On This Day in Rock & Roll History: June 29

After more than three months, I thought the time was right to do another installment of my irregular music history feature. In case you’re new to these posts, the idea is to capture things that happened on a specific date in rock & roll’s past. It’s an arbitrary but fun way to look at music, since you never know what you are going to dig up. I mostly focus on the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. These posts are not meant to be comprehensive; in fact, they are highly selective and reflect my music taste. With that being said, let’s take a look at June 29.

1962: Motown singing group The Contours released their third single Do You Love Me. Written by the Detroit soul label’s president Berry Gordy Jr., the tune initially was intended for The Temptations. But after Gordy wasn’t able to locate them and had run into The Contours in the hallway, he spontaneously handed the song to them, confident it would become a hit. It turned out to be a good decision. While The Temptations went on and scored multiple mainstream top 40 hits, Do You Love Me became the only such chart success for The Contours, topping Billboard’s Hot R&B Sides and climbing to no. 3 on the Hot 100 mainstream chart.

1964: The Beatles played their first of two nights at Festival Hall in Brisbane, Australia, as part of their only world tour, which also included Denmark, The Netherlands, Hong Kong and New Zealand. They performed two sold out shows on both nights, which were each seen by 5,500 people. But evidently not everybody loved The Beatles, even before John Lennon’s controversial remark about the band being more popular than Jesus. After their arrival to Brisbane from New Zealand, they were pelted with food and bits of wood by some in the crowd while riding in an open-top truck. At the concerts, eggs were thrown at the stage, though The Beatles played on, and the perpetrators were quickly ejected from the music hall. Here’s another fun fact. John, Paul, George and Ringo stood at a hotel called Lennons Hotel. The day after their second night in Brisbane, The Beatles embarked on their long trip back to England. Don’t take it from me. It’s all documented in The Beatles Bible, the ultimate source of truth about the Fab Four! 🙂

Beatles fans in Brisbane – no egg throwers here!

1968: A Saucerful of Secrets, the sophomore album by Pink Floyd, appeared in the UK. The U.S. release occurred on July 27. Sadly, it turned out to be the final album with co-founder and key early songwriter Syd Barrett whose mental condition declined to a point where the group felt compelled to recruit David Gilmour to help out. Barrett left Pink Floyd prior to the album’s completion. Unlike the band’s debut The Piper at the Gates of Dawn from August 1967, for which Barrett was the major songwriter, his role on Pink Floyd’s second album was much reduced. He only wrote one of the seven tracks and contributed some guitar work to two others. Here’s the aforementioned sole tune written by Barrett, Jugband Blues. He also sang lead vocals and provided acoustic and electric guitar.

1974: Singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot hit no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with Sundown. He was the second Canadian artist in 1974 to top the U.S. main chart following Terry Jacks with Seasons in the Sun in early March. Written by Lightfoot, Sundown is the title track from his 10th studio album that had been released in January 1974. While he was also successful with other songs, such as If You Could Read My Mind (1970), Carefree Highway (1974), Rainy Day People (1975) and The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald (1976), Sundown remains Lightfoot’s only no. 1 hit on the Hot 100.

1984: Bruce Springsteen kicked off his Born in the U.S.A Tour at St. Paul Civic Center in St. Paul, Minn. to support his seventh studio album that had come out on June 4. The tour, which ended on October 2, 1985 in Los Angeles and also included Canada, Asia and Europe, would become Springsteen’s longest and most successful tour to date. It was the first since portions of the 1974 Born to Run tours without Steven Van Zandt who had decided to launch a solo career after Born in the U.S.A. had been recorded and was replaced by Nils Lofgren. It was also the first tour to include Patti Scialfa who became Springsteen’s wife in 1991. And then there was the filming of the video for Dancing in the Dark during the opening night, which featured then-unknown actress Courteney Cox who had been planted in the first row, looking adoringly at Springsteen before he pulled her up on stage to dance with him. It would make The Boss an MTV sensation. I wonder how he views of this today. Well, it was the ’80s…

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts Music Calendar; The Beatles Bible; YouTube

Space, the Final Frontier

Yesterday’s successful landing of NASA’s robotic explorer Perseverance on Mars once again reminds us of humankind’s fascination with distant planets and what’s out there beyond our galaxy. Not surprisingly, many music artists have embraced the theme of space in their songs. The first who always comes to my mind in this context is David Bowie, who repeatedly wrote about the topic in tunes like Space Oddity, Starman, Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes. There are plenty of additional examples. This playlist features some of these songs, ordered according to their release date.

