Reelin’ In The Years At PNC Bank Arts Center

Steely Dan treat New Jersey audience with great show in Donald Fagen’s home state

Last night, I saw Steely Dan at PNC Bank Arts Center, a great midsize amphitheater-style outdoor venue in Holmdel, N.J. My fourth and last concert in June was dynamite, ending a busy month of live music on a high note.

Should I have been surprised that Donald Fagen and his band once again put on a stellar performance? After all, the two previous times I had seen them were both fantastic.

PNC Bank Arts Center is a 7,000-seat venue with an additional grass area capacity to accommodate about 10,500 people

The songs Fagen wrote with his longtime partner Walter Becker remain compelling. Since Becker’s untimely death in 2017, Fagen also successfully continued what had been a key ingredient to the Dan’s sound: Surround himself with top-notch musicians. And, boy, what a killer backing band he had last night!

But even with all of the above, I think one should never take a music artist for granted. And, let’s face it: At age 74, Fagen isn’t exactly any longer, hey, nineteen! I also still remember reading accounts leading up to the two previous times I saw Fagen & co. in 2018, which were less than favorable, criticizing Fagen’s singing, among others. But just like four years ago, he did it again, proving any such concerns to be unfounded!

Steely Dan in action: Donald Fagen (vocals, keyboards, melodica), Jon Herington (lead guitar & musical director), Adam Rogers (guitar), Jim Beard (keyboards), Walt Weiskopf & Roger Rosenberg (saxophones), Michael Leonhart (trumpet), Jim Pugh (trombone), “Ready” Freddie Washington (bass), Keith Carlock (drums) & The Danettes: Carolyn Leonhart, Jamie Leonart and La Tanya Hall (backing vocals)

Before I get to Steely Dan, I’d like to acknowledge opening act Dave Stryker Trio. Until I learned and read about Dave Stryker, I had not heard of this great American jazz guitarist who has been active since the ’80s. Quoting his online bio, Whether you’ve heard guitarist Dave Stryker leading his own group (with 34 CD’s as a leader to date),  or as a featured sideman with Stanley Turrentine, Jack McDuff, and many others, you know why the Village Voice calls him “one of the most distinctive guitarists to come along in recent years.”

Last evening, Stryker (electric guitar) was joined by Jared Gold, who I thought was terrific on the Hammond, as well as McClenty Hunter, a fine jazz drummer. They played neat jazz instrumental jam versions of songs by artists like Stevie Wonder, Curtis Mayfield and The Temptations.

The Hammond reminded me of the man who originally was supposed to join Steely Dan on their Earth After Hours Tour, Steve Winwood. I’m not gonna lie, seeing Winwood for the third time would have been the ultimate thrill. A short February 1 announcement on Winwood’s website cited “unforeseen circumstances” for the change in plans. Back to Dave Stryker. Here’s a cool clip of Papa Was a Rolling Stone from a 2019 performance at jazz radio station WBGO 88.3 fm – groovy with no static at all!

Okay, after seven paragraphs into this review, you may start to wonder when am I finally getting to some Steely Dan music? Alrighty then! Let’s shake it! First up is Night by Night, a tune from Steely Dan’s third studio album Pretzel Logic released in February 1974 – the last that featured the band’s original quintet lineup of Becker, Fagen, Denny Dias, Jim Hodder, and Jeff “Skunk” Baxter. Unfortunately, it appears the dreadful pandemic has made audiences pretty restless. I don’t recall people getting up during shows pre-COVID as frequently as I’ve experienced it during all of my four concerts in June. Frankly, I find it pretty dreadful!

I think it’s safe to say many Steely Dan fans consider Aja to be Messrs. Fagen’s and Becker’s Mount Rushmore. It certainly remains my favorite Dan album. Let’s hear it for the title track. According to Songfacts, Fagen told Rolling Stone magazine that the title came from a high school friend whose brother was in the army and came back with a Korean wife named Aja, although he wasn’t sure how she spelled it.

For this next tune, let’s go to Gaucho, the seventh and final Steely Dan album from November 1980 before Fagen and Becker split and went on a 12-year hiatus. Becker moved to Maui, managed to overcome his longtime drug abuse, and did some occasional production work, most notably for British pop group China Crisis. Meanwhile, Fagen launched a solo career that among others yielded The Nightfly, his solo debut gem from October 1982. Back to Gaucho with Babylon Sisters with another fun tidbit from Songfacts, probably less fun for those involved: Donald Fagen made seemingly endless tweaks to this song, creating one mix after another. Someone in the studio must have been keeping count, because when he hit 250 mixes, the crew gave him a “platinum” disk they created just for him. Fagen kept going, and it was mix number 274 that finally won his approval. He took that mix home to New York, but heard a note in the bass line he didn’t like, so he returned to Los Angeles a week later and reconvened the team to fix it. You gotta shake it, baby, you gotta shake it!

I guess our memories of school can be good and not so good. Clearly, this next tune falls into the latter category. Songfacts notes My Old School, the final track of last night’s main set, is at least partially inspired by an event that occurred at Bard [Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. where Fagen and Becker met in 1967 – CMM], where both Becker and Fagen, along with their girlfriends, were arrested in a pot raid on a party that was orchestrated by an ambitious young District Attorney named G. Gordon Liddy (hence the line “Tried to warn ya about Geno and Daddy G”). Despite the fact that California has not (yet) tumbled into the sea, both Fagen and Becker have returned to Bard.

The last tune I’d like to call out, from the encore, is a song that reportedly was one of the Dan’s least favorite. Again citing Songfacts: In Rolling Stone, September 17, 2009, Donald Fagan said, “It’s dumb but effective.” Walter Becker added, “It’s no fun.” Well, Reelin’ in the Years may not have a million chord changes and breaks, but in my humble opinion, this tune, off Steely Dan’s November 1972 debut album Can’t Buy a Thrill, is a terrific rocker with a dynamite guitar solo. I wonder how Fagen feels about the song these days. It surely still looks effective!

What else is there to say. Donald Fagen clearly seemed to be energized last night, saying at one point, ‘what a night!’ – and he wasn’t referring to the one in late December back in sixty-three. Playing in his home state of New Jersey, as he called the garden state at the end of the show, appeared to be a thrill. Who, knows, it may even have influenced Fagen’s decision to replace Green Earrings and Any Major Dude Will Tell You with Josie and Black Cow, respectively – two additional tracks from the above-mentioned beloved Aja album. The only thing that could have topped the set would have been Deacon Blues, my all-time favorite Dan tune. But, hey, nineteen, stop complaining! 🙂

I already briefly mentioned the exceptional band that backs Fagen on the tour. These amazing musicians, some of whom have played with Steely Dan for many years, deserve to be called out: Jon Herington (lead guitar & musical director), Adam Rogers (guitar), Jim Beard (keyboards), Walt Weiskopf & Roger Rosenberg (saxophones), Michael Leonhart (trumpet), Jim Pugh (trombone), “Ready” Freddie Washington (bass), Keith Carlock (drums) & The Danettes: Carolyn Leonhart, Jamie Leonart and La Tanya Hall (backing vocals).

Here’s the setlist:
Phantom Raiders (Stanley Wilson cover)
Night by Night
Hey Nineteen
Black Friday
Aja
Kid Charlemagne
Home at Last
Green Flower Street (Donald Fagen song)
Time Out of Mind
Babylon Sisters
• Josie
• Black Cow
Dirty Work
Bodhisattva
Keep That Same Old Feeling (The Crusaders cover)
Peg
My Old School

Encore:
Reelin’ in the Years
A Man Ain’t Supposed to Cry (Joe Williams cover)

The Earth After Hours Tour still is in full swing. Tomorrow night, the Dan are scheduled to play Xfinity Center in Mansfield, Mass., before moving on to Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, Bethel, N.Y. (July 3) and First Bank Amphitheater, Franklin, Tenn. (July 13). The full tour schedule is here. If you’re a fan of the Dan and still can get a ticket you can afford, I can highly recommend the show!

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; Dave Stryker website; Steve Winwood website; Steely Dan website; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Good morning, good afternoon, good evening, wherever you are when reading this – welcome to another Sunday Six. In this weekly feature, I’m embarking on imaginary time travel journeys to celebrate the beauty of music in different flavors from different decades, six tunes at a time. Hop on for the ride and fasten your seatbelt.

Wayne Krantz/For Susan

Today, I’d like to start our little trip with beautiful instrumental music by Wayne Krantz, an American guitarist and composer who has been active since the ’80s. Telling you he “was good enough” for Walter Becker and Donald Fagen to tour with Steely Dan and appear on Fagen’s 2006 solo album Morph the Cat should suffice. Krantz has also worked with jazz artists Billy Cobham, Chris Potter, David Binney and Carla Bley. And since 1990, he has released eight studio albums as a band leader. Let’s give a listen to For Susan, a soothing track from what appears to be Krantz’s first solo album Signals, released in 1990. Check out this amazing guitar tone – not surprisingly, it was instant love for me!

Fleetwood Mac/Sometimes

I think it’s safe to assume most folks best know Fleetwood Mac from their “classic period” between 1975 and 1987, which among others includes their most successful album Rumours (February 1977). But there’s more to the Mac who started out as Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac in July 1967, a blues rock band led by amazing blues guitarist Peter Green. In April 1970, Green who was in the throes of drug addiction and mental illness left the group. This started an interesting transitional era that initially featured Jeremy Spencer and Danny Kirwan on guitars, in addition to co-founders John McVie (bass) and Mick Fleetwood (drums). They were soon officially be joined by Christine McVie (born Anne Christine Perfect), who in 1968 had married John McVie – the first of many complicated relationships among members of the Mac! By the time they released their fifth studio album Future Games in September 1971, Spencer had been replaced by guitarist Bob Welch. Here’s Sometimes, a great country rock tune off that record, penned by Kirwan – the Mac’s early blues rock days were in the distant past!

Fastball/Fire Escape

With their recent release of a nice new album, The Deep End, Fastball have been on my mind. The Texan band was formed in 1994 in Austin by Tony Scalzo  (vocals, bass, keyboards, guitar),  Miles Zuniga  (vocals, guitar) and Joey Shuffield (drums, percussion), a lineup that remarkably remains in place to this day. You can read more about the group and their ups and downs in this feature I posted in February this year. I’d like to take us to March 1998, which saw the release of Fastball’s sophomore album All the Pain Money Can Buy, their breakthrough and most successful record. Instead of The Way, their biggest hit that initially brought the band on my radar screen, I’d like to highlight Fire Escape, another excellent tune. Written by Zuniga, the song also became the album’s second single. While it made various charts in the U.S. and Canada, surprisingly, it did fare far more moderately than The Way.

World Party/The Ballad of the Little Man

I still remember when I heard Ship of Fools for the first time in the ’80s and thought, ‘gee, the vocalist sounds a bit like Mick Jagger.’ The vocalist, of course, was singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Karl Wallinger, who had started World Party in 1986 as a solo music project after his departure from The Waterboys. His debut album under the World Party moniker was Private Revolution, which came out in March 1987. It would be the first of five released over the following 13 years. In February 2001, Wallinger had an aneurysm that left him unable to speak and sidelined his career until 2006. While over the next 14 years he occasionally toured with a backing band as World Party and released the compilation Arkeology (2012) and a live album, World Party Live! (2014), Wallinger appears to have been inactive since 2015. Here’s The Ballad of the Little Man, a tune from Private Revolution. I love the cool ’60s vibe in many of Wallinger’s tunes!

The Doors/Light My Fire

The time has come to travel back to the ’60s for real. In January 1967, The Doors, one of my favorite groups, released their eponymous debut, and what a great record it was! Break On Through (To the Other Side), Soul Kitchen, Alabama Song (Whiskey Bar) and the apocalyptic The End are among the gems here. And, of course, the mighty Light My Fire, which was primarily written by guitarist Robbie Krieger, though it was credited to the entire band. The song also became the group’s second single and their breakthrough. But I’m not featuring the shortened single edit. At CMM, we don’t do things half-ass! Ray Manzarek’s organ part is sheer magic to my ears. I never get tired of it!

Santana/Anywhere You Want to Go

Once again we’re entering the final stretch of yet another Sunday Six. When it comes to Carlos Santana, who has been a favorite since I listened to the 1974 compilation Santana’s Greatest Hits as an 8-year-old, I’ve always loved his first three albums the most. This “classic period” spanned the years 1969 to 1971 and includes gems like Evil Ways, Jingo, Soul Sacrifice, Black Magic Woman, Samba Pa Ti and Everybody’s Everything. Needless to point out I was intrigued when sometime in early 2016 I learned Carlos had reunited with most of the surviving members from the band’s early ’70s lineup for a new album: Gregg Rolie (lead vocals, keyboards), Neal Schon (guitar, vocals), Michael Carabello (congas, percussion, backing vocals) and Michael Shrieve (drums). Sure, 46 years is a very long time and I couldn’t expect Santana IV would sound the same as those first three records. But I still liked what I heard. Perhaps best of all, I got to see that version of Santana live during a short supporting tour, which also featured Journey. I’m leaving you with Anywhere You Want to Go, penned by Rolie. Feel free to groove along!

Of course, this post wouldn’t be complete without a Spotify list of all the above tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday Six – man, it’s hot this weekend in my neck of the woods (central New Jersey). In case you’re also experiencing sweltering temperatures I hope you stay cool! Are you ready for some hot music? 🙂

Melody Gardot & Philippe Powell/This Foolish Heart Could Love You

If you’re a more frequent traveler on The Sunday Six, by now, you’re probably not surprised I’m starting today’s journey with another relaxing jazz tune. But there are two differences: My pick has vocals and it’s brand new. American jazz vocalist Melody Gardot released her debut album Worrisome Heart in 2006. Her difficult recovery from brain injuries sustained during a 2003 bicycle accident played a significant part in her personal life and music journey. You can learn more about Gardot’s incredible story on her Wikipedia page. Philippe Powell (full name: Philippe Baden Powell) is a French-born pianist and composer, and the son of Baden Powell de Aquino, a prominent Brazilian jazz and bossa nova guitarist who professionally was known as Baden Powell. According to this online bio, Philippe Powell started his professional recording career in 1995. This Foolish Heart Could Love You, co-written by Gardot and Powell, is the beautiful opener of their great collaboration album Entre eux deux, which came out on May 20. So soothing!

The Alarm/Sold Me Down the River

Ready for some time travel? Let’s first jump to the late ’80s with a cool rocker by The Alarm. Shout-out to Max from PowerPop blog who featured another song by the Welsh rock band on Friday, which brought them on my radar screen! After I had found and listened to 68 Guns in the “Top Songs” list of my streaming music provider, Sold Me Down the River came on. Well, I guess you could say that tune completely sold me on the group. I love when stuff like that happens! The Alarm were initially formed in Rhyl, Wales, in 1981, emerging from a punk band with the lovely name The Toilets. During their original 10-year run as The Alarm, they released five studio albums. After the surprise departure of co-founder and lead vocalist Mike Peters in 1991, the group broke up. In the late 90s, Peters relaunched a new version of the group titled The Alarm MM++. They have released 14 albums and remain active to this day. Sold Me Down the River, co-written by Peters and original Alarm bassist Eddie Macdonald, is included on their fourth studio album Change that appeared in September 1989. That guitar riff just makes me smile. Yes, you can’t deny it’s an ’80s production, but it’s still great!

Foo Fighters/This Is a Call

I guess I wasn’t kidding when I told Dave from A Sound Day on Friday night about my need to take a closer look at Foo Fighters after he had posted about their 1997 sophomore album The Colour and the Shape. By now, some of you may be thinking, ‘okay, is this a post of borrowed ideas from other bloggers?’ A key reason I enjoy blogging is interacting with fellow bloggers and, yes, getting inspired! Even after having listened to music for more than 40 years, I can say without any doubt my awareness/knowledge today wouldn’t be the same without great fellow bloggers I’m following, and I can’t thank them enough! Anyhoo, getting back to the Foos who started in 1994 in Seattle as a music project of former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl, an artist I’ve come to immensely respect. During their 27-year-and-counting recording career, they have released 10 studio albums, most recently Medicine at Midnight from February 2021. This Is a Call, a great grungy power-pop tune written by Grohl, takes us back to Foo Fighters’ project stage. Grohl played all instruments and did all vocals with two small exceptions. Starting with their above-mentioned sophomore release, Foo albums became band efforts.

Donald Fagen/Mary Shut the Garden Door

After two rock-oriented tunes, let’s take it back down a few notches for this next stop on our little journey. Like most great longtime music writing partnerships, Steely Dan masterminds Donald Fagen and Walter Becker were best when working together and off each other. But they also recorded some decent music as solo artists. A case in point is Mary Shut the Garden Door, a track off Donald Fagen’s third solo album Morph the Cat, released in March 2006. Paranoia blooms when a thuggish cult gains control of the government, explain the song’s liner notes, cited by a New York Times story published 10 days ahead of the album’s release. “I’m afraid of religious people in general,” Fagen told the Times, “any adult who believes in magic.”Morph the Cat was influenced by the 9/11 terror attacks in 2001 and the gruesome death of Fagen’s mother from Alzheimer’s in January 2003. The article also observed the album’s dark lyrics contrast Steely Dan songs, which usually take a dark humor or indifferent stance on doom and gloom. That may be the case, but if you had told me Mary Shut the Garden Door was a Steely Dan song from the vault, I would have bought it. In addition to Fagen’s distinct voice, it’s got this smooth jazzy Dan sound and cool groove, all coming together in a high-quality production. At first, I thought Fagen’s melodica part was a harmonica and kept picturing Stevie Wonder playing this. I’m hoping to do it again and see Mr. Fagen’s Steely Dan in late June – knock on wood!

Chicken Shack/The Way It Is

A Sunday Six without at least one ’60s track is pretty much unthinkable. The next song doesn’t only meet this criterion but also represents one of my favorite music genres. British blues band Chicken Shack were formed in 1965 by Stan Webb (guitar, vocals), Andy Sylvester (bass) and Alan Morley (drums). The group’s biggest commercial success coincided with the 1968-1969 tenure of vocalist and keyboarder Christine Perfect. After her unsuccessful eponymous solo debut album, she joined Fleetwood Mac in 1970 as Christine McVie. Since 1968, she had been married to Mac bassist John McVie. The Way It Is, penned by Webb, is from Chicken Shack’s third studio album 100 Ton Chicken, released in November 1969. By that time, Perfect/McVie had been replaced by Paul Raymond (keyboards, vocals). I dig both the tune and the record, but neither gained any chart traction. In 1971, Raymond, Sylvester and then-Chicken Shack drummer Dave Bidwell left to join fellow English blues-rock band Savoy Brown. Webb ended up with them in 1974 as well and can be heard on their studio album Boogie Brothers, released that same year. Webb subsequently revived Chicken Shack and has since performed under that name with rotating members.

The Police/Peanuts

All things must pass, and once again it’s time to wrap up another zig-zag journey to the amazing world of music. Our final stop takes us to November 1978 and Outlandos d’Amour by The Police. It was the first of five excellent albums the British group released during their official run from 1997 to 1986. In reality, their active period ended in March 1984 after the end of their Synchronicity tour. By that time, Sting had already decided to go it alone and immediately started work on his solo debut The Dream of the Blue Turtles while the band was officially on hiatus. Turtles appeared in June 1985 and became a huge success. An attempt by the band to record a new album in July 1986 quickly came to an end after Stewart Copeland broke his collarbone in a fall from a horse and wasn’t able to play the drums. The Police officially disbanded shortly thereafter. I dig the raw sound of Outlandos d’Amour and deliberately avoided picking any of its three hit singles Roxanne, Can’t Stand Losing You and So Lonely – not because I can’t stand them, but I feel we’ve heard each of these tunes many times. Instead, I’m offering Peanuts – nope, it’s not a joke, that’s the title of the song, which Sting and Copeland wrote together. “I was thinking about a former musical hero who had dwindled to a mere celebrity, and I was more than willing to pass judgment on his extracurricular activities in the tabloids, never thinking for a moment that I would suffer the same distorted perceptions at their hands a few years later,” Sting said according to Songfacts.

This post wouldn’t be complete with a Spotify playlist featuring the above tunes. Hope there’s something you like. I couldn’t stand losing you!

Sources: Wikipedia; Far Out Recordings website; New York Times website; Songfacts; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Hard to believe it’s Sunday again, and we’ve reached the second weekend in spring. In typical tri-state (New Jersey, New York, Connecticut) fashion, we’ve had some wild temperature swings, and for tomorrow, the weatherman has forecast a whooping daytime high of 35 F – keeping fingers crossed they’re wrong like most of the time! Meanwhile, let’s keep the weather behind us and embark on another journey celebrating the music of the past and the present with six tunes.

Carlos Santana/Bella

I’d like to start today’s trip with a beautiful instrumental by Carlos Santana, one of the first guitarists I admired after I had started to pick up the guitar as a 12 or 13-year-old. Santana’s first compilation Santana’s Greatest Hits from July 1971, which spans the band’s first three albums, was one of the vinyl records my six-year-older sister had at the time. While I’m most familiar with the band’s classic period and it remains my favorite Santana music, I’ve also come to like some of their other work. Bella, co-written by Sterling Crew (keyboards, synthesizer), Carlos Santana (guitar) and Chester D. Thompson (keyboards), is from a solo album by Carlos, titled Blues for Salvador. Released in October 1987, the record is dedicated to his son Salvador Santana, who was born in May 1983 and is one of three children he had with his first wife Deborah King. Salvador Santana is a music artist as well, who has been active since 1999 when he collaborated with his father on composing El Farol, a Grammy-winning track from Santana’s hugely successful Supernatural album that came out in June that year.

Steely Dan/Home at Last

Last night, I saw an outstanding tribute band to Steely Dan, Sting, Stevie Wonder and Gino Vannelli. I’ve covered Good Stuff on previous occasions, for example here. After having felt skittish about going to concerts for the longest time, I’ve recently resumed some activities. It felt so good to enjoy some top-notch live music! As such, I guess it’s not a surprise that Messrs. Walter Becker and Donald Fagen are on my mind. While they have written many great songs, the one album I keep coming back to is Aja, a true masterpiece released in September 1977. Here’s Home at Last. That’s kind of how I felt last night!

The Chambers Brothers/Time Has Come Today

All righty, boys and girls, the time has come to go back to the ’60s and step on the gas a little with some psychedelic soul – coz, why not? The inspiration for this next pick came from a playlist titled 60s Rock Anthems, which I saw on Spotify. Regardless of whether you consider Time Has Come Today by American psychedelic soul group The Chambers Brothers a “rock anthem,” I think it’s a pretty cool tune. The title track of their debut album from November 1967 became the group’s biggest hit single, climbing to no. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100. The trippy song was co-written by brothers Willie Chambers (vocals, guitar) and Joseph Chambers (guitar), who made up the band together with their brothers Lester Chambers (harmonica) and George Chambers (bass), along with Brian Keenan (drums). Since the studio cut came in at 11 minutes, they edited it down to 2:37 minutes for the original single. Subsequently, there were also 3:05 and 4:45-minute single versions. Since we don’t do things half-ass here, of course, I present you with the full dose – sounds like a tasty stew of early Pink Floyd and Jimi Hendrix!

The Style Council/Shout to the Top

After the previous 11-minute psychedelic soul tour de force, I thought something more upbeat would be in order. The other day, I remembered and earmarked British outfit The Style Council. Formed in late 1982 by singer, songwriter and guitarist Paul Weller (formerly with punk rock band The Jam) and keyboarder Mick Talbot (formerly of Dexys Midnight Runners, among others), The Style Council became part of a wave of British pop outfits that embraced blue-eyed soul and jazz. Others that come to mind are Simply Red, Matt Bianco and Everything But The Girl. Shout to the Top, written by Weller, was the group’s seventh single that came out in October 1984. It was included on the band’s sophomore album Our Favourite Shop from June 1985 and part of the soundtrack of the American romantic drama picture Vision Quest released in February of the same year. Warning, the catchy tune might get stuck in your brain!

Blue Rodeo/5 Days in May

Our next stop takes us to the ’90s and some beautiful Neil Young-style Americana rock. Blue Rodeo are a relatively recent “discovery.” The first time I featured the Canadian country rock band, who has been around since 1984, was in early December 2021. Borrowing from this post, they were formed by high school friends Jim Cuddy (vocals, guitar) and Greg Keelor (vocals, guitar), who had played together in various bands before, and Bob Wiseman (keyboards). Cleave Anderson (drums) and Bazil Donovan (bass) completed the band’s initial lineup. After gaining a local following in Toronto and signing with Canadian independent record label Risque Disque, the group released their debut album Outskirts in March 1987. Co-written by Keelor and Cuddy, 5 Days in May is from Blue Rodeo’s fifth studio album Five Days in July, first released in Canada in October 1993. It only appeared in the U.S. in September of the following year. The band has since released 16 additional studio albums. I reviewed their most recent one, Many a Mile, here.

Foo Fighters/Medicine At Midnight

Once again, we’ve reached the final stop of our musical mini-excursion. Late on Friday sad news broke that Taylor Hawkins, who had been the drummer of Foo Fighters since 1997, passed away at the age of 50. The tragic event happened just before the band was scheduled to play a gig in Bogota, Colombia as part of their South America tour. The cause of death is still under investigation but may have been heart-related. I generally don’t follow the Foos and as such know next to nothing about their music. But I think Dave Grohl is a pretty cool dude, and I sympathize with what must be a difficult loss to him and his bandmates, the Hawkins family and Foo fans. An AP story quoted Grohl from his 2021 book The Storyteller: “Upon first meeting, our bond was immediate, and we grew closer with every day, every song, every note that we ever played together…We are absolutely meant to be, and I am grateful that we found each other in this lifetime.” Here’s the title track from Foo Fighters’ tenth studio album Medicine at Midnight released in February 2021. Like all other tracks on the record, it’s credited to the entire band.

Here’s a Spotify playlist featuring all of the above tunes.

Sources: Wikipedia; Associated Press; YouTube; Spotify

Paul Simon’s Eponymous U.S. Solo Debut Album Turns 50

Today, fifty years ago, Paul Simon released his eponymous solo album. His first record that appeared nearly two years after the break-up of his duo with Art Garfunkel was his second solo effort overall and the first to appear in the U.S. The Paul Simon Songbook from August 1965 had come out in the UK only. It would eventually be released in the U.S. in 1981 as part of a five-LP boxed set titled Collected Works.

Simon started work on the album in early 1971. For the reggae-influenced song Mother and Child Reunion, one of the reasons why I spontaneously decided to write about this 50th anniversary, he traveled to Jamaica. Simon liked reggae and listened to artists like Jimmy Cliff, Desmond Dekker and Bryon Lee. So he decided to record the tune with Cliff’s backing band at a studio in Kingston to make it sound more authentic. Afterward, he went to San Francisco to record some demos there.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the songs. Opening Side one is the aforementioned Mother and Child Reunion. The tune had also appeared as the album’s lead single on January 17, 1972, Simon’s first single as a solo artist. Songfacts notes that Simon wrote this in response to the Jimmy Cliff song “Vietnam,” where a mother receives a letter about her son’s death on the battlefield…Simon said of the song that it “became the first reggae hit by a non-Jamaican white guy outside Jamaica. Among others, the tune reached no. 4 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, no. 4 in Canada and no. 5 in each the UK and Australia.

When I listened to the ballad Duncan for the first time, it reminded me of Simon & Garfunkel’s El Condor Pasa, because of the beautiful pan flute fill-ins. It turns out those flutes were played by Los Incas, the same Andean group of musicians who had previously collaborated with Simon & Garfunkel on El Condor Pasa. Duncan was also released separately as the album’s third and final single in July 1972. It charted in the U.S. and Australia but didn’t match the success of Mother and Child Reunion.

Another tune from Side one I’d like to call out is Run That Body Down, which has a nice jazzy touch. Some notable backing musicians on that track include renowned jazz double bassist Ron Carter and guitarist David Spinoza who among others worked with John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr in the ’70s and produced James Taylor’s 1974 studio album Walking Man. Also, check out the great guitar solo by jazz guitarist Jerry Hahn, which starts at around 2:25 minutes.

Side two kicks off with one of Simon’s best-known songs and one of my favorites: Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard. The song’s meaning is unclear. Songfacts states, When asked what “Mama Pajama” saw that made her so distraught in this song, Paul Simon has said that he’s not exactly sure, but he assumed it was something sexual. Simon made up a crazy little story for the song, and named the main character Julio because it sounded like a typical New York neighborhood kid (Simon grew up in Queens). What Paul didn’t realize until years later was the impact the song had on Spanish-speaking listeners who were thrilled to hear a song coming out of America with a Latin name in the title. That’s how you do it: You just make up stuff, based on things you may have seen or read, and then have clever people debate what you meant. Bob Dylan anybody? Or how about Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen and Walter Becker? Julio also became the record’s second single. Its chart performance fell in-between Mother and Child Reunion and Duncan. It did best in Canada where it peaked at no. 6. On the U.S. and UK mainstream charts, it reached no. 22 and no. 15, respectively.

Next up: Peace Like a River. I decided to call out this song primarily because of Simon’s acoustic guitar playing, which blends folk with a dose of blues. Learning the acoustic guitar myself many years ago, I can definitely say he was one of the players I admired. The difference between Simon and myself: He became famous, while I always remained a closet acoustic guitarist! 🙂

The last tune I’d like to call out is a short instrumental titled Hobo’s Blues. Did I just say instrumental? No vocals, something I’m generally addicted to? Yep, sometimes you don’t need vocals. The standout here is French-Italian jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli, the only musician on the track besides Simon on acoustic guitar. Pretty neat!

Paul Simon was co-produced by Simon and Roy Halee who had co-produced Simon & Garfunkel’s Bookends (April 1968) and Bridge over Troubled Water (January 1970) albums. He also had co-produced the tune Mrs. Robinson from the soundtrack of the motion picture The Graduate, for which he had won a Grammy Award.

The album was mostly well-received by critics. According to Wikipedia, even Robert Christgau had something positive to say, writing in the Village Voice, “this is the only thing in the universe to make me positively happy in the first two weeks of February 1972” – jeez, he must have been on some substance! And in Rolling Stone that year, Jon Landau called the album Simon’s “least detached, most personal and painful piece of work thus far — this from a lyricist who has never shied away from pain as subject or theme.”

The album, which in 1986 reached Platinum certification in the U.S., topped the charts in the UK, Sweden, Norway and Finland. Notably, it was Simon’s only no. 1 album in the UK in the ’70s. It would take until the fantastic Graceland from 1986 to reach the top spot again. In Canada and The Netherlands, Paul Simon climbed to no. 2, while in the U.S. and Australia, it reached no. 4 and no. 5, respectively. The record was ranked at no. 268 in Rolling Stone’s 2012 list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. It also made the list for the 2020 update, coming in at no. 425.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; Discogs; YouTube; Spotify

Clips & Pix: Steely Dan/Black Friday

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The idea for this post came to me spontaneously earlier this morning when I cheerfully deleted the latest batch of unsolicited advertising emails about Black Friday. Above is a small sample. While I generally don’t mind sales and getting a good deal, I just find the frenzy around Black Friday completely insane. I’m sure if I would search the Internet long enough, I’d find local news reports about folks beating up each other in stores. I certainly recall reading about such incidents in years past.

This brings me to Messrs. Walter Becker and Donald Fagen and the opener of Steely Dan’s fourth studio album Katy Lied that appeared in March 1975. Black Friday was also released separately as the record’s lead single in April of the same year. The tune reached no. 57 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 mainstream chart, a modest showing, but I doubt Becker and Fagen lost much sleep over it!

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Here’s some background on the tune from Songfacts: Long before the term came to denote the shopping frenzy on the day after Thanksgiving, Steely Dan released this song about the original “Black Friday,” when on Friday, September 24, 1869 a failed ploy left many wealthy investors broke. The investors tried to corner the market on gold, buying as much of it as they could and driving up the price, but when the government found out, it released $4 million worth of gold into the market, driving down the price and clobbering the investors.

As for how it became a retail reference, sometime in the ’60s, the term was bandied about to indicate the key day in the holiday shopping season when the stores would be “in the black,” meaning making money (black ink indicates profit, red ink indicates loss).

…Steely Dan used various guitarists on the Katy Lied album, including Rick Derringer, Hugh McCracken and Larry Carlton. On this track, however, Walter Becker played the solo. He did it using the Fender Telecaster belonging to another guitarist who played on the album, Denny Dias. Becker used it because he liked how Dias had it set up. Once again goes to show what a kickass guitarist Becker was!

And then, there’re shocking news headlines like the following:

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Black Friday Shopping Is Back, but the Doorbusters Aren’t
Experts say not to expect too much from Black Friday deals
Avoid these 3 holiday scams on Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Sorry, I just couldn’t resist. Again, there’s nothing wrong per se to look for a good deal. But Black Friday just isn’t my thing and never has been – can you tell? If you’re out there hitting the stores, please be safe. Or shop over the Internet. Or even better, watch the Disney+ Peter Jackson docuseries The Beatles: Get Back. You can get a 1-month trial to the Micky Mouse channel. It’s a great deal! 🙂

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: September 3

My last installment in this recurring irregular feature dates back to late June, so I thought it would be a good moment to do another post. In case you’re a first-time visitor of the blog or haven’t seen these types of posts before, the idea is to explore what happened on a specific date in music history. It’s not my intention to provide a comprehensive listing of events. Instead, the picks are quite selective and closely reflect my music taste. With these caveats being out of the way, let’s take a look at September 3.

1964: The Beatles played State Fair Coliseum in Indianapolis as part of their 30-date U.S. tour in August and September that year. It was the same tour during which they had met Bob Dylan in New York in August. According to The Beatles Bible, their Indianapolis engagement included two gigs that were attended by a total of 29,337 people – they had to count them all! The Beatles performed their standard 12-song set of Twist And Shout, You Can’t Do That, All My Loving, She Loves You, Things We Said Today, Roll Over Beethoven, Can’t Buy Me Love, If I Fell, I Want To Hold Your Hand, Boys, A Hard Day’s Night and Long Tall Sally. Prior to the first show, Ringo Starr decided to have some fun driving a police car around a nearby race track. Unfortunately, he completely forgot to check his watch and made it to the Coliseum just minutes before he and his bandmates were scheduled to go on stage. The Beatles Bible also notes the two concerts earned them $85,231.93, after $1,719.02 was deducted as state income tax. Be thankful they didn’t take it all!

Poster for The Beatles at State Fair Coliseum, Indianapolis, 3 September 1964

1966: Donovan hit no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with Sunshine Superman. The single, which also became the title track of his third studio album from August that year, had been released in the U.S. on July 1. Due to a contractual dispute, it did not appear in the UK until December 1966, where it reached no. 2 on the Official Singles Chart. Sunshine Superman remained Donovan’s only no. 1 and no. 2 hit in the U.S. and the UK, respectively. Sunshine Superman is an early example of psychedelia. The backing musicians, among others, included Jimmy Page (electric guitar) and John Paul Jones (bass), who were both busy session players at the time. They ended up playing together in the New Yardbirds the following year, the band that became Led Zeppelin.

1971: Fleetwood Mac released their fifth studio album Future Games. The record, the first with Christine McVie (keyboards, vocals) who at the time was still married to John McVie (bass), falls into an interesting transition period for the band. Their blues days with Peter Green were a matter of the past, and their classic period that started with Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks and the Fleetwood Mac album from 1975 was still a few years away. Future Games also was the first of five records to feature guitarist Bob Welch. The band’s remaining line-up at the time included Danny Kirwan (guitar, vocals) and Mick Fleetwood (drums, percussion). Welch immediately left his mark, writing both the title track and this song, Lay It All Down.

1982: The first of two Us Festivals (with Us pronounced like the pronoun, not as initials) kicked off near San Bernardino, 60 miles east of Los Angeles. The festivals were initiated by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak who partnered with rock concert promoter Bill Graham. The idea of the extravagant event, which Wozniak bankrolled with $8 million to pay for the construction of the open-field venue, was to celebrate the passing of the “Me” Decade (1970s) and encourage more community orientation and combine technology with rock music. Performing acts at the first three-day Us Festival included Talking Heads, The Police, Santana, The Kinks, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Grateful Dead, Jackson Browne and Fleetwood Mac, among others. A second (four-day) Us Festival took place nine months later around Memorial Day weekend 1983. Here’s Santana’s performance of the Tito Puente classic Oye Cómo Va at the 1982 event.

2017: Steely Dan co-founder Walter Becker passed away at the age of 67 from esophageal cancer at his home in New York City. Together with his longtime partner Donald Fagen, who he had met at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. in 1971 where both were students, Becker had formed the core of the group. By the time of Steely Dan’s fourth album Katy Lied from March 1975, Becker and Fagen had turned the group into a studio band, relying on top-notch session musicians to record their albums. After their seventh studio album Gaucho, Becker and Fagen split to pursue solo careers. They reunited in 1993, recorded two more albums and toured frequently until Becker’s death. Fagen has since continued to carry on the Steely Dan torch. Here’s Black Friday from Katie Lied, a nice example of Becker’s guitar chops. Oftentimes, he stepped back to let other musicians handle guitar duties – not so in this case where he did some killer soloing, using the guitar of Denny Dias, Steely Dan’s original guitarist during their early stage as a standing band. Dias appeared as a guest musician on the Katy Lied, The Royal Scam and Aja albums

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts Music History Calendar; This Day In Music; The Beatles Bible; 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

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

Welcome to a new weekly celebration of music in different flavors from different eras, six tunes at a time. Today, The Sunday Six recurring feature is hitting another mini milestone with its 25th installment. And it’s the Fourth of July holiday here in the U.S., so to those who celebrate it, happy Fourth and please be safe!

Teenage Fanclub/The Sun Won’t Shine on Me

Kicking us off today is a band with the somewhat strange name Teenage Fanclub. If you follow the great PowerPop blog, you may have seen this Scottish power pop band was just featured there. In this context, Aphoristic Album Reviews, another music blog I highly recommend, noted that not only are Teenage Fanclub still around (after more than 30 years), but they recently came out with a new album. It’s titled Endless Arcade. Founded in Bellshill near Glasgow in 1989, the band’s initial formation largely included members of The Boy Hairdressers, another local group that had just dissolved. Following a well received more edgy rock-focused debut album, A Catholic Education from June 1990, Teenage Fanclub adopted their signature power pop-oriented sound inspired by groups like Big Star, Badfinger and the Byrds. The third album Bandwagonesque brought them more attention and significant success in the U.S. where the single Star Sign hit no. 4 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart. Not surprisingly, Teenage Fanclub’s line-up has changed over the decades and currently features co-founding members Norman Blake (vocals, guitar) and Raymond McGinley (vocals, guitar), together with Euros Childs (keyboards, vocals), Dave McGowan (keyboards, guitar, bass, vocals) and Francis Macdonald (drums, vocals). Frankly, I had never heard of the band until the above fellow bloggers brought them to my attention. Here’s The Sun Won’t Shine On Me, written by Blake, which appears on Teenage Fanclub’s new album released on April 30. While the lyrics are blue, I love the tune’s jangly guitar sound!

