If I Could Only Take One

My “real” desert island song playlist

If you’ve followed this feature over the past six months, perhaps by now you may think, ‘jeez, when is he going to get it over with?’ I got news for you: This is the final installment!

For first-time visitors, this weekly series looked at music I would take with me on a trip to a desert island, one tune at a time and in alphabetical order by the name of the picked band or artist (last name). In addition, my selections had to be by a music act I had only rarely covered or even better not written about at all.

In last week’s installment, I featured the playlist that resulted from the above exercise. Obviously, the criteria limited my choices, as I also noted to some commenters throughout the series. Today, I’d like to present my “real” desert island playlist. The only rule I kept was to pick one song by a band or artist’s last name in alphabetical order.

In the following, I’m going to highlight four tunes. The entire playlist can be found at the end of the post.

Jethro Tull/Hymn 43

Over the years, Hymn 43 by Jethro Tull has become one of my favorite tunes by the English rock band. Penned by Tull’s flutist, frontman and lead vocalist Ian Anderson, Hymn 43 is off their fourth studio album Aqualung. Released in March 1971, that record is best known for the epic Locomotive Breath, even though incredibly, the single missed the charts in the UK, just like Hymn 43! In the U.S., Locomotive Breath and Hymn 43 became Tull’s first charting singles, reaching no. 62 and no. 92 on the Billboard Hot 100, respectively. Of course, one could argue that Tull’s music wasn’t about the charts!

Randy Newman/Guilty

American singer-songwriter Randy Newman has penned many tunes and film scores over his 60-year-plus-and-counting career. Some like Short People (1977), I Love L.A. (1983) and You’ve Got a Friend in Me (1995) became well known under his name, while others such as Mama Told Me Not to Come (1966), I Think It’s Going to Rain Today (1968) and You Can Leave Your Hat On (1972) were popularized by Three Dog Night, UB40 and Joe Cocker, respectively. Many other artists covered Newman’s songs as well. One of my favorite tunes by Newman is Guilty, included on his fourth studio album Good Old Boys, which appeared in September 1974. Evidently, Cocker liked the ballad as well and recorded it for his 1974 studio album I Can Stand a Little Rain.

Stevie Ray Vaughan/Pride and Joy

If you’re a frequent visitor of the blog or know my music taste otherwise you know I love the blues and blues rock. When it comes to that kind of music, in my book, it doesn’t get much better than Stevie Ray Vaughan. Not only was the man from Dallas, Texas an incredible guitarist – perhaps the best electric blues rock guitarist ever – but he also elevated the blues to the mainstream in the ’80s thanks to his great live performances and albums. Vaughan did both original songs and covers. I would argue that his rendition of Voodoo Child (Slight Return) is better than the original by Jimi Hendrix! Anyway, here’s Pride and Joy, penned by Vaughan, off his debut studio album Texas Flood.

Yes/Roundabout

Full disclosure: My first pick for “y” would have been Neil Young and Like a Hurricane. But since most of Neil’s music was pulled from Spotify earlier this year, I went with Yes. I’ve never gotten much into progressive rock (not counting Pink Floyd and a few others whose music includes prog-rock elements). Yes are one of the few exceptions, together with Genesis. That said, my knowledge of the British band’s music is mostly limited to their earlier catalog. In this context, a song I’ve really come to love is Roundabout. Co-written by vocalist Jon Anderson and guitarist Steve Howe, the track is from the group’s fourth studio album Fragile, released in November 1971. Until Owner of a Lonely Heart (1983), the band’s songs weren’t exactly radio-friendly. That said, Roundabout was released as a single and became the first top 20 song Yes had in the U.S.

Last but not least, here’s the entire playlist. In addition to the above, it includes many of the suspects you’d expect to see if you know my music taste, such as AC/DC, The Beatles, Cream, Deep Purple, Marvin Gaye and The Rolling Stones, to name some.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Super Fly at 50 Still Sounds Mighty Cool

“Fly”, other than an insect that can be annoying, means “unusual and exceptional, particularly when it comes to fashion,” Songfacts explains. “Super Fly” is even better. It refers to the flashy clothes cocaine dealer Youngblood Priest was wearing in the 1972 U.S. blaxploitation neo-noir crime drama picture of the same name, starring Ron O’Neal as the aforementioned pusherman. Super Fly is also the title of the soundtrack, which was released today 50 years ago as the third studio album by Curtis Mayfield, an artist I’ve loved for many years.

To say it upfront, other than a couple of clips, I haven’t watched the picture. Based on what I’ve read, it seems to take a rather ambiguous stance when it comes to drug dealers. While Mayfield wrote the score for the film, his socially aware lyrics look more critical, though he also appeared to have some sympathy for the main character Priest who yearns to go straight, despite the fortune he makes from dealing drugs.

Along with Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, Super Fly is considered a pioneering soul concept album, addressing poverty, crime and drug use in America’s inner cities of the early ’70s. Notably, just like they did with Gaye’s album, record executives didn’t think Mayfield’s soundtrack would fly. It turned out they were wrong again. Not only was Super Fly a near-immediate hit, but it also holds the distinction to be among a handful of soundtracks that out-grossed the companion movie.

For those of you who know me, it won’t come as a big surprise that my main interest in Super Fly is the music. And there’s some pretty cool funk as well as psychedelic and progressive soul on this album. Let’s take a closer look at some of the tracks, which were all written by Mayfield.

The album opens with Little Child Runnin’ Wild. The groove immediately draws you in. All it takes are a few words to paint a powerful picture. An excerpt: Little child/Runnin’ wild/Watch a while/You see he never smiles//Broken home/Father gone/Mama tired/So he’s all alone…

The title of Pusherman is self-explanatory. Songfacts notes Mayfield takes an observer’s view on this song, refraining from judgment and showing the pusherman from the perspective of a potential client. To a kid on the street, the drug dealer shows up everywhere, and can take on many forms: mother, father, doctor, friend. Said Mayfield: “The first thing I wanted to do was not condone what was going down, but understand it, and speak in terms of how one can keep from getting locked into these things which youngsters and a lot of people see all around them.” And there’s of course more of that seductive wah-wah guitar-driven funky groove!

Freddie’s Dead became the album’s first single. It peaked at no. 2 on Billboard’s Hot R&B Songs chart and reached no. 4 on the mainstream Hot 100. So much for smart forecasts by record executives!

I’m three clips into this review, and I haven’t even touched any track from Side two – speaking in vinyl terms here! Okay, let’s give a listen to Give Me Your Love (Love Song), the first song on Side two. I will say stylistically, there’s not much variation in the music. Since I dig Mayfield’s groove that’s not a problem for me!

Obviously, this post wouldn’t be complete without the amazing title track. Super Fly was also released separately as the album’s second single in October 1972. It became another U.S. hit for Mayfield. It came close to the first single’s chart success, climbing to no. 8 and no. 3 on Billboard’s mainstream and R&B charts, respectively. Super Fly’s lead character appealed to Mayfield because he had a vivid backstory and was not just a stock drug dealer, Songfacts explains. In the song, Mayfield examines how he’s really doing what we all are: trying to get over...“We couldn’t be so proud of him dealing coke or using coke, but at least the man had a mind and he wasn’t just some ugly dead something in the streets after it was all over,” Mayfield told Q magazine. “He got out.”

Super Fly was well received by music critics. Even Robert Christgau gave it an A- in a contemporary review for The Village Voice at the time, praising Mayfield’s songwriting. Jeez, what was wrong with him? The album became Mayfield’s only no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and his highest-charting record in the UK where it reached no. 26, though interestingly, none of the singles charted there. Within only two months, Super Fly got Gold status in the U.S., meaning it had reached 0.5 million sold units, as certified by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).

Super Fly was ranked at no. 69 in Rolling Stone’s 2003 list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. In the magazine’s most recent 2020 revision, it remained within the top 100, coming in at no. 76. In 2019, the album was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Recording Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” In addition, the title track is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s “500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.”

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify link to the album.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; RIAA website; YouTube; Spotify

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island song by Suzi Quatro

Happy Wednesday with another decision which one tune to take on an imaginary trip to a desert island.

In case you’re new to this weekly recurring feature, the idea is to pick one song by an artist or band I’ve only rarely mentioned or not covered at all on my blog to date. This excludes many popular options like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Pink Floyd, Steely Dan, Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, Neil Young, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Carole King and Bonnie Raitt, to name some of my longtime favorite artists. I’m also doing this exercise in alphabetical order, and I’m up to the letter “q”.

How many bands or artists do you know whose names/last names start with “q”? The ones that came to my mind included Quarterflash, Queen and Quiet Riot. And, of course, my pick, Can the Can by Suzi Quatro. Yes, perhaps it’s not the type of song that would be your first, second or even third pick to take on a desert island, but it’s a great kickass rock tune anyway!

Can the Can, penned by songwriters and producers Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn, was Quatro’s second solo single and her first to chart. And it was a smash, topping the charts in the UK, Germany, Switzerland and Australia. It also climbed to no. 2 in Austria and no. 5 in Ireland. In Quatro’s home country the U.S., the tune fared more moderately, reaching no. 56 on the Billboard Hot 100. American music listeners just weren’t as much into glam rock as audiences in other parts of the world, especially in Europe. Can the Can was also included on Quatro’s eponymous debut album, released in October 1973.

Here’s a bit of additional background on Suzie Quatro from her bio on AllMusic: With her trademark leather jump suit, instantly hooky songs, and big bass guitar, Suzi Quatro is a glam rock icon with a window-rattling voice and rock & roll attitude to spare. After getting her start in garage and hard rock bands, 1973’s breakthrough single “Can the Can,” a stomping blast of glam rock that combined ’50s-style song craft with Quatro’s powerful vocals, made her an international star. She followed up with a string of similar-sounding singles and albums — and made an impression on TV viewers with her role on the hit sitcom Happy Days — before softening her sound and scoring a hit with the 1978 ballad “Stumblin’ In.” While her work in the future would encompass everything from new wave pop on 1983’s Main Attraction to starring in a musical based on the life of Tallulah Bankhead in 1991, Quatro never lost her instincts as a rocker, as evidenced by albums like 2006’s Back to the Drive and 2021’s The Devil in Me.

When I heard Can the Can for the first time in the mid-’70s, it was not by Suzi Quatro but by German vocalist Joy Fleming. While I don’t know much about Fleming except for a 1974 live album titled Joy Fleming Live, I know one thing. She was a hell of a vocalist! Check this out!

Here are a few additional tidbits on Can the Can and Suzie Quatro from Songfacts:

…Quatro is an American who joined Mickie Most’s RAK label roster, becoming part of the glam rock revolution. Most produced her first single, “Rolling Stone,” but it went nowhere, so he asked songwriters Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman to write and produce her next single. The result was “Can The Can.”

When asked what “Can The Can” means, Nicky Chinn replied: “It means something that is pretty impossible, you can’t get one can inside another if they are the same size, so we’re saying you can’t put your man in the can if he is out there and not willing to commit. The phrase sounded good and we didn’t mind if the public didn’t get the meaning of it.”

Suzi Quatro: “I can hear a record for the first time and know whether it will be a hit. And I knew as soon as we had finished recording that we had a big hit on our hands.” (above quotes from 1000 UK #1 Hits by Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh)

This was the first #1 UK hit for a solo female artist since “Those Were The Days” by Mary Hopkin in 1968.

Quatro never hit it big in her native America, although she did have a memorable role on the TV series Happy Days playing Leather Tuscadero. She landed several more UK hits, including the #1 “Devil Gate Drive,” and influenced a generation of female rockers, notably Joan Jett.

Quatro wrote many of her own songs, but they tended to be album cuts, with the Chapman/Chinn team getting the singles. In a Songfacts interview with Quatro, she explained: “I was very boogie-based, very bass-based. And they went away and wrote ‘Can the Can.’ We had the arrangement where I could write the albums, and they would write the three-minute single – although I did have singles out myself, like ‘Mama’s Boy.’ I didn’t learn anything from their songwriting, because I always had my own thing. Whatever I did, I did.”

Suzi Quatro, who turned 72 a few weeks ago, continues to rock on. And tour. Her current schedule is here. Here’s Can the Can captured at London’s Royal Albert Hall in April this year. What a cool lady!

Sources: Wikipedia; Suzi Quatro website; YouTube

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by The Neville Brothers

It’s Wednesday and I’m back with my little exercise to pick one tune to take with me on an imaginary trip to a desert island. Given my arbitrary self-imposed rules, perhaps I should change the title of the recurring feature. When most folks hear the term ‘desert island song’, understandably, they associate with it their most favorite music. That’s not what I’m doing here, at least not on an absolute scale.

The idea of this feature is to pick an artist or band I have rarely or not covered at all to date and select one song from them I like. Oftentimes, the choice comes down to only a handful of their tunes I know. As such, this excludes many of all-time favorites like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Carole King, Neil Young, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Bonnie Raitt, Buddy Guy or Steely Dan who otherwise would be preferred picks. Another restricting factor is I’m doing this exercise in alphabetic order.

What that said, let’s get to today’s pick. I’m up to the letter “n”. Looking in my music library reveals artists and bands, such as Graham Nash, Johnny Nash, Nazareth, Willie Nelson, Randy Newman, Nilsson and Nirvana. My pick is Yellow Moon by The Neville Brothers.

Sadly, The Neville Brothers are among the music acts whose names I had known for years but had not been able to identify a specific tune. To inform the above pick I sampled tracks of two compilations, including the one pictured in the clip, Uptown Rulin’, which came out in 1999.

I couldn’t find much information on Yellow Moon. This groovy tune is credited to band co-founder, keyboarder and vocalist Arthur Neville, who was also known as Art Neville, and Jack Neville who based on my findings in AllMusic was a songwriter, predominantly for country artists. Here’s a nice live version of the tune, featuring the great John Hiatt as a guest. While the group’s sax player Charles Neville introduces him, he notes the Nevilles had performed a song written by Hiatt on their 1978 eponymous debut album (Washable Ink).

Yellow Moon was the title track of a studio album The Neville Brothers released in March 1989. According to Wikipedia, it peaked at no. 66 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200. Notably, the album was produced by Daniel Lanois who also worked with Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Peter Gabriel, Emmylou Harris and Willie Nelson, among others. He also collaborated with Brian Eno to produce various albums for U2 including my favorite The Joshua Tree.

A review of Yellow Moon by Ron Wynn for AllMusic notes the album charted and remained there for many weeks, while the Nevilles toured and generated lots of interest. It didn’t become a hit, but it did respectably and represents perhaps their finest overall pop LP. The group won a 1990 Grammy for Best Instrumental Pop Performance for another track on that album, titled Healing Chant.

The seeds for The Neville Brothers were planted in 1976 during a recording session of The Wild Tchoupitoulas. This Mardis Gras Indian group was led by the Nevilles’ uncle, George Landry, known as Big Chief Jolly. In addition to the previously noted Art Neville (keyboards, vocals) and Charles Neville (saxophone), The Neville Brothers featured Aaron Neville (vocals) and Cyril Neville (vocals, percussion). All four were siblings and participated in the above recording session.

AllMusic and Wikipedia list nine studio albums The Neville Brothers released during their active period between 1976 and 2012. In the latter year, they formally disbanded but reunited one more time in 2015 for a farewell concert in New Orleans. Charles Neville and Art Neville passed away in April 2018 and July 2019 at the ages of 79 and 81, respectively. Aaron Neville, now 81, is retired. Seventy-two-year-old Cyril Neville, the youngest of the four brothers, still appears to be an active musician.

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; YouTube

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by Golden Earring

Happy Wednesday! Once again, the desert island is calling and I must make an important music decision. This time it’s picking a band or artist starting with the letter “G”.

Looking at my library, I could have selected Peter Gabriel, Marvin Gaye, Genesis, Greta Van Fleet, Grateful Dead, Green Day and Guns N’ Roses, among others, but didn’t since I wrote about all of them previously. Instead, I picked Dutch rock band Golden Earring and one of the coolest driving songs I know: Radar Love.

