The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Another Sunday is upon us, which means time again for a new journey to celebrate the music of the past and present in different flavors, six tunes a pop. Before we get to that, just a quick reminder to readers in the U.S. that as of 2:00 a.m. this morning, we’re back to daylight savings time, except for Hawaii and Arizona (sans the Navajo Nation who observes DST). While I won’t get into debating the merits of DST, I like the fact that it reminds me we’re one step closer to spring.

Stan Getz and João Gilberto/Girl from Ipanema

I love the saxophone, so I’m always looking for great players I could feature in The Sunday Six. The other day, I came across Stan Getz. When I started reading about him, it didn’t take long to get to Brazilian jazz writer and guitarist João Gilberto and a song I’ve always loved: Girl from Ipanema. The popular bossa nova tune was written in 1962 by Brazilian composer Antônio Carlos Jobim, with Portoguese lyrics by Vinicius de Moraes. American lyricist Norman Gimbel subsequently wrote the English lyrics. Brazilian bossa nova singer Pery Ribeiro first recorded the tune in 1962, but it was the rendition by Getz and Gilberto, featuring Gilberto’s wife Astrud Gilberto (nee Astrud Evangelina Weinert) on vocals, which became a hit. Appearing on the album Getz/Gilberto from March 1964, Girl from Ipanema climbed to no. 5 on the mainstream charts in the U.S. and Canada, reached no. 8 in New Zealand and peaked at no. 29 in the UK. Feel free to groove along!

Sade/Your Love Is King

Let’s stay on the smooth side with smooth operator Sade (nee Helen Folasade Adu) and the British group that carries her name, who make their second appearance on The Sunday Six. Once again, I decided to pick a tune from their great debut album Diamond Life, released in July 1984: Your Love Is King, which first appeared in February that year as the lead single. The tune was penned by Sade together with saxophonist Stuart Matthewman who remains a member of the group to this day. The single made a strong debut in the UK where it surged to no. 6. It also did very well in New Zealand (no. 2) and Ireland (no. 7). In the U.S., the best performance was on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart (no. 8). By comparison, it only got to no. 54 on the Billboard Hot 100. Interestingly, the picture in the UK and U.S. was reversed for Smooth Operator. What probably is Sade’s best-known and my favorite tune reached no. 19 in the UK and no. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Ramones/I Wanna Be Sedated

Time to speed things up with American punk rock pioneers Ramones. Unlike the title may suggest, I think it’s safe to assume I Wanna Be Sedated won’t put you to sleep. While the Ramones, formed in New York in 1974, never achieved any significant commercial success, they still became highly influential in the punk rock genre. In fact, according to Wikipedia, they are often cited as the first true punk rock group. I Wanna Be Sedated, written together by co-founders Dee Dee Ramone (bass), Joey Ramone (lead vocals) and Johnny Ramone (guitar), appeared on the band’s fourth studio album Road to Ruin, which came out in September 1978. At the time, Marky Ramone (drums) rounded out their line-up. The song also became the b-side to the single She’s the One, released in parallel with the record, one of the group’s numerous non-charting singles. I find this a pretty catchy tune and wonder whether it may have had more success as an A-side.

4 Non Blondes/What’s Up

The next stop on our music journey are the ’90s and what must be one of the best-known tunes of that decade. Yes, What’s Up by 4 Non Blondes certainly hasn’t suffered from under-exposure, but it’s what I would call an epic tune I continue to enjoy. I was reminded of the song when I caught it on the radio the other day while driving my car. Luckily, it’s not exactly a 911 but a sexy Japanese compact SUV, so when you hit the accelerator, nothing overly dramatic happens – probably a good thing when you listen to a kickass tune like this. If I see this correctly, 4 Non Blondes were largely a one-hit-wonder. They only released one studio album, Bigger, Better, Faster, More!, in October 1992. What’s Up was penned by the group’s lead vocalist and main songwriter Linda Perry. The band, which was active from 1989 to 1994, at the time of What’s Up also featured Roger Rocha (lead guitar), Christa Hillhouse (bass) and Dawn Richardson (drums).

The Cars/Sad Song

Every time it comes to The Cars, I feel that while I hardly know anything about the American new wave and pop rock group, I am familiar with a good deal of their songs. The group was mainly active between 1976 and 1988. During that period, they recorded six of their seven studio albums and scored 13 top 40 hits in the U.S. alone. Their biggest was Drive from July 1984, which climbed to no. 3 in the U.S., Ireland and Switzerland, and reached the top 10 in many other countries. I decided to pick a tune from their reunion and final album Move Like This, which came out in May 2011: Sad Song. Written by frontman Ric Ocasek, who passed away in September 2019, it was one of the group’s few singles that didn’t make the Billboard Hot 100. Sad Song did reach no. 33 on the Mainstream Rock chart. This sounds like classic Cars. Perhaps a more cheerful title would have helped.

Julian Lage/Emily

And once again we have reached the final stop of this music excursion. Hope you’ve enjoyed the trip. I will leave you on a quiet and relaxing note with beautiful guitar jazz by Julian Lage. Borrowing from a June 2021 post when I featured him for the first time, according to Apple Music’s profileLage has been widely acclaimed as one of the most prodigious guitarists of his generation. The New York-based musician boasts a long resume as a desired sideman with artists as diverse as Gary Burton, Taylor Eigsti, John Zorn, Nels Cline, Chris Eldridge, Eric Harland, and Fred Hersch, to name just a few. Equally important is his reputation as a soloist and bandleader. He is equally versed in jazz, classical, pop, and show tunes, and has spent more than a decade searching through the myriad strains of American musical history via an impeccable technique and a gift for freely associating between styles, tempos, keys, and textures that adds to his limitless improvisational spirit. Emily, composed by John Mandel and John Mercer, is a track from Lage’s most recent album Squint, released in June 2021. Check out his beautiful tone!

Of course, this post wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify playlist featuring the above tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; YouTube; Spotify

My Favorite Female Vocalists

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of vocals. Oftentimes, this becomes clear to me when listening to instrumental music. After a while, something seems to be missing. So I thought it would be fun to think about my favorite vocalists and feature some of them in a post. And since much of the blog is focused on male artists, I decided to keep the list to females. While I can’t deny a certain bias for artists I generally dig for their music, this selection first and foremost is based on vocal ability that grabs me. And with that let’s roll.

I’d like to kick things off with Annie Lennox, who of course is best known for Eurythmics, her pop duo with Dave Stewart, which became a powerhouse during the ’80s. Following Eurythmics’ hiatus in 1990, Lennox launched a solo career. Here’s Why, a beautiful tune that nicely showcases her amazing voice. She wrote this song for her solo debut album Diva released in April 1992.

Alicia Keys is an artist I rarely listen to, but every time I do what typically stands out to me is her vocal performance. One of her most compelling songs I know in this context is called Fallin’. Written by Keys, it was included on her debut record Songs in A Minor from June 2001. Listening to this tune gives me goosebumps!

Carole King needs no further introduction. I’ve been a fan from the first time I heard her 1971 album Tapestry. Since my sister who had this record on vinyl was a young teenager then, I must have been eight years old or so. I didn’t understand a word of English. But King’s beautiful music and voice were more than enough to immediately attract me. From Tapestry here is Way Over Yonder.

Next, I’d like to highlight an artist I bet most readers don’t know, though frequent visitors of the blog may recall the name of the band she’s in: Tierinii Jackson, the powerful lead vocalist of Southern Avenue. This contemporary band from Memphis, Tenn. blends traditional blues and soul with modern R&B. I’ve covered them on various previous occasions, most recently here in connection with a concert I saw. That lady’s voice is something else, especially live! Check out Don’t Give Up, a great tune co-written by Jackson and Southern Avenue guitarist Ori Naftaly. It’s from their eponymous debut album that came out in February 2017.

Another artist I dig both as a guitarist and a vocalist is Bonnie Raitt. In fact, I have to admit, I’ve really come to love her over the years, so there could be a bit of bias at play. But I don’t care what you may think, Raitt does have a great voice. One of my favorite songs she recorded is Angel from Montgomery written by John Prine. It appeared on Raitt’s fourth studio album Streetlights from September 1974.

Perhaps the artist with the most distinctive voice in this playlist is Stevie Nicks. No other vocalist I know sounds like her. The first tune that came to mind was Landslide, a timeless gem she wrote and recorded with Fleetwood Mac on their second eponymous studio album released in July 1975, the tenth overall in their long catalog.

An artist who to me was both an amazing performer and a great vocalist is Tina Turner – I say was, since she retired from performing in 2009. I was going to feature a song from her 1984 Private Dancer album, but then I thought what could possibly be better than her killer version of John Fogerty’s Proud Mary. Her initial recording is from 1971 as part of Ike & Tina Turner. Instead, I decided to select this clip capturing an amazing and extended live performance. I’ve been fortunate to see Tina Turner twice, including this tune. It was mind-boggling! Every now and then, she liked to do things nice and easy. But somehow she never ever seemed to do nothing completely nice and easy. Why? Because she liked to do it nice and rough. Go, Tina!

No list of my favorite female vocalists would be complete without Linda Ronstadt. Here is her beautiful cover of When Will I Be Loved. Written by Phil Everly, this great tune was first released by The Everly Brothers in May 1960, giving them a top 10 hit. Ronstadt’s version, which was included on her fifth solo album Heart Like a Wheel from November 1974, became even more successful, peaking at no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. It’s not hard to see why!

The next artist in this playlist may be the biggest surprise, at least for folks who have read previous posts: Christina Aguilera. Yep, an artist I have never covered, since I generally don’t listen to her music. But I think she’s one of the best female vocalists I know. Beautiful is a powerful ballad written by Linda Perry, the former lead vocalist of 4 Non Blondes, who has a pretty decent voice herself. Aguilera recorded the track for her fourth studio album Stripped that appeared in October 2002. To me, singing doesn’t get much better!

This brings me to the final artist I’d like to highlight – Aretha Franklin. No playlist of female vocalists would be complete without the Queen of Soul either! In addition to being a songwriter, pianist and civil rights activist, Franklin was an incredible singer. Here’s her cover of the beautiful Sam Cooke song A Change Is Gonna Come from her 10th studio album I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You, released in March 1967. I was reminded of this great record by hotfox63, who covered it the other day.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube