Musings of the Past

The Hardware: Rickenbacker 360/12

Time to take another trip down memory lane. In June 2017, this blog reached its one-year mark. I had recently introduced a new feature titled “The Hardware.” In a nutshell, the idea was to write about iconic music gear in rock, take a look at the technology without going overboard, and feature some of the artists who played the corresponding piece of equipment.

Among my all-time favorite instruments are Rickenbacker guitars, especially 12-string versions, even though I never owned one. I’ve always loved their distinct jangly sound. And, who knows, one of these days I might be crazy enough to get one, even though my guitar skills have become terribly rusty, and the electric guitar and I never became good friends. I suppose it can be tricky when you take classical guitar lessons and then try to apply what you learned to the electric.

Anyway, the following post first appeared on CMM on June 24, 2017. It has been slightly edited for style. I also added a Spotify playlist.

The Hardware: Rickenbacker 360/12

The “jangling” sound of the legendary 12-string guitar had a huge impact on 60s rock

Perhaps no other ’60s band is more closely associated with the chiming sound of the Rickenbacker 360/12 12-string electric guitar than The Byrds. The first time I distinctly noticed its beautiful sound must have been on Mr. Tambourine Man, though the musician who put the 360/12 initially on the map was not Roger McGuinn but George Harrison in early 1964.

Founded in 1931 as Ro-Pat-In Corporation by Swiss immigrant Adolph Rickenbacher and George Beauchamp, later named Electro String and eventually Rickenbacker, the company became a pioneer in electric musical instruments. It was the world’s first manufacturer of electric guitars. Initially, the company made electric Hawaiian guitars before starting to produce a large range of electric and bass guitars.

In 1963, Rickenbacker created the first 12-string electric guitar. In early 1964, Frances C. Hall, who had bought the company in the 1940s, met with The Beatles in New York during their first U.S. tour to show different models to them. John Lennon checked out a 360/12 but thought it would be better suited for Harrison, who was sick and didn’t attend the meeting. When Harrison eventually saw the guitar, he liked it right away. His use of the instrument in the motion picture A Hard Day’s Night would give Rickenbacker electric guitars an enormous boost in popularity.

And then, there was of course McGuinn who introduced The Byrds’ chiming signature guitar sound to the music world on the band’s 1965 debut album Mr. Tambourine Man. Coming from a folk tradition and using a 12-string  Rickenbacker, McGuinn essentially created folk-rock, a new genre at the time.

Asked during an interview with Guitar.com how he came up with the jingle-jangle sound, McGuinn explained, “It was a natural process. It wasn’t like we popped it out of the oven fully grown. I was playing folk music and we played a lot of fingerpicking stuff…And when I heard the Rickenbacker 12-string guitar in the movie A Hard Days Night, that’s where I first got the idea to use that [in my music]. And it made a difference in the sound. It was a much cleaner and bigger and fuller sound.” How about a little demo from the maestro on his Roger McGuinn limited edition Rickenbacker 12-string – isn’t that sound absolutely magical?

As for his preference for the Rickenbacker, McGuinn said, “it sounds different from any other 12-string on the market. I have a Fender 12-string and it sounds completely different even though I put Rickenbacker pickups on it. Maybe it’s the wood or the dimensions of the wood or the semi-hollow-body construction. It could be a lot of different things. But it’s got a distinctive sound. Also they do something different with the stringing. Normal 12-string guitars have an octave string and then the low string. Rickenbacker does it backwards. They have the low string first and then the octave. So the last thing you hear kind of rings out. It’s like you’re picking backwards.”

One of the 360/12’s defining features is the headstock and the way the 12 tuners are grouped in top- and side-mounted pairs. Like on a standard guitar, there are three tuners mounted on each side, with the tuner posts projecting out from the face of the headstock. In addition, three tuners are attached to the side of the headstock, with the tuner knobs pointing toward the rear of the headstock. This design allows the headstock to have the same size as a headstock of a standard six-string, which in turn avoids the head-heavy feel other 12-string guitars tend to have. Are you still with me? 🙂

Another distinct feature of the 360/12 is the string set-up. In a conventional 12-string, the high (octave) string is the first in each pair of strings. On the 360/12, the octave string is the second in each pair. Together with the semi-hollow body design, this string set-up creates the guitar’s signature sound.

“Straight away I liked that you knew exactly which string was which,” Harrison said, according to a recent story in Guitar World, adding with other 12-string guitars, “you spend hours trying to tune it.” I’ve never owned a 12-string, but the idea to tune the string pairs in exact octaves and relative to each other sounds pretty challenging to me, especially without a guitar tuner!

Not surprisingly, the Rickenbacker 360/12 became a very popular guitar. Following are some clips that prominently feature this beautiful instrument:

The Byrds/Mr. Tambourine Man

The Beatles/A Hard Day’s Night

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers/The Waiting

The Byrds/Turn! Turn! Turn!

Okay, this is the second update to this post, so I hope the third version will make a charm! A dear friend brought to my attention this awesome take of If I Needed Someone, one of my all-time favorite Beatles songs, from McGuinn – sounds a bit like So You Want to be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star meeting Harrison! I have to admit, I almost like it better than the original!

– End –

Following is a Spotify playlist including the above tunes and some others, allegedly featuring a Rickenbacker 360/12. In some cases, it’s definitely more obvious than in others.

Sources: Wikipedia; Guitar World; Guitar.com; YouTube; Spotify

Musings of the Past

The Venues: The Old Grey Whistle Test

This Musings of the Past revisits a post about the British television music show The Old Grey Whistle Test. It was originally published in July 2017. In case you haven’t seen any previous installments, Musings of the Past is a recurring feature in which I republish posts that first appeared when the blog got less traffic or content I feel otherwise deserves a second exposure.

A key reason for me to republish this post is what I feel are great clips of artists like Neil Young, David Bowie, Joni Mitchell, John Lennon, Bonnie Raitt and Emmylou Harris. It was fun to revisit this content. Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

The Venues: The Old Grey Whistle Test

The British television music show featured an impressive array of artists

This post and the related new category I’m introducing to the blog was inspired by a dear friend from Germany, who earlier today suggested searching YouTube for “Old Grey Whistle Test,” just for fun! Since he shares my passion for music and always gives me great tips, I checked it out right away and instantly liked the clips that came up. This triggered the idea to start writing about places where rock & roll has been performed throughout the decades.

At this time, I envisage The Venues to include famous concert halls and TV shows. Many come to mind: The FillmoreThe Beacon TheaterThe ApolloThe Hollywood BowlCandlestick ParkWinterland BallroomThe Ed Sullivan Show, Rockpalast – the list goes on and on! Given it was my dear friend who inspired me, it feels right to start with The Old Grey Whistle Test.

I admit that until earlier today, I had never heard about The Old Grey Whistle Test. According to Wikipedia, the British television show aired on the BBC between September 1971 and January 1988. The late night rock show was commissioned by British veteran broadcaster Sir David Attenborough and conceived by BBC TV producer Rowan Ayers.

The show aimed to emphasize “serious” rock music, less whether it was chart-topping or not – a deliberate contrast to Top of the Pops, another BBC show that was chart-driven, as the name suggests. Based on the YouTube clips I’ve seen, apparently, this was more the case in the show’s early days than in the ’80s when the music seems to have become more commercial. Unlike other TV music shows, the sets on The Old Grey Whistle lacked showbiz glitter – again, probably more true for the ’70s than the ’80s period.

During the show’s early years, performing bands oftentimes recorded the instrumental tracks the day before the show aired. The vocals were performed live most of the time. After 1973, the show changed to an all-live format. In 1983, the title was abridged to Whistle Test. The last episode was a live 1987/88 New Year’s Eve special, including a 1977 live performance of Hotel California by The Eagles and Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell.

So what kind of music did the show feature? Let’s take a look at some of these YouTube clips.

Neil Young/Heart of Gold (1971)

Steppenwolf/Born to Be Wild (1972)

David Bowie/Oh, You Pretty Things (1972; not broadcast until 1982)

Rory Gallagher/Hands Off (1973)

Joni Mitchell/Big Yellow Taxi (1974)

John Lennon/Slippin’ & Slidin’ (1975)

Bonnie Raitt/Angel From Montgomery (1976)

Emmylou Harris/C’est La Vie (1977)

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers/American Girl (1978)

Joe Jackson/Sunday Papers (1979)

Ramones/Do You Remember Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio?

Los Lobos/Don’t Worry Baby (1984)

Simply Red/Holding Back the Years (1985)

U2/In God’s Country (1987)

– End-

This post was originally published on July 1, 2017. The original clip of Ooh Las Vegas by Emmylou Harris has been replaced with C’est La View since the original clip was no longer available on YouTube.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

I can’t believe it’s Saturday again. It was a busy week that hardly left any opportunity for blogging, both writing and reading. I’m glad the time has come for another installment of Best of What’s New. I also look forward to catching up on the latest posts from my fellow bloggers soon! I’m quite happy with my picks this week and hope you’ll find something you like. Unless noted otherwise, all tunes are included on albums that were released yesterday (March 4).

Melissa Aldana/12 Stars

I’d like to kick off this week’s new music review with relaxing jazz music by Melissa Aldana, a tenor saxophonist from Chile. According to her Apple Music profile, she is known for her fluid harmonic lines and strong sense for the acoustic post-bop tradition. Discovered by pianist Danilo Pérez while still a teenager, Aldana debuted with Free Fall in 2010. She then earned wider acclaim winning the 2013 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Saxophone Competition. Busy as a leader and sideman, she has recorded with Terri Lyne Carrington and Cécile McLorin Salvant, and issued her own albums including 2014’s Melissa Aldana & Crash Trio and 2016’s Back Home. Aldana, the daughter of renowned tenor saxophonist Marcos Aldana, began formal saxophone instruction at the age of six. By the time she was 16, she already headlined jazz clubs in Santiago. With the help of Panamanian pianist Danilo Pérez, Aldana auditioned at Berklee College of Music and the New England Conservatory and subsequently won a scholarship to Berklee. Following her above-noted debut in 2010, Aldana has released five additional albums including her latest 12 Stars. Here’s the title track.

Johnny Burke/Hold On

It’s always great to see when a musician you personally know is releasing new music you dig – and when they have no idea (yet) you’re writing about them. 🙂 Such is the case with Johnny Burke, the drummer of New Jersey jam rock band Resurrextion aka ResX. It turns out Burke isn’t only talented manning the skins, but also is a capable guitarist and singer-songwriter who on February 13 released his first solo album, Johnny. He had a little help from some friends, including ResX bandmates Joey Herr (guitar), Billy Gutch (guitar) and Phil Ippolito (keyboards), as well as Mike Flynn (guitar), Sandy Mack (harmonica) and Lou Perillo (bass). And let’s not forget Johnny’s wife MaryBeth Burke who supports vocals on some of the songs. Hold On is a nice, warm-sounding Americana-style rock tune with a neat guitar solo.

Guided By Voices/Eye City

And on we go with more rock by indie rock group Guided By Voices. Initially, they were founded in 1983 in Dayton, Ohio. After releasing 15 albums between 1987 and 2004, the band broke up in December 2004. Six years later, they reunited and over a two-year span released an impressive five albums. In September 2014, they disbanded for the second time only to come together again in February 2016. Since that second reunion, 13 additional records have appeared including the band’s latest, Crystal Nuns Cathedral. Guided By Voices’ line-up has changed many times over their long history. The one constant member has been lead vocalist and guitarist Robert Pollard, who is the group’s principal songwriter. The current line-up also features Doug Gillard (guitar, backing vocals), Bobby Bare Jr. (guitar, backing vocals), Mark Shue (bass, backing vocals) and Kevin March (drums, backing vocals). Here’s the opener Eye City. Based on this and listening to some of the other tunes on the album, they remind me a bit of Son Volt.

The Weather Station/Marsh

The Weather Station is the project of Canadian singer-songwriter Tamara Lindeman. According to her Apple Music profile, her songs are too musically and emotionally nimble to be easily classified. On Lindeman’s earliest albums, like 2011’s All of It Was Mine, she cultivated a down-to-earth style informed by her time in Toronto’s folk scene and driven by her guitar, banjo, and confessional lyrics. By the time she released 2015’s Loyalty, however, her music had grown more abstract. Later, Lindeman matched the intricacy of her words with equally ambitious music, pairing her version of rock & roll with feminist insights on 2017’s The Weather Station, and combining musings on climate change with luxurious jazz and soft rock on 2021’s Ignorance. Amidst the Weather Station’s changes, Lindeman’s silvery voice and clear-eyed songwriting remained consistently compelling, proving the comparisons to forebears like Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen and contemporaries such as Weyes Blood and Bill Callahan were more than warranted. This brings me to Marsh, a tune from The Weather Station’s new album How Is It That I Should Look at the Stars. I find this pretty relaxing.

Mike Campbell & The Dirty Knobs/Wicked Man

Mike Campbell’s band The Dirty Knobs, now officially Mike Campbell & The Dirty Knobs, are back with a new album. External Combustion comes only 16 months after the release of their debut Wreckless Abandon, which I reviewed here at the time. Campbell formed the group in the early 2000s as a side project to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, where he played guitar at the time. The Dirty Knobs were active in-between Heartbreakers tours and studio projects. They played small venues and did some recordings but weren’t looking for a record deal. After Tom Petty had passed away in 2017, Campbell decided to focus on The Dirty Knobs. The current line-up of the band also includes Jason Sinay (guitar), Lance Morrison (bass) and Matt Laug (drums). “About half of the songs are new songs,” Campbell told American Songwriter about the new record. “I went back through my whole analog tape vault and found a few songs from maybe even twenty years ago that I’d forgotten about that were pretty good, so I included them on the album.” Based on my initial impression, External Combustion is a solid record. I could definitely see some of the tunes on Tom Petty albums. Check out Wicked Mind!

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify list featuring the above and a few other songs.


Sources: Wikipedia; Apple Music; American Songwriter; YouTube; Spotify

John Mayall’s New Album is a Sizzling Late Career Blues Gem

They don’t call John Mayall “The Godfather of British Blues” for nothing. If you’ve paid attention to the blues legend, which I admittedly haven’t as much as I probably should have as somebody who digs the blues, you realize the now-88-year-old has been on an incredible late-stage career roll. Between 2014 and 2019, Mayall has released four albums and just came out with yet another one. Of course, at the end of the day, it’s not only about quantity but more importantly, it’s about quality. In my book, Mayall sure as heck continues to deliver on both!

The Sun is Shining Down, which appeared last Friday, January 28 via Forty Below Records, is Mayall’s close-to-70th record overall, including his releases with The Bluesbreakers. Even if you leave out the live and compilation records, you still easily get to 50-plus albums, which have come out over a 57-year recording period. The picture below taken from Mayall’s website captures his remarkable catalog.

Sure, The Sun is Shining Down, is blues and there are only so many ways you can play the blues. While as such it’s fair to say Mayall doesn’t reinvent the genre, he still has a couple of surprises up his sleeve, which I will get to when taking a closer look at some of the album’s tracks. Mentioning the guest artists may give you a hint or two: Mike Campbell (formerly with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers), Marcus King, Buddy Miller, Scarlet Rivera, Melvin Taylor and Jake Shimabukuro.

Mayall (vocals, keyboards, harp) is also backed up by his longtime Chicago rhythm section of Greg Rzab (bass) and Jay Davenport (drums), along with Austin-based guitarist Carolyn Wonderland who has been part of Mayall’s band since April 2018. And let’s not forget about the neat horn section featuring Mark Pender (trumpet), Richard Rosenberg (trombone) and Ron Dziubla (saxophone). I’d say ’nuff with background and let’s get to some music, and it’s going to be great!

John Mayall and his core band (clockwise from top left): John Mayall, Carolyn Wonderland, Greg Rzab and Jay Davenport

Here’s the album’s first track, Hungry and Ready, one of six tunes written by Mayall. The remaining four songs are covers. Mayall couldn’t have picked a better opener, which features Chicago blues guitarist Melvin Taylor. The title says it all. Mayall and his backing band clearly were ready to play some sizzling blues, and it all sounds incredibly fresh. The vibe of the tune is somewhere between Muddy Waters’ Mannish Boy and the soulful Sweet Home Chicago, Blues Brothers-style. If you dig the blues, how can you not love this!

