What I’ve Been Listening to: Fistful of Mercy/As I Call You Down

Fistful of Mercy are a supergroup founded by three singer-songwriters in February 2010: Ben Harper, Joseph Arthur and Dhani Harrison, son of George Harrison. According to Wikipedia, it sounds like the band’s formation happened pretty spontaneously. Arthur had asked his friend Harper to accompany him in the studio. In turn, Harper who had met Harrison at a skate park in Santa Monica, suggested that he join the two. Apparently, that’s exactly what happened, and when the three met at Carriage House studio in L.A., they immediately clicked.

Within a short period of time, Harper (lead, harmony, and backing vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, slide guitar), Arthur (lead, harmony, and backing vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass guitar, keyboards) and Harrison (lead, harmony, and backing vocals, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bass guitar, keyboards) co-wrote and recorded nine acoustic tracks. Subsequently, Harrison reached out to longtime session drummer Jim Keltner to overdub percussion. In addition, Jessy Greene was brought in to contribute violin.

Fistful of Mercy (from left): Ben Harper, Joseph Arthur and Dhani Harrison

The result was As I Call You Down, a beautiful album released in October 2010 under the name of Fistful of Mercy. I had never heard of it or the band until last Friday when I featured Harper in my latest Best of What’s New installment and read up on him a little. Harper’s, Arthur’s and Harrison’s three-part harmony vocals sound great and sometimes remind me of Crosby, Stills & Nash, other times of The Beatles.

While Fistful of Mercy played a series of concerts leading up to and following the release of the album, it doesn’t look like As I Call You Down charted or received much recognition otherwise. With the possible exception of fans of Harper, Arthur and Harrison, I suspect this is a largely obscure record. Well, it may not be widely known, but it sure as heck sounds beautiful to me. Let’s get to some music!

I’d like to kick things off with the opener In Vain or True. Like all of the album’s other eight tracks, the tune is credited to Arthur, Harper and Harrison.

Father’s Son couldn’t be more appropriately titled. When Dhani Harrison starts singing, he really reminds me of this dad. I also dig the bluesy vibe of this track. Check it out.

Here’s the band’s namesake, another great sounding tune.

Let’s mix things up a little with 30 Bones, a beautiful instrumental.

The last tune I’d like to call out is With Whom You Belong, the final track on the “regular” version of the album. There’s an iTunes edition that has live versions of Fistful of Mercy and In Vain or True as bonus tracks. Here’s the official video. Just like the album, it has a charming low key feel to it.

Fistful of Mercy never officially dissolved. In fact, Harper told the Los Angeles Times in August 2016 he, Arthur and Harrison have discussed making additional music. “I think about those songs all the time,” he noted. “My main frustration with Fistful of Mercy is not knowing when the three of us are gonna have the same opening at the same time to get back to the music that’s waiting in the ether for us. We have an email chain that’s going back and forth; we know it’s something we’ve got to do.”

Sources: Wikipedia; Los Angeles Times; YouTube

A Look Back on Rock the Farm Festival

The annual 11-hour marathon on the Jersey shore combines first rate tribute music with a great cause

Today would have been the 7th annual Rock the Farm festival, a great music tribute event conducted each year in the New Jersey shore town of Seaside Heights. But in light of the seemingly never-ending COVID-19 pandemic, the organizers made the responsible decision to cancel, hoping they can bring back the 11-hour music marathon in 2021.

I think the idea behind Rock the Farm is ingenious: Imagine an iconic music festival that could never happen in reality and bring it to life with compelling tribute acts and raise money for a great cause in the process! It’s almost like a mini Live Aid, except of course The Beatles or The Doors could have never have shared a bill with the Eagles, Guns N’ Roses or Tom Petty.

Fleetwood Mac tribute TUSK at Rock the Farm 2019

The event is organized by Jersey non-profit community organization CFC Loud N Clear Foundation, which offers post-rehab support programs to individuals and families struggling to overcome addiction to opioids, alcohol and other substances. Rock the Farm serves as their main annual fundraiser.

I realize that unless you are from Jersey and/or have been to the festival, this is a bit of an inside baseball post. But as more frequent visitors of the blog may recall, I dig seeing tribute bands, especially when they are of the high caliber Rock the Farm has attracted over the years. This year would have been my fourth time in a row to attend. Instead, I’m taking a look back at highlights from the past two years.

Let’s kick things off with a Guns N’ Roses tribute band from Dallas called Guns 4 Roses. While I haven’t found any information on when they were formed, their website lists gigs going back to 2009. Here’s their rendition of Sweet Child O’ Mine captured at Rock the Farm 2018.

TUSK are an outstanding tribute to Fleetwood Mac, mirroring the Rumours  lineup. This band from New Jersey, which tours nationally, features Kathy Phillips (as Stevie Nicks, vocals), Kim Williams (as Christine McVie, keyboards & vocals), Scott McDonald (as Lindsey Buckingham, guitar & vocals), Tom Nelson (as Mick Fleetwood, drums) and Randy Artiglere (as John McVie, bass). Here’s Dreams and You Make Loving Fun, from Rock the Farm 2018.

Another highlight at Rock the Farm 2018 were Free Fallin’, a Tom Petty tribute from Minneapolis, founded in 2007. Their members are Tom Brademeyer  (as Tom Petty, guitar & lead vocals), Karl Swartz (as Mike Campbell, guitar & vocals), Craig Volke  (as Scott Thurston, guitar, keyboards, harmonica, percussion & vocals), Dale Peterson (as Benmont Tench, keyboards, percussion & vocals), Russ Lund  (as Ron Blair, bass) and Mark Larsen (as Stan Lynch, drums). Here they are with Refugee, one of my favorite Petty tunes.

The headliner at Rock the Farm 2018 were Live/Wire, a kickass AC/DC tribute from New York. Founded in 2000, the band includes Mike Hughes (as Angus Young, lead guitar), Bill Voccia (as Malcolm Young, rhythm guitar), Chris Antos (as Bon Scott and Brian Johnson, lead vocals), Bill ‘Daytona’ Bowden (as Cliff Williams, bass) and Billy Rauff (as Phil Rudd, drums). Based on their current schedule, the band’s touring radius appears to be the eastern half of the U.S. Here’s It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll). Despite some apparent technical issues with the bagpipe, it’s a pretty cool rendition.

One Fine Tapestry are a tribute to Carole King, one of my favorite singer-songwriters. At the core of this act are Gerard Barros and Diane Barros, a New Jersey-based versatile husband and wife duo performing a variety of different shows. At Rock the Farm 2019, they were backed by a full band. Here’s their rendition of King’s Sweet Seasons.

Decade is an act revolving around great Neil Young tribute artist John Hathaway, who is also from New Jersey and performs with different line-ups of talented backing musicians. Frequent members include guitarist Gordon Bunker Strout, pedal steel player Joseph Napolitano, bassists Ken Ramos and John Dickson and keyboarder Steve Cunniff. Sometimes, Hathaway’s band also features a female backing vocalist as was the case at Rock the Farm 2019 with Pam McCoy. Here’s Cinnamon Girl.

Always fun to watch are Rolling Stones tribute The Glimmer Twins from Philly. Named after the songwriting partnership of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, this band is led by Keith Call (vocals, harp) and Bernie Bollendorf (guitars, vocals), who bring to life the sound and looks of Jagger and Richards in the ’70s. While the band’s remaining musicians don’t resemble the other members of The Rolling Stones, they sound fantastic: Michael Rubino (guitars), Bobby Corea (drums), Rob Ekstedt (Bass), Rocco Notte  (keyboards), Valorie Steel (vocals) and Bobby Michaels (saxophone, flute, organ). Check ’em out with Can You Hear Me Knocking.

The final band I’d like to highlight in this look back were the headliner last year: Simply Queen. This Canadian to Queen, which has been around for 15 years, features Rick Rock (as Freddie Mercury), Bob Wegner (as Brian May), Phil Charrette (as Roger Taylor) and Mitch Taylor (as John Deacon). While Simply Queen mostly perform in Canada, they venture out to the U.S. fairly frequently. Here’s a nice rocker called It’s Late.

Sources: YouTube

German Rock Staple Niedeckens BAP Continue to Deliver on New Album Alles Fliesst

Every now and then, I like to feature German language rock and pop music, an acknowledgement of my German roots and the country where I was born and grew up. In this context, the act that always comes to my mind first are Niedeckens BAP. The band’s new studio album Alles Fliesst (everything is groovy), which was released yesterday, September 18, certainly provides a nice occasion to do another post on my favorite German band for now close to 4o years.

Simply known as BAP for most of their career, the band around singer-songwriter Wolfgang Niedecken was founded in the West German city of Cologne in 1976. While there have seen many line-up changes, as you’d expect over such a long period, two things have stayed the same: band leader Niedecken who remains their lyricist, lead vocalist and only original member, and the fact they perform their songs in Kölsch, the regional dialect spoken in the area of Cologne.

Niedeckens BAP at Castle Studios, Schloss Röhrsdorf, Dresden, Germany

Since September 2014, following the departure of two longtime members, the band has performed as Niedeckens BAP. At the time, a seemingly somewhat frustrated Niedecken also declared the group would not longer have a standing line-up. That being said, the core members have remained the same since then: Ulrich Rode (lead guitar), Anne de Wolff (multi-instrumentalist), Werner Kopal (bass), Michael Nass (keyboards) and Sönke Reich (drums). You can read more about their previous music here.

Alles Fliesst is Niedeckens BAP’s 20th studio album. While overall I think it’s fair to say it doesn’t break much new ground, that’s just fine with me. Sometimes you don’t want things to change that don’t need to change. A few songs had been released as singles leading up to the album. Two of these tracks, Volle Kraft voraus (full steam ahead) and Ruhe vor’m Sturm (calm before the storm), I already covered in previous installments of my Best of What’s New music feature here and here, so I’m going to skip them in this post. Let’s kick things off with the nice rocker Jeisterfahrer (ghost driver). The title is a symbol for populist politicians and demagogues spreading dangerous misinformation and ideas. Sadly, this sounds all too familiar.

One of my early favorites is the lovely ballad Mittlerweile Josephine (now Josephine). It’s named after one of Niedecken’s daughters he apparently used to call Josie when she was a young girl. “Actually, the song is for both of my daughters,” he told news agency Spot on News, as published by German regional paper Stuttgarter Zeitung. “But you have to decide how to name it. My younger one is called Joana-Josephine, and the older one is Isis-Maria. Our guitarist wrote the tune and sent me a demo. It included the name Rosie. As I was listening to it, I thought it could also be called Josie.” Here’s the official video.

Amelie, ab dofür (not quite sure how to translate this) is another nice rocker. The lyrics are about a guy who wants to get to Amelie but is stuck in traffic. More generally, the song deals with everyday stress life can throw at you – not sure it has any deeper meaning, but won’t get sleepless nights over it! Apart from bluesy guitar work, the great music features nice horn accents by Axel Müller (saxophone), Christoph Moschberger (trumpet) and Johannes Goltz (trombone).

Jenau jesaat: Op Odyssee (specifically put, an odyssey) looks back on the band’s 40-year-plus history from humble beginnings in local bars to playing the German Rockpalast music festival in the ’80s that was broadcast throughout Europe and put BAP on the map more broadly. “The song deals with our beginnings when we were surprised that suddenly we were supposed to play outside of Cologne,” Niedecken explained during the above interview…’They don’t speak Kölsch, how is this going to work?’…Specifically put, we didn’t go on tour but on an odyssey to unknown regions.” Things worked out quite well for BAP, though their popularity has largely remained confined to Germany and neighboring countries where folks understand German.

Let’s do one more: Huh die Jläser, huh die Tasse (let’s raise our glasses and cups), a song that had been written last last year, was released in connection with Niedecken’s 69th birthday on March 30. Initially, he had planned to throw a party on a boat to celebrate the happy occasion, but that didn’t happen because of COVID-19. Instead, in a surprising move, Niedeckens BAP put out this track to celebrate first responders and others who have helped keep things going during the pandemic. “Huh die Jläser, huh die Tasse is a happy reggae to express our gratitude to people who provide social services in a broader sense, as professionals or as volunteers, and who oftentimes are underpaid and under-recognized in our society,” Niedecken stated at the time, as reported by the German edition of Rolling Stone. “These are the same people who are now saving our butts.”

According to the band’s website, the first takes for the album were recorded live in studio at a facility close to the Eastern German town of Dresden. The album was completed in Hamburg. Alles Fliesst was co-produced by Rode and de Wolff who also composed most of the music. As always, all lyrics were written by Niedecken.

Alles Fliesst is available in standard CD and vinyl formats. There is also a deluxe edition, which apart from the 14 tracks on the standard version features a studio outtake and live versions of nine tracks that were not included on the band’s last live album Live & Deutlich (live and clear) from November 2018. I previously covered it here.

Apparently, in November 2018, Niedeckens BAP became the band with the most no. 1 hits in the German albums chart with the above noted Live & Deutlich. This broke the previous record that had been held by The Beatles.

Sources: Niedeckens BAP website; Spot On News/Stuttgarter Zeitung; Rolling Stone (German edition); YouTube

That’s Why I Go For That Rock and Roll Music

It’s got a back beat, you can’t lose it

Earlier today, I found myself listening to Beatles For Sale. The Beatles were still learning about musical arrangements and how to use the studio to their full advantage when they recorded this album in 1964. While as such it’s less sophisticated than their later records after they stopped touring, Beatles For Sale once again reminded me how great The Beatles were at playing classic rock & roll.

I recall reading somewhere that John Lennon during an interview after The Beatles had disbanded said the rock & roll they played during their early years at clubs in England and Hamburg, Germany prior to Beatlemania was their best music. Of course, Lennon had a tendency to be pretty dismissive about the band, especially during the early years after their breakup.

While The Beatles wrote some of the best original recorded pop music of all time, there’s no doubt in my mind they also knew how to rock and roll. As such, I thought it would be fun to put together a playlist of classic style rock & roll tunes performed by The Fab Four, including covers and some originals.

I Saw Her Standing There (Lennon/McCartney – Please Please Me, 1963)

Twist and Shout (Phil Medley & Burt RussellPlease Please Me, 1963)

Roll Over Beethoven (Chuck BerryWith the Beatles, 1963)

You Can’t Do That (Lennon/McCartney, A Hard Day’s Night)

Rock and Roll Music (Chuck BerryBeatles For Sale, 1964)

Kansas City/Hey-Hey-Hey-Hey (Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller/Little Richard)

Dizzy Miss Lizzy (Larry WilliamsHelp!, 1965)

One After 909 (Lennon/McCartney – Let It Be, 1970)

Boys (Luther Dixon & Wes FarrellLive at the Hollywood Bowl/Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years, 2016)

Long Tall Sally (Enotris Johnson, Little Richard & Robert BlackwellLive at the Hollywood Bowl/Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years, 2016)

And there you have it, boys and girls!

The Beatles Bow GIF - TheBeatles Bow PaulMccartney GIFs

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Sometimes Small Things Are the Best to Make Me Happy

A Beatles playlist of mostly deeper cuts, inspired by a visit to a local guitar store

Yesterday, I found myself at a local Guitar Center to get a set of electric guitar strings. Every time I walk into that place, I can’t help it but stare at all the temptations hanging on the walls. Like a small child in a toy store, I get mesmerized by all the Fender Stratocasters, the Telecasters and the Gibson Les Pauls. Sure, they also have copies by Epiphone, Squire, and other lower cost brands as well. I also spotted two SGs – amazing beauties with heritage cherry and black finishes!

I’ve never owned one of these really cool axes. When I was young, I had a Gibson copy by Ibanez. It was decent but obviously not the real deal! These days, I got a crappy Squire Stratocaster. From a distance, it looks like “Blackie,” but it’s safe to assume that’s where the commonalities with Eric Clapton’s famous guitar end. My Blackie doesn’t hold its tune very well. It’s also not a great guitar otherwise. Well, you get what you pay for!

But when you have a family, live the American dream, aka paying your friggin’ mortgage every month, and are the sole breadwinner in your household, spending money on music equipment becomes harder to justify. Every time I come to that conclusion, I further rationalize by reminding myself I’m not exactly playing like Slowhand, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Carlos Santana or any of my other electric guitar heroes, so doling out cash for a fancy guitar kind of would be a waste. I still would like to own one – maybe one of these days!

As I was refocusing on the actual purpose of my visit (getting guitar strings for that Blackie wannabe), I spotted the above set of Beatles-themed picks. Just a few weeks ago, I had gotten a set of picks online, so really didn’t need any. But since they were significantly more affordable than the above noted temptations on the walls, I grabbed them anyway. Now just looking at them makes me happy. Plus, I can use them to play the guitars I have and afterwards throw them in the imaginary audience. Sometimes my dog listens, though I doubt a guitar pick makes for a good bone substitute! 🙂

You may wonder what’s the point of sharing all of this. Well, the Guitar Center episode sparked the ingenious idea of doing a Beatles playlist with one tune from each of the albums represented by the above picks. This time, I kept the order random and the sole focus on the music without long explanations. For the most part, I also picked what you could call deeper cuts.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

On Occasions When I’m Up For Heavy Action

A collection of favorite hard rock tunes

My recent “desert island” collection of 10 studio albums included Deep Purple’s Machine Head, which after more than 40 years of listening remains the ultimate hard rock album to me. In that post, I also noted that these days heavy rock no longer is my primary music choice. But occasionally, I still enjoy it, which triggered the idea to put together this playlist. I guess just like with many other things, when it comes to music, it’s all about moderation, except of course for The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Neil Young, live concerts, music equipment… 🙂

As more frequent visitors of the blog know, I find doing rankings nearly impossible. But since I suppose there needs to be some system to the madness, the following list is in chronological order from oldest to most recent. And, yes, I suppose in some cases you could question whether a pick is really hard, heavy or metal rock, or is it just rock? The boundaries can be pretty fluid. Plus, to some extent, it’s also a bit subjective. At the end of the day, it’s all about music I dig when the occasion is right. With all these caveats out of the way, let’s get to it.

SteppenwolfBorn to be Wild

This classic from Steppenwolf’s eponymous debut album from January 1968 sometimes has been called the first heavy metal song – in part because of the second line of the second verse, “heavy metal thunder.”Born to be Wild was written by Canadian rock musician and songwriter Dennis Edmonton, aka Mars Bonfire. The tune also appeared separately as a single in June 1968 and became Steppenwolf’s biggest hit next to Magic Carpet Ride. It will forever be associated with the 1969 biker cult picture Easy Rider. Every time I hear that opening line Get your motor runnin’, I feel like climbing on my chopper and heading down Route 18 to the Jersey shore. Then reality sets in. I don’t own a bike, not to mention the minor detail I don’t really know how to ride one. But when I get the urge to look for adventure, there’s always my sexy family crossover SUV! 🙂

Led ZeppelinWhole Lotta Love

While Led Zeppelin IV is my favorite Zep album, Whole Lotta Love possibly is my favorite tune among their crunchy rockers. Credited to all four members, the track first appeared on Led Zeppelin’s sophomore album that came out in October 1969, ingeniously titled Led Zeppelin II. The following month, Whole Lotta Love was also released as a single and became their best chart-performing song, reaching no. 1 in Australia and Germany, and peaking at no. 4 in the U.S. Notably, it didn’t chart in their home country. From today’s perspective, the fact that Whole Lotta Love became such a big hit looks unreal. You need cooling/Baby I’m not fooling/I’m gonna send ya/Back to schooling//A-way down inside/A-honey you need it/I’m gonna give you my love/I’m gonna give you my love//Want to whole lotta love/Want to whole lotta love/Want to whole lotta love/Want to whole lotta love…

Deep PurpleSpeed King

Obviously, it was only a matter of time until I would feature a Deep Purple tune in this post. But while Machine Head was their Mount Rushmore, there’s more to the British hard rockers than this 1972 gem. One great example is the opener to the band’s fourth studio album Deep Purple in Rock released in June 1970: Speed King. Credited to the entire band, the song’s lyrics are made up of titles of classic rock & roll tunes by Chuck Berry and Little Richard, which I always thought was a cool idea. Good golly, said little Miss Molly/When she was rockin’ in the house of blue light/Tutti Frutti was oh so rooty/Rockin’ to the east and west/Lucille was oh so real/When she didn’t do her daddies will/Come on baby, drive me crazy, do it, do it.. This is one kick-ass rocker!

Black SabbathParanoid

While I can’t claim to be a Black Sabbath fan, there’s just no way you can leave out these English rockers from any heavy rock collection. It would be like doing a post about the British Invasion and excluding The Beatles. And, to be clear, I’m not just featuring Sabbath because I felt I had to. I’ve always loved Paranoid, the title track of their second studio album that came out in September 1970. Credited to the entire band, Paranoid first appeared as a single in August of the same year. It became their biggest hit, topping the charts in Germany, and reaching no. 2, 3 and 4 in Switzerland, Austria and the UK, respectively. Apparently, audiences were less receptive in America, where the tune stalled at no. 61 on the Billboard Hot 100. Here’s a cool official clip, even though it’s all playback. Check out Tony Iommi’s cool Gibson SG. One day when I grow up I’m gonna get an ax like this – it even plays rhythm and solo at the same time! 🙂

Uriah HeepBird of Prey

Yep, Uriah Heep with their crazy high vocals can border a bit on the weird, but these guys were rockin’, especially in their early days. I seem to remember when I bought the album Salisbury as a young teenager, my six-year older sister who accompanied me to the record store was a bit embarrassed about my choice. Come on, sis’, while with Carole King’s Tapestry, CSNY’s Déjà Vu and Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, to name a few, you undoubtedly introduced me to some of the best recorded music ever, your taste also varied – let’s just leave it at that! 🙂 Credited to the band members Ken Hensley, Mick Box, Paul Newton and Keith Baker, Bird of Prey is the furious opener of Heep’s sophomore album from February 1971. That tune rumbles just like the tank on the album cover – “geil,” as was fashionable to say in Germany back in the day!

RainbowLong Live Rock ‘n’ Roll

I don’t care how you feel about Rainbow, and my thoughts about them are mixed these days, Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll just is an epic rocker. Co-written by former Deep Purple guitarist and Rainbow founder Ritchie Blackmore and the band’s powerhouse lead vocalist Ronnie James Dio, Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll was the title track of Rainbow’s third studio album released in April 1978. It also became the record’s lead single in March of the same year. To me, this is Rainbow’s best song. Apparently, audiences felt differently, at least the time, and far preferred some of their later songs, on which Blackmore adopted a more commercial sound along the lines of Foreigner.

Gary MooreVictims of the Future

Before Gary Moore fully embraced electric blues during his solo career, the Irish guitarist released heavy rock album Victims of the Future in December 1983. The big hit off that record was the power ballad Empty Rooms, which was played to death on the radio in Germany. I don’t even recall hearing the title track, which was co-written by Moore, Neil Carter (keyboards), Neil Murray (bass) and Ian Paice (drums) – and, yep, that’s the Ian Paice from Deep Purple. The song wasn’t released as a single; clocking in at more than six minutes, it wouldn’t have been radio-friendly to begin with. Admittedly, this is a pretty aggressive tune I can only tolerate occasionally, but when I’m in the mood for some heavy action, I still enjoy it. According to Wikipedia, Moore later dismissed the record as “just one of my feeble attempts at heavy rock”. It’s certainly quite different from his electric blues music he released starting in the early ’90s all the way until his premature death at age 58 in February 2011.

Guns N’ RosesSweet Child o’ Mine

My sentiments about Guns N’ Roses in general are similar to the previous pick. Sometimes, their music is simply too aggressive, so again, I need to be in the right mood. When I am, I actually enjoy a good number of their tunes. On these occasions, Sweet Child o’ Mine is one of my favorites. It’s a track off their debut album Appetite for Destruction from July 1987. Credited to the entire band, the tune also became the album’s third single in August of the same year. It was one of the songs that fueled the record’s massive international chart success, turning it into Guns N’ Roses’ biggest album. The guitar work on this song is just killer!

ScorpionsRaised on Rock

I suppose writing a post about heavy rock without acknowledging German veterans Scorpions would border on treason. The band from the city of Hannover first entered my radar screen with Love at First Sting, their hugely successful ninth studio album they released in March 1984, 12 years into their recording career. I seem to recall reading somewhere there were times before then when Scorpions were more famous elsewhere than in their home country. With hits, such as Rock You Like a Hurricane, Big City Nights and Still Loving You, Love at First Sting definitely changed that. Scorpions continue to rock and roll to this day. In April, they released a new tune, Sign of Hope, a classic Scorpions-style ballad, inspired by COVID-19. According to a statement on their website, they have been working on songs for a new album. The tune I decided to feature here appeared 26 years after Love at First Sting. Raised on Rock is the opener to the band’s 17th studio album Sting in the Tail from March 2010, which together with the supporting tour was positioned as their farewell. Then, they decided they simply couldn’t stop.

AC/DCPlay Ball

Let’s wrap up things with a great late-career rocker by AC/DC. Play Ball is from their 16th studio album Rock or Bust, which is the band’s most recent to date from November 2014. There have been reports about a new album for some time, largely fueled by Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider, who apparently is close to AC/DC. According to this NME story from late July, the album is already in the can, but it’s release has been delayed due to COVID-19. It sounds like thanks to some technology wizardry, it will feature the classic lineup including Malcolm Young and be the band’s final album. For now, let’s focus on actually released AC/DC music. Co-written by Malcolm Young prior to his forced retirement due to dementia and his younger brother Angus Young, Play Ball was the lead single from Rock or Bust, which appeared in October 2014, preceding the album by one month – a classic AC/DC rocker!

Jeez, after listening to ten heavy rock tunes, my ears are exhausted. Yesterday, the long-awaited reissue of The Rolling Stones’ Goat Heads Soup came out. I think I’m just about ready for Angie. A-Angie, A-Angie/When will this hard rock disappear/Angie, Angie/where will it lead from here…

Sources: Wikipedia; Scorpions website; NME; YouTube

When the Music Does the Singing

A collection of guitar-driven instrumentals

Frequent visitors of the blog and others who have a good idea about my music taste know I really dig vocals, especially multi-part harmony singing. In fact, when it comes to artists like The Temptations, I could even do without any backing music. That’s why felt like shaking things up a little and putting together this collection of tracks that shockingly don’t have any vocals. Once I started to reflect, it was surprisingly easy to find instrumentals I really like – yes, they do exist and, no, I don’t miss the vocals!

Since I still play guitar occasionally (only to realize how rusty I’ve become!), I decided to focus on primarily guitar-driven tracks. While I’m sure you could point me to jazz instrumentals I also find attractive, the reality is I’m much more familiar with other genres, especially in the rock and blues arena. Most of the tracks in this post came to my mind pretty quickly. The John Mayall and the Blues Breakers and Steve Vai tunes were the only ones I picked from a list Guitar World put together.

The Shadows/Apache

I’ve always thought Hank Marvin had a really cool sound. Here’s Apache, which was written by English composer Jerry Lordan and first recorded by Bert Weedon in 1960, but it was the version by The Shadows released in July of the same year, which became a major hit that topped the UK Singles Chart for five weeks.

John Mayall and the Blues Breakers/Steppin’ Out

Steppin’ Out is a great cover of a Memphis Slim tune from the debut studio album by John Mayall and the Blues Breakers from July 1966. It was titled Blues Breakers with Clapton featuring, you guessed it, Eric Clapton, who had become the band’s lead guitarist following the release of their first live album John Mayall Plays John Mayall that appeared in March 1965.

Pink Floyd/Interstellar Overdrive

My Pink Floyd journey began with their ’70s classics Wish You Were Here and The Dark Side of the Moon. Much of their early phase with Syd Barrett was an acquired taste, especially experimental tunes like Interstellar Overdrive from Floyd’s debut The Piper at the Gates of Dawn released in August 1967. It’s one of only two tracks on the album credited to all members of the band at the time: Barrett, Roger Waters, Richard Wright and Nick Mason.

Deep Purple/Wring That Neck

Wring That Neck is a kick-ass tune from Deep Purple’s sophomore album The Book of Taliesyn that appeared in October 1968. As was quite common for the band, Jon Lord’s mighty Hammond organ pretty much had equal weight to Ritchie Blackmore’s guitar. That’s always something I’ve loved about Deep Purple, as much as I dig guitar-driven rock. Wring That Neck was co-written Blackmore, Lord, bassist Nick Semper and drummer Ian Paice.

Fleetwood Mac/Albatross

Yes, I know, I featured this gem only recently on July 25 when Peter Green sadly passed away at the age of 73. I’m also still planning to do a follow-up on this extraordinary guitarist. But I just couldn’t skip Albatross in this collection, which Green wrote and recorded with Fleetwood Mac in October 1968. The track was released as a non-album single the following month. It’s a perfect example of Green’s style that emphasized feeling over showing off complexity, speed and other guitar skills. With it’s exceptionally beautiful tone, I would rate Albatross as one of the best instrumentals, perhaps even my all-time favorite, together with another track that’s still coming up.

The Allman Brothers Band/Jessica

Jessica first appeared on The Allman Brothers Band’s fourth studio album Brothers and Sisters from August 1973. It also became the record’s second single in December that year. Written by lead guitarist Dickey Betts, the tune was a tribute to jazz guitar virtuoso Django Reinhardt. Betts named the tune after his daughter Jessica Betts who was an infant at the time. When you have such beautiful instrumental harmonies, who needs harmony vocals? Yes, I just wrote that! 🙂

Santana/Europa (Earth’s Cry Heaven’s Smile)

Santana’s Europa (Earth’s Cry Heaven’s Smile) is the other above noted tune, which together with Albatross I would perhaps call my all-time favorite guitar-driven instrumental. In particular, it’s the electric guitar tone that stands out to me in both of these tracks. Co-written by Carlos Santana and his longtime backing musician Tom Coster who provided keyboards, Europa was first recorded for Santana’s seventh studio album Amigos from March 1976. It also appeared separately as a single and was also one of the live tracks on the Moonflower album released in October 1977.

Steve Vai/The Attitude Song

When it comes to guitarists and their playing, I’m generally in the less-is-more camp. That’s why I really must further explore Peter Green whose style should be up right up my alley. Sometimes though shredding is okay. I was going to include Eddie Van Halen’s Eruption, but it’s really more an over-the-top guitar solo than an instrumental. So I went with Steve Vai and The Attitude Song, a track from his solo debut album Flex-Able from January 1984. I definitely couldn’t take this kind of music at all times. In fact, as I’m listening to the tune while writing this, it’s actually making me somewhat anxious. While the harmony guitar and bass action sound cool, like most things, I feel it should be enjoyed in moderation! 🙂

Stevie Ray Vaughan/Scuttle Buttin

Scuttle Buttin’ by Stevie Ray Vaughan isn’t exactly restrained guitar playing either. But while like The Attitude Song it’s a shredder, the tune has never made me anxious. I think that’s largely because I really dig Vaughan’s sound. Yes, he’s playing very fast and many notes, yet to me, it comes across as less aggressive than Vai who uses more distortion. Written by Vaughan, Scuttle Buttin’ appeared on his excellent second studio album Couldn’t Stand the Weather released in May 1984.

Jeff Beck/A Day in the Life

The last artist I’d like to feature in this collection is another extraordinary guitarist with an amazing tone: Jeff Beck. His unique technique that relies on using his thumb to pick the guitar strings, the ring finger to control the volume knob and his pinkie to work the vibrato bar of his Fender Stratocaster creates a unique sound no other guitar player I’ve heard has. Here’s Beck’s beautiful rendition of The Beatles tune A Day in the Life. It was included on In My Life, an album of Fab Four covers compiled and produced by George Martin, which appeared in October 1998.

Sources: Wikipedia; Guitar World; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: August 8

It’s been more than two months since my last installment of this recurring music history feature. And while I’ve already covered 53 different dates since I started the series in 2016, this didn’t include August 8. As always, the idea here is to highlight select events based on my music preferences, not to provide a full listing.

1964: Bob Dylan released his fourth studio album Another Side of Bob Dylan. Th title was appropriate, since the record marked a departure from the more socially conscious songs on predecessor The Times They Are A-Changin’ that had appeared seven months earlier in January 1964. Some critics were quick to complain Dylan was selling out to fame. But Robert Zimmerman rarely seems to care much what others think about his music. Here’s My Back Pages. The tune has been covered by various other artists, including The Byrds, Ramones and Steve Earle, to name a few.

1969: An ordinary pedestrian crossing in London’s City of Westminster inner borough would never be same after it became part of the iconic cover photo of Abbey Road, the actual final studio album by The Beatles from September 1969, even though it was released prior to their official final record Let It Be. The famous shot was taken by Scottish photographer Iain Macmillan, who was then a freelancer. For any photographers, he used a Hasselblad camera with a 50mm angle lens, aperture f22, at 1/500 seconds, according to The Beatles Bible. Following the shoot, Paul McCartney reviewed the transparencies and chose the fifth one for the album cover. After the band’s breakup, Mcmillan also worked with John Lennon and Yoko Ono for several years. Here’s one of my favorite tunes from that album: George Harrison’s Here Comes The Sun.

1970: The third studio album by Blood, Sweat & Tears, ingeniously titled Blood, Sweat & Tears 3, hit no. 1 on the Billboard 200, following its release in June that year. After the success of their preceding eponymous second album from December 1968, which also topped the U.S. charts, the record had been widely anticipated. Here’s Lucretia Mac Evil, a great tune written by the band’s lead vocalist David Clayton-Thomas. The song, which was also released separately as a single, was one of just a handful of original tracks on the album, which mostly included cover versions of tunes from artists like James Taylor, The Rolling Stones and Traffic – apparently part of the reason why it received lukewarm reviews.

1987: I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, the second single off U2’s fifth studio album The Joshua Tree, topped the Billboard Hot 100, marking the Irish rock band’s second no. 1 song in the U.S. after the record’s lead single With Or Without You. The Joshua Tree, which also topped the charts in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and various European countries, catapulted U2 to international superstardom. Like all other tracks on album, the lyrics of the tune were written by Bono, while the music was credited to U2. Here’s the official video filmed in Las Vegas in April 1987 after the band’s first show in the city.

Sources: Wikipedia; This Day in Rock; The Beatles Bible; Billboard; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening to: Paul McCartney/Tug of War

As a huge fan of The Beatles and Paul McCartney, I was really excited when Tug of War was released in April 1982. Catching Take It Away on the radio yesterday prompted me to revisit McCartney’s third solo album, which I had not listened to for many years. It turned out I still dig it, though not for the primary reason that initially attracted me back then: Ebony and Ivory, a smash hit in Germany, as well as many other countries.

While McCartney’s duet with Stevie Wonder isn’t a bad tune, I think it’s fair to say both artists have written better songs. One also must remember the ’80s were a time period when high profile duets were very much en vogue. I still like the ballad’s message, as well as the idea to use the black and white keys on a keyboard as a metaphor for perfect harmony – sadly a state of affairs that nowadays seems to be more elusive than ever.

No matter how you feel about it, Ebony and Ivory was the big hit single from Tug of War, which came out about a month prior to the album. I have to say I wasn’t particular impressed with McCartney II and that record’s hit single Coming Up, even though both had impressive chart success as well. I thought Tug of War was a far superior album. I think I still do but like to caveat the statement by adding that I haven’t listened to McCartney II in a long time.

Tug of War was McCartney’s first album after the breakup of Wings. It also was his first record following the murder of John Lennon on December 8, 1980, which not only impacted the record’s timing but also its content. Initially, McCartney’s plan was to make another album with Wings, but then things changed.

While apparently he had grown weary about continuing his band, McCartney started rehearsing songs with them in October 1980. He brought in George Martin as producer, but they both felt McCartney’s latest compositions weren’t a good fit for Wings and decided to pursue a record without the band.

The project was paused for two months after Lennon had been killed. In February 1981, work on the album resumed. Between February 3rd and March 2nd, recording sessions took place in the Caribbean at AIR Studios in Montserrat, which included Wonder, bassist Stanley Clarke, Carl Perkins and Ringo Starr.

During Tug of War recording sessions at AIR Studios in Montserrat: Paul McCartney with Ringo Starr and I believe Eric Stewart.

Additional sessions at Martin’s AIR Studios in London followed over the summer. They also yielded songs McCartney would use for Pipes of Peace, the follow on to Tug of War from October 1983. Apparently, McCartney and Martin weren’t in a huge hurry and used the remainder of 1981 to put the finishing touches on the record. Time for some music!

I’d like to kick things off with the above noted Take It Away. Like all other tracks on the album except for one tune, it was written by McCartney. In June 1982, Take It Away also was released separately as Tug of War’s second single. While it charted in many countries, including the UK and the U.S. where it climbed to no. 15 and 10, respectively, the power pop tune didn’t match the success of Ebony and Ivory. It features Ringo Starr on drums, George Martin on piano and 10cc’s Eric Stewart on backing vocals. Take it away, boys!

In addition to Ebony and Ivory, Tug of War included a second duet with Stevie Wonder: What’s That You’re Doing. Apart from providing vocals, Wonder also co-wrote the funky tune with McCartney. In fact, to me it sounds more like a Stevie Wonder song. Stewart made another appearance on backing vocals.

Here Today is a moving tribute to John Lennon, which can still make me emotional. It may not be quite as compelling as Elton John’s Empty Garden, but I still find it beautiful. When I saw McCartney live last time in July 2016, he performed the tune solo with just his acoustic guitar – a quite powerful moment!

Next up: Ballroom Dancing, a nice pop rocker. Guests on this tune include Starr (drums), Stewart (backing vocals) and former Wings band mate Denny Laine (electric guitar).

The last track I’d like to call out is McCartney’s great duet with Carl Perkins, Get It. I love the tune’s rockabilly retro vibe and Perkins’s electric guitar work, which he provided in addition to vocals. You can also literally feel the fun they had when recording the track, and it’s not only because of Perkins’ laughter at the end.

The final words of this post shall belong to Paul McCartney. “I think, you know, with my songs, I have my own approach,” he told Andy Mackay in an in-depth interview about the album in August 1982, which is transcribed on fan website The Paul McCartney Project. “I’ll tell you the way I see it: the thing I like about my stuff, when I like it, is that the listener can take it the wrong way, it may apply to them, you know.”

Sources: Wikipedia; The Paul McCartney Project; YouTube