The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

It’s Sunday and the end of yet another a busy week that left very little time for music. But this shall not prevent me from putting together a new installment of The Sunday Six – coz life without music is simply unthinkable! I think I got a pretty decent and diverse fresh set of six tunes. Hope you enjoy it!

Henry Mancini/Peter Gunn

As more frequent visitors of the blog know, I’m a huge fan of vocals, especially when sung in perfect harmony. But that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy a great instrumental, so let’s get started with a true classic. Peter Gunn by Henry Mancini was the opening track of the American television show of the same name. Starring Craig Stevens as private eye Peter Gunn, the series ran for three seasons between 1958 and 1961. The first version of the theme I heard was the live rendition by Emerson, Lake & Palmer from their 1979 album In Concert, which as I recall got decent radio play in Germany at the time. Peter Gunn was first released as a single in 1959 and also became the opener of the soundtrack album The Music from Peter Gunn. I find this combination of rock and jazz really cool. I wonder whether it inspired Monty Norman’s James Bond Theme from 1962.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers/Refugee

Tom Petty wrote many great songs, so I certainly had plenty of choice. If I could only pick one, I’d go with Refugee from Damn the Torpedoes, the third studio album by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Released in October 1979, it’s not only one of the most beloved Tom Petty records among his fans, but it’s also the band’s most commercially successful album in the U.S., and one of their highest charting on the Billboard 200 where it surged to no. 2. Moreover, perhaps not surprisingly, Damn the Torpedoes is on Rolling Stones’ list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Unlike many other older records on that list, remarkably, it moved up from no. 313 in 2003 to no. 231 in the latest revision from September 2020. Co-written by Petty and Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell, Refugee also appeared separately as the album’s second single in January 198o and became the band’s second top 20 song in the U.S., peaking at no. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100. Chart success was even bigger in Canada and New Zealand, where the tune reached no. 2 and no. 3, respectively. Such a great song!

The Beach Boys/Good Vibrations

How about some additional great vibes. While I wouldn’t call myself a fan of most Beach Boys songs, which to me can sound pretty repetitive, I always felt their harmony singing was out of this world. One of the greatest tunes I can think of in this context is Good Vibrations, my all-time favorite by The Beach Boys. Composed by the ingenious Brian Wilson with lyrics by Mike Love, the song was first released as a single in October 1966. Topping the charts in the U.S., UK and Australia, and surging to no. 2 in Canada, The Netherlands and Norway, Good Vibrations became The Beach Boys’ best-selling single reaching Platinum certifications in the U.S. and the UK. It also holds the distinction of becoming the costliest single ever recorded, involving a host of session musicians at four Hollywood studios and more than 90 hours of footage captured between February and September 1966. While that effort certainly sounds excessive, the outcome remains nothing short of breathtaking to this day. Initially, Good Vibrations was supposed to appear on Smile, but it remained an unfinished album at the time. Instead, the tune was included on Smiley Smile, The Beach Boys’ 12th studio record from September 1967. In September 2004, Brian Wilson released Brian Wilson Presents Smile, his forth solo album that featured all-new recordings of the tracks he had originally written for Smile.

Steely Dan/Deacon Blues

Continuing the theme of all-time favorite tracks, let’s turn to Steely Dan and the amazing Aja album. Their sixth studio release from September 1977 remains the Mount Rushmore of Donald Fagen’s and Walter Becker’s output, IMHO. It’s one of those rare albums without any tracks that feel like fillers or are otherwise not as compelling as the remaining tunes. Still, if I had to pick one, I’d go with Deacon Blues. The tune was mostly written at Fagen’s house in Malibu and, according to Wikipedia, was prompted by his observation that “if a college football team like the University of Alabama could have a grandiose name like the ‘Crimson Tide’ the nerds and losers should be entitled to a grandiose name as well.” Quoting Fagen from Anatomy of a Song: The Oral History of 45 Iconic Hits That Changed Rock, R&B and Pop (Marc Myers, 2016), Wikipedia adds: “The concept of the “expanding man” that opens the song may have been inspired by Alfred Bester’s The Demolished Man. Walter and I were major sci-fi fans. The guy in the song imagines himself ascending to the levels of evolution, “expanding” his mind, his spiritual possibilities, and his options in life.” Instead of continuing the near-impossible task of interpreting Steely Dan lyrics, let’s just listen to the bloody song!

The Chesterfield Kings/I Don’t Understand

If you’re familiar with my music taste, perhaps with the exception of the first track, none of the picks in this post thus far should have come as a big surprise. The picture might change a bit with this next track appropriately titled I Don’t Understand, by The Chesterfield Kings – well, let me explain and you will understand! It all started when fellow blogger Max who pens the PowerPop blog recently featured She Told Me Lies, another tune by this former American garage and psychedelic rock band from Rochester, N.Y. I loved their cool sound right away, which prompted me to listen to The Mindbending Sounds of the Chesterfield Kings, one of sadly only three albums that are currently available through my streaming music provider. I Don’t Understand is the opener of that 2003 album. Founded in the late ’70s by Greg Prevost, The Chesterfield Kings were instrumental in sparking the 1980s garage band revival, according to Wikipedia. A partial discography there lists 11 albums by the group that was active until 2009. Credited to The Chesterfield Kings, I Don’t Understand has a neat Byrds vibe – see, told ya, now you understand this pick! 🙂

Little Richard/Long Tall Sally

Once again, this brings me to the final tune of yet another fun zig-zag journey through music. Let’s make it count and tell Aunt Mary ’bout Uncle John: Long Tall Sally by the amazing Little Richard who I trust needs no further introduction. Co-written by Richard (credited with his birth name Richard Wayne Penniman), Robert Alexander “Bumps” Blackwell and Enotris Johnson, the classic rock & roll tune was released as a single in March 1956 and included on his debut album Here’s Little Richard that appeared at the same time – and, boy, what an album! It also featured Richard gems like Tutti Frutti, Slippin’ and Slidin’ and Jenny, Jenny. Perhaps it’s his equivalent to Chuck Berry’s third studio album Chuck Berry Is on Top from July 1959, which alternatively could have been titled The Greatest Hits of Classic Rock & Roll. Long Tall Sally became Richard’s first no. 1 on Billboard’s Hot R&B chart. Based on Wikipedia, the tune also was his most successful single on the mainstream chart where it peaked at no. 6.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

Welcome to another Sunday Six. In case you’re a first time visitor of the blog, this recurring feature celebrates the beauty of music six random tunes at a time, meaning songs from different genres and different decades. Pretty much anything goes in the same post. A jazz instrumental from the ’50s could be followed by a ’70s hard rock tune. A blues track from the ’60s could appear together with a pop song from the ’80s. My only condition is I have to like the tracks and how they work together. With that being said, let’s get to it!

John Barry & Orchestra/James Bond Theme

“Bond, James Bond.” These words started to fascinate me when I was a young teenager back in Germany. I still like the James Bond movies, as ridiculously unrealistic as they are. Especially the older pictures with Sean Connery and Roger Moore are classics in my book. Of course, part of every Bond picture is the soundtrack, including the James Bond Theme, which has been featured in every 007 film since the first one, Dr. No, from 1962. The signature theme was written by English singer and film composer Monty Norman and arranged by John Barry, a composer and conductor of film music. Barry also wrote the scores for 11 Bond pictures between 1963 and 1987. I always loved the track’s distinct guitar part played by English session guitarist Vic Flick, using a Clifford Essex Paragon De Luxe electric/acoustic vintage guitar from 1939.

Al Jarreau/Take Five

I know of no other artist who had such an amazing ability to use his voice as an instrument like Al Jarreau. Perhaps the most compelling example is his rendition of jazz standard Take Five, which was included on a May 1977 live album titled Look to the Rainbow. I’ve always loved the original written by Paul Desmond and first recorded by the Dave Brubeck Quartet for the album Time Out from December 1959. But Al Jarreau took the track to a different level. I guess many folks at the time agreed. Look to the Rainbow became Jarreau’s breakthrough in Europe and the U.S. It won the 1978 Grammy Award for Best Vocal Jazz Performance. If you haven’t heard this, check it out. If you already know Jarreau’s rendition, listen to it again anyway! 🙂

Joe Jackson/Down to London

Let’s jump to the late ’80s with a great tune by Joe Jackson. The British singer-songwriter first entered my radar screen in 1980, when I received his excellent sophomore studio album I’m the Man for my 14th birthday. I still own that vinyl copy. I’ve since listened on and off to Jackson, a versatile artist who has played many genres over the decades, including punk, new wave, pop, rock, jazz and Latin. He’s also fun live. I saw him in May 2019 at a mid-size theater in New Jersey. You can read about it here and watch some clips I took. Down to London is one of my favorite tracks from Blaze of Glory, Jackson’s 10th studio album that came out in April 1989. Like all other tunes on the record, he wrote the song.

The Wallflowers/6th Avenue Heartache

Next we’re on to the ’90s. I guess, I’m going chronologically this time. When The Wallflowers released their sophomore album Bringing Down the Horse in May 1996, they were still a standing roots rock-oriented band. Their origins date back to 1989 when Jakob Dylan (lead vocals, guitar, piano) and his childhood friend Tobi Miller (lead guitar) began forming a band called The Apples. Jakob is a son of Bob Dylan and his first wife Sara Dylan (nee Noznisky). After Barrie Maguire (bass), Peter Yanowitz (drums) and Rami Yafee (keyboards) had joined the group, they changed their name to The Wallflowers. The band signed with Virgin Records in 1991 and released their eponymous debut album in August 1992. Five additional studio albums appeared thereafter until 2012. Since 2013, Dylan has been the only remaining original member, relying on touring musicians for shows. A new album titled Exit Wounds is slated for July 9, the first to appear under The Wallflowers name in nine years. Apparently, it will be supported by a tour. For now, here’s 6th Avenue Heartache, written by Dylan, one of the band’s best known tunes and certainly one of my favorites.

Alicia Keys/Fallin’

Alicia Keys is an interesting artist in my book. While much of her music falls outside my core wheelhouse, I still like her. Undoubtedly, Keys’ amazing voice has a lot to do with it, but it’s also her stage presence. There’s just something about Keys that draws me in. It’s like she’s radiating – I can’t quite explain it. Anway, Fallin’ is a breathtaking tune from Keys’ debut album Songs in A Minor, which came out in June 2001. The record had a long history, which I hadn’t known until I read about it in Wikipedia. Keys, a classically trained pianist, already began writing songs for the record as a 14-year-old in 1995. She recorded the album in 1998 for Columbia Records, but the label rejected it. Eventually, it appeared in June 2001 on J Records, a new label that had been formed by Clive Davis who had sensed Keys’ talent and bought her contract from Columbia. His instincts turned out to be right. Songs in A Minor topped the Billboard 200 and won five Grammy Awards in 2002. As of 2015, the album had sold 7.5 million copies in the U.S. and more than 12 million worldwide. Fallin’ was solely written by Keys. That tune still gives me goosebumps.

Dirty Honey/Tied Up

I guess this already brings me to the last track of this Sunday Six installment. It’s time for some kickass rock and one of my new “discoveries,” Dirty Honey. I first featured this great rock band from Los Angeles a week ago in this Best of What’s New installment. The band, which has been around since 2017, features Marc Labelle (vocals), John Notto (guitar), Justin Smolian (bass) and Corey Coverstone (drums). Their classic rock-oriented sound is reminiscent of groups like Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith and The Black Crowes. Here’s Tied Up, credited to the entire band, from their eponymous studio debut album released on April 23. This is a fun tune that nicely rocks!

Sources: Wikipedia; 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