The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Happy Sunday! I always look forward to putting together this weekly recurring feature, which allows me to explore music from different styles and decades without any limits, except keeping it to six tracks I dig. Are you ready to accompany me on another excursion? Hop on and let’s go!

Mose Allison/Crespuscular Air

Today our journey begins in November 1957 with Local Color, the sophomore album by Mose Allison. Shoutout to Bruce from Vinyl Connection whose recent post about the American jazz and blues pianist inspired me to include him in a Sunday Six. According to Wikipedia, Allison has been called “one of the finest songwriters in 20th-century blues.” Let’s just put it this way: Pete Townshend felt Allison’s Young Man Blues was good enough to be featured on The Who’s Live at Leeds album released in February 1970. John Mayall was one of the dozens of artists who recorded Allison’s Parchman Farm for his 1966 debut album with the Blues Breakers, Blues Breakers with Eric Clapton. Allison’s music has also influenced many other artists, such as Jimi Hendrix, J. J. Cale, the Yardbirds, The Rolling Stones and Tom Waits. Here’s Crespuscular Air, a mellow jazz instrumental composed by Allison and included on the above-mentioned Local Color – the same record that featured Parchman Farm.

Steve Earle/Goodbye

Our next stop takes us to February 1995, which saw the release of Steve Earle’s fifth studio album Train a Comin’. I’m still relatively new to Earle but have quickly come to appreciate his music, which over the decades has included country, country rock, rock, blues and folk. Train a Comin’, while not a commercial or chart success, was an important album for Earle who had overcome his drug addiction in the fall of 1994. The bluegrass, acoustic-oriented album was his first in five years and marked a departure from the more rock-oriented predecessor The Hard Way he had recorded with his backing band The Dukes. Goodbye, penned by Earle, is one of nine original tunes on Train a Comin’, which also includes four covers.

Boz Scaggs/Georgia

For this next pick, let’s go back to February 1976. While I’ve known the name Boz Scaggs for many years, mainly because of his ’70s hits Lowdown and Lido Shuffle, I’ve yet to explore his music catalog. Scaggs started his career in 1959 in high school as vocalist in Steve Miller’s first band The Marksmen. The two musicians continued to play together in a few other groups, including Steve Miller Band. After staying with the group for the first two albums, Scaggs secured a recording deal for himself and focused on his solo career. Georgia, a smooth groovy song written by Scaggs, is included on his seventh solo album Silk Degrees, which is best known for the aforementioned Lowdown and Lido Shuffle. Now 78 years, Scaggs still appears to be active and has released 19 solo albums to date.

Clarence Clemons & Jackson Browne/You’re a Friend of Mine

Are you ready for some ’80s music? Yes, You’re a Friend of Mine definitely can’t deny the period during which it was recorded, but it’s such an upbeat song – I love it! It brought together dynamite saxophone player Clarence Clemons and legendary singer-songwriter Jackson Browne. Co-written by Narada Michael Walden and Jeffrey Cohen, the tune was released in October 1985 as the lead single of Clemons’ solo debut album Hero, which came out in November of the same year. By that time Clemons had best been known as the saxophonist of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, which “The Big Man” had joined in the early ’70s. Sadly, Clemons who also appeared in several movies and on TV died of complications from a stroke in June 2011 at the age of 69. Man, what an amazing sax player. He could also sing!

The Jimi Hendrix Experience/Voodoo Child (Slight Return)

All right, time to jump back to the ’60s and some psychedelic rock by an artist who I trust needs no introduction: Jimi Hendrix. Voodoo Child (Slight Return), written by Hendrix, was included on Electric Ladyland, the third and final album by The Jimi Hendrix Experience released in October 1968. The tune also appeared separately as a single, first in the U.S. at the time of the album and subsequently in the UK in October 1970, one month after Hendrix had passed away in London at the age of 27. Prominent American guitarist Joe Satriani has called Voodoo Child “the greatest piece of electric guitar work ever recorded.” Regardless of whether one agrees with the bold statement, it’s a hell of a song. Stevie Ray Vaughan, one of my favorite electric blues guitarists, included an excellent cover on his 1983 sophomore album Couldn’t Stand the Weather.

Shemekia Copeland/It’s 2 A.M.

Time to wrap up another Sunday Six with a real goodie. Since I recently witnessed part of a live gig of Shemekia Copeland and reviewed her new album Done Come Too Far, this great blues vocalist has been on my mind. Shemekia, the daughter of Texas blues guitarist Johnny Copeland, started to sing as a child and by the time she was 16 knew she wanted to pursue a music career. After high school graduation in 1997, Copeland signed with Chicago-based independent blues label Alligator Records and recorded her debut album Turn the Heat Up! It’s 2 A.M., written by Rick Vito, is the excellent opener of her sophomore album Wicked that came out in September 2000. I could totally picture The Rolling Stones play this song. Check it out!

And, of course, I won’t leave you without a Spotify playlist featuring the above songs.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Happy Saturday and welcome to another installment of Best of What’s New. I found a lot on the new music front this week that I like. All featured tracks are on releases that came out yesterday (Sep 16). Here we go!

Cape Francis/Gospel of Broken Arms

Getting us started today is Cape Francis, the moniker of New York-based singer-songwriter Kevin Olken Henthorn. From his website: Kevin Olken Henthorn has spent the past half-decade crafting quiet but intricate bedroom pop, gradually expanding and contracting his sound over the years. After a previous band fell through, he began the Cape Francis project as a way to express his creative energy, forging a creative partnership with producer and engineer Ariel Loh. After his third record, the reverb-drenched, winding Plateaus, Henthorn wanted to strip back, creating songs he could play by himself without requiring a full band. Writing during a lengthy early-pandemic move to Silver Lake with his partner, what started out as a back-to-basics record gradually became quietly ambitious, as Henthorn challenged himself to write more directly. The result is Don’t Let Your Heart Walk Away, his fourth and latest album. Here’s Gospel of Broken Arms.

Death Cab for Cutie/Here to Forever

Death Cab for Cutie are an American indie rock band formed in Bellingham, Wash. in 1997. Originally a solo project by Ben Gibbard (vocals, guitar, piano), Death Cab for Cutie expanded into a full band after he had released a demo, You Can Play These Songs with Chords, which became popular. Gibbard subsequently recruited Chris Walla (guitar), Nick Harmer (bass) and Nathan Good (drums). They signed with Barsuk Records and released their debut album Something About Airplanes in August 1998. Five years later, Death Cab for Cutie received broad recognition in the U.S. for their fifth studio album Plans, which peaked at no. 4 on the Billboard 200 and was nominated for two Grammys. In February 2008, it received Platinum certification, making it the band’s best-selling album to date. This brings me to Here to Forever, a tune from Death Cab’s 10th and new album Asphalt Meadows. The song was co-written by Gibbard and Zac Rae (keyboard, guitar). Harmer and Dave Depper (guitar, keyboards, backing vocals) complete the group’s current lineup. Catchy tune!

The Beths/When You Know You Know

On to New Zealand indie pop rock band The Beths who have been around since 2014. From their Apple Music profile: Fronted by their main songwriter, Elizabeth Stokes, New Zealand indie rock group the Beths combine energized guitar riffs, melodic hooks, and harmonized backing vocals in their impulsive, distinctly self-depreciating music. Having already won fans as a live act, the band released their first album, Future Me Hates Me, in 2018. The Beths’ 2021 live album Auckland, New Zealand, 2020 featured earworms from the debut and follow-up Jump Rope Gazers. Their third long-player, 2022’s anxious Expert in a Dying Field, was completed in a Los Angeles studio during tour. From that album, which is their latest, here’s When You Know You Know. Great tune, which in addition to Strokes (vocals, rhythm guitar) is credited to the band’s three other members Jonathan Pearce (lead guitar, vocals), Benjamin Sinclair (bass, vocals) and Tristan Deck (drums).

The Mars Volta/Backlight Shine

El Paso, Texas progressive rock band The Mars Volta came together in 2001. From their AllMusic bio: Picking up the pieces from At the Drive-In, Cedric Bixler-Zavala and Omar Rodriguez-Lopez formed the Mars Volta and wasted little time branching out into elements of hardcore, prog, psychedelic rock, and avant-jazz and funk. As the ever-evolving Mars Volta, they immediately impressed with 2003’s gold-certified Deloused in the Comatorium for Universal. It eschewed conventional logic to push themselves in new artistic directions, while 2005’s Frances the Mute revealed a willingness to use concepts to underscore a provocative musical approach. Fast-forward 17 years to the present and the band’s new eponymous album, their seventh and first in 10 years! Check out Backlight Shine, an intriguing tune written by Rodríguez-López.

Starcrawler/Runaway

Starcrawler are a punk rock band from Los Angeles, founded in 2015. Their current members include Arrow de Wilde (lead vocals), Henri Cash (guitar), Bill Cash (pedal steel guitar, an unexpected instrument for a punk band – CMM), Tim Franco (bass) and Seth Carolina (drums). AllMusic characterizes their sound as “somewhere between the punk/hard rock of fellow L.A. natives the Runaways and the shock tactics of legendary metal band Black Sabbath.” AllMusic also notes “crunchy guitars, melodies that boast a bit of glam-influenced swagger (even when they’re in a minor key), and a heavy rhythmic stomp” to describe the band’s sound. Starcrawler who released their eponymous debut album in January 2018 are now out with their third studio project She Said. Let’s check out Runaway – I would call this punk with a tasty dose of pop!

Ringo Starr/Free Your Soul (feat. Dave Koz and José Antonio Rodriguez)

Wrapping up this week’s new music revue is a man who needs no introduction. Ringo Starr, who in July turned 82, has been on a remarkable roll, having released a full album and three EPs since October 2019, including his latest, aptly called EP3. One of the four tracks is called Free Your Soul. From a July 29 press release: Written by Ringo Starr and Bruce Sugar, the soothing, rhythmic sound of “Free Your Soul” transports the listener to an island beach on a clear warm night under a full moon. With Ringo on vocals, drums and handclaps, the song also features Dave Koz on tenor sax and José Antonio Rodriguez on nylon guitar, Nathan East on bass, Bruce Sugar on keyboards, percussion and horn arrangement, and Billy Valentine, Zelma Davis and Maiya Sykes providing backing vocals. When you’re Ringo Starr, I suppose you don’t have much if any problem finding a little help from some great friends. I can hear some of Sade’s Smooth Operator in this relaxing tune, especially in the beginning – to be clear, it’s meant to be a compliment!

This post wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify playlist of the above and a few additional tracks.

Sources: Wikipedia; Cape Francis website; Apple Music; AllMusic; Ringo Starr website; YouTube; Spotify

My “Shocking” Song Revelations

A “Turntable Talk” contribution

Dave from A Sound Day hosts a fun recurring feature titled Turntable Talk, for which he asks fellow bloggers to share their thoughts on a given topic. I was happy when he recently invited me back to contribute. This time, it was a challenging topic he called “shock rock.”

In his own words: This time around, we’re calling it “Shock Rock.” But wait, there’s a twist – it’s not about Marilyn Manson and his contemporaries…unless our writers want it to be. Rather, it’s more about what some would call “guilty pleasures.” Songs or records that you like that would “shock” most people. Ones that go against the grain of most of what you listen to. I once asked a well-known radio DJ who loved new music, alternative and artsy rock if he had a musical guilty pleasure and he responded that he’d always liked “Moonlight feels Right” by Starbuck… a ’70s piece of laid back yacht rock with a xylophone solo! (Hey, we like it too!) Not his usual fare, but a song that he loves regardless. Maybe the heavy metal types have a soft spot for a bit of late night opera. Or an “all-60s rock” person loves Bruno Mars too. You get the idea.

I really had to think hard about the topic and what I would say that would be reasonably surprising or shocking. Following is what I submitted:

Thanks, Dave, for inviting me back to share my thoughts for another round of “Turntable Talk” – given the topic, hopefully, this won’t be the last time!😊

Since I feel I’ve been pretty transparent about my music taste on my blog and in comments, I really needed to figure out how to tackle this topic. Yes, I’m mostly a ‘60s and ‘70s guy who likes blues, British invasion, classic rock and soul. But on more than one occasion, I’ve also revealed preferences that clearly fall outside my core wheelhouse, which probably have surprised some readers.

For example, I’ve acknowledged I dig a good number of songs by Bon Jovi and Journey, bands I know are not particularly popular among some of my fellow bloggers. Additionally, I’ve admitted I like some disco, a genre that can make many rock fans break out in hives. I’ve also expressed positive sentiments about certain electronic/new age music artists like Jean-Michel Jarre and Klaus Schulze – something you could argue contradicts my general mantra that “good music” should be played with “real” instruments instead of synthesizers.

Given the above, I asked myself the question what I could say that might surprise readers who know my music taste based on my blog. At first, I had contemplated writing about ELO’s 1979 studio album Discovery, which has a bunch of disco/dance-oriented tunes I like. I also considered doing a post on Klaus Schulze’s Timewind, his fifth album from 1975. But based on what I noted at the outset of this post, I don’t think any of these choices would have been particularly revealing.

In the end, I decided to highlight three songs I like by artists who may surprise you. Warning: Some of you may be shocked!

Let’s start with something gentler. In February 1982, British trio Imagination released what would become their biggest hit: Just an Illusion. While it’s not disco, it’s definitely dance music. Wikipedia characterizes the album In the Heat of the Night, on which the tune appeared, as post-disco, funk and soul. And, nope, it’s not an illusion, I think this is a pretty groovy and catchy tune. Are you still with me?

Moving on to my next pick. How many of you would have thought I dig a tune by two French electronic music dudes who performed in robot outfits and concealed their faces with helmets? Yes, it’s Daft Punk, baby! And I’m talking about a song that became an international sensation in 2013. Not only did it top the charts in France, but it also hit no. 1 in Australia, Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Switzerland and the UK. In Sweden and the U.S., it peaked at no. 2. Aptly, it was titled Get Lucky and featured Pharrell Williams on vocals and Nile Rodgers on guitar. Like Just an Illusion, it’s really the groove that won me over. The latter is due to Rodgers’ seductive funky guitar sound. I also like Pharrell’s singing.

Okay, are you ready for one more shocker? Ready or not, here it comes, the one you may find a real stinker that may push you over the edge: Waiting For a Star to Fall, a top 10 hit in the U.S. (no. 5) and the UK (no. 9) in 1988 by Boy Meets Girl. There’s definitely more than one reason why I shouldn’t be fond of this song, including the outfit’s corny name and the lyrics. Waiting for a star to fall/And carry your heart into my arms/That’s where you belong/In my arms, baby, yeah…Not exactly Shakespeare. And yet I can’t deny I find this song pretty catchy. In fact, it’s been stuck in my brain since I remembered it when reflecting on the topic.

BTW, behind Boy Meets Girl are vocalists and songwriters George Merrill and Shannon Rubicam who at the time Waiting For a Star to Fall came out were a married couple. Now isn’t that sweet? But wait, there’s more. They also wrote two no. 1 hits for Whitney Houston: How Will I Know (1985) and I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me) (1987).

So, what’s the main takeaway to all of this? I guess there are two possible answers. Number one: I finally proved my music taste is terrible after all! Number two: Music doesn’t always make sense. Sometimes you like songs, even though they contradict your taste. I would argue that’s a good thing!

– END –

There you have it, my darkest music secrets, the songs I secretly sing in the shower! 🙂

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island song by XTC

Welcome to another installment of my recurring Wednesday feature where I need to pick one song to take with me on an imaginary trip to a desert island. It must be a tune from an artist or band I’ve only rarely or not covered on this blog to date. And the picks are happening in alphabetical order.

This week, I’m up to “x”, meaning it needs to be a band or artist (last name) who starts with that letter. Frankly, how many such music acts you know? I only came up with two: XTC and X-Pensive Winos, a band Keith Richards formed in 1987 to back him on his solo efforts, which included Waddy Wachtel (guitar), Ivan Neville (keyboards), Bobby Keys (saxophone), Charley Drayton on bass and Steve Jordan (drums, percussion).

Kingclover, a frequent visitor and commentator who was aware of my challenge, also mentioned X, an ’80s punk rock band, and another punk band from the ’70s or ’80s called X-Ray Spex. He cheerfully added the latter really sucked! In any case, I don’t know any of them.

While I haven’t covered the X-Pensive Vinos per se, I’ve written multiple times about Keef and the Stones, so it really came down to XTC. But at this time, essentially, I know this English rock band by name only and that fellow blogger Graham at Aphoristic Album Reviews is a fan. He also noted the band’s only song I could name: Making Plans For Nigel. Since I happen to like that tune, this made my pick an easy decision.

Making Plans for Nigel was written by Colin Moulding (bass, vocals), one of the group’s founding members. The tune first appeared in August 1979 on XTC’s third studio album Drums and Wires. The following month, it became the record’s lead single and marked the band’s commercial breakthrough. In addition to reaching no. 17 in the UK, it also charted in Canada (no. 12), New Zealand (no. 29), The Netherlands (no. 32) and Australia (no. 94).

XTC were formed in Swindon, South West England in 1972. Initially, they were known as Star Park (1972–1974) and The Helium Kidz (1974–1975) before becoming XTC in 1975. Here’s more from their AllMusic bio: XTC was one of the smartest — and catchiest — British pop bands to emerge from the punk and new wave explosion of the late ’70s. From the tense, jerky riffs of their early singles to the lushly arranged, meticulous pop of their later albums, XTC’s music has always been driven by the hook-laden songwriting of guitarist Andy Partridge and bassist Colin Moulding. While popular success has eluded them in both Britain and America, the group has developed a devoted cult following in both countries that remains loyal over two decades after their first records.

In January 1978, XTC released their debut album White Music. Eleven additional studio releases followed. Eventually, Patridge’s and Moulding’s musical partnership unraveled, and the group effectively came to an end in 2006/2007. There was no official announcement of a breakup.

Following are some additional tidbits on Making Plans For Nigel from Songfacts:

This was XTC’s breakthrough single. It was written by bassist Colin Moulding, who shared vocal and songwriting duties with guitarist Andy Partridge.

Moulding: “Partly biographical, this one. My dad prompted me to write it. He wanted a university future for me and was very overpowering in trying to persuade me to get my hair cut and stay on at school. It got to the point where he almost tried to drag me down the barber’s shop by my hair. I know the song tells of a slightly different situation, but it all boils down to the same thing – parental domination.”

Partridge: “Quite early on it had been decided that Making Plans For Nigel was going to be the single. We spent five times longer messing with that song than any of my tracks. At one point I was fuming because my songs were being ignored.”

The Rembrandts, Primus and Robbie Williams all covered this.

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; Songfacts; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Yes, folks, it’s Saturday again, which kind of amazes me. Where did the week go? Anyway, Saturday means it’s time to take a fresh look at newly-released music. Unlike most previous Best of What’s New installments, which largely featured artists who are new to me, this week presents a mix of familiar and new names. All picks are from albums that appeared yesterday (July 8).

The Deslondes/Ways & Means

Kicking things off today are The Deslondes, a group formed in 2013 in New Orleans, blending folk, rock ‘n’ roll, bluegrass, R&B, American roots music, blues, gospel, country and zydeco – quite a stew! From their Apple Music profile: Bringing their own style of down-home, rootsy twang to the home of the blues, the Deslondes are a band of rough but tuneful troubadours who found their voice when they settled in New Orleans, Louisiana. The quintet members adopted their name from a street in the Lower Ninth’s Holy Cross neighborhood, and they found kindred spirits in another New Orleans outfit, Hurray for the Riff Raff. Between developing a loyal following at home and impressing audiences on the road opening for Hurray for the Riff Raff, word began to spread about the Deslondes, and New West Records signed them to a recording contract, releasing their self-titled debut album in June 2015. Two additional albums have since come out, including their latest Ways & Means. Here’s the title track – like their sound!

Wet/Canyon

Wet are an indie pop group from Brooklyn, New York. They were formed in 2012 by Kelly Zutrau, Joe Valle and Marty Sulkow who had met in the city while they were students at NYU and Cooper Union. In 2013, after they had gained some attention through local gigs and posting music online, they signed with boutique record label Neon Gold and subsequently with Columbia. Wet’s self-titled debut EP came out in May 2014. Their first full-length album Don’t You was released in January 2016. Canyon, written by Zutrau, is a track from the group’s fourth and new studio album Pink Room. I find Zutrau’s vocals quite soothing.

Journey/Come Away With Me

After releasing The Way We Used to Be in June 2021, their first new music in 10 years, Journey are back with a new album. Yes, I know, some folks dismiss them as shallow arena rock or pop rock. I fully stand behind the fact that I have always liked a good number of their songs. Formed as the Golden Gate Rhythm Section in San Francisco in 1973 by former Santana members  Neal Schon (lead guitar) and Gregg Rollie (keyboards), along with George Tickner (rhythm guitar), Ross Valory (bass) and Prairie Prince (drums), the band initially was conceived as a back-up group for Bay Area artists. However, they quickly abandoned the concept, renamed themselves  Journey, and released their eponymous debut record in April 1975, a progressive rock album. After Steve Perry joined as lead vocalist in October 1977, they adopted a much more pop rock-oriented sound and entered their commercially most successful period. While following Perry’s departure in 1998 Journey’s success began to wane and the group has seen various lineup changes over the decades, they have hung on, with Schon remaining as the only original member. The current core lineup also includes Arnel Pineda (lead vocals) and Jonathan Cain (keyboards, backing vocals). Here’s Come Away With Me, a track off the new album Freedom, Journey’s 15th studio release – their first in 11 years since Eclipse from May 2011.

Neil Young & Crazy Horse/Goin’ Home

Let’s wrap up this Best of What’s New installment with something really cool – well, at least it excites me. Neil Young, one of my all-time favorite artists, is back with yet another previously abandoned album. In 2000, Young convened his longtime backing band Crazy Horse at Toast recording studio in San Francisco. But according to this review in Uncut, things didn’t work out, and while after playing some shows in South America the band returned to the studio invigorated, Young wasn’t happy with the outcome. Instead, he recorded an album with Crazy Horse guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro and Booker T. & the M.G.’s. Titled Are You Passionate? and released in April 2002, it included some leftover songs from the record he abandoned, which appropriately is titled Toast. From Young’s website neilyoungarchives.com: For the past two decades, Toast has been whispered about in collectors’ circles in hushed tones, as Young has dropped pieces of information about it here and there, especially as it contains three never-before-released songs. Here’s one of them: Standing in the Light of Love, a great Neil rocker – I just love the man!

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist with the above and some additional songs sans Neil Young. Most of his music remains off the platform after Young asked Spotify to remove it in April, protesting the company’s hosting of controversial podcaster Joe Rogan.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Uncut; Neil Young Archives; YouTube; Spotify

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island song by Roxy Music

I can’t believe it’s Wednesday again and we’re almost in July! This would be the perfect time for a summer vacation, and a beautiful tropical island sounds like an attractive proposition. But wait, before I can leave on yet another imaginary trip to some remote island in the sun, once again, I have to pick one song to take with me.

In case you’re a first-time visitor, there are a few rules that limit my options, which make the exercise both challenging and interesting at the same time. My pick cannot be a tune by a music act I’ve frequently written about. Ideally, it should be a band or artist I haven’t covered yet. It can only be one track, not an entire album. And picks must be in alphabetical order.

This week I’m up to “r.” Bands and artists (last names) starting with that letter include Radiohead, Bonnie Raitt, Ramones, R.E.M., Red Hot Chili Peppers, Otis Redding, Lou Reed, Keith Richards, The Rolling Stones, Linda Ronstadt and Roxy Music, among others.

Based on the above criteria, Bonnie Raitt, The Rolling Stones and Linda Ronstadt were immediately excluded from further consideration. For some of the other artists, sadly, I had to search my own blog to refresh my memory to what extent I had covered them before. At the end, it came down to picking Radiohead or Roxy Music, and I decided to go with the latter and More Than This.

More Than This, written by Bryan Ferry, first appeared in April 1982 as the lead single of Roxy Music’s eighth and final studio album Avalon, released the following month. It’s just a gorgeous pop tune I’ve loved from the very first moment I heard the band playing it on the radio at the time it came out.

More Than This was popular, reaching no. 6 in each the UK and Australia, but it wasn’t the group’s biggest hit. The latter was their great cover of John Lennon’s Jealous Guy, which they recorded and released as a non-album single in February 1981 to honor the ex-Beatle who had been senselessly killed by a deranged individual in New York in December 1980.

Art and pop rock group Roxy Music were founded by Ferry, the band’s lead vocalist and main songwriter, and bassist Graham Simpson in England in 1970. While they have been on and off ever since, their active recording period spanned 1972 to 1982. During these 10 years, Roxy Music released eight studio albums, three of which topped the UK charts: Stranded (1973), Flesh and Blood (1980) and the above-noted Avalon.

In 1982, at the height of their commercial success, Ferry who at that time was the only original member together with Andy Mackay (saxophone, oboe, keyboards, backing vocals), decided to dissolve Roxy Music and focus on his solo career, which he had launched in parallel to the group in 1973.

Roxy Music have since reunited several times for tours and are currently gearing up to be on the road again starting in September to celebrate their 50th anniversary. In addition to co-founders Ferry and Mackay, this includes Phil Manzanera  (guitar) and Paul Thompson (drums), who were all part of the group’s lineup that recorded Roxy Music’s 1972 eponymous debut album. The schedule of the five-week tour, which includes dates in Canada, the U.S. and the UK, is here.

Following are a few additional tidbits on More Than This from Songfacts:

Written by lead singer Bryan Ferry, this song is about a love affair that fell apart. Asked in 2014 by Entertainment Weekly why the song endures, Ferry replied, “For some reason, there’s something in the combination of the melody and the lyric that works for people.”

In America, this song got some traction when it featured in Sofia Coppola’s 2003 film Lost In Translation in a scene where Bill Murray sings it in a Tokyo karaoke bar. When the song was first released, however, it had little impact on the charts, bubbling under at just #102 on the Hot 100. Many college radio stations played the song, but commercial stations stayed away for the most part.

Roxy Music occupied just a small niche in America, where they hit the Top 40 just once (“Love Is the Drug” – #30 in 1975), but they were far more successful in the UK.

Ferry told The Mail on Sunday June 28, 2009 about the Avalon album: “I started writing the songs while on the west coast of Ireland, and I like to think that some of the dark melancholy of the album comes from that place.”

10,000 Maniacs covered this in 1997 on their album Love Among The Ruins. Mary Ramsey sang lead, as original Maniacs lead singer Natalie Merchant had just left the band to go solo.

Sources: Wikipedia; Roxy Music website; Songfacts; YouTube

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by The Hollies

It’s Wednesday, which means it’s time again to pack my bags for yet another imaginary desert island trip. Of course, before I leave I must make an important decision about which song I should take along from a band or artist I haven’t covered on the blog or only mentioned once or twice.

I’m up to the letter “H” for this little fun exercise. Looking at my song library, picks could have included Hall & Oates, Jimi Hendrix, Herman’s Hermits, The Hooters and Huey Lewis and the News. Based on the above selection criterion, I decided to go with The Hollies and Bus Stop, a song I loved from the very first time I heard it many moons ago!

The Hollies were formed in December 1962 in Manchester, England. Their original line-up included Allan Clarke (vocals), Vic Steele (lead guitar), Graham Nash (rhythm guitar, vocals), Eric Haydock (bass) and Don Rathbone (drums). Over their now 60-year career, the group has seen numerous line-up changes, with Clarke remaining as the only original member. Wikipedia notes that together with The Rolling Stones, they are one of the few UK groups from the early ’60s, who never disbanded.

Bus Stop, written by then-future 10cc co-founder Graham Gouldman, is one of the best-known tunes by The Hollies. I also believe it’s their first song I heard on the radio while growing up in Germany. The band’s distinctive three-part harmony singing grabbed me right away. You just don’t hear such great vocals anymore these days.

While at the time it was released as a single in June 1966 The Hollies already had scored a few hits, especially in the UK, Bus Stop became their first top 10 single in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, climbing to no. 5. Elsewhere, the title track of the band’s fourth studio album from October 1966 topped the charts in Canada and New Zealand, and reached no. 2 in the UK, no. 3 in Norway, no. 4 in The Netherlands and no. 9 in Germany.

Following are some additional insights from Songfacts:

This song is about a couple who meet one rainy day at a bus stop. Love blooms when they share an umbrella.

In a Manchester newspaper, Graham Gouldman said he wrote it whilst riding on the No. 95 bus, which ran from East Didsbury – the route went through Manchester city centre, to Sedgeley Park, Cheetham Hill, Prestwich, and on to Whitefield near Bury. Gouldman was living with his family on this route in Broughton Park Salford at the time.

Graham Gouldman’s father was a talented and creative writer who often helped his son with song ideas. Graham had the idea for bus stop setting, and his dad came up with the first line: “Bus stop, wet day, she’s there, I say, ‘please share my umbrella.'” From that starting point, he was able to finish the song.

In a Songfacts interview with Gouldman, he explained: “He gave me those words and I immediately, as I was reading them, heard the melody in my head, and it just kind of wrote itself. And then the middle part of the song I wrote – I got the melody and the words all in one chunk.”

The timeline in this song is a little askew. We know that love bloomed over the summer, but then we get the line, “Came the sun, the ice was melting.” This harkens spring, so apparently time has passed. In Gouldman’s Songfacts interview, he clarified: “Winter is over, the snow is passed because the sun has melted it, so there’s no need to shelter anymore under the umbrella. You could say the snow is underfoot so you don’t need an umbrella anyway, but it’s poetic license: it could have been snowing so the umbrella can protect you from the snow as well as the rain.”

Graham Nash of The Hollies [who later became part of Crosby, Stills & Nash and Crosby, Stills, Nash & YoungCMM] recalls learning about this song when their manager, Michael Cohen, told them about “this little Jewish kid who lives down the street,” which was Graham Gouldman. When Gouldman played it for them, they knew they had a winner. Nash says they recorded it in just an hour and 15 minutes.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by The Cranberries

The third installment of my weekly desert island exercise brings me to the letter “c.” Some of the artists and bands I could have selected include J.J. Cale, Ray Charles, Cream, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Sheryl Crow. My pick are The Cranberries and Linger, a song I find exceptionally beautiful. The melody, the musical arrangement and the lyrics are all coming together perfectly.

Linger first appeared in February 1993 as the second upfront single of the Irish alternative rock band’s debut album Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? That album was released two weeks thereafter in March.

The Cranberries’ second single became one of their biggest hits. In addition peaking at no. 3 in their native Ireland, it reached no. 4 in Canada, no. 8 in the U.S. (Billboard Hot 100) and no. 14 in the UK, among others. The single remained on the Billboard Hot 100 for an astonishing 24 weeks.

A beautiful great acoustic version of Linger was included on the band’s seventh studio album Something Else, released in April 2017. The record featured unplugged and orchestral renditions of 10 previously released singles, along with three new songs. Sadly, it would be the final album with Dolores O’Riordan who passed away on January 15, 2018, at the age of 46 years. The cause of death was determined as drowning in a bathtub due to alcohol intoxication.

Here are some additional insights from Songfacts:

Cranberries guitarist Noel Hogan wrote the music for this song before Dolores O’Riordan joined the band. Originally, it had lyrics written by the group’s first singer, a bloke named Niall Quinn. When O’Riordan auditioned for the band, she had some ideas for the song, and after she was hired, she wrote her own set of lyrics, turning it into a song of regret based on a soldier she once fell in love with.

The emotional, girlie sound was a huge departure for the band, but wildly successful. The song got lots of airplay from radio stations looking for an alternative to rap or grunge, and MTV put the video in heavy rotation [So did VH1 where I saw it repeatedly during my first semester as a student on Long Island, N.Y. – CMM]. The Cranberries became one of the best-selling bands of the mid-’90s.

In a Songfacts interview with Dolores O’Riordan, she described this as “a love song.” In the lyric, she describes being mistreated by her love and seeing him with another girl, yet unable to break free because he lets their relationship linger. This hardly seems the stuff of dreams, but the feeling of first love is what O’Riordan keyed in on. It brought her back to a time of innocence.

The Cranberries recorded the first version of this song in 1990 at their manager’s studio in Limerick, Ireland. It was one of three songs included on a demo they distributed to local records stores, which found their way to various record companies. Island Records signed the band, which released their first EP, Uncertain, in 1991. “Linger” was not part of that EP, as they wanted to save the song for when they built a bigger fan base.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by Barclay James Harvest

Time again to make the tough choice to pick only one tune by a select artist or band I would take to a desert island. Hopefully, this will never happen, as it’s pretty much mission impossible. We’re up to the letter “b”, so choices include The Beatles, Badfinger, Bad Company, Chuck Berry, James Brown, David Bowie and The Byrds, to name some. I decided to go with Barclay James Harvest.

‘Who the hell is that?’ some of you may wonder, and why didn’t he take his favorite band of all time, The Beatles? Well, let me remind you one criterion for this feature is to pick an artist or band I haven’t covered yet or only a few times – call it a little twist to the exercise! This post is the first about Barclay James Harvest (BJH), a British group I was very much into during my teenage years, growing up in Germany. If I recall it correctly, they were pretty popular there at the time.

BJH (from left): Stuart “Woolly” Wolstenholme, John Lees, Mel Pritchard and Les Holroyd

BJH were formed in September 1966 by John Lees (guitar, vocals), Stuart “Woolly” Wolstenholme (keyboards, vocals), Les Holroyd (bass, vocals) and Mel Pritchard (drums, percussion). Their eponymous debut album appeared in 1970. Various configurations of the group have since released close to 20 additional studio albums, as well as numerous live and compilation records.

BJH are oftentimes classified as prog-rock and art rock. This sounds pretty accurate to me, especially for their earlier albums. I think one can also add symphonic rock, folk rock and pop rock. Currently, there are two touring versions of the group, John Lees’ Barclay James Harvest and Barclay James Harvest featuring Les Holroyd, which are each led by an original member. In case you’re interested to learn more, you can visit their respective websites here and here.

This finally brings me to the song I decided to pick: Mocking Bird, a tune that appeared on BJH’s sophomore album Once Again from February 1971. Written by John Lees, the symphonic rock tune is very reminiscent of The Moody Blues.

Six years after Once Again had appeared, Lees wrote a song titled Poor Man’s Moody Blues. But what could be viewed as an acknowledgment that the group was influenced by the Moodys apparently was an angry reaction to a journalist who had called BJH “a poor man’s Moody Blues.” The tune deliberately sounded very similar to Nights in White Satin.

Understandably, Justin Hayward, who wrote the renowned Moody Blues song, was less than pleased. Had this happened in the U.S., I think it’s safe to assume there would have been a big lawsuit. Years later, Hayward received an apology from Les Holroyd when they met each other.

Sources: Wikipedia; John Lees’ Barclay James Harvest website; Barclay James Harvest featuring Les Holroyd website; YouTube

My Playlist: Fastball

When I recall a song I haven’t heard in ages, I tend to revisit the band or artist who performed it, especially if I don’t know them well beyond a tune or two. That’s what happened with Fastball when I remembered The Way the other day and included the cool tune in my last Sunday Six feature. After sampling a bunch of other songs from different albums by the American alternative-rock-turned-power pop band, I liked what I heard and decided to put together this profile and playlist.

Fastball were formed in 1994 in Austin, Texas by Tony Scalzo (vocals, bass, keyboards, guitar), Miles Zuniga (vocals, guitar) and Joey Shuffield (drums, percussion). After Shuffield had introduced Zunigo to Scalzo who had been with California group The Goods, the three of them decided to start their own group.

Following a series of names, including Star 69, Magneto, Magneto USA, Ed Clark’s Business Bible and Starchy, they decided on Fastball. What appears to be a baseball metaphor is definitely more memorable than some of the other names they had considered. Fastball managed to quickly gain popularity in the Austin music scene. After a local journalist had seen them perform, they brought them to the attention of Hollywood Records, which led to a record deal soon thereafter.

Up to that point, Fastball’s story almost looked like a fairytale. Other bands struggle for years to sign with a label if they ever get that far. But the Texas group’s ride wouldn’t be without bumps. While their debut album Make Your Mama Proud from April 1996 yielded a win in the “Best Pop Band” category at the Austin Music Awards (tied with The Wannabes, another Austin group), the record sold poorly (about 5,500 copies as of April 1998). Suddenly, the future was wide open, to creatively borrow from Tom Petty, and all of the band’s members felt compelled to keep their day jobs.

Then came their break – again, something many music artists never get. And it was a big one. In February 1998, Fastball released the above-mentioned The Way, the lead single of their then-upcoming sophomore album All the Pain Money Can Buy. The Way, which only was the group’s second single, hit no. 1 on Billboard’s Alternative Airplay chart, as well as in Canada on both the mainstream and alternative rock charts. Overseas, it also reached no. 7 in Sweden and no. 21 in the UK.

By September, only six months after its release, All the Pain Money Can Buy had sold more than a million copies in the U.S. alone, thus reaching Platinum certification by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Interestingly, the album “only” reached no. 29 on the Billboard 200. It did better in Canada where it climbed to no. 18 and also charted in a few European countries. Fastball had arrived. But their commercial and chart performance would be short-lived – again, an all-too-familiar playbook in the brutal music business.

In September 2000, Fastball’s third album appeared. It was appropriately titled The Harsh Light of Day. While it received positive reviews, once again, it turned out to be a record that didn’t sell well. As of January 2004, sales totaled a mere 84,000 copies – definitely a harsh drop compared to the predecessor’s million units sold in just six months! It also was the group’s last album to make the Billboard 200, reaching no. 97.

Despite lacking chart and commercial success, Fastball managed to soldier on. They remain active to this day in their original line-up and have since released four additional studio albums. Their catalog also includes two live records and a compilation. I’d say the time has come to take a closer look at some of their songs. And there’s definitely more to this band than The Way.

I’d like to do this in chronological order starting with Fastball’s debut album Make Your Mama Proud from April 1996. Compared to their sophomore record, the songs on their debut effort sound a bit rawer and remind me a little of Green Day’s 1994 album Dookie. Here’s the title track, written by Scalzo.

Turning to Fastball’s hugely successful second album All the Pain Money Can Buy, I’m skipping The Way, since I just covered it (though the tune is included in the Spotify playlist at the bottom of this post). Instead, I’d like to highlight Out of My Head, the only other song that had sounded vaguely familiar when checking out the band’s music. Penned by Scalzo, the song also became the third single off the album and the last to make the Billboard Hot 100, climbing to no. 20 – interestingly outperforming The Way, which missed the U.S. mainstream chart but as noted above was pretty successful elsewhere.

You’re an Ocean is a catchy pop-rock tune from Fastball’s third album The Harsh Light of Day, the last appearing on the band’s original label Hollywood Records. Once again, the song was written by Scalzo. The record featured some notable guests, including Billy Preston and Brian Setzer.

In June 2004, Fastball released their fourth album. Previously, they had signed with new record label Rykodisc. The record was mixed by Bob Clearmountain who is known for having worked with major acts like Bruce Springsteen, The Rolling Stones, Toto and Bon Jovi. Two tracks, Someday and Red Light, were produced by Adam Schlesinger who among others founded Fountains of Wayne. Here’s Someday written by Miles Zuniga – nice power pop! The album did not chart.

The Beatlesque The Malcontent (The Modern World) is from Fastball’s fifth studio album Keep Your Wig On that came out in April 2009. The band had switched labels, and the record appeared on MRI/RED Distribution. It was co-produced by Miles Zuniga and CJ Eiriksson, with mixing once again done by Bob Clearmountain.

The last tune I’d like to highlight is Friend or Foe, the opener of Fastball’s seventh and most recent studio album The Help Machine from October 2019. The song was written by Zuniga. The record appeared on the group’s own 33 1/3 label.

It’s a pity Fastball have largely been under the radar screen for the past 20 years or so. I find their melodic rock and power pop that oftentimes is reminiscent of The Beatles and Badfinger enjoyable. Here’s a Spotify playlist featuring the above and some additional tunes by the group.

“When I look at our catalog, there’s not a bad record in there,” notes drummer Joey Shuffield in the band’s online bio, “We’ve been through our ups and downs, but I think we’ve really found our groove over the last few years.”

“We spent a lot of time on a major label, so initially the transition back to being an indie band was a little bumpy,” Shuffield further points out. “But now it feels comfortable being responsible for everything ourselves, because that way we’re more likely to get it right. We’re all so into the music now, and I think you can hear that on the last couple of albums.”

Adds Tony Scalzo: “It’s only natural that you get better at what you do as you get older and more experienced. But you can’t always figure that out when you’re in your 20s. Now that we’re on our own label, the pressure’s all on us, and that’s fine. All I ever really wanted was a consistent creative outlet, and we’ve got that now.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Fastball website; YouTube; Spotify