Masters of the High Register

A selection of great falsetto vocalists

In late December, I did a four-part series on the Bee Gees here (part 1), here (part 2), here (part 3) and here (part 4). One of the group’s distinct features was the frequent use of falsetto singing, starting with their 1975 studio album Main Course. My most recent Best of What’s New installment included Aaron Frazer, a young vocalist from Brooklyn, N.Y., who also happens to be a falsetto singer. In fact, while I’m not a voice expert, I think he’s incredible! These posts triggered the idea to write about music artists I like, who are masters of the falsetto.

Before getting to some great music and singing, I’d like to provide a little bit of background. I’ll keep it light! According to Wikipedia, falsetto “is the vocal register occupying the frequency range just above the modal voice register and overlapping with it by approximately one octave.” Essentially, modal voice generates the richest tone that unlike falsetto isn’t breathy. It’s the most frequently used vocal register in speech and singing in most languages.

I always thought falsetto and head voice are the same – not so! As this post on Ramsey Voice explains, “While falsetto and head voice have been used interchangeably in the past, falsetto is understood to be a breathy version of high notes and head voice produces a richer and more balanced tone on the high pitches in a singer’s voice. Falsetto and head voice are two different modes for singing the same notes in the upper registers of the voice.” Didn’t you always want to know that? 🙂

If you’re curious to learn more about different voice registers and singing modes, the above Ramsey Voice post goes into all the gory details, illustrated with video clips. The only thing I’d like to add is that females have falsetto as well, though I think it’s fair to say this singing mode is primarily associated with male singers, and the examples in this post are all male artists. But as Ramsey Voice notes, “plenty of studies have…shown that everyone’s vocal cords work in basically the same way, and everyone is capable of falsetto singing.” Time for some falsetto action!

Philip Bailey, of Earth, Wind & Fire/September

September, one of my favorite Earth, Wind & Fire songs, initially appeared as a single in November 1978. Co-written by Maurice White, Al McKay and Allee Willis, it became one of the group’s biggest hits. The song was also included on the compilation The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire, Vol. 1, which came out a few days after the single. The tune, on which Bailey shared lead vocals with White, is a great example of Bailey’s amazing falsetto.

Smokey Robinson, of The Miracles/OOO Baby Baby

OOO Baby Baby is one of the most beautiful examples of falsetto I can think of. Smokey Robinson’s voice sounds so sweet and gentle that it almost makes me want to cry! Robinson was also a co-writer of the ballad, together with Miracles bass vocalist Pete Moore. OOO Baby Baby became the lead singles of The Miracles’ studio album Going to a Go-Go in March 1965. The album came out in November that year.

Curtis Mayfield/Move On Up

When thinking of great falsetto vocalists, one of the first artists who came to my mind was Curtis Mayfield. While there are other tunes where his falsetto is more dominant, Move On Up is one of my absolute favorites, so I simply couldn’t skip it. Written by Mayfield, the song was first recorded for his debut solo album Curtis from September 1970. It also appeared separately as the record’s second single in June 1971. I just love that tune – the infectious groove, Mayfield’s singing and his effortless switching between modal voice and falsetto – it’s just perfect!

Marvin Gaye/Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holler)

Marvin Gaye is another exceptional vocalist, no matter what singing mode you’re talking about. On Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holler), co-written by Gaye and James Nyx, Jr., the boundaries between Gaye’s head voice and falsetto are so fluid that to me it’s hard to tell, which is which. The tune was first recorded for his 11th studio album What’s Going On, a true gem released in May 1971. In September of the same year, it became the album’s third single.

Prince/Kiss

No post about falsetto vocalists would be complete without Prince. The funky Kiss was one of his biggest hits. Written by Prince, it became the lead single to his eighth studio album Parade, released in February 1986, just ahead of the album that followed in March. Frankly, the tune wasn’t love at first sight for me, but I’ve come to dig it.

The last two tracks shall belong to the artists who inspired the post. Here’s Nights on Broadway, the tune that started the frequent use of falsetto for the Bee Gees.

Co-written by Barry Gibb, Robin Gibb and Maurice Gibb, Nights on Broadway was recorded for the Bee Gees’ 13th studio album Main Course released in June 1975 in the U.S. and the following month in the U.K. The groovy track also became the album’s second single in September of the same year.

Aaron Frazer/Bad News

Bad News is another great tune from Aaron Frazer’s impressive debut album  Introducing…. The song was co-written by Frazer and producer Dan Auerbach. It actually reminds me a bit of Gaye’s Inner City Blues.

Sources: Wikipedia; Ramsey Voice; YouTube

Best of What’s New

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/Static

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

Clips & Pix: Popa Chubby/It’s a Mighty Hard Road

Shout-out to my brother-in-law who brought Popa Chubby to my attention earlier today. Before then, I had never heard of the 60-year-old electric blues-focused guitarist and songwriter from the Bronx, New York, who was born Theodore Joseph “Ted” Horowitz.

Chubby has been playing music for more than 30 years. On his website he describes his style as “the Stooges meets Buddy Guy, Motörhead meets Muddy Waters, and Jimi Hendrix meets Robert Johnson.” These are many names to throw around, but based on YouTube clips I have seen it’s not just empty words.

The above tune is the title track of Chubby’s most recent album that came out in March this year in celebration of his 30th anniversary as a blues artist. It’s one of 13 original tracks on the record that also includes covers of Freddie King’s I’d Rather be Blind and Prince’s Kiss.

I’m pretty sure I’m going to further explore Chubby and write more about him. Until then I’ll leave you with this cool rendition of Jim Hendrix’s Hey Joe captured in 2011 on the German music TV program Rockpalast.

Sources: Wikipedia; Popa Chubby website; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Sheila E./Iconic: Message 4 America

Last week, I watched Ringo Starr’s Big Birthday Party and thought the highlight of the one-hour virtual event was Sheila E. and her sizzling performance of Come TogetherRevolution. It turned out E. had previously recorded the medley for her most recent eighth studio album Iconic: Message 4 America released in August 2017. A couple of nights ago, I found myself listening to this covers album and liked what I heard – a lot!

For E.’s background, I’m borrowing from a previous August 2017 post about my favorite drummers. Born Sheila Escovedo, E. was influenced and inspired by her musical family. Since the late 60s, her Mexican-American father Pete Escovedo, a percussionist, was influential in the Latin music scene, touring with Santana from 1967 to 1970. Her uncles were musicians as well, and her godfather was none other than Tito Puente.

At the age of 5, E. gave her first live performance. By her early 20s, she had already played with the likes of George Duke, Marvin Gaye and Herbie Hancock. In 1978, she met Prince who became an important mentor and with whom she worked various times. In 1984, E. started a solo career. She also worked with many other artists, including Ringo Starr, performing with his All-Starr Band in 2001, 2003 and 2006.

As reported by Rolling Stone, it was Donald Trump’s denunciation of Mexicans as “murderers and rapists” during his official campaign launch announcement in 2015, along with the death of Prince in April 2016, which prompted E. to record Iconic, an album featuring remakes of social justice anthems. In addition to selecting songs by the likes of Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder and James Brown, E. got help from multiple guests, most notably Starr and Freddie Stone, co-founder, guitarist and vocalist of Sly and the Family Stone. Her father and two other family members were among the other guests.

“So for the Iconic project, you know, the state that the country is in… I’m doing these songs based on the lyrical content, which, when I grew up in the ’60s and the ’70s, these songs were pretty amazing,” E. told Billboard. “They’re relevant. So I wanted to do “Come Together,” The Beatles song with Ringo Starr, which we did, and the only one that wasn’t written [that long] ago was “America.” But it means something…So it was just important to what’s happening in our country.” America is a tune about the state of the U.S. during the Reagan Administration, which Prince had written for his 1985 studio album Around the World in a Day.

Let’s get to some music. Since I previously featured Come TogetherRevolution here, I’m skipping it and go directly to Everyday People. Written by Sly Stone, the tune was originally released as a single by Sly and the Family Stone in November 1968. It was also included on the band’s fourth studio album Stand! from May 1969. As noted above, Freddie Stone joins E. on vocals. He also plays guitar.

Inner City BluesTrouble Man is a cool medley of two songs Marvin Gaye performed. Inner City Blues, co-written by Gaye and James Nyx, Jr., appeared on What’s Going On, Gaye’s 11th studio album from May 1971. Trouble Man is the title track of Gaye’s follow-on studio record that came out in December 1972. It was written by him. On the album’s recording, E. is joined on vocals by saxophonist Eddie Mininfield.

With so many great covers on Iconic, it’s hard to select which ones to call out. One of the funkiest undoubtedly is the James Brown Medley, which melds together five tunes: Talkin’ Loud And Sayin’ Nothing, co-written by Brown and Bobby Bird (There It Is, June 1972); Mama Don’t Take No Mess, co-written by Brown, John Starks and Fred Wesley (Hell, June 1974); Soul Power, written by Brown (single, March 1971); Get Involved, co-written by Brown, Bird and Ron Lenhoff (Revolution of the Mind: Live at the Apollo, Volume III, December 1971); and Super Bad, written by Brown (Super Bad, 1971). For this recording, E. is joined by Bootsy Collins on vocals, who also provides bass and guitar. Collins played with Brown in the early ’70s and later with Parliament-Funkadelic. Let’s hit it!

Next up: A beautiful version of Blackbird. Per Songfacts, Paul McCartney wrote the song about the civil rights struggle for African Americans after he had read the U.S. federal courts had forced racial desegregation in the school system of Little Rock, Ark. Blackbird was first recorded for The White Album that appeared in November 1968. E.’s rendition transforms the acoustic guitar tune to a mellow piano-driven ballad. The lovely cello part is played by studio musician Jodi Burnett.

The last tune I’d like to call out is the Curtis Mayfield classic Pusherman. It appeared on Mayfield’s third solo album Super Fly from July 1972. The great guitar part on E.’s version is played by Mychael Gabriel, a musician, songwriter, performer, audio engineer, mixer, producer, who began his career as a 16-year-old, doing record engineering for E.

Iconic: Message 4 America may “only” be a covers album, but I think the excellent song selection and E.’s renditions make listening to it worthwhile.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; Billboard; Songfacts; Discogs; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Rock & Roll at its Best

It’s safe to assume many folks have watched the above clip, probably more than once – I certainly have. But after having done so yet another time, I simply couldn’t resist reposting it. This just has to be one of the greatest moments in rock & roll live history!

To start, While My Guitar Gently Weeps is one of my favorite George Harrison tunes. I also dig the all-star band that celebrated George and his music back in March 2004 at his posthumous induction as a solo artist into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: Tom Petty and fellow Heartbreakers Steve Ferrone (drums) and Scott Thurston (bass), Jeff Lynne, Steve Winwood, guitarist Marc Mann and George’s son Dhani Harrisonand of course the guy who ended up stealing the show: Prince!

While I had known Prince was a talented multi-instrumentalist, until that moment, I had not fully appreciated what a killer guitarist he was. And I’m not quite sure the other guys who were on stage with him that night had either.

Everything sort is flowing along nicely, with Petty and Lynne doing a beautiful job on vocals and Mann skillfully playing guitar fill-ins and Eric Clapton’s solo – kind of what you’d expect from top-notch musicians. Then, at about 3:29 minutes into the action, Prince who had been in the background steps forward and takes this performance to the next level.

At first, the other guys don’t quite seem to notice. At around 4 minutes, Prince is starting to ramp up. At 4:30 minutes, he’s in full attack mode. At 4:44 minutes, he’s turning around looking at Petty and lets himself slowly fall back into the audience. Petty has a second to briefly smile before he needs to resume singing, while Dhani is in full smile mode. The guy who is catching Prince is pushing him back up on stage. Once back on his feet and in a stable position, Prince continues his scorching solo. Eventually, the song is coming to an end.

While I can’t imagine Prince’s backward dive into the audience hadn’t been carefully planned in advance, to me, this is rock & roll at its best. Undoubtedly, this amazing performance and guitar solo raised the bar forever and won’t be forgotten!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: March 15

Time for another installment in my long-running, somewhat geeky music history feature. I still get a kick out of researching what happened on a certain date throughout the decades in rock & roll, even though it’s such an arbitrary concept. Admittedly, I’m using the term rock & roll loosely here. It pretty much includes all music genres I dig – hey, it’s my blog, so I get to make the rules. Without further ado, let’s get to March 15!

1967: The Beatles began work on Within You Without You, a song by George Harrison. According to The Beatles Bible, Harrison had written the tune at the London home of longtime Beatles friend Klaus Voormann who first had met the band in Hamburg and had shared a flat with Harrison and Ringo Starr in the British capital in early ’60s. Several musicians from the collective Asian Music Circle played traditional Indian instruments during the recording session. They were joined by Harrison and The Beatles’ then-personal assistant Neil Aspinall on tamburas. “The tabla had never been recorded the way we did it,” commented sound engineer Geoff Emerick. “Everyone was amazed when they first heard a tabla recorded that closely, with the texture and the lovely low resonances.” Within You Without You was included on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band instead of Only a Northern Song, another Harrison tune that would later appear on Yellow Submarine.

1969: Cream hit the top spot on the UK Albums Chart with their fourth and final studio album appropriately titled Goodbye. It would stay in that position for two weeks. Here’s one of the record’s tracks, Politician, which also is one of my favorite Cream tunes. Co-written by Jack Bruce and Pete Brown, Politician was one of three live tracks on the record that were captured on October 19, 1968, at The Forum in Los Angeles during the band’s farewell tour. By the time Goodbye came out in February 1969, Cream had already disbanded.

1975: Black Water, a classic by The Doobie Brothers, climbed to the top of the Billboard Hot 100, the first of only two no. 1 hits the band had in the U.S. The second one was What a Fool Believes in 1979. Penned by Patrick Simmons who also sang lead, Black Water first appeared on the Doobies’ fourth studio album What Were Once Vices Are Now Habits released in February 1974. Interestingly, the initial single release of Black Water was as the b-side to the record’s lead single Another Park, Another Sunday. While it’s not a bad song, you still have to wonder about that decision, which seems to suggest that between the band and the record company, they hadn’t quite noticed what a gem Black Water was.

1986: The Bangles reached no. 2 on the UK Singles Chart with Manic Monday, scoring their first hit, which also peaked at no. 2 in the U.S., Australia, Germany and Ireland, and placed in the top 5 in Austria, Norway, New Zealand and Switzerland. Written by Prince under the pseudonym Christopher, the tune was included on the American pop-rock band’s sophomore album Different Light, which had appeared in January of the same year. I generally find listening to The Bangles fairly enjoyable. In particular, I like their harmony singing, plus they have some pretty catchy songs. Just please spare me with Eternal Flame, which at the time was hopelessly burned by overexposure on the radio back in Germany and I suspect in many other countries. BTW, The Bangles are still around in almost their original lineup. Following the band’s breakup in 1989, they reunited in 1998.

1999: Curtis Mayfield, Del Shannon, Dusty Springfield, Paul McCartney, The Staple Singers, Billy Joel, and Bruce Springsteen were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Sean Combs, Art Alexakis, Elton John, Neil Young, Lauryn Hill, Ray Charles and Bono, respectively –  sounds fucking unreal to me! Springsteen reunited with the E Street Band to perform at the ceremony. Here are Bruce and the boys with Wilson Pickett, performing a scorching version of In The Midnight Hour, a Stax classic Pickett had co-written with Steve Cropper in 1965. Watching Pickett say he wants to kick Bruce in the ass but will keep it light since he’s The Boss and Bruce responding ‘Let’s give it a shot’ is priceless –  damn, this wants me to go and listen to some kickass live music, so badly – fuck you, COVID-19!

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

Happy New Year!

So this is it, almost at least – I can’t believe we’ve made it through another year! Between the blog, listening to music and going to concerts, 2018 feels it has been my busiest year on the music front to date.

I’ll admit that apart from giving me lots of joy, music provides a welcome distraction from the challenges life can throw at you. I’ve no doubt it can have that magic effect on other folks as well. And that’s a good thing!

Unlike Christmas, it appears there’s a much smaller selection of decent rock and pop songs celebrating the new year. The first that came to my mind in this context are New Year’s Day by U2 and 1999 by Prince. While I like the U2 tune, it doesn’t have much of a celebratory feel to it. According to Songfacts, the lyrics are about Solidarity, a Polish trade union co-founded in 1983 by labor activist and future president of Poland Lech WaĹ‚Ä™sa. I also dig the groovy Prince tune, but the lyrics two thousand zero zero party over, oops, out of time aren’t particularly uplifting either!

And while there’s certainly a lot of shit going on in this country and elsewhere in the world one could think about, I felt like posting a happy party song. Then good ole George Thorogood & The Destroyers came to the rescue with New Year’s Eve Party. Now, that’s what I’m talking about! I dig the soul vibe of the tune, which was written by Thorogood and apparently included on a Christmas classic rock compilation from 1983. Again, Christmas, but who cares, the song is definitely about the new year!

Last but not least, I’d like to take another moment to thank all readers of the blog. I always enjoy spotting visitors and reading comments, so please keep doing that.

Cheers and hope you all have a Healthy, Happy and Safe New Year!

Christian

Sources: Wikipedia, Songfacts, YouTube

Toto Delivers Top-Notch Musicianship at State Theatre New Jersey

40th anniversary tour gig features career-spanning set, including big hits, deeper cuts and covers

While I have listened to Toto for more than 30 years, I wouldn’t call myself a huge fan. But my wife really likes them, so when I mentioned to her a couple of months ago they would play in our neck of the woods as part of their 40th anniversary tour, she suggested that we see them. I’m glad we did Wednesday night at State Theatre New Jersey in New Brunswick, since the show was fun and definitely exceeded my expectations.

When I checked setlist.fm for the most recent gigs of the 40 Trips Around The Sun tour, initially, I was a bit disappointed that I didn’t see any songs from Toto’s second studio album Hydra, especially 99. I also found it interesting that they chose to include three somewhat random-looking covers in their set, though it turned out these selections weren’t coincidental. 

Toto
Core members of Toto (from left): Joseph Williams, David Paich, Steve Porcaro and Steve Lukather

I’ve always appreciated Toto for their outstanding musicianship, which was on full display Wednesday night and a key reason why I enjoyed the show. Not only did they sound fantastic, but some of the music they played had pretty impressive complexity that nicely illustrated the band’s top-notch craftsmanship. Shockingly, to me the highlight in this context was Jake To The Bone, an instrumental from 1993. I say “shockingly” since I generally really like vocals and I’m less into instrumentals. With that, let’s get to some music.

The first time I heard about Toto must have been in the late ’70s when a friend gave me a rock compilation as a present, which included Hold The Line. I liked this tune right away and still do to this day, especially the keyboard and guitar parts. Written by keyboardist David Paich, the song first appeared on the band’s eponymous studio album from October 1978.

Next up is the above mentioned Jake To The Bone from the band’s eighth studio record Kingdom Of Desire, released in Europe in September 1992 and in the U.S. in May 1993. It was credited to all core members of the band at the time: Steve Lukather (guitar, lead and backing vocals), David Paich (piano, organ, synthesizer, backing vocals), Mike Porcaro (bass) and Jeff Porcaro (drums, percussion).  Unfortunately, I missed videotaping this great instrumental, so I’m relying on another clip I found on YouTube. Apparently, it was captured during the opening show of the tour’s European leg in Helsinki, Finland back in February.

Toto’s fourth studio album from April 1982, ingeniously called Toto IV, became their most successful record. Apart from top 10 chart placements in various countries, including Australia (no. 1), Canada (no. 1), U.S. (no. 4) and U.K. (no. 4), Toto IV also won a Grammy for Album Of The Year and five additional Grammy Awards in 1983. Here is the record’s lead single Rosanna, another Paich composition.

During the second half of the set, there was a sitdown section featuring shortened versions of various songs, including Holyanna, No Love, Stop Loving You and a cover of Human Nature, one of the tracks from Michael Jackson’s Thriller album. Originally, that tune was written by keyboardist Steve Porcaro. The tune I’d like to feature from this section is Stop Loving You. Toto first recorded it for The Seventh One, their seventh studio album from March 1988. Co-written by Paich and Lukather, the tune also became one of the record’s six singles.

Of course, no Toto gig would be complete without Africa, another track from Toto IV. Co-written by Paich and Jeff Porcaro, the song became Toto’s most successful single. It hit no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, climbed to no. 3 in the U.K., and scored top 20 positions in various other countries. Africa was the last song of the regular set, and the band stretched it into a close to 13-minute jam version that featured a cool percussion and drums solo.

There was only one encore: A cover of Hash Pipe, a 2001 song by American rock band Weezer. Toto decided to record and release the tune in August 2018, after Weezer had come out with cover versions of Africa and Rosanna. While it’s nice the bands recognize each other’s music with these covers, I still found it a bit of an odd choice for the encore, especially given that was the only additional song Toto performed. To me it would have made more sense to throw in an original tune like the above mentioned 99. That being said, the entire show lasted two hours, which I felt was pretty solid.

This post wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the band that performed on Wednesday night. Steve Lukather, Steve Pocaro and David Paich are still part of the core line-up. The fourth core member is Joseph Williams (lead vocals). Paich is sitting out the U.S. leg of the tour. According a previous announcement, the European gigs earlier this year took a toll on his health, but Lukather assured the audience his recovery is going well. Sitting in for Paich is Dominique “Xavier” Talpin, an excellent keyboardist who among others had played with Prince. The other touring members include Lenny Castro (percussion, congas), multi-instrumentalist Warren Ham (saxophone, harmonica, flute, backing vocals), Shannon Forrest (drums) and Shem von Schroeck (bass, backing vocals).

Upcoming tour dates include Brookville, N.Y. tonight and the closer of the American leg in Lynn, Mass. tomorrow night. The band resumes the tour at the end of December with a series of dates in Australia and New Zealand, before going to Japan in February. Then they take a break and return to Europe in June and July. The last currently posted date is Salem, Germany (Jul 18). The full schedule is here. This may not be the end of the tour. The dates in Australia and Japan were announced fairly recently, and I could see additional announcements, such as a second U.S. leg. 

Sources: Wikipedia, Toto website, YouTube

50th Anniversary Editions Of Two Iconic Albums Released

The Beatles’ White Album and the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Electric Ladyland are celebrated with major reissues

Today could be a first, or in case I’m wrong, it’s safe to say this doesn’t happen often: Two major reissues of albums by iconic music artists appearing the same day. The White Album by The Beatles and Electric Ladyland by the Jimi Hendrix Experience are now officially out. Other than what’s currently available in Apple Music I don’t have access to any of the actual special releases at this time, yet I’d feel remiss not write about these special editions.

While the White Album isn’t my favorite Beatles album and I tend to agree with those who say they should have put the strongest songs on one record rather than releasing a double album, The Beatles remain my all-time favorite band. That’s likely not going to change. Moreover, based on what I’ve read and heard, this reissue definitely features material that intrigues me. As for Jimi Hendrix, Electric Ladyland would be my no. one album choice overall, even though it doesn’t include my two favorite Hendrix tunes: Purple Haze and Hey Joe.

The White Album 50th Anniversary Configurations

The White Album reissue is available in four configurations: A Super Deluxe 7-disc set (on the left in above picture) featuring 50 mostly previously unreleased recordings all newly mixed with 5.1 surround audio as well as the so-called Esher Demos; a deluxe 4-LP edition; a 2-LP issue (pictured above in the middle); and a deluxe 3-CD set (on the right in the above image). The remixed original tracks, the Esher Demos and additional takes are also available on iTunes/Apple Music and other digital and streaming services.

Similar to last year’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band anniversary edition, Giles Martin, son of Beatles producer George Martin, worked together with mix engineer Sam Okell. They newly mixed the album’s 30 original tracks in stereo and 5.1 surround audio, together with 27 early acoustic demos and 50 session takes, most of which weren’t released in any form previously. While I have no doubt the sound is fantastic and superior to previous recordings, for the most part I can’t hear the differences. That’s largely because the streaming versions are lower quality than the CDs or vinyl records. And, yes, part of it may also be explained by some hearing loss I can’t deny! Here’s a cool lyric video of the 2018 mix of Back In The U.S.S.R.

Given the above mentioned sound quality constraints, what’s more intriguing to me, are the additional demo and session tracks, particularly the Esher Demos that were recorded in May 1968 at George Harrison’s bungalow in Esher located to the southwest of London. These are early and unplugged versions of most of the original album tracks, along with a few additional songs that didn’t make the album.

Two of the tunes that weren’t included on the White Album, Mean Mr. Mustard and Polythene Pam, ended up on Abbey Road. Not Guilty, a Harrison composition, was eventually released on his eponymous studio album from February 1979, his eighth studio record. And then there’s John Lennon’s Child Of Nature, which became Jealous Guy and was included on Lennon’s second solo album Imagine from September 1971 – admittedly stuff that is likely to primarily excite Beatles fans like myself.

Two things are very striking to me about these Esher Demos. The amount of writing was just remarkable during a time when tensions among The Beatles were increasing, which even led to Ringo Starr’s temporary departure. But despite their differences, somehow these guys were still able to engage as a band. They even has some fun, as background chatter on some of these home recordings suggests. Here’s the Esher Demo of Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da. While it’s clearly not my favorite Beatles tune, does this sound to you like a band in distress?

The Electric Ladyland Deluxe 50th Anniversary Box Set comes in two formats: 3-CD/one Blu-ray or 6-LP/one Blue-ray. It features a newly remastered Electric Ladyland album; Electric Ladyland: The Early Takes (unreleased demos); Live At The Hollywood Bowl 9/14/68 (unreleased concert); the previously released documentary about the making of the album At Last … The Beginning with 40 minutes of new footage; 5.1 surround sound mix of Electric Ladyland album; Linda McCartney’s original cover photo as chosen by Jimi Hendrix but rejected by the record company; a 48-page book featuring unpublished photos; and new essays by Rolling Stone’s David Fricke and Hendrix biographer John McDermott.

Electric Ladyland Box Set

CD mastering and the 5.1 surround sound mix were done by Eddie Kramer, sound engineer on all Hendrix albums released during his lifetime. Vinyl mastering was done by Bernie Grundman, who has mastered albums, such as Aja (Steely Dan), Thriller (Michael Jackson) and various Prince records.

Similar to Abbey Road, which couldn’t have been more different from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Electric Ladyland marked a significant change for Jimi Hendrix. Unlike the first two albums by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, where producer Chas Chandler tightly managed the recording process, Hendrix was fully in charge on Electric Ladyland. Recording sessions were no longer determined by Chandler’s tight organization and time management, but by Hendrix’s unconstrained perfectionism. Hendrix also repeatedly invited friends and guests to join him in the studio, such Brian Jones (still with The Rolling Stones at the time), Steve Winwood and Al Kooper. This created oftentimes chaotic recording conditions, which eventually led to Chandler to walk out on Hendrix.

Except for some tracks from the documentary At Last … The Beginning, currently, nothing else from the Electric Ladyland reissue is available on iTunes or Apple Music. I suspect it is similar for other digital or streaming platforms. That’s unfortunate and I assume done by design to encourage purchases of the actual box set. Probably for the same reason, I also couldn’t find any YouTube clips of songs from the reissue. The CD version currently sells for $42.39 on Amazon, while the vinyl configuration is going for $98.39. Here’s a fun clip of Eddie Kramer talking about Electric Ladyland and the new box set.

Sources: Wikipedia, Beatles website, Jimi Hendrix website, YouTube

Aw, The ’80s (Part 1: 1980-1984)

A two-part feature looking back at music of the decade

I’ve mentioned my weak spot for ’80s music on a few previous occasions. My taste has since evolved, and I now find myself wondering more often than not how I could have liked certain songs as much as I did back then. Well, obviously, I was a lot younger (though of course, I’m still young at heart!), and that music was all around me. It also triggers memories of school, parties, the first vacations with friends (and without my parents or any adults for that matter), the first hangover…in other words, it really was the soundtrack of growing up – okay, call me a sentimental fool!

This morning, I rode the car with my wife and put on Duran Duran’s Rio album – she loves ’80s, so it was all her fault! 🙂 Anyway, listening to this 1982 record gave me the idea to reflect on music and some related events from that decade. Since it’s a big topic, I figured it would be best to divide my thoughts in two parts. Obviously, it’s still not possible to make this all-inclusive, so I’m going to be arbitrary and selective, focusing on things that are meaningful to me. Here’s part I spanning 1980 to 1984.

Prince_Purple Rain

Some of the first things that come to my mind when thinking about the ’80s are Madonna, Michael Jackson, Prince, the death of disco, new wave, the advent of the CD, hair metal bands and Live Aid. Of course, I could add many other buzz words, e.g., music videos. At the time, we didn’t have cable or satellite television at my house back in Germany, so I missed out on MTV and VH1. In fact, believe or not, it wasn’t until 1993 when I first came to the U.S. that I watched VH1 and kind of got hooked, especially on their Behind The Music documentaries. For some reason, I never warmed to MTV.

1980

Some of the events I’d like to call out are Paul McCartney’s arrest in Tokyo for marijuana possession, which resulted in the cancellation of the remaining Wings tour that year (Jan 16); launch of Pink Floyd’s The Wall tour in Los Angeles (Feb 7); release of Back In Black, AC/DC’s first album with Brian Johnson who had replaced original lead vocalist Bon Scott (Jul 25); death of Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham (Sep 25); and murder of John Lennon who was shot by deranged Mark David Chapman in front of his Manhattan residence after returning from the recording studio with Yoko Ono (Dec 8).

The biggest hit singles of the year were Another Brick In The Wall (Part 2) (Pink Floyd), Woman In Love (Barbara Streisand), (Just Like) Starting Over (John Lennon), Funkytown (Lipps) and Upside Down (Diana Ross). I dug all of these songs at the time. While from today’s perspective my favorite is the Lennon tune, the track I’d like to highlight in a clip is Call Me by Blondie. Co-written by Debbie Harry and producer Giorgio Moroder (remember that guy?), the song was released as a single in February that year and was also included on the soundtrack for the 1980 picture American Gigolo. It became the band’s biggest hit, topping the Billboard Hot 100, as well as the charts in the U.K. and Canada, and scoring in the top 20 in many other countries.

1981

Notable events include the release of Face Value, the first solo album by Phil Collins – like it or not, the Genesis drummer was just everywhere in the ’80s – with Genesis and solo! (Feb 9); first break-up of Yes (Apr 18) only to reunite less than two years later and release their biggest-selling album 90125; U2’s television debut in the U.S. on the NBC late night program The Tomorrow Show (Jun 4); official launch of MTV in New York (Aug 1); Simon & Garfunkel’s free reunion concert in the Big Apple’s Central Park, drawing more than 500,000 visitors – no disputes over crowd attendance here! (Sep 9 ); and Rod Stewart show at Los Angeles Forum, broadcast live via satellite and watched by an estimated 35 million people worldwide – the first such broadcast since Elvis Presley’s 1973 Aloha From Hawaii special.

The top 5 hit singles of the year were Bette Davis Eyes (Kim Carnes), Tainted Love (Soft Cell), In The Air Tonight (Phil Collins), Woman (John Lennon) and Stars On 45 Medley (Stars On 45). Again, to me the Lennon tune holds up the best, though I also still like Bette Davis Eyes and have to admit In The Air Tonight is kind of cool. Even though I feel I’ve been over-exposed to Collins, I admit he’s done some good songs. Here’s a clip of Down Under by Men At Work. Co-written by Colin Hay and Ron Strykert, and released in October, the song was the second single from the band’s debut album Business As Usual that appeared the following month. It was cool then, and I still dig this tune.

1982

Perhaps most notably, the year saw the debut of Madonna with Everybody (Oct 2), the lead single from her first eponymous 1983 studio record, as well as the release of Michael Jackson’s Thriller album (Nov 30), which remains the world’s best-selling record to date. Some of the other events include the death of comedian and Blues Brothers vocalist John Belushi (March 5); premiere of Pink Floyd – The Wall, a film adaptation of the band’s 1979 album with the same title, at the Cannes Film Festival in France; and start of CD mass production by Dutch technology company and disc co-inventor Philips in Langenhagen near Hanover, Germany (Aug 17).

Eye Of The Tiger (Survivor), Down Under (Men At Work), I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll (Joan Jett & The Blackhearts), Come On Eileen (Dexys Midnight Runners) and Ebony And Ivory (Paul McCartney & Michael Jackson) were the biggest hit singles that year. Below is a clip of Come On Eileen, which appeared as a single in June. Co-written by Kevin Rowland, Jim Paterson and Billy Adams, the song was also included on the band’s second studio album Too-Rye-Ay, released the following month. I always found it cool how the catchy tune blended elements of Celtic folk with pop music.

1983

On March 2, CDs started to go on sale in the U.S., following their initial release in Japan the previous October. Some of the year’s other events in music include the debut of Let’s Spend The Night Together in New York, a film documenting the 1981 North American tour of The Rolling Stones (Feb 11); release of U2’s third studio album War, which debuts at no. 1 in the U.K. and features their first international hit single New Year’s Day (Feb 28); release of David Bowie’s commercially most successful studio album Let’s Dance (Apr 14); unveiling of Kiss’s faces without their make-up for the first time on MTV (Sep 18) – yes, I do seem to recall that seeing their actual faces was a pretty big deal at the time!; and Quiet Riot’s Metal Health, the first heavy metal album to top the Billboard 200 (Nov 26).

The biggest hit singles of the year: Karma Chameleon (Culture Club); Billie Jean (Michael Jackson); Flashdance…What A Feeling (Irene Cara); Let’s Dance (David Bowie) and Every Breath You Take (The Police). Did I have all these songs? You betcha – in fact, I still do, mostly somewhere on music cassettes! Here’s Billie Jean, written by the King of Pop himself, and released as the second single from the Thriller album in January 1983.

1984

Some of the happenings in the music world that year: Announcement from BBC Radio 1 DJ Mike Read of this refusal to play Relax by Frankie Goes To Hollywood due to its suggestive lyrics (Jan 11), a ban that was put in place by the entire BBC around the same time – in a clear illustration that something forbidden oftentimes tends to make it more attractive, only 10 days later, the tune stood a no. 1 on the Official Singles Chart in the UK; death of one of the greatest soul artists, Marvin Gaye, who following an argument was killed by his own father with a gun he had given to him as a Christmas present the previous year (Apr 1); release of Prince’s sixth studio album Purple Rain (Jun 25), the soundtrack to the 1984 film of the same name – one of his most successful records and the third-best-selling soundtrack album of all time, exceeding more than 25 million copies sold worldwide; and the first annual MTV Music Awards held in New York, where Madonna raised some eyebrows with a racy performance of Like A Virgin (Sep 14) – Madonna being controversial?

The biggest hit singles of 1984 were Careless Whisper (George Michael), I Just Called To Say I Love You (Stevie Wonder), Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go (Wham!), Girls Just Want To Have Fun (Cyndi Lauper) and Relax (Frankie Goes To Hollywood). Since I was a good boy and never listened to Relax and Like A Virgin, here’s a clip of Borderline, a song from Madonna’s debut record. On a more serious note, the tune that was written by producer Reggie Lucas still is one of my favorite Madonna songs. It became the album’s fifth and last single released in February 1984, peaking at no. 2 in the U.K. and reaching no. 10 in the U.S., less successful than the scandalous Like A Virgin!

Stay tuned for part 2, which will cover the period from 1985 to 1989.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube