The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Good morning/good afternoon/good evening, wherever you are when reading this. It’s Sunday morning in my neck of the woods in lovely central New Jersey where you can always run into a confused deer or encounter a suicidal squirrel that jumps right before your moving vehicle. Why the hell am I saying this? Coz I just felt like it, plus how many times can you introduce a recurring feature that’s now in its 65th week?

Jean-Michel Jarre/Last Rendez Vous

Today, our music journey shall start in space with Jean-Michel Jarre, one of the pioneers of electronic, ambient and new-age music. The French composer who has been active since 1969 broke through with his third studio album Oxygène from December 1976. That record catapulted Jarre to the top of the French charts and the top 10 in various other European countries, including the UK (no. 2), Sweden (no. 3), The Netherlands (no. 4), Germany (no. 8), Norway (no. 9) and Austria (no. 10). Evidently, Europeans loved it, which in no small part was driven by the track Oxygène (Part IV) that subsequently became a single mirroring the album’s chart performance in Europe. Success was more moderate in the U.S. where the album peaked at no. 78 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Australia (no. 29) – still remarkable, given the genre! Last Rendez Vous is the closing track of Jarre’s eighth studio album Rendez-Vous, released in April 1986 – not quite as spacy as Oxygène but still very relaxing. That beautiful saxophone part was played by Pierre Gossez.

Drive-By Truckers/Gravity’s Gone

For the next tune, let’s travel to 2006 and pick up the speed with some great Southern rock by Drive-By Truckers. The group was formed in Athens, Ga. in 1996 by Patterson Hood (guitar, vocals, mandolin) and his longtime friend and musical partner Mike Cooley (guitar, vocals, banjo, harmonica). Both remain in the band’s current line-up, which also includes Jay Gonzalez (keyboards, guitar, accordion, saw, backing vocals), Matt Patton (bass, backing and lead vocals) and Brad “EZB” Morgan (drums). Drive-By Truckers helped launch the career of Jason Isbell who joined them at age 21 in 2001 and remained a member until April 2007. He recorded three albums with them, including A Blessing and a Curse, the group’s sixth record from April 2006. Here’s Gravity’s Gone, a great tune with a Stonesy vibe, written by Cooley. Since then, Drive-By Truckers have released seven additional studio albums, the most recent of which is The New OK from October 2020.

Todd Rundgren/I Saw the Light

When that song was served up to me by my streaming music provider the other day, I immediately decided to earmark it for a Sunday Six. The seductive power pop tune by Todd Rundgren reminds me of George Harrison. In fact, when I heard that slide guitar, I was near-100% sure this has to be Harrison. But, nope, the versatile Rundgren played all instruments and provided all vocals on this tune, which is the opener of his third album Something/Anything?. Released as a double-LP in February 1972, Something/Anything? became Rundgren’s commercial breakthrough as a solo artist. Peaking at no. 29 and no. 34 in the U.S. and Canada, respectively, Something/Anything? remains his most successful album to date. As of February 1975, it was certified gold by RIAA, based on 500,000 units sold. I Saw the Light also appeared separately as a single, reaching no. 16 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and no. 15 in Canada. Elsewhere, it climbed to no. 21 in Australia and no. 36 in the UK. The album also featured Rundgren’s biggest hit single Hello It’s Me.

Leonard Cohen/Suzanne

Leonard Cohen/Suzanne

Time to play some ’60s. And, nope, for a change, it’s not a rocker. I can’t quite recall when I heard Suzanne by Leonard Cohen for the first time – must have been in the ’70s. What I do still remember is this song drew me in immediately. Frankly, I’m not even sure I already understood a word of English at the time. But Cohen’s vocals, the beautiful melody and the sparse instrumentation did the trick. Penned by the Canadian poet, novelist and singer-songwriter, Suzanne was the opener of Cohen’s debut album Songs of Leonard Cohen, which appeared in December 1967. It would be the first of fifteen studio albums he recorded over a close to 50-year-recording career. Cohen passed away from leukemia in Los Angeles in November 2016 at the age of 82 years. Suzanne sounds just as powerful today as it did back then.

Soundgarden/Black Hole Sun

Our next stop is the ’90s. It surprises me time and again how little I seem to know about this decade where alternative rock and grunge were all the rage. Well, I’m happy to report I was aware of Black Hole Sun by Soundgarden. In fact, when that tune came out in May 1994, I was in my second year of grad school in the U.S., and it seemed to be everywhere. Unless you lived under a rock, there really was no way you’d miss it! Black Hole Sun, written by Chris Cornell, became the third single off Soundgarden’s fourth studio album that ironically was titled Superunknown. Topping the charts in the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand, reaching the top 5 in the UK, Sweden and Norway, and making the top 20 in The Netherlands, Germany and Austria, Superunknown not only became the Seattle band’s breakthrough but also their most successful album. Even though Black Hole Sun doesn’t have what you would call a catchy melody in the traditional sense, it still can easily get stuck in your brain!

Goodbye June/Stand and Deliver

And once again it’s time to wrap up another six-track journey. For my last pick, I’d like to jump to the present and Goodbye June, an exciting band that has been around since 2005. I love their embrace of classic rock, so it’s not surprising I’ve featured the band several times since I first came across them in December 2021. Goodbye June are comprised of Landon Milbourn (lead vocals), Brandon Qualkenbush (rhythm guitar, bass, backing vocals) and Tyler Baker (lead guitar), who are all cousins. The group was formed in honor of Baker’s brother who died in a car accident in June 2005. In 2009, they relocated to Nashville where they gained a reputation for their fiery live shows. Three years later, the band’s debut album Nor the Wild Music Flow came out. Stand and Deliver is a track from Goodbye June’s fourth and most recent studio release See Where the Night Goes, which appeared on February 18. I can hear some great ’70s style rock in here like AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith – love it!

And, last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist of today’s songs.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

What I’ve Been Listening to: Jean-Michel Jarre/Oxygène

In general, I’m not much into electronic music. One of the exceptions is Oxygène by Jean-Michel Jarre, an album I loved right away when got it on vinyl as a teenager. This must have been around 1980. I own that copy to this day and it’s still in reasonable condition.

Jarre’s third studio album, released in December 1976, first entered my radar screen when I heard the single Oxygène (Part IV) on the radio back in Germany. It became quite popular, which is remarkable for an instrumental. On the other hand, I guess I’m not surprised. The track has a memorable melody, and that spacy sound is just cool, especially if you listen to it with headphones.

Jean-Michel Jarre, who was 28 when Oxygène came out

According to Wikipedia, Jarre recorded Oxygène in a makeshift home recording studio, using various analogue synthesizers, a digital synthesizer, and other electronic instruments and effects. You can see some of the gear in the below clip of Oxygène (Part IV).

Let’s take a closer look at the music, which was all composed by Jarre. Each of the six tracks is fairly long. Here’s the opener Oxygène (Part I).

Oxygène (Part III), the third and final track on side one (in vinyl speak), is the shortest. There isn’t really much to say about the individual tracks. I find this music perfect to relax. In fact, I’ve listened to it many times over the decades in bed to fall asleep.

This brings me to Side two and the tune that started my fascination with this record that makes you feel like you’re floating in space: Oxygène (Part IV).

And finally, here’s the last track Oxygène (Part VI). The sound effects are just amazing, which is why I highly recommend using headphones when listening to the album.

Even though many music critics were lukewarm about Oxygène, it enjoyed substantial mainstream chart success, hitting no. 1 in Jarre’s native France, no. 2 in the UK, no. 3 in Sweden, no. 4 in The Netherlands and no. 8 in Germany, among others. Except for Australia where it reached no. 10, the album’s success beyond Europe was more moderate: No. 29 in Australia and no. 78 in the U.S.

I also own Équinoxe on vinyl, the follow-on to Oxygène, which appeared in December 1978. Once again, it took Jarre to no. 1 in France, though overall, the album wasn’t as successful as Oxygène. While it’s not a bad record, for some reason, I like it much less than Oxygène – not exactly sure why. Perhaps, it no longer had the novelty factor.

Jean-Michel Jarre, who is now 73 years old, is still active. Since Équinoxe he has released 20 additional albums. His most recent, Amazônia, appeared in April this year. Other than Oxygène and Équinoxe, I haven’t explored his music.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube