The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

I hope everybody is spending a great weekend. Once again, I’d like to welcome you to another Sunday Six. In case you’re here for the first time, in this weekly recurring feature, I stretch out musically speaking, visiting different decades and different genres over the past 70 years, six tunes at a time. All onboard and let’s go!

Clifford Brown & Max Roach Quintet/Joy Spring

Today, our little trip starts in December 1954 with beautiful music by two jazz greats: Trumpeter Clifford Brown and drummer Max Roach. Earlier that same year, Roach had invited Brown to join him in creating a quintet. By the time, they recorded Clifford Brown & Max Roach, which I believe was their band’s first album, the line-up also featured Harold Land (tenor saxophone), Richie Powell (piano) and George Morrow (bass). Unfortunately, the quintet was short-lived due to a tragic car accident that killed Brown in June 1956 at age 25. He was on his way to a gig in Chicago together with Powell whose wife Nancy drove the car. They both lost their lives as well. The quintet’s last official album Clifford Brown and Max Roach at Basin Street, recorded earlier that year, featured then-up-and-coming tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins. Here’s Joy Spring, a composition by Brown.

The Asylum Choir/Tryin’ to Stay ‘Live

The next stop on today’s journey is November 1971. That’s when the second and final album by Leon Russell’s (keyboards) and Marc Benno’s (guitar) studio project The Asylum Choir came out. Initially formed in 1967, they put out their debut Look Inside the Asylum Choir the following year. While The Asylum Choir II had been recorded in 1969, its release was delayed due to contract disputes. In fact, by the time the record finally appeared, they had already dissolved the project. Russell and Benno were backed by prominent session musicians, including Jesse Ed Davis (guitar), Carl Radle (bass), Donald “Duck” Dunn (of Booker T. & the M.G.’s) and Chuck Blackwell (drums). Here’s the great honky tonk rocker Tryin’ to Stay ‘Live, which was co-written by Russell and Benno.

R.E.M./Losing My Religion

Let’s continue our excursion with a stopover in the ’90s. Losing My Religion was the first R.E.M. tune that really got the alternative rock band from Athens, Ga. on my radar screen. While I remember the song was on the radio back in Germany all the time, I still dig it to this day. Credited to all members of R.E.M. – Bill Berry (drums, percussion), Peter Buck (guitar, mandolin), Mike Mills (bass, backing vocals) and Michael Stipe (lead vocals) – Losing My Religion is from the group’s seventh studio album Out of Time, which appeared in March 1991. According to Songfacts, R.E.M. were surprised about their record label’s decision to make the tune the album’s lead single. After all, it didn’t have a chorus and featured a mandolin as a lead instrument, not exactly your typical ingredients for a hit. Not only did it become the album’s best-performing single but the band’s most successful overall!

Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’/Don’t Leave Me Here

Four tracks into this Sunday Six it’s time to jump to the current century with some sizzling blues by Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’, who in May 2017 came out with a great collaboration album, TajMo. Together with Buddy Guy’s 2016 studio album Born to Play Guitar, it reignited my love for the blues, a genre I had first explored in my late teens after I had picked up the bass and joined a blues band – the start of my intense but short-lived band career! 🙂 I also caught Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ in August 2017 during their tour that supported the album and have seen Guy three times since Born to Play Guitar. Here’s TajMo’s great opener Don’t Leave Me Here, which was co-written by the two artists and Gary Nicholson. I should add that while the tune has a traditional blues vibe, overall, TajMo, which includes elements of soul and world music, is an uplifting album. “Some people think that the blues is about being down all the time, but that’s not what it is,” Mahal said at the time. “It’s therapeutic, so you can get up off that down.” He added, “We wanted to do a real good record together, but we didn’t want to do the record that everyone expected us to do.”

Echo & The Bunnymen/Lips Like Sugar

Our next stop takes us back to the ’80s. In July 1987, Echo & The Bunnymen released their eponymous fifth studio album. While The English post-punk band had been around since 1978, if I recall correctly, it wasn’t until Lips Like Sugar that I heard of them for the first time. The catchy tune was co-written by band members Will Sergeant (guitar), Ian McCulloch (lead vocals, guitar, piano) and Les Pattinson (bass). Pete de Freitas (drums) completed their line-up at the time. Interestingly, it only reached no. 36 on the UK Official Singles Chart, lower than most of their earlier singles. After the band’s breakup in 1993, Sergeant and McCulloch reunited the following year. When Pattinson rejoined them in 1997, they decided to revive Echo & The Bunnymen. Ever since Pattinson exited again in 1999, Sergeant and McCulloch have continued to tour and record under that name.

Jerry Lee Lewis/Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On

Once again we’ve reached our final destination. The last tune is in memory of Jerry Lee Lewis, who passed away on Friday at the age of 87. Lewis was the last man standing of a generation of pioneering classic rock & roll artists who also included the likes of Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Chuck Berry and Little Richard. “The Killer” was known for his high-energy performances. After his popularity had taken off in 1957, his career was nearly derailed when it became known he was married to his 13-year-old cousin once removed while still being married to his previous wife. Lewis was blacklisted from the radio and his earnings were nearly wiped out overnight. Eventually, he managed to reinvent himself as a country artist. But scandal continued to follow him for much of his life. Here’s Lewis’ remake of Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On and his biggest hit, which was released as a single in April 1957. The tune was written by Dave “Curlee” Williams and first recorded by Big Maybelle in 1955.

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist of the above tunes. Hope there’s something you dig.

Source: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

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The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another installment of The Sunday Six. I always look forward to writing these weekly posts. It feels very liberating to explore the music of the past 60 years or so with no set theme or rules other than I have to like it and keep my picks to six tracks at a time. That being said, frequent readers may have noticed that I’ve kind of settled into a groove on how I tend to structure these posts.

Usually, they kick off on a softer note, given I’m publishing these installments on Sunday mornings, at least in my neck of the woods. I feel these intros present a nice opportunity to feature some jazz and other instrumental music. From there, the posts are pretty much all over the place, jumping back and forth between different decades and featuring different genres. With my methodology behind the madness now having been officially revealed in case you hadn’t already noticed, let’s get to this week’s picks!

Federico Albanese/The Stars We Follow

I’d like to begin today’s journey with beautiful instrumental music by Federico Albanese, an Italian composer, pianist and music producer. He emerged in Spotify after I had looked up the latest composition by English contemporary pianist Neil Cowley I featured in two previous Sunday Six installments, most recently here. From Albanese’s website: Albanese’s compositions are airy and cinematic, blending classical music, pop and psychedelia...When Federico Albanese was just two years old, a local music store owner told his mother that her son had a gift for music...After an early childhood playing piano, the next stop on Albanese’s musical journey was jazz. Inspired by a Woody Allen film, his father gave the young teenager a clarinet, and booked him lessons...Next came the bass guitar, because he wanted to play in a punk rock band. In addition to playing in several rock bands, he and his friends were listening to new age music of the late 90s, from Brian Eno to William BasinskiAll of these musical interests have combined to influence his genre-fusing piano soundscapes, which also incorporate guitar, bass, violin and electronica. This brings me to The Stars We Follow, which is part of a soundtrack released in May 2019 Albanese wrote for a motion picture titled The Twelve. I find this music very relaxing and a nice way to start a Sunday morning.

Chuck Brown and Eva Cassidy/Dark End of the Street

Next, let’s turn to Eva Cassidy, a versatile American vocalist who was known for her interpretations of jazz, blues, folk, gospel, country and pop songs. Sadly, Cassidy’s life was cut short at age 33 when she passed away from melanoma. What a loss and at such a young age – truly heartbreaking! Cassidy gained most of her popularity after her death, especially overseas where three of her postmortem releases – a studio album, a live record and a compilation – topped the Offical Albums Chart in the UK and also reached the top 20 in various other European countries. Cassidy’s cover of Dark End of the Street appeared on The Other Side from January 1992, the only album released during her lifetime. She recorded it together with American guitarist, bandleader and vocalist Chuck Brown who was known as The Godfather of Go-Go. Written by Dan Penn and Chips Moman in 1967, Dark End of the Street was first recorded by R&B and soul singer James Carr that same year. Check out Cassidy’s beautiful rendition – I find it incredible!

The Box Tops/The Letter

After two mellow tracks, it’s time to speed things up. Here’s a great tune that became the first and biggest hit for American blue-eyed soul and rock band The Box Tops: The Letter, which first appeared as a single in May 1967. The tune, written by Wayne Carson, was also included on the group’s first album The Letter/Neon Rainbow. It was quickly put together and released in November of the same year after The Letter had reached no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. The Letter featured 16-year-old Alex Chilton on lead vocals, who after The Box Tops had disbanded in February 1970 became a co-founder of power pop group Big Star. The original line-up of The Box Tops also included Gary Talley (lead guitar, backing vocals), John Evans (keyboards, backing vocals), Bill Cunningham (bass, backing vocals) and Danny Smythe (drums, backing vocals). I’ve always loved The Letter, an excellent rendition of which was also recorded by Joe Cocker in 1970.

The Hooters/All You Zombies

While I was thinking about the ’80s the other day and a tune I could feature in a Sunday Six installment, suddenly, I recalled American rock band The Hooters. They became quite popular in Germany in the mid-’80s. The first song that brought them onto my radar screen was All You Zombies. I vaguely seem to recall rocking out on the dance floor to this great tune during high school parties and festivities as a young college student. The song was co-written by the band’s founding members Eric Brazilian (lead vocals, guitars, mandolin, harmonica, saxophone) and Rob Hyman (lead vocals, keyboards, accordion, melodica) who remain with the still-active group to this day. An initial version of All You Zombies first appeared on The Hooters’ debut album Amore and as a single, both released in 1983, and went unnoticed. I can see why it was the re-recorded and extended version from 1985, which became a hit. That take appeared on the band’s sophomore album Nervous Night from May 1985 and also separately as a single. The tune was most successful in Australia where it climbed to no. 8. It also charted in the top 20 in New Zealand and Germany (no. 16 and no. 17, respectively). In the U.S., it peaked at no. 11 on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock chart and no. 58 on the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart.

Billy Joel/New York State of Mind

The other day, Graham who pens the great Aphoristic Album Reviews blog did a post titled “10 Worst Billy Joel Lyrics”. Just in case any Billy Joel fans are reading this, Graham digs the piano man, just not necessarily all of his lyrics, and I think he explains it very well. Joel also happens to be one of my longtime favorite singer-songwriters and I’ve yet to dedicate a post to him – I guess a new idea was just born. Perhaps one of the most remarkable things about the artist from Long Island, N.Y. is that while he hasn’t released a new pop album since his 12th studio record River of Dreams from August 1993, he remains as popular as ever. Joel is selling out one show after the other as part of his monthly residency at New York’s Madison Square Garden, a venue that can hold up to 20,000 people for concerts. One of my favorite songs by the piano man, especially musically, is New York State of Mind. The track appeared on Joel’s fourth studio album Turnstiles from May 1976. Surprisingly, this gem wasn’t released as a single at the time. Eventually, it appeared as a single in 2001, off a Tony Bennett album titled Playin’ with My Friends: Bennett Sings the Blues. You can check out Joel’s and Bennett’s jazzy bar tune-like take here – beautiful!

Jerry Lee Lewis/Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On

And once again, it’s time to wrap up, so let’s make it count. Are you ready to groovin’? Ready to movin’? Ready to rockin’? Ready to rollin’? Get shakin’ with one of the best tunes by The Killer. I give you Jerry Lee Lewis, who at age 86 is the last man standing of the classic rock & roll era, and Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On! Written by Dave “Curlee” Williams, the original jazzy version of the tune appeared as Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On by American R&B singer Big Maybelle in 1955. While it’s pretty groovy, Jerry Lee Lewis took the tune to a new level when he released his high-charged rendition as a non-album single in April 1957. Lewis’ propulsive boogie piano was backed by Sun Records session drummer J. M. Van Eaton and rockabilly guitarist Roland E. Janes, literally turning the tune into a killer rendition. “I knew it was a hit when I cut it,” a confident Lewis later proclaimed. “Sam Phillips [Sun Records founder – CMM] thought it was gonna be too risqué, it couldn’t make it. If that’s risqué, well, I’m sorry.” Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On became one of Lewis’ highest-charting hits, climbing to no. 3 in the U.S. on the mainstream Billboard Hot 100, and topping both Billboard’s country and R&B charts. In the UK, the tune reached no. 8. Since it’s so much fun, I give you both the studio version and an incredible extended live take from 1964- and, yes, feel free to shake along!

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist including the above picks!

Sources: Wikipedia; Federico Albanese website; YouTube; Spotify

On This Day In Rock & Roll History: July 28

Recently after a longer break, I decided to do a new installment of this recurring feature. Perhaps I got bitten by the rock & roll history bug, so here’s another one.

1957: Rock & roll pioneer and honky-tonk piano wizard Jerry Lee Lewis made his national TV appearance on the Steve Allen Show, a variety program that at the time aired on Sunday nights at 8:00 PM on NBC, directly competing with the mighty Ed Sullivan Show on CBS. Lewis’ performance of Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On took sales of the tune from 30,000 to six million copies. He returned to the program twice, but I doubt he was able to repeat that kind of sales shake-up.

1964: The Beatles topped the Official Singles Chart with A Hard Day’s Night, scoring their fifth no. 1 single in the U.K. The title track of the band’s third studio album and soundtrack to their first feature film also became a chart topper in many countries elsewhere in Europe, the U.S., Canada and Australia. Credited as usually to John Lennon and Paul Cartney, the song was mostly written by Lennon. It’s one of those magic tunes that’s instantly recognizable by its signature opening chord. According to The Beatles Bible, there have been multiple suggestions how to describe the chord, which was played by George Harrison on his Rickenbacker 360/12. For all the guitarists out there who’ve played this sucker but never knew what the heck it is, Harrison confirmed in February 2001 that it’s called an Fadd9. If anything, I thought it was some G chord – I suppose it depends on how high you tune your guitar!

1966: Chris Farlowe hit no. 1 on the U.K. Official Singles Chart with Out Of Time. Not only was the track a cover of a Rolling Stones tune, but it was also produced by Mick Jagger. Additionally, the song appeared on Farlowe’s third studio album The Art Of Chris Farlowe. Released in November that year, the record was solely credited to him, even though he was backed by his band The Thunderbirds. The album also featured covers of three other Stones songs: Paint It Black, I’m Free and Ride On, Baby. When the Stones had initially released Out Of Time as a single in April 1966, it hadn’t charted. It would take more than nine years until September 1975 to finally do so, with a two-week run that saw the song peak at no. 45.

1969: According to police reports from Moscow, thousands of public phone booths had been vandalized in the Russian capital when people were taking parts from phones to convert their acoustic to electric guitars. Apparently, a feature in a Russian youth magazine had described how to do it. This must have slipped the censorship by the Russian authorities. One wonders what happened to the editor of this publication, as well as the censors who had missed the article. While I don’t condone vandalism, admittedly, I had to smile when I learned about this story. Rock & roll scored a rare if short victory in a totalitarian state that suppressed it. Of course, censorship continues in Russia to this day and seems to be worse than ever. Meanwhile, the leader of the free world and his supporters have come up with the concepts of alternate facts and fake news if they don’t like media coverage.

Long Live Rock 'N Roll

1973: The Summer Jam at Watkins Glen was held at the Watkins Glen Grand Prix Raceway near Watkins Glen, N.Y. The outdoor music festival drew an estimated 600,000 rock fans to see The Allman Brothers Band, Grateful Dead and The Band – what a line-up! The one-day event ended up in the Guinness Book Of Word Records for “largest audience at a pop festival.” While in some regards Watkins Glen was comparable to Woodstock (upstate New York location, terrible traffic, bad weather), the latter “only” attracted more than 400,000 people. Here’s Come And Go Blues by the Allman Brothers from the concert, which was included on their double live album Wipe the Windows, Check the Oil, Dollar Gas from November 1976.

Sources: Wikipedia, This Day In Rock, This Day In Music.com, U.K. Official Singles Chart, The Beatles Bible, YouTube