My Playlist: Wolf Maahn

The rock singer-songwriter has been a staple of the German music scene for more than three decades

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I said it before and I say it again: Germany has more music artists to offer than the handful who have become popular internationally. While I’m not sure anybody cares, I can be stubborn to make my point, so I’m featuring another terrific singer-songwriter you probably haven’t heard of unless you grew up in Germany: Wolf Maahn. He burst on the music scene there in the mid ’80s with a great rock tune that could have been written by Bruce Springsteen. Similar to BAP, the rock band I explored two weeks ago here, most of Maahn’s sizable catalog is in German. And just like in their case, I’ve no doubt language is a significant factor explaining Maahn’s limited visibility beyond  Germany’s borders.

Wolf Maahn was born in Berlin on March 25, 1955. He grew up in Munich, where he saw The Beatles as an 11-year-old in 1966. Perhaps not surprisingly, that concert left a lasting impression. “The Beatles were simply untouchable to me,” he told a German newspaper during an interview in 2001. In 1975, Maahn co-founded Food Band in Cologne, together with his brother Hans Maahn and other musicians. They released their studio debut Foodband in England in 1979. A version of that album for the German market, ingeniously titled Last Year’s Album, appeared the following year. Just like its predecessor, it featured all English music. Food Band released on more album in 1981, Rhythm ‘N’ Juice, another clever title, before they disbanded.

Wolf Maahn Rockpalast 1985
Wolf Maahn (l) and Axel Heilhecker at Rockpalast Night in Essen, Germany, March 1985

Following the dissolution of Food Band, Maahn launched his solo career. Former band mate, song co-writer and guitarist Axel Heilhecker joined Maahn’s backing band Deserteure (deserters). In September 1982, Wolf Maahn und die Deserteure released their studio debut Deserteure. The sophomore Bisse Und Küsse (bites And kisses) appeared the following year. The band’s national breakthrough Irgendwo In Deutschland (somewhere in Germany) was released in 1984. In 1985, Wolf Maahn und die Deserteure became the first German act to perform at Rockpalast Nacht, which was broadcast live in 17 European countries. I previously wrote about the famous music festival here, which between 1977 and 1986 drew artists like Rory Gallagher, ZZ Top, The Police and The Who. BTW, BAP performed there as well.

In 1988 after he had dissolved Deserteure two years earlier, Maahn came out with Third Language, which thus far remains the only English language album of his solo career. He has since released nine additional studio albums, four live records and one compilation. His most recent, the live album Live & Seele (live & soul), appeared in January 2017. Another notable thing about Maahn is his way to play the guitar – left handed with the strings placed in reverse order, i.e., e, b, g, D, A and E. Frankly, being a lefty is hard enough for me to imagine, but having the strings upside down is just impossible – well, evidently not. Time for some music!

I’d like to kick things off with Die Sucht Der Träumer (the addiction of the dreamers). The tune is the opener of Maahn’s second solo album, the above mentioned Bisse Und  Küsse from 1983.

Fieber (fever) is from the breakthrough Irgendwo In Deutschland. The album gained further popularity in the wake of Maahn’s performance at Rockpalast and remained in the German LP charts for nine months. Fieber, the tune with the Springsteen vibe I noted in the introduction, became a major hit.

Another great tune is Ich Wart’ Auf Dich (I’m waiting for you).  Maahn recorded it for Kleine Helden (little heroes), the follow-on to Irgendwo In Deutschland released in 1986. Here is an extended version, or “maxi” as they called it in Germany at the time.

Next up: The title track of the Third Language album from 1988. It has a similar vibe to Ich Wart’ Auf Dich.

In 1991, Wolf Maahn released his seventh solo album Maahnsinn. The title’s similarity to the German word “Wahnsinn” (madness) is probably not a coincidence. Here’s Wenn Der Regen Kommt (when the rain is coming).

In Deinem Bett (in your bed) is a tune from Soul Maahn, Maahn’s 10th studio release from 1999.

In 2004, Wolf Maahn released his 11th studio album, Zauberstrassen (magic streets). Here is the catchy Schatzjäger (treasure hunter).

Kind Der Sterne (child of the stars) was a single from 2007. The song was also included on Maahn’s double live album Direkt Ins Blut 2 (directly into the bloodstream 2) – (Un)plugged, which appeared the same year.

March 2010 saw Maahn’s 12th studio release Vereinigte Staaten (United States). It was the first full album with all new material since Zauberstrassen. Here is the groovy Kannst Du Sehen (can you see) – love that tune!

The last track I’d like to highlight is from Wolf Maahn’s most recent studio release Sensible Daten (sensitive data), which came out in September 2015: Zoll Achtung! (attention customs!), another groovy tune.

After a 40-year-plus career (including Food Band), Wolf Maahn continues to do what a full bread music artist does: Rock on! His tour calendar for the remainder of the year shows a bunch of upcoming gigs in Germany solo and together with a backing band. In addition to being a music artist, the versatile Maahn has also worked as a producer, film score composer and actor over the years. While at age 63 it’s fair to say he’s a mature rocker, I don’t get the impression Maahn is thinking retirement any time soon. After all, compared to Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger, he’s still a baby!

Sources: Wikipedia, Wolf Maahn website, YouTube

At 76 Paul McCartney Remains Full of Energy and A True Inspiration

Macca recently released his 18th solo album Egypt Station and is gearing up for new international tour

Paul McCartney has been pretty busy since June, promoting his new solo album and upcoming Freshen Up Tour. Things peaked with the release of Egypt Station last Friday and a ‘secret’ concert that evening at New York City’s Grand Central Station, which was live-streamed on his YouTube channel.

It all started with the June 10 reboot of Macca’s Instagram page and the subsequent posting of photos over the following days, showing music gear (some with, others without him) and cryptic symbols, clearly suggesting something was up. The title Egypt Station was revealed on Facebook on June 18, Macca’s 76th birthday. The next day saw the official announcement of the first two tracks to be released as a double-A single on June 20. That day, the album’s September 7th release date was unveiled.

On July 3rd, the first dates for the Freshen Up Tour in Canada were announced. Numerous additional dates have since been revealed, including in Europe, Japan and the U.S. The latter concerts start in May 2019. Leading up to the album’s launch, Macca also appeared on Howard Stern and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon last Wednesday and Thursday, respectively. Calling all of this an elaborate PR campaign is an understatement!

Paul McCartney on Jimmy Fallon

Egypt Station shares its title with one of Macca’s paintings. In a June 20 announcement, he said, “I liked the words ‘Egypt Station.’ It reminded me of the ‘album’ albums we used to make… ‘Egypt Station’ starts off at the station on the first song and then each song is like a different station. So it gave us some idea to base all the songs around that. I think of it as a dream location that the music emanates from.”

Macca’s productivity and energy is remarkable. Egypt Station is his first full album since New from October 2013. In addition to these two pop records, Macca has released two other very different types of records over the past 10 years: his fifth classical album Ocean’s Kingdom (October 2011) and Electric Arguments (November 2008), his third experimental record with The Fireman, a duo he formed in the early ’90s with English record producer and musician Martin Glover, artistically known as Youth. There is also Macca’s collaboration with Kanye West and Rihanna, which resulted in the single FourFiveSeconds in January 2015. Oh, and in-between all these activities, he has been touring frequently.

Paul McCartney_Egypt Station

I managed to write five paragraphs without saying a bloody word about the new record. So what’s the verdict? While I prefer Macca’s 1973 Wings album Band On The Run and his fourth solo release Tug Of War from 1982 and his voice is showing some signs of aging, I am impressed with Egypt Station – of course, as a huge Beatles fan, this is a completely unbiased statement!😀

One of the things I find remarkable about the record is the variety of material ranging from piano-driven ballads, acoustic guitar-focused songs, some pop rockers to even some ambient music. In addition, two of the tunes clock in well over six minutes. One has distinct parts a la Band On The Run, while the second track is a suite of three songs, a concept reminiscent of Abbey Road. Time for some clips!

Here’s the first track Opening Station, an ambient instrumental. All except two tracks on Egypt Station were written by Macca. “When we decided we were gonna call the album ‘Egypt Station’, I liked the idea of making a montage of sounds that were sort of like a station,” he explains in an audio clip on his website. “So we found one station, then we added another to it – the sound effects of real stations. And then we started to add some noises we made up to make it like a dreamscape, so the idea being this kind of dream location, which where all this music was gonna emanate from.”

Immediately following Opening Station it’s on to signature McCartney with the piano-driven I Don’t Know, one of the tracks that also appeared separately ahead of the album.  It’s about people having a difficult day, wondering what it is they’re doing wrong. Notes Macca: “Sometimes that’s a good way to write a song, ’cause you’re coming from your soul. We often used to say that writing a song was like talking to a psychiatrist or therapist or something, ’cause you’re saying it, but you’re saying it in a song rather than in a room to a specialist.”

Happy With You is one of the album’s acoustic guitar-focused songs. Noting there were days when he had a lot of free time and would lay around doing nothing and getting “a bit stoned,” Macca explains, “It’s a song about growing up. There’s a period in your life, in some people’s lives, when they’re not being as productive or not being as organized or disciplined as they may later turn out to be.”

One of the rock-oriented songs on the album is Who Cares. Macca says he basically wrote the tune to show compassion to younger people all over the world who get picked on by others.

Things get political without naming names on Despite Repeated Warnings, which Macca co-wrote with OneRepublic lead vocalist Ryan Tedder. “I thought I’ll do a kind of song where I use symbolism,” Mecca points out. “And so the person that is symbolic of certain politicians or people who argue climate change is a hoax, and we know a few…So I thought, ‘okay, it’s a sea captain’, and he’s steering the boat, and he’s gonna go towards the iceberg. But he’s been warned, but he’s going, ’cause he thinks he’s right, and he thinks they’re all making to much of it and the usual arguments.” The 6:57-minute song has various distinct parts and, as such, is a bit reminiscent of Band On The Run.

The last track I’d like to call out is a 6:22-minute three-song suite that closes the album: Hunt You Down/Naked/C-Link. It starts with a rocker, Hunt You Down, links to another “simple song” called Naked, and finally blends into to C-Link, a bluesy instrumental featuring Macca on electric guitar. About the latter he notes, “it’s just me really enjoying playing electric guitar…people often say, ‘why do you still do it?’ I say, ‘coz I love it, I love this thing.’ And I’m still thrilled with having the privilege of being able to go up to an amp, turn it on, get my guitar, plug it in, and play it very loud. Just, it’s a thrill, you know, and it’s never stopped being a thrill…” This commentary very much feels like it comes from Macca’s heart. You can also feel it when you see him during live performances!

Egypt Station appears on Capitol Records and was mostly produced by Greg Kurstin, who has worked with artists like Beck, Kelly Clarkson, Pink and Foo Fighters. Two tracks, Fuh You and bonus track Nothing For Free, were co-produced by Tedder  and  Zach Skelton.  In addition to OneRepublic, Tedder has written and produced for U2, AdeleBeyoncé, Maroon 5, Taylor Swift and many other “hot” contemporary artists. Fortunately, Egypt Station’s sound isn’t too contemporary!

