The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Is it really Sunday again? What happened to the bloody week? Okay, let’s try this again: Happy Sunday and I hope everybody had a great week and is enjoying an even better weekend! Nearly anything you can do gets better with great music, so I invite you to join me on another time travel trip. As usual, I’m taking you to six different stops. Are you in? Let’s go!

Duke Ellington & John Coltrane/In a Sentimental Mood

What do you get when combining jazz piano great Duke Ellington and saxophone dynamo John Coltrane? Well, Duke Ellington & John Coltrane, a collaboration album released in January 1963, and the first stop on our journey today. Jazz artists love to team up, and this record is one of many collaborative efforts Sir Duke undertook in the early 1960s, which also included artists, such as Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins, Max Roach and Charles Mingus. Rather than a big band setting, it placed Ellington in a quartet, which in addition to Coltrane featured Jimmy Garrison or Aaron Bell (bass) and Elvin Jones or Sam Woodyard (drums). My specific pick is In a Sentimental Mood, which Ellington had composed more than 25 years earlier in 1935, with lyrics written by Manny Kurtz. I guess Ellington’s manager Irving Mills was in the mood for a percentage of the publishing and gave himself a writing credit!

The Jayhawks/Martin’s Song

Our next stop takes us to September 1992 and Hollywood Town Hall, the third studio album by The Jayhawks. Since “discovering” them in August 2020, I’ve come to dig this American alt. country and country rock band. Initially formed in Minneapolis in 1985, The Jayhawks originally featured Mark Olson (acoustic guitar, vocals), Gary Louris (electric guitar, vocals), Marc Perlman (bass) and Norm Rogers (drums). By the time Hollywood Town Hall was released, Rogers had been replaced by Ken Callahan. After four additional albums and more line-up changes, the group went on hiatus in 2004. They reemerged with a new formation in 2019, which still includes Louris and Pearlman. Going back to Hollywood Town Hall, here’s the album’s great closer Martin’s Song, penned by Olson and Louris.

Stephen Stills/Right Now

How ’bout some ’70s? Ask and you shall receive! My pick is Stephen Stills – yep the guy who co-founded Canadian-American rock band Buffalo Springfield with that Canadian fellow Neil Young in 1966, and two years later got together with David Crosby and Graham Nash to form Crosby, Stills & Nash. In 1969, they added Young, became Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, played Woodstock and released the classic Déjà Vu in March 1970. Following CSNY’s success, Stills launched a solo career, just like the other three members of the group. In late 1971, he teamed up with Chris Hillman (formerly of The Byrds) to form the band Manassas. The group also included Al Perkins (steel guitar, guitar), Paul Harris (keyboards), Calvin “Fuzzy” Samuels (bass, backing vocals), Joe Lala (percussion, backing vocals) and Dallas Taylor (drums). Their eponymous debut from April 1972 was the first of two studio albums the group released, as Stephen Stills/Manassas – I assume for name recognition reasons. Plus, Stills wrote or co-wrote all except one of the tunes. Right Now is among the songs solely penned by him – love that tune!

Paul Simon/You Can Call Me Al

In August 1986, Paul Simon released what remains my favorite among his solo albums: Graceland. Evidently, many other folks liked it as well, making it Simon’s best-performing album, both in terms of chart success and sales. It also won Grammy Awards for Album of the Year (1987) and Record of the Year (1988) – confusing titles! While the first honors an album in its entirety, the second recognizes a specific track. Graceland features an eclectic mixture of musical styles, including pop, a cappella, zydeco, isicathamiya, rock and mbaqanga. The album involved recording sessions in Johannesburg, South Africa, featuring local musicians. Therefore, it was criticized by some for breaking the cultural boycott of South Africa because of its policy of apartheid. One can only imagine what kind of firestorm a comparable activity would likely unleash nowadays with so much polarization boosted by social media! If I would have to pick one track from the album, I’d go with You Can Call Me Al, an infectious tune that among others features a crazy bass run by South African bassist Bakithi Kumalo.

Little Steven/Soulfire

Let’s keep the groove going with guitarist, songwriter, actor and (unofficial) music professor, the one and only Steven Van Zandt, aka Little Steven or Miami Steve. Van Zandt gained initial prominence as guitarist in various Bruce Springsteen bands, such as Steel Mill, Bruce Springsteen Band, and, of course, the mighty E Street Band. In 1981, Van Zandt started fronting an on-and-off group known as Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul. The following year, while still being an official member of the E Street Band, he released his debut solo album Men Without Women, credited as Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul. In April 1984, just before the release of the Born in the U.S.A. album, Van Zant officially left and recorded a series of additional solo albums. After a brief stint in 1995, he permanently rejoined Springsteen’s backing band in 1999. He also got into acting, which most notably included his role as mafioso and strip club owner Silvio Dante in the American TV crime drama series The Sopranos. This finally brings us to Soulfire, his sixth solo album from May 2017. The great title track was co-written by Van Zandt and Anders Bruus, the former guitarist of Danish rock band The Breakers. Here’s a cool live version!

