Planes, Trains and Automobiles – Part II

A three-part mini series of songs related to the three transportation modes

Here’s part II of a mini series of three posts featuring songs related to planes, trains and automobiles. Each installment includes five tunes in chronological order from oldest to newest. Part I focused on planes. Now it’s on to trains. Hop on board!

In case you didn’t read the previous installment, the idea of the mini series came from the 1987 American comedy picture Planes, Trains and Automobiles. The film is about a marketing executive (Steve Martin) and a sweet but annoying traveling sales guy (John Candy) ending up together as they are trying to get from New York home to Chicago for Thanksgiving. Their plane’s diversion to Wichita due to bad weather in Chicago starts a three-day odyssey and one misadventure after the other, while the two, seemingly incompatible men use different modes of transportation to get to their destination.

Elvis Presley/Mystery Train

Let’s kick of this installment with Mystery Train, written and first recorded by Junior Parker as a rhythm and blues track in 1953. When Elvis Presley decided to cover the song, it was turned into a rockabilly tune featuring him on vocals and rhythm guitar, together with his great trio partners Scotty Moore (guitar) and Bill Black (bass). Produced by Sam Philips at Sun Studios in Memphis, Tenn., Presley’s version was first released in August 1955 as the B-side to I Forgot to Remember to Forget, which became his first charting hit in the U.S., hitting no. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs. This has got to be one of the best rockabilly tunes ever!

The Monkees/Last Train to Clarksville

Last Train to Clarksville is the debut single by The Monkees, which was released in August 1966. While at that time they still were a fake band that didn’t play the instruments on their recordings, which as a musician is something that generally makes me cringe, I just totally love this song. It was co-written by the songwriting duo of Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, who used their band Candy Store Prophets to record the tune’s instrumental parts. At least there was one member from The Monkees on the recording: Micky Dolenz, who would become the band’s drummer for real, performed the lead vocals. Last Train to Clarksville, a Vietnam War protest song disguised by ambiguous lyrics and a catchy pop rock tune inspired by The Beatles’ Paperback Writer, was also included on The Monkees’ eponymous debut album from October 1966.

The Doobie Brothers/Long Train Runnin’

Long Train Runnin’ has been one of my favorite tunes by The Doobie Brothers since I heard it for the first time many moons ago. As such, it was a must to include in this post. Written by Tom Johnston, the groovy rocker is from the band’s third studio album The Captain and Me that appeared in March 1973. The song was also released separately later that month as the album’s lead single, backed by Without You. Long Train Runnin’ became the first U.S. top 10 hit for the Doobies on the Billboard Hot 100, climbing to no. 8, as it did in Canada. In the U.K., it reached no. 7, marking their highest charting single there.

The Allman Brothers Band/All Night Train

I had not known about this tune by The Allman Brothers Band and wouldn’t have found it without a Google search. All Night Train, co-written by Gregg Allman, Warren Haynes and Chuck Leavell, is included on the band’s 11th studio album Where It All Begins, their second-to-last studio release that appeared in May 1994. The track features some nice guitar action by Haynes and Dickey Betts and, of course, the one and only Gregg Allman on lead vocals and keys. Great late-career tune!

AC/DC/Rock ‘n’ Roll Train

For the final track let’s kick it up. How much? How about kick-ass rock & roll level with AC/DC! Rock ‘n’ Roll Train is the opener to their October 2008 studio release Black Ice. By then, the time periods in-between AC/DC albums had significantly lengthened, especially compared to the ’70s and ’80s. Predecessor Stiff Upper Lip had come out in February 2000. The next release, Rock or Bust, would be another six years away. Obviously, AC/DC has had their share of dramatic setbacks, but last November’s Power Up album proved one shouldn’t count them out yet. There has been some chatter about touring, though I haven’t seen any official announcements. Earlier this month, Brian Johnson joined Foo Fighters at a Global Citizen Vax Live concert in Los Angeles to perform Back in Black. Of course, one song is different from an entire concert, not to speak of an entire tour. Still, I guess it gives AC/DC fans some hope that maybe they’ll get another chance to see the band. Meanwhile, let’s hop on the rock ‘n’ roll train!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: January 28

In the past, I tended to wait several weeks before compiling the next installment of my music history feature. Not so this time. Let’s take a look at events that happened on January 28 in rock and pop history.

1956: Elvis Presley made his debut on national U.S. television with an appearance on the Stage Show, a popular variety show on CBS. Backed by guitarist Scotty Moore and upright bassist Bill Black, Presley performed covers of Shake, Rattle & Roll, Flip, Flop and Fly and I Got a Woman. Apparently, the show liked it. Elvis, Scotty and Bill returned five more times over the next two months that same year. Here’s a clip of Shake, Rattle & Roll, written by Charles F. Calhoun and first recorded and released by Big Joe Turner in 1954.

1965: The Who appeared on the popular British rock and pop music TV show Ready Steady Go!, marking their debut on television in the UK. They performed their brand new single I Can’t Explain, which had been released two weeks earlier. Written by Pete Townshend, it was the band’s second single and first released as The Who. To help ensure a successful visual outcome, manager Kit Lambert placed members of the band’s fan club in the audience, who were asked to wear Who football scarves.

1969: Stevie Wonder released the title track of his 11th studio album My Cherie Amour as a single, seven months ahead of the record. Co-written by him, Sylvia Moy and producer Henry Cosby, the tune was about Wonder’s girlfriend he had met at the Michigan School for the Blind in Lansing, Mich. The song peaked at no. 4 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. It also climbed to no. 4 on the UK singles chart, making it one of Wonder’s highest charting tracks there.

1978: Van Halen introduced the world to Eddie Van Halen’s furious signature guitar sound with their first single You Really Got Me. Written by Ray Davis and first released by The Kinks in August 1964 in the UK, the cover garnered a good amount of radio play and helped Van Halen kick off their career. It did quite well in the charts, reaching no. 36 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, climbing to no. 49 in Canada and peaking at no. 11 in Australia. The tune was also included on Van Halen’s eponymous debut album that came out two weeks after the single.

1980: The J. Geils Band released their ninth studio album Love Stinks. It became their first top 20 album on the Billboard 200 since Bloodshot from April 1973, reaching no. 18. In Canada, it went all the way to no. 4. Their biggest album Freeze-Frame would still be 16 months away. Yes, The J. Geils Band’s earlier records may have been better, but bands also need to have some hits every now and then to make a living. Here’s the title track, co-written by Peter Wolf and Seth Justman. I guess like some other folks, I will forever associate the tune with the 1998 American picture The Wedding Singer. Now it’s stuck in my head!

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts Music History Calendar; This Day in Music; uDiscoverMusic; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Sonny Landreth/Blacktop Run

Sonny Landreth is one of various top-notch guitarists I could have included in my recent slide guitar feature. This is what prompted me to check what Landreth who is also known as “the King of Slydeco” has been up to. Well, it turns out he released his 14th solo album Blacktop Run in February this year. While it’s classified as blues, I’d call it a tasty rootsy gumbo that includes flavors of blues, swamp rock, zydeco and jazz rock.

Before I get to it, first a few words about the man. According to his artist profile on Apple Music, Landreth was born February 1, 1951, in Canton, Mississippi, and his family lived in Jackson, Mississippi, for a few years before settling in Lafayette, Louisiana. Landreth began playing guitar after a long tenure with the trumpet. His earliest inspiration came from Scotty Moore, the guitarist from Elvis Presley’s band, but as time went on, he learned from the recordings of musicians and groups like Chet Atkins and the Ventures. As a teen, Landreth began playing with his friends in their parents’ houses.

Sonny Landreth: "How Not to Sound Awful" | WWNO

After his first professional gig with accordionist Clifton Chenier in the ’70s (where he was the only white guy in the Red Beans & Rice Revue for awhile), Landreth struck out on his own, but not before he recorded two albums for the Blues Unlimited label out of Crowley, Louisiana, Blues Attack in 1981 and Way Down in Louisiana in 1985…The second of those two albums got him noticed by some record executives in Nashville, which in turn led to his recording and touring work with John Hiatt.

That led to still more work with John Mayall, who recorded Landreth’s radio-ready “Congo Square.” More recently, he’s worked with New Orleans bandleader and pianist Allen Toussaint (who guests on several tracks on South of I-10, as does Dire Straits guitarist Mark Knopfler). Eric Clapton has called Landreth one of the most advanced guitarists in the world, notes Wikipedia, and one of the most under-appreciated. Landreth’s accolades include Instrumentalist of the Year (Americana Music Association, 2005) and a 2016 Blues Music Award in the Instrumentalist – Guitar category. Time for some music!

I’d like to kick it off with the opener and title track. It’s among the eight of the ten tacks that were written by Landreth.

Mule is a catchy up-tempo rocker that makes you want to dance. It features great slide guitar and accordion work.

Groovy Goddess is one of four instrumentals on the album. And groovy it certainly is! Its improvisational nature gives it a jazzy feel. And there’s more of Landreth’s amazing slide guitar work.

Two tracks on the album were written by Steve Conn, who also played electric piano, organ and accordion. Somebody Gotta Make a Move is one of them. Landreth’s website notes the newly arranged song features a guitar tuning Landreth developed but had not used in the studio.

The last tune I’d like to call out is Many Worlds, another instrumental.

Most of Blacktop Run’s tracks were recorded live in-studio at the storied Dockside Studios on the Vermilion River south of Lafayette, La., where artists like Dr. John, B.B. King and Taj Mahal are among past clients. In addition to Conn, Landreth was backed by David Ranson (bass) and Brian Brignac (drums).

The album was co-produced by Landreth, R.S. Field and Tony Daigletto. Field previously co-produced three of Landreth’s other albums. “His [Field’s] brilliance and creative energy recharged us,” Landreth stated. “We came up with new and better ideas, and that’s what you want. It couldn’t have gone better.”

He added, “All told, the different elements of this project came together and I’m really happy about it. Blacktop Run is probably the most eclectic recording I’ve done. And sonically, I think this is the best album we’ve ever made.” While I haven’t explored any of Landreth’s other albums, I know one thing: Blacktop Run is excellent and makes me want to hear more of his catalog.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Sonny Landreth website; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Elvis Presley/Santa Claus Is Back In Town

When I recently wrote about the formidable songwriting partnership of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, I had come across this song they wrote for Elvis Presley. While I selected what I feel is the much better Jailhouse Rock for that post, Santa Claus Is Back In Town isn’t a shabby rock & roll Christmas tune. Plus, it obviously fits the occasion.

Presley recorded it in September 1957 as the opener for Elvis’ Christmas Album. According to Wikipedia, that record is America’s and the world’s best-selling Christmas/holiday album of all time. Including its various reissues, it has sold at least 17 million copies in the U.S. and more than 20 million worldwide.

Leiber and Stoller also produced the track. In addition to Elvis on lead vocals, it features his core backing musicians at the time, Scotty Moore (guitar), Bill Black (bass) and D.J. Fontana (drums), jazz musician Dudley Brooks on piano, as well as The Jordanaires, his frequent backing vocals group. The tune was also released separately as a single that appeared together with the album on October 15 that year.

Happy Holidays!

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube