The Hump Day Picker-Upper

Cheering you up for a dreadful Wednesday, one song at a time

For those of us taking care of business during the regular workweek, I guess it’s safe to assume we’ve all felt that dreadful Wednesday blues. Sometimes, that middle point of the workweek can be a true drag. But help is on the way!

My proposition for today is I’m a Believer by The Monkees. While it’s a silly love song, it always makes me happy. And what’s wrong with that?

It may come as a surprise to some readers that I’m a Believer was written by then-25-year-old Neil Diamond. He actually spent his early career as a songwriter in New York’s legendary Brill Building. By the time Diamond penned I’m a Believer, he already had created a top 20 hit for Jay and the Americans with Sunday And Me that had come out in November 1965.

According to Songfacts, Don Kirshner while looking for material for The Monkees came across I’m a Believer. As part of a deal with Diamond, he allowed him to record the song as well. The Monkees’ version appeared first in November 1966 as their second single. It became a smash, topping the charts in the U.S., Canada, Australia, UK and various other European countries.

Diamond’s version certainly wasn’t bad. It appeared on his sophomore album Just for You from August 1967 but wasn’t among the three singles that were released from the record – probably a smart decision, given it would have been very unlikely to match the success of The Monkees or even come anywhere close to it.

A few additional tidbits from Songfacts: The Monkees sang on this, but did not play any instruments. The producers used session musicians because they were not convinced The Monkees could play like a real band. This became a huge point of contention, as the group fought to play their own songs. [We know eventually they did – CMM]

Neil Diamond had intended the song to be recorded by the Country artist Eddy Arnold, and was surprised when record executive Don Kirshner passed it instead to The Monkees.

Monkees guitarist Michael Nesmith didn’t believe this would be a hit, complaining to the producer, Jeff Barry, “I’m a songwriter, and that’s no hit.” Jeff Barry banned him from the studio while Micky Dolenz recorded his lead vocal.

A cover version by Smash Mouth was featured in the 2001 movie Shrek and went to #25 in the US. Diamond wrote the song “You Are My Number One” for Smash Mouth’s next album.

Mojo magazine July 2008 asked Neil Diamond if he resented at all the Monkees’ success with this song at a time when his own recording career was less successful. He replied: “I was thrilled, because at heart I was still a songwriter and I wanted my songs on the charts. It was one of the songs that was going to be on my first album, but Donny Kirshner, who was their music maven, hears ‘Cherry, Cherry’ on the radio and said, ‘Wow, I want one like that for The Monkees!’ He called my producers, Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich…But the head of my record company freaked. He went through the roof because he felt that I had given #1 records away to another group. I couldn’t have cared less because I had to pay the rent and The Monkees were selling records and I wasn’t being paid for my records.”

Happy Hump Day, and always remember George Harrison’s wise words: All things must pass!

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Sometimes it’s funny how things go. Even though my employer observed Martin Luther King Jr. Day and, as such, I was officially off on Monday, this week still felt very long. Finally, Saturday and another installment of my weekly new music feature are here. This time, my picks include three artists/bands who are entirely new to me and two I’m familiar with, especially one I’ve known since the ’80s. Except for the last tune, all tracks appeared on albums that were released yesterday (January 21).

Miles Kane/Change the Show

My first pick is Miles Kane, who is known as a solo artist and as a member of English supergroup The Last Shadow Puppets. He also used to be the lead vocalist of English rock band The Rascals, who were active from 2007 until 2009 when Kane decided to launch a solo career. His Apple Music profile describes him as an artist with a “resonant croon and charismatic stage swagger” who is “known for his vintage ’60s- and ’70s-inspired rock sound.” Here’s more from Apple Music: Born in 1986 in Merseyside, Kane was an 18-year-old guitarist when he formed his first band Little Flames with childhood friends vocalist Eva Petersen, guitarist Mat Gregory, bassist Joe Edwards, and drummer Greg Mighall. However, after Petersen and Gregory left the band due to creative differences, Kane and the remaining members formed the Rascals with Kane taking on vocal duties...In 2011, he delivered his full-length solo debut, Colour of the Trap. This brings me to Change the Show, the title track of Kane’s new and fourth solo album. The tune was co-written by him and Jamie Biles – catchy pop/rock with a retro flavor.

Texas Hill/Heaven Down Here

Texas Hill are an alternative country trio founded in 2020. According to their website, Craig Wayne Boyd offers a voice full of gospel-tinged country smoke, Adam Wakefield blends a rootsy bluegrass-and-Americana rasp, and Casey James wraps it with a blue-eyed soul quality and deft blues guitar chops. [Casey James did ring a bell, and it turned out in June 2017, I covered his sophomore solo album Strip It Down.]…The Voice and American Idol worked in creating a fan base for all three...That connection helped forge Texas Hill. James and Boyd, who grew up 60 miles apart on the outskirts of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, ran into one another at a 2019 event in Nashville and dove into conversation…Roughly a month later, Boyd brought Wakefield into the musical conversation, and when the three of them met up, Boyd introduced a song he’d just written. In September 2020, Texas Hill released their eponymous debut EP. Heaven Down There, credited to all three members, is the title track of their first full-length album. Great country rock with beautiful harmony singing – the kind of music that makes me happy!

Keb’ Mo’/Good Strong Woman

Keb’ Mo’ (born Kevin Roosevelt Moore) probably doesn’t need much of an introduction. While typically characterized as a blues artist, the Nashville-based guitarist and singer-songwriter also integrates elements of pop and Americana into his music. I grew fond of Moore when he teamed up with Taj Mahal for their great 2017 “uplifting blues” collaboration album TajMo, which I reviewed here. I also saw the two later that same year during the tour that supported TajMo. Good Strong Woman, which features former Hootie & the Blowfish lead vocalist Darius Rucker, is a track from Keb’ Mo’s new album Good To Be…The soulful, country-flavored tune was co-written by Moore and Jason Gantt. This sounds really sweet! Here’s the official video.

Penny & Sparrow/Voodoo

Penny & Sparrow are an indie folk duo of Texas singer-songwriters Andy Baxter and Kyle Jahnke. According to their Apple Music profile, they rose out of Austin, Texas, in the early part of the 2010s, combining rich harmonies and a modern sensibility inspired by acts like Bon Iver, the Swell Season, and Mumford & Sons. After honing their sound with a few indie releases, they signed with Southern indie Single Lock Records and issued a trio of well-received albums including 2016’s Let a Lover Drown You and 2019’s Finch. Voodoo is a tune off Penny & Sparrow’s new album Olly Olly. Like all except one of the other 11 tracks on the record, it was co-written by Baxter and Jahnke. Sounds pretty!

Scorpions/Rock Believer

This brings me to my final pick, which comes from Scorpions. When I last featured the German rock/pop metal stalwarts in a Best of What’s New installment in May 2020, I referenced a statement by the group that noted they “are working on lot’s of Hard‘n Heavy Rockers for our new album these days.” That album, Rock Believer, is now in the can and scheduled for February 25. Here’s the title track, which was released on January 14 as the second upfront single of what will be the band’s 19th studio album. Scorpions were formed in 1965 in Hannover, Germany by guitarist Rudolf Schenker, who remains with the group to this day. The present line-up also features Klaus Meine (lead vocals, guitar; since 1969), Matthias Jabs (lead and rhythm guitar, backing vocals; since 1978), Paweł Mąciwoda (bass, backing vocals; since 2003) and Mikkey Dee (drums; since 2016). Scorpions first entered my radar screen with their immensely successful 1984 album Love at First Sting. In general, I dig their melodic pop metal, though whether I want to listen to it also depends on my mood, which I think applies to most other music as well.

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify list featuring the above tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Texas Hill website; Scorpions website; 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

Elvis Costello Revisits His Roots on Vibrant New Album

Writing an informed review of a new album by a music artist like Elvis Costello who has had an impressive 45-year recording career is a bit tricky when you’ve only listened to a fraction of their previous catalog. But having been a music fan for essentially the same amount of years, I feel confident to proclaim I know great music when I hear it, and The Boy Named If definitely qualifies!

If you’re a long-time Costello listener, which I cannot claim, you may ask which Elvis Costello is showing up on the new album. After all, the British singer-songwriter hasn’t been called a chameleon for nothing, having worked with the likes of Richard Harvey, Burt Bacharach, Anne Sofie von Otter and The Roots. Based on my limited exposure, I can clearly hear early influences going back to his first few albums, especially This Year’s Model, his sophomore release from March 1978, and the first record with the then-newly formed The Attractions.

The Boy Named If, released Friday, January 14, is Costello’s 32nd studio album. He is backed by The Imposters, the official name of his touring band since 2002, which has had different members. According to this review in Showbiz 411, the current line-up includes Steve Nieve (keyboards), Davy Faragher (bass and vocals) and Pete Thomas (drums, percussion). Ultimate Classic Rock called this group “essentially the classic Attractions lineup minus bassist Bruce Thomas, replaced by Davey Faragher.

