The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to the first Sunday Six of May 2022! It’s been a bit on the chilly side in my neck of the woods. But the weather in the New Jersey-New York-Connecticut tri-state area can change rapidly, and before we know it, we may have summer-like temperatures. One thing is for sure: Spring has definitely arrived! Now that we’ve got the weather covered, let’s get to a new set of six songs to celebrate music of the past and the present.

Joel Ross/Wail

I’d like to start today’s musical journey in the year 2022 with jazz by 26-year-old New York composer Joel Ross. A bio on the website of the renowned Blue Note Records jazz label calls him “the most thrilling new vibraphonist in America.” Here’s a bit more: The Chicago-born, Brooklyn-based player and composer has a way of being everywhere interesting at once: from deeply innovative albums (Makaya McCraven’s Universal Beings and Deciphering the Message, Walter Smith III & Matthew Stevens’ In Common) to reliably revolutionary combos (Marquis Hill’s Blacktet, Peter Evans’ Being & Becoming) to his own acclaimed Blue Note albums: KingMaker, Who Are You?, and The Parable of the Poet. This brings me to Wail, a track off Ross’s latest Blue Note album released April 15. “Almost every take is a first take, since our years improvising together have shaped these compositions into something with more meaning than we ever could know,” he told Apple Music. Oftentimes, free-form jazz isn’t my cup of tea, but I do like this music!

Ace/How Long

Our next stop is the ’70s and a tune by British pop-rock band Ace I’ve always loved: How Long. I was reminded of the catchy song when I heard it on the radio the other day. How Long was written by the group’s frontman and keyboarder Paul Carrack. It was Ace’s debut single and appeared on their first album Five-A-Side, released in January 1974. How Long became their biggest hit, climbing to no. 3 in the U.S. and Canada, and reaching no. 20 in the UK. I think it’s the only tune I know from Ace, who were active from 1972 until 1977. Following their breakup, Carrack became a member of various prominent bands, including Roxy Music, Squeeze and Mike + The Mechanics. In 1980, Carrack also launched a solo career, which continues to this day.

Willie Nelson/Night Life

If you saw my latest Best of What’s New installment, you probably noticed it included new music by Willie Nelson who just turned 88 years and remains a viable artist. This reminded me of a tune I had earmarked for The Sunday Six a few months ago after my streaming service provider had served it up as a listening suggestion. Night Life, co-written by Nelson, Paul Buskirk and Walt Breeland, was first released as a single in 1960. Wikipedia notes the following interesting anecdote: Due to financial issues, Nelson sold the song to guitar instructor Paul Buskirk for $150. The recording of the song was rejected by Pappy Daily, owner of Nelson’s label, D Records. Daily believed that the song was not country. Encouraged by the amount of money he received for the song, Nelson decided to master it at another studio. To avoid legal actions, it was recorded as “Nite Life” under the artist name of “Paul Buskirk and the Little Men featuring Hugh Nelson.” In 1963 Bellaire Records reissued the single under the original title of “Night Life,” recrediting it to “Willie Nelson.” While it may not be among Nelson’s most popular songs, to me Night Life feels like a timeless classic.

John Lennon/Watching the Wheels

Next, we go to November 1980 and Watching the Wheels, one of my favorite John Lennon tunes from his solo career. It first appeared on Double Fantasy from November 1980, which sadly turned out to be Lennon’s last album released during his lifetime. Only three weeks after the release, he was murdered by a deranged individual in front of The Dakota, the New York City building in which he was living with Yoko Ono and their then-six-year-old son Sean. Watching the Wheels also appeared separately as the album’s third single in March 1981. Unlike the two preceding singles Woman and (Just Like) Starting Over, which reached no. 2 and no. 1, respectively, in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100, Watching the Wheels “only” climbed to no. 10. Interestingly, in the UK where the first two singles topped the charts, the song stalled at no. 30.

Oasis/Wonderwall

Okay, time for a stop-over in the ’90s and Wonderwall, a massive hit by English pop-rock band Oasis. Written by the group’s co-founder Noel Gallagher, the tune appeared on their sophomore album (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?, released in October 1995. The record became even more successful than the band’s strong debut Definitely Maybe that had appeared in August 1994. Wonderwall also was one of six singles Morning Glory spawned. It surged to no. 2 in the UK on the Official Singles Chart and also did well elsewhere: No. 1 in Australia; no. 2 in Ireland; no. 5 in Canada; and no. 8 in the U.S. and The Netherlands, among others. During their active period between 1991 and 2009, Oasis sold over 70 million records worldwide and were one of the most successful acts in the UK.

The Crazy World of Arthur Brown/Fire

And once again, it’s time to wrap up another Sunday Six, and I give you the god of hellfire! The Crazy World of Arthur Brown are an English psychedelic rock band formed in 1967 by vocalist Arthur Brown. The group’s initial run spanned three years and their only hit Fire, co-written by Brown, the band’s keyboarder Vincent Crane, as well as Mike Finesilver and Peter Ker. Appearing on the group’s eponymous debut album from June 1968 and separately as a single, Fire topped the charts in the UK and Canada, climbed to no. 2 in the U.S., and reached no. 3 in each Belgium, Switzerland and Germany. It also charted in the top 10 in The Netherlands (no. 4) and Austria (no. 7). After this phenomenal start and sharing bills with the likes of The Who, The Doors and Small Faces, the group ran out of, well, fire and disbanded in June 1969. They reformed in 2000 with a different line-up and Brown as the only original member, and apparently remain active to this day. Bown has also issued various solo releases and has a new album scheduled for June 24. In case you’re curious how he sounds these days at age 79, the first track is already out.

Last but not least, here’s a Spotify playlist with all the above goodies.

Sources: Wikipedia; Blue Note Records website; Apple Music; YouTube; Spotify

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: January 12

This may still be a new year and we’re even in a new decade, but some things don’t change, at least not on this blog. One of them is this recurring rock music history feature. By now, I guess I must have put together more than 30 installments; but as a music nerd, this tells me I have more than 300 other dates left to cover! Let’s start with January 12 and the debut single by a then-teenaged Etta James.

1955: The first single by Etta James, The Wallflower, was released. It was co-written by James, who was only 16 years at the time, together with Johnny Otis and Hank Ballard. While due to the lyrics the song’s original version was considered “too risque” to be played on pop radio, it became a hit on the Billboard R&B Chart, which it topped for four weeks. The same year, the tune was covered as Dance With Me, Henry by Georgia Gibbs for the pop market. James released her own cover version of Dance With Me, Henry in 1958. Here’s the scandalous original tune, for which James received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 2008.

1968: George Harrison recorded the origins of what became The Inner Light at a studio in Bombay, India (now known as Mumbai). He had traveled there to record the soundtrack for Wonderwall, a psychedelic picture by Joe Massot co-starring 21-year-old Jane Birkin. According to The Beatles Bible, by January 12, Harrison had almost completed the work on the soundtrack and found himself with additional studio time he did not want to go to waste. He decided to record some additional ragas, one of which formed the basis for The Inner Light. The tune was completed at London’s Abbey Road Studios in early February of 1968 and appeared as the B-side to the single Lady Madonna. I think it’s the most beautiful Indian music-influenced tune Harrison wrote. I also love the lines, The farther one travels/The less one knows/The less one really knows. This is how I often feel when it comes to exploring music!

1969: Led Zeppelin released their mighty eponymous debut album in the U.S. The recording took place at Olympic Studios in London in September and October that year. Since the band had not secured a contract yet, the album was self-produced by Jimmy Page. He also paid the £1,782 for the 36 hours of studio time it took to complete the sessions. A key reason for the short recording time was a well-rehearsed band that had just performed as the New Yardbirds during a Scandinavian tour. Much of the music was recorded live in-studio. While Led Zeppelin initially received some poor reviews, the album was an instant chart success, peaking at no. 10 on the Billboard 200 and climbing to no. 6 on the UK Albums Chart where it spent a total of 71 weeks. Here’s the great opener Good Times Bad Times, which is credited to Page, John Paul Jones and Jon Bonham.

1974: The Steve Miller Band abracadabra scored their first no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with The Joker. Co-written by Eddie Curtis, Ahmet Ertegün and Steve Miller, the tune also was the title track of the band’s 8th studio album that appeared in October 1973. Ertegün is best-known as co-founder and president of Atlantic Records, and I admittedly had no idea he also was involved in writing classic blues and pop songs! The farther one travels…More than 16 years later in September 1990, The Joker again flew like an eagle and rose to the top in the UK, after the tune had been used in a Levi’s TV ad. According to Wikipedia, this makes it the single with the longest gap between transatlantic chart-toppers – wow, it’s amazing what people track!

1993: The eighth annual Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony took place in Los Angeles. Honored inductees included Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Doors, Etta James, Van Morrison, Sly & the Family Stone, Ruth Brown and Cream, who reunited for the event for the first time in 23 years. And what would the spectacle be without some drama? John Fogerty refused to perform with his former CCR bandmates Doug Clifford and Stu Cook. But fans still got to hear some CCR music. Fogerty recruited session musicians on drums and bass, and also got some help from Bruce Springsteen and Robbie Robertson. Here’s Cream’s performance of Sunshine of Your Love from that night. Boy, did Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker sound mighty sweet! While apparently Bruce and Baker were interested in touring at the time, solo projects and I imagine some other issues prevented reunion shows until early May 2005 when Cream performed a series of concerts at London’s Royal Albert Hall.

Sources: Wikipedia; This Day In Music; This Day In Rock; Songfascts Music History Calendar; YouTube