The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

It’s hard to believe another Sunday is upon us – I feel I just wrote the previous installment of The Sunday Six! For first-time visitors, the idea of this recurring feature is to celebrate different genres of music from different decades, six tunes at a time. Without further ado, let’s jump right in!

Julian Lage/Boo’s Blues

I’d like to start where I left off yesterday’s Best of What’s New: Julian Lage, an American jazz guitarist and composer who released his solo debut album in March 2009. I first came across Lage’s music on Friday in connection with his new album Squint and immediately fell in love with his guitar tone! Borrowing from yesterday’s post, according to his Apple Music profileLage has been widely acclaimed as one of the most prodigious guitarists of his generation. The New York-based musician boasts a long resume as a desired sideman with artists as diverse as Gary Burton, Taylor Eigsti, John Zorn, Nels Cline, Chris Eldridge, Eric Harland, and Fred Hersch, to name just a few. Equally important is his reputation as a soloist and bandleader. He is equally versed in jazz, classical, pop, and show tunes, and has spent more than a decade searching through the myriad strains of American musical history via an impeccable technique and a gift for freely associating between styles, tempos, keys, and textures that adds to his limitless improvisational spirit. Here’s another track from Lage’s new album, which also features bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Dave King: Boo’s Blues. Beautiful music for a Sunday morning!

The Jimi Hendrix Experience/One Rainy Wish

I trust Jimi Hendrix doesn’t need an introduction. One Rainy Wish is a tune from the second album by the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Axis: Bold as Love, which first appeared in the UK in December 1967, followed by release in the US the following month. The song wasn’t on my radar until my streaming music provider served it up as a listening suggestion the other day. Also known as Golden Rose, One Rainy Wish was written by Hendrix and recorded in October 1967 at Olympic Sound Studios in London, together with Noel Redding (bass) and Mitch Mitchell (drums). Based on the lyrics, the song was inspired by a dream Hendrix had. Quoting the Hendrix biography Jimi Hendrix: Electric Gypsy, Wikipedia notes the song is “creak[ing] with radical harmonies and rhythmic concepts, not least the fact that the verse is in 3/4 time while the chorus is in 4/4.” Songfacts adds Hendrix used an octavia, an effects pedal that reproduces the input signal from a guitar eight notes higher in pitch, mixing it with the original note and adding distortion. The octavia had been designed for Hendrix by Roger Mayer, a then-21-year-old electric engineer wunderkind. One Rainy Day Wish also became the B-side to the U.S. single Up From the Skies, which was released in February 1968, the only single from the album.

Bob Dylan/Series of Dreams

This next selection of the Bob Dylan tune Series of Dreams is a bit out of left field. Initially, I had planned to feature Angelina, a song I had come across recently and immediately thought would make a great pick for The Sunday Six. Dylan first released Angelina in March 1991 on his 3-CD box set The Bootleg Series Volumes 1–3 (Rare & Unreleased) 1961–1991. However, I couldn’t find a YouTube clip, something that rarely happens. This bummer prompted me to check whether other songs from this box set are available on YouTube and led to Series of Dreams. Dylan first recorded the tune in March 1989 for his 26th studio album Oh Mercy that was released in September of the same year. But Series of Dreams was ultimately omitted from the album. The version that ended up on the box set is a remix of the original with overdubs added in January 1991. Dylan also included an alternate take of the song on The Bootleg Series Vol. 8: Tell Tale Signs: Rare and Unreleased 1989-2006. While finding Series of Dreams was entirely circumstantial, I’m quite happy with it, so farewell, Angelina! 🙂

Joni Mitchell/This Flight Tonight

The first time I heard This Flight Tonight was the cover by Scottish rock band Nazareth, which must have been in the late ’70s on the radio back in Germany. I had no idea then that this tune was penned by Joni Mitchell. Another prominent example is Woodstock, which I first heard by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young on the Déjà Vu album and simply assumed it was their song. I was very young back then! Anyway, Mitchell recorded This Flight Tonight for her widely renowned fourth studio album Blue, which was released in June 1971. The song tells of her regrets as she leaves her lover on a flight and wishes to return. The entire album, which Mitchell made after her breakup with Graham Nash and during her relationship with James Taylor, revolves around different aspects of relationships. While I always liked Mitchell’s songs, it took me a while to get used to her voice, which I felt was very high, especially on her earlier songs.

Tracy Chapman/Fast Car

I still remember when Tracy Chapman’s eponymous debut album came out in April 1988. Two songs from it, Talkin’ ’bout a Revolution and Fast Car, were very popular on the radio back in Germany. The combination of Chapman’s powerful voice, great lyrics and the relative simplicity of her songs blew me away, and I got the CD immediately. To this day, I believe it’s incredible. Chapman has since released seven additional studio albums. Her most recent, Our Bright Future, dates back to November 2008. There is also a Greatest Hits compilation that came out in November 2015. While Chapman has not been active for many years, she has not officially retired from music. In fact, last November, the night before the U.S. Presidential election, she made a rare TV appearance on Late Night with Seth Myers with a clip of her performing Talkin’ ‘about a Revolution and asking Americans to vote. Here’s a short related clip from Rolling Stone. While all of Chapman’s albums charted in the U.S. and numerous other countries, her debut remains her most successful. It topped the charts in the U.S., Canada, Australia and various European countries, including the UK and Germany. Here’s Fast Car. I absolutely love this song and hope eventually we will hear more from Tracy Chapman. She’s only 57 years old!

Green Day/Boulevard of Broken Dreams

This Sunday Six installment has been heavy on singer-songwriters, so I’d like to wrap it up with some rock from the present century: Boulevard of Broken Dreams by Green Day. Yes, that track from the band’s seventh studio album American Idiot from September 2004 certainly hasn’t suffered from under-exposure. And while I generally don’t follow Green Day, it’s one catchy tune I still dig. The song’s lyrics were written by lead vocalist Billie Joe Armstrong, with the music being credited to the entire band. Perhaps, not surprisingly Boulevard of Broken Dreams became Green Day’s biggest mainstream hit in America, climbing to no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and raking up U.S. sales of over 2 million copies as of 2010. By 2009, the tune had sold more than 5 million copies worldwide, making it the ninth-highest selling single of the 2000-2009 decade. Green Day are rocking on to this day. Since American Idiot, they have released six additional studio albums, most recently in February 2020. According to their website, Green Day are also scheduled to kick off an eight-week, 22-date U.S. tour in Dallas on July 24.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; Green Day website; YouTube

My Playlist: Music Artists Who Do It All

Some of my favorite singer-songwriters from the 1960s through the 2000s

The singer-songwriter category is very broad, depending on how you define it, spanning different music genres, including folk, rock, country and pop. According to Wikipedia, singer-songwriters are artists who write, compose and perform their own music, oftentimes solo with just a guitar or piano. All Music adds that although early rock & roll artists like Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly wrote and sang their own songs, the term singer-songwriter “refers to the legions of performers that followed Bob Dylan in the late 60s and early 70s.” You could make the same observation about blues pioneers like Lead Belly, Blind Lemon Jefferson, T-Bone Walker and Lightnin’ Hopkins.

Based on the above definition, artists who write and perform songs as part of a band are not singer-songwriters. Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger would be popular examples in this context. While I’ve seen Elton John being mentioned as a singer-songwriter, to me he’s not, at least not in the strict sense. While he has written the music to his songs and performed them, he has relied on Bernie Taupin for the lyrics. By comparison, the other big pop piano man of our time, Billy Joel, has written the music and lyrics for pretty much all of his songs, so he fits the category.

With the singer-songwriter definition being out of the way, let’s get to some of my favorite artists in that category. I’d like to tackle this chronologically, starting with the 60s and Bob Dylan. The Times They Are A-Changin’ is the title track from his third studio album, which appeared in January 1964. According to Songfacts, the tune “became an anthem for frustrated youth,” expressing anti-establishment sentiments and reflecting the Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. Songfacts also quotes Dylan from the liner notes of his Biograph box set compilation album from November 1985: “I wanted to write a big song, some kind of theme song, with short, concise verses that piled up on each other in a hypnotic way. This is definitely a song with a purpose. I knew exactly what I wanted to say and who I wanted to say it to.” Sadly, the song has taken on new relevance in present-day America, especially over the past couple of years.

Next up: Donovan and Sunshine Superman, one of my longtime favorite ’60s tunes. The song is the title track of Donovan’s third album released in August 1966 in the U.S. It did not come out in the U.K. due a contractual dispute between British label Pye Records and U.S. label Epic Records. This also impacted the release of Donovan’s fourth album Mellow Yellow, which like Sunshine Superman appeared in the U.S. only. After the labels had worked out their issue, Pye Records released a compilation from both records in the U.K. in June 1967 under the title of Sunshine Superman.

Jumping to the ’70s, here’s Fire And Rain by James Taylor. Apart from his cover of the Carole King tune You’ve Got A Friend, the opener of his second album Sweet Baby James from February 1970 is my favorite Taylor song. It became his first big hit in the U.S., peaking at no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100. Songfacts quotes Taylor from a 1972 interview with Rolling Stone, during which he explained how the song came about: “The first verse is about my reactions to the death of a friend [Susie Schnerr, “Suzanne”]. The second verse is about my arrival in this country [the U.S.] with a monkey on my back, and there Jesus is an expression of my desperation in trying to get through the time when my body was aching and the time was at hand when I had to do it. And the third verse of that song refers to my recuperation in Austin Riggs [from drug addiction] which lasted about five months.” Wow, certainly a lot of stuff packed in one song!

In November 1970, Cat Stevens (nowadays known as Yusuf/Cat Stevens) released Tea For The Tillerman, his fourth studio album. One of my favorite tunes from that record is Father And Son. According to Songfacts, while Stevens made up the story about a son wanting to join the Russian Revolution and his dad pleading with him to stay home to work on the farm, the lyrics were inspired by Stevens’ lonely childhood and differences of opinion between him and his father about his chosen path to become a professional musician.

I already mentioned Carole King, one of my favorite singer-songwriters of all time – in fact, make that one of my all-time favorite music artists! Sometimes one forgets that before becoming a recording artist and performer, King had a close to 10-year career writing songs for other artists, together her then-husband Gerry Goffin. More than two-dozen of these tunes entered the charts, and various became hits. Examples include Chains (The Cookies, later covered by The Beatles on their debut record), The Loco-Motion (Little Eva), One Fine Day (The Chiffons) and Pleasant Valley Sunday (The Monkees). King composed the music for these tunes, while Goffin wrote the lyrics. Then, in February 1971, Carole King released her second solo album Tapestry. Instead of obvious choices like I Feel The Earth Move, It’s Too Late or You’ve Got A Friend, I’d like to highlight Way Over Yonder. Among others, this gem features James Taylor on acoustic guitar and Curtis Amy who plays the amazing tenor saxophone solo. To me, this is as close to perfection as music can get – emotional, beautiful and timeless!

Joni Mitchell is one of those artists I really should know much better than I currently do. In June 1971, her fourth album Blue appeared, which according to Wikipedia is widely regarded by music critics as one of the greatest records of all time. Here’s This Flight Tonight. If you don’t know Mitchell’s original, yet the melody and the lyrics somehow sound familiar, you’ve probably heard the cover by Scottish hard rock band Nazareth. I certainly have, since they scored a no. 1 hit with it in Germany in 1973. The song also charted in the U.K. (no. 11), U.S. (no. 177) and Canada (no. 27).

More frequent visitors of the blog won’t be surprised about my next choice: Neil Young. Wait a moment, some might think, based on what I wrote in my clever introduction, should he be in the list? After all, he has been affiliated with bands like Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and he continues to perform frequently with Crazy Horse. Well, in addition to these bands, Young has done plenty of solo work, plus Crazy Horse is his backing band. At the core, there’s no doubt to me that Young nicely fits the singer-songwriter definition. Here’s The Needle And The Damage Done, one of Young’s finest songs first recorded for Harvest, his fourth studio album from February 1972. The tune was inspired by the death of Young’s friend and former Crazy Horse bandmate Danny Whitten from heroin addiction. With the U.S. battling a horrific opioid addiction crisis, eerily, the song’s lyrics remain as relevant today as they were more than 45 years ago.

While with the explosion of the singer-songwriter category in the late ’60s and 70s I could  go on featuring artists from that time period, I also would like to least touch on more recent decades. In the ’80s, Suzanne Vega emerged as one of the most popular artists in the category. At the time, I frequently listened to her second album Solitude Standing from April 1987 – yes, it’s the one with Tom’s Diner. While that song represents cinematic-type storytelling at its best and perfectly describes the New York morning rush, I’ve become a bit tired of the tune due to over-exposure. Interestingly though, it wasn’t much of a chart success at the time, unlike Luka, the track I’m featuring here, which became Vega’s biggest hit. The song’s upbeat melody is in marked contrast to the lyrics addressing the horrible subject of child abuse.

When it comes to ’90s singer-songwriters, one name that comes to mind is Alanis Morissette. In June 1995, the Canadian artist released her third studio album Jagged Little Pill, which became her first record that appeared worldwide and catapulted her to international stardom. The album became a chart topper in 13 countries, including Canada, the U.K. and the U.S., and is one of the highest-selling records of all time, exceeding more than 33 million copies worldwide. It won five Grammy Awards including Album of the Year. Here’s the record’s second single Hand In My Pocket, a nice rock tune Morissette co-wrote with Glen Ballard who also produced the album.

The last artist I’d like to highlight in this post is English singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse. During her career, which was tragically cut short in July 2011 when she died from alcohol poisoning at the age of 27, Winehouse only released two albums. Her acclaimed second record Back To Black from October 2007 won Best Pop Vocal Album at the 2007 Grammy Awards. With close to 3.6 million units sold in the U.K. alone, Back To Black became the U.K.’s second best-selling album of the 21st century; worldwide sales exceeded 12 million. Here’s the opener Rehab, which also was released separately as the album’s lead single. The lyrics describe Winehouse’s refusal to attend rehab for alcoholism following her management team’s suggestion. The tune has a nice soul vibe and like many of her other songs has a retro feel.

Sources: Wikipedia, All Music, Songfacts, YouTube