The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Hope everybody is enjoying their Sunday. I find it hard to believe we’ve already come to the end of January. Once again it’s time to embark on another mini-excursion to explore music of the past and present, six tunes at a time. Fasten your seatbelt and off we go!

Jimmy Smith/The Organ Grinder’s Swing

Our first stop on today’s time travel is groovy jazz by organist Jimmy Smith who helped popularize the magnificent Hammond B-3. Smith was already on stage in clubs as a 6-year-old when he joined his father for a song-and-dance routine. After Smith had taught himself how to play the piano, he won a Philadelphia radio talent contest as a boogie-woogie pianist when he was nine years old. Following service in the U.S. Army, Smith attended Royal Hamilton College of Music in Hamilton, Ontario in 1948, followed by Leo Ornstein School of Music in Philadelphia a year later. He began exploring the Hammond organ in 1951, and played piano and organ in various Philadelphia R&B bands before switching to organ permanently in 1954. When Alfred Lion, co-founder of jazz label Blue Note Records, heard Smith perform in a local club, he signed him right away. Already his sophomore release The Champ from 1956 established Smith as a new jazz star. Between 1956 and 2005, he released an enormous amount of albums both as a leader and as a sideman playing with other prominent jazz musicians. The Organ Grinder’s Swing, a composition by Will Hudson, Irving Mills and Mitchell Parish, is from a 1965 album titled Organ Grinder Swing. It features Kenny Burrell on guitar and Grady Tate on drums. Take it away, boys!

Santana/Anywhere You Want to Go

After this groovy start, let’s jump to April 2016 and keep groovin’ while adding some Latin flavor. If you are a more frequent visitor of the blog, chances are you have seen me write that I dig Carlos Santana, particularly his first three albums with the classic Santana band, which appeared between 1969 and 1971. As such, I was quite excited when I learned in 2016 that Carlos had reunited most of the band’s surviving members for a new album aptly called Santana IV. It was released in April that year, and Santana also toured with the band. I caught one of the fantastic shows in Allentown, Pa. You can see the setlist here. And here’s a tune from Santana IV, Anywhere You Want to Go. Keyboarder Gregg Rolie wrote that song, which they also played during the above-mentioned show. Other original members from the classic Santana band playing on the album and during the tour included Neal Schon (guitar, vocals), Michael Shrieve (drums) and Michael Carabello (congas, percussion, backing vocals).

Bonnie Raitt/All At Once

For my next pick, I’m slowing things down with a beautiful tune by Bonnie Raitt, another artist I’ve loved for many years. Not only is Raitt an outstanding slide guitarist, but she’s also a no BS artist: What you get is what you see! All At Once, penned by her, is from Luck of the Draw, Raitt’s 11th studio album. It appeared in June 1993 and became her second hugely successful record following Nick of Time from March 1989, her commercial breakthrough that had come after years of personal and professional struggles. While unlike Nick of Time it didn’t top the U.S. charts (but reached a close no. 2), Luck of the Draw sold even more copies than its predecessor. Raitt dedicated the album to Stevie Ray Vaughan who had died in a helicopter crash in 1990 and had encouraged her to stop drinking. Apparently, Vaughan’s encouragement had a huge impact on Raitt’s becoming sober.

Badfinger/No Matter What

I would now like to turn to Badfinger, a band I’ve come to appreciate largely thanks to fellow blogger Max, aka badfinger20 from PowerPop. The Welsh rock band, widely recognized for their influence on ’70s power pop, evolved from The Iveys, a group formed in 1961. In 1968, they became the first band that was signed by The Beatles’ Apple label. Following the release of their debut album Maybe Tomorrow in July 1969, the group changed their name to Badfinger. From 1970 until 2000, nine albums appeared under that name. While Badfinger had four consecutive hits between 1970 and 1972, things tragically unraveled after Apple folded in 1973, and they struggled with a host of legal, managerial and financial problems. It drove two of the band’s members to commit suicide, Pete Ham in 1975 and Tom Evans in 1983 – one of the saddest stories in pop rock history! Here’s No Matter What, Badfinger’s second hit released in the U.S. and UK in October and November 1970, respectively. Written by Ham, the beautiful power pop tune was also included on the group’s third studio album No Dice, released in November of the same year.

You’re Among Friends/Don’t Borrow Trouble

The next stop on this musical journey is the present. Shout-out to fellow blogger Eclectic Music Lover who does a great job in highlighting contemporary artists and bands who oftentimes aren’t widely known. One great example is You’re Among Friends, an indie rock band from Cleveland, Ohio. According to their blog/website, they were formed in 2007 by Anthony Doran (lead vocals and guitars) and Kevin Trask (bass, keyboards and backing vocals), together with Chris Tarka (drums). Their current drummer Mike Janowitz has been with the group since 2019. Their website notes, Tagged as “casual rock” by Powerpopaholic, their music has been described as having “rollicking blues at its core with a sugary coating of power pop” by Cleveland Scene and as “a laid-back style of funky, blues-infused folk rock” by Eclectic Music Lover. To date, You’re Among Friends have released four full-length albums, as well as a couple of EPs and singles. Don’t Borrow Trouble is the catchy opener of the band’s fourth and latest album Good Enough Sometimes, released on January 10 this year.

Men At Work/Down Under

And, once again, this brings me to the sixth and final pick. This one’s by a band that came from a land down under: Men at Work. The group was formed in Melbourne in 1979 by Colin Hay (lead vocals, guitar), Ron Strykert (bass) and Jerry Speiser (drums), who were subsequently joined by Greg Ham (flute, sax, keyboards). By the time Men at Work recorded their debut album Business as Usual in 1981, they had added John Rees on bass and Strykert had switched to guitar. Down Under, co-written by Hay and Strykert, became the record’s second single in November that year and Men at Work’s biggest hit, topping the charts in Australia, the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, the UK and various other European countries. The tune introduced most of the world to the Vegemite sandwich, an Australian snack, as well as Australian slang terms, such as “fried-out” (overheated) and “a head full of zombie” (a marijuana reference). Late last year, Australian producer Christian “Luude” Benson remixed Down Under featuring Hay on vocals, which in January charted in the UK and Australia at no. 32 and no. 48, respectively – not my cup of tea, though I really like the original.

As usual, here’s a playlist with all of the above tunes. Hope there’s something for you.

Sources: Wikipedia; You’re Among Friends website; YouTube; Spotify

John Lennon’s Imagine Turns 50

Exactly 50 years ago today, on September 9, 1971, John Lennon released Imagine, his second solo album. Initially, I had not planned to cover this milestone, especially given how many other records that are arguably better are also hitting their 50th anniversary this year. Imagine sounds much more produced than Lennon’s solo debut John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band – even lush at times, which isn’t surprising, given Phil Spector’s involvement. Still, listening to it the other day reminded me this is a pretty damn good album by a member of my all-time favorite band. Do I really need more justification to celebrate its 50th anniversary?

Let’s revisit some of the songs. Starting with the opening title track really is a no-brainer. Whether you agree that it’s a great tune or not, it’s undisputable Imagine is John Lennon’s signature song. One could criticize a certain degree of hypocrisy that Lennon sang about peace while at the same time he was ignoring his first son Julian. Yes, John Lennon wasn’t perfect, but tell me one music artist you consider to be one of your heroes who is! Plus, it doesn’t change the fact the tune is a beautiful ballad with thought-provoking lyrics. Imagine also appeared separately as a single in the U.S. in October 1971 and in the UK in 1975, reaching no. 3 and no. 6 on the national charts, respectively. It became the most successful single of Lennon’s solo career.

One of the nice things that can happen when revisiting albums is that you come across a song that you previously had not quite recognized. This is how I feel about Crippled Inside, the second track on side one (speaking in vinyl terms). I love how that tune sounds, in particular the salon style piano played by Nicky Hopkins. Another notable guest I’d like to call out is George Harrison, who played Dobro guitar. There was also Ted Turner. According to Songfacts, he received a phone call from Lennon at 11:00 pm while his band Wishbone Ash was recording their own album to ask whether Turner could join Lennon’s recording session right away. Turner did and provided acoustic rhythm guitar.

“When you’re in love with somebody, you tend to be jealous, and want to own them and possess them 100 percent, which I do,” Lennon said about Jealous Guy, as captured by Songfacts. “Intellectually, I thought owning a person is rubbish, but I love Yoko, I want to possess her completely. I don’t want to stifle her. You have so little as a child, I think once you find it, you want to hang onto it. You grab it so much, you tend to kill it.” Songfacts also notes Yoko Ono told music magazine Uncut in 1998, “He was jealous about the fact that I had another language in my head, you know, Japanese, that he can’t share with me. It was almost on a very conceptual, spiritual level. It wasn’t on a level of physical or anything ’cause I just would never give him a reason for that.”

Time to move on to side two and Gimme Some Truth, a song about Lennon’s frustration with slick and deceptive politicians. Songfacts adds the tune also refers to cover-ups like the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, with Lennon demanding simple truth. Lennon’s outspoken stance against America’s war engagement in Vietnam did not endear him to the Nixon Administration, which mounted deportation efforts against him. Ultimately, they failed and “Tricky Dicky” was forced to resign in disgrace! Once again, George Harrison guested, playing electric guitar and slide guitar. Sadly, sleazy politicians are still all too common, so these lyrics very much remain relevant today.

Perhaps the album’s most intense track is How Do You Sleep?, which Lennon wrote when his relationship with Paul McCartney was at rock bottom. The song was a response to what Lennon felt were McCartney’s attacks against him on the Ram album, including lines in the song Too Many People and a picture of two screwing beetles on the back cover – or as Songfacts puts it, as if Paul was telling John, ‘screw you from one Beatle to another.’ Songfacts also notes an interview Lennon gave to BBC Radio 1 on December 6, 1980, two days before he was killed, during which he said, “I used my resentment against Paul, that I have as a kind of sibling rivalry resentment from youth, to write a song. It was a creative rivalry… It was not a vicious vendetta.” How Do You Sleep? is another tune featuring nice slide guitar work by George Harrison. Lennon would revisit the melody of the chorus on Steel and Glass, a tune that appeared on his fourth solo album Walls and Bridges from September 1974.

Let’s do one more: Oh Yoko!, the closer. The Beatles Bible notes Lennon started work on the love song in 1968 in India while The Beatles were visiting guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. The melody was inspired by Lost John, a song by skiffle artist Lonnie Donegan, one of Lennon’s early influences. Additionally, Oh Yoko! holds the distinction of Lennon playing harmonica for the first time since Rocky Raccoon and The White Album. It also turned out to be his last recording using the instrument.

In addition to George Harrison, Nicky Hopkins and Ted Turner, Imagine featured many other guests. Some included drummer Alan White who in 1972 joined Yes and is a member of the band to this day; Klaus Voormann who had been brought in by Harrison and played bass on all tracks; as well as Badfinger’s Joey Molland and Tom Evans who provided acoustic guitar on Jealous Guy and another tune titled I Don’t Wanna Be a Soldier, Mama.

Just like the title track, Imagine became Lennon’s most successful solo album, topping the charts in the U.S., the UK and various other European countries, as well as Australia and Japan. It has achieved 2X Platinum certification in the U.S. and Gold certification the UK. Imagine was ranked at no. 80 in Rolling Stone’s 2012 edition of the list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. As of 2020, it’s still on the list, coming in at no. 223.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; The Beatles Bible; YouTube