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

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Another week is coming to an end, and I can’t believe we’re almost in March. Before we embark on another music journey, I feel compelled to express my shock and sadness about the tragic events and human suffering unfolding in Ukraine.

Usually, I don’t discuss politics or any other topics on this blog outside of music. I also strive to keep things positive. Both are deliberate choices since I feel we’re already bombarded with so much negativity every day in traditional and social media. I want CMM to be a destination where you can forget about all the everyday crap life can throw at you. Music is a great escape hatch that has helped me more than once to keep it together.

Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, an Eastern Orthodox Christian monastery in Kyiv, a city within the city initially founded as a cave monastery in 1051

Why break my own rules now? Ukraine is different. In some regards it’s personal. In my former professional career, I worked in the UN Office in Kyiv from January 1995 through March 1997. As such, not only do I know the Ukrainian capital – well, at least how it looked at the time – but I also had the opportunity to visit many different regions of the country, such as Crimea, which Russia illegally annexed in March 2014, and the so-called breakaway provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, which they are now claiming to protect from neo Nazis – it’s like you’re watching an episode of the Twilight Zone!

Witnessing what looks like the re-emergence of a Russian czar who apparently wants to restore the old empire of the U.S.S.R. seems unreal in 21st Century Europe. I just hope these unprovoked and illegal actions by this warmonger can be stopped, and he eventually will have to pay a high personal price for his crimes. I’d like to dedicate this post to the people of Ukraine, including my former colleagues and their families many of whom still live there. My heart goes out to all Ukrainians, and I hope this madness will come to an end soon.

Брати Гадюкіни (Braty Hadiukiny)/Файне мiсто Тернопiль

In light of the above, I’d like to kick off this Sunday Six with some kickass rock by Брати Гадюкіни (Braty Hadiukiny), which according to Wikipedia is one of the most successful Ukrainian bands from Lviv. The largest city in Western Ukraine is located about 60 miles east of the border to Poland. Braty Hadiukiny, which means “Hadyukin Brothers”, were mainly active between 1988 and 1996. This was followed by what looks like a 10-year hiatus and a reunion in 2006. Wikipedia characterizes their music as a combination of different genres like rock & roll, blues, punk, reggae, funk and folk. Файне мiсто Тернопiль (translation: Fine city of Ternopil) is a great rock tune from the band’s 1994 album Було не любити (translation: It was not to love). Ternopil is another bigger city in Western Ukraine.

Paul McCartney/Drive My Car

In case you haven’t heard the news today about lucky me who made the grade, the news wasn’t sad and I just had to laugh. Yesterday, I got a ticket to ride for Paul McCartney on June 16 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.! While I fully anticipate there will be some differences between this show and the two previous gigs I saw, my words can’t express how excited I am. In case you’d like to check out dates for the Got Back Tour, which is scheduled to get underway in late April in Spokane, Wash. and wrap up on June 16 in Jersey, you can check on Macca’s website here. To get in the mood, here’s Paul’s opener Drive My Car, off his November 2009 live album Good Evening New York City. It captures songs performed during three nights in July 2009 to formally open New York’s Citi Field, a baseball park built to replace the legendary Shea Stadium, where The Beatles played one of their most famous shows in 1965. Primarily written by Macca with lyrical contributions from John Lennon, Drive My Car originally appeared on Rubber Soul, the second of two albums The Beatles released in 1965. Take it away!

John Miles/Music

After two uptempo rockers, it’s time to catch a breath coz, hey, I’m not exactly 16 years any longer. I’m already 26! 🙂 I literally just remembered what I feel is a great tune for the occasion by British artist John Miles. Born John Errington in April 1949, Miles was active for more than 50 years from 1970 until his death in December 2021 at the age of 72 after a short illness. His catalog includes 10 studio, two live and five compilation albums. Undoubtedly, he is best remembered for the song I picked, Music, off his debut solo album Rebel from March 1976. Solely penned by Miles, this beautiful tune was also released separately as a single that same year and became his biggest hit. It topped the charts in Switzerland, peaked at no. 3 in the UK and reached no. 4 in The Netherlands. Beyond Europe, the chart performance was more moderate, including no. 38 in Australia and no. 88 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. It may be lush and monumental, but it’s an incredibly powerful orchestral rock ballad, which btw was produced by Alan Parsons.

Joey DeFrancesco/Inner Being

Under different circumstances, an instrumental like this would have been my first pick. If you’ve seen some of the previous Sunday Six installments, you probably noticed that I tend to start nice and easy, and then sometimes turn to nice and rough. Anyway, this next track takes us to March 2019 and a studio album by jazz organist Joey DeFrancesco who also plays the trumpet and the saxophone. DeFrancesco, who signed his first record deal in 1987 at the age of 16, has played with the likes of David Sanborn, John McLaughlin and George Benson, and recorded with artists, such as Ray Charles, Bette Midler and Van Morrison before he went loonie. According to Wikipedia, DeFrancesco’s discography to date includes 31 studio, one live and one studio album – they had to count them all! Inner Being, composed by DeFrancesco, opens the above-noted album titled In the Key of the Universe. The record, which received a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Instrumental Album, features American jazz saxophonist Pharoah Sanders.

Tina Turner/Nutbush City Limits

It’s funny how sometimes one thing leads to another. You may have noticed that in the description of my previous pick, I creatively borrowed from the lyrics of Ike & Tina Turner’s rendition of Proud Mary. From the moment I did this, I couldn’t get Tina out of my head. Nutbush City Limits, written by her, was first recorded as part of her duo with her ex-husband Ike Turner and became the title track of their studio album from November 1973. Nearly three years later, Tina managed to flee from Ike with 36 cents and a Mobil credit card. While Ike was a talented musician he also was a psychotic abuser. Beating and verbally abusing your wife or anyone else for that matter isn’t cool and will forever tarnish you! Anyway, here’s a life version of the song from Tina’s live record and video album Tina Live. Released in September 2009, it captures a gig Tina did in March that year in The Netherlands. This must have been right before her second and permanent retirement. She was 70 years at the time and still in incredible shape working that stage and dancing in high-heeled shoes – what an amazing performer!

Океан Ельзи (Okean Elzy)/З нею

I’d like to conclude this post with more rock from Ukraine. Океан Ельзи (Okean Elzy) are another group from Lviv. They were formed in 1994 and apparently have been active to this day. Their present lineup features original members Svyatoslav Vakarchuk (lead vocals) and Denys Hlinin (drums, percussion), along with Denys Dudko (bass, acoustic guitar, backing vocals), Miloš Jelić (piano, synthesizers, backing vocals) and Vladimir Opsenica (guitars, backing vocals). Wikipedia lists 10 studio albums released between 1998 and 2016. Here’s З нею (translation: With her), the opening track of a 2013 album titled Земля (translation: The land).

Following is a playlist of the above tracks, as usual.

Mr. Putin, stop your reckless assault on the Ukrainian people and from going down in the history books as a war criminal! Rock & roll will never die and outlive any psychopathic emperor!

Sources: Wikipedia; Paul McCartney website; YouTube; Spotify

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

Nothing strange and nothing to spit on

After a 62-day streak of publishing one post each day (my initial goal was 50 days, after I had reached 40 posts in a row), I’ve decided that starting from next week, I’m going to reduce the frequency of blogging back to what it used to be, which is about three to four posts a week. While I love writing about my favorite subject music, publishing seven days a week has taken a significant amount of time – time I obviously haven’t been able to spend otherwise.

Along with this reduction in posting frequency, I’m also planning a few other changes. This includes retiring Wednesday’s Hump Day Picker-Upper posts and replacing them with a new weekly feature I’m going to unveil next Wednesday. I’m also considering consolidating some of my current blog categories. The current number of 20 does seem to be a bit excessive. Obviously, any reduction in categories and reindexing of previous posts are more of behind-the-scenes changes.

Since this is a music blog, of course, this post wouldn’t be complete with at least one song. Perhaps not surprisingly, the first tune that came to mind in the current context is one of my favorite songs by David Bowie: Changes.

Written by Bowie, Changes first appeared on the British artist’s fourth studio album Hunky Dory from December 1971. The song was also released separately as the record’s first single in January 1972.

To my surprise, Changes didn’t chart in the UK at the time it came out. In the U.S., it initially climbed to no. 66 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1972. It re-entered that chart in 1974 and peaked at no. 41. In the UK, the song resurfaced as well and got to no. 49, but it wasn’t until 2016 following Bowie’s death. Wikipedia doesn’t list any other chart placements – strange!

Here’s some additional background on the great tune from Songfacts: This is a reflective song about defying your critics and stepping out on your own. It also touches on Bowie’s penchant for artistic reinvention. Bowie wrote this when he was going through a lot of personal change. Bowie’s wife, Angela, was pregnant with the couple’s first child, Duncan. Bowie got along very well with his father and was very excited to have a child of his own. This optimism shines through in “Changes.”

According to Bowie, this started out as a parody of a nightclub song – “kind of throwaway” – but people kept chanting for it at concerts and thus it became one of his most popular and enduring songs. Bowie had no idea it was going to become so successful, but the song connected with his young audience who could relate to lyrics like “These children that you spit on as they try to change their worlds, are immune to your consultations, they’re quite aware of what they’re going through.”

Bowie played the sax on this track, and his guitarist, Mick Ronson, arranged the strings. Rick Wakeman, who would later become a member of the prog rock band, Yes, played the piano parts at the beginning and end. Bowie gave Wakeman a lot of freedom, telling him to play the song like it was a piano piece. The piano Wakeman played was the famous 100-year old Bechstein at Trident Studios in London, where the album was recorded; the same piano used by Elton John, The Beatles and Genesis.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Uriah Heep/July Morning

While writing my post last month about Uriah Heep’s sophomore album Salisbury, I found myself thinking more than once how much better that record would have been, had its title track been replaced with the magnificent July Morning – sort of like adding Strawberry Fields Forever to The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and taking out When I’m Sixty-Four and Lovely Rita. July Morning had been on my mind ever since.

The song, which I would consider to be among Heep’s top tunes, was written by keyboarder Ken Hensley and lead vocalist David Byron in July 1970. Notably, Manfred Mann had been brought in by the group’s manager Gerry Bron to play a Moog synthesizer. Supposedly, this was the first time Mann was recorded using what became a staple of ’70s progressive rock. That’s according to the liner notes of Look At Yourself, Heep’s third studio album from September 1971, on which July Morning first appeared.

There were also various singles of the song. The first was an edited shortened version, released in Japan in June 1972 and backed by Love Machine, another tune from Look At Yourself. A Venezuelan single split the full song between both sides. Finally, in May 1973, a live take from the Uriah Heep Live album appeared in the U.S. I’m not fooling around with this amazing tune, so here’s the full studio album version.

Following is some additional background from Songfacts: This 10-minute song was essentially put together from different ideas from Ken Hensley and David Byron. While recording Look at Yourself, the band noticed that they had three separate parts of compositions that were all in C minor, so they tried putting them together, thus those parts became the intro, verse and chorus buildup of “July Morning.”

In a Songfacts interview with Ken Hensley, he related the story about how he came to write the song. “Uriah Heep was on tour in the UK with an American band named Sha Na Na and we were sharing a bus, which meant we had to wait for them to finish before we could go home,” Hensley said. “This was boring!”

To entertain himself, Hensley started noodling around with his acoustic guitar. “It began with a true statement,” he said. “‘There I was, on a July morning,’ and then my imagination took over.” Hensley worked the song out over the next few days and played it for the rest of the band in their rehearsal room. “I played it to the band on my acoustic guitar and, by the end of the day, it had become the song that so many people grew to love,” Hensley said. “That was magic!”

Here’s a live version of July Morning by present-day Uriah Heep. According to the clip, this was literally just captured by an attendee of Heep’s concert at Eventim Apollo in London on January 29 – not bad. Guitarist Mick Box remains the only original member. Bernie Shaw who has been Heep’s vocalist since 1986 does a commendable job, though replacing David Byron is pretty much mission impossible. BTW, the group’s current keyboarder Phil Lanzon also joined in 1986.

Last but not least, July Morning inspired a tradition in Bulgaria in the 1980s, which continues to this day, where every June 30, people from all over the country come together on the coast of the Black Sea to watch the sunrise on July 1st. The origin was political.

Once again here’s more from Songfacts: “July Morning” inspired a Bulgarian show of resistance against a repressive Soviet Communist government and became an annual festival that has only grown more popular with each passing year.

The song…doesn’t have anything overtly political in the lyrics. It seems to be about a guy waking up on a July morning resolved to find his own road and an unnamed love. It’s natural to assume that the “love” is a romantic interest, but that’s not exactly how the song is formed. Things are kept ambiguous enough that the “love” can be something more like a grand purpose, a passion, or perhaps love of life itself.

The ambiguity may in part be why the song was able to resonate so much with Bulgarians in the 1980s. During that time, a Soviet-backed communist government held power over the people. Young Bulgarians started travelling to the coast of the Black Sea, camping out, making music, and just having fun into the early hours of July 1.

It was a sort of a soft, spiritual rebellion against the joyless Soviet state, as well as a great excuse to party. It’s been compared to the hippie festivals of the 1960s in the United States. Bulgaria broke out of Soviet rule [in 1989 – CMM], but the festival has continued ever since. In 2012 it had upwards of 12,000 attendees, and one-time Uriah Heep singer John Lawton performed “July Morning.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Jethro Tull Release First New Album in More Than 20 Years

Lately, it almost starts feeling like I live in some parallel universe of March 1971 and the present. In March 1971, both Jethro Tull and John Mayall released new albums, Aqualung and Back to the Roots, respectively. Last Friday, January 28, the same thing happened again. While I had known about Mayall’s record The Sun is Shining Down, which I reviewed here yesterday, Jethro Tull’s The Zealot Gene came as a total surprise. Not only is history’s repetition remarkable, but also the fact that both new releases are truly compelling.

The Zealot Gene is Tull’s 22nd studio album and their first new record since The Jethro Tull Christmas Album from September 2003. It also is their first new album of all-new music since J-Tull Dot Com that came in August 1999. Of course, four-fifths of 2022 Tull are different compared to 1971. But the most important original member, Ian Anderson, is still around, and, boy, does he sound great! His vocals and multi-instrumental chops including his distinguished flute-playing remain in mighty shape.

Jethro Tull (clockwise from upper left): Ian Anderson, Joe Parrish, David Goodier, John O’Hara and Scott Hammond

The other members of Tull aren’t exactly newbies either. Joe Parrish (guitar), John O’Hara (piano, keyboards, accordion), David Goodier (bass, double bass) and Scott Hammond (drums, percussion) each are experienced musicians. Except for Parish who became a member in 2020, each has been part of the band’s touring lineup for various years. The album also features Florian Opahle on electric guitar, who played with Tull from 2003 until 2019.

Here’s some additional background on The Zealot Gene from Tull’s website: A record that began to take shape as early as 2017, ‘The Zealot Gene’, in many ways, seeks to defy convention during a time when the business of being a touring and recording artist has never faced more uncertainties. Tull bandleader Ian Anderson holds no reservations about the role for which the mythos and themes of Biblical storytelling played in the lyrical content of the new album, saying:

“While I have a spot of genuine fondness for the pomp and fairytale story-telling of the Holy Book, I still feel the need to question and draw sometimes unholy parallels from the text. The good, the bad, and the downright ugly rear their heads throughout, but are punctuated with elements of love, respect, and tenderness.

Looking back on the earth-shaking disruption of the Coronavirus pandemic, which ultimately ended the band’s touring plans and hopes of a 2020 release for ‘The Zealot Gene’, Anderson shares, “It was so sudden. Amidst the concerns and warnings of the scientific community and a few more enlightened politicians, we all retreated in disbelief to our homes to wait out the storm.”

I’d say let’s go for some music. Here’s the opener Mrs Tibbets. Like all other tracks on the album, it was written by Anderson. “One of the words that I wrote was ‘retribution,’ which was visited upon the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah by the angry God, Yahweh,” Anderson told Apple Music in discussing some of the tracks in greater detail. “Lot and his wife escaped, but she turned around to look at the destruction behind her and was turned into a pillar of salt, according to biblical tales. That brought up the inevitable comparison with someone turning to face a 2,000-foot air burst above Hiroshima. So I decided to write an analogous song based on the visitation of Little Boy, dropped by the air crew captain Paul Tibbets, son of Enola Gay Tibbets.” Check out that cool sound!

The title track is “about the polarization of opinion-making in contemporary society, largely through social media, but also through—quite rightly in a democratic world—freedom of speech, the right to express your opinion,” Anderson explained to Apple Music. “But these days that opinion reaches further and faster and in more forcible terms as a result of social media—and can be used in a way that is often very hurtful, very cruel, very socially divisive.” Here’s the official video – reminds me a bit of Pink Floyd’s The Wall.

Shoshana Sleeping “is a slightly erotic observation of the human form, but in a respectful and hands-off kind of a way,” Anderson noted. “Hopefully you would get the impression in the lyrics that the person singing the song is already in some kind of a relationship with the person that he’s observing sleeping. In terms of biblical references, I read some verses from the Song of Solomon. In the original text, sometimes it takes on a pretty macho and unpleasant form—the biblical format is not terribly woke. Nonetheless, there are parts of the Song of Solomon which are very moving and spiritually generous.” Once again, an interesting official video.

Where Did Saturday Go? [this is also what I’m often asking myself once Monday hits – CMM] is one of the acoustic-focused tunes. “Again, it could be seen as a reference to waking up and not being able to remember what you did on a weekend,” Anderson said. “But there’s obviously the reference of the crucifixion of Jesus, and the Saturday following Good Friday—before Easter Sunday, the resurrection day. In this story, Saturday is very rarely mentioned. And in this 24-hour period you have to wonder what was happening in the minds of those followers of Jesus after his death but before his resurrection. But it’s never discussed to any degree in the Bible, so I’m just pondering that notion of a missing day in the narrative of Jesus.”

Let’s do one more: The closer The Fisherman of Ephesus. “In that particular song I do stay more closely to the biblical stories of what happened to the disciples of Jesus…And so the song is about guilt survival, something I know from talking to veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq, who lost their buddies, and who were scarred for life as a result of surviving when others around them died. And that happens, obviously, in car crashes, plane crashes, and probably in terms of COVID mortalities…So guilt survival is applicable right across the board. And that’s essentially the message of the song.”

I’ve heard a good deal of Jethro Tull songs, including those that are on the great 1985 compilation Original Masters, which spans the band’s first nine albums. I’ve also listened to select records like Aqualung and Thick as a Brick. This certainly doesn’t make me a Tull expert. But based on what I’ve heard, I feel confident enough to say this new album really sounds like Tull, sometimes reminding me of Aqualung. And that’s not only because of that album’s biblical references, though I will add The Zealot Gene doesn’t have obvious gems like Hymn 43 or Locomotive Breath. Still, it’s a pretty solid record. If you dig Tull, I see no reason why you wouldn’t like it.

The Zealot Gene appears on Inside Out Music, a German independent label focused on progressive rock and progressive metal. In addition to being available on streaming platforms, the album is offered in additional formats, including a special edition digipak CD, a gatefold 2LP+CD+LP-booklet, a limited 2CD+Blu-ray artbook and a limited deluxe 3LP+2CD+Blu-ray artbook.

Both artbook editions feature a second CD of demos and initial ideas, plus extended liner notes and an interview with Ian Anderson undertaken by Tim Bowness (no-man). Jeez – the days when artists simply issued their new albums on vinyl are definitely over!

Sources: Wikipedia; Jethro Tull website; Apple Music; Discogs; YouTube; Spotify

What I’ve Been Listening to: Uriah Heep/Salisbury

The other day, fellow blogger Darren from Darren’s music blog wrote about recent solo releases from members of Uriah Heep. This reminded me how my journey with the British rock band began as a teenager back in Germany in the late ’70s/early ’80s. I’m pretty sure it must have been the rock ballad Lady in Black, a big hit in Germany, which caught my initial attention. I also recall receiving a gift from a friend, a music cassette titled The Rock Album, which included Free Me, another popular Uriah Heep tune in Germany. Since I preferred Lady in Black, I ended up buying Salisbury, the album that included the tune. I own that vinyl copy to this day.

The origins of Uriah Heep date back to 1967 when Mick Box, then a 19-year-old guitarist, founded a cover band called Hogwash. After David Garrick joined, who later changed his last name to Byron, Box formed a songwriting partnership with him and established a new band called Spice, which focused on original songs. In 1969, Spice became Uriah Heep, named after the fictional character in the 1850 Charles Dickens novel David Copperfield.

Uriah Heep in December 1970

In addition to Box (guitars, backing vocals) and Byron (vocals), the group’s initial line-up included Ken Hensley (keyboards, synthesizers, guitars, vocals), Paul Newton (bass, backing vocals) and Alex Napier (drums). That formation recorded the band’s 1970 debut album …Very ‘Eavy …Very ‘Umble. By the time Uriah Heep went into the studio for their sophomore album, Salisbury, Napier had been replaced by Keith Baker – the first of numerous line-up changes throughout the group’s 50-plus-year history.

Interestingly, Salisbury appeared first in the U.S. in January 1971 before it was released in the UK the following month. Unlike the group’s first album that credited the music to most members of the band, Salisbury saw the emergence of Hensley as a key songwriter, with half the tracks attributed solely to him. Let’s get to some music! This review is based on the album’s UK/European edition.

Here’s the opener Bird of Prey. First included on the U.S. version of Uriah Heep’s debut album, it’s the only track credited to four members of the group: Box, Byron, Hensley and Newton. As you listen to the powerful rocker, you can literally picture the rumbling tank on the front cover of the album. I’m a bit surprised Bird of Prey wasn’t released as a single. Nevertheless, it has become one of Heep’s most popular tunes, at least among their fans.

After the furious opener, things slow down on The Park, a ballad and one of three tracks solely written by Hensley. I realize Byron’s high vocals may be an acquired taste, especially for first-time listeners. Interestingly, I never had a problem with it, though I can see why some folks might consider his singing to be a bit weird. It’s certainly quite distinct!

Side A closes with the above-mentioned Lady in Black. The tune, another song penned by Hensley alone, also appeared separately as a single in June 1971. Remarkably, it didn’t chart in the UK. Elsewhere, it climbed to no. 5 in Germany, no. 6 in Switzerland and no. 16 in Finland. Based on Wikipedia’s chart overview, this lack of success in the UK seems to be pretty consistent when it comes to the band’s singles.

Side B only includes two tracks: High Priestess, the third tune solely penned by Hensley that also became a U.S. single in January 1971, and the title track. Here’s the latter, co-written by Box, Byron and Hensley. And, yep, it’s a massive, largely instrumental prog-rock type tune featuring a 24-piece orchestra.

Salisbury was produced by Gerry Bron who also produced or co-produced Heep’s other 12 albums released during the band’s first 10 years of their recording career, including Conquest from February 1980. Salisbury was most successful in Finland where it peaked at no. 3. Elsewhere, it reached no. 19 in Australia, no. 31 in Germany, no. 47 in Japan and no. 103 in the U.S. Uriah Heep’s first chart entry in the UK would have to wait until Look at Yourself, their third studio album that came out in September 1971.

To date, Uriah Heep have released 24 studio albums, most recently Living the Dream from September 2018. According to Wikipedia, numerous other acts have identified the British rock band as an influence, including Iron Maiden, Queen, Accept, Dio, Krokus and Demons & Wizards, among others.

In November 2021, Mick Box, Heep’s only remaining original member, told heavy metal and hard rock news website Blabbermouth.net they had finished recording sessions for a new album. “And it’s over in L.A. now being mixed,” he added. “So a new album is on the horizon.” Details have yet to be revealed.

Meanwhile, Uriah Heep announced a “mammoth European tour, a delayed celebration of their 50th anniversary. The 61 dates will span 28 countries. Current shows are listed here.

Sources: Wikipedia; Blabbermouth.net; Uriah Heep website; YouTube; Spotify

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: January 4

Welcome to the first 2022 installment of On This Day in Rock & Roll History. While the approximately 70 different dates I’ve covered since the start of this irregular music history feature in 2016 feel like a lot of ground, the reality is this still leaves close to 300 dates I can pick. Today it’s going to be January 4.

1967: The Doors released their eponymous debut album, which proved to be a smash. Not only would it become the Los Angeles band’s best-selling record, but it also was a huge chart success. In the U.S., it surged to no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also performed well in Europe, reaching no. 3, no. 4 and n0.6 in France, Norway and Austria, respectively, as well as no. 43 in the UK, among others. Some of the album’s highlights include the singles Break on Through (To the Other Side) and Light My Fire, as well as the epic closer The End. Here’s the latter credited to all members of the group: Jim Morrison (vocals), Robbie Krieger (guitar, backing vocals) Ray Manzarek (organ, piano, backing vocals) and John Densmore (drums, percussion, backing vocals).

1972: Roundabout by Yes, the only single from their fourth studio album Fragile came out. Co-written by singer Jon Anderson and guitarist Steve Howe, the tune became the English prog rockers’ most successful U.S. single of the ’70s, reaching no. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100. Notably, it missed the charts in the UK. The album did much better in both countries, climbing to no. 4 and 7, respectively. Below is the 8:30-minute album version of Roundabout, one of my favorite Yes tunes. Since there was no way radio stations would play such a long track, the single edit was shortened to 3:27 minutes.

1975: Elton John stood at no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 with his rendition of Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds. The recording featured backing vocals by his friend John Lennon (under the pseudonym Dr. Winston O’Boogie), who wrote most of the original. Credited to him and Paul McCartney, as usual, Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds first appeared on The Beatles’ studio album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band from May 1967. John took the tune to no. 1 in the U.S., which according to Wikipedia makes it one of only two songs credited to Lennon-McCartney to top the U.S. charts by an artist other than The Beatles. John’s version was also successful elsewhere, hitting no. 1 in Canada, no. 2 in New Zealand and no. 3 in Australia. In the UK, it peaked at no. 10.

1980: American rock band The Romantics released their eponymous debut album. It reached no. 61 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200 – not bad for a first record. Below is What I Like About You, which first appeared as the album’s lead single in December 1979. The garage rock-flavored tune was co-written by band members Wally Palmar (lead vocals, rhythm guitar, harmonica), Mike Skill (lead guitar, backing vocals) and Jimmy Marinos (vocals, drums, percussion). The Romantics remain active to this day, with Palmar and Skill still being part of the current line-up.

1986: Phil Lynott, who had best been known as a founding member, lead vocalist, bassist and principal songwriter of Irish rock band Thin Lizzy, passed away at the age of 36. The cause was pneumonia and heart failure due to blood poisoning (septicemia). Lynott’s final years of his life following the disbanding of Thin Lizzy in 1983 were marked by heavy drug and alcohol dependency. Here’s one of the group’s best tunes written by Lynott: The Boys Are Back in Town, off their sixth album Jailbreak from March 1976. It also became the record’s lead single the following month.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts Music History Calendar; This Day in Music; YouTube

Pink Floyd’s Meddle Turns 50

Today, 50 years ago, Pink Floyd released their sixth studio album Meddle, yet another gem in the treasure trove of 1971 to hit the big milestone. Coming just a little over a year after Atom Heart Mother, Meddle is considered a transitional album that foreshadowed what arguably were the band’s Mount Rushmore releases The Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here. While the two latter records were always among my favorite Floyd albums, Meddle is a record that grew on me over the years. Nowadays, if I could only pick one, I might actually go with Meddle.

According to Wikipedia, when Pink Floyd went into the studio in January 1971, they had no clear idea what kind of record they wanted to make. Apparently, the work started out with some novel experiments that inspired what would become my favorite Pink Floyd track these days, the mighty Echoes. Unlike the group’s later albums that increasingly were dominated by themes and lyrics devised by Roger Waters, Meddle featured lyrical contributions from each band member.

Meddle inner gatefold (from left): Roger Waters, Nick Mason, David Gilmour and Richard Wright

The recording sessions for Meddle stretched out over eight months from January through August 1970. That’s because Pink Floyd had concert commitments throughout that period, which forced starts and stops. During that same timeframe, the band was also working on Relics, a great compilation album of their early work with Syd Barrett. Considering all these distractions, it’s quite remarkable to me that Meddle turned out to be such a masterpiece.

There were also some technical challenges. At the time Pink Floyd started work on the album at Abbey Road Studios, the facility only had eight-track recording technology, something the band found insufficient for their needs. As such, they ended up working at other smaller studios in London, which already were equipped with 16-track recording technology.

Time for some music! Let’s start with the opening instrumental One of These Days, which is credited to all four members of the band. The dominant pumping bassline was double-tracked, with each Roger Waters and David Gilmour playing one track. The cheerful line, “One of these days I will cut you into little pieces,” was spoken by drummer Nick Mason. Songfacts notes it was “digitally warped to give it an evil sound to it” – mission accomplished!

Fearless is an acoustic tune co-written by Gilmour and Waters. According to Wikipedia, Waters played it in a guitar tuning called open G, which Syd Barrett had taught him. In this tuning, the lower E and A strings and the high e string are each tuned down by one note to D, G and d, respectively, so a G major chord can be played without fretting a string. The crowd of people that can be heard near the beginning and at end of the song is a field recording of Liverpool soccer fans chanting their anthem “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

The final track on side one is Seamus, a country blues style song credited to all members of the band. The tune was named after a dog that belonged to Steve Marriott, the frontman of Humble Pie at the time. Songfacts notes the dog would bark and howl every time he heard music, or if someone played the guitar. In fact, the dog can be heard barking and howling throughout the entire track. Pink Floyd biographer Nicholas Schaffner dismissed the tune. Gilmour essentially admitted the song wasn’t meant to be taken seriously, saying, “I guess it wasn’t really as funny to everyone else [as] it was to us.”

This brings me to the only tune that makes up the entire side two of the album. While at 23 and a half minutes Echoes is a pretty long track, no post about Meddle would be complete without it. Once again, Echoes was credited to the entire band. The ambient sound effects and musical improvisation resemble what Pink Floyd would take to the next level a few years later on The Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here. I’ve really come to love this epic track!

Overall, Meddle was well received by music critics when it came out. It also enjoyed significant chart success, especially in Europe where it climbed to no. 3, no. 7, no. 11 and no. 2 in the UK, France, Germany and The Netherlands, respectively. The performance was more moderate in the U.S. and Canada where Meddle reached no. 70 and no. 51, respectively.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Hope everybody is enjoying their Sunday and has had a good week. Time again to embark on another music journey where the only thing that’s certain is that nothing is certain. In other words, anything goes as long as I like it. Oftentimes, these posts are pretty eclectic, and this installment is no different, featuring country rock, progressive rock, rockabilly, synth pop, folk rock and Chicano garage rock.

Poco/What a Day

A recent post about Rusty Young and Paul Cotton by fellow blogger Mike from Ticket 2 Ride brought country rock pioneers Poco back on my radar screen – and the realization I’ve yet to take a deeper dive into their music. My first encounter with Poco was in the ’80s when a dear longtime music friend introduced me to the band with their excellent 11th studio album Legend from November 1978. After they had released records for nearly a decade, it finally gave them a top 20 on the Billboard 200, reaching no. 14. Poco were formed in 1968 by former Buffalo Springfield members Richie Furay (vocals, rhythm guitar) and Jim Messina (lead guitar, vocals), together with Rusty Young (pedal steel guitar, banjo, dobro, guitar, mandolin, vocals), Randy Meisner (bass, vocals) and George Grantham (drums, vocals). In addition to 19 studio albums, the band’s catalog includes multiple compilations and live recordings. Poco have continued to perform with many different line-ups, though with the death of Young from a heart attack at age 75 in April this year, their current status is uncertain. Here’s a tune I love off their debut album Pickin’ Up the Pieces that came out in May 1969: What a Day, written by Furay. You can read more about that album here.

Genesis/The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

Let’s move to the ’70s and a dose of prog rock, a genre I’ve never really embraced with a few exceptions. One of them are Genesis. I began exploring the British group in the mid ’80s back in Germany when getting access to many of their albums through my best friend whom I’ve known since the second school grade. Genesis were formed in 1967 by Peter Gabriel (lead vocals, flute), Tony Banks (organ, piano, backing vocals), Anthony Phillips (lead guitar), Mike Rutherford (bass, guitar, backing vocals) and Chris Stewart (drums), who all attended a boarding school in the English town of Godalming. By the time their debut album From Genesis to Revelation appeared in March 1969, Stewart had been replaced on drums by Jonathan Silver. After a hiatus following their last studio album …Calling All Stations… from September 1997 and occasional reunions, Genesis reformed in March 2020 and announced The Last Domino? Tour set to kick off in mid-September Dublin, Ireland, and currently including 40 dates across Ireland, the UK, U.S. and Canada. The line-up features Banks, Collins and Rutherford, along with various touring musicians. Here’s the title track from the band’s sixth studio album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, which was released in November 1974 and was the last to feature Gabriel. Like the remaining tracks, the tune was credited to all members of the band, which at the time included Banks, Collins, Gabriel, Rutherford and guitarist Steve Hackett who had replaced Phillips on lead guitar in late 1970. For some additional thoughts on the album, you can check here.

Carl Perkins/Matchbox

After nearly 5 minutes of prog rock, I’m sure y’all are ready for some great rockabilly, a genre I’ve been digging the first time I heard it. Most likely, that was sometime during the second half of the ’70s when I started listening to the radio more frequently, in particular an oldies show that aired on Sunday evenings on my favorite station SWF3 (now SWR3). And it may well have been Carl Perkins or Bill Haley or Elvis Presley – frankly, I don’t remember. Perkins, a rockabilly pioneer, started his recording career in 1954 at Sam Phillips’ Sun Records. In February 1957, he released Matchbox as the B-side to Your True Love. Matchbox shares some lyric phrases with Blind Lemon Jefferson’s 1927 recording of Match Box Blues, though musically the tunes are different. Matchbox and Your True Love also appeared on Dance Album Of Carl Perkins, his debut full-length record from 1957. It’s probably best remembered by the classic Blue Suede Shoes, another Perkins song that became his only no. 1 on Billboard’s country chart. It also surged to no. 2 on the mainstream Billboard Hot 100, his best-performing single there as well. Carl Perkins who passed away in January 1998 at the age of 65, was inducted into the Rock Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 by Sam Phillips.

Prince/1999

Prince needs no further introduction. While I wouldn’t call myself a fan, I’ve admired him for many years because of his incredible musicianship and remarkable versatility. And I definitely like some of his songs. I was tempted to pick Purple Rain, the title track of Prince’s 1984 album, which brought him on my radar screen, and a tune I love to this day. Instead, I decided to go with another title track, 1999, from Prince’s fifth studio album that appeared in October 1982. To me, it’s one of the most infectious dance tunes I know. According to Songfacts, Prince wrote the party-like jam during the height of the Cold War. But while acknowledging Everybody’s got a bomb/We could all die any day, he resorted to an optimistic stance, telling people to enjoy their remaining time on earth: But before I’ll let that happen/I’ll dance my life away.

Mumford & Sons/I Will Wait

After some country rock, prog rock, rockabilly and a synth pop party tune about nuclear Armageddon, I think we’re ready for a dose of English folk rock, don’t you agree? Mumford & Sons were formed in London in late 2007 by multi-instrumentalists Marcus Mumford (lead vocals, guitars, drums), Ben Lovett (vocals, piano, keyboards, accordion), Winston Marshall (vocals, guitars, banjo, bass) and Ted Dwane (vocals, bass, double bass, drums). After their successful debut album Sigh No More from October 2009, which topped the charts in Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands and hit no. 2 in the UK and the U.S., the band gained even greater prominence with their sophomore release Babel that appeared in September 2012. The record debuted at no. 1 on the UK Albums Chart and the U.S. Billboard 200 and also reached the top of the charts in many other countries. Babel became the fastest selling record of 2012 in the UK and was the biggest selling debut of any album in the U.S. that year. Mumford & Sons have since continued to enjoy success with two additional albums. Marshall left earlier this year, leaving Mumford & Sons as a trio for now. Here’s I Will Wait from the above noted Babel album. Written by Marcus Mumford, it’s the band’s most successful single to date and I assume the song most people have heard. Here’s the official video with footage captured at the breathtaking Red Rocks Amphitheatre near Morrison, Col.

Thee Midniters/Empty Heart

And, once again, this brings me to the sixth tune that will conclude this week’s musical excursion. Let’s go back to the ’60s where the post started with a pick inspired by my recent review of Los Lobos’ great new album. Native Sons, which largely features covers by bands and artists from L.A. or who ended up there, celebrates the city’s rich musical heritage. The covers include a tune by Thee Midniters, another Chicano rock band who like Los Lobos were from East Los Angeles. Formed in the mid ’60s, their members included Willie Garcia (lead vocals), George Dominguez (lead guitar), Roy Marquez (rhythm guitar), Ronny Figueroa (organ), Larry Rendon (saxophone), Romeo Prado (trombone), Jimmy Espinoza (bass) and George Salaza (drums). After releasing a few albums, the band split in the early ’70s. According to Wikipedia, The Midniters have continued to perform over the decades, led by original members Espinoza and Rendon. I haven’t been able to verify the group’s current status. Here’s their cover of The Rolling Stones’ Empty Heart. Co-written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the Stones first recorded the tune for their second EP Five by Five released in August 1964. Check out this cooking rendition by Thee Midniters.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; Discogs; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

It’s Saturday and as such time to take another look at new music. In most cases, Best of What’s New features artists who are new to me. This week’s installment is a bit different, including two relatively young acts and two artists who have been around for more than 45 years. Let’s get to it!

Jackson Browne/Still Looking For Something

I’d like to kick things off with Jackson Browne, one of my favorite American singer-songwriters. If I recall it correctly, Browne entered my radar screen ca. 1980, when I first listened to Running on Empty, his fifth studio record from December 1977. I love it to this day, and it remains Browne’s album I’m best familiar with. He has since released 10 additional studio albums including his latest, Downhill From Everywhere. It appeared yesterday (July 23) and is his first new album in nearly seven years. While I haven’t had sufficient time to explore the ten tracks in greater detail, based on sampling a few tunes, I like what I’m hearing so far. Vocally, Browne still pretty much sounds like on Running On Empty, which is remarkable. Back then, he was 29 years old. He’s turning 73 this October. Here’s the opener, Still Looking For Something, one of four tracks that were solely written by Browne.

David Crosby/Ships in the Night

I trust David Crosby doesn’t need much of an introduction. He’s best known as co-founder of The Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash. In February 1971, Crosby released his debut solo album If I Could Only Remember My Name. Only two additional solo records followed until 1993. Since his fourth studio album Croz from January 2014, Crosby has substantially increased the pace of his solo releases. Four albums have since appeared including his new one titled For Free, which also came out yesterday. Similar to Jackson Browne, I’ve yet to more closely explore Crosby’s latest work. Fellow blogger Music Enthusiast featured one of the tracks, Rodriguez For a Night, in a recent post dedicated to Crosby. Written together with Donald Fagen and Crosby’s son James Raymond, the tune has a cool Steely Dan vibe. As American Songwriter notes in this review, Crosby doesn’t play any guitar on the album and instead sticks to singing. Here’s another song I like from the album: Ships in the Night. Check it out!

Ida Mae/Click Click Domino

Ida Mae are a British alternative folk and blues rock husband-and-wife duo from Norfolk, England, featuring Chris Turpin and Stephanie Jean. Here’s an excerpt from their Apple Music profile. Delivering romantic and atmospheric songs with resonant guitar and passionate vocals, the pair owe their influences to the sound of Americana and deep South blues-rock…The duo decided to work together after Turpin had put out three albums with his former act, Kill It Kid, in Bath, Somerset. He decided to try something new with Jean and the pair spent time writing and recording their own material — it was quite a sonic departure from Kill It Kid (who were more influenced by alternative rock and grunge). After having amassed enough material, the pair put out their debut single, “Reaching,” in early 2019. The track found the duo delving more deeply into the sound of country blues pioneers such as Son House and Robert Johnson. The song was featured on their first LP, Chasing Lights, which arrived in June of that year. Click Click Domino, co-written by the couple, is the title track of their sophomore album released on July 16. It features Marcus King on electric guitar. I dig the energy of this tune and the raw guitar sound.

Crown Lands/White Buffalo

Crown Lands are a Canadian rock duo from Oshawa, Ontario. According to their artist profile on Apple Music, they mix the influences of hard rock with progressive and psychedelic sensibilities…Crown Lands were formed in 2015 by Kevin Comeau, who handles guitar, bass, and drums, and Cody Bowles, who sings lead and plays drums. Both men were raised in Southwestern Ontario, though when they first met, Comeau had been living in Los Angeles and trying to make a career in music, playing in a reggae band. Comeau was back home visiting family for the holidays when he met Bowles, and the two quickly bonded over their shared love of vintage rock sounds, especially Rush. Comeau moved back to Ontario, and the two were soon jamming regularly and started playing out with their material. They chose the name Crown Lands as a reference to Bowles’ First Nations heritage (he’s a member of the Mi’kmaq nation), the name referring to territory seized from the indigenous peoples by the government. In August 2016, they independently released their debut EP Mantra. After two additional EPs that appeared in 2017 and 2020, Crown Lands released their eponymous first full-length album in August 2020. White Buffalo, co-written by Bowles and Comeau, is the title track of their latest EP that came out on July 8. When listening to this catchy rocker, one would never guess Crown Lands is a two-man act. Bowles’ vocals remind me a bit of Greta Van Fleet’s Josh Kiszka.

Sources: Wikipedia; American Songwriter; Apple Music; YouTube