The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

Welcome to a new weekly celebration of music in different flavors from different eras, six tunes at a time. Today, The Sunday Six recurring feature is hitting another mini milestone with its 25th installment. And it’s the Fourth of July holiday here in the U.S., so to those who celebrate it, happy Fourth and please be safe!

Teenage Fanclub/The Sun Won’t Shine on Me

Kicking us off today is a band with the somewhat strange name Teenage Fanclub. If you follow the great PowerPop blog, you may have seen this Scottish power pop band was just featured there. In this context, Aphoristic Album Reviews, another music blog I highly recommend, noted that not only are Teenage Fanclub still around (after more than 30 years), but they recently came out with a new album. It’s titled Endless Arcade. Founded in Bellshill near Glasgow in 1989, the band’s initial formation largely included members of The Boy Hairdressers, another local group that had just dissolved. Following a well received more edgy rock-focused debut album, A Catholic Education from June 1990, Teenage Fanclub adopted their signature power pop-oriented sound inspired by groups like Big Star, Badfinger and the Byrds. The third album Bandwagonesque brought them more attention and significant success in the U.S. where the single Star Sign hit no. 4 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart. Not surprisingly, Teenage Fanclub’s line-up has changed over the decades and currently features co-founding members Norman Blake (vocals, guitar) and Raymond McGinley (vocals, guitar), together with Euros Childs (keyboards, vocals), Dave McGowan (keyboards, guitar, bass, vocals) and Francis Macdonald (drums, vocals). Frankly, I had never heard of the band until the above fellow bloggers brought them to my attention. Here’s The Sun Won’t Shine On Me, written by Blake, which appears on Teenage Fanclub’s new album released on April 30. While the lyrics are blue, I love the tune’s jangly guitar sound!

Steely Dan/Rikki Don’t Lose That Number

On to the great Steely Dan and one of my favorite songs from their early phase as a standing band. Rikki Don’t Lose That Number, off their third studio album Pretzel Logic from February 1974, also became Steely Dan’s biggest hit single, surging to no. 4 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. It did even better in Canada where it peaked at no. 3. Donald Fagen and Walter Becker were huge jazz fans. When writing Rikki Don’t Lose That Number, evidently, they were inspired by The Horace Silver Quartet and the intro to Song for My Father, which I covered in a previous Sunday Six installment. Pretzel Logic was the final Steely Dan album featuring the full quintet line-up of Becker, Fagen, Denny Dias, Jim Hodder and Jeff “Skunk” Baxter. It was the first to include significant contributions from L.A. session musicians, a concept Becker and Fagen fully embraced on subsequent albums after they had turned Steely Dan into a studio project that became an increasingly sophisticated and complex.

The Youngbloods/Get Together

I’ve always loved this next tune by The Youngbloods, and it’s been on my “list” for a Sunday Six for some time. Get Together appeared on their eponymous debut album from December 1966. Written by Chet Powers, who was also known as Dino Valenti and a member of psychedelic rock outfit Quicksilver Messenger Service, the song first appeared on a 1963 record by bluegrass band The Folkswingers. It was also included as Let’s Get Together on Kingston Trio’s live album Back in Town released in June 1964, as well as on Jefferson Airplane’s debut album Jefferson Airplane Takes Off from August 1966. But it was the rendition by The Youngbloods, which became most successful, giving them their only top 40 hit in the U.S. mainstream charts. Their cover reached a peak there in 1969 when it was reissued as a single and hit no. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. It’s a pity The Youngbloods did not achieve widespread popularity. After their fifth studio album High on a Ridge Top from November 1972, they called it quits.

Dire Straits/Skateaway

This next pick was also inspired by fellow blogger Aphoristic Album Reviews, who recently did a post on the 10 best songs by Dire Straits. I’ve always liked the British rock band and the great melodic guitar-playing by Mark Knopfler, especially on their 1978 eponymous debut album and Making Movies, their third studio release from October 1980. It’s widely considered as one of Dire Straits’ best records. Knopfler’s songwriting had matured, especially in comparison to sophomore release Communiqué from June 1979, which largely sounded like the eponymous debut. Personally, this never bothered me much, since I dig that first album. Here’s the great Skateway. Let’s go, roller girl! And…don’t worry/D.J. play the movies all night long

Chicago/Saturday in the Park

Given today is the Fourth of July, I thought it made sense to feature a tune that references the holiday. I decided to go with Saturday in the Park by Chicago. Written by Robert Lamm, the track appeared on the band’s fourth studio album Chicago V that came out in July 1972. Why calling it five when it was their fourth, you may wonder? Because the band, which was founded as Chicago Transit Authority in 1967, was in their fifth year at the time. Wikipedia notes two different background stories about the song. According to then-fellow band member Walter Parazaider, Lamm was inspired after he had seen steel drum players, singers, dancers and jugglers in New York’s Central Park on July 4, 1971. Lamm recalled it differently, telling Billboard in 2017 the song “was written as I was looking at footage from a film I shot in Central Park, over a couple of years, back in the early ‘70s.” Regardless of which recollection is accurate, there’s no doubt the tune was inspired by Central Park and that it became Chicago’s biggest U.S. mainstream hit at the time, peaking at no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in September 1972. It would take another five years before they had an even bigger hit with their single If You Leave Me Now released in July 1976 and topping the Hot 100 in October that year. Chicago are still around and are currently touring. Original members Lamm (keyboards, vocals), Lee Loughnane (trumpet, vocals) and James Pankow (trombone) are part of the present nine-piece line-up. The tour schedule is here. I’ve seen Chicago once more than 20 years ago and recall it as a solid show.

Magic Castles/Sunburst

Let’s wrap up this installment of The Sunday Six with some more recently released music. Again, I’d like to acknowledge a fellow blogger, Angie from The Diversity of Classic Rock, where I first read about psychedelic rock band Magic Castles. For background, here’s an excerpt from their Apple Music profile: The band formed in Minneapolis in 2006, growing out of singer/guitarist Jason Edmonds’ home-recording project as he tapped singer/guitarist Jeremiah Doering, bassist Paul Fuglestad, drummer Brendan McInerney, and Kait Sergenian. Magic Castles played their first show at a friend’s birthday party later that year, began recording their first record the following summer, and by June 2008 offered their self-released debut, The Lore of Mysticore. By then, the group had added keyboardist/singer Noah Skogerboe to further flesh out their sound, and Matt Van Genderen had replaced McInerney on the drums. This new incarnation pulled double duty in 2009, offering sophomore album Dreams of Dreams plus a limited-edition cassette, Sounds of the Forest. Fast-forward some 12 years to April 30, 2021 and Sun Reign, the band’s sixth studio album and their first since 2015. Here’s the seductive opener Sunburst. Written by Edmonds, the band’s only constant member, the tune has a cool ’60s garage rock vibe, featuring a great jangly guitar sound reminiscent of the Byrds. I’m definitely planning to take a closer look at the group.

Sources: Wikipedia; Billboard; Apple Music; Chicago website; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Dire Straits/Making Movies

Dire Straits’ third studio album is crown jewel of their catalog

This week’s official announcement that Dire Straits are among the 2018 inductees to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame reminded me of their great music. While the British rock band is best remembered for their 1985 masterpiece Brothers In Arms, I’ve always been more drawn to their earlier work.

I think Dire Straits eponymous first studio album was a great debut. The standout Sultans Of Swings remains one of my all-time favorite guitar-driven rock songs to this day.  Communiqué was a fine sophomore release that largely mirrored the sound of its predecessor, for which the band was criticized. And then in October 1980 came what in my opinion is their best record: Making Movies. 

Dire Straits_Making Movies_Vinyl Side 1

The album kicks off with Tunnel Of Love. From the beginning, this tune has a very different feel compared to previous Dire Straits songs. Instead of Mark Knopfler’s signature Fender Stratocaster, the tune opens with E Street Band keyboarder Roy Bittan playing a part of Carousel Waltz from Carousel, a 1945 musical by Richard Rodgers (music) and Oscar Hammerstein (book and lyrics). The instrumental then blends into a short piano bridge before Knopfler comes in on guitar, together with the rest of the band.

The sound and Knopfler’s singing are more dynamic throughout the record than on the previous two albums. Clocking in at 8:11 minutes, the tune is the band’s longest to date. Its ups and downs further add to the dynamic. The track ends with a great extended melodic guitar solo that blends into a gentle piano outro. It’s just beautifully executed. But enough already with the words, here’s a clip.

Next up is Romeo And Juliet, another highlight on the album. One of the song’s key characteristics is the 1937 National Style “O” resonator guitar Knopfler plays. The same guitar is featured on the front cover of the Brothers In Arms album. Like in the opener, Bittan’s piano adds beautiful texture.

According to Wikipedia, the lyrics were inspired by Knopfler’s failed romance with Holly Vincent who led the American punk pop band Holly and The Italians. Apparently, the song has been covered by a wide range of artists including Indigo Girls and The Killers. Who knew.

Skateaway, the third track on the album, is another musical standout. The song’s chorus includes the lines from which the album’s title is derived: She gets rock n roll a rock n roll station/And a rock n roll dream/She’s making movies on location…The tune’s accompanying video, which featured musician Jayzik Azikiwe (1958-2008) as Rollergirl, became popular on MTV.

The last tune I’d like to call out is Solid Rock. It’s an uptempo rocker with a great groove. I wish the honky tonk style piano one can hear in the beginning would also be prominent in other parts of the song. It’s easy to see why the track became a staple during Dire Straits’ live shows.

Making Movies was recorded at the Power Station in New York between June and August 1980. The album was co-produced by Knopfler and Jimmy Iovine, who had a major impact on the record’s sound. Knopfler reached out to Iovine after he had listened to his production of Because The Night by Patti Smith, a co-write with Bruce Springsteen. Iovine had also worked on Born To Run and Darkness On The Edge Of Town, Springsteen’s third and fourth studio records from 1975 and 1978, respectively. In addition, he brought in Bittan who enriched the sound of the recordings.

At the time of the album’s release, Dire Straits’ members in addition to Mark Knopfler included John Illsley (bass, backing vocals) and Pick Withers (drums, backing vocals). Mark’s younger brother David left the band during the recording sessions. His guitar tracks, which had almost been completed, were re-recorded by Mark, and David was not credited on the album. The sessions continued with Sid McGinnis on rhythm guitar. Shortly before the record’s release, Hal Lindes (guitar) and Alan Clark (keyboards) joined Dire Straits as permanent members.

Dire Straits_On Location Tour Poster

During an interview with Rolling Stone for their 100 Best Albums of the Eighties, which ranks Making Movies at 52, Iovine said, “I think he [Knopfler] wanted to take Dire Straits to that next step, especially in terms of the songs, and to have the album really make sense all together, which I think it does. It’s a really cohesive album. He stunned me, as far as his songwriting talents. The songs on that album are almost classical in nature.”

Commenting on the recording sessions for Making Movies, Bitton told Rolling Stone, “We went in and really took time to capture the emotion and paint the picture…. They were not very straightforward songs. The subtleties of emotion that he was trying to capture was something real special — it reminded me of Bruce, you know?”

Making Movies was a success, especially in Europe, where it peaked at no. 4 on the UK Albums Chart and topped the albums charts in Italy and Norway. In the U.S., it climbed to No. 19 on the Billboard 200. Eventually, the album reached platinum certification in the U.S. and double-platinum in the UK.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, YouTube