Song Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

Happy Hump Day and welcome to another installment of Song Musings where I take a closer look at tunes I’ve only mentioned in passing or not covered at all to date. My pick for this week is Kodachrome, a great song by Paul Simon I was reminded of the other day when putting together a post about notable albums turning 50 this year.

One of these records is There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, his third solo album released on May 5, 1973. Not only is Kodachrome the opener of the album, but it also became its first single on May 19 that year. I’ve always loved the tune’s upbeat melody. Additionally, When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school is among the best memorable opening lines of a pop song I can think of.

Kodachrome became Simon’s highest-charting solo single at the time, peaking at no. 2 on both the U.S. and Canadian pop charts. Elsewhere, it climbed to no. 8 in France, no. 15 in The Netherlands and no. 40 in Australia. It was one of three charting singles off the album that altogether spawned six singles.

The tune also helped fuel the success of the album, which topped the charts in Sweden and climbed to no. 2, no. 3, no. 4 and no. 5 in the U.S., Canada, the UK and France, respectively. It also charted in Norway (no. 6), Australia (no. 7) and Finland (no. 17) – yes, I had to count them all! Here’s a nice live version from Simon’s 2012 gig at the Hard Rock Calling Festival in London’s Hyde Park.

Simon, who last October turned 81, officially is retired from touring. He played his final regular concert in Flushing Meadows Corona Park, Queens, New York, on September 22, 2018. But apparently, Simon is not done with music. Last August, Spin reported he is working on a new album provisionally titled The Seven Psalms. It would be Simon’s first with new material since June 2016 when he released Stranger to Stranger.

Following are some additional insights about Kodachrome from Songfacts:

Kodachrome is a registered trademark of the Kodak company. It is a method of color transparency, but more commonly known as a type of color film the company started marketing in 1935. Paul Simon was working on a song with the title “Coming Home” when the word “Kodachrome” came to him. He had no idea what it meant, but knew it would make for a much more interesting song than “Coming Home.” The song became an appreciation of the things that color our world, and a look at how our memories are framed to fit our worldviews.

This was not a hit in England, partly because UK radio stations rarely played it. The BBC had very strict rules about commercial endorsements, and they would not allow stations to play songs that seemed to push products. It’s the same reason The Kinks had to re-record part of “Lola.” The lyrics were, “We drink champagne and it tastes just like Coca-Cola,” But Ray Davies had to redo them as “…Just like cherry cola” so the song could get airplay in Great Britain.

Paul Simon recorded this at Muscle Shoals Sound Studios in Alabama with the famous Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. He sought out the musicians when he found out they played on “I’ll Take You There” by the Staple Singers, and was surprised to learn that they were not Jamaican musicians, but four white guys from the South. Simon went to Muscle Shoals to record just one song: “Take Me To The Mardi Gras,” but when they finished that one much sooner than he expected, he also recorded “Kodachrome” and “Loves Me Like A Rock.” Simon was the first big rock artist to record at the studios – Bob Seger and The Rolling Stones were some of the others who recorded there in the ’70s.

David Hood, the bass player in the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, told us this story: “When Paul Simon walked into our studio, he thought, God, what a funky place. Because it was. He was used to working at A&R and Columbia Studios in New York, and studios in England and different places. And when he came and saw our little place, he probably thought, man, this is a rat trap.

It just so happened that the roof leaked in our studio right over the recording console, and as a short term fix, we taped sanitary pads across the ceiling just to absorb the water so it wouldn’t drop down on the recording console. So we had Paul Simon, who’s got hit record after hit record walking in and seeing this place with Kotex on the ceiling. He must have thought, what in the world have I gotten myself into? But we cut this track for him in two takes, and I think he thought, wow, well these guys know what they’re doing. It doesn’t really matter.”

In the song, Kodak film gets the title, but Simon uses a Nikon camera. That’s because it scans well in the line “I got a Nikon camera” – try inserting Kodak or Canon in there and it won’t sound right.

Simon sometimes sings the line “Everything looks worse in black and white” as “Everything looks better in black and white.” He changes it a lot, and claims he can’t remember which way he wrote it.

On June 22, 2009, Kodak officially retired Kodachrome color film after 74 years. Photographers had turned to more recent Kodak products and digital technologies, which led to Kodachrome’s decline.

Sources: Wikipedia; Spin; Songfacts; YouTube

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Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Hard to believe it’s Saturday and another week just flew by. This also means it’s time again to take a fresh look at new music releases. All featured tunes appear on albums that were released yesterday (January 13).

Margo Price/Been to the Mountain

Kicking off this new music revue is Nashville-based country singer-songwriter Margo Price. While growing up in the small town of Aledo, Ill., Price picked up the piano and sang in the church choir. She later started studying dance and theater at Northern Illinois University but decided to drop out at the age of 20 and moved to Nashville. While doing various odd jobs there, Price began developing a music career. After meeting her future husband, bassist Jeremy Ivy, they formed the group Buffalo Clover and subsequently Margo and the Pricetags. In March 2016, Price released her debut studio album Midwest Farmer’s Daughter. It was very well-received by music critics, topped the UK country charts and climbed to no. 10 on the U.S. country charts. Been to the Mountain is the opener of Price’s fourth and latest studio album Strays. Written by Price, the tune first appeared as the lead single in August 2022. I dig her rock-oriented sound, not what you may typically associate with country music!

Blessing Offor/Won’t Be Long Now

Blessing Offor is a Nigerian-born singer-songwriter who blends pop, R&B, gospel and soul. From his AllMusic bio: The youngest of six siblings, Offor was born with congenital glaucoma, which caused blindness in one eye. Sent by his parents to the United States with his uncle to receive medical care, he later lost sight in his other eye after injuring his retina in an accident involving a powerful water gun. He spent his formative years in Connecticut listening to Motown, jazz, and pop and began playing piano at the age of nine. As a teenager, Offor started writing his own songs, and he honed those skills further at Belmont University in Nashville. While Music City afforded him plenty of opportunities, his soulful pop style was an outlier, so he relocated to New York City. In 2014 he appeared on season seven of The Voice…He moved back to Nashville the following year with plenty of wind in his sails…In February 2022, Offor released his debut EP Brighter Days. Now he’s out with his first full-length album My Tribe. Here’s the soulful Won’t Be Long Now, co-written by Offor, Hank Bentley and Jessie Parker-Early. This beautiful tune first appeared on December 9.

Belle and Sebastian/So in the Moment

Scottish indie pop group Belle and Sebastian started out as a project in Glasgow in 1994 by Stuart Murdoch (vocals, guitar, keyboards) and Stuart David (bass). They had both enrolled in a program for unemployed musicians at Stow College where together with their music professor they recorded some demos. This resulted in the release of their first full-length album Tigermilk on the college’s label Electric Honey. The album’s positive reception led Murdoch and David to recruit additional musicians and turn Belle and Sebastian into a full-time band. In August 1996, they signed with Jeepster Records and released their sophomore album If You’re Feeling Sinister in November of the same year. Today, the group consists of Murdoch, Stevie Jackson (guitar, vocals, piano), Sarah Martin (vocals, violin, guitar, flute, keyboards, recorder, percussion), Chris Geddes (keyboards, piano, percussion), Bobby Kildea (guitar, bass), Dave McGowan (bass, keyboards, guitar) and Richard Colburn (drums, percussion). So in the Moment, credited to all members of the group, is a track from their twelfth and new album Late Developers – a pleasant pop song!

Myron Elkins/Factories, Farms & Amphetamines

My final pick for this week is Myron Elkins, a compelling 21-year-old singer-songwriter from Otsego, Mich., whose music combines elements of classic rock, country and blues. According to his web bio, Elkins started working as a welder at the age of 17 after high school graduation and never intended to become a professional musician. His trajectory changed when a relative signed him up for a local battle of the bands competition. Even though Elkins had very limited live experience and put together a group only three weeks prior to the event, they came in second. More importantly, it made him realize music is what he wanted to do. Fast-forward four years to Elkins’ debut album Factories, Farms & Amphetamines. It was produced by Dave Cobb who has worked with the likes of Chris Stapleton, Brandi Carlile, John Prine, Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell, The Highwomen and Rival Sons. Let’s check out the impressive title track. Unless you knew, you’d never guess you’re listening to a 21-year-old artist. He sounds like an “old soul” you could picture in the ’70s!

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify list of the above and a few additional tunes by each featured artist.

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; Myron Elkins website; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Happy Saturday and welcome to the first 2023 installment of Best of What’s New, a weekly feature looking at newly released music. For first-time visitors, my picks typically fall outside the current mainstream pop charts, where I tend to find much more music that speaks to me. All featured tunes in this post are on albums that appeared yesterday (January 6), except for the last track.

Brandon Ratcliff/Tale of Two Towns

Kicking off things is Brandon Ratcliff, a young singer-songwriter who combines country, pop and R&B. From his website: From the day he was born, and even before, he was on stages, on tour buses, and in writing rooms across America, watching his family sing the music they love as the celebrated Bluegrass band, The Cox Family. Born in Cotton Valley, LA (population 962), Brandon saw first-hand how universal the stories born in small towns are. The son of Suzanne Cox, one third of the family band, Brandon watched as his mother and her siblings won Grammy Awards telling those stories to the world…After deciding to leave Cotton Valley for Nashville, Brandon’s talents quickly attracted the music business machine in town. He was offered a publishing deal at the age of 20 but decided to turn it down to develop his sound...In 2018 Brandon was signed to Monument Records, and in 2019 burst onto the scene with his debut single, “Rules Of Breaking Up,” accumulating more than 50 million streams. This brings me to Tales of Two Towns, the title track of Ratcliff’s ambitious debut double album. He wrote the tune together with Josh Jenkins and Peter Good. I like it!

Allen Epley/Thousand Yard Stare

Allen Epley was born in Louisville, Ky. and grew up in a musical family. After playing in a college band, he co-founded Orchid in 1992, which soon became Shiner, a post-hardcore/alternative rock band. After four studio albums and their split, Epley formed indie rock band The Life and Times in 2002, who remain active to this day. Since 2012, Shiner have played reunion shows and in 2020 released another album. Apart from Epley’s continued engagements with both groups, he frequently collaborates with other bands. And he also managed to record his solo debut album Everything. Let’s check out the great-sounding Thousand Yard Stare.

Anti-Flag/Nvrevr

Anti-Flag are a punk rock band from Pittsburgh, Pa., who have been around since 1988. Their current line-up includes co-founding members Justin Sane (vocals, guitar) and Pat Thetic (drums), along with Chris Head (guitar) and Chris No. 2 (vocals, bass). Anti-Flag who are known for their extensive political activism, released their debut album Die For the Government in August 1996. Since then, 12 additional albums have come out including their latest Lies They Tell Our Children. According to AllMusic, Anti-Flag have gained a “reputation for recapturing the old-school ethics of punk: fast, loud, obnoxious, and anti-everything that ends with an “ism.”” Frankly, “fast” and “loud” don’t sound like particularly attractive musical attributes to me, but when combined with a good melody can still work. Here’s Nvrever featuring Stacey Dee, guitarist and vocalist of pop punk group Bad Cop/Bad Cop. Credited to all members of Anti-Flag, the rocker first appeared as a single last November.