Co-written by the band’s Barry Hay (lead and backing vocals, flute, saxophone, percussion) and George Kooymans (guitar, lead and backing vocals), Radar Love first appeared on Golden Earring’s ninth studio album Moontan from July 1973. Subsequently, a shortened version of the tune was released as a single in Europe in August 1973, except for the UK where it appeared in November that year. The U.S. release of the single took even longer, until April 1974. Here’s the album version.

Radar Love became Golden Earring’s biggest hit. In addition to topping the charts in The Netherlands, it climbed to no. 5 in Germany, no. 6 in Belgium, no. 7 in the UK, no. 10 in Austria and no. 13 in the U.S. Undoubtedly, the tune also helped make Moontan the band’s most successful album.

Here are some additional insights from Songfacts:

Before you could send a text message or call someone in their car, there was no way to communicate to a driver – unless you had a certain telepathic love that could convey from a distance your desire to be with that person, something you might call – Radar Love. In this song, the guy has been driving all night, but keeps pushing the pedal because he just knows that his baby wants him home.

Like many of Golden Earring’s songs, this began with the title and grew from there. Originally intended only as an album track, it turned out to be the only cut on their US debut album Moontan that they could whittle down to a single for radio. It became their showstopper at concerts, and provided a striking moment for their drummer Cesar Zuiderwijk, who would take a few steps back and leap at the drum kit near the end of the song.

Following is a smoldering live version, which according to the clip was captured in 1973:

And here’s something for the geeks among us: 🙂

The song is all in 4/4 time, and the original tempo is around 100 BPM. It’s a very clever arrangement: the intro is on the beat of each bar at the start. The shuffle on the snare is semi triplets which give the illusion of the song speeding up. You have to quantize drum machines to a 6th beat. Consequently the chorus is doubled up to give the impression that the tempo has speeded up to 200 BPM. You have to transpose the 4/4 bar so it can be played with in 1 beat of the bar. It does take a bit of lateral thinking to get your head around the math, but the song is all 4/4 at 100 BPM.

Golden Earring, initially formed as The Tornadoes in 1961 in The Hague, were active until last year. Since 1970, their line-up had consisted of co-founders Rinus Gerritsen (bass, keyboards) and Kooymans, along with Hay and Cesar Zuiderwijk (drums, percussion). In 2021, they disbanded following Kooymans’ diagnosis with ALS, a devastating neurodegenerative condition aka Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

My Top Singles Turning 50

A final look at 1971, one of the most exciting years in music

As 2021 is drawing to a close, I decided to revisit 1971 one more time. With releases, such as Who’s Next (The Who), Tapestry (Carole King), Led Zeppelin IV (Led Zeppelin), Sticky Fingers (The Rolling Stones) and Meddle (Pink Floyd), it truly was an extraordinary year in music. And let’s not forget At Fillmore East by The Allman Brothers Band, perhaps the ultimate southern and blues-rock record, and certainly a strong contender for best live album ever.

I wrote about the above and other records in a three-part series back in April, which you can read here, here and here. What I didn’t do at the time was to look at singles that came out in 1971. I’ve put my favorites in a playlist at the end of this post. Following I’m highlighting 10 of them, focusing on songs I didn’t cover in the aforementioned three-part series.

Marvin Gaye/What’s Going On

I’d like to start this review with What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye, released in January 1970. Co-written by him, Al Cleveland and Four Tops co-founding member Renaldo “Obie” Benson, this classic soul gem was inspired by an incident of police brutality Benson had witnessed in May 1969 while The Four Tops were visiting Berkely, Calif. The tune became Gaye’s first big U.S. hit in the ’70s, climbing to no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topping the Best Selling Soul Singles chart.

Deep Purple/Strange Kind of Woman

In February 1970, Deep Purple released Strange Kind of Woman as a non-album single. The follow-on to Black Night was credited to all members of the band: Ian Gillan, Ritchie Blackmore, Jon Lord, Roger Glover and Ian Paice, their most compelling lineup, in my view. The song reached no. 8 in the UK and Germany, but didn’t chart in the U.S. The track was also included in the U.S. and Canadian editions of Deep Purple’s fifth studio album Fireball from July 1971 in lieu of Demon’s Eye on the UK edition.

Jethro Tull/Hymn 43

Hymn 43 is a great rock song by Jethro Tull. Penned by Ian Anderson, it appeared in late June 1971 as the second single off Aqualung, the group’s fourth studio album that had come out in March of the same year. Hymn 43 followed lead single Locomotive Breath. Incredibly, it only charted in Canada and the U.S., reaching an underwhelming no. 86 and no. 91, respectively.

T. Rex/Get It On

In July 1970, glam rockers T. Rex released one of their signature tunes, Get It On. In the U.S., it was re-titled Bang a Gong (Get It On), since there was a song with the same title by American jazz-rock band Chase. Get It On, written by T. Rex frontman Marc Bolan, was the lead single from the British band’s sophomore album Electric Warrior that appeared in September that year. Get It On became the band’s second no. 1 in the UK and their only U.S. top 10 hit (no. 10) on the Billboard Hot 100.

Santana/Everybody’s Everything

In September 1970, Santana released their third studio album Santana III and lead single Everybody’s Everything. The tune was co-written by Carlos Santana, Milton Brown and Tyrone Moss. The classic Santana rock song became the band’s last top 20 hit (no. 12) in the U.S. until the pop-oriented Winning from 1981.

Sly and the Family Stone/Family Affair

Family Affair is a track off Sly and the Family Stone’s fifth studio album There’s a Riot Goin’ On that came out in November 1971. Released the same month, the psychedelic funk tune was the first single from that album. It became the group’s third and final no. 1 hit in the U.S., topping both the mainstream Billboard Hot 100 and Hot Soul Singles chart.

Badfinger/Day After Day

Day After Day, first released in the U.S. in November 1971 followed by the UK in January 1972, became the biggest hit for British power pop-rock band Badfinger. Written by Pete Ham, the tune, off their third studio album Straight Up from December 1971, climbed to no. 4 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 and reached no. 10 in the UK. In Canada, it went all the way to no. 2. This gem was produced by George Harrison who also played slide guitar along with Ham.

Elton John/Levon

Levon is one of Elton John’s beautiful early songs that first appeared on his fourth studio album Madman Across the Water from early November 1970. Composed by John with lyrics by Bernie Taupin, the ballad also became the record’s first single in late November. Producer Gus Dudgeon has said Taupin’s lyrics were inspired by Levon Helm, co-founder, drummer and singer of The Band, a favorite group of John and Taupin at the time. Levon reached no. 24 on the Billboard Hot 100 and climbed to no. 6 in Canada.

The Beach Boys/Surf’s Up

Various music connoisseurs have told me their favorite album by The Beach Boys is Surf’s Up from late August 1971. I can’t say it’s been love at first sight for me, but this record is definitely growing on me. The Beach Boys released the title track as a single in late November that year. Co-written by Brian Wilson and Van Dyke Parks, Surf’s Up originally was supposed to be a track for Smile, an unfinished album that was scrapped in 1967. Brian and Carl Wilson completed the tune. By the time Surf’s Up was released as a single, the last major hit by The Beach Boys Good Vibrations was five years in the past. While the single didn’t chart, the album reached no. 29 on the Billboard 200, their highest-charting record in the U.S. since Wild Honey from 1967.

The Kinks/20th Century Man

The last song I’d like to call out is 20th Century Man by The Kinks. Penned by Ray Davies, the tune in December 1970 became the sole single off the group’s 10th studio album Muswell Hillbillies. The record had appeared in late November that year. 20th Century Man stalled at no. 106 in the UK and reached no. 89 in Australia. It didn’t chart in the U.S. The album didn’t fare much better, though it received positive reviews and remains a favorite among fans.

Check out the playlist below for additional 1971 singles I dig.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: December 28

Welcome to the 75th installment of my irregularly recurring music history feature where I celebrate birthdays of notable artists and look back at events that happened on a certain date throughout the decades. Today, my picks revolve around December 28.

1968: The Miami Pop Festival kicked off north of Miami, Fla. The three-day event took place at Gulfstream Park, a horse racing track in Hallandale. Not to be confused with another festival that had been held at the same place seven months earlier, the Miami Pop Festival was the first major rock festival on the U.S. East Coast, drawing approximately 100,000 people. Performing acts came from a wide variety of music and included Chuck Berry, José Feliciano, Marvin Gaye, Joni Mitchell and Steppenwolf, among others. The only footage I could find is this clip of Turn On Your Lovelight by Grateful Dead. Good tune, actually, and it’s only 12 and a half minutes long! 🙂

1970: John Lennon released Mother as a single in the U.S. The haunting tune became the lead single of Lennon’s debut solo album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band that had appeared two weeks earlier on December 11. Songfacts notes Lennon wrote this while he was undergoing “Primal Scream” therapy, where he was dealing with a lot of issues that were detailed in the lyrics: He lost his mother at a crucial period in his life to a drunk-driving, off-duty policeman who ran her over in a crosswalk, and his aunt Mimi raised him, which explains the line, “Mother you had me, but I never had you.” His father, a merchant seaman, left him for the sea and for work. “I wanted you, you didn’t need me” explains his feelings about his dad. Lennon’s primal screaming on this song expresses the pain of his childhood. It’s one of Lennon’s most personal and powerful songs.

1976: Guitarist Freddie King, who together with B.B. King and Albert King was known as one of the “Three Kings of the Blues Guitar,” died at age 42 from complications of stomach ulcers and acute pancreatitis. King who hailed from Gilmer, Texas, picked up the guitar as a six-year-old, initially learning from his mother and uncle. He moved to Chicago as a teenager and eventually got a deal with Federal Records after Chess Records had repeatedly turned him down. In 1960, King recorded his first single Have You Ever Loved a Woman with that label. Written by Billy Myles, the tune also appeared on King’s 1961 debut album Freddy King Sings. Over his 14-year recording career, he released 13 studio records.

1978: Rolling Stone magazine voted Some Girls by The Rolling Stones as album of the year. The band’s 16th studio release became their sixth no. 1 album in a row on the U.S. Billboard 200 since 1971’s Sticky Fingers and is considered to be among their best records by many of their fans. It also holds the distinction of being the only Stones record to be nominated for a Grammy in the Album of the Year category. There was some controversy surrounding the cover showing the Stones with select female celebrities and lingerie ads. Following the threat of legal action from the likes of Lucille Ball, Farrah Fawcett and Liza Minnelli, the album was quickly reissued with a different cover that replaced all celebrities with black and punk-style garish colors with the phrase “Pardon our appearance – cover under re-construction”. Here’s a track off the record, When the Whip Comes Down, credited to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards as usual.

Sources: Wikipedia; This Day In Music; Songfacts; Songfacts Music History Calendar; The Current/Minnesota Public Radio; YouTube

Adele’s New Album 30 Is a Powerful Pop Revelation

Not in a million years did I ever think I was going to write a post to review an album by Adele – not to mention characterizing it as a “powerful pop revelation!” I bet many frequent visitors of my blog didn’t see this coming either. Well, I suppose music sometimes can work in mysterious ways!

On closer scrutiny, perhaps my take is only partially surprising. After all, I’ve said many times how much I dig great vocals, and there’s no doubt in mind Adele is one of the most compelling contemporary vocalists. But one could also point to other examples like Christina Aguilera and Beyoncé, and I’m not exactly jumping up and down about their music. So what’s going on here? Actually, it’s faily simple: Prompted by all the buzz this album has generated, I listened to 30 over the weekend, and it just drew me in!

While I resumed paying attention to new music about 1.5 years ago and launched my weekly Best of What’s New series, I still pretty much ignore the mainstream charts and the artists grabbing the top spots there. In the case of Adele, I didn’t track the weeks leading up to the release of 30, but only a person living under a rock could have completed missed it.

This recent USA Today story lays out the elaborate PR campaign to create buzz leading up to November 19, the day the album dropped. Some of the elements included the October 15th release of lead single Easy On Me, the November 1 revelation of the album’s official tracklist, and the November 14 CBS special Adele One Night Only. The latter featured three then-still-unheard tunes from 30, along with other songs from previous Adele albums, as well as an interview with Oprah Winfrey. As reported by entertainment outlet Deadline, the TV special attracted 11.7 million viewers, surpassing the 2021 Oscars!

Adele One Night Only

30 is Adele’s fourth studio album and her first new release in six years after 25. From the very first line of the opener Strangers By Nature, it becomes evident 30 is very personal. Adele tackles heavy subjects like divorce, motherhood and the pitfalls of fame, and she doesn’t hold back. No question this was part of the reason why I started paying close attention as I was listening to these tracks for the first time. I simply had not expected this!

Adele co-wrote all of the songs, working with various songwriters and producers, especially Greg Kurstin and Dean Wynton Josiah Cover, professionally known as Inflo. Her extensive involvement in songwriting is actually nothing new and was also the case on her previous albums. But it’s something I had not realized since I never cared to check! I have a lot of respect for music artists who write their songs; even more so, if they also are true musicians. Adele plays acoustic guitar and, according to Wikipedia, performed acoustic sets early in her career. She also played guitar and bass on some of the songs on her 2008 debut album 19 – again something that was new to me!

Let’s get to some music. Here’s the aforementioned opener Strangers By Nature, co-written by Adele (credited by her full name Adele Adkins) and Ludwig Göransson, a Swedish composer and producer. Like most other tracks on 30, the song is on the quiet side. It starts with I’ll be taking flowers to the cemetery of my heart, the above line that got my attention. The fact it sounds like music from an old movie isn’t a coincidence. “I’d watched the Judy Garland biopic,” Adele told Zane Lowe during an extended interview for Apple Music. “And I remember thinking, ‘Why did everyone stop writing such incredible melodies and cadences and harmonies?'”

Next up is the album’s above-mentioned lead single Easy On Me. Co-written by Adele and Kurstin, the powerful tune is about Adele’s fraught childhood, her lost marriage and the lessons learnt and unlearnt about family, love and abandonment along the way, noted British Vogue. “My son [Angelo James – CMM] has had a lot of questions. Really good questions, really innocent questions, that I just don’t have an answer for,” Adele told Vogue. “I just felt like I wanted to explain to him, through this record, when he’s in his twenties or thirties, who I am and why I voluntarily chose to dismantle his entire life in the pursuit of my own happiness. It made him really unhappy sometimes. And that’s a real wound for me that I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to heal.” This is tough and authentic-sounding stuff, and it evidently resonated. The Washington Post reported Easy On Me set new streaming records on Spotify and Amazon Music.

Perhaps the most personal tune and the one that touched me the most is My Little Love, another song Adele wrote for her son Angelo. It features excerpts from conversations between Adele and the young boy who was born in October 2012, as well as voice memos she recorded to capture her struggles with the situation. Frankly, it’s a tear-jerker some people might find a bit too intense, but I think it’s pretty powerful. Call me crazy, the soft music almost reminds me of something Marvin Gaye could have recorded. I just find this incredible!

30 isn’t all about sorrow and regret. One example is Can I Get It, which picks up the tempo and with some whistling in the chorus sounds more upbeat. Adele created this song together with Swedish songwriters and producers Max Martin and Karl Johan Schuster, known as Shellback. The lyrics are a clear indication Adele is ready to move on from her recent divorce. Pave me a path to follow/And I’ll tread any dangerous road/I will beg and I’ll steal, I will borrow/If I can make, if I can make your heart my home…In fact, Adele recently started dating American sports agent Rich Paul. Musically speaking, the tune isn’t so much my cup of tea, but it nicely breaks up an otherwise largely somber album.

The last track I’d like to call out is Hold On, one of the co-writes with Inflo. It’s another reflective tune but with a silver lining. “I definitely lost hope a number of times that I’d ever find my joy again,” Adele told Apple Music about the song. “But I didn’t realize I was making progress until I wrote ‘Hold On’ and listened to it back. Later, I was like, ‘Oh, fuck, I’ve really learned a lot. I’ve come a long way.”

Before wrapping up this post, it feels right to give Adele the final word about this remarkable album: “I was certainly nowhere near where I’d hoped to be when I first started it nearly 3 years ago,” she wrote on her website. “Quite the opposite actually…I’ve learned a lot of blistering home truths about myself along the way…It was my ride or die throughout the most turbulent period of my life. When I was writing it, it was my friend who came over with a bottle of wine and a takeaway to cheer me up…I’ve painstakingly rebuilt my house and my heart since then and this album narrates it.”

I think we’ve just witnessed the release of an album that is going to dominate the charts, will be included in many year-end lists, and win a bunch of Grammys next year. This would add to the 33-year-old’s impressive accomplishments to date. According to Wikipedia, Adele has sold more than 120 million records, making her one of the world’s best-selling music artists. Her sophomore release 21 was certified 17 X Platinum in the UK, and became the world’s best-selling album of the 21st century in 2011 with over 31 million sold copies. Adele’s accolades include 15 Grammy Awards and nine Brit Awards.

Sources: Wikipedia; USA Today; Deadline; Apple Music; British Vogue; The Washington Post; Adele website; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Another week has flown by, and it’s time to take a fresh look at newly-released music that caught my attention. This Best of What’s New installment features some smooth acoustic soul and roots rock-oriented country from the U.S., as well as indie pop-rock from the UK and Australia. All tunes are on releases that came out yesterday (November 12). Let’s get to it!

Allen Stone/Unaware

My first pick is some smooth acoustic soul and R&B by Allen Stone, a singer-songwriter based in Seattle, Wa. Originally hailing from the Spokane area, Stone began singing as a 3-year-old at his father’s church, who was a preacher. By the age of 14, Stone was leading worship at the church and playing the guitar. A year later, he discovered soul artists like Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. After attending the Moody Bible Institute in Spokane, Stone decided to drop out of the church and move to Seattle to pursue a music career. He self-released his debut album Last to Speak in 2010. His 2011 eponymous sophomore album, initially also a self-release, charted in the top 5 on the Billboard Heatseekers Albums chart. Unaware, co-written by Stone and Pablo Signori, is a beautiful acoustic soul ballad and the opener of Stone’s fifth and new album Apart. Love this!

Cody Jinks/All It Cost Me Was Everything

Next, I’d like to turn to some roots rock-oriented country by Cody Jinks. According to his Apple Music profile, the Texas songwriter’s first foray into music was as lead singer and lead guitarist in the thrash-metal band Unchecked Aggression. When he returned to the country music he’d grown up on, he traded in the snarling amps for acoustic guitar, but his songs lost none of their weight. Jinks’ third album, 2010’s Less Wise, established his husky baritone as a powerful vessel for twang-laden laments about the passage of time, unrequited love, and “raising hell with the hippies and the cowboys.” Even among modern outlaw country singers, Jinks occupies his own particular space, carved out by the combination of a low-rumbling vocal style that recalls pioneers of the genre and his deeply traditional arrangements…Even at his lightest, Jinks’ trademark heaviness remains. This brings me to All It Cost Me Was Everything, the opener of his new album Mercy. Co-written by Jinks, Josh Morningstar and Kendell Marvel, the tune has a nice roots-rock vibe. It looks like Jinks first released it ahead of the album on August 30.

Blondes/Out the Neighborhood

According to this review on Totalntertainment, Blondes are a four-piece UK band that was formed by freshmen at Nottingham University in late 2017. In 2020, they released their debut single Coming of Age, which became viral on TikTok, resulting in millions of streams. This led to a deal with Austin, Texas-based C3 Records. The band has since released four additional singles, which are all included on their new debut EP Out the Neighborhood. Here’s the title track, credited to what appear to be the four members of the band, Alex Davison, Daniel Stroud, Tom Herbert and Will Porter. Their brand of indie pop-rock is quite catchy. Check it out!

Courtney Barnett/Rae Street

The last track I’d like to call out is by Australian indie singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett. Her Apple Music profile notes she is recognized for her loose, gritty power-trio presentation, sharp lyrics, and deadpan conversational delivery…Courtney Barnett emerged in 2012 with the self-released EP I’ve Got a Friend Called Emily Ferris. It garnered critical praise in her native Australia, and she soon won the positive attention of critics in the U.S., U.K., and elsewhere with the follow-up, 2013’s How to Carve a Carrot into a Rose. Her full-length debut, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, proved to be her commercial breakthrough, landing in the U.S. Top 20 and Top Five in Australia and earning nominations from both the Grammys (Best New Artist) and Brit Awards (International Female Solo Artist). Born in Sydney in 1987, Courtney Melba Barnett grew up listening primarily to American bands but was only inspired to write songs after discovering Australian singer/songwriters Darren Hanlon and Paul Kelly. Prior to the release of Barnett’s above-mentioned full-length debut in 2015, she played in various bands, including post-grunge outfit Rapid Transit, her own group The Olivettes and alt-country group Immigrant Union. If I Don’t Hear From You Tonight, written by Barnett, is a tune from her new and third full-length solo album Things Take Time, Take Time.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Totalntertainment; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

It’s Sunday, which means the time has come again for going on another excursion to celebrate the beauty of music in different shapes from different decades, six tunes at a time. This latest installment of The Sunday Six touches the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and the present, and includes jazz fusion, British invasion, Motown soul, alt. country and rock. Ready? Let’s do it!

Wayne Shorter/Beauty and the Beast

Kicking us off today is some beautiful saxophone-driven jazz fusion by Wayne Shorter, a co-founding member of Weather Report, which I featured in a recent Sunday Six installment. By the time he cofounded the jazz fusion band, Shorter already had enjoyed a 10-year-plus career that included playing with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and Miles Davis’ Second Great Quintet. In addition to being a sideman, Shorter started his recording career as a bandleader in 1959 with Introducing Wayne Shorter – the first of more than 20 additional albums he has made in that role. One of these albums, his 15th, appeared in January 1975: Native Dancer, a collaboration with Brazilian jazz musician Milton Nascimento. Here’s a track from that record titled Beauty and the Beast. Composed by Shorter, the instrumental combines saxophone with some funky elements – very cool!

The Dave Clack Five/Glad All Over

Let’s jump back to November 1963 and a song by The Dave Clark Five I’ve loved from the very first time I heard it on the radio back in Germany during my early teenage years: Glad All Over. Co-written by DC5 drummer Dave Clark who also was the band’s producer, and lead vocalist and keyboarder Mike Smith, the tune first appeared as a single in the UK, followed by the U.S. in December of the same year. It also was the title track of the DC5’s U.S. debut album that appeared in March 1964. In January 1964, Glad All Over became the band’s first massive hit in the UK, knocking The Beatles’ I Want to Hold Your Hand off the no. 1 spot on the singles chart. In the U.S., the tune climbed to no. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100. This is a hell of a catchy song with a driving drum beat and great vocals – frankly worthy of displacing a Beatles song, and I say this as a huge fan of the Fab Four.

Martha and the Vandellas/Dancing in the Street

I guess Glad All Over has put me in some sort of a party mood, so let’s throw in another great party song: Dancing in the Street by Motown vocal group Martha and the Vandellas, which were formed in Detroit in 1957. Co-written by Marvin Gaye, William “Mickey” Stevenson and Ivy Joe Hunter, the tune first appeared in July 1964 and became the group’s highest charting single on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100, peaking at no. 2. Dancing in the Street, one of Motown’s signature songs, also did well in the UK where it reached no. 4 on the singles chart. Subsequently, the song was included on the group’s third studio album Dance Party from April 1965. Martha and the Vandellas disbanded in December 1972. After leaving Motown, Martha Reeves started a solo career but wasn’t able to replicate the success she had enjoyed with the group during the ’60s. Reeves who in July turned 80 apparently is still active.

The J. Geils Band/Looking for a Love

Well, now that I mentioned the word ‘party,’ let’s keep it going by turning to a group that has been called rock & roll’s ultimate party band: The J. Geils Band. The group, which was formed in 1967 in Worcester, Mass., originally included J. Geils (lead guitar), Peter Wolf (lead vocals, percussion), Danny Klein (bass), Stephen Jo Bladd (drums, percussion, backing vocals), Magic Dick (harmonica, saxophone, trumpet) and Seth Justman (keyboards, backing vocals). That line-up lasted for a remarkable 15 years until Wolf’s departure in 1983. After the rest of the group called it quits in 1985, The J. Geils Band had various reunion appearances and tours with different formations until 2015. Following his departure from the band, Wolf launched a solo career, released various albums and remains pretty active as a touring artist to this day. Here’s a great track off the band’s sophomore album The Morning After from October 1972: Looking for a Love, a cover of a song co-written by J.W. Alexander and Zelda Samuels, and first released by The Valentinos in March 1962. The J. Geils Band also put this tune out as a single in November 1971. It climbed to no. 39 on the Billboard Hot 100, giving them their first charting song in the U.S. It would take 10 more years before they scored a no. 1 with the more commercial Centerfold.

The Jayhawks/Five Cups of Coffee

I first covered The Jayhawks in August 2020 when I included a tune from their then-new album XOXO in a Best of What’s New post. I quickly came to dig this American alt. country and country rock band, and have since featured two of their other songs in previous Sunday Six installments this February and July. 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 their sophomore album Blue Earth appeared in 1989, Thad Spencer had replaced Rogers on drums. After five additional albums and further line-up changes, The Jayhawks went on hiatus in 2004, before reemerging with a new formation in 2019. Louris and Pearlman are the only remaining original members. Five Cups of Coffee is a great tune from the above mentioned Blue Earth album. It was co-written by Olson and Louris. The band’s great guitar sound and beautiful harmony singing are right up my alley!

Dirty Honey/Gypsy

For the sixth and final tune this week, let’s step on the gas with a great rocker by Dirty Honey. I first became aware of this rock band from Los Angeles in April this year when they released their self-titled first full-length album. At the time, I included one of the tracks in a Best of What’s New installment. Apple Music has compared Dirty Honey’s sound to the likes of Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin and The Black Crowes. The band’s members include Marc Labelle (vocals), John Notto (guitar), Justin Smolian (bass) and Corey Coverstone (drums). I was drawn to Dirty Honey right away and covered them again in a Sunday Six post in May. Here’s yet another track from the above mentioned album: Gypsy. Labelle’s vocals very much remind me of Steven Tyler. Great to hear a young band other than Greta Van Fleet embrace a classic rock-oriented sound!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube