Seas of Rhye, which was written by Freddie Mercury and released about two weeks ahead of the album.

2016: Legendary producer George Martin passed away at the age of 90 at his home in Wiltshire, England. His death was announced by Ringo Starr on Twitter and later confirmed by Universal Music Group. The cause was not disclosed. Of course, Martin is best known for his work with The Beatles. I think it is fair to say they would not have been the same without him. Following the disbanding of The Beatles, Martin worked with many other well-known artists, such as America, Jeff Beck, UFO and Little River Band. One of my personal favorites Martin did for The Beatles was the string arrangement for Eleanor Rigby. Primarily written by Paul McCartney, the tune appeared on the Revolver album from August 1966.

Sources: Wikipedia; This Day In Music; Songfacts Music History Calendar; This Day In Rock; YouTube

Music From Down Under That Rocks: Part 2

A two-part musical journey to Australia

Here is the second and last part of this mini-series about music from Australia. You can read part I here. I also should point out that by “music from Australia” I mean bands that were founded down under.

Aphoristic Album Reviews noted New Zealand could claim Crowded House, one of the bands included in part I, as their own, given founding member Neil Finn is from there but lived in Melbourne when they were formed. Moreover, with three Finns, their current line-up has a clear majority of New Zealanders. Fair points. Plus, one could add Neil Finn has been the band’s key songwriter.

Australian Music Collage 2

I guess one could also challenge the notion that the Bee Gees, which were also highlighted in part I, are from Australia. After all, as I noted, the Gibb brothers were born in England, only lived in Australia for about nine years and didn’t become famous until after they had returned to England.

But like Crowded House, they were formed there. That’s why I included them. But I suppose, there is no perfect science behind the madness. With that being said, let’s stir up some more potential controversy!

The Easybeats

The Easybeats were formed in Sydney in late 1964. Their founding members were Stevie Wright (lead vocals), Harry Vanda (lead guitar), George Young (rhythm guitar),  Dick Diamonde (bass) and Gordon “Snowy Fleet (drums). All came from families that had emigrated from Europe to Australia: Wright and Fleet from England, Vanda and Diamonde from the Netherlands, and Young from Scotland. I let you be a judge whether that actually makes them an English-Scottish-Dutch band. What is undisputed was their inspiration by the British Invasion. After signing with Parlophone/Albert Productions, The Easybeats released their debut single For My Woman in March 1965, which reached no. 33 in the Australian charts. The follow-on She’s So Fine, which appeared in May 1965, marked their national breakthrough, climbing to no. 2 on the domestic charts. The tune was also included on their debut album Easy that came out in September of the same year. In July 1966, The Easybeats relocated to London. A couple of months later, they recorded what became their biggest hit, Friday On My Mind. Co-written by Young and Vanda, the song was released in October that year. It topped the Australian and Dutch charts, and reached no. 6 and 16 in the UK and U.S., respectively. Following international success in 1966 and 1967, the band’s popularity declined and eventually, they broke up in October 1969. Here’s Friday On My Mind. I just love that tune!

INXS

INXS were founded as The Farriss Brothers in Sydney in 1977 by Garry Gary Beers (bass), Andrew Farriss (keyboards), Jon Farriss (drums), Tim Farriss (guitar), Michael Hutchence (lead vocals) and Kirk Pengilly (guitar, saxophone). The following year, the band started to regularly support Midnight Oil and other local bands. In September 1979, they performed for the first time as INXS, a name that been suggested by a crew member of Midnight Oil. In early 1980, INXS signed a deal with Sydney independent label Deluxe Records and released their eponymous debut album in October that year. It wasn’t until their fourth studio record The Swing from April 1984 that the band gained recognition beyond Australia. The lead single Original Sin, which was recorded in New York with Nile Rodgers and featured Daryl Hall on backing vocals, became their first hit beyond Australia. The next studio album Listen Like Thieves from October 1985 marked their international breakthrough. A series of successful records followed. After Hutchence’s suicide in November 1997, INXS relied on guest vocalists before starting to work with a series of permanent lead vocalists. In November 2012 during a concert in Perth, Australia, the band announced they would no longer tour. Their final studio album Original Sin had appeared in November 2010. Here’s Need You Tonight, one of INXS’ biggest hits and their only no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Co-written by Andrew Farriss and Michael Hutchence, the song was included on their sixth studio album Kick from October 1987.

Men At Work

Men At Work were established in Melbourne in June 1979 by Colin (James) Hay (lead vocals, guitar) and Ron Stykert (bass), who had performed as an acoustic duo since 1978, and Jerry Speiser (drums). Soon thereafter, they were joined by Greg Ham (flute, saxophone, keyboards) and John Rees (bass). After Rees had entered, Stykert switched to lead guitar. In 1980, Men At Work self-financed their debut single Keypunch Operator, which was backed by Down Under. A slightly different version of the latter tune was included on the band’s debut album Business As Usual from November 1981 and became their biggest hit. In 1984, long-standing tensions between Hay and Speiser led to Speiser’s departure, along with Rees. Together with session musicians, Hay, Strykert and Ham recorded Men At Work’s third and final studio album Two Hearts released in April 1985. By early 1986, the band was toast and Hay started a solo career. In mid-1996, Hay and Ham brought Men At Work back together with a new lineup. They toured but did not record any new music. The band broke up a second time in 2002. Afterward, Hay and Ham periodically reunited to perform as Men At Work with guest musicians. In April 2012, Ham who had suffered from depression and anxiety over the loss of a copyright lawsuit related to his flute part in Down Under, passed away from a heart attack. Last June, Hay toured Europe with backing musicians as Men At Work. Here’s Who Can It Be Now?, the great lead single from the band’s debut record, which was written by Hay.

Midnight Oil

Midnight Oil were formed as Farm in Sydney in 1972, playing covers of Cream, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Led Zeppelin. Since the previous year Rob Hirst (drums), Andrew James (bass) and Jim Moginie (keyboards, lead guitar) had performed together. After they had placed an ad for a band member, Peter Garrett joined as their new vocalist and synthesizer player. In late 1976, the band changed their name to Midnight Oil, a reference to the Jimi Hendrix tune Burning of the Midnight Lamp. Martin Rotsey (guitar) joined in 1977 and together with their manager Gary Morris, Midnight Oil founded their own record label Powderworks. Their eponymous debut album appeared in November 1978. In 1982, they broke through in Australia and internationally with their fourth studio album 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 – yep, that’s the title! In 2002, Midnight Oil disbanded following Garrett’s decision to quit the band and focus on his political career. After temporary reunions in 2005 and 2009, Midnight Oil came back together in 2016. Last year, they announced plans for new material to be released this year. I knew about Midnight Oil because of their great 1987 tune Beds Are Burning. Here’s another song I like: Blue Sky Mine, credited to of the band’s members, and appearing on their seventh studio album Blue Sky Mining from February 1990.

Little River Band

Little River Band were founded in Melbourne in March 1975 by Glenn Shorrock (lead vocals), Beeb Birtles (guitar, vocals), Graeham Noble (guitar, vocals) and Derek Pellicci (drums), along with session musicians Graham Davidge (lead guitar) and Dave Orams (bass). In May 1975, they signed with EMI Records and released their eponymous debut album in November that year. The record was an instant success, peaking at no. 12 in Australia and no. 80 on the Billboard 200. The excellent single It’s a Long Way There, which was my introduction to the band, became their first top 40 hit in the U.S. Little River Band remain active to this day. They have had many lineup changes over the decades, and none of their original members are still around. The band’s most recent 17th studio album Cuts Like a Diamond was released in 2013. I only know a number of Little River Band songs until their May 1986 album No Reins. I generally dig their harmony singing on these tunes, which I think is comparable to other rock bands like the Eagles, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and The Doobie Brothers. Here’s Lonesome Loser, written by David Briggs, the band’s lead guitarist from 1976 until 1981. The song is the opener to their fifth studio record First Under the Wire from July 1979. It was one of six top 10 hits Little River Band scored in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: January 12

This may still be a new year and we’re even in a new decade, but some things don’t change, at least not on this blog. One of them is this recurring rock music history feature. By now, I guess I must have put together more than 30 installments; but as a music nerd, this tells me I have more than 300 other dates left to cover! Let’s start with January 12 and the debut single by a then-teenaged Etta James.

1955: The first single by Etta James, The Wallflower, was released. It was co-written by James, who was only 16 years at the time, together with Johnny Otis and Hank Ballard. While due to the lyrics the song’s original version was considered “too risque” to be played on pop radio, it became a hit on the Billboard R&B Chart, which it topped for four weeks. The same year, the tune was covered as Dance With Me, Henry by Georgia Gibbs for the pop market. James released her own cover version of Dance With Me, Henry in 1958. Here’s the scandalous original tune, for which James received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 2008.

1968: George Harrison recorded the origins of what became The Inner Light at a studio in Bombay, India (now known as Mumbai). He had traveled there to record the soundtrack for Wonderwall, a psychedelic picture by Joe Massot co-starring 21-year-old Jane Birkin. According to The Beatles Bible, by January 12, Harrison had almost completed the work on the soundtrack and found himself with additional studio time he did not want to go to waste. He decided to record some additional ragas, one of which formed the basis for The Inner Light. The tune was completed at London’s Abbey Road Studios in early February of 1968 and appeared as the B-side to the single Lady Madonna. I think it’s the most beautiful Indian music-influenced tune Harrison wrote. I also love the lines, The farther one travels/The less one knows/The less one really knows. This is how I often feel when it comes to exploring music!

1969: Led Zeppelin released their mighty eponymous debut album in the U.S. The recording took place at Olympic Studios in London in September and October that year. Since the band had not secured a contract yet, the album was self-produced by Jimmy Page. He also paid the £1,782 for the 36 hours of studio time it took to complete the sessions. A key reason for the short recording time was a well-rehearsed band that had just performed as the New Yardbirds during a Scandinavian tour. Much of the music was recorded live in-studio. While Led Zeppelin initially received some poor reviews, the album was an instant chart success, peaking at no. 10 on the Billboard 200 and climbing to no. 6 on the UK Albums Chart where it spent a total of 71 weeks. Here’s the great opener Good Times Bad Times, which is credited to Page, John Paul Jones and Jon Bonham.

1974: The Steve Miller Band abracadabra scored their first no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with The Joker. Co-written by Eddie Curtis, Ahmet Ertegün and Steve Miller, the tune also was the title track of the band’s 8th studio album that appeared in October 1973. Ertegün is best-known as co-founder and president of Atlantic Records, and I admittedly had no idea he also was involved in writing classic blues and pop songs! The farther one travels…More than 16 years later in September 1990, The Joker again flew like an eagle and rose to the top in the UK, after the tune had been used in a Levi’s TV ad. According to Wikipedia, this makes it the single with the longest gap between transatlantic chart-toppers – wow, it’s amazing what people track!

1993: The eighth annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony took place in Los Angeles. Honored inductees included Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Doors, Etta James, Van Morrison, Sly & the Family Stone, Ruth Brown and Cream, who reunited for the event for the first time in 23 years. And what would the spectacle be without some drama? John Fogerty refused to perform with his former CCR bandmates Doug Clifford and Stu Cook. But fans still got to hear some CCR music. Fogerty recruited session musicians on drums and bass, and also got some help from Bruce Springsteen and Robbie Robertson. Here’s Cream’s performance of Sunshine of Your Love from that night. Boy, did Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker sound mighty sweet! While apparently Bruce and Baker were interested in touring at the time, solo projects and I imagine some other issues prevented reunion shows until early May 2005 when Cream performed a series of concerts at London’s Royal Albert Hall.

Sources: Wikipedia; This Day In Music; This Day In Rock; Songfascts Music History Calendar; YouTube