Song Musings

What you always wanted to know about that tune

Happy Wednesday and hope this week has been treating you well. I’d like to welcome you to another installment of my weekly feature, in which I’m taking a closer look at songs I’ve only mentioned in passing or not covered at all to date. Over the weekend, I finally watched Moonage Daydream, the Brett Morgen documentary about David Bowie. While it’s not a traditional music documentary or biopic but a collage of concert and other footage from Bowie’s personal archives, I actually liked the film more than I thought. It also inspired this week’s song pick: Life On Mars?

Written by David Bowie, the tune first appeared on his fourth studio album Hunky Dory released in December 1971. It was the first record with Bowie’s new backing band featuring Mick Ronson (guitar), Trevor Bolder (bass) and Mick Woodmansey (drums), the group that subsequently became The Spiders from Mars. Life On Mars? was also released as a single in the UK, but only in June 1973 at the height of Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust period. It peaked at no. 3 there.

Life On Mars? has a bit of a history, which started in 1968 when Bowie was commissioned to write English lyrics for Comme d’habitude, a song by French music artist Claude François. But Bowie’s lyrics were rejected and it was songwriter Paul Anka who took the tune and turned it into My Way, which was popularized by Frank Sinatra in 1969. Apparently annoyed about the success of My Way, Bowie used the song as a template and wrote Life On Mars?, intended as a parody of Sinatra’s recording.

Wikipedia notes that Life On Mars? has been described as a “soaring, cinematic ballad.” Combining elements of glam rock, cabaret and art rock, the tune has a pretty complex structure with different chord changes throughout. The string arrangement was composed by Ronson. Rick Wakeman, who at the time was still a member of English folk rock group The Strawbs, played the piano. Soon thereafter, he would join Yes. Here’s a live version of the song, captured in Paris in October 1999.

Critics and biographers have called Life On Mars? one of Bowie’s best songs. The tune has been covered by various other music artists, including Barbra Streisand and Nine Inch Nails members Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. After Bowie’s untimely death in January 2016, the song entered the charts in many countries and became a frequent tribute tune for Bowie. Tributes by organist Nicholas Freestone and singer Lorde gained broad popularity.

Following are some additional tidbits from Songfacts:

The lyricism is very abstract, though the basis of this song is about a girl who goes to watch a movie after an argument with her parents. The film ends with the line “Is there life on Mars?”

Bowie has labeled the song “a sensitive young girl’s reaction to the media” and added, “I think she finds herself disappointed with reality… that although she’s living in the doldrums of reality, she’s being told that there’s a far greater life somewhere, and she’s bitterly disappointed that she doesn’t have access to it.”

The lyrics also contain imagery suggesting the futility of man’s existence, a topic Bowie used frequently on his early albums...

…In 2008, Bowie recalled writing this song to the Mail on Sunday: “This song was so easy. Being young was easy. A really beautiful day in the park, sitting on the steps of the bandstand. ‘Sailors bap-bap-bap-bap-baaa-bap.’ An anomic (not a ‘gnomic’) heroine. Middle-class ecstasy. I took a walk to Beckenham High Street to catch a bus to Lewisham to buy shoes and shirts but couldn’t get the riff out of my head. Jumped off two stops into the ride and more or less loped back to the house up on Southend Road. Workspace was a big empty room with a chaise lounge; a bargain-price art nouveau screen (‘William Morris,’ so I told anyone who asked); a huge overflowing freestanding ashtray and a grand piano. Little else. I started working it out on the piano and had the whole lyric and melody finished by late afternoon. Nice. Rick Wakeman [of prog band, Yes] came over a couple of weeks later and embellished the piano part and guitarist Mick Ronson created one of his first and best string parts for this song which now has become something of a fixture in my live shows.”

…Mick Rock, a photographer who shot the covers of Lou Reed’s Transformer album and Queen’s Queen II, directed the song’s official video, which he filmed backstage at Earls Court, London, in 1973. Bowie appears in a turquoise suit and makeup, performing the song against a white backdrop.

Rock ended up producing two more versions of the video, first in the ’80s when he treated it with a bleached look, then in 2016 when the Parlophone label commissioned him to do a new edit. “The new version is my favorite, because there are all kinds of things you can do technically, including playing around with the colors and lots things,” Rock told Songfacts. [The first clip is the 2016 version – CMM]

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

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On This Day in Rock & Roll History: December 1

Time for another installment of my oldest and most infrequent recurrent feature on the blog, which looks at events that happened on a specific date throughout music history. Not sure why the series keeps falling by the wayside, given how enjoyable I find it to see what comes up. Today’s date is, well, today’s date: December 1. As always, these posts reflect my music taste and, as such, aren’t meant to be a full accounting of events on a specific date.

1957: Let’s start with one of the great early classic rock & roll stars: Buddy Holly. On this date 65 years ago, Holly and The Crickets appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show to perform their first two big hits, That’ll Be the Day and Peggy Sue, which had been released as singles in May 1957 and September 1957, respectively. The former tune was penned by Holly and Crickets drummer Jerry Allison, while the latter was a co-write by Allison and producer Norman Petty. The songs also appeared on the albums The “Chirping” Crickets (November 1957) and Buddy Holly (February 1958), respectively. Here’s Peggy Sue. Texas boys, do it! Man, I love that song!

1964: The Who performed their first of 22 Tuesday night shows at The Marquee Club in London. Each gig earned them £50 (approximately $1,065 today). Other artists and bands who played the prominent music venue in the ’60s included Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, Cream, Jethro Tull, Yes and Pink Floyd, among many others.

1969: The final edition of The Beatles Book, a fan magazine aka Beatles Monthly, was published. From The Beatles Bible: The Beatles Book had been published each month since August 1963 until this, the 77th and final issue. Published on 1 December 1969, the last edition included a leader column from editor Sean O’Mahoney, writing as Johnny Dean, in which he criticised The Beatles for encouraging drug experimentation among their fans. O’Mahoney took the decision to cease publication after it became obvious that The Beatles were unlikely to continue recording. However, it was revived in May 1976 with reissues of the original 77 editions, along with new content. The second run ended with issue 321 in January 2003. The image below shows the cover of edition no. 34 from May 1966.

1971: John Lennon released his Christmas and Vietnam war protest song Happy Xmas (War Is Over) in the U.S. Billed as John & Yoko/Plastic Ono Band, the tune featured the Harlem Community Choir. It followed more than two years of peace activism Lennon and Yoko Ono had started with their bed-ins in March and May 1969. The song’s release was preceded by an international multimedia campaign that looked ahead of its time. It primarily included rented billboard space in 12 major cities around the world, displaying black & white posters declaring WAR IS OVER! If You Want It – Happy Christmas from John & Yoko. Unlike in the U.S. where the single enjoyed moderate chart success, it peaked at no. 4 in the UK on the Official Singles Chart after its release there in November 1972. Between December 1972 and February 1973, the song also entered the top 10 in Australia, Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway and Singapore.

1973: Carpenters were on top of the world and mainstream charts in the U.S., Canada and Australia with a tune appropriately titled Top of the World. Co-written by Richard Carpenter and John Bettis, the song first appeared on their fourth studio album A Song for You from June 1972. Initially, Carpenters intended the track to be an album cut only but changed their mind after country singer Lynn Anderson had released a cover that reached no. 2 on the country chart. It turned out to be a smart decision. Top of the World became the duo’s second of three no. 1 singles, following (They Long to Be) Close to You and preceding Please Mr. Postman.

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

Yes to Yes at State Theatre New Jersey

English prog rock stalwarts celebrate 50th anniversary of “Close to the Edge” album and other classic tunes

When I learned a few weeks ago that Yes would play right in my backyard, I spontaneously decided to get a ticket. After all, what would be the chances that would happen again anytime soon or perhaps ever? Plus, prices were fairly reasonable and State Theatre New Jersey in New Brunswick is a nice midsize venue only 20 minutes away by car from my house. But as the show was coming up, I started second-guessing myself. After all, Yes have seen multiple lineup changes over the decades, and none of their current members are original. Plus, while I’ve generally come to dig their music, there’s only so much love I have for prog rock. It turned out to be a good decision, so let me share my wonderous story from last evening (October 9)!

Yes are among the few exceptions of prog rock I’ve sufficiently come to appreciate to a level where I dig them, though it did take me a while. My journey started in 1983 when the English group scored their biggest mainstream hit Owner of a Lonely Heart and released 90125, their most commercially successful album. Both marked a significant departure from the band’s original sound. In fact, by the time that music appeared, Yes had ended their initial 13-year run from 1968-1981 and reunited with a modified line-up: Jon Anderson (vocals), Trevor Rabin (guitar, keyboards, vocals), Tony Kaye (organ, electric piano), Chris Squire (bass, vocals) and Alan White (drums, percussion, backing vocals, synthesizer).

None of the musicians who recorded 90125 was on stage last night, though White who sadly passed away this May at the age of 72 after a short illness did have a presence. In addition to being listed on the tour poster, he was remembered with a video at the beginning of the night. In 1972, White replaced the group’s original drummer Bill Bruford. The currently performing line-up of Yes features longtime members Steve Howe (guitar, vocals), Geoff Downes (keyboards, vocals) and Billy Sherwood (bass) who first joined in 1970, 1980 and 1989, respectively; together with Jon Davison, lead vocalist since 2012 (also acoustic guitar, percussion, keyboards) and Jay Schellen (drums, percussion), who first toured with Yes in 2016.

Yes: Left: Steve Howe; right (clockwise from upper left corner: Geoff Downes, Jon Davison, Jay Schellen and Billy Sherwood

The concert was part of the ongoing U.S. leg of the band’s tour to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Close to the Edge, their fourth studio album released on September 13, 1972. In addition to performing the record in its entirety as the second set, Yes played an introductory set that mostly drew from their ’70s catalog, including Time and a Word (July 1970), The Yes Album (February 1971), Fragile (November 1971), Relayer (November 1974), Going for the One (July 1977) and Tormato (September 1978).

The set also featured two tracks from The Quest, the most recent Yes album that came out in July this year, their first in seven years. While it was a legitimate reminder the current version of Yes is more than their own touring tribute band, perhaps somewhat selfishly, I wished they would have kept it to one new song and instead included Owner of a Lonely Heart or thrown it in as an encore. For the latter, the band picked two other excellent tunes from Fragile and The Yes Album.

I’d say it’s time to finally get to some music. Capturing clips of a group performing songs ranging from approximately four to 19 minutes in length is a challenge. I’m not only talking about physical endurance but more importantly the real possibility of testing the patience of people seated around you. Luckily, the conditions turned out to be great, so I decided to rely on my own clips for the most part.

Let’s kick it off with Yours Is No Disgrace, the opening track from The Yes Album, which was credited to all members of the band at the time including Steve Howe. Jon Anderson told Songfacts the song’s lyrics were about “how crazy we can be as a human race to be out there flittering money around and gambling, trying to earn that big payout, when actually that’s not what life is truly about.” Another influence was the Vietnam war: …Death defying, mutilated armies scatter the earth, Crawling out of dirty holes, their morals, their morals disappear… Killing is brutal and cruel, but the disgrace falls not on the soldiers, but on those who orchestrated the war. This is the only footage I didn’t capture myself, and I could only find a partial clip on YouTube. It still nicely illustrates this line-up of Yes has the necessary chops to master the band’s complex tunes.

Next up is a tune that at under 5 minutes presented a good opportunity to film in its entirety without overly taxing my arms from holding up the phone. Why can’t prog rock acts have more tunes with that duration? No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed was co-written by Richie Havens and Jerome Moross. As such, the song held the distinction of being the only cover in the set. It originally appeared on Havens’ sophomore album Something Else Again, which came out in January 1968. Yes also chose their second album Time and a Word to include their rendition.

Wonderous Stories, off Going For the One, was the shortest song of the night. Therefore, I decided to, well, go for it and record it as well! Penned by Anderson, the beautiful ballad also became the album’s first single in September 1977. Peaking at no. 7 on the Official Singles Chart, it remains the band’s highest-charting single in the UK to this day. Anderson said he wrote the tune on “a beautiful day” during a stay in Montreux, Switzerland, “one of those days you want to remember for years afterwards.”

While the night was mostly a celebration of the band’s ’70s catalog, as noted above, Yes did include two tracks from their most recent album The Quest. At first, I was going to ignore it. Then I changed my mind. After all, when listening to some of its tunes back in July, I thought they sounded pretty good. Here’s Dare to Know, written by Howe.

After Yes finished the first set with Heart of the Sunshine, a track from Fragile, and took a short break, they returned for the main reason of the night, to perform the Close to the Edge album. I decided to film the third and final track on that record, Siberian Khatru. In retrospect, I wish I would have recorded And You And I, the album’s second tune, which I thought was the highlight of the set. Yes also did a great job with Siberian Khatru, co-written by Anderson, Howe and the amazing Rick Wakeman, who in 1971 had replaced the group’s original keyboarder, Tony Kaye.

And then it was time for the encore, a terrific one-two punch with Roundabout and Starship Trooper. Since the former has become one of my all-time favorite Yes tunes, it was an easy decision to pick. Co-written by Anderson and Howe, Roundabout was the opener of Fragile. A single edit was also released in the U.S. in January 1972. It climbed to no. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming the group’s highest-charting ’70s single there and the second-highest to date. I guess you know the one tune that beat it: Owner of a Lonely Heart.

This was my first Yes concert, so I don’t have a comparator. I think while it’s fair to say that with Chris Squire, who died from blood cancer in June 2015 at age 67, and Rick Wakeman two essential members of the band’s ’70s line-up were missing, the current incarnation of Yes sounded pretty solid to me. I’m not only talking about Steve Howe who remains a great guitarist. Geoff Downes, Billy Sherwood and Jay Shellen demonstrated impressive chops as well. I must also call out Jon Davison, an excellent vocalist who perfectly nailed Jon Anderson’s parts.

Here’s the setlist:

Set 1
On the Silent Wings of Freedom [Tormato]
Yours Is No Disgrace [The Yes Album]
No Opportunity Necessary, No Experience Needed (Richie Havens cover) [Time and a Word]
To Be Over [Relayer] (Steve Howe solo acoustic performance)
Wonderous Stories [Going For the One]
The Ice Bridge [The Quest]
Dare to Know [The Quest]
Heart of the Sunrise [Fragile]

Set 2 (Close to the Edge)
Close to the Edge
And You and I
Siberian Khatru

Encore
Roundabout [Fragile]
Starship Trooper [The Yes Album]

I’m also throwing in a Spotify playlist of the setlist:

I’d like to close with a quote from Steve Howe included in Guitar Magazine’s September cover story about the 50th anniversary of Close to the Edge: “Our spirits were very high,” Howe says. “We were young, enthusiastic, and adventurous, and we had this incredible breakthrough success with Fragile. We saw our next album as a real opportunity to prove our worth as a band. The door had been opened and we weren’t going to go backward. We wanted to sharpen our skills as far as writing and arranging.

“Concerts come and go, but a record is forever. I think we all had a sense that whatever we did next, it had to feel like some sort of definitive statement. A record like this was destined to be made, and we wanted to be the ones making it.”

If you’re curious about the remaining U.S. tour, which closes on November 19 in Westbury, N.Y., here’s the schedule.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; Guitar Magazine; Yes website; YouTube; Spotify

The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Good morning (in my part of the woods, New Jersey, USA), good afternoon, good evening, wherever you are – welcome to another Sunday Six! If you’re a frequent traveler, you know what’s about to unfold. For first-time visitors, I hope you stick around to join me and others on a new excursion into the great world of music, six tunes at a time. Off we go!

Nat Adderley/Work Song

Today, our trip starts in 1960 with music by jazz musician Nat Adderley, who became best known for playing the cornet, a brass instrument similar to a trumpet. After starting to play the trumpet in 1946 as a 15-year-old, Adderley switched to the cornet in 1950. Together with his older brother, saxophonist Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, he co-founded Cannonball Adderley Quintet in 1956 and frequently worked with the group until its dissolution in 1975, following the death of his older brother. In addition to playing bebop, Cannonball Adderley Quintet became known for starting the soul jazz genre. Adderly also worked with Kenny Clarke, Wes Montgomery, Walter Booker, Ron Carter and Sonny Fortune, among others. Nat Adderley passed away in January 2000 at the age of 68 due to complications from diabetes. Work Song, composed by Adderley and Oscar Brown Jr., is the title track of an album Adderley released in 1960. The tune features Adderley (cornet), Montgomery (guitar), Bobby Timmons (piano), Percy Heath (bass) and Louis Hayes (drums). Groovy stuff but not too aggressive – perfect music to start a Sunday morning!

John Hiatt/Shredding the Document

The more I listen to John Hiatt, the more I dig the man! While Hiatt has written songs for 50-plus years and recorded close to 30 albums, his tunes oftentimes became hits for other artists. Perhaps the most prominent examples are Thing Called Love and Have a Little Faith in Me, which became hits for Bonnie Raitt and Joe Cocker, respectively. Hiatt’s songs have also been covered by an impressive and diverse array of other artists like B.B. KingBob DylanBuddy GuyEmmylou HarrisJoan BaezLinda RonstadtThe Nitty Gritty Dirt Band  and Willy DeVille. Shredding the Document, penned by Hiatt, is from Walk On, an album released in October 1995. Peaking at no. 48 on the Billboard 200, it ranks among his better performing records on the U.S. mainstream chart. Walk On did best in Belgium and Sweden, where it climbed to no. 10 and no. 13, respectively.

James Brown/The Boss

Next, let’s get funky with James Brown and The Boss, a tune from Black Cesar, the soundtrack album for the blaxploitation crime drama motion picture of the same name. The Boss was co-written by Brown, Charles Bobbit and Fred Wesley. The album and the film were released in February 1973. While reactions were mixed among music critics, Black Cesar peaked at no. 31 on the Billboard 200, making it Brown’s second highest-charting album on the U.S. pop chart in the ’70s. I love the guitar work on this tune. The lush horns give it a true ’70s feel.

Yes/Owner of a Lonely Heart

On to the ’80s and the biggest hit by English progressive rock band Yes: Owner of a Lonely Heart. After the group had disbanded in 1981, original co-founder Chris Squire (bass) and Alan White (drums) who had joined Yes in 1972 formed Cinema in January 1982, together with guitarist and singer-songwriter Trevor Rabin and original Yes keyboarder Tony Kaye. In November 1982, they started work on an album with a more pop-oriented sound. During the mixing stage, former Yes vocalist Jon Anderson joined Cinema, which subsequently became the new line-up of Yes. The album was titled 90125, after its catalog number of record label Atco. Owner of a Lonely Heart, written primarily by Rabin with contributions from Anderson, Squire and producer Trevor Horn, topped the Billboard Hot 100. Elsewhere, it climbed to no. 2 in The Netherlands, no. 14 in Australia, no. 28 in the UK and no. 30 in Ireland. 90125 became the group’s best-selling album, reaching 3x Platinum certification in the U.S., 2X Platinum in Canada, Platinum in Germany and Gold in the UK and France. Today, Yes (featuring longtime guitarist Steve Howe) are embarking on a U.S. tour to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their fifth studio album Close to the Edge. While Owner of a Lonely Heart has a commercial ’80s sound, it’s an awesome tune!

Pretenders/Alone

I trust the English-American rock band The Pretenders (known as Pretenders since 1990) don’t need much of an introduction. The group was formed in March 1978 and originally included Chrissie Hynde (lead and backing vocals, rhythm guitar, harmonica), James Honeyman-Scott (lead guitar, backing vocals, keyboards), Pete Farndon (bass, backing vocals) and Martin Chambers (drums, backing vocals, percussion). By the time the 10th album Alone was released in October 2016, Hynde was literally alone as the only remaining member. She relied on session musicians to record the album, essentially mirroring the same approach Hynde took once before, in 1990 for Packed!, the fifth album that appeared under the band’s name – the first released as Pretenders. Today, the group has a full line-up, with Chambers back in the fold. Here’s the defiant title track of Alone – I love Hynde’s feisty lyrics, which are a perfect match for the raw sound!

The Fuzztones/Barking Up the Wrong Tree

And once again we’ve arrived at our final destination, which takes us back to the present. This past April, American garage rock revival band The Fuzztones put out their latest studio release. Encore is “a collection of unreleased tracks packaged together as a way to say thank you to the faithful who have followed and supported the band through the years,” Tinnitist reported at the time. The Fuzztones were originally formed by singer and guitarist Rudi Protrudi in New York in 1982, who remains the only original member. Since their 1985 debut Lysergic Emanations, they have released eight additional albums including Encore. Barking Up The Wrong Tree, written by Protrudi, is the only original song. The other six tracks are covers of tunes by Rare Earth, The Wildwood and others. Fuzzy garage rock – I love that sound!

Of course, this post wouldn’t be complete with a Spotify playlist of the above songs. Hope there’s something you dig.

Sources: Wikipedia; Yes website; Tinnitist; YouTube; Spotify

If I Could Only Take One

My “real” desert island song playlist

If you’ve followed this feature over the past six months, perhaps by now you may think, ‘jeez, when is he going to get it over with?’ I got news for you: This is the final installment!

For first-time visitors, this weekly series looked at music I would take with me on a trip to a desert island, one tune at a time and in alphabetical order by the name of the picked band or artist (last name). In addition, my selections had to be by a music act I had only rarely covered or even better not written about at all.

In last week’s installment, I featured the playlist that resulted from the above exercise. Obviously, the criteria limited my choices, as I also noted to some commenters throughout the series. Today, I’d like to present my “real” desert island playlist. The only rule I kept was to pick one song by a band or artist’s last name in alphabetical order.

In the following, I’m going to highlight four tunes. The entire playlist can be found at the end of the post.

Jethro Tull/Hymn 43

Over the years, Hymn 43 by Jethro Tull has become one of my favorite tunes by the English rock band. Penned by Tull’s flutist, frontman and lead vocalist Ian Anderson, Hymn 43 is off their fourth studio album Aqualung. Released in March 1971, that record is best known for the epic Locomotive Breath, even though incredibly, the single missed the charts in the UK, just like Hymn 43! In the U.S., Locomotive Breath and Hymn 43 became Tull’s first charting singles, reaching no. 62 and no. 92 on the Billboard Hot 100, respectively. Of course, one could argue that Tull’s music wasn’t about the charts!

Randy Newman/Guilty

American singer-songwriter Randy Newman has penned many tunes and film scores over his 60-year-plus-and-counting career. Some like Short People (1977), I Love L.A. (1983) and You’ve Got a Friend in Me (1995) became well known under his name, while others such as Mama Told Me Not to Come (1966), I Think It’s Going to Rain Today (1968) and You Can Leave Your Hat On (1972) were popularized by Three Dog Night, UB40 and Joe Cocker, respectively. Many other artists covered Newman’s songs as well. One of my favorite tunes by Newman is Guilty, included on his fourth studio album Good Old Boys, which appeared in September 1974. Evidently, Cocker liked the ballad as well and recorded it for his 1974 studio album I Can Stand a Little Rain.

Stevie Ray Vaughan/Pride and Joy

If you’re a frequent visitor of the blog or know my music taste otherwise you know I love the blues and blues rock. When it comes to that kind of music, in my book, it doesn’t get much better than Stevie Ray Vaughan. Not only was the man from Dallas, Texas an incredible guitarist – perhaps the best electric blues rock guitarist ever – but he also elevated the blues to the mainstream in the ’80s thanks to his great live performances and albums. Vaughan did both original songs and covers. I would argue that his rendition of Voodoo Child (Slight Return) is better than the original by Jimi Hendrix! Anyway, here’s Pride and Joy, penned by Vaughan, off his debut studio album Texas Flood.

