Paul Simon’s Eponymous U.S. Solo Debut Album Turns 50

Today, fifty years ago, Paul Simon released his eponymous solo album. His first record that appeared nearly two years after the break-up of his duo with Art Garfunkel was his second solo effort overall and the first to appear in the U.S. The Paul Simon Songbook from August 1965 had come out in the UK only. It would eventually be released in the U.S. in 1981 as part of a five-LP boxed set titled Collected Works.

Simon started work on the album in early 1971. For the reggae-influenced song Mother and Child Reunion, one of the reasons why I spontaneously decided to write about this 50th anniversary, he traveled to Jamaica. Simon liked reggae and listened to artists like Jimmy Cliff, Desmond Dekker and Bryon Lee. So he decided to record the tune with Cliff’s backing band at a studio in Kingston to make it sound more authentic. Afterward, he went to San Francisco to record some demos there.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the songs. Opening Side one is the aforementioned Mother and Child Reunion. The tune had also appeared as the album’s lead single on January 17, 1972, Simon’s first single as a solo artist. Songfacts notes that Simon wrote this in response to the Jimmy Cliff song “Vietnam,” where a mother receives a letter about her son’s death on the battlefield…Simon said of the song that it “became the first reggae hit by a non-Jamaican white guy outside Jamaica. Among others, the tune reached no. 4 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, no. 4 in Canada and no. 5 in each the UK and Australia.

When I listened to the ballad Duncan for the first time, it reminded me of Simon & Garfunkel’s El Condor Pasa, because of the beautiful pan flute fill-ins. It turns out those flutes were played by Los Incas, the same Andean group of musicians who had previously collaborated with Simon & Garfunkel on El Condor Pasa. Duncan was also released separately as the album’s third and final single in July 1972. It charted in the U.S. and Australia but didn’t match the success of Mother and Child Reunion.

Another tune from Side one I’d like to call out is Run That Body Down, which has a nice jazzy touch. Some notable backing musicians on that track include renowned jazz double bassist Ron Carter and guitarist David Spinoza who among others worked with John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr in the ’70s and produced James Taylor’s 1974 studio album Walking Man. Also, check out the great guitar solo by jazz guitarist Jerry Hahn, which starts at around 2:25 minutes.

Side two kicks off with one of Simon’s best-known songs and one of my favorites: Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard. The song’s meaning is unclear. Songfacts states, When asked what “Mama Pajama” saw that made her so distraught in this song, Paul Simon has said that he’s not exactly sure, but he assumed it was something sexual. Simon made up a crazy little story for the song, and named the main character Julio because it sounded like a typical New York neighborhood kid (Simon grew up in Queens). What Paul didn’t realize until years later was the impact the song had on Spanish-speaking listeners who were thrilled to hear a song coming out of America with a Latin name in the title. That’s how you do it: You just make up stuff, based on things you may have seen or read, and then have clever people debate what you meant. Bob Dylan anybody? Or how about Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen and Walter Becker? Julio also became the record’s second single. Its chart performance fell in-between Mother and Child Reunion and Duncan. It did best in Canada where it peaked at no. 6. On the U.S. and UK mainstream charts, it reached no. 22 and no. 15, respectively.

Next up: Peace Like a River. I decided to call out this song primarily because of Simon’s acoustic guitar playing, which blends folk with a dose of blues. Learning the acoustic guitar myself many years ago, I can definitely say he was one of the players I admired. The difference between Simon and myself: He became famous, while I always remained a closet acoustic guitarist! 🙂

The last tune I’d like to call out is a short instrumental titled Hobo’s Blues. Did I just say instrumental? No vocals, something I’m generally addicted to? Yep, sometimes you don’t need vocals. The standout here is French-Italian jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli, the only musician on the track besides Simon on acoustic guitar. Pretty neat!

Paul Simon was co-produced by Simon and Roy Halee who had co-produced Simon & Garfunkel’s Bookends (April 1968) and Bridge over Troubled Water (January 1970) albums. He also had co-produced the tune Mrs. Robinson from the soundtrack of the motion picture The Graduate, for which he had won a Grammy Award.

The album was mostly well-received by critics. According to Wikipedia, even Robert Christgau had something positive to say, writing in the Village Voice, “this is the only thing in the universe to make me positively happy in the first two weeks of February 1972” – jeez, he must have been on some substance! And in Rolling Stone that year, Jon Landau called the album Simon’s “least detached, most personal and painful piece of work thus far — this from a lyricist who has never shied away from pain as subject or theme.”

The album, which in 1986 reached Platinum certification in the U.S., topped the charts in the UK, Sweden, Norway and Finland. Notably, it was Simon’s only no. 1 album in the UK in the ’70s. It would take until the fantastic Graceland from 1986 to reach the top spot again. In Canada and The Netherlands, Paul Simon climbed to no. 2, while in the U.S. and Australia, it reached no. 4 and no. 5, respectively. The record was ranked at no. 268 in Rolling Stone’s 2012 list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. It also made the list for the 2020 update, coming in at no. 425.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; Discogs; YouTube; Spotify

Oh Lord, a Comedy Video to Honor George Harrison

An email I received from thebeatles.com on Wednesday brought to my attention a new video clip of George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord. What I expected to see was the audio of the song with some video montage of footage showing George – well, not exactly!

It actually turned out it’s an X-Files type comedy mini-movie. Instead of David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, it stars comedians and former Saturday Night Live cast members Fred Armisen and Vanessa Bayer as agents with a mission to discover “something out there.” It also features appearances by Ringo Starr, Joe Walsh, Jeff Lynne and other personalities.

George Harrison's 'My Sweet Lord' Gets Star-Packed Video For 50th  Anniversary With A Little Help From Friends Ringo Starr, Mark Hamill, Fred  Armisen, Vanessa Bayer & More – Deadline

Here’s how thebeatles.com put it: An all-star cast from the worlds of music, TV, film and comedy have come together to honor George Harrison in the first-ever official music video for his iconic hit song, “My Sweet Lord.”

Directed by Lance Bangs, the video stars Fred Armisen and Vanessa Bayer as metaphysical special agents who are tasked by the head of a clandestine agency, played by Mark Hamill, to search for that which can’t be seen. 

Also featuring Ringo Starr, Joe Walsh, Jeff Lynne, Jon Hamm, Natasha Legerro, Darren Criss, Rosanna Arquette, “Weird Al” Yankovic, Patton Oswalt, Reggie Watts, Tim and Eric, Taiki Waititi, and many more, click below to watch the video now.

Of course, My Sweet Lord is from Harrison’s third solo album All Things Must Pass from November 1970, the first that appeared after the breakup of The Beatles. The tune, which also became the triple-LP’s lead single on November 23, 1970, four days prior to the album’s appearance, is best known because of the copyright infringement lawsuit it triggered.

Without going into the details, I think there is no doubt My Sweet Lord sounds very similar to He’s So Fine, a tune written by Ronnie Mack that became a hit in 1963 for The Chiffons. Harrison eventually was found to have “subconsciously plagiarized” the song.

On a more cheerful note, the recent 50th anniversary edition of All Things Must Pass received a nomination for a 2022 Grammy for Boxed or Special Limited-Edition Package. It’s just amazing to me how many different Grammy categories exist. That being said, I’m happy for Dhani Harrison, Olivia Harrison and art director Darren Evans, who were involved in the anniversary edition.

Sources: Wikipedia; thebeatles.com; georgeharrison.com; YouTube

Musings About “The Beatles: Get Back”

After weeks of publicity and anticipation, Peter Jackson’s documentary The Beatles: Get Back finally premiered on Disney+ last week. As I started watching the first episode on Thursday, two things became clear to me. As a long-time fan of The Beatles, it was a foregone conclusion I would write about the film. I also decided not to do a review. If you’re looking for the latter, I’d like to refer you to fellow Beatles fan and blogger Angie Moon who pens the excellent Diversity of Classic Rock blog and did a great job summarizing each of the three episodes here, here and here. Instead of a review, I’d like to share some of my takeaways.

Perhaps most importantly, I was glad to see The Beatles: Get Back is not an attempt to whitewash the band’s late-stage history. Instead, I feel it’s an effort to paint a more balanced picture of what was shown in the original 1970 documentary by director Michael Lindsay-Hogg. While the majority of Peter Jackson’s film features “happy footage”, it also captures the tensions between The Beatles. That’s especially the case in the first episode where you can see George Harrison’s growing frustration – even more so in his facial expressions than his actual words. There’s also a candid conversation between John Lennon and Paul McCartney in the second episode. I’ll come back to that shortly.

george harrison left the beatles

The task of having to complete 14 new songs for an album and a live TV show in just three weeks with no real plan looked pretty daunting, even for great writers and musicians like The Beatles – especially when you consider not all was easy-peasy between them. I also find it pretty remarkable how in spite of all the drama with George’s walkout seven days into the rehearsals at Twickenham Film Studios and the uncertainty of his return, the entire project didn’t completely get derailed then and there.

One of the documentary’s most intense moments happens off-camera and is the above-noted conversation between John and Paul in a cafeteria, presumably at Twickenham. They had no idea the filmmakers had placed a microphone in a flowerpot on the table to secretly record them. That was really pushing the envelope, to say the least! Here’s a transcribed excerpt:

John: ‘Cause there was a period when none of us could actually say anything about your arrangements…
Paul: Yeah.
John: ’cause you would reject it all.
Paul: Yeah, sure.
John: I’d have to tell George and I would just say, you know, like you do about me…
Paul: Oh yeah.
John: …you know, I’m Paul McCartney, and a lot of the times you were right, and a lot of the times you were wrong. Same as we all are, but I can’t see the answer to that. Because you…you’ve suddenly got it all, you see.
Paul: I really don’t want you…
John: Well, alright. I’m just telling you what I think. I don’t think The Beatles revolve around four people. It might be a fuckin’ job.
Paul: You know, I tell you what. I tell you one thing. What I think…The main thing is this: You have always been boss. Now, I’ve been, sort of, secondary boss.
John: Not always.
Paul: No, listen. Listen. No. always!
John: Well, I…
Paul: Really, I mean it’s gonna be much better if we can actually stick together and say, “Look, George, on ‘I’ve Got a Feeling’ I want you to do it exactly how I play it” and he’ll say, “I’m not you, and I can’t do it exactly like you do it.”
John: But this, this year, what you’ve been doing and what everybody’s been doing…I’ve not only felt guilty about the way we’re all guilty about our relationship to each other ’cause we could do more. And look, I’m not putting any blame on you. I’ve suddenly realized this, because that was my game, you know, but me goals, they’re still the same. Self-preservation, you know. I know what I like, I’ve let you do what you want and George too, you know.
Paul: Yeah I know.
John: If we want him, if we do want him, I can go along with that, because the policy has kept us together.
Paul: Well, I don’t know, you know. See, I’m just assuming he’s coming back.
John: Well, do you want…
Paul: If he isn’t, then he isn’t, then it’s a new problem. And probably when we’re all very old, we’ll all agree with each other, and we’ll all sing together.

Billy Preston’s appearance at the Apple studio on Savile Row, to where The Beatles had relocated from that awful Twickenham location, was truly priceless. He wasn’t called a “Fifth Beatle” for nothing – frankly, something I had not fully appreciated until I watched Jackson’s documentary. You can feel the immediate positive vibes created by Preston’s presence. Obviously, his keyboard work was great as well, especially on tunes like Get Back and Don’t Let Me Down, using a Fender Rhodes electric piano.

I don’t mean any disrespect to Yoko Ono. I realize how much she meant to John, but I just have to say I found her constant presence right next to him really odd. Of course, she wasn’t the only guest. There was also Linda Eastman (soon-to-become Linda McCartney), but at least she appeared to have a purpose to be there taking pictures. Later on in the film, one can also see Ringo Starr’s then-wife Maureen Cox and Paul’s brother Peter Michael McCartney. By far my favorite guest is Linda’s giggling daughter Heather who was about to turn seven years old and who subsequently became Paul’s adopted daughter. I love how at some point she’s hitting Ringo’s snare drum when he didn’t expect it, clearly scaring him!

The first and only time I saw the original Let It Be documentary was in Germany, which I believe was in the late ’70s. Perhaps I should have watched it again before seeing the Jackson documentary. I didn’t recall that until the morning of the rooftop concert, The Beatles still had not made their final decision whether they wanted to move forward with what would become their final public live performance. Lindsay-Hogg, George Martin and all other production staff seemed to take it in stride – that’s just remarkable!

The Beatles: Get Back gave me a new appreciation of the Let It Be album. Don’t get me wrong: I always considered it a decent record, but if asked for my top picks, I’d mention Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Abbey Road and Revolver. Now I would add Let It Be to that group.

I think the Jackson documentary is mostly suitable for Beatles fans. Folks who are new to the band or who are casual listeners probably won’t get as much out of it. While as a longtime fan and hobby musician I find it fascinating to watch John, Paul, George, Ringo and Billy in action, it’s safe to assume the constant rehearsals and even their goofing around aren’t everybody’s cup of tea. Even as a Beatles fan, I have to say I’m glad this documentary is presented as a three-part docuseries, given its total running time of close to eight hours. In fact, I think they should have broken it up into four episodes of two hours each.

Sources: Wikipedia; Disney+; YouTube

Pix & Clips: The Beatles/Get Back (Teaser)

Even if you’re not a Beatles fan and as such haven’t followed the upcoming Get Back documentary by New Zealand film director, screenwriter and film producer Peter Jackson, there’s probably no way you haven’t at least heard of it, given all the publicity push around the film. Here’s the latest teaser I just saw, an excerpt of Get Back from The Beatles’ legendary rooftop performance, their final live concert.

While I’m generally not a fan of hype, The Beatles are my all-time favorite band, so I definitely look forward to the documentary. Since I watch very little TV these days and have never been into binging, I’m very happy Get Back will be presented as a three-part docuseries. Even for a Beatles nut like me, the thought of watching six hours in a row would be pretty daunting.

The Beatles: Get Back, as it’s officially titled, will start airing tomorrow (November 25) exclusively on Disney+ with the first 2-hour installment. Episodes two and three will follow on Friday and Saturday, November 26 and 27, respectively. I wonder how many temporary subscribers Disney+ got because of the docuseries.

Here’s some additional background on the documentary from The Beatles’ official website:

The docuseries showcases The Beatles’ creative process as they attempt to write 14 new songs in preparation for their first live concert in over two years. Faced with a nearly impossible deadline, the strong bonds of friendship shared by John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr are put to the test.

The docuseries is compiled from nearly 60 hours of unseen footage shot over 21 days, directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg in 1969, and from more than 150 hours of unheard audio, most of which has been locked in a vault for over half a century. Jackson is the only person in 50 years to have been given access to this Beatles treasure trove, all of which has now been brilliantly restored. What emerges is an unbelievably intimate portrait of The Beatles, showing how, with their backs against the wall, they could still rely on their friendship, good humor, and creative genius. While plans derail and relationships are put to the test, some of the world’s most iconic songs are composed and performed.

The docuseries features – for the first time in its entirety – The Beatles’ last live performance as a group, the unforgettable rooftop concert on London’s Savile Row, as well as other songs and classic compositions featured on the band’s final two albums, Abbey Road and Let It Be.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Beatles website; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Ringo Starr/Rock Around the Clock

Did the world need this cover of Rock Around the Clock? Probably not. Did Ringo Starr reinvent classic rock & roll with it? Nope. Do I still love it? Hell, yes!!! In fact, when I saw the clip earlier this afternoon, it put a big smile on my face and literally made my day. This is what Ringo excels at – using his positivity and making people happy. I hope you find it as much fun as I did, which is why I wanted share this as soon as I could.

Here’s what Ringo said on his website about the song, for which the official video was released today. “Yes let’s rock! This track takes me back – rock and roll memories from when I was about to turn 15. I’d been in hospital with tuberculosis for a year or so, where I’d already spent my 7th and 14th birthdays, and I didn’t want to spend another one there again. I was doing well, so my mother talked to the doctors, and they agreed to let me out.”

Ringo’s website further notes he first heard Rock Around the Clock in the film Blackboard Jungle, which his grandparents took him to see for his 15th birthday. “I’m sitting there, I’d been in the hospital, don’t know much about what’s going on lately, and they ripped up the cinema!!!,” he recalled. “They just threw the chairs and went crazy. I thought, ‘WOW this is great!!!!’ I remember that moment like it was yesterday, it was incredible. And the song just rocks. So when it came to choosing tracks for this EP I thought of doing ‘Rock Around the Clock’ for all these good reasons.”

Ringo’s cover of Rock Around the Clock was first included on his recent EP Change the World that appeared on September 22. He got a little help from some friends, who in this case most notably include guitarist Joe Walsh. Watching him rockin’ out only adds to the fun. He’s also a bit of a goofball!

Written in 1952 by Max Freedman and James Myers (credited as Jimmy De Knight), Rock Around the Clock was recorded by Bill Haley & His Comets and released as a single in May 1954. It became the best known and most successful rendition of the tune. Topping the mainstream charts in the U.S., UK and Australia, the tune also was Haley’s biggest hit.

Sources: Wikipedia; Ringo Starr website; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: October 14

After a longer pause, it’s time again for another installment of my irregular feature where I explore what happened on an arbitrarily picked date throughout rock history. The only rule I have it that it must reflect my music taste and be a date I haven’t covered yet. The good news is I got plenty of choices left, including October 14, so without further ado, let’s get to it!

1957: The Everly Brothers hit no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 with Wake Up Little Susie. Written by husband-and-wife country and pop songwriting duo Felice Bryant (born Matilda Genevieve Scaduto) and Diadorius Boudleaux Bryant, the tune became the first of three no. 1 songs Don Everly and Phil Everly scored on the mainstream charts. The Bryants also wrote Bye Bye Love, the previous single by The Everly Brothers, as well as numerous of their other hits. Wake Up Little Susie reached the top of the Billboard country and R&B charts as well, and was included on The Everly Brothers’ 1958 eponymous debut album. It was the first song by them I heard in my early teens when I was still pretty much adoring Elvis Presley. While in my mind back then nobody could ever match Elvis when it came to rock & roll, The Everly Brothers quickly earned my respect.

1967: Of course, no music history post can be without The Beatles or related topics. In this case, it’s an artist who managed to knock out The Fab Four from the top of the charts. The great Bobbie Gentrie, who later became a woman of mystery, hit no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200 with her debut album Ode to Billie Joe, ending the 15-week reign of The Beatles with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. According to Wikipedia, it was the only record that managed to displace Sgt. Pepper from the top spot. Released on August 21 that year, Gentry’s debut album had been quickly assembled following her successful single with the same title. This is such a great tune!

1968: Next let’s turn to The Beatles themselves to see what they were up to. The year was 1968 and the location was Studio 2 at EMI Studies, Abbey Road, London. John, Paul and George were working on eight songs for the White Album – of course, The Beatles Bible had to count them all! The ultimate record of Beatles truth further notes Ringo Starr had left for a two-week family vacation to Sardinia and as such was absent. In fact, he had no further involvement in the album’s mixing and sequencing. The recording session saw the completion of work on one the tunes: Savoy Truffle, a song by George Harrison, which had been inspired by Eric Clapton. Eric has “got this real sweet tooth and he’d just had his mouth worked on,” Harrison explained. “His dentist said he was through with candy. So as a tribute I wrote, ‘You’ll have to have them all pulled out after the Savoy Truffle’. George’s sense of humor could be peculiar!

1971: Specialty Records, the company that held the rights to Little Richard’s songs, sued John Fogerty, charging the Creedence Clearwater Revival song Travelin’ Band plagiarized Richard’s Good Golly, Miss Molly. Here’s Richard’s tune. The CCR track is below. Great gosh a’mighty, if this is plagiarism, then pretty much all classic rock & roll songs are! I feel this is very different from Zep’s rip-off of Spirit’s Taurus or the similarity between George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord and The Chiffons’ record of He’s So Fine. Eventually, the case was settled out of court. Travelin’ Band first appeared in January 1970 as the B-side to Who’ll Stop the Rain, the lead single of CCR’s fifth studio album Cosmo’s Factory released in July of the same year.

1977: David Bowie released his 12th studio album Heroes. The second installment of Bowie’s so-called Berlin Trilogy only came nine months after predecessor Low. The third album in the series, Lodger, would appear in May 1979. Bowie recorded all three albums in West Berlin, Germany, in collaboration with Brian Eno and co-producer Tony Visconti. Bowie was quite busy in 1977. The making of Heroes followed his participation as keyboarder during a tour of his friend Iggy Pop and co-producing Pop’s second studio album Lust for Life. Heroes incorporated elements of art rock and experimental rock, and built on Low’s electronic and ambient approaches. In general, I’m more fond of Bowie’s late ’60s and glam rock period. That being said, I always liked the album’s title track that was co-written by Bowie and Eno. The record did pretty well in the charts, reaching no. 3 in the UK, the top 20 in various other European countries, no. 6 in Australia and no. 35 in the U.S. – overall largely matching the performance of Low.

1983: Let’s finish this little history post with another album release: She’s So Unusual, the solo debut by Cyndi Lauper. The record became a huge chart success and Lauper’s best-selling album with more than 16 million units sold worldwide as of 2008. It certainly was welcome news for Lauper who only a few years earlier had found herself forced to file for bankruptcy, a fallout from the aftermath of her previous band Blue Angel, a failed debut album and a lawsuit the band’s manager Steven Massarsky had brought against her and the band. Beware of hiring a lawyer as your manager! She’s So Unusual yielded several hit singles. Here’s the most successful and my favorite, Time After Time, co-written by Lauper and Rob Hyman who is best know as a founding member of American band The Hooters. The tune topped the mainstream charts in the U.S. and Canada, climbed to no. 3 in New Zealand, reached no. 5 in Australia, and became a top 10 hit in various European countries, including Austria (no. 6), Ireland (no. 2), France (no. 9), Germany (no. 6), The Netherlands (no. 8) and the UK (no. 3).

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

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Another Saturday is upon us, and this means it’s time to take a fresh look at newly released music. All featured tracks in this post appear on releases that came out yesterday (September 24). Without further ado, let’s get to it!

Third Eye Blind/Goodbye to the Day of Ladies and Gentlemen

Third Eye Blind are an alternative rock band founded in San Francisco in 1993. In the early 1990s, singer-songwriter and guitarist Stephan Jenkins set out to start the group. He worked on early material with bassist Jason Slater that resulted in the band’s first demo. In their early years, Third Eye Blind experienced frequent line-up changes. After Slater’s departure, guitarist Kevin Cadogan joined with whom Jenkins developed a songwriting partnership. In June 1996, the group signed with Elektra Records. Despite significant challenges, Third Eye Blind’s eponymous debut album finally appeared in April 1997. It reached no. 25 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200, also charted in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and has sold more than six million copies, becoming the band’s best-selling album to date. Third Blind Eye have since since released six additional records including their latest, Our Bande Apart. Here’s the nice opener Goodbye to the Day of Ladies and Gentlemen penned by Jenkins who also wrote or co-wrote all of the album’s remaining tracks.

Jesse Malin/Greener Pastures

Singer-songwriter and guitarist Jesse Malin started his career in 1980 when he was only 12 years old as frontman of New York hardcore group Heart Attack. In 1991, he co-founded D Generation, a glam punk band, in which he continues to perform as lead vocalist to this day. After the group’s break-up in 1999 (they reunited in 2011), Malin launched a solo career. Influenced by Neil Young, Steve Earle and Tom Waits, he changed his sound. His solo debut The Fine Art of Self-Destruction first came out in the UK in October 2002 before it appeared in the U.S. in January 2003. Eight additional solo albums by Malin have since been released. Here’s Greener Pastures, a beautiful tune from Malin’s new Americana-oriented album Sad and Beautiful World.

Mac McCaughan/The Sound of Yourself

According to his profile on Apple Music, Mac McCaughan wears multiple hats. He is a co-founder of the seminal indie band Superchunk, founder and leader of Portastatic, a former member of Seam and Go Back Snowball, and co-owner of Merge Records, one of America’s most successful and influential independent labels. Despite his success, McCaughan has strayed little from his punk rock principles in terms of both music and business, and after more than 25 years of making records, he opted to launch a belated solo career in 2015 with the release of the synthy Non-Believers...While Superchunk continued releasing albums of the high-energy fuzz pop they were known for, McCaughan furthered his deepening fascination with synth sounds, collaborating with ambient harpist Mary Lattimore on a series of improvisations that was released in 2019 as the New Rain Duets album by the Three Lobed label. This brings me to his latest solo release, The Sound of Yourself. Here’s the title track. I like it!

Ringo Starr/Let’s Change the World

Only six months after Zoom In, Ringo Starr is out with another EP, Change the World. Of course, I couldn’t ignore it! Just like the previous EP, the four tracks were recorded at Starr’s Roccabella West studio, according to a recent announcement on his website. “I’ve been saying I only want to release EPs at this point and this is the next one,” he commented. “What a blessing it’s been during this year to have a studio here at home and be able to collaborate with so many great musicians, some I’ve worked with before and some new friends.” Guest artists include Joseph Williams and Steve Lukather, both from Toto, as well as Joe Walsh and Nathan East, among others. Here’s the title track co-written by Williams and Lukather. Backing vocals were provided by Amy Keys, Zelma Davis, Billy Valentine and Darryl Phinnessee. Let’s Change the World perfectly fits the hope and optimism Ringo Starr continues to radiate at age 81 – I just love the man!

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Ringo Starr website; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: September 3

My last installment in this recurring irregular feature dates back to late June, so I thought it would be a good moment to do another post. In case you’re a first-time visitor of the blog or haven’t seen these types of posts before, the idea is to explore what happened on a specific date in music history. It’s not my intention to provide a comprehensive listing of events. Instead, the picks are quite selective and closely reflect my music taste. With these caveats being out of the way, let’s take a look at September 3.

1964: The Beatles played State Fair Coliseum in Indianapolis as part of their 30-date U.S. tour in August and September that year. It was the same tour during which they had met Bob Dylan in New York in August. According to The Beatles Bible, their Indianapolis engagement included two gigs that were attended by a total of 29,337 people – they had to count them all! The Beatles performed their standard 12-song set of Twist And Shout, You Can’t Do That, All My Loving, She Loves You, Things We Said Today, Roll Over Beethoven, Can’t Buy Me Love, If I Fell, I Want To Hold Your Hand, Boys, A Hard Day’s Night and Long Tall Sally. Prior to the first show, Ringo Starr decided to have some fun driving a police car around a nearby race track. Unfortunately, he completely forgot to check his watch and made it to the Coliseum just minutes before he and his bandmates were scheduled to go on stage. The Beatles Bible also notes the two concerts earned them $85,231.93, after $1,719.02 was deducted as state income tax. Be thankful they didn’t take it all!

Poster for The Beatles at State Fair Coliseum, Indianapolis, 3 September 1964

1966: Donovan hit no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with Sunshine Superman. The single, which also became the title track of his third studio album from August that year, had been released in the U.S. on July 1. Due to a contractual dispute, it did not appear in the UK until December 1966, where it reached no. 2 on the Official Singles Chart. Sunshine Superman remained Donovan’s only no. 1 and no. 2 hit in the U.S. and the UK, respectively. Sunshine Superman is an early example of psychedelia. The backing musicians, among others, included Jimmy Page (electric guitar) and John Paul Jones (bass), who were both busy session players at the time. They ended up playing together in the New Yardbirds the following year, the band that became Led Zeppelin.

1971: Fleetwood Mac released their fifth studio album Future Games. The record, the first with Christine McVie (keyboards, vocals) who at the time was still married to John McVie (bass), falls into an interesting transition period for the band. Their blues days with Peter Green were a matter of the past, and their classic period that started with Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks and the Fleetwood Mac album from 1975 was still a few years away. Future Games also was the first of five records to feature guitarist Bob Welch. The band’s remaining line-up at the time included Danny Kirwan (guitar, vocals) and Mick Fleetwood (drums, percussion). Welch immediately left his mark, writing both the title track and this song, Lay It All Down.

1982: The first of two Us Festivals (with Us pronounced like the pronoun, not as initials) kicked off near San Bernardino, 60 miles east of Los Angeles. The festivals were initiated by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak who partnered with rock concert promoter Bill Graham. The idea of the extravagant event, which Wozniak bankrolled with $8 million to pay for the construction of the open-field venue, was to celebrate the passing of the “Me” Decade (1970s) and encourage more community orientation and combine technology with rock music. Performing acts at the first three-day Us Festival included Talking Heads, The Police, Santana, The Kinks, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Grateful Dead, Jackson Browne and Fleetwood Mac, among others. A second (four-day) Us Festival took place nine months later around Memorial Day weekend 1983. Here’s Santana’s performance of the Tito Puente classic Oye Cómo Va at the 1982 event.

2017: Steely Dan co-founder Walter Becker passed away at the age of 67 from esophageal cancer at his home in New York City. Together with his longtime partner Donald Fagen, who he had met at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. in 1971 where both were students, Becker had formed the core of the group. By the time of Steely Dan’s fourth album Katy Lied from March 1975, Becker and Fagen had turned the group into a studio band, relying on top-notch session musicians to record their albums. After their seventh studio album Gaucho, Becker and Fagen split to pursue solo careers. They reunited in 1993, recorded two more albums and toured frequently until Becker’s death. Fagen has since continued to carry on the Steely Dan torch. Here’s Black Friday from Katie Lied, a nice example of Becker’s guitar chops. Oftentimes, he stepped back to let other musicians handle guitar duties – not so in this case where he did some killer soloing, using the guitar of Denny Dias, Steely Dan’s original guitarist during their early stage as a standing band. Dias appeared as a guest musician on the Katy Lied, The Royal Scam and Aja albums

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

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to Sunday and another installment of The Sunday Six, a journey celebrating music six random tunes at a time. If you’re impacted by tropical storm Henri, I hope you are safe. My area of Central New Jersey has been under a tropical storm warning since Friday afternoon, but other than rain, so far, so good -knock on wood!

Weather Report/A Remark You Made

The fact I’m kicking off this post with jazz fusion group Weather Report has nothing to do with the storm but instead can be attributed to coincidence. A few days ago, my streaming music provider served up A Remark You Made as a listening suggestion. While jazz fusion remains a largely unknown genre to me, this track blew me away immediately. Appearing on Weather Report’s eighth studio album Heavy Weather from March 1977, the tune undoubtedly has to be one of the most beautiful instrumentals I’ve heard in a long time. Written by Austrian jazz keyboarder and Weather Report co-founder Joe Zawinul, the track also features Wayne Shorter (tenor saxophone), Jaco Pastorious (fretless bass) and Alex Acuña (drums). What matters more to me than all these big names is the incredible music, especially Pastorious who literally makes his fretless bass sing – check out that amazing tone! As a huge saxophone fan, I’m also drawn to Shorter’s tenor sax playing – just incredibly beautiful and a perfect match to the singing fretless bass! I realize this very accessible jazz fusion isn’t typical for the genre. Perhaps not surprisingly, Heavy Weather became Weather Report’s highest charting album on the U.S. mainstream chart Billboard 200 where it peaked at no. 30. It also was one of the group’s two records to top Billboard’s jazz albums chart.

Joe Jackson/Geraldine and John

Let’s stay in the ’70s and move to October 1979. Joe Jackson’s sophomore album I’m the Man brought the versatile British artist on my radar screen in 1980, when I received it on vinyl as a present for my 14th birthday – still have that copy. The album is probably best known for its singles I’m the Man, It’s Different for Girls and Kinda Cute, while the song I picked, Geraldine and John, is more of a deeper but nevertheless great cut. And it’s another bassist who absolutely shines on that tune, in my view: Graham Maby. He still plays with Jackson to this day. Rounding up Jackson’s backing band were guitarist Gary Sanford and drummer David Houghton. Jackson worked with them on his first three albums that are among my favorites by the man. Check out Maby’s great melodic bassline on Geraldine and John!

The Beatles/Something

Speaking of great basslines, here’s yet another master bassist who conveniently also played in my favorite band of all time. Not only is Something from the Abbey Road album among the absolute gems written by George Harrison, but I think it’s also The Beatles tune with the best bassline Paul McCartney has ever come up with. In addition to Harrison (vocals, lead guitar) and McCartney (bass, backing vocals), the tune featured John Lennon (piano), Ringo Starr (drums) and Billy Preston (Hammond). BTW, Something is also a good example of Ringo’s creative drumming. The Beatles Bible notes the song was recorded and mixed during six sessions between April 16 and August 15, 1969. At this late stage of The Beatles when they took full advantage of the studio, McCartney oftentimes recorded his bass as one of the last instruments. That way he could hear all other instrumental tracks and come up with complementary basslines. In this case, the outcome was truly magnificent!

Sheryl Crow/If It Makes You Happy

Okay, time to get off my little bass obsession – something I admittedly can get excited about as a former bassist! On to Sheryl Crow, an artist I have dug since her debut album Tuesday Night Music Club from 1993. Oh, did I mention she also plays bass in addition to guitar and piano? 🙂 Perhaps my favorite tune by Crow is If It Makes You Happy from her eponymous sophomore album that came out in September 1996. She co-wrote the nice rocker with Jeff Trott who became a longtime collaborator and appeared on almost every Sheryl Crow album thereafter. In August 2019, Crow released what she said would be her final full-length album, Threads, citing changed music consumption habits where most listeners make their own playlists with cherry-picked songs rather than listening to entire albums. I previously reviewed it here. Well, the good news is Crow’s statement at the time apparently didn’t include live albums. On August 13, she released Live From The Ryman & More, a great looking 27-track career spanning set I’ve yet to check out. Meanwhile, here’s the excellent If It Makes You Happy. Yep, it surely does!

Neil Young/Hangin’ On a Limb

Next I like to come back to Hangin’ On a Limb, a Neil Young tune I first had planned to include in the August 1 Sunday Six installment. But inspired by a tornado warning that had been issued for my area of central New Jersey a few days earlier, I decided to go with Like a Hurricane instead. BTW, earlier this week, we had another tornado warning and as noted above, there is a tropical storm warning in effect for my area. You can’t make this stuff up – climate change is real, whether the naysayers like it or not! Anyway, Hangin’ On a Limb is a beautiful tune featuring Linda Ronstadt on backing vocals. It’s from Young’s 17th studio album Freedom that appeared in October 1989 and is best known for the epic Rockin’ in the Free World.

Pretenders/Buzz

And this brings me again to the final tune. Wrapping it up is Buzz, a great track from Hate for Sale, the 11th and most recent album by Pretenders released in July 2020. Time has been kind to Chrissie Hynde’s voice that sounds just as compelling as back in 1980, the year the band’s eponymous debut album came out. There’s another commonality: Original drummer Martin Chambers who had returned after eight years. Apart from Hynde (rhythm guitar, lead vocals, harmonica) and Chambers, Pretenders’ current line-up also includes James Walbourne (lead guitar, backing vocals), Eric Heywood (pedal steel guitar, backing vocals) Carwyn Ellis (keyboards) and Nick Wilkinson (bass). Hate for Sale is pretty solid. In case you’re curious, check out my previous review here. Like all other songs on the album, Buzz was co-written by Hynde and Walbourne.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Beatles Bible; YouTube

Happy Birthday and Peace & Love

A playlist to celebrate Ringo Starr’s 81st birthday

Today, Ringo Starr has turned 81 years old. It’s so great to see he’s still going strong! I just love the man and not only because he was the drummer of my all-time favorite band The Beatles. Ringo strikes me as a genuinely nice guy with a great sense of humor, who despite his fame comes across as a fairly regular person. A guy you’d love to hang out with. And somebody every band would want to have as a member since it always seems to be about the group, never about him.

Ringo is no technical virtuoso, which I’ve seen him acknowledge in interviews. I think his honesty and humbleness say a lot about him. And yet he’s held in high esteem by other professional drummers for his creative drumming style. That’s especially the case when it comes to certain Beatles songs where you can figure out the tune just by listening to Ringo’s drum part. When you think about it, that’s pretty cool!

But it’s perhaps the concept of Ringo’s All-Starr Band, which best illustrates what he’s all about. Yes, they play some songs from his solo period and his time with The Beatles, but they also perform tunes from the other members. It’s the “all” in the band’s name that matters. I so much hope I’ll finally see Ringo for the first time with the latest incarnation of the All-Starr Band at New York’s Beacon Theatre in June 2022. Meanwhile, let’s celebrate his 81st birthday with a selection of tunes spanning his 50-year-plus solo career.

It Don’t Come Easy – non-album single, April 1971

PhotographRingo, November 1973

No No SongGoodnight Vienna, November 1974

Wrack My BrainStop and Smell the Roses, October 1981

In My CarOld Wave, June 1983

Drift Away (featuring Tom Petty, Steven Tyler and Alanis Morissette) – Vertical Man, June 1998

Walk With You (duet with Paul McCartney) – Y Not, January 2010)

Postcards From ParadisePostcards From Paradise, March 2015

We’re on the Road AgainGive More Love (September 2017)

Waiting for the Tide to TurnZoom In (EP), March 2021

And, remember, wherever you are at noon today, Peace and Love!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube