A First Glance at Albums Hitting the Big 50 This Year

With a new year upon us, I thought this would be a good opportunity to preview albums that are turning 50 in 2023. Taking a closer look quickly confirmed my expectation that 1973 was yet another great year in music. Based on Wikipedia, I came up with an initial list of 40 records released that year. I’m going to touch on six of them. A Spotify playlist at the end features songs from those albums, as well as one tune from each of the remaining 34 records.

Pink FloydThe Dark Side of the Moon (March 1, 1973)

Pink Floyd’s eighth studio album The Dark Side of the Moon remains among my favorites by the English rock band. Released in March 1973, it was primarily developed during live performances and premiered before the recording sessions began. In fact, as reported by Variety and other music outlets, last month, Pink Floyd quietly released 18 of these concerts on streaming services before the recordings hit 50 years and would have lost copyright protection. The Dark Side of the Moon, a concept album around themes like conflict, greed, time, death and mental illness, is Floyd’s best-selling record and one of the most critically acclaimed albums in music history. Here is Time, with lyrics by Roger Waters (bass, vocals) and the music credited to all members of the band, who also included David Gilmour (guitar, vocals), Richard Wright (keyboards, vocals) and Nick Mason (drums, percussion).

Steely DanCountdown to Ecstasy (July 1973)

Steely Dan’s sophomore album Countdown to Ecstasy, released in July 1973, was recorded when they were still a standing band. In addition to masterminds Donald Fagen (acoustic and electric pianos, synthesizer, lead and backing vocals) and Walter Becker (electric bass, harmonica, backing vocals), the line-up featured Denny Dias (electric guitar), Jeff “Skunk” Baxter (electric and pedal steel guitars) and Jim Hodder (drums, percussion, backing vocals). Countdown to Ecstasy followed the departure of David Palmer and was the group’s first album where Fagen sang lead on every song. After their third record Pretzel Logic, Fagen and Becker turned Steely Dan largely into a studio project, relying on top-notch session musicians. One of my favorite tracks on Countdown to Ecstasy is My Old School, which like all other tunes was co-written by Becker and Fagen. Baxter’s guitar work shines and is among his best.

Stevie WonderInnervisions (August 3, 1973)

Innervisions, Stevie Wonder’s 16th studio album released in August 1973, is part of his so-called classic period, which spans six records, bookended by Music of My Mind (March 1972) and Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through “The Secret Life of Plants” (October 1979). Following his 21st birthday on May 13, 1971, Wonder allowed his contract with Motown to expire. He returned to the Detroit label with Music of My Mind and a much more lucrative contract that also freed him from the artistic straitjacket of the past. Wonder’s lyrics changed and started to explore social and political topics in addition to standard romantic themes. Musically, he began exploring overdubbing and recording most of the instrumental parts himself. Innervisions and the excellent Living for the City perfectly illustrate these changes.

Lynyrd Skynyrd(Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd) (August 13, 1973)

August 1973 also saw the release of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s first album (Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd). And what a debut it was, featuring classics like Gimme Three Steps, Simple Man, Tuesday’s Gone and the epic Free Bird. You wouldn’t necessarily guess it, based on the album’s relatively moderate chart performance when it came out. In the U.S., it reached no. 27 on the Billboard 200. Elsewhere, it climbed to no. 20 in Switzerland, no. 44 in the UK and no. 47 in Canada. But over time, the picture looks better. As of July 1987, it was certified 2X Platinum in the U.S. The album also made Rolling Stone’s list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time and was ranked at no. 381 in the most recent revision from 2020. Here’s the aforementioned Free Bird, co-written by the group’s original lead vocalist Ronnie Van Zant and guitarist Allen Collins.

Elton JohnGoodbye Yellow Brick Road (October 5, 1973)

Elton John truly ruled during the first part of the ’70s. With Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, a double LP and his seventh studio album, he scored his third of six consecutive chart-toppers in the U.S. on the Billboard 200. The album also topped the charts in the UK, Canada and Australia. It spawned four singles, which charted in different countries. In the U.S., Bennie and the Jets became John’s second no. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, while the title track topped the charts in Canada and New Zealand. I decided to highlight the magnificent opening medley of Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding. As usual, John wrote the music to lyrics by his longtime collaborator Bernie Taupin. What an opus!

Paul McCartney and WingsBand on the Run (December 5, 1973)

The final album I’d like to call out here is what I consider the Mount Rushmore of Paul McCartney’s post-Beatles period: Band on the Run, his fifth after the break-up of The Fab Four and the third with Wings. By the time recording in Lagos, Nigeria began, drummer Denny Seiwell and guitarist Henry McCullough had departed. This left Wings as a trio, which in addition to McCartney included his wife Linda McCartney and Denny Laine. As such, Paul ended up playing bass, drums, percussion and most of the lead guitar parts, with Laine providing guitars and Linda keyboards. Both also sang backing and harmony vocals. After recording the majority of the album’s basic tracks and some overdubbing in Lagos under difficult conditions, Wings returned to England and finished the album in George Martin’s AIR Studios in London. After initial modest sales, Band on the Run became the top-selling studio album of 1974 in the UK. More importantly, it revitalized the critical standing of Paul McCartney whose earlier post-Beatles records had received a mixed reception. Band on the Run’s opener and title track, credited to Paul and Linda, is a longtime favorite of mine.

I’m planning dedicated posts on each of the above albums and possibly others released in 1973, timed to their respective 50th anniversaries. Last but not least, here’s the above-noted Spotify playlist.

Sources: Wikipedia; Variety; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to the final 2022 installment of The Sunday Six! I can’t believe I’m writing this. But, yep, not only is this year quickly coming to an end, but this blog will also be on a short holiday hiatus. I’m going back to Germany next week to spend Christmas with my parents and planning to resume posting shortly after my return close to the new year.

Michael Brecker/I Can See Your Dreams

Always curious to learn about new jazz saxophone players, I asked my friend Phil Armeno the other day. Phil plays saxophone in Good Stuff, a great band celebrating the music of Steely Dan, Sting, Stevie Wonder and Gino Vannelli (I previously covered them here.) The first sax player Phil mentioned was Michael Brecker. The name sounded vaguely familiar and no wonder – Brecker, who was active from 1969 until his untimely death in 2007 at the age of 57, collaborated with many music artists outside the pure jazz realm, including Steely Dan, Dire Straits, Joni Mitchell, John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, Paul Simon…the list goes on and on! Brecker began studying the clarinet at age six before moving on to alto saxophone in eighth grade and finally settling on what became his main instrument, the tenor saxophone, in his sophomore year. While his recording career as a sideman started in 1969, his solo eponymous debut album didn’t appear until 1987. I Can See Your Dreams is a beautiful Brecker composition included on his seventh studio album Nearness of You: The Ballad Book released in June 2001. Check out that sweet sound!

Mink DeVille/Each Word’s a Beat of My Heart

Let’s kick up the speed a bit with a great 1983 pop tune by Mink DeVille: Each Word’s a Beat of My Heart. Formed in 1974, Mink DeVille was a band to showcase the music of frontman and versatile singer-songwriter Willy DeVille. While initially associated with New York’s early punk scene, the group’s roots were in R&B, blues and even Cajun music. Between 1977 and 1985, they put out six albums. After their breakup, DeVille continued to release a series of solo albums as Willy DeVille until February 2008. In early 2009, he was diagnosed with Hepatitis C, followed by a pancreatic cancer diagnosis a few months thereafter. DeVille passed away in August of the same year, shortly prior to what would have been his 59th birthday. Each Word’s a Beat of My Heart, penned by DeVille, was included on the band’s second-to-final album Where Angels Fear to Tread. The tune also appeared separately and became their only single to chart in the U.S. (no. 89). While both the band and DeVille were more successful elsewhere, overall, their chart success was moderate.

The Beatles/Day Tripper

Time for a stopover in the ’60s and The Beatles with a great tune featuring what I feel is one of their best guitar riffs: Day Tripper. Written primarily by John Lennon and credited to him and Paul McCartney, as usual, the non-album single was released in December 1965, paired with We Can Work It Out. According to Wikipedia, the single was the first example of a double A-side in Britain where it became the band’s ninth no. 1 on the Official Singles Chart. Elsewhere, it also passed the audition, reaching the top of the charts in The Netherlands, Finland, Ireland, Norway and Sweden. In the U.S., it peaked at no. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. Songfacts notes the lyrics were Lennon’s first reference to LSD in a Beatles tune and can be viewed as him teasing Paul about not taking acid.

John Prine/Take a Look At My Heart

Our next stop is the ’90s. For the occasion, I have a perfect country rock-flavored tune I came across recently: Take a Look At My Heart by John Prine. It appears the more songs I hear from him, the more I dig his music, and the better I understand why he was held in such high esteem by many other artists and music fans. Take a Look At My Heart, co-written by Prine and John Mellencamp and featuring Bruce Springsteen on backing vocals, was included on Prine’s 10th studio album The Missing Years. Released in September 1991, it won the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album. In spite of this recognition, it didn’t make the charts – incredible! But Prine’s music cannot be measured by chart success in the first place. Of course, the same can be said about other music artists!

Rainbow/Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll

Fasten your seatbelt for this next kickass hard rock tune. We’re going back to April 1978 and the title track of Rainbow’s third studio album Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll. The British-American band was formed in 1975 as Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow after the guitarist’s departure from Deep Purple. In addition to Blackmore, the short-lived original line-up included killer vocalist Ronnie James Dio, Micky Lee Soule (keyboards), Craig Gruber (bass) and Gary Driscoll (drums). Blackmore was extremely difficult to work with and frequently fired members from the band. By the time Rainbow recorded Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll, Soule, Gruber and Driscoll were gone. Cozy Powell had already taken over on drums for Driscoll later in 1975. Unfortunately, Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll was the final Rainbow album for Dio. Starting with the successor Down to Earth, Blackmore steered the group to a more radio-friendly sound that apparently was inspired by his liking of Foreigner. I’ve always loved Long Live Rock ‘n Roll, which was co-written by Blackmore and Dio.

Mudcrutch/The Wrong Thing to Do

This brings us to the final destination of our last music time travel excursion of 2022. Prior to forming the Heartbreakers in 1976, Tom Petty had another band, Mudcrutch, he co-founded in 1970 with Tom Leadon in Gainesville, Fla. With Petty on bass and vocals and Leadon on guitar and vocals, the group’s line-up also included Jim Lenehan (vocals), Mike Campbell (guitar) and Randall Marsh (drums). By the time they relocated to Los Angeles in 1974 to seek a deal with a major record label, Leadon and Lenehan had left and been replaced by Danny Roberts (bass, guitar, vocals) and Benmont Tench (keyboards). After signing with Leon Russell’s independent label Shelter Records, Mudcrutch released a single, Depot Street, in 1975. It went nowhere, and the group disbanded later that year. Petty went on to form the Heartbreakers, together with Campbell, Tench, Ron Blair (bass) and Stan Lynch (drums). Fast-forward 32 years to August 2007 when Petty decided to revive Mudcrutch. Apart from his Heartbreakers bandmates Campbell and Tench, the line-up featured original Mudcrutch members Leadon and Marsh. Off their first full-length eponymous studio album, released in April 2008, here’s the Petty-written The Wrong Thing to Do. The group’s second album, Mudcrutch 2 from May 2016, is the last studio material Petty recorded prior to his tragic death in October 2017.

Last but not here’s a Spotify playlist featuring the above tracks. Hope you dig it and will join me for more zigzag music journeys in 2023.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube; Spotify

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: December 1

Time for another installment of my oldest and most infrequent recurrent feature on the blog, which looks at events that happened on a specific date throughout music history. Not sure why the series keeps falling by the wayside, given how enjoyable I find it to see what comes up. Today’s date is, well, today’s date: December 1. As always, these posts reflect my music taste and, as such, aren’t meant to be a full accounting of events on a specific date.

1957: Let’s start with one of the great early classic rock & roll stars: Buddy Holly. On this date 65 years ago, Holly and The Crickets appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show to perform their first two big hits, That’ll Be the Day and Peggy Sue, which had been released as singles in May 1957 and September 1957, respectively. The former tune was penned by Holly and Crickets drummer Jerry Allison, while the latter was a co-write by Allison and producer Norman Petty. The songs also appeared on the albums The “Chirping” Crickets (November 1957) and Buddy Holly (February 1958), respectively. Here’s Peggy Sue. Texas boys, do it! Man, I love that song!

1964: The Who performed their first of 22 Tuesday night shows at The Marquee Club in London. Each gig earned them £50 (approximately $1,065 today). Other artists and bands who played the prominent music venue in the ’60s included Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, Cream, Jethro Tull, Yes and Pink Floyd, among many others.

1969: The final edition of The Beatles Book, a fan magazine aka Beatles Monthly, was published. From The Beatles Bible: The Beatles Book had been published each month since August 1963 until this, the 77th and final issue. Published on 1 December 1969, the last edition included a leader column from editor Sean O’Mahoney, writing as Johnny Dean, in which he criticised The Beatles for encouraging drug experimentation among their fans. O’Mahoney took the decision to cease publication after it became obvious that The Beatles were unlikely to continue recording. However, it was revived in May 1976 with reissues of the original 77 editions, along with new content. The second run ended with issue 321 in January 2003. The image below shows the cover of edition no. 34 from May 1966.

1971: John Lennon released his Christmas and Vietnam war protest song Happy Xmas (War Is Over) in the U.S. Billed as John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band, the tune featured the Harlem Community Choir. It followed more than two years of peace activism Lennon and Yoko Ono had started with their bed-ins in March and May 1969. The song’s release was preceded by an international multimedia campaign that looked ahead of its time. It primarily included rented billboard space in 12 major cities around the world, displaying black & white posters declaring WAR IS OVER! If You Want It – Happy Christmas from John & Yoko. Unlike in the U.S. where the single enjoyed moderate chart success, it peaked at no. 4 in the UK on the Official Singles Chart after its release there in November 1972. Between December 1972 and February 1973, the song also entered the top 10 in Australia, Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway and Singapore.

1973: Carpenters were on top of the world and mainstream charts in the U.S., Canada and Australia with a tune appropriately titled Top of the World. Co-written by Richard Carpenter and John Bettis, the song first appeared on their fourth studio album A Song for You from June 1972. Initially, Carpenters intended the track to be an album cut only but changed their mind after country singer Lynn Anderson had released a cover that reached no. 2 on the country chart. It turned out to be a smart decision. Top of the World became the duo’s second of three no. 1 singles, following (They Long to Be) Close to You and preceding Please Mr. Postman.

Sources: Wikipedia; This Day In Music; The Beatles Bible; Songfacts Music History Calendar; YouTube

Smokey Shines at Philly Met

Motown legend takes audience on a miraculous journey with music and memories

Shop Around by The Miracles must have been among the very first Motown songs I heard many moons ago. Motown and the infectious groove of the tunes that came out of the Detroit label started my lifelong love of soul music. When I coincidentally saw a couple of months ago that Motown legend Smokey Robinson was touring and scheduled to play the Met in Philadelphia, I immediately got tickets – yes, it totally was an impulse purchase. Saturday night, the time had finally come, and ooo, baby baby, what a miraculous show it was!

Smokey Robinson. Where do you even start? Now 82 years young, the man has enjoyed a 67-year career and counting – 67 years! It all started in 1955 when he formed the first lineup of the Five Chimes, the group that a couple of years later would become The Miracles. In August 1957, Robinson and his band met Berry Gordy Jr., who in 1959 with Robinson’s encouragement borrowed $800 from his family to create Tamla Motown and changed music history.

In September 1960, Smokey Robinson and The Miracles became Motown’s first stars with Shop Around. Credited to Robinson and Gordy, the tune topped Billboard’s R&B Chart and became a no. 2 on the mainstream Billboard Hot 100. In the following years, Robinson continued to write hits for the group, including You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me, The Tears of a Clown (a co-write with Stevie Wonder) and I Second That Emotion, to name a few.

In the mid-’60s, Robinson also became Vice President of Motown Records, serving as in-house producer, talent scout and songwriter. Apart from The Miracles, he penned and produced hits for other Motown acts, such as The Temptations, Mary Wells and Marvin Gaye. Robinson also became a successful solo artist with hits like Quiet Storm (1976), Cruisin’ (1979), Being with You (1981) and Just to See Her (1987). According to his online bio, he has amassed writing credits for more than 4,000 songs.

Smokey Robinson (front, right) with The Miracles: Claudette Robison (front left), as well as (back left to right) Bobby Rogers, Marv Taplin and Ronald White

Robinson has won numerous accolades, including the Grammy Living Legend Award, NARAS Lifetime Achievement Award, Honorary Doctorate (Howard University), Kennedy Center Honors and the National Medal of Arts Award from the President of the United States. He’s also in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame.

While it is impossible to do Robinson’s impressive career justice with a brief summary, I’d like to mention two additional things. Bob Dylan once called him America’s “greatest living poet.” Among the bands who covered Robinson’s songs are two of the greatest of all time: The Beatles (You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me – 1963) and The Rolling Stones (Going to a Go-Go – 1982).

Smokey Robinson, Met gig shots and yours truly with the real star of the show

Let’s get to some music! Robinson’s set featured a nice mix of songs spanning five decades, including some of the big ’60s hits by The Miracles, a medley of mid-’60s Temptations tunes he co-wrote, as well as select solo tunes from the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s and 2018. He also included a rendition of Fly Me to the Moon, which he covered on his 2006 standards album Timeless Love. Not only did Robinson still hit extremely high notes with his falsetto, but the man’s physical flexibility was astonishing and frankly age-defying!

I Second That Emotion, co-written by Robinson and Motown songwriter Al Cleveland, first appeared as a single by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles in October 1967. It was their third no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot R&B Singles chart and peaked at no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming their second-highest charting single there since Shop Around in 1960, which had made it to no. 2. The tune was later also recorded by Diana Ross & the Supremes and separately by Diana Ross & the Supremes with The Temptations.

On Ooo Baby Baby, Smokey slowed it down and went very high – the ladies loved it! And, yes, yours truly was impressed as well. Ooo Baby Baby, co-written by Robinson and Pete Moore, the bass singer of The Miracles, was released as a single by The Miracles in March 1965. It reached no. 2 on the Hot R&B Singles chart and no. 16 on the mainstream Billboard Hot 100. The tune has been covered by numerous other artists over the years, such as Ella Fitzgerald, Todd Rundgren and Linda Ronstadt.

With The Tears of a Clown, Robinson presented yet another hit billed as Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, though with the distinction that it was the group’s only ’70s single in his set. Co-written by Robinson, Hank Cosby and Stevie Wonder in 1967, The Tears of a Clown wasn’t released as a single until July 1970 when it first appeared in the UK. In September of the same year, it also became a U.S. single. The tune ended up topping the Hot R&B Singles and Billboard Hot 100 charts in the U.S., as well as the UK Official Singles Chart, making it the group’s biggest hit. The Tears of a Clown had first been included on the group’s August 1967 album Make It Happen.

The last two songs I’d like to highlight are both from Smokey Robinson’s solo career. Just to See Her, co-written by Jimmy George and Lou Pardini, was first recorded by Robinson and released as the lead single of his popular 1987 studio album One Heartbeat in March of that year. The tune is his last big U.S. hit to date, peaking at no. 8 and no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and Hot R&B Singles charts, respectively, and topping the Adult Contemporary chart. In the UK, it reached no. 52.

And then the time had come for the final song of the night and Smokey to take us on a cruise by car – a long cruise! Cruisin’, one of his best-known solo songs, first appeared on his studio album Where There’s Smoke…, which came out in May 1979. Penned by Robinson, the tune was also released separately as a single in August of the same year. It climbed to no. 4 on both the Billboard Hot 100 and Hot R&B Singles charts, as well as no. 34 on the Adult Contemporary chart. Personally, I would have been okay with a shorter cruise and instead a couple of additional tunes, such as my beloved Shop Around. At the same time, it was heart-warming to see Smokey evidently having a ball and engaging with the audience, including two ladies he asked to come up on stage.

Following is Saturday night’s setlist:

Intro – Overture
Being With You (1981)
I Second That Emotion (Smokey Robinson & The Miracles cover – 1967)
You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me (The Miracles cover – 1962)
Quiet Storm (1975)
Ooo Baby Baby (The Miracles song – 1965)
The Way You Do the Things You Do / Get Ready / My Girl (The Temptations covers – 1964, 1966 & 1964)
The Tears of a Clown (Smokey Robinson & The Miracles cover – 1967)
I Love Your Face (1992)
Fly Me to the Moon (In Other Words) (Kaye Ballard cover – 1954)
La Mirada (2018)
Just to See Her (1987)
The Tracks of My Tears (The Miracles cover – 1965)
Cruisin’ (1979)

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist that captures all songs of the above setlist sans La Mirada, the most recent solo tune Robinson performed, which I couldn’t find in Spotify. Robinson joked it hasn’t come out yet. By that, he meant the tune hasn’t been included on an album. It did appear digitally as a single in June 2018.

Sources: Wikipedia; Smokey Robinson website; Setlist.fm; YouTube; Spotify

Time Again for Another Thanksgiving Music Tradition

It’s hard to believe that here in the U.S. Thanksgiving is upon us again. This is also the time of the year when New York classic rock radio station Q104.3 does its annual countdown of the Top 1,043 Classic Rock Songs Of All Time. The following borrows from two related posts I published last year.

The countdown is based on submissions from listeners who each can select 10 songs. All picks are then tabulated to create the big list. The countdown starts at 9:00 am EST the day before Thanksgiving (Wednesday) and stretches all the way to sometime Sunday evening after the holiday. That’s how long it takes to get through all 1,043 songs. Obviously, they are all different tunes, as opposed to the much smaller rotation of songs most radio stations play over and over again.

The only interruption of the countdown happens at noon on Thanksgiving when Q104.3 plays Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant, all 18 and a half minutes of it – just wonderful! Officially titled Alice’s Restaurant Massacree and released in October 1967, Alice’s Restaurant is also the title track of Guthrie’s debut album.

The tune is a largely spoken satirical protest song against the Vietnam War draft. It’s based on a true though exaggerated story that started on Thanksgiving 1965 when Guthrie and his friend Ray Brock were arrested by the local police of Stockbridge, Mass. for illegally dumping trash. Guthrie’s resulting criminal record from the incident later contributed to his rejection by the draft board.

Perhaps not surprisingly given Guthrie’s cinematic story-telling, Alice’s Restaurant also inspired a 1969 comedy film of the same name, starring Guthrie as himself. It was directed by Arthur Penn who among others is known as the director of the 1967 classic biographical crime picture Bonnie and Clyde.

Coming back to the countdown, this year, I didn’t get to submit any picks. After having taken a look at what I did last year, I still stand behind these tunes and shaking up things a little with four artists I had not selected in previous years: California Dreamin’ (Dirty Honey) and Side Street Shakedown (The Wild Feathers), both songs from 2021, as well as I Don’t Understand (The Chesterfield Kings) and Cinderella (The Fuzztones), tunes released in 2003 and 1985, respectively.

Following are the songs I probably would have submitted again this year, if I had had the opportunity. They are in no particular order.

Dirty Honey/California Dreamin’ – Dirty Honey, April 2021

The Wild Feathers/Side Street Shakedown – Alvarado, October 2021

The Black Crowes/Twice As Hard – Shake Your Money Maker, February 1990

AC/DC/It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘N’ Roll) – High Voltage, April 1976

The Beatles/Helter Skelter – The Beatles, November 1968

David Bowie/Suffragette City – The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, June 1972

Queen/Tie Your Mother Down – A Day at the Races, December 1976

The Who/The Real Me – Quadrophenia, October 1973

The Chesterfield Kings/I Don’t Understand – The Mindbending Sounds Of…The Chesterfield Kings, August 2003

The Fuzztones/Cinderella – Lysergic Emanations, 1985

I’m sure I’ll be listening on and off to the countdown over the coming days. Will Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven once again come in at no. 1, which it has every year since Q104.3 began their countdown? While I think that’s a foregone conclusion, I still enjoy listening to the countdown. It’s not all rock, but there is lots of great music with no repetition while it lasts!

Here’s a Spotify playlist of the above tunes.

Last but not least, if you celebrate it, Happy Thanksgiving! If you don’t, hope you have a rockin’ and rollin’ great time anyway!

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Those Were the Days: My Favorite Year in Music

A “Turntable Talk” contribution

Music fellow blogger Dave from A Sound Day has a great recurring feature, Turntable Talk, for which he invites other bloggers to contribute their thoughts about a given topic. This time, he called it “Those Were the Days My Friend,” I guess a nod to the tune popularized by Mary Hopkin in 1968. Or as he summed it up: Simply put, we’re asking the contributors to write about “music’s best year.” Following is my contribution, which first ran on Dave’s blog yesterday. For this post, I added some clips, as well as a Spotify playlist at the end.

Here we are with another great topic for Turntable Talk – thanks for continuing to host the fun series, Dave, and for having me back.

Interestingly, when prompted to think about what I feel is the best year in music, I instantly had the answer – or so I thought until I started having second thoughts.

Admittedly, this is typical for me who oftentimes tends to overthink things. That’s why I also keep emphasizing that I’m “ranking-challenged.” Anyway, after careful agony, guess what happened? I stuck with my initial spontaneous choice: 1969 – what an amazing year in music!

From an overall perspective, the year saw two epic moments and a less-than-glorious event: The first was the three-day Woodstock festival in mid-August with an incredible line-up of bands and artists, such as Santana, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Who, Joe Cocker, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Jimi Hendrix. Can you imagine a music event of that caliber these days?

At the same time, I don’t want to romanticize things either and will add it was probably a near-miracle Woodstock didn’t end in complete disaster, given the overcrowding and horrible sanitary conditions. Also, let’s not forget the three lives that were lost: two drug overdoses and another fatality when a 17-year-old sleeping in a nearby hayfield was run over by a tractor.

Then there was that other concert by one of the bands who would decline to perform at Woodstock: On January 30, 1969, The Beatles played an impromptu gig on the rooftop of their Apple Corps headquarters in London. Commonly known as the rooftop concert, it became their final public appearance as a band.

Speaking of concerts, again, I’d be remiss in not to least briefly acknowledging The Rolling Stones’ performance at Altamont Speedway in California on December 9, 1969. The gig became infamous for its violence, including a fan who was stabbed to death by members of the biker gang Hells Angels who had been hired to provide security for $500 worth of beer. I guess you can put this mind-boggling arrangement into the ‘you can’t make up this stuff’ and ‘what were they thinking?’ departments!

Next, I’d like to highlight some of the great albums that were released in 1969. Looking in Wikipedia, I easily came up with 20-plus – obviously way too many to cover in this post. As such, I decided to narrow it down to five. I’m briefly going to touch on each in the following, in chronological order. I’m also picking one track from each I like in particular.

January 5: Creedence Clearwater Revival released their sophomore album Bayou Country, the first of three(!) records they put out in 1969. Here’s Proud Mary, which like all other songs except one was written by John Fogerty.

May 23: The Who put out their fourth studio album Tommy, Pete Townshend’s first rock opera. While the production oftentimes feels unfinished, the double LP is a gem. One of my favorite songs has always been We’re Not Gonna Take It. Like most of the other tunes, it was solely penned by Townshend.

September 23: Of course, it was a forgone conclusion any favorite year in music while The Beatles were still together would include one of their albums. In this case, it’s Abbey Road, which actually was their final record, even though it appeared prior to Let It Be. Two of the best tracks on the album were written by George Harrison. Here’s one of them: Something.

August 22: Santana’s eponymous debut album was released in the wake of the band’s legendary performance at Woodstock. Here’s the amazing instrumental closer Soul Sacrifice.

October 22: Last but not least, on that date, Led Zeppelin released their sophomore album Led Zeppelin II, only nine months after their January 12 debut. One of my all-time favorite Zep tunes is Whole Lotta Love, initially credited to all members of the band, with the subsequent addition of Willie Dixon. Once again, unfortunately, it took litigation to give credit where credit was due!

In the final section of this post, I’m going to look at a few additional great songs that were released as singles in 1969.

First up are The Rolling Stones and Honky Tonk Women, a non-album single that appeared on July 4. Co-written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, it was the first of two versions of the song. The second version, Country Honk, which has slightly different lyrics, appeared on the Stones’ Let It Bleed album that came out on December 5 of the same year.

Suspicious Minds is one of my all-time favorite tunes performed by Elvis Presley, which was released on August 26 as a single. Written and first recorded by American songwriter Mark James in 1968, Suspicious Minds topped the Billboard Hot 100, giving Elvis his first no. 1 on the U.S. pop chart since 1962, helping revive his chart success in America, following his ’68 Comeback Special, a concert special that had aired on NBC on December 3, 1968. The song also was a major hit in many other countries.

Let’s do two more: First up is Reflections of My Life by Scottish band Marmalade, a song I loved from the very first moment I heard it on the radio back in Germany many moons ago. Co-written by the group’s lead guitarist Junior Campbell and vocalist Dean Ford, this gem was first released as a single in the UK on November 14 and subsequently appeared on their 1970 studio album Reflections of the Marmalade.

I’d like to close out this post with what remains one of my favorite David Bowie songs to this day: Space Oddity. Written by Bowie, the tune was first released as a single on July 11. It also was the opener of his sophomore eponymous album, which subsequently became commonly known as Space Oddity because of the song and to distinguish it from Bowie’s 1967 debut album, which was also self-titled. Bowie’s tale of fictional astronaut Major Tom was used by the BBC during its coverage of the Moon landing.

I can hardly think of another year in music that was as rich as 1969. That said, I was considering 1971. And 1972 didn’t look shabby either. Now that I think about it, let me go back to further reflect!😊

Following is a Spotify playlist of the above and some additional tunes from 1969.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

Musings of the Past

In Appreciation Of The Saxophonist

Time for another installment of this infrequent feature, in which I republish select content that first appeared in the earlier stage of the blog when I had fewer followers. The following post about my favorite saxophone players originally appeared in November 2017. I’ve slightly edited it and also added a Spotify playlist at the end.

In Appreciation Of The Saxophonist

A list of some of my favorite saxophone players and solos

Music instruments have always fascinated me. I also have a deep appreciation for musicians who master their gear. Oftentimes, I wish I would have learned more than just the guitar and the bass. For regular readers of the blog or those who know me otherwise, none of this should come as a big surprise. I’ve written a bunch of posts on some of the gear I admire, from guitars like the Fender StratocasterGibson Les Paul and Rickenbacker 360/12, to keyboards like the  Hammond B3, as well as some of my favorite drummers and bassists. One of the coolest instruments I haven’t touched yet is the saxophone.

Let me address the big caveat to this post right away: Since I know next to nothing about jazz, I’m focusing on genres that are in my wheelhouse: rock, blues and pop. While many of the saxophonists I highlight come from the jazz world, it’s still safe to assume I’m missing some outstanding players. On the other hand, where would I even start, if I broadened the scope to jazz? With that being out of the way, following is a list of some of favorite saxophonists and sax solos.

Update: Since subsequently I’ve started to explore the jazz world, mostly in my Sunday Six feature, I’m going to add some tracks in the Spotify playlist featuring some additional outstanding jazz saxophonists.

Raphael Ravenscroft

I imagine just like most readers, I had never heard of this British saxophonist until I realized he was associated with a ’70s pop song featuring one of the most epic sax solos: Baker Street by Gerry Rafferty. The breathtaking performance put Ravenscroft on the map. He went on to work with other top artists like Marvin Gaye (In Our Lifetime, 1981), Robert Plant (Pictures At Eleven, 1982) and Pink Floyd (The Final Cut, 1983). Ravenscroft died from a suspected heart attack in October 2014 at the age of 60. According to a BBC News story, he didn’t think highly of the solo that made him famous, saying, “I’m irritated because it’s out of tune…Yeah it’s flat. By enough of a degree that it irritates me at best.” The same article also noted that Ravenscroft “was reportedly paid only £27 for the session with a cheque that bounced while the song is said to have earned Rafferty £80,000 a year in royalties.” Wow!

Wayne Shorter

The American jazz saxophonist and composer, who started his career in the late ’50s, played in Miles Davis’ Second Great Quintet in the 1960s and co-founded the jazz fusion band Weather Report in 1971. Shorter has recorded over 20 albums as a bandleader and played as a sideman on countless other jazz records. He also contributed to artists outside the jazz realm, including Joni MitchellDon Henley and Steely Dan. For the latter, he performed a beautiful extended tenor sax solo for Aja, the title track of their 1977 gem.

Clarence Clemons

The American saxophonist, musician and actor was best known for his longtime association with Bruce Springsteen. From 1972 to his death in June 2011 at age 69, Clemons was a member of the E Street Band, where he played the tenor saxophone. He also released several solo albums and played with other artists, including Aretha FranklinTwisted Sister, Grateful Dead and  Ringo Starr and His All-Star Band. But it was undoubtedly the E Street Band where he left his biggest mark, providing great sax parts for Springsteen gems like Thunder RoadThe Promised Land and The Ties That Bind. One of my favorite Clemons moments is his solo on Bobby Jean from the Born In The U.S.A. album. What could capture “The Big Man” better than a live performance? This clip is from a 1985 concert in Paris, France.

Curtis Amy

The American West Coast jazz musician was primarily known for his work as a tenor and soprano saxophonist. Among others, Amy served as the musical director of Ray Charles’ orchestra for three years in the mid-60s. He also led his own bands and recorded under his own name. Outside the jazz arena, he worked as a session musician for artists like The Doors (Touch Me, The Soft Parade, 1969), Marvin GayeSmokey Robinson and Carole King (Tapestry, 1971). One of the tunes on King’s masterpiece is the ballad Way Over Yonder, which features one of the most beautiful sax solos in pop I know of.

Dick Parry

The English saxophonist, who started his professional career in 1964, has worked as a session musician with many artists. A friend of David Gilmour, Parry is best known for his work with Pink Floyd, appearing on their albums The Dark Side Of The Moon (1973), Wish You Were Here (1975), The Division Bell (1994) and Pulse (1995). He also worked with Procol Harum  guitarist Mick Grabham (Mick The Lad, 1972), John Entwistle (Mad Dog, 1975) and Rory Gallagher (Jinx, 1982), among others. One of Parry’s signature sax solos for Pink Floyd appeared on Money. Here’s a great clip recorded during the band’s 1994 Division Bell tour.

Ronnie Ross

Albert Ronald “Ronnie” Ross was a British jazz baritone saxophonist. He started his professional career in the 1950s with the tenor saxophone, playing with jazz musicians Tony KinseyTed Heath and Don Rendell. It was during his tenure with the latter that he switched to the baritone sax. Outside his jazz engagements during the 60s, Ross gave saxophone lessons to a young dude called David Bowie and played tenor sax on Savoy Truffle, a track from The Beatles’ White Album. In the 70s, his most memorable non-jazz appearance was his baritone sax solo at the end of the Lou Reed song Walk On The Wild Side. I actually always thought the solo on that tune from Reed’s 1972 record  Transformer was played by Bowie. Instead, he co-produced the track and album with Mick Ronson. According to Wikipedia, Bowie also played acoustic guitar on the recording.

Walter Parazaider

The American saxophonist was a founding member of Chicago and played with the band for 51 years until earlier this year (2017) when he officially retired due to a heart condition. In addition to the saxophone, Parazider also mastered the flute, clarinet, piccolo and oboe. Here is a clip of Saturday In The Park and 25 Or 6 To 4 from Chicago’s great 2016 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction performance, which features Parazaider on saxophone.

Alto Reed

Thomas Neal Cartmell, known as Alto Reed, is an American saxophonist who was a member of The Silver Bullet Band since it was founded by Bob Seger in the mid-70s. He toured with Seger and the band for 40-plus years, starting with Live Bullet in 1976. Reed has also performed with many other bands and musicians like FoghatGrand Funk RailroadLittle FeatThe Blues Brothers  and George Thorogood. Among his signature performances for Seger are the saxophone solo in Old Time Rock And Roll and the introduction to Turn the Page. Here’s a great live clip of Turn the Page from 2014.

Junior Walker

Autry DeWalt Mixon Jr., known by his stage name Junior Walker or Jr. Walker, was an American singer and saxophonist whose 40-year career started in the mid-1950s with his own band called the Jumping Jacks. In 1964, Jr. Walker & The All Stars were signed by Motown. They became one of the company’s signature acts, scoring hits with songs like Shotgun(I’m a) RoadrunnerShake And Fingerpop and remakes of Motown tunes Come See About Me and How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You). While Walker continued to record with the band and solo during the ’70s and into the early ’80s, one of his most memorable performances resulted from his guest performance on Foreigner’s 1981 album 4. His saxophone solo on Urgent is one of the most blistering in pop rock. Walker died from cancer in November 1995 at the age of 64.

Bobby Keys

No list of saxophonists who have played with rock and blues artists would be complete without Bobby Keys. From the mid-1950s until his death in December 2014, this American saxophonist appeared on hundreds of recordings as a member of horn sections and was a touring musician. He worked with some of the biggest names, such as The Rolling Stones, Lynyrd SkynyrdGeorge HarrisonJohn LennonEric Clapton and Joe Cocker. Some of these artists’ songs that featured Keys include Don’t Ask Me No Questions (Lynyrd SkynyrdSecond Helping, 1974), Whatever Gets You Thru The Night (John Lennon, Walls And Bridges, 1974) and Slunky (Eric Clapton, Eric Clapton, 1970). But he is best remembered for his sax part on Brown Sugar from the Stones’ 1971 studio album Sticky Fingers.

– End –

The original post, which was published on November 11, 2017, ended here. Here’s the previously mentioned Spotify list featuring all of the above and some additional saxophone greats.

Sources: Wikipedia; BBC; YouTube; Spotify

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

Happy Saturday and welcome to another installment of my weekly new music revue. Once again, I found myself with more songs than I was able to accommodate, a nice problem to have. Following are four I decided to feature, all from albums that came out yesterday (October 7).

Disq/This Time

My first pick are Wisconsin indie rock band Disq, who according to Apple Music were founded by two teenage childhood friends. Here’s more from their profile: The roots of Disq go back to the friendship of Isaac deBroux-Slone and Raina Bock. The two grew up together, and both were surrounded by creative, artistic families. After learning several instruments and exploring pop music foundations laid by bands like the Beatles and alternative rock starting points like Weezer, the two budding songwriters formed Disq when they were still in their early teens. With Bock on bass and backing vocals and deBroux-Slone on guitar and lead vocals, the duo self-produced and released the Disq I EP in 2016. Over the next several years, the band expanded to include additional guitarist Logan Severson, drummer Brendan Manley, and guitarist/keyboardist Shannon Connor. After signing with indie label Saddle Creek, Disq released their full-length debut album Collector in March 2020. This Time, written by DeBroux-Slone, is a track from the group’s sophomore album Desperately Imagining Someplace Quiet. Great song!

Indigo Sparke/Pluto

This is the second time I’m including singer-songwriter Indigo Sparke in Best of What’s New after this installment from February 2021. According to a profile on the website of her record label Sacred Bones Records, Sparke writes with a rare and reflective power, creating music that builds and bursts as she examines love, loss, grief, and a newly realized rage. Born in Australia and now based in New York, Indigo worked as an actress before establishing herself in the Sydney music scene with her EP Night Bloom (2016). Over the next few years, she toured and collaborated extensively with Big Thief, released her single, “The Day I Drove the Car Around the Block,” to critical acclaim, had a song featured on the TV show Cloudy River, and performed across Australia and the U.S. Indigo signed with Sacred Bones in early 2021, and made her label debut shortly after with Echo [I previously featured the opener – CMM], which she co-produced with Adrianne Lenker (Big Thief), and Andrew Sarlo (producer of Big Thief, Nick Hakim, Bon Iver, and Hand Habits). This brings me to Hysteria, Sparke’s sophomore release, and Pluto, a beautiful song she wrote together with Aaron Dessner.

Surf Curse/Cathy

Next up is new music by Surf Curse, a music project by Nick Rattigan (drums, vocals) and Jacob Rubeck (guitar). From their AllMusic bio: A gritty and melodic Nevada-bred guitar-and-drum duo who later became a fixture of Los Angeles’ D.I.Y. garage and punk scenes, Surf Curse aligned themselves with the artist-run Danger Collective label where they released albums like 2017’s Nothing Yet and 2019’s Heaven Surrounds You. The sudden viral success of “Freaks,” a song they’d released years earlier, earned them a deal with Atlantic. That label has now issued Surf Curse’s fourth and new album Magic Hour. Here’s Cathy. I like their sound!

The Star Crumbles/Desperately Wanting

Before getting to the last pick, I have to call out fellow bloggers Jeff from Eclectic Music Lover and Marc Schuster from Abnominations, who brought the music project The Star Crumbles on my radar screen with recent posts here and here, respectively. The following is informed by these posts. Marc who is based in Philadelphia is actually a member of the project, which also includes his friend, Denton, Texas-based Brian Lambert. Both are longtime singer-songwriters and musicians. After they had met on Twitter, Lambert reached out to Schuster for some help with one of his songs earlier this year. Recognizing how well they worked with each other, they decided to form The Star Crumbles. Schuster and Lambert, among others, are both into ’80s music and bands like The Cure, Echo & the Bunnymen, New Order and Ultravox, which you can clearly hear on their first album The Ghost of Dancing Slow. They also came up with a fictitious story behind the band, which they captured in a hilarious mini-documentary. Here’s the remarkable thing from my perspective: While I used to dig much of ’80s music at the time, nowadays, I tend to be lukewarm about it. I definitely can’t say the same about The Star Crumbles and their tune Desperately Wanting, which pretty much grabbed me right away. Once again, this goes to show that at the end of the day, there are only types of music: Music you dig and music that doesn’t speak to you. Check this out!

The following Spotify playlist includes the above and a few additional tracks by the featured artists.

Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; Sacred Bones Records website; AllMusic; Eclectic Music Lover blog; Abnominations blog; YouTube; Spotify

Buddy Guy Fires On All Cylinders On New Album

“The Blues Don’t Lie” coincides with 65th anniversary of legendary guitarist’s arrival to Chicago

Last Friday (September 30), Buddy Guy’s anticipated new album The Blues Don’t Lie came out. Once I started listening to what is yet another late-career gem by the now 86-year-old blues guitar dynamo, I literally couldn’t stop. Sure, Guy doesn’t reinvent the blues, but you can be damn sure the man still got the blues, firing on all cylinders and leaving no doubt he was born to play the guitar.

The release date of the album, Guy’s 19th, coincided with the 65th anniversary of his arrival to Chicago from Louisiana to pursue his calling to play the blues. Once again, production was handled by the great Tom Hambridge, Guy’s longtime collaborator, who also played the drums and co-wrote most of the original tunes.

The Blues Don’t Lie also features notable guests, which according to this review in Rock & Blues Muse include Mavis Staples, James Taylor, Elvis Costello, Jason Isbell and Bobby Rush. Reese Wynans, a former member of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s backing band Double Trouble, plays keyboards – certainly an impressive cast, but frankly, which musician who digs the blues wouldn’t want to record with Buddy Guy?

I’d say it’s finally time to take a closer look at some of the music on this new album. The opener I Let My Guitar Do the Talking provides a perfect entry point. Co-written by Guy and Hambridge, the tune recalls the above-noted 65th anniversary of Guy’s arrival to the windy city. Now let his guitar do the talking. Check it out – damn!

If I don’t have your attention by now, this post may not be for you. Or maybe give it one more try? How about The World Needs Love, the only tune solely penned by Guy. Sadly, Guy’s words ring very true: The world needs love like never before/The world needs love like never before/People are hurtin’ and killin’ people/People they don’t know…This tune is a great example that the soft-spoken Guy is a great vocalist, in addition to being a killer guitar player!

I’m skipping Guy’s amazing duo with Mavis Staples since I recently covered it here and go right to another guest appearance: Symptoms of Love featuring Elvis Costello. The tune was co-written by Richard Fleming, another longtime collaborator, and Hambridge.

Are you ready for some funky blues? Ready or not, here’s What’s Wrong With That featuring Bobby Rush. Of course, there’s nothing with that! The smoking hot tune, another Fleming-Hambridge co-write, is one of my early favorites.

In addition to 13 original tracks, The Blues Don’t Lie includes three covers. Here’s one of them, which I have a feeling deep inside you may have heard of before: I’ve Got a Feeling, by four lads from Liverpool called The Beatles. The combination of two unfinished songs – Paul McCartney’s I’ve Got a Feeling and John Lennon’s Everybody Had a Hard Year – appeared on Let It Be, the final released (though not the final recorded) album by The Beatles that came out in May 1970. I’ve also got a feeling Sir Paul likes this groovy rendition.

Let’s do one more, another cover: King Bee, a swamp blues classic written by James Moore, aka. Slim Harpo, who also first released it in 1957. The tune has since been recorded by numerous other artists, such as The Rolling Stones, Muddy Waters and even early Pink Floyd, who at the time (December 1964) were still called The Tea Set. It’s notable to recall Syd Barrett derived the name Pink Floyd by combining the first names of two blues musicians who were part of his record collection: Pink Anderson and Floyd Council. I love Guy’s stripped-back acoustic delivery and his slightly fragile vocals. So good! You also gotta love his final words: “Is that enough? [laughs] All right.”

If you’re still with me, I would encourage you to check out the entire album. Here’s a Spotify link:

So what’s Buddy Guy’s reaction to The Blues Don’t Lie? One clue is the album’s opener: I don’t say too much/I let my guitar do the talking…Another is the following image that accompanied a recent tweet. As they say, a picture speaks more than a thousand words!

Sources: Wikipedia; Rock & Blues Muse; YouTube; Spotify