Time again for a dose of music history, which has recurred irregularly since June 2016 and is my longest running feature on the blog. For any new visitors, in a nutshell, the idea is to look at events that happened on a certain date throughout rock and pop history. As always, the selections reflect my music taste and do not aim to present a full account. With that, let’s embark on some music time travel!
1958: An obscure band called The Quarrymen hit the Cavern Club in London for their first live performance. They were billed as The Quarry Men Skiffle Group. “They’d only been playing for a short while so you wouldn’t expect them to be any good…,” recalled Cavern owner Alan Sytner. “At the time, they couldn’t play to save their lives and all I can remember is their cheek and their chat.” While it hasn’t been definitively documented, The Quarrymen are believed to have performed at the Cavern Club on several other occasions. Four years later, the group would change the music world forever with a different line-up. Their name? The Beatles. Here’s In Spite of All the Danger, one of the first songs recorded by The Quarrymen. Co-written by Paul McCartney and George Harrison, the tune is thought to have been recorded sometime between May and July 1958. It was shortly after Harrison (guitar, vocals) had joined the band, which at the time apart from McCartney (vocals, guitar) also featured John Lennon (vocals, guitar), John Lowe (piano) and Colin Hunton (drums).
1958: While The Quarrymen were getting their feet wet the Cavern Club, a music phenomenon from the U.S. stood at no. 1 of the UK singles chart: Elvis Presley. Jailhouse Rock became the first-ever single to enter the chart at no. 1 and was the second no. 1 for Elvis in the UK after All Shook Up. Co-written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, Jailhouse Rock was the title track of the picture of the same name that had hit the widescreen in September 1957. It also topped the charts in the U.S. and Canada and reached the top 10 in several other countries.
1967:Pink Floyd were at Sound Techniques Studios in Chelsea, London, to work on their debut single Arnold Layne, backed by Candy and a Currant Bun. Both tracks were written by the band’s initial leader Syd Barrett. When the band performed the latter tune live in 1967, it was titled Let’s Roll Another One and included the line I’m high – Don’t try to spoil my fun. Columbia (EMI) didn’t like the obvious references to drugs and forced Barrett to change the title and rewrite the corresponding line. Songfacts notes the outcome was still strange since the lyrics included the word “f–k,” making it one of the first songs to use the expletive.
1970:Dr. Robert Moog unveiled the Minimoog at a price of $2,000, an analogue synthesizer designed as a portable, simplified instrument that combined the most useful components of the Moog synthesizer in a single device. It became the first synthesizer sold in retail stores and quickly gained popularity among progressive rock and jazz musicians. It also ended up being widely used in disco, pop, rock and electronic music. Not everybody was enthusiastic. According to Songfacts Music History Calendar, The American Federation of Musicians feared the Minimoog’s realistic sounds would put horn and string sections out of business. Yes keyboarder Rick Wakeman, an early adopter of the Minimoog, said the synthesizer “absolutely changed the face of music.”
1975:Elton John, who was flying high, topped the Billboard 200 with his first compilation album Greatest Hits, bringing to a close an impressive 9-week run in the no. 1 spot. It became the most sold album of 1975 in the U.S. and remains his best-selling t0 date. The compilation, which featured 10 of John’s biggest singles, also topped the charts in Australia, Canada and the UK. Here’s one of my all-time favorites, Rocket Man(I Think It’s Going to Be a Long, Long Time). Composed by John with lyrics by his longtime collaborator Bernie Taupin, the tune was first released as a single in March 1972 and included on John’s fifth studio album Honky Château that came out in May of the same year.
Sources: Wikipedia; The Beatles Bible; This Day in Music; Songfacts; Songfacts Music History Calendar; Billboard.com; YouTube
This is the inaugural post of a new feature I spontaneously decided introduce to the blog. The Sunday Six is going to present random collections of six songs I like. They can be new or old and include different types of genres. In fact, I hope these posts are going to be eclectic and at least occasionally also venture beyond my core wheelhouse. The determining factor is going to be, well, me and what music comes to my mind when writing these posts.
The introduction of a new feature may come as a surprise, especially to more regular visitors of the blog, who probably recall my repeated comments about lack of time to focus on blogging, particularly over the past several weeks. Since this is unlikely going to change anytime soon, unlike the weekly recurring Best of What’s New, I think The Sunday Six is going to appear less frequently. With that being said, let’s get to the inaugural installment.
Matthew Sweet & Susanna Hoffs/And Your Bird Can Sing
Folks who read my most recent installment of Best of What’s New may have picked up I’m quite excited about my “discovery” of Matthew Sweet – well, better late than never! I totally love this cover of And Your Bird Can Sing, which Sweet recorded with Susanna Hoffs of The Bangles for Under the Covers, Vol. 1. While they didn’t reinvent the tune, I think the voices of Sweet and Hoffs perfectly blend. Released in April 2006, it’s their first of four collaboration albums that celebrate music they both love. Vol. 1 mostly focuses on ’60s tunes. Given they are fans of The Beatles, the inclusion of a Fab Four tune isn’t a shock. I also like they selected what I would consider to be a deep cut. Mainly written by John Lennon and credited to him and Paul McCartney, And Your Bird Can Sing was recorded for the UK version of the Revolver album from August 1966. In the U.S., it was included on Yesterday and Today, a record that became infamous for its original cover showing The Beatles in white coats with decapitated baby dolls and pieces of raw meat – yikes!
Travis/Waving at the Window
I really dig this mellow pop tune and think it’s perfect for a Sunday. Until yesterday, I had never heard of Travis, a Scottish rock band founded in 1990 in Glasgow. Written by their lead singer Fran Healy (a guy), Waving at the Window is the opener from Travis’ most recent album 10 Songs that was released in October 2020. The pick of this song isn’t as random as it may look. Yesterday’s start of my Matthew Sweet exploration led to Suzanna Hoffs and my curiosity what she’s been up to. It turned out Hoffs appeared as a guest on one of the other tracks on 10 Songs.
Since I “chatted” with Max from PowerPop about his post on Van Morrison tune Astral Weeks earlier today, my favorite Morrison album Moondance has been on my mind. So here’s the title track to get it out of my system! I just totally dig the laid back and jazzy feel of Morrison’s third studio record from January 1970. Like all tracks on the album, Moondance was written by him.
Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band/Turn the Page
This one you can blame on Cincinnati Babyhead, who earlier today posted on Bob Seger’s album Against the Wind. You see where I’m going with this feature – blaming others! 🙂 Turn the Page, one of my favorite Seger songs, was first recorded for the amazing Live Bulletalbum released by Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band in April 1976. It features terrific sax work by Alto Reed, who sadly passed away from colon cancer on December 30, 2020 at the age of 72 years. According to the clip description, this is the official video. While like Live Bullet it was captured at Cobo Hall in Detroit in 1975, based on Seger’s announcement, I think the take on the video is different from the album. According to setlist.fm, Seger and his longtime backing band played two back-to-back dates at Cobo (September 4 and 5, 1975), so I assume the take of Turn the Page in the video was captured from “the other show,” i.e., the one that’s not on the album. Are you still with me? 🙂
Sting/Fields of Gold
Fields of Gold is another beautiful and mellow tune that’s just perfect for a Sunday. It also happens to be one of my favorite tunes by Sting. The ex-Police frontman wrote and recorded this gem for his third solo album Ten Summoner’s Tales from March 1993, which I’d probably consider to be his Mount Rushmore as a solo artist.
Let’s wrap up this inaugural installment with a bang: Cream and White Room, from their amazing reunion live album Royal Albert Hall London May 2-3-5-6, 2005, which came out in October 2005. So good! Written by the amazing Jack Bruce with lyrics by British poet Pete Brown, White Room first appeared on Cream’s third album Wheels of Fire from August 1968. It was the opener of the first record on this majestic double-LP.
Together with a handful of other bands and artists I’ve dug for many years, I couldn’t think of a better group to dedicate the first playlist of 2021 than to the amazing Steely Dan. While I’ve covered them on previous occasions, this is the first time I’ve put together a career-spanning playlist.
Before getting to some music, as usual, I’d like to provide a bit of background, for which I’m going to borrow from previous posts. The original masterminds behind Steely Dan, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, first met in 1967 as students at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. Fagen was impressed with Becker’s guitar skills. They soon discovered they liked similar music and decided to write songs together. They also started playing together in various local bands.
The seeds for Steely Dan were sown in the summer of 1970, when Fagen and Becker responded to a Village Voice ad by guitarist Denny Dias, looking for a “bassist and keyboard player with jazz chops.” Becker was playing bass at the time and would switch to the electric guitar later. When they met Dias, Becker and Fagen had already written a good amount of original music.
Steely Dan’s first lineup was assembled in December 1971, after Becker, Fagen and Dias had moved to Los Angeles. The additional members included Jeff “Skunk” Baxter (guitar), Jim Hodder (drums) and David Palmer (vocals). Earlier, Gary Katz, a staff producer at ABC Records, had hired Becker and Fagen as staff song writers. It was also Katz who signed the band to the label.
In 1972, Steely Dan’s first single Dallas was released but sold poorly. The debut studio album Can’t Buy a Thrill followed in November that year. The producer was Katz, who also served in that role for each of the band’s following seven studio albums: Countdown To Ecstasy (1973), Pretzel Logic (1974), Katy Lied (1975), The Royal Scam (1976), Aja (1977) and Gaucho (1980).
In June 1981, Fagen and Becker disbanded and went on a 20-year recording hiatus. Becker and his family moved to Maui where he became sober from drug use and eventually started working as a record producer. Fagen went on to launch a solo career.
In 1993, Fagen and Becker reunited for an American tour in support of Fagen’s second studio album Kamakiriad, which had appeared in May that year and had been produced by Becker. While Fagen and Becker continued Steely Dan tours, it took until February 2000 before their next new album Two Against Nature appeared. One more album followed: Everything Must Go from June 2003.
After the release of Fagen’s third solo album Morph the Cat in March 2006, Steely Dan resumed regular touring. At the same time, Becker and Fagan occasionally released solo albums without involvement of the other partner. On September 3, 2017, Becker passed away from esophageal cancer at the age of 67.
At the time of Becker’s death, Donald Fagen said on his Facebookpage, “I intend to keep the music we created together alive as long as I can with the Steely Dan band.” And that’s exactly what he has been doing until COVID-19 hit. I was fortunate to see him twice in 2018 and wrote about it here and here. I’m currently scheduled to see him again open air in early July together with Steve Winwood – keeping fingers crossed. Time for some music!
I’d to kick things off with the aforementioned Dallas, Steely Dan’s first single. Like all tracks in this post, the song was co-written by Donald Fagen and Walter Becker. Sung by drummer Jim Hodder, the county-flavored tune was not included on Steely Dan’s debut album but appeared in 1978 on a compilation titled Steely Dan.
Perhaps my favorite early Dan tune is the rocker Reelin’ In the Years, which first appeared on the band’s debut album Can’t Buy a Thrill from November 1972. It also became the album’s second single in March 1973. The song’s kickass guitar solo was played by session musician Elliott Randall, which none other than Jimmy Page called his favorite guitar solo of all time.
Countdown to Ecstasy, Steely Dan’s sophomore release from July 1973, was the band’s first album without vocalist David Palmer that saw Donald Fagen sing lead on every tune. Here’s the album’s second single My Old School. While the record didn’t have a hit and couldn’t match the debut’s chart success, it was well received by critics at the time, and My Old School became a fan favorite.
Pretzel Logic, Dan’s third studio album released in February 1974, was the last to feature the full core lineup of Fagen, Becker, Dias, Baxter and Hodder. It also included contributions from many prominent LA musicians, such as future Toto members David Paich (piano, keyboards) and Jeff Porcaro (drums), then-Poco bassist and vocalist Timothy B. Schmit (backing vocals) who would later join the Eagles, and session bassist Chuck Rainey. Here’s opener Rikki Don’t Lose That Number, which also became the lead single in April 1974.
By the time Steely Dan’s next album Katy Lied came out in March 1975, most of their original members had left. The band essentially became Becker and Fagen who continued to hire top-notch musicians to support their recording sessions. In addition to Paich and Porcaro, the latter included Rick Derringer and Michael McDonald. Katy Lied also became the first Dan album to feature amazing session guitarist Larry Carlton. Here’s Doctor Wu. The alto saxophone solo was played by jazz saxophonist Phil Woods.
Next up: Kid Charlemagne, the lead single from The Royal Scam, Steely Dan’s fifth studio album. Both appeared in May 1976. The funky tune features the above noted Larry Carlton whose guitar solo was ranked #80 in Rolling Stone’s list of The 100 Greatest Guitar Songs in May 2008. I also dig Chuck Rainey’s bass work on that tune.
This brings me to Aja, which to me is Steely Dan’sMount Rushmore. Released in September 1977, this album is pure perfection. While I could have selected any track, I simply couldn’t ignore my all-time favorite Dan tune: Deacon Blues. Even after having listened to it countless times, I still get excited about this song. I think it represents a perfect blend of jazz, pop and rock, and I love the smooth sound. BTW, Becker played bass on this one. But the real standout are the horns.
Steely Dan’s next album Gaucho from November 1980 proved to be a huge challenge to make, which ultimately resulted in the above breakup in June 1981. Driven by Fagen’s and Becker’s perfectionism, the recording sessions used at least 42 musicians and took more than a year. In January 1980, Becker’s girlfriend Karen Roberta Stanley died of a drug overdose at his home. Her family subsequently brought a $17.5 million lawsuit, charging he had introduced her to drugs. The case was settled out of court. Shortly after Stanley’s death, Becker was hit by a taxi shattering his right leg. During his six-month recovery, he and Fagen collaborated via phone. Here’s the album’s lead track Babylon Sisters.
February 2000 saw the release of Two Against Nature, Fagen’s and Becker’s first new Steely Dan studio album in 20 years since Gaucho. It became one of their most successful albums. In addition to earning a Platinum certification in the U.S., Two Against Nature won four Grammy Awards in 2001, including Album of the Year. Here’s the groovy Cousin Dupree, which won Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.
The last tune I’d like to call out is the title track of Steely Dan’s ninth studio album Everything Must Go, the final with Walter Becker, released in June 2003. I think Apple Music correctly notes the lyrics sound like the song is a permanent sign-off: Guess it’s time for us to book it/Talk about the famous road not taken/In the end we never took it/And if somewhere on the way/We good a few good licks in/No one’s ever gonna know/Cause we’re goin’ out of business/Everything must go.
If Everything Must Go indeed signaled Steely Dan’s final studio album, it wasn’t a total sign-off. Fagen and Becker continued to tour as Steely Dan almost every year thereafter until 2017. Becker’s final performance was on May 27 that year at the Greenwich Town Party in Greenwich, Conn.
Steely Dan have sold more than 40 million albums worldwide. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March 2001. In December 2015, Rolling Stone ranked Steely Dan at No. 15 on its list of 20 Greatest Duos of All Time.
Before we can finally kiss this dismal year goodbye, I wanted to squeeze in another installment of my recurring rock/pop music history feature. Without further ado, here are some of the events that happened in the music world on December 29.
1965: American rock band The Sir Douglas Quintet were busted for marijuana possession in Corpus Christi, Texas. They got probation when they appeared in court with short hair, wearing suits. “I’m glad you cut your hair,” the judge told them. “I saw your pictures in the paper when you were arrested and I don’t go for that stuff.” The episode came in the wake of the band’s best-known song She’s About a Mover, written by their founder Doug Sahm.
1966: The Beatles were at EMI Studios at Abbey Road, working on three songs during three sessions: When I’m Sixty-Four, Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane. None of the four mono mixes of When I’m Sixty-Four they made that day was used. The work on Strawberry Fields Forever included a tape copy of a December 22 mono mix, as well as creating the final stereo mix. I’ll skip the details, which laid out in The Beatles Bible. Paul McCartney also recorded the first takes of Penny Lane, working into the early morning hours of the following day. Here’s the magnificent Strawberry Fields Forever.
1967: Dave Mason left Traffic barely three weeks after the English rock band had released their debut album Mr. Fantasy. Only eight months earlier, Mason had been one of Traffic’s co-founders, together with Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood. Apparently, Mason didn’t have much interest in collaborating on songs. “We all [Winwood, Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood] tended to write together, but Mason would come in with a complete song that he was going to sing and tell us all what he expected us to play,” Winwood later recalled. “No discussion, like we were his backing group.” Mason would rejoin Traffic in 1968 while they were recording their eponymous sophomore album only to leave again after its release. Here’s House for Everyone, one of three tunes on Mr. Fantasy written by Mason.
1968: Led Zeppelin performed at Civic Auditorium in Portland, Ore. on their first 1968/1969 North American tour, opening for Vanilla Fudge. According to setlist.fm, their set included The Train Kept a-Rollin’, I Can’t Quit You Baby, As Long As I Have You, Dazed and Confused, White Summer/Black Mountain Side and How Many More Times. Here’s a clip of Dazed and Confused from 1968, or as somebody in the comments pointed out 1969. In any case, it’s probably reasonably close to how Zep sounded that night in Portland.
1973: Time in a Bottle, one of my favorite songs by Jim Croce, hit no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. Sadly, Croce was no longer around to witness the success. On September 20, 1973, he died at the age of 30 when his chartered plane crashed into a tree during takeoff from Natchitoches Regional Airport in Natchitoches, La. All other five members on board of the plane were also killed: Pilot Robert N. Elliott, Maury Muehleisen, comedian George Stevens, manager and booking agent Kenneth D. Cortese and road manager Dennis Ras. Time in a Bottle became Croce’s second and last no. 1 hit in the U.S. after Bad, Bad Leroy Brown, another great tune he had first released as a single in March of the same year.
Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts Music History Calendar; The Beatles Bible; Setlist.fm; This Day in Music; YouTube
“When I think about it now, I think about how it all sort of all started. We just had this dream. And we thought, well, what do we wanna be famous for? It turns out it was the songwriting.” (Barry Gibb, Miami 2019). I would humbly add some of the most amazing three-part harmonies I’ve ever heard! I was reminded of this the other night when watching the documentary The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart on HBO Max. The film about the highs and lows of brothers Barry Gibb, Maurice Gibb and Robin Gibb spontaneously inspired this four-part feature.
The story of the Bee Gees starts in 1955 in Manchester, England, when 9-year-old Barry Gibb (guitar, vocals) and his younger brothers 6-year-old Maurice Gibb (vocals) and 6-year-old Robin Gibb (vocals), who are fraternal twins, formed skiffle and rock & roll group The Rattlesnakes, together with their friends and neighbors Paul Frost (drums) and Kenny Horrocks (tea-chest bass).
In December 1957, the brothers were going to lip-sync to a record at a local cinema, just like other kids had done there before. But on the way to the venue, the fragile shellac 78-RPM record broke, forcing them to sing live and in harmony – possibly one of the best accidents they ever had. Encouraged by the audience’s positive reception, Barry, Maurice and Robin knew what they wanted to do for the rest of their lives: singing together professionally.
In May 1958, Forst and Horrocks left, which put an end to The Rattlesnakes. But determined to pursue a career in music, the Gibb brothers immediately formed a new group, Wee Johnny Hayes and the Blue Cats. Only three months later, their family emigrated to the metropolitan area of Brisbane, Australia. But that didn’t stop the three brothers who soon started performing locally. In 1960, they met speedway driver and promoter Bill Good who hired them to entertain the audience at the local Redcliffe Speedway in 1960.
Good also introduced the boys to Brisbane radio-presenter jockey Bill Gates. It was Gates who came up with the name ‘BGs’ after his, Good’s and Barry Gibbs’ initials, which was later changed to Bee Gees. The Bee Gees started to appear on TV shows and perform at resorts on the Queensland coast. After Barry presented some of his songs to Col Joye, an Australian pioneer rock artist, Joye helped the Bee Gees get a deal with Leedon Records, a subsidiary of Festival Records in 1963.
In March 1963, the Bee Gees released their debut single The Battle of the Blue and the Grey. Written by Barry Gibb, the country-oriented tune made it into the Australian charts, placing at no. 98.
The Bee Gees continued releasing two to three singles a year, while Barry also kept writing songs for other artists. In November 1965, their debut album The Bee Gees Sing and Play 14 Barry Gibb Songs appeared. It was largely a compilation of their previous singles. One of the new songs was the opener I Was a Lover, a Leader of Men.
The early releases by the Bee Gees lacked commercial success, and by 1966, their record company was on the verge of dropping them. At that time, the Gibb brothers met Nat Kipner, who had just been appointed A&R manager of Spin Records, a new independent label. Kipner not only successfully managed the Bee Gees’ transfer to Spin but also introduced them to engineer and producer Ossie Byrne. Through Byrne, the Gibb brothers gained generous access to his own small, self-built St Clair Studio. Over several months in mid-1966, the Bee Gees recorded a large amount of original songs there.
Disillusioned by their lack of success in Australia, Barry, Maurice and Robin decided to return to England, hoping they could be more successful there. While at sea in January 1967, they found out that Spicks and Specks, one of the tunes they had recorded at St Clair Studio, had been named Best Single of the Year by Australia’s most popular and influential music newspaper Go-Set.
Spicks and Specks hit no. 1 and no. 2 in New Zealand and the Netherlands, respectively, and climbed to no. 5 on the Australian charts. The Bee Gees had scored their first hit. England would bring them international fame.
Sources: Wikipedia; The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart – documentary directed by Frank Marshall; YouTube
If somebody asked me what I thought about the music by Electric Light Orchestra, I’d say ‘weirdly catchy.’ This may not sound exactly positive, but I’ve actually enjoyed their songs for more than four decades. To me, especially during their early stage, ELO oftentimes feel like a combination of The Beatles with a wall of sound on steroids, featuring classical music and other heavy arrangements. While I generally find big production can be a mixed bag, when it comes to ELO, their brilliant execution won me over a long time ago. Plus, in my book it’s pretty cool when a band manages to develop a sound that’s instantly recognizable and different from pretty much any other group on the planet.
Before getting to some music, I’d like to provide a little bit of background. ELO got their start in 1970 in Birmingham, England, when songwriters and multi-instrumentalists Jeff Lynne and Roy Wood got together with drummer Bev Bevan as an offshoot of The Move. Lynne was excited about Wood’s concept to create a group to “pick up where The Beatles left off” by combining rock with classical instruments like violins, string basses and woodwinds. In June 1970, the vision came into focus with 10538 Overture, ELO’s first tune and debut single. This was followed by the band’s first UK studio album The Electric Light Orchestra, which came out in December 1971. In the U.S., it was titled No Answer and released in March 1972.
After Wood’s departure in July 1972, Lynne became ELO’s sole leader. In March 1973, the band’s sophomore album ELO 2 appeared in the UK (called Electric Light Orchestra II in the U.S.). Ten additional albums followed until the summer of 1986 when Lynne disbanded ELO, though no formal announcement was made at the time. In 1989, Bevan with Lynne’s blessing picked up the pieces and went on as ELO Part II. Bevan left in 1999, and the remaining members of the band continued under the new name The Orchestra, a formation that exists to this day.
In 2001, Lynne reformed ELO and, mostly relying on guest musicians who included George Harrison and Ringo Starr, released the new album Zoom in June that year. The next 13 years saw reissues of ELO’s back catalog and various mini reunions, which included an appearance as Jeff Lynne and Friends at the Children in Need Rocks concert in London in November 2013. The success of that performance led to a gig at BBC Radio 2’sFestival in a Day at London’s Hyde Park in September 2014 as Jeff Lynne’s ELO. Tickets sold out in 15 minutes after BBC Radio 2 had announced the show.
Jeff Lynne’s ELO have since issued two studio albums and conducted various tours. The supporting tour for the most recent album From Out of Nowhere, which had been scheduled to start in October 2020, was canceled due to COVID-19. Currently, there appears to be no word on when Lynne and his band are planning to hit the road again. Time for some music!
Let’s start where it all began. Here’s 10538 Overture, ELO’s first single from June 1972. Written by Lynne, it was also included on their debut album The Electric Light Orchestra (No Answer).
Many artists have covered Chuck Berry’sRoll Over Beethoven. None of these versions come anywhere close to ELO’s cover, which blends elements of Ludwig van Beethoven’sFifth Symphony with Berry’s classic rock & roll tune. It’s completely over the top and it’s just brilliant! I was going to include a clip of the original studio recording from ELO’s sophomore album ELO 2 (Electric Light Orchestra II). Then I remembered Lynne’s performance at the 2017 Rock and Hall of Fame induction and thought it’s just too much fun to ignore. Come on, Beethoven, let’s tell Tchaikovsky the news!
In November 1973, ELO released their third studio album On the Third Day. Here’s kickass rocker Ma-Ma-Ma Belle, featuring Marc Bolan on twin lead guitar – my-my-my! Unlike 10538 Overture and Roll Over Beethoven, which peaked at no. 9 and no. 6 in the UK, respectively, ELO’s third single only made it to No. 22. In the U.S., the first top 10 chart success on the Billboard Hot 100 would come with the next tune.
Can’t Get It Out of My Head was the lead single of ELO’s fourth studio album Eldorado from September 1974. It became the band’s first U.S. hit, climbing to no. 9 on the Billboard Hot 100. Apparently, folks were less fond of the ballad in the UK where it failed to chart altogether.
Starting with their fifth studio album Face the Music, ELO began moving away from large-scale orchestral sound to embrace a more radio friendly pop rock style. It paid off and resulted in a series of well-selling albums. Here’s Mr. Blue Sky from Out of the Blue, ELO’s seventh studio release from October 1977. The double LP became one of their most commercially successful records.
ELO first entered my radar screen with Discovery, their eighth studio album that came out in May 1979 when the disco era was in full swing. I got it on vinyl at the time and still own that copy. The record generated five singles that became hits in numerous countries. The most successful one was Don’t Bring Me Down. The track I’d like to feature is Last Train to London, which was included in a playlist served up earlier today by my streaming music provider. It also triggered the idea for finally doing a dedicated post about ELO.
Ticket to the Moon appeared on ELO’s ninth studio album Time from July 1981. It also was released separately as a single in December.
I’d also like to acknowledge some of ELO’s music after Lynne revived the band. Here’s Alright, the opener to the above mentioned Zoom from June 2001, the first official ELO album since Balance of Power, which had come out in February 1986, five months before Lynne had quietly disbanded ELO.
Let’s do two more. First up: When I Was a Boy, the opening track from Alone in the Universe released in November 2015, the first album appearing as Jeff Lynne’s ELO. The 13th studio album overall in the band’s catalog was well received and peaked at an impressive no. 4 on the Official Albums Chart in the UK where it also scored Platinum certification. In the U.S., Alone in the Universe climbed to no. 2 on the Billboard Top Rock Albums chart.
From Out of Nowhere, which appeared in November 2019, is the most recent studio album by Jeff Lynne’s ELO. Here’s Down Came the Rain featuring nice Beatle-esque harmony vocals. Like on the predecessor, Lynne played most of the instruments and sang all lead and backing vocals.
During their original 13-year recording period, ELO sold more than 50 million records worldwide. Between 1972 and 1986, they scored 27 top 40 tunes on the UK Official Singles Chart and 15 top 20 hits in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. According to Wikipedia, ELO also hold the distinction for being the only band with the most Billboard Hot 100 top 40 hits (20) in U.S. chart history without having had a no. 1 single – who is tracking this kind of stuff? Last but not least, ELO (Roy Wood, Jeff Lynne, Bev Bevan and Richard Tandy) were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017.
A look back on my music journey over the past 12 months
At first, the thought of writing a year in review type post didn’t look very appealing. After all, it’s safe to assume most of us can’t wait to kiss 2020 goodbye and erase it from our memories. This certainly describes my sentiments in many ways. But while the past 12 months brought unprecedented challenges, including for the music business, I think not all was doom and gloom. Initially, this was supposed to be one post. Then, it got longer and longer, so I decided to break it up in two parts. Here’s part 1
The good and the bad…
On the positive side, the music industry recorded rising revenue fueled by streaming. As Music Business Worldwidenoted in September, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) reported a 5.6% year-over-over increase in total U.S. recorded music retail revenue to $5.6 billion for the first half of 2020. This included a 12% surge in streaming music revenue to $4.8 billion. If streaming kept that pace in the second half of the year, it would be up one billion year-over-year. However, according to this Billboardstory from earlier this week, growth in streaming volume has stalled since the end of June.
At the same time, the concert business, the main source of income for most artists, is in the toilet. The Los Angeles Times recently reported America’s largest concert promoter Live Nation experienced a nosedive in revenue of 98% and 95% during the summer and fall, respectively. The same article also stated 90% of independent performance venues will close for good without government aid, while long-established venues like the Troubador in L.A. are hanging on but face an uncertain future. This doesn’t only put the livelihoods of many artists at risk but also of all the folks working at performance venues or whose job are otherwise tied to live entertainment.
New music kept coming out…
Despite COVID-19, new music continued to be released throughout the year – lots of it. In fact, at least some of this activity can be explained by the pandemic. Artists who weren’t able to tour found themselves with more time on their hands to work on new material. New albums by Bruce Springsteen, Taylor Swift and Paul McCartney are just some of the examples that come to my mind in this context.
I’m happy new music was a major theme for my blog in 2020, more than ever before. As frequent visitors know, I’m not talking about music you can find in the present mainstream charts. As of this blog post, I reviewed more than 20 new albums. That’s only counting new original music, not other releases, such as new installments from Springsteen’s great live bootleg series or James Taylor’s cover album of the American songbook. Yes, while I know next to nothing about American standards, I did review that album and enjoyed listening to it!
Frankly, I could have reviewed more new albums. I didn’t. In addition to lack of time, part of the reason was because of Best of What’s New. This weekly recurring feature on newly released music, which I launched in March, focuses on songs rather than entire albums.
It’s gratifying to me that except for one time due to a death in my close family, I posted new installments each week, meaning I’ve been able to discover new music week after week I found decent enough to write about. Keep in mind this is the same guy who as recently as last year kept complaining how “terrible” contemporary music is! I forgot one important qualifier: Music that’s in the mainstream charts. Let’s take a look at some of the new music I wrote about over the past 12 months.
My favorite new albums…
While it’s hard to narrow things down, from the 20-plus new albums I reviewed the four ones I feel most excited about are AC/DC/Power Up (released November 18), Walter Trout/Ordinary Madness (August 28), Norah Jones/Pick Me Up Off the Floor (June 12) and Ruby Turner/Love Was Here (January 24). Following is a tune from each:
AC/DC: Shot in the Dark (Power Up)
Shot in the Dark, the album’s great lead single, is classic AC/DC and makes you feel you just time-travelled back to 1980. Like all other tracks on Power Up, it was co-written by Angus Young and his older brother Malcolm Young during the period between the Stiff Upper Lip (February 2000) and Black Ice (October 2008) albums. You can read more about Power Uphere, a must listen to for AC/DC fans.
Walter Trout: Wanna Dance (Ordinary Madness)
I love Walter Trout, a no BS artist and decent guitarist who has lived through dramatic ups and downs. Perhaps, he’s the ultimate blues rock survivor! Here’s Wanna Dance. “I had Neil Young and Crazy Horse in mind when I wrote the tune,” Trout told American Songwriter. Dancing is a metaphor for enjoying and celebrating every moment in life, since We ain’t gonna live forever, as Trout sings. He knows all too well. This is one hell of a blues rocker! See here for more about Ordinary Madness.
Norah Jones: Flame Twin (Pick Me Up Off the Floor)
I had been aware and always liked Norah Jones and her piano-driven lounge style jazz for ,any years, but had never explored any of her albums. I’m glad Flame Twin from her seventh studio album Pick Me Up Off the Floor finally changed this. Written by Jones, the tune injects a dose of blues, which rarely if ever is a bad thing in my book. I also dig the Hammond B3 accents from Pete Remm who plays electric guitar as well. And, of course, there are Jones’ great soothing vocals and piano playing. Like other songs on Pick Me Up Off the Floor, the tune was inspired by poetry. My review of this great album is here.
Ruby Turner: Don’t Cry Over Yesterday (Love Was Here)
Don’t Cry Over Yesterday was the track that made me listen to Love Was Here, a beautiful classic soul album by British soul, gospel and R&B vocalist Ruby Turner. I hadn’t heard of Turner before, even though she’s performed since 1983 and worked with other artists like Bryan Ferry, Steve Winwood, Mick Jagger and UB40. “Discovering” great artists like her is part of the reason why I love music blogging. If you’re into ’70s style soul, I’d encourage you to check out this album, a true gem! You can read more about it here.
A selection of newly released music that caught my attention
While McCartney III kept me busy yesterday, Paul McCartney’s new album wasn’t the only great new music. Ringo Starr also released a new single. I wonder how many times has it happened before that two ex-Beatles come out with new music during the same week! But wait, there’s more.
How about an indie rock band from LA and a young R&B artist and producer from South Korea? Or a prolific Australian rock band I had never heard of before, which apparently is considered to be one of the most genre-hopping bands of all time.
Last but not least, this latest Best of What’s New installment also features a longtime New Jersey singer-songwriter and musician, who is perhaps best known for having performed the music of Steely Dan for more than 26 years, faithfully capturing the vocals of Donald Fagen.
The Wrecks are a band from the Los Angeles area, which was formed in 2016. Apple Music’s profile describes their music as exuberant, melodic, emo- and punk-influenced indie rock. The group found early success with their 2016 breakout single, “Favorite Liar,” and after a pair of EPs signed to the Big Noise label for their 2020 full-length Infinitely Ordinary. Hailing from Thousand Oaks, California, singer/guitarist Nick Anderson, guitarist Nick Schmidt, guitarist Westen Weiss, bassist Aaron Kelley, and drummer Billy Nally had barely formed when they chanced on the opportunity for a few covert days in a local studio. In just three hectic days, they recorded their 2016 debut EP, We Are the Wrecks, which featured the catchy single “Favorite Liar.” The song picked up steam online and helped the Wrecks land some key gigs opening for Paramore and the Struts along with festival slots at Lollapalooza and BottleRock. A second EP, Panic Vertigo, arrived in 2018, followed in 2020 by the Wrecks’ first LP, Infinitely Ordinary, on the Big Noise imprint.Static, co-written by Anderson and Schmidt, is the title track of The Wrecks’ new EP, which appeared yesterday. Admittedly, it falls outside my core wheelhouse, but my pop ear can’t deny it’s catchy.
Mike Caputo/Maya Lee
Unless you’ve read my blog for a long time, you probably haven’t heard of New Jersey singer-songwriter and musician Mike Caputo. Mike has been active for over 50 years. According to a bio on his website, A vocalist who plays keyboards and drums, Mike was signed to ABC Dunhill records at 15 years old after playing the Cafe Wha? in NYC in 1967. From that point he performed as a lead vocalist and either drummer, or keyboardist in a variety of local bands in the club circuit. Performing 5 to 6 nights a week playing Pop, Progressive, Jazz, R&B, Funk and his own Original Compositions, led him to more studio experience at Private Stock Records in the 70’s...Mike is also a published writer who wrote lyrics and melody for “A Question Of Time” by B.J. Thomas from the album “Once I Loved” and “Manhattan Blue” for Rich Cecere’e Big Band. For the past more than 26 years, he has performed the music of Steely Dan, faithfully capturing the voice of Donald Fagen. His current project Good Stuff also features music of Gino Vannelli, Stevie Wonder and Sting, all artists who influenced him. Mike’s also a dear friend, and I’ve been to many of his shows. This doesn’t mean I’m featuring Maya Lee, a song he recently wrote, to do him a favor. In fact, he has no idea what’s coming at him! 🙂 When I saw this tune on Facebook the other day, I immediately dug it. It’s got a great smooth pop jazzy sound – and, yes, I can definitely hear some Donald Fagen/Steely Dan in here. I also really like the bass and guitar work, provided by Scott Hogan and Don Regan, respectively, who are also members of Good Stuff.
Ringo Starr/Here’s to the Nights
It turns out Paul McCartney wasn’t the only ex-Beatle who was busy working on new music during the pandemic. His former band mate Ringo Starr released Here’s to the Nights on Wednesday (December 16), the lead single from his forthcoming EP Zoom In scheduled for March 19, 2021. An announcement on his website notes, As this crazy year comes to a close, Ringo is offering a song of peace, love and friendship – “Here’s To The Nights” available today as a single…Written by Diane Warren, Ringo is joined by his friends, some longtime and some new, including: Paul McCartney, Joe Walsh, Corinne Bailey Rae, Eric Burton (Black Pumas), Sheryl Crow, FINNEAS, Dave Grohl, Ben Harper, Lenny Kravitz, Jenny Lewis, Steve Lukather, Chris Stapleton and Yola. Of course, I can see cynics dismissing this as an aging pop star getting a little help from celebrity musician friends. While it’s coming out just prior to the holidays, I don’t think this is about making a quick buck. Instead, I fully buy Ringo’s statement: “This is the kind of song we all want to sing along to, and it was so great how many wonderful musicians joined in. I wanted it out in time for New Years because it feels like a good song to end a tough year on. So here’s to the nights we won’t remember and the friends we won’t forget – and I am wishing everyone peace and love for 2021.”
Miso/Let It Go
Here’s another selection that’s not the kind of music I usually listen to, but there’s just something about Miso, a 28-year-old R&B artist and producer from South Korea. According to a mini bio on last.fm, Miso lived in England during her childhood. Her songs are characterized by a very peculiar modern and soft beat. Her name has often been associated with artists like DEAN and she has worked with CRUSH too – no idea who these artists are. Let It Go, for which Miso wrote both the music and lyrics, is from her new EP Metanoia released December 14. I guess it’s mostly her voice that drew me in. And check out that cool bassline! This tune definitely has something.
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard/If Not Now, Then When?
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard (what a name!) are an Australian rock band founded in 2010 in Melbourne. Initially, they started as a group of friends jamming together until a mutual friend asked them to play at a show – sounds like the rest is history. The current line-up features Stu Mackenzie (vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards, flute), Ambrose Kenny-Smith (vocals, harmonica, keyboards), Cook Craig (guitar, bass, vocals), Joey Walker (guitar, bass, keyboards, vocals), Lucas Harwood (bass, keyboards) and Michael “Cavs” Cavanagh (drums, percussion). Their profile on Apple Music notes they have built a reputation as one of the most prolific and adventurous genre-hopping bands of all time. Their debut studio album 12 Bar Bruise appeared in September 2012. And, yes, this band has been pretty prolific indeed ever since, releasing 15 additional studio albums, six live albums, two EPs, one compilation and more than 40 singles. If Not Now, Then When? is their latest single that came out on December 10. This is just a cool tune. The groove and the falsetto vocals remind me a bit of Prince. Check it out!
Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Ringo Starr website; last.fm; YouTube
I was excited when Paul McCartney announced his new album McCartney III back in October, though my expectations weren’t very high. McCartney and McCartney II, the two previous albums in his DIY homemade trilogy, for the most part never appealed to me. While McCartney III is no Band on the Run, Tug of War or predecessor Egypt Station for that matter, there’s something charming about the album, which was released today (December 18). With each additional listening, I feel a bit like what Sir Paul sang 53 years ago: It’s getting better all the time.
Unlike McCartney and McCartney II, McCartney III had not be planned. From the previous announcement on McCartney’s website: “I was living lockdown life on my farm with my family and I would go to my studio every day. I had to do a little bit of work on some film music and that turned into the opening track and then when it was done I thought what will I do next? I had some stuff I’d worked on over the years but sometimes time would run out and it would be left half-finished so I started thinking about what I had. Each day I’d start recording with the instrument I wrote the song on and then gradually layer it all up, it was a lot of fun. It was about making music for yourself rather than making music that has to do a job. So, I just did stuff I fancied doing. I had no idea this would end up as an album.”
McCartney III feels a bit like a hodgepodge of tunes, including somewhat experimental music, full-blown rock and more typical acoustic McCartney type songs. That’s part of its charm! Like on his two DIY predecessors, McCartney plays all instruments himself, including guitar, bass, piano, harpsichord, mellotron, synthesizer and drums. There’s one exception. On the rocker Slidin, he did get a little help from Rusty Anderson (guitar) and Abe Laboriel Jr. (drums), two longtime members of his backing band in the studio and on the road.
There’s also When Winter Comes, an unreleased track that was previously recorded in the early ’90s and co-produced by George Martin. Macca wrote a new passage for the song, which inspired album opener Long Tailed Winter Bird. In turn, that tune sparked the process for McCartney to work on songs and of course extra time he had on his hands during the extended COVID-19 lockdown. Let’s get to some music.
I’d like to kick it off with the aforementioned opener Long Tailed Winter Bird, a largely instrumental track that’s the most adventurous on the album. I had to listen to the tune a few times before it started speaking to me – certainly not typical McCartney.
Find My Way sounds more like a McCartney pop tune. It’s got some nice harmony guitar accents. I also like the harpsichord. And the legendary Höfner violin bass! Here’s the official video.
Lavatory Lil is a nice rocker with a cool descending bassline. Some reviews I’ve seen called it reminiscent of Polythene Pam. Whichever way you want to describe it, I think it’s a cool tune!
Let’s follow it up with another rocker: the above noted Slidin’, the hardest rockin’ tune on the album.
How about some classic McCartney acoustic guitar tune? Ask and you shall receive. Here’s The Kiss Of Venus.
The last track I’d like to call out is the closer Winter Bird/When Winter Comes. Don’t get fooled by the beginning, which sounds like a reprise of the opener. About 27 seconds into the track, When Winter Comes begins, another nice acoustic tune.
McCartney III has a few additional parallels to McCartney and McCartney II. The photography stayed in the family. In the case of the two predecessors, it was Linda McCartney. On the new album, the principal photos were shot by McCartney’s daughter Mary McCartney, with additional photos by his nephew Sonny McCartney and some shots Paul took on his phone. Each of the three albums appeared during the first year of a new decade around major developments: The breakup of The Beatles, the end of Wings and the turmoil caused by a global pandemic.
Unlike McCartney and McCartney II, which initially had lukewarm receptions from critics, the majority of reviews I’ve seen for McCartney III are pretty positive. Perhaps the critics have mellowed because of COVID-19, or perhaps they are simply happy that one of the most beloved artists on the planet still feels passionate about his craft and releases new music. I can’t deny the latter is a factor in my judgment.
McCartney III appears on Capitol Records and is available via digital platforms, on CD, and on LP. According to McCartney’s website, the latter are manufactured by Third Man Pressing. Vinyl configurations range from standard 180g to a Third Man Edition of 3000 hand-numbered red vinyl copies, a ‘333’ Edition sold only via Third Man Records online store and limited to 333 copies on yellow-with-black-dots vinyl created using 33 recycled vinyl copies of McCartney and McCartney II, a U.S. indie retail exclusive pressing of 4000 hand-numbered white vinyl LPs, and more.
Sources: Wikipedia; Paul McCartney website; YouTube
While I became aware of Elton John more than 40 years ago and have listened to him on and off ever since (admittedly more off for the past three decades), I mostly know him based on specific songs. Except for John’s 1983 album Too Low for Zero, which I really dug at the time and still enjoy to this day, I haven’t explored his albums in greater detail. This occurred to me the other day when I put together a post on Elton John rockers.
I always had been more fond of John’s earlier songs, so perhaps not surprisingly, once I decided to further explore his albums, it made the most sense to me to start looking at his releases from the first half of the ’70s. From there, it didn’t take long to get to Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and realize why it’s widely considered to be John’s best album.
By the time Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was released in October 1973, John had established himself as one of the most successful pop music artists of the ’70s. With predecessors Honky Château and Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player, he already had two internationally successful studio records under his belt that had generated hits like Rocket Man, perhaps my favorite Elton tune, Crocodile Rock and Daniel.
Appearing only nine months after Piano Player, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road came together during what arguably was the most productive period for John and his close partner in crime, lyricist Bernie Taupin. They had a total of 22 tracks, for which Taupin wrote the lyrics in just two and a half weeks while John composed most of the music in a whopping three days. Narrowing down the songs to 18 tracks still meant there were too many to fit on one LP. That’s why the album became a double LP, marking the first of John’s four such studio releases.
Inspired by The Rolling Stones’Goats Head Soup, John wanted to record the album in Jamaica. Production there started in January 1973, but things became quickly hampered by technical challenges with the sound system and the studio piano, along with external distractions, including a professional box fight and political unrest. Work was speedily shifted to Studio d’enregistement Michel Magne at Château d’Hérouville located in the northwestern suburbs of Paris, France, where John had recorded his two previous above noted albums. The last-minute studio change apparently didn’t have a negative impact: Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was recorded in just two weeks. Time for some music!
I’d like to kick things off with the magnificent opener Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding. The first part is an instrumental of music John felt he’d like to be played at his funeral – one wonders a bit in what state of mind he was! It’s followed by Love Lies Bleeding, which Songfacts describes as an angry song about a broken relationship. Had it not been fused together with Funeral, something producer Gus Dudgeon had come up with, I would have included Love Lies Bleeding in my previous post about great Elton John rockers. While due to the total length of over just 11 minutes the track initially wasn’t released as a single, it became a fan favorite and staple of John’s live set lists. It’s easy to understand why!
I could easily fill up the remaining post with just the hits the album generated: Saturday’s Night’s Alright for Fighting, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Bennie and the Jets and Candle in the Wind. The one I really cannot ignore is the title track, another contender for my all-time favorite Elton song. According to Songfacts, the yellow brick road is an image taken from the movie The Wizard of Oz, and it was rumored the ballad is about Judy Garland. But instead the song seems to be about Taupin. Songfacts: The lyrics are about giving up a life of opulence for one of simplicity in a rural setting. Elton has enjoyed a very extravagant lifestyle, while Taupin prefers to keep it low key.
Grey Seal initially was recorded for John’s eponymous sophomore studio album from April 1970, but the tune didn’t make the record. Songfacts notes Taupin has said that it’s one of the songs he wrote with lyrics he never really understood, but somehow work. As for Elton, the song is one of his favorites, as he loves the way the music matches up to the lyrics. In the tradition of “A Whiter Shade Of Pale,” the lyrics form a series of images that are open to translation. Elton called it “Procol Harum-ish absurd, like a Dali painting.” I love this tune and can easily see why it appealed so much to John.
Next up is Sweet Painted Lady, a deeper cut from the album. From Songfacts: Written in the style of the British composer Noël Coward, this song is about sailors back from the sea and the “sweet painted ladies” – prostitutes – waiting for them at harbor brothels.
Let’s do one more: Harmony, the album’s closer, and a track that had been considered as a single. But the timing was deemed too close to Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me, the lead single to John’s follow-on album Caribou. Instead, Harmony became the B-side to the U.S. version of the Bennie and the Jets single. Songfacts notes the tune gained a fervent following, especially on the New York City radio station WOR, it won the “Battle of the Hits,” voted on by listeners, for 33 consecutive weeks.
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road became Elton John’s best-selling studio album. In February 2014, it reached 8x Platinum certification in the U.S. In 2003, the album was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. It’s also included in Rolling Stone’s list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. In the most recent revision from September 2020, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road held up pretty well, coming in at no. 112, down from 91 in the corresponding lists for 2012 and 2003.