It’s Wednesday again and, as such, time to take a closer look at another tune I haven’t covered or only mentioned in passing. This week, I decided to dig into the catalog of Jackson Browne. Since the singer-songwriter entered my radar screen with Running On Empty many moons ago, I’ve enjoyed listening to him on and off over the decades.
Rock Me On the Water is a great tune from Browne’s eponymous debut album, which came out in January 1972. Penned by him like the remaining nine tracks, the song also became the record’s and Browne’s second single in July of the same year. Like his debut single Doctor, My Eyes, it made the U.S. charts, reaching no. 48 on the Billboard Hot 100, not as high as its predecessor that peaked at an impressive no. 8.
Like on the album overall, Browne had impressive guests. In the case of Rock Me On the Water, David Crosby and Graham Nash provided backing vocals. Among others, the recording also featured top-notch session musicians Craig Doerge (piano), Leland Sklar (bass) and Russ Kunkel (drums), who would play on many other Browne albums as well. They were all part of The Section, the de facto house band of record label Asylum, whose members collectively or individually played on countless records by artists, such as Carole King, James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt, Joni Mitchell and Warren Zevon.
Jackson Browne is the first of 15 studio albums issued to date by Browne who continues to go strong 50 years into his recording career. His most recent album Downhill From Everywhere, released in July 2021, earned a 2022 Grammy Award nomination in the Best Americana Album category. Los Lobos’s Native Sons, a great album I reviewed here, ended up winning the category – certainly a worthy winner!
Following are some additional tidbits from Songfacts:
Jackson Browne uses biblical imagery in this song, where he makes a point that salvation can be attained outside the church.
“It’s got an apocalyptic theme running through it and it’s meant to be kind of a gospel song,” he said in a radio interview. “I employ this gospel language: ‘stand before the father,’ ‘sisters of the sun.’ But it’s turning that around 180 degrees so it’s not about religion, it’s about society.”
“You have to have an idea in a gospel song,” he added, “and if it’s not going to be Jesus, it has to at least be salvation. It’s a way of lovingly, and in a friendly way, refuting the traditional and conventional messages of redemption having to do with the straight and narrow. I staked a lot on that song because it was that combination of social awareness and paying attention to what’s going on around you with that inner search for spiritual meaning.”
Browne wrote this song around 1970, before he started work on his debut album. He was well known as a songwriter at this point, with songs recorded by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, The Byrds, and Nico. “Rock Me On The Water” was first recorded in 1971 by Johnny Rivers, then later that year by Brewer & Shipley.
Linda Ronstadt released this song on her self-titled third album early in 1972, around the same time the song appeared on Browne’s album. Her version was the first released as a single, and it went to #85 in March, making it the first song written by Jackson Browne to reach the Hot 100.
Over the past six months, I’ve presented songs I would take with me on an imaginary trip to a desert island. There were some rules to the exercise. It needed to be a tune by a band or artist I had only rarely written about or even better not mentioned at all to date. And my picks needed to occur in alphabetical order by band or artist name (last name).
Last week, I finally reached the letter “z.” Of course, I could have started over with “a” but felt that 26 songs picked according to the above criteria were enough – as attractive as I find the thought to escape to a desert island on hump day! For today’s post, I thought it might be fun to present a playlist featuring all of my previous 26 selections.
While undoubtedly my choices would have been different, had it not been for the above restrictive rules, I’m still quite happy with my picks and this playlist. Following I’m briefly revisiting four of the tunes. At the end of the post, you can find all 26 of them in a Spotify playlist.
Atlanta Rhythm Section/Spooky
I’ve always loved Spooky by Atlanta Rhythm Section, so it was an easy decision to highlight this tune a second time. Originally, the song was written as an instrumental by saxophonist Mike Shapiro and Harry Middlebrooks Jr. Performed by Shapiro and released under the name Mike Sharpe, the track first appeared in 1967. The song’s next iteration occurred in 1968 when a band called Classics IV included it as the title track of their debut album and added the lyrics. Finally, Atlanta Rhythm Section recorded Spooky for their eighth studio album Underdog, which came out in June 1979. It became one of their best-known tunes and one of four top 20 singles they had in the U.S.
Los Lobos/Kiko and the Lavender Moon
Kiko and the Lavender Moon is perhaps the coolest tune I discovered in the course of this desert island song selection exercise. I’m still relatively new to Los Lobos and found that track while doing some research. Written by the band’s co-founding members David Hildago (guitars, accordion, violin, banjo, piano, percussion, vocals) and Louie Pérez (drums, vocals, guitars, percussion), the song was included on their sixth studio album Kiko released in May 1992. It’s an unusual tune with traces of retro jazz and a dose of Latin groove – pretty neat!
The O’Jays/Back Stabbers
Another song I had loved for a long time but not covered prior to this feature is Back Stabbers by The O’Jays. There’s just something about smooth Philly soul sound! Back Stabbers, co-written by Philadelphia International label songwriters Leon Huff, Gene McFadden and John Whitehead, is the title track of The O’Jays’ sixth studio album. Released in August 1972, it was their breakthrough and the first for Philadelphia International Records, a label that had only been founded in 1971. Check out the sweet harmony singing on that tune – sounds a bit like The Temptations!
XTC/Making Plans For Nigel
“Forced” to pick a band or artist whose name starts with “x”, I’m glad I finally got to take a look at XTC, a group I essentially had known by name only. And because of one tune: Making Plans For Nigel. The song was written by Colin Moulding (bass, vocals), one of XTC’s founding members. It first appeared in August 1979 on the group’s third studio album Drums and Wires. The following month, it became the record’s lead single and marked the band’s commercial breakthrough. Even though I find this tune somewhat odd, I think it’s quite ingenious!
And here’s a Spotify playlist of all previously selected 26 desert island tunes. Even though it’s safe to assume you wouldn’t pick many or perhaps even any of these tracks to take with you to an island in the sun, I hope you still enjoy the playlist.
It’s Wednesday and time again for another imaginary trip to a desert island. And that also means I have to pick a song I would take with me by an artist or band I like but haven’t written about or only rarely covered. Thank goodness I don’t have to do this in real life – I’d go nuts with one song only and the other “rules”.
I’m doing this little exercise in alphabetic order and I’m up to “l”. Artists/ bands in my music library, who start with that letter, include Larkin Poe, Cindy Lauper, Led Zeppelin, Little Richard, The Lovin’ Spoonful and Lynyrd Skynyrd, among others. And my pick are Los Lobos and Kiko and the Lavender Moon, a really cool tune I wouldn’t have picked without the above restrictions. Frankly, this was a tough decision for me, since I still don’t know the band from East L.A. very well.
Kiko and the Lavender Moon appeared on the band’s sixth studio album Kiko released in May 1992. The tune was written by co-founding members David Hildago (guitars, accordion, violin, banjo, piano, percussion, vocals) and Louie Pérez (drums, vocals, guitars, percussion). Both remain part of the group’s present line-up. I dig the vibe of this tune, though it’s tricky to characterize. I can hear some retro jazz and a dose of Latin groove. If it doesn’t speak to you the first time, I’d encourage you to give it at least one more listen!
Los Lobos, who blend rock & roll, Tex-Mex, country, zydeco, folk, R&B, blues and soul with traditional Spanish music like cumbia, bolero and norteño, were founded by Hildago and Pérez in East Los Angeles in 1973. When they met in high school, they realized they liked the same artists, such as Fairport Convention, Randy Newman and Ry Cooder. Subsequently, 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. Rosas and Lozano are also still around.
In early 1978, the band, then still known as Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles, self-released their eponymous debut album in Spanish. 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 became their biggest hit. While it’s a great cover, I deliberately avoided it. Los Lobos are much more than a one-hit wonder! To date, they have released more than 20 albums, including three compilations and four live records.
Here’s how Kiko and the Lavender Moon and Los Lobos sound in 2022:
Following are some additional insights from Songfacts:
This song is about a magical, albeit lonely character called Kiko, who comes out at night to “dance and dance.” In our interview, Los Lobos’ drummer and songwriter, Louie Pérez, told us he reflected upon his childhood when writing the lyrics: “I took this remembrance of the little house that I grew up in and Mom’s dresser-top altar, and was able to fold that into a song.”
In 1993, Los Lobos performed this on Sesame Street, changing the lyrics to “Elmo and the Lavender Moon.”
Kiko saw Los Lobos adopt a more experimental sound, that mixed blues, rock, folk and psychedelic influences. Perez spoke to us about the spiritual experience that was the making of Kiko, which is his favorite Los Lobos album: “There’s a point when all songwriters fall into this vacuum where it seems so amorphic and almost surreal… all of us were on this crazy trip. It was like a canoe into the fog, all of us were right there paddling away, and knowing we just have to paddle. We don’t know where we’re going, but we just trusted it. And it was amazing.”
Be the Love You Want “still got that church vibe, it still has the soul”
Southern Avenue’s new album Be the Love You Want dropped today, and it’s another beauty by the five piece from Memphis, Tenn. Their third studio album had been on my radar screen since the June 11 release of the excellent Push Now, the first of three upfront singles I covered here. While it feels like a bigger and more contemporary production compared to the band’s first two records and there’s a guest appearance by pop artist Jason Mraz on Move Into the Light, the second upfront single I reviewed here, Be the Love You Want at its core still sounds very much like Southern Avenue’s music I’ve come to love: A tasty blend of blues, soul, funk and gospel, combined with elements of modern R&B.
Be the One You Love kicks of with the title track. It sets the tone for an album that according to Southern Avenue’s website “showcases an exhilarating, and deeply emotional collection of songs that captures all of the shared experiences that bring us together—joy and sorrow, unity and separation, love and hate.” Like most of the other tracks, it was co-written by guitarist Ori Naftaly and lead vocalist Tierinii Jackson, who co-founded Southern Avenue in 2015, together with drummer Tikyra Jackson, Tierinii’s sister. It’s a strong opener featuring Tierinii’s seductive voice, beautiful harmony vocals by Tikyra, nice work by Naftali and keyboarder Jeremy Powell, and a great grove fueled by Tikyra and bassist Evan Sarver.
I’m skipping the funky Control, which I previously reviewed here, and go right to Don’t Hesitate (Call Me) where the band slows it down a bit. It’s a beautiful tune full of soul and a cool sound. I also really like Naftaly’s guitar work. Check it out!
Again, I’m skipping a track, the above noted Push Now, and go right to Fences, another soulful gem on the slower side. It was co-written by Naftaly, Jackson and Itay Shimoni.
Let’s Get It Together picks up the groove again. In addition to Naftaly and Tierinii Jackson, the tune is credited to the rhythm engine of Evan Sarver and Tikyra Jackson. Great funky stuff – I love it!
Let’s skip the aforementioned Move Into the Light and do one more: Move On, the excellent closer. It’s got some more of that great funky groove. The lyrics in a broader sense seem to reflect Tierinii Jackson’s struggle for acceptance by her church and her parents who reprimanded her for pursuing music outside the church. “I had a few viral videos out at some point,” Jackson toldAmerican Songwriter. “But I became this embarrassment to the church. I was openly reprimanded in front of the church. So, I just walked out and never went back. That drove a rift through me and my parents for a while. But we grew through it and we’re still growing.”
Be the Love You Want, which appears on Renew Records/BMG, was co-produced by Naftaly and Steve Berlin who has won multiple Grammys and worked with the likes of Los Lobos, Deer Tick and Jackie Greene. The album follows Keep On (May 2019) and the self-titled Southern Avenue (February 2017). You can read more about Keep Onhere. I’ve also repeatedly covered music from the band’s eponymous debut, for example here.
The last word shall belong to Tierinii Jackson. “We reworked it with the band and made it all churchy and soulful and as Memphis-y as we could,” she previously explained to American Songwriter, referring to Move Into the Light, the album’s second upfront single featuring Jason Mraz. “It turned out really, really great. It’s kind of a wild card, because it’s more of a dance song, but it’s still got that church vibe, it still has the soul.” While her statement is more fitting to that particular tune, I feel it also nicely sums up the entire album – more mature and contemporary production but still Southern Avenue!
Sources: Wikipedia; Southern Avenue website; American Songwriter; YouTube
Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time
Hope everybody is enjoying their Sunday and has had a good week. Time again to embark on another music journey where the only thing that’s certain is that nothing is certain. In other words, anything goes as long as I like it. Oftentimes, these posts are pretty eclectic, and this installment is no different, featuring country rock, progressive rock, rockabilly, synth pop, folk rock and Chicano garage rock.
Poco/What a Day
A recent post about Rusty Young and Paul Cotton by fellow blogger Mike from Ticket 2 Ride brought country rock pioneers Poco back on my radar screen – and the realization I’ve yet to take a deeper dive into their music. My first encounter with Poco was in the ’80s when a dear longtime music friend introduced me to the band with their excellent 11th studio album Legend from November 1978. After they had released records for nearly a decade, it finally gave them a top 20 on the Billboard 200, reaching no. 14. Poco were formed in 1968 by former Buffalo Springfield members Richie Furay (vocals, rhythm guitar) and Jim Messina (lead guitar, vocals), together with Rusty Young (pedal steel guitar, banjo, dobro, guitar, mandolin, vocals), Randy Meisner (bass, vocals) and George Grantham (drums, vocals). In addition to 19 studio albums, the band’s catalog includes multiple compilations and live recordings. Poco have continued to perform with many different line-ups, though with the death of Young from a heart attack at age 75 in April this year, their current status is uncertain. Here’s a tune I love off their debut album Pickin’ Up the Pieces that came out in May 1969: What a Day, written by Furay. You can read more about that album here.
Genesis/The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
Let’s move to the ’70s and a dose of prog rock, a genre I’ve never really embraced with a few exceptions. One of them are Genesis. I began exploring the British group in the mid ’80s back in Germany when getting access to many of their albums through my best friend whom I’ve known since the second school grade. Genesis were formed in 1967 by Peter Gabriel (lead vocals, flute), Tony Banks (organ, piano, backing vocals), Anthony Phillips (lead guitar), Mike Rutherford (bass, guitar, backing vocals) and Chris Stewart (drums), who all attended a boarding school in the English town of Godalming. By the time their debut album From Genesis to Revelation appeared in March 1969, Stewart had been replaced on drums by Jonathan Silver. After a hiatus following their last studio album …Calling All Stations… from September 1997 and occasional reunions, Genesis reformed in March 2020 and announced The Last Domino? Tour set to kick off in mid-September Dublin, Ireland, and currently including 40 dates across Ireland, the UK, U.S. and Canada. The line-up features Banks, Collins and Rutherford, along with various touring musicians. Here’s the title track from the band’s sixth studio album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, which was released in November 1974 and was the last to feature Gabriel. Like the remaining tracks, the tune was credited to all members of the band, which at the time included Banks, Collins, Gabriel, Rutherford and guitarist Steve Hackett who had replaced Phillips on lead guitar in late 1970. For some additional thoughts on the album, you can check here.
After nearly 5 minutes of prog rock, I’m sure y’all are ready for some great rockabilly, a genre I’ve been digging the first time I heard it. Most likely, that was sometime during the second half of the ’70s when I started listening to the radio more frequently, in particular an oldies show that aired on Sunday evenings on my favorite station SWF3 (now SWR3). And it may well have been Carl Perkins or Bill Haley or Elvis Presley – frankly, I don’t remember. Perkins, a rockabilly pioneer, started his recording career in 1954 at Sam Phillips’Sun Records. In February 1957, he released Matchbox as the B-side to Your True Love. Matchbox shares some lyric phrases with Blind Lemon Jefferson’s 1927 recording of Match Box Blues, though musically the tunes are different. Matchbox and Your True Love also appeared on Dance Album Of Carl Perkins, his debut full-length record from 1957. It’s probably best remembered by the classic Blue Suede Shoes, another Perkins song that became his only no. 1 on Billboard’s country chart. It also surged to no. 2 on the mainstream Billboard Hot 100, his best-performing single there as well. Carl Perkins who passed away in January 1998 at the age of 65, was inducted into the Rock Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 by Sam Phillips.
Prince needs no further introduction. While I wouldn’t call myself a fan, I’ve admired him for many years because of his incredible musicianship and remarkable versatility. And I definitely like some of his songs. I was tempted to pick Purple Rain, the title track of Prince’s 1984 album, which brought him on my radar screen, and a tune I love to this day. Instead, I decided to go with another title track, 1999, from Prince’s fifth studio album that appeared in October 1982. To me, it’s one of the most infectious dance tunes I know. According to Songfacts, Prince wrote the party-like jam during the height of the Cold War. But while acknowledging Everybody’s got a bomb/We could all die any day, he resorted to an optimistic stance, telling people to enjoy their remaining time on earth: But before I’ll let that happen/I’ll dance my life away.
Mumford & Sons/I Will Wait
After some country rock, prog rock, rockabilly and a synth pop party tune about nuclear Armageddon, I think we’re ready for a dose of English folk rock, don’t you agree? Mumford & Sons were formed in London in late 2007 by multi-instrumentalists Marcus Mumford (lead vocals, guitars, drums), Ben Lovett (vocals, piano, keyboards, accordion), Winston Marshall (vocals, guitars, banjo, bass) and Ted Dwane (vocals, bass, double bass, drums). After their successful debut album Sigh No More from October 2009, which topped the charts in Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands and hit no. 2 in the UK and the U.S., the band gained even greater prominence with their sophomore release Babel that appeared in September 2012. The record debuted at no. 1 on the UK Albums Chart and the U.S. Billboard 200 and also reached the top of the charts in many other countries. Babel became the fastest selling record of 2012 in the UK and was the biggest selling debut of any album in the U.S. that year. Mumford & Sons have since continued to enjoy success with two additional albums. Marshall left earlier this year, leaving Mumford & Sons as a trio for now. Here’s I Will Wait from the above noted Babel album. Written by Marcus Mumford, it’s the band’s most successful single to date and I assume the song most people have heard. Here’s the official video with footage captured at the breathtaking Red Rocks Amphitheatre near Morrison, Col.
Thee Midniters/Empty Heart
And, once again, this brings me to the sixth tune that will conclude this week’s musical excursion. Let’s go back to the ’60s where the post started with a pick inspired by my recent review of Los Lobos’ great new album. Native Sons, which largely features covers by bands and artists from L.A. or who ended up there, celebrates the city’s rich musical heritage. The covers include a tune by Thee Midniters, another Chicano rock band who like Los Lobos were from East Los Angeles. Formed in the mid ’60s, their members included Willie Garcia (lead vocals), George Dominguez (lead guitar), Roy Marquez (rhythm guitar), Ronny Figueroa (organ), Larry Rendon (saxophone), Romeo Prado (trombone), Jimmy Espinoza (bass) and George Salaza (drums). After releasing a few albums, the band split in the early ’70s. According to Wikipedia, The Midniters have continued to perform over the decades, led by original members Espinoza and Rendon. I haven’t been able to verify the group’s current status. Here’s their cover of The Rolling Stones’Empty Heart. Co-written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the Stones first recorded the tune for their second EP Five by Five released in August 1964. Check out this cooking rendition by Thee Midniters.
Los Lobos are a band I immensely respect for their great musicianship. Admittedly, my opinion is based on a relatively limited amount of their music I’ve heard thus far. Not counting singles, their impressive catalog includes 17 studio albums, four live records, three compilations and a couple of EPs, spanning 40-plus years. When I spotted their new release Native Sons and noticed it was largely a collection of covers, I wasn’t sure what to expect. To say it upfront, I’ve been enjoying this album a lot!
I don’t mind when a music artist or a band throws in some covers on their albums. After all, that’s what two of my all-time favorite bands The Beatles and The Rolling Stones did early in their recording careers. But an entire album of covers? Plus, for a band in their fifth decade one could be forgiven to wonder whether they have run out of ideas or were looking to make a quick buck. Well, I don’t believe that’s the case here. Plus, I’ve read a half dozen reviews and it strikes me they are all very positive.
The overarching theme of Native Sons, which was released on July 30, is that all tracks are by artists and bands who are from Los Angeles originally or found their way there. Apart from 12 covers ranging from popular artists like Jackson Browne and The Beach Boys to lesser known acts such as Thee Midniters and Lalo Guerrero, the album features one original, which is the title track.
“Well, most of the artists we covered were actually people who came to Los Angeles from somewhere else, like me,” explained the band’s longtime saxophonist Steve Berlin during an interview with American Songwriter. “That’s one of the beauties of the city—people come from all different places. But once you get there, you’re there and you know where you’re supposed to be. But the other guys in the band, they’re natives, which is where the title came from.”
Time for some music. Here’s the opener Love Special Delivery by Thee Midniters, a Chicano rock band who like Los Lobos were from East L.A. The song, co-written by lead vocalist Willie Garcia and bassist Jimmy Espinoza, was the title track of their 1966 studio album. “It’s special to me because Thee Midniters were a group that I grew up listening to around my neighborhood in East LA in the ‘60s as a kid, and I just always loved the groove to that song,” Los Lobos guitarist and vocalist Cesar RosastoldVariety. Indeed, a great garage rocker I had never heard of before! Like is the case for all covers, Los Lobos’ rendition stays pretty close to the original, which you can listen to here.
Los Chucos Suaves by Lalo Guerrero is the only Spanish tune on the album. According to Wikipedia, the guitarist, singer and farm labor activist was best known for his strong influence on later Latin musical artists. Guerrero also represents an artist who was not a native Los Angelino but moved to L.A. in the 1940s. Lalo Guerrero Y Sus Cincos Lobos recorded Los Chucos Suaves in 1949, as the explanatory notes of the below clip explain, which add Guerrero is known as “The Father of Chicano Music.” Again, I’m also including a link to the original, if you’re curious. Here’s Los Lobos’ version – just incredible how versatile this band is!
Next up is the great title track, which as noted above is the only original song on the album. Native Son was co-written by Louis Perez (words) and David Hidalgo (music). The lyrics pretty much say it all. An excerpt: …No matter where I lay my head/No matter how far I’ve run/I dream about the day you’ll take me back/I’m your native son…Love that warm sound!
Perhaps the vocal highlight of the album is the excellent version of Sail on, Sailor, a tune by The Beach Boys. Credited to Brian Wilson, Tandyn Almer, Van Dyke Parks, Ray Kennedy and Jack Rieley, the song first appeared as the opener of the band’s 19th studio album Holland from January 1973. It was also released separately as a single later that month, climbing to no. 49 on the Billboard Hot 100, the first of only five U.S. top 50 singles The Beach Boys scored during the ’70s. Their significant ’60s chart success, especially during the first half of the decade, was history. The original is here. Now check out Los Lobos. Apart from being excellent musicians, these guys also can sing!
The last track I’d like to highlight is Flat Top Joint, originally by East L.A. compadres The Blasters. Written by Dave Alvin, the great rock & roll tune was first included on The Blasters’ debut album American Music from 1980. The explanatory notes to the below clip recall a cool anecdote: After a Blasters’ show at The Country Club in Reseda, Los Lobos handed Phil Alvin a cassette. “Hey! We’re a band from East L.A.!” Phil responded: “We’re from East L.A. too!” Later, the Blasters asked the band to open for them at the Whisky a Go Go, which eventually led to Los Lobos’ first label signing with Slash Records. There’s a second connection between the two bands. Steve Berlin was playing with The Blasters before he joined Los Lobos in 1984. Here’s the excellent original. And here’s how Los Lobos covers it. Man, that tune just rocks!
Native Sons, which appears on New West Records and was produced by Los Lobos, is the band’s 17th studio album. Los Lobos have been around since 1973. Four of their five members are original members: Cesar Rosas (vocals, guitar, mandolin), Conrad Lozano (bass, guitarron, vocals), Louis Perez (drums, guitar, percussion, vocals) and David Hidalgo (vocals, guitar, accordion). As noted above, Steve Berlin (saxophone, percussion, flute, midsax, harmonica, melodica) joined in 1984.
The band is embarking on a busy U.S. tour today in Costa Mesa, Calif. The full schedule is here.
Sources: Wikipedia; American Songwriter; Variety; Discogs; Songkick; YouTube
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 Newinstallment. 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!
Today, my music provider served up a “Chill Mix” that included a tune by Los Lobos titled The Town. It’s from their 12th studio album The Town and the City, which was released in September 2006. Earlier this evening, I sampled some other songs from this record and came across the fantastic The Road to Gila Bend.
I just love that rugged guitar sound. Rolling Stone hit the nail on the head when they called it “a hurricane of Neil Young-like guitar.” That’s probably why I dig it so much. The catchy tune was co-written by David Hildago and Louis Pérez, two of the founding members of Los Lobos who were formed in East Los Angeles in 1973.
According to Wikipedia, The Town and the City explores themes of longing, disillusionment, and loneliness in the Mexican-American immigration experience, and was well received when it came out. Rolling Stone called it their best album since Colossal Head from March 1996. I really need to further explore Los Lobos who remain active to this day.
A two-part feature looking back at music of the decade
Here is the second and final installment of my feature looking back at music and some related events in the ’80s. This part is focused on the second half of the decade. As noted in part 1, it isn’t meant to be a comprehensive review but instead a selection of things I find noteworthy.
To me the key music event during this year and perhaps the entire decade was Live Aid. I was watching it on TV from Germany while simultaneously taping it on music cassette from the radio. Organized by Bob Geldorf and Midge Ure as a fundraiser to fight starvation in Ethiopia, Africa, the benefit concert was conducted on July 13 simultaneously in the U.K. at London’s Wembley Stadium and the U.S. at John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia. Among others, it featured Status Quo, Queen, U2, David Bowie, The Who and Paul McCartney at Wembley, while some of the performers in Philly included Joan Baez, Madonna, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Tina Turner and, in a less-than-stellar appearance, a reunited Led Zeppelin featuring Phil Collins on drums. The concerts were watched by an estimated global TV audience of 1.9 billion across 150 countries and raised approximately 150 million British pounds.
Other events that year included the official launch of VH-1 on cable TV in the U.S. (Jan 1); recording of the charity single for Africa We Are The World (Jan 28), co-written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie and performed by USA For Africa, who apart from Jackson and Ritchie featured Ray Charles, Billy Joel, Cindy Lauper, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder and numerous other top artists; release of Dire Straits’ fifth studio album Brothers In Arms, their best-selling record that among others became known for its exceptional sound quality due to its all-digital recording (May 13); Michael Jackson’s purchase of the publishing rights for most of The Beatles’ catalog for $47 million, out-bidding former artistic collaborator McCartney whose success in music publishing had inspired Jackson to increase his activities in the business (Sep 6); and Roger Waters’ announced intention to leave Pink Floyd, which marked the start of a two-year legal battle over the rights to the band’s name and assets.
The biggest hit singles of 1985 were Shout (Tears For Fears), We Are The World (USA For Africa), Take On Me (a-ha), I Want To Know What Love Is (Foreigner) and Material Girl (Madonna). Following is Money For Nothing, the second single from Dire Straits’Brothers In Arms album, which they performed at Live Aid. Like on the studio recording, it featured Sting on backing vocals.
On Jan 30, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame held its first induction ceremony. The first batch of inductees included Chuck Berry, James Brown, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, The Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Elvis Presley. While over the years since, there has been much debate over who should be in the Rock Hall, the selection process, the award categories, etc., I think there is no doubt that the above artists all well-deserving inductees.
Other events: Bob Geldorf’s knighthood award to recognize his work for Live Aid and other charity concerts for Africa (Jun 10); release of Madonna’sTrue Blue album, the best-selling record of year (Jun 30); and disbanding of The Clash, Electric Light Orchestra (revived by Jeff Lynne in 2000) and Men At Work.
The top-performing hit singles included Rock Me Amadeus (Falco) – the first German-language song to top the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, Papa Don’t Preach (Madonna), The Final Countdown (Europe), Take My Breath Away (Berlin) and West End Girls (Pet Shop Boys). The 1986 tune I’d like to highlight is Sledgehammer by Peter Gabriel, which was first released as a single in April. It also appeared on his fifth studio album So that came out the following month. Here’s the song’s official video, which won multiple accolades in 1987, including a record nine awards at the MTV Music Video Music Awards and “Best British Video” at the Brit Awards. It’s definitely one of the most memorable music videos of the decade.
Some of the events in music during that year included the induction of Aretha Franklin as the first woman into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Jan 3); release of U2’s fifth studio album The Joshua Tree (Mar 9), which topped the charts in 20-plus countries and became one of the world’s most commercially successful records, selling more than 25 million copies; Whitney Houston’s second studio album Whitney, the first record by a female artist to debut at no. 1 on the Billboard 200 (Jun 27); launch of MTV Europe (Aug 1); and release of A Momentary Lapse Of Reason, Pink Floyd’s first studio album after the departure of and legal battle with Roger Waters (Sep 7). Waters finally wrapped up his legal separation from the band later that year.
The highest-charting hit singles were La Bamba (Los Lobos), Never Gonna Give You Up (Rick Astley); I Wanna Dance With Somebody Who Loves Me (Whitney Houston), It’s A Sin (Pet Shop Boys) and Who’s That Girl (Madonna) – I remember each of these songs like it was yesterday! Here’s Where The Streets Have No Name from my favorite U2 album The Joshua Tree. Credited to the band (music) and Bono (lyrics), the tune was released as the album’s third single in August 1987, five months after the record’s appearance.
Some of the music events that year included the induction of The Beach Boys, The Beatles, The Drifters, Bob Dylan and The Supremes into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Jan 20); near-death experience for Alice Cooper on stage after one of the props, the Gallows, malfunctioned – yikes! (Apr 7); sale of legendary soul label Motown Records to MCA and financial firm Boston Ventures for $61 million (Jun 27); John Fogerty’s win of what sounds like a frivolous self-plagiarism lawsuit Fantasy Records had brought against him, claiming his 1985 comeback tune The Old Man Down The Road was too similar to Run Through The Jungle, which he had recorded with Creedence Clearwater Revival in 1970 (Nov 7); and final concert by Roy Orbison in Akron, Ohio (Dec 4) prior to his death from a heart attack only two days thereafter.
Leading hit singles: A Groovy Kind Of Love (Phil Collins), Don’t Worry Be Happy (Bobby McFerrin), Always On My Mind (Pet Shop Boys), Heaven Is A Place On Earth (Belinda Carlisle) and Take Me To Your Heart (Rick Astley). One 1988 song I like in particular is Under The Milky Way Tonight by Australian outfit The Church. Co-written by Steve Kilbey and Karin Jansson, it became the lead single to their excellent fifth studio album Starfish. Both were released in February that year. Here’s a clip.
I can’t believe I made it to the last year of the decade! Some of the events I’d like to highlight are criticism of Madonna by religious groups worldwide over alleged blasphemous use of Christian imagery in her music video for Like A Prayer (Feb 23), which had premiered on MTV the day before; release of Bonnie Raitt’s 10th studio album Nick Of Time, one of my favorite records from her (Mar 21); release of Tom Petty’s excellent debut solo album Full Moon Fever (Apr 24); Ringo Starr’s formation of his All-Starr Band (Jul 23); opening of The Rolling Stones’ North American tour in Philadelphia to support their comeback album Steel Wheels (Aug 31), two days after the album had dropped; and release of Neil Young’s 17th studio album Freedom (Oct 2), best known for the epic Rockin’ In The Free World.
Key hit singles were Like A Prayer (Madonna), Eternal Flame (The Bangles), Another Day In Paradise (Phil Collins), The Look (Roxette) and Love Shack (The B-52s). The final ’80s tune I’d like to call out via clip is Down To London by Joe Jackson, an artist I’ve listened to for many years. He recorded the song for his 10th studio release Blaze Of Glory, which appeared in April 1989.
The British television music show featured an impressive array of artists
This post and the related new category I’m introducing to the blog was inspired by a dear friend from Germany, who earlier today suggested searching YouTube for “Old Grey Whistle Test,” just for fun! Since he shares my passion for music and always gives me great tips, I checked it out right away and instantly liked the clips that came up. This triggered the idea to start writing about places where rock & roll has been performed throughout the decades.
At this time, I envisage The Venues to include famous concert halls and TV shows. Many come to mind: The Fillmore, The Beacon Theater, The Apollo, The Hollywood Bowl, Candlestick Park, Winterland Ballroom, The Ed Sullivan Show, Rockpalast – the list goes on and on! Given it was my dear friend who inspired me, it feels right to start with The Old Grey Whistle Test.
I admit that until earlier today, I had never heard about The Old Grey Whistle Test. According to Wikipedia, the British television show aired on the BBC between September 1971 and January 1988. The late night rock show was commissioned by British veteran broadcaster Sir David Attenborough and conceived by BBC TV producer Rowan Ayers.
The show aimed to emphasize “serious” rock music, less whether it was chart-topping or not – a deliberate contrast to Top of the Pops, another BBC show that was chart-driven, as the name suggests. Based on the YouTube clips I’ve seen, apparently, this was more the case in the show’s early days than in the ’80s when the music seems to have become more commercial. Unlike other TV music shows, the sets on The Old Grey Whistle lacked showbiz glitter – again, probably more true for the ’70s than the ’80s period.
During the show’s early years, performing bands oftentimes recorded the instrumental tracks the day before the show aired. The vocals were performed live most of the time. After 1973, the show changed to an all-live format. In 1983, the title was abridged to Whistle Test. The last episode was a live 1987/88 New Year’s Eve special, including a 1977 live performance of Hotel California by The Eagles and Meat Loaf’sBat Out of Hell.
So what kind of music did the show feature? Let’s take a look at some of these YouTube clips.
Neil Young/Heart of Gold (1971)
Steppenwolf/Born to Be Wild (1972)
David Bowie/Oh, You Pretty Things (1972; not broadcast until 1982)
Rory Gallagher/Hands Off (1973)
Joni Mitchell/Big Yellow Taxi (1974)
John Lennon/Slippin’ & Slidin’ (1975)
Bonnie Raitt/Angel From Montgomery (1976)
Emmylou Harris/Ooh Las Vegas (1977)
Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers/American Girl (1978)
Joe Jackson/Sunday Papers (1979)
Ramones/Rock & Roll High School & Rock ‘N Roll Radio (1980)
Los Lobos/Don’t Worry Baby (1984)
Simply Red/Holding Back the Years & I Won’t Feel Bad (1985)