“The full title of this record is ‘The Boy Named If (And Other Children’s Stories),” Costello noted in a statement on his website. ‘IF,’ is a nickname for your imaginary friend; your secret self, the one who knows everything you deny, the one you blame for the shattered crockery and the hearts you break, even your own. You can hear more about this ‘Boy’ in a song of the same name.”

Elvis Costello

Well, I’d say ’nuff upfront info, let’s check out some music. For some odd reason, I couldn’t embed YouTube clips for some of the songs. In these cases, I resorted to embeds of Spotify sound files. I’m also including a Spotify link to the entire album toward the end of the post.

I’d like to kick it off with an early favorite, the opener Farewell, OK, which also had appeared separately as one of three singles leading up to the album’s release. “Like a lot of good rock and roll songs this began with a drummer down in a basement and a singer howling outside the backdoor,” Costello stated on his website. “It’s a blurred gaze, a drink too much, an accidental punch and a kiss goodnight all in the tumult of a dancehall.” Like all other tunes on the album, it was penned by Costello. I love Farewell, OK’s cool retro feel, including Nieve’s Vox Continental and the harmony vocal fill-ins.

Here’s the title track Costello mentioned in his above comment, together with the opening verse to give you a flavor of the lyrics.

I’m a lucky so and so
A fortunate stiff
You said you’d never knew me but I’m the one you want to be with
If I tumble from a tightrope or leap from a cliff
I won’t be dashed to pieces
I’m the boy named If

Penelope Halfpenny is another early favorite. Like in the opener, Steve Nieve is back with that seductive Vox Continental keyboard. I just can’t get enough of this cool sound – okay, perhaps once again my nerdy side is rearing its head. But even if you don’t care about the Vox Continental or any other instrument for that matter, you’ve got to admit this is a bloody catchy tune. Check it out!

Costello and the band are slowing things down on Paint The Red Rose Blue. But don’t get fooled by the ballad’s beautiful melody. This ain’t exactly a silly love song. Paint The Red Rose Blue, which first appeared as another upfront single, is “the account of someone who has long-courted theatrical darkness, only for its violence and cruelty to become all too real,” as Costello put it. “In its wake, a bereft couple learn to love again, painting a melancholy blue over the red of romance.”

My Most Beautiful Mistake (reading that title, I keep thinking of Sheryl Crow’s My Favorite Mistake) is another track I’d like to call out. The song features American singer-songwriter Nicole Atkins on backing harmony vocals. I like how her voice bends with Costello’s.

Since I already featured Magnificent Hurt, another highlight on the album, in my last Best of What’s New installment, I’m skipping it here and go right to the final track I’d like to highlight: the beautiful closer Mr. Crescent.

“Whatever you take out of these tales, I wrote them for you and to make the life of these songs a little less lonely, if you should care to dive in a little deeper,” Costello said in the above statement. “I started ‘The Boy Named If’ with just an electric guitar, some sharps and flats, high heels and lowdowns, with five songs in bright major keys and carried on to write a whole new record for The Imposters to play.”

He added, “The initial rhythm section for this record was my guitar and Pete Thomas’ Gretsch drums, recorded down in Bonaparte Rooms West. Our Imposter pal of 20 years standing, Davey Faragher soon dialed in his Fender bass and vocals while we awaited dispatches from France. If the record sounded swell as a trio, Steve Nieve’s organ was the icing on the cake, the cherry and the little silver balls.”

The Boy Named If was co-produced by Costello and Sebastian Krys, who also had worked with Costello on his two previous studio albums Hey Clockface (October 2020), Look Now (October 2018). Appearing on EMI, with Capitol Records serving as U.S. release partner, the new album is available in vinyl, CD, cassette and downloadble/streaming formats. There is also a deluxe version that includes an 88-page hardback storybook.

Elvis Costello & The Imposters Announce  The Boy Named If & Other Favourites 2022 UK Tour

In early December, Costello announced plans for a 2022 UK tour featuring The Imposters, along with American guitarist and singer-songwriter Charlie Sexton. Among others, he is known for having been a member of Bob Dylan’s backing band starting in 1999. The tour is set to kick off on June 5 in Brighton – keeping my fingers crossed for British fans! For additional details, you can check here.

Sources: Wikipedia; Showbiz 411; Ultimate Classic Rock; Elvis Costello website; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Welcome to another installment of my weekly recurring feature where I pick newly released songs I like. Let’s get to it without further ado. All tunes except for the last song appeared yesterday (January 7).

Dope Lemon/Rose Pink Cadillac

Dope Lemon is the solo project of Australian singer-songwriter Angus Stone. He first started to release music in 2007 with his sister as part of folk-pop duo Angus & Julia Stone. To date, four albums by the duo have appeared. In April 2009, Stone’s solo debut Smoking Gun came out under the pseudonym Lady of the Sunshine. Starting with his third solo album Honey Bones from April 2016, he has used the Dope Lemon moniker. Rose Pink Cadillac, co-written by him and Elliott Hammond, is the bouncy, funky title track of Stone’s fifth and latest solo release.

