Happy Sunday morning, afternoon, or evening – in whichever time zone you are, I hope you’re doing great and are in the mood to join me on another journey to visit music of the past and the present century. This trip will have six stops in the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and 2008.
Shorty Rogers Quintet/Breezin’ Along in the Trades
Let’s start today’s journey by setting our music time machine to the year 1957. That’s when the Shorty Rogers Quintet released an album titled Wherever the Five Winds Blow. Born in 1924 Milton Rajonsky, Shorty Rogers was a trumpet and flugelhorn player who was instrumental in creating West Coast jazz. According to Wikipedia, this jazz style was developed in the 1950s in San Francisco and Los Angeles and is often viewed as a subgenre of cool jazz. Rajonsky who hailed from Great Barrington, Mass. started his career in the ’40s, working with Will Bradley, Red Norvo and Woody Herman. In the early ’50s, he played with Stan Kenton. In 1952, he released his debut as a bandleader, Modern Sounds, the first of many such albums that would appear over the next 40 years. Apart from playing as a sideman, Rajonsky also became a sought-after arranger of jazz music and beyond. Notable examples of the latter include The Monkees, e.g., Daydream Believer, and Bobbie Gentry’s first three albums. Rajonsky passed away from melanoma in November 1974 at the age of 70. Coming back to Wherever the Five Winds Blow, here’s Breezin’ Along in the Trades, a beautiful original composition. Shorty Rogers (trumpet) was backed by Jimmy Giuffre (clarinet, saxophone), Lou Levy (piano), Ralph Pena (bass) and Larry Bunker (drums).
Our next stop takes us to September 1992 and Hollywood Town Hall, the third studio album by The Jayhawks. Since coming across them in August 2020, I’ve come to like this American alt. country and country rock band. Initially formed in Minneapolis in 1985, The Jayhawks originally featured Mark Olson (acoustic guitar, vocals), Gary Louris (electric guitar, vocals), Marc Perlman (bass) and Norm Rogers (drums). By the time Hollywood Town Hall was released, Rogers had been replaced by Ken Callahan. After four additional albums and more line-up changes, the group went on hiatus in 2004. They reemerged with a new formation in 2009, which still includes Louris and Pearlman, and have since released four additional albums, most recently July 2020’s XOXO. Hollywood Town Hall became the group’s first album that made the U.S. mainstream chart Billboard 200 (no. 192). Notably, it also climbed to no. 11 on the Top Heatseekers. Here’s the great Wichita, co-written by Olson, Louris and Pearlman.
The Who/I Can See For Miles
Time for a stopover in the ’60s to visit one of my all-time favorite bands. In December 1967, The Who released their third studio album The Who Sell Out. Primarily written by guitarist Pete Townshend with contributions from bassist John Entwistle and Thunderclap Newman vocalist Speedy Keen, the brilliant concept album includes a collection of songs interspersed with fake commercials and public service announcements. One of the tracks is I Can See For Miles, which also appeared separately as the lead single in October 1967. Townshend was convinced he had written a hit, yet the single “only” reached no. 10 in the UK. It did best in Canada, where it climbed to no. 8, and also charted slightly higher in the U.S., getting to no. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also reached the top 40 in New Zealand (no. 13), Australia (no. 20), The Netherlands (no. 28) and Germany (no. 37). Yet Townshend was disappointed. To me, it was the ultimate Who record, yet it didn’t sell,” he later commented. “I spat on the British record buyer.” While I wouldn’t call the tune’s chart performance terrible, I do agree with Townshend that I Can See For Miles is one of the gems by the British rockers.
John Mellencamp/Theo and Weird Henry
Let’s move on to the late ’80s. In May 1989, John Mellencamp released his 10th studio album Big Daddy, the last under the John Cougar Mellencamp name. Musically, the record continued his transition from heartland straight rocker to roots-oriented artist, which had begun with its predecessor The Lonesome Jubilee. Lyrically, it presents a collection of largely reflective songs. “Big Daddy was the best record I ever made,” Mellencamp told The Associated Press in December 1991 in the wake of his 11th studio album Whenever We Wanted. “Out of my agony came a couple of really beautiful songs. You can’t be 22 years old and had two dates and understand that album.” For context, the AP story also quoted Mellencamp as saying, “I had a daughter who grew up and I didn’t know who she was [I assume he referred to Michelle from his first marriage to Priscilla Esterline – CMM]. I was getting a divorce [from Victoria Granucci, his second wife – CMM] and I didn’t want one.” Big Daddy became best known for its lead single Pop Singer, which topped the charts in Canada and New Zealand and peaked at no. 8 in Australia. In the U.S., it surged to no. 2 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart and reached no. 15 on the Hot 100. Theo and Weird Henry, on the other hand, is a deep cut I love. It’s got more of a heartland rock vibe.
10cc/The Things We Do For Love
Our next stop takes us back again, to December 1976. That’s when British art pop band 10cc released The Things We Do For Love as a single. Co-written by guitarist Eric Stewart and bassist Graham Gouldman, who had founded the group with Lol Creme (guitar, keyboards) and Kevin Godley (drums) in July 1972, the tune was also included on their fifth studio album Deceptive Bends from May 1977. The Things We Do For Love placed in the top 10 singles charts in the UK (no. 5), Australia (no.) and the U.S. (no. 6). In Canada, it became their second no. 1 after I’m Not in Love, which had become 10cc’s breakthrough hit outside the UK in May 1975. I’ve liked the band’s often quirky songs since my teenage years. 10cc are still around as a touring act led by Gouldman and have been on the road for The Ultimate Greatest Hits Tour, which has upcoming gigs in The Netherlands before moving on to New Zealand and Australia in June. The current schedule is here.
The Hold Steady/Constructive Summer
And once again, we’re reaching the final stop of yet another music time travel trip, which takes us to the current century. In July 2008, The Hold Steady released their fourth studio album Stay Positive – kudos to fellow blogger Graham from Aphoristic Album Reviews who recently reminded me of the New York indie rock band by ranking their nine studio albums that have appeared to date. One of the albums he suggested I check out is Stay Positive. I did and voila! The Hold Steady first entered my radar screen in late March with their most recent studio release The Price of Progress. Formed in 2003, their current lineup includes co-founders Craig Finn (lead vocals, guitar), Tad Kubler (lead guitar, backing vocals) and Galen Polivka (bass), along with Steve Selvidge (rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Franz Nicolay (piano, keyboards, accordion, harmonica, backing vocals) and Bobby Drake (drums, percussion). Wikipedia notes The Hold Steady are known for their “lyrically dense storytelling”, “classic rock influences” and “narrative-based songs [that] frequently address themes, such as drug addiction, religion and redemption, and often feature recurring characters within the city of Minneapolis.” Let’s wrap things up with Constructive Summer, the kickass opener of Stay Positive. Like all other tracks on the album, it was co-written by Finn and Kubler.
So where’s the bloody Spotify playlist? Ask and you shall receive!
Sources: Wikipedia; Associated Press/Bowling Green Daily News; 10cc website; YouTube; Spotify