The Byrds/Mr. Spaceman

While birds cannot fly in space, this didn’t prevent The Byrds from recording this happy-sounding tale about a kid who wakes up from the light of a flying saucer and cheerfully asks the ETs for a space ride. Mr. Spaceman, written by Roger McGuinn, appeared on the band’s third studio album Fifth Dimension from June 1966.

Pink Floyd/Astrodomine

This Syd Barrett tune, an early example of space rock, was the opener of Pink Floyd’s debut studio album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Released in August 1967, this early phase Floyd gem also featured another track in the same genre: Interstellar Overdrive. I decided to go with the shorter tune! 🙂

The Rolling Stones/2000 Light Years From Home

2000 Light Years from Home is a song from Their Satanic Majesties Request, a lovely psychedelic album by The Rolling Stones, which appeared only a few months after Floyd’s debut in December 1967. Co-written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the tune also became the B-side to the American single She’s a Rainbow that was released in November of the same year. Charmingly weird! 🙂

Steve Miller Band/Space Cowboy

Listening to Space Cowboy by Steve Miller Band was the tune that inspired this post, not the Mars rover, though I guess the timing worked out nicely. Co-written by Steve Miller and the band’s keyboarder at the time Ben Sidrin, the song was included on their third studio album Brave New World that came out in June 1969. The vibe of the main riff is a bit reminiscent of Peter Gunn, the theme music for the American detective TV show of the same name, composed by Henry Mancini in 1958. In 1979, Emerson, Lake & Palmer popularized that theme on their live album Emerson, Lake and Palmer in Concert.

Deep Purple/Space Truckin’

Time to go for some Space Truckin’ with Deep Purple. This track is the closer of the band’s sixth studio album Machine Head from March 1972, which to me remains their Mount Rushmore to this day. Like all remaining tracks on the record, Space Truckin’ was credited to all members of the band: Ritchie Blackmore (guitar), Ian Gillan (vocals, harmonica), Jon Lord (keyboards), Roger Glover (bass) and Ian Paice (drums, percussion).

Elton John/Rocket Man

One of my all-time favorites by Elton John happens to be related to space as well: Rocket Man, from his fifth studio album Honky Château that came out in May 1972. As usual, Sir Elton composed the music while Bernie Taupin provided the lyrics. Honky Château became John’s first no. 1 record in the U.S. He was literally flying on top of the word – six additional no. 1 albums in America would follow in a row!

David Bowie/Starman

I guess 1972 was a year, during which space themes were particularly popular in rock and pop music. In June 1972, only one and three months after Honky Château and Machine Head, respectively, David Bowie released his fifth studio album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. I have to say I tend to like him best during his glam rock period, and Ziggy Stardust is my favorite Bowie album. Like all except for one tune, Starman was written by Bowie.

Stevie Wonder/Saturn

Even soul great Stevie Wonder got into the “space business.” Saturn, co-written by Michael Sembello and Wonder, became a bonus track to Songs in the Key of Life, his magnum opus from September 1976.

The Police/Walking on the Moon

The year was 1979 when The Police released their sophomore album Reggatta de Blanc in October. Walking on the Moon, written by Sting, is the first track on the B-side. Yes, this was still pre-CDs, not to mention music streaming! I’ve always liked the reggae vibe of this tune.

R.E.M./Man on the Moon

Let’s wrap up this collection of space-themed songs with Man on the Moon by R.E.M. The tune, a tribute to American comedian and performer Andy Kaufman, was credited to the entire band: Michael Stipe (lead vocals), Peter Buck (guitar, mandolin, bass), Mike Mills (bass, keyboards, accordion, backing vocals) and Bill Berry (drums, percussion, keyboards, melodica, bass, backing vocals). It was recorded for R.E.M.’s eighth studio album Automatic for the People from October 1992. The album became their second major international success after Out of Time that had been released in March 1991.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Clips & Pix: Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets/See Emily Play

I just came across the above clip of See Emily Play performed by Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets. It’s from an upcoming album titled Live at the Roundhouse, which is scheduled for September 18 and will be available as a double-CD/DVD package, double-vinyl and on Blu-ray. The material was taken from concerts the band played at the famous London venue in May 2019.

Nick Mason, of course, is the former co-founder and drummer of Pink Floyd and the band’s only member who played on all of their studio albums. In 2018, he formed Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets together with guitarist Lee Harris. Other members of the band, which takes their name from Floyd’s 1968 sophomore album, include Gary Kemp (guitar, vocals), formerly with Spandau Ballet; Guy Pratt (bass, vocals) and Dom Beken (keyboards).

The idea behind Saucerful is to perform Pink Floyd’s early music prior to the The Dark Side of the Moon album. “We’re not a tribute band,” Mason told Uncut in May 2018. “It’s not important to play the songs exactly as they were, but to capture the spirit.”

Whatever you want to call them, I think it’s great fans of Floyd’s early years including the Syd Barrett era have an opportunity to hear tracks that haven’t been played live for decades like Interstellar Overdrive, Astronomy Domine, If, The Nile Song and, of course, See Emily Play. Written by Barrett, the tune appeared on Floyd’s debut album The Piper at the Gates of Dawn.

Now that I’ve watched the clip and other footage that’s on YouTube, I’m starting to regret I didn’t catch the band in April 2019 when they played the Beacon Theatre in New York City. A few weeks earlier, I had seen outstanding tribute band Brit Floyd, so I didn’t feel like going to another show of Pink Floyd music. Due to COVID-19, Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets had to reschedule many gigs in England and elsewhere in Europe until next year. Their currently planned schedule is here.

Sources: Wikipedia; Uncut; Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets website; 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

What I’ve Been Listening to: Pink Floyd/Wish You Were Here

I could have titled this post “What I’ve Been Listening to For the Past 40-Plus Years.” Wish You Were Here not only marked the start of my long Pink Floyd journey but also was an essential part of my early discovery of music. This album was one of various gems my sister had on vinyl as a 16-year-old or so. I was ten years old at the time and essentially didn’t understand a word of English. It didn’t matter. The music bug had infected me forever. It’s the most beautiful infection I can think of!

Of course, I also explored the other 14 studio albums Pink Floyd released between 1967 and 2014. That was many moons ago as well. And I realized records like The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, Meddle or The Dark Side of the Moon match or even exceed the mighty of Wish You Were Here. Still, Floyd’s masterpiece from September 1975 will forever keep a special place in my heart. Always.

I know it may seem to be weird to tout what I believe is perfect music as a natural sleeping aid. Wish You Were Here is great for that! In fact, I started using the record for that purpose when I had my first stereo and first set of headphones. I still love listening to the album at night in bed, nowadays using my smartphone and earbuds, which I have to admit is a less than perfect way to enjoy music. I’m happy to report I also keep listening to Pink Floyd during the daytime while I’m wide awake! 🙂

Pink Floyd in 1975 (from left: Nick Mason David Gilmor, Roger Waters & Richard Wright

Recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London between January and July 1975, Wish You Were Here is Floyd’s ninth studio album. It’s the band’s second record after The Dark Side of the Moon, which was based on a conceptual theme that was entirely written by Roger Waters. In this case, the topics include biting criticism of the music business and alienation. And, of course not to forget, a tribute to founding member Syd Barrett who had been instrumental to the band’s early phase until his ouster in April 1968 due to mental illness and the use of psychedelic drugs.

In fact, on June 5, 1975, the day when Pink Floyd were completing the mix of Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Syd Barrett showed up at the studio out of the blue. Being overweight with shaven head and eyebrows, he barely resembled the 22-year-old man back in 1968. Waters and Nick Mason didn’t recognize him, while David Gilmour first thought he was an EMI staff member. Richard Wright first realized it was Barrett who reportedly said he was happy to help with the recording. But according to Mason’s Pink Floyd memoir Inside Out, Barrett “sat round and talked for a bit but he wasn’t really there.”

Apparently, Barrett also joined a wedding reception in the canteen at EMI for David Gilmour who a month later got married to his first wife, American artist, sculptor, author and former model Ginger Gilmour. He left the festivities quietly without saying goodbye to anybody. It was the last time the band members had seen Barrett who passed away from pancreatic cancer in 2006 – what an incredibly sad story!

Syd Barrett at Abbey Road Studios, June 5, 1975

Wikipedia includes this quote from Roger Waters, taken from Crazy Diamond: Syd Barrett and the Dawn of Pink Floyd, a 2001 Barrett biography written by Mike Watkinson and Pete Anderson: I’m very sad about Syd. Of course he was important and the band would never have fucking started without him because he was writing all the material. It couldn’t have happened without him but on the other hand it couldn’t have gone on with him. “Shine On” is not really about Syd—he’s just a symbol for all the extremes of absence some people have to indulge in because it’s the only way they can cope with how fucking sad it is, modern life, to withdraw completely. I found that terribly sad.

Interestingly, Alan Parsons, who still was a staff engineer at EMI and had played a key role in shaping the sound of Pink Floyd’s previous album The Dark Side of the Moon, declined to continue working with the band. While I couldn’t find any specific explanatory accounts, Wikipedia’s entry for Dark Side notes the members of the band had some disagreements over the style of the mix. Ultimately, they decided to bring in producer Chris Thomas to provide “a fresh pair of ears.” Perhaps that didn’t sit well with Parsons. Instead of him, Brian Humphries served as recording engineer for Wish You Were Here. The band had previously worked with him on the More soundtrack album from June 1969 and again in 1974. Time for some music.

While it’s a long track (not a rarity when it comes to Pink Floyd!), I just couldn’t skip the magnificent opener Shine On You Crazy Diamond (Parts I-V). Of course, this is the tune that even if it’s not an outright tribute to Syd Barrett as the above quote by Waters seems to suggest, at a bare minimum is inspired by him. Especially, the instrumental intro makes me feel like floating in space – which is why the tune is perfect to relax and fall asleep! 🙂 The music is credited to Gilmour, Wright and Waters.

Next up: Have a Cigar, which on the vinyl edition is the first track of the B-side. An excerpt from the lyrics leaves on doubt what Waters was writing about. I just wonder how the executives at the record company felt when they heard the tune for the first time. I guess somebody there was smart enough to realize that while the words weren’t exactly flattering, they had a masterpiece on their hands that would sell many copies. They call it riding the gravy train!

Come in here, dear boy, have a cigar,
You’re gonna go far,

You’re gonna fly high,
You’re never gonna die,

You’re gonna make it if you try,
They’re gonna love you.
I’ve always had a deep respect and I mean that most sincere;
The band is just fantastic, that is really what I think,
Oh, by the way, which one’s Pink?

Both the tune’s lyrics and music were credited to Waters. English folk singer Roy Harper sang on the tune, making Have a Cigar only one of two Floyd songs that featured a guest singer on lead vocals. The other one was The Great Gig in the Sky from Dark Side with the amazing Clare Torry.

The last tune I’d like to highlight is the album’s title track – undoubtedly one of Pink Floyd’s best-known songs. Interestingly, Wish You Were Here wasn’t released as a single at the time, though the tune quickly became a staple on the radio in Germany and elsewhere. Eventually, a live version of the song from the band’s third live album Pulse appeared as a single in September 1994. Gilmour and Waters co-wrote the music. Together with Welcome to the Machine, it is one of two tunes on the album featuring Gilmour on lead vocals.

According to Wikipedia, the song’s distinct intro was recorded from Gilmour’s car radio. His guitar intro, played on a 12-string, was processed to sound as if it was playing through an AM radio, and then overdubbed a fuller-sounding acoustic guitar solo. This passage was mixed to sound as though a guitarist were listening to the radio and playing along. As the acoustic part becomes more complex, the ‘radio broadcast’ fades away and Gilmour’s voice enters, while the rest of the band joins in. What a brilliant concept!

Upon its release, Wish You Were Here received a mixed reception from music critics. For example, Rolling Stone cleverly noted the band’s”lackadaisical demeanor”, leaving the subject of Barrett “unrealised; they give such a matter-of-fact reading of the goddamn thing that they might as well be singing about Roger Waters’s brother-in-law getting a parking ticket.” The Village Voice’s Robert Christgau, on the other hand, was shockingly positive: “The music is not only simple and attractive, with the synthesizer used mostly for texture and the guitar breaks for comment, but it actually achieves some of the symphonic dignity (and cross-referencing) that The Dark Side of the Moon simulated so ponderously.”

Of course, Wish You Were Here has since been frequently regarded as one of the greatest albums of all time. In fact, it is ranked at no. 211 in Rolling Stone’s 2012 list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time – way too low, in my humble and completely unbiased opinion! In the magazine’s 50 Greatest Prog Rock Albums of All Time from June 2015, it came in at no. 4. This sounds more acceptable to me!

No matter how you feel about Wish You Were Here, one thing is undisputed: The album became one of Pink Floyd’s most successful records topping the charts in the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and various European countries including the UK, France, The Netherlands and Switzerland. It has sold an estimated 13 million copies, compared to more than 45 million for Dark Side, Floyd’s best-seller. Gilmour and Wright have called Wish You Were Here their favorite Pink Floyd album.

Sources: Wikipedia; Rolling Stone; YouTube