The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

I hope everybody is spending a great weekend. Once again, I’d like to welcome you to another Sunday Six. In case you’re here for the first time, in this weekly recurring feature, I stretch out musically speaking, visiting different decades and different genres over the past 70 years, six tunes at a time. All onboard and let’s go!

Clifford Brown & Max Roach Quintet/Joy Spring

Today, our little trip starts in December 1954 with beautiful music by two jazz greats: Trumpeter Clifford Brown and drummer Max Roach. Earlier that same year, Roach had invited Brown to join him in creating a quintet. By the time, they recorded Clifford Brown & Max Roach, which I believe was their band’s first album, the line-up also featured Harold Land (tenor saxophone), Richie Powell (piano) and George Morrow (bass). Unfortunately, the quintet was short-lived due to a tragic car accident that killed Brown in June 1956 at age 25. He was on his way to a gig in Chicago together with Powell whose wife Nancy drove the car. They both lost their lives as well. The quintet’s last official album Clifford Brown and Max Roach at Basin Street, recorded earlier that year, featured then-up-and-coming tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins. Here’s Joy Spring, a composition by Brown.

The Asylum Choir/Tryin’ to Stay ‘Live

The next stop on today’s journey is November 1971. That’s when the second and final album by Leon Russell’s (keyboards) and Marc Benno’s (guitar) studio project The Asylum Choir came out. Initially formed in 1967, they put out their debut Look Inside the Asylum Choir the following year. While The Asylum Choir II had been recorded in 1969, its release was delayed due to contract disputes. In fact, by the time the record finally appeared, they had already dissolved the project. Russell and Benno were backed by prominent session musicians, including Jesse Ed Davis (guitar), Carl Radle (bass), Donald “Duck” Dunn (of Booker T. & the M.G.’s) and Chuck Blackwell (drums). Here’s the great honky tonk rocker Tryin’ to Stay ‘Live, which was co-written by Russell and Benno.

R.E.M./Losing My Religion

Let’s continue our excursion with a stopover in the ’90s. Losing My Religion was the first R.E.M. tune that really got the alternative rock band from Athens, Ga. on my radar screen. While I remember the song was on the radio back in Germany all the time, I still dig it to this day. Credited to all members of R.E.M. – Bill Berry (drums, percussion), Peter Buck (guitar, mandolin), Mike Mills (bass, backing vocals) and Michael Stipe (lead vocals) – Losing My Religion is from the group’s seventh studio album Out of Time, which appeared in March 1991. According to Songfacts, R.E.M. were surprised about their record label’s decision to make the tune the album’s lead single. After all, it didn’t have a chorus and featured a mandolin as a lead instrument, not exactly your typical ingredients for a hit. Not only did it become the album’s best-performing single but the band’s most successful overall!

Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’/Don’t Leave Me Here

Four tracks into this Sunday Six it’s time to jump to the current century with some sizzling blues by Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’, who in May 2017 came out with a great collaboration album, TajMo. Together with Buddy Guy’s 2016 studio album Born to Play Guitar, it reignited my love for the blues, a genre I had first explored in my late teens after I had picked up the bass and joined a blues band – the start of my intense but short-lived band career! 🙂 I also caught Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ in August 2017 during their tour that supported the album and have seen Guy three times since Born to Play Guitar. Here’s TajMo’s great opener Don’t Leave Me Here, which was co-written by the two artists and Gary Nicholson. I should add that while the tune has a traditional blues vibe, overall, TajMo, which includes elements of soul and world music, is an uplifting album. “Some people think that the blues is about being down all the time, but that’s not what it is,” Mahal said at the time. “It’s therapeutic, so you can get up off that down.” He added, “We wanted to do a real good record together, but we didn’t want to do the record that everyone expected us to do.”

Echo & The Bunnymen/Lips Like Sugar

Our next stop takes us back to the ’80s. In July 1987, Echo & The Bunnymen released their eponymous fifth studio album. While The English post-punk band had been around since 1978, if I recall correctly, it wasn’t until Lips Like Sugar that I heard of them for the first time. The catchy tune was co-written by band members Will Sergeant (guitar), Ian McCulloch (lead vocals, guitar, piano) and Les Pattinson (bass). Pete de Freitas (drums) completed their line-up at the time. Interestingly, it only reached no. 36 on the UK Official Singles Chart, lower than most of their earlier singles. After the band’s breakup in 1993, Sergeant and McCulloch reunited the following year. When Pattinson rejoined them in 1997, they decided to revive Echo & The Bunnymen. Ever since Pattinson exited again in 1999, Sergeant and McCulloch have continued to tour and record under that name.

Jerry Lee Lewis/Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On

Once again we’ve reached our final destination. The last tune is in memory of Jerry Lee Lewis, who passed away on Friday at the age of 87. Lewis was the last man standing of a generation of pioneering classic rock & roll artists who also included the likes of Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Chuck Berry and Little Richard. “The Killer” was known for his high-energy performances. After his popularity had taken off in 1957, his career was nearly derailed when it became known he was married to his 13-year-old cousin once removed while still being married to his previous wife. Lewis was blacklisted from the radio and his earnings were nearly wiped out overnight. Eventually, he managed to reinvent himself as a country artist. But scandal continued to follow him for much of his life. Here’s Lewis’ remake of Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On and his biggest hit, which was released as a single in April 1957. The tune was written by Dave “Curlee” Williams and first recorded by Big Maybelle in 1955.

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist of the above tunes. Hope there’s something you dig.

Source: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

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The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday Six, my zig-zig music journeys featuring six seemingly random tunes from the past 70 years or so. This time, it’s mostly different flavors of rock, including smoking British Invasion rock, grungy alternative rock, groovy ’70s funk, more alternative rock, jazzy soft rock and pop rock. Let’s go!

The Animals/We Gotta Get Out of This Place

I’d like to start with the The Animals, one of my favorite ’60s bands that became part of the British Invasion. I’ve always loved their edgy blues rock-oriented sound and frontman Eric Burdon’s distinct deep vocals that perfectly fit their music. Undoubtedly, the group is best known for their rendition of the traditional The House of the Rising Sun. While I love that tune, there are so many other great songs. One of my favorites that is also one of their most popular tracks is We Gotta Get Out of This Place. Co-written by prominent U.S. songwriting duo Barry Mann and his wife Cynthia Weil, the tune initially was intended for The Righteous Brothers. After Mann got a record deal for himself, his label Red Bird Records wanted him to release the song. At the same time, hard-charging record executive Allen Klein had heard the track and handed a demo to Animals producer Mickie Most. The Animals ended up recording it before Mann could – perhaps they should have renamed it “We Gotta Get Out This Song!” We Gotta Get Out of This Place was first released as a single in the UK in July 1965, followed by the U.S. the next month. It also became the opener of the band’s third U.S. album Animal Tracks released in September of the same year.

Nirvana/Come As You Are

Let’s jump to the early ’90s next and Nirvana. Co-founded by lead vocalist and guitarist Curt Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic in Aberdeen, Wash. in 1987, the group was an acquired taste for me. Oftentimes, I still find it hard to digest their loud and dissonant music combined with depressing lyrics. But when I’m in the right mood, there’s just something about Nirvana. Come As You Are is a track from their sophomore album Nevermind from September 1991. The first record to feature drummer Dave Grohl, Nevermind enjoyed a surprising degree of mainstream success and was key in popularizing the Seattle grunge movement and alternative rock. Come As You Are, written by Cobain, also appeared separately as the album’s second single. While it didn’t match the chart success of Smells Like Teen Spirit, it still became one of the group’s most successful songs. It climbed to no. 32 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to no. 27 in Canada, and placed within the top 20 mainstream charts of many European countries.

Curtis Mayfield/Super Fly

After that haunting Nirvana tune, I’m ready for something groovy, something funky. Something like Super Fly. Written by the amazing Curtis Mayfield, the tune is the title track of Mayfield’s third solo album that came out in July 1972. It’s also the soundtrack for the Blaxploitation crime drama picture of the same name. Together with What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye, Super Fly is viewed as a pioneering soul concept album featuring then-unique socially aware lyrics about poverty, drug abuse, crime and prostitution. Both albums proved skeptical record executives wrong and became major commercial successes. For Mayfield, Super Fly also was the first of five soundtrack scores he wrote in the ’70s. In August 1990, Mayfield became paralyzed from the neck down when he was hit by stage lightening equipment while being introduced at an outdoor show in Brooklyn, New York. Sadly, that freak accident marked the start of a downward spiral in Mayfield’s health, which culminated in his death from diabetes complications at age of 57 in December 1999.

R.E.M./Orange Crush

Warning: Once you listen to the next tune, it might get stuck in your brain. And while with that crazy ongoing heat wave you might feel thirsty, it has nothing to do with the orange flavored soft drink. Orange Crush is a track off R.E.M.’s sixth studio album Green from November 1988. The title refers to Agent Orange, the horrific chemical used by the U.S. during the Vietnam war to defoliate the Vietnamese jungle. Songfacts explains that while R.E.M. lead vocalist Michael Stipe’s lyrics do not refer to a specific war-related experience, his father served in Vietnam as part of the helicopter corps. Like all other tracks on Green, Orange Crush was credited to all members of R.E.M., who apart from Stipe included Peter Buck (guitar, mandolin), Mike Mills (bass, keyboards, accordion, backing vocals) and Bill Berry (drums, percussion, backing vocals). The tune also appeared separately as the album’s lead single in December 1988, becoming R.E.M.’s then-most successful song on the UK Singles Chart where it peaked at no. 28. According to Wikipedia, Orange Crush wasn’t released as a commercial single in the U.S. But it became a promotional single and hit no. 1 on both Billboard’s Mainstream Rock and Modern Rock Tracks charts.

David Crosby/She’s Got to Be Somewhere

Yesterday, David Crosby turned 80 – wow! After all his past struggles with drugs and alcohol and even incarceration, I wonder whether he himself thought he would ever reach this milestone – well, I’m glad he did and wish him many happy returns! Of course, Crosby is best known as a co-founding member of The Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash, both groups I dig. In addition to appearing on their albums, Crosby has also had a solo career that started in February 1971 with the release of If I Could Only Remember My Name. But until 2014, his solo output was pretty uneven. The next album after his debut, Oh Yes I Can, came out in January 1989 and was followed by Thousand Roads in May 1993. Since 2014’s Croz, Crosby has been on a late stage career surge that has since seen the release of four additional albums. The most recent one, For Free, dropped just last month. My knowledge of Crosby’s solo work is pretty spotty. One of his albums I’ve listened to previously and reviewed here, is Sky Trails from September 2017. Here’s the opener She’s Got To Be Somewhere. And nope, even though it sounds like Donald Fagen could have written it, the tune was actually penned by James Raymond, Crosby’s son who has worked with his father since 1997, both on the road and in the studio. Crosby is a big Steely Dan fan. Fagen knows and even co-wrote a song for Crosby’s last album, Rodriguez for a Night.

George Harrison/All Things Must Pass

Yes, the time has come again to wrap up yet another Sunday Six installment. All Things Must Pass looks like an appropriate tune for the occasion. Apart from the fitting title, the pick is also inspired by the recent appearance of the massive 50th anniversary reissue of George Harrison’s third solo album from November 1970 and his first after the breakup of The Beatles. Frankly, I’ve yet to listen to it. The super deluxe format, which my streaming music provider offers, has 70 tracks. In addition to remixed songs of the original 3-LP album, it features numerous outtakes, jams and demos – altogether close to 4.5 hours of music! Anyway, let’s turn to the title track. I did not know that it was Billy Preston who first released the song as All Things (Must) Pass on his album Encouraging Words that appeared two months prior to Harrison’s record – nice version that’s here in case you’re curious! Also unbeknownst to be Preston included a great rendition of My Sweet Lord as well.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Space, the Final Frontier

Yesterday’s successful landing of NASA’s robotic explorer Perseverance on Mars once again reminds us of humankind’s fascination with distant planets and what’s out there beyond our galaxy. Not surprisingly, many music artists have embraced the theme of space in their songs. The first who always comes to my mind in this context is David Bowie, who repeatedly wrote about the topic in tunes like Space Oddity, Starman, Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes. There are plenty of additional examples. This playlist features some of these songs, ordered according to their release date.

The Byrds/Mr. Spaceman

While birds cannot fly in space, this didn’t prevent The Byrds from recording this happy-sounding tale about a kid who wakes up from the light of a flying saucer and cheerfully asks the ETs for a space ride. Mr. Spaceman, written by Roger McGuinn, appeared on the band’s third studio album Fifth Dimension from June 1966.

Pink Floyd/Astrodomine

This Syd Barrett tune, an early example of space rock, was the opener of Pink Floyd’s debut studio album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Released in August 1967, this early phase Floyd gem also featured another track in the same genre: Interstellar Overdrive. I decided to go with the shorter tune! 🙂

The Rolling Stones/2000 Light Years From Home

2000 Light Years from Home is a song from Their Satanic Majesties Request, a lovely psychedelic album by The Rolling Stones, which appeared only a few months after Floyd’s debut in December 1967. Co-written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the tune also became the B-side to the American single She’s a Rainbow that was released in November of the same year. Charmingly weird! 🙂

Steve Miller Band/Space Cowboy

Listening to Space Cowboy by Steve Miller Band was the tune that inspired this post, not the Mars rover, though I guess the timing worked out nicely. Co-written by Steve Miller and the band’s keyboarder at the time Ben Sidrin, the song was included on their third studio album Brave New World that came out in June 1969. The vibe of the main riff is a bit reminiscent of Peter Gunn, the theme music for the American detective TV show of the same name, composed by Henry Mancini in 1958. In 1979, Emerson, Lake & Palmer popularized that theme on their live album Emerson, Lake and Palmer in Concert.

Deep Purple/Space Truckin’

Time to go for some Space Truckin’ with Deep Purple. This track is the closer of the band’s sixth studio album Machine Head from March 1972, which to me remains their Mount Rushmore to this day. Like all remaining tracks on the record, Space Truckin’ was credited to all members of the band: Ritchie Blackmore (guitar), Ian Gillan (vocals, harmonica), Jon Lord (keyboards), Roger Glover (bass) and Ian Paice (drums, percussion).

Elton John/Rocket Man

One of my all-time favorites by Elton John happens to be related to space as well: Rocket Man, from his fifth studio album Honky Château that came out in May 1972. As usual, Sir Elton composed the music while Bernie Taupin provided the lyrics. Honky Château became John’s first no. 1 record in the U.S. He was literally flying on top of the word – six additional no. 1 albums in America would follow in a row!

David Bowie/Starman

I guess 1972 was a year, during which space themes were particularly popular in rock and pop music. In June 1972, only one and three months after Honky Château and Machine Head, respectively, David Bowie released his fifth studio album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. I have to say I tend to like him best during his glam rock period, and Ziggy Stardust is my favorite Bowie album. Like all except for one tune, Starman was written by Bowie.

Stevie Wonder/Saturn

Even soul great Stevie Wonder got into the “space business.” Saturn, co-written by Michael Sembello and Wonder, became a bonus track to Songs in the Key of Life, his magnum opus from September 1976.

The Police/Walking on the Moon

The year was 1979 when The Police released their sophomore album Reggatta de Blanc in October. Walking on the Moon, written by Sting, is the first track on the B-side. Yes, this was still pre-CDs, not to mention music streaming! I’ve always liked the reggae vibe of this tune.

R.E.M./Man on the Moon

Let’s wrap up this collection of space-themed songs with Man on the Moon by R.E.M. The tune, a tribute to American comedian and performer Andy Kaufman, was credited to the entire band: Michael Stipe (lead vocals), Peter Buck (guitar, mandolin, bass), Mike Mills (bass, keyboards, accordion, backing vocals) and Bill Berry (drums, percussion, keyboards, melodica, bass, backing vocals). It was recorded for R.E.M.’s eighth studio album Automatic for the People from October 1992. The album became their second major international success after Out of Time that had been released in March 1991.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: April 12

For those of you who celebrate, Happy Easter, and I hope everybody is doing well! I decided to do another installment of my long-running music history feature, which hit 50 with the previous post. It turns out April 12 was a pretty eventful date, so let’s get to it.

1968: Pink Floyd released their fourth single in the UK, It Would Be So Nice. The tune, which was written by keyboarder Richard Wright, had a rather uplifting, almost pop-like sound unlike many other Floyd songs at the time. It was the band’s first release after the exit of Syd Barrett. Idiotically, the BBC is said to have banned the initial version of the song due to a passing reference of the London newspaper The Evening Standard, which violated their strict no-advertising policy. Apparently, this prompted the band to record an alternate, BBC friendly version. It didn’t help from a popularity perspective, and the song failed to chart in the UK or elsewhere. Apparently, Roger Waters and Nick Mason didn’t like the tune either. Waters called it a “lousy record.” Mason was even more outspoken: “Fucking awful, that record, wasn’t it? At that period we had no direction. We were being hustled about to make hit singles.” Ouch!

1973: The American children’s TV series Sesame Street has seen many celebrities over its 50-plus-year history. One of the coolest and funkiest guests ever must have been Stevie Wonder who appeared on the program 47 years ago. Then 23 years old, Wonder performed Superstition, the lead single from his latest album at the time Talking Book. I always loved that funky tune. Check out the apparent joy Wonder got out of this and his kickass backing band – priceless!

1976: Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band released the excellent live album Live Bullet. The material came from a 1975 gig at Cobo Hall in Detroit. Interestingly, Seger was still a largely regional act at the time. This would change with the band’s next studio album Night Moves that came out in October of the same year and finally put them on the map nationally. Over the years, tracks from Live Bullet became staples on rock radio. Undoubtedly, the best known is the road tale Turn the Page, which was written by Seger. Check out the official video I came across on YouTube. Love that tune!

1976: That evening, Paul McCartney with his wife Linda visited John Lennon at his apartment in the Dakota. Lennon was watching the late-night NBC comedy show Saturday Night, the predecessor to Saturday Night Live. During this particular episode, co-creator and producer Lorne Michaels invited The Beatles to reunite on the show for the deliberately measly offer of $3,000 (approximately the equivalent of $13,900 today). Michaels had no idea Lennon and McCartney were watching the whole thing – and actually considered showing up at the show’s studio that night just for fun. The Beatles Bible quotes Lennon from his final major interview he gave to book author David Sheff in 1980: “Paul and I were together watching that show. He was visiting us at our place in the Dakota. We were watching it and almost went down to the studio, just as a gag. We nearly got into a cab, but we were actually too tired.” Now, that would have been something!

Lorne Michaels Offer to The Beatles

1983: R.E.M. released their debut album Murmur. Shockingly, the music critics got it right for once and gave it a warm reception. It also peaked at no. 36 on the Billboard 200, not shabby for a debut. A re-recorded version of Radio Free Europe appeared separately as a single and reached no. 78 on the Billboard Hot 100. In spite of the critical acclaim, Murmur only sold approximately 200,000 copies by the end of the year, which back then wasn’t considered special – wow, how the times have changed! Eventually, the album reached Gold certification (500,000 units sold) in 1991. Peter Buck’s jangly Rickenbacker guitar sound, Mike Mills’ melodic basslines and Michael Stipes’ vocals are right up my alley. Here’s Radio Free Europe. Like all other songs except for one, the tune was credited to all four members of the band, which in addition to Buck, Mills and Stipes also included drummer Bill Berry.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfact Music History Calendar; Ultimate Classic Rock; The Beatles Bible; YouTube