The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday Six. Can you believe we’re already in August? It feels like July came and went before we knew it – crazy how time seems to fly these days! So what’s in store for this installment? In a nutshell six tracks representing different flavors of rock, a dose of Americana, and some classic rock & roll, spanning the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and the current decade. Ready to embark on another unpredictable music excursion? Let’s do it!

Spirit/I Got a Line on You

Kicking it off today are Spirit, and I’m not talking about liquor. The American rock band perhaps is best remembered for writing the signature acoustic guitar intro to Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven. Let me rephrase that. Somehow, Jimmy Page unconsciously got inspired by Spirit’s instrumental Taurus after Led Zeppelin had opened up for Spirit during their first American tour. Evidently, Messrs. Page and Robert Plant also had better lawyers, leading to a favorable verdict in a copyright infringement lawsuit the estate of Taurus composer Randy California had brought several years ago. To be clear, I love Stairway to Heaven and have come to dig Led Zeppelin big time. I just wish they would have given credit where credit was clearly warranted – nuff said! Let’s get to what I really wanted to highlight: I Got a Line on You, Spirit’s second single released in October 1968 and another tune written by California. The great song also appeared on the band’s second album The Family That Plays Together, which came out in December of the same year.

Beki Hemingway/Cost Me Everything

Beki Hemingway and her husband Randy Kirkman are an Americana wife and husband duo based in the Americana hot spot of Dundalk, Ireland. Shout-out to fellow blogger Darren Johnson who through his recent review of Hemingway’s latest album Earth & Asphalt brought the duo on my radar screen. For some additional context, following is an excerpt from Hemingway’s online bio: Her long and varied career has found her singing in several bands, including comical punk-rockers This Train, as well as singing live and studio backup vocals on everything from industrial to inspirational music. Things really clicked when she started collaborating with Randy Kerkman in the late 1990’s, releasing 5 CDs on the Minneapolis-based indie Salt Lady Records, performing up to 150 shows per year, and sharing the stage with nationally and internationally acclaimed singer/ songwriters such as Aimee Mann, Shawn Colvin, and Duke Special. After several years on hiatus living a “normal life” as a tour guide and Deputy Sheriff in Denver, Beki and Randy released a 6-song ep entitled I have big plans for the world and followed up with 2017’s Whins and Weather. Since the fall of 2016, Hemingway and Kirkman have lived in Ireland. Here’s Cost Me Everything, a tune from the aforementioned Earth & Asphalt album that was released in December 2020. Check out that beautiful warm sound!

Neil Young/Like a Hurricane

I trust Neil Young doesn’t need an introduction. A couple of weeks ago, my streaming music provider served up Hangin’ On a Limb, and I was going to feature this nice deep cut from Young’s 17th, 1989 studio album Freedom that’s best known for the anthemic Rockin’ in the Free World. Things changed on Thursday when my family and I found ourselves seeking shelter in our basement for two hours after a tornado warning had been issued for my area. Of course, tornadoes are pretty common in certain regions of the U.S. but in friggin’ central New Jersey? While there were several confirmed tornadoes that caused significant damage in other areas of the state, luckily, we were spared. It was a surreal and pretty humbling experience, and it wasn’t the first time. With getting blown away on my mind, I suppose Like a Hurricane wasn’t much of a leap. Appearing on American Stars ‘n Bars, Young’s eighth studio album from May 1977, the track also happens to be my all-time favorite among his crunchy rock songs.

ZZ Top/Heard It on the X

Sadly, longtime ZZ Top bassist Dusty Hill passed away on Wednesday at the age of 72. I think it’s fair to say guitarist Billy Gibbons has gotten most of the attention when it comes to the Texan rockers. That’s because he has played the cool guitar riffs and solos and has done most of the lead vocals. While I’ve enjoyed ZZ Top’s music since their 1983 Eliminator album and hits like Gimme All Your Lovin’, Sharp Dressed Man and Legs, I’m far from being an expert on the band. In fact, until the news about Hill’s untimely death, I had not realized it was actually Hill who sang lead on my favorite ZZ Top tune Tush. Well, he did! And here’s another track from the Fandango! album, featuring Hill on vocals – in this case sharing duties with Gibbons. When that record appeared in April 1975, the difference between their voices wasn’t as pronounced as in later years. Check out this cool clip from Live from Texas released in various video and audio formats in June 2008. It captured ZZ Top’s November 1, 2007 gig at Nokia Theatre in Grand Prairie, Texas. Makes you wonder a bit why Hill didn’t get to sing more often.

The Kinks/Sunny Afternoon

The other day, fellow blogger Hans from Slice the Life picked Waterloo Sunset by The Kinks as part of his ongoing fun 2021 song draft. Not only did this remind me of the great tune but also that The Kinks are among my longtime favorite British rock bands, together with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who and Cream, to name a few others. When it comes to the group from Muswell Hill, I’m mostly familiar with their ’60s and early ’70s output. I still love You Really Got Me, All Day and All of the Night, Got My Feet On the Ground, A Well Respected Man, Till the End of the Day, Dead End Street…The list of great tunes that were mostly written by Ray Davies goes on and on. One of my favorite songs by The Kinks is Sunny Afternoon, yet another track penned by Ray. It first appeared as a single in the UK in June 1966, yielding the band’s third and final no. 1 hit there. In the U.S., where it was released the following month, Sunny Afternoon peaked at no. 16 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was also included on The Kinks’ fourth studio album Face to Face that came out in October and December 1966 in the UK and U.S., respectively. According to Songfacts, Davies wrote the tune while recovering from a challenging period of group tensions and lawsuits. The song’s success “did bring Davies out of his funk for a while.”

Elvis Presley/Jailhouse Rock

And once again this brings me to the last tune for this installment. Elvis Presley was my childhood idol and, come to think of it, my only idol. Usually, I don’t idolize people, not even The Beatles, my all-time favorite band. Well, when I adored Elvis and would do crazy stuff like trying to impersonate him in front of a mirror I was pretty young – 12 years or so. Anyway, while I no longer idolize Elvis, I still think he was one of the most compelling music artists I know, especially during his early phase before he entered the U.S. Army. Here’s an absolute classic rock & roll gem: Jailhouse Rock, one of many great tunes co-written by the songwriting and record-producing duo of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller. First released as a single in September 1957, Jailhouse Rock also became the title track of the third movie starring Elvis Presley. While Elvis movies are generally pretty dismal, this picture will forever be remembered for its amazing dance routine. In some regards, this feels like looking at an early version of a Michael Jackson video. The choreography is pretty stunning. Come on Spider Murphy, play that tenor saxophone, and Little Joe, blow that slide trombone!

Sources: Wikipedia; Beki Hemingway website; Songfacts; YouTube

What I’ve Been Listening To: Spirit/The Family That Plays Together

Sophomore album showcases band’s remarkable versatility

One of my favorite George Harrison songs, The Inner Light, includes the wise words, “The farther one travels/The less one knows/The less one really knows.” This how I frequently feel when writing this blog. During research I oftentimes come across things I wasn’t aware of. The most recent example is my post about Walter Becker, who I learned took guitar lessons with Randy Craig Wolfe. Wolfe was also known as Randy California, and an original member of Spirit, an American rock band that wasn’t on my radar screen.

When I looked up Spirit, I realized it’s the band that wrote the instrumental Taurus, which features an opening guitar progression that sounds very similar to the main theme of Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven. In April 2016, original Spirit bassist Mark Andes ended up filing an infringement lawsuit against Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, but a jury ruled the similarities between Taurus and Stairway didn’t add up to copyright violation. In March this year, an attorney and trustee for Wolfe filed an appeal.

While I believe the outcome of the appeal is still pending, there is much more to Spirit than this legal dispute. In fact, once I started listening to their music, I noticed they were a pretty remarkable band. This brings me to The Family That Plays Together, their second study album, which appeared in December 1968.

At the time, Spirit still had its original lineup. In addition to California (lead guitar, lead vocals, backing vocals, bass) and Andes (bass, backing vocals), the band included Jay Ferguson (lead vocals, keyboards, percussion), John Locke (keyboards) and Ed Cassidy (drums, percussion).

The record starts off with I Got a Line On You. Written by California, this upbeat rocker has a great groove and a catchy chorus. The tune was also released as a single ahead of the album in October 1968. The song ended up at no. 28 on the Billboard Hot 100 and became Spirit’s biggest chart success.

I Got a Line On You nicely transitions into It Shall Be, a mid-tempo relaxed tune that incorporates some jazz elements and nice horn arrangements. The tune was co-written by Locke and California.

All The Same, a co-write by California and Cassidy, is another track that caught my attention. It features some cool double lead guitar parts by California and a drum solo by Cassidy. The singing reminds me a bit of Cream.

Jewish stands out, since it’s performed in Hebrew. According to Wikipedia, the lyrics came from a traditional song called Hine Ma Tov and were based on King David’s Psalm 133. The tune is solely credited to California. I don’t think I had ever heard a Hebrew song performed by a rock band.

The last tune I’d like to call out is the record’s closer Aren’t You Glad. It’s one of the six tracks written by Ferguson and includes some great guitar work.

The Family That Plays Together was produced by Lou Adler, who is known for his work with The Mamas And The Papas and especially for producing Carole King’s  iconic Tapestry. Adler was also an executive producer of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. A 1996 reissue of the album includes five additional tracks, including Mellow Fellow, a previously unreleased song.

The original lineup of Spirit recorded two additional studio albums, Clear (1969) and Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus (1970). Starting with 1972’s Feedback, the band issued 10 more studio records with different members, the last being California Bus from December 1996. One month later, California died under tragic circumstances at age 46 while rescuing his 12-year-old son from a rip current. In 2005, another record from Spirit appeared, which was a collection of material from 1968 that was used for the soundtrack to the 1969 motion picture Model Shop directed by Jacques Demy.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube