The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

It’s time again for what has become my favorite recurring feature on the blog. For first time visitors, the idea of The Sunday Six is to celebrate music in a random fashion, six tracks at a time. It could literally be anything from the past 60 years or so, in any order. My only “rule” is I have to like it. That’s consistent with my overall approach for this blog to write about music I dig. Without further ado, let’s get to this week’s picks.

Neil Cowley/Circulation

I’d like to start with Neil Cowley, an English contemporary pianist and composer I first included in a Sunday Six installment back in March. Born in London in November 1972, Cowley began as a classical pianist and already performed a Shostakovich piano concerto at Queen Elizabeth Hall as a ten-year-old. In his late teens, he played keyboards for various soul and funk acts, including  Mission ImpossibleThe Brand New HeaviesGabrielle and Zero 7. It appears his first album Displaced was released in 2006 under the name of Neil Cowley Trio. Fourteen additional albums featuring Cowley as band leader or co-leader have since come out. He has also worked as a sideman for Adele and various other artists. Circulation is another track from Cowley’s most recent solo album Hall of Mirrors released in March this year. This is very relaxing piano-driven music with elements of ambient electronics.

Cream/Crossroads

After a mellow start, here’s something crunchy from one of my favorite ’60s British rock bands: Cream. Featuring Eric Clapton (guitar, vocals), Jack Bruce (bass, vocals) and Ginger Baker (drums, vocals), they were a true supergroup. As such, it’s perhaps not surprising they broke up after just a little over two years. In fact, given the bad, sometimes physical fights between the volatile Mr. Baker and Bruce, it’s a miracle they lasted that long – not to mention the fact they still managed to record four amazing albums. One of my favorite Cream tunes is their remake of Robert Johnson’s Crossroads, which he first recorded as Cross Road Blues in May 1937. Clapton did a neat job in rearranging the acoustic Delta blues. Cream’s version appeared on the live record of their double LP Wheels of Fire. Their third album was first released in the U.S. in June 1968, followed by the UK two months later.

The Jayhawks/She Walks In So Many Ways

Lately, I’ve started exploring The Jayhawks. I first came across the alt. country and country rock band about a year ago after the release of their most recent album XOXO in July 2020. The Jayhawks were initially formed in Minneapolis in 1985. After seven records, they went on hiatus in 2014 and reemerged in 2019. She Walks In So Many Ways is a track off their eighth studio album Mockingbird Time from September 2011. It marked the return of original frontman Mark Olson (guitar, vocals), reuniting him Gary Louris (guitar, vocals), another co-founder. Not only did they co-write all songs on the album, but they also delivered great harmony vocals. The other members at the time included co-founder Marc Perlman (bass), together with Tim O’Reagan (drums, vocals) and Karen Grotberg (keyboards, backing vocals). All remain with the band’s current line-up except for Olson who left again in the fall of 2012. She Walks In So Many Ways has a nice Byrds vibe – my kind of music!

Lenny Kravitz/Are You Gonna Go My Way

Let’s turn to Lenny Kravitz, who first entered my radar in late 1991 when I coincidentally listened to his sophomore album Mama Said in a restaurant in France. My brother-in-law asked the waiter about the music, and the rest is history. I immediately got the CD after my return to Germany and have since listened to Kravitz on and off. While he has won various awards and, according to Wikipedia, sold more than 40 million albums worldwide during his 40-year career, success didn’t come easy – especially in the U.S. where initially Kravitz was told he didn’t sound “black enough” or “white enough”, and there was too much ’60s and Hendrix in his music. Jeez, that terrible guitarist Jimi Hendrix – what a bunch of crap! Anyway, here’s the title track of Kravitz’s third studio album from March 1993. Are You Gonna Go My Way was co-written by him and guitarist and longtime collaborator Craig Ross. I’ve always loved this cool kick-ass guitar riff.

The Police/Spirits in the Material World

Let’s jump to the ’80s and one of my favorite bands from that time, The P0lice. A visit of a tribute band music festival in Atlantic City last weekend brought the British trio of Sting (lead vocals, bass), Andy Summers (guitar) and Stewart Copeland (drums) back on my radar screen. During their seven-year run from 1977 to 1984, The Police recorded five albums, a quite productive output. While I have a slight preference for their earlier rawer sound, I think there are great songs on all of their albums. Here’s one I dig from Ghost in the Machine, the band’s second-to-last record released in October 1981: Spirits in the Material World. I love Sting’s bassline on that track, as well as the synthesizer-driven reggae groove. According to Wikipedia, he wrote that tune on a Casio keyboard, his first experience with a synthesizer.

Pink Floyd/One of These Days

What, are we already at the sixth and final track? Just when I was fully getting warmed up! Don’t worry, I have every intention to continue this zig-zag music journey next Sunday. For now, I’d like to wrap it up with Pink Floyd and the opening track of Meddle. Their sixth studio album from October 1971 is one of my favorite Floyd records and yet another great album that’s turning 50 this year. I was tempted to feature Echoes but realize very few if any readers would likely to listen to a 23-minute-plus track, though I can highly recommend it! 🙂 Here’s One of These Days, credited to all four members of the band, David Gilmour, Roger Waters, Richard Wright and Nick Mason. I think it’s one of the best space rock instrumentals. That pumping double-tracked bass guitar part played by Gilmour and Waters is just great. The lovely line, “one of these days, I cut you into little pieces,” was spoken by Mason, and recorded using an effect device called a ring modulator, and slowed down to make it even more creepy.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

Welcome to another installment of The Sunday Six. To those who follow my blog I no longer need to explain the idea behind the weekly recurring feature. For first time visitors, basically, these posts celebrate music in many different flavors from different periods of time, spanning the past 60 to 70 years or so. Ready?

Fleetwood Mac/Albatross

Let’s start off our little musical excursion with one of the most beautiful guitar-driven instrumentals I know: Albatross by Fleetwood Mac. This track goes all the way back to the Mac’s beginning when they were a blues rock band led by amazing British guitarist, vocalist and co-founder Peter Green who also wrote Albatross. At the time this dreamy track was released as a non-album single in November 1968, Fleetwood Mac also featured co-founders Jeremy Spencer (guitar, backing vocals), Mick Fleetwood (drums) and John McVie (bass), as well as Danny Kirwan (guitar, vocals) who had just joined two months earlier. In fact, it was Kirwan who helped Green complete Albatross, which was recorded without Spencer. The tune was subsequently included on the U.S. and British compilation albums English Rose (January 1969) and The Pious Bird of Good Omen (August 1969), respectively. Green’s guitar tone is just unbelievable.

Supertramp/Take the Long Way Home

The other day, I found myself listening to Breakfast in America, the sixth studio album by English prog-rock-turned-pop band Supertramp. I got it on vinyl shortly after its release in March 1979 and own that copy to this day. While I played the record over and over again at the time, it’s still in fairly good shape. It also turns out I continue to enjoy the songs – something I certainly cannot say for a good deal of other music I listened to back then as a 13-year-old in Germany. Breakfast in America, which spawned various hit singles, was hugely popular in Germany where it topped the charts, just like in many other countries in Europe and beyond. Take the Long Way Home remains one of my favorite tracks from the album. Written by the band’s co-frontman and principal songwriter Roger Hodgson, the tune also became the record’s fourth single in October 1979. BTW, you also gotta love the cover art, which won the 1980 Grammy Award for Best Recording Package.

John Prine/Angel From Montgomery

I still know very little about John Prine, who is widely viewed as one of the most influential singer-songwriters of his generation. But I’ve finally started listening to his music. According to Wikipedia, Prine has been called the “Mark Twain of songwriting.” The likes of Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and Roger Waters have called out Prine. He mentored younger artists, such as Jason Isbell, Amanda Shires, Brandi Carlile and Margo Price. In fact, I first listened to at least one John Prine song a long time before I even knew his name: Bonnie Raitt’s great cover of Angel From Montgomery, which she recorded for her fourth studio album Streetlights that appeared in September 1974. Here’s the original from John Prine’s eponymous debut album released in 1971. I’m starting to like it as much as Raitt’s rendition.

Peter Frampton/Avalon

If you read my Best of What’s New installment from a week ago, you probably recall it featured a great instrumental cover of George Harrison’s Isn’t It a Pity from Peter Frampton’s new album Peter Frampton Forgets the Words. Since my recent “discovery” of the all-instrumental record, I’ve enjoyed listening to it. Here’s another beautiful track that’s perfect for a Sunday morning: Avalon, the title song of the eighth and final studio album by English outfit Roxy Music, released in May 1982. Written by frontman Bryan Ferry, the tune also became the album’s second single in June 1982. I was a bit surprised to see it “only” reached no. 13 in England, while it didn’t chart at all in the U.S. – unlike the record that topped the charts in the UK and climbed to no. 53 in the U.S. and became Roxy Music’s best-selling album. In 1983, Ferry dissolved the band to focus on his solo career. In 2001, Roxy Music reformed for a 30th anniversary tour and was active on and off until they disbanded for good in 2011. Check out this great clip of Frampton and his band. Not only does he sound great, but you can clearly see how he and his fellow musicians enjoyed recording the tune. I don’t think you can fake this!

Traffic/Dear Mr. Fantasy

Time for some more ’60s music, don’t you agree? While I hate traffic when I’m in my car, I love it when it refers to the British rock band. Undoubtedly, much of my affection has to do with Steve Winwood, one of my long-time favorite artists. I get excited to this day when I hear the man sing and play his growling Hammond B-3. But amid all my love for Winwood, let’s not ignore excellent fellow musicians Jim Capaldi (drums, vocals), Dave Mason (guitar, bass, multiple other instruments, vocals) and Chris Wood (flute, saxophone, Hammond, percussion, vocals), who founded Traffic with Winwood in April 1967. It’s quite amazing that at that time, 18-year-old Winwood already had had a successful four-year career under his belly with The Spencer Davis Group. Dear Mr. Fantasy, co-written by Capaldi, Winwood and Wood, is from Traffic’s debut album Mr. Fantasy released in December 1967. When I saw Winwood live in March 2018, he played guitar on that tune, demonstrating his impressive fretboard chops.

Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band/Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out

For the last tune in this Sunday Six installment, let’s have a true rock and soul party. In this context, I can’t think of anything better than this live clip of Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, captured in June 2000 at New York City’s Madison Square Garden at the end of the band’s triumphant 1999-2000 reunion tour. In this 19-minute-plus version of Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, the Boss is literally taking his audience to rock & soul church. Yes, it’s long and perhaps somewhat over the top, but I believe Springsteen was authentic when at some point he noted, “I’m not bull-shittin’ back here.” Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, written by Springsteen and first appearing on his legendary breakthrough album Born to Run from August 1975, tells the story about the band’s formation. Watching this amazing footage, I get a bit emotional when seeing the big man Clarence Clemons and Danny Federici, who sadly passed away in 2011 and 2008, respectively. Though at the end of the day, it’s a beautiful celebration of their lives. If you haven’t seen this, I encourage you to watch it. And even if it’s not your first time, it’s worthwhile watching again. Live music doesn’t get much better!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

My Top 5 Studio Albums Turning 50

The other day while driving in my car, I caught a cool program on SiriusXM, Classic Vinyl (Ch. 26) titled the “Top 50 Albums Turning 50.” Hosted by former Doors guitarist and drummer Robby Krieger and John Densmore, respectively, it was a countdown of records that came out in 1971, as voted by listeners. Once again, this reminded me what an outstanding period the early ’70s were for music, and I’m not only talking about classic rock. The radio show also triggered the idea for this post. While I don’t want to call this a series, I have a funny feeling I’ll do more about 1971, now that I’ve been bitten by the bug.

The amount of great albums released in 1971 is mind-boggling, especially from today’s perspective. It’s a true gold mine! Some artists and bands like Johnny Cash, Carole King, Faces and Yes released even more than one record. Following are my top five albums turning 50 this year. I’m not great at ranking, so I’m listing my picks in no particular order. Live records and debuts are excluded, since I’m contemplating separate posts for these categories. I guess it’s another way to admit that if you love early ’70s music, summing up 1971 with just five albums is mission impossible!

The Who/Who’s Next

As my favorite album by The Who, including Who’s Next in this short list was a no-brainer. The fifth studio album by the British rockers appeared on August 14, 1971. It came out of Lifehouse, another rock opera Pete Townshend had conceived as a follow-up to Tommy. Eight of the nine songs from Who’s Next had initially been written for Lifehouse. Additional tracks from the abandoned project were subsequently released as singles and appeared on other Who and Townshend (solo) records. Except for My Wife, which was penned by John Entwistle, Townhend wrote all tracks. I pretty much could have highlighted any song from the album. Here’s Bargain, which according to Songfacts is an homage to Indian spiritual master Meher Baba. Townshend believed in his message of enlightenment, which also influenced songs like Baba O’Riley and See Me, Feel Me. “Bargain” refers to losing all material goods for spiritual enlightenment.

Carole King/Tapestry

Folks who follow the blog or know me otherwise won’t be shocked by this pick. When it comes to the singer-songwriter category, Carole King will always remain one of my all-time favorite artists. Tapestry, released on February 10, 1971, is her Mount Rushmore in my book. A couple of months ago, leading up to the 50th anniversary date, I devoted a 10-part series to the album (“Ten Days of Tapestry”, see final part here, which includes links to all previous installments). Therefore, I’m keeping it brief here. Tapestry’s great opener I Feel the Earth Move was solely written by King, like most other tracks on the album.

Led Zeppelin/Led Zeppelin IV

Led Zeppelin IV and Stairway to Heaven marked the start of my Led Zeppelin journey. While they were an acquired taste, Led Zeppelin have become one of my favorite rock bands. To me, their fourth studio album, which came out on November 8, 1971, remains one of the most exciting ’70s rock albums, though I’ve also come to really dig their other records. Instead of the obvious tune Stairway, which I would select if I could only choose one classic rock song, let’s do Rock and Roll. It’s the record’s only tune credited to all four members of the band. In addition to Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham, Rock and Roll features Rolling Stones co-founder Ian Stewart on keyboards.

The Rolling Stones/Sticky Fingers

Speaking of the Stones, Sticky Fingers is another must-include on my top five short list of the greatest albums released in 1971. You can read more about my favorite Stones album in this recent post I published a few days ahead of the April 23 50th anniversary date. Here I’d like to highlight a track I did not call out in that post: Sway, which also became the b-side of the album’s second single Wild Horses, released on June 12, 1971. The slower blues track features some sweet slide guitar action by Mick Taylor. Another factoid worthwhile noting is the song marked Mick Jagger’s first electric guitar performance on a Stones album. Oh, and there were some notable backing vocalists: Pete Townshend, Ronnie Lane (of Small Faces and Faces) and Billy Nichols, an American guitarist and songwriter who first came to prominence during the ’60s for his work with Motown.

Pink Floyd/Meddle

With so many great albums that were released in 1971, it’s tricky to keep this list to five, but that’s what I set out to do, at least for now. Meddle was the sixth studio album by Pink Floyd, which appeared on October 31, 1971. It foreshadowed the band’s mid ’70s masterpieces The Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here, especially on the 23-minute-plus track Echoes. While I was tempted to feature this epic track, I think it’s safe to assume very few readers would listen. Instead, let’s go with the opener One of These Days. The characteristic pumping bass line was double-tracked, played by bassist Roger Waters and guitarist David Gilmour. The instrumental is credited to all members of the band, which in addition to Waters and Gilmour included Richard Wright (organ, piano) and Nick Mason (drums, percussion). The only spoken line in the song, the cheerful and digitally warped “One of these days I’m gonna cut you up into little pieces,” was spoken by Mason.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Bettye LaVette/Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook

One thing I love about music blogging is how much I learn about artists I didn’t know or only had heard of by name. Oftentimes, I find myself stepping through one door only to find many others I’ve yet to open. Frankly, I probably would have run out of ideas a long time ago, if it were any different! Plus, I’d get bored if I only wrote about music and artists I know.

The latest example is Bettye LaVette, a versatile vocalist who has been active since 1962. I included her in two previous posts, most recently on Saturday in a piece about artists who have covered songs by The Rolling Stones. LaVette’s great rendition of Salt of the Earth led me to take a closer look at the album that includes her version of the tune. I was quickly intrigued by what else I found on Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook, which was released in May 2010. Her soulful, at times somewhat fragile voice reminds me a bit of Tina Turner and is right up my alley.

Bettye LaVette - Soulful Detroit

While LaVette enjoyed some chart success early in her career, for decades, she was more of a cult figure in soul circles. At least in part that was due to bad luck with record labels. After LaVette recorded what was supposed to become her first full-length album Child of the Seventies, Atlantic Records decided not to move forward with the project, apparently without giving her any explanation. In 1982, Motown’s Lee Young, Sr. signed LaVette to the storied label, which led to the recording of her first released album Tell Me Lie. However, following a corporate shake-up, Young was removed, the label never promoted LaVette’s record, and it failed to chart.

Fast-forward to 2000 when a French collector and label owner called Gilles Petard discovered the tapes for the aforementioned Child of the Seventies album in Atlantic Records’ vaults. He liked what he heard, licensed the tracks and released them under the title Souvenirs in France on his Art & Soul label. Around the same time, Let Me Down Easy – In Concert, a live recording of LaVette in the Netherlands, appeared on the Dutch label Munich. The two near-simultaneous releases created new interest in LaVette as a recording artist and resulted in a contract with label Blues Express.

Bettye LaVette Interview - Blues Matters Magazine

In January 2003, LaVette released A Woman Like Me, only her third full-length studio album. It won the W.C. Handy Award in 2004 for Comeback Blues Album of the Year and the Living Blues critic pick as Best Female Blues Artist of 2004. LaVette’s recording career was finally going somewhere. She has since released eight other studio albums and won additional awards, including a Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation (2006), Blues Music Award for Best Contemporary Female Blues Singer (2008), Distinguished Achievement Award from The Detroit Music Society (2015) and Blues Music Award for Best Soul Blues Female Artist from The Blues Foundation (2016). LaVette is also in the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame and has been nominated three times for a Grammy.

LaVette is an unusual artist. According to her website, she is no mere singer. She is not a song writer, nor is she a “cover” artist. She is an interpreter of the highest order. Bettye is one of very few of her contemporaries who were recording during the birth of soul music in the 60s and is still creating vital recordings today. This certainly becomes obvious when listening to Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook, which brings me back to the album. Let’s get to some intriguing interpretations!

The opener is a funky version of The Word by The Beatles. While the John LennonPaul McCartney co-write, which was included on the Rubber Soul album from December 1965, is barely recognizable, I find LaVette’s take pretty cool. It’s got a bit of a James Brown vibe, and I can almost hear his “uhs” in the background.

How about some Led Zeppelin reimagined? Here’s All My Love, a song I’ve always dug. Co-written by John Paul Jones and Robert Plant, the tune first appeared on Zep’s eighth and final studio album In Through the Out Door released in August 1979. Check this out – damn!

Let’s move on to Pink Floyd and Wish You Were Here. The title track of their ninth studio album from September 1975 was co-written by David Gilmour and Roger Waters. Who would have thought a Floyd track could ever sound so soulful!

Nights in White Satin is one of my favorite songs by The Moody Blues. Written by Justin Hayward, the track appeared on Days of Future Passed, one of the most beautiful concept albums of the ’60s. Here it is in Bettye LaVette style – amazing!

Let’s do two more. First up is another great funky rendition: Why Does Love Got to be So Sad by Derek and the Dominoes. Co-written by Eric Clapton and Bobby Whitlock, the tune appeared on the band’s sole studio album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs from November 1970. Groovy!

Last but not least, here is the closer Love, Reign O’er Me, a highlight on the album. It captures LaVette’s unedited live performance during the Kennedy Center Honors in December 2008 in tribute to Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend, who were among the honorees that year. Townshend wrote the tune for The Who’s sixth studio album Quadrophenia that came out in October 1973. Here’s the actual footage from the Kennedy Center. Messrs. Daltrey and Townshend almost seem to have a Led Zeppelin moment. Check this out. This is friggin’ intense!

Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook, which appeared on U.S. label Anti-, was co-produced by Rob Mathes, Michael Stevens and LaVette. It reached no. 1 on the U.S. Billboard’s Top Blues Albums, staying in that chart for 39 weeks. The album also enjoyed some mainstream success in the U.S., climbing to no. 56 on the Billboard 200. Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook became one of the three aforementioned Grammy nominations for LaVette.

Thanks to great images on Discogs, I was able to look at the album’s liner notes that reveal some interesting things about LaVette’s approach to interpretations. “I never think of a song as a record,” she is quoted. “I think of songs as songs. I don’t think of a Rolling Stones recording. I think of the Rolling Stones singing this song and now I’m going to sing it. That helps me tremendously…There’s no process of ‘how can I make this different.’ I hear it immediately differently. It’s very hard for another singer to satisfy me. No matter where a singer went with the vocal, if I can think of somewhere else to go, then wherever they went no longer interests me.”

In addition to the vocal approach, LaVette also took artistic freedom with the lyrics, which she changed significantly on a number of songs. “I think the most difficult thing about putting the album together was that many of the words didn’t make sense to me,” she said. “These songs belong to white fans who are now in their fifties…The biggest hang-up was I didn’t want to disrespect them because I knew that there are people who have altars built to many of these songs…When I got into them I realized there were things worth saying but I had to make them things I could sing about.”

So what do some of the artists who wrote the original songs think of LaVette’s renditions? Following are some quotes from a sticker on the CD’s jewel case. Again, I have Discogs to thank for featuring some great images. “A great record. Put me in the Bettye LaVette fan club” (Keith Richards). “Bettye is reinventing and reclaiming a soul singing tradition all at once” (Pete Townshend). “Bettye is blessed with an instantly recognizable voice full of power & emotion” (Steve Winwood). “Bettye has recorded an amazing version of ‘Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me'” (Elton John).

Sources: Wikipedia; Discogs; YouTube

When the Music Does the Singing

A collection of guitar-driven instrumentals

Frequent visitors of the blog and others who have a good idea about my music taste know I really dig vocals, especially multi-part harmony singing. In fact, when it comes to artists like The Temptations, I could even do without any backing music. That’s why felt like shaking things up a little and putting together this collection of tracks that shockingly don’t have any vocals. Once I started to reflect, it was surprisingly easy to find instrumentals I really like – yes, they do exist and, no, I don’t miss the vocals!

Since I still play guitar occasionally (only to realize how rusty I’ve become!), I decided to focus on primarily guitar-driven tracks. While I’m sure you could point me to jazz instrumentals I also find attractive, the reality is I’m much more familiar with other genres, especially in the rock and blues arena. Most of the tracks in this post came to my mind pretty quickly. The John Mayall and the Blues Breakers and Steve Vai tunes were the only ones I picked from a list Guitar World put together.

The Shadows/Apache

I’ve always thought Hank Marvin had a really cool sound. Here’s Apache, which was written by English composer Jerry Lordan and first recorded by Bert Weedon in 1960, but it was the version by The Shadows released in July of the same year, which became a major hit that topped the UK Singles Chart for five weeks.

John Mayall and the Blues Breakers/Steppin’ Out

Steppin’ Out is a great cover of a Memphis Slim tune from the debut studio album by John Mayall and the Blues Breakers from July 1966. It was titled Blues Breakers with Clapton featuring, you guessed it, Eric Clapton, who had become the band’s lead guitarist following the release of their first live album John Mayall Plays John Mayall that appeared in March 1965.

Pink Floyd/Interstellar Overdrive

My Pink Floyd journey began with their ’70s classics Wish You Were Here and The Dark Side of the Moon. Much of their early phase with Syd Barrett was an acquired taste, especially experimental tunes like Interstellar Overdrive from Floyd’s debut The Piper at the Gates of Dawn released in August 1967. It’s one of only two tracks on the album credited to all members of the band at the time: Barrett, Roger Waters, Richard Wright and Nick Mason.

Deep Purple/Wring That Neck

Wring That Neck is a kick-ass tune from Deep Purple’s sophomore album The Book of Taliesyn that appeared in October 1968. As was quite common for the band, Jon Lord’s mighty Hammond organ pretty much had equal weight to Ritchie Blackmore’s guitar. That’s always something I’ve loved about Deep Purple, as much as I dig guitar-driven rock. Wring That Neck was co-written Blackmore, Lord, bassist Nick Semper and drummer Ian Paice.

Fleetwood Mac/Albatross

Yes, I know, I featured this gem only recently on July 25 when Peter Green sadly passed away at the age of 73. I’m also still planning to do a follow-up on this extraordinary guitarist. But I just couldn’t skip Albatross in this collection, which Green wrote and recorded with Fleetwood Mac in October 1968. The track was released as a non-album single the following month. It’s a perfect example of Green’s style that emphasized feeling over showing off complexity, speed and other guitar skills. With it’s exceptionally beautiful tone, I would rate Albatross as one of the best instrumentals, perhaps even my all-time favorite, together with another track that’s still coming up.

The Allman Brothers Band/Jessica

Jessica first appeared on The Allman Brothers Band’s fourth studio album Brothers and Sisters from August 1973. It also became the record’s second single in December that year. Written by lead guitarist Dickey Betts, the tune was a tribute to jazz guitar virtuoso Django Reinhardt. Betts named the tune after his daughter Jessica Betts who was an infant at the time. When you have such beautiful instrumental harmonies, who needs harmony vocals? Yes, I just wrote that! 🙂

Santana/Europa (Earth’s Cry Heaven’s Smile)

Santana’s Europa (Earth’s Cry Heaven’s Smile) is the other above noted tune, which together with Albatross I would perhaps call my all-time favorite guitar-driven instrumental. In particular, it’s the electric guitar tone that stands out to me in both of these tracks. Co-written by Carlos Santana and his longtime backing musician Tom Coster who provided keyboards, Europa was first recorded for Santana’s seventh studio album Amigos from March 1976. It also appeared separately as a single and was also one of the live tracks on the Moonflower album released in October 1977.

Steve Vai/The Attitude Song

When it comes to guitarists and their playing, I’m generally in the less-is-more camp. That’s why I really must further explore Peter Green whose style should be up right up my alley. Sometimes though shredding is okay. I was going to include Eddie Van Halen’s Eruption, but it’s really more an over-the-top guitar solo than an instrumental. So I went with Steve Vai and The Attitude Song, a track from his solo debut album Flex-Able from January 1984. I definitely couldn’t take this kind of music at all times. In fact, as I’m listening to the tune while writing this, it’s actually making me somewhat anxious. While the harmony guitar and bass action sound cool, like most things, I feel it should be enjoyed in moderation! 🙂

Stevie Ray Vaughan/Scuttle Buttin

Scuttle Buttin’ by Stevie Ray Vaughan isn’t exactly restrained guitar playing either. But while like The Attitude Song it’s a shredder, the tune has never made me anxious. I think that’s largely because I really dig Vaughan’s sound. Yes, he’s playing very fast and many notes, yet to me, it comes across as less aggressive than Vai who uses more distortion. Written by Vaughan, Scuttle Buttin’ appeared on his excellent second studio album Couldn’t Stand the Weather released in May 1984.

Jeff Beck/A Day in the Life

The last artist I’d like to feature in this collection is another extraordinary guitarist with an amazing tone: Jeff Beck. His unique technique that relies on using his thumb to pick the guitar strings, the ring finger to control the volume knob and his pinkie to work the vibrato bar of his Fender Stratocaster creates a unique sound no other guitar player I’ve heard has. Here’s Beck’s beautiful rendition of The Beatles tune A Day in the Life. It was included on In My Life, an album of Fab Four covers compiled and produced by George Martin, which appeared in October 1998.

Sources: Wikipedia; Guitar World; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Best of What’s New is hitting a bit of a milestone this week with its 20th installment. When I started 20 weeks ago, I didn’t expect the feature would become a weekly series. The fact it has turned into that tells me there’s more decent new music out there than I had previously realized. I also recognize my favorite decades in music, the ’60s and ’70s, are gone and won’t come back; still, at a time when the charts are dominated by music that feels largely generic and soulless to me, it’s reassuring to see not all new music is created equal.

I’m also happy about this latest installment, which among others features a psychedelic prog rock band from Norway. How many bands do you know from Norway? And how many of them play psychedelic prog rock? Or how about a multi-national pop prog rock (gee, try saying that quickly!) outfit from Belgium, the UK and the U.S.? Also, were you aware that in March The Boomtown Rats released their first new album in 36 years? But wait, there’s more. All you need to do to find out is to read on… 🙂

LeRoux/Lucy Anna

LeRoux, aka, Louisiana’s LeRoux, are a band from Baton Rouge, La., which have been around for some 45 years. From their website: Their 1978 Capitol press release read, “LeRoux takes its name from the Cajun French term for the thick and hearty gravy base that’s used to make a gumbo.”  LeRoux’s eponymous first album was a musical gumbo that blended various instruments and music arrangements into a spicy, mouth-watering southern rock sound. In fact, their Southern anthem ‘New Orleans Ladies’, voted Song of the Century by Gambit Magazine, simmered with the laid-back feel of the “Big Easy,” evoking images of Bourbon Street and the bayou…Over the years, LeRoux enjoyed performing with many of classic rocks’ greatest bands including The Allman Brothers, Wet Willie, Journey, Kansas, Heart, The Doobie Brothers, Charlie Daniels, Foreigner, Marshall Tucker, The Outlaws, ZZ Top and many, many more…LeRoux was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame as their 50th inductee. Lucy Anna, co-written by Richard Ferreira and Solomon Paul Marshall, reminds me a bit of Little Feat. The song is from the band’s most recent, eighth studio album One of Those Days, released on July 24 – their first new album in 18 years. I really dig the harmony singing and warm sound. Check it out!

Nick D’Virgilio/In My Bones

Nick D’Virgilio is a session multi-instrumentalist, who according to Wikipedia is best known as the (studio) drummer of American progressive rock group Spock’s Beard, and is a member of Big Big Train, an English prog rock band – admittedly I had not heard of both outfits before, but my exposure to prog rock has been limited. Moreover, D’Virgilio has recorded and toured with artists, such as Genesis, Peter Gabriel and Sheryl Crow. And, you probably guessed it, he also has recorded some solo work. This included an album and an EP that both came out in 2011, and Invisible, his most recent album released on June 26. Here’s In My Bones, written by D’Virgilio. Part of the reason I decided to highlight this tune is the great organ and saxophone work.

Shaman Elephant/Ease of Mind

According to their Facebook page, Shaman Elephant are a Norwegian psychedelic progressive rock band. Ease of Mind is a tune from Wide Awake but Still Asleep, which a review by the blog The Progressive Aspect notes is their sophomore album. Their debut Crystals appeared in 2016. The review also lists Shaman Elephant’s members: Eirik Sejersted Vognstølen (vocals, guitar), Jard Hole (drums), Ole-Andreas Sæbø Jensen (bass) and Jonas Særsten (keyboards). I will say Ease of Mind falls outside my core wheelhouse, but there’s something about it I find intriguing. What drew me in initially is the acoustic guitar intro. Plus, other than synth pop band a-ha, I can’t think of any other group from Norway I know, so I’m happy to feature one here.

Fish on Friday/Mad at the World

On their Facebook page, Fish on Friday (FoF) describe themselves as “a multi-national (Belgium-UK-USA) Progressive Poprock oriented project signed to UK label Esoteric recordings-Cherry Red.” Their website lists their members as Nick Beggs (bass, Chapman stick, backing vocals), Frank Van Bogaert (vocals, keyboards, guitars), Marty Townsend (guitars) and Marcus Weymaere (drums and percussion). Mad at the World is a track from Black Rain, which the website’s “bio” section indicates is the band’s fifth album. Unfortunately, there’s no actual bio there, but a news statement about FoF’s second album points out the band was founded in 2009 “when Belgian Producer and musician Frank van Bogaert and keyboard player William Beckers established FISH ON FRIDAY as a studio-based Progressive Rock project.” The band released their debut album Shoot the Moon in 2010. Apparently, it received stylistic comparisons with the Alan Parsons Project. Having listened to some of the tunes from Black Rain, which appeared on May 15, if anything, I seemed to pick up some traces of David Gilmour/post-Roger Waters Pink Floyd, though not on Mad of the World. That tune may be a little bit closer to some of the previous music by the Alan Parsons Project. It doesn’t really matter – I like it and that’s good enough for me! Based on credits listed on Discogs, the tune was written van Bogaert, who also produced the album.

The Boomtown Rats/There’s No Tomorrow Like Today

How funny is that! I just finished publishing a mini-series to commemorate Live Aid and the next thing I come across is The Boomtown Rats released Citizens of Boomtown in March 2020, their first new album since 1984’s In the Long Grass! As I admitted in my Live Aid posts, other than Bob Geldof’s association with the band and I Don’t Like Mondays (and I should also add Banana Republic), I pretty much know nothing about this Irish band – rats! They initially formed in Dublin in 1975 and released six studio albums between 1977 and their first breakup in 1986. The band reunited in 2013 with a different line-up. But other than a few live records and two compilations, they did not come out with anything new – until March this year. Released on June 12, There’s No Tomorrow Like Today is the B-side to the album’s first single Trash Glam Baby; interestingly, it didn’t make the record. The tune is credited to Geldof, as well as the band’s other members Pete Briquette (bass), Simon Crowe (drums) and Garry Roberts (guitar). It’s a quite catchy pop rocker!

This post was updated on August 1, 2020 to correct information on There’s No Tomorrow Like Today, the above mentioned song by The Boomtown Rats. Bob Geldof-authorized fan site Bob Geldof Fans reached out to note that while the tune should have been on the album as my post had initially indicated, it was not. Instead, it became the b-side to the first single Trash Glam Baby.

Sources: Wikipedia; LeRoux website; Shaman Elephant Facebook page; The Progressive Aspect; Fish on Friday Facebook page; Discogs; YouTube

The Venues: Royal Albert Hall

The first reference to the Royal Albert Hall I recall was in A Day in the Life, the magnificent final track of my favorite Beatles album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Though at the time I didn’t realize the line Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the Albert Hall referred to the famous U.K. performance venue in London’s South Kensington district. The Royal Albert Hall, which had received a copy of the album prior to its release, did and was less than pleased.

According to this item in the concert hall’s archive, the Hall’s then-chief executive Ernest O’Follipar wrote a letter to Brian Epstein, maintaining the “wrong-headed assumption that there are four thousand holes in our auditorium” threatened to destroy the venue’s business overnight. Not only were the lyrics not changed, but John Lennon wrote back to the Hall, refusing to apologize. The venue retaliated with banning the song from ever being performed there.

Excerpt of letter from Royal Albert Hall CEO Ernest O’Follipar to Beatles manager Brian Epstein

The history of the Hall, which initially was supposed to be named Central Hall of Arts and Sciences, began long before The Beatles. In fact, it dates back to the 1900s and Queen Victoria. It was her majesty who in memory of her husband Prince Albert decided to change the name to the Royal Albert Hall of Arts and Sciences when the building’s foundation stone was laid in 1867. I suppose this makes her a pretty nice girl, though she actually did have a lot to say!

It was also Queen Victoria who opened the Hall in 1871. The building was designed by Captain Francis Fowke and Major-General Henry Y. D. Scott, who were civil engineers of the Royal Engineers. The facility, which today can seat close to 5,300 people, was built by Lucas Brothers, a leading British building construction firm at the time. The design was strongly influenced by ancient amphitheatres, as well as the ideas of German architect Gottfried Semper and his work at the South Kensington Museum.

The Royal Albert Hall has seen performances by world-leading artists from many genres. Since 1941, it has been the main venue for the so-called Proms, an eight-week summer season of daily orchestral classical music concerts. The venue hosts more than 390 shows in its main auditorium each year, including classical concerts, ballet, opera, film screenings with live orchestral accompaniment, sports, awards ceremonies, school and community events, charity performances and banquets and, of course, rock and pop concerts.

This July 2019 story in London daily newspaper Evening Standard, among others, lists the following concerts as part of the “10 iconic musical moments in the venue’s history”: The Great Pop Prom (September 15, 1963), which featured The Beatles and The Rolling Stones on the same bill with other groups – only one of a handful of times the two bands performed together in the same show; Bob Dylan (May 26 and 27, 1966); Jimi Hendrix (February 18 and 24, 1969); Pink Floyd (June 26, 1969); The Who and Friends (November 27, 2000); and David Gilmour and David Bowie (May 29, 2006). Obviously, this list isn’t complete!

Let’s get to some music. As oftentimes is the case, it’s tough to find historical concert footage from the ’60s and ’70s, especially when it’s tied to a specific venue. One great clip I came across is this Led Zeppelin performance of Whole Lotta Love from a 1970 gig. Credited to all four members of the band plus Willie Dixon (following a 1985 lawsuit!), the tune was first recorded for the band’s second studio album ingeniously titled Led Zeppelin II, released in October 1969.

Since 2000, Roger Daltrey has been a patron for the Teenage Cancer Trust and raised funds for the group through concerts. The first such show was a big event at the Royal Albert Hall on November 27, 2000. In addition to The Who, it featured Noel Gallagher, Bryan Adams, Paul Weller, Eddie Vedder, Nigel Kennedy and Kelly Jones. The choice of venue was somewhat remarkable, given The Who in 1972 became one of the first bands to be impacted by the Hall’s then instituted ban on rock and pop. Here’s the Pete Townshend penned Bargain, which first appeared on The Who’s fifth studio album Who’s Next that came out in August 1971.

In early May 2005, Cream conducted four amazing reunion shows at the Hall, which were captured and subsequently published in different formats. Here’s White Room, co-written by Jack Bruce with lyrics by poet Pete Brown, and originally recorded for Cream’s third album Wheels of Fire from August 1968. Gosh, they just sounded as great as ever!

The last clip is from the above mentioned show by David Gilmour from May 29, 2006, during which he invited David Bowie on stage. As the Evening Standard noted, not only was it Bowie’s first and only appearance at the Hall, but it also was his last ever public performance. Gilmour and Bowie did Arnold Layne and Comfortably Numb together. Here’s their epic performance of the latter, which was co-written by Gilmour and Roger Waters for Pink Floyd’s eleventh studio album The Wall from November 1979. Interestingly, just like The Who, Pink Floyd was barred from performing at the Hall following their June 1969 gig there. It was the first nail in the coffin for rock and pop concerts at the venue that led to a complete, yet short-lived ban in 1972 because of “hysterical behaviour of a large audience often encouraged by unthinking performers.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Royal Albert Hall website; Evening Standard; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Pink Floyd/Wish You Were Here

I could have titled this post “What I’ve Been Listening to For the Past 40-Plus Years.” Wish You Were Here not only marked the start of my long Pink Floyd journey but also was an essential part of my early discovery of music. This album was one of various gems my sister had on vinyl as a 16-year-old or so. I was ten years old at the time and essentially didn’t understand a word of English. It didn’t matter. The music bug had infected me forever. It’s the most beautiful infection I can think of!

Of course, I also explored the other 14 studio albums Pink Floyd released between 1967 and 2014. That was many moons ago as well. And I realized records like The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, Meddle or The Dark Side of the Moon match or even exceed the mighty of Wish You Were Here. Still, Floyd’s masterpiece from September 1975 will forever keep a special place in my heart. Always.

I know it may seem to be weird to tout what I believe is perfect music as a natural sleeping aid. Wish You Were Here is great for that! In fact, I started using the record for that purpose when I had my first stereo and first set of headphones. I still love listening to the album at night in bed, nowadays using my smartphone and earbuds, which I have to admit is a less than perfect way to enjoy music. I’m happy to report I also keep listening to Pink Floyd during the daytime while I’m wide awake! 🙂

Pink Floyd in 1975 (from left: Nick Mason David Gilmor, Roger Waters & Richard Wright

Recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London between January and July 1975, Wish You Were Here is Floyd’s ninth studio album. It’s the band’s second record after The Dark Side of the Moon, which was based on a conceptual theme that was entirely written by Roger Waters. In this case, the topics include biting criticism of the music business and alienation. And, of course not to forget, a tribute to founding member Syd Barrett who had been instrumental to the band’s early phase until his ouster in April 1968 due to mental illness and the use of psychedelic drugs.

In fact, on June 5, 1975, the day when Pink Floyd were completing the mix of Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Syd Barrett showed up at the studio out of the blue. Being overweight with shaven head and eyebrows, he barely resembled the 22-year-old man back in 1968. Waters and Nick Mason didn’t recognize him, while David Gilmour first thought he was an EMI staff member. Richard Wright first realized it was Barrett who reportedly said he was happy to help with the recording. But according to Mason’s Pink Floyd memoir Inside Out, Barrett “sat round and talked for a bit but he wasn’t really there.”

Apparently, Barrett also joined a wedding reception in the canteen at EMI for David Gilmour who a month later got married to his first wife, American artist, sculptor, author and former model Ginger Gilmour. He left the festivities quietly without saying goodbye to anybody. It was the last time the band members had seen Barrett who passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2006 – what an incredibly sad story!

Syd Barrett at Abbey Road Studios, June 5, 1975

Wikipedia includes this quote from Roger Waters, taken from Crazy Diamond: Syd Barrett and the Dawn of Pink Floyd, a 2001 Barrett biography written by Mike Watkinson and Pete Anderson: I’m very sad about Syd. Of course he was important and the band would never have fucking started without him because he was writing all the material. It couldn’t have happened without him but on the other hand it couldn’t have gone on with him. “Shine On” is not really about Syd—he’s just a symbol for all the extremes of absence some people have to indulge in because it’s the only way they can cope with how fucking sad it is, modern life, to withdraw completely. I found that terribly sad.

Interestingly, Alan Parsons, who still was a staff engineer at EMI and had played a key role in shaping the sound of Pink Floyd’s previous album The Dark Side of the Moon, declined to continue working with the band. While I couldn’t find any specific explanatory accounts, Wikipedia’s entry for Dark Side notes the members of the band had some disagreements over the style of the mix. Ultimately, they decided to bring in producer Chris Thomas to provide “a fresh pair of ears.” Perhaps that didn’t sit well with Parsons. Instead of him, Brian Humphries served as recording engineer for Wish You Were Here. The band had previously worked with him on the More soundtrack album from June 1969 and again in 1974. Time for some music.

While it’s a long track (not a rarity when it comes to Pink Floyd!), I just couldn’t skip the magnificent opener Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-V). Of course, this is the tune that even if it’s not an outright tribute to Syd Barrett as the above quote by Waters seems to suggest, at a bare minimum is inspired by him. Especially, the instrumental intro makes me feel like floating in space – which is why the tune is perfect to relax and fall asleep! 🙂 The music is credited to Gilmour, Wright and Waters.

Next up: Have a Cigar, which on the vinyl edition is the first track of the B-side. An excerpt from the lyrics leaves on doubt what Waters was writing about. I just wonder how the executives at the record company felt when they heard the tune for the first time. I guess somebody there was smart enough to realize that while the words weren’t exactly flattering, they had a masterpiece on their hands that would sell many copies. They call it riding the gravy train!

Come in here, dear boy, have a cigar,
You’re gonna go far,

You’re gonna fly high,
You’re never gonna die,

You’re gonna make it if you try,
They’re gonna love you.
I’ve always had a deep respect and I mean that most sincere;
The band is just fantastic, that is really what I think,
Oh, by the way, which one’s Pink?

Both the tune’s lyrics and music were credited to Waters. English folk singer Roy Harper sang on the tune, making Have a Cigar only one of two Floyd songs that featured a guest singer on lead vocals. The other one was The Great Gig in the Sky from Dark Side with the amazing Clare Torry.

The last tune I’d like to highlight is the album’s title track – undoubtedly one of Pink Floyd’s best-known songs. Interestingly, Wish You Were Here wasn’t released as a single at the time, though the tune quickly became a staple on the radio in Germany and elsewhere. Eventually, a live version of the song from the band’s third live album Pulse appeared as a single in September 1994. Gilmour and Waters co-wrote the music. Together with Welcome to the Machine, it is one of two tunes on the album featuring Gilmour on lead vocals.

According to Wikipedia, the song’s distinct intro was recorded from Gilmour’s car radio. His guitar intro, played on a 12-string, was processed to sound as if it was playing through an AM radio, and then overdubbed a fuller-sounding acoustic guitar solo. This passage was mixed to sound as though a guitarist were listening to the radio and playing along. As the acoustic part becomes more complex, the ‘radio broadcast’ fades away and Gilmour’s voice enters, while the rest of the band joins in. What a brilliant concept!

Upon its release, Wish You Were Here received a mixed reception from music critics. For example, Rolling Stone cleverly noted the band’s”lackadaisical demeanor”, leaving the subject of Barrett “unrealised; they give such a matter-of-fact reading of the goddamn thing that they might as well be singing about Roger Waters’s brother-in-law getting a parking ticket.” The Village Voice’s Robert Christgau, on the other hand, was shockingly positive: “The music is not only simple and attractive, with the synthesizer used mostly for texture and the guitar breaks for comment, but it actually achieves some of the symphonic dignity (and cross-referencing) that The Dark Side of the Moon simulated so ponderously.”

Of course, Wish You Were Here has since been frequently regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time. In fact, it is ranked at no. 211 in Rolling Stone’s 2012 list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time – way too low, in my humble and completely unbiased opinion! In the magazine’s 50 Greatest Prog Rock Albums of All Time from June 2015, it came in at no. 4. This sounds more acceptable to me!

No matter how you feel about Wish You Were Here, one thing is undisputed: The album became one of Pink Floyd’s most successful records topping the charts in the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and various European countries including the UK, France, The Netherlands and Switzerland. It has sold an estimated 13 million copies, compared to more than 45 million for Dark Side, Floyd’s best-seller. Gilmour and Wright have called Wish You Were Here their favorite Pink Floyd album.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: April 12

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

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

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

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

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

Lorne Michaels Offer to The Beatles

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

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

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: March 22

Today, my recurring music history feature is hitting a bit of a milestone with the 50th installment. While 50 sounds like an impressive number, it means I still have 315 dates left to cover! The music nerd in me tells me that’s actually not a bad thing! Plus, it turns out there’s lots of fodder for March 22, so let’s get to it.

1963: Please Please Me, the debut studio album by The Beatles, appeared in the UK. According to The Beatles Bible, the record was rush-released to capitalize on the success of the singles Love Me Do and Please Please Me. Both singles were on the album, along with their b-sides P.S. I Love You and Ask Me Why, respectively. The remaining 10 tracks were recorded during a marathon session on February 11, 1963, which lasted just under 10 hours. The other fun fact about the record is that George Martin initially had planned to call it Off The Beatle Track – kind of clever, though he obviously abandoned the idea. Naming it after a successful single probably was also part of the plan to maximize sales. As was common on the early Beatles albums, Please Please Me featured various covers. Here’s one of my favorites: Twist and Shout, co-written by Phil Medley and Bert Berns, and first recorded by U.S. R&B vocal group The Top Notes in 1961.

1965: Robert Allen Zimmerman, the genius known as Bob Dylan, released his fifth studio album Bringing It All Back Home. It marked his first top 10 record in the U.S., climbing to no. 6 on the Billboard 200, and his second no. 1 studio release in the UK, following The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan from May 1963. Perhaps more significantly, Bringing It All Back Home was also Dylan’s first album to feature recordings with electric instruments; in fact, on the entire A-side, he was backed by an electric band. The b-side was acoustic. Four months later, on July 25, the electric controversy turned into a firestorm with Dylan’s appearance at the Newport Folk Festival. Here’s Maggie’s Farm. It was the much faster and more aggressive performance of that song at Newport, which caused most of the controversy there.

1971: John Lennon released his fifth solo single Power to the People in the U.S., 10 days after its debut in the UK. Credited to Lennon and Plastic Ono Band, the non-album tune peaked at no. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100, marking Lennon’s second most successful single to date. In the UK, the song climbed to no. 6. It performed best in Norway where it hit no. 3. Power to the People was recorded at Ascot Sound Studios in Berkshire, England as part of sessions that also yielded tunes for Lennon’s second solo album Imagine. “I wrote ‘Power to the People’ the same way I wrote ‘Give Peace a Chance,’ as something for the people to sing,” Lennon reportedly said. “I make singles like broadsheets. It was another quickie, done at Ascot.” Quickie or not, I think it’s safe to say it wasn’t his best tune.

1974: The Eagles dropped their third studio album On the Border. After two country-rock records, the band decided they wanted a more rock-oriented sound. Therefore, most of the album was produced by Bill Szymczyk, who had previously worked with then-future Eagles member Joe Walsh and The James Gang, among others. It also marked the band’s first record with rock guitarist Don Felder. Here’s Already Gone, featuring Felder on lead guitar and Glenn Frey on lead vocals. Co-written by Jack Tempchin and Robb Strandlund, the tune also appeared separately as the album’s lead single. It’s one of my favorite rockers by the Eagles.

1975: Led Zeppelin hit no. 1 on the Billboard 200 with their sixth studio album Physical Graffiti. The double LP, which includes recordings spanning from January 1970 to February 1974, maintained the top spot for 6 weeks and marked Zeppelin’s fourth no. 1 record in the U.S. The album also topped the charts in the UK and Canada. Viewed as one of the band’s strongest albums, Physical Graffiti was certified 16x Platinum in the U.S. in 2006, which means sales of more than eight million copies – unreal from today’s perspective! Here’s the bombastic Kashmir, co-written by Jon Bonham, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. It’s one of the most unusual rock songs I know; frankly, it wasn’t exactly love at first sight for me, though over the years, I’ve come to dig it.

1977: Stevie Wonder released Sir Duke, the third single off his 18th studio gem Songs in the Key of Life. Both are long-time favorites in my book. The tribute to jazz legend Duke Ellington marked Wonder’s fifth and last no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 during the ’70s. It also topped the R&B chart and became a hit internationally, reaching no.1 in Canada and top 10 positions in Germany, Switzerland and the UK. I just love the groove of this tune. The horn work is outstanding – take it away, Stevie!

1980: Pink Floyd scored their only no. 1 hit in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 with Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2), where it would stay for four weeks. Given the Roger Waters song, off Floyd’s 11th studio album The Wall, was their most pop-oriented, radio-friendly tune, perhaps that’s not exactly a surprise. It also became a chart-topper in the UK, Austria, France, Germany, Switzerland and New Zealand. I can confirm firsthand that it was played to death on the radio in Germany. On a lighter note, I also recall a funny incident at a school party when I was in seventh grade. For some reason, which I can’t remember, we had a little get-together in our classroom. When our English and homeroom teacher walked in, the song was blasting out of a boom box. He couldn’t suppress a brief smile before looking serious again. What happens when you think you don’t need no education is now vividly on display among some young people in the U.S. and other countries, who continue to hang out in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic as if nothing had happened.

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