Since I previously wrote about the excellent Can’t Take It No More featuring rising roots and blues rocker Marcus King on guitar, I’m skipping it here and go right to I’m As Good As Gone, one of the aforementioned covers. Written by Bobby Rush, the tune was first recorded for his 2011 studio album Show You a Good Time. Mayall’s rendition features Americana artist and guitarist Buddy Miller. Nice!

Next, let’s get to something you don’t frequently hear when it comes to the blues – a tune featuring a violinist playing fill-ins commonly provided by a guitar. And we’re not talking any violinist here, we’re talking Scarlet Rivera, of Bob Dylan’s legendary Rolling Thunder Revue 1975-1976 concert tour. Among others, she played that great violin part on Dylan’s Hurricane. Here’s Got to Find a Better Way, another Mayall composition. The title surely doesn’t refer to the music- check out how cool a violin can sound playing the blues!

Another highlight on the album is Chills and Thrills, a tasty funky tune written by Bernard Ellison as the title track for his 2008 album. You can check out the original here. Now let’s listen to Mayall’s rendition. I think he wisely chose to stay close to the original – why mess with something that’s perfect! This cover features the talented Mike Campbell on guitar. This is some groovy shit with a great guitar solo!

I guess by now you’ve noticed I love this album and could go on and on. The last track I’d like to call out presents another surprise. How ’bout a blues solo played on an electric ukulele? Enter Hawaiian ukulele virtuoso, Jake Shimabukuro. The song is One Special Lady, another tune penned by Mayall. The ukelele solo action starts at around 2:14 minutes. The tune also showcases Mayall’s fine skills on keyboards. Amid all the first-rate artists he has played with throughout his career and, frankly, helped nurture, Mayall oftentimes doesn’t get the credit he deserves as a musician. My only criticism here is Shimabukuro should have been given a bit more room. That ukelele blues action is super cool!

Here’s the entire album pulled from Spotify.

The Sun is Shining Down was recorded in Los Angeles, where Mayall has lived since the late ’60s, at Robby Krieger’s Horse Latitudes studio. And, yep, that’s the Robby Krieger who used to be with The Doors. The album was produced by Eric Corne, founder and president of Forty Below Records. According to his website, apart from Mayall, Corne’s impressive credits include Walter Trout, Joe Walsh, Edgar Winter, Glen Campbell, Lucinda Williams, Nancy Wilson (of Heart) and Krieger, among others.

“I couldn’t be happier with the new record,” said Mayall in a statement. “I can’t wait to share it with my fans. Each one of these special guests brings something unique to the album and our team works so well together. I think you can hear that chemistry in the music.” I couldn’t agree more!

Unfortunately but quite understandably, Mayall separately announced he will substantially scale back his touring schedule, citing the pandemic and his age. Fans will still be able to see him at local shows “and the occasional concert further afield.” Southern California is a bit far for me, but if Mayall will ever return to the New Jersey-New York-Connecticut tristate area or Philadelphia, I’d seriously consider seeing him – unfortunately, I never have. Heck, I might even return to Boston where I saw Neil Young solo in July 2018!

Sources: Wikipedia; John Mayall website; Eric Cone website; Discogs; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Yep, hard to believe it’s Sunday again. While I find it amazing how another week just flew by, on the upside, this also means it’s time again for my favorite feature, The Sunday Six. For first-time visitors, these weekly posts are mini excursions exploring different styles of music in zig-zag fashion over the past 70 years, six tunes at a time.

My picks for this installment include instrumental acoustic guitar music, classic rock & roll, rock, soul and pop rock. The journey starts in 2021 and then makes stops in 1959, 1979, 1967 and 1995 before it comes to an end in 2003. All on board and fasten your seatbelts!

Hayden Pedigo/Letting Go

As is often the case in this series, I’d like to start with an instrumental track. This time, instead of a jazz tune, I’ve picked some lovely acoustic guitar music by Hayden Pedigo, a 27-year-old American artist whose music I first encountered about a month ago. According to Wikipedia, Pedigo started taking guitar lessons as a 12-year-old. His diverse influences include Stevie Ray Vaughan and Ry Cooder, as well as artists of the so-called American Primitive Guitar style, such as John Fahey, Robbie Basho, Daniel Bachman and Mark Fosson. Pedigo has also studied Soft Machine and King Crimson, and jazz artists like Miles Davis and Pharoah Sanders. In 2013, he released his debut album Seven Years Late. Since then, seven additional records have come out, including his latest, Letting Go, which appeared on September 24. Here’s the title track. I find this music very nice, especially for a Sunday morning.

Chuck Berry/Little Queenie

Just in case you dozed off during that previous track, it’s time to wake up again with some classic rock & roll by one of my favorite artists of the genre, Chuck Berry. I trust the man who John Lennon called “my hero, the creator of rock & roll” needs no further introduction. While of course no one single artist invented rock & roll, I think it’s safe to say rock & roll would have been different without Chuck Berry. Apart from writing widely covered gems like Maybellene, Roll Over Beethoven, Rock and Roll Music and Johnny B. Goode, Berry influenced many other artists like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, Faces, The Yardbirds and The Kinks with his electric guitar licks. Here’s Little Queenie, which Berry wrote and first released as a single in March 1959. The tune also became part of the soundtrack of the rock & roll motion picture Go, Johnny Go that came out in June of the same year.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers/What Are You Doin’ in My Life?

Let’s keep rockin’ with a great tune by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: What Are You Doin’ in My Life? I have to credit my streaming music provider for including the track in a recent “Favorites Mix” playlist. While this song is on my favorite Tom Petty album Damn the Torpedoes from October 1979, it had not quite registered until it was served up to me recently. I think it’s fair to say Petty’s third studio album with the Heartbreakers is better known for tunes like Refugee, Here Comes My Girl, Even the Losers and Don’t Do Me Like That. What Are You Doin’ in My Life? is more of deep track. Like most of the other songs on the album, it was solely written by Petty.

Sam & Dave/Soul Man

Next I’d like to go back to the ’60s and some dynamite soul by Stax recording artists Sam & Dave. Soul Man, co-written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter, became the R&B duo’s biggest U.S. mainstream hit surging all the way to no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. The tune was first released as a single in September 1967 and was also included on Sam & Dave’s third studio album Soul Men that came out the following month. The backing music was provided by Stax’s excellent house band Booker T. & the M.G.’s. In fact, the exclamation in the song, “Play it, Steve,” refers to the band’s guitarist Steve Cropper. Sam & Dave performed as a duo between 1961 and 1981. Sadly, Dave Prater passed away in a single-car accident in April 1988 at the age of 50. Sam Moore is still alive and now 86.

Del Amitri/Roll to Me

I had not heard of Del Amitri in a long time until I did earlier this week on the radio. In fact, other than the name and that tune, Roll to Me, I know nothing about this Scottish alternative rock band that was formed in Glasgow in 1980. During their initial run until 2002, the group released six studio albums and two compilations. Since Del Amtri reemerged from hiatus in 2013, it looks like they have mainly been a touring act. Only one live record, one compilation and one studio album have since appeared. Notably, the latter, Fatal Mistakes, came out this May, 19 years after their last studio album. The band’s current line-up includes original member and main songwriter Justin Currie (vocals, guitar, piano), along with Iain Harvie (guitar), Kris Dollimore (guitar), Andy Alston (keyboards, percussion) and Ash Soan (drums). Roll to Me, written by Currie, is from the group’s fourth studio album Twisted from February 1995. It also was released separately as a single in June that year and became their biggest hit in the U.S. where it reached no. 10 on the Billboard Hot 100 – quite a catchy pop rock tune!

Pat Metheny/One Quiet Night

And this once again brings me to the sixth and final track. I decided to pick another acoustic guitar instrumental: One Quiet Night by Pat Metheny. While I’m very familiar with the name Pat Metheny, I believe the only music I had ever heard before is American Garage, the second album by Pat Metheny Group from 1979. That’s easily more than 30 years ago, so I don’t recall the record but oddly remember its title. Metheny who has been active since 1974 has an enormous catalog between Pat Metheny Group, his solo work and other projects. One Quiet Night, written by him, is the title track of a solo acoustic guitar album he released in May 2003. It won the 2004 Grammy Award for Best New Age Album. Both my streaming music provider and Wikipedia tagged it as jazz, the genre that first comes to my mind when I think of Metheny. Whatever you want to label it, it’s nice instrumental music and shall close this post.

Sources: Wikipedia; Discogs; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

It’s Sunday and the end of yet another a busy week that left very little time for music. But this shall not prevent me from putting together a new installment of The Sunday Six – coz life without music is simply unthinkable! I think I got a pretty decent and diverse fresh set of six tunes. Hope you enjoy it!

Henry Mancini/Peter Gunn

As more frequent visitors of the blog know, I’m a huge fan of vocals, especially when sung in perfect harmony. But that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy a great instrumental, so let’s get started with a true classic. Peter Gunn by Henry Mancini was the opening track of the American television show of the same name. Starring Craig Stevens as private eye Peter Gunn, the series ran for three seasons between 1958 and 1961. The first version of the theme I heard was the live rendition by Emerson, Lake & Palmer from their 1979 album In Concert, which as I recall got decent radio play in Germany at the time. Peter Gunn was first released as a single in 1959 and also became the opener of the soundtrack album The Music from Peter Gunn. I find this combination of rock and jazz really cool. I wonder whether it inspired Monty Norman’s James Bond Theme from 1962.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers/Refugee

Tom Petty wrote many great songs, so I certainly had plenty of choice. If I could only pick one, I’d go with Refugee from Damn the Torpedoes, the third studio album by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Released in October 1979, it’s not only one of the most beloved Tom Petty records among his fans, but it’s also the band’s most commercially successful album in the U.S., and one of their highest charting on the Billboard 200 where it surged to no. 2. Moreover, perhaps not surprisingly, Damn the Torpedoes is on Rolling Stones’ list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. Unlike many other older records on that list, remarkably, it moved up from no. 313 in 2003 to no. 231 in the latest revision from September 2020. Co-written by Petty and Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell, Refugee also appeared separately as the album’s second single in January 198o and became the band’s second top 20 song in the U.S., peaking at no. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100. Chart success was even bigger in Canada and New Zealand, where the tune reached no. 2 and no. 3, respectively. Such a great song!

The Beach Boys/Good Vibrations

How about some additional great vibes. While I wouldn’t call myself a fan of most Beach Boys songs, which to me can sound pretty repetitive, I always felt their harmony singing was out of this world. One of the greatest tunes I can think of in this context is Good Vibrations, my all-time favorite by The Beach Boys. Composed by the ingenious Brian Wilson with lyrics by Mike Love, the song was first released as a single in October 1966. Topping the charts in the U.S., UK and Australia, and surging to no. 2 in Canada, The Netherlands and Norway, Good Vibrations became The Beach Boys’ best-selling single reaching Platinum certifications in the U.S. and the UK. It also holds the distinction of becoming the costliest single ever recorded, involving a host of session musicians at four Hollywood studios and more than 90 hours of footage captured between February and September 1966. While that effort certainly sounds excessive, the outcome remains nothing short of breathtaking to this day. Initially, Good Vibrations was supposed to appear on Smile, but it remained an unfinished album at the time. Instead, the tune was included on Smiley Smile, The Beach Boys’ 12th studio record from September 1967. In September 2004, Brian Wilson released Brian Wilson Presents Smile, his forth solo album that featured all-new recordings of the tracks he had originally written for Smile.

Steely Dan/Deacon Blues

Continuing the theme of all-time favorite tracks, let’s turn to Steely Dan and the amazing Aja album. Their sixth studio release from September 1977 remains the Mount Rushmore of Donald Fagen’s and Walter Becker’s output, IMHO. It’s one of those rare albums without any tracks that feel like fillers or are otherwise not as compelling as the remaining tunes. Still, if I had to pick one, I’d go with Deacon Blues. The tune was mostly written at Fagen’s house in Malibu and, according to Wikipedia, was prompted by his observation that “if a college football team like the University of Alabama could have a grandiose name like the ‘Crimson Tide’ the nerds and losers should be entitled to a grandiose name as well.” Quoting Fagen from Anatomy of a Song: The Oral History of 45 Iconic Hits That Changed Rock, R&B and Pop (Marc Myers, 2016), Wikipedia adds: “The concept of the “expanding man” that opens the song may have been inspired by Alfred Bester’s The Demolished Man. Walter and I were major sci-fi fans. The guy in the song imagines himself ascending to the levels of evolution, “expanding” his mind, his spiritual possibilities, and his options in life.” Instead of continuing the near-impossible task of interpreting Steely Dan lyrics, let’s just listen to the bloody song!

The Chesterfield Kings/I Don’t Understand

If you’re familiar with my music taste, perhaps with the exception of the first track, none of the picks in this post thus far should have come as a big surprise. The picture might change a bit with this next track appropriately titled I Don’t Understand, by The Chesterfield Kings – well, let me explain and you will understand! It all started when fellow blogger Max who pens the PowerPop blog recently featured She Told Me Lies, another tune by this former American garage and psychedelic rock band from Rochester, N.Y. I loved their cool sound right away, which prompted me to listen to The Mindbending Sounds of the Chesterfield Kings, one of sadly only three albums that are currently available through my streaming music provider. I Don’t Understand is the opener of that 2003 album. Founded in the late ’70s by Greg Prevost, The Chesterfield Kings were instrumental in sparking the 1980s garage band revival, according to Wikipedia. A partial discography there lists 11 albums by the group that was active until 2009. Credited to The Chesterfield Kings, I Don’t Understand has a neat Byrds vibe – see, told ya, now you understand this pick! 🙂

Little Richard/Long Tall Sally

Once again, this brings me to the final tune of yet another fun zig-zag journey through music. Let’s make it count and tell Aunt Mary ’bout Uncle John: Long Tall Sally by the amazing Little Richard who I trust needs no further introduction. Co-written by Richard (credited with his birth name Richard Wayne Penniman), Robert Alexander “Bumps” Blackwell and Enotris Johnson, the classic rock & roll tune was released as a single in March 1956 and included on his debut album Here’s Little Richard that appeared at the same time – and, boy, what an album! It also featured Richard gems like Tutti Frutti, Slippin’ and Slidin’ and Jenny, Jenny. Perhaps it’s his equivalent to Chuck Berry’s third studio album Chuck Berry Is on Top from July 1959, which alternatively could have been titled The Greatest Hits of Classic Rock & Roll. Long Tall Sally became Richard’s first no. 1 on Billboard’s Hot R&B chart. Based on Wikipedia, the tune also was his most successful single on the mainstream chart where it peaked at no. 6.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Another Posthumous Album Highlights Some of Tom Petty’s Most Productive Years

“Angel Dream” is reconfigured and remastered 25th anniversary version of 1996 “She’s the One” soundtrack album

While I would call myself a Tom Petty fan and dearly miss him, I’m mostly familiar with his catalog until 1994. Except for his final album with the Heartbreakers, Hypnotic Eye, my knowledge gets spotty when it comes to anything Petty released after his second solo album Wildflowers, alone or together with his longtime band. Among the latter was the August 1996 soundtrack Songs and Music from the Motion Picture “She’s the One”. That changed over the past few days with Angel Dream, a reconfigured and remastered 25th anniversary edition released on July 2. Listening to the anniversary issue not only led me to check out the original, but also to discover Tom Petty music I really like.

Officially titled Angel Dream (Songs and Music from the Motion Picture “She’s the One”), the latest Tom Petty posthumous release is being characterized as a “reimagined reissue.” This 25th anniversary edition keeps eight tunes of the original album, eliminates seven and adds four previously unreleased songs. As such, I’m okay with the characterization. But I can also see how some music fans like hotfox63 view the “reimagined reissue” label as a cynical marketing gimmick. Whatever the main motives behind a reissue may be, I think there can be no doubt that money is always part of the equation. Notably, Petty was involved in working on the mixes for Angel Dream with his longtime engineer and co-producer Ryan Ulate prior to his untimely death in October 2017.

I’d like to start this review with Angel Dream (No. 2), the album’s beautiful opener, a tune that also appeared on the original edition. During a recent interview on SiriusXM’s Tom Petty Radio (channel 31), Heartbreakers co-founder and keyboarder Benmont Tench called it “one of the loveliest songs Tom ever wrote,” as transcribed in this Rock Cellar Magazine review. Essentially, Angel Dream (No. 2) bookends the album, with the second bookend being an instrumental reprise titled French Disconnection, one of the previously unreleased tracks.

Among the highlights of the original album and this reissue is Change the Locks, a tune written by Lucinda Williams, which she recorded for her 1988 eponymous third studio album under the slightly different title Changed the Locks. Petty’s cover is more straight rock than the more bluesy original. Nice!

One of Life’s Little Mysteries is among the previously unreleased tracks. The song’s jazzy groove reminds me a bit of Full Grown Body, a tune from the aforementioned Hypnotic Eye. The music certainly fits the lyrics. An excerpt: Go to work in the morning/Try to make a buck/Do everything you’re told/And you’re still outta luck/It’s one of life’s little mysteries…

Here’s another cool cover and previously unreleased track: Thirteen Days, a J.J. Cale tune included on his fifth studio album 5 that came out in August 1979. “We had a lot of fun playing that song live and it’s great to have a recording of it from the studio,” said Mike Campbell, ex-Heartbreakers guitarist, during the above SiriusXM interview. I can definitely see why!

The last song I’d like to call out is yet another previously unreleased tune: 105 Degrees, which also is the album’s lead single. I realize I already covered this song in my last Best of What’s New installment, but since it’s an early favorite, I simply couldn’t skip it. I just love how this tune is shuffling along!

“‘She’s The One’ was originally a great way to include some of the songs that didn’t make it on to Wildflowers, but it has its own thing to it, its own charm, and putting it out now in a restructured form makes for a sweet little treat,” Benmont further noted. “At the time in the studio, it was fun working as a band to improvise the scoring cues for the movie rather than playing to preset click tracks and a written score. And it was interesting to try to cut covers of others’ songs for a record, instead of learning covers just for live shows.”

Here’s another tidbit I learned about “She’s the One” when doing some research for this post. It’s only album by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers that was recorded without an official drummer. The studio sessions happened following the departure of the band’s original drummer Stan Lynch. The album featured contributions from three other drummers: Curt Bisquera, Ringo Starr and Steve Ferrone. Ferrone, who had also played on Wildflowers, became the official drummer of the Heartbreakers shortly after “She’s the One” had been recorded.

Angel Dream (Songs and Music from the Motion Picture She's the One) CD – Tom  Petty
CD softpak with 12-page booklet.

“These songs are extremely special,” added Petty’s widow Dana Petty, who together with their two daughters Adria and Annakim manages the Tom Petty estate. “I am grateful this record is getting the recognition it deserves. The remix Ryan Ulyate did sounds amazing, and the unreleased gems are a lovely bonus. Annakim, Adria, and I took a lot of time finding artwork that reflects the mood of the album. I think we finally achieved that with Alia Penner’s work. It is surreal and beautiful, just like life during that time.”

Angel Dream, which appears on Warner Records and is available in CD and vinyl formats, as well as in digital music platforms, is the fifth posthumous Tom Petty album. It is also the third album with a connection to Wildflowers, widely considered to be one of Petty’s best records. October 2020 saw the release of Wildflowers & All the Rest. The super deluxe edition of that reissue, titled Finding Wildflowers, included a disc featuring alternate versions of Wildflowers’ 15 tracks, plus You Saw Me Comin’, a previously unreleased original song. That CD was released as a standalone under the title Finding Wildflowers (Alternate Versions) in April this year.

I will admit the standalone release does smack a bit like a money grab, since they could have offered it as a separate option when Wildflowers & All the Rest came out. Instead, they waited for six months. In the meantime, if fans wanted to own the alternate versions and that new song, they needed to buy the whole enchilada. I wonder how Tom Petty would have felt about that. After all, he once successfully battled his label MCA when they wanted to sell his then-latest record Damn the Torpedoes at a premium price of $9.98 instead of the usual list price of $8.98.

Sources: Wikipedia; Tom Petty website; Rock Cellar Magazine; YouTube

Best of What’s New

A selection of newly released music that caught my attention

After a week with record temperatures in my neck of the woods and other parts of the U.S., it looks like central New Jersey is getting a bit of a break for the weekend, though by Tuesday and Wednesday, the temperatures are supposed to hit the ’90s again. I can’t believe July has arrived. To me it feels like we’re already in the middle of summer. What does any of this have to do with newly released music? Nothing, so let’s get to this week’s Best of What’s New installment!

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers/105 Degrees

Until I checked Apple Music for new releases this week, I had no idea about the “new” album by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Released yesterday (July 2), Angel Dream: Songs From The Motion Picture “She’s The One“, is what Petty’s website called a “reimagined reissue” to honor the 25th anniversary of Songs and Music from the Motion Picture “She’s the One”, the band’s ninth studio album that originally appeared in August 1996. As reported by NME, the remixed and remastered reissue adds four previously unreleased tracks and includes an extended version of Supernatural Radio. It also removes several tunes from the Wildflowers sessions that were included in the Wildflowers & All the Rest collection from last year. Here’s the nice rocker 105 Degrees (I guess we just can’t escape the high temperatures! 🙂 ), one of the previously unreleased tracks written by Tom Petty and the album’s lead single.

Hurry/A Fake Idea

Hurry are an indie rock band from Philadelphia, originally started as a solo project by principal songwriter Matt Scottoline. According to his Apple Music profile, Scottoline, the bassist of Philly EMO band Everyone Everywhere, spent his free time writing and recording songs on his own, delving further into power pop and ’90s guitar rock than his main band ever did…In 2012, he released an eight-song self-titled record under the Hurry name, playing all the instruments himself. When Everyone Everywhere began to cut back on their schedule in the early 2010s, Scottoline decided to form an actual band, recruiting drummer Rob DeCarolis and a rotating cadre of friends on bass to play live shows. In addition to Scottoline and DeCarolis, the band’s current line-up includes DeCarolis’ brother Joe DeCarolis (bass) and Justin Fox (guitar). A Fake Idea is a melodic track from Hurry’s fourth and new studio album Fake Ideas that came out on June 25.

Joseph of Mercury/Pretenders

Joseph W. Salusbury, who performs as Joseph of Mercury, is a Canadian singer-songwriter and producer from Toronto. His profile on Apple Music notes he creates stylish, brooding pop that merges austere electronic habitats with emotive pop crooning. Initially making the rounds in 2013 under the name Joseph & the Mercurials, he scored a taste of success with the single “I Want What I Want.” Salusbury spent the next several years working behind the scenes, co-writing songs for artists like Majid Jordan and Illangelo, and racking up a number of production credits, all the while privately honing his own new material. Rebranded as Joseph of Mercury, he reemerged in February 2017 with “Without Words,” a song that unified his love of classic crooner pop and dreamy electronic-oriented production. Additional singles followed throughout the year, each building on this style. Pretenders is the opener of Mercury’s new EP Wave III released on June 25. Apparently, the groovy tune first appeared as a single on June 2019. Technically, this means it’s the EP that’s new, not the song, so I’m cheating a little bit here.

K.C. Jones/Beginnings and Ends

K.C. Jones is a singer-songwriter from Lafayette, La. According to her website, Jones’ influences include “everything from classic country to psychedelic rock to contemporary indie roots singer-songwriters.” Jones’ bio also acknowledges her love of late 60s/early 70s rock. Beginnings and Ends is the first track of Jones’ debut studio album Queen of the in Between, which came out on June 18. Her backing band is made up of musicians from the local Lafayette scene, featuring Chris Stafford (pedal steel, guitars, keys, vocals), Trey Boudreaux (bass) and Jim Kolacek (drums, percussion). The album was produced by Joel Savoy, a notable Cajun musician. Beginnings and Ends has a cool sound, which includes what the website calls a “signature psych-twang baritone guitar sound throughout, sprinklings of Hammond B3 organ, even fuzzed-out, garage rock-esque guitar lines” – I couldn’t have said it any better! 🙂

Sources: Wikipedia; Tom Petty website; NME; Apple Music; K.C. Jones website; YouTube

It’s That Time of the Year Again for a Rock Marathon

Next Wednesday morning, right before Thanksgiving, classic rock radio station Q104.3 starts their annual marathon of counting down the “Top 1,043 Classic Rock Songs Of All Time.” The list, which takes a broad definition that goes beyond classic rock in the traditional sense, is based on listener submissions of their top 10 favorite songs.

Playing the entire list from song no. 1,043 all the way down to no. 1 will take from Wednesday, November 25, 9:00 a.m. (EST) until Sunday, November 29, sometime in the evening, usually between 9:00 – 10:00 p.m. On Thanksgiving Day at noon, the countdown is interrupted for Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant.

This year marks the 20th time of Q104.3’s holiday tradition. Each year, Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven has been the eternal no. 1. While the station doesn’t disclose actual vote counts, each year I’ve listened they said Stairway won by a substantial margin.

Rigged voting? I don’t think so. Q104.3 plays plenty of Zep as part of their regular rotation. One of their DJs, Carol Miller, who has been on the air since 1973, is a huge Led Zeppelin fan, and hosts the long running segment Get the Led Out. As such, I think it’s safe to assume many folks who listen to Q104.3 dig Zeppelin. And, honestly, if I could only choose one classic rock song, I also would go with Stairway.

Admittedly, the entire exercise is a bit nerdy but quite appealing to a music nut like myself. BTW, each submission is weighted equally, so the order of the picks doesn’t matter. But think about it, when can you ever hear 1,043 different songs in a row on the radio? Most stations tend to play a limited set of tracks over and over again.

Above is an image of my picks for this year and below are clips of the corresponding tunes. While I still dig all of my picks from last year, this time, I deliberately decided to shake things up and submit an entirely new list. And it doesn’t even include two of my favorite bands of all time, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, not to mention Led Zeppelin. Here are my choices without further explanation, other than these are all songs I dig, though they aren’t necessarily my all-time favorites.

The Jimi Hendrix ExperiencePurple Haze (non-album single, March 1967)

Creedence Clearwater RevivalBorn on the Bayou (Bayou Country, January 1969)

The Allman Brothers BandBlack Hearted Woman (The Allman Brothers Band, November 1969)

The WhoThe Seeker (non-album single, March 1970)

Bruce SpringsteenBobby Jean (Born in the U.S.A., June 1984)

Tom Petty and the HeartbreakersMary Jane’s Last Dance (Greatest Hits, November 1993)

Lenny KravitzRock and Roll Is Dead (Circus, September 1995)

Sheryl CrowIf It Makes You Happy (Sheryl Crow, September 1996)

PretendersHate for Sale (Hate for Sale, July 2020)

AC/DCShot in the Dark (Power Up, November 2020)

Sources: Wikipedia; Q104.3 website; YouTube