Paul McCartney Freshen Up Tour Banner

Macca’s  Freshen Up Tour kicks off on September 17 in Québec City, followed by shows in Montréal (September 20), Winnipeg (September 28) and Edmonton (September 30), before leading to Japan in late October and Europe thereafter. Currently announced U.S. dates start in New Orleans on May 23, 2019, and also include Raleigh, N.C. (May 27); Greenville, SC (May 30); and Lexington, Ky. (June 1), among others. This year, Macca is also scheduled to perform at Austin City Limits on October 5 and 12.

It’s safe to assume additional U.S. dates will be announced. I’ve been fortunate to see Paul McCartney live twice. Both shows were fantastic and will always stay in my memory. If his Freshen Up Tour comes within reasonable driving distance from my house, I will likely see him a third time!

Sources: Wikipedia, Paul McCartney website and Facebook page, YouTube

1,100 Miles From Memphis, Keeping It Real With Funky Blues And Soul

Southern Avenue shines live in New York City

Southern Avenue has been on my radar screen since I listened to their great eponymous debut album a year ago. When I learned the funky blues and soul band was coming to New York City, I decided right away that I wanted to see them. And so I did, Tuesday night at Joe’s Pub at The Public, a terrific small music venue in the Big Apple’s West Village. The band’s powerful performance made it worth every minute!

Founded in Memphis in 2015, Southern Avenue include Tierini Jackson (lead vocals), her sister Tikyra Jackson (drums, backing vocals), Ori Naftaly (guitar), Jeremy Powell (keyboards) and Gage Markey (bass), who is a touring member. According the band’s website, they are named after a street that runs from East Memphis to “Soulsville,” the original home of the legdendary Stax Records.

Southern Avenue
Southern Avenue (left to right): Tikyra Jackson, Ori Naftaly, Tierini Jackson and Jeremy Powell

Naftaly, a blues guitarist who came to Memphis from Israel in 2013 for a blues competition, decided to stay and tour the U.S. with his own band. Later he met Memphis native Tierini Jackson and immediately was impressed with her powerful voice. Soon thereafter, they started writing music together. Tierini introduced him to her sister, other members joined the band, and they began touring in the U.S. and Europe.

Less than a year after their formation, Southern Avenue got a contract with none other than Stax Records. Sure, that label has seen many changes since the days of Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave and its house band Booker T. & The M.G.s. Still, appearing on a label that’s associated with such a glorious history is pretty cool! Southern Avenue’s eponymous debut studio album was released in February 2017. It entered the Billboard Top Blues Albums Chart at no. 6 and topped the iTunes Blues Chart, an impressive and well-deserved showing. Time to get to some music.

Tuesday night’s set predominantly featured tunes from the band’s debut album, along with various covers, such as great takes of Chain Of Fools, first recorded by Aretha Franklin in November 1967, and Come Together by The Beatles, the opener of the Abbey Road album from September 1969. Here’s a clip of Wildflower, an original song from the band’s first record.

I do not know the title of the tune featured in the next clip. I believe it is also an original song. Since it is not included on the band’s debut album, I assume it hasn’t been released yet.

Next up is one of my Southern Avenue favorites, 80 Miles From Memphis. I just love the bluesy groove of that tune! When I told Naftaly during a meet and greet with the band after the show that I had noticed they had slowed it down a bit, he explained that was done deliberately. The speed of the tune varies based on the audience and where it is in the set during the show. If it’s more of a blues crowd or they use it to warm up the audience, the band speeds it up. Last night, it came right before the closer Don’t Give Up, a slower tune.

The last song I’d like to call out is the aforementioned Don’t Give Up, the opener of Southern Avenue’s debut album. It nicely illustrates Tierini’s powerful voice, who is often supported by her sister on harmony vocals. When I asked Tierini where she had learned to sing like this, she mentioned the church and that her parents were musicians. One really wonders what soul would be without gospel music and church choirs!

Commenting on Tueday night’s set overall, Naftaly said they mostly filled it with slower and quieter songs, given the small size of the venue. He added if they would have rocked with full force, they would have blown away the audience – I actually would have been fine with that, though blew me away in a different manner! 🙂 When I told Tierini that unlike what’s mostly in the charts today I love their music, she moderately replied, “We’re trying to keep it real.”

Asked by somebody else when their next album is coming out, Naftaly said it will be released in February, hinting it is ready. In the meantime, Southern Avenue will continue to tour. The schedule on their Facebook page lists gigs until March 1, 2017. Upcoming shows are in Plattsburgh, N.Y. (Aug 30), East Stroudsburg, Pa. (Aug 31) and Effingham, Ill (Sep 1). This is an exciting young band I will continue to follow.

Sources: Wikipedia, Southern Avenue website and Facebook page, YouTube

Aw, The ’80s (Part 2: 1985-1989)

A two-part feature looking back at music of the decade

Here is the second and final installment of my feature looking back at music and some related events in the ’80s. This part is focused on the second half of the decade. As noted in part 1, it isn’t meant to be a comprehensive review but instead a selection of things I find noteworthy.

1985

To me the key music event during this year and perhaps the entire decade was Live Aid. I was watching it on TV from Germany while simultaneously taping it on music cassette from the radio. Organized by Bob Geldorf and Midge Ure as a fundraiser to fight starvation in Ethiopia, Africa, the benefit concert was conducted on July 13 simultaneously in the U.K. at London’s Wembley Stadium and the U.S. at John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia. Among others, it featured Status Quo, Queen, U2, David Bowie, The Who and Paul McCartney at Wembley, while some of the performers in Philly included Joan Baez, Madonna, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Tina Turner and, in a less-than-stellar appearance, a reunited Led Zeppelin featuring Phil Collins on drums. The concerts were watched by an estimated global TV audience of 1.9 billion across 150 countries and raised approximately 150 million British pounds.

Live Aid Wembley
The Live Aid concert at London’s Wembley Stadium was attended by 72,000 people

Other events that year included the official launch of VH-1 on cable TV in the U.S. (Jan 1); recording of the charity single for Africa We Are The World (Jan 28), co-written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie and performed by USA For Africa, who apart from Jackson and Ritchie featured Ray Charles, Billy Joel, Cindy Lauper, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder and numerous other top artists; release of Dire Straits’ fifth studio album Brothers In Arms, their best-selling record that among others became known for its exceptional sound quality due to its all-digital recording (May 13); Michael Jackson’s purchase of the publishing rights for most of The Beatles’ catalog for $47 million, out-bidding former artistic collaborator McCartney whose success in music publishing had inspired Jackson to increase his activities in the business (Sep 6); and Roger Waters’ announced intention to leave Pink Floyd, which marked the start of a two-year legal battle over the rights to the band’s name and assets.

The biggest hit singles of 1985 were Shout (Tears For Fears), We Are The World (USA For Africa), Take On Me (a-ha), I Want To Know What Love Is (Foreigner) and Material Girl (Madonna). Following is Money For Nothing, the second single from Dire Straits’ Brothers In Arms album, which they performed at Live Aid. Like on the studio recording, it featured Sting on backing vocals.

1986

On Jan 30, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame held its first induction ceremony. The first batch of inductees included Chuck Berry, James Brown, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, The Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Elvis Presley. While over the years since, there has been much debate over who should be in the Rock Hall, the selection process, the award categories, etc., I think there is no doubt that the above artists all well-deserving inductees.

Rock Roll Hall of Fame 1986 Inductees
Rock & Roll Hall of Fame 1986 inductees (left to right): upper row: Chuck Berry, James Brown, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke and Fats Domino; lower row: The Everly Brothers, Buddy Hollie, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard and Elvis Presley

Other events: Bob Geldorf’s knighthood award to recognize his work for Live Aid and other charity concerts for Africa (Jun 10); release of Madonna’s True Blue album, the best-selling record of year (Jun 30); and disbanding of The Clash, Electric Light Orchestra (revived by Jeff Lynne in 2000) and Men At Work.

The top-performing hit singles included Rock Me Amadeus (Falco) – the first German-language song to top the U.S. Billboard Hot 100Papa Don’t Preach (Madonna), The Final Countdown (Europe), Take My Breath Away (Berlin) and West End Girls (Pet Shop Boys). The 1986 tune I’d like to highlight is Sledgehammer by Peter Gabriel, which was first released as a single in April. It also appeared on his fifth studio album So that came out the following month. Here’s the song’s official video, which won multiple accolades in 1987, including a record nine awards at the MTV Music Video Music Awards and “Best British Video” at the Brit Awards. It’s definitely one of the most memorable music videos of the decade.

1987

Some of the events in music during that year included the induction of Aretha Franklin as the first woman into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Jan 3); release of U2’s fifth studio album The Joshua Tree (Mar 9), which topped the charts in 20-plus countries and became one of the world’s most commercially successful records, selling more than 25 million copies; Whitney Houston’s second studio album Whitney, the first record by a female artist to debut at no. 1 on the Billboard 200 (Jun 27); launch of MTV Europe (Aug 1); and release of A Momentary Lapse Of Reason, Pink Floyd’s first studio album after the departure of and legal battle with Roger Waters (Sep 7). Waters finally wrapped up his legal separation from the band later that year.

The highest-charting hit singles were La Bamba (Los Lobos), Never Gonna Give You Up (Rick Astley); I Wanna Dance With Somebody Who Loves Me (Whitney Houston), It’s A Sin (Pet Shop Boys) and Who’s That Girl (Madonna) – I remember each of these songs like it was yesterday! Here’s Where The Streets Have No Name from my favorite U2 album The Joshua Tree. Credited to the band (music) and Bono (lyrics), the tune was released as the album’s third single in August 1987, five months after the record’s appearance.

1988

Some of the music events that year included the induction of The Beach Boys, The Beatles, The Drifters, Bob Dylan and The Supremes into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Jan 20); near-death experience for Alice Cooper on stage after one of the props, the Gallows, malfunctioned – yikes! (Apr 7); sale of legendary soul label Motown Records to MCA and financial firm Boston Ventures for $61 million (Jun 27); John Fogerty’s win of what sounds like a frivolous self-plagiarism lawsuit Fantasy Records had brought against him, claiming his 1985 comeback tune The Old Man Down The Road was too similar to Run Through The Jungle, which he had recorded with Creedence Clearwater Revival in 1970 (Nov 7); and final concert by Roy Orbison in Akron, Ohio (Dec 4) prior to his death from a heart attack only two days thereafter.

Leading hit singles: A Groovy Kind Of Love (Phil Collins), Don’t Worry Be Happy (Bobby McFerrin), Always On My Mind (Pet Shop Boys),  Heaven Is A Place On Earth (Belinda Carlisle) and Take Me To Your Heart (Rick Astley). One 1988 song I like in particular is Under The Milky Way Tonight by Australian outfit The Church. Co-written by Steve Kilbey and Karin Jansson, it became the lead single to their excellent fifth studio album Starfish. Both were released in February that year. Here’s a clip.

1989

I can’t believe I made it to the last year of the decade! Some of the events I’d like to highlight are criticism of Madonna by religious groups worldwide over alleged blasphemous use of Christian imagery in her music video for Like A Prayer (Feb 23), which had premiered on MTV the day before; release of Bonnie Raitt’s 10th studio album Nick Of Time, one of my favorite records from her (Mar 21); release of Tom Petty’s excellent debut solo album Full Moon Fever (Apr 24); Ringo Starr’s formation of his All-Starr Band (Jul 23); opening of The Rolling Stones’ North American tour in Philadelphia to support their comeback album Steel Wheels (Aug 31), two days after the album had dropped; and release of Neil Young’s 17th studio album Freedom (Oct 2), best known for the epic Rockin’ In The Free World.

Key hit singles were Like A Prayer (Madonna), Eternal Flame (The Bangles), Another Day In Paradise (Phil Collins), The Look (Roxette) and Love Shack (The B-52s). The final ’80s tune I’d like to call out via clip is Down To London by Joe Jackson, an artist I’ve listened to for many years. He recorded the song for his 10th studio release Blaze Of Glory, which appeared in April 1989.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

My Playlist: Aretha Franklin

Earlier this year, I got very close to seeing Aretha Franklin live at New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, N.J. I had already purchased two tickets and was thrilled to finally experience who I felt was one of the greatest vocalists of our time. Another cool thing was that the March 25th show would have coincided with her 76th birthday. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen.

On very short notice, the concert was cancelled due to an unidentified illness. When media reported shortly thereafter that Franklin’s doctor had ordered three months of absolute rest, I didn’t have a good feeling. After all, this wasn’t the first time she had dealt with health issues. Yesterday, the Queen of Soul passed away from advanced pancreatic cancer, barely five months after her birthday and what I’m sure would have been an unforgettable performance.

FRANKLIN
Aretha Franklin performing at the VH1 Divas 2001

Given the vast number of obituaries that have been published since news about her untimely death broke yesterday morning, I’m not going to develop yet another one. Instead, I’d like to focus on what will remain – an amazing amount of music by an amazing performer, released over a 60-year-plus professional career.

Based on Wikipedia, Franklin’s enormous catalog includes 42 studio albums, six live albums, 131 singles and numerous compilations. While it’s obviously impossible to capture all of that music in one playlist while keeping it to no more than 10 tracks, I tried to come up with tunes that span her entire recording period.

Where to start the undertaking? Well, how about Franklin’s studio debut Songs Of Faith from 1956, which was recorded live at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit, the church of her father, the Reverend C.L. Franklin. Here’s While The Blood Runs Warm. Franklin was only 14 years old at the time, but you can already hear her powerful voice. This is giving me goosebumps!

Franklin’s fourth studio album The Tender, The Moving, The Swinging Aretha Franklin from August 1962 became her first charting record, reaching no. 69 on the Billboard pop albums chart. Here’s Try A Little Tenderness, a tune I dig, written by Jimmy Campbell, Reg Connelly and Harry M. Woods, and first recorded by the Ray Nobel Orchestra in December 1932. It has since been covered by many other artists, who in addition to Franklin most notably included Otis Redding in 1966.

Respect is perhaps the best-known Aretha Franklin song. The signature tune, which was written and first released by Otis Redding in 1965, appeared on her 11th studio album I Never Loved A Man The Way I Love You from March 1967. The song was Franklin’s first no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and R&B charts, as well as the Cash Box chart. The record became her highest charting to date, peaking at no. 2 on the Billboard album chart and topping the magazine’s R&B chart.

Another Franklin signature song undoubtedly is Think, co-written by her and her manager and first husband Ted White. The feminism anthem appeared on her 15th studio album Aretha Now in June 1968 and was also released separately as a single in May of the same year. White’s involvement in the song’s writing looks ironical, given Franklin divorced him in 1969, following reports of domestic abuse.

This Girl’s In Love With You was Franklin’s first ’70s album appearing in January that year, and her 18th studio album overall. Intriguingly, it includes the first commercial release of Let It Be, preceding The Beatles’ version by two months, and the following take of The Weight written by The Band’s Robbie Robertson. Oh, and if the guy on the slide guitar somehow seems to sound familiar, it was Duane Allman. I think not only is this soulful cover smoking hot, but it’s also a great illustration of Franklin’s great ability to take songs written by others and make them her own.

In February 1974, Franklin released her 22nd studio album Let Me Be In Your Life.  The second single from that record was Until You Come Back To Me (That’s What I’m Gonna Do), co-written by Clarence Paul, Stevie Wonder and Morris Broadnax. It was first recorded by Wonder in 1967, though he didn’t release his version until 1977. The tune became a million-seller for Franklin, topping the Billboard R&B chart and peaking at no. 2 on the Hot 100. It was her last major ’70s hit.

Jumping to the ’80s, Franklin collaborated on a number of songs with various other artists during that decade, such as George Benson, Elton John, George Michael and Eurhythmics. The tune I’d like to highlight in this context is Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves, another feminist anthem that Franklin recorded with Eurhythmics. Apart from appearing as a single in October 1985, the tune was included on Franklin’s Who’s Zoomin’ Who? and the British pop duo’s Be Yourself Tonight studio albums. Co-written by Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart, the song reached no. 18 on the Billboard Hot 100 and no. 9 in the U.K. on the Official Singles Chart. The track proves that Franklin could even make an ’80s commercial pop tune sound pretty hot.

A Rose Is Still A Rose, released in March 1998, was Franklin’s last studio album that reached Gold certification and became her best-selling record of the ’90s. Following is the title track, which was written by Lauryn Hill and is yet another feminist-based tune. It also appeared as a single one month ahead of the album, reaching no. 1, 5 and 26 on the Billboard Dance Club Songs, Hot R&B/Hip-Hop/Rap Songs and Hot 100 charts, respectively.

Jumping to the current century, in September 2003, Franklin’s 38th studio record So Damn Happy appeared. It included Wonderful, a song co-written by Aleese Simmons and Ron “Amen-Ra” Lawrence, which won Franklin the 2003 Grammy for Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance.

Franklin’s 42nd and final studio album A Brand New Me was released in November 2017. It featured archival vocal recordings from her years with Atlantic Records combined with new arrangements by London’s Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and newly recorded backing vocals. Here’s I Say A Little Prayer, which Burt Bacharach and Hal David co-wrote for Dionne Warwick who released it in 1967 as as single. It was also included on her eighth studio release The Windows Of The World. Franklin originally recorded the tune for the above noted Aretha Now album and released it as a single in July 1968, scoring a no. 3 and 10 on the Billboard R&B and Hot 100 charts, respectively.

As previously noted, the goal of the above playlist was to be career-spanning. As such, not all of the songs are among my favorite tunes. But at the same time, I feel that because of her powerful voice and soulful delivery, Franklin simply never sang a bad song in the first place – at least I haven’t heard one yet. Two other artists who come to my mind in this context are Tina Turner and Joe Cocker. It’s a rare quality that is going to be part of Franklin’s legacy.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

The Hardware: Vox Continental

Compact keyboard with characteristic sound became hit among touring bands in ’60s

When I listened to Light My Fire by The Doors the other day, I was reminded of Ray Manzarek’s distinct keyboard on that tune, a sound I’ve always loved. It also came to me that I hadn’t done a post on important music hardware in a long time – two good reasons to write about the Vox Continental, a handy and cool-looking organ that became popular in the ’60s and can be heard on many songs released during that decade and thereafter.

For those who are visiting my blog for the first time or haven’t seen one of my previous hardware posts, I’d like to reiterate that I’m not an engineering guy; in fact, having two left hands, it’s more of the opposite! As such, one could say there’s a certain degree of irony that I write about the subject. But while I’m not exactly a techie and therefore don’t go deeply into the technical aspects, music gear can still excite me like a little child, primarily from a sound and visual perspective. With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s get to it.

Thomas Walter Jennings
Jennings Organ Company founder Thomas Walter Jennings at his Dartford factory in Kent, England in 1964

Prior to the Vox Continental’s introduction in England in 1962, the Vox brand name had been synonymous with guitar amplifiers, especially the Vox AC30 used by The Shadows, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Kinks and other ’60s bands. However, as its name already indicates, the company that made the amps, The Jennings Organ Company founded by Thomas Walter Jennings in Kent, England after the Second World War and renamed Jennings Musical Industries (JMI) in 1957, started out as a manufacturer of home and church organs. Their first successful product was the Univox, an electronic keyboard similar to the Clavioline.

The Vox Continental is a so-called combo keyboard. Does it come with French fries and a Coke you might ask? Well, not quite. Combo actually is another (British) term for band. Okay, it’s a keyboard for a band, but so is a Hammond or a regular piano, so what’s the big deal? While pianos were frequently used in the recording studio, amplifying their sound during live performances was tricky. Hammond organs like the mighty B3 certainly could meet volume requirements, but they were pretty clunky. A compact combo keyboard like the Vox Continental offered a great solution. It also looked pretty cool!

Vox Continental Electronics
The electronic inside of a Vox Continental

The Vox Continental was made possible by the invention of transistors that were less heavy and smaller than the electron tubes used in big electronic organs. The handy keyboard came in two basic variations, a single manual and a dual manual. One of the Continental’s distinct visual features is its reversed colored keys: what on a regular keyboard are the white keys are black, while the traditionally black keys are white (see image on top of the post). The top part covering the electronics with its orange or grey finish stands out as well. The curving and removable chrome stand is another distinct feature. Without a bass section, no bass pedals, no percussion, no sustain and only a single-speed vibrato, the Vox Continental was fairly archaic. Yet because of its sound and the aforementioned design features, the instrument became very popular.

Initially, Vox Continental keyboards were made at two plants in Kent: JMI’s facility in Dartford and the Vox Sound plant in Erith. In 1964, Jennings signed a licensing deal with the Thomas Organ Company in the U.S. JMI and Thomas subsequently also formed EME (Elletronica Musicale Europea), a joint venture with Italian guitar and keyboard manufacturer EKO. With the advent of the Moog and other more elaborate keyboards by the early ’70s, the appeal of Vox Continental organs started to decrease, and production was phased out. While it continued to have a significant following and remains sought-after, it took until September 2017 that Vox revived the Continental with an updated version. Since 1992, the company has been owned by Japanese electronics corporation Korg.

As noted at the outset, the Vox Continental is featured in many songs released during the ’60s and thereafter. This post wouldn’t be complete without some examples.

The House Of The Rising Sun (The Animals)

The version of the traditional by The Animals featuring Alan Price on keys is one of the most compelling showcases of the Vox Continental, in my humble opinion as somebody who isn’t a keyboard player. Sure, the sound isn’t as fat and growling as the Hammond B3; in fact, it’s rather thin by comparison, and yet it still sounds awesome at least to my ears!

Because (The Dave Clark Five)

Written by Dave Clark, Because was recorded for the band’s third U.S. studio album American Tour from August 1964. The song also appeared as a single and became the band’s second most successful hit in the U.S., peaking at no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. Here’s a nice clip of an appearance on American music variety TV program Shindig! from 1965. While it is much less dominant than in The House Of The Rising Sun, one can nicely see Mike Smith playing the organ.

I’m A Believer (The Monkees)

I’m A Believer appeared on More Of The Monkees, the band’s second studio album released in January 1967, and as the record’s lead single in November the previous year. Written by Neil Diamond, the song became the band’s most successful hit, topping the charts in many countries, including the U.S., Canada, U.K., Australia and Germany, among others. While Peter Tork had known how to play keyboards, the keyboarder on the studio recording was Stan Free. Initially formed a musical acting quartet for a TV series, all of The Monkees eventually learned how to play their instruments. Here’s a TV clip from 1966, which looks like the guys know how to play for real; if they’re faking, it’s certainly done well!

Light My Fire (The Doors)

Credited to all members of the band, Light My Fire was included on The Doors’ eponymous debut album issued in January 1967. It also became the record’s second single released in April that year. It was the first of their two no. 1 U.S. hits on the Billboard Hot 100. The tune is another great example where the Vox Continental is quite dominant.

In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (Iron Butterfly)

In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida is the title track of Iron Butterfly’s second studio album from June 1968. It was written by the band’s lead vocalist and keyboarder Doug Ingle. Clocking at more than 17 minutes, the track makes up the record’s entire side B. Iron Butterfly also released a single version, which was shortened to just under three minutes. Here’s a clip of the track in its entire mighty.

Watching The Detectives (Elvis Costello)

After production of Vox Continental keyboards had seized, the combo organs remained popular, as previously noted. One of their champions was Steve Nieve, who among others became known as keyboarder in Elvis Costello’s backing band The Attractions. Here’s a clip of Watching The Detectives from Costello’s debut album My Aim Is True, released in July 1977. Written by Costello, the tune became his first hit, peaking at no. 15 on the U.K. Official Singles Chart.

Don’t Do Me Like That (Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers)

Don’t Do Me Like That, the last song I’d like to highlight in this post, is another post ’60s example featuring a Vox Continental, played by Benmont Tench in this case. It appears on Damn The Torpedoes, the third studio album by Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers from October 1979. In November that year, the song also came out as the record’s lead single. Written by Petty, it became the band’s first top 10 hit in the U.S., reaching no. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100.

Sources: Wikipedia, Engineering And Technology History Wiki (ETHW), Combo Organ Heaven, YouTube

My Playlist: 10cc

The other day, Apple Music served up the eponymous debut album from 10cc as a suggestion, based on my listening habits. It’s actually a bit strange since I don’t recall having listened to similar music recently, as it’s generally not part of my core wheelhouse, at least nowadays. However, the British art pop rockers were on my radar screen for sometime during my teenage years in Germany when you couldn’t listen to the radio there without encountering I’m Not In Love and Dreadlock Holiday.

So I decided to listen to the above album and kind of liked it, even though I’d call tracks like Donna and Rubber Bullets “goof rock.” But they are brilliantly executed and undoubtedly catchy. I think Apple Music’s description perfectly captures this: “Above all else, 10cc valued fun. This band loved motion and color and humor. Even within the complexity of its arrangements and the elasticity of its vocals, the group radiates a giddiness rarely seen in rock music, especially during the cement-footed ’70s.”

After listening to 10cc’s debut album, I started sampling some of their other studio records, as well as a live album/DVD titled Clever Clogs. While doing this, I rediscovered a good number of their tunes and, voila, this triggered the idea to put together a playlist. But first some background on the band, which came into being in Stockport, England in 1972, when four musicians who had written and recorded songs together for a few years started to perform under that name: Graham Gouldman (bass, vocals guitar), Eric Stewart (guitar, keyboards, vocals), Kevin Godley (drums, vocals) and Lol Creme (guitar, keyboards, vocals).

10cc
Left to Right: Kevin Godley, Graham Gouldman, Lol Creme and Eric Stewart

By the time they became 10cc, the four artists had experienced some initial success. Gouldman had established himself as a hit songwriter with tunes like For Your Love, Bus Stop and No Milk Today he had penned for The Yardbirds, The Hollies and Herman’s Hermits, respectively. Godly and Creme had recorded some songs together and secured a contract with Marmalade Records. Stewart had scored two hits as a member of Wayne Fontana And The Mindbenders (later known simply as The Mindbenders) with The Game Of Love and A Groovy Kind Of Love.

In July 1968, Stewart became a partner in a recording studio in Stockport, which in October that year was moved to a bigger space and renamed Strawberry Studios. Gouldman, Godley and Creme also wound up at the studio, and by 1969, the four founding members of 10cc were working there together frequently. They wrote, performed (as session musicians) and produced a serious of singles, which were released under different names through a production partnership Gouldman had established with American bubblegum pop writers and producers Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz of Super K Productions.

Strawberry Studios

After the production partnership had ended, Gouldman worked as a staff songwriter for Super K Productions in New York, while Stewart, Godley and Creme continued outside production work at Strawberry Studios. Following Gouldman’s return to Stockport, they co-produced and played on the Neil Sedaka studio album Solitaire. The record’s success prompted the four musicians to start recording their own material as a band. An initial tune, Waterfall, was rejected by Apple Records, the label that had been founded by The Beatles in 1968. Success came with Donna, which the band presented to producer Jonathan King, who signed them to his label UK Records in July 1972. It was also King who came up with the name 10cc.

Donna was released in September 1972 and climbed all the way to no. 2 on the UK Official Singles Chart. While the follow-up single Johnny Don’t Do It indeed didn’t do it, that is match the success of Donna, the band’s third single Rubber Bullets became their first no. 1 hit in the U.K. and also performed well internationally. 10cc’s eponymous debut album appeared in July 1973. The band has since released 10 additional studio albums, three live records and multiple compilations. Starting with Godley’s and Creme’s departure in 1976, 10cc has had different line-ups and was disbanded from 1983 to 1991 and 1995 to 1999. In 1999, Gouldman revived the band with a new line-up that he continues to lead to the present day. It doesn’t include any of the other three co-founding members. Time to get to the playlist!

I’d like to kick things off with the above mentioned Rubber Bullets from 10cc’s eponymous debut album. Co-written by Godley, Creme and Gouldman, the tune is a satirical take of a prison riot one could picture in an old movie. The music is reminiscent of The Beach BoysSongfacts quotes an excerpt from an interview Godley gave to Uncut: “We were big movie buffs in those days, me and Lol, so it was one of those kind of films… you know, with a prison riot, and there’s always a padre there, and a tough cop with a megaphone. It was caricaturing those movies.” The song created some controversy at the time, since the British Army was using rubber bullets to quell riots in Northern Ireland. As a result, some radio stations refused to play it.

The Wall Street Shuffle, one of the best known 10cc songs, appeared on the band’s sophomore album Sheet Music, which was released in May 1974. Featuring one of the most catchy rock guitar riffs of the ’70s, the tune was co-written by Stewart and Gouldman and became the best-performing of the album’s three singles. The lyrics were inspired by the hefty fall of the British pound against other currencies at the time.

In May 1975, 10cc released I’m Not In Love, the second single from their third studio album The Original Soundtrack, which had come out in March that year. Co-written by Stewart and Gouldman, the ballad became the band’s second no. 1 single in the U.K. and their breakthrough hit worldwide. Among others, it also topped the charts in Canada and Ireland and peaked at no. 2 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. One of the song’s distinct features are the lush backing harmonies, which according to Songfacts encompass some 256 dubs of the band’s vocals. Largely fueled by the tune, the album was a major commercial success for 10cc.

Arts For Arts Sake was the lead single from 10cc’s fourth studio record How Dare You!, released in November 1975, two months prior to the album – the last featuring the band’s original line-up. The song was written by Stewart and Gouldman. According to Songfacts, the title referred to the values of the music business and was inspired by Gouldman’s father who used to say, “Boys, art for art’s sake. Money for God’s sake, okay!”

Following the release of How Dare You!, Godley and Creme left 10cc to form the duo Godley & Creme. Stewart and Gouldman decided to keep the band going and brought in Paul Burgess (drums, percussion). They recorded 10cc’s fifth studio album Deceptive Bends and released The Things We Do For Love as its lead single in December 1976. Co-written by Stewart and Gouldman, the catchy tune became another hit, reaching no. 1 in Canada, No. 2 in Ireland, No. 5 in the U.S. and no. 6 in the U.K.

By the time of their sixth studio album Bloody Tourists from September 1978, 10cc had become a six-piece band. The new members included Rick Fenn (guitar, backing vocals, saxophone, keyboards), Stuart Tosh (drums, percussion, backing vocals) and Duncan Mackay (keyboards, violin, percussion, backing vocals). The album’s lead single was Dreadlock Holiday, another Stewart-Gouldman co-write that appeared in July that year. It became the band’s last major hit, topping the charts in the U.K. and several other countries and pushing the album to no. 3 on the U.K. albums chart. According to Songfacts, the lyrics are inspired by actual events that happened to Stewart and Justin Hayward of The Moody Blues during a vacation in Barbados.

One-Two-Five is from 10cc’s seventh studio album Look Hear?, released in March 1980, and became the record’s lead single. It was co-written by Stewart and Gouldman. The album was significantly less successful than its predecessors, reaching no. 35 in the U.K. and no. 180 in the U.S.

In November 1981, 10cc released their eighth studio album Ten Out Of 10 in the U.K. The U.S. version, which only shared four tracks with the U.K. edition and included six different songs, appeared in 1982. The album didn’t chart in any of the countries. Here’s Don’t Ask, which was penned by Gouldman and the opener of both versions.

…Meanwhile from May 1992 was the band’s 10th studio album and the first following its recess that had started in 1983. It brought together the four co-founding members one last time. It also featured many guest musicians, who among others included David Paich and Jeff Porcaro of Toto, Dr. John and Paul McCartney. Here is Don’t Break The Promises, a Stewart-Gouldman-McCartney co-write. Stewart had a previous working relationship with McCartney and had appeared on the ex-Beatle’s solo albums Tug Of War (1982), Pipes Of Peace (1983) and Press To Play (1986), as well as the soundtrack Give My Regards To Broad Street (1984).

The last song I’d like to call out is from 10cc’s most recent studio album to date, Mirror Mirror, which appeared in June 1995 and was their first not to be released on a major label. Like predecessor …Meanwhile, it failed to chart and led to Stewart’s departure from 10cc and their second disbanding. Here’s Yvonne’s The One, another co-write by Stewart and McCartney, which appeared on the record’s European version. There are also U.S. and Japanese editions.

In 1999, Gouldman put together the current line-up of 10cc, which in addition to him features Fenn (guitar, vocals), Burgess (drums), Mike Stevens (keyboards, vocals) and Iain Hornal (guitar, vocals). As recently as this April, 10cc was touring. Currently, Gouldman is taking a break from the band. Last December, he announced he had accepted an invitation by Ringo Starr to join his All Starr Band for a summer 2018 European tour. Ringo and his All Star Band including Gouldman will also perform 20 dates in the U.S. in September.

Sources: Wikipedia, Apple Music, Songfacts, Graham Gouldman website, Ringo Starr website, YouTube