Best Coast/All Alone

I think this may be the first time I’m featuring a music artist in back-to-back Best of What’s New installments. Last week, I picked Best Coast’s then-most recently released song Leading. The rock duo, which includes songwriter, guitarist and vocalist Bethany Cosentino and guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno, was formed in 2009 in Los Angeles. Borrowing again from their Apple Music profile: Drawing inspiration from ’60s surf rock and girl groups, Best Coast’s noisy lo-fi sound gave a nod to contemporaneous acts like Hot Lava, the Vivian Girls, and Brilliant Colors. Best Coast’s first year saw a flurry of little releases. Best Coast had become something of a sensation by the time 2009 came to a close. Fast forward to yesterday and the deluxe issue of Best Coast’s fourth studio album Always Tomorrow. Here’s one of the new tunes, All Alone, written by Cosentino – nice pop-rock!

Gang of Youths/In the Wake of Your Leave

Gang of Youths are an Australian indie rock band formed in Sydney in 2011 by principal songwriter David Le’aupepe (lead vocals, guitar). The other members include Jung Kim (lead guitar, keyboards), Tom Hobden (violin, keyboards, guitar), Max Dunn (bass) and Donnie Borzestowski (drums). According to their Apple Music profile, the group’s 2015 debut album The Positions tackled Le’aupepe’s painful divorce and mental health struggles against hard-charging indie rock topped with his tumultuous baritone. Rather than dwell in darkness, though, Gang of Youths’ anthems spin true stories of trauma into triumphant badges of survival and even hopefulness. Witness the empowering, Springsteen-worthy pulse driving “Let Me Down Easy,” from 2017’s Go Farther in Lightness. After winning four ARIA Awards for that record, the band became the inaugural performers on the Australian edition of MTV Unplugged in 2018. In the Wake of Your Love, credited to all members of the group, is a new single from their upcoming third studio album Angel in Realtime scheduled for February 25.

Dirty Honey/Let’s Go Crazy

Let’s wrap up this post with one of my favorite discoveries from last year: Los Angeles rock band Dirty Honey and their new single Let’s Go Crazy. If you’re familiar with Prince, the title of the song may be familiar. It’s actually a tune he originally recorded for his sixth studio and soundtrack album Purple Rain released in June 1984. Dirty Honey, who were formed in 2017 and are influenced by bands like Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin and Black Crowes, do a nice job putting Prince’s funky pop-oriented tune into a classic rock type of song – pretty cool! Their rendition came out on December 31 – another tune I swear I didn’t see in iTunes’ new releases when I checked that day.

Last but not least, here’s a playlist of the above tunes:

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; YouTube; Spotify

The Year That Was – Part 1 of 2

My six favorite albums of 2021

After feeling a bit lukewarm initially about the thought of looking back at 2021, a year I’d rather forget in many regards, I’m glad I decided to proceed. After all, there was lots of great new music – music that undoubtedly helped me cope with challenges this tiresome pandemic presented.

This review is split into two parts. Part 1 revisits my favorite 2021 albums I covered during the past year. Part 2 presents highlights from Best of What’s New, my weekly recurring feature looking at newly released songs. While it would have been easy to feature some of the same artists in both parts, I deliberately avoided overlap.

Altogether, I reviewed more than 20 albums over the past 12 months. After excluding archives releases, such as Neil Young’s Carnegie Hall 1970 and Young Shakespeare, and reissues like Tom Petty’s Angel Dream (Songs and Music from the Motion Picture “She’s the One”), I narrowed the list to 17 albums. Following are six I like in particular.

Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band/Dance Songs for Hard Times

Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band is an unusual country blues trio, and it’s not only because of their funny name. The group, which has been around since 2003, consists of Josh “The Reverend” Peyton (guitar, lead vocals), his wife  “Washboard” Breezy Peyton (washboard) and Max Senteney (drums). Notably, they don’t have a bassist. Peyton, a great guitarist, compensates with skillful fingerstyle playing that includes the prominent use of his thumb to play bass lines. Dance Songs for Hard Times, the trio’s 10th full-length album, was released on April 9. You can read more about it here. To get an idea, check out the amazing Too Cool to Dance and tell me this doesn’t rock!

John Hiatt with The Jerry Douglas Band/Leftover Feelings

One of my big “discoveries” this year is John Hiatt, an artist whose name I’ve known for 30-plus years but had not started to explore until earlier this year – well, better late than never! On May 21, Hiatt released a great collaboration album with Dobro resonator guitar master Jerry Douglas. They were backed by Jerry Douglas Band members Mike Seal (acoustic and electric guitar), Daniel Kimbro (bass, string arrangements) and Christian Sedelmyer (fiddle). You can read more about Leftover Feelings here, which was recorded at Nashville’s historic RCA Studio B during the Covid shutdown. Here’s a little sample: Mississippi Phone Booth, written by Hiatt.

Southern Avenue/Be the Love You Want

Southern Avenue, a five-piece from Memphis, Tenn., are one of my favorite contemporary groups, blending blues and soul with contemporary R&B. Founded in 2015, this great band features Ori Naftaly (guitar), Tierinii Jackson (lead vocals), her sister Tikyra Jackson (drums, backing vocals), Jeremy Powell (keyboards) and Evan Sarver (bass). On August 27, their third album Be the Love You Want came out. While it feels like a bigger and more contemporary production compared to the band’s first two records and there’s a guest appearance by pop artist Jason Mraz, at its core, this still sounds very much like Southern Avenue’s music I’ve come to love: A tasty blend of blues, soul, funk and gospel, combined with elements of modern R&B. You can read more about it here. And here’s Push Now.

The Wild Feathers/Alvarado

The Wild Feathers, formed in Nashville, Tenn. in 2010, combine elements of country rock, southern rock, classic rock, blues and folk with multi-part harmony singing – a quite attractive combination! The group’s current lineup includes founding members Taylor Burns (guitar, vocals), Ricky Young (guitar, vocals), Brett Moore (guitar, mandolin) and Joel King (bass, vocals), together with Ben Dumas (drums). On October 8, they released their fifth studio album Alvarado. According to an exclusive preview by American SongwriterThe Wild Feathers wrote and recorded the album in a small cabin located an hour northwest of Nashville, the same place in which they conceived predecessor Medium Rarities. You can read more about Alvarado here. To get an idea, I give you Side Street Shakedown, a great rocker co-written by King, Young and Burns.

The Brandy Alexanders/The Brandy Alexanders

The Brandy Alexanders are a psychedelic pop-rock band from Canada, which was formed in 2016. The members include brothers Alex Dick (lead vocals, guitar) and Daniel Dick (keyboards), along with Sean Shepherd (lead guitar), Zack Vivier (bass) and Robbie Cervi (drums). They were discovered in 2019 by Renan Yildizdogan, the founder of independent label Gypsy Soul Records, who saw the group at a local performance venue in Toronto and subsequently signed them. On December 10, The Brandy Alexanders released their eponymous debut album. For more on that, click here. And here’s the great-sounding opener Ceiling Fan, Man

Neil Young & Crazy Horse/Barn

Neil Young has been on a roll this year. In addition to the aforementioned solo releases from his archives, he put out Way Down in the Rust Bucket, another excellent archives release of a 1990 live concert with Crazy Horse. Speaking of Young’s longtime backing band, there was a record with new songs, Barn, his 41st studio release and 14th album with Crazy Horse. It appeared on December 10 as well. Recorded in a converted barn high in the Rocky Mountains, Barn sounds charmingly ragged, relaxed and spontaneous – like classic Crazy Horse! Click here for my album review and check out Heading West!

Additional 2021 albums I’d like to at least briefly acknowledge include Exit Wounds (The Wallflowers), Many a Mile (Blue Rodeo), Long Lost (Lord Huron), Dirty Honey (Dirty Honey) and The Battle at Garden’s Gate (Greta Van Fleet). Stay tuned for Part 2 of this year-in-review feature, which will include songs from these artists.

Sources: Wikipedia; American Songwriter; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to The Sunday Six! Can you believe the next installment will be the day after Christmas? It’s unreal to me! Though I’m not going to lie – I can’t wait for this dreadful year to be over! Let’s turn to a more cheerful topic and frankly a good distraction: Music! This time, the little journey features jazz fusion, new wave, soul, alternative rock, pop rock and garage rock, touching the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. Let’s go!

Klaus Doldinger/Tatort

German saxophonist Klaus Doldinger, who has been active since 1953, is best known for jazz fusion band Passport, which he formed in 1971 as Klaus Doldinger’s Passport. Prior to starting Passport, he composed one of the best-known musical themes in Germany for what has become the longest-running police drama TV series: Tatort (crime scene), which has been on the air for more than 50 years. I watched it many times while growing up in Germany. One of the things I always liked about the series was the theme music, one of the coolest I know. BTW, Doldinger turned 85 earlier this year and remains active with Passport. That’s truly remarkable! Doldinger also wrote or co-wrote various other TV and film scores, most notably for World War II drama Das Boot (the boat, actually a submarine) from 1981, as well as the 1984 fantasy picture The NeverEnding Story. The original recording of Tatort from 1970 featured drummer Udo Lindenberg, who subsequently launched a solo career and became one of Germany’s most successful artists singing in German.

Tears For Fears/Everybody Wants to Rule the World

Tears For Fears has to be one of the best band names. The new wave and synth-pop group were initially formed in 1981 in Bath, England by Roland Orzabal (guitar, keyboards, vocals) and Curt Smith (bass, keyboards, vocals). They had known each other as teenagers and played together in English new wave and mod revival group Graduate. Ian Stanley (keyboards, backing vocals) and Manny Elias (drums, percussion) completed the original line-up. That formation lasted until 1986 and spanned the group’s first two albums. By 1991, Orzbal was the only remaining member. Relying on collaborators, he kept the name Tears For Fears alive and released two albums. In 2000, he reunited with Smith. Everybody Loves a Happy Ending, the group’s sixth studio album, appeared in 2014. A new album is scheduled for February 2022, the first in nearly 18 years. Everybody Wants to Rule the World, co-written by Orzabal, Stanley and Hughes and released as a single in March 1985, became Tears For Fears’ biggest hit. It was off their sophomore release Songs from the Big Chair, their best-selling album to date. Yes, it sounds very ’80s, but it’s a hell of a catchy tune!

Billy Preston/Will It Go Round in Circles

To folks who have watched the Peter Jackson docu-series The Beatles: Get Back, Billy Preston will be a very familiar name. The then-23-year-old keyboard player was invited by The Beatles to join their recording sessions for Get Back, which eventually became the Let It Be album. Preston’s involvement not only boosted the band’s sound but also their spirit – he may well have saved the project! The entirely self-taught Preston had first met The Beatles in Hamburg in 1962, when he was part of Little Richard’s backing band. At the time, the 16-year-old already had been six years into his performing career, which had started in 1956 to back several gospel singers like Mahalia Jackson. In 1963, Preston released his debut album 16 Yr. Old Soul. Four years later, he joined Ray Charles’ band. After signing with Apple Records, Preston released his fourth studio album That’s the Way God Planned It, which was produced by George Harrison. The title track became a hit in the UK. In the ’70s, Preston remained a sought-after session musician and played on various Rolling Stones albums. He also continued to put out his own solo records. Sadly, Preston passed away in June 2006 at the age of 59. Will It Go Round in Circles, co-written by him and Bruce Fisher, is from his seventh album Music Is My Life that came out in October 1972. The funky soul tune became his first no. 1 as a solo artist in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100.

Radiohead/Paranoid Android

Recently, I discussed Radiohead with fellow blogger Music Enthusiast. I still mostly know the English alternative rock band by name, which has been around since 1985. Remarkably, the group’s original line-up still is in place to this day: Thom Yorke (vocals, guitar, piano, keyboards), Jonny Greenwood (guitar, keyboards, ondes Martenot, orchestral arrangements), Ed O’Brien (guitar, effects, backing vocals), Colin Greenwood (bass) and Philip Selway (drums, percussion). Paranoid Android, credited to all members of the group, was the lead single off their third studio album OK Computer from May 1997. Reaching no. 3 in the UK on the Official Singles Chart, the tune became the band’s highest-charting single to date. According to Wikipedia, the song has been compared to The Beatles’ Happiness Is a Warm Gun and Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody – not sure that’s obvious to me, but it’s definitely a good tune!

Marmalade/Reflections of My Life

Next, let’s turn to one of my favorite songs from 1969: Reflections of My Life by Marmalade. The Scottish pop-rock band originally was formed in 1961 in Glasgow as The Gaylords. In 1966, they changed their name to The Marmalade, later shortened to Marmalade. The band enjoyed their greatest chart success between 1968 and 1972 when 10 of their tunes made the UK’s Official Singles Chart. One of the most successful tunes among them was Reflections of My Life, a no. 3 in the UK, and a no. 10 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was co-written by lead guitarist Junior Campbell and vocalist Dean Ford, two of the group’s founding members. It appeared on their 1970 studio album Reflections of the Marmalade. A version of Marmalade continues to be active, though none of their members are co-founders. Reflections of My Life relies on a repetitive chord progression, but it’s beautifully done. I just love it!

The Sonics/Psycho

For this last tune let’s accelerate with some great ’60s garage rock: Psycho by The Sonics. The American group was formed in Tacoma, Wa. in 1960. The initial line-up featured Larry Parypa (lead guitar), his brother Jerry Parypa (saxophone), Stuart Turner (guitar) and Mitch Jaber (drums). Larry’s and Jerry’s parents loved music and supported the band. In fact, their mother even filled in occasionally on bass during rehearsals. In 1961, Tony Mabin joined as the band’s permanent bassist. By the time their debut album !!!Here Are The Sonics!!! came out, only the Parypa brothers were left as original members, with Larry having switched to bass. Gerry Roslie (lead vocals, organ, piano), Rob Lind (saxophone, harmonica, vocals) and Bob Bennett (drums) completed the line-up. Lind remains a member of the group’s current touring line-up. Psycho, written by Roslie, is from The Sonics’ first record. It’s a great, hard-charging, raw tune. They have often been called “the first punk band” and were a significant influence for American punk groups like The Stooges, MC5 and The Flesh Eaters. The White Stripes have named The Sonics as one of the bands that influenced them the most, “harder than the Kinks, and punk long before punk.”

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Five Picks From a Pretty Good Playlist

I don’t mean to make any advertising for Apple Music. Other music streaming platforms are probably just as good and some may even be better. It just so happens that 20 years ago, I decided to get iTunes and I’ve stuck with Apple ever since. Nowadays, I mostly use their streaming service Apple Music. Once you’re entrenched in one platform, switching becomes hard, so you’re kind of stuck with it.

In the early years of Apple Music, which I started using pretty much when it was introduced in 2015, I made fun of how they categorized music and what kind of listening suggestions they served up. Over time their algorithms have gotten much better. Nowadays, Apple Music pretty much knows what makes me tick. In a way that’s a bit scary.

Similar to Facebook, the presentation of new content based on previous choices can also work to your advantage. A good illustration is the latest “Favorites Mix” Apple Music generated, based on my listening habits. I pretty much dig each tune on here. Following are five of the 25 tracks. I deliberately picked songs I haven’t featured in a while or at all on the blog.

John Mellencamp/Grandview (feat. Martina McBride)

John Mellencamp has been among my favorite artists since the mid-’80s. While I still dig the straight heartland rock from his earlier years, I mostly prefer the roots-oriented music he plays nowadays. Grandview is a great tune from Mellencamp’s 23rd studio album Sad Clowns & Hillbillies that came out in April 2017. Much of that album includes contributions from country artist Carlene Carter. Grandview, co-written by Mellencamp and Bobby Clark, is an exception, featuring another country artist: Martina McBride. Love that tune!

Bonnie Raitt/Sugar Mama

My dear longtime music friend from Germany initially introduced me to Bonnie Raitt in the late ’80s. If you’re a more frequent visitor of the blog you likely know how much I dig that lady. For the most part, Raitt relies on other writers. Her picks tend to be excellent. Here’s Sugar Mama, co-written by Delbert McClinton and Glen Clark, and first released as Sugar Daddy on McClinton’s 1972 debut album Delbert & Glen. Raitt’s funky rendition of the tune was included on her fifth studio album Home Plate, which appeared in 1975.

Jackson Browne/Our Lady of the Well

My introduction to Jackson Browne was the iconic Running On Empty album from December 1977. I believe my brother-in-law had it on vinyl. My guess is I heard it first in the early ’80s – can’t quite remember! I’ve listened to Browne on and off ever since. Our Lady of the Well, written by him, is from his sophomore album For Everyman that came out in October 1973. Browne’s just a great songwriter!

David Bowie/It Ain’t Easy

If I could only pick one David Bowie record, I’d go with The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, his fifth studio album released in June 1972. I’ve always loved Bowie’s glam rock period. On Ziggy Stardust, he wrote all except one tune: It Ain’t Easy. That song was penned by American songwriter Ron Davies who first recorded it for his 1970 debut album Silent Song Through The Land. It proved to be a popular cover song. In addition to Bowie, Three Dog Night, Long John Baldry, Dave Edmunds and Shelby Lynne are among the other artists who covered it. I guess the explanation is simple: It’s a great tune!

Genesis/Land of Confusion

Let me preface this final pick by saying I used to like Land of Confusion by Genesis much more when it came out back in 1986 than I do nowadays. Like many other ’80s tunes, to me, it doesn’t hold up that well. Still, I can’t deny a certain weak spot for the ’80s, the decade during which I grew up. Land of Confusion, credited to all three core members of Genesis at the time – Tony Banks, Phil Collins and Mike Rutherford – appeared on the group’s 13th studio album Invisible Touch from June 1986. It also became one of five singles. Perhaps the most memorable aspect of the tune is its remarkable video featuring caricature puppets of political leaders like Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Leonid Brezhnev and Helmut Kohl. The video, which got heavy play on MTV, won a Grammy for Best Concept Music Video in 1987. It was also nominated for Video of the Year at the MTV Video Awards that same year but lost to Sledgehammer by former Genesis lead vocalist Peter Gabriel.

Below is a link to the entire playlist. While I supposedly copied the embed code, it doesn’t embed. Oh, well, not sure whether this has anything to do with my computer or my computer skills, which is entirely possible, or whether it’s, dare I say, a bug in Apple Music. I’ve seen fellow bloggers successfully embed Spotify playlists. Perhaps I should have chosen that platform instead – dang it!

https://embed.music.apple.com/us/playlist/favorites-mix/pl.pm-20e9f373919da0805cb3b48850c61e6a

Sources: Wikipedia; Discogs; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Steely Dan/Black Friday

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The idea for this post came to me spontaneously earlier this morning when I cheerfully deleted the latest batch of unsolicited advertising emails about Black Friday. Above is a small sample. While I generally don’t mind sales and getting a good deal, I just find the frenzy around Black Friday completely insane. I’m sure if I would search the Internet long enough, I’d find local news reports about folks beating up each other in stores. I certainly recall reading about such incidents in years past.

This brings me to Messrs. Walter Becker and Donald Fagen and the opener of Steely Dan’s fourth studio album Katy Lied that appeared in March 1975. Black Friday was also released separately as the record’s lead single in April of the same year. The tune reached no. 57 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 mainstream chart, a modest showing, but I doubt Becker and Fagen lost much sleep over it!

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Here’s some background on the tune from Songfacts: Long before the term came to denote the shopping frenzy on the day after Thanksgiving, Steely Dan released this song about the original “Black Friday,” when on Friday, September 24, 1869 a failed ploy left many wealthy investors broke. The investors tried to corner the market on gold, buying as much of it as they could and driving up the price, but when the government found out, it released $4 million worth of gold into the market, driving down the price and clobbering the investors.

As for how it became a retail reference, sometime in the ’60s, the term was bandied about to indicate the key day in the holiday shopping season when the stores would be “in the black,” meaning making money (black ink indicates profit, red ink indicates loss).

…Steely Dan used various guitarists on the Katy Lied album, including Rick Derringer, Hugh McCracken and Larry Carlton. On this track, however, Walter Becker played the solo. He did it using the Fender Telecaster belonging to another guitarist who played on the album, Denny Dias. Becker used it because he liked how Dias had it set up. Once again goes to show what a kickass guitarist Becker was!

And then, there’re shocking news headlines like the following:

Black Friday sales kick off the holiday shopping season, but expect to pay more this year
Black Friday Shopping Is Back, but the Doorbusters Aren’t
Experts say not to expect too much from Black Friday deals
Avoid these 3 holiday scams on Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Sorry, I just couldn’t resist. Again, there’s nothing wrong per se to look for a good deal. But Black Friday just isn’t my thing and never has been – can you tell? If you’re out there hitting the stores, please be safe. Or shop over the Internet. Or even better, watch the Disney+ Peter Jackson docuseries The Beatles: Get Back. You can get a 1-month trial to the Micky Mouse channel. It’s a great deal! 🙂

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

The Hump Day Picker-Upper

Cheering you up for a dreadful Wednesday, one song at a time

For those of us taking care of business during the regular workweek, I guess it’s safe to assume we’ve all felt that dreadful Wednesday blues. Sometimes, that middle point of the workweek can be a true drag. But help is on the way!

Today, the music doctor’s prescription is Soak Up the Sun by Sheryl Crow, one of my favorite long-time female artists. Every time I hear the catchy pop-rock song, it chases any clouds away that may bother me. I also love the line, It’s not having what you want, it’s wanting what you’ve got. So here you go, take it all in and lighten up!

Soak Up the Sun, co-written by Crow and her longtime collaborator Jeff Trott, was first released in February 2002 as the lead single for her fourth studio C’mon, C’mon, which appeared in April that year.

According to Wikipedia, the tune was written after Crow and Trott discussed the weather during a flight from Portland, Ore. to New York City. At the time, Crow was also recovering from surgery, inspiring the two of them to write a happy song that would cheer her up.

Soak Up the Sun became Crow’s first no. 1 on Billboard’s Adult Top 40 Airplay; it reached no. 17 on the Hot 100 mainstream chart. Outside the U.S., the song topped the charts in Japan, reached no. 16 in the UK, and climbed to no. 24 in Canada.

Happy Hump Day, and always remember the words of the wise George Harrison: All things must pass!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube