My Playlist: David Crosby

Shining a light on influential singer-songwriter’s late-stage career

Last week (January 18), David Crosby sadly passed away at the age of 81, which according to a family statement came “after a long illness.” By now it’s safe to assume this isn’t news to anybody, given the significant number of obituaries that have appeared in the wake of his death. As such, I’m not going to write yet another summary of the influential singer-songwriter’s eventful private life and career. Instead, I’d like to highlight Crosby’s music, particularly his last nine years, during which he was pretty prolific.

When reflecting on David Crosby, I feel it’s fair to say most people primarily think of him as a co-founder of the Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash/Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Some perhaps also recall his February 1971 solo debut If I Could Only Remember My Name and his ’70s collaborative albums with CSN bandmate Graham Nash. But unless you’ve followed him more closely, his post-’70s output is probably less familiar. I certainly belong to that group.

David Crosby with his son and musical collaborator James Raymond

In January 2014, Crosby released Croz, his fourth solo album and first such effort in 20 years, beginning a remarkably productive late stage in his career. On several occasions over the past couple of years, he noted his remaining time was limited, so he wanted to focus on music as much as possible. And that he certainly did. After Croz four additional studio albums appeared between October 2016 and July 2021. In his final interview with Songfacts two months ago, Crosby also revealed he had completed another studio album with his so-called Lighthouse Band, to be titled Hello Moon, and was working on two additional albums. This didn’t include the then-forthcoming live release David Crosby & the Lighthouse Band Live at the Capitol Theatre, which has since appeared on December 9.

Following I’m highlighting one song from each of Crosby’s last five studio albums. While I don’t want to guarantee these are the best tracks, I can confidently say I dig each of these songs. In any case, of course, it’s all pretty subjective. I’m also including a career-spanning playlist focused on songs Crosby wrote or co-wrote, as opposed to tunes on which he sang and/or played guitar. That is by no means to undermine his important role as a vocalist and musician. The Byrds and CSN/CSNY wouldn’t have sounded the same without Crosby’s vocal and instrumental contributions.

Set That Baggage DownCroz (January 2014)

Crosby wrote that tune together with English guitarist Shane Fontayne who has been active since the ’70s and worked with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Ian Hunter, Joe Cocker, Graham Nash and Mick Ronson. “That’s a thing you learn in AA [Alcoholics Anonymous – CMM],” Crosby told Rolling Stone, as noted by Songfacts. “I went there for about fourteen and half years. You have to look at what got you there. You have to look at the mistakes, and I made some horrific ones, and then you have to learn from them, figure out how to not wind up there again. You have to set that baggage down and walk on. If you spend all your life looking over your shoulder at the things you did wrong, you’re gonna walk smack into a tree.”

Somebody Other Than YouLighthouse (October 2016)

This political tune, co-written by Crosby and Snarky Puppy bandleader Michael League, appears on Lighthouse, Crosby’s first album with what became known as his Lighthouse Band. In addition to League, the group also featured vocalist and songwriter Becca Stevens and Michelle Willis, a Canadian singer-songwriter and keyboarder. “There are these politicians in Washington who are run by the corporations, ’cause corporations gave them the money to get elected, and they send our kids off to war,” Crosby explained to Classic Rock magazine, according to Songfacts. “I’m deeply offended by the fact that these politicians send your kids and not theirs.”

Sky TrailsSky Trails (September 2017)

Sky Trails is the title track of Crosby’s sixth solo album, which appeared less than 12 months after the predecessor. Sky Trails also became the name of Crosby’s second band, which featured his son James Raymond who also produced various of Crosby’s albums, and “anybody we decide we want to work with,” as Crosby put it to Songfacts during his above final interview. In the case of this tune, it was Becca Stevens who co-wrote it with Crosby. “We both spend a lot of time on the road,” Crosby told Billboard magazine, as documented by Songfacts. “And when you’re on the road, after the second or third week you don’t know where you are. You’re out there somewhere, and all the cities look roughly the same, and you lose track.” My full review of Sky Trails is here.

1974Here If You Listen (October 2018)

1974, a partially wordless song, was co-written by Crosby and his Lighthouse Band members Becca Stevens, Michelle Willis and Michael League, and appeared on Here If You Listen, the second album Crosby made with the group. The title is a nod to a demo of the song, which Crosby recorded in 1974. “It was a song without words that I was fooling around with,” he told Songfacts. “I used to do that a lot: I’d have a set of changes but I didn’t have a set of words, so I would stack vocals like horn parts. I’m basically doing a horn record with voices. I had a bunch of those.”

Rodriguez For a NightFor Free (July 2021)

The last tune I’d like to highlight is Rodriguez For a Night, a great track from Crosby’s eighth and most recent solo album. A longtime Steely Dan fan, Crosby had long sought to collaborate with Donald Fagen. It finally happened with this tune, for which Fagen provided the lyrics while Crosby’s son Raymond James wrote the music with some help from his father. “[Fagan] just sent the words and stood back to see what would happen,” Crosby told Uncut magazine, according to Songfacts. “He knew what our taste was and he knew what we would probably try to do. He’s an extremely intelligent guy and I think he knew what would happen. We know his playbook pretty well, so we deliberately went there – complex chords, complex melodies. We Steely Damned him right into the middle of this as far as we could! And fortunately, Donald liked it, so I couldn’t be more grateful.”

Last but not least, here’s the above-noted career-spanning playlist. Crosby named Eight Miles High (and Turn! Turn! Turn!) when asked to identify the ultimate Byrds song during the above Songfacts interview. Separately, Songfacts notes Crosby thought Everybody’s Been Burned was “the first actually passable song that I wrote,” quoting him from an interview with his friend Steve Silberman, an American journalist with whom he hosted a podcast.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube; Spotify

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The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday Six where I take little journeys into the beautiful world of music, including different eras and different flavors, six tunes at a time. Hope you’ll join me!

Jeff Beck/Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers

Earlier this week, we lost one of the greatest guitarists in rock history, Jeff Beck, who suddenly passed away near his home in Southern England at the age of 78 from bacterial meningitis. As such, it feels right to start today’s mini-excursion in March 1975 and Blow By Blow. Beck’s second album that appeared under his name followed Beck, Bogert & Appice, the eponymous and only release by the short-lived power trio Beck had formed after he had dissolved the Jeff Beck Group. Beck gained initial prominence as a member of The Yardbirds where he succeeded Eric Clapton. For a short time, he intersected with Jimmy Page. Somewhere I read all three of these British ‘guitar gods’ grew up in the same geographic area. Unlike Clapton and Page, Beck never achieved huge chart success or record sales. It didn’t take away anything from his brilliance. Here’s his beautiful instrumental rendition of Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers, a tune written by Stevie Wonder. I was happy to see it’s Beck’s most streamed track on Spotify.

The Walkabouts/Nightdrive

We will visit the ’70s one more time. For now, let’s continue our trip with a stop in December 1994 and Setting the Woods On Fire, the seventh album by The Walkabouts. Before continuing, I’d like to give a shoutout to fellow blogger Hotfox63 who covered one of the band’s other records last December, which brought them on my radar screen. The Walkabouts were formed in Seattle, Wa. in 1984. Inspired by folk and country music from the likes of Townes Van Zandt, Neil Young and Johnny Cash, the group released 13 studio albums before they disbanded in 2015. Their rich sound also drew from other genres and artists, such as Scott Walker, Leonard Cohen and Jacques Brel. This brings me to Nightdrive, a song off the above-mentioned album. It’s credited to all members of the group, who at the time included co-founders Chris Eckman (vocals, electric & acoustic guitars, lyrics) and Carla Torgerson (vocals, acoustic & electric guitars, cello), along with Glenn Slater (piano, organ, accordion, loops), Michael Wells (bass guitar, harmonica) and Terri Moeller (drums, percussion, backup vocals) – love that tune!

R.E.M./It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)

And we’re on to the ’80s with a song by R.E.M. I had earmarked for a Sunday Six several months ago. Coincidentally, fellow blogger Mike from Ticket to Ride just took a look back at the studio catalog of the American band that started in 1980 in Athens, Ga., and was active until 2011. While I like R.E.M. for their melodic songs and jangly guitar sound, I only know them based on certain songs and have yet to take a deeper dive into their albums. One of the tunes I’ve been aware of for a long time is It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine). Credited to all members and co-founders of the band – Michael Stipe (lead vocals), Peter Buck (guitar), Mike Mills (bass, keyboards, backing vocals) and Bill Berry (drums, backing vocals), the tune first appeared on R.E.M.’s fifth studio album Document released in September 1987, their most successful at the time. It also became the record’s second single but didn’t match the success of the lead single The One I Love. I’ve always dug both tunes.

Bruce Cockburn/Wondering Where the Lions Are

When I was recently in Germany, I met with my longtime friend and music buddy who has given me many great tips since the days when we were bandmates during the second half of the ’80s. One of the artists he mentioned during our recent get-together is Bruce Cockburn (pronounced KOH-bərn). Frankly, other than the name, I wasn’t familiar at all with the Canadian singer-songwriter and guitarist. Where do you start with an artist who has been active since 1967 and released 30-plus albums? Admittedly, I took a shortcut and checked Spotify. The most streamed tune there is Wondering Where the Lions Are. While I can’t tell you at this time whether it’s Cockburn’s best song, I liked it right away. Included on his 1979 album Dancing in the Dragon’s Jaw, the tune is his only U.S. top 40 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, reaching no. 21. In his native Canada, it got to no. 39 on the mainstream chart and no. 7 on the adult contemporary chart. Overall, it looks like Cockburn has been most successful in his home country. Based on another album I heard, he appears to be pretty versatile and definitely is an artist I’d like to further explore. For now, here’s Wondering Where the Lions Are, which like all other tracks on the album was penned by Cockburn – a beautiful folk tune that reminds me a bit of fellow Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot!

Southern Avenue/Control

Time to pay a visit to the present. When it comes to contemporary artists one of the bands I keep coming back to are Southern Avenue. The group from Memphis, Tenn., which has been around since 2015, blends blues and soul with flavors of contemporary R&B. I also love the racial diversity they represent.  Southern Avenue are Israeli blues guitarist Ori Naftaly; three amazing African American ladies, lead vocalist Tierinii Jackson and her sisters Tikyra Jackson (drums, backing vocals) and Ava Jackson (backing vocals); white bassist Evan Sarver; and African American keyboarder Jeremy Powell. Tellingly, in 2016, they became the first new act signed to Stax Records in many years. Control, co-written by Naftaly and Tierinii Jackson, is from the band’s most recent third studio album Be the Love You Want, released in August 2021, which I reviewed here at the time. The funky tune also appeared separately as a single leading up to the album’s release. I find this music is full of soul and pretty seductive.

Byrds/So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star

The sixth tune means we’re once again about to reach the final stop of yet another music excursion. Let’s make it count with a ’60s gem by the Byrds: So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star. Co-written by co-founders Roger McGuinn (credited as Jim McGuinn) and Chris Hillman, the tune has been characterized by Byrds expert Tim Conners as “an acerbic, but good-natured swipe at the success of manufactured rock bands like the Monkees.” While I’m not a fan of how The Monkees came to be, I love their music. Plus, once Don Kirshner was out of the picture, the group’s members started playing their own instruments and getting more control over their music. So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star first appeared in January 1967 as the lead single of the Bryrds’ fourth studio album Younger Than Yesterday, which came out the following month.

Of course, this post wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify playlist featuring each of the highlighted six tunes. Hope there’s something for here!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Hard to believe it’s Saturday and another week just flew by. This also means it’s time again to take a fresh look at new music releases. All featured tunes appear on albums that were released yesterday (January 13).

Margo Price/Been to the Mountain

Kicking off this new music revue is Nashville-based country singer-songwriter Margo Price. While growing up in the small town of Aledo, Ill., Price picked up the piano and sang in the church choir. She later started studying dance and theater at Northern Illinois University but decided to drop out at the age of 20 and moved to Nashville. While doing various odd jobs there, Price began developing a music career. After meeting her future husband, bassist Jeremy Ivy, they formed the group Buffalo Clover and subsequently Margo and the Pricetags. In March 2016, Price released her debut studio album Midwest Farmer’s Daughter. It was very well-received by music critics, topped the UK country charts and climbed to no. 10 on the U.S. country charts. Been to the Mountain is the opener of Price’s fourth and latest studio album Strays. Written by Price, the tune first appeared as the lead single in August 2022. I dig her rock-oriented sound, not what you may typically associate with country music!

Blessing Offor/Won’t Be Long Now

Blessing Offor is a Nigerian-born singer-songwriter who blends pop, R&B, gospel and soul. From his AllMusic bio: The youngest of six siblings, Offor was born with congenital glaucoma, which caused blindness in one eye. Sent by his parents to the United States with his uncle to receive medical care, he later lost sight in his other eye after injuring his retina in an accident involving a powerful water gun. He spent his formative years in Connecticut listening to Motown, jazz, and pop and began playing piano at the age of nine. As a teenager, Offor started writing his own songs, and he honed those skills further at Belmont University in Nashville. While Music City afforded him plenty of opportunities, his soulful pop style was an outlier, so he relocated to New York City. In 2014 he appeared on season seven of The Voice…He moved back to Nashville the following year with plenty of wind in his sails…In February 2022, Offor released his debut EP Brighter Days. Now he’s out with his first full-length album My Tribe. Here’s the soulful Won’t Be Long Now, co-written by Offor, Hank Bentley and Jessie Parker-Early. This beautiful tune first appeared on December 9.

Belle and Sebastian/So in the Moment

Scottish indie pop group Belle and Sebastian started out as a project in Glasgow in 1994 by Stuart Murdoch (vocals, guitar, keyboards) and Stuart David (bass). They had both enrolled in a program for unemployed musicians at Stow College where together with their music professor they recorded some demos. This resulted in the release of their first full-length album Tigermilk on the college’s label Electric Honey. The album’s positive reception led Murdoch and David to recruit additional musicians and turn Belle and Sebastian into a full-time band. In August 1996, they signed with Jeepster Records and released their sophomore album If You’re Feeling Sinister in November of the same year. Today, the group consists of Murdoch, Stevie Jackson (guitar, vocals, piano), Sarah Martin (vocals, violin, guitar, flute, keyboards, recorder, percussion), Chris Geddes (keyboards, piano, percussion), Bobby Kildea (guitar, bass), Dave McGowan (bass, keyboards, guitar) and Richard Colburn (drums, percussion). So in the Moment, credited to all members of the group, is a track from their twelfth and new album Late Developers – a pleasant pop song!

Myron Elkins/Factories, Farms & Amphetamines

My final pick for this week is Myron Elkins, a compelling 21-year-old singer-songwriter from Otsego, Mich., whose music combines elements of classic rock, country and blues. According to his web bio, Elkins started working as a welder at the age of 17 after high school graduation and never intended to become a professional musician. His trajectory changed when a relative signed him up for a local battle of the bands competition. Even though Elkins had very limited live experience and put together a group only three weeks prior to the event, they came in second. More importantly, it made him realize music is what he wanted to do. Fast-forward four years to Elkins’ debut album Factories, Farms & Amphetamines. It was produced by Dave Cobb who has worked with the likes of Chris Stapleton, Brandi Carlile, John Prine, Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell, The Highwomen and Rival Sons. Let’s check out the impressive title track. Unless you knew, you’d never guess you’re listening to a 21-year-old artist. He sounds like an “old soul” you could picture in the ’70s!

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify list of the above and a few additional tunes by each featured artist.

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; Myron Elkins website; YouTube

Musings of the Past

My Playlist: AC/DC

Last Saturday night, I went to see a fun AC/DC tribute band. For anyone living in the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut tri-state area, where they mostly play, they’re called Stiff Upper Lip, in case you’re interested in catching them. This reminded me of how much I’ve come to dig the rockers from down under – and of a post I originally published in June 2020. Here it is again, with an added Spotify list at the end, which in addition to the featured tunes includes a few other AC/DC songs.

My Playlist: AC/DC

Yesterday, I found myself listening to AC/DC and once again was reminded what a kick-ass rock band they were. While I’ve covered them on previous occasions, it occurred to me that I had not put together a playlist. Well, the time has come, but before getting to some music, a bit of history is in order.

AC/DC were formed in Sydney, Australia in November 1973 by Scottish-born brothers Malcolm Young (rhythm guitar) and Angus Young (lead guitar) who teamed up with Larry Van Kriedt (bass), Colin Burgess (drums) and Dave Evans (vocals). Apparently, the Young brothers came up with the band’s name after their sister Margaret Young had seen the initials “AC/DC” on a sewing machine. Margaret also inspired Angus Young’s characteristic school-uniform stage outfit.

In September 1974, Evans was replaced by vocalist Bon Scott. Like the Young brothers, Scott had been born in Scotland and come to Australia as a child. In October 1974, AC/DC recorded their first studio album High Voltage. It was produced by Malcolm’s and Angus’ older brother George Young and Harry Vanda, who both were also members of The Easybeats. The album was released in February 1975 in Australia only.

LONDON – 1st AUGUST: Australian rock band AC/DC posed in a studio in London in August 1979. Left to right: Malcolm Young, Bon Scott, Angus Young, Cliff Williams and Phil Rudd. (Photo by Fin Costello/Redferns)

By the time AC/DC started work on their sophomore record T.N.T. in the summer of 1975, Mark Evans (bass) and Phil Rudd (drums) had joined the band. Not only saw the record, another Australia-only release that appeared in December 1975, the band’s classic lineup but also the hard-edged R&B-based rock & roll that would become AC/DC’s trademark sound.

The next important stage in the band’s history was the signing with Atlantic Records and their first international release in April 1976, an album that was also titled High Voltage. The record was a compilation of tracks from the band’s first two albums. AC/DC have since recorded 14 additional studio albums, and released various live and soundtrack records, one EP and two box-sets. The band has also gone through numerous lineup changes, with Angus Young being the only remaining original member. Let’s get to some rock & roll!

I’d like to kick it off with Love Song, a tune from AC/DC’s first record, the aforementioned Australia-only release High Voltage. Like all their songs until the Highway to Hell album, it was co-written by Angus YoungMalcolm Young and Bon Scott. The track is one of two tunes from that album that were never officially released internationally until 2009 when they were included in the box-set Backtracks.

AC/DC’s first international release, which as noted above was also titled High Voltage, includes two of their early classics: It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll) and T.N.T. It was a tough choice since I dig both of these tunes. I decided to go with the former song, which also became the album’s second single. Who would have thought bagpipes and hard rock guitar form such a friggin’ perfect harmony!

For the next tune, I’m jumping to Let There Be RockAC/DC’s fifth album from July 1977. It was the last record with bassist Mark Evans, who after clashes with Angus was replaced by Cliff Williams. Here’s one of my favorite tunes from that record, the fantastic closer Whole Lotta Rosie.

Highway to Hell marked another important milestone for AC/DC’s. The band’s seventh studio album released in July 1979 was the last with Bon Scott, who died in February 1980 after a night out in London. The official cause of death was acute alcohol poisoning, but according to a book by British-Australian author Jesse Fink, heroin was involved as well. While the album’s title track certainly hasn’t lacked exposure, I think it remains one of the greatest rock songs of all time, with a beautifully simple, instantly recognizable guitar riff. Here’s the official video.

Perhaps not surprisingly, AC/DC almost called it quits after Bon Scott’s death. But they decided to carry on and, apparently with the Scott family’s encouragement, hired Brian Johnson. Not only did Johnson become the band’s new vocalist, but throughout the ’80s, he also assumed Scott’s role in co-writing songs with the Young brothers. Five months after Scott’s death, AC/DC released Back in Black. The title and the all-black cover were in honor of Scott. With more than 50 million copies sold worldwide, Back in Black not only became AC/DC’s most successful record but one of the best-selling albums in music history. Here’s the official video of the great title track, another tune with a brilliant guitar riff.

For the next tune, let’s jump to January 1988 and AC/DC’s 12th album Blow Up Your Video, the last produced by Harry Vanda and George YoungThat’s the Way I Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll also came out separately as the record’s second single in March 1988. Here’s the official video.

After releasing five albums during the ’80s, which certainly was a remarkable pace, AC/DC started to slow down. The ’90s only saw two new records. Another change was that the two Young brothers took over all of the songwriting. Here’s Hard as a Rock, the great opener from Ballbreaker, the second of the two albums that appeared in September 1995. Phil Rudd, who had left during the recording sessions for the Flick of the Switch album from August 1983 due to drug problems and frictions with Malcolm Young, returned as the band’s drummer.

Stiff Upper LipAC/DC’s 15th studio album from February 2000, saw the return of George Young as producer. Here’s the opener and title track. It also became the album’s lead single.

In October 2008, AC/DC released Black Ice. With an eight-year span since Stiff Upper Lip, it marked the longest gap between the band’s successive studio albums. The record’s development was delayed due to an injury bassist Cliff Williams had sustained and the band’s switch from Elektra Records to Sony Music Entertainment. But I guess AC/DC made it count by making Black Ice their longest-running studio album to date. Here’s the official video of opener and lead single Rock ‘n’ Roll Train.

The last track I’d like to highlight is from AC/DC’s most recent record Rock or Bust, which came out in November 2014. While all songs were co-written by Angus Young and Malcolm Young, Malcolm had retired earlier in the year because of his declining health due to dementia. All of his guitar parts were recorded by his nephew Stevie Young. Here’s the fantastic Play Ball, a true late-career gem, in my opinion.

Sadly, AC/DC’s story has been pretty grim since Malcolm Young’s departure. Shortly before Rock or Bust’s appearance, Phil Rudd was arrested and charged with attempting to procure a murder, threatening to kill, possession of methamphetamine and possession of cannabis, following a police raid on his home. While the murder procurement charge was subsequently dropped, Rudd was convicted of the other charges and sentenced to eight months home detention and a fine of NZ$120,000 in July 2015. As a result, he missed the 2015-2016 supporting tour for Rock or Bust.

Things got worse. In April 2016 during the Rock or Bust tour, AC/DC announced the departure of Johnson due to hearing issues. Guns N’ Roses’ Axl Rose was brought in to complete the tour’s remaining gigs. In July 2016, bassist Cliff Williams announced his retirement from the band at the end of the tour. On November 18, 2017, Malcolm Young passed away at the age of 64. Three weeks earlier, George Young had died. A cause of death wasn’t reported. He was 70 years old.

AC/DC have sold over 200 million albums worldwide, including approximately 71 million in the U.S. alone. And the story may not be over yet. Over the past couple of years, there have been rumors about a new AC/DC album in the making. And it appears they weren’t just rumors.

In February this year, heavy metal vocalist Dee Snider told Blabbermouth.net  that Brian Johnson not only had confirmed to him that he was working with the band again, but that AC/DC was indeed recording a new album. Apparently, Phil Rudd and Cliff Williams are back in the fold. Supposedly, the material includes recordings of Malcolm Young from the early 2000s. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

– END-

The original post, which was published on June 3, 2020, ended here. In the meantime, AC/DC against the odds did release another album, Power Up, in November 2020. Featuring Angus Young, Brian Johnson, Cliff Williams and Stevie Young (nephew of Malcolm Young), AC/DC’s 17th studio album, which I reviewed here at the time, delivers plenty of the kind of straight kick-ass rock & roll that have made them such a widely beloved band among rock fans – a truly remarkable outcome!

So what’s in store for AC/DC? According to a December 21, 2022 story on Blabbermouth.net, Brian Johnson when asked during a recent SiriusXM interview with Eddie Trunk whether the band will ever perform again live declined to answer: “I’m not answering that. Why should I? First of all, there’s five members in this band, and to ask one member isn’t fair.” When Trunk pressed him, Johnson added, “Eddie, I cannot answer that. I’ve been told not to by everybody. It’s the official line.” I guess until that changes, AC/DC fans will need to be patient.

Here’s the aforementioned Spotify playlist:

Sources: Wikipedia; Blabbermouth.net; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Happy Saturday and welcome to the first 2023 installment of Best of What’s New, a weekly feature looking at newly released music. For first-time visitors, my picks typically fall outside the current mainstream pop charts, where I tend to find much more music that speaks to me. All featured tunes in this post are on albums that appeared yesterday (January 6), except for the last track.

Brandon Ratcliff/Tale of Two Towns

Kicking off things is Brandon Ratcliff, a young singer-songwriter who combines country, pop and R&B. From his website: From the day he was born, and even before, he was on stages, on tour buses, and in writing rooms across America, watching his family sing the music they love as the celebrated Bluegrass band, The Cox Family. Born in Cotton Valley, LA (population 962), Brandon saw first-hand how universal the stories born in small towns are. The son of Suzanne Cox, one third of the family band, Brandon watched as his mother and her siblings won Grammy Awards telling those stories to the world…After deciding to leave Cotton Valley for Nashville, Brandon’s talents quickly attracted the music business machine in town. He was offered a publishing deal at the age of 20 but decided to turn it down to develop his sound...In 2018 Brandon was signed to Monument Records, and in 2019 burst onto the scene with his debut single, “Rules Of Breaking Up,” accumulating more than 50 million streams. This brings me to Tales of Two Towns, the title track of Ratcliff’s ambitious debut double album. He wrote the tune together with Josh Jenkins and Peter Good. I like it!

Allen Epley/Thousand Yard Stare

Allen Epley was born in Louisville, Ky. and grew up in a musical family. After playing in a college band, he co-founded Orchid in 1992, which soon became Shiner, a post-hardcore/alternative rock band. After four studio albums and their split, Epley formed indie rock band The Life and Times in 2002, who remain active to this day. Since 2012, Shiner have played reunion shows and in 2020 released another album. Apart from Epley’s continued engagements with both groups, he frequently collaborates with other bands. And he also managed to record his solo debut album Everything. Let’s check out the great-sounding Thousand Yard Stare.

Anti-Flag/Nvrevr

Anti-Flag are a punk rock band from Pittsburgh, Pa., who have been around since 1988. Their current line-up includes co-founding members Justin Sane (vocals, guitar) and Pat Thetic (drums), along with Chris Head (guitar) and Chris No. 2 (vocals, bass). Anti-Flag who are known for their extensive political activism, released their debut album Die For the Government in August 1996. Since then, 12 additional albums have come out including their latest Lies They Tell Our Children. According to AllMusic, Anti-Flag have gained a “reputation for recapturing the old-school ethics of punk: fast, loud, obnoxious, and anti-everything that ends with an “ism.”” Frankly, “fast” and “loud” don’t sound like particularly attractive musical attributes to me, but when combined with a good melody can still work. Here’s Nvrever featuring Stacey Dee, guitarist and vocalist of pop punk group Bad Cop/Bad Cop. Credited to all members of Anti-Flag, the rocker first appeared as a single last November.

Iggy Pop/Strung Out Johnny

Frankly, Iggy Pop wasn’t exactly on my radar screen, so I was surprised to see a new album by the now 75-year-old “Godfather of Punk.” That said, I know his name much better than his music. Pop, born James Newell Osterberg Jr., started his music career as a drummer in various high school bands in Ann Arbor, Mich. in the mid-’60s. In 1967, he formed the Psychedelic Stooges who became The Stooges the following year. After three albums and a short break-up in between, they split a second time in 1974. Three years later, Pop began a volatile yet ultimately successful solo career, which has yielded 19 studio albums to date. Between 2003 and 2019, Pop played with different versions of The Stooges who released two additional albums during that period. Pop’s new solo album, titled Every Loser, features guest appearances from Duff McKagan (ex Guns N’ Roses bassist), Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer), Dave Navarro (Jane’s Addiction guitarist) and the late Taylor Hawkins (former Foo Fighters drummer), among others. Here’s Strung Out Johnny, co-written by Andrew Watt, Chad Smith, Pop and Josh Klinghoffer – cool rocker!

The Hold Steady/Sideways Skull

My final pick for this week is Sideways Skull, the great new single by New York indie rock band The Hold Steady. Formed in 2003, their current lineup includes co-founders Craig Finn (lead vocals, guitar), Tad Kubler (lead guitar, backing vocals) and Galen Polivka (bass), along with Steve Selvidge (rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Franz Nicolay (piano, keyboards, accordion, harmonica, backing vocals) and Bobby Drake (drums, percussion). Wikipedia notes the band is known for their “lyrically dense storytelling”, “classic rock influences” and “narrative-based songs [that] frequently address themes, such as drug addiction, religion and redemption, and often feature recurring characters within the city of Minneapolis.” Since their 2004 debut Almost Killed Me, The Hold Steady have released seven additional studio albums. Their new single, co-written by Finn, Nicolay and Kubler, is from their upcoming ninth studio album The Price of Progress, scheduled for March 31.

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify list of the above and a few additional tunes by the featured artists.

Sources: Wikipedia; Brandon Ratcliff website; Allen Epley website; AllMusic; YouTube; Spotify

What I’ve Been Listening to: Dawes/Misadventures of Doomscroller

I’m thrilled my first full-fledged album review of 2023 is music by a contemporary band. While I featured Dawes and their song Ghost In The Machine in a Best of What’s New installment last July and also highlighted the great tune again in part 1 of my 2022 year-end feature, it wasn’t until this past Saturday that I finally listened to Misadventures of Doomscroller, their latest album released in July 2022, which includes this track. It was pretty much instant love – something that rarely happens to me, especially when it comes to contemporary artists!

Dawes emerged in 2009 from rock band Simon Dawes after that group’s co-songwriter Blake Mills had departed. This led them to both shorten their name to Dawes and change from a post-punk to a folk rock-oriented sound. AllMusic describes it as “influenced by the gentle acoustic style and rich vocal harmonies of the Laurel Canyon sound (Crosby, Stills & Nash, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell) as well as the shambling, romanticized Americana of the Band.” That’s a great characterization. For this album, I would add a pretty sophisticated, progressive rock-like complexity to their music.

The current line-up of Dawes features brothers Taylor Goldsmith (guitars, vocals) and Griffin Goldsmith (drums), along with Wylie Gelber (bass) and Lee Pardini (keyboards). Misadventures of Doomscroller is their eighth studio album. According to this review by Entertainment Focus, it was produced by the Los Angeles band’s longtime collaborator Jonathan Wilson, who has also worked with Angel Olsen, Benmont Tench, Jackson Browne, Margo Price and Father John Misty, among others.

Dawes (from left): Griffin Goldsmith, Wylie Gelber, Taylor Goldsmith and Lee Pardini

“We’ve always prided ourselves on being minimalists. With this record we set out on being MAXIMALISTS,” the band’s main songwriter Taylor Goldsmith told Entertainment Focus. “Still a quartet. Still not letting these songs hide behind any tricks or effects. But really letting the songs breathe and stretch and live however they want to. We decided to stop having any regard for short attention spans. Our ambitions go beyond the musical with this one.”

I’d say it’s time to take a closer look at some of the goodies. Opening the album is the impressive medley Someone Else’s Cafe/Doomscroller Tries to Relax. Like all other tracks except for one, it was penned by Taylor Goldsmith. The two tunes are connected by a middle section, creating a feel of a song suite. “The first half of this song could be about tyrants,” Goldsmith explained to Entertainment Focus. “But it could also be about anyone who thinks that a little more control is gonna make everything ok. The second half is a response to that developing reality of the first half. The world might be a scary place sometimes but, to some degree, I want to believe I can decide how I respond to it.” Check out this neat sound and cool groove – so good, all of its 10-plus minutes!

The next track I’d like to call out is Comes In Waves. In a news post on the group’s website, Goldsmith notes: I had this riff and one of the verses for a while. Griffin, Wylie and Mike Viola came over to my backyard (this was peak covid) to just play music together for one of the first times since lockdown. I started sharing the song and Griffin and Mike started singing their background parts you hear on the choruses on the record immediately. It inspired me to finish writing it. The lyric is about the arbitrary demands I make on myself. I want to perceive me or my life a certain way but I make no exceptions for an off day or a misstep. Whether it’s a win or a loss, it’s all transient, and only when I can live in some version of that awareness (which is itself transient) am I able to bat away any fears or anxieties or the consequences of an over indulged ego.

Since I already covered the excellent Ghost In The Machine twice, I’m skipping it in this review. Instead, the last tune I’d like to highlight is titled Everything Is Permanent, the only track on the album Goldsmith co-wrote, with Jimmy Joliff. Evidently quoting Goldsmith again, the above news post notes it’s a song (about how everything about us is tracked, documented, recorded, filed, mined, bought, sold, etc. etc. on some level) that is wrapped around a molten core of a breakdown/ freakout/majorminorinterweave that is probably the moment I’m most proud of on the whole record. After showing you the blood and guts, we gently sew the song back together again and end with what could be the tagline for all of social media and the screen-life-culture that we subscribe to these days to varying degrees: “Did you really need to cry? Or be seen crying?”

Misadventures of Doomscroller is an album I can highly recommend. To start with, Dawes are really fine musicians. If I would have to call out anybody in particular, I would pay close attention to drummer Griffin Goldsmith. I also love Wylie Gelber’s melodic bass playing. The other thing that stands out to me is the group’s neat harmony singing. The comparisons to CSN and The Band are not off-base!

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify link to the album. In case you don’t know it already, hope you will further check it out and dig it as much as I do!

Sources: Wikipedia; AllMusic; Entertainment Focus; Dawes website; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Happy New Year and welcome to the first 2023 installment of The Sunday Six! This also marks the 100th time that I’d like to invite you to join me on a time-travel journey into the beautiful world of music. As usual, the zig-zag trip includes six tunes in different flavors from different decades. Hop on, fasten your seatbelts and off we go!

Lee Morgan/The Sidewinder

The March 7, 2021 installment, the eighth of this weekly recurring feature, was the first to open with a jazz tune. I’ve since continued to start these mini-music excursions with an instrumental, typically a jazz track, and intend to continue the tradition, at least for now. Today, my pick is Lee Morgan, an American jazz trumpeter and composer. He started to record as an 18-year-old in 1956 with his solo debut Lee Morgan Indeed! After playing in Dizzy Gillespie’s Big Band from 1956 until 1958, he joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and between 1957 and 1966 was featured on numerous of their albums. Morgan’s prolific recording career came to an abrupt end in February 1972 at the age of 33, when his common-law wife Helen Moore shot him during an altercation at a jazz club in New York City where Morgan was performing with his band. Morgan is regarded as one of the key hard bop players of the 1960s. The Sidewinder, a Morgan composition, is the title track of a July 1964 album released under his name. He was backed by Joe Henderson (tenor saxophone), Barry Harris (piano), Bob Cranshaw (double bass) and Billy Higgins (drums). The Sidewinder became Morgan’s best-known track and even made the U.S. pop mainstream charts.

Natalie Imbruglia/Torn

For this next stop on our little trip, we jump to November 1997 and the solo music debut by Natalie Imbruglia. The singer from down under started her professional career as an actress in the early 1990s on Australian soap opera Neighbours. Left of the Middle, Imbruglia’s first of seven albums she released to date, became a huge international success, topping the charts in Australia and placing in the top 5 in The Netherlands (no. 2), Switzerland (no. 3), Germany and Italy (no. 4 each), as well as the UK (no. 5). In the U.S., it reached no. 10 on the Billboard 200. Left of the Middle also became her most commercially successful album with more than 7 million copies sold to date. The impressive performance was fueled by lead single Torn, a tune co-written by Scott Cutler, Anne Preven and co-producer Phil Thornalley. Originally, the song had been recorded in 1996 by American-Norwegian singer Trine Rein. While Rein’s version reached no. 10 on the charts in Norway, it was Imbruglia’s rendition that became a major internal hit. Imbruglia, now 47, remains active, both as a music artist and an actress. Even though Torn has a pretty commercial sound, I’ve always liked the tune.

Squeeze/Black Coffee in Bed

The time has come to pay a quick visit to the ’80s with a nice track by English pop rock and power pop band Squeeze. The group was initially formed in March 1974 by Chris Difford (guitar, vocals, lyrics) and Glenn Tilbrook (vocals, guitar, music). Jools Holland (keyboards, backing and occasional lead vocals), Harri Kakoulli (bass) and Paul Gunn (drums) rounded out the initial line-up. After five albums, Difford and Tilbrook decided to break up the band in 1982 and released an eponymous album as a duo the following year. In 1985 Squeeze reformed. The band’s second incarnation lasted until 1999 and saw seven additional albums. In late 1999, they broke up again. Their third incarnation started in 2007 and remains active to this day, with Difford and Tilbrook remaining as the only original members. Black Coffee in Bed, penned by Difford and Tilbrook, appeared in April 1992 as the lead single from Squeeze’s fifth album Sweets from a Stranger, released in September of the same year. It enjoyed moderate success in the UK where it reached no. 51 on the Official Singles Chart. In the U.S., the tune peaked at no. 26 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart.

The Clash/London Calling

One of the few punk bands I liked from the get-go were The Clash. During their 10-year career from 1976 until 1986, the British group released six studio albums. The third, London Calling, was their most successful one. The critically acclaimed record from December 1979, which has sold over five million copies worldwide and was certified platinum in the US for sales of one million, blends a traditional punk rock sound with elements of reggae, rockabilly, ska, New Orleans R&B, pop, lounge jazz, and hard rock. Overall, it also became the band’s best-performing album on the charts, reaching no. 2 in Sweden, no. 4 in Norway and no. 9 in the UK, among others. In Rolling Stone’s most recent 2020 version of its list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time, London Calling was ranked at no. 16, only down 8 spots from the 2003 and 2012 editions. Here’s the great title track, co-written by vocalist Joe Strummer and lead guitarist Mick Jones. London Calling also appeared separately in December 1979 as the record’s lead single.

Plain White T’s/Hey There Delilah

For this next tune let’s jump to the current century. Like I suspect is the case for the majority of folks, I only know Plain White T’s because of their one no. 1 hit Hey There Delilah. The rock and pop punk band was formed as a trio in early 1997 by high school friends Tom Higgenson (lead vocals, guitar, keyboards), Dave Tirio (guitar, drums percussion), and Ken Fletcher (bass), and rounded out by Steve Mast (lead guitar, backing vocals) shortly thereafter. In 2000, they recorded their debut Come On Over. Hey There Delilah first appeared on the group’s third studio album All That We Needed, released in January 2005. But the beautiful ballad wasn’t noticed until May 2006 when it appeared as a single. Among others, it topped the charts in the U.S., Canada and Germany, and surged to no. 2 in the UK, Ireland and Belgium. Until that single, Plain White T’s essentially had been an underground act in Chicago. Hey There Delilah was also included as a bonus track on the group’s fourth studio album Every Second Counts, which came out in September 2006. It’s safe to assume the tune helped fuel the success of that record, which became their best-selling album to date and charted in multiple countries, including Ireland (no. 2), UK (no. 3) and the U.S. (no. 10), among others. Plain White T’s are still around. Their eighth and most recent studio album Parallel Universe came out in August 2018.

The Box Tops/Cry Like a Baby

Once again we’ve reached the final stop of another music trip. My pick is Cry Like a Baby, the title track of a studio album by American blue-eyed soul and rock band The Box Tops, released in April 1968. In February that same year, the tune had appeared as the record’s lead single. Overall, it became their second-biggest hit after The Letter, reaching no. 2 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, no. 3 in Canada, no. 15 in the UK and no. 46 in Australia. Formed as The Devilles in Memphis, Tenn. in 1967, the band soon thereafter changed their name to The Box Tops in 1967. Cry Like a Baby was the last album featuring the original line-up of Alex Chilton (lead vocals, rhythm guitar), Gary Talley (lead guitar, backing vocals), John Evans (keyboards, backing vocals), Bill Cunningham (bass, backing vocals) and Danny Smythe (drums, backing vocals). In 1971 after the first break-up of The Box Tops, Chilton became a co-founder of American rock and power pop band Big Star. In 1996, Cunningham organized the first reunion of The Box Tops, which lasted until 2010. Following the death of Chilton from a heart attack in March 2010, the group split again. In mid-2015, Cunningham and Talley reformed The Box Tops who have remained active since then.

Of course, The Sunday Six wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify playlist. Hope there’s something for you here!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Yearend Musings Part 2

A look back on new albums released in 2022

For the last time this year, I’d like to wish everybody a happy Saturday. I’m back from my short Christmas hiatus with the second installment of my two-part year-end review of new music released in 2022. Part 1 focused on new songs. In this post, I’m taking a look back at my six favorite albums of the year.

Altogether, I reviewed approximately 20 albums that were released over the course of the past 12 months. This count doesn’t include reissues like Neil Young’s nice Harvest 50th Anniversary Edition or other new releases of old music, such as Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ Live at the Fillmore (1997), an excellent box set I can highly recommend checking out. Mirroring the approach I took for 2022 new songs, I’m doing this in chronological order.

Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio/Cold As Weiss

Kicking off this year-end revue with an all-instrumental album may seem to come a bit out of left field, given I’m a huge fan of vocals, but Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio and their groovy Hammond-driven jazz was love at first sight. Plus, if you’re a more frequent visitor of my blog, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that instrumental music no longer is a rarity on these pages. Cold As Weiss, released on February 11, is the third studio album by this great trio, who apart from Delvon Lamarr (Hammond organ) features Jimmy Jones (guitar) and Dan Weiss (drums). Aka. DLO3, the trio has been around since May 2015 and describes their music as a “soul-jazz concoction”, blending 1960s organ jazz stylings of Jimmy Smith and Baby Face Willette; a pinch of the snappy soul strut of Booker T. & The M.G.’s and The Meters; and sprinkling Motown, Stax Records, blues, and cosmic Jimi Hendrix-style guitar. Let’s listen to Get Da Steppin’. My full review of this fun album is here.

Here’s a Spotify link to the entire album:

Goodbye June/See Where the Night Goes

Classic rock may no longer be in the mainstream, but it sure ain’t dead. Just ask Goodbye June from Memphis, Tenn., who have been helping carry the torch since 2005. The band is a family affair, comprised of cousins Landon Milbourn (lead vocals), Brandon Qualkenbush (rhythm guitar, bass, backing vocals) and Tyler Baker (lead guitar). On February 18, their fourth studio album See Where the Night Goes came out. The group’s sound, which is reminiscent of AC/DC, is a great listening experience. Check out the neat opener Step Aside below and my full review of the album here. Goodbye June truly rock!

Spotify album link:

Bonnie Raitt/Just Like That…

Frequent visitors of the blog and folks who know my music taste otherwise probably won’t be surprised to see Bonnie Raitt in this year-end post. I think her 21st studio album Just Like That…, which appeared on April 21, may well be her best to date in a now 51-year-and-counting recording career. If I would have to name my 2022 album of the year, Raitt’s first new release in more than six years would be it! Since this amazing lady first entered my radar screen with the outstanding Nick of Time in 1989, I’ve really come to dig her smooth slide-guitar playing, her voice and, of course, the songs most of which are renditions of tunes written by other artists. Here’s the Stonesy Livin’ For the Ones, a tune for which Raitt wrote the lyrics to music from longtime guitarist George Marinelli. Here is my full review of the album, a true gem that is a must-listen-to for Bonnie Raitt fans.

Spotify album link:

Jane Lee Hooker/Rollin’

Shortly on the heels of Bonnie Raitt, Jane Lee Hooker released their third studio album Rollin’ on April 29. I first experienced the great New York-based blues rock-oriented band during a free summer-in-the-park concert on the Jersey shore in August 2017 when they still were an all-female group and was immediately impressed by their infectious energy. All members remain, except for original drummer Melissa “Cool Whip” Houston who departed in 2020 and has been replaced by ‘Lightnin’ Ron Salvo. Earlier this year, I saw Jane Lee Hooker during a release party in New York City for the new album and can confirm the band’s only gent is a great fit. Rollin’ offers their familiar hard-charging electric guitar-driven blues rock, as well as some new elements, including acoustic blues and vibes of soul. A great illustration of the band’s more refined sound is the beautiful soul-oriented rock ballad Drive. My review of the full album is here.

Spotify album link:

Tedeschi Trucks Band/I’m the Moon

I’m the Moon, a four-album series, is the most ambitious studio project to date by Tedeschi Trucks Band and probably of 2022 overall. Each of the four installments, released individually between June and August, had a 30-minute-plus companion film. The entire project, which features 24 songs, became available as one collection on September 9. I’m the Moon was inspired by a 12th-century Persian poem – intriguingly the very same poem that also inspired one of the greatest blues rock albums of all time: Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, by Derek and the Dominos. You can read my two-part review of this impressive project here and here. Following I’d like to highlight Hear My Dear, the lead track of the first album. This gem was written by the group’s co-leaders and wife and husband Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks, along with the band’s keyboarder Gabe Dixon who is also one of their vocalists.

Spotify album link:

Buddy Guy/The Blues Don’t Lie

I’d like to wrap up this post with one of my absolute blues guitar heroes, Buddy Guy, who at 86 years young can still rock with the ferocity of Jimi Hendrix. On September 30, Guy released his 19th studio album The Blues Don’t Lie. The date coincided with the 65th anniversary of the legendary guitarist’s arrival in Chicago from Louisiana. Once again produced by longtime collaborator Tom Hambridge who also plays drums, the album features guest appearances by Mavis StaplesJames TaylorElvis CostelloJason Isbell and Bobby Rush. Most importantly, The Blues Don’t Lie truly fires on all cylinders. You can find my full review here. Perhaps the song that best sums up Buddy Guy is the opener I Let My Guitar Do the Talking, a cowrite by Guy and Hambridge. Damn, check this out!

Spotify album link:

Last but not least, I’d like to thank my fellow bloggers and other visitors for reading my blog and taking the time to comment, and would like to wish all of you a Happy, Safe and Healthy New Year! And let’s keep on bloggin’ in the free world in 2023!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to the final 2022 installment of The Sunday Six! I can’t believe I’m writing this. But, yep, not only is this year quickly coming to an end, but this blog will also be on a short holiday hiatus. I’m going back to Germany next week to spend Christmas with my parents and planning to resume posting shortly after my return close to the new year.

Michael Brecker/I Can See Your Dreams

Always curious to learn about new jazz saxophone players, I asked my friend Phil Armeno the other day. Phil plays saxophone in Good Stuff, a great band celebrating the music of Steely Dan, Sting, Stevie Wonder and Gino Vannelli (I previously covered them here.) The first sax player Phil mentioned was Michael Brecker. The name sounded vaguely familiar and no wonder – Brecker, who was active from 1969 until his untimely death in 2007 at the age of 57, collaborated with many music artists outside the pure jazz realm, including Steely Dan, Dire Straits, Joni Mitchell, John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon…the list goes on and on! Brecker began studying the clarinet at age six before moving on to alto saxophone in eighth grade and finally settling on what became his main instrument, the tenor saxophone, in his sophomore year. While his recording career as a sideman started in 1969, his solo eponymous debut album didn’t appear until 1987. I Can See Your Dreams is a beautiful Brecker composition included on his seventh studio album Nearness of You: The Ballad Book released in June 2001. Check out that sweet sound!

Mink DeVille/Each Word’s a Beat of My Heart

Let’s kick up the speed a bit with a great 1983 pop tune by Mink DeVille: Each Word’s a Beat of My Heart. Formed in 1974, Mink DeVille was a band to showcase the music of frontman and versatile singer-songwriter Willy DeVille. While initially associated with New York’s early punk scene, the group’s roots were in R&B, blues and even Cajun music. Between 1977 and 1985, they put out six albums. After their breakup, DeVille continued to release a series of solo albums as Willy DeVille until February 2008. In early 2009, he was diagnosed with Hepatitis C, followed by a pancreatic cancer diagnosis a few months thereafter. DeVille passed away in August of the same year, shortly prior to what would have been his 59th birthday. Each Word’s a Beat of My Heart, penned by DeVille, was included on the band’s second-to-final album Where Angels Fear to Tread. The tune also appeared separately and became their only single to chart in the U.S. (no. 89). While both the band and DeVille were more successful elsewhere, overall, their chart success was moderate.

The Beatles/Day Tripper

Time for a stopover in the ’60s and The Beatles with a great tune featuring what I feel is one of their best guitar riffs: Day Tripper. Written primarily by John Lennon and credited to him and Paul McCartney, as usual, the non-album single was released in December 1965, paired with We Can Work It Out. According to Wikipedia, the single was the first example of a double A-side in Britain where it became the band’s ninth no. 1 on the Official Singles Chart. Elsewhere, it also passed the audition, reaching the top of the charts in The Netherlands, Finland, Ireland, Norway and Sweden. In the U.S., it peaked at no. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. Songfacts notes the lyrics were Lennon’s first reference to LSD in a Beatles tune and can be viewed as him teasing Paul about not taking acid.

John Prine/Take a Look At My Heart

Our next stop is the ’90s. For the occasion, I have a perfect country rock-flavored tune I came across recently: Take a Look At My Heart by John Prine. It appears the more songs I hear from him, the more I dig his music, and the better I understand why he was held in such high esteem by many other artists and music fans. Take a Look At My Heart, co-written by Prine and John Mellencamp and featuring Bruce Springsteen on backing vocals, was included on Prine’s 10th studio album The Missing Years. Released in September 1991, it won the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album. In spite of this recognition, it didn’t make the charts – incredible! But Prine’s music cannot be measured by chart success in the first place. Of course, the same can be said about other music artists!

Rainbow/Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll

Fasten your seatbelt for this next kickass hard rock tune. We’re going back to April 1978 and the title track of Rainbow’s third studio album Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll. The British-American band was formed in 1975 as Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow after the guitarist’s departure from Deep Purple. In addition to Blackmore, the short-lived original line-up included killer vocalist Ronnie James Dio, Micky Lee Soule (keyboards), Craig Gruber (bass) and Gary Driscoll (drums). Blackmore was extremely difficult to work with and frequently fired members from the band. By the time Rainbow recorded Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll, Soule, Gruber and Driscoll were gone. Cozy Powell had already taken over on drums for Driscoll later in 1975. Unfortunately, Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll was the final Rainbow album for Dio. Starting with the successor Down to Earth, Blackmore steered the group to a more radio-friendly sound that apparently was inspired by his liking of Foreigner. I’ve always loved Long Live Rock ‘n Roll, which was co-written by Blackmore and Dio.

Mudcrutch/The Wrong Thing to Do

This brings us to the final destination of our last music time travel excursion of 2022. Prior to forming the Heartbreakers in 1976, Tom Petty had another band, Mudcrutch, he co-founded in 1970 with Tom Leadon in Gainesville, Fla. With Petty on bass and vocals and Leadon on guitar and vocals, the group’s line-up also included Jim Lenehan (vocals), Mike Campbell (guitar) and Randall Marsh (drums). By the time they relocated to Los Angeles in 1974 to seek a deal with a major record label, Leadon and Lenehan had left and been replaced by Danny Roberts (bass, guitar, vocals) and Benmont Tench (keyboards). After signing with Leon Russell’s independent label Shelter Records, Mudcrutch released a single, Depot Street, in 1975. It went nowhere, and the group disbanded later that year. Petty went on to form the Heartbreakers, together with Campbell, Tench, Ron Blair (bass) and Stan Lynch (drums). Fast-forward 32 years to August 2007 when Petty decided to revive Mudcrutch. Apart from his Heartbreakers bandmates Campbell and Tench, the line-up featured original Mudcrutch members Leadon and Marsh. Off their first full-length eponymous studio album, released in April 2008, here’s the Petty-written The Wrong Thing to Do. The group’s second album, Mudcrutch 2 from May 2016, is the last studio material Petty recorded prior to his tragic death in October 2017.

Last but not here’s a Spotify playlist featuring the above tracks. Hope you dig it and will join me for more zigzag music journeys in 2023.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube; Spotify

Musings of the Past

Making Your Christmas Groove

It’s been about seven weeks since the last Musings of the Past, a feature that roughly runs once a month where I revisit previous posts published at a time when this blog was in its younger days. I guess I missed November! With the holiday season being in full swing, I thought this would be an opportune moment to republish a post from December 2017, which featured a variety of modern Christmas songs from various music genres. The Spotify playlist at the end wasn’t in the original post.

Making Your Christmas Groove

A list to get you into the mood for that most wonderful time of the year

When I was looking back at previous posts on the blog, I came across a list of Christmas rock, soul, rap and pop tunes I had put together last year [December 2016 – CMM]. For the most part, I still stand behind it and thought it would be fitting to publish a slightly updated version.

One of the things I liked to do during the Christmas holiday while growing up in Germany many moons ago was to listen to my favorite radio station, which was then called SWF III. At that time of the year, the DJs would frequently play song requests from listeners.

Not surprisingly, Christmas pop and rock songs were high in demand. Some of these tunes became seasonal anthems, such as Wham’s Last Christmas, Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmas Time and Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas. Okay, maybe these are not the most compelling examples, but these tunes come to mind first when I think about those times.

Some folks may cringe at the thought of pop and rock artists dressing up as Santa and performing Christmas songs, whether they are covers of traditional tunes or new songs with holiday themes. Others may get cynical about music artists and record companies suddenly discovering Jesus and Santa when people conveniently are willing to spend insane amounts of money on Christmas presents. I get all of that and being cynical about it is not unfounded.

I still think there are some great Christmas rock and pop songs that have come out over the years – in fact, make that over the decades! Plus, let’s be honest, while many traditional Christmas tunes have beautiful melodies, they don’t exactly groove. I don’t know about you, but I like listening to music that makes me want to get up and move – by the way, probably not such a bad thing during the holiday season when many folks like to indulge on food and drink. So how about rockin’ and rollin’ off that of these extra calories!

Below are clips of some of my favorite Christmas rock and pop tunes in no particular order: From John Lennon’s haunting Happy Xmas (War Is Over) to Chuck Berry’s rockin’ & rollin’ Run Rudolph Run to Run-D.M.C.’s cool rap Christmas in Hollis to AC/DC’s hard-charging Mistress For Christmas to a fantastic live version of Feliz Navidad with José Feliciano and Daryl Hall to the unforgettable James Brown and his funky Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto, these tunes come in many different genres!

John Lennon/Happy Xmas (War Is Over) (1971)

Chuck Berry/Run Rudolph Run (1958)

The Pogues/Fairytale Of New York (1987)

Run-D.M.C./Christmas In Hollis (1987)

AC/DC/Mistress For Christmas (1990)

José Feliciano & Daryl Hall/Feliz Navidad (2010)

James Brown/Santa Claus, Go Straight To The Ghetto (1968)

Otis Redding/Merry Christmas Baby (posthumous, 1968)

The Ravers/(It’s Gonna Be) A Punk Rock Christmas (1978)

Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band/Santa Claus Is Coming To Town (2007)

– End –

The original post, which was published on December 21, 2017, ended here. And, yes, I kept Springsteen’s version of Santa Claus Is Coming to Town, even though I snarkily commented the other day this tune has been overexposed – oh, well, it was part of the original post. Plus, it’s certainly not terrible!

The Spotify playlist is an addition. Instead of The Ravers, it features a rendition of It’s Gonna Be A Punk Rock Christmas by UK pop punk band Majorettes. Feliz Navidad is the studio version José Feliciano recorded in 1970, not the live performance with Daryl Hall captured in the clip. The playlist also includes some additional tunes. Season’s Greetings!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify