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

My Playlist: Emmylou Harris

While I had known her name for decades, it really wasn’t until July 2017 that I started paying closer attention to Emmylou Harris when seeing her in Philadelphia as part of a concert headlined by John Mellencamp. There was something special about this lady with her all-white hair who recently had turned 70. Now 73, Harris has been active for more than 50 years, released dozens of solo and collaborative albums, scored 20 top 10 hits on the Billboard country charts and collected numerous Grammy and other awards. This playlist is an attempt to shine a light on her long and impressive career.

Harris was born on April 2, 1947 in Birmingham, Ala. Her dad, Walter Harris, was a Marine Corps officer, while her mom Eugenia was a wartime military wife. After high school graduation in Woodbridge, Va., Harris went to the School of Music, Theater and Dance at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro on a drama scholarship. It was there where she started to learn songs by Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez on guitar and develop her musical aspirations. Harris dropped out, moved to New York City during the second half of the ’60s, and started performing on the folk circle in Greenwich Village while waiting tables.

In 1969, Harris married fellow songwriter Tom Slocum who wrote the title track for her debut album Gliding Bird. The folk record also included five songs written by Harris. The label Jubilee Records went under shortly after the release, so all distribution and promotion was ceased. Subsequently, Harris disowned the record. She regards her second release Pieces of the Sky from February 1975 as her official debut.

In 1971, after he had seen her perform, Flying Burrito Brothers co-founder Chris Hillman introduced Harris to his music partner Gram Parsons who became a key figure in her early career. Harris worked with Parsons on his solo debut GP from January 1973 and toured as a member of his band the Fallen Angels. Later that year, she also worked with Parsons on his second and final solo album Grievous Angel, which was released in January 1974, following his death from an accidental overdose of drugs and alcohol in September 1973.

In February 1975, the aforementioned Pieces of the Sky appeared. It’s the album that launched Harris’ career as a country artist and established what she became mainly known, i.e., covering songs written by other artists. The album also coincided with the formation of The Hot Band, Harris’ high-profile backing band until 1991. The initial lineup included James Burton (guitar), Glen Hardin (piano), Hank DeVito (pedal steel guitar), Emory Gordy, Jr. (bass) and John Ware (drums).

To date, Harris has released 21 solo studio albums, three live records and a dozen compilations. Additionally, her impressive catalog includes seven collaboration albums with artists like Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt and Rodney Crowell. Harris also has worked as a guest with numerous other artists, including The Band, Glen Campbell, Johnny Cash, Guy Clark, Bob Dylan, Sheryl Crow and Steve Earle, among others. Let’s get to some music!

While perhaps not as representative of Harris as her other records, I’d like to kick off this playlist with a tune from 1969’s Gliding Bird, which was written by her: Black Gypsy.

If I Could Only Win Your Love from her second album Pieces of the Sky became Harris’ first hit single, climbing to no. 4 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart in 1975. Co-written by Charlie Louvin and Ira Louvin who formed the country and gospel duo The Louvin Brothers, it also marked the first of only a handful of Harris singles that charted on the Billboard Hot 100, in this case at no. 58. Linda Ronstadt sang backing vocals on the album.

While Emmylou Harris is best known as a country artist, her song choices can be eclectic. Here’s an example from her third studio album Elite Hotel released in December 1975: A beautiful cover of The Beatles tune Here, There and Everywhere. Credited to John Lennon and Paul McCartney, the McCartney ballad originally appeared on the Revolver album from August 1996.

Harris’ next album Luxury Liner from December 1976 included the first cover of Townes Van Zandt’s Pancho and Lefty, which subsequently became the revered singer-songwriter’s best known composition. The tune has also been covered by other artists, most notably Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, who recorded it as the title track of their collaboration album that came out in January 1983.

Roses in the Snow, Harris’ first ’80s album, appeared in May 1980. Unlike her preceding country and country rock records, this album was more bluegrass-oriented. Here’s a great rendition of the Paul Simon tune The Boxer, featuring beautiful harmony singing by Cheryl White and her sister Sharon White. The Boxer first appeared on Simon & Garfunkel’s final studio album Bridge Over Troubled Water from January 1970.

In February 1985, Harris released The Ballad of Sally Rose, a concept album loosely based on her relationship with Gram Parsons. The record also stood out for another reason. Like her debut 16 years earlier, it illustrates Harris is more than just a cover artist. All songs were co-written by her, mostly together with her then-second husband Paul Kennerley, an English singer-songwriter, musician and record producer, who also produced this record. Here’s White Line, one of the record’s two singles.

Next, I’d like to jump to the ’90s and Wrecking Ball, Harris’ 18th studio album. The record became her first since Pieces of the Sky that did not make the country charts. Perhaps that wasn’t too surprising, given the music moved away from her traditional acoustic to a more edgy and atmospheric sound. Producer Daniel Lanois who produced and co-produced various U2 albums like The Joshua Tree and Achtung Baby undoubtedly had something to do with it. Here’s the title track written by Neil Young who also provided harmony vocals. Young had first recorded the tune for his 1989 studio album Freedom. And, coming back to U2, Larry Mullen, Jr. played drums on most of the album’s songs including this one.

Given the significance of collaboration albums in Harris’ catalog, I’d like to at least acknowledge one: Trio II from February 1999, the second album she did together with Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt. All tracks had actually been recorded in 1994, but label disputes and conflicting schedules had prevented the release at the time. While I’ve featured it on the blog before, I just couldn’t resist including the ladies’ angelic rendition of After The Gold Rush, the title track of Neil Young’s third studio album from September 1970. Interestingly, while the remake did not chart when it was released as a single from Trio II, it won the 2000 Grammy for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals. The intensity of this version is just killing me. This is why I dig vocals!

In September 2003, Harris released Stumble into Grace, her second album of the current century. Like some of her previous records, it includes a significant number of her own compositions. She also co-wrote most of the remaining tracks. Here’s the opener Here I Am, one of her tunes.

I’d like to wrap up this playlist with a track from what is Harris’ most recent solo album, Hard Bargain, released in April 2011. Her two latest records are collaborations with Rodney Crowell from February 2013 and March 2015. There’s also the Complete Trio Collection, a compilation of the Trio I and Trio II collaborative albums with Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt, which came out in September 2016. Given the enormous role of Gram Parsons, it felt right to highlight opener The Road, a tune Harris penned about her musical mentor – the first to focus on his death since Boulder to Colorado, a song from Pieces of the Sky. It’s also noteworthy that Hard Bargain became Harris’ highest chart entry since the above Roses in the Snow from 1980, peaking at no. 3 on the Billboard Top Country Albums. It also hit no. 18 on the Billboard 200, her highest mainstream chart success since 1977’s Luxury Liner, a remarkable late-stage career success.

Emmylou Harris has sold 75 million records in the U.S. alone. She has won 14 Grammy awards out of 48 for which she had been nominated. She has also won numerous country, bluegrass and Americana awards, and was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in February 2008.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Aw, The ’80s (Part 2: 1985-1989)

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

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

1985

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

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

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

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

1986

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

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

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

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

1987

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

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

1988

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

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

1989

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

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

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

U2 Rocks MetLife With Epic Performance

After 30 years The Joshua Tree sounds as fresh as ever

While I have listened to U2 for more than 30 years and heard more than once how terrific their live performances are, I had not been to one of their shows. The Joshua Tree is my favorite U2 album, so when I read about the band’s summer tour to celebrate the record’s 30th anniversary, I knew the time had come to finally see them. So I did Thursday night at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. And what an amazing show it was!

Things kicked off with The Lumineers. I know next to nothing about this folk rock band hailing from Denver, but I definitely liked what I heard. I only recognized one song, Ho Hey, which became a hit for the band in 2012 and was the lead single from their eponymous album released the same year. Their set included 11 other songs – some additional tunes from their debut album and some tracks from the 2016 follow-up, Cleopatra.

20151116_the_lumineers_shot_02_059

Lead vocalist and guitarist Wesley Schultz, who together with Jeremiah Fraites (drums, percussion) writes most of the band’s songs, has a great voice. Cellist and vocalist Neyla Pekarek rounds out The Lumineers, adding an interesting flavor to the band’s sound. I am planning to check them out more closely.

U2 Joshua Tree Tour 2017

After about an hour and a half into the evening, U2 finally took the stage. With Sunday Bloody Sunday and New Year’s DayBono, The Edge, Larry Mullen and Adam Clayton made it clear from the get-go they mean business. Both tunes are from War, their third studio album from 1983, and are among my favorite early U2 songs. Next came two tracks from the 1984 follow-up The Unforgettable Fire: Bad and the epic Pride (In the Name of Love). 

And then it was time for The Joshua Tree album, U2’s fifth studio album from 1987. They played all of its tracks and in the same order. This is a truly great record. In addition to its three big hits Where the Streets Have No Name, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For and With or Without You, the album has numerous other gems. These include Bullet the Blue the Sky, Running to Stand Still, In God’s Country, Trip Through Your Wires, One Tree Hill and especially Red Mill Mining Town. By the time you’ve listened to the aforementioned songs, you’ve listened to almost the entire album!

After performing all 15 tracks for The Joshua Tree, U2 came back for a nice encore, playing seven more songs. Highlights included Beautiful Day (All That You Can’t Leave Behind; 2000), Vertigo (How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb; 2004), Mysterious Way and One (both Achtung Baby; 1991).

In early June, a 30th anniversary edition of The Joshua Tree album was released in several formats. In addition to the original studio record, the deluxe editions include a live recording of a 1987 concert at Madison Square Garden in New York. I listened to it earlier today and have to say U2 on Thursday night sounded pretty darn close to that recording from 30 years ago.

Sources: Wikipedia, Setlist.fm, YouTube

The Joshua Tree Turns 30

Not only did this 1987 album catapult U2 to international superstardom, but it is also one of the band’s best records in its 40-plus-year history.

Since U2’s announcement in early January of a summer tour to celebrate the 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree, the seminal album has been on my mind. So it was only a matter of time before I would write a post about it.

Released on March 9, 1987, The Joshua Tree is one of my favorite U2 records. That the Irish rock band named its fifth studio album after a tree that grows in the Mojave Desert in the southwestern U.S. is not a coincidence. The lyrics and music were inspired by U2’s feelings about America at the time: an admiration of its ideals, freedoms and open spaces, mixed with antipathy toward political and social concerns.

U2’s appreciation of landscapes like the Mojave Desert becomes apparent not only in the album’s cover art but also in its sound, which I’ve seen described as “cinematic.” One of the best examples of this cinematic sound is the beginning of the ballad Running to Stand Still. It features a Ry Cooder-type slide guitar that could come right out of the musical score for the 1984 drama motion picture Paris, Texas.

Joshua Tree features some of U2’s most iconic songs, including Where the Streets Have No Name, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For and With Or Without You. The two latter tunes became the band’s only singles to hit no. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. The first song only made it to no. 13 on that chart – surprising, in my opinion, since I find it as strong as the two other tracks.

Bullet the Blue Sky is the album’s most haunting tune, using heavy guitar feedback, distortion and slide-guitar playing to great effect. Lyrically, it’s one of U2’s most political songs that has become a staple of the band’s live concerts, where it has been performed with references to violence and political conflicts.

The album’s final track, Mothers of the Disappeared, is equally moving. It pays tribute to Madres de Plaza de Mayo and COMADRES, groups of mothers in Argentina and El Salvador, respectively, whose children had “disappeared” during the dictatorship eras in these countries. Two other songs that stand out to me are Red Hill Mining Town and In God’s Country.

All of the album’s lyrics were written by Bono, while all music is credited to U2. In addition to Bono (lead vocals, harmonica, guitars), the band includes The Edge (guitars, backing vocals, piano), Adam Clayton (bass guitar) and Larry Mullen Jr. (drums, percussion).

While U2 plays amazingly well as a band and has gotten even better over the decades, I’d like to call out The Edge. In my book, he is one of the coolest guitarists who managed to create a signature sound that is unique and instantly recognizable – not a small feat, if you consider how many rock guitarists are out there!

The Joshua Tree was U2’s second album produced by Daniel Lanois and Brian Eno, who were also involved in producing many of the band’s subsequent records. In addition to U2, Lanois has produced for a variety other great artists, such as Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Peter Gabriel, while Eno has collaborated with David Bowie and David Byrne, among others.

With more than 25 million copies sold worldwide, The Joshua Tree is one of the most successful records. The album climbed to the top of the charts in more than 20 countries, including the U.S. Billboard 200. It also won two Grammy awards in 1988 for Album of the Year and Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. Even the U.S. Library of Congress recognized the album’s significance and selected it for preservation in the National Recording Registry in 2014.

In a Facebook chat with fans on the day of the 30th anniversary, The Edge explained “U2 became a really popular band” during the initial Joshua Tree Tour in 1987. Troves of fans crowded in front of U2’s hotels and outside concert venues, frequently forcing the band to escape through back doors – it almost sounded a bit like “Beatlemania.”

It will no doubt be different during the upcoming The Joshua Tree Tour 2017, which includes 21 concerts in North America and 12 shows in Europe. The tour kicks off on May 12th in Vancouver, Canada, and concludes on August 1st in Brussels, Belgium. U2 is one of the greatest live bands, and I can’t wait to see them on June 29th at MetLife Stadium in East, Rutherford, N.J.

In addition to the upcoming tour, U2 fans can also look forward to “the ultimate collector’s edition of The Joshua Tree,” which the band announced on the eve of the album’s 30th anniversary. The reissue, which is slated for release on June 2nd, will be available in various formats, including vinyl and CD super deluxe box sets, a 2-CD deluxe set, standard vinyl and CD releases, and different digital formats. I might go for the vinyl!

Here is a great clip of a live performance of I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.

Sources: Wikipedia, Facebook, U2 web site, YouTube