On This Day In Rock & Roll History: March 11

1968: (Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay by Otis Redding was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Co-written by Redding and Stax house band Booker T. & the M.G.’s guitarist Steve Cropper, the song had only been released as a single on January 8 that year, following Redding’s untimely death in a plane crash on December 10, 1967 at the age of 26. The tune, which topped the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and climbed to no. 3 on the UK Singles Chart, became his biggest hit. As of December 13, 2017, it has reached 3x Multi-Platinum certification.

1970: The Beatles released Let It Be in the U.S., five days after the song had appeared in the UK, their last single prior to the announcement of their official breakup. Credited to John Lennon and Paul McCartney, the ballad was actually written by McCartney who also sang lead. Undoubtedly one of the best known Beatles songs to this day, Let It Be gave the band another no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and peaked at no. 2 in the UK. Here’s a clip of an early take, which appeared on the third of the Anthology albums. In addition to the instrumentation, McCartney’s lyrics are slightly different than in the final version.

1970: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young released Déjà Vu, the first studio album by the quartet and second studio record by Crosby, Stills & Nash. The record, which became the band’s most successful album, includes numerous gems like Carry On, Teach Your Children, Our House and the brilliant cover of Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock. The aforementioned songs also appeared as singles, and each charted in the Billboard Hot 100, with Woodstock reaching the highest position at no. 11. The album topped the Billboard 200 in May 1970 and stayed in the charts for 97 weeks. RIAA certified the record Gold on March 25, 1970, only two weeks after its release. As of November 4, 1992, Harvest has reached 7x Multi-Platinum certification, numbers that are unheard of these days. Here’s a clip of the mighty Woodstock.

1972: Neil Young’s fourth studio album Harvest hit no. 1 on the Billboard 200, staying in that position for two weeks. The record featured various notable guest vocalists, including David Crosby, Graham Nash, Linda Ronstadt, Stephen Hills and James Taylor. The album includes some of Young’s best known songs, such as Old Man, The Needle And The Damage Done and Heart Of Gold, his first and only no. 1 single on the Billboard Hot 100. That tune also topped the charts in Young’s native Canada, as did the record. Harvest was certified Gold by RIAA less than three weeks after its release and became the best selling album of 1972 in the U.S. As of June 27, 1994, the album has reached 4x Multi-Platinum status. Here’s a clip of The Needle And The Damage Done.

1975: English Art rockers 10cc came out with their third studio album The Original Soundtrack. The record is best known for I’m Not In Love, which was also released separately as a single on May 23, 1975. Co-written by Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman, the ballad is one of the band’s most popular songs and enjoyed massive radio play. It became 10cc’s second of three chart-topping singles in the UK, and their best performing U.S. single, peaking at no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. The album’s lead single Life Is A Minestrone climbed to no. 7 on the UK Singles Chart but did not chart in the U.S.

Sources: Wikipedia, This Day In Music, The Beatles Bible, RIAA.com, Billboard Chart History, YouTube


On This Day In Rock History: February 18

1959: Ray Charles recorded What’d I Say at Atlantic Records in New York City. Written by Charles, the R&B classic evolved from an improvisation during a concert in December 1958. At the end of that show, Charles found himself with some time to fill and reportedly told his female backing vocalists The Raelettes, “Listen, I’m going to fool around and y’all just follow me.” Fooling around paid off nicely. Following its release in July that year, the tune became Charles’ first gold record. One of the challenges with the song was its original length of more than seven and a half minutes, far longer than the usual two-and-a-half-minute format for radio play. Recording engineer Tom Dowd came up with the idea to remove some parts and split up the song in two three-and-a-half-minute chunks: What’d I Say Part I and What’d I Say Part II. The division relied on a false ending after the orchestra had paused the music.

1965: Tired Of Waiting For You by The Kinks hit no. 1 on the UK Singles Chart. Written by Ray Davies, the tune was a single from the band’s second studio LP Kinda Kinks, which appeared in March that year. Notably, The Kinks only had two other chart-topping singles in the UK during their long career: You Really Got Me (1964) and Sunny Afternoon (1966). According to Songfacts, Davies wrote the tune while studying at Hornsey School of Art in London. Since by the time The Kinks went into the studio he couldn’t remember the lyrics, the band initially only recorded the backing track. Davies ended up writing the words on the train the following day while heading back to the studio.

1967: The Buckinghams topped the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 with Kind Of A Drag, the Chicago sunshine pop band’s only no. 1 hit. The tune was written by Jim Holway, who is  also best known for this accomplishment. The band, which had formed the previous year, became one of the top-selling acts in 1967, according to Wikipedia. But their chart success was short-lived and they disbanded in 1970, which I suppose is, well, kind of a drag! On a more cheerful note, they re-emerged in 1980 and apparently remain active to this day. Here’s a clip of the lovely tune.

1972: Neil Young’s fourth studio album Harvest was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), only less than three weeks after its release on February 1. It features some of Young’s best known songs, including Heart Of Gold, Old Man and The Needle And The Damage Done. James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt, David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash were among the impressive array of guest musicians. Harvest topped the Billboard 200 for two weeks and became the best-selling record of the year in the U.S. As of June 27, 1994, the album has 4x Multi-Platinum certification. Here’s a clip of The Needle And The Damage Done.


Sources: Wikipedia, This Day in Music.com, Songfacts Music History Calendar, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Neil Young & Promise Of The Real/ The Visitor

Not ready to fade away, Young is still feisty after more than five decades

Oftentimes, I enjoy blogging about music the most when it’s spontaneous! This morning, I had no idea I would end up writing about Neil Young’s latest studio album. While if anything I now dig the man more than ever, it’s probably fair to assume we’ve seen his finest work. I mean how can you possibly trump gems like Harvest, Live Rust and Harvest Moon, to name three of his albums that come to my mind right away?

So how the heck did I end up with The Visitor? While listening to The Rolling Stones’ Exit On Main Street during breakfast, which BTW is great music for waking up, I was looking at Facebook pictures from Decade, a Neil Young tribute band I really like. Readers of the blog will probably remember the name, since I’ve covered them on various previous occasions.

Decade had their first gig of the year last night, which I unfortunately missed. So I gave a thumbs-up to the nice photos and lead guitarist Joey Herr’s red SG, one of the coolest looking Gibson models, in my opinion. I also told them their Facebook post made me feel like putting on some Neil. And so I did. Blame Apple Music for showing me The Visitor first as the “Latest Release!”

Neil Young & Promise Of The Real

Leading up to the appearance of Young’s 39th studio album on December 1, 2017, I had casually listened to Already Great, one of two singles that came out prior to the record. While I didn’t think it was a bad tune, frankly, I wasn’t very impressed either. So when queuing up The Visitor after I was done with Exile this morning, I didn’t have particularly high expectations. To say it right upfront, the record isn’t on par with the above named albums. Yet, I was still pleasantly surprised that after 50-plus years in the music business, it’s obvious that Young has fire left in the belly!

The Visitor kicks off with the grungy sounding Already Great. When Young sings, Woke up this morning/Thinking ’bout you/And your new deal/(My American friend), there is no doubt who he is referring to. The song’s chorus also leaves no ambiguity how Young feels about the U.S.: Already great/You’re already great/You’re the promise land/You’re the helping hand. Credited to him and producer John Hanlon, it’s safe to assume the lyrics won’t endear him to all Americans, which is also true for the remainder of the record. But Young has always been outspoken (think Southern Man, for example), so I doubt he’ll get sleepless nights over it.

As I started listening to the acoustic Almost Always, I was like, ‘wait a minute, I know this melody.’ It didn’t take me long to figure it out: From Hank To Hendrix, one of my favorite tracks from the Harvest Moon album. And before I knew it, another piece from that record popped up: part of the guitar theme from Unknown Legend – kind of clever how Young mixed the two! Again, when it comes to the lyrics, it’s pretty clear what he is talking about: And I’m living with a gameshow host/Who has to brag and has to boast/’Bout tearing down/The things I hold dear.

