If I Could Only Take One

My desert island song by Wet Wet Wet

It’s Wednesday, which means it’s time again to pick a song to take on an imaginary trip to a desert island. If you’re a frequent flyer on this blog, chances are you’ve seen previous installments of this recurring feature. For first-time travelers, the idea is to pick one tune only, not an album, I would take to an island in the sun. There are a few additional rules to guide my selections.

The song must be by an artist or band I’ve only rarely covered or not written about at all. Selections are in alphabetical order, meaning the band’s or artist’s name (last name) must start with a specific letter. This week, I’m up to “w.”

Options that came to mind include The Wallflowers, The Walker Brothers, The Waterboys, Weather Report, The White Stripes, The Who, Steve Winwood, Stevie Wonder and World Party, among others. And my pick is Wet Wet Wet and the Scottish soft rock band’s cover of Love Is All Around.

Love Is All Around was written by Reg Presley, lead vocalist of The Troggs. It also was the British garage rock band, who first released the song as a single in October 1967, giving them a no. 5 hit on the British charts. Fast-forward 27 years to May 1994, when Wet Wet Wet released their rendition of the song and took it to no. 1 on the UK Singles Chart, a position it held for 15 consecutive weeks. The tune was part of the soundtrack of the popular 1994 British romantic comedy Four Weddings and a Funeral.

Wet Wet Wet were formed in 1982 as Vortex Motion at a local high school in Clydebank, Scotland. The original line-up of the group, which initially mostly played covers of The Clash and Magazine, featured Mark McLachlan (vocals), Lindsey McCauley (guitar), Neil Mitchell (keyboards), Graeme Clark (bass) and Tommy Cunningham (drums). By the time Graeme Duffin replaced McCauley as guitarist in 1983, the band had already changed their name to Wet Wet Wet.

In March 1987, their debut single Wishing I Was Lucky came out, reaching an impressive no. 6 on the British Singles Chart. The tune was also included on Wet Wet Wet’s debut album Popped In Souled Out released in September of the same year. Three additional studio albums followed before the group started to unravel in 1997.

Wet Wet Wet reformed in 2004 and recorded Timeless, their sixth studio album that appeared in November 2007. Fourteen years later, in November 2021, the group’s seventh and most recent album The Journey was released. Earlier this year, Cunningham and keyboarder Niel Mitchell departed, leaving the band with Clark and lead vocalist Kevin Simm as their only current members.

Following is some additional background on Love Is All Around from Songfacts:

Troggs lead singer Reg Presley wrote this in about 10 minutes. He was inspired by the Joy Strings Salvation Army band he’d seen on TV. The song is a gentle folk ballad and a far cry from The Troggs previous hit “Wild Thing.”…

…The UK record for longest stay at #1 is held by Bryan Adams’ “(Everything I Do) I Do It For You).” Wet Wet Wet’s record company tried to tie this record by announcing they were pulling the single after 16 weeks, hoping people would rush out to buy it. The plan failed and Whigfield knocked them out of #1 with “Saturday Night.” Wet Wet Wet claimed they asked their record company to pull the song because they were sick of it. Their version does hold the record for most weeks at #1 for a UK based act. In the US it reached #41.

When this was revived by Wet Wet Wet, Reg Presley got massive royalties as the songwriter. He denoted the proceeds to crop circle research.

R.E.M. did a cover of this as well, which they played on an episode of MTV Unplugged. The video for this can be found on their VHS/DVD This Film Is On, featuring all the videos for the songs off their 1991 album Out Of Time.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Reelin’ In The Years At PNC Bank Arts Center

Steely Dan treat New Jersey audience with great show in Donald Fagen’s home state

Last night, I saw Steely Dan at PNC Bank Arts Center, a great midsize amphitheater-style outdoor venue in Holmdel, N.J. My fourth and last concert in June was dynamite, ending a busy month of live music on a high note.

Should I have been surprised that Donald Fagen and his band once again put on a stellar performance? After all, the two previous times I had seen them were both fantastic.

PNC Bank Arts Center is a 7,000-seat venue with an additional grass area capacity to accommodate about 10,500 people

The songs Fagen wrote with his longtime partner Walter Becker remain compelling. Since Becker’s untimely death in 2017, Fagen also successfully continued what had been a key ingredient to the Dan’s sound: Surround himself with top-notch musicians. And, boy, what a killer backing band he had last night!

But even with all of the above, I think one should never take a music artist for granted. And, let’s face it: At age 74, Fagen isn’t exactly any longer, hey, nineteen! I also still remember reading accounts leading up to the two previous times I saw Fagen & co. in 2018, which were less than favorable, criticizing Fagen’s singing, among others. But just like four years ago, he did it again, proving any such concerns to be unfounded!

Steely Dan in action: Donald Fagen (vocals, keyboards, melodica), Jon Herington (lead guitar & musical director), Adam Rogers (guitar), Jim Beard (keyboards), Walt Weiskopf & Roger Rosenberg (saxophones), Michael Leonhart (trumpet), Jim Pugh (trombone), “Ready” Freddie Washington (bass), Keith Carlock (drums) & The Danettes: Carolyn Leonhart, Jamie Leonart and La Tanya Hall (backing vocals)

Before I get to Steely Dan, I’d like to acknowledge opening act Dave Stryker Trio. Until I learned and read about Dave Stryker, I had not heard of this great American jazz guitarist who has been active since the ’80s. Quoting his online bio, Whether you’ve heard guitarist Dave Stryker leading his own group (with 34 CD’s as a leader to date),  or as a featured sideman with Stanley Turrentine, Jack McDuff, and many others, you know why the Village Voice calls him “one of the most distinctive guitarists to come along in recent years.”

Last evening, Stryker (electric guitar) was joined by Jared Gold, who I thought was terrific on the Hammond, as well as McClenty Hunter, a fine jazz drummer. They played neat jazz instrumental jam versions of songs by artists like Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield and The Temptations.

The Hammond reminded me of the man who originally was supposed to join Steely Dan on their Earth After Hours Tour, Steve Winwood. I’m not gonna lie, seeing Winwood for the third time would have been the ultimate thrill. A short February 1 announcement on Winwood’s website cited “unforeseen circumstances” for the change in plans. Back to Dave Stryker. Here’s a cool clip of Papa Was a Rolling Stone from a 2019 performance at jazz radio station WBGO 88.3 fm – groovy with no static at all!

Okay, after seven paragraphs into this review, you may start to wonder when am I finally getting to some Steely Dan music? Alrighty then! Let’s shake it! First up is Night by Night, a tune from Steely Dan’s third studio album Pretzel Logic released in February 1974 – the last that featured the band’s original quintet lineup of Becker, Fagen, Denny Dias, Jim Hodder, and Jeff “Skunk” Baxter. Unfortunately, it appears the dreadful pandemic has made audiences pretty restless. I don’t recall people getting up during shows pre-COVID as frequently as I’ve experienced it during all of my four concerts in June. Frankly, I find it pretty dreadful!

I think it’s safe to say many Steely Dan fans consider Aja to be Messrs. Fagen’s and Becker’s Mount Rushmore. It certainly remains my favorite Dan album. Let’s hear it for the title track. According to Songfacts, Fagen told Rolling Stone magazine that the title came from a high school friend whose brother was in the army and came back with a Korean wife named Aja, although he wasn’t sure how she spelled it.

For this next tune, let’s go to Gaucho, the seventh and final Steely Dan album from November 1980 before Fagen and Becker split and went on a 12-year hiatus. Becker moved to Maui, managed to overcome his longtime drug abuse, and did some occasional production work, most notably for British pop group China Crisis. Meanwhile, Fagen launched a solo career that among others yielded The Nightfly, his solo debut gem from October 1982. Back to Gaucho with Babylon Sisters with another fun tidbit from Songfacts, probably less fun for those involved: Donald Fagen made seemingly endless tweaks to this song, creating one mix after another. Someone in the studio must have been keeping count, because when he hit 250 mixes, the crew gave him a “platinum” disk they created just for him. Fagen kept going, and it was mix number 274 that finally won his approval. He took that mix home to New York, but heard a note in the bass line he didn’t like, so he returned to Los Angeles a week later and reconvened the team to fix it. You gotta shake it, baby, you gotta shake it!

I guess our memories of school can be good and not so good. Clearly, this next tune falls into the latter category. Songfacts notes My Old School, the final track of last night’s main set, is at least partially inspired by an event that occurred at Bard [Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. where Fagen and Becker met in 1967 – CMM], where both Becker and Fagen, along with their girlfriends, were arrested in a pot raid on a party that was orchestrated by an ambitious young District Attorney named G. Gordon Liddy (hence the line “Tried to warn ya about Geno and Daddy G”). Despite the fact that California has not (yet) tumbled into the sea, both Fagen and Becker have returned to Bard.

The last tune I’d like to call out, from the encore, is a song that reportedly was one of the Dan’s least favorite. Again citing Songfacts: In Rolling Stone, September 17, 2009, Donald Fagan said, “It’s dumb but effective.” Walter Becker added, “It’s no fun.” Well, Reelin’ in the Years may not have a million chord changes and breaks, but in my humble opinion, this tune, off Steely Dan’s November 1972 debut album Can’t Buy a Thrill, is a terrific rocker with a dynamite guitar solo. I wonder how Fagen feels about the song these days. It surely still looks effective!

What else is there to say. Donald Fagen clearly seemed to be energized last night, saying at one point, ‘what a night!’ – and he wasn’t referring to the one in late December back in sixty-three. Playing in his home state of New Jersey, as he called the garden state at the end of the show, appeared to be a thrill. Who, knows, it may even have influenced Fagen’s decision to replace Green Earrings and Any Major Dude Will Tell You with Josie and Black Cow, respectively – two additional tracks from the above-mentioned beloved Aja album. The only thing that could have topped the set would have been Deacon Blues, my all-time favorite Dan tune. But, hey, nineteen, stop complaining! 🙂

I already briefly mentioned the exceptional band that backs Fagen on the tour. These amazing musicians, some of whom have played with Steely Dan for many years, deserve to be called out: Jon Herington (lead guitar & musical director), Adam Rogers (guitar), Jim Beard (keyboards), Walt Weiskopf & Roger Rosenberg (saxophones), Michael Leonhart (trumpet), Jim Pugh (trombone), “Ready” Freddie Washington (bass), Keith Carlock (drums) & The Danettes: Carolyn Leonhart, Jamie Leonart and La Tanya Hall (backing vocals).

Here’s the setlist:
Phantom Raiders (Stanley Wilson cover)
Night by Night
Hey Nineteen
Black Friday
Aja
Kid Charlemagne
Home at Last
Green Flower Street (Donald Fagen song)
Time Out of Mind
Babylon Sisters
• Josie
• Black Cow
Dirty Work
Bodhisattva
Keep That Same Old Feeling (The Crusaders cover)
Peg
My Old School

Encore:
Reelin’ in the Years
A Man Ain’t Supposed to Cry (Joe Williams cover)

The Earth After Hours Tour still is in full swing. Tomorrow night, the Dan are scheduled to play Xfinity Center in Mansfield, Mass., before moving on to Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, Bethel, N.Y. (July 3) and First Bank Amphitheater, Franklin, Tenn. (July 13). The full tour schedule is here. If you’re a fan of the Dan and still can get a ticket you can afford, I can highly recommend the show!

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; Dave Stryker website; Steve Winwood website; Steely Dan website; YouTube

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island song by Suzi Quatro

Happy Wednesday with another decision which one tune to take on an imaginary trip to a desert island.

In case you’re new to this weekly recurring feature, the idea is to pick one song by an artist or band I’ve only rarely mentioned or not covered at all on my blog to date. This excludes many popular options like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Pink Floyd, Steely Dan, Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, Neil Young, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Carole King and Bonnie Raitt, to name some of my longtime favorite artists. I’m also doing this exercise in alphabetical order, and I’m up to the letter “q”.

How many bands or artists do you know whose names/last names start with “q”? The ones that came to my mind included Quarterflash, Queen and Quiet Riot. And, of course, my pick, Can the Can by Suzi Quatro. Yes, perhaps it’s not the type of song that would be your first, second or even third pick to take on a desert island, but it’s a great kickass rock tune anyway!

Can the Can, penned by songwriters and producers Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn, was Quatro’s second solo single and her first to chart. And it was a smash, topping the charts in the UK, Germany, Switzerland and Australia. It also climbed to no. 2 in Austria and no. 5 in Ireland. In Quatro’s home country the U.S., the tune fared more moderately, reaching no. 56 on the Billboard Hot 100. American music listeners just weren’t as much into glam rock as audiences in other parts of the world, especially in Europe. Can the Can was also included on Quatro’s eponymous debut album, released in October 1973.

Here’s a bit of additional background on Suzie Quatro from her bio on AllMusic: With her trademark leather jump suit, instantly hooky songs, and big bass guitar, Suzi Quatro is a glam rock icon with a window-rattling voice and rock & roll attitude to spare. After getting her start in garage and hard rock bands, 1973’s breakthrough single “Can the Can,” a stomping blast of glam rock that combined ’50s-style song craft with Quatro’s powerful vocals, made her an international star. She followed up with a string of similar-sounding singles and albums — and made an impression on TV viewers with her role on the hit sitcom Happy Days — before softening her sound and scoring a hit with the 1978 ballad “Stumblin’ In.” While her work in the future would encompass everything from new wave pop on 1983’s Main Attraction to starring in a musical based on the life of Tallulah Bankhead in 1991, Quatro never lost her instincts as a rocker, as evidenced by albums like 2006’s Back to the Drive and 2021’s The Devil in Me.

When I heard Can the Can for the first time in the mid-’70s, it was not by Suzi Quatro but by German vocalist Joy Fleming. While I don’t know much about Fleming except for a 1974 live album titled Joy Fleming Live, I know one thing. She was a hell of a vocalist! Check this out!

Here are a few additional tidbits on Can the Can and Suzie Quatro from Songfacts:

…Quatro is an American who joined Mickie Most’s RAK label roster, becoming part of the glam rock revolution. Most produced her first single, “Rolling Stone,” but it went nowhere, so he asked songwriters Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman to write and produce her next single. The result was “Can The Can.”

When asked what “Can The Can” means, Nicky Chinn replied: “It means something that is pretty impossible, you can’t get one can inside another if they are the same size, so we’re saying you can’t put your man in the can if he is out there and not willing to commit. The phrase sounded good and we didn’t mind if the public didn’t get the meaning of it.”

Suzi Quatro: “I can hear a record for the first time and know whether it will be a hit. And I knew as soon as we had finished recording that we had a big hit on our hands.” (above quotes from 1000 UK #1 Hits by Jon Kutner and Spencer Leigh)

This was the first #1 UK hit for a solo female artist since “Those Were The Days” by Mary Hopkin in 1968.

Quatro never hit it big in her native America, although she did have a memorable role on the TV series Happy Days playing Leather Tuscadero. She landed several more UK hits, including the #1 “Devil Gate Drive,” and influenced a generation of female rockers, notably Joan Jett.

Quatro wrote many of her own songs, but they tended to be album cuts, with the Chapman/Chinn team getting the singles. In a Songfacts interview with Quatro, she explained: “I was very boogie-based, very bass-based. And they went away and wrote ‘Can the Can.’ We had the arrangement where I could write the albums, and they would write the three-minute single – although I did have singles out myself, like ‘Mama’s Boy.’ I didn’t learn anything from their songwriting, because I always had my own thing. Whatever I did, I did.”

Suzi Quatro, who turned 72 a few weeks ago, continues to rock on. And tour. Her current schedule is here. Here’s Can the Can captured at London’s Royal Albert Hall in April this year. What a cool lady!

Sources: Wikipedia; Suzi Quatro website; YouTube

Musings of the Past

Where Stars Are Born And Legends Are Made

It’s already been more than a month since the last installment of this irregular feature, so I thought this would be a good time to unearth another previously published post. This one, about the storied Apollo Theater in New York City, first appeared in November 2017, about one and a half years into my blogging journey. It has been slightly edited.

Where Stars Are Born And Legends Are Made

The history of the Apollo Theater and a list of artists who performed at the legendary venue

The Apollo Theater has fascinated me for a long time. At around 2003 or so, I watched a great show there, featuring Earth, Wind & Fire and The Temptations. According to its website, the storied venue in New York’s Harlem neighborhood  “has played a major role in the emergence of jazz, swing, bebop, R&B, gospel, blues and soul.” When you take a look at the artists who are associated with the performance venue, I guess the claim is not an exaggeration.

To start with, Ella FitzgeraldBillie HolidayCount Basie OrchestraSarah VaughanSammy Davis Jr.James BrownGladys Night and “Little” Stevie Wonder are some of the artists whose journey to stardom began at the Apollo.  Countless other major artists, such as Miles DavisAretha FranklinB.B. King  and Bob Marley, have performed there. Oh, and in February 1964, a 21-year-old guitarist won first place in the Amateur Night contest. His name? Jimi Hendrix.

The long history of the venue starts with the construction of the building in 1913 to 1914, which would later become the Apollo Theater. Designed by architect George Keister, it was first called the Hurtig and Seamon’s New Burlesque Theater after its initial producers  Jules Hurtig and Harry Seamon. As was sadly common during those times, they enforced a strict “Whites Only” policy until the theater closed its doors in 1928. In 1933, the property was purchased by businessman Sidney Cohen and following extensive renovations reopened as the Apollo Theater in January 1934. Cohen and his business partner Morris Susman adopted a variety revue show format and targeted Harlem’s local African-American community. They also introduced Amateur Night, which quickly became one of New York’s most popular entertainment events.

After Cohen’s death, the Apollo merged with the Harlem Opera House in 1935. This transaction also changed its ownership to Frank Schiffman and Leo Brecher whose families operated the theater until the late ’70s. From 1975 to 1982, the Apollo was owned by Guy Fisher, the venue’s first black owner. Unfortunately, Fisher was also part of African-American crime syndicate  The Council that controlled the heroin trade in Harlem during the ’70s. He has been serving a life sentence at a New York federal prison since 1984. Following the death of an 18-year-old due to a shooting, the Apollo was closed in 1976.

The theater reopened under new management in 1978, before shutting down again in November 1979. In 1983, Percy Sutton purchased the venue. Under the ownership of the prominent lawyer, politician and media and technology executive, the Apollo was equipped with a recording and TV studio. It also obtained federal and city landmark status. In 1991, the State of New York purchased the theater and created the non-profit Apollo  Theater Foundation, which runs the venue to this day. The years 2001 and 2005 saw restorations of the building’s interior and exterior, respectively. In celebration of its 75th anniversary, the Apollo established a historical archive during 2009-10 season, and started an oral history project in collaboration with Columbia University.

Now comes the part of the post I enjoy the most: clips capturing performances of some of the artists who have performed at the Apollo Theater. First up: Count Basie Orchestra playing One O’ Clock Jump and He Plays Bass In The Basie Band. Apparently, this footage is from a 1955 show. I just get a kick out of watching these guys and the obvious fun they had on stage.

Sarah Vaughan was one of the many artists who won Amateur Night at the Apollo in 1942. According to Wikipedia, her prize was $10 and a promised engagement at the venue for one week. The latter materialized in the spring of 1943 when she opened for Ella Fitzgerald. Here’s a clip of a tune called You’re Not The Kind Of A Boy, which apparently was captured in 1956.

Perhaps the artist who is best known for his legendary shows at the Apollo  is James Brown. Various of his gigs there were recorded and published as live albums, such as 1963’s Live At The Apollo and 1968’s Live At Apollo, Volume II, both with The Famous Flames, and Revolution Of The Mind: Live At The Apollo, Volume III (1971). Here’s a clip of a medley including It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World and a few other songs. The footage is from James Brown: Man To Man, a concert film recorded live at the Apollo in March 1968 and broadcast as an hour-long TV special. The intensity of Brown is just unreal. No wonder they called him “Mr. Dynamite” and “The Hardest Man Working In Show Business.”

In 1985, the Apollo celebrated a renovation with a 50th-anniversary grand reopening and a TV special called Motown Salutes the Apollo. Very fittingly, one of the performers included Stevie Wonder. While I wish he would have played Sir Duke in its full length, I just find Wonder’s tribute to the great Duke Ellington beautiful and inspirational.

The Apollo is mostly known to focus on African-American acts, but white artists have performed there as well throughout its history. More recent examples include Guns N’ Roses, who were there in July to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their 1987 studio album Appetite For Destruction. In October 2015, Keith Richards played at the Jazz Foundation of America’s  annual benefit concert. Here’s a great clip of Gimme Shelter, which he performed in honor of Merry Clayton. The American soul and gospel singer sang on the original studio version. Richards was backed by Waddy Wachtel (guitar), Ivan Neville  (keyboards), Willie Weeks (bass) and Steve Jordan (drums), his solo band also known as the X-Pensive Winos, as well as Sarah Dash (vocals), and longtime Rolling Stones backup singers Lisa Fischer and Bernard Fowler.

Today, music remains at the core of the Apollo Theater’s offerings. The Amateur Night at the Apollo competition is still part of the theater’s regular schedule. In fact, the current schedule lists Amateur Night at the Apollo Quarterfinal for tomorrow night (May 25), the first time the competition returns after being dark for nearly two years. The organization’s programming also extends to dance, theater, spoken word and more.

– End –

Pre-COVID, the Apollo Theater attracted an estimated 1.3 million visitors annually. I imagine it is going to take some time to restore this kind of visitor traffic. But the level of activity seems to be picking up.

Sources: Wikipedia, Apollo Theater website, Rolling Stone, YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday Six – man, it’s hot this weekend in my neck of the woods (central New Jersey). In case you’re also experiencing sweltering temperatures I hope you stay cool! Are you ready for some hot music? 🙂

Melody Gardot & Philippe Powell/This Foolish Heart Could Love You

If you’re a more frequent traveler on The Sunday Six, by now, you’re probably not surprised I’m starting today’s journey with another relaxing jazz tune. But there are two differences: My pick has vocals and it’s brand new. American jazz vocalist Melody Gardot released her debut album Worrisome Heart in 2006. Her difficult recovery from brain injuries sustained during a 2003 bicycle accident played a significant part in her personal life and music journey. You can learn more about Gardot’s incredible story on her Wikipedia page. Philippe Powell (full name: Philippe Baden Powell) is a French-born pianist and composer, and the son of Baden Powell de Aquino, a prominent Brazilian jazz and bossa nova guitarist who professionally was known as Baden Powell. According to this online bio, Philippe Powell started his professional recording career in 1995. This Foolish Heart Could Love You, co-written by Gardot and Powell, is the beautiful opener of their great collaboration album Entre eux deux, which came out on May 20. So soothing!

The Alarm/Sold Me Down the River

Ready for some time travel? Let’s first jump to the late ’80s with a cool rocker by The Alarm. Shout-out to Max from PowerPop blog who featured another song by the Welsh rock band on Friday, which brought them on my radar screen! After I had found and listened to 68 Guns in the “Top Songs” list of my streaming music provider, Sold Me Down the River came on. Well, I guess you could say that tune completely sold me on the group. I love when stuff like that happens! The Alarm were initially formed in Rhyl, Wales, in 1981, emerging from a punk band with the lovely name The Toilets. During their original 10-year run as The Alarm, they released five studio albums. After the surprise departure of co-founder and lead vocalist Mike Peters in 1991, the group broke up. In the late 90s, Peters relaunched a new version of the group titled The Alarm MM++. They have released 14 albums and remain active to this day. Sold Me Down the River, co-written by Peters and original Alarm bassist Eddie Macdonald, is included on their fourth studio album Change that appeared in September 1989. That guitar riff just makes me smile. Yes, you can’t deny it’s an ’80s production, but it’s still great!

Foo Fighters/This Is a Call

I guess I wasn’t kidding when I told Dave from A Sound Day on Friday night about my need to take a closer look at Foo Fighters after he had posted about their 1997 sophomore album The Colour and the Shape. By now, some of you may be thinking, ‘okay, is this a post of borrowed ideas from other bloggers?’ A key reason I enjoy blogging is interacting with fellow bloggers and, yes, getting inspired! Even after having listened to music for more than 40 years, I can say without any doubt my awareness/knowledge today wouldn’t be the same without great fellow bloggers I’m following, and I can’t thank them enough! Anyhoo, getting back to the Foos who started in 1994 in Seattle as a music project of former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl, an artist I’ve come to immensely respect. During their 27-year-and-counting recording career, they have released 10 studio albums, most recently Medicine at Midnight from February 2021. This Is a Call, a great grungy power-pop tune written by Grohl, takes us back to Foo Fighters’ project stage. Grohl played all instruments and did all vocals with two small exceptions. Starting with their above-mentioned sophomore release, Foo albums became band efforts.

Donald Fagen/Mary Shut the Garden Door

After two rock-oriented tunes, let’s take it back down a few notches for this next stop on our little journey. Like most great longtime music writing partnerships, Steely Dan masterminds Donald Fagen and Walter Becker were best when working together and off each other. But they also recorded some decent music as solo artists. A case in point is Mary Shut the Garden Door, a track off Donald Fagen’s third solo album Morph the Cat, released in March 2006. Paranoia blooms when a thuggish cult gains control of the government, explain the song’s liner notes, cited by a New York Times story published 10 days ahead of the album’s release. “I’m afraid of religious people in general,” Fagen told the Times, “any adult who believes in magic.”Morph the Cat was influenced by the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001 and the gruesome death of Fagen’s mother from Alzheimer’s in January 2003. The article also observed the album’s dark lyrics contrast Steely Dan songs, which usually take a dark humor or indifferent stance on doom and gloom. That may be the case, but if you had told me Mary Shut the Garden Door was a Steely Dan song from the vault, I would have bought it. In addition to Fagen’s distinct voice, it’s got this smooth jazzy Dan sound and cool groove, all coming together in a high-quality production. At first, I thought Fagen’s melodica part was a harmonica and kept picturing Stevie Wonder playing this. I’m hoping to do it again and see Mr. Fagen’s Steely Dan in late June – knock on wood!

Chicken Shack/The Way It Is

A Sunday Six without at least one ’60s track is pretty much unthinkable. The next song doesn’t only meet this criterion but also represents one of my favorite music genres. British blues band Chicken Shack were formed in 1965 by Stan Webb (guitar, vocals), Andy Sylvester (bass) and Alan Morley (drums). The group’s biggest commercial success coincided with the 1968-1969 tenure of vocalist and keyboarder Christine Perfect. After her unsuccessful eponymous solo debut album, she joined Fleetwood Mac in 1970 as Christine McVie. Since 1968, she had been married to Mac bassist John McVie. The Way It Is, penned by Webb, is from Chicken Shack’s third studio album 100 Ton Chicken, released in November 1969. By that time, Perfect/McVie had been replaced by Paul Raymond (keyboards, vocals). I dig both the tune and the record, but neither gained any chart traction. In 1971, Raymond, Sylvester and then-Chicken Shack drummer Dave Bidwell left to join fellow English blues-rock band Savoy Brown. Webb ended up with them in 1974 as well and can be heard on their studio album Boogie Brothers, released that same year. Webb subsequently revived Chicken Shack and has since performed under that name with rotating members.

The Police/Peanuts

All things must pass, and once again it’s time to wrap up another zig-zag journey to the amazing world of music. Our final stop takes us to November 1978 and Outlandos d’Amour by The Police. It was the first of five excellent albums the British group released during their official run from 1997 to 1986. In reality, their active period ended in March 1984 after the end of their Synchronicity tour. By that time, Sting had already decided to go it alone and immediately started work on his solo debut The Dream of the Blue Turtles while the band was officially on hiatus. Turtles appeared in June 1985 and became a huge success. An attempt by the band to record a new album in July 1986 quickly came to an end after Stewart Copeland broke his collarbone in a fall from a horse and wasn’t able to play the drums. The Police officially disbanded shortly thereafter. I dig the raw sound of Outlandos d’Amour and deliberately avoided picking any of its three hit singles Roxanne, Can’t Stand Losing You and So Lonely – not because I can’t stand them, but I feel we’ve heard each of these tunes many times. Instead, I’m offering Peanuts – nope, it’s not a joke, that’s the title of the song, which Sting and Copeland wrote together. “I was thinking about a former musical hero who had dwindled to a mere celebrity, and I was more than willing to pass judgment on his extracurricular activities in the tabloids, never thinking for a moment that I would suffer the same distorted perceptions at their hands a few years later,” Sting said according to Songfacts.

This post wouldn’t be complete with a Spotify playlist featuring the above tunes. Hope there’s something you like. I couldn’t stand losing you!

Sources: Wikipedia; Far Out Recordings website; New York Times website; Songfacts; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Hard to believe it’s Sunday again, and we’ve reached the second weekend in spring. In typical tri-state (New Jersey, New York, Connecticut) fashion, we’ve had some wild temperature swings, and for tomorrow, the weatherman has forecast a whooping daytime high of 35 F – keeping fingers crossed they’re wrong like most of the time! Meanwhile, let’s keep the weather behind us and embark on another journey celebrating the music of the past and the present with six tunes.

Carlos Santana/Bella

I’d like to start today’s trip with a beautiful instrumental by Carlos Santana, one of the first guitarists I admired after I had started to pick up the guitar as a 12 or 13-year-old. Santana’s first compilation Santana’s Greatest Hits from July 1971, which spans the band’s first three albums, was one of the vinyl records my six-year-older sister had at the time. While I’m most familiar with the band’s classic period and it remains my favorite Santana music, I’ve also come to like some of their other work. Bella, co-written by Sterling Crew (keyboards, synthesizer), Carlos Santana (guitar) and Chester D. Thompson (keyboards), is from a solo album by Carlos, titled Blues for Salvador. Released in October 1987, the record is dedicated to his son Salvador Santana, who was born in May 1983 and is one of three children he had with his first wife Deborah King. Salvador Santana is a music artist as well, who has been active since 1999 when he collaborated with his father on composing El Farol, a Grammy-winning track from Santana’s hugely successful Supernatural album that came out in June that year.

Steely Dan/Home at Last

Last night, I saw an outstanding tribute band to Steely Dan, Sting, Stevie Wonder and Gino Vannelli. I’ve covered Good Stuff on previous occasions, for example here. After having felt skittish about going to concerts for the longest time, I’ve recently resumed some activities. It felt so good to enjoy some top-notch live music! As such, I guess it’s not a surprise that Messrs. Walter Becker and Donald Fagen are on my mind. While they have written many great songs, the one album I keep coming back to is Aja, a true masterpiece released in September 1977. Here’s Home at Last. That’s kind of how I felt last night!

The Chambers Brothers/Time Has Come Today

All righty, boys and girls, the time has come to go back to the ’60s and step on the gas a little with some psychedelic soul – coz, why not? The inspiration for this next pick came from a playlist titled 60s Rock Anthems, which I saw on Spotify. Regardless of whether you consider Time Has Come Today by American psychedelic soul group The Chambers Brothers a “rock anthem,” I think it’s a pretty cool tune. The title track of their debut album from November 1967 became the group’s biggest hit single, climbing to no. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100. The trippy song was co-written by brothers Willie Chambers (vocals, guitar) and Joseph Chambers (guitar), who made up the band together with their brothers Lester Chambers (harmonica) and George Chambers (bass), along with Brian Keenan (drums). Since the studio cut came in at 11 minutes, they edited it down to 2:37 minutes for the original single. Subsequently, there were also 3:05 and 4:45-minute single versions. Since we don’t do things half-ass here, of course, I present you with the full dose – sounds like a tasty stew of early Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix!

The Style Council/Shout to the Top

After the previous 11-minute psychedelic soul tour de force, I thought something more upbeat would be in order. The other day, I remembered and earmarked British outfit The Style Council. Formed in late 1982 by singer, songwriter and guitarist Paul Weller (formerly with punk rock band The Jam) and keyboarder Mick Talbot (formerly of Dexys Midnight Runners, among others), The Style Council became part of a wave of British pop outfits that embraced blue-eyed soul and jazz. Others that come to mind are Simply Red, Matt Bianco and Everything But The Girl. Shout to the Top, written by Weller, was the group’s seventh single that came out in October 1984. It was included on the band’s sophomore album Our Favourite Shop from June 1985 and part of the soundtrack of the American romantic drama picture Vision Quest released in February of the same year. Warning, the catchy tune might get stuck in your brain!

Blue Rodeo/5 Days in May

Our next stop takes us to the ’90s and some beautiful Neil Young-style Americana rock. Blue Rodeo are a relatively recent “discovery.” The first time I featured the Canadian country rock band, who has been around since 1984, was in early December 2021. Borrowing from this post, they were formed by high school friends Jim Cuddy (vocals, guitar) and Greg Keelor (vocals, guitar), who had played together in various bands before, and Bob Wiseman (keyboards). Cleave Anderson (drums) and Bazil Donovan (bass) completed the band’s initial lineup. After gaining a local following in Toronto and signing with Canadian independent record label Risque Disque, the group released their debut album Outskirts in March 1987. Co-written by Keelor and Cuddy, 5 Days in May is from Blue Rodeo’s fifth studio album Five Days in July, first released in Canada in October 1993. It only appeared in the U.S. in September of the following year. The band has since released 16 additional studio albums. I reviewed their most recent one, Many a Mile, here.

Foo Fighters/Medicine At Midnight

Once again, we’ve reached the final stop of our musical mini-excursion. Late on Friday sad news broke that Taylor Hawkins, who had been the drummer of Foo Fighters since 1997, passed away at the age of 50. The tragic event happened just before the band was scheduled to play a gig in Bogota, Colombia as part of their South America tour. The cause of death is still under investigation but may have been heart-related. I generally don’t follow the Foos and as such know next to nothing about their music. But I think Dave Grohl is a pretty cool dude, and I sympathize with what must be a difficult loss to him and his bandmates, the Hawkins family and Foo fans. An AP story quoted Grohl from his 2021 book The Storyteller: “Upon first meeting, our bond was immediate, and we grew closer with every day, every song, every note that we ever played together…We are absolutely meant to be, and I am grateful that we found each other in this lifetime.” Here’s the title track from Foo Fighters’ tenth studio album Medicine at Midnight released in February 2021. Like all other tracks on the record, it’s credited to the entire band.

Here’s a Spotify playlist featuring all of the above tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; Associated Press; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Welcome to the latest installment of my new music revue. As still oftentimes happens, even after having done this weekly feature for about two years, all of my picks represent artists who are entirely new to me. Unless noted otherwise, the tracks appeared on albums that were released yesterday (March 25).

Camp Cope/Running With the Hurricane

Kicking things off are Aussie alternative rock trio Camp Cope from Melbourne. Formed in 2015, the all-female group includes singer-songwriter and guitarist Georgia “Georgia Maq” McDonald, Kelly-Dawn Hellmrich (bass) and Sarah “Thomo” Thompson (drums). Apple Music characterizes Camp Cope’s music as “an angst-ridden sound sitting somewhere between confessional folk-punk and lo-fi pop-punk.” The trio released their eponymous debut album in April 2016. Their sophomore effort How to Socialise & Make Friends from March 2018 marked their breakthrough in the land from down under, reaching no. 6 on the domestic charts. Camp Cope have also toured the U.S. and Europe, which included a headlining tour of North America in 2019. Running With the Hurricane, credited to the entire band, is the pleasant title track of their third and latest album.

Wallows/Missing Out

Wallows are an alternative rock band based in Los Angeles. Here’s more from their Apple Music profile: Wallows’ synth-spiked, sun-soaked indie rock captures an aching nostalgia for romances come and gone, and all the innocence lost in between. It’s a sound inspired by the Los Angeles-based trio’s own evolution: The members have experienced many of their growing pains together, after all. As preteens, singers/guitarists Dylan Minnette and Braeden Lemasters met drummer Cole Preston in Santa Clarita, California, and founded Feaver (who played 2011’s Warped Tour), which became The Narwhals and eventually Wallows in 2017. The group’s debut studio album Nothing Happens yielded the single Are You Bored Yet?, which peaked at no. 2 on Billboard’s Alternative Airplay chart. Missing Out, written by Tevin Toriano Walls, is a track from Tell Me That It’s Over, the second and new full-length record by Wallows.

The Wilder Blue/Feelin’ the Miles

There were many country releases this week, including the eponymous sophomore album by Texas five-piece The Wilder Blue. According to their website, the band features Zane Williams (lead vocals), Paul Eason (lead guitar), Andy Rogers (multi-instrumentalist), Sean Rodriguez (bass) and Lyndon Hughes (drums). It sounds like the band came together in 2019. Their debut album Hill Country appeared in May 2020. Here’s Feelin’ the Miles, a nice laid-back track written by Williams.

Jensen McRae/Take It Easy

Jensen McRae is a singer-songwriter originally hailing from Santa Monica, Calif. McRae who is of Black and white Jewish descent has been singing since her childhood and began taking piano lessons as a 7-year-old. She also plays guitar. Her early influences included Carole King, James Taylor, Stevie Wonder and Alicia Keys. McRae who has been compared to folks artists like Tracy Chapman has described her music as “folk-alternative-pop”. Her debut EP Who Hurt You? came out in June 2021. On March 22, McRae released her first full-length album Are You Happy Now? Here’s Take It Easy, which like all other songs on the record was solely written by McRae. I’m really impressed with this young lady who sometimes reminds me a bit of Joni Mitchell. Check out Wolves, which is included in the below Spotify playlist.

Last but not least, here’s the aforementioned Spotify playlist.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; The Wilder Blue website; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

With highs in the low ’60s and high ’50s yesterday and today, respectively, dare I say it, it does feel a bit like spring. Or perhaps global warming, since having spring in mid-February really sounds way too early? In any case, looks like it’s short-lived: In typical New York-New Jersey-Connecticut tri-state area fashion, tomorrow, the forecast high is 35.

What the heck does any of this have to do with music? Nothing, so why don’t we get to some new releases! All my picks this week appear on albums that came out yesterday. Once again, it’s a mix of artists who are entirely new to me and two names I’ve known for a long time, though I can’t claim deep familiarity with their music either.

Spoon/The Devil & Mr. Jones

Kicking it off today are Spoon, a rock band from Austin, Texas, formed as a trio in 1993. They named themselves after a song by German avant-garde group Can. Only Britt Daniel (lead vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards, percussion) and Jim Eno (drums, percussion, programming) remain as original members in the band’s current line-up, which also includes Alex Fischel (keyboards, guitar, backing vocals), Gerardo Larios (guitar, keyboards, backing vocals) and Ben Trokan (bass, keyboards). Spoon, whose music Apple Music characterizes as being inspired by new wave, power pop and soul-influenced rock, released their debut album Telephono in April 1996. The Devil & Mr. Jones, penned by Daniel and fellow Austin songwriter Andrew Cashen, is a track from Spoon’s 10th and new album Lucifer on the Sofa. Good tune!

alt-j/Bane

alt-j are an English alternative rock band. According to their Apple Music profile, they wear their geeky math side with pride, right down to their name, a reference to the keyboard shortcut for a delta (triangle) sign. But it was their proclivity for the liberal arts that brought them together in 2007 at Leeds University, where lead singer/guitarist Joe Newman, guitarist/bassist Gwil Sainsbury, and drummer Thom Green studied fine art and keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton read English literature. The quartet first started tinkering with minimal equipment in their dorm rooms, but soon after graduation their sound had evolved into multilayered melodies that mixed, mashed, and manipulated elements of indie pop, trip-hop, folk, dubstep, psychedelia, and a capella harmonies. It all came together beautifully on tracks like “Breezeblocks” and “Tessellate” from their 2012 debut album, An Awesome Wave, which garnered them the coveted Mercury Prize. Fast-forward 20 years to The Dream, the latest album by alt-j who since Sainsbury’s departure in 2014 have been a trio. Here’s Bane, credited to all three members. Admittedly, it’s outside my core wheelhouse but there’s something about it!

Eddie Vedder/Try

Eddie Vedder is a name I first and foremost associate with Pearl Jam, the Seattle rock band he co-founded in 1990 and whose lead vocalist and guitarist he remains to this day. In addition to his work with Pearl Jam, Vedder has also released three solo albums starting in 2007 with Into the Wild, which was based on his contributions to the soundtrack of a biographical adventure drama picture of the same name. Vedder’s latest effort, Earthling, is his first solo record in nearly 11 years since Ukulele Songs, a folk-oriented album released in May 2011. Here’s Try featuring Stevie Wonder on harmonica, one of three prominent guests on Earthling. The other two are Elton John and Ringo Starr. Mrs. Mills, the tune with Ringo on drums, is included in the Spotify playlist at the end of the post. Try was co-written by Vedder, former Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist and drummer Josh Klinghoffer and Chad Smith, respectively, and producer Andrew Votman, aka Andrew Watt. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard Stevie Wonder play on a rock song, but he proves he’s definitely up to the task!

Slash feat. Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators/The River is Rising

Closing out today’s Best of What’s New is Guns N’ Roses lead guitarist Slash (born Saul Hudson). In addition to the band he’s best known for and joined shortly after they were formed in 1985, Slash has been involved in various other music projects. Primarily, that was the case following his departure from Guns N’ Roses in 1996 until his return in 2016. One of these projects has been billed to Slash featuring Myles Kennedy & The Conspirators. The first album Slash recorded with that backing band was Apocalyptic Love, released in May 2012. The fourth and latest is appropriately titled 4. Here’s the opener The River is Rising, which first had appeared as the lead single in October 2021. Co-written by Hudson and Kennedy, the tune has some of that Guns N’ Roses swagger in it, minus Axl Rose whose voice I find a bit difficult to take after a few songs.

Last but not least here’s the above noted Spotify playlist. Hope there’s something for you.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; YouTube; Spotify

The Hump Day Picker-Upper

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.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Another week has flown by, and it’s time to take a fresh look at newly-released music that caught my attention. This Best of What’s New installment features some smooth acoustic soul and roots rock-oriented country from the U.S., as well as indie pop-rock from the UK and Australia. All tunes are on releases that came out yesterday (November 12). Let’s get to it!

Allen Stone/Unaware

My first pick is some smooth acoustic soul and R&B by Allen Stone, a singer-songwriter based in Seattle, Wa. Originally hailing from the Spokane area, Stone began singing as a 3-year-old at his father’s church, who was a preacher. By the age of 14, Stone was leading worship at the church and playing the guitar. A year later, he discovered soul artists like Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. After attending the Moody Bible Institute in Spokane, Stone decided to drop out of the church and move to Seattle to pursue a music career. He self-released his debut album Last to Speak in 2010. His 2011 eponymous sophomore album, initially also a self-release, charted in the top 5 on the Billboard Heatseekers Albums chart. Unaware, co-written by Stone and Pablo Signori, is a beautiful acoustic soul ballad and the opener of Stone’s fifth and new album Apart. Love this!

Cody Jinks/All It Cost Me Was Everything

Next, I’d like to turn to some roots rock-oriented country by Cody Jinks. According to his Apple Music profile, the Texas songwriter’s first foray into music was as lead singer and lead guitarist in the thrash-metal band Unchecked Aggression. When he returned to the country music he’d grown up on, he traded in the snarling amps for acoustic guitar, but his songs lost none of their weight. Jinks’ third album, 2010’s Less Wise, established his husky baritone as a powerful vessel for twang-laden laments about the passage of time, unrequited love, and “raising hell with the hippies and the cowboys.” Even among modern outlaw country singers, Jinks occupies his own particular space, carved out by the combination of a low-rumbling vocal style that recalls pioneers of the genre and his deeply traditional arrangements…Even at his lightest, Jinks’ trademark heaviness remains. This brings me to All It Cost Me Was Everything, the opener of his new album Mercy. Co-written by Jinks, Josh Morningstar and Kendell Marvel, the tune has a nice roots-rock vibe. It looks like Jinks first released it ahead of the album on August 30.

Blondes/Out the Neighborhood

According to this review on Totalntertainment, Blondes are a four-piece UK band that was formed by freshmen at Nottingham University in late 2017. In 2020, they released their debut single Coming of Age, which became viral on TikTok, resulting in millions of streams. This led to a deal with Austin, Texas-based C3 Records. The band has since released four additional singles, which are all included on their new debut EP Out the Neighborhood. Here’s the title track, credited to what appear to be the four members of the band, Alex Davison, Daniel Stroud, Tom Herbert and Will Porter. Their brand of indie pop-rock is quite catchy. Check it out!

Courtney Barnett/Rae Street

The last track I’d like to call out is by Australian indie singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett. Her Apple Music profile notes she is recognized for her loose, gritty power-trio presentation, sharp lyrics, and deadpan conversational delivery…Courtney Barnett emerged in 2012 with the self-released EP I’ve Got a Friend Called Emily Ferris. It garnered critical praise in her native Australia, and she soon won the positive attention of critics in the U.S., U.K., and elsewhere with the follow-up, 2013’s How to Carve a Carrot into a Rose. Her full-length debut, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, proved to be her commercial breakthrough, landing in the U.S. Top 20 and Top Five in Australia and earning nominations from both the Grammys (Best New Artist) and Brit Awards (International Female Solo Artist). Born in Sydney in 1987, Courtney Melba Barnett grew up listening primarily to American bands but was only inspired to write songs after discovering Australian singer/songwriters Darren Hanlon and Paul Kelly. Prior to the release of Barnett’s above-mentioned full-length debut in 2015, she played in various bands, including post-grunge outfit Rapid Transit, her own group The Olivettes and alt-country group Immigrant Union. If I Don’t Hear From You Tonight, written by Barnett, is a tune from her new and third full-length solo album Things Take Time, Take Time.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Totalntertainment; YouTube