The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Happy New Year and welcome to the first 2023 installment of The Sunday Six! This also marks the 100th time that I’d like to invite you to join me on a time-travel journey into the beautiful world of music. As usual, the zig-zag trip includes six tunes in different flavors from different decades. Hop on, fasten your seatbelts and off we go!

Lee Morgan/The Sidewinder

The March 7, 2021 installment, the eighth of this weekly recurring feature, was the first to open with a jazz tune. I’ve since continued to start these mini-music excursions with an instrumental, typically a jazz track, and intend to continue the tradition, at least for now. Today, my pick is Lee Morgan, an American jazz trumpeter and composer. He started to record as an 18-year-old in 1956 with his solo debut Lee Morgan Indeed! After playing in Dizzy Gillespie’s Big Band from 1956 until 1958, he joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and between 1957 and 1966 was featured on numerous of their albums. Morgan’s prolific recording career came to an abrupt end in February 1972 at the age of 33, when his common-law wife Helen Moore shot him during an altercation at a jazz club in New York City where Morgan was performing with his band. Morgan is regarded as one of the key hard bop players of the 1960s. The Sidewinder, a Morgan composition, is the title track of a July 1964 album released under his name. He was backed by Joe Henderson (tenor saxophone), Barry Harris (piano), Bob Cranshaw (double bass) and Billy Higgins (drums). The Sidewinder became Morgan’s best-known track and even made the U.S. pop mainstream charts.

Natalie Imbruglia/Torn

For this next stop on our little trip, we jump to November 1997 and the solo music debut by Natalie Imbruglia. The singer from down under started her professional career as an actress in the early 1990s on Australian soap opera Neighbours. Left of the Middle, Imbruglia’s first of seven albums she released to date, became a huge international success, topping the charts in Australia and placing in the top 5 in The Netherlands (no. 2), Switzerland (no. 3), Germany and Italy (no. 4 each), as well as the UK (no. 5). In the U.S., it reached no. 10 on the Billboard 200. Left of the Middle also became her most commercially successful album with more than 7 million copies sold to date. The impressive performance was fueled by lead single Torn, a tune co-written by Scott Cutler, Anne Preven and co-producer Phil Thornalley. Originally, the song had been recorded in 1996 by American-Norwegian singer Trine Rein. While Rein’s version reached no. 10 on the charts in Norway, it was Imbruglia’s rendition that became a major internal hit. Imbruglia, now 47, remains active, both as a music artist and an actress. Even though Torn has a pretty commercial sound, I’ve always liked the tune.

Squeeze/Black Coffee in Bed

The time has come to pay a quick visit to the ’80s with a nice track by English pop rock and power pop band Squeeze. The group was initially formed in March 1974 by Chris Difford (guitar, vocals, lyrics) and Glenn Tilbrook (vocals, guitar, music). Jools Holland (keyboards, backing and occasional lead vocals), Harri Kakoulli (bass) and Paul Gunn (drums) rounded out the initial line-up. After five albums, Difford and Tilbrook decided to break up the band in 1982 and released an eponymous album as a duo the following year. In 1985 Squeeze reformed. The band’s second incarnation lasted until 1999 and saw seven additional albums. In late 1999, they broke up again. Their third incarnation started in 2007 and remains active to this day, with Difford and Tilbrook remaining as the only original members. Black Coffee in Bed, penned by Difford and Tilbrook, appeared in April 1992 as the lead single from Squeeze’s fifth album Sweets from a Stranger, released in September of the same year. It enjoyed moderate success in the UK where it reached no. 51 on the Official Singles Chart. In the U.S., the tune peaked at no. 26 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart.

The Clash/London Calling

One of the few punk bands I liked from the get-go were The Clash. During their 10-year career from 1976 until 1986, the British group released six studio albums. The third, London Calling, was their most successful one. The critically acclaimed record from December 1979, which has sold over five million copies worldwide and was certified platinum in the US for sales of one million, blends a traditional punk rock sound with elements of reggae, rockabilly, ska, New Orleans R&B, pop, lounge jazz, and hard rock. Overall, it also became the band’s best-performing album on the charts, reaching no. 2 in Sweden, no. 4 in Norway and no. 9 in the UK, among others. In Rolling Stone’s most recent 2020 version of its list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, London Calling was ranked at no. 16, only down 8 spots from the 2003 and 2012 editions. Here’s the great title track, co-written by vocalist Joe Strummer and lead guitarist Mick Jones. London Calling also appeared separately in December 1979 as the record’s lead single.

Plain White T’s/Hey There Delilah

For this next tune let’s jump to the current century. Like I suspect is the case for the majority of folks, I only know Plain White T’s because of their one no. 1 hit Hey There Delilah. The rock and pop punk band was formed as a trio in early 1997 by high school friends Tom Higgenson (lead vocals, guitar, keyboards), Dave Tirio (guitar, drums percussion), and Ken Fletcher (bass), and rounded out by Steve Mast (lead guitar, backing vocals) shortly thereafter. In 2000, they recorded their debut Come On Over. Hey There Delilah first appeared on the group’s third studio album All That We Needed, released in January 2005. But the beautiful ballad wasn’t noticed until May 2006 when it appeared as a single. Among others, it topped the charts in the U.S., Canada and Germany, and surged to no. 2 in the UK, Ireland and Belgium. Until that single, Plain White T’s essentially had been an underground act in Chicago. Hey There Delilah was also included as a bonus track on the group’s fourth studio album Every Second Counts, which came out in September 2006. It’s safe to assume the tune helped fuel the success of that record, which became their best-selling album to date and charted in multiple countries, including Ireland (no. 2), UK (no. 3) and the U.S. (no. 10), among others. Plain White T’s are still around. Their eighth and most recent studio album Parallel Universe came out in August 2018.

The Box Tops/Cry Like a Baby

Once again we’ve reached the final stop of another music trip. My pick is Cry Like a Baby, the title track of a studio album by American blue-eyed soul and rock band The Box Tops, released in April 1968. In February that same year, the tune had appeared as the record’s lead single. Overall, it became their second-biggest hit after The Letter, reaching no. 2 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, no. 3 in Canada, no. 15 in the UK and no. 46 in Australia. Formed as The Devilles in Memphis, Tenn. in 1967, the band soon thereafter changed their name to The Box Tops in 1967. Cry Like a Baby was the last album featuring the original line-up of Alex Chilton (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Gary Talley (lead guitar, backing vocals), John Evans (keyboards, backing vocals), Bill Cunningham (bass, backing vocals) and Danny Smythe (drums, backing vocals). In 1971 after the first break-up of The Box Tops, Chilton became a co-founder of American rock and power pop band Big Star. In 1996, Cunningham organized the first reunion of The Box Tops, which lasted until 2010. Following the death of Chilton from a heart attack in March 2010, the group split again. In mid-2015, Cunningham and Talley reformed The Box Tops who have remained active since then.

Of course, The Sunday Six wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify playlist. Hope there’s something for you here!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

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The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

The Sunday Six has become my favorite recurring feature of the blog. Highlighting six tunes from any genre and any time gives me plenty of flexibility. I think this has led to pretty diverse sets of tracks, which I like. There’s really only one self-imposed condition: I have to truly dig the music I include in these posts. With that being said, let’s get to this week’s picks.

Lonnie Smith/Lonnie’s Blues

Let’s get in the mood with some sweet Hammond B-3 organ-driven jazz by Lonnie Smith. If you’re a jazz expert, I imagine you’re aware of the man who at some point decided to add a Dr. title to his name and start wearing a traditional Sikh turban. Until Friday when I spotted the new album by now 78-year-old Dr. Lonnie Smith, I hadn’t heard of him. If you missed it and are curious, I included a tune featuring Iggy Pop in yesterday’s Best of What’s New installment. Smith initially gained popularity in the mid-60s as a member of the George Benson Quartet. In 1967, he released Finger Lickin’ Good Soul Organ, the first album under his name, which then still was Lonnie Smith. Altogether, he has appeared on more than 70 records as a leader or a sideman, and played with numerous other prominent jazz artists who in addition to Benson included the likes of Lou Donaldson, Lee Morgan, King Curtis, Terry Bradds, Joey DeFrancesco and Norah Jones. Here’s Lonnie’s Blues, an original from his above mentioned solo debut. Among the musicians on the album were guitarist George Benson and baritone sax player Ronnie Cuber, both members of the Benson quartet. The record was produced by heavyweight John Hammond, who has worked with Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, Leonard Cohen, Mike Bloomfield and Stevie Ray Vaughan, to name some.

John Hiatt/Have a Little Faith in Me

Singer-songwriter John Hiatt’s songs are perhaps best known for having been covered by numerous other artists like B.B. King, Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker, Linda Ronstadt, Ry Cooder and Nick Lowe. While his albums received positive reviews from critics, it took eight records and more than 10 years until Hiatt finally had an album that made the Billboard 200: Bring the Family, from May 1987, which reached no. 107. The successor Slow Turning was his first to crack the top 100, peaking at no 98. If I see this correctly, his highest scoring album on the U.S. mainstream chart to date is Mystic Pinball from 2012, which climbed to no. 39. Hiatt did much better on Billboard’s Independent Chart where most of his albums charted since 2000, primarily in the top 10. Fans can look forward to Leftover Feelings, a new album Hiatt recorded during the pandemic with the Jerry Douglas Band, scheduled for May 21. Meanwhile, here’s Have a Little Faith in Me, a true gem from the above noted Bring the Family, which I first knew because of Joe Cocker’s 1994 cover. Hiatt recorded the album together with Ry Cooder (guitar), Nick Lowe (bass) and Jim Keltner (drums), who four years later formed the short-lived Little Village and released an eponymous album in 1992.

Robbie Robertson/Go Back to Your Woods

Canadian artist Robbie Robertson is of course best known as lead guitarist and songwriter of The Band. Between their July 1968 debut Music from Big Pink and The Last Waltz from April 1978, Robertson recorded seven studio and two live albums with the group. Since 1970, he had also done session and production work outside of The Band, something he continued after The Last Waltz. Between 1980 and 1986, he collaborated on various film scores with Martin Scorsese who had directed The Last Waltz. In October 1987, Robertson’s eponymous debut appeared. He has since released four additional studio albums, one film score and various compilations. Go Back to Your Woods, co-written by Robertson and Bruce Hornsby, is a track from Robertson’s second solo album Storyville from September 1991. I like the tune’s cool soul vibe.

Joni Mitchell/Refuge of the Roads

Joni Mitchell possibly is the greatest songwriter of our time I’ve yet to truly explore. Some of her songs have very high vocals that have always sounded a bit pitchy to my ears. But I realize that’s mostly the case on her early recordings, so it’s not a great excuse. Plus, there are tunes like Big Yellow Taxi, Chinese Café/Unchained Melody and Both Sides Now I’ve dug for a long time. I think Graham from Aphoristic Album Reviews probably hit the nail on the head when recently told me, “One day you’ll finally love Joni Mitchell.” In part, his comment led me to include the Canadian singer-songwriter in this post. Since her debut Song to a Seagull from March 1968, Mitchell has released 18 additional studio records, three studio albums and multiple compilations. Since I’m mostly familiar with Wild Things Run Fast from 1982, this meansbthere’s lots of other music to explore! Refuge of the Roads is from Mitchell’s eighth studio album Hejira that came out in November 1976. By that time, she had left her folkie period behind and started to embrace a more jazz oriented sound. The amazing bass work is by fretless bass guru Jaco Pastorius. Sadly, he died from a brain hemorrhage in September 1987 at the age of 35, a consequence from severe head injuries inflicted during a bar fight he had provoked.

Los Lobos/I Got to Let You Know

Los Lobos, a unique band blending rock & roll, Tex-Mex, country, zydeco, folk, R&B, blues and soul with traditional Spanish music like cumbia, bolero and norteño, have been around for 48 years. They were founded in East Los Angeles in 1973 by vocalist and guitarist David Hildago and drummer Louis Pérez who met in high school and liked the same artists, such as Fairport Convention, Randy Newman and Ry Cooder. Later they asked their fellow students Frank Gonzalez (vocals, mandolin, arpa jarocha), Cesar Rosas (vocals, guitar, bajo sexto) and Conrad Lozano (bass, guitarron, vocals) to join them, completing band’s first line-up. Amazingly, Hidalgo, Pérez, Rosas and Lozano continue to be members of the current formation, which also includes Steve Berlin (keyboards, woodwinds) who joined in 1984. Their Spanish debut album Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles was self-released in early 1978 when the band was still known as Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles. By the time of sophomore album How Will the Wolf Survive?, their first major label release from October 1984, the band had shortened their name to Los Lobos and started to write songs in English. In 1987, Los Lobos recorded some covers of Ritchie Valens tunes for the soundtrack of the motion picture La Bamba, including the title track, which topped the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks in the summer of the same year. To date, Los Lobos have released more than 20 albums, including three compilations and four live records. I Got to Let You Know, written by Rosas, is from the band’s aforementioned second album How Will the Wolf Survive? This rocks!

Booker T. & the M.G.’s/Green Onions

Let’s finish where this post started, with the seductive sound of a Hammond B-3. Once I decided on that approach, picking Booker T. & the M.G.’s wasn’t much of a leap. Neither was Green Onions, though I explored other tunes, given it’s the “obvious track.” In the end, I couldn’t resist featuring what is one of the coolest instrumentals I know. Initially, Booker T. & the M.G.’s were formed in 1962 in Memphis, Tenn. as the house band of Stax Records. The original members included Booker T. Jones (organ, piano), Steve Cropper (guitar), Lewie Steinberg (bass) and Al Jackson Jr. (drums). They played on hundreds of recordings by Stax artists during the ’60s, such as Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Bill Withers, Sam & Dave, Carla Thomas, Rufus Thomas and Albert King. In 1962 during downtime for recording sessions with Billy Lee Riley, the band started improvising around a bluesy organ riff 17-year-old Booker T. Jones had come up with. It became Green Onions and was initially released as a B-side in May 1962 on Stax subsidiary Volt. In August of the same year, the tune was reissued as an A-side. It also became the title track of Booker T. & the M.G.’s debut album that appeared in October of the same year. In 1970, Jones left Stax, frustrated about the label’s treatment of the M.G.’s as employees rather than as musicians. The final Stax album by Booker T. & the M.G.s was Melting Pot from January 1971. Two additional albums appeared under the band’s name: Universal Language (1977) and That’s the Way It Should Be (1994). Al Jackson Jr. and Lewie Steinberg passed away in October 1975 and July 2016, respectively. Booker T. Jones and Steve Cropper remain active to this day. Cropper has a new album, Fire It Up, scheduled for April 23. Two tunes are already out and sound amazing!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube