Paul Simon’s Eponymous U.S. Solo Debut Album Turns 50

Today, fifty years ago, Paul Simon released his eponymous solo album. His first record that appeared nearly two years after the break-up of his duo with Art Garfunkel was his second solo effort overall and the first to appear in the U.S. The Paul Simon Songbook from August 1965 had come out in the UK only. It would eventually be released in the U.S. in 1981 as part of a five-LP boxed set titled Collected Works.

Simon started work on the album in early 1971. For the reggae-influenced song Mother and Child Reunion, one of the reasons why I spontaneously decided to write about this 50th anniversary, he traveled to Jamaica. Simon liked reggae and listened to artists like Jimmy Cliff, Desmond Dekker and Bryon Lee. So he decided to record the tune with Cliff’s backing band at a studio in Kingston to make it sound more authentic. Afterward, he went to San Francisco to record some demos there.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the songs. Opening Side one is the aforementioned Mother and Child Reunion. The tune had also appeared as the album’s lead single on January 17, 1972, Simon’s first single as a solo artist. Songfacts notes that Simon wrote this in response to the Jimmy Cliff song “Vietnam,” where a mother receives a letter about her son’s death on the battlefield…Simon said of the song that it “became the first reggae hit by a non-Jamaican white guy outside Jamaica. Among others, the tune reached no. 4 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, no. 4 in Canada and no. 5 in each the UK and Australia.

When I listened to the ballad Duncan for the first time, it reminded me of Simon & Garfunkel’s El Condor Pasa, because of the beautiful pan flute fill-ins. It turns out those flutes were played by Los Incas, the same Andean group of musicians who had previously collaborated with Simon & Garfunkel on El Condor Pasa. Duncan was also released separately as the album’s third and final single in July 1972. It charted in the U.S. and Australia but didn’t match the success of Mother and Child Reunion.

Another tune from Side one I’d like to call out is Run That Body Down, which has a nice jazzy touch. Some notable backing musicians on that track include renowned jazz double bassist Ron Carter and guitarist David Spinoza who among others worked with John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr in the ’70s and produced James Taylor’s 1974 studio album Walking Man. Also, check out the great guitar solo by jazz guitarist Jerry Hahn, which starts at around 2:25 minutes.

Side two kicks off with one of Simon’s best-known songs and one of my favorites: Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard. The song’s meaning is unclear. Songfacts states, When asked what “Mama Pajama” saw that made her so distraught in this song, Paul Simon has said that he’s not exactly sure, but he assumed it was something sexual. Simon made up a crazy little story for the song, and named the main character Julio because it sounded like a typical New York neighborhood kid (Simon grew up in Queens). What Paul didn’t realize until years later was the impact the song had on Spanish-speaking listeners who were thrilled to hear a song coming out of America with a Latin name in the title. That’s how you do it: You just make up stuff, based on things you may have seen or read, and then have clever people debate what you meant. Bob Dylan anybody? Or how about Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen and Walter Becker? Julio also became the record’s second single. Its chart performance fell in-between Mother and Child Reunion and Duncan. It did best in Canada where it peaked at no. 6. On the U.S. and UK mainstream charts, it reached no. 22 and no. 15, respectively.

Next up: Peace Like a River. I decided to call out this song primarily because of Simon’s acoustic guitar playing, which blends folk with a dose of blues. Learning the acoustic guitar myself many years ago, I can definitely say he was one of the players I admired. The difference between Simon and myself: He became famous, while I always remained a closet acoustic guitarist! 🙂

The last tune I’d like to call out is a short instrumental titled Hobo’s Blues. Did I just say instrumental? No vocals, something I’m generally addicted to? Yep, sometimes you don’t need vocals. The standout here is French-Italian jazz violinist StĂ©phane Grappelli, the only musician on the track besides Simon on acoustic guitar. Pretty neat!

Paul Simon was co-produced by Simon and Roy Halee who had co-produced Simon & Garfunkel’s Bookends (April 1968) and Bridge over Troubled Water (January 1970) albums. He also had co-produced the tune Mrs. Robinson from the soundtrack of the motion picture The Graduate, for which he had won a Grammy Award.

The album was mostly well-received by critics. According to Wikipedia, even Robert Christgau had something positive to say, writing in the Village Voice, “this is the only thing in the universe to make me positively happy in the first two weeks of February 1972” – jeez, he must have been on some substance! And in Rolling Stone that year, Jon Landau called the album Simon’s “least detached, most personal and painful piece of work thus far — this from a lyricist who has never shied away from pain as subject or theme.”

The album, which in 1986 reached Platinum certification in the U.S., topped the charts in the UK, Sweden, Norway and Finland. Notably, it was Simon’s only no. 1 album in the UK in the ’70s. It would take until the fantastic Graceland from 1986 to reach the top spot again. In Canada and The Netherlands, Paul Simon climbed to no. 2, while in the U.S. and Australia, it reached no. 4 and no. 5, respectively. The record was ranked at no. 268 in Rolling Stone’s 2012 list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. It also made the list for the 2020 update, coming in at no. 425.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; Discogs; YouTube; Spotify

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: January 21

Dare I say it, it looks like my irregularly recurring music history feature is becoming more frequent. But with nearly 300 dates left to cover, I still have a long way to go, so it’s safe to assume this series won’t end anytime soon. With that said, let’s take a look at some of the events in music that happened on January 21 over the past six decades or so. I would also like to briefly acknowledge the untimely death of operatic rock artist Meat Loaf, which was reported overnight. He was believed to have been 74 years old. The cause of death has not been revealed.

1963: Since nearly everything in my little music world starts or finishes with The Beatles, let’s get this bloody item out of the way. According to The Beatles Bible, the ultimate source of truth about the band, On this day The Beatles appeared on the EMI plug show The Friday Spectacular, at EMI House, 20 Manchester Square, London. They chatted to hosts Shaw Taylor and Muriel Young, and studio recordings of ‘Please Please Me’ and ‘Ask Me Why’ were played. The show was recorded before an audience of around 100 teenagers, and was broadcast live on Radio Luxembourg. The overwhelming crowd size tells you this was still pre-Beatlemania. Though their press officer Tony Barrow said that during the recording, “I was finally convinced that The Beatles were about to enjoy the type of top-flight national fame which I had always believed that they deserved.” Side note: Three years later on that same date, George Harrison married his first wife Pattie Boyd, with Paul McCartney serving as best man.

1966: The Trips Festival, a three-day landmark event in the development of psychedelic music, kicked off at Longshoreman’s Hall in San Francisco. According to Songfacts Music History Calendar, Produced by Ken Kesey, Ramon Sender, and Stewart Brand, the event is largely recognized as the first to bring together what would be called the “hippie” movement. The sold-out festival, which drew 10,000 people, featured the Grateful Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company and Jefferson Airplane, among others. And some 6,000 people drinking punch spiked with LSD, who witnessed one of the first fully developed light shows of the era. I also found this trippy clip!

1978: Saturday Night Fever, the soundtrack album of the 1977 motion picture starring John Travolta, stood at no. 1 on the Billboard 200, the first of 24 weeks on top of the U.S. mainstream chart. It also reached no. 1 in Canada, the UK, Australia and many other countries. Saturday Night Fever became one of the best-selling albums in music history. With more than 40 million copies sold worldwide, it remains the second-biggest selling soundtrack of all time after The Bodyguard. But, as oftentimes is the case, what goes up must come down. Not even three years later, the Bee Gees, the group most associated with the soundtrack and disco, called it quits, finding themselves caught in the furious backlash toward disco including bomb threats – something you could sadly picture nowadays as well! I said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t care whether you call Bee Gees music disco, R&B, disco-influenced or anything else – I dig it!

1984: British progressive rock stalwarts Yes hit no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 with Owner of a Lonely Heart. Co-written by band members Trevor Rabin (guitar, keyboards, vocals), Jon Anderson (lead vocals) and Chris Squire (bass vocals), together with co-producer Trevor Horn, the catchy pop rocker was first released in October 1983 as the lead single for the group’s 11th studio album 90125, which came out the following month. Owner of the Lonely Heart became Yes’s first and only no. 1 on the U.S. mainstream chart. It also did well in Europe, especially in The Netherlands where it peaked at no. 2. While earlier singles like Yours Is No Disgrace, Roundabout and And You and I are great songs as well, they simply weren’t radio-friendly. Yes, Owner of a Lonely Heart has a commercial ’80s sound, but it’s a hell of a catchy tune!

1987: Aretha Franklin, the “Queen of Soul”, was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame by Keith Richards during the Rock Hall’s second annual induction ceremony. Here’s what the Rock Hall posted on their website: Lady Soul. The first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Aretha Franklin was an artist of passion, sophistication and command, whose recordings remain anthems that defined soul music. Long live the Queen. And here are The Rolling Stones guitarist’s live remarks from that night – let’s just say it was a classic Keith Richards speech!

Sources: Wikipedia; The Beatles Bible; Songfacts Music History Calendar; Rock & Roll Hall of Fame website; YouTube

My Playlist: Carpenters

“Bland”, “saccharine” and “clean-cut.” These are a few attributes music critics used to describe Carpenters back in their heyday. Or how about this commentary by Rolling Stone writer Lester Bangs who felt Richard Carpenter and his sister Karen Carpenter had “the most disconcerting collective stage presence of any band I have seen.” He added promotional photos made them resemble “the cheery innocence of some years-past dream of California youth.” Even if some of the above wasn’t entirely inaccurate, I have no problem admitting I’ve always liked the music by Carpenters.

Before highlighting some of their songs and presenting additional tunes in a playlist at the end of this post, I’d like to provide a bit of background. Richard Carpenter (October 15, 1946) and Karen Carpenter (March 2, 1950) were born in New Haven, Conn. According to a bio on Carpenters’ official website, the siblings’ father Harold Bertram Carpenter “hated the frigid New England winters. So, in June of 1963, the family moved to a suburb of L.A., Downey, California.”

Carpenters Biography

Early in their childhood, Richard and Karen started sharing a common interest in music. Richard picked up the piano at age 8. By the time he was 14, he had decided he wanted to become a professional musician and started taking lessons at Yale School of Music. Karen initially got into playing the glockenspiel, but after enrolling at Downey high school, she discovered her enthusiasm for the drums.

In 1965, the siblings started performing together in the jazz-focused Richard Carpenter Trio. In addition to Richard (piano) and Karen (drums), the group included Wes Jacobs (tuba, standup bass), a friend of Richard’s who he had met the previous year at California State College at Long Beach. After The Richard Carpenter Trio had disbanded in 1967, the siblings went on to form a band called Spectrum. But their music didn’t conform to rock and roll standards at the time, so they dissolved in 1968. Richard and Karen decided to soldier on as a duo and became Carpenters.

The Carpenters (live in australia) 1972- Love Is Surrender - YouTube

In April 1969, Carpenters signed with A&M Records after label owner Herb Alpert had heard and was intrigued by Karen’s voice. Their debut album Offering appeared in October 1969. While it didn’t sell well, a rendition of The Beatles’ Ticket to Ride, which had been arranged by Richard, gave Carpenters their first charting U.S. single on the Billboard Hot 100, where it climbed to no. 54. Their fortune changed drastically with their next single, (They Long to Be) Close to You, a tune written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. It became the first of three songs to top the U.S. mainstream chart and the first of 15 no. 1 singles on the Adult Contemporary (then called Easy Listening) chart.

During their 12-year recording career, Carpenters released nine studio albums, one Christmas album, two live albums, two compilations and approximately 30 singles. This doesn’t include the numerous posthumous releases following the untimely and tragic death of Karen at age 32 from heart failure caused by complications from anorexia nervosa. Let’s get to some music!

My first pick is the aforementioned rendition of Ticket to Ride. Rearranged by Richard Carpenter as a ballad, the tune is from Carpenters’ debut album Offering, which following their breakthrough was reissued internationally under the title Ticket to Ride.

In August 1970, Carpenters issued their sophomore album Close to You. Their breakthrough record surged to no. 2 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200 and topped the charts in Canada. It also did well elsewhere, reaching no. 16, no. 23 and no. 53 in Australia, the UK and Japan, respectively. In no small part, this was due to the above noted hit single (They Long to Be) Close to You.

The hits kept coming on Carpenters’ eponymous third studio album from May 1971. Here’s one of my favorites: Rainy Days and Mondays. The tune was co-written in 1971 by Roger Nichols and Paul Williams. Rainy Days and Mondays was one of the record’s three singles that all topped the Adult Contemporary chart. It also reached no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Top of the World is one of the tunes co-written by Richard Carpenter and John Bettis, who Richard had first met in 1964 in college and who had been a member of Spectrum. Interestingly, Richard who it seems to me had a great sense of songs with hit potential initially didn’t see that for Top of the World. It was only released as a single in September 1973, more than one year after the album A Song for You had come out. The country-flavored tune became one of the Carpenters’ most successful songs, topping the mainstream charts in the U.S., Canada and Australia, and charting in the top 40 in many other countries.

If I recall it correctly, Only Yesterday was the first Carpenters song I ever heard. It was included on some pop sampler my sister had on vinyl. Another composition by Richard Carpenter and John Bettis, Only Yesterday first appeared as a single in March 1975. It also was included on Horizon, the sixth studio album by Carpenters from June 1975.

This brings me to the final song I like to highlight: Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft. This great ballad had first appeared on 3:47 EST, the debut album by Klaatu from August 1976. The Canadian outfit became famous after a 1977 feature story in Providence Journal started speculations Klaatu could be The Beatles or include members of the band. I did a post on the magical mystery in May 2017, which you can read here. This was a quite unusual tune for Carpenters to record, but I think they did a nice job. Their rendition was first released in September 1977 as the second single from their eighth studio album Passage that appeared two weeks thereafter.

Following is a playlist with many additional tunes by Carpenters:

Carpenters have sold more than an estimated 100 million records worldwide as of 2005, making them one of the top-selling music artists of all time. In the U.S. alone, their total sales are believed to be close to 35 million. In the UK, they are ranked as the seventh top-selling albums artist on the official record chart of the 1970s. And in Japan, the pop duo has been the third best-selling international music act behind Mariah Carey and The Beatles.

I think it’s fair to say views of Carpenters’ initial critics have evolved, which isn’t unusual. In this context, Wikipedia notes a series of documentaries in the late ’90s and early 2000s, maintaining they have led to a critical re-evaluation of the pop duo. In December 2015, Rolling Stone ranked Carpenters no. 10 on its list of 20 Greatest Duos of All Time.

During an NPR segment from February 2013 in connection with the 30th anniversary of Karen Carpenter’s death, Paul McCartney called her “the best female voice in the world: melodic, tuneful and distinctive.” That’s certainly a bold statement, though I do agree Karen had a beautiful and distinct voice. We’ve Only Just Begun and (They Long to Be) Close to You have received Grammy Hall of Fame awards for recordings of lasting quality or historical significance.

Sources: Wikipedia; Carpenters official website; NPR; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: January 4

Welcome to the first 2022 installment of On This Day in Rock & Roll History. While the approximately 70 different dates I’ve covered since the start of this irregular music history feature in 2016 feel like a lot of ground, the reality is this still leaves close to 300 dates I can pick. Today it’s going to be January 4.

1967: The Doors released their eponymous debut album, which proved to be a smash. Not only would it become the Los Angeles band’s best-selling record, but it also was a huge chart success. In the U.S., it surged to no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also performed well in Europe, reaching no. 3, no. 4 and n0.6 in France, Norway and Austria, respectively, as well as no. 43 in the UK, among others. Some of the album’s highlights include the singles Break on Through (To the Other Side) and Light My Fire, as well as the epic closer The End. Here’s the latter credited to all members of the group: Jim Morrison (vocals), Robbie Krieger (guitar, backing vocals) Ray Manzarek (organ, piano, backing vocals) and John Densmore (drums, percussion, backing vocals).

1972: Roundabout by Yes, the only single from their fourth studio album Fragile came out. Co-written by singer Jon Anderson and guitarist Steve Howe, the tune became the English prog rockers’ most successful U.S. single of the ’70s, reaching no. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100. Notably, it missed the charts in the UK. The album did much better in both countries, climbing to no. 4 and 7, respectively. Below is the 8:30-minute album version of Roundabout, one of my favorite Yes tunes. Since there was no way radio stations would play such a long track, the single edit was shortened to 3:27 minutes.

1975: Elton John stood at no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 with his rendition of Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds. The recording featured backing vocals by his friend John Lennon (under the pseudonym Dr. Winston O’Boogie), who wrote most of the original. Credited to him and Paul McCartney, as usual, Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds first appeared on The Beatles’ studio album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band from May 1967. John took the tune to no. 1 in the U.S., which according to Wikipedia makes it one of only two songs credited to Lennon-McCartney to top the U.S. charts by an artist other than The Beatles. John’s version was also successful elsewhere, hitting no. 1 in Canada, no. 2 in New Zealand and no. 3 in Australia. In the UK, it peaked at no. 10.

1980: American rock band The Romantics released their eponymous debut album. It reached no. 61 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200 – not bad for a first record. Below is What I Like About You, which first appeared as the album’s lead single in December 1979. The garage rock-flavored tune was co-written by band members Wally Palmar (lead vocals, rhythm guitar, harmonica), Mike Skill (lead guitar, backing vocals) and Jimmy Marinos (vocals, drums, percussion). The Romantics remain active to this day, with Palmar and Skill still being part of the current line-up.

1986: Phil Lynott, who had best been known as a founding member, lead vocalist, bassist and principal songwriter of Irish rock band Thin Lizzy, passed away at the age of 36. The cause was pneumonia and heart failure due to blood poisoning (septicemia). Lynott’s final years of his life following the disbanding of Thin Lizzy in 1983 were marked by heavy drug and alcohol dependency. Here’s one of the group’s best tunes written by Lynott: The Boys Are Back in Town, off their sixth album Jailbreak from March 1976. It also became the record’s lead single the following month.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts Music History Calendar; This Day in Music; YouTube

When Two Make One

A playlist of songs by duos

The other day, fellow blogger Max from PowerPop posted about Cathy’s Clown, a great tune by The Everly Brothers. He wrote, “When Phil and Don would sing….their two voices would become one.” I couldn’t agree more! In this context, I thought about Simon & Garfunkel, another example of beautiful vocals in perfect harmony. Sometimes it takes two artists to make magic happen, not only when it comes to singing but also when creating music – a good topic for a post, I thought!

After doing a bit of research, I was quickly reminded of the large number of musical duos. The following doesn’t include one-offs. I’m also excluding songwriting partnerships like John Lennon and Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, Carole King and Gerry Goffin, or Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, to name a few. All of my picks were or are permanent pairings. Apart from six tracks released in different decades, which are highlighted in the upfront, I’ve included numerous additional tunes in a playlist at the end of the post.

The Everly Brothers/Wake Up Little Susie

Since this post was inspired by an Everly Brothers tune, it felt right to kick things off with a song they performed. Wake Up Little Susie, co-written by Felice Bryant and Boudleaux Bryant, was my introduction to Don Everly and Phil Everly sometime during my teenage years back in Germany. First released as a single in September 1957, Wake Up Little Susie became their first no. 1 on the U.S. mainstream Billboard Hot 100. What a great acoustic rock & roll tune!

Simon & Garfunkel/The Sound of Silence

One of my favorite songs by Simon & Garfunkel is The Sound of Silence. Penned by Paul Simon, this gem is off their debut studio record Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. from October 1964. It was also released separately as a single in September 1965 and became their first hit, topping the Billboard Hot 100, climbing to no. 2 in New Zealand, and reaching no. 3 in each Australia and Austria. It also charted in a few other European countries.

Hall & Oates/She’s Gone

While Daryl Hall and John Oates have written many great tunes, I’m mostly drawn to their ’70s output. Here’s She’s Gone, a track from their sophomore album Abandoned Luncheonette that appeared in November 1973. The song was also released as a single that same month and became their first charting tune in the U.S., reaching no. 60 on the Billboard Hot 100. I’ve always loved its great soul vibe.

Eurythmics/Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)

When I think about duos and the ’80s, Hall & Oates, Tears For Fears and Eurythmics come to mind first. The first time I heard of Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart was in 1983 when they came out with Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This). Penned by Stewart and released in January that year, the tune became their first big hit. Among others, it topped the charts in the U.S. and Canada, and reached no. 2 in the UK, Ireland and New Zealand. While I’m generally not fond of synth pop, this is a pretty catchy tune and Annie Lenox’s voice is stunning!

Indigo Girls/Galileo

Amy Ray and Emily Saliers first met in elementary school and were performing together by the time they were in high school. After going separate ways, they again found themselves studying at the same institution (Atlanta’s Emory University) in the mid-’80s and became Indigo Girls. Galileo, written by Saliers, is from their fourth studio album Rites of Passage, which came out in May 1992. The tune was the first single off the record and their only top 10 hit in the U.S., reaching no. 10 on Billboard’s Modern Rock Tracks chart.

The White Stripes/Seven Nation Army

This brings me to the present century and the last tune I’d like to call out: Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes. Written by Jack White, it first appeared in March 2003 as the lead single of their fourth studio album Elephant released the following month. Seven Nation Army topped the Alternative Airplay chart in the U.S., making it one of the biggest hits of the duo, which also includes Meg White. I dig the song’s raw garage feel.

Last but least, here’s the above-mentioned playlist:

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: December 16

It’s been a while since the last installment of this irregularly recurring feature. While picking a random date is an arbitrary way to look at music history, I think it’s always interesting to see what comes up. As usual, the picks reflect my music taste and are not supposed to be a complete list.

1965: The double A-side non-album single Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out by The Beatles hit no. 1 in the UK on the Official Singles Chart, becoming their ninth chart-topper there. Primarily written by John Lennon, the tune was credited to him and Paul McCartney, as usual. According to Songfacts, the lyrics were the first reference to LSD in a Beatles song. Day Tripper and We Can Work It Out were also included on Yesterday and Today, a U.S. album from June 1966 that caused an uproar over its original “butcher cover,” showing The Beatles in white coats, covered with decapitated baby dolls and pieces of raw meat. Frankly, I much prefer Day Tripper – always loved that cool guitar riff!

1966: The Jimi Hendrix Experience released their first UK single Hey Joe, backed by Stone Free. Different recordings of the song were credited to different writers, including Billy Roberts and Dino Valenti. Some recordings have indicated it as a traditional song. The first commercial recording was made by Los Angeles garage band The Leaves in late 1965. Hendrix’s rendition is the best-known version of the song and became one of his biggest hits in the UK, reaching no. 6 on the Official Singles Chart.

1970: Credence Clearwater Revival received Gold certification in the U.S. for their singles Down on the Corner, Lookin’ Out My Back Door, Travelin’ Band, Bad Moon Rising and Up Around the Bend. All songs were written by John Fogerty. CCR’s first five albums Credence Clearwater Revival (May 1968), Bayou Country (January 1969), Green River (August 1969), Willy and the Poor Boys (November 1969) and Cosmo’s Factory (July 1970) were also certified Gold. Here’s Travelin’ Band, the lead single from Cosmo’s Factory, which appeared in January 1970, backed by Who’ll Stop the Rain. Love that tune!

1972: Me And Mrs. Jones, the biggest hit for American soul singer Billy Paul, reached no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was included on Paul’s 1972 album 360 Degrees of Billy Paul. The tune about marital infidelity was co-written by prominent Philly soul songwriting team Kenny Gamble, Leon Hoff and Cary Gilbert. Songfacts notes Me And Mrs. Jones knocked I’m the Woman out of the top spot, a female-empowerment anthem by Helen Reddy.

1989: Billy Joel’s 11th studio album Storm Front, which had come out in October of the same year, reached no. 1 on the Billboard 200. The piano man’s second-to-final pop record to date was also pretty successful internationally. Among others, it topped the charts in Australia, climbed to no. 4 in Canada, and reached no. 5 in the UK and Germany. Here’s the lead single We Didn’t Start the Fire, which like the album turned out to be a big hit for Joel. The fast-paced recitation of 118 significant political, cultural, scientific and sporting events that occurred between Joel’s birth year 1949 and 1989 became one of his signature songs.

1993: Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged in New York concert aired for the first time on MTV. Unlike other MTV Unplugged shows Nirvana chose to perform predominantly lesser-known material including various covers. Moreover, in contrast to previous performances in the series, which were entirely acoustic, Nirvana used electric amplification and guitar effects during their set. The concert was taped on November 18, 1993, at Sony Studios in New York City, less than five months prior to lead vocalist Kurt Cobain’s suicide on April 8, 1994. Here’s Nirvana’s haunting cover of David Bowie’s The Man Who Sold the World.

Sources: Wikipedia; This Day in Music; Songfacts; Songfacts Music History Calendar; YouTube

Musings About “The Beatles: Get Back”

After weeks of publicity and anticipation, Peter Jackson’s documentary The Beatles: Get Back finally premiered on Disney+ last week. As I started watching the first episode on Thursday, two things became clear to me. As a long-time fan of The Beatles, it was a foregone conclusion I would write about the film. I also decided not to do a review. If you’re looking for the latter, I’d like to refer you to fellow Beatles fan and blogger Angie Moon who pens the excellent Diversity of Classic Rock blog and did a great job summarizing each of the three episodes here, here and here. Instead of a review, I’d like to share some of my takeaways.

Perhaps most importantly, I was glad to see The Beatles: Get Back is not an attempt to whitewash the band’s late-stage history. Instead, I feel it’s an effort to paint a more balanced picture of what was shown in the original 1970 documentary by director Michael Lindsay-Hogg. While the majority of Peter Jackson’s film features “happy footage”, it also captures the tensions between The Beatles. That’s especially the case in the first episode where you can see George Harrison’s growing frustration – even more so in his facial expressions than his actual words. There’s also a candid conversation between John Lennon and Paul McCartney in the second episode. I’ll come back to that shortly.

george harrison left the beatles

The task of having to complete 14 new songs for an album and a live TV show in just three weeks with no real plan looked pretty daunting, even for great writers and musicians like The Beatles – especially when you consider not all was easy-peasy between them. I also find it pretty remarkable how in spite of all the drama with George’s walkout seven days into the rehearsals at Twickenham Film Studios and the uncertainty of his return, the entire project didn’t completely get derailed then and there.

One of the documentary’s most intense moments happens off-camera and is the above-noted conversation between John and Paul in a cafeteria, presumably at Twickenham. They had no idea the filmmakers had placed a microphone in a flowerpot on the table to secretly record them. That was really pushing the envelope, to say the least! Here’s a transcribed excerpt:

John: ‘Cause there was a period when none of us could actually say anything about your arrangements…
Paul: Yeah.
John: ’cause you would reject it all.
Paul: Yeah, sure.
John: I’d have to tell George and I would just say, you know, like you do about me…
Paul: Oh yeah.
John: …you know, I’m Paul McCartney, and a lot of the times you were right, and a lot of the times you were wrong. Same as we all are, but I can’t see the answer to that. Because you…you’ve suddenly got it all, you see.
Paul: I really don’t want you…
John: Well, alright. I’m just telling you what I think. I don’t think The Beatles revolve around four people. It might be a fuckin’ job.
Paul: You know, I tell you what. I tell you one thing. What I think…The main thing is this: You have always been boss. Now, I’ve been, sort of, secondary boss.
John: Not always.
Paul: No, listen. Listen. No. always!
John: Well, I…
Paul: Really, I mean it’s gonna be much better if we can actually stick together and say, “Look, George, on ‘I’ve Got a Feeling’ I want you to do it exactly how I play it” and he’ll say, “I’m not you, and I can’t do it exactly like you do it.”
John: But this, this year, what you’ve been doing and what everybody’s been doing…I’ve not only felt guilty about the way we’re all guilty about our relationship to each other ’cause we could do more. And look, I’m not putting any blame on you. I’ve suddenly realized this, because that was my game, you know, but me goals, they’re still the same. Self-preservation, you know. I know what I like, I’ve let you do what you want and George too, you know.
Paul: Yeah I know.
John: If we want him, if we do want him, I can go along with that, because the policy has kept us together.
Paul: Well, I don’t know, you know. See, I’m just assuming he’s coming back.
John: Well, do you want…
Paul: If he isn’t, then he isn’t, then it’s a new problem. And probably when we’re all very old, we’ll all agree with each other, and we’ll all sing together.

Billy Preston’s appearance at the Apple studio on Savile Row, to where The Beatles had relocated from that awful Twickenham location, was truly priceless. He wasn’t called a “Fifth Beatle” for nothing – frankly, something I had not fully appreciated until I watched Jackson’s documentary. You can feel the immediate positive vibes created by Preston’s presence. Obviously, his keyboard work was great as well, especially on tunes like Get Back and Don’t Let Me Down, using a Fender Rhodes electric piano.

I don’t mean any disrespect to Yoko Ono. I realize how much she meant to John, but I just have to say I found her constant presence right next to him really odd. Of course, she wasn’t the only guest. There was also Linda Eastman (soon-to-become Linda McCartney), but at least she appeared to have a purpose to be there taking pictures. Later on in the film, one can also see Ringo Starr’s then-wife Maureen Cox and Paul’s brother Peter Michael McCartney. By far my favorite guest is Linda’s giggling daughter Heather who was about to turn seven years old and who subsequently became Paul’s adopted daughter. I love how at some point she’s hitting Ringo’s snare drum when he didn’t expect it, clearly scaring him!

The first and only time I saw the original Let It Be documentary was in Germany, which I believe was in the late ’70s. Perhaps I should have watched it again before seeing the Jackson documentary. I didn’t recall that until the morning of the rooftop concert, The Beatles still had not made their final decision whether they wanted to move forward with what would become their final public live performance. Lindsay-Hogg, George Martin and all other production staff seemed to take it in stride – that’s just remarkable!

The Beatles: Get Back gave me a new appreciation of the Let It Be album. Don’t get me wrong: I always considered it a decent record, but if asked for my top picks, I’d mention Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Abbey Road and Revolver. Now I would add Let It Be to that group.

I think the Jackson documentary is mostly suitable for Beatles fans. Folks who are new to the band or who are casual listeners probably won’t get as much out of it. While as a longtime fan and hobby musician I find it fascinating to watch John, Paul, George, Ringo and Billy in action, it’s safe to assume the constant rehearsals and even their goofing around aren’t everybody’s cup of tea. Even as a Beatles fan, I have to say I’m glad this documentary is presented as a three-part docuseries, given its total running time of close to eight hours. In fact, I think they should have broken it up into four episodes of two hours each.

Sources: Wikipedia; Disney+; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday Six where I time-travel through the past 70 years or so to celebrate the diversity of music by picking six tunes. This installment features saxophone jazz from 2013, pop from 1980, rock & roll from 1977, blues-rock from 1990, rockabilly from 1957 and rock from 1969. Can you guess what and the last one might be?

Kenny Garrett/Homma San

Today, I’d like to kick off our little music excursion with American post-bop jazz saxophonist Kenny Garrett. According to his Apple Music profile, Garrett is among the most distinctive instrumentalists to emerge from Detroit’s 1980s and 1990s jazz scenes. A versatile musician, he is equally at home playing classic jump-and-rhythm & blues, standards, modal music and jazz-funk. Garrett’s professional career took off in 1978 when he became a member of the Duke Ellington Orchestra as an 18-year-old. He also played and recorded with Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Freddie Hubbard and Woody Shaw, among others. In 1985, he released his debut album as a bandleader, Introducing Kenny Garrett. Wikipedia lists 16 additional records in this capacity to date. Here’s Homma San, a Garrett composition that’s perfect for a Sunday morning. It’s from a September 2013 studio album titled Pushing the World Away. It reached no. 6 on the Billboard Top Jazz Albums chart and received a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Instrumental Album.

Paul Simon/Long Long Day

Let’s stay on the mellow side with this beautiful tune by Paul Simon. Long Long Day is a song from the soundtrack of One-Trick Pony, a 1980 film written by and starring Simon as a once-popular but now struggling folk-rock musician. The soundtrack, Simon’s fifth solo album released in August 1980, is best known for Late in the Evening. The Grammy-nominated tune reached no. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100, marking Simon’s final top 10 hit on the U.S. mainstream chart. Long Long Day became the B-side of the album’s second single One-Trick Pony. Written by Simon, Long Long Day features Patti Austin on backing vocals. Other musicians on the recording, among others, include Richard Tee (piano), Toni Levin (bass) and Steve Gadd (drums), who also appeared in the film as members of Simon’s backing band.

AC/DC/Whole Lotta Rosie

After two quiet tunes, I’d say it’s time to push the pedal to the metal. In order to do that I could hardly think of any better band than hard-charging Australian rock & rollers AC/DC. Here’s one of my favorites among their early tunes: Whole Lotta Rosie, off their fourth studio album, Let There Be Rock from March 1977. Co-written by the band’s Angus Young (lead guitar), Malcolm Young (rhythm guitar) and Bon Scott (lead vocals), Whole Lotta Rosie also appeared separately as the album’s second single. It became AC/DC’s first charting tune in the U.K. and The Netherlands where it reached no. 68. and no. 5, respectively. Their international breakthrough hit Highway to Hell was still two years away. Whole Lotta Rosie rocks just as nicely!

Gary Moore/Walking By Myself

Let’s keep up the energy level with some electric blues-rock by Gary Moore. The Northern Irish guitarist started his career in the late ’60s as a member of Irish blues-rock band Skid Row. In 1971, he left to start a solo career. Following the release of the album Grinding Stone in May 1973, credited to The Gary Moore Band, he became a member of Thin Lizzy in early 1974. This reunited him with Phil Lynott, Skid Row’s lead vocalist at the time Moore joined that group. While still playing with Thin Lizzy, Moore released his first album solely under his name, Back on the Streets, in 1978. After his departure from the band in 1979, he focused on his solo career. This brings me to Walking By Myself, a great cover of a blues tune written by Jimmy Rogers and released in 1956, together with Little Walter and Muddy Waters. Moore’s rendition was included on his eighth solo album Still Got the Blues from March 1990. It became his most successful solo record climbing to no. 13 in the UK and no. 5 in Australia, topping the charts in Finland and Sweden, and charting within the top 5 in Germany, Norway and Switzerland. Walking By Myself also appeared as a single in August that year, reaching no. 48 and no. 55 in the UK and Australia, respectively.

Carl Perkins/Matchbox

For this next pick, let’s go back to early 1957 and rockabilly classic Matchbox by Carl Perkins. According to Wikipedia, the tune was sparked when Perkins’ father Buck told him to write a song based on some lines of lyrics he remembered from Match Box Blues, a tune Blind Lemon Jefferson had recorded in 1927. As Perkins began to sing these lyrics at Sun Studios in Memphis, Tenn. in December 1956, a session pianist called Jerry Lee Lewis started playing a boogie-woogie riff. In turn, this prompted Perkins to improvise on his guitar, and the rest is history. While Matchbox ended up as the B-side to Perkins’ single Your True Love, it still became one of his best-known songs. The tune was also included on his debut record Dance Album Of Carl Perkins that appeared in 1957. Matchbox has been covered by various other artists, most notably The Beatles who included it on their UK EP Long Tall Sally released in June 1964. In the U.S., it appeared on their fifth American album Something Else from July 1964 and subsequently as a single in August of the same year.

The Beatles/Don’t Let Me Down

Speaking of The Beatles, having just watched the Disney+ premiere of Peter Jackson’s docuseries The Beatles: Get Back, not surprisingly, the four lads have been very much on my mind. As such, I’d like to end this installment of The Sunday Six with Don’t Let Me Down. Written by John Lennon as a love song for Yoko Ono and credited to him and Paul McCartney as usual, the tune became the B-side of the single Get Back that came out in April 1969. Not only did both songs feature Billy Preston on electric piano, but they also were released as The Beatles with Billy Preston. Here’s a clip with footage from the rooftop performance in late January 1969, the last time The Beatles played in front of an audience.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; YouTube

Pix & Clips: The Beatles/Get Back (Teaser)

Even if you’re not a Beatles fan and as such haven’t followed the upcoming Get Back documentary by New Zealand film director, screenwriter and film producer Peter Jackson, there’s probably no way you haven’t at least heard of it, given all the publicity push around the film. Here’s the latest teaser I just saw, an excerpt of Get Back from The Beatles’ legendary rooftop performance, their final live concert.

While I’m generally not a fan of hype, The Beatles are my all-time favorite band, so I definitely look forward to the documentary. Since I watch very little TV these days and have never been into binging, I’m very happy Get Back will be presented as a three-part docuseries. Even for a Beatles nut like me, the thought of watching six hours in a row would be pretty daunting.

The Beatles: Get Back, as it’s officially titled, will start airing tomorrow (November 25) exclusively on Disney+ with the first 2-hour installment. Episodes two and three will follow on Friday and Saturday, November 26 and 27, respectively. I wonder how many temporary subscribers Disney+ got because of the docuseries.

Here’s some additional background on the documentary from The Beatles’ official website:

The docuseries showcases The Beatles’ creative process as they attempt to write 14 new songs in preparation for their first live concert in over two years. Faced with a nearly impossible deadline, the strong bonds of friendship shared by John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr are put to the test.

The docuseries is compiled from nearly 60 hours of unseen footage shot over 21 days, directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg in 1969, and from more than 150 hours of unheard audio, most of which has been locked in a vault for over half a century. Jackson is the only person in 50 years to have been given access to this Beatles treasure trove, all of which has now been brilliantly restored. What emerges is an unbelievably intimate portrait of The Beatles, showing how, with their backs against the wall, they could still rely on their friendship, good humor, and creative genius. While plans derail and relationships are put to the test, some of the world’s most iconic songs are composed and performed.

The docuseries features – for the first time in its entirety – The Beatles’ last live performance as a group, the unforgettable rooftop concert on London’s Savile Row, as well as other songs and classic compositions featured on the band’s final two albums, Abbey Road and Let It Be.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Beatles website; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday Six, my weekly celebration of music in different flavors from the past seven decades, six tunes at a time. Get ready for another eclectic zigzag journey. It starts with some contemporary ambient electronic music. The trip then takes us to an acoustic folk gem from 1972, soft grunge from 1993, new wave from 1984 and a beautiful pop ballad from 2004, before we wrap up with a ’60s rock gem. Hop on board and let’s go!

Leif/Seven Hour Flight to Nowhere

I’d like to start this post with a music genre I rarely pick: Ambient electronic music. Recently, I stumbled upon British electronic music producer Leif Knowles. According to his Apple Music profile, Knowles who is known as Leif creates lush, emotive music ranging from the deep, smooth house of his 2013 debut Dinas Oleu to the warm, soothing ambient of 2019’s Loom Dream. Born in Barmouth, Wales and brought up by a musician father who played the Celtic harp and the guitar — which he taught his son — Leif grew up with a love of music, playing in guitar bands in high school. Through the radio, he was introduced to electronic acts such as Tricky and the Orb, before discovering house and techno through free outdoor raves in the forest…Owing to his formative experiences, his music was inspired by a fusion of the natural world and the dancefloor, and he incorporated organic elements such as guitar, bass, and percussion into a sound produced using a fairly simple setup of computer and synth. I’m completely new to Leif and can’t quite explain what drew me into Seven Hour Flight to Nowhere, a track from his new album 9 Airs released on October 29. I find it very soothing.

Jim Croce/Time in a Bottle

Next, I’d like to go back to April 1972 and a song I’ve always loved because of its beautiful lyrics, melody and neat acoustic guitar-playing: Time in a Bottle by Jim Croce. At the time I first heard this gem, I was taking (acoustic) guitar lessons. Croce’s great finger-picking was an immediate attraction and a motivation to work hard on my finger technique. Time in a Bottle is from Croce’s third studio album You Don’t Mess Around with Jim that appeared in April 1972. He wrote it like all other songs on the record. Sadly, in September of the following year, Croce became yet another music artist who perished in a plane crash. Time in a Bottle was also released separately as a single in the wake of Croce’s death in November 1973. It became his signature song and biggest hit, topping the mainstream charts in the U.S. and Canada. Reminds me of John Lennon and the post-mortem success of (Just Like) Starting Over – the bitter cruelty of an artist’s success when they have passed and can no longer enjoy it!

Collective Soul/Shine

This next song takes me back to my grad school days at SUNY Stony Brook on Long Island, N.Y. I can easily say these two years (1993 and 1994) were the most intense period of my student life where I felt I studied as much as during the prior six years of university in Germany! At the time, there was lots of academic freedom in Germany, and you pretty much could study at your own pace – let’s just say I allowed myself to be distracted and wasn’t exactly in a hurry to finish my graduate degree. Anyway, I well remember Shine by Collective Soul. The lead single, off their debut album Hints Allegations and Things Left Unsaid, received frequent play on the Connecticut FM mainstream radio station I usually had on in the car (blanking on the name now). Originally, the song was released in 1993 on the independent label Rising Storm Records. Subsequently, Collective Soul got a deal with Atlantic Records, which reissued the single and the album in October 1993 and March 1994, respectively. I find it a quite catchy tune and also like the soft grunge sound. Collective Soul, which were founded in 1992, are still together, with three original members remaining in the current lineup.

The Stranglers/No Mercy

Continuing a bit of nostalgia, let’s go back another 10 years to 1984 and The Stranglers. I hadn’t heard that name in ages until I saw their tune The Raven was picked by A Sound Day as part of a song draft by fellow blogger Hans from Slice the Life – thanks, guys! In my case, The Stranglers are similar to The Cars – I know a number of their songs based on radio play but haven’t further explored the group. The first Stranglers tune I recalled after the song draft prompt was Golden Brown, their first hit from 1992. When I checked Wikipedia, some of their other ’80s songs popped up like Always the Sun (1986), Skin Deep and my favorite No Mercy. The last two tracks were on the group’s eighth studio album Aural Sculpture from November 1984. Credited to all four members of the band at the time – Hugh Cornwell (vocals, guitar), Jean-Jacques Burnel (bass, vocals), Dave Greenfield (keyboards) and Jet Black (percussion) – No Mercy didn’t match Golden Brown’s chart success but still gave them a decent hit. Call me crazy: If The Rolling Stones would have gone new wave, this is how I imagine they could have sounded! BTW, like Collective Soul, The Stranglers exist to this day and released their 18th studio album Dark Matters on September 10. Based on sampling a few tunes, it doesn’t sound bad.

Anna Nalick/Breathe (2 AM)

Time to leave the ’80s and ’90s behind and travel to the current century, specifically the year 2004. In October that year, American singer-songwriter Anna Nalick released Breathe (2 AM), the lead single from her debut album Wreck of the Day that appeared in April of the following year. Let’s just say, both the beautiful ballad and the record weren’t exactly a wreck. They became Nalick’s most successful song and album, respectively. Breathe (2 AM) is the only tune by Nalick I can name. She’s still around (in fact she’s only 37) and has released three additional albums to date, most recently The Blackest Crow from December 2019. I find Breathe (2 AM) a pretty compelling and catchy pop ballad. Yes, it’s a bit on the lush side, but the intensity and Nalick’s vocals are just stunning!

The Moody Blues/Go Now

Sadly, on Thursday (November 11), Graeme Edge, co-founder and drummer of The Moody Blues, passed away from cancer at the age of 80. As such, I’d like to wrap up this post with some music by the Moodies whose 1967 sophomore album Days of Future Passed has become one of my favorite ’60s records. Pre-dating this gem is Go Now, the band’s second single from November 1964. Co-written by Larry Banks and Milton Bennett, the song originally was released by Larry’s wife, American soul singer Bessie Banks, in January 1964. But it was the version by The Moody Blues that gained international popularity, topping the charts in the UK, reaching no. 10 in the U.S. and The Netherlands, no. 2 in Canada and no. 12 in Australia. The tune was also included on the band’s debut album The Magnificent Moodies from July 1965, which in the U.S. and Canada was titled Go Now – The Moody Blues #1 and had a different song lineup. It was the only Moodies album to feature guitarist and vocalist Denny Laine who in 1971 joined Paul McCartney’s Wings.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube