The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

I hope everybody is spending a great weekend. Once again, I’d like to welcome you to another Sunday Six. In case you’re here for the first time, in this weekly recurring feature, I stretch out musically speaking, visiting different decades and different genres over the past 70 years, six tunes at a time. All onboard and let’s go!

Clifford Brown & Max Roach Quintet/Joy Spring

Today, our little trip starts in December 1954 with beautiful music by two jazz greats: Trumpeter Clifford Brown and drummer Max Roach. Earlier that same year, Roach had invited Brown to join him in creating a quintet. By the time, they recorded Clifford Brown & Max Roach, which I believe was their band’s first album, the line-up also featured Harold Land (tenor saxophone), Richie Powell (piano) and George Morrow (bass). Unfortunately, the quintet was short-lived due to a tragic car accident that killed Brown in June 1956 at age 25. He was on his way to a gig in Chicago together with Powell whose wife Nancy drove the car. They both lost their lives as well. The quintet’s last official album Clifford Brown and Max Roach at Basin Street, recorded earlier that year, featured then-up-and-coming tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins. Here’s Joy Spring, a composition by Brown.

The Asylum Choir/Tryin’ to Stay ‘Live

The next stop on today’s journey is November 1971. That’s when the second and final album by Leon Russell’s (keyboards) and Marc Benno’s (guitar) studio project The Asylum Choir came out. Initially formed in 1967, they put out their debut Look Inside the Asylum Choir the following year. While The Asylum Choir II had been recorded in 1969, its release was delayed due to contract disputes. In fact, by the time the record finally appeared, they had already dissolved the project. Russell and Benno were backed by prominent session musicians, including Jesse Ed Davis (guitar), Carl Radle (bass), Donald “Duck” Dunn (of Booker T. & the M.G.’s) and Chuck Blackwell (drums). Here’s the great honky tonk rocker Tryin’ to Stay ‘Live, which was co-written by Russell and Benno.

R.E.M./Losing My Religion

Let’s continue our excursion with a stopover in the ’90s. Losing My Religion was the first R.E.M. tune that really got the alternative rock band from Athens, Ga. on my radar screen. While I remember the song was on the radio back in Germany all the time, I still dig it to this day. Credited to all members of R.E.M. – Bill Berry (drums, percussion), Peter Buck (guitar, mandolin), Mike Mills (bass, backing vocals) and Michael Stipe (lead vocals) – Losing My Religion is from the group’s seventh studio album Out of Time, which appeared in March 1991. According to Songfacts, R.E.M. were surprised about their record label’s decision to make the tune the album’s lead single. After all, it didn’t have a chorus and featured a mandolin as a lead instrument, not exactly your typical ingredients for a hit. Not only did it become the album’s best-performing single but the band’s most successful overall!

Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’/Don’t Leave Me Here

Four tracks into this Sunday Six it’s time to jump to the current century with some sizzling blues by Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’, who in May 2017 came out with a great collaboration album, TajMo. Together with Buddy Guy’s 2016 studio album Born to Play Guitar, it reignited my love for the blues, a genre I had first explored in my late teens after I had picked up the bass and joined a blues band – the start of my intense but short-lived band career! 🙂 I also caught Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ in August 2017 during their tour that supported the album and have seen Guy three times since Born to Play Guitar. Here’s TajMo’s great opener Don’t Leave Me Here, which was co-written by the two artists and Gary Nicholson. I should add that while the tune has a traditional blues vibe, overall, TajMo, which includes elements of soul and world music, is an uplifting album. “Some people think that the blues is about being down all the time, but that’s not what it is,” Mahal said at the time. “It’s therapeutic, so you can get up off that down.” He added, “We wanted to do a real good record together, but we didn’t want to do the record that everyone expected us to do.”

Echo & The Bunnymen/Lips Like Sugar

Our next stop takes us back to the ’80s. In July 1987, Echo & The Bunnymen released their eponymous fifth studio album. While The English post-punk band had been around since 1978, if I recall correctly, it wasn’t until Lips Like Sugar that I heard of them for the first time. The catchy tune was co-written by band members Will Sergeant (guitar), Ian McCulloch (lead vocals, guitar, piano) and Les Pattinson (bass). Pete de Freitas (drums) completed their line-up at the time. Interestingly, it only reached no. 36 on the UK Official Singles Chart, lower than most of their earlier singles. After the band’s breakup in 1993, Sergeant and McCulloch reunited the following year. When Pattinson rejoined them in 1997, they decided to revive Echo & The Bunnymen. Ever since Pattinson exited again in 1999, Sergeant and McCulloch have continued to tour and record under that name.

Jerry Lee Lewis/Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On

Once again we’ve reached our final destination. The last tune is in memory of Jerry Lee Lewis, who passed away on Friday at the age of 87. Lewis was the last man standing of a generation of pioneering classic rock & roll artists who also included the likes of Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Chuck Berry and Little Richard. “The Killer” was known for his high-energy performances. After his popularity had taken off in 1957, his career was nearly derailed when it became known he was married to his 13-year-old cousin once removed while still being married to his previous wife. Lewis was blacklisted from the radio and his earnings were nearly wiped out overnight. Eventually, he managed to reinvent himself as a country artist. But scandal continued to follow him for much of his life. Here’s Lewis’ remake of Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On and his biggest hit, which was released as a single in April 1957. The tune was written by Dave “Curlee” Williams and first recorded by Big Maybelle in 1955.

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

Source: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

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If I Could Only Take One

My desert island song by Wet Wet Wet

It’s Wednesday, which means it’s time again to pick a song to take on an imaginary trip to a desert island. If you’re a frequent flyer on this blog, chances are you’ve seen previous installments of this recurring feature. For first-time travelers, the idea is to pick one tune only, not an album, I would take to an island in the sun. There are a few additional rules to guide my selections.

The song must be by an artist or band I’ve only rarely covered or not written about at all. Selections are in alphabetical order, meaning the band’s or artist’s name (last name) must start with a specific letter. This week, I’m up to “w.”

Options that came to mind include The Wallflowers, The Walker Brothers, The Waterboys, Weather Report, The White Stripes, The Who, Steve Winwood, Stevie Wonder and World Party, among others. And my pick is Wet Wet Wet and the Scottish soft rock band’s cover of Love Is All Around.

Love Is All Around was written by Reg Presley, lead vocalist of The Troggs. It also was the British garage rock band, who first released the song as a single in October 1967, giving them a no. 5 hit on the British charts. Fast-forward 27 years to May 1994, when Wet Wet Wet released their rendition of the song and took it to no. 1 on the UK Singles Chart, a position it held for 15 consecutive weeks. The tune was part of the soundtrack of the popular 1994 British romantic comedy Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Wet Wet Wet were formed in 1982 as Vortex Motion at a local high school in Clydebank, Scotland. The original line-up of the group, which initially mostly played covers of The Clash and Magazine, featured Mark McLachlan (vocals), Lindsey McCauley (guitar), Neil Mitchell (keyboards), Graeme Clark (bass) and Tommy Cunningham (drums). By the time Graeme Duffin replaced McCauley as guitarist in 1983, the band had already changed their name to Wet Wet Wet.

In March 1987, their debut single Wishing I Was Lucky came out, reaching an impressive no. 6 on the British Singles Chart. The tune was also included on Wet Wet Wet’s debut album Popped In Souled Out released in September of the same year. Three additional studio albums followed before the group started to unravel in 1997.

Wet Wet Wet reformed in 2004 and recorded Timeless, their sixth studio album that appeared in November 2007. Fourteen years later, in November 2021, the group’s seventh and most recent album The Journey was released. Earlier this year, Cunningham and keyboarder Niel Mitchell departed, leaving the band with Clark and lead vocalist Kevin Simm as their only current members.

Following is some additional background on Love Is All Around from Songfacts:

Troggs lead singer Reg Presley wrote this in about 10 minutes. He was inspired by the Joy Strings Salvation Army band he’d seen on TV. The song is a gentle folk ballad and a far cry from The Troggs previous hit “Wild Thing.”…

…The UK record for longest stay at #1 is held by Bryan Adams’ “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You).” Wet Wet Wet’s record company tried to tie this record by announcing they were pulling the single after 16 weeks, hoping people would rush out to buy it. The plan failed and Whigfield knocked them out of #1 with “Saturday Night.” Wet Wet Wet claimed they asked their record company to pull the song because they were sick of it. Their version does hold the record for most weeks at #1 for a UK based act. In the US it reached #41.

When this was revived by Wet Wet Wet, Reg Presley got massive royalties as the songwriter. He denoted the proceeds to crop circle research.

R.E.M. did a cover of this as well, which they played on an episode of MTV Unplugged. The video for this can be found on their VHS/DVD This Film Is On, featuring all the videos for the songs off their 1991 album Out Of Time.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Neil Young’s 2001 Album Was Toast Until It Wasn’t

Admittedly, this post was predictable, at least to those who know me well. As a longtime Neil Young fan, I just couldn’t ignore Toast. In fact, you might ask, what took me so long? The simple answer is I didn’t want this post to coincide with any other recently published posts.

Toast is yet another album where Neil was, well, Neil. After he had assembled his backing mates from Crazy Horse in San Francisco in 2001 and worked on music for the album, he decided he didn’t like the outcome and scrapped it. Instead, he called back his Crazy Horse guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro and recorded an album with Booker T. & the M.G.’s, Are You Passionate?

Well, of course, there’s a bit more to the story. This review in Uncut largely unpacks it. In a nutshell, it appears to have been a combination of poor preparation where Young hadn’t prepared any raw material the band could work from, as well as his personal state of mind: His marriage with his second wife Pegi Young (née Morton) was going through a rough patch. Eventually, they got divorced in 2014.

The above Uncut review quoted from Young’s October 2014 biography Special Deluxe: A Memoir of Life & Cars: “I was not happy with it, or maybe I was just generally unhappy. I don’t know. It was a very desolate album, very sad and unanswered.” Rightfully, Uncut also noted it’s remarkable that Young, nevertheless, ended up using three songs written during the Toast sessions for Are You Passionate?: Quit (Don’t Say You Love Me), How Ya Doin’? (renamed Mr. Disappointment and Boom Boom Boom (retitled She’s a Healer).

The above shall suffice for context. I’d say it’s time to get to some goodies. I should point out Toast doesn’t break any new musical ground. Since I dig the “old Neil”, that’s not a problem for me. All songs were written by Neil Young, except for the opener Quit, which he co-wrote with Sampedro. Let’s start with that one, a mellow-sounding tune that starts with a chorus repeating the phrase, “don’t say you love me” – not exactly cheerful!

On Standing in the Light of Love things get crunchy. Young called it “sort of like a Deep Purple hit” in a piece on his website NeilYoungArchives.com. However you’d like to characterize the tune, it’s the type of Neil rocker I really dig!

Next up is Gateway of Love. Clocking in at 10:11 minutes, it’s the second-longest track on Toast. It kind of has an epic feel to it and in that sense reminds me a bit of Cortez the Killer, one of Young’s best-known tracks off Zuma, another album with Crazy Horse, released in November 1975.

The last track I’d like to call out is the closer Boom Boom Boom, which at 13:06 minutes is the longest song on Toast. At about 8:45 minutes into the track, things take an unexpected jazzy turn with trumpet work credited to Tom Brady – obviously, not that Tom Brady. Let the good times roll!

Toast was recorded at Toast Studios in San Francisco, which is safe to assume explains the record’s name. The album was co-produced by Young and his longtime producer John Hanlon. In addition to Young, Hanlon has worked with the likes of Stephen Stills, T-Bone Burnett, R.E.M., Gillian Welch, Dennis Wilson and The Beach Boys. On his website, Young adds that Rick Rubin “was in the control room for a fair amount of time during the recording as a guest.”

The final word shall belong to Neil. “I had forgotten about these songs, put them out of my mind and went on living my life,” he wrote on his website. “It must be said here Crazy Horse shows a depth never seen or heard before on any other Horse recording [CMM – well, I’m not going to argue with the man here, but I could see some folks disagreeing]. For the greatest group I have ever met – CRAZY HORSE, this is a pinnacle. Where they let me go, where they took me, was unbelievable.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Uncut; NeilYoungArchives.com; Discogs; YouTube

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island song by Roxy Music

I can’t believe it’s Wednesday again and we’re almost in July! This would be the perfect time for a summer vacation, and a beautiful tropical island sounds like an attractive proposition. But wait, before I can leave on yet another imaginary trip to some remote island in the sun, once again, I have to pick one song to take with me.

In case you’re a first-time visitor, there are a few rules that limit my options, which make the exercise both challenging and interesting at the same time. My pick cannot be a tune by a music act I’ve frequently written about. Ideally, it should be a band or artist I haven’t covered yet. It can only be one track, not an entire album. And picks must be in alphabetical order.

This week I’m up to “r.” Bands and artists (last names) starting with that letter include Radiohead, Bonnie Raitt, Ramones, R.E.M., Red Hot Chili Peppers, Otis Redding, Lou Reed, Keith Richards, The Rolling Stones, Linda Ronstadt and Roxy Music, among others.

Based on the above criteria, Bonnie Raitt, The Rolling Stones and Linda Ronstadt were immediately excluded from further consideration. For some of the other artists, sadly, I had to search my own blog to refresh my memory to what extent I had covered them before. At the end, it came down to picking Radiohead or Roxy Music, and I decided to go with the latter and More Than This.

More Than This, written by Bryan Ferry, first appeared in April 1982 as the lead single of Roxy Music’s eighth and final studio album Avalon, released the following month. It’s just a gorgeous pop tune I’ve loved from the very first moment I heard the band playing it on the radio at the time it came out.

More Than This was popular, reaching no. 6 in each the UK and Australia, but it wasn’t the group’s biggest hit. The latter was their great cover of John Lennon’s Jealous Guy, which they recorded and released as a non-album single in February 1981 to honor the ex-Beatle who had been senselessly killed by a deranged individual in New York in December 1980.

Art and pop rock group Roxy Music were founded by Ferry, the band’s lead vocalist and main songwriter, and bassist Graham Simpson in England in 1970. While they have been on and off ever since, their active recording period spanned 1972 to 1982. During these 10 years, Roxy Music released eight studio albums, three of which topped the UK charts: Stranded (1973), Flesh and Blood (1980) and the above-noted Avalon.

In 1982, at the height of their commercial success, Ferry who at that time was the only original member together with Andy Mackay (saxophone, oboe, keyboards, backing vocals), decided to dissolve Roxy Music and focus on his solo career, which he had launched in parallel to the group in 1973.

Roxy Music have since reunited several times for tours and are currently gearing up to be on the road again starting in September to celebrate their 50th anniversary. In addition to co-founders Ferry and Mackay, this includes Phil Manzanera  (guitar) and Paul Thompson (drums), who were all part of the group’s lineup that recorded Roxy Music’s 1972 eponymous debut album. The schedule of the five-week tour, which includes dates in Canada, the U.S. and the UK, is here.

Following are a few additional tidbits on More Than This from Songfacts:

Written by lead singer Bryan Ferry, this song is about a love affair that fell apart. Asked in 2014 by Entertainment Weekly why the song endures, Ferry replied, “For some reason, there’s something in the combination of the melody and the lyric that works for people.”

In America, this song got some traction when it featured in Sofia Coppola’s 2003 film Lost In Translation in a scene where Bill Murray sings it in a Tokyo karaoke bar. When the song was first released, however, it had little impact on the charts, bubbling under at just #102 on the Hot 100. Many college radio stations played the song, but commercial stations stayed away for the most part.

Roxy Music occupied just a small niche in America, where they hit the Top 40 just once (“Love Is the Drug” – #30 in 1975), but they were far more successful in the UK.

Ferry told The Mail on Sunday June 28, 2009 about the Avalon album: “I started writing the songs while on the west coast of Ireland, and I like to think that some of the dark melancholy of the album comes from that place.”

10,000 Maniacs covered this in 1997 on their album Love Among The Ruins. Mary Ramsey sang lead, as original Maniacs lead singer Natalie Merchant had just left the band to go solo.

Sources: Wikipedia; Roxy Music website; Songfacts; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Another Sunday is upon us, which means the moment has come again for some music time travel. Hop on board, fasten your seat belt and let’s do this!

Santana/Welcome

Our journey today starts in 1973 with jazz fusion by Santana – very different from Evil Ways, Jingo, Soul Sacrifice, Oye Cómo Va, Samba Pa Ti and, of course, Black Magic Woman, which brought Carlos Santana and the classic line-up of his band on my radar screen 40-plus years ago. Welcome is the title track of Santana’s fifth studio album released in November 1973, and the follow-on to Caravanserai, which had marked a major departure from their classic seductive blend of Latin grooves and rock to free-form instrumental jazz fusion. I have to admit it was an acquired taste, and I still need to be in the right mood to listen to this type of music. If you haven’t done so, I encourage you to give this a listen. It’s amazing music!

Joe Jackson/Friend Better

After a six-and-a-half minute-trance-inducing instrumental, it’s time to add some vocals and pick something a bit more mainstream. Enter Joe Jackson, a British artist I’ve admired since ca. 1980 when I received his sophomore album I’m the Man as a present for my 14th birthday. Initially called “an angry young man,” Jackson quickly proved to be a versatile artist. Over a 40-year-plus-and-counting recording career, he has gone far beyond his origins of punk-oriented pub rock and embraced multiple other genres like new wave, big band jazz and pop. Friend Better is from Jackson’s most recent 20th studio album Fool, which came out in January 2019. All songs were written, arranged and produced by Jackson. I also got to see him during the supporting tour and thought he was still the man. If you’re so inclined, you can read more about Fool here and the gig here.

The Church/Reptile

For our next stop, let’s jump to February 1988 and The Church, and I’m not talking about a house of worship. That’s when Starfish came out, the Australian rock band’s fifth album, which brought them their international breakthrough. Fellow blogger Bruce from Vinyl Connection had a great post about this gem a couple of weeks ago. When back in the day I heard the album’s first single Under the Milky Way, I was immediately hooked by the amazing sound and got Starfish on CD right away. Only mentioning Milky Way gives me some chills. Okay, admittedly, I’m also listening to the bloody tune as I’m writing this! While this song undoubtedly is the best-known track on Starfish, there’s definitely more to the album. Point in case: Reptile, the second single, credited to all four members of the group Steve Kilbey (lead vocals, bass), Peter Koppes (guitars, lead vocals), Marty Willson-Piper (guitars, lead vocals) and Richard Ploog (drums, percussion). Kilbey remains the only original member in the Aussie band’s current incarnation.

The Temptations/Get Ready

I trust Motown legends The Temptations need no introduction. When it comes to multi-part harmony singing, the Detroit vocal group ruled in my book. If you haven’t heard it, check out their heavenly rendition of Silent Night, and you quickly know what I mean. This brings me to Get Ready, released in February 1966, the group’s third no. 1 single in the U.S. on Billboard’s R&B charts and their second top 10 on the UK Official Singles Chart. Written and produced by Smokey Robinson, the tune also appeared on The Temptations’ fourth studio album Gettin’ Ready, released in June that same year. Motown founder and head Berry Gordy Jr. wasn’t impressed with the song’s performance on the mainstream Billboard Hot 100 (no. 29). Subsequently, he replaced Robinson with Norman Whitfield as the group’s producer. Whitfield would become instrumental in shaping what became known as psychedelic soul in the late ’60s. Among others, he co-wrote and produced the epic Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone.

Counting Crows/Mr. Jones

We’re starting to get into the final stretch with one of my all-time favorite tunes by Counting Crows and the ’90s for that matter. Like I bet was the case for many other music listeners as well, Mr. Jones brought the rock band from San Franciso on my radar screen when they suddenly burst on the scene in December 1993. Not only marked Mr. Jones the group’s breakthrough, but it also was their very first single. Interestingly, the lead single off their studio debut August and Everything Thereafter, which had come out three months earlier, failed to chart in the U.S. but proved successful elsewhere. Mr. Jones, co-written by Counting Crows guitarist and lead vocalist David Bryson and Adam Duritz, respectively, hit no. 1 in Canada and no. 13 in Australia. In the UK, it reached a respectable no. 28. I wonder whether American audiences felt the tune sounded too much like R.E.M. – not an unfair comparison, though it never bothered me. Last year, Counting Crows hit their 30th anniversary (unreal to me!). Bryson and Duritz remain part of the current line-up.

Little Richard/Tutti Frutti

And once again, this brings us to our final destination for this Sunday. While he called himself Little Richard, there was nothing small about Richard Wayne Penniman. The flamboyant artist was a giant of the classic rock & roll era, one of the most exciting performers who also wrote and co-wrote gems like Tutti Frutti, Slippin’ and Slidin’, Long Tall Sally and Jenny, Jenny. And I’m only talking about tunes from Richard’s debut album Here’s Little Richard released in March 1957. As was common at the time, it essentially was a compilation of Richard’s singles that had appeared earlier. Tutti Frutti, co-written by Penniman and Dorothy LaBostrie, had first been released in October 1955 and become Little Richard’s first U.S. hit, a no. 2 on Billboard’s R&B charts. It also reached the top 20 on the mainstream pop chart (no. 18). Inexplicably, at least from a musical perspective, Penniman never had a no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. His most successful tune there, Long Tall Sally, reached no. 6.

This wraps up another installment of The Sunday Six, folks, but we’ll embark on a new trip next Sunday. Meanwhile, this post wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify playlist of the above tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by Atlanta Rhythm Section

Today I’m launching a new feature titled If I Could Only Take One…The idea is pretty simple: If I had to move to a desert island and could only take one song by artist or band x, which tune would I pick? This weekly series replaces The Hump Day Picker-Upper feature I retired last week.

For now, I’ve decided to identify the artists and bands by going through my streaming music library in alphabetic order, picking one of each, a to z. This would already translate into 26 posts. If I have more endurance, the same process could be repeated with different picks for each letter.

To minimize redundant content, I also envisage focusing on artists and bands I haven’t covered or only covered a few times. This would exclude bands like AC/DC, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and artists, such as Bob Dylan, Carole King or Neil Young, to name a few of the regulars on the blog.

My pick for the inaugural installment is Spooky by Atlanta Rhythm Section. In this case, the decision of which song to pick was fairly simple since I only know a handful of tunes by the Southern rock band that has been around since 1970. Their take of the groovy tune was included on their eighth studio album Underdog from June 1979. I’ve always dug it!

Spooky, one of ALR’s best-known songs, was also released separately as a single in August 1979. In the U.S., it reached no. 17 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also charted in Canada and Australia.

Originally, Spooky was written as an instrumental by saxophonist Mike Shapiro and Harry Middlebrooks Jr. Performed by Shapiro and released under the name Mike Sharpe, the track first appeared in 1967 and climbed to no. 57 on the U.S. pop charts. That was all complete news to me!

The next iteration of Spooky occurred in 1968 when a band called Classics IV recorded it as the title track of their debut album – again something I had not heard before. The group’s guitarist and songwriter James Cobb and producer Buddy Buie added lyrics, for which they earned credits. Mike Shapiro played the saxophone solo. And this is how it sounded – pretty similar to ALR.

Two years later, Classics IV keyboarder Dean Daughtry became a co-founding member of Atlanta Rhythm Section, along with Rodney Justo (vocals), Barry Bailey (guitar), Paul Goddard (bass) and Robert Nix (drums). James Cobb joined in 1972.

Spooky has also been recorded by numerous other artists, including Dusty Springfield, Percy Sledge, Martha Reeves, R.E.M. and David Sanborn.

Here’s a playlist of different renditions of Spooky. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the original instrumental on Spotify.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday Six, my zig-zig music journeys featuring six seemingly random tunes from the past 70 years or so. This time, it’s mostly different flavors of rock, including smoking British Invasion rock, grungy alternative rock, groovy ’70s funk, more alternative rock, jazzy soft rock and pop rock. Let’s go!

The Animals/We Gotta Get Out of This Place

I’d like to start with the The Animals, one of my favorite ’60s bands that became part of the British Invasion. I’ve always loved their edgy blues rock-oriented sound and frontman Eric Burdon’s distinct deep vocals that perfectly fit their music. Undoubtedly, the group is best known for their rendition of the traditional The House of the Rising Sun. While I love that tune, there are so many other great songs. One of my favorites that is also one of their most popular tracks is We Gotta Get Out of This Place. Co-written by prominent U.S. songwriting duo Barry Mann and his wife Cynthia Weil, the tune initially was intended for The Righteous Brothers. After Mann got a record deal for himself, his label Red Bird Records wanted him to release the song. At the same time, hard-charging record executive Allen Klein had heard the track and handed a demo to Animals producer Mickie Most. The Animals ended up recording it before Mann could – perhaps they should have renamed it “We Gotta Get Out This Song!” We Gotta Get Out of This Place was first released as a single in the UK in July 1965, followed by the U.S. the next month. It also became the opener of the band’s third U.S. album Animal Tracks released in September of the same year.

Nirvana/Come As You Are

Let’s jump to the early ’90s next and Nirvana. Co-founded by lead vocalist and guitarist Curt Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic in Aberdeen, Wash. in 1987, the group was an acquired taste for me. Oftentimes, I still find it hard to digest their loud and dissonant music combined with depressing lyrics. But when I’m in the right mood, there’s just something about Nirvana. Come As You Are is a track from their sophomore album Nevermind from September 1991. The first record to feature drummer Dave Grohl, Nevermind enjoyed a surprising degree of mainstream success and was key in popularizing the Seattle grunge movement and alternative rock. Come As You Are, written by Cobain, also appeared separately as the album’s second single. While it didn’t match the chart success of Smells Like Teen Spirit, it still became one of the group’s most successful songs. It climbed to no. 32 on the Billboard Hot 100 and to no. 27 in Canada, and placed within the top 20 mainstream charts of many European countries.

Curtis Mayfield/Super Fly

After that haunting Nirvana tune, I’m ready for something groovy, something funky. Something like Super Fly. Written by the amazing Curtis Mayfield, the tune is the title track of Mayfield’s third solo album that came out in July 1972. It’s also the soundtrack for the Blaxploitation crime drama picture of the same name. Together with What’s Going On by Marvin Gaye, Super Fly is viewed as a pioneering soul concept album featuring then-unique socially aware lyrics about poverty, drug abuse, crime and prostitution. Both albums proved skeptical record executives wrong and became major commercial successes. For Mayfield, Super Fly also was the first of five soundtrack scores he wrote in the ’70s. In August 1990, Mayfield became paralyzed from the neck down when he was hit by stage lightening equipment while being introduced at an outdoor show in Brooklyn, New York. Sadly, that freak accident marked the start of a downward spiral in Mayfield’s health, which culminated in his death from diabetes complications at age of 57 in December 1999.

R.E.M./Orange Crush

Warning: Once you listen to the next tune, it might get stuck in your brain. And while with that crazy ongoing heat wave you might feel thirsty, it has nothing to do with the orange flavored soft drink. Orange Crush is a track off R.E.M.’s sixth studio album Green from November 1988. The title refers to Agent Orange, the horrific chemical used by the U.S. during the Vietnam war to defoliate the Vietnamese jungle. Songfacts explains that while R.E.M. lead vocalist Michael Stipe’s lyrics do not refer to a specific war-related experience, his father served in Vietnam as part of the helicopter corps. Like all other tracks on Green, Orange Crush was credited to all members of R.E.M., who apart from Stipe included Peter Buck (guitar, mandolin), Mike Mills (bass, keyboards, accordion, backing vocals) and Bill Berry (drums, percussion, backing vocals). The tune also appeared separately as the album’s lead single in December 1988, becoming R.E.M.’s then-most successful song on the UK Singles Chart where it peaked at no. 28. According to Wikipedia, Orange Crush wasn’t released as a commercial single in the U.S. But it became a promotional single and hit no. 1 on both Billboard’s Mainstream Rock and Modern Rock Tracks charts.

David Crosby/She’s Got to Be Somewhere

Yesterday, David Crosby turned 80 – wow! After all his past struggles with drugs and alcohol and even incarceration, I wonder whether he himself thought he would ever reach this milestone – well, I’m glad he did and wish him many happy returns! Of course, Crosby is best known as a co-founding member of The Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash, both groups I dig. In addition to appearing on their albums, Crosby has also had a solo career that started in February 1971 with the release of If I Could Only Remember My Name. But until 2014, his solo output was pretty uneven. The next album after his debut, Oh Yes I Can, came out in January 1989 and was followed by Thousand Roads in May 1993. Since 2014’s Croz, Crosby has been on a late stage career surge that has since seen the release of four additional albums. The most recent one, For Free, dropped just last month. My knowledge of Crosby’s solo work is pretty spotty. One of his albums I’ve listened to previously and reviewed here, is Sky Trails from September 2017. Here’s the opener She’s Got To Be Somewhere. And nope, even though it sounds like Donald Fagen could have written it, the tune was actually penned by James Raymond, Crosby’s son who has worked with his father since 1997, both on the road and in the studio. Crosby is a big Steely Dan fan. Fagen knows and even co-wrote a song for Crosby’s last album, Rodriguez for a Night.

George Harrison/All Things Must Pass

Yes, the time has come again to wrap up yet another Sunday Six installment. All Things Must Pass looks like an appropriate tune for the occasion. Apart from the fitting title, the pick is also inspired by the recent appearance of the massive 50th anniversary reissue of George Harrison’s third solo album from November 1970 and his first after the breakup of The Beatles. Frankly, I’ve yet to listen to it. The super deluxe format, which my streaming music provider offers, has 70 tracks. In addition to remixed songs of the original 3-LP album, it features numerous outtakes, jams and demos – altogether close to 4.5 hours of music! Anyway, let’s turn to the title track. I did not know that it was Billy Preston who first released the song as All Things (Must) Pass on his album Encouraging Words that appeared two months prior to Harrison’s record – nice version that’s here in case you’re curious! Also unbeknownst to be Preston included a great rendition of My Sweet Lord as well.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Space, the Final Frontier

Yesterday’s successful landing of NASA’s robotic explorer Perseverance on Mars once again reminds us of humankind’s fascination with distant planets and what’s out there beyond our galaxy. Not surprisingly, many music artists have embraced the theme of space in their songs. The first who always comes to my mind in this context is David Bowie, who repeatedly wrote about the topic in tunes like Space Oddity, Starman, Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes. There are plenty of additional examples. This playlist features some of these songs, ordered according to their release date.

The Byrds/Mr. Spaceman

While birds cannot fly in space, this didn’t prevent The Byrds from recording this happy-sounding tale about a kid who wakes up from the light of a flying saucer and cheerfully asks the ETs for a space ride. Mr. Spaceman, written by Roger McGuinn, appeared on the band’s third studio album Fifth Dimension from June 1966.

Pink Floyd/Astrodomine

This Syd Barrett tune, an early example of space rock, was the opener of Pink Floyd’s debut studio album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Released in August 1967, this early phase Floyd gem also featured another track in the same genre: Interstellar Overdrive. I decided to go with the shorter tune! 🙂

The Rolling Stones/2000 Light Years From Home

2000 Light Years from Home is a song from Their Satanic Majesties Request, a lovely psychedelic album by The Rolling Stones, which appeared only a few months after Floyd’s debut in December 1967. Co-written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the tune also became the B-side to the American single She’s a Rainbow that was released in November of the same year. Charmingly weird! 🙂

Steve Miller Band/Space Cowboy

Listening to Space Cowboy by Steve Miller Band was the tune that inspired this post, not the Mars rover, though I guess the timing worked out nicely. Co-written by Steve Miller and the band’s keyboarder at the time Ben Sidrin, the song was included on their third studio album Brave New World that came out in June 1969. The vibe of the main riff is a bit reminiscent of Peter Gunn, the theme music for the American detective TV show of the same name, composed by Henry Mancini in 1958. In 1979, Emerson, Lake & Palmer popularized that theme on their live album Emerson, Lake and Palmer in Concert.

Deep Purple/Space Truckin’

Time to go for some Space Truckin’ with Deep Purple. This track is the closer of the band’s sixth studio album Machine Head from March 1972, which to me remains their Mount Rushmore to this day. Like all remaining tracks on the record, Space Truckin’ was credited to all members of the band: Ritchie Blackmore (guitar), Ian Gillan (vocals, harmonica), Jon Lord (keyboards), Roger Glover (bass) and Ian Paice (drums, percussion).

Elton John/Rocket Man

One of my all-time favorites by Elton John happens to be related to space as well: Rocket Man, from his fifth studio album Honky Château that came out in May 1972. As usual, Sir Elton composed the music while Bernie Taupin provided the lyrics. Honky Château became John’s first no. 1 record in the U.S. He was literally flying on top of the word – six additional no. 1 albums in America would follow in a row!

David Bowie/Starman

I guess 1972 was a year, during which space themes were particularly popular in rock and pop music. In June 1972, only one and three months after Honky Château and Machine Head, respectively, David Bowie released his fifth studio album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. I have to say I tend to like him best during his glam rock period, and Ziggy Stardust is my favorite Bowie album. Like all except for one tune, Starman was written by Bowie.

Stevie Wonder/Saturn

Even soul great Stevie Wonder got into the “space business.” Saturn, co-written by Michael Sembello and Wonder, became a bonus track to Songs in the Key of Life, his magnum opus from September 1976.

The Police/Walking on the Moon

The year was 1979 when The Police released their sophomore album Reggatta de Blanc in October. Walking on the Moon, written by Sting, is the first track on the B-side. Yes, this was still pre-CDs, not to mention music streaming! I’ve always liked the reggae vibe of this tune.

R.E.M./Man on the Moon

Let’s wrap up this collection of space-themed songs with Man on the Moon by R.E.M. The tune, a tribute to American comedian and performer Andy Kaufman, was credited to the entire band: Michael Stipe (lead vocals), Peter Buck (guitar, mandolin, bass), Mike Mills (bass, keyboards, accordion, backing vocals) and Bill Berry (drums, percussion, keyboards, melodica, bass, backing vocals). It was recorded for R.E.M.’s eighth studio album Automatic for the People from October 1992. The album became their second major international success after Out of Time that had been released in March 1991.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

My Playlist: The Black Crowes

The recent appearance of the previously unreleased Charming Mess by The Black Crowes, which I included in my latest Best of What’s New installment, reminded me of this great band. While I wouldn’t call myself an outright fan, I’ve always enjoyed their songs, especially their ’70s style blues rockers. This triggered the idea to put together a career-spanning post about their music.

Chris Robinson (lead vocals, guitar) and his younger brother Rich Robinson (lead guitar) formed the band in Marietta, Ga. in 1984 while they were still in high school. Initially called Mr. Crowe’s Garden after the children’s book Johnny Crowe’s Garden by Leonard Leslie Brookes, they were influenced by R.E.M., classic southern rock and ’60s psychedelic pop before embracing ’70s style blues rock.

In 1987, the band recorded their first demos at A&M Records. Two years later, they met A&R executive George Drakoulias, who signed them at Def American Recordings (now American Recordings), the label founded by Rick Rubin. Apparently, Drakoulias had an important influence, turning the band’s attention to The Faces and Humble Pie, and encouraging them to cover Rolling Stones tunes.

 Rich and Chris Robinson talk about their Black Crowes reunion
Rich Robinson (left) and Chris Robinson

By the time the band released their debut album Shake Your Money Maker in February 1990, they had changed their name to The Black Crowes. In addition to the Robinson brothers, the group included Jeff Cease (guitar), Johnny Colt (bass) and Steve Gorman (drums). Their line-up would frequently change over the years, with the Robinson brothers as the only constant members.

After releasing five more studio and two live albums between 1992 and 2001, The Black Crowes went on hiatus, and the Robinson brothers recorded solo albums. In early 2005, the brothers reassembled the group with a new line-up. Two studio and several live and compilation albums followed, together with more line-up changes before The Black Crowes came to an end for the second time in January 2015. Apparently, it was due to differences between the brothers regarding ownership of the band – in other words, a typical rock & roll story!

The current chapter of The Black Crowes started in late 2019 when the Robinson brothers during an interview with Howard Stern revealed they had overcome their disagreements and were planning to revive the band for a 2020 tour to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Shake Your Money Maker album. The newly reformed group premiered on November 11, 2019 at The Bowery Ball Room New York City with a backing band comprised of Isiah Mitchell (guitar), Tim Lefebvre (bass), Joel Robinow (keyboards) and Raj Ojha (drums). The tour was stopped by COVID-19 and is now set to resume in Florida in late June.

Time for some music. Let’s kick it off with the excellent Jealous Again from the Shake Your Money Maker debut. Like all originals, the tune was co-written by the Robinson brothers.

Here’s another track from the same album I really dig: She Talks to Angels.

In May 1992, The Black Crowes released their sophomore record The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion. It topped the Billboard 200, fueled by four singles that each hit no. 1 on the Mainstream Rock chart. Here’s one of them: Remedy.

A Conspiracy, off the band’s third album Amorica from November 1994, features some cool wah-wah guitar action and is reminiscent of Led Zeppelin, especially in the beginning.

Three Snakes and One Charm, the fourth album by The Black Crowes, appeared in July 1996. Here’s Blackberry.

On By Your Side from January 1999, The Black Crowes returned to a more straightforward approach from their debut album. According to Wikipedia, it drew praise from many reviewers while some critics dismissed it as a knock off of Rod Stewart and The Rolling Stones – well, I suppose you can’t make everybody happy. Here’s the dynamic opener Go Faster.

May 2001 saw Lions, the band’s sixth studio release and the last prior to their hiatus. Apple Music calls the Don Was-produced work “the most unusual album in The Black Crowes’ catalog.” Soul Singing, which became the album’s second single, has a soul and gospel touch.

Warpaint, released in March 2008, was the first album by The Black Crowes after they had reemerged from hiatus and their seventh studio effort overall. It became their first top 10 album on the Billboard 200 since their 1992 sophomore release, peaking at no. 5. Here’s Wounded Bird, which also appeared separately as the second single in June of the same year.

This brings me to Before the Frost…Until the Freeze, the eighth and to date most recent studio album by The Black Crowes. It was recorded at The Barn, Levon Helm’s studio in Woodstock, N.Y., before a live audience. Here’s the tasty opener Good Morning Captain.

I’d like to wrap things up with a track from Croweology, a compilation of new acoustic-based recordings of songs from The Black Crowes’ first six studio albums. Hotel Illness initially appeared on their 1992 sophomore release The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: April 12

For those of you who celebrate, Happy Easter, and I hope everybody is doing well! I decided to do another installment of my long-running music history feature, which hit 50 with the previous post. It turns out April 12 was a pretty eventful date, so let’s get to it.

1968: Pink Floyd released their fourth single in the UK, It Would Be So Nice. The tune, which was written by keyboarder Richard Wright, had a rather uplifting, almost pop-like sound unlike many other Floyd songs at the time. It was the band’s first release after the exit of Syd Barrett. Idiotically, the BBC is said to have banned the initial version of the song due to a passing reference of the London newspaper The Evening Standard, which violated their strict no-advertising policy. Apparently, this prompted the band to record an alternate, BBC friendly version. It didn’t help from a popularity perspective, and the song failed to chart in the UK or elsewhere. Apparently, Roger Waters and Nick Mason didn’t like the tune either. Waters called it a “lousy record.” Mason was even more outspoken: “Fucking awful, that record, wasn’t it? At that period we had no direction. We were being hustled about to make hit singles.” Ouch!

1973: The American children’s TV series Sesame Street has seen many celebrities over its 50-plus-year history. One of the coolest and funkiest guests ever must have been Stevie Wonder who appeared on the program 47 years ago. Then 23 years old, Wonder performed Superstition, the lead single from his latest album at the time Talking Book. I always loved that funky tune. Check out the apparent joy Wonder got out of this and his kickass backing band – priceless!

1976: Bob Seger & the Silver Bullet Band released the excellent live album Live Bullet. The material came from a 1975 gig at Cobo Hall in Detroit. Interestingly, Seger was still a largely regional act at the time. This would change with the band’s next studio album Night Moves that came out in October of the same year and finally put them on the map nationally. Over the years, tracks from Live Bullet became staples on rock radio. Undoubtedly, the best known is the road tale Turn the Page, which was written by Seger. Check out the official video I came across on YouTube. Love that tune!

1976: That evening, Paul McCartney with his wife Linda visited John Lennon at his apartment in the Dakota. Lennon was watching the late-night NBC comedy show Saturday Night, the predecessor to Saturday Night Live. During this particular episode, co-creator and producer Lorne Michaels invited The Beatles to reunite on the show for the deliberately measly offer of $3,000 (approximately the equivalent of $13,900 today). Michaels had no idea Lennon and McCartney were watching the whole thing – and actually considered showing up at the show’s studio that night just for fun. The Beatles Bible quotes Lennon from his final major interview he gave to book author David Sheff in 1980: “Paul and I were together watching that show. He was visiting us at our place in the Dakota. We were watching it and almost went down to the studio, just as a gag. We nearly got into a cab, but we were actually too tired.” Now, that would have been something!

Lorne Michaels Offer to The Beatles

1983: R.E.M. released their debut album Murmur. Shockingly, the music critics got it right for once and gave it a warm reception. It also peaked at no. 36 on the Billboard 200, not shabby for a debut. A re-recorded version of Radio Free Europe appeared separately as a single and reached no. 78 on the Billboard Hot 100. In spite of the critical acclaim, Murmur only sold approximately 200,000 copies by the end of the year, which back then wasn’t considered special – wow, how the times have changed! Eventually, the album reached Gold certification (500,000 units sold) in 1991. Peter Buck’s jangly Rickenbacker guitar sound, Mike Mills’ melodic basslines and Michael Stipes’ vocals are right up my alley. Here’s Radio Free Europe. Like all other songs except for one, the tune was credited to all four members of the band, which in addition to Buck, Mills and Stipes also included drummer Bill Berry.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfact Music History Calendar; Ultimate Classic Rock; The Beatles Bible; YouTube