The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another installment of The Sunday Six. I always look forward to writing these weekly posts. It feels very liberating to explore the music of the past 60 years or so with no set theme or rules other than I have to like it and keep my picks to six tracks at a time. That being said, frequent readers may have noticed that I’ve kind of settled into a groove on how I tend to structure these posts.

Usually, they kick off on a softer note, given I’m publishing these installments on Sunday mornings, at least in my neck of the woods. I feel these intros present a nice opportunity to feature some jazz and other instrumental music. From there, the posts are pretty much all over the place, jumping back and forth between different decades and featuring different genres. With my methodology behind the madness now having been officially revealed in case you hadn’t already noticed, let’s get to this week’s picks!

Federico Albanese/The Stars We Follow

I’d like to begin today’s journey with beautiful instrumental music by Federico Albanese, an Italian composer, pianist and music producer. He emerged in Spotify after I had looked up the latest composition by English contemporary pianist Neil Cowley I featured in two previous Sunday Six installments, most recently here. From Albanese’s website: Albanese’s compositions are airy and cinematic, blending classical music, pop and psychedelia...When Federico Albanese was just two years old, a local music store owner told his mother that her son had a gift for music...After an early childhood playing piano, the next stop on Albanese’s musical journey was jazz. Inspired by a Woody Allen film, his father gave the young teenager a clarinet, and booked him lessons...Next came the bass guitar, because he wanted to play in a punk rock band. In addition to playing in several rock bands, he and his friends were listening to new age music of the late 90s, from Brian Eno to William BasinskiAll of these musical interests have combined to influence his genre-fusing piano soundscapes, which also incorporate guitar, bass, violin and electronica. This brings me to The Stars We Follow, which is part of a soundtrack released in May 2019 Albanese wrote for a motion picture titled The Twelve. I find this music very relaxing and a nice way to start a Sunday morning.

Chuck Brown and Eva Cassidy/Dark End of the Street

Next, let’s turn to Eva Cassidy, a versatile American vocalist who was known for her interpretations of jazz, blues, folk, gospel, country and pop songs. Sadly, Cassidy’s life was cut short at age 33 when she passed away from melanoma. What a loss and at such a young age – truly heartbreaking! Cassidy gained most of her popularity after her death, especially overseas where three of her postmortem releases – a studio album, a live record and a compilation – topped the Offical Albums Chart in the UK and also reached the top 20 in various other European countries. Cassidy’s cover of Dark End of the Street appeared on The Other Side from January 1992, the only album released during her lifetime. She recorded it together with American guitarist, bandleader and vocalist Chuck Brown who was known as The Godfather of Go-Go. Written by Dan Penn and Chips Moman in 1967, Dark End of the Street was first recorded by R&B and soul singer James Carr that same year. Check out Cassidy’s beautiful rendition – I find it incredible!

The Box Tops/The Letter

After two mellow tracks, it’s time to speed things up. Here’s a great tune that became the first and biggest hit for American blue-eyed soul and rock band The Box Tops: The Letter, which first appeared as a single in May 1967. The tune, written by Wayne Carson, was also included on the group’s first album The Letter/Neon Rainbow. It was quickly put together and released in November of the same year after The Letter had reached no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. The Letter featured 16-year-old Alex Chilton on lead vocals, who after The Box Tops had disbanded in February 1970 became a co-founder of power pop group Big Star. The original line-up of The Box Tops also included Gary Talley (lead guitar, backing vocals), John Evans (keyboards, backing vocals), Bill Cunningham (bass, backing vocals) and Danny Smythe (drums, backing vocals). I’ve always loved The Letter, an excellent rendition of which was also recorded by Joe Cocker in 1970.

The Hooters/All You Zombies

While I was thinking about the ’80s the other day and a tune I could feature in a Sunday Six installment, suddenly, I recalled American rock band The Hooters. They became quite popular in Germany in the mid-’80s. The first song that brought them onto my radar screen was All You Zombies. I vaguely seem to recall rocking out on the dance floor to this great tune during high school parties and festivities as a young college student. The song was co-written by the band’s founding members Eric Brazilian (lead vocals, guitars, mandolin, harmonica, saxophone) and Rob Hyman (lead vocals, keyboards, accordion, melodica) who remain with the still-active group to this day. An initial version of All You Zombies first appeared on The Hooters’ debut album Amore and as a single, both released in 1983, and went unnoticed. I can see why it was the re-recorded and extended version from 1985, which became a hit. That take appeared on the band’s sophomore album Nervous Night from May 1985 and also separately as a single. The tune was most successful in Australia where it climbed to no. 8. It also charted in the top 20 in New Zealand and Germany (no. 16 and no. 17, respectively). In the U.S., it peaked at no. 11 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart and no. 58 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart.

Billy Joel/New York State of Mind

The other day, Graham who pens the great Aphoristic Album Reviews blog did a post titled “10 Worst Billy Joel Lyrics”. Just in case any Billy Joel fans are reading this, Graham digs the piano man, just not necessarily all of his lyrics, and I think he explains it very well. Joel also happens to be one of my longtime favorite singer-songwriters and I’ve yet to dedicate a post to him – I guess a new idea was just born. Perhaps one of the most remarkable things about the artist from Long Island, N.Y. is that while he hasn’t released a new pop album since his 12th studio record River of Dreams from August 1993, he remains as popular as ever. Joel is selling out one show after the other as part of his monthly residency at New York’s Madison Square Garden, a venue that can hold up to 20,000 people for concerts. One of my favorite songs by the piano man, especially musically, is New York State of Mind. The track appeared on Joel’s fourth studio album Turnstiles from May 1976. Surprisingly, this gem wasn’t released as a single at the time. Eventually, it appeared as a single in 2001, off a Tony Bennett album titled Playin’ with My Friends: Bennett Sings the Blues. You can check out Joel’s and Bennett’s jazzy bar tune-like take here – beautiful!

Jerry Lee Lewis/Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On

And once again, it’s time to wrap up, so let’s make it count. Are you ready to groovin’? Ready to movin’? Ready to rockin’? Ready to rollin’? Get shakin’ with one of the best tunes by The Killer. I give you Jerry Lee Lewis, who at age 86 is the last man standing of the classic rock & roll era, and Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On! Written by Dave “Curlee” Williams, the original jazzy version of the tune appeared as Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On by American R&B singer Big Maybelle in 1955. While it’s pretty groovy, Jerry Lee Lewis took the tune to a new level when he released his high-charged rendition as a non-album single in April 1957. Lewis’ propulsive boogie piano was backed by Sun Records session drummer J. M. Van Eaton and rockabilly guitarist Roland E. Janes, literally turning the tune into a killer rendition. “I knew it was a hit when I cut it,” a confident Lewis later proclaimed. “Sam Phillips [Sun Records founder – CMM] thought it was gonna be too risqué, it couldn’t make it. If that’s risqué, well, I’m sorry.” Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On became one of Lewis’ highest-charting hits, climbing to no. 3 in the U.S. on the mainstream Billboard Hot 100, and topping both Billboard’s country and R&B charts. In the UK, the tune reached no. 8. Since it’s so much fun, I give you both the studio version and an incredible extended live take from 1964- and, yes, feel free to shake along!

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist including the above picks!

Sources: Wikipedia; Federico Albanese website; YouTube; Spotify

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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