The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another installment of The Sunday Six, my weekly imaginary time travel that celebrates music of the past 60 years or so, six tunes at a time. Today’s post was inspired by fellow blogger and poet Lisa from Tao Talk who is currently doing a great Women Music March series. The reality is the music business is pretty male-dominated, even more so once you go back to the past. But, as many music fans know, there have been amazing female artists throughout the decades. Following are some of them.

Ella Fitzgerald/Rock It For Me

Let’s start today’s journey in the year 1938. ‘Wait a moment,’ you may say, that’s 84 years ago, not just 60. Well, the 60-year span isn’t set in stone. In fact, nothing really is on The Sunday Six, except I have to dig it. I trust everybody has heard of American jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald. According to Wikipedia, “The First Lady of Song”, “Queen of Jazz” and “Lady Ella”, as she was called, was known for her purity of tone, impeccable diction, phrasing, timing, intonation and a “horn-like” improvisational ability, particularly in her scat singing (a vocal improvisation with wordless vocables, nonsense syllables or no words at all – CMM). After gaining popularity with the Chick Webb Orchestra during the second half of the 1930s, Fitzgerald launched a solo career in 1942. Over a nearly 60-year career, she collaborated with the likes of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and The Ink Spots, and released an enormous catalog of studio and live solo and collaboration albums. Rock It For Me, co-written by twins Kay Werner and Sue Werner, appeared as a single by the Chick Webb Orchestra in 1938. Wikipedia notes the lyrics include the term “rock and roll,” an early reference to the genre before it existed…Now it’s true that once upon a time/The opera was the thing/But today the rage is rhythm and rhyme/So won’t you satisfy my soul/With the rock and roll

Wanda Jackson/Let’s Have a Party

Let’s continue our music celebration with some kickass classic rock & roll by Wanda Jackson, one of the first female artists who made a career in rock & roll in the 1950s. One of her best-known tunes is Let’s Have a Party, penned by Jessie Mae Robinson, which Jackson first recorded for her eponymous debut album from July 1958. The previous year, Elvis Presley had released the song as a single in the UK, titled Party. As much as I dig Elvis, Jackson’s version leaves him in the dust! Jackson’s rendition of Let’s Have a Party also came out as a single in June 1960. If I see it correctly, this was her first song that charted on the Billboard Hot 100, climbing to no. 37. Jackson, who is now 84, has also released music in other genres, including country and gospel. Apparently, she is still active. Her latest album Encore appeared last year, and you can watch her most recent single It Keeps Right On A Hurtin’ here. What a dynamite lady!

Joan Jett & the Blackhearts/I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll

Speaking of kickass, next our time machine shall take us to the early ’80s and Joan Jett & the Blackhearts. Yes, I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll may be the obvious tune, and it hasn’t exactly suffered from underexposure. But, as we used to say in Germany during my teenage years, this tune is just “geil,” which loosely translated means amazing. Co-written by Alan Merrill and Jake Hooker, who shockingly were both guitarists, I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll was first recorded by short-lived British rock band Arrows and released as a single in July 1975. After Jett had seen the band perform the tune on British TV in 1976 while touring the UK, she decided to cover it. Her initial rendition was recorded with Sex Pistols guitarist and drummer Steve Jones and Paul Cook, respectively. It appeared in 1979 as the B-side to Jett’s single You Don’t Own Me and went unnoticed. Jett’s decision to re-record the song in 1981 with her band the Blackhearts and make it the title track of the group’s second studio album proved to be a winner. Not only did the tune become the band’s first charting single, but it also turned out to be their biggest hit. I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll topped the mainstream charts in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand, hit no. 1 in Sweden, and reached the top 10 in various other European countries. Joan Jett & the Blackhearts still love rock & roll and are scheduled to launch what looks like an extended US tour later this month.

The Pointer Sisters/Fire

American vocal group The Pointer Sisters, who have been around since 1970, have performed songs in multiple genres, including pop, disco, jazz, electronic music, bebop, blues, soul, funk, dance, country and rock – I suppose it would have been easier to list the genres they haven’t done! The song that brought them on my radar screen is one of their biggest hits: Fire. For several years, I didn’t realize this was actually a Bruce Springsteen tune. When I heard the original for the first time on Springsteen’s boxed set Live/1975–85, admittedly, I was underwhelmed, feeling it lacked the great dynamic of the Pointer Sisters. I’ve since warmed to it, though I still prefer the rendition by the female vocal group. Their version was first released as the lead single of their fifth studio album Energy in October 1978. The entire record is fairly rock-oriented and also includes a great cover of the Steely Dan tune Dirty Work.

Melissa Aldana/Elsewhere

Not including an instrumental in a Sunday Six post just didn’t feel right, so I decided to feature another track by my “latest discovery,” Melissa Aldana, a tenor saxophonist from Chile. In case you saw my latest Best of What’s New installment, you may recall the name. Borrowing from this post, Aldana, the daughter of renowned tenor saxophonist Marcos Aldana, began formal saxophone instruction at the age of six. By the time she was 16, she already headlined jazz clubs in Santiago. With the help of Panamanian pianist Danilo Pérez, Aldana auditioned at Berklee College of Music and the New England Conservatory, subsequently won a scholarship to Berklee and launched a career in the U.S. Elsewhere is a beautiful tune from Aldana’s fifth studio album Visions released in May 2019. This young woman is so talented!

The Linda Lindas/Growing Up

And once again this brings us to the final stop of our mini-excursion. How many Asian-American and Latino all-female punk bands do you know? I had not been aware of any until I came across The Linda Lindas the other day. This group from Los Angeles, which includes Bela Salazar (guitar, vocals), Eloise Wong (bass, vocals), Lucia de la Garza (guitar, vocals) and her sister Mila de la Garza (drums, vocals), has been around since 2018. After American actress and film director Amy Poehler watched a live performance of the band, she asked them to record a song for her 2021 comedy-drama Moxie. The Linda Lindas also penned a tune for the 2020 Netflix documentary The Claudia Kishi Club. In May last year, they signed with Epitaph Records and released Oh!, their first single with the label. Here’s Growing Up, the title track of the band’s full-length debut album that’s scheduled for April 8. The enthusiasm and energy of these ladies just make me smile. And apparently, they are still so young. I suppose I’m now at an age where I repeatedly find myself thinking, ‘gee, these could be my kids!’

Last but not least, here’s a playlist of all the above-featured tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; Joan Jett & the Blackhearts website; YouTube; Spotify

The Hump Day Picker-Upper

Cheering you up for a dreadful Wednesday, one song at a time

For those of us taking care of business during the regular workweek, I guess it’s safe to assume we’ve all felt that dreadful Wednesday blues. Sometimes, that middle point of the workweek can be a true drag. But help is on the way!

Today’s proposed remedy to chase the clouds away is Sir Duke by Stevie Wonder. While Wonder wrote that song as a tribute to musicians he loves, especially Duke Ellington, to me, it has a very happy feel that always lifts my mood instantly. And it’s also really groovy.

Sir Duke first appeared on Songs in the Key of Life, Wonder’s 18th studio album from September 1976, and a true masterpiece. The tune also became the record’s third single in March 1977. In the U.S., it topped the Billboard Hot 100 and Best Selling Soul Singles (now called Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs) charts. Among ex-U.S. chart placements, it also hit no. 1 in Canada and climbed to no. 2 in the UK.

In addition to Ellington, Sir Duke celebrates Louis Armstrong (“Satchmo”), Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie and Sodarisa Miller. “I knew the title from the beginning but wanted it to be about the musicians who did something for us,” Wonder said, according to Songfacts. “So soon they are forgotten. I wanted to show my appreciation. They gave us something that is supposed to be forever. That’s the basic idea of what we do and how we hook it up.”

Happy Hump Day, and always remember the wise words of George Harrison: All things must pass!

The Hump Day Picker-Upper will go on a short hiatus for the holidays and be back on Wednesday, January 5.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another installment of The Sunday Six, my weekly zig-zag excursions exploring different styles of music over the past 70 years, six tunes at a time. This installment kicks off with jazz from 1956, followed by new jazzy pop-rock from 2021, country rock from 1976, new wave from 1984 and soft rock from 2013, before finishing up with some rock from 1967.

Charles Mingus/Profile of Jackie

I’d like to embark on this little journey with beautiful music by Charles Mingus, who is considered to be one of the greatest jazz musicians. Over a 30-year career, the double bassist, pianist, composer and bandleader played with many other greats like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, and released about 50 albums as a bandleader. Initially, Mingus started on the trombone and later studied the cello before picking up the double bass. As a teenager, he felt excluded from the classical music world since he couldn’t join a youth orchestra because of his inability to read musical notation quickly enough due to a poor education. These experiences, along with lifelong racism Mingus encountered influenced his music that oftentimes focused on themes like racial discrimination and injustice. By the mid-70s, sadly, Mingus had ALS. Eventually, this heinous disease made it impossible for him to play bass. Mingus continued to compose music until his untimely death in January 1979 at the age of 56. Here’s Profile of Jackie, a composition from a 1956 album titled Pithecanthropus Erectus. Mingus’ backing musicians included Jackie McLean (alto saxophone), J.R. Monterose (tenor saxophone), Mal Waldron (piano) and Willie Jones (drums).

ShwizZ/Overboard

For this next tune, I’d like to jump to the present and a cool band I first featured on the blog back in April as part of another Sunday Six installment: ShwizZ. Their website describes them as a one of a kind powerhouse from Nyack, New York. Drawing a substantial influence from classic progressive rock and funk, they consistently put their musical abilities to the test to deliver a high intensity and musically immersive show. ShwizZ note Frank ZappaYesP-Funk and King Crimson as their influences. The band, which has been around for about 10 years, features Ryan Liatsis (guitar), Will Burgaletta (keyboards), Scott Hogan (bass) and Andrew Boxer (drums). Here’s their latest single Overboard. Not only do I love the cool Steely Dan vibe, but I also find the clip pretty hilarious.

Hoodoo Rhythm Devils/Safecracker

Any band that calls itself the Hoodoo Rhythm Devils gets my attention. Until a week ago or so, I had never heard of this ’70s American group until I came across their tune Safecracker. According to Apple Music, Hoodoo Rhythm Devils blended blues boogie with country-rock, rock & roll and some soul. Initially, they were formed in San Francisco in 1970 by guitar teacher John Rewind (guitar), his student Lee Humphries (guitar) and Humphries’ friend Joe Crane (vocals). They were later joined by Glenn Walter (drums) and Richard Greene (bass). Between 1971 and 1978, Hoodoo Rhythm Devils released five studio albums. The group’s line-up changed various times over the years until they disbanded in 1980 following Crane’s death from leukemia. Here’s the above-mentioned Safecracker, an awesome tune from the band’s fourth studio album Safe In Their Homes from 1976. The song also appeared separately as a single that year. I can hear some Doobies in here.

The Cars/You Might Think

The Cars are a band I always realize know much better than I think I do once I start listening to their music. While I’m not very familiar with their background and can only name a few of their songs off the top of my head, I recognize a good deal of their songs when I hear them. It’s not really surprising since the American new wave and pop-rock band had hits throughout much of their career. The Cars were formed in Boston in 1976 and included Elliot Easton (lead guitar), Ric Ocasek (rhythm guitar), Greg Hawkes (keyboards), Benjamin Orr (bass) and David Robinson (drums). During their initial run until 1988, six studio albums appeared. After reuniting in 2010, The Cars released one more album before going on another hiatus in 2011. A second reunion followed in 2018 when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In September 2019, Ocasek was found dead in his apartment in New York at the age of 75. You Might Think, written by Ocasek, is from the band’s fifth studio album Heartbeat City that appeared in March 1984. It also became the record’s lead single that same month, and one of the band’s biggest U.S. hits, reaching no. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topping the Mainstream Rock chart. Quite a catchy tune!

Lenny Kravitz/I May Not Be A Star (Light Piece For Vanessa)

For this next track, let’s go to January 2013 and the 20th-anniversary edition of Are You Gonna Go My Way, which initially appeared in March 1993 as the third studio album by Lenny Kravitz. Kravitz entered my radar screen in late 1991 when I first heard his excellent sophomore album Mama Said that had been released in March of the same year. Since he started his recording career in 1989, Kravitz has released 11 studio albums, one greatest hits collection and various box set compilations, among others. I May Not Be A Star (Light Piece For Vanessa) is a bonus track on the aforementioned 20th-anniversary reissue of the Are You Gonna Go My Way album. I came across the tune coincidentally the other day. With the only lyrics being baby, I may not be a star, it sounds like an unfinished song – still, I dig it! I assume Vanessa refers to French singer and model Vanessa Paradis who Kravitz was dating at the time the original record came out.

The Doors/Break On Through (To The Other Side)

And once again, it’s time to wrap up things. For my final pick, I’d like to jump back to January 1967 when The Doors released their eponymous debut album. It was the first of six albums recorded by all four members of the great L.A. rock group, Jim Morrison (lead vocals, harmonica, percussion), Robby Krieger (guitar, vocals), Ray Manzarek (keyboards, keyboard bass, vocals) and John Densmore (drums, percussion, backing vocals). After Morrison’s death in July 1971 in Paris, France, The Doors released two more albums, Other Voices (October 1971) and Full Circle (1972), before they disbanded in 1973. A third Morrison post-mortem album, An American Prayer, appeared in 1978. Krieger and Densmore are still alive and remain active. Manzarek passed away in May 2013. Here’s one of my favorite tunes from the band’s first album, Break On Through (To The Other Side), credited to all four members.

Sources: Wikipedia; ShwizZ website; YouTube

Bond, James Bond…

“Bond, James Bond…” These words fascinated me from the very first 007 picture I saw when I was a kid growing up in Germany. I can’t remember how old I was but believe it was Goldfinger. On television. Sean Connery as the British super-spy, the silver Aston Martin DB5 with all the cool features, German actor Gert Fröbe as the ultimate bad guy Mr. Goldfinger – and, since this blog isn’t about movies – the killer title track performed by Shirley Bassey, an amazing vocalist!

Between TV and the movie theater, I pretty much have seen all of the 24 pictures released in the series to date. Of course, the difference between then and now is that I have so much matured that I would never want to be James Bond, driving down a winding road in a DB5 with an attractive woman sitting next to him. But taking a look at the 007 soundtracks sounds legitimate for a music blogger, doesn’t it?

Sean Connery 007 with Aston Martin
Sean Connery with the classic Aston Martin DB5 from Goldfinger

Okay, when it comes to Bond music, we’re not exactly talking Hendrix, Clapton or The Beatles here, though in one case we come close. Plus, 007 title tracks have been performed by an impressive array of artists, such as Carly Simon, Paul McCartney, Tina Turner, Duran Duran and Sheryl Crow, to name a few. Let’s get to some of them – of course, shaken, not stirred! Hence in chronological order.

What could possibly be a better way to kick things off than with the classic James Bond Theme, which first appeared in the film that started it all: Dr. No. from 1962, introducing the movie world to “my 007”, Sean Connery. The piece was written by Monty Norman. John Barry, who composed the soundtracks for 11 Bond movies, arranged it for Dr. No. I’ve always dug the combination of the cool guitar theme that reminds me a bit of Hank Marvin and the jazz orchestra. It’s a timeless movie classic, in my opinion, right up there with Casablanca.

If I could only select one 007 title song, I think it would be the above noted Goldfinger, composed by John Barry with lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley. This also happens to be my favorite Bond picture. Bassey’s killer vocal performance still gives me goosebumps to this day. Goldfinger peaked at no. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100, giving the vocalist born in Wales, England her only top 40 hit in the U.S., and a no. 21 on the UK Singles Chart.

On to Sir Paul and Live and Let Die. The 1973 picture was the first in the series to star Roger Moore as 007, my second favorite Bond actor and very close to Sean Connery. Co-written by Paul McCartney and his then-wife Linda McCartney, and recorded by McCartney’s band Wings, the tune became the most successful Bond title track up to that point, peaking at no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and reaching no. 9 on the UK Singles Chart. The song also reunited McCartney with Fab Four producer George Martin

In 1977, the 10th Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me came out. The title track Nobody Does It Better, composed by Marvin Hamlish with lyrics by Carole Bayer Sager, was performed by Carly Simon. It became Simon’s second most successful single in the U.S. and the UK, reaching no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and no. 7 on the UK Singles Chart, respectively.

Jumping to the ’80s, here’s the only Bond track to date that ever topped the Billboard Hot 100A View to a Kill from the 1985 picture, the last to feature Roger Moore. Co-written by Duran Duran and John Barry and performed by the English new wave band, the song also climbed to no. 2 in the UK, giving Duran Duran one of their biggest hits

The last Bond movie of the ’80s was License to Kill starring Timothy Dalton as 007, not my favorite choice; but I guess following Sean Connery and Roger Moore almost was mission impossible. The title track was co-written by Narada Michael Walden, Jeffrey Cohen and Walter Afanasieff. Gladys Knight performed the tune, marking her last charting solo single in the UK with a no. 6 top position.

This brings us to the ’90s. Who would have ever thought that Bono and U2 would get into the 007 action? Well, they did, writing the title track for the 95 picture GoldenEye, the first to star Pierce Brosnan in the lead role. He’s my favorite “late” 007. The title track, which incorporates a clever dose of nostalgia into a contemporary pop song, was performed by Tina Turner, who may not quite match Bassey’s Goldfinger but undoubtedly was a compelling vocalist.

Let’s pick another one from the same decade: Tomorrow Never Dies from 1997, Brosnan’s second lead role as 007. The title track was co-written by Shery Crow and the song’s producer Mitchell Froom. While the song peaked at no. 12 in the UK, it didn’t chart in the U.S.

This brings us to the current century. I’m not gonna beat around the bush here. The 007 movies and their title tracks haven’t gotten better over the decades. I still wanted to capture two examples from the 21st Century. Here’s You Know My Name from the 2006 picture Casino Royale, the first installment with Daniel Craig. Co-written by Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell and soundtrack composer David Arnold, the tune was performed by Cornell. If I see this correctly, it was Cornell’s most successful single as a solo artist in the UK, where it hit no. 7. It also reached the top 10 in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Switzerland; it was less successful in the U.S., where it climbed to no. 79.

Last but not least, perhaps you wonder how a 007 title track sounds these days. Ask and you shall receive. Here’s No Time to Die from the upcoming picture, the 25th in the series. Scheduled to hit U.S. movie theaters on April 10, it once again stars Daniel Craig as 007. Co-written by Billie Eilish and her brother Finneas O’Connell, the tune is performed by Eilish. It was released as a single on February 13th and debuted on top of the UK Singles Chart and the Irish Singles Chart. At age 18, the American singer is the youngest artist to write and perform a Bond title track. Apparently, the song is also the first 007 theme track to top the British charts – the times they are a changin!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube