Cheering you up for a dreadful Wednesday, one song at a time
For those of us taking care of business during the regular workweek, I guess it’s safe to assume we’ve all felt that dreadful Wednesday blues. Sometimes, that middle point of the workweek can be a true drag. But help is on the way!
Today’s proposed remedy to chase the clouds away is Sir Duke by Stevie Wonder. While Wonder wrote that song as a tribute to musicians he loves, especially Duke Ellington, to me, it has a very happy feel that always lifts my mood instantly. And it’s also really groovy.
Sir Duke first appeared on Songs in the Key of Life, Wonder’s 18th studio album from September 1976, and a true masterpiece. The tune also became the record’s third single in March 1977. In the U.S., it topped the Billboard Hot 100 and Best Selling Soul Singles (now called Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs) charts. Among ex-U.S. chart placements, it also hit no. 1 in Canada and climbed to no. 2 in the UK.
In addition to Ellington, Sir Duke celebrates Louis Armstrong (“Satchmo”), Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie and Sodarisa Miller. “I knew the title from the beginning but wanted it to be about the musicians who did something for us,” Wonder said, according to Songfacts. “So soon they are forgotten. I wanted to show my appreciation. They gave us something that is supposed to be forever. That’s the basic idea of what we do and how we hook it up.”
Happy Hump Day, and always remember the wise words of George Harrison: All things must pass!
The Hump Day Picker-Upper will go on a short hiatus for the holidays and be back on Wednesday, January 5.
Can you believe it’s Sunday morning again? After having done home office for about a year now and also spent most of my other time at my house, I’ve pretty much lost sense of time. On the upside, Sunday morning also means it’s time for another Sunday Six. This new installment, which btw is the sixth of the weekly recurring feature, includes jazz-oriented instrumental music, soul, blues, funky R&B, straight rock and glam rock – in other words, a good deal of variety, and that’s the way uh huh I like it!
Mike Caputo/Space and Time
Let’s kick things off with a beautiful journey through space and time. Not only does this newly produced saxophone-driven instrumental by Mike Caputo feel timely in light of NASA’s recent landing of the Mars rover, but it also represents the kind of smooth music I like to feature to start Sunday Six installments. If you’re a more frequent visitor of the blog, Mike’s name may ring a bell. The New Jersey singer-songwriter, who has been active for more than 50 years, is best known for his incredible renditions of Steely Dan’s music, faithfully capturing the voice of Donald Fagen. His current project Good Stuff also features music of Gino Vannelli, Stevie Wonder and Sting, who have all been major influences. Like many artists have done during the pandemic when they cannot perform, Mike went back into his archives and unearthed Space and Time, which he originally had written as part of a movie soundtrack a few years ago. BTW, that amazing saxophone part is played by Phil Armeno, a member of Good Stuff, who used to be a touring backing musician for Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley and The Duprees in the ’70s. Check out that smooth sax tone! Vocals? Who needs vocals? 🙂
The Impressions/People Get Ready
Before Curtis Mayfield, one of my favorite artists, launched his solo career with his amazing 1970 album Curtis, he had been with doo-wop, gospel, soul and R&B group The Impressions for 14 years. When he joined the group at the age of 14, they were still called The Roosters. People Get Ready, written by Mayfield, was the title track of the group’s fourth studio album that came out in February 1965, about seven years after they had changed their name to The Impressions. People Get Ready gave the group a no. 3 hit on the Billboard Hot R&B Songs (now called Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs). On the mainstream Hot 100, the tune climbed to no. 14. Many other artists like Bob Marley, Al Green, Aretha Franklin and The Staple Singers have covered it. Perhaps the best known rendition is by Jeff Beck, featuring Rod Stewart on Beck’s 1985 studio album Flash. But on this one, I always like to go back to the original and the warm, beautiful and soulful vocals by The Impressions – to me, singing doesn’t get much better!
Peter Green/A Fool No More
I think it’s safe to assume Peter Green doesn’t need much of an introduction. The English blues rock singer-songwriter and guitarist is best known as the first leader of Fleetwood Mac, initially called Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac featuring Jeremy Spencer, the band he formed following his departure from John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers with former Bluesbreakers members Mick Fleetwood (drums) and Jeremy Spencer (guitar), as well as Bob Brunning (bass) who was subsequently replaced by Green’s first choice John McVie. What’s perhaps less widely known outside of fan circles is Peter Green’s solo career he launched after leaving Fleetwood Mac in May 1970 due to drug addiction and mental health issues. Unfortunately, these demons would stay with him for a long time and impact his career, especially during the ’70s. A Fool No More, written by Green, is a track from his excellent second solo album In the Skies. The record was released in May 1979 after eight years of professional obscurity due to treatment for schizophrenia in psychiatric hospitals in the mid-’70s. Yikes- it’s pretty scary what havoc LSD can cause! Considering that, it’s even more remarkable how amazing Green sounds. Check it out!
Stevie Wonder/I Wish
Let’s speed things up with the groovy I Wish, a tune by Stevie Wonder from his 18th studio album Songs in the Key of Life released in September 1976. Frankly, I could have selected any other track from what’s widely considered Wonder’s magnum opus. It’s the climax of his so called classic period, a series of five ’70s albums spanning Music of My Mind (1972) to Songs in the Key of Life. I Wish, which like most other tracks on this double-LP were solely written by Wonder, also became the lead single in December 1976 – and his fourth no. 1 ’70s hit in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. The song also topped the charts in Canada, and was a top 10 in Belgium, Ireland, The Netherlands and the UK. Take it away, Stevie!
John Mellencamp/Melting Pot
Here’s what you might call an out-of-left-field pick from John Mellencamp, one of my long-time favorite artists. Melting Pot is a great rocker from his 11th studio album Whenever We Wanted that appeared in October 1991. It marked a bit of a departure from Mellencamp’s two previous albums Big Daddy (1989) and The Lonesome Jubilee (1987), on which he had begun incorporating elements of roots music. Instead, Whenever We Wanted is more reminiscent of the straight rock Mellencamp had delivered on earlier albums like American Fool (1982), Uh-Huh (1983) and Scarecrow (1985). Like all other tunes except for one on the album, Melting Pot was written by Mellencamp. While Whenever We Wanted didn’t do as well on the charts as the aforementioned other albums, it still placed within the top 20 in the U.S., reaching no. 17 on the Billboard 200. The album performed best in Australia where it peaked at no. 3.
David Bowie/Suffragette City
Time to wrap up this installment of The Sunday Six. Let’s go with another great rocker: Suffragette City by David Bowie. If you’ve read my blog, you probably know I really dig Bowie’s glam rock period. As such, it’s perhaps not surprising that his fifth studio album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars is my favorite. It was released in June 1972. Suffragette City also became the B-side of lead single Starman that appeared ahead of the album in February that year. Eventually and deservedly, Suffragette City eventually ended up on the A-side of a 1976 single that was backed by Stay to promote the fantastic compilation Changesonebowie. This is one kickass rock & roll song. Bowie said it best, or I should say sang it best: Ohhh, wham bam thank you ma’am!
Yesterday’s successful landing of NASA’s robotic explorer Perseverance on Mars once again reminds us of humankind’s fascination with distant planets and what’s out there beyond our galaxy. Not surprisingly, many music artists have embraced the theme of space in their songs. The first who always comes to my mind in this context is David Bowie, who repeatedly wrote about the topic in tunes like Space Oddity, Starman, Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes. There are plenty of additional examples. This playlist features some of these songs, ordered according to their release date.
The Byrds/Mr. Spaceman
While birds cannot fly in space, this didn’t prevent The Byrds from recording this happy-sounding tale about a kid who wakes up from the light of a flying saucer and cheerfully asks the ETs for a space ride. Mr. Spaceman, written by Roger McGuinn, appeared on the band’s third studio album Fifth Dimension from June 1966.
This Syd Barrett tune, an early example of space rock, was the opener of Pink Floyd’s debut studio album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Released in August 1967, this early phase Floyd gem also featured another track in the same genre: Interstellar Overdrive. I decided to go with the shorter tune! 🙂
The Rolling Stones/2000 Light Years From Home
2000 Light Years from Home is a song from Their Satanic Majesties Request, a lovely psychedelic album by The Rolling Stones, which appeared only a few months after Floyd’s debut in December 1967. Co-written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the tune also became the B-side to the American single She’s a Rainbow that was released in November of the same year. Charmingly weird! 🙂
Steve Miller Band/Space Cowboy
Listening to Space Cowboy by Steve Miller Band was the tune that inspired this post, not the Mars rover, though I guess the timing worked out nicely. Co-written by Steve Miller and the band’s keyboarder at the time Ben Sidrin, the song was included on their third studio album Brave New World that came out in June 1969. The vibe of the main riff is a bit reminiscent of Peter Gunn, the theme music for the American detective TV show of the same name, composed by Henry Mancini in 1958. In 1979, Emerson, Lake & Palmer popularized that theme on their live album Emerson, Lake and Palmer in Concert.
Deep Purple/Space Truckin’
Time to go for some Space Truckin’ with Deep Purple. This track is the closer of the band’s sixth studio album Machine Head from March 1972, which to me remains their Mount Rushmore to this day. Like all remaining tracks on the record, Space Truckin’ was credited to all members of the band: Ritchie Blackmore (guitar), Ian Gillan (vocals, harmonica), Jon Lord (keyboards), Roger Glover (bass) and Ian Paice (drums, percussion).
Elton John/Rocket Man
One of my all-time favorites by Elton John happens to be related to space as well: Rocket Man, from his fifth studio album Honky Château that came out in May 1972. As usual, Sir Elton composed the music while Bernie Taupin provided the lyrics. Honky Château became John’s first no. 1 record in the U.S. He was literally flying on top of the word – six additional no. 1 albums in America would follow in a row!
I guess 1972 was a year, during which space themes were particularly popular in rock and pop music. In June 1972, only one and three months after Honky Château and Machine Head, respectively, David Bowie released his fifth studio album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. I have to say I tend to like him best during his glam rock period, and Ziggy Stardust is my favorite Bowie album. Like all except for one tune, Starman was written by Bowie.
Even soul great Stevie Wonder got into the “space business.” Saturn, co-written by Michael Sembello and Wonder, became a bonus track to Songs in the Key of Life, his magnum opus from September 1976.
The Police/Walking on the Moon
The year was 1979 when The Police released their sophomore album Reggatta de Blanc in October. Walking on the Moon, written by Sting, is the first track on the B-side. Yes, this was still pre-CDs, not to mention music streaming! I’ve always liked the reggae vibe of this tune.
R.E.M./Man on the Moon
Let’s wrap up this collection of space-themed songs with Man on the Moon by R.E.M. The tune, a tribute to American comedian and performer Andy Kaufman, was credited to the entire band: Michael Stipe (lead vocals), Peter Buck (guitar, mandolin, bass), Mike Mills (bass, keyboards, accordion, backing vocals) and Bill Berry (drums, percussion, keyboards, melodica, bass, backing vocals). It was recorded for R.E.M.’s eighth studio album Automatic for the People from October 1992. The album became their second major international success after Out of Time that had been released in March 1991.
Inspired by Hans Postcard’s fun 2020 album draft, where 10 participants pick albums in 10 rounds for a total of 100, I decided to put together my list of 10 albums I would take on a desert island. Essentially, I already came up with such a collection in May 2018, but some things have changed in the meantime and this list features five new picks, including three different artists.
While each of the albums are longtime favorites, I still can’t exclude the possibility that my picks might be different in a month or two. Since I couldn’t figure out how to rank my selections, I ingeniously decided to put them in chronological order. Conveniently, this means kicking things off with my favorite band of all time.
The Beatles/Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (May 1967)
While I dig all albums by the Fab Four, on most days, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is my favorite. The innovative use of recording technology, the cover art and the combination of different music styles like vaudeville, circus, music hall, avant-garde and traditional Indian music with pop and rock make Sgt. Pepper a true masterpiece. The first album after The Beatles had stopped touring was influenced by The Beach Boys’Pet Sounds, which Brian Wilson had created in response to Revolver, as well as Freak Out! by the Mothers of Invention. Had it not been because of silly pressure from EMI to issue Strawberry Fields Forever and Penny Lane as a single, Sgt. Pepper hands-down would have been the strongest Beatles album. Still, with tunes like the title track, Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds, Within You Without You and the magnificent A Day in the Life, there’s lots of great music.
Carole King/Tapestry (February 1971)
Carole King’sTapestry perhaps is the ultimate singer-songwriter album. Her sophomore release from 1971 featured 10 new tunes and two reinterpretations of songs King had written together with her former husband and lyricist Jerry Goffin in the ’60s. Like many of their other songs, Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? and (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman became hits, in these cases by The Shirelles and Aretha Franklin, respectively. There’s really no weak tune on Tapestry and I could have selected any. It’s Too Late has always been one of my favorites.
The Rolling Stones/Sticky Fingers (April 1971)
I know many fans of The Rolling Stones consider Exile on Main St. or Some Girls as their best albums. While I can’t claim to know all of their records in detail, my favorite is Sticky Fingers. This was the second full-length record with Mick Taylor who had replaced Brian Jones in June 1969. Between Brown Sugar, Wild Horses, Can’t You Hear Me Knocking, Bitch, Sister Morphine and Dead Flowers, there are so many classics on this album. I just think the Stones never sounded better. And interestingly, it’s the country-influenced Dead Flowers that has become one of my favorite Stones tunes. I just love the guitar work!
Marvin Gaye/What’s Going On (May 1971)
I think Marvin Gaye had one of the most beautiful soulful voices I know. This artist was a smooth operator, even when he sang about serious issues like on this album. …(Oh, crime is increasin’) Oh, woo/Trigger happy policin’/panic is spreadin’/God knows where we’re headin’/Oh baby/Make me wanna holler/They don’t understand/Make me wanna holler/They don’t understand…It’s remarkable these lyrics were written almost 50 years, yet they sound frighteningly relevant in America in the year 2020.
Neil Young/Harvest (February 1972)
I dig a good number of Neil Young songs and feel his first compilation Decade is one of the best greatest hits collections I can think of. When it comes to his albums, my favorites are Harvest from 1972 and Harvest Moon from 1992. While I think the title track of the latter is among Young’s best tunes, I have a slight preference for Harvest from an overall album perspective. Featuring David Crosby, Graham Nash, Stephen Stills, James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt as guests, it became Young’s most successful record and the best-selling album in the U.S. in 1972 – in part thanks to Heart of Gold, which remains Young’s only no. 1 song on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 to this day. There are many other gems on the record, including The Needle and the Damage Done.
Deep Purple/Machine Head (March 1972)
I don’t listen to hard rock a lot these days, but when I do, Deep Purple remain my favorite choice, especially their sixth studio album Machine Head from March 1972. I’ve always thought one of the cool things about this band are the equal roles the guitar and the keyboards play as solo instruments. Jon Lord was a true master of the Hammond organ who skillfully blended blues, hard rock and jazz with elements of classical music. Lazy is one of the tracks on which Lord shines in particular.
Pink Floyd/The Dark Side of the Moon (March 1973)
First, I was going to pick Meddle, Pink Floyd’s sixth studio album from October 1971. With the great Echoes, it foreshadowed the band’s classic mid-’70s sound on The Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here. All three albums are among my favorite Floyd records. Eventually, I settled on The Dark Side of the Moon. It’s a perfect album for headphones, and I’ve listened to it countless times at night in bed. The sound is just phenomenal. One of the standout tracks is The Great Gig In the Sky and the amazing vocal performance by British singer Clare Torry.
Bruce Springsteen/Born to Run (August 1975)
Bruce Springsteen entered my radar screen in 1984 with the Born in the U.S.A. album. While I’m still fond of that record, I subsequently explored and came to appreciate his earlier work. To me, Born to Run turned out to be Springsteen’s Mount Rushmore. After two albums that were critically acclaimed but not successful from a commercial perspective, he really needed a hit. Born to Run would turn out to be exactly that and catapult Springsteen to fame beyond the U.S. Apart from the title song, my favorite tracks on the album include Thunder Road, Backstreets, Jungleland and the beautiful soul-oriented Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out.
Stevie Wonder/Songs in the Key of Life (September 1976)
Stevie Wonder has been one of my favorite artists for 40 years. I dig many of his songs starting from when he was known as Little Stevie Wonder. But it’s his classic period in the ’70s I like the most, especially the albums Talking Book (October 1972), Innervisions (August 1973) and Songs in the Key of Life (September 1976). The latter became the best-selling and most critically acclaimed album of Wonder’s long career. Here’s his beautiful tribute to jazz legend Duke Ellington who had passed away in May 1974.
Steely Dan/Aja (September 1977)
I’m wrapping up this list with Steely Dan. Walter Becker and Donald Fagen made many great records, but it’s this gem from September 1977 that’s my favorite: Aja. As usual, Becker and Fagen assembled top-notch session musicians to record the album. There were also prominent guests, including Michael McDonald and Timothy B. Schmit. All of the tracks on this album are great. Deacon Blues is my favorite Steely Dan song, but since I previously featured it more than once, I’m going with the closer Josie.
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