If I Could Only Take One

My desert island song by The Velvet Underground

Happy Wednesday and welcome to another installment of my desert island song challenge. Before I can head out to the imaginary island in the sun, I need to pick one song to take with me.

In case you’re new to this weekly feature, there are a few additional rules that guide my picks. The tune must be by an artist or band I’ve only rarely written about or not covered at all. And I’m doing the song selections in alphabetical order. This means the band’s or artist’s name (last name) must start with a specific letter, which this week is “v”.

Frankly, even after doing a bit of research, I only found a handful of bands and music artists whose names start with “v”: Van Halen; Steven Van Zandt, aka Little Steven; Vangelis and The Velvet Underground. Of course, there’s also the great former Lynyrd Skynyrd lead vocalist Ronnie Van Zant, but I’m not aware of any solo music that appeared under his name.

Applying my criteria, it came down to Vangelis or The Velvet Underground. And my pick is Sunday Morning by The Velvet Underground. While I’ve only heard a handful of the band’s tunes and as such, it was a bit of a tricky decision, I’m quite happy with my choice!

Penned by Lou Reed, the band’s lead guitarist, vocalist and main songwriter, Sunday Morning was the opener of their debut album The Velvet Underground & Nico, which appeared in March 1967. It featured German vocalist Nico (born Christa Päffgen) on three tracks, at the insistence of their manager Andy Warhol who co-produced the album with Tom Wilson. Earlier in the ’60s, Wilson had produced three of Bob Dylan’s albums as well as the debut by Simon & Garfunkel.

The Velvet Underground were formed in 1964 in New York City. By the time they recorded their above-mentioned debut, their line-up included co-founders Lou Reed (vocal, guitar, piano), John Cale (viola, bass, keyboards, vocals) and Sterling Morrison (guitar, bass, backing vocals), along with Moe Tucker (drums) who had replaced the band’s original percussionist Angus MacLise in late 1965.

By the early 1970s, Doug Yule who had joined The Velvet Underground in 1968 to replace John Cale, was the group’s only remaining member. While there was one more album released under The Velvet Underground name (Squeeze, February 1973), essentially it was a Yule solo album he recorded together with a few backing musicians. Yule subsequently did some session and touring work for Lou Reed who had left the band in 1970 to launch a solo career.

In 1992, The Velvet Underground reunited for a European tour featuring Reed, Cale, Morrison and Tucker. But it was short-lived and a discussed U.S. tour didn’t materialize when Cale and Reed fell out again – the old story of egos in rock & roll! In August 1995, Morrison passed away from non-Hodgkin lymphoma at the age of 53. Reed, Tucker and Cale reformed the group one last time in 1996 when they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Reed died from liver disease in October 2013. He was 71. In 2017, Cale and Tucker came together at the Grammy Salute to Music Legends concert for a performance of I’m Waiting for the Man, a tune from The Velvet Underground’s first album. They remain the only survivors of the group’s original line-up.

Following are some additional tidbits on Sunday Morning from Songfacts:

Lou Reed wrote this on a Sunday morning around 6 a.m. Andy Warhol, who helped finance the album, suggested he write a song about the paranoia associated with the effects of a drug wearing off.

Reed wrote this for Nico but then decided not to let the German ex-model sing it. Instead he impersonated her himself.

The production on this song is more lavish than the other tracks on the album. It was intended for release as a single and they wanted to make it radio friendly...

…This song is all about last-minute changes. The inclusion of the track on their first album was literally penciled in, Reed decided to take over vocals at the last minute as they walked into the studio to record it, and John Cale noticed a celesta in the studio and decided to include the instrument for the song on the spot. Cale also played the viola on the song.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to the first Sunday Six of May 2022! It’s been a bit on the chilly side in my neck of the woods. But the weather in the New Jersey-New York-Connecticut tri-state area can change rapidly, and before we know it, we may have summer-like temperatures. One thing is for sure: Spring has definitely arrived! Now that we’ve got the weather covered, let’s get to a new set of six songs to celebrate music of the past and the present.

Joel Ross/Wail

I’d like to start today’s musical journey in the year 2022 with jazz by 26-year-old New York composer Joel Ross. A bio on the website of the renowned Blue Note Records jazz label calls him “the most thrilling new vibraphonist in America.” Here’s a bit more: The Chicago-born, Brooklyn-based player and composer has a way of being everywhere interesting at once: from deeply innovative albums (Makaya McCraven’s Universal Beings and Deciphering the Message, Walter Smith III & Matthew Stevens’ In Common) to reliably revolutionary combos (Marquis Hill’s Blacktet, Peter Evans’ Being & Becoming) to his own acclaimed Blue Note albums: KingMaker, Who Are You?, and The Parable of the Poet. This brings me to Wail, a track off Ross’s latest Blue Note album released April 15. “Almost every take is a first take, since our years improvising together have shaped these compositions into something with more meaning than we ever could know,” he told Apple Music. Oftentimes, free-form jazz isn’t my cup of tea, but I do like this music!

Ace/How Long

Our next stop is the ’70s and a tune by British pop-rock band Ace I’ve always loved: How Long. I was reminded of the catchy song when I heard it on the radio the other day. How Long was written by the group’s frontman and keyboarder Paul Carrack. It was Ace’s debut single and appeared on their first album Five-A-Side, released in January 1974. How Long became their biggest hit, climbing to no. 3 in the U.S. and Canada, and reaching no. 20 in the UK. I think it’s the only tune I know from Ace, who were active from 1972 until 1977. Following their breakup, Carrack became a member of various prominent bands, including Roxy Music, Squeeze and Mike + The Mechanics. In 1980, Carrack also launched a solo career, which continues to this day.

Willie Nelson/Night Life

If you saw my latest Best of What’s New installment, you probably noticed it included new music by Willie Nelson who just turned 88 years and remains a viable artist. This reminded me of a tune I had earmarked for The Sunday Six a few months ago after my streaming service provider had served it up as a listening suggestion. Night Life, co-written by Nelson, Paul Buskirk and Walt Breeland, was first released as a single in 1960. Wikipedia notes the following interesting anecdote: Due to financial issues, Nelson sold the song to guitar instructor Paul Buskirk for $150. The recording of the song was rejected by Pappy Daily, owner of Nelson’s label, D Records. Daily believed that the song was not country. Encouraged by the amount of money he received for the song, Nelson decided to master it at another studio. To avoid legal actions, it was recorded as “Nite Life” under the artist name of “Paul Buskirk and the Little Men featuring Hugh Nelson.” In 1963 Bellaire Records reissued the single under the original title of “Night Life,” recrediting it to “Willie Nelson.” While it may not be among Nelson’s most popular songs, to me Night Life feels like a timeless classic.

John Lennon/Watching the Wheels

Next, we go to November 1980 and Watching the Wheels, one of my favorite John Lennon tunes from his solo career. It first appeared on Double Fantasy from November 1980, which sadly turned out to be Lennon’s last album released during his lifetime. Only three weeks after the release, he was murdered by a deranged individual in front of The Dakota, the New York City building in which he was living with Yoko Ono and their then-six-year-old son Sean. Watching the Wheels also appeared separately as the album’s third single in March 1981. Unlike the two preceding singles Woman and (Just Like) Starting Over, which reached no. 2 and no. 1, respectively, in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, Watching the Wheels “only” climbed to no. 10. Interestingly, in the UK where the first two singles topped the charts, the song stalled at no. 30.

Oasis/Wonderwall

Okay, time for a stop-over in the ’90s and Wonderwall, a massive hit by English pop-rock band Oasis. Written by the group’s co-founder Noel Gallagher, the tune appeared on their sophomore album (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, released in October 1995. The record became even more successful than the band’s strong debut Definitely Maybe that had appeared in August 1994. Wonderwall also was one of six singles Morning Glory spawned. It surged to no. 2 in the UK on the Official Singles Chart and also did well elsewhere: No. 1 in Australia; no. 2 in Ireland; no. 5 in Canada; and no. 8 in the U.S. and The Netherlands, among others. During their active period between 1991 and 2009, Oasis sold over 70 million records worldwide and were one of the most successful acts in the UK.

The Crazy World of Arthur Brown/Fire

And once again, it’s time to wrap up another Sunday Six, and I give you the god of hellfire! The Crazy World of Arthur Brown are an English psychedelic rock band formed in 1967 by vocalist Arthur Brown. The group’s initial run spanned three years and their only hit Fire, co-written by Brown, the band’s keyboarder Vincent Crane, as well as Mike Finesilver and Peter Ker. Appearing on the group’s eponymous debut album from June 1968 and separately as a single, Fire topped the charts in the UK and Canada, climbed to no. 2 in the U.S., and reached no. 3 in each Belgium, Switzerland and Germany. It also charted in the top 10 in The Netherlands (no. 4) and Austria (no. 7). After this phenomenal start and sharing bills with the likes of The Who, The Doors and Small Faces, the group ran out of, well, fire and disbanded in June 1969. They reformed in 2000 with a different line-up and Brown as the only original member, and apparently remain active to this day. Bown has also issued various solo releases and has a new album scheduled for June 24. In case you’re curious how he sounds these days at age 79, the first track is already out.

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist with all the above goodies.

Sources: Wikipedia; Blue Note Records website; Apple Music; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

It’s an overcast and rainy weekend in my neck of the woods (central New Jersey), but this shall not take away any of the fun to present another eclectic set of six tunes, especially given The Sunday Six is hitting a mini-milestone today with its 20th installment. Plus, if the weather is a mixed bag in your area as well, it’s a perfect opportunity to listen to some music. And in case conditions are perfect to be outdoors, just take the music with you! 🙂

Dave Holland/Grave Walker

Kicking us off today is some brand new funky jazz by an old hand: Dave Holland, an English double bassist, composer and bandleader who has been active for five decades. Holland started out teaching himself how to play the ukulele as a four-year old, followed by the guitar and the bass. At the age of 15, he quit school, initially wanting to play pop before discovering jazz. Holland subsequently received a full-time scholarship for London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama. By age 20, he was a busy student and musician, who frequently performed at London’s premier jazz venue Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club. In 1968, Miles Davis saw Holland and invited him to join his band to replace Ron Carter. For the next two years, he worked with Davis and appeared on the albums In a Silent Way and Bitches’ Brew. His first record as a bandleader, Conference of the Birds by Dave Holland Quartet, appeared in 1973. In addition to Davis, Holland has worked with numerous other jazz artists, such as Thelonious Monk, Anthony Braxton, Stan Getz and John Abercrombie. According to his website, Holland’s “playing can be heard on hundreds of recordings, with more than thirty as a leader under his own name.” This brings me to Grave Walker, the great funky opener of Holland’s new album Another Land, which came out on Friday (May 28), featuring guitarist Kevin Eubanks and drummer Obed Calvaire. Groovy and great sound, baby!

Sam & Dave/Hold On, I’m Coming

Let’s keep on groovin’ and jump back 55 years to March 1966. That’s when Stax recording artists Sam & Dave released their new single Hold On, I’m Comin’. Co-written by the songwriting team of Isaac Hayes and David Porter, this gem became the soul duo’s first no. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot R&B Singles chart. It also was the title track of Sam & Dave’s debut studio album, which was released the following month. According to Wikipedia, Steve Cropper, lead guitarist of Stax house band Booker T. and the M.G.s, said the song’s title came out of a verbal exchange between Porter who was in the restroom at the Stax studio and an impatient Hayes who yelled for Porter to return to their writing session. When Porter responded, “Hold On, I’m Comin’,” they both thought this would make for a great song title and completed the tune within an hour. It’s amazing what bathroom breaks can do!

Squeeze/Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)

Pulling Mussels (From the Shell) may be one of only a handful of Squeeze songs I’ve heard but, hey, you don’t have to be an expert about a band to recognize a great power pop tune. When I came across the song in the process of researching this post, it was an easy decision to include. Co-written by Squeeze rhythm guitarist and vocalist Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook, the band’s lead guitarist and keyboarder, Pulling Mussels (From the Shell) is from their third studio album Argybargy released in February 1980. It also appeared separately as a single in April that year. To my big surprise, the tune only climbed to no. 44 in the UK and didn’t chart in the U.S. at all. BTW, Squeeze, which were initially founded by Difford and Tilbrook in March 1974, are still around, though they had some breaks in-between. The current incarnation has been active since 2007, released three new albums to date, and still includes Difford and Tilbrook.

Deep Purple/Pictures of Home

It’s time to push the pedal to the heavy metal coz why not? In this context, I couldn’t think of a better choice than Deep Purple, my all-time favorite hard rock band. The combination of Ritchie Blackmore’s guitar and Jon Lord’s roaring Hammond B3 still excites me. Pictures of Home is a track from Deep Purple’s sixth studio album Machine Head that came out in March 1972 and is their Mount Rushmore, in my view. Just about everything about this song is cool: The intro by Ian Paice, who is a beast of a drummer; the great main guitar riff by Ritchie Blackmore; Jon Lord’s sweet B3 work; Ian Gillan who was at the top of game as a lead vocalist; and let’s not forget about Roger Glover’s pumping bass and his neat short solo starting at about 3:40 minutes. Like all other tracks on the album, Pictures of Home was credited to all members of the band.

Mariah Carey featuring Trey Lorenz/I’ll Be There

Mariah Carey? Yep, you read that right! Have I lost my mind? I hope that’s not the case. Before causing too much confusion here, I generally don’t listen to Mariah Carey. However, together with Christina Aguilera, I believe she’s one of the strongest female contemporary vocalists. Then there’s I’ll Be There, a tune I loved from the moment I heard it first from The Jackson 5 as part of a Motown box set. It must have been in the early ’80s. Credited to Berry Gordy, producer Hal Davis, Bob West and Willie Hutch, I’ll Be There was released in late August 1970 as the lead single of the Jackson 5’s third studio album ingeniously titled Third Album that appeared two weeks later. Carey’s cover, which I think is even more compelling than the original, was included on her MTV Unplugged EP from June 1992. Apart from Carey’s strong rendition of Michael Jackson’s part, I’d like to call out R&B singer Trey Lorenz who does an amazing job singing Jermaine Jackson’s lines. It’s really the outstanding vocal performance that convinced me to feature this rendition.

3 Doors Down/It’s Not My Time

Just in case that previous tune shocked you, or perhaps did the opposite thing and put you in a sleepy mood, let’s finish this installment on a rock note: It’s Not My Time by 3 Doors Down. Formed in 1996 in Escatawpa, Miss., they broke through internationally with their first single Kryptonite from January 2000. Originally, that song had been recorded as a demo for a local Mississippi radio station. From there, it was picked up by other radio stations and became popular, topping Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Tracks chart and eventually reaching no. 3 on the Hot 100. Subsequently, 3 Doors Down signed with Republic Records and recorded their debut album The Better Life. Appearing in February 2000, it continued the band’s remarkable streak of success, climbing to no. 7 on the Billboard 200, charting in many other countries, and becoming their best-selling album that only the in the U.S. sold more than 5 million copies. It’s Not My Time is from 3 Doors Down’s eponymous fourth studio album from May 2008. Like all other songs on the record, the tune is credited to four of the band’s members at the time: Brad Arnold (lead vocals), Matt Roberts (lead guitar, backing vocals), Chris Henderson (rhythm guitar, backing vocals) and Todd Harrell (bass). Greg Upchurch (drums) completed their line-up. 3 Doors Down are still active, with Arnold, Henderson and Upchurch remaining part of the current formation.

Sources: Wikipedia; Dave Holland website; YouTube