Steely Dan/Rikki Don’t Lose That Number

On to the great Steely Dan and one of my favorite songs from their early phase as a standing band. Rikki Don’t Lose That Number, off their third studio album Pretzel Logic from February 1974, also became Steely Dan’s biggest hit single, surging to no. 4 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. It did even better in Canada where it peaked at no. 3. Donald Fagen and Walter Becker were huge jazz fans. When writing Rikki Don’t Lose That Number, evidently, they were inspired by The Horace Silver Quartet and the intro to Song for My Father, which I covered in a previous Sunday Six installment. Pretzel Logic was the final Steely Dan album featuring the full quintet line-up of Becker, Fagen, Denny Dias, Jim Hodder and Jeff “Skunk” Baxter. It was the first to include significant contributions from L.A. session musicians, a concept Becker and Fagen fully embraced on subsequent albums after they had turned Steely Dan into a studio project that became an increasingly sophisticated and complex.

The Youngbloods/Get Together

I’ve always loved this next tune by The Youngbloods, and it’s been on my “list” for a Sunday Six for some time. Get Together appeared on their eponymous debut album from December 1966. Written by Chet Powers, who was also known as Dino Valenti and a member of psychedelic rock outfit Quicksilver Messenger Service, the song first appeared on a 1963 record by bluegrass band The Folkswingers. It was also included as Let’s Get Together on Kingston Trio’s live album Back in Town released in June 1964, as well as on Jefferson Airplane’s debut album Jefferson Airplane Takes Off from August 1966. But it was the rendition by The Youngbloods, which became most successful, giving them their only top 40 hit in the U.S. mainstream charts. Their cover reached a peak there in 1969 when it was reissued as a single and hit no. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. It’s a pity The Youngbloods did not achieve widespread popularity. After their fifth studio album High on a Ridge Top from November 1972, they called it quits.

Dire Straits/Skateaway

This next pick was also inspired by fellow blogger Aphoristic Album Reviews, who recently did a post on the 10 best songs by Dire Straits. I’ve always liked the British rock band and the great melodic guitar-playing by Mark Knopfler, especially on their 1978 eponymous debut album and Making Movies, their third studio release from October 1980. It’s widely considered as one of Dire Straits’ best records. Knopfler’s songwriting had matured, especially in comparison to sophomore release Communiqué from June 1979, which largely sounded like the eponymous debut. Personally, this never bothered me much, since I dig that first album. Here’s the great Skateway. Let’s go, roller girl! And…don’t worry/D.J. play the movies all night long

Chicago/Saturday in the Park

Given today is the Fourth of July, I thought it made sense to feature a tune that references the holiday. I decided to go with Saturday in the Park by Chicago. Written by Robert Lamm, the track appeared on the band’s fourth studio album Chicago V that came out in July 1972. Why calling it five when it was their fourth, you may wonder? Because the band, which was founded as Chicago Transit Authority in 1967, was in their fifth year at the time. Wikipedia notes two different background stories about the song. According to then-fellow band member Walter Parazaider, Lamm was inspired after he had seen steel drum players, singers, dancers and jugglers in New York’s Central Park on July 4, 1971. Lamm recalled it differently, telling Billboard in 2017 the song “was written as I was looking at footage from a film I shot in Central Park, over a couple of years, back in the early ‘70s.” Regardless of which recollection is accurate, there’s no doubt the tune was inspired by Central Park and that it became Chicago’s biggest U.S. mainstream hit at the time, peaking at no. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 in September 1972. It would take another five years before they had an even bigger hit with their single If You Leave Me Now released in July 1976 and topping the Hot 100 in October that year. Chicago are still around and are currently touring. Original members Lamm (keyboards, vocals), Lee Loughnane (trumpet, vocals) and James Pankow (trombone) are part of the present nine-piece line-up. The tour schedule is here. I’ve seen Chicago once more than 20 years ago and recall it as a solid show.

Magic Castles/Sunburst

Let’s wrap up this installment of The Sunday Six with some more recently released music. Again, I’d like to acknowledge a fellow blogger, Angie from The Diversity of Classic Rock, where I first read about psychedelic rock band Magic Castles. For background, here’s an excerpt from their Apple Music profile: The band formed in Minneapolis in 2006, growing out of singer/guitarist Jason Edmonds’ home-recording project as he tapped singer/guitarist Jeremiah Doering, bassist Paul Fuglestad, drummer Brendan McInerney, and Kait Sergenian. Magic Castles played their first show at a friend’s birthday party later that year, began recording their first record the following summer, and by June 2008 offered their self-released debut, The Lore of Mysticore. By then, the group had added keyboardist/singer Noah Skogerboe to further flesh out their sound, and Matt Van Genderen had replaced McInerney on the drums. This new incarnation pulled double duty in 2009, offering sophomore album Dreams of Dreams plus a limited-edition cassette, Sounds of the Forest. Fast-forward some 12 years to April 30, 2021 and Sun Reign, the band’s sixth studio album and their first since 2015. Here’s the seductive opener Sunburst. Written by Edmonds, the band’s only constant member, the tune has a cool ’60s garage rock vibe, featuring a great jangly guitar sound reminiscent of the Byrds. I’m definitely planning to take a closer look at the group.

Sources: Wikipedia; Billboard; Apple Music; Chicago website; YouTube

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random songs at a time

By now it’s safe to assume more frequent visitors know what’s about to happen. To new readers, The Sunday Six is all about enjoying the diversity and beauty of music. I make a deliberate effort to feature different music genres including some I don’t listen to frequently. While the resulting picks, therefore, can appear to be random, these posts don’t capture the first six tunes that come to my mind. At the end of the day, anything goes as long as it speaks to me.

George Benson/Breezin’

Kicking is off is some groovy guitar pop jazz by George Benson. Benson started to play the guitar as an eight-year-old, following the ukulele he had picked up a year earlier. Incredibly, he already recorded by the age of 9, which means his career now stands at a whooping 57 years and counting! He gained initial popularity in the 1960s, performing together with jazz organist Jack McDuff. Starting with the 1963 live album Brother Jack McDuff Live!, Benson appeared on various McDuff records. In 1964, he released his debut as a bandleader, The New Boss Guitar of George Benson, which featured McDuff on piano and organ. In the ’70s, Benson started to venture beyond jazz into pop and R&B. Breezin’ from May 1976 is a good example. Not only did it top Billboard’s jazz chart, but it also climbed to no. 1 on the R&B and mainstream charts. Here’s the title track, written by Bobby Womack who also originally recorded it in December 1970, together with Hungarian jazz guitar great Gábor Szabó. It appeared on Szabó’s 1971 album High Contrast. Here’s Benson’s version. The smooth and happy sound are perfect for a Sunday morning!

Steely Dan/Home at Last

Let’s stay in pop jazzy lane for a bit longer with Steely Dan, one of my all-time favorite bands. I trust Messrs. Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, who first met in 1967 as students at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. and quickly bonded over their mutual admiration for jazz and other music, don’t need much of an introduction. By the time they met guitarist Denny Dias in the summer of 1970, they already had written a good amount of original music. Steely Dan’s  first lineup was assembled in December 1971, after Becker, Fagen and Dias had moved to Los Angeles. The additional members included Jeff “Skunk” Baxter  (guitar), Jim Hodder (drums) and David Palmer (vocals). Earlier, Gary Katz, a staff producer at ABC Records, had hired Becker and Fagen as staff songwriters. It was also Katz who signed the Dan to the label. By the time their sixth and, in my opinion, best album Aja appeared in September 1977, Steely Dan had become a studio project by Fagen and Becker who surrounded themselves with a changing cast of top-notch session musicians and other artists. In this case, the latter included Larry Carlton (guitar), Chuck Rainey (bass), Jim Keltner (drums) and Michael McDonald (backing vocals), among others. Here’s Home at Last, which like all other tracks on the album was co-written by Fagen and Becker. In addition to them, the track featured Carlton (though the solo was played by Becker who oftentimes left lead guitar responsibilities to a session guitarist like Carlton), Rainey (bass), Victor Feldman (vibraphone), Bernard Purdie (drums), Timothy B. Schmit (backing vocals), and of course an amazing horn section, including Jim Horn (what an appropriate name!), Bill Perkins, Plas Johnson, Jackie Kelso, Chuck Findley, Lou McCreary and Dick Hyde.

The Temptations/Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone

Time to start switching up things with a dose of ’70s funk and psychedelic soul, don’t you agree? Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone by The Temptations is one of the coolest tunes I can think of in this context. Co-written by Motown’s Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, the song was first released as a single in May 1972 by the label’s recording act The Undisputed Truth. While the original to which you can listen here is pretty good as well, it’s the great rendition by The Temptations I heard first and have come to love! They recorded an 11-minute-plus take for their studio album All Directions from July 1972. In September that year, The Temptations also released a 6:54-minute single version of the song. While it still was a pretty long edit for a single, it yielded the group their second no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the ’70s. It would also be their last no. 1 hit on the U.S. mainstream chart. By the time Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone appeared, the group already had seen various changes and only featured two members of the classic line-up: Otis Williams (baritone) and Melvin Franklin (bass). The other members were Dennis Edwards (tenor), Damon Harris (tenor) and Richard Street (second tenor). Amazingly, The Temptations still exist after some 60 years (not counting the group’s predecessors), with 79-year-old Otis Williams remaining as the only original member. I have tickets to see them together with The Four Tops in early November – keeping fingers crossed! Meanwhile, here’s Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone, of course, the mighty album version, coz I don’t do things half ass here! 🙂

Peter Gabriel/Don’t Give Up (feat. Kate Bush)

Let’s go to a different decade with another artist I’ve come to dig, which in no small part was due to this album: Peter Gabriel and So, his fifth studio release from May 1986. It’s probably Gabriel’s most mainstream-oriented album. Much of the former Genesis lead vocalist’s other solo work has been more of an acquired taste. I also didn’t pay much attention after his follow-on Us that appeared in September 1992. Fueled by the hit single Sledgehammer, which topped the mainstream charts in the U.S. and Canada, peaked at no. 3 in Australia and New Zealand, and reached the top 10 in Germany and various other European countries, So became Gabriel’s best-selling solo album. I did catch him during the supporting tour in Cologne, Germany, and still have fond memories of that gig. Here’s Don’t Give Up, a haunting duet with Kate Bush. Inspired by U.S. Depression era photos from the 1930s Gabriel had seen, he applied the theme to the difficult economic conditions in Margaret Thatcher’s mid-1980s England. While the tune is a bit of a Debbie Downer, I find it extremely powerful. You can literally picture the lyrics as a movie. I also think the vocals alternating between Gabriel and Bush work perfectly.

The Turtles/Happy Together

I suppose after the previous tune, we all could need some cheering up. A song that always puts me in a good mood is Happy Together by The Turtles. Plus, it broadens our little musical journey to include the ’60s, one of my favorite decades in music. The Turtles started performing under that name in 1965. Their original members, Howard Kaylan (lead vocals, keyboards), Mark Volman (backing vocals, guitar, percussion), Al Nichol (lead guitar, keyboards, backing vocals), Jim Tucker (rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Chuck Portz (bass) and Don Murray (drums), had all played together in a surf rock-oriented band called The Crossfires. That group turned into The Tyrtles, a folk rock outfit, before becoming The Turtles and adopting more of a sunshine pop style. The band’s initial run lasted until 1970. Vollman and Kaylan subsequently launched pop duo Flo & Eddie and released a series of records between 1972 and 2009. In 1983, Vollman and Kaylan legally regained the use of the name The Turtles and started touring as The Turtles…Featuring Flo and Eddie. Instead of seeking to reunite with their former bandmates, Vollman and Kaylan relied on other musicians. The group remains active in this fashion to this day. Their website lists a poster for a Happy Together Tour 2021 “this summer,” though currently, no gigs are posted. Happy Together was the title track of the band’s third studio album from April 1967. Co-written by Alan Gordon and Garry Bonner, the infectious tune became The Turtles’ biggest hit, topping the Billboard Hot 100, climbing to no. 2 in Canada, and reaching no. 12 in the UK, marking their first charting single there.

Simple Minds/Stand by Love

I can’t believe it’s already time to wrap up this latest installment of The Sunday Six. For this last tune, I decided to pick a song from the early ’90s: Stand by Love by Simple Minds. While I wouldn’t call myself a fan of the Scottish new wave and pop rock band and don’t follow them closely, I generally enjoy their music. I also got to see them live once in Stuttgart, Germany in the early ’90s and remember it as a good show. Simple Minds emerged in late 1977 from the remains of short-lived punk band Johnny & The Self-Abusers. By late 1978, the band’s first stable line-up was in place, featuring Jim Kerr (lead vocals), Charlie Burchill (guitar), Mick MacNeil (keyboards), Derek Forbes (bass) and Brian McGee (drums). That formation recorded Simple Minds’ debut album Life in a Day released in April 1979. Their fifth studio album New Gold Dream (81–82–83–84) was the first to bring more significant commercial success in the UK and Europe. This was followed by a series of additional successful albums that appeared between 1984 and 1995, which included the band’s biggest hits, such as Don’t You (Forget About Me), Alive and Kicking, Belfast Child and Let There Be Love. Today, more than 40 years after their formation, Simple Minds are still around, with Kerr and Burchill remaining part of the current line-up. Here’s Stand by Love, co-written by Burchill and Kerr, from the band’s ninth studio album Real Life that came out in April 1991. This is quite a catchy tune. I also dig the backing vocals by what sounds like gospel choir, which become more prominent as the song progresses.

Sources: Wikipedia; The Turtles…Featuring Flo and Eddie website; YouTube