The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Another Sunday is upon us, which means time again for a new journey to celebrate the music of the past and present in different flavors, six tunes a pop. Before we get to that, just a quick reminder to readers in the U.S. that as of 2:00 a.m. this morning, we’re back to daylight savings time, except for Hawaii and Arizona (sans the Navajo Nation who observes DST). While I won’t get into debating the merits of DST, I like the fact that it reminds me we’re one step closer to spring.

Stan Getz and João Gilberto/Girl from Ipanema

I love the saxophone, so I’m always looking for great players I could feature in The Sunday Six. The other day, I came across Stan Getz. When I started reading about him, it didn’t take long to get to Brazilian jazz writer and guitarist João Gilberto and a song I’ve always loved: Girl from Ipanema. The popular bossa nova tune was written in 1962 by Brazilian composer Antônio Carlos Jobim, with Portoguese lyrics by Vinicius de Moraes. American lyricist Norman Gimbel subsequently wrote the English lyrics. Brazilian bossa nova singer Pery Ribeiro first recorded the tune in 1962, but it was the rendition by Getz and Gilberto, featuring Gilberto’s wife Astrud Gilberto (nee Astrud Evangelina Weinert) on vocals, which became a hit. Appearing on the album Getz/Gilberto from March 1964, Girl from Ipanema climbed to no. 5 on the mainstream charts in the U.S. and Canada, reached no. 8 in New Zealand and peaked at no. 29 in the UK. Feel free to groove along!

Sade/Your Love Is King

Let’s stay on the smooth side with smooth operator Sade (nee Helen Folasade Adu) and the British group that carries her name, who make their second appearance on The Sunday Six. Once again, I decided to pick a tune from their great debut album Diamond Life, released in July 1984: Your Love Is King, which first appeared in February that year as the lead single. The tune was penned by Sade together with saxophonist Stuart Matthewman who remains a member of the group to this day. The single made a strong debut in the UK where it surged to no. 6. It also did very well in New Zealand (no. 2) and Ireland (no. 7). In the U.S., the best performance was on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart (no. 8). By comparison, it only got to no. 54 on the Billboard Hot 100. Interestingly, the picture in the UK and U.S. was reversed for Smooth Operator. What probably is Sade’s best-known and my favorite tune reached no. 19 in the UK and no. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Ramones/I Wanna Be Sedated

Time to speed things up with American punk rock pioneers Ramones. Unlike the title may suggest, I think it’s safe to assume I Wanna Be Sedated won’t put you to sleep. While the Ramones, formed in New York in 1974, never achieved any significant commercial success, they still became highly influential in the punk rock genre. In fact, according to Wikipedia, they are often cited as the first true punk rock group. I Wanna Be Sedated, written together by co-founders Dee Dee Ramone (bass), Joey Ramone (lead vocals) and Johnny Ramone (guitar), appeared on the band’s fourth studio album Road to Ruin, which came out in September 1978. At the time, Marky Ramone (drums) rounded out their line-up. The song also became the b-side to the single She’s the One, released in parallel with the record, one of the group’s numerous non-charting singles. I find this a pretty catchy tune and wonder whether it may have had more success as an A-side.

4 Non Blondes/What’s Up

The next stop on our music journey are the ’90s and what must be one of the best-known tunes of that decade. Yes, What’s Up by 4 Non Blondes certainly hasn’t suffered from under-exposure, but it’s what I would call an epic tune I continue to enjoy. I was reminded of the song when I caught it on the radio the other day while driving my car. Luckily, it’s not exactly a 911 but a sexy Japanese compact SUV, so when you hit the accelerator, nothing overly dramatic happens – probably a good thing when you listen to a kickass tune like this. If I see this correctly, 4 Non Blondes were largely a one-hit-wonder. They only released one studio album, Bigger, Better, Faster, More!, in October 1992. What’s Up was penned by the group’s lead vocalist and main songwriter Linda Perry. The band, which was active from 1989 to 1994, at the time of What’s Up also featured Roger Rocha (lead guitar), Christa Hillhouse (bass) and Dawn Richardson (drums).

The Cars/Sad Song

Every time it comes to The Cars, I feel that while I hardly know anything about the American new wave and pop rock group, I am familiar with a good deal of their songs. The group was mainly active between 1976 and 1988. During that period, they recorded six of their seven studio albums and scored 13 top 40 hits in the U.S. alone. Their biggest was Drive from July 1984, which climbed to no. 3 in the U.S., Ireland and Switzerland, and reached the top 10 in many other countries. I decided to pick a tune from their reunion and final album Move Like This, which came out in May 2011: Sad Song. Written by frontman Ric Ocasek, who passed away in September 2019, it was one of the group’s few singles that didn’t make the Billboard Hot 100. Sad Song did reach no. 33 on the Mainstream Rock chart. This sounds like classic Cars. Perhaps a more cheerful title would have helped.

Julian Lage/Emily

And once again we have reached the final stop of this music excursion. Hope you’ve enjoyed the trip. I will leave you on a quiet and relaxing note with beautiful guitar jazz by Julian Lage. Borrowing from a June 2021 post when I featured him for the first time, according to Apple Music’s profileLage has been widely acclaimed as one of the most prodigious guitarists of his generation. The New York-based musician boasts a long resume as a desired sideman with artists as diverse as Gary Burton, Taylor Eigsti, John Zorn, Nels Cline, Chris Eldridge, Eric Harland, and Fred Hersch, to name just a few. Equally important is his reputation as a soloist and bandleader. He is equally versed in jazz, classical, pop, and show tunes, and has spent more than a decade searching through the myriad strains of American musical history via an impeccable technique and a gift for freely associating between styles, tempos, keys, and textures that adds to his limitless improvisational spirit. Emily, composed by John Mandel and John Mercer, is a track from Lage’s most recent album Squint, released in June 2021. Check out his beautiful tone!

Of course, this post wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify playlist featuring the above tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; YouTube; Spotify

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I Got A Name: Jim Croce

Prolific singer-songwriter’s life was cut short after his career had just taken off

…If I had a box just for wishes/And dreams that had never come true/The box would be empty/Except for the memory/Of how they were answerd by you…

The above is an excerpt from the lyrics of one of the most beautiful love songs I know, written by a great singer-songwriter whose life was tragically cut short. Time In A Bottle became one of Jim Croce’s biggest hits topping the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks in January 1974, not even four months after he had died at age 30 in a plane crash.

James Joseph Croce was born on January 10, 1943 in South Philadelphia. His parents James Albert Croce and Flora Mary (Babusci) Croce were both Italian Americans. While Croce git into playing accordion at the age of 5, he did not start taking music seriously until he was a student at Villanova University in the early 1960s. At that time, he began forming bands and playing local gigs at fraternity parties, coffee houses and universities around Philadelphia, performing a broad variety of cover music.

Jim Croce & family
Jim & Ingrid Croce with their son Adrian James

In 1966, Croce self-published his debut album Facets with a $500 cash gift he had received from his parents for his wedding to Ingrid Croce (née Jacobson), an author and singer-songwriter. The two had met in November 1963 and performed as a duo since 1964. Croce’s parents had hoped their son’s record would fail and he would come to realize he should use his eduction to pursue a “respectable” profession. Instead, Croce not only managed to sell all 500 copies of the record that had been pressed but also made a profit of close to $2,500. Here’s Texas Rodeo, the album’s only tune solely credited to Croce. Despite that promising start, true success for Croce was still years away.

In 1968, record producer Tommy West persuaded Croce and his wife to relocate to New York. By that time, they had started writing their own songs. This led to the release of Croce’s second record in September 1969, the duos album Jim & Ingrid Croce. Here’s the lovely Spin, Spin, Spin, which like most songs on the record was co-written by the couple.

The music business in New York City and playing small clubs and college gigs to promote the couple’s album proved to be tough. Disillusioned they returned to Pennsylvania to live on an old farm in the countryside. Since music wasn’t bringing in enough money, Croce took on a variety of odd jobs like driving a truck, construction work and teaching guitar lessons. Meanwhile, he continued writing songs.

Following the birth of their son Adrian James, Ingrid became a stay-at-home mother while Jim played concerts to promote his music. The breakthrough came in 1972 after Croce had signed a contract with ABC Records and released his third studio album You Don’t Mess Around With Jim in April that year. The record’s title track came out as a single in July and climbed to no. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100. By comparison, the album’s second single Operator (That’s Not The Way It Feels) “only” made it to no. 17 on the U.S. chart. And then there is the above-mentioned Time In A Bottle, which didn’t appear as a single until after Croce’s death and became his second of two no. 1 hits in the U.S.

In July 1973, Croce’s fourth studio album Life And Times came out. The last record released during his lifetime included his first Billboard Hot 100 no. 1 hit Bad, Bad Leroy Brown. The great piano-driven boogie woogie tune was inspired by a guy with that name Croce had met during his short time in the National Guard. One evening the guy said he was fed up and went AWOL. When he inexplicably decided to come back at the end of the month to get his paycheck, he was caught and taken away in handcuffs.

On September 20, 1973, during the supporting tour for Life And Times, Croce was planning to fly from Natchitoches, La. after a show there to his next gig in Sherman, Texas. During takeoff, the pilot of a chartered propeller plane clipped a tree at the end of the runway, causing a crash. Croce, pilot Robert N. Elliott; guitarist Maury Muehleisen; comedian George Stevens, manager and booking agent Kenneth D. Cortese, and road manager Dennis Rast were all killed. The next day, the lead single and title track from Croce’s fifth and final studio album I Got A Name was released. Co-written by Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel, the song was one of record’s few tunes that were not written by Croce.

After Jim’s death, Ingrid Croce among other activities released two solo albums. She also did various things to keep Jim’s legacy alive. In 1985, she started a restaurant in downtown San Diego in the same spot where in 1973 Jim had joked about opening Croce’s Restaurant & Jazz Bar and inviting their friends and fellow artists like James Taylor, Jimmy Buffet, Arlo Guthrie and Bonnie Raitt to perform there. After various expansions and opening a second restaurant in the ’80s, Ingrid closed all restaurant operations in 2016. In 1996, she wrote Thyme in a Bottle, an autobiographical cookbook with memories and recipes from Croce’s Restaurant. And in 2004, she published Time in a Bottle, a photographic memoir of Jim’s songs with lyrics and her favorite photos. Jim’s and Ingrid’s son Adrian James “A.J.” Croce also became a singer-songwriter and has released 10 albums since 1993.

A bio on Jim Croce’s website quotes Ingrid: “Jim poured everything he heard and saw into his music. He was like a sponge, soaking up experiences and – sometimes it might take him a while, ‘Roller Derby Queen’ took him two or three years to write. But sooner or later, everything would make it into a song, and people recognized that.”

I’d like to close this post with a nice clip of a 1973 live performance of Operator, showing Croce with Muehleisen. Croce had met the classically trained pianist-guitarist and singer-songwriter from Trenton, N.J. in 1970. Muehleisen became a collaborator in the studio who influenced Croce’s songwriting. For 18 months, they were also frequently together on the road. He was only 24 years at the time of the crash.

Sources: Wikipedia; Jim Croce website; Ingrid Croce website; YouTube