The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

It’s hard to believe another Sunday is upon us when it feels like the previous one only passed a couple of days ago! In any case, I hope everybody is spending a nice weekend. To make it even better, once again, I’d like to invite you to join me on another music time travel journey!

Hiromi/Blackbird

Our first stop today only takes us back a few years, to September 2019, and the second-to-most-recent studio album, Spectrum, by Japanese jazz pianist and composer Hiromi Uehara. Professionally known as Hiromi, she started her recording career in April 2003 and has since released 11 additional studio albums. Hiromi blends diverse musical genres, such as post-bop, progressive rock, classical music and pop, and is known for her virtuosic technique and energetic live performances. Off the above album is her lovely rendition of The Beatles’ Blackbird.

Fats Domino/Ain’t That a Shame

Next, we set our magical music time machine to April 1955 and a song that makes me smile every time I hear it: Ain’t That a Shame by the incredible Fats Domino, who first released the classic as a single. Credited to his birth name Antoine Domino, as well as prominent New Orleans music artist and producer Dave Bartholomew, the tune also appeared on Domino’s March 1956 debut album Rock and Rollin’ with Fats Domino. Man, I love how that song swings. You don’t hear that type of music much these days and, yes, that’s a shame!

Bob Marley and the Wailers/Could You Be Loved

Now that we’re all movin’ and groovin’, let’s kick it up a notch and travel to the early ’80s and a Jamaican who was instrumental in popularizing reggae all over the world: Bob Marley. Creatively borrowing from a 1971 John Lennon quote about Chuck Berry, if you tried to give reggae another name, you might call it Bob Marley. Here’s Could You Be Loved, the best-known track from Uprising, the 12th studio album by Bob Marley and the Wailers, released in June 1980. Sadly, it turned out to be the final release during the life of Bob Marley who passed away in May 1981 at age 36 from melanoma that had spread to his lungs and brain.

B.B. King/The Thrill Is Gone

The time has come for some blues. When I think of that genre, B.B. King is among the first artists who come to mind. One of the most influential blues guitarists of all time, King never showed off when playing his beloved Gibson ES-355, a semi-hollow body electric guitar he called “Lucille”. Here’s The Thrill Is Gone, off King’s December 1969 studio album Completely Well. Co-written by Roy Hawkins and Rick Darnell in 1951 and first recorded by Hawkins that year, The Thrill Is Gone became a major hit for King in 1970. With its lush and somewhat trippy string arrangement, it may not be what you traditionally associate with the blues, but it’s one heck of a gem!

Golden Smog/Red Headed Stepchild

Our next stop takes us to the ’90s and Golden Smog, an alternative country supergroup formed in the late ’80s by members of Soul Asylum, The Jayhawks, Run Westy Run, Wilco and The Honeydogs. After releasing their debut EP On Golden Smog in December 1992, which entirely consisted of covers, the group came out with their first full-length album of original songs in 1995, Down By the Old Mainstream. Red Headed Stepchild was co-written by Dan Murphy and Marc Perlman, of Soul Asylum and The Jayhawks, respectively, who like the band’s other members used pseudonyms for the credits.

Bruce Springsteen/Prove It All Night

You know and I know that once again we need to wrap up another trip with the magical music time machine. We also still need to pay a visit to the ’70s. Let’s do both with The Boss! Prove It All Night, penned by Bruce Springsteen, is a track from Darkness on the Edge of Town, his fourth studio album that came out in June 1978. Like its legendary predecessor Born to Run, the album was recorded with the E Street Band and as usual released under the Bruce Springsteen name only. Well, they don’t call him boss for nothing!

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist of the above goodies. I enjoyed being your imaginary music time travel guide and hope we all do this again next Sunday!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

The Dark Side of the Moon at 50 Remains a Timeless Gem

Missing the actual March 1 date wasn’t how I had envisaged celebrating it, but at the end of the day, I simply couldn’t ignore the 50th anniversary of Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon– especially after I had found myself with some unexpected extra time to write a dedicated post about one of my favorite albums. Limiting myself to a brief song inclusion in yesterday’s installment of my Sunday Six recurring feature would have been pretty measly!

The Dark Side of the Moon is one of the rare albums I can think of that hasn’t lost any of its magic since its release on March 1, 1973. To start with, it continues to be a sonic gem to this day, which has aged very well. Moreover, while greed, division and mental disease, to name some of the topics the concept album explores, have existed since the beginning of mankind, these issues remain relevant today, arguably more than ever.

Since so much has been written about this album (once again, I’d like to call out fellow blogger Vinyl Connection’s outstanding recent post), I’ve decided to keep this upfront tight and mostly focus this post on the music. I also made the deliberate choice not to contribute to the over-exposure of Money, even though I still dearly love this tune. I will also skip the excellent Us And Them, since I just featured that track in my aforementioned Sunday Six.

Let’s start taking a closer look at the music with Breathe (In the Air), the second track on Side one (in vinyl speak!). Like all other tunes, the lyrics were written by Roger Waters, the mastermind behind the concept of an album to explore dark aspects of human existence. Come to think of it, “The Dark Side of the Human Condition” would have been an apt alternative title, though the chosen option much better captures the spacy sound. The music for Breathe was composed by Richard Wright and David Gilmour, Pink Floyd’s keyboarder and guitarist, respectively. Songfacts notes Breatheis about an older man speaking to a baby, telling it to breathe. The old man then describes the unfortunate working life the baby will have to face: “Run, rabbit, run. Dig that hole, forget the sun.” The song implies that we need to overcome these messages and do what inspires us.

Once you hear the ticking clocks, you know it’s time for, well, Time. The album’s only track credited to all four members of Pink Floyd (including drummer Nick Mason) deals with the topic of mortality. From Songfacts: This song is about how time can slip by, but many people do not realize it until it is too late. Roger Waters got the idea when he realized he was no longer preparing for anything in life, but was right in the middle of it. He had just turned 28. Songfacts also notes the layers of clock noises were put together by Alan Parsons, who served as the album’s production engineer. The sounds of each clock were recorded separately at an antiques store and subsequently were blended together – quite a feat!

Side one closes with the magnificent The Great Gig in the Sky, which I simply couldn’t skip. The track’s key feature are extraordinary vocals by Clare Torry, a British singer who had been brought in by Parsons. “She had to be told not to sing any words,” Parsons told Rolling Stone in March 2003, as documented by Songfacts. “When she first started, she was doing ‘Oh yeah baby’ and all that kind of stuff, so she had to be restrained on that. But there was no real direction – she just had to feel it.” Torry rightfully ended up receiving a writing credit for her powerful contribution. This track continues to give me chills, even though I must have listened to it more than 100 times over the decades!

Let’s move on to Side two. As previously noted, I’m skipping Money and Us And Them, which also became the album’s two singles. Instead, I’d like to call out the two final tracks, which were each written and composed by Waters. First up is Brain Damage. Songfacts observes This is probably about insanity, something the band was quite familiar with. To me, there’s no doubt this tune is about mental disease! Songfacts adds, The line, “And if the band you’re in starts playing different tunes” is a specific reference to Syd Barrett’s propensity for playing the wrong song on stage during his “episodes” towards his final days with Pink Floyd, which subsequently led to his dismissal. It’s really sad what certain drugs can do!

This leaves me with the final track titled Eclipse. It seamlessly follows Brain Damage, essentially making both tunes one song. From Songfacts: The album was well into production but didn’t have an ending until Roger Waters came up with the song. It reprises some lyrics to the opening track “Breathe” (“All that you touch, all that you see”) before closing out the album with the words, “There is no dark side of the moon really. Matter of fact it’s all dark.” Songfacts adds the closing statement was spoken by Gerry O’Driscoll, the doorman at London’s Abbey Road Studios, where this masterpiece was recorded. I think it’s safe to assume this makes Driscoll the most popular doorman most of the album’s listeners aren’t aware they know. I was one of them!

Following is a Spotify link to the album. If you own headphones, I highly recommend using them!

The Dark Side of the Moon has sold more than 45 million copies worldwide, which according to Wikipedia makes it the best-selling album of the ’70s and the forth-best selling in history after Michael Jackson’s Thriller (70 million), AC/DC’s Back in Black (50 million) and the soundtrack of The Bodyguard (45 million). A Billboard story published in March 2013 for the album’s 40th anniversary reported, Despite only reaching the No. 1 spot for one solitary week, the album continues to hold the record for the most weeks charted on the Billboard 200 (over 800 weeks!) and was a constant feature on the Billboard 200 from its initial release until 1988 – returning to the chart in late 2009 after Billboard revised its chart eligibility rules regarding older releases.

A look at the current Billboard 200 (week of March 4) reveals The Dark Side of the Moon at no. 155 with a total of now 972 weeks on the chart – that’s the equivalent of approximately 18.5 years! I imagine the upcoming March 24 reissue box-set The Dark Side of the Moon 50th Anniversary, if anything, is going to breathe in (no pun intended!) additional life for this amazing album!

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; Billboard; YouTube; Spotify

A First Glance at Albums Hitting the Big 50 This Year

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

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

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

Steely DanCountdown to Ecstasy (July 1973)

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

Stevie WonderInnervisions (August 3, 1973)

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

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

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

Elton JohnGoodbye Yellow Brick Road (October 5, 1973)

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

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

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

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

Sources: Wikipedia; Variety; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

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

Chase Ceglie/Tonight

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

Elder/Endless Return

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

The Dirty Nil/Bye Bye Big Bear

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

Winterland/Set Me Free

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

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

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

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

I can’t believe it’s Sunday again and (in the U.S.) Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Before we know it, Christmas will be upon us, and another year will be over. Okay, before all of that happens, let’s explore the amazing world of music with a little trip, zig-zagging the past six decades or so, six tracks at a time. Are you in?

Freddie Hubbard/Little Sunflower

Perhaps the only thing that has become a fixture of the Sunday Six is to start our trip with jazz. For some reason, jazz and Sunday mornings are a perfect fit. Today, my proposition is American jazz trumpeter Freddie Hubbard who was active between 1958 and 2008, playing bebop, hard bop and post-bop styles. He started playing the mellophone (a brass instrument similar to the trumpet) and the trumpet in his high school band in Indianapolis. After moving to New York in 1958, the then-20-year-old began playing with some of the best jazz players of the era, including Philly Joe Jones, Sonny Rollins, Slide Hampton, Eric Dolphy and J. J. Johnson. Following the June 1960 release of his first record as a leader, Open Sesame, Hubbard was invited to play on Ornette Coleman’s sixth album Free Jazz. As is quite common in jazz, Hubbard also served as a sideman for many other jazz greats, such as Oliver Nelson, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. Little Sunflower is a Hubbard composition from his album Backlash, released in May 1967. He was backed by James Spaulding (flute, alto saxophone), Albert Dailey (piano), Bob Cunningham (bass), Otis Ray Appleton (drums) and Ray Barretto (percussion). Smooth and groovy stuff – feel free to move and snip along!

Cry Of Love/Peace Pipe

Let’s jump to the ’90s and American rock band Cry Of Love. Formed in Raleigh, N.C. in 1989 by Audley Freed (guitar), Pee Wee Watson (vocals, guitar), Robert Kearns (bass, vocals) and Jason Patterson, they released their debut album Brother in May 1993. Following a 17-month supporting tour, Kelly Holland who had become the group’s frontman in 1991 quit. Cry Of Love replaced him with Robert Mason, vocalist of hard rock band Lynch Mob, and in 1997 put out one more album, Diamonds & Debris, before calling it quits. Peace Pipe, co-written by Freed and Holland, is a tune from the above-mentioned Brother. It became their biggest hit, topping Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart in 1993 – cool rocker that reminds me a bit of Bad Company.

Manfred Mann’s Earth Band/Davy’s On the Road Again

Time to pay a visit to the ’70s and Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. Formed in 1971, the group is the third act by Mann who started in the ’60s with self-titled band Manfred Mann before forming the short-lived jazz fusion-inspired outfit Manfred Mann Chapter Three in 1969. Davy’s On the Road Again, from the Earth Band’s eighth studio album Watch released in February 1978, brought Manfred Mann on my radar screen. I loved that tune from the get-go and got the record on vinyl at the time, a copy I own to this day. It’s a bit worn but still plays! Manfred Mann’s Earth Band became best known with renditions of songs, especially by Bruce Springsteen (Blinded by the Light, Spirit in the Night) and Bob Dylan (Mighty Quinn). Davy’s On the Road Again was no exception. The tune was co-written by Robbie Robertson of The Band and the group’s producer John Simon. Simon first released it on his fourth solo album John Simon’s Album, which appeared in 1971. Until I did research for this post, I had no idea about this! While I like the original as well, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band really kicked it up, especially in the album live version. There’s also a shortened single edit I’m not fond of.

Sheryl Crow/Summer Day

I could easily continue visiting great tunes that came out in the last century, especially in the ’60s and ’70s, but let’s not forget the current millennium. The year is 2010. The month is July. That’s when Sheryl Crow released her eighth studio album 100 Miles From Memphis. Since she emerged in August 1993 with her great debut Tuesday Night Music Club, I’ve enjoyed listening to her music. Sadly, we likely won’t be seeing another full-length studio album from her. When Crow released her most recent one Threads in August 2019, she said it was her final such effort, citing changing music trends where listeners create their own playlists and no longer pay much attention to albums. I certainly can’t deny I like playlists myself! Anyway, the vintage R&B and Memphis soul-flavored 100 Miles from Memphis marked a departure from Crow’s country and pop rock past. Let’s listen to Summer Day, a great tune penned by Crow together with co-producers Doyle Bramhall II and Justin Stanley. It also was released separately as the album’s first single, climbing to no. 3 on the U.S. Billboard chart Adult Album Alternative. I don’t know about you, but with freezing temperatures in my neck of the woods, a tune titled Summer Day sounds like an attractive proposition!

Bangles/In a Different Light

Our next stop are the ’80s, a decade in music I really loved at the time as a teenager growing up in Germany. While nowadays from a strictly musical perspective I can no longer say this as a general statement, I will always have a soft spot for the ’80s and memories associated with many of the songs. One of the bands I dug big time and still enjoy to this day are the Bangles, except for certain completely overexposed tunes. In 1986, the largely female pop rock group from Los Angeles released their hugely successful sophomore album Different Light. Among others, it climbed to no. 2 in the U.S. and Australia, no. 3 in the UK, no. 4 in New Zealand and no. 8 in Canada. It spawned five charting singles, including two of their best-known tunes Manic Monday and Walk Like an Egyptian. Here’s one of the songs that did not become a single, In a Different Light, co-written by the band’s vocalists and guitarists Susanna Hoffs and Vicki Peterson.

Janis Joplin/Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)

And once again, this brings us to the final stop of yet another music mini-excursion. For this one, we shall go back to September 1969 and Janis Joplin’s first album as a solo artist, I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama! Sadly, it was the only solo effort that appeared during her life, which was cut short in October 1970 due to a heroin overdose. It made Joplin a member of the creepy 27 Club, which among others also includes Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison, who all died at age 27 between 1969 and 1971. Joplin first rose to fame in 1967 with her appearance at the Monterey International Pop Festival where she fronted Big Brother and the Holding Company, a then-little-known psychedelic rock band from San Francisco. After releasing two albums with the group, Joplin departed to launch a solo career with her own backing bands, Kozmic Blues Band, followed by Full Tilt Boogie Band. Joplin’s second, final and by far most successful solo album Pearl appeared three months after her death. Here’s Try (Just a Little Bit Harder) from her solo debut. Co-written by Jerry Ragovoy and Chip Taylor, the great tune is a fantastic showcase of Joplin’s one-of-a-kind vocals and seemingly boundless energy.

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist featuring the above tunes. Hope there’s something you dig.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Musings of the Past

In Appreciation Of The Saxophonist

Time for another installment of this infrequent feature, in which I republish select content that first appeared in the earlier stage of the blog when I had fewer followers. The following post about my favorite saxophone players originally appeared in November 2017. I’ve slightly edited it and also added a Spotify playlist at the end.

In Appreciation Of The Saxophonist

A list of some of my favorite saxophone players and solos

Music instruments have always fascinated me. I also have a deep appreciation for musicians who master their gear. Oftentimes, I wish I would have learned more than just the guitar and the bass. For regular readers of the blog or those who know me otherwise, none of this should come as a big surprise. I’ve written a bunch of posts on some of the gear I admire, from guitars like the Fender StratocasterGibson Les Paul and Rickenbacker 360/12, to keyboards like the  Hammond B3, as well as some of my favorite drummers and bassists. One of the coolest instruments I haven’t touched yet is the saxophone.

Let me address the big caveat to this post right away: Since I know next to nothing about jazz, I’m focusing on genres that are in my wheelhouse: rock, blues and pop. While many of the saxophonists I highlight come from the jazz world, it’s still safe to assume I’m missing some outstanding players. On the other hand, where would I even start, if I broadened the scope to jazz? With that being out of the way, following is a list of some of favorite saxophonists and sax solos.

Update: Since subsequently I’ve started to explore the jazz world, mostly in my Sunday Six feature, I’m going to add some tracks in the Spotify playlist featuring some additional outstanding jazz saxophonists.

Raphael Ravenscroft

I imagine just like most readers, I had never heard of this British saxophonist until I realized he was associated with a ’70s pop song featuring one of the most epic sax solos: Baker Street by Gerry Rafferty. The breathtaking performance put Ravenscroft on the map. He went on to work with other top artists like Marvin Gaye (In Our Lifetime, 1981), Robert Plant (Pictures At Eleven, 1982) and Pink Floyd (The Final Cut, 1983). Ravenscroft died from a suspected heart attack in October 2014 at the age of 60. According to a BBC News story, he didn’t think highly of the solo that made him famous, saying, “I’m irritated because it’s out of tune…Yeah it’s flat. By enough of a degree that it irritates me at best.” The same article also noted that Ravenscroft “was reportedly paid only £27 for the session with a cheque that bounced while the song is said to have earned Rafferty £80,000 a year in royalties.” Wow!

Wayne Shorter

The American jazz saxophonist and composer, who started his career in the late ’50s, played in Miles Davis’ Second Great Quintet in the 1960s and co-founded the jazz fusion band Weather Report in 1971. Shorter has recorded over 20 albums as a bandleader and played as a sideman on countless other jazz records. He also contributed to artists outside the jazz realm, including Joni MitchellDon Henley and Steely Dan. For the latter, he performed a beautiful extended tenor sax solo for Aja, the title track of their 1977 gem.

Clarence Clemons

The American saxophonist, musician and actor was best known for his longtime association with Bruce Springsteen. From 1972 to his death in June 2011 at age 69, Clemons was a member of the E Street Band, where he played the tenor saxophone. He also released several solo albums and played with other artists, including Aretha FranklinTwisted Sister, Grateful Dead and  Ringo Starr and His All-Star Band. But it was undoubtedly the E Street Band where he left his biggest mark, providing great sax parts for Springsteen gems like Thunder RoadThe Promised Land and The Ties That Bind. One of my favorite Clemons moments is his solo on Bobby Jean from the Born In The U.S.A. album. What could capture “The Big Man” better than a live performance? This clip is from a 1985 concert in Paris, France.

Curtis Amy

The American West Coast jazz musician was primarily known for his work as a tenor and soprano saxophonist. Among others, Amy served as the musical director of Ray Charles’ orchestra for three years in the mid-60s. He also led his own bands and recorded under his own name. Outside the jazz arena, he worked as a session musician for artists like The Doors (Touch Me, The Soft Parade, 1969), Marvin GayeSmokey Robinson and Carole King (Tapestry, 1971). One of the tunes on King’s masterpiece is the ballad Way Over Yonder, which features one of the most beautiful sax solos in pop I know of.

Dick Parry

The English saxophonist, who started his professional career in 1964, has worked as a session musician with many artists. A friend of David Gilmour, Parry is best known for his work with Pink Floyd, appearing on their albums The Dark Side Of The Moon (1973), Wish You Were Here (1975), The Division Bell (1994) and Pulse (1995). He also worked with Procol Harum  guitarist Mick Grabham (Mick The Lad, 1972), John Entwistle (Mad Dog, 1975) and Rory Gallagher (Jinx, 1982), among others. One of Parry’s signature sax solos for Pink Floyd appeared on Money. Here’s a great clip recorded during the band’s 1994 Division Bell tour.

Ronnie Ross

Albert Ronald “Ronnie” Ross was a British jazz baritone saxophonist. He started his professional career in the 1950s with the tenor saxophone, playing with jazz musicians Tony KinseyTed Heath and Don Rendell. It was during his tenure with the latter that he switched to the baritone sax. Outside his jazz engagements during the 60s, Ross gave saxophone lessons to a young dude called David Bowie and played tenor sax on Savoy Truffle, a track from The Beatles’ White Album. In the 70s, his most memorable non-jazz appearance was his baritone sax solo at the end of the Lou Reed song Walk On The Wild Side. I actually always thought the solo on that tune from Reed’s 1972 record  Transformer was played by Bowie. Instead, he co-produced the track and album with Mick Ronson. According to Wikipedia, Bowie also played acoustic guitar on the recording.

Walter Parazaider

The American saxophonist was a founding member of Chicago and played with the band for 51 years until earlier this year (2017) when he officially retired due to a heart condition. In addition to the saxophone, Parazider also mastered the flute, clarinet, piccolo and oboe. Here is a clip of Saturday In The Park and 25 Or 6 To 4 from Chicago’s great 2016 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction performance, which features Parazaider on saxophone.

Alto Reed

Thomas Neal Cartmell, known as Alto Reed, is an American saxophonist who was a member of The Silver Bullet Band since it was founded by Bob Seger in the mid-70s. He toured with Seger and the band for 40-plus years, starting with Live Bullet in 1976. Reed has also performed with many other bands and musicians like FoghatGrand Funk RailroadLittle FeatThe Blues Brothers  and George Thorogood. Among his signature performances for Seger are the saxophone solo in Old Time Rock And Roll and the introduction to Turn the Page. Here’s a great live clip of Turn the Page from 2014.

Junior Walker

Autry DeWalt Mixon Jr., known by his stage name Junior Walker or Jr. Walker, was an American singer and saxophonist whose 40-year career started in the mid-1950s with his own band called the Jumping Jacks. In 1964, Jr. Walker & The All Stars were signed by Motown. They became one of the company’s signature acts, scoring hits with songs like Shotgun(I’m a) RoadrunnerShake And Fingerpop and remakes of Motown tunes Come See About Me and How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You). While Walker continued to record with the band and solo during the ’70s and into the early ’80s, one of his most memorable performances resulted from his guest performance on Foreigner’s 1981 album 4. His saxophone solo on Urgent is one of the most blistering in pop rock. Walker died from cancer in November 1995 at the age of 64.

Bobby Keys

No list of saxophonists who have played with rock and blues artists would be complete without Bobby Keys. From the mid-1950s until his death in December 2014, this American saxophonist appeared on hundreds of recordings as a member of horn sections and was a touring musician. He worked with some of the biggest names, such as The Rolling Stones, Lynyrd SkynyrdGeorge HarrisonJohn LennonEric Clapton and Joe Cocker. Some of these artists’ songs that featured Keys include Don’t Ask Me No Questions (Lynyrd SkynyrdSecond Helping, 1974), Whatever Gets You Thru The Night (John Lennon, Walls And Bridges, 1974) and Slunky (Eric Clapton, Eric Clapton, 1970). But he is best remembered for his sax part on Brown Sugar from the Stones’ 1971 studio album Sticky Fingers.

– End –

The original post, which was published on November 11, 2017, ended here. Here’s the previously mentioned Spotify list featuring all of the above and some additional saxophone greats.

Sources: Wikipedia; BBC; YouTube; Spotify

Yes to Yes at State Theatre New Jersey

English prog rock stalwarts celebrate 50th anniversary of “Close to the Edge” album and other classic tunes

When I learned a few weeks ago that Yes would play right in my backyard, I spontaneously decided to get a ticket. After all, what would be the chances that would happen again anytime soon or perhaps ever? Plus, prices were fairly reasonable and State Theatre New Jersey in New Brunswick is a nice midsize venue only 20 minutes away by car from my house. But as the show was coming up, I started second-guessing myself. After all, Yes have seen multiple lineup changes over the decades, and none of their current members are original. Plus, while I’ve generally come to dig their music, there’s only so much love I have for prog rock. It turned out to be a good decision, so let me share my wonderous story from last evening (October 9)!

Yes are among the few exceptions of prog rock I’ve sufficiently come to appreciate to a level where I dig them, though it did take me a while. My journey started in 1983 when the English group scored their biggest mainstream hit Owner of a Lonely Heart and released 90125, their most commercially successful album. Both marked a significant departure from the band’s original sound. In fact, by the time that music appeared, Yes had ended their initial 13-year run from 1968-1981 and reunited with a modified line-up: Jon Anderson (vocals), Trevor Rabin (guitar, keyboards, vocals), Tony Kaye (organ, electric piano), Chris Squire (bass, vocals) and Alan White (drums, percussion, backing vocals, synthesizer).

None of the musicians who recorded 90125 was on stage last night, though White who sadly passed away this May at the age of 72 after a short illness did have a presence. In addition to being listed on the tour poster, he was remembered with a video at the beginning of the night. In 1972, White replaced the group’s original drummer Bill Bruford. The currently performing line-up of Yes features longtime members Steve Howe (guitar, vocals), Geoff Downes (keyboards, vocals) and Billy Sherwood (bass) who first joined in 1970, 1980 and 1989, respectively; together with Jon Davison, lead vocalist since 2012 (also acoustic guitar, percussion, keyboards) and Jay Schellen (drums, percussion), who first toured with Yes in 2016.

Yes: Left: Steve Howe; right (clockwise from upper left corner: Geoff Downes, Jon Davison, Jay Schellen and Billy Sherwood

The concert was part of the ongoing U.S. leg of the band’s tour to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Close to the Edge, their fourth studio album released on September 13, 1972. In addition to performing the record in its entirety as the second set, Yes played an introductory set that mostly drew from their ’70s catalog, including Time and a Word (July 1970), The Yes Album (February 1971), Fragile (November 1971), Relayer (November 1974), Going for the One (July 1977) and Tormato (September 1978).

The set also featured two tracks from The Quest, the most recent Yes album that came out in July this year, their first in seven years. While it was a legitimate reminder the current version of Yes is more than their own touring tribute band, perhaps somewhat selfishly, I wished they would have kept it to one new song and instead included Owner of a Lonely Heart or thrown it in as an encore. For the latter, the band picked two other excellent tunes from Fragile and The Yes Album.

I’d say it’s time to finally get to some music. Capturing clips of a group performing songs ranging from approximately four to 19 minutes in length is a challenge. I’m not only talking about physical endurance but more importantly the real possibility of testing the patience of people seated around you. Luckily, the conditions turned out to be great, so I decided to rely on my own clips for the most part.

Let’s kick it off with Yours Is No Disgrace, the opening track from The Yes Album, which was credited to all members of the band at the time including Steve Howe. Jon Anderson told Songfacts the song’s lyrics were about “how crazy we can be as a human race to be out there flittering money around and gambling, trying to earn that big payout, when actually that’s not what life is truly about.” Another influence was the Vietnam war: …Death defying, mutilated armies scatter the earth, Crawling out of dirty holes, their morals, their morals disappear… Killing is brutal and cruel, but the disgrace falls not on the soldiers, but on those who orchestrated the war. This is the only footage I didn’t capture myself, and I could only find a partial clip on YouTube. It still nicely illustrates this line-up of Yes has the necessary chops to master the band’s complex tunes.

Next up is a tune that at under 5 minutes presented a good opportunity to film in its entirety without overly taxing my arms from holding up the phone. Why can’t prog rock acts have more tunes with that duration? No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed was co-written by Richie Havens and Jerome Moross. As such, the song held the distinction of being the only cover in the set. It originally appeared on Havens’ sophomore album Something Else Again, which came out in January 1968. Yes also chose their second album Time and a Word to include their rendition.

Wonderous Stories, off Going For the One, was the shortest song of the night. Therefore, I decided to, well, go for it and record it as well! Penned by Anderson, the beautiful ballad also became the album’s first single in September 1977. Peaking at no. 7 on the Official Singles Chart, it remains the band’s highest-charting single in the UK to this day. Anderson said he wrote the tune on “a beautiful day” during a stay in Montreux, Switzerland, “one of those days you want to remember for years afterwards.”

While the night was mostly a celebration of the band’s ’70s catalog, as noted above, Yes did include two tracks from their most recent album The Quest. At first, I was going to ignore it. Then I changed my mind. After all, when listening to some of its tunes back in July, I thought they sounded pretty good. Here’s Dare to Know, written by Howe.

After Yes finished the first set with Heart of the Sunshine, a track from Fragile, and took a short break, they returned for the main reason of the night, to perform the Close to the Edge album. I decided to film the third and final track on that record, Siberian Khatru. In retrospect, I wish I would have recorded And You And I, the album’s second tune, which I thought was the highlight of the set. Yes also did a great job with Siberian Khatru, co-written by Anderson, Howe and the amazing Rick Wakeman, who in 1971 had replaced the group’s original keyboarder, Tony Kaye.

And then it was time for the encore, a terrific one-two punch with Roundabout and Starship Trooper. Since the former has become one of my all-time favorite Yes tunes, it was an easy decision to pick. Co-written by Anderson and Howe, Roundabout was the opener of Fragile. A single edit was also released in the U.S. in January 1972. It climbed to no. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming the group’s highest-charting ’70s single there and the second-highest to date. I guess you know the one tune that beat it: Owner of a Lonely Heart.

This was my first Yes concert, so I don’t have a comparator. I think while it’s fair to say that with Chris Squire, who died from blood cancer in June 2015 at age 67, and Rick Wakeman two essential members of the band’s ’70s line-up were missing, the current incarnation of Yes sounded pretty solid to me. I’m not only talking about Steve Howe who remains a great guitarist. Geoff Downes, Billy Sherwood and Jay Shellen demonstrated impressive chops as well. I must also call out Jon Davison, an excellent vocalist who perfectly nailed Jon Anderson’s parts.

Here’s the setlist:

Set 1
On the Silent Wings of Freedom [Tormato]
Yours Is No Disgrace [The Yes Album]
No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed (Richie Havens cover) [Time and a Word]
To Be Over [Relayer] (Steve Howe solo acoustic performance)
Wonderous Stories [Going For the One]
The Ice Bridge [The Quest]
Dare to Know [The Quest]
Heart of the Sunrise [Fragile]

Set 2 (Close to the Edge)
Close to the Edge
And You and I
Siberian Khatru

Encore
Roundabout [Fragile]
Starship Trooper [The Yes Album]

I’m also throwing in a Spotify playlist of the setlist:

I’d like to close with a quote from Steve Howe included in Guitar Magazine’s September cover story about the 50th anniversary of Close to the Edge: “Our spirits were very high,” Howe says. “We were young, enthusiastic, and adventurous, and we had this incredible breakthrough success with Fragile. We saw our next album as a real opportunity to prove our worth as a band. The door had been opened and we weren’t going to go backward. We wanted to sharpen our skills as far as writing and arranging.

“Concerts come and go, but a record is forever. I think we all had a sense that whatever we did next, it had to feel like some sort of definitive statement. A record like this was destined to be made, and we wanted to be the ones making it.”

If you’re curious about the remaining U.S. tour, which closes on November 19 in Westbury, N.Y., here’s the schedule.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; Guitar Magazine; Yes website; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Good morning (in my part of the woods, New Jersey, USA), good afternoon, good evening, wherever you are – welcome to another Sunday Six! If you’re a frequent traveler, you know what’s about to unfold. For first-time visitors, I hope you stick around to join me and others on a new excursion into the great world of music, six tunes at a time. Off we go!

Nat Adderley/Work Song

Today, our trip starts in 1960 with music by jazz musician Nat Adderley, who became best known for playing the cornet, a brass instrument similar to a trumpet. After starting to play the trumpet in 1946 as a 15-year-old, Adderley switched to the cornet in 1950. Together with his older brother, saxophonist Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, he co-founded Cannonball Adderley Quintet in 1956 and frequently worked with the group until its dissolution in 1975, following the death of his older brother. In addition to playing bebop, Cannonball Adderley Quintet became known for starting the soul jazz genre. Adderly also worked with Kenny Clarke, Wes Montgomery, Walter Booker, Ron Carter and Sonny Fortune, among others. Nat Adderley passed away in January 2000 at the age of 68 due to complications from diabetes. Work Song, composed by Adderley and Oscar Brown Jr., is the title track of an album Adderley released in 1960. The tune features Adderley (cornet), Montgomery (guitar), Bobby Timmons (piano), Percy Heath (bass) and Louis Hayes (drums). Groovy stuff but not too aggressive – perfect music to start a Sunday morning!

John Hiatt/Shredding the Document

The more I listen to John Hiatt, the more I dig the man! While Hiatt has written songs for 50-plus years and recorded close to 30 albums, his tunes oftentimes became hits for other artists. Perhaps the most prominent examples are Thing Called Love and Have a Little Faith in Me, which became hits for Bonnie Raitt and Joe Cocker, respectively. Hiatt’s songs have also been covered by an impressive and diverse array of other artists like B.B. KingBob DylanBuddy GuyEmmylou HarrisJoan BaezLinda RonstadtThe Nitty Gritty Dirt Band  and Willy DeVille. Shredding the Document, penned by Hiatt, is from Walk On, an album released in October 1995. Peaking at no. 48 on the Billboard 200, it ranks among his better performing records on the U.S. mainstream chart. Walk On did best in Belgium and Sweden, where it climbed to no. 10 and no. 13, respectively.

James Brown/The Boss

Next, let’s get funky with James Brown and The Boss, a tune from Black Cesar, the soundtrack album for the blaxploitation crime drama motion picture of the same name. The Boss was co-written by Brown, Charles Bobbit and Fred Wesley. The album and the film were released in February 1973. While reactions were mixed among music critics, Black Cesar peaked at no. 31 on the Billboard 200, making it Brown’s second highest-charting album on the U.S. pop chart in the ’70s. I love the guitar work on this tune. The lush horns give it a true ’70s feel.

Yes/Owner of a Lonely Heart

On to the ’80s and the biggest hit by English progressive rock band Yes: Owner of a Lonely Heart. After the group had disbanded in 1981, original co-founder Chris Squire (bass) and Alan White (drums) who had joined Yes in 1972 formed Cinema in January 1982, together with guitarist and singer-songwriter Trevor Rabin and original Yes keyboarder Tony Kaye. In November 1982, they started work on an album with a more pop-oriented sound. During the mixing stage, former Yes vocalist Jon Anderson joined Cinema, which subsequently became the new line-up of Yes. The album was titled 90125, after its catalog number of record label Atco. Owner of a Lonely Heart, written primarily by Rabin with contributions from Anderson, Squire and producer Trevor Horn, topped the Billboard Hot 100. Elsewhere, it climbed to no. 2 in The Netherlands, no. 14 in Australia, no. 28 in the UK and no. 30 in Ireland. 90125 became the group’s best-selling album, reaching 3x Platinum certification in the U.S., 2X Platinum in Canada, Platinum in Germany and Gold in the UK and France. Today, Yes (featuring longtime guitarist Steve Howe) are embarking on a U.S. tour to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their fifth studio album Close to the Edge. While Owner of a Lonely Heart has a commercial ’80s sound, it’s an awesome tune!

Pretenders/Alone

I trust the English-American rock band The Pretenders (known as Pretenders since 1990) don’t need much of an introduction. The group was formed in March 1978 and originally included Chrissie Hynde (lead and backing vocals, rhythm guitar, harmonica), James Honeyman-Scott (lead guitar, backing vocals, keyboards), Pete Farndon (bass, backing vocals) and Martin Chambers (drums, backing vocals, percussion). By the time the 10th album Alone was released in October 2016, Hynde was literally alone as the only remaining member. She relied on session musicians to record the album, essentially mirroring the same approach Hynde took once before, in 1990 for Packed!, the fifth album that appeared under the band’s name – the first released as Pretenders. Today, the group has a full line-up, with Chambers back in the fold. Here’s the defiant title track of Alone – I love Hynde’s feisty lyrics, which are a perfect match for the raw sound!

The Fuzztones/Barking Up the Wrong Tree

And once again we’ve arrived at our final destination, which takes us back to the present. This past April, American garage rock revival band The Fuzztones put out their latest studio release. Encore is “a collection of unreleased tracks packaged together as a way to say thank you to the faithful who have followed and supported the band through the years,” Tinnitist reported at the time. The Fuzztones were originally formed by singer and guitarist Rudi Protrudi in New York in 1982, who remains the only original member. Since their 1985 debut Lysergic Emanations, they have released eight additional albums including Encore. Barking Up The Wrong Tree, written by Protrudi, is the only original song. The other six tracks are covers of tunes by Rare Earth, The Wildwood and others. Fuzzy garage rock – I love that sound!

Of course, this post wouldn’t be complete with a Spotify playlist of the above songs. Hope there’s something you dig.

Sources: Wikipedia; Yes website; Tinnitist; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another installment of The Sunday Six! Hope you join me on my first musical excursion in September 2022.

Delicate Steve/Looking Glass

Usually, I like to kick off this recurring feature with jazz, which for some reason seems to be a natural fit for a Sunday, especially during the morning. But it’s also good to shake up things every now and then. So here’s my first proposition for today: Delicate Steve, the stage name of American multi-instrumentalist Steve Marion, who has been active since 2010. His sound has blended elements of progressive rock, folksy twang, African rhythms, surf rock and 1970s pop. Marion is a sought after artist, having collaborated with the likes of The Black Keys, Paul Simon and Tame Impala. Looking Glass is a great-sounding track from Marion’s latest album After Hours released July 8. According to his website, it was “written and recorded on a 1966 Fender Stratocaster that reignited his love for the instrument.”

The Kinks/Living On a Thin Line

After a cool guitar instrumental, the next stop on our trip are the ’80s. If you’re well familiar with my music taste, you may be a bit surprised I picked a tune by The Kinks. After all, I’ve said more than once that while they are among my favorite British bands, I particularly dig their ’60s output. That’s still the case, but there are exceptions. One is Living On a Thin Line. Written by Dave Davies, the tune is from The Kinks’ 21st studio album Word of Mouth, which appeared in November 1984. Man, I love it! Are we going to see a reunion of The Kinks? “We’ve been talking about it,” Ray Davies told The Washington Post in January 2021. “I mean there’s a lot of material and, you know, it could still happen.” Now, you really got me!

Bob Dylan/Rainy Day Women #12 & 35

How do you move from ’80s Kinks to ’60s Bob Dylan? To borrow from a famous ad for sneakers, ‘just do it!’ The year is 1966. In May of that year, Dylan released his seventh studio album Blonde on Blonde, which I think is fair to say is widely considered to be among his best records. His accolades include the induction into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999 and a no. 38 ranking in the most recent 2020 update of Rolling Stone’s list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Here’s the terrific opener Rainy Day Women #12 & 35. I just love the sound of the raucous brass band, which is a perfect match to the line, Everybody must get stoned!

Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris & Linda Ronstadt/After the Gold Rush

Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt are three artists I’ve really come to appreciate over the past five years or so. Bringing big acts together for an album doesn’t guarantee a successful outcome, but I feel in this case it worked – for the second time! The case is Trio II, the second collaboration album by these dynamite ladies, which came out in February 1999. While the songs had been recorded in 1994, seven years after the appearance of Trio, it actually took 12 years for these renditions to be released. Why? Label disputes and conflicting schedules. Whatever the reason, this record was worth the wait. Here’s one of my all-time favorites: After the Gold Rush, a tune written by Neil Young who first recorded it as the title track of his third studio album from September 1970. The angelic harmony singing gives me goosebumps every time I listen to the tune. This is so beautiful that it can make me well up!

The Doors/Roadhouse Blues

Okay, it’s time to shake off the goosebumps and kick it up a few notches with a great blues rocker by The Doors. Roadhouse Blues, written by Jim Morrison with the music credited to the band, is the opener of their fifth studio album Morrison Hotel released in February 1970. In case you’d like to read more about the record, fellow blogger Music Enthusiast recently covered it. Songfacts notes, When Jim Morrison got drunk, he liked to sing blues numbers at The Doors jam sessions. This [is] one of the songs he came up with at one of those inebriated sessions. Interestingly, Road House Blues also appeared separately as the B-side to the album’s only single You Make Me Real. Don’t get me wrong: I dig you You Make Me Real. I just find it surprising Road House Blues was a B-side. In my humble opinion, it would have deserved release as its own A-side single. Ladies and gentlemen, from Los Angeles, California, The Doors!

Roger Daltrey/As Long As I Have You

Once again, the time has come to wrap up another Sunday musical excursion. For this last tune, we return to the current century and Roger Daltrey. I trust the longtime lead vocalist of The Who needs no further introduction. What perhaps you may be less aware of is Daltrey’s tenth solo album As Long As I Have You, which came out in June 2018. The soulful record was Daltrey’s first solo effort in 26 years. In September 2015, Daltrey was diagnosed with viral meningitis during The Who Hits 50! North American tour, forcing the band to reschedule the remaining dates until 2016. This almost led Daltrey to scrap his solo album, for which he already had eight tracks. When his longtime partner in crime Pete Townshend heard the songs, he encouraged Daltrey to finish the project. Townshend also offered to play guitar on it. For more information, you can check my review I published at the time. I’ll leave you with the title track, a cover of a tune first released by American soul singer Garnet Mimms in 1964. It was co-written by Bob Elgin and Jerry Ragovoy. Check out Daltrey’s killer voice!

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist featuring all of the above tunes. Hope you find something you dig!

Sources: Wikipedia; Delicate Steve website; The Washington Post; Songfacts; YouTube; Spotify

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by Kansas

Happy Wednesday! By now it’s safe to assume more frequent visitors of the blog know that I have to make another important decision today. For less frequent flyers or first-time visitors, I’m about to leave for an imaginary desert island. Since survival without music would be impossible, I have to pick what to take with me on the trip, but there’re a few twists.

I can only select one song at a time. Albums don’t qualify. It also needs to be a tune by a band or an artist I’ve only rarely written about or not covered at all to date. I’m doing this exercise in an alphabetical fashion, largely relying on my own music library.

We’re up to the letter “K”. Some of the options I could have selected include B.B. King, Carole King, The Kinks, Kiss, The Knack, Lenny Kravitz and Kris Kristofferson. Based on the above criteria, my pick is Kansas and Carry On Wayward Son.

I can’t claim much familiarity with the American rock band beyond their best-known tunes, but once I decided to select Kansas, my specific song choice was easy. Carry On Wayward Son is one of my favorite ’70s rock tunes. While I’m usually in the camp of less is more when it comes to guitar riffs, I find the guitar work on this song really cool, even though it’s pretty complex.

Carry On Wayward Son was penned by guitarist Kerry Livgren, one of the band’s founding members, who also played keyboards and sang backing vocals. The song first appeared on the group’s fourth studio album Leftoverture released in October 1976. In November of that year, it also became the record’s first of two singles and the band’s first charting song.

In the U.S., Carry On Wayward Son climbed to no. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100. It would be the group’s second-highest charting single there after Dust in the Wind, the 1978 ballad that reached no. 6 and brought Kansas on my radar screen. Elsewhere, Carry On Wayward Son charted in Canada (no. 5), the UK (no. 51) and Australia (no. 58). Undoubtedly, the tune’s performance helped propel Leftoverture to 5X Platinum certification status in the U.S., making it the band’s highest-selling album to date.

Except for a 7-month break-up period between August 1984 and March 1985, Kansas have been active since 1970. Their origins go back to 1969 when Kerry Livgren and Don Montre (keyboards, backing vocals), who had played together in a group called Reasons Why, formed a new band, Saratoga, together with Dan Wright (keyboards) and Lynn Meredith. In 1970, that group became Kansas. They were joined by Dave Hope (bass) and Phil Erhart (drums). Greg Allen (lead and backing vocals) and Larry Baker (saxophone) completed the inaugural line-up.

After some twists and turns, Kansas released their eponymous debut album in March 1974. It would be the first of 16 records that have appeared to date. The most recent album The Absence of Presence came out in July 2020. At the time, I featured one of the tracks in a Best of What’s New installment.

As you would imagine, Kansas have gone through multiple line-up changes. One of the more significant chapters in the band’s long history was the departure of Livgren in 1983, who had been one of their major songwriters. In the late ’70s, Livgren became a born-again Christian. His lyrics increasingly reflected a Christian perspective, which resulted in growing tension among members of the band and eventually to their above noted short break-up in August 1984.

In March 1985, Ehart and longtime Kansas members Rich Williams (guitars, backing vocals) and Steve Walsh (lead and backing vocals, keyboards, percussion) reunited, joined by Billy Greer (bass, acoustic guitar, backing and lead vocals) and Steve Morse (lead and rhythm guitars, backing vocals). Ehart, Williams and Greer remain with the group’s current line-up.

The current line-up of Kansas (from left): David Ragsdale, Phil Ehart, Ronnie Platt, Richard Williams, Tom Brislin, and Billy Greer. CREDIT: EMILY BUTLER PHOTOGRAPHY

Following are some additional insights in Carry On Wayward Son from Songfacts:

According to Livgren, the song was not written to express anything specifically religious, though it certainly expresses spiritual searching and other ideas.

Livgren became an evangelical Christian in 1980, and has said that his songwriting to that point was all about “searching.” Regarding this song, he explained: “I felt a profound urge to ‘Carry On’ and continue the search. I saw myself as the ‘Wayward Son,’ alienated from the ultimate reality, and yet striving to know it or him. The positive note at the end (‘surely heaven waits for you’) seemed strange and premature, but I felt impelled to include it in the lyrics. It proved to be prophetic.”

…Sitting at his parent’s home, in front of the family organ, Livgren composed the music for what would become “Carry On Wayward Son.” In late 2011, Livgren stated in a short interview at his home that the lyrics were partially about himself and the struggles and pressures he was facing at the time when the band’s career was on the line. The piano interlude and accompanying verse express how happy the band’s success had made him, as well as how sad and fearful he was that it might possibly be over (“I was soaring ever higher, but I flew too high”). However, the chorus expresses hope that everything will work out and that he must simply keep going. (“Carry on, my wayward son. There’ll be peace when you are done”).

In reality, the song was almost not included on the album, and thus contributes to the album’s title of Leftoverture. The album title comes from the idea that many of the songs are leftover songs from the band’s past. For instance, the string part at the end of the second track, “The Wall”, was an old song idea that was added on to the end of the song for the record. The album, while met with mixed reviews by critics, was commercially successful, going platinum five times. “Carry On” became the bands’ first Top 40 hit (peaking at #11), and is often regarded as one of the greatest rock songs of all time. It gave Kansas the staying power it needed to keep producing records with Kirshner, and earned Kerry Livgren the reputation as one of the most respected musicians and lyricists in rock and roll.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube