What I’ve Been Listening To: Elvis Presley/Aloha From Hawaii Via Satellite

1973 concert showed Elvis at his last peak as the world around him started to crumble

After recently watching the excellent two-part HBO documentary The Searcher, I’ve gained new appreciation for Elvis Presley. He was my music idol as a young kid; I even tried to impersonate him. Then I discovered The Beatles and other artists, and quickly realized there was more to music than Elvis. While I didn’t start to dislike him, it’s fair to say he slowly faded away in my mind.

Although Elvis was called the “King of Rock & Roll,” he didn’t invent rock & roll, but similar to Chuck Berry, I believe classic rock & roll would have been different without him. In the case of Elvis it was the interpretation of the music, and how he mixed rock & roll with other genres like country, gospel and R&B. He was also an ace vocalist and to me one of the best performers of all time, especially during the early part of his career in the ’50s. Nobody was moving like Elvis.

Elvis Presley 1956

Of course, one cannot think about Elvis without acknowledging the mediocre movies, in which he appeared during much of the ’60s and for which he was asked to perform mostly forgettable songs. Much of that had to do with Elvis manager Colonel Tom Parker, who had full control over Elvis and clearly didn’t care much about him. Luckily, Elvis stood up to Parker when it came to the 1968 NBC special, where Parker wanted him to perform Christmas songs in a Santa suit. Instead, Elvis embraced the vision of producer Steve Binder to sing his old hits and play with his old band.

While the NBC special was a big success and marked the beginning of a comeback for Elvis, Parker continued to exert major influence. Elvis had always wanted to perform abroad, but Parker without his knowledge turned down lucrative offers for international tours. That is because Parker actually was an illegal immigrant and was concerned his status would be exposed when traveling abroad. And, no, Parker wasn’t Mexican or came from a “shit hole country,” he was a white man born in the Netherlands.

This brings me to Aloha From Hawaii. A concert to be broadcast worldwide via satellite conveniently allowed Parker to tell Elvis it would give him a chance to perform for the entire planet without having to travel to other countries. While Parker’s plan succeeded, fortunately, Elvis once again listened to the event’s producer Marty Pasetta, who suggested various ideas how to make the show more engaging. By the time Elvis stepped out on stage on January 14, 1973, he had shed 25 pounds and was a confident man, even though the world around him already had started to crumble and would rapidly deteriorate after his divorce from Priscilla Presley had become effective in October that year. Time for some music.

First up: Burning Love. Written by country songwriter Dennis Linde and first recorded by country and soul artist Arthur Alexander in 1972, it was covered by Elvis the same year. It became his biggest hit since Suspicious Minds in 1969 and his last top 10 single on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at no. 2.

You Gave Me A Mountain shows the soulful side of Elvis. The tune was written in the ’60s by country singer-songwriter Marty Robbins. While the lyrics aren’t autobiographic, you cannot escape the pain in these words and wonder what Elvis must have felt singing the tune. When I listened to it this morning, I have to say it really touched me.

Elvis’ rendition of Steamroller Blues is one of the highlights of the show. In fact, I knew this version a long time before I listened to the original by James Taylor. Taylor originally recorded the tune for his second studio album Sweet Baby James, which appeared in February 1970.

Another standout is Fever, which Elvis initially included on Elvis Is Back!, his tenth studio album from April 1960 and the first record after his discharge from the U.S. Army. The song was co-written by Eddie Cooley and Otis Blackwell and first recorded by American R&B singer Little Willie John as the title track for his 1956 debut record.

Suspicious Minds remains one of my favorite Elvis songs to this day. It was written by American songwriter Mark James who also recorded it in 1968. But it became a flop and was given to Elvis, who released it as a single in August 1969. His version became a major hit that topped the charts in the U.S. and Canada, and peaked at no. 2 in the UK.

The last tune I’d like to call out is A Big Hunk O’Love. Co-written by Aaron Schroeder and Sidney Wyche, the rocker was cut by Elvis in June 1958 and released as a single a year later. It was the only recording session Elvis did during his two-year service in the Army.

Aloha From Hawaii aired in over 40 countries across Asia and Europe. Notably, it wasn’t shown live in the U.S., since it coincided with the Super Bowl. So NBC waited until April 4, 1973 before broadcasting an edited version of the concert.

The worldwide audience for the show was estimated between 1 and 1.5 billion – more people than watched the moon landing. At $2.5 million, it was the most expensive entertainment special at the time.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

 

My Longtime Favorite Albums

Ten records I continue to enjoy after more than three decades

Earlier this week, I got nominated on Facebook to name 10 music albums that have made an impact on me and that I continue to enjoy today. The task was to post one album cover daily, and each time when doing so to nominate somebody else to do the same. Usually, I don’t participate in these types of chain activities, so initially, I ignored it. But since it was a close relative, who had nominated me, and music is my passion after all, I decided to go along. The exercise of identifying the 10 records inspired this post.

Because I found it impossible to limit myself to just 10 albums, I decided to narrow the field to only those records I started listening to as a teenager and in my early 20s. This explains why some of my favorite artists like The Allman Brothers Band, Buddy Guy and even The Rolling Stones are “missing.” It was only later that I started exploring them and many other artists I like today in greater detail. Without further ado, here is the list in no particular order, together with one song from each album.

As frequent readers of the blog know, I’m a huge fan of The Beatles. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, their 8th studio album from May 1967, is my favorite among their records.

The Beatles_Sgt. Pepper

Here’s the great closer A Day In The Life, which except for the middle section was mainly written by John Lennon, though as usually was credited to him and Paul McCartney.

Tapestry by Carole King was one of the earliest albums I listened to when I was 10 years old or so. Back then, I didn’t understand the lyrics but liked the music. Today, I dig the record for both the music and the lyrics. There is a timeless beauty in King’s tunes, and to me Tapestry is perhaps the ultimate singer-songwriter record.

carole-king-tapestry

There are so many great songs on this gem from February 1971, so it’s hard to chose one. Here’s Way Over Yonder. King’s soulful singing and the saxophone solo are two of the tune’s features I’ve always liked.

The Eagles’ Hotel California is an album I’ve owned on vinyl since I guess the early ’80s. It was released in December 1976 as the band’s fifth studio record.

Eagles_Hotel California

Here’s a live version of the epic title song, which is included in the album’s 40th anniversary deluxe edition that appeared in November last year. The tune was co-written by Don Felder, Don Henley and Glenn Frey. The distinct extended guitar interplay at the end featured Felder and Joe Walsh. This tune just never gets boring!

It was the Born In The U.S.A. album from June 1984, which put Bruce Springsteen on my radar screen.

Bruce Springsteen_Born In The USA

Here’s Bobby Jean, one of the album’s few tunes that wasn’t also released separately as a single. On this one, I particularly love the saxophone solo by Clarence Clemons, who was such an ace player.

Deep Purple to this day remains my first choice when it comes to hard rock, and Machine Head from March 1972 is the crown jewel in their catalog. The band’s sixth studio album featured their best line-up that included Ian Gillan (vocals), Ritchie Blackmore (guitar), Jon Lord (keyboards), Roger Glover (bass) and Ian Paice (drums, percussion).

Deep Purple_Machine Head

Here’s Pictures Of Home, which like all tracks on the album were credited to all members of the band. In addition to Lord’s great keyboard work, one of the tune’s characteristic features is a cool bass solo by Glover (starting at 3:40 minutes).

My introduction to John Mellencamp was Scaregrow, his eighth studio album from August 1995, but it was the follow-up record The Lonesome Jubilee, released in August 1987, that turned me into a fan.

John Mellencamp_The Lonesome Jubilee

Here is the great opener Paper In Fire, which also became the album’s lead single. Like all tunes except one, it was written by Mellencamp.

While it was pretty clear to me that a Pink Floyd album needed to be among my longtime top 10 records, the decision which one to pick wasn’t easy. I decided to go with The Dark Side Of The Moon but also could have gone with Wish You Were Here. I started listening to both albums at around the same time during the second half of the ’70s.

Pink Floyd_The Dark Side Of The Moon

I’ve chosen to highlight The Great Gig In The Sky. I’ve always liked the incredible part by vocalist Clare Torry.

I believe the first Steely Dan song I ever heard was Do It Again on the radio. By the time I got to Aja, I already knew the band’s debut record Can’t Buy A Thrill and, because of Rikki Don’t Lose That Number, their third album Pretzel Logic. While I liked both of these records, the Aja album from September 1977 became my favorite, after a good friend had brought it to my attention.

Steely Dan_Aja

Here is Deacon Blues, which also was released separately as the album’s second single. Like all tunes on the record, it was co-written by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen.

I was hooked to Live Rust the very first time I listened to it. Neil Young’s album from November 1979 pretty much is a live compilation of his greatest ’70s hits.

Neil Young_Live Rust

My, My, Hey, Hey (Out Of The Blue) is among the record’s highlights. The song was co-written by Young and Jeff Blackburn.

Led Zeppelin wasn’t exactly love at first sight. My first exposure was Led Zeppelin IV, the band’s fourth studio album from November 1971. I bought the record because of Stairway To Heaven.

Led Zeppelin_Led Zeppelin IV

I had listened to Stairway on the radio where they always faded it out before the heavy rock section at the end of the tune. I still remember the shock when I listened to the song in its entirety for the first time. I had just started taking classic guitar lessons and was very much into acoustic guitar. I simply couldn’t understand how Zep could have “ruined” this beautiful song by giving it a heavy metal ending. Well, today it is exactly because of its build why this track has become one of my favorite tunes. But instead of Stairway, I’d like to finish this post with Going To California, a beautiful acoustic ballad co-written by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

My Playlist: Fleetwood Mac

Fleetwood Mac has been making headlines lately. Yesterday, they announced a big North American tour, which will kick off in October, include more than 50 cities, and stretch all the way into the beginning of April 2019. This comes in the wake of news that longtime vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Lindsey Buckingham is out and has been replaced by Mike Campbell and Neil Finn. The band also announced The Fleetwood Mac Channel on SiriusXM, which will launch on May 1st and run throughout the month. All these latest developments have triggered this post and playlist.

I’m most familiar with the classic line-up of Fleetwood Mac, which spans the periods from 1975 to 1987, 1995 to 1997 and 2014 to April 2018. I find it very hard to imagine the band without Buckingham. His vocals and guitar-playing were a major part of the Mac’s distinct sound. At the same time, I’m intrigued about the addition of Campbell, the former guitarist of Tom Petty’s band The Heartbreakers, and Finn, the previous lead vocalist and frontman for Crowded House, who also co-fronted Split Enz.

Of course, Fleetwood Mac’s 50-year-plus story started long before Buckingham came into the picture. It also continued following his first departure in August 1987 after the release of the band’s 14th studio album Tango In The Night. In fact, the band’s history is characterized stylistic shifts and numerous lineup changes. Before exploring some music, I’d like to highlight some of Fleetwood Mac’s stages. This is not meant to be a comprehensive history, which would go beyond the scope of the post.

Fleetwood Mac Initial Line-up

Fleetwood Mac were formed in July 1967, when guitarist Peter Green left John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers and asked fellow Bluesbreakers Mick Fleetwood (drums) and John McVie (bass) to form a new band. Fleetwood who had been fired from the Bluesbreakers agreed right away while McVie was hesitant.  Jeremy Spencer (vocals, slide guitar, piano) and Bob Brunning (bass) completed the initial lineup. But Greene continued to pursue McVie as a bassist and named the new band after his preferred rhythm section of Fleetwood on drums and McVie on bass, i.e., Fleetwood Mac. After a few weeks, McVie agreed to join the fold.

The band released its eponymous studio debut in February 1968, a hard-charging blues rock album featuring a mix of blues covers and original tunes written by Greene and Spencer. And even though the record didn’t include a hit, it became a remarkable success in the U.K., peaking at no. 4 and remaining in the charts for a whooping 37 weeks. The sophomore album Mr. Wonderful, which already appeared in August 1968, was similar in style.

Fleetwood Mac_Then Play On

First changes started to emerge on Then Play On, the Mac’s third studio release. Danny Kirwan had joined the band as a guitarist and vocalist. Stylistically, the music started to move away from an exclusive focus on blues rock. The band’s transition continued between 1970 and 1975. In May 1970, Greene who had started taking LSD and was not in good mental health, left. Christine Perfect, who had married John McVie, did her first gig with the band as Christine McVie in August that year. In February 1971, Spencer left to join religious group Children of God. Bob Welch and later Bob Weston entered as guitarists.

Fleetwood Mac’s next big transition happened when Buckingham and then-girlfriend Stevie Nicks, who had performed together as a duo, joined the band at the end of 1974 after the departure of Welch. The classic line-up was in place and recorded the band’s second eponymous album. Also known as “The White Album,” it appeared in July that year and became the Mac’s first no. 1 on the Billboard 200. The follow-on Rumours not only was another chart-topper but also catapulted the band to international mega-stardom. The classic line-up released three additional successful studio albums.

Fleetwood Mac 1975

The period between 1987 to 1995 brought additional changes. Buckingham left in August 1987, and guitarists and vocalists Billy Burnette and Rick Vito joined the line-up -apparently, it takes two artists to replace Buckingham! Nicks and Vito departed in 1991. In 1995, following the release of the unsuccessful album Time, the Mac’s classic line-up regrouped. A performance in Burbank, Calif. in May 1997 resulted in the excellent live album The Dance, which was released in August that year. In 1998, Christine McVie left and returned to her family in England, where she lived in semi-retirement.

The remaining members recorded one more studio album, Say You Will, and continued to tour occasionally. In January 2014, Christine McVie officially rejoined the band. Subsequent efforts to make another Fleetwood Mac album were derailed when Nicks decided to focus on her solo career. While Mick Fleetwood and John McVie were involved in the recording, the record appeared last June as a collaboration between Buckingham and Christine McVie, titled Buckingham/McVie. You can read more the album here. Let’s get to some music.

I’d like to start off this playlist with My Heart Beat Like A Hammer, a nice blues rocker from the Mac’s first album, which is also known as Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac. The tune was written by Jeremy Spencer.

About a month after the release of the debut album, Green’s Black Magic Woman was released in March 1968 as the band’s third single. Long before the original, I had heard the excellent Santana cover sung by Gregg Rollie, which became that band’s first big hit peaking at no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. Green’s version climbed to no. 37 on the UK Singles Chart, not a bad showing either.

Fleetwood Mac’s first and only no. 1 song on the U.K. Singles Chart was the beautiful instrumental Albatross, another Green composition that appeared in November 1968.

Kiln House was the band’s fourth studio album and the first record without Green. Released in September 1970, it featured new guitarist and vocalist Danny Kirwan. By that time, the Mac had moved away from blues and sounded more like a straight rock band. While not being credited, Christine McVie provided backing vocals and keyboards. Here is Jewel-Eyed Judy, which was co-written Kirwan, Fleetwood and John McVie. It also became one of the record’s singles – great tune!

In October 1973, Fleetwood Mac released their eighth studio album Mystery To Me. At that time, the line-up included Bob Welch and Bob Weston, in addition to Mick Fleetwood, John McVie and Christine McVie. Welch and Christine wrote most of the songs. Here is Hypnotized, a nice tune penned by Welch with a relaxed feel.

Fleetwood Mac from July 1975 was the first album of the classic line-up. One of the songs on the record is the Stevie Nicks composition Rhiannon, which is among my favorite Mac songs.

When it comes to Rumours, which is packed with many great tunes, it’s tough to decide which one to select. Here is Go Your Own Way, which was written by Buckingham and became the album’s lead single in December 1976.

The follow-on Tusk, the band’s 12th studio album, sounded quite different from Rumours. This was exactly the intention. “For me, being sort of the culprit behind that particular album, it was done in a way to undermine just sort of following the formula of doing Rumours 2 and Rumours 3, which is kind of the business model Warner Bros. would have liked us to follow,” Buckingham told Billboard in November 2015. ” While opinions about the album were divided at the time is was released, it still peaked at no. 1 on the Billboard 200, though it “only” sold four million copies compared to 10 million for Rumours. Here is the title track.

Tango In The Night from April 1987 was Fleetwood Mac’s 14th studio album and the last with Buckingham prior to his first departure. It became the band’s second-best selling record after Rumours. The opening track is Big Love, a tune written by Buckingham. Here is an incredible live version captured during a show in Boston in October 2014. It illustrates Buckingham’s impressive guitar skills.

I’m fully aware that capturing the Mac’s long recording career in a post and playlist of no more than 10 songs without skipping stuff is impossible. For the last tune I’d like to highlight, I’m jumping to band’s most recent studio album Say You Will, which was released in April 2003. It was recorded by the band’s classic line-up minus Christine McVie. Here is Throw Down, a tune written by Nicks.

Fleetwood Mac’s next chapter just started, and it remains to be seen how the story continues after the 2018/2019 tour. The current schedule is here. In the band’s first interview since Buckingham’s departure with Rolling Stone, it appears they are ready to soldier on and are excited about Campbell and Finn. “Why would we stop?” asked Nicks. “We don’t want to stop playing music. We don’t have anything else to do. This is what we do.” Referring to the band’s new members, Christine McVie said, “I immediately felt like I’d known them for years,” even though we’d only just met.”

“There’s no doubt that my instincts, for better or worse, have always been to gravitate towards going forward,” Fleetwood stated. About Buckingham he added, “Words like ‘fired’ are ugly references as far as I’m concerned. Not to hedge around, but we arrived at the impasse of hitting a brick wall. This was not a happy situation for us in terms of the logistics of a functioning band. To that purpose, we made a decision that we could not go on with him. Majority rules in terms of what we need to do as a band and go forward.”

According to Nicks, Buckingham’s departure occurred over timing differences about a world tour. The band wanted to start rehearsals this June while Buckingham wanted to put that off until November 2019. Apparently, Rolling Stone tried to reach him for comment without success.

Sources: Wikipedia; Billboard; Rolling Stone; YouTube

Sting And Shaggy Deliver Sunny Pop Reggae

Unlikely pairing of artists teams up for groovy collaboration album

Like probably most folks, initially, I was surprised when I learned a few months ago that Sting and Jamaican pop reggae fusion artist Shaggy had teamed up to record an album together. Then I thought if anything, the British artist has demonstrated plenty of versatility throughout his now 45-year-plus career. As early as during his days with The Police, this has included occasional reggae groove-influenced tunes, such as Roxanne and Walking On The Moon. While 44/876, which was released yesterday, is unlikely to become my favorite Sting album, after having listened to it a few times, I have to say there is something intriguing about it.

The album opens with the title track, a combination of the codes of each artist’s respective home country, the U.K. and Jamaica. In addition to Sting and Shaggy, who like on all other songs trade lines back and forth, the tune also features Jamaican artists Aidonia and reggae band Morgan Heritage. By the way, all tracks are credited to Sting, Shaggy and their backing musicians.

Next up: Morning Is Coming, one of catchiest tunes on the record. It was also released separately as a single on March 9. I think the voices of Sting and Shaggy match particularly well on this track, which has summer written all over it.

Don’t Make Me Wait is another lovely tune, which became the album’s lead single in January. Here is the official video. Check out that cool Gibson SG Sting is playing, though no Highway To Hell in there!

Just One Lifetime reminds us that we each only have one life to make a difference, so we should make it count: Just one lifetime/And there is only one/Yes there is only one/Just one life to live/Assuming that we’ll make it/We’ve no choice but to take it…It’s one of the few songs on the album, where political undertones come more to the forefront. The lyrics borrow from The Walrus and the Carpenter, a poem from 19th Century English novelist Lewis Carroll, which originally appeared in his novel Through The Looking Glass.

The final track I’d like to call out is Dreaming In The U.S.A., a tune I’m afraid could easily be misunderstood, similar to what happened in the ’80s with Bruce Springsteen’s Born In The U.S.A. While the lyrics praise America for its movies, music, stars and clothes, they don’t mean to endorse the country’s present situation – in fact, quite the opposite! During a recent interview with ABC Nightline, Sting said, “We’re both immigrants. He’s [Shaggy] from Jamaica, I’m from Britain. And we came here because we love this country, because we value what this country represents. We both feel that the things we value about America are under threat. So it’s really a love letter to the United States.”

So how did Sting and Shaggy meet? According to a Billboard story, it was Martin Kierszenbaum who brought them together about a year ago. Kierszenbaum is Sting’s manager and Shaggy’s former A&R. Despite their very different backgrounds and approaches to music, they clicked and decided to record their first single Don’t Make Me Wait. In January, Sting performed at Shaggy and Friends, a biennial fundraising concert supporting Kingston’s Bustamante Children’s Hospital – his first time to play in Jamaica. During the show, he and Shaggy unveiled their new single. From there, they decided to pursue a collaboration album.

“We just had a rapport,” Sting explained to Billboard. “I decided a joint venture was much more exciting than him just guesting.” Added Shaggy: “He’s brought me patience and intuitiveness. He’s taught me to dissect a record down to the last T…. I used to do three or four songs a day, just write them, boom, boom, boom and done… [but] this is more exciting.”

Sting & Shaggy

Perhaps not surprisingly, various initial reviews of the album I’ve seen are lukewarm. “44/876 contains much of the sizzle of classic reggae or dancehall, though a little more substance would’ve been welcome too,” concluded Rolling Stone. “While the world wasn’t exactly clamoring for this album to exist, the end product is more lucid than many likely expected,” wrote USA Today. “If anything, 44/876 is proof that both Shaggy and Sting can keep evolving into the later era of their careers, and maintaining a sense of humor about it in the process.” The Guardian opined, “The sound of two millionaires fretting non-specifically about the state of the world is pretty annoying, especially given their only solutions are Marley-ish bromides about peace and love.”

As I said at the outset, 44/876 isn’t my favorite Sting album. But it’s undeniable he and Shaggy have developed a good rapport, blending their different styles and voices in groovy pop reggae tunes. I think a review by The Associated Press got it right: “The fact that Shaggy and Sting are teaming up on a CD does, admittedly, sound like a gimmick. Why are these two very different artists together? Because they happen to be known by a single name? Why not keep going and add Shakira, Sia, Slash and Seal? Maybe one day, but put the snarkiness aside and enjoy this warm bromance between the Jamaican dancehall king and the cool, intellectual Englishman.”

Sources: Wikipedia, ABC News, Billboard, Rolling Stone, USA Today, The Guardian, YouTube

Clips & Pix: George Harrison/Taxman

I just returned from the movies where I watched Concert For George, a documentary about a fantastic George Harrison tribute show Eric Clapton and Jeff Lynne put together with Dhani Harrison and Olivia Harrison at the magnificent Royal Albert Hall in London on November 29, 2002. I could easily go on raving about it. For now all I want to say is, if you’re a fan of Harrison’s music, you should absolutely catch this film, which is available on DVD and is still on in certain select movie theaters. For listings you can check here.

With my mind still very much set on Harrison, undoubtedly because of the amazing documentary, I’m publishing my third and last post (promise!) to celebrate what would have been his 75th birthday today (February 25). The above clip of Taxman is from a concert in Japan in December 1991, which Harrison conducted as part of a joint tour with Eric Clapton. The tour was also documented with the double album Live In Japan that came out in July 1992.

Taxman is one of three Harrison compositions that appear on Revolver, The Beatles’ seventh studio album released in August 1966. His two other contributions for that record were Love You To and I Want To Tell You.

Sources: Concert For George official website, Wikipedia, YouTube

My Playlist: George Harrison

Today, George Harrison would have turned 75 years, so this felt like a great occasion to put together a commemorative piece and playlist. Harrison was born on February 25, 1943 in Liverpool, England. His father Harold Hargreaves Harrison was a bus conductor, while his mother Louise  (née French) was working as a shop assistant. He had three older siblings, two brothers (Harold and Peter) and one sister (Louise).

While growing up in Liverpool, Harrison developed an early interest in music and guitars. His father had reservations about his son’s plans to pursue a music career but still bought him an acoustic guitar in 1956. One of his dad’s friends taught Harrison a few songs. Not surprisingly soon thereafter, Harrison formed his first band with his brother Peter and a friend – a skiffle group inspired by Lonnie Donegan. In 1957 on the bus to his high school, Harrison had a chance encounter that started a life-changing path: Running into Paul McCartney. With their shared passion for music, the two hit if off pretty quickly.

McCartney, who had started playing with another young fellow called John Lennon in The Quarrymen, brought Harrison into the skiffle band in early 1958. By August 1960, the band had adopted rock & roll and following a few name changes evolved into The Beatles. Apart from Lennon, McCartney and Harrison, the initial lineup included Stuart Sutcliffe (bass) and Pete Best (drums). In August 1962, Ringo Starr joined on drums, after George Martin had complained to Brian Epstein about Best’s poor skills. Sutcliffe had left The Beatles a year earlier, which had prompted McCartney to switch from guitar to the bass. The classic line-up was finally in place!

The Beatles

In the early years, Lennon and McCartney dominated the band’s songwriting. While Harrison got his first credit for Don’t Bother Me on the second studio album With The Beatles from 1963, it wasn’t until Help! (1965) that he started asserting himself more as a writer. Help! featured his two compositions I Need You and You Like Me Too Much. Eventually, he introduced Indian influences and other ideas. The Beatles’ music wouldn’t have evolved the way it did, had it not been for Harrison.

Some of Harrison’s other song contributions during The Beatles period included If Needed Someone (Rubber Soul, 1965), Taxman (Revolver, 1966), Within You Without You (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band), Blue Jay Way (Magical Mystery Tour, 1967), The Inner Light (non-album single, 1968), While My Guitar Gently Weeps (The Beatles, aka The White Album, 1968), It’s All Too Much (Yellow Submarine), Here Comes The Sun (Abbey Road) and I Me Mine (Let It Be).

Before The Beatles broke up in early 1970, Harrison had already released two solo records, Wonderwall Music and Electronic Sound, both of which were mostly instrumental. In November 1970, his first post-Beatles solo record appeared, the triple LP All Things Must Pass – a powerful statement that Harrison was finally free from all artistic restrictions!

Concert For Bangladesh

In 1971, responding to a request from his mentor Ravi Shankar, Harrison organized the Concert For Bangladesh to raise money for starving refugees in the war-ravaged country. In addition to him and Shankar, the charity event in New York’s Madison Square Garden on August 1st featured an impressive array of other artists, such as Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Leon Russell, Billy Preston and Bob Dylan. It attracted more than 40,000 visitors and raised close to $250,000 (about $1.55 million in today’s money), and essentially introduced the concept for Live Aid and other music charity events.

Between 1973 and 1987, Harrison released eight additional solo albums: Living In The Material World (1973), Dark Horse (1974), Extra Texture (Read All About It) (1975), Thirty Three & 1/3 (1976), George Harrison (1979), Somewhere In England (1981), Gone Troppo (1982) and Cloud Nine (1987). He could not complete his final album Brainwashed due to advanced cancer but left it with a guide for his son Dhani Harrison and his friend and music collaborator Jeff Lynne to complete. The record appeared in November 2002, one year after Harrison’s death.

The Traveling Wilburys

In 1988, Harrison co-founded The Traveling Wilburys, which also included Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty. The band released two albums, Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 (1988) and Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3 (1990). The latter record did not include Orbison who had passed away in December 1988. Harrison’s discography also includes two live records, four compilation albums and four box sets. Time for some music clips!

Wah-Wah appears on All Things Must Pass, which is widely considered to be Harrison’s best solo album. It also became his most successful solo release, topping the charts in the US, UK, Canada, Australia and various other countries.

Here Comes The Sun is one of Harrison’s compositions from The Beatles period and one of my favorite tunes from the Abbey Road album. The following clip captures his live performance during the Concert For Bangladesh, together with Badfinger lead vocalist and guitarist Peter Ham.

The Lord Loves The One (That Loves The Lord) is from Harrison’s forth studio album Living In The Material World, which appeared in May 1973.

Dark Horse is the title track of Harrison’s fifth studio record from December 1974.

Crackerbox Palace appears on Thirty Three & 1/3, Harrison’s seventh studio album from November 1976. The tune, which features a slide guitar sound that had become a Harrison signature, was also released as the record’s second single in January 1977.

Blow Away is included on Harrison’s eponymous 8th studio album, which came out in February 1979. The song also appeared separately as the record’s lead single a few days ahead of its release.

Got My Mind Set On You, composed by American songwriter Rudy Clark, is from Cloud Nine. Released in November 1987 after a five-year hiatus from the music business, Harrison’s 11th studio album became a successful comeback, reaching no. 8 on the U.S. Billboard 200 and climbing to no. 10 on the UK Albums Chart. Got My Mind Set On You was also the record’s lead single and reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100.

Handle With Care is the opening track from Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1. The tune, which like all songs on the 1988 album is simply credited to Traveling Wilburys, features Harrison and Orbison on lead vocals. Here is the official video clip.

If I Needed Someone is one of my favorite Harrison compositions and Beatles tunes. It appears on the band’s sixth studio Rubber Soul, released in December 1965. The following clip is from Harrison’s 1992 Live In Japan album, which features Clapton and a terrific backing band.

I’d like to conclude this post and playlist with Any Road from Brainwashed, released in November 2002. Harrison’s final solo album took about 14 years to complete. After he had started work in 1988, things got delayed due to business problems with his former manager Denis O’Brien, his work with the Traveling Wilburys and Ravi Shankar, and his involvement in The Beatles Anthology albums. In 2001, Harrison underwent surgery for lung cancer and radiotherapy for cancer that had metastasized into his brain. He continued to work on the album as long as he could and left instructions for Dhani and Lynne to complete things. Harrison passed away at a friend’s house in Los Angeles on November 29, 2001. He was 58 years old.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Concert For George Premieres On Big Screen And Vinyl

Celebration of Harrison’s 75th birthday with premiere of 2002 commemorative concert in select movie theaters and special audio reissue

This Sunday, February 25 George Harrison would have turned 75 years. Sadly, he passed away from cancer on November 29, 2001 at the age of 58 – I can’t believe it’s been more than 16 years! Exactly one year after Harrison’s untimely death, a concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London celebrated his life and music. That commemorative event, which had been available on DVD and CD, is now being shown in select movie theaters nationwide and today for the first time appeared as a 4-LP vinyl box reissue. Here’s a nice clip of the unveiling of the box.

The concert was organized by Harrison’s widow Olivia and son Dhani. Longtime friends Eric Clapton and Jeff Lynne served as musical directors and performed during the show. Some of the other participating music artists included Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, Billy Preston, guitarist Albert Lee, Procul Harum lead vocalist and pianist Gary Brooker, session musican Klaus Voorman and Dhani.

Before the above artists came on stage, Anoushka Shankar, the daughter of Harrison’s mentor Ravi Shankar, opened the event with a special composition by her father, presented together with a 16-piece orchestra of Indian musicians. Afterwards, surviving members of the Monty Python troupe performed comedy skits to acknowledge Harrison’s well-known sense of humor.

Following are a three clips from the concert. The first is a beautiful version of Harrison’s second song that appeared on a record by The BeatlesI Need You from Help!, performed by Petty and Heartbreakers.

The second clip is White Album gem While My Guitar Gently Weeps, featuring Clapton on lead vocals and guitar, backed by McCartney, Starr, Lee, Lynne and Dhani, among others. While it is probably impossible to beat the tune’s rendition and Prince solo performed during the 2004 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction show, it’s a pretty solid performance.

I also came across the following clip, showing Billy Preston singing My Sweet Lord, backed by the above other musicians. The tune was Harrison’s first big post-Beatles hit, which appeared on his solo debut album All Things Must Pass. Unfortunately, the quality of the video isn’t great but the audio is decent.

“We will always celebrate George’s birthday and this year we are releasing Concert for George in a very special package in memory of a special man,” Olivia said in a statement.

In addition to the vinyl set, the reissue is available in four other formats: 2-CD + 2-Blu-Rays Combo Pack, 2-CD + 2-DVD Combo Pack, 2-CD Pack and, I suppose for the true die-hard fans, as a limited Deluxe Box Set, including four 180-gram audiophile LPs, 2 CDs, 2 DVDs and 2 Blu-rays, a 12”x12” hard-bound 60-page book, plus a piece from the original hand-painted on-stage tapestry used as the backdrop at the Royal Albert Hall concert. The recording of the concert also premiered on music streaming services today.

The film that captured the concert was directed by David Leland and produced by Ray Cooper, Olivia Harrison and Jon Kamen. All profits from the sale of Concert for George products will go to The Material World Charitable Foundation, founded by George Harrison in 1973.

Sources: Wikipedia, Concert For George official website, Rolling Stone, YouTube

On This Day In Rock History: February 18

1959: Ray Charles recorded What’d I Say at Atlantic Records in New York City. Written by Charles, the R&B classic evolved from an improvisation during a concert in December 1958. At the end of that show, Charles found himself with some time to fill and reportedly told his female backing vocalists The Raelettes, “Listen, I’m going to fool around and y’all just follow me.” Fooling around paid off nicely. Following its release in July that year, the tune became Charles’ first gold record. One of the challenges with the song was its original length of more than seven and a half minutes, far longer than the usual two-and-a-half-minute format for radio play. Recording engineer Tom Dowd came up with the idea to remove some parts and split up the song in two three-and-a-half-minute chunks: What’d I Say Part I and What’d I Say Part II. The division relied on a false ending after the orchestra had paused the music.

1965: Tired Of Waiting For You by The Kinks hit no. 1 on the UK Singles Chart. Written by Ray Davies, the tune was a single from the band’s second studio LP Kinda Kinks, which appeared in March that year. Notably, The Kinks only had two other chart-topping singles in the UK during their long career: You Really Got Me (1964) and Sunny Afternoon (1966). According to Songfacts, Davies wrote the tune while studying at Hornsey School of Art in London. Since by the time The Kinks went into the studio he couldn’t remember the lyrics, the band initially only recorded the backing track. Davies ended up writing the words on the train the following day while heading back to the studio.

1967: The Buckinghams topped the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 with Kind Of A Drag, the Chicago sunshine pop band’s only no. 1 hit. The tune was written by Jim Holway, who is  also best known for this accomplishment. The band, which had formed the previous year, became one of the top-selling acts in 1967, according to Wikipedia. But their chart success was short-lived and they disbanded in 1970, which I suppose is, well, kind of a drag! On a more cheerful note, they re-emerged in 1980 and apparently remain active to this day. Here’s a clip of the lovely tune.

1972: Neil Young’s fourth studio album Harvest was certified Gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), only less than three weeks after its release on February 1. It features some of Young’s best known songs, including Heart Of Gold, Old Man and The Needle And The Damage Done. James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt, David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash were among the impressive array of guest musicians. Harvest topped the Billboard 200 for two weeks and became the best-selling record of the year in the U.S. As of June 27, 1994, the album has 4x Multi-Platinum certification. Here’s a clip of The Needle And The Damage Done.

Sources: Wikipedia, This Day in Music.com, Songfacts Music History Calendar, YouTube

Tom Dowd, Humble Music Genius Behind The Scenes

Recording engineer and producer shaped sound of some of greatest music recorded during second half of 20th century

This post was inspired by Tom Dowd And The Language Of Music, one of the most fascinating music documentaries I recently watched. Before getting to it, I’d like to give a shout-out to Music Enthusiast who recommended the film to me.

Created by Mark Moormann, the documentary, which premiered at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival and was a 2005 Grammy Award nominee, tells the fascinating story of Tom Dowd, a recording engineer and producer for Atlantic Records. Over a 50-plus-year career that started in the 1940s, this man worked with an amazing array of artists, including John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Bobby Darin, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Booker T. & The M.G.sEric Clapton, Cream, The Allman Brothers, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the list goes on and on. During that period, Dowd also advanced studio techniques that would revolutionize recording.

Tom Dowd and Ray Charles
Tom Dowd with Ray Charles

Dowd was born on October 20, 1925 in New York City. From the beginning of his life, he was exposed to music. His mother was an opera singer, while his dad worked as a concertmaster. While growing up, Dowd learned various instruments, including the piano, tuba, violin and string bass. After high school, he continued his musical education at City College of New York. During that time, Dowd also played in a band at Columbia University and became a conductor. Undoubtedly, all of this contributed to his great ear for music, which would come in handy for his later professional work in music.

Interestingly, Dowd’s path could have been very different. At 18, he was drafted into the military and through his work at the physics laboratory at Columbia University became involved in the Manhattan Project – yep that project, which developed the atomic bomb! Dowd planned to become a nuclear physicist after finishing his assignment. There was only one problem: His secret research for the military had been much more advanced than the university’s curriculum. So he decided against pursuing studies in nuclear physics and instead got a job at a classical recording studio in New York, before starting his longtime career with Atlantic Records.

Tom Dowd and Jerry Wexler
Tom Dowd (left) with Jerry Wexler

In addition to helping shape the sound of some of the most amazing music recorded during the second half of the 20th century, Dowd was instrumental to drive innovation in the studio. He convinced Jerry Wexler, a partner in Atlantic Records, to install an Ampex eight-track recorder, putting the company on the cutting edge in recording technology. Dowd also popularized stereophonic sound and pioneered the use of linear channel faders on audio mixers as opposed to rotary controls. He then became a master in operating the linear channel faders, almost as if he was playing a keyboard!

Initially, various of the musicians were skeptical or even hostile when they saw Dowd. During the documentary, Eric Clapton said, “To be perfectly frank, I wasn’t interested in people like that.” Pretty much along the same lines, Gregg Allman noted, “Suddenly, you get to the studio, and there is a new guy there critiquing all this stuff, and you think, ‘where did he come from?'”

But when they realized what kind of artists Dowd had recorded in the past, how much he knew about music (likely, more than they did all combined!), and what he could do at the mixer, they listened. Heck, Dowd even managed to suggest to Ginger Baker, who undoubtedly is one of the best rock drummers but not exactly a warm fellow, the drum groove for Sunshine Of Your Love! The fact that all these musicians put their big egos aside and listened to this gentle recording engineer is truly remarkable.

Tom Dowd and Duane Allman
Tom Dowd (second from left) and Duane Allman working on final master mix-down of Layla

Dowd passed away from emphysema at the age of 77 on October 27, 2007 in Florida, shortly after the above documentary had been finished. In 2012, he was posthumously inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame – better late than never, I suppose! One can only speculate what would have happened to Layla by Derek and The Dominos, Sunshine Of Your Love by Cream and so many other great recordings Dowd impacted!

Following are two video clips. First up is the trailer to the documentary, which in addition to Dowd includes commentary from Ray Charles, Clapton, Allman and Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun. Listening to the beginning of the clip when Charles is taking about the importance of sound is priceless in and of itself. I also recommend watching the remainder and hear all the other people talk about Dowd. It becomes obvious how much they revered him!

Here is how Dowd summarizes his amazing experience with artists from the ’50’s to the ’80s and the evolution of recording technology. I just find it fascinating and could listen to the man for hours!

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Dowd was his modesty. In the documentary, there is a scene where he notes that while he had worked with all these artists, he wasn’t a millionaire – far from it! Obviously, many albums these artists released became big-time sellers. But apparently, money didn’t matter to Dowd. Instead, it was all about the music. I think his following statement sums it up perfectly: “Music has been very kind to me over the years.” Boy, the music industry could need visionsaries like Tom Dowd these days!

Sources: Wikipedia, Tom Dowd And The Language Of Music (Documentary, Mark Moorman, 2003), YouTube

My Playlist: Sting

Sting is an artist I’ve admired for a long time, both as a songwriter and a musician. The idea to put together a playlist of some of his songs came to me the other day when I was exchanging emails with a friend who is fond of Sting as well. BTW, he’s also a gifted vocalist and musician who does an outstanding job capturing the voice of Donald Fagen and on top also writes his own music. I’m sure I’ll have to say more about him when the time is right.

Back to Sting whose real name is Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner – I suppose it’s obvious why he adopted a different stage name! Sting was born on October 2, 1951 in Wallsend, a small town in northeastern England with a history of shipbuilding. This would later inspire The Last Ship, a Broadway show for which Sting wrote the music and the lyrics.

While Sting performed in various jazz bands on the side during his college years and while working as a teacher for a couple of years, his full-time professional music career didn’t start until January 1977, when he got together with drummer Stewart Copeland and guitarist Henry Padovani to form The Police. In August 1977, Padovani was replaced by Andy Summers who initially had joined the band as a second guitarist.

The Police
The Police during a show in The Netherlands in 1983. From left to right: Sting, Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers

The Police released their debut album Outlandos d’Amour in November 1978. They had financed the recording with £1,500 borrowed from Copeland’s brother Miles. While initially it performed poorly, the record ended up selling more than a million copies in the U.S. alone. The Police recorded four more albums before they disbanded in 1986. By that time, Sting had already released his first solo album The Dream of the Blue Turtles, which had appeared in June 1985.

As of November 2016, 11 additional solo studio records from Sting have appeared, apart from various live and compilation albums. A new record, which is a collaboration with Jamaican artist Orville Richard Burrell (known as Shaggy), is set to come out in April. Combining the solo albums with his Police recordings, Sting has sold over 200 million records, making him one of the most commercially successful music artists. Time for the playlist!

This compilation only focuses on Sting’s solo work. First up: Fortress Around Your Heart. Written by Sting, the tune is from The Dream of the Blue Turtles and became one of the album’s four hit singles. Here’s what appears to be a clip of the official video.

Fragile is one of most powerful Sting tunes Sting I know, in my opinion. It is from his second solo record …Nothing Like the Sun released in October 1987. According to Wikipedia, the song is a tribute to an American civil engineer, who was killed by anti-Communist para-military group the Contras in Nicaragua while working there on a hydroelectric project. Following is a clip of an emotional version Sting performed live on September 11, 2001 in Tuscany, Italy, to honor the victims of the terrorist attacks.

Another Sting gem is the title track from his third studio record Soul Cages, which appeared in January 1991, following the death of his father in the late ’80s. The lyrics of the concept album focus on Sting’s relationship with his dad and how he felt after his old man had passed. Soul Cages also appeared separately as the album’s third single in April 1991.

Ten Summoner’s Tales is perhaps Sting’s Aja album. The relaxed and more upbeat songs stand in stark contrast to the introspective predecessor. To me the highlight of Sting’s fourth solo record from March 1993 is Fields of Gold, a timeless ballad that is just beautiful. Below is a really cool clip. I seem to hear slight deviations here and there from the version that is on the album. There also appears to be slightly more echo. It doesn’t matter, it’s a terrific take captured a beautifully shot video.

Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot became the lead single from Mercury Falling, Sting’s fifth solo record from March 1996. Like most of his tunes, it was entirely written by Sting. The song was about a sick friend with HIV/AIDS. “The first time he went to the hospital I visited him and I was really at a loss to know what to bring him,” Sting told Unmask Us. “I’d just read a book by a Buddhist monk…The premise of the book is that dying is a process that we all need to be training for in that we’re all dying whether we have AIDS or not. I thought that would be a good book to bring him and he loved the book and got a lot of pleasure from it.”

Sting’s sixth solo album Brand New Day from September 1999 became particularly known for its second single Desert Rose, a collaboration with Algerian folk singer Cheb Mami, and the title track, which earned Sting his third Grammy Award for Best Male Vocal Pop Performance. I’m more intrigued by Fill Her Up, a unexpected tune with a country flair, featuring James Taylor on vocals and acoustic guitar.

In September 2003, Sting released Sacred Love, his seventh studio album. At that point, he had largely been gone from my radar screen. On this record Sting demonstrated he is not afraid to experiment and explore new terrain, such as R&B and dance-oriented music, and collaborating with hip-hop artist Mary J. Blige and sitar player Anoushka Shankar, the daughter of sitar maestro Ravi Shankar. While these collaborations demonstrate Sting’s versatility, I prefer This War, which has a nice rock flavor that’s more up my alley.

Starting with 2006’s Songs From The Labyrinth, which features lute music from English Renaissance composer John Dowland, through The Last Ship, the 2013 companion album to his musical with the same name, Sting had lost me completely. I was very encouraged when he released 57th & 9th, his first album in 13 years that is much closer to the Sting I’ve come to like. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised how rock-oriented this record is, which I previously reviewed here. Following is a clip of the opener and lead single I Can’t Stop Thinking About You, a rocker with a catchy melody, which is a bit reminiscent of The Police.

Last but not least, here is a clip of Don’t Make Me Wait, the lead single from Sting’s above mentioned upcoming collaboration album with Shaggy, which is titled 44/876. The Caribbean-influenced record shows yet another side of Sting’s versatility. “The most important thing to me in any kind of music is surprise,” Sting told Rolling Stone during a recent interview. “And everybody is surprised by this collaboration – by what they’re hearing. We’re surprising.”

Sources: Wikipedia, Unmask Us, Rolling Stone, You Tube