Iggy Pop/Strung Out Johnny

Frankly, Iggy Pop wasn’t exactly on my radar screen, so I was surprised to see a new album by the now 75-year-old “Godfather of Punk.” That said, I know his name much better than his music. Pop, born James Newell Osterberg Jr., started his music career as a drummer in various high school bands in Ann Arbor, Mich. in the mid-’60s. In 1967, he formed the Psychedelic Stooges who became The Stooges the following year. After three albums and a short break-up in between, they split a second time in 1974. Three years later, Pop began a volatile yet ultimately successful solo career, which has yielded 19 studio albums to date. Between 2003 and 2019, Pop played with different versions of The Stooges who released two additional albums during that period. Pop’s new solo album, titled Every Loser, features guest appearances from Duff McKagan (ex Guns N’ Roses bassist), Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer), Dave Navarro (Jane’s Addiction guitarist) and the late Taylor Hawkins (former Foo Fighters drummer), among others. Here’s Strung Out Johnny, co-written by Andrew Watt, Chad Smith, Pop and Josh Klinghoffer – cool rocker!

The Hold Steady/Sideways Skull

My final pick for this week is Sideways Skull, the great new single by New York indie rock band The Hold Steady. Formed in 2003, their current lineup includes co-founders Craig Finn (lead vocals, guitar), Tad Kubler (lead guitar, backing vocals) and Galen Polivka (bass), along with Steve Selvidge (rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Franz Nicolay (piano, keyboards, accordion, harmonica, backing vocals) and Bobby Drake (drums, percussion). Wikipedia notes the band is known for their “lyrically dense storytelling”, “classic rock influences” and “narrative-based songs [that] frequently address themes, such as drug addiction, religion and redemption, and often feature recurring characters within the city of Minneapolis.” Since their 2004 debut Almost Killed Me, The Hold Steady have released seven additional studio albums. Their new single, co-written by Finn, Nicolay and Kubler, is from their upcoming ninth studio album The Price of Progress, scheduled for March 31.

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify list of the above and a few additional tunes by the featured artists.

Sources: Wikipedia; Brandon Ratcliff website; Allen Epley website; AllMusic; YouTube; Spotify

Song Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

Welcome to the first 2023 installment of Song Musings and I hope you’re off to a great start into the new year. In this weekly feature, I’m taking a closer look at tunes I’ve only mentioned in passing or not covered at all to date. My pick for today is It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me by Billy Joel.

Penned by Joel, the song first appeared on his seventh studio album Glass Houses released in March 1980. It also became the album’s third single in May 1980 and Joel’s first no. 1 hit in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. It stayed in that position for two weeks, spent 11 weeks in the top 10 altogether, and was the seventh biggest hit of 1980.

It’s Still Rock and Roll to me also topped the charts in Canada. Elsewhere, it climbed to no. 10 in Australia, no. 11 in Ireland, no. 14 in the UK and no. 21 in New Zealand. The tune is one of Joel’s biggest hits. He only had two other no. 1 songs in the U.S.: Tell Her About It (1983) and We Didn’t Start the Fire (1989).

The lyrics convey Joel’s criticism of the music business and press. It comments on new musical styles and trends, especially new wave, which in Joel’s opinion was a rehash of older musical styles rather than something truly new. Here’s a live version from a show on Long Island, which looks like it was captured at the time the tune came out.

Following are some additional insights from Songfacts:

Around this time [early 1980 – CMM], Joel was often abased in the music press as a provider of middle-of-the-road dreck. Popular artists are often targets for journalist derision, but while most of these artists choose to ignore it, Joel responded in this song. The lines, “It doesn’t matter what they say in the papers, ’cause it’s always been the same old scene” and “There’s a new band in town, but you can’t get the sound from a story in a magazine,” were specifically written to attack the press that was bringing him down. While you can real all you want about a singer or band, the only way you’ll really know what they sound like is by listening.

“Sometimes the press gave me a hard time, and liked giving them a hard time back,” Joel told Howard Stern in 2014. “In my neighborhood, somebody hits you, you hit them right back.” [I wonder whether such criticism may have played a role in his decision to stop releasing new pop music after his 1993 album River of Dreams. Evidently, it hasn’t done much harm to the popularity of Joel who continues to do very well on the concert circuit – CMM]…

…”Miracle Mile,” as mentioned in the line “Should I get a set of white wall tires? Are you gonna cruise a miracle mile?” is a stretch of road (about a mile long) full of various stores in Manhasset, Long Island near where Joel grew up.

After he wrote this song, Joel says he realized that the chords were the same ones Bob Dylan used on “Lay Lady Lay.” [Frankly, I don’t hear it but trust Joel as a professional musician is right about it – CMM].

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

A First Glance at Albums Hitting the Big 50 This Year

With a new year upon us, I thought this would be a good opportunity to preview albums that are turning 50 in 2023. Taking a closer look quickly confirmed my expectation that 1973 was yet another great year in music. Based on Wikipedia, I came up with an initial list of 40 records released that year. I’m going to touch on six of them. A Spotify playlist at the end features songs from those albums, as well as one tune from each of the remaining 34 records.

Pink FloydThe Dark Side of the Moon (March 1, 1973)

Pink Floyd’s eighth studio album The Dark Side of the Moon remains among my favorites by the English rock band. Released in March 1973, it was primarily developed during live performances and premiered before the recording sessions began. In fact, as reported by Variety and other music outlets, last month, Pink Floyd quietly released 18 of these concerts on streaming services before the recordings hit 50 years and would have lost copyright protection. The Dark Side of the Moon, a concept album around themes like conflict, greed, time, death and mental illness, is Floyd’s best-selling record and one of the most critically acclaimed albums in music history. Here is Time, with lyrics by Roger Waters (bass, vocals) and the music credited to all members of the band, who also included David Gilmour (guitar, vocals), Richard Wright (keyboards, vocals) and Nick Mason (drums, percussion).

Steely DanCountdown to Ecstasy (July 1973)

Steely Dan’s sophomore album Countdown to Ecstasy, released in July 1973, was recorded when they were still a standing band. In addition to masterminds Donald Fagen (acoustic and electric pianos, synthesizer, lead and backing vocals) and Walter Becker (electric bass, harmonica, backing vocals), the line-up featured Denny Dias (electric guitar), Jeff “Skunk” Baxter (electric and pedal steel guitars) and Jim Hodder (drums, percussion, backing vocals). Countdown to Ecstasy followed the departure of David Palmer and was the group’s first album where Fagen sang lead on every song. After their third record Pretzel Logic, Fagen and Becker turned Steely Dan largely into a studio project, relying on top-notch session musicians. One of my favorite tracks on Countdown to Ecstasy is My Old School, which like all other tunes was co-written by Becker and Fagen. Baxter’s guitar work shines and is among his best.

Stevie WonderInnervisions (August 3, 1973)

Innervisions, Stevie Wonder’s 16th studio album released in August 1973, is part of his so-called classic period, which spans six records, bookended by Music of My Mind (March 1972) and Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through “The Secret Life of Plants” (October 1979). Following his 21st birthday on May 13, 1971, Wonder allowed his contract with Motown to expire. He returned to the Detroit label with Music of My Mind and a much more lucrative contract that also freed him from the artistic straitjacket of the past. Wonder’s lyrics changed and started to explore social and political topics in addition to standard romantic themes. Musically, he began exploring overdubbing and recording most of the instrumental parts himself. Innervisions and the excellent Living for the City perfectly illustrate these changes.

Lynyrd Skynyrd(Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd) (August 13, 1973)

August 1973 also saw the release of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s first album (Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd). And what a debut it was, featuring classics like Gimme Three Steps, Simple Man, Tuesday’s Gone and the epic Free Bird. You wouldn’t necessarily guess it, based on the album’s relatively moderate chart performance when it came out. In the U.S., it reached no. 27 on the Billboard 200. Elsewhere, it climbed to no. 20 in Switzerland, no. 44 in the UK and no. 47 in Canada. But over time, the picture looks better. As of July 1987, it was certified 2X Platinum in the U.S. The album also made Rolling Stone’s list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time and was ranked at no. 381 in the most recent revision from 2020. Here’s the aforementioned Free Bird, co-written by the group’s original lead vocalist Ronnie Van Zant and guitarist Allen Collins.

Elton JohnGoodbye Yellow Brick Road (October 5, 1973)

Elton John truly ruled during the first part of the ’70s. With Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, a double LP and his seventh studio album, he scored his third of six consecutive chart-toppers in the U.S. on the Billboard 200. The album also topped the charts in the UK, Canada and Australia. It spawned four singles, which charted in different countries. In the U.S., Bennie and the Jets became John’s second no. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, while the title track topped the charts in Canada and New Zealand. I decided to highlight the magnificent opening medley of Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding. As usual, John wrote the music to lyrics by his longtime collaborator Bernie Taupin. What an opus!

Paul McCartney and WingsBand on the Run (December 5, 1973)

The final album I’d like to call out here is what I consider the Mount Rushmore of Paul McCartney’s post-Beatles period: Band on the Run, his fifth after the break-up of The Fab Four and the third with Wings. By the time recording in Lagos, Nigeria began, drummer Denny Seiwell and guitarist Henry McCullough had departed. This left Wings as a trio, which in addition to McCartney included his wife Linda McCartney and Denny Laine. As such, Paul ended up playing bass, drums, percussion and most of the lead guitar parts, with Laine providing guitars and Linda keyboards. Both also sang backing and harmony vocals. After recording the majority of the album’s basic tracks and some overdubbing in Lagos under difficult conditions, Wings returned to England and finished the album in George Martin’s AIR Studios in London. After initial modest sales, Band on the Run became the top-selling studio album of 1974 in the UK. More importantly, it revitalized the critical standing of Paul McCartney whose earlier post-Beatles records had received a mixed reception. Band on the Run’s opener and title track, credited to Paul and Linda, is a longtime favorite of mine.

I’m planning dedicated posts on each of the above albums and possibly others released in 1973, timed to their respective 50th anniversaries. Last but not least, here’s the above-noted Spotify playlist.

Sources: Wikipedia; Variety; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Happy New Year and welcome to the first 2023 installment of The Sunday Six! This also marks the 100th time that I’d like to invite you to join me on a time-travel journey into the beautiful world of music. As usual, the zig-zag trip includes six tunes in different flavors from different decades. Hop on, fasten your seatbelts and off we go!

Lee Morgan/The Sidewinder

The March 7, 2021 installment, the eighth of this weekly recurring feature, was the first to open with a jazz tune. I’ve since continued to start these mini-music excursions with an instrumental, typically a jazz track, and intend to continue the tradition, at least for now. Today, my pick is Lee Morgan, an American jazz trumpeter and composer. He started to record as an 18-year-old in 1956 with his solo debut Lee Morgan Indeed! After playing in Dizzy Gillespie’s Big Band from 1956 until 1958, he joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and between 1957 and 1966 was featured on numerous of their albums. Morgan’s prolific recording career came to an abrupt end in February 1972 at the age of 33, when his common-law wife Helen Moore shot him during an altercation at a jazz club in New York City where Morgan was performing with his band. Morgan is regarded as one of the key hard bop players of the 1960s. The Sidewinder, a Morgan composition, is the title track of a July 1964 album released under his name. He was backed by Joe Henderson (tenor saxophone), Barry Harris (piano), Bob Cranshaw (double bass) and Billy Higgins (drums). The Sidewinder became Morgan’s best-known track and even made the U.S. pop mainstream charts.

Natalie Imbruglia/Torn

For this next stop on our little trip, we jump to November 1997 and the solo music debut by Natalie Imbruglia. The singer from down under started her professional career as an actress in the early 1990s on Australian soap opera Neighbours. Left of the Middle, Imbruglia’s first of seven albums she released to date, became a huge international success, topping the charts in Australia and placing in the top 5 in The Netherlands (no. 2), Switzerland (no. 3), Germany and Italy (no. 4 each), as well as the UK (no. 5). In the U.S., it reached no. 10 on the Billboard 200. Left of the Middle also became her most commercially successful album with more than 7 million copies sold to date. The impressive performance was fueled by lead single Torn, a tune co-written by Scott Cutler, Anne Preven and co-producer Phil Thornalley. Originally, the song had been recorded in 1996 by American-Norwegian singer Trine Rein. While Rein’s version reached no. 10 on the charts in Norway, it was Imbruglia’s rendition that became a major internal hit. Imbruglia, now 47, remains active, both as a music artist and an actress. Even though Torn has a pretty commercial sound, I’ve always liked the tune.

Squeeze/Black Coffee in Bed

The time has come to pay a quick visit to the ’80s with a nice track by English pop rock and power pop band Squeeze. The group was initially formed in March 1974 by Chris Difford (guitar, vocals, lyrics) and Glenn Tilbrook (vocals, guitar, music). Jools Holland (keyboards, backing and occasional lead vocals), Harri Kakoulli (bass) and Paul Gunn (drums) rounded out the initial line-up. After five albums, Difford and Tilbrook decided to break up the band in 1982 and released an eponymous album as a duo the following year. In 1985 Squeeze reformed. The band’s second incarnation lasted until 1999 and saw seven additional albums. In late 1999, they broke up again. Their third incarnation started in 2007 and remains active to this day, with Difford and Tilbrook remaining as the only original members. Black Coffee in Bed, penned by Difford and Tilbrook, appeared in April 1992 as the lead single from Squeeze’s fifth album Sweets from a Stranger, released in September of the same year. It enjoyed moderate success in the UK where it reached no. 51 on the Official Singles Chart. In the U.S., the tune peaked at no. 26 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart.

The Clash/London Calling

One of the few punk bands I liked from the get-go were The Clash. During their 10-year career from 1976 until 1986, the British group released six studio albums. The third, London Calling, was their most successful one. The critically acclaimed record from December 1979, which has sold over five million copies worldwide and was certified platinum in the US for sales of one million, blends a traditional punk rock sound with elements of reggae, rockabilly, ska, New Orleans R&B, pop, lounge jazz, and hard rock. Overall, it also became the band’s best-performing album on the charts, reaching no. 2 in Sweden, no. 4 in Norway and no. 9 in the UK, among others. In Rolling Stone’s most recent 2020 version of its list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, London Calling was ranked at no. 16, only down 8 spots from the 2003 and 2012 editions. Here’s the great title track, co-written by vocalist Joe Strummer and lead guitarist Mick Jones. London Calling also appeared separately in December 1979 as the record’s lead single.

Plain White T’s/Hey There Delilah

For this next tune let’s jump to the current century. Like I suspect is the case for the majority of folks, I only know Plain White T’s because of their one no. 1 hit Hey There Delilah. The rock and pop punk band was formed as a trio in early 1997 by high school friends Tom Higgenson (lead vocals, guitar, keyboards), Dave Tirio (guitar, drums percussion), and Ken Fletcher (bass), and rounded out by Steve Mast (lead guitar, backing vocals) shortly thereafter. In 2000, they recorded their debut Come On Over. Hey There Delilah first appeared on the group’s third studio album All That We Needed, released in January 2005. But the beautiful ballad wasn’t noticed until May 2006 when it appeared as a single. Among others, it topped the charts in the U.S., Canada and Germany, and surged to no. 2 in the UK, Ireland and Belgium. Until that single, Plain White T’s essentially had been an underground act in Chicago. Hey There Delilah was also included as a bonus track on the group’s fourth studio album Every Second Counts, which came out in September 2006. It’s safe to assume the tune helped fuel the success of that record, which became their best-selling album to date and charted in multiple countries, including Ireland (no. 2), UK (no. 3) and the U.S. (no. 10), among others. Plain White T’s are still around. Their eighth and most recent studio album Parallel Universe came out in August 2018.

The Box Tops/Cry Like a Baby

Once again we’ve reached the final stop of another music trip. My pick is Cry Like a Baby, the title track of a studio album by American blue-eyed soul and rock band The Box Tops, released in April 1968. In February that same year, the tune had appeared as the record’s lead single. Overall, it became their second-biggest hit after The Letter, reaching no. 2 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, no. 3 in Canada, no. 15 in the UK and no. 46 in Australia. Formed as The Devilles in Memphis, Tenn. in 1967, the band soon thereafter changed their name to The Box Tops in 1967. Cry Like a Baby was the last album featuring the original line-up of Alex Chilton (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Gary Talley (lead guitar, backing vocals), John Evans (keyboards, backing vocals), Bill Cunningham (bass, backing vocals) and Danny Smythe (drums, backing vocals). In 1971 after the first break-up of The Box Tops, Chilton became a co-founder of American rock and power pop band Big Star. In 1996, Cunningham organized the first reunion of The Box Tops, which lasted until 2010. Following the death of Chilton from a heart attack in March 2010, the group split again. In mid-2015, Cunningham and Talley reformed The Box Tops who have remained active since then.

Of course, The Sunday Six wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify playlist. Hope there’s something for you here!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to the final 2022 installment of The Sunday Six! I can’t believe I’m writing this. But, yep, not only is this year quickly coming to an end, but this blog will also be on a short holiday hiatus. I’m going back to Germany next week to spend Christmas with my parents and planning to resume posting shortly after my return close to the new year.

Michael Brecker/I Can See Your Dreams

Always curious to learn about new jazz saxophone players, I asked my friend Phil Armeno the other day. Phil plays saxophone in Good Stuff, a great band celebrating the music of Steely Dan, Sting, Stevie Wonder and Gino Vannelli (I previously covered them here.) The first sax player Phil mentioned was Michael Brecker. The name sounded vaguely familiar and no wonder – Brecker, who was active from 1969 until his untimely death in 2007 at the age of 57, collaborated with many music artists outside the pure jazz realm, including Steely Dan, Dire Straits, Joni Mitchell, John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon…the list goes on and on! Brecker began studying the clarinet at age six before moving on to alto saxophone in eighth grade and finally settling on what became his main instrument, the tenor saxophone, in his sophomore year. While his recording career as a sideman started in 1969, his solo eponymous debut album didn’t appear until 1987. I Can See Your Dreams is a beautiful Brecker composition included on his seventh studio album Nearness of You: The Ballad Book released in June 2001. Check out that sweet sound!

Mink DeVille/Each Word’s a Beat of My Heart

Let’s kick up the speed a bit with a great 1983 pop tune by Mink DeVille: Each Word’s a Beat of My Heart. Formed in 1974, Mink DeVille was a band to showcase the music of frontman and versatile singer-songwriter Willy DeVille. While initially associated with New York’s early punk scene, the group’s roots were in R&B, blues and even Cajun music. Between 1977 and 1985, they put out six albums. After their breakup, DeVille continued to release a series of solo albums as Willy DeVille until February 2008. In early 2009, he was diagnosed with Hepatitis C, followed by a pancreatic cancer diagnosis a few months thereafter. DeVille passed away in August of the same year, shortly prior to what would have been his 59th birthday. Each Word’s a Beat of My Heart, penned by DeVille, was included on the band’s second-to-final album Where Angels Fear to Tread. The tune also appeared separately and became their only single to chart in the U.S. (no. 89). While both the band and DeVille were more successful elsewhere, overall, their chart success was moderate.

The Beatles/Day Tripper

Time for a stopover in the ’60s and The Beatles with a great tune featuring what I feel is one of their best guitar riffs: Day Tripper. Written primarily by John Lennon and credited to him and Paul McCartney, as usual, the non-album single was released in December 1965, paired with We Can Work It Out. According to Wikipedia, the single was the first example of a double A-side in Britain where it became the band’s ninth no. 1 on the Official Singles Chart. Elsewhere, it also passed the audition, reaching the top of the charts in The Netherlands, Finland, Ireland, Norway and Sweden. In the U.S., it peaked at no. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. Songfacts notes the lyrics were Lennon’s first reference to LSD in a Beatles tune and can be viewed as him teasing Paul about not taking acid.

John Prine/Take a Look At My Heart

Our next stop is the ’90s. For the occasion, I have a perfect country rock-flavored tune I came across recently: Take a Look At My Heart by John Prine. It appears the more songs I hear from him, the more I dig his music, and the better I understand why he was held in such high esteem by many other artists and music fans. Take a Look At My Heart, co-written by Prine and John Mellencamp and featuring Bruce Springsteen on backing vocals, was included on Prine’s 10th studio album The Missing Years. Released in September 1991, it won the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album. In spite of this recognition, it didn’t make the charts – incredible! But Prine’s music cannot be measured by chart success in the first place. Of course, the same can be said about other music artists!

Rainbow/Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll

Fasten your seatbelt for this next kickass hard rock tune. We’re going back to April 1978 and the title track of Rainbow’s third studio album Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll. The British-American band was formed in 1975 as Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow after the guitarist’s departure from Deep Purple. In addition to Blackmore, the short-lived original line-up included killer vocalist Ronnie James Dio, Micky Lee Soule (keyboards), Craig Gruber (bass) and Gary Driscoll (drums). Blackmore was extremely difficult to work with and frequently fired members from the band. By the time Rainbow recorded Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll, Soule, Gruber and Driscoll were gone. Cozy Powell had already taken over on drums for Driscoll later in 1975. Unfortunately, Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll was the final Rainbow album for Dio. Starting with the successor Down to Earth, Blackmore steered the group to a more radio-friendly sound that apparently was inspired by his liking of Foreigner. I’ve always loved Long Live Rock ‘n Roll, which was co-written by Blackmore and Dio.

Mudcrutch/The Wrong Thing to Do

This brings us to the final destination of our last music time travel excursion of 2022. Prior to forming the Heartbreakers in 1976, Tom Petty had another band, Mudcrutch, he co-founded in 1970 with Tom Leadon in Gainesville, Fla. With Petty on bass and vocals and Leadon on guitar and vocals, the group’s line-up also included Jim Lenehan (vocals), Mike Campbell (guitar) and Randall Marsh (drums). By the time they relocated to Los Angeles in 1974 to seek a deal with a major record label, Leadon and Lenehan had left and been replaced by Danny Roberts (bass, guitar, vocals) and Benmont Tench (keyboards). After signing with Leon Russell’s independent label Shelter Records, Mudcrutch released a single, Depot Street, in 1975. It went nowhere, and the group disbanded later that year. Petty went on to form the Heartbreakers, together with Campbell, Tench, Ron Blair (bass) and Stan Lynch (drums). Fast-forward 32 years to August 2007 when Petty decided to revive Mudcrutch. Apart from his Heartbreakers bandmates Campbell and Tench, the line-up featured original Mudcrutch members Leadon and Marsh. Off their first full-length eponymous studio album, released in April 2008, here’s the Petty-written The Wrong Thing to Do. The group’s second album, Mudcrutch 2 from May 2016, is the last studio material Petty recorded prior to his tragic death in October 2017.

Last but not here’s a Spotify playlist featuring the above tracks. Hope you dig it and will join me for more zigzag music journeys in 2023.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube; Spotify

Song Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

Hope your Wednesday is treating you nicely. It’s time to take a closer look at another song I’ve only mentioned in passing or not covered at all to date. The context for today’s pick is rather sad – the recent death of Christine McVie who suddenly passed away last Wednesday at the age of 79 after a short illness. The cause was not disclosed. While in Fleetwood Mac McVie oftentimes may have been overshadowed by Stevie Nicks, she wrote and sang some of the group’s most popular songs, including Everywhere, Little Lies, Don’t Stop, You Make Loving Fun and my pick for today: Songbird.

Songbird appeared on the Mac’s magnum opus Rumours, their 11th studio album released in February 1977. The beautiful tune also became the B-side to the record’s second single Dreams, which appeared in March 1977. Two of McVie’s above-noted songs, Don’t Stop and You Make Loving Fun, were A-side singles. Songbird should have been one as well, in my view.

Christine McVie (born Christine Perfect) joined Fleetwood Mac in 1970 after her departure from blues band Chicken Shack who had toured with the Mac, and the recording of her eponymous debut album Christine Perfect. By the time she became an official member of Fleetwood Mac, she had married bassist John McVie. In 1984, she released her second solo album, Christine McVie. By 1999, McVie had not only grown tired from touring but had also developed a phobia about flying, and decided to retire from music. She officially rejoined Fleetwood Mac in 2014 and was part of their last world tour that ended in Las Vegas in November 2019. Mick Fleetwood subsequently said it probably was the band’s last such tour.

In June 2022, Christine McVie released a solo compilation titled Songbird: A Solo Collection. The album features remixed versions of tunes from her above-mentioned 1984 solo album and In the Meantime, another solo record from September 2004, together with two previously unreleased tracks and the following orchestrated version of Songbird.

Last but not least, here’s a nice live version of Songbird, which became a beloved tune among Fleetwood Mac fans. It was often performed by McVie and guitarist Lindsey Buckingham as their show closer. This footage was captured in December 2014 at a gig in San Diego, Calif.

Following are some additional tidbits about Songbird from Songfacts.

Christine McVie said that this song held Fleetwood Mac together during their hard times while recording Rumours. Once the members heard this song, they thought about what they had been through and how much love they shared...

Christine McVie liked to pen her songs from another person’s point of view rather than writing about herself. She told Uncut: “If you take ‘Songbird’ as an example, that was written in about half an hour. If I could write a few more like that, I would be a happy girl. It doesn’t really relate to anybody in particular; it relates to everybody. A lot of people play it at their weddings or at bar mitzvahs or at their dog’s funeral. It’s universal. It’s about you and nobody else. It’s about you and everybody else. That’s how I like to write songs.”

Christine McVie penned the song after she woke up in the middle of the night with it in her head. She recalled to Mojo in 2015: “Stevie and I were in a condominium block and the boys were all in the Sausalito Record Plant house raving with girls and boozer and everything. I had a little transistorized electric piano next to my bed and I woke up one night at about 3:30 a.m. and started playing it. I had all, words, melody, chords in about 30 minutes. It was like a gift from the angels, but I had no way to record it. I thought I’m never gonna remember this. So I went back to bed, and couldn’t sleep. I wrote the words down quickly.

Next day, I went into the studio shaking like a leaf’ ’cause I knew it was something special. I said, ‘Ken, (Caillat, Rumours’ co-producer/engineer) put the 2-track on, I want to record this song!’ I think they were all in there, smoking opium.”

“Songbird” was recorded away from the studio at the University of California’s Zellerbach Auditorium with just McVie alone at the piano. The idea was to have it sound like she was singing alone after everyone had left a concert. It was recorded using a mobile unit.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: December 1

Time for another installment of my oldest and most infrequent recurrent feature on the blog, which looks at events that happened on a specific date throughout music history. Not sure why the series keeps falling by the wayside, given how enjoyable I find it to see what comes up. Today’s date is, well, today’s date: December 1. As always, these posts reflect my music taste and, as such, aren’t meant to be a full accounting of events on a specific date.

1957: Let’s start with one of the great early classic rock & roll stars: Buddy Holly. On this date 65 years ago, Holly and The Crickets appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show to perform their first two big hits, That’ll Be the Day and Peggy Sue, which had been released as singles in May 1957 and September 1957, respectively. The former tune was penned by Holly and Crickets drummer Jerry Allison, while the latter was a co-write by Allison and producer Norman Petty. The songs also appeared on the albums The “Chirping” Crickets (November 1957) and Buddy Holly (February 1958), respectively. Here’s Peggy Sue. Texas boys, do it! Man, I love that song!

1964: The Who performed their first of 22 Tuesday night shows at The Marquee Club in London. Each gig earned them £50 (approximately $1,065 today). Other artists and bands who played the prominent music venue in the ’60s included Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, Cream, Jethro Tull, Yes and Pink Floyd, among many others.

1969: The final edition of The Beatles Book, a fan magazine aka Beatles Monthly, was published. From The Beatles Bible: The Beatles Book had been published each month since August 1963 until this, the 77th and final issue. Published on 1 December 1969, the last edition included a leader column from editor Sean O’Mahoney, writing as Johnny Dean, in which he criticised The Beatles for encouraging drug experimentation among their fans. O’Mahoney took the decision to cease publication after it became obvious that The Beatles were unlikely to continue recording. However, it was revived in May 1976 with reissues of the original 77 editions, along with new content. The second run ended with issue 321 in January 2003. The image below shows the cover of edition no. 34 from May 1966.

1971: John Lennon released his Christmas and Vietnam war protest song Happy Xmas (War Is Over) in the U.S. Billed as John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band, the tune featured the Harlem Community Choir. It followed more than two years of peace activism Lennon and Yoko Ono had started with their bed-ins in March and May 1969. The song’s release was preceded by an international multimedia campaign that looked ahead of its time. It primarily included rented billboard space in 12 major cities around the world, displaying black & white posters declaring WAR IS OVER! If You Want It – Happy Christmas from John & Yoko. Unlike in the U.S. where the single enjoyed moderate chart success, it peaked at no. 4 in the UK on the Official Singles Chart after its release there in November 1972. Between December 1972 and February 1973, the song also entered the top 10 in Australia, Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway and Singapore.

1973: Carpenters were on top of the world and mainstream charts in the U.S., Canada and Australia with a tune appropriately titled Top of the World. Co-written by Richard Carpenter and John Bettis, the song first appeared on their fourth studio album A Song for You from June 1972. Initially, Carpenters intended the track to be an album cut only but changed their mind after country singer Lynn Anderson had released a cover that reached no. 2 on the country chart. It turned out to be a smart decision. Top of the World became the duo’s second of three no. 1 singles, following (They Long to Be) Close to You and preceding Please Mr. Postman.

Sources: Wikipedia; This Day In Music; The Beatles Bible; Songfacts Music History Calendar; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Happy Saturday! If you’re in the U.S. and celebrated Thanksgiving, I hope you had a great time. Of course, Saturday also means taking a fresh look at newly released music. Perhaps not surprisingly given the holiday, this week looked lighter, so finding four tracks that sufficiently spoke to me was more challenging than usual. The first two songs are on albums that came out yesterday (November 25), while the last two tracks appeared as singles last Friday (November 18).

Chase Ceglie/Tonight

My first pick this week is Chase Ceglie, a 26-year-old pop-oriented artist and multi-instrumentalist from Newport, Rhode Island. From his website: In his youth, Chase became involved in the RI music community. While at Rogers High School, Chase was twice awarded the Heritage Music Festival Maestro Award for distinguished individual performances. From 2007 to 2013, Chase was annually selected for Rhode Island’s All-State ensembles as a saxophonist. Performing at the Newport Jazz Festival in 2012 and 2013, Chase was awarded the 2013 George Wein Jazz Ambassador Scholarship. He is a 2017 graduate of Berklee College of Music where he received a B.M. in Professional Music with a focus in Composition and Saxophone Performance. Ceglie’s debut album Onion, which he performed, recorded and produced while still being a student at Berklee, appeared in 2016. He has since released three additional albums including the latest titled Chaseland. Let’s check out the opener Tonight, written by Ceglie who in addition to providing vocals played acoustic piano, electric guitar and Moog synthesizer. Acoustic guitar, bass, drums and percussion were provided by Jonathan Elyashiv. Quite a pleasant pop tune!

Elder/Endless Return

Nine out of 10 bands Apple Music tags as “metal” don’t speak to me, since to my ears their music is primarily loud and the vocals resemble screaming. As such, I was a bit skeptical when I saw that same tag for Elder. It turned out this group, which blends progressive rock with metal, is different. From their Apple Music profile: Elder formed in Massachusetts in 2005 behind singer and main songwriter Nick DiSalvo; bass player Jack Donovan and drummer Matt Cuoto completed their lineup. The trio released their self-titled debut on Meteor Records in 2008. Their second album, Dead Roots Stirring, followed two years later on Meteor Records and Headspin Productions, with the EP Spires Burn/Release arriving via Armageddon in 2012. Fast-forward 10 years to Innate Passage, Edler’s new album. In traditional prog-rock fashion all of the five tracks are long, ranging from eight and half to more than 14 minutes. Here’s the perhaps appropriately titled close to 10 minutes Endless Return. Joking aside, I think it’s actually a pretty good tune.

The Dirty Nil/Bye Bye Big Bear

The Dirty Nil are a Canadian rock band from Hamilton, Ontario, who I first featured in a Best of What’s New installment in early January 2021. They were formed in 2006 after their members Luke Bentham (vocals, guitar), Ross Miller (bass) and Kyle Fisher (drums) had started playing together in high school. The band’s debut single Fuckin’ Up Young in 2011 was followed by a series of additional singles and EPs before they released their first full-length studio album High Power in 2016. In 2017, The Dirty Nil, who blend hard rock with punk, won the Canadian Juno Award for Breakthrough Group of the Year. Following the release of their third studio album Fuck Art in January 2021, Sam Tomlinson replaced Miller on bass. Bye Bye Big Bear, co-written by Fisher and Bentham, is the group’s latest single. Their combination of grungy rock with a catchy melody is a bit reminiscent of Green Day.

Winterland/Set Me Free

Rounding out this week’s new music revue is Winterland, a Swedish rock solo project by Fredrik Nilsson. Here’s more from his Spotify profile: Reminiscing about 70’s yacht rock bands like Fleetwood Mac, he has discovered music as a therapeutic experience. [He] describes this experience. “I started writing for therapeutic purposes, and then there were a lot of songs all for a sudden. It has never been obvious that I should be on stage, be a front figure. I’ve just been keeping on really.” A music enthusiast from an early age, Frederik has played with several bands over the years, allowing him to develop a mature sound, which permeated his previous project, the band Waterhill. Here is Winterland’s latest single Set Me Free, a nice pop-rock tune credited to him and Björn Engelmann.

Following is a Spotify playlist of the above and some additional tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; Chase Ceglie website; Apple Music; YouTube; Spotify