Stand Tall is another grungy rocker. The lyrics take on the science deniers and the sad fact that their ignorance is now endorsed at the highest levels of power: Boy king don’t believe in science/It goes against the big money truth/This playpen is full of deniers/To flush our future down the tubes.

Perhaps the most peculiar track on the album is Carnival. It starts with Young laughing like he’s lost his mind. Then he describes what sounds like memories of a past visit to a carnival. Bongos and background vocalists singing carnival, carnival give the tune a Latin feel. Young also throws in elements of carnival music. It’s a somewhat weird and catchy tune at the same time. Listen for yourself!

And just when you think you’ve basically figured out the record, Young throws in a blues called Diggin’ A Hole.

The last track I’d like to call out is Children Of Destiny, the record’s lead single that was released on July 4, 2017. The timing certainly wasn’t a coincidence. It feels like a companion to Already Great and that Young essentially is saying it’s up to the young generation to keep the country that way: Stand up for what you believe/Resist the powers that be/Preserve the land and save the seas/For the children of destiny/The children of you and me.

Unlike the Shocking Pinks, a band made up for Young’s 1983 studio album Everybody’s Rockin’, Promise Of The Real is, well, a real band. Its members are Lukas Nelson (vocals/guitar), Anthony Logerfo (drums), Corey McCormick (bass) and Tato Melgar (percussion). Lukas is a son of Willie Nelson, the country music legend. Also playing on the album is Willie’s second son from his current marriage, Micah Nelson. Promise Of The Real also backed Young on his 36th studio album The Monsanto Years, which came out in 2015, and the tour that supported the record.

Is The Visitor likely to get Young new listeners? I doubt it – in fact, given how divided the country is, it may actually piss off some of the folks who have enjoyed listening to him in the past. While this album certainly feels more political than most of Young’s previous records, his true fans have always known that he doesn’t shy away from expressing his opinions. I’m definitely a part of that group. And I love the fact that Young still embraces these lines he composed many moons ago: My my, hey hey/Rock and roll is here to stay/It’s better to burn out/Than to fade away/My my, hey hey.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

When Less Is More

A list of some of my favorite unplugged performances

Do you remember when in the ’90s many music artists suddenly seemed to realize they could deliver more intimate performances by sitting down on stage with their bands and largely replacing electric with acoustic instruments? Unplugged albums quickly became en vogue. They also helped revive flagging careers of some artists, such as Eric Clapton and Rod Stewart. Undoubtedly, the television series MTV Unplugged fueled this trend.

To perform music that originally was written for electric instruments in a stripped down fashion required a good degree of craftsmanship. Gone were many of the sound effects behind which artists had been able to “hide.” While as is oftentimes the case with fashionable trends the unplugged wave may have been a bit overdone, the concept has generally appealed to me as a hobby guitarist. Following are five of my favorite unplugged performances.

I also would have loved to include the fantastic version of Hotel California by the Eagles from their great Hell Freezes Over album. But this band is very protective of their music, and even if you’re lucky enough to find a specific song you want on YouTube, oftentimes the clips are taken down, and before you know it, you have a dead link – not fun!

Billy Idol/White Wedding (VH-1 Storyteller, 2002)

Billy Idol may have been a fashion punk who became known for playing commercial music that didn’t have anything to do anything with punk. But in my opinion, he surely knew how to write tunes with catchy melodies that rocked. Undoubtedly, a major role in all of it played his guitarist Steve Stevens, who co-wrote various of Idol’s biggest hits, such as Rebel Yell, Eyes Without A Face and Flesh For Fantasy. Plus, Stevens is a hell of a guitarist, which this clip of White Wedding nice illustrates, one of the best unplugged performances I’ve seen. He continues to perform and tour with Idol to this day.

Eric Clapton/Layla (Unplugged, 1992)

To successfully strip down an iconic rock song like Layla, which in its original features fantastic guitar interplay by Eric Clapton and Duane Allman, is a formidable task. Clapton didn’t only do that, but gave the tune an entirely new character on his 1992 Unplugged album. In my opinion, the result is one of the best rock cover versions, similar to Joe Cocker’s rendition of With A Little Help From Friends by The Beatles.

Rod Stewart/Maggie May (Unplugged…And Seated, 1993)

Sometimes one may forget that Rod Stewart in his early days was a top-notch rock artist. I’ve always loved Maggie Mae, which he co-wrote with British guitarist and composer Martin Quittenton. The tune was originally recorded for Stewart’s third solo album Every Picture Tells A Story, released in May 1971. At the time, Stewart was still with The Faces. In fact, all of the band’s members played on the album. Notably, Ronnie Wood was also part of Unplugged…And Seated, Stewart’s excellent unplugged album from 1993, from which this clip is taken.

Nirvana/The Man Who Sold The World (MTV Unplugged In New York, 1993)

Nirvana’s unplugged version of The Man Who Sold The World is one of the most haunting covers of the David Bowie song I know. It was part of the band’s MTV Unplugged In New York album, which was recorded on November 18, 1993 – about four and a half months prior to Curt Cobain’s death. His almost painful singing, along with guitars that sound are out of tune, give this performance a somewhat creepy feel. It shows an artist who at the time was in the brutal throes of drug addiction and depression.

Neil Young/Like A Hurricane (Unplugged, 1993)

Like A Hurricane is one of my favorite rock tunes by Neil Young. Naturally, I was curious how he would handle an unplugged version of a song that in its initial recording is dominated by heavily distorted grunge-like electric guitar. In my opinion, Young’s performance with just an organ and a harmonica takes it to another level. The church-like sound of the organ combined with Young’s signature quavering voice induces chills and literally blows me away. Check it out yourself.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Neil Young/American Stars ‘N Bars

Young’s eighth studio album is best known for the epic rocker “Like A Hurricane”

Why American Stars ‘N Bars? And why now? To start with, it includes Like A Hurricane, one of my all-time favorite Neil Young rock tunes – well, make that ’70s rock songs! And second, because of that, I grabbed the record yesterday on vinyl in a great small store close to my house, which buys and sells used vinyl records and vintage stereo equipment, a place in which I could get lost, but that’s another story! Since other than Like A Hurricane I didn’t know any of the other tracks, yes, it was at least in part an impulse purchase!

When spinning the record for the first time, I noticed two things. I was reminded how short vinyl records used to be. Side one clocks in at less than 18 minutes. With just over 20 minutes, side two isn’t much longer. The second thing I realized is that most of the songs on the album are country and folk-oriented – of course, Young has always done acoustic music, and I consider many of these tunes to be among his best work. Still, I guess because of Like A Hurricane, I expected more such rockers.

Neil Young American Stars 'N Bars Record Sleeve

Looking for background and some inspiration, I started reading up on American Stars ‘N Bars, Young’s eighth studio album, which was released in May 1977. Most reviews characterized the record as a hodgepodge and highlighted Like A Hurricane as the standout. One exception was a take by the Observer, which revisited the record in late May this year on the occasion of its 40th anniversary, calling it “in many ways…the quintessential Neil Young album.” I think they made a good point.

Throughout his career, Young has been known for making impulsive decisions. This has not always exactly endeared him to others. As an Ultimate Classic Rock story notes, in the mid-’70s, he recorded various albums that were ready to release but at the last minute changed his mind. For example, Young aborted Homegrown and instead decided to pursue and release Tonight’s The Night. American Stars ‘N And Bars is another example of Young’s unpredictability. Instead of this record, the retrospective collection Decade had been slated for release. Unlike Homegrown, which never appeared, Decade was delayed and came out in October 1977, five months after American Stars ‘N Bars.

The notion that American Stars ‘N Bars is a hodgepodge is not entirely unfounded. In fact, Young himself was very transparent about it by indicating the dates of the four different recording sessions on the album’s sleeve: November 1974, November 1975, May 1976 and April 1977. Side one lists Young, his long-time band Crazy Horse and The Bullets as the performers. The latter was a spontaneous name and included pedal steel guitarist Ben Keith, violinist Carole Mayedo, as well as vocalists Linda Ronstadt and Nicolette Larson. Side two indicates Young and Crazy Horse as the performing artists. All tracks were written by Young, except Saddle Up The Palomino, which he co-wrote with bassist Tim Drummond and singer-songwriter Bob Charles.

Neil Young_American Stars 'N Bars Side 1

All tracks on side 1 were recorded in April 1977. The opener The Old Country Waltz is a traditional country tune that features fiddle and pedal steel guitar, along with Ronstadt and Larson on backing vocals. The lyrics describe how Young received the news that his first wife actress Carrie Snodgress was leaving him. The topics of love, loss and lust also prominently feature on other tracks.

This is followed by a more upbeat sounding Saddle Up The Palomino. According to the above Observer story, Carmelina, the woman mentioned in the song, supposedly was the wife of his neighbor. The tune features more pedal steel guitar, fiddle and backing vocals by Ronstadt and Larson. Apparently, the giggle at the beginning of the song is from Larson, who would later become Young’s next girlfriend.

Neil Young_American Stars 'N Bars Side 2

Side 2 kicks off with Star Of Bethlehem, which was recorded in November 1974 and initially had been slated for Young’s never released Homegrown album. It’s a typical Young acoustic track, which could have appeared on an album like Harvest. The song prominently features him on acoustic guitar and harmonica. Country artist Emmylou Harris provides beautiful harmony vocals.

While I like the album’s acoustic tunes, the clear crown jewel to me remains Like A Hurricane. Frankly, if it hadn’t been for this epic tune, I wouldn’t have bought the record. Recorded in November 1975, Young initially had in mind to put this track on Chrome Dreams, yet another unreleased album. Referring to Young’s biography Shakey by Jimmy McDonough, Songfacts explains that while recovering from vocal cord surgery and unable to talk, Young went to a bar with some friends. One of them, Taylor Phelps, said: “Neil, Jim Russell, David Cline and I went to Venturi’s in La Honda. We were really f–ked up. Neil had this amazing intense attraction to this particular woman named Gail – it didn’t happen, he didn’t go home with her. We go back to the ranch and Neil started playing. Young was completely possessed, pacing around the room, hunched over a Stringman keyboard pounding out the song.”

The last track I’d like to call out is the record’s closer Homegrown. Originally, it was supposed to become the title track to Young’s above abandoned album. While not as hard-charging as Like A Hurricane, the tune still has a rock feel to it thanks to Young’s distorted electric guitar. Perhaps not surprisingly, it was recorded at the same time as Like A Hurricane.

American Stars N’ Bars reached no. 21 on the U.S. Billboard 200, and was certified Gold in October 1977 by the Recording Industry Association of America. Undoubtedly, the album’s performance was largely fueled by Like A Hurricane. The track was also released separately as a single and became one of Young’s best-known songs and a staple of his live shows. In a 2011 Rolling Stone readers poll, it was ranked no. 4 among the top 10 Young songs.

Sources: Wikipedia, Observer, Ultimate Classic Rock, Songfacts, Rolling Stone, YouTube

Clips & Pix: Neil Young/Rockin’ In The Free World

With Neil Young very much being on my mind after listening to his music last night and writing a related post earlier today, I thought why not throw in a truly epic live performance of one of his rock anthems. Rockin’ In The Free World, which he wrote together with long-time collaborator and Crazy Horse rhythm guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro, appeared on Freedom.

Released in October 1989, Young’s 18th studio album marked a triumphant comeback after a largely unsuccessful decade. The record was well received by music critics and climbed to no. 35 on the Billboard 200. Rockin’ In The Free World also appeared separately as a single in November that year. It peaked at no. 2 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Songs chart and is at no. 216 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time from 2011.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rolling Stone, YouTube

Decade Blows Stone Pony Away With Music Of Neil Young

Tribute band’s recreation of Young rock and acoustic classics is labor of love

Decade impressed me right away when I saw them for the first time at Rock the Farm Festival in Seaside Heights, N.J. in September (see related post here). I also caught them again just one week later at the Colts Neck Rockfest 2017 in Colts Neck, N.J. On both occasions, these guys did an incredible job in recreating the music of Neil Young. With tight sets, they focused on some of Young’s best known rock songs. Last night, the band was also able to include a great acoustic set as the headliner at The Stone Pony, the storied live music venue in Asbury Park, N.J.

At Colts Neck Rockfest, I had a chance chat with the band’s lead vocalist John Hathaway, who has been playing Young’s music for the last 30 years. He truly knows the ins and outs of Young’s guitar work, has a very similar voice, and even somewhat resembles his idol. Hathaway told me about the scheduled Stone Pony gig and was clearly excited. Frankly, being the headliner at a venue where the likes of Southside Johnny, Little Steven and Bruce Springsteen played in their early days is pretty cool! Oh, and according to its website, The Stone Pony has also attracted many other famous artists over its 40-plus-year history, such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Ramones, Blue Öyster Cult and Gregg Allman.

Decade at Stone Pony Poster

Back to Decade. In addition to Hathaway (middle), the band’s current line-up includes Joey Herr (lead and rhythm guitar, backing vocals; far left), Lou Perillo (bass, backing vocals; second from left), Steve Cunniff (keyboards, backing vocals; second from right) and Johnny Burke (drums, percussion; far right). All of these guys are clearly veteran musicians and do an outstanding job backing Hathaway. Having played myself in a band many moons ago, I believe I can confidently say that!

In addition to performing many of Young’s best known songs, Decade played some deep cuts most of which I didn’t know myself. Among the rockers were Like A Hurricane, The Loner, Cinnamon Girl, as well as the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young classics Woodstock and Ohio. Some of acoustic gems included Sugar Mountain, After The Gold Rush, The Needle And The Damage Done and Harvest Moon. I have to say I’ve always loved the acoustic side of Young, oftentimes even more than his rock anthems. Decade also threw in a great tribute to Tom Petty, Listen To Her Heart. I’m still somewhat in disbelief he’s gone!

Since smartphone videos oftentimes come out with mediocre quality, I didn’t try to capture any live footage. Luckily, I found a few clips from Decade on YouTube. I hope there will be more soon, including some of their excellent acoustic renditions.

Cowgirl In The Sand

Written by Young, Cowgirl In The Sand first appeared on his second studio album Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere, released in May 1969. The tune is also featured on Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s first live album 4 Way Street, which appeared in April 1971.

Cortez The Killer

Cortez The Killer, which was written by Young, initially appeared on Zuma, his 1975 album with Crazy Horse. The tune is also included on Young’s 1977 compilation album Decade, which presumably inspired the band’s name. Last night, Hathaway told the audience it was Burke who came up with it before he actually became the band’s drummer.


A Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young classic, Ohio initially was released as a single in June 1970. Written by Young, the tune was also included on the band’s 4 Way Street live album as well as on the Decade compilation record. BTW, the clip was recorded at the above mentioned Rock the Farm festival.


Woodstock was the lead single from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s iconic second studio album Déjà Vu from March 1970. The song was written by Joni Mitchell, who included it on her third studio record Ladies Of The Canyon, which appeared around the same time as Déjà Vu. Apparently, the clip was captured during a previous performance of Decade at The Stone Pony earlier this year.

According to Decade’s website, they can next be seen at the Walt Street Pub Bar and Restaurant in Red Bank, N.J. on November 4, December 9 and January 19.

I’d like to finish this post with a couple of quotes from Hathaway, which are on the band’s Facebook page. Commenting on Young, he notes, “He’s the reason I learned to play…It’s what I was born to do [laughs].” Having seen him three times now, I believe it!

“The guitar work and vocals have to be dead on or we will be dismissed as just another bunch of hacks…We’re re-creating album recordings. We’re not kidding around here. Anything less would be a disservice to the fans coming to see us. I want people to leave thinking they just saw the best thing next to Neil Young in person.” It’s a high standard, but Decade truly lives up to it.

Sources: Wikipedia, Decade Facebook page and website, The Stony Pony website, YouTube