On This Day in Rock & Roll History: February 14

Time again to go on some music time travel. For a change, this latest installment of my long-running music history feature around a specific date is skewed toward the ’80s. Usually, my favorite music decades the ’60s and ’70s rule these posts. Given it’s Valentine’s Day, I actually tried to discover a romantic song that was released on February 14, which I thought would be easy-peasy – well, not so. The closest I could find was an album that has various love songs. It’s part of the reason this post is more ’80s-focused.

1964: British beat group The Dave Clark Five released Bits and Pieces in the UK, the second single from their debut album Glad All Over. While it couldn’t quite match the chart success of the record’s title track that had knocked The Beatles’ I Want to Hold Your Hand off the top spot in the UK, the tune came pretty close, climbing to no. 2. Officially, Bits and Pieces was credited to the band’s leader, manager and drummer Dave Clark and lead vocalist and keyboarder Mike Smith, though British singer-songwriter Ron Ryan claimed he actually had penned the tune. Bits and Pieces also became a U.S. single on March 20 that year, peaking at no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. In this case, it beat Glad All Over, which had reached no. 6.

1970: Sly & The Family Stone hit no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 with Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin). Yes, the words in parentheses are actually written that way. According to Wikipedia, it’s an intentional so-called “sensational spelling” for “thank you for letting me be myself again.” Written by Sly Stone, this great funk tune was part of a double-A single with Everybody Is a Star. Both songs had been intended for a studio album that was subsequently canned. Instead, the tunes ended up on the compilation Greatest Hits that appeared in November of the same year. Thank You was ranked at no. 410 on Rolling Stone’s December 2003 list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. That’s one hot funky tune!

1980: Heart released their fifth studio album Bébé le Strange, which became their highest charting on the U.S. Billboard 200 at the time, climbing to no. 4. Here’s the title track co-written by Heart co-founders Ann Wilson, Nancy Wilson and Roger Fisher, together with Sue Ennis, a frequent collaborator. By the time the album came out, Fisher had departed. Bébé le Strange also became the record’s second single but missed the Billboard Hot 100. Heart’s biggest chart success with their eponymous eighth studio album and the smash hit These Dreams was still five years away. I only know a handful of Heart’s songs and had not been familiar with this tune.

1985: Whitney Houston’s eponymous debut album appeared. After an initial slow response, the album started to get traction in the summer of that year and eventually topped the Billboard 200 for 14 weeks in 1986. It spawned various singles, including three no. 1 hits. Here’s one of them: Saving All My Love for You, co-written by Michael Masser and Gerry Goffin. While musically it’s a typical ’80s ballad, Houston’s vocals were just extraordinary. Plus, it’s a fitting tune for all the love birds celebrating today.

1987: Undoubtedly, some eyes are going to roll on this one. New Jersey rockers Bon Jovi hit no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with Livin’ on a Prayer, their second chart-topper in the U.S. Co-written by frontman and lead vocalist Jon Bon Jovi, then-lead guitarist Richie Sambora and songwriter Desmond Child, Livin’ on a Prayer appeared on the band’s third studio album Slippery When Wet. It became an instant success in the U.S. and internationally and remains Bon Jovi’s best-selling album to date. While I wouldn’t call myself a fan, I think the band has some great songs. Okay, I have to say I much prefer how Jon Bon Jovi looks nowadays. But, hey, it was the hairy ’80s ! 🙂

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

What I’ve Been Listening to: Sheila E./Iconic: Message 4 America

Last week, I watched Ringo Starr’s Big Birthday Party and thought the highlight of the one-hour virtual event was Sheila E. and her sizzling performance of Come TogetherRevolution. It turned out E. had previously recorded the medley for her most recent eighth studio album Iconic: Message 4 America released in August 2017. A couple of nights ago, I found myself listening to this covers album and liked what I heard – a lot!

For E.’s background, I’m borrowing from a previous August 2017 post about my favorite drummers. Born Sheila Escovedo, E. was influenced and inspired by her musical family. Since the late 60s, her Mexican-American father Pete Escovedo, a percussionist, was influential in the Latin music scene, touring with Santana from 1967 to 1970. Her uncles were musicians as well, and her godfather was none other than Tito Puente.

At the age of 5, E. gave her first live performance. By her early 20s, she had already played with the likes of George DukeMarvin Gaye and Herbie Hancock. In 1978, she met Prince who became an important mentor and with whom she worked various times. In 1984, E. started a solo career. She also worked with many other artists, including Ringo Starr, performing with his All-Starr Band in 2001, 2003 and 2006.

As reported by Rolling Stone, it was Donald Trump’s denunciation of Mexicans as “murderers and rapists” during his official campaign launch announcement in 2015, along with the death of Prince in April 2016, which prompted E. to record Iconic, an album featuring remakes of social justice anthems. In addition to selecting songs by the likes of Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder and James Brown, E. got help from multiple guests, most notably Starr and Freddie Stone, co-founder, guitarist and vocalist of Sly and the Family Stone. Her father and two other family members were among the other guests.

“So for the Iconic project, you know, the state that the country is in… I’m doing these songs based on the lyrical content, which, when I grew up in the ’60s and the ’70s, these songs were pretty amazing,” E. told Billboard. “They’re relevant. So I wanted to do “Come Together,” The Beatles song with Ringo Starr, which we did, and the only one that wasn’t written [that long] ago was “America.” But it means something…So it was just important to what’s happening in our country.” America is a tune about the state of the U.S. during the Reagan Administration, which Prince had written for his 1985 studio album Around the World in a Day.

Let’s get to some music. Since I previously featured Come TogetherRevolution here, I’m skipping it and go directly to Everyday People. Written by Sly Stone, the tune was originally released as a single by Sly and the Family Stone in November 1968. It was also included on the band’s fourth studio album Stand! from May 1969. As noted above, Freddie Stone joins E. on vocals. He also plays guitar.

Inner City BluesTrouble Man is a cool medley of two songs Marvin Gaye performed. Inner City Blues, co-written by Gaye and James Nyx, Jr., appeared on What’s Going On, Gaye’s 11th studio album from May 1971. Trouble Man is the title track of Gaye’s follow-on studio record that came out in December 1972. It was written by him. On the album’s recording, E. is joined on vocals by saxophonist Eddie Mininfield.

With so many great covers on Iconic, it’s hard to select which ones to call out. One of the funkiest undoubtedly is the James Brown Medley, which melds together five tunes: Talkin’ Loud And Sayin’ Nothing, co-written by Brown and Bobby Bird (There It Is, June 1972); Mama Don’t Take No Mess, co-written by Brown, John Starks and Fred Wesley (Hell, June 1974); Soul Power, written by Brown (single, March 1971); Get Involved, co-written by Brown, Bird and Ron Lenhoff (Revolution of the Mind: Live at the Apollo, Volume III, December 1971); and Super Bad, written by Brown (Super Bad, 1971). For this recording, E. is joined by Bootsy Collins on vocals, who also provides bass and guitar. Collins played with Brown in the early ’70s and later with Parliament-Funkadelic. Let’s hit it!

Next up: A beautiful version of Blackbird. Per Songfacts, Paul McCartney wrote the song about the civil rights struggle for African Americans after he had read the U.S. federal courts had forced racial desegregation in the school system of Little Rock, Ark. Blackbird was first recorded for The White Album that appeared in November 1968. E.’s rendition transforms the acoustic guitar tune to a mellow piano-driven ballad. The lovely cello part is played by studio musician Jodi Burnett.

The last tune I’d like to call out is the Curtis Mayfield classic Pusherman. It appeared on Mayfield’s third solo album Super Fly from July 1972. The great guitar part on E.’s version is played by Mychael Gabriel, a musician, songwriter, performer, audio engineer, mixer, producer, who began his career as a 16-year-old, doing record engineering for E.

Iconic: Message 4 America may “only” be a covers album, but I think the excellent song selection and E.’s renditions make listening to it worthwhile.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; Billboard; Songfacts; Discogs; YouTube

Woodstock 50 Clips & Pix: Sly And The Family Stone/I Want To Take You Higher (Part 3 of 4)

Here is part 3 of a 4-part mini series of Woodstock clips to supplement my recent post about the festival. The above footage of Sly And The Family Stone is from Woodstock’s third day, Sunday, August 17, 1969. The band’s gig fell into the early morning hours (3:30 to 4:20 am ET, according to Wikipedia).

I Want To Take You Higher was written by front man Sly Stone. The tune is from their fourth studio album Stand!, which appeared in May 1969. It also became the b-side to the record’s single of the record’s title track released during the same year. The song is a great example of the band’s mixture of social messages with high-energy rock, soul, R&B, soul and psychedelia. It is simply impossible to watch this clip without starting to groove.

Formed in late 1966, the band’s members included singer-songwriter, producer and multi-instrumentalist Sly Stone, Sly’s brother Freddie Stone (guitar, vocals), his sister Rose Stone (keyboards, vocals) and his cousin Larry Graham (bass), as well as Cynthia Robinson (trumpet), Greg Errico (drums) and Jerry Martini (saxophone). The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, into which Sly And The Family Stone were inducted in 1993, called them rock’s first integrated, multi-gender band and Woodstock their greatest triumph.

Sources: Wikipedia, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, YouTube