The Sonics/Cinderella

And once again, we’re reaching our final destination of yet another Sunday Six excursion. For this one, let’s go back to the ’60s with some raw garage rock by The Sonics – coz why not! Formed in Tacoma, Wa. in 1960, they have often been called “the first punk band” and were a significant influence for American punk groups like The Stooges, MC5 and The Flesh Eaters. Cinderella is a track from the band’s sophomore release Boom, which appeared in February 1996. The tune was written by Gerry Roslie, the group’s keyboarder at the time. The line-up on the album also included founding members Larry Parypa (lead guitar, vocals) and his brother Andy Parypa (bass, vocals), along with Rob Lind (saxophone) and Bob Bennett (drums). Based on Wikipedia, The Sonics still appear to be around, with Roslie, Lind and Larry Parypa among their current members.

Of course, this post wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify playlist of the above tracks. Hope there’s something for you!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

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Neil Young’s 2001 Album Was Toast Until It Wasn’t

Admittedly, this post was predictable, at least to those who know me well. As a longtime Neil Young fan, I just couldn’t ignore Toast. In fact, you might ask, what took me so long? The simple answer is I didn’t want this post to coincide with any other recently published posts.

Toast is yet another album where Neil was, well, Neil. After he had assembled his backing mates from Crazy Horse in San Francisco in 2001 and worked on music for the album, he decided he didn’t like the outcome and scrapped it. Instead, he called back his Crazy Horse guitarist Frank “Poncho” Sampedro and recorded an album with Booker T. & the M.G.’s, Are You Passionate?

Well, of course, there’s a bit more to the story. This review in Uncut largely unpacks it. In a nutshell, it appears to have been a combination of poor preparation where Young hadn’t prepared any raw material the band could work from, as well as his personal state of mind: His marriage with his second wife Pegi Young (née Morton) was going through a rough patch. Eventually, they got divorced in 2014.

The above Uncut review quoted from Young’s October 2014 biography Special Deluxe: A Memoir of Life & Cars: “I was not happy with it, or maybe I was just generally unhappy. I don’t know. It was a very desolate album, very sad and unanswered.” Rightfully, Uncut also noted it’s remarkable that Young, nevertheless, ended up using three songs written during the Toast sessions for Are You Passionate?: Quit (Don’t Say You Love Me), How Ya Doin’? (renamed Mr. Disappointment and Boom Boom Boom (retitled She’s a Healer).

The above shall suffice for context. I’d say it’s time to get to some goodies. I should point out Toast doesn’t break any new musical ground. Since I dig the “old Neil”, that’s not a problem for me. All songs were written by Neil Young, except for the opener Quit, which he co-wrote with Sampedro. Let’s start with that one, a mellow-sounding tune that starts with a chorus repeating the phrase, “don’t say you love me” – not exactly cheerful!

On Standing in the Light of Love things get crunchy. Young called it “sort of like a Deep Purple hit” in a piece on his website NeilYoungArchives.com. However you’d like to characterize the tune, it’s the type of Neil rocker I really dig!

Next up is Gateway of Love. Clocking in at 10:11 minutes, it’s the second-longest track on Toast. It kind of has an epic feel to it and in that sense reminds me a bit of Cortez the Killer, one of Young’s best-known tracks off Zuma, another album with Crazy Horse, released in November 1975.

The last track I’d like to call out is the closer Boom Boom Boom, which at 13:06 minutes is the longest song on Toast. At about 8:45 minutes into the track, things take an unexpected jazzy turn with trumpet work credited to Tom Brady – obviously, not that Tom Brady. Let the good times roll!

Toast was recorded at Toast Studios in San Francisco, which is safe to assume explains the record’s name. The album was co-produced by Young and his longtime producer John Hanlon. In addition to Young, Hanlon has worked with the likes of Stephen Stills, T-Bone Burnett, R.E.M., Gillian Welch, Dennis Wilson and The Beach Boys. On his website, Young adds that Rick Rubin “was in the control room for a fair amount of time during the recording as a guest.”

The final word shall belong to Neil. “I had forgotten about these songs, put them out of my mind and went on living my life,” he wrote on his website. “It must be said here Crazy Horse shows a depth never seen or heard before on any other Horse recording [CMM – well, I’m not going to argue with the man here, but I could see some folks disagreeing]. For the greatest group I have ever met – CRAZY HORSE, this is a pinnacle. Where they let me go, where they took me, was unbelievable.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Uncut; NeilYoungArchives.com; Discogs; YouTube

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island tune by Poco

Happy Wednesday! Are you ready for another imaginary desert island trip? To me that sounds like an attractive proposition, except once again, I have the near-impossible decision to make which one song to take with me – not an album, just one tune!

For first-time visitors of this weekly feature, there are some additional rules to the madness. And they don’t make picking a song any easier. At the same time, going through this exercise is kind of fun, since I usually end up highlighting music I haven’t covered before or only noted in passing.

My pick must be by an artist or band I’ve only rarely written about or not covered at all. Additionally, I’m making the selections in alphabetical order, and I’m up to “p.” This means eligible artists (last name) and bands must start with that letter.

Looking at my music library revealed artists and bands like Tom Petty, Pink Floyd, The Pointer Sisters, The Police, Elvis Presley, Pretenders, Prince and Procul Harum. And my pick is Barbados by Poco.

Admittedly, I’m bending my own rules a bit this time, since I covered Poco before (though rarely), unlike Plain White T’s who also showed up in my search, and I do like Hey There Delilah. But the desert island theme and a tune titled Barbados just looked like a perfect fit. And I think it’s a great song!

Barbados was written by Paul Cotton, Poco’s lead guitarist and one of the band’s vocalists, who first joined the group in 1970. The tune appears on their 11th studio album Legend, released in November 1978. My former German band mate and longtime music buddy gave me this great record on vinyl in the late ’80s. I still own that copy!

I loved Barbados and the entire Legend LP from the get-go, and it was actually my introduction to Poco. It’s puzzling to me why Barbados was never released as a single. Three other tunes were, including the title track, Heart of the Night and Crazy Love. The last tune became Poco’s biggest hit. In the U.S., it topped Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart and reached no. 17 on the mainstream Hot 100. In Canada, the tune peaked at no. 4 on the adult contemporary chart and climbed to no. 15 on the main pop chart.

Interestingly, I couldn’t find any more information on Barbados. Songfacts instead features a song of the same title from 1975 by a British duo called Typically Tropical. Apparently, “their” Barbados, the duo’s debut single, became a no. 1 in the UK. Since they obviously don’t own the name “Barbados”, I really can’t imagine this had anything to do with the decision not to release Poco’s song as a single.

Poco were one of two bands that emerged in 1968 following the break-up of Buffalo Springfield. The group’s former guitarists Richie Furay and Jim Messina formed Poco, together with Rusty Young (pedal steel guitar, banjo, dobro, guitar, mandolin, vocals), Randy Meisner (bass, vocals) and George Grantham (drums, vocals).

Poco in 1971

Meanwhile, Stephen Stills, David Crosby  and Graham Nash founded Crosby, Stills & Nash. Neil Young launched his solo career and, of course, later joined CSN on various occasions, resulting in the mighty Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Buffalo Springfield might as well have been called “Buffalo Springboard”!

Poco are considered to be one of the pioneers of country rock, years before the Eagles popularized the genre. Their debut album Pickin’ Up the Pieces came out in May 1969. By the time it appeared Meisner already had left the group, angered by Furay’s insistence to be excluded from the final mix playback sessions for the album – egos in music! Meisner went on to join the Stone Canyon Band and became a founding member of the Eagles in September 1971.

Meisner was replaced by Timothy B. Schmit who later joined the Eagles as well. Messina left Poco in 1970 and was replaced by Cotton. The group’s line-up kept changing. It took Poco until their third release, a live album, to enjoy some chart success: No. 26 and no. 42 on the U.S. and Canadian charts, respectively. Appropriately, the album was titled Deliverin’.

Poco were active until April 2021 when Rusty Young passed away at the age of 75. Technically, he had retired in late 2013 but participated in reunion concerts thereafter. Paul Cotton died in August that year. He was 78. Altogether, Poco released 19 studio albums, nine live records and multiple compilations. In January 2015, Poco were inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame. Unlike the Eagles, who were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, Poco has yet to receive that recognition.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

It’s hard to believe another week just flew by and it’s Sunday morning again. Let’s get ready for more music time travel. The six stops of this trip include smooth saxophone jazz from 1980, folk-rock from 1967, acoustic guitar pop from 2002, rock from 1976, bluesy folk-rock from 1993 and guitar jazz from 1989. And off we go…

Grover Washington Jr./Winelight

Sunday mornings are perfect for some smooth jazz, so I’d like to start this little music excursion with one of my favorite saxophonists, Grover Washington Jr. In October 1980, he released what became his most successful album in the U.S. mainstream charts, Winelight, which climbed to no. 5 on the Billboard 200. Undoubtedly, much of that performance was fueled by the popularity of the catchy and groovy single Just the Two of Us, a no. 2 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, featuring the great Bill Withers on vocals. Both the record and the tune won Grammy awards for Best Jazz Fusion Performance and Best R&B Song, respectively. Here’s the album’s great opener and title track, a piece composed by William Eaton. The smooth saxophone combined with the funky groove is sweet music to my ears.

Buffalo Springfield/For What It’s Worth

For our next stop on this mini-excursion, let’s go back to December 1966 when Buffalo Springfield released For What It’s Worth. Written by Stephen Stills, the tune was the Canadian-American folk-rock band’s third single and became their biggest hit, reaching no. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100, no. 5 in Canada and no. 19 in New Zealand. The song was also added to the second pressing of their eponymous debut album from March 1967, which originally had come out in December 1966. In 1968, Stills; David Crosby who had been kicked out of The Byrds; and Graham Nash, previously with The Hollies, formed Crosby, Stills & Nash. Neil Young, who had played with Stills in Buffalo Springfield, joined CSN in mid-1969. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young debuted at Woodstock in August that year and released their debut album Déjà Vu the following March. Okay, before I get carried away any further, here’s For What It’s Worth!

Sheryl Crow/Weather Channel

When my streaming music provider served up Weather Channel by Sheryl Crow the other day, I immediately felt this relaxing acoustic pop tune would be a nice pick for a Sunday Six. Instead of adding it to my list and having it linger there, which has happened for some other tunes, I decided to use it right away. Weather Channel, written by Crow, is the closer of her fourth studio album C’mon C’mon from April 2002 – coincidentally the same record from which I featured another song in my latest Hump Day Picker-Upper: Soak Up the Sun. Unlike that tune, which became one of the album’s four singles and a top 20 mainstream hit in the U.S., Weather Channel is an album track only and what I would call a deep cut – pretty enjoyable!

Boston/More Than a Feeling

When it comes to ’70s rock, I can’t think of many other tunes that sound as great as More Than a Feeling by Boston. Named after the band’s hometown, Boston is the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and recording wizard Tom Scholz. After graduating in 1970 with a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from MIT, Scholz worked for a few years as a senior design engineer at Polaroid Corporation. Using his salary, he built his own home recording studio and started working on music demos. For the first few years, his demos didn’t gain any traction at record labels. Eventually, Scholz gained interest at Epic Records, which signed him and his vocalist Brad Delp. After some back and forth with the label, Boston’s eponymous debut album appeared in August 1976. The record became a massive success, surging to no. 3 on the Billboard 200 and charting in many other countries, including Canada (no. 7), UK (no. 11) and Australia (no. 16), among others. More Than a Feeling, released as the lead single in September that year, closely matched the album’s performance. Like most of the other tracks on the record, it was solely written by Scholz who also played most of the instruments. This is true sound perfection!

Cowboy Junkies/Hard to Explain

For this next tune, let’s jump to the ’90s, which is generally not a decade that has been much on my radar screen. After the ’80s had passed, I started paying less attention to contemporary music and primarily focused on the ’60s and ’70s, which remain my favorite decades to this day. Of course, this doesn’t mean there isn’t any ’90s music I love. A great example is Hard to Explain by Cowboy Junkies, another listening suggestion from my streaming music provider. When I heard the tune for the first time the other day, I immediately dug it. Other than their name, I don’t know anything about this Canadian alternative country and folk-rock band. Founded in Toronto in 1986, Cowboy Junkies remain active to this day, apparently with their original line-up. Their sizable catalog includes 18 studio albums, along with multiple live records, compilations, EPs and singles. Hard to Explain, by the band’s songwriter and guitarist Michael Timmins, is from their fifth studio album Pale Sun, Crescent Moon released in November 1993. It’s got a great bluesy sound.

Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble/Riviera Paradise

And once again, this brings me to the sixth and final destination of this Sunday Six installment, and it’s a true gem: Riviera Paradise, a beautiful jazzy instrumental by electric blues guitar virtuoso Stevie Ray Vaughan backed by his band Double Trouble. Composed by Vaughan, Riviera Paradise is the final track of Vaughan’s fourth studio album In Step that appeared in June 1989. Here’s a clip of a beautiful live version I found. Vaughan’s guitar playing was just out of this world! Perhaps, him playing jazz is a side of Vaughan you may not be as familiar with – I have to say I wasn’t. Check it out, this is so good!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Jakob Dylan’s Wallflowers Are Back And In Full Blossom

First new album in nine years picks up where Bringing Down the Horse left

I completely missed the release of Exit Wounds, the new album by Jakob Dylan’s band project The Wallflowers, even though I had heard of it back in May. I also don’t recall seeing it in Apple Music’s new releases on July 9 when it appeared – very strange! Well, I’m glad I finally came across it over the weekend.

The first new Wallflowers album in nine years features melodic roots rock and a warm sound. In many ways, Exit Wounds feels like it could have been the follow on to Bringing Down the Horse from May 1996, the sophomore album by Dylan’s band that brought commercial success and two Grammy awards. The one big difference is there are no obvious hits like One Headlight and my favorite, 6th Avenue Heartache. Still, after having listened to the 10 tracks a few times, I find this new album pretty enjoyable.

Produced by Butch Walker, who has worked with Avril Lavigne, Taylor Swift, Green Day and many other artists over the past 20-plus years, Exit Wounds is only the seventh studio album by The Wallflowers in three decades. Initially formed as The Apples in 1989 by Dylan and his childhood friend and guitarist Tobi Miller, the band changed their name to The Wallflowers in 1991. After six studio albums and a series of line-up changes, Dylan turned The Wallflowers into a project in 2013, relying on hired musicians for his recurring tours.

Why did it take nine years since Glad All Over from October 2012 to make a new Wallflowers album? “When you get started, you feel you’re going to lose traction and it will all slip away if you don’t keep maintaining it,” Dylan told Spin during a recent interview conducted as part of a major feature story. “That phase passes at some point, and then you have a career, and you can make records when you’re inspired.”

As the Spin story rightfully adds, there was also the 2018 documentary Echo in the Canyon, for which Dylan was the executive producer and interviewed artists like Roger McGuinn, Brian Wilson, Stephen Stills, David Crosby and Tom Petty – apparently, a close to four-year engagement from start to finish! Last but not least, Dylan had actually written the songs for Exit Wounds prior to the pandemic and wrapped up the recording more than a year ago, but decided to hold the album’s release.

Time for some music. Here’s the opener Maybe Your Heart’s Not in It No More, a nice mellow tune and one of three tracks featuring singer-songwriter Shelby Lynne on backing vocals. I think her and Dylan’s voices blend beautifully. The reflective and downcast lyrics represent most of the album. “We all have exit wounds as much as ever,” Dylan explained to Spin. “Whether we’re going to a better place or making a lateral move, we can’t get there from here without them.”

Roots and Wings is among my early favorites. The tune was also released separately as the album’s lead single on April 9, peaking at no. 6 on Billboard’s Triple A Airplay, aka Adult Alternative Airplay – frankly, a chart I had not been aware of. Who can keep track of Billboard’s seemingly ever-expanding charts. A review by Riff Magazine calls the sound “Springsteen-esque” and notes the harmony vocals were provided by Butch Walker. Which ever way you want to characterize it, the song is one of two tracks I find most memorable.

Darlin’ Hold On is another mellow tune that features Shelby Lynne sharing vocal duties with Dylan. In this case, beyond backing vocals, she also gets to sing a verse by herself. Quite pleasant.

And since I really dig how Dylan’s and Lynne’s vocals blend, here’s the third track featuring her on backing vocals: I’ll Let You Down (But Will Not Give You Up).

Let’s do one more: Who’s That Man Walking ‘Round My Garden, my favorite tune on the album at this time. Dylan explained to Spin the rocker is an homage to Tom Petty. Evidently, the two of them had bonded. The above noted conversation for the Echo in the Canyon documentary was Petty’s last on-camera interview prior to his death. “‘Who’s That Man’ is a straight-up tribute to Tom Petty, his music, and his style, and I hope he notices somewhere. I can’t say enough about his positivity and encouragement. It was very moving to have him pass, and it affected me greatly, so there are moments of not just influence, but a tip of my hat in appreciation that I hope he’ll hear.”

While I’m not sure I would have picked up on the Tom Petty influence, I kind of wish Dylan had included one or two additional more up-tempo rockers on the album. Most of the remaining tracks fall on the mellow side. After a while, this can get a bit repetitive.

A few words about the other musicians on Exit Wounds, based on the Spin story: Apart from backing vocals, Walker contributed guitar, keyboard and percussion. Additional musicians included Aaron Embry (keyboards), Val McCallum (guitar), Whynot Jansveld (bass, mastering) and Mark Stepro who played drums on all but one track that featured Brian Griffin.

Except for McCallum, which Spin noted played on The Wallflowers’ fourth album Red Letter Days from November 2002, Dylan put together an entire new band to record Exit Wounds. Given that, it’s kind of remarkable how much it resembles The Wallflowers in the ’90s. “It was important for me to make a pure Wallflowers record,” Dylan emphasized during his interview with Spin. Making it clear he’s always been in charge, he added, “I started this band. This is my band. It doesn’t matter who is or who isn’t around anymore.”

The Wallflowers will do a U.S. tour starting next month. The 20-date engagement will kick off in New Braunfels, Texas (San Antonio area) on August 18 and wrap up in Nashville on November 20. Starting in May 2022, The Wallflowers are also scheduled to tour the U.S. and Canada for three months, together with Matchbox Twenty. The current schedules for both tours are here.

Sources: Wikipedia; Spin; Riff Magazine; Jambase; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Neil Young & Graham Nash/Birds (Demo)

This nice demo of Neil Young and Graham Nash performing Young’s Birds appears on the massive Déjà Vu 50th Anniversary Reissue that appeared last Friday, May 14. In addition to remastered edits of the original tunes, the reissue features 38 previously unreleased tacks, including session recordings, outtakes and demos.

Déjà Vu, the sophomore studio album by Crosby, Stills & Nash, and their first as a quartet with Neil Young, originally was released on March 11, 1970. Due to the pandemic and some bad blood between the former band mates, the reissue was delayed by more than a year. Plus, as Rolling Stone sarcastically reported, these guys always broke the rules, starting with the use of their names as a band.

While I’ve only heard bits and pieces so far, the reissue looks like something fans of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young are going to enjoy. More casual listeners of CSNY will probably get less out of it. The box set is available in five-vinyl-LP and four-CD/ one vinyl-LP formats. Both boxes come with a 12×12 hardback book.

While David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young at least each gave their blessing to the reissue, it mostly appears to have been Nash and Stills who were committed to it. Among the additional tracks, Young is only represented with two: The above Birds and an alternate take of Helpless.

According to Ultimate Classic Rock, Crosby told Rolling Stone, “I am very proud of the record, [but] this is like a repackaging. It’s probably a good thing, but it’s not that big a deal to me. The guy who looks backwards and does this kind of stuff is Nash. He always has been. I don’t really give much of a shit about that.” If anybody was harboring any hope of a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young reunion, insensitive commentary like this certainly doesn’t help!

Let’s end it on a more positive note. Here’s what Nash had to say to Rolling Stone about the demo of Birds with Young. “I know it’s just me and Neil doing it with his acoustic guitar, but that’s a beautiful piece of music. It’s me trying to be the best harmony singer I can be with somebody of the stature of Neil Young. I don’t want to stick out singing extra words that he’s not singing. I have to be on my game. And ‘Birds’ is a perfect example of that.” Young included a piano version of Birds on his third solo album After the Gold Rush from September 1970.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; Ultimate Classic Rock; YouTube

My Top 5 Debut Albums Turning 50

Earlier this week, I wrote about my top 5 studio albums turning 50 this year. That post was inspired by “Top 50 Albums Turning 50,” a fun program on SiriusXM, Classic Vinyl (Ch. 26) I had caught the other day. But capturing the greatness of 1971 with just five albums really doesn’t do justice to one of the most remarkable years in music, so I decided to have some more fun with it.

This time, I’m looking at great debut albums from 1971. While that caveat substantially narrowed the universe, an initial search still resulted in close to 10 records I could have listed here. Following are my five favorites from that group, again in no particular order.

Electric Light Orchestra/The Electric Light Orchestra

Electric Light Orchestra, or ELO, were formed in Birmingham, England in 1970 by songwriters and multi-instrumentalists Jeff Lynne and Roy Wood, along with drummer Bev Bevan, as an offshoot of British rock band The Move. The idea was to combine Beatlesque pop and rock with classical music. I always thought the result was somewhat weird, feeling like The Beatles and Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” on steroids; yet at the same time, ELO created a signature sound and songs that undoubtedly were catchy. The band’s debut album, the only record with Wood, first came out in the UK on December 3, 1971 as The Electric Light Orchestra. In the U.S., it appeared in March 1972, titled No Answer. Fun fact: According to Wikipedia, that title was accidental when a representative from U.S. label United Artists Records unsuccessfully tried to reach an ELO contact in the UK and wrote down “no answer” in his notes. Here’s the record’s opener 10538 Overture, a tune Lynne wrote, which initially was recorded by The Move to become a B-side to one of their singles.

Bill Withers/Just As I Am

Bill Withers got a relatively late start in music. By the time his debut single Three Nights and a Morning appeared in 1967, Withers already was a 29 year-old man who previously had served in the U.S. Navy for nine years. It took another four years before his debut album Just As I Am was released in May 1971. Unlike his first single that went unnoticed, the record became a significant success, reaching no. 35 and no. 37 in the U.S. and Canadian mainstream charts, and peaking at no. 9 on the Billboard Soul charts. Much of the popularity was fueled by lead single Ain’t No Sunshine, one of Withers’ best known songs and biggest hits. Just As I Am was produced by Booker T. Jones, who also played keyboards and guitar. Some of the other musicians on the album included M.G.’s bassist and drummer Donald “Duck” Dunn and Al Jackson, Jr., respectively, as well as Stephen Stills (guitar) and Jim Keltner (drums). While Ain’t No Sunshine is the crown jewel, there’s more to this record. Check out Do It Good, a soul tune with a cool jazzy groove, written by Withers.

ZZ Top/ZZ Top’s First Album

While guitarist Billy Gibbons recorded ZZ Tops’s first single Salt Lick (backed by Miller’s Farm) in 1969 with Lanier Greig (bass) and Dan Mitchell (drums), the band’s current line-up with Dusty Hill (bass) and Frank Beard (drums) has existed since early 1970. This makes ZZ Top the longest-running group in music history with unchanged membership. It was also the current line-up that recorded the band’s debut ZZ Top’s First Album released on January 16, 1971. It was produced by Bill Ham, who was instrumental to ZZ Top’s success. Not only did he produce or co-produce all of their records until their 12th studio album Rhythmeen from September 1996, but he also served as the band’s manager until that year. Here’s the great blues rocker Brown Sugar, one of my favorite early ZZ Top tunes written by Gibbons.

Bonnie Raitt/Bonnie Raitt

As a long-time fan of the amazing Bonnie Raitt, picking her eponymous debut album for this post was an easy choice. According to Wikipedia, it was recorded at an empty summer camp located on an island on Lake Minnetonka in Minnesota. That location had been recommended to Raitt by John Koerner and Dave Ray, two close friends and fellow musicians. We recorded live on four tracks because we wanted a more spontaneous and natural feeling in the music, a feeling often sacrificed when the musicians know they can overdub their part on a separate track until it’s perfect, Raitt explained in the album’s liner notes. Here’s Mighty Tight Woman written and first recorded by Sippie Wallace as I’m a Mighty Tight Woman in 1926.

America/America

America sometimes are dismissed as a Crosby, Stills & Nash knockoff. I’ve loved this band since I was nine years old and listened for the first to their 1975 compilation History: America’s Greatest Hits, which my six-year older sister had on vinyl. The folk rock trio of Dewey Bunnell (vocals, guitar), Dan Peek (vocals, guitar, piano) and Gerry Beckley (vocals, bass, guitar, piano) released their eponymous debut album on December 26, 1971 in the U.K. That was the year after they had met in London where their parents were stationed with the U.S. Air Force. The U.S. version of the record, which appeared on January 12, 1972, included A Horse with No Name, a song that initially was released as the group’s first single and was not on the UK edition. Remarkably, that single became America’s biggest hit, topping the charts in the U.S., Canada and France, and surging to no. 3 in the UK. Here’s a track from the original UK edition: Sandman written by Bunnell. Beckley and Bunnell still perform as America to this day. Peek left the group in 1977, renewed his Christian faith, and pursued a Christian pop music career. He passed away in July 2011 at the age of 60.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

The Venues: Beat-Club

“Cult” German TV show featured prominent music acts from Alice Cooper to Zeppelin

A YouTube clip from Beat-Club I coincidentally caught on Sunday reminded me that I hadn’t done a post in my series about popular concert halls and music programs since July 2020. So I felt the popular German TV music show, which aired monthly between September 1965 and December 1972, would be a great topic for another installment.

Beat-Club was created by music producer Gerhard Augustin, who according to Wikipedia was Germany’s first professional disc jockey, and film director and writer Mike Leckebusch. Broadcast on one of Germany’s main national public TV channels ARD, the show was hosted by German architect-turned-singer-turned-TV presenter Uschi Nerke. Until early 1969, she was joined by Augustin and afterwards by Dave Dee, of Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich, before Nerke started hosting alone in 1970.

Uschi Nerke kommt – blacksheep Festival
Uschi Nerke

Beat-Club began as a live program with music guests performing in front of a plain brick wall. In 1967, the program was revamped to adapt a “more professional look,” which among others included large cards in the background that displayed the names of the performers. The new format also allowed for inclusion of artists who could not appear live. In these cases, a troupe of young women called the “Go-Go-Girls” was dancing to the featured songs – ouch! On a cooler note, in its later years, Beat-Club incorporated psychedelic visual effects during many performances. These effects became much more pronounced after the program switched to color in late 1969.

German TV personality Wilhelm Wieben opened Beat-Club’s first episode with the following words: “Hello, dear beat friends. The time has finally come. In just a few seconds starts the first show on German television, which exclusively was made for you. Ladies and gentlemen, I ask you who may not enjoy beat music for your understanding. It’s a live program with young people for young people. And now, let’s go!”

Beat Club (TV) - March 27, 1969 / Bremen | Led Zeppelin Official Website
Led Zeppelin at Beat-Club, March 1969

I guess Wieben and the master minds behind the program pretty much foresaw what would happen: While Beat-Club’s target audience embraced the show right way, the older generation in Germany was horrified. This probably ensured young people liked it even more. In fact, the show quickly reached “cult” status.

Over its seven-year run, Beat-Club featured an impressive array of music artists and bands. Badfinger, Chuck Berry, Cream, Deep Purple, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones and The Who were some among many others. Now on to the real fun part: Clips that capture some of the action. The year in parenthesis after each title marks the timing of the show episode. It’s all based on Beat-Club’s YouTube channel.

Cream/I Feel Free (1967)

The Jimi Hendrix Experience/Purple Haze (1967)

Canned Heat/On the Road Again (1968)

Joe Cocker/With a Little Help From My Friends (1968)

Chicago Transit Authority/I’m a Man (1969)

The Who/Sally Simpson & I’m Free (1969)

Black Sabbath/Paranoid (1970)

Muddy Waters/Honey Bee (1970)

Fleetwood Mac/Dragonfly (1971)

T. Rex/Jeepster (1971)

Ike & Tina Turner/Get Back (1972)

Manassas/Rock & Roll Crazies

Beat-Club eventually was replaced by another music program called Musikladen (music store). While I was too young to watch Beat-Club, I have some nebulous memories of Musikladen, and I’m afraid they aren’t great! Nerke co-moderated the program with main host Manfred Sexauer until September 1978. Subsequently, she hosted her own radio show Beat-Club until January 2013.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Performing Live From Their Homes

A selection of artists who don’t allow the coronavirus to stop the music

By now it’s safe to assume everybody is getting tired to read about COVID-19, so I’ll keep it light. Obviously, one of the many industries that have been hit hard by the coronavirus is the concert business. Painfully but rightly, shows are being canceled or rescheduled all over the place. It simply would be irresponsible to do anything else. The good news is this doesn’t mean live performances have come to a standstill.

For example, if you follow the “right” pages on Facebook, you can receive plenty of notifications about live gigs streamed online. Sure, in nearly all cases, these performances are low key and improvised, and the majority of artists who pop up aren’t necessarily well-known. Still, there is plenty of great live music you can enjoy over the internet these days. I would also argue that low tech and improvised gigs have their own charm.

Following are some recent performances captured by Rolling Stone as part of their In My Room series. I realize these gigs are not 100 percent comparable to concerts that are live-streamed. It’s also safe to assume there was some post-production done to these clips, but the footage still conveys a good deal of spontaneity to me. It’s all about the spirit to keep the music going but doing so in a responsible way, so let’s get to some of it!

Graham Nash/Our House, 4+20 & Teach Your Children

I simply love everything about this clip. To start, Graham Nash remains a compelling artist. Let’s not forget the man is 78 years old. I also like how he is weaving in public service announcements throughout this little concert performed at his home. To me, he comes across as very genuine. All of the tunes are from Déjà Vu, the sophomore album by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Undoubtedly, it’s one of the greatest albums that have ever been recorded. Our House and Teach Your Children are Nash compositions, while 4+20 was written by Stephen Stills. Obviously, much of CSNY’s magic was in their incredible harmony vocals, which is impossible for Nash to replicate, but none of this really matters. Just watching the man perform makes me happy. You can see his passion. That’s what it’s all about!

John Fogerty/Have You Ever Seen the Rain, Bad Moon Rising & Long As I Can See the Light

John Fogerty is another rock & roll hero in my book. If I recall it correctly, Have You Ever Seen the Rain was the first Creedence Clearwater Revival song I ever heard as a young kid back my sister. My sister had that tune on vinyl as a 45 single. I’ve loved Fogerty and this band ever since! Have You Ever Seen the Rain, Bad Moon Rising and Long As I Can See the Light were all written by Fogerty. They appeared on CCR’s Pendulum, Green River and Cosmo’s Factory studio albums from December 1970, August 1969 and July 1970, respectively. My personal highlight in the above series is Fogerty’s performance of the third tune on the piano.

Angélique Kidjo/Gimme Shelter, The Overload & Move On Up

‘Damn, damn and damn’ is all I can say watching Angélique Kidjo, a Beninese singer-songwriter, actress, and activist of Nigerian descent, sing the above tunes. Have you ever heard such a funky rendition of The Rolling Stones’ 1969 classic Gimme Shelter? Or how ’bout Move On Up, one my favorite songs by Curtis Mayfield from his 1970 solo debut album, which she turns into some African liberation song? Her version of The Overload, a tune by Talking Heads from their fourth studio album Remain in Light from October 1980, is almost more haunting than the original. This is some really cool stuff – check it out!

Yola and Birds of Chicago/At Last, It Ain’t Easier & Second Cousin

Let’s do one more and keep the best for last. I had neither been aware of English musician and singer-songwriter Yola nor Birds of Chicago, an Americana/folk band from the Windy City led by husband and wife JT Nero and Allison Russell. But after I had watched that clip, I was simply blown away – passionate and all-out beautiful singing simply doesn’t get much better. And the songs they selected are terrific! At Last, co-written by Mack Gordon and Harry Warren, was the title of the debut album by Etta James, released in November 1960. This a capella version of the tune is the highlight of the series. It Ain’t Easier was written by Yola and appeared on her debut album Walk Through Fire from February 2019. Last but not least is Second Cousin, which appears to be a tune by Birds of Chicago.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; YouTube