Yes/Roundabout

Full disclosure: My first pick for “y” would have been Neil Young and Like a Hurricane. But since most of Neil’s music was pulled from Spotify earlier this year, I went with Yes. I’ve never gotten much into progressive rock (not counting Pink Floyd and a few others whose music includes prog-rock elements). Yes are one of the few exceptions, together with Genesis. That said, my knowledge of the British band’s music is mostly limited to their earlier catalog. In this context, a song I’ve really come to love is Roundabout. Co-written by vocalist Jon Anderson and guitarist Steve Howe, the track is from the group’s fourth studio album Fragile, released in November 1971. Until Owner of a Lonely Heart (1983), the band’s songs weren’t exactly radio-friendly. That said, Roundabout was released as a single and became the first top 20 song Yes had in the U.S.

Last but not least, here’s the entire playlist. In addition to the above, it includes many of the suspects you’d expect to see if you know my music taste, such as AC/DC, The Beatles, Cream, Deep Purple, Marvin Gaye and The Rolling Stones, to name some.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube; Spotify

If I Could Only Take One

My desert island song by The Young Rascals

Once again it’s humpday and the thought of escaping to a desert island kind of sounds attractive. But wait, before I can embark on my imaginary trip, I have to make that crucial decision: Which one song to take with me.

For first-time visitors, it can’t be any song. It has to be by a band or artist I’ve rarely or not covered at all on the blog to date. And that band or artist (last name) has to start with a specific letter, which this week is “y”.

Some of the options that came to mind included The Yardbirds, Yes, Yola, Neil Young and The Youngbloods. But I’ve already covered all these artists. Luckily, I found one American group I had not written about: The Young Rascals. Since I could only name two of their songs, the choice was easy: Groovin’.

Written by band members Felix Cavaliere (keyboards, vocals) and Eddie Brigati (vocals, percussion), Groovin’ first appeared as a single in April 1967. The melodic laid-back tune also was the title track of their third studio album released in July that same year. Groovin’ became one of the group’s best-known songs, topping the pop charts in the U.S. and Canada, and climbing to no. 3 and no. 8 in Australia and the UK, respectively.

The group was formed in Garfield, New Jersey in 1965. In addition to Cavaliere and Brigati, the original line-up included Gene Cornish (guitar, harmonica vocals) and Dino Danelli (drums). The band did not have a dedicated bassist, so Cavaliere provided that part with his organ pedals. Initially, they used the name Them, but when they realized there already was a British band with that name, they came up with the Rascals. After signing with Atlantic Records, it turned out there was a group called The Harmonica Rascals who objected they would release records as The Rascals. To avoid conflict their manager Sid Bernstein decided to rename the group The Young Rascals.

Their eponymous debut album appeared in March 1966 and was an instant success in the U.S., rising to no. 15 on the Billboard 200. After the release of the Groovin’ album, the group decided the revert their name to The Rascals. By the time the band’s sixth studio record See appeared in December 1969, their chart and commercial success had started to wane. Brigati and Cornish left The Rascals in 1970 and 1971, respectively. Two more albums came out before the group broke up in 1972. There were a few reunions thereafter. In May 1997, The Rascals were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Following are some additional insights for Groovin’ from Songfacts:

Felix Cavaliere and Eddie Brigati of The Rascals wrote this song after they realized that because of their work schedule, they could see their girlfriends only on Sunday afternoons…Cavaliere told Seth Swirsky, who was shooting footage for his documentary Beatles Stories, “I met this young girl and I just fell head over heels in love. I was so gone that this joyous, wonderful emotion came into the music. Groovin’ was part of that experience. If you look at the story line, it’s very simple: we’re groovin’ on a Sunday afternoon because Friday and Saturdays are when musicians work…”

The record company executives who worked on “Groovin'” didn’t particularly like the song, but as they listened to the playback, influential New York DJ Murray the K overheard it and pronounced it a #1 record. Unbeknownst to the group, Murray went to Atlantic Records president Jerry Wexler and demanded it be released. As the program manager and top DJ on the first FM rock station (WOR-FM), Murray the K had this kind of clout, and also the rare ability to connect with listeners and recognize what songs would become hits…

The term “Groovy” was becoming popular around this time, and the title of this song is a variation on the term. The first popular “Groovy” song was “A Groovy Kind Of Love,” and the first popular use in lyrics was in “59th Street Bridge Song.”

Smokey Robinson got the idea for his song “Cruisin'” from this one – his original hook was “I love it when we’re groovin’ together,” but he thought “cruisin'” was more intimate.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

Nothing strange and nothing to spit on

After a 62-day streak of publishing one post each day (my initial goal was 50 days, after I had reached 40 posts in a row), I’ve decided that starting from next week, I’m going to reduce the frequency of blogging back to what it used to be, which is about three to four posts a week. While I love writing about my favorite subject music, publishing seven days a week has taken a significant amount of time – time I obviously haven’t been able to spend otherwise.

Along with this reduction in posting frequency, I’m also planning a few other changes. This includes retiring Wednesday’s Hump Day Picker-Upper posts and replacing them with a new weekly feature I’m going to unveil next Wednesday. I’m also considering consolidating some of my current blog categories. The current number of 20 does seem to be a bit excessive. Obviously, any reduction in categories and reindexing of previous posts are more of behind-the-scenes changes.

Since this is a music blog, of course, this post wouldn’t be complete with at least one song. Perhaps not surprisingly, the first tune that came to mind in the current context is one of my favorite songs by David Bowie: Changes.

Written by Bowie, Changes first appeared on the British artist’s fourth studio album Hunky Dory from December 1971. The song was also released separately as the record’s first single in January 1972.

To my surprise, Changes didn’t chart in the UK at the time it came out. In the U.S., it initially climbed to no. 66 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1972. It re-entered that chart in 1974 and peaked at no. 41. In the UK, the song resurfaced as well and got to no. 49, but it wasn’t until 2016 following Bowie’s death. Wikipedia doesn’t list any other chart placements – strange!

Here’s some additional background on the great tune from Songfacts: This is a reflective song about defying your critics and stepping out on your own. It also touches on Bowie’s penchant for artistic reinvention. Bowie wrote this when he was going through a lot of personal change. Bowie’s wife, Angela, was pregnant with the couple’s first child, Duncan. Bowie got along very well with his father and was very excited to have a child of his own. This optimism shines through in “Changes.”

According to Bowie, this started out as a parody of a nightclub song – “kind of throwaway” – but people kept chanting for it at concerts and thus it became one of his most popular and enduring songs. Bowie had no idea it was going to become so successful, but the song connected with his young audience who could relate to lyrics like “These children that you spit on as they try to change their worlds, are immune to your consultations, they’re quite aware of what they’re going through.”

Bowie played the sax on this track, and his guitarist, Mick Ronson, arranged the strings. Rick Wakeman, who would later become a member of the prog rock band, Yes, played the piano parts at the beginning and end. Bowie gave Wakeman a lot of freedom, telling him to play the song like it was a piano piece. The piano Wakeman played was the famous 100-year old Bechstein at Trident Studios in London, where the album was recorded; the same piano used by Elton John, The Beatles and Genesis.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: January 21

Dare I say it, it looks like my irregularly recurring music history feature is becoming more frequent. But with nearly 300 dates left to cover, I still have a long way to go, so it’s safe to assume this series won’t end anytime soon. With that said, let’s take a look at some of the events in music that happened on January 21 over the past six decades or so. I would also like to briefly acknowledge the untimely death of operatic rock artist Meat Loaf, which was reported overnight. He was believed to have been 74 years old. The cause of death has not been revealed.

1963: Since nearly everything in my little music world starts or finishes with The Beatles, let’s get this bloody item out of the way. According to The Beatles Bible, the ultimate source of truth about the band, On this day The Beatles appeared on the EMI plug show The Friday Spectacular, at EMI House, 20 Manchester Square, London. They chatted to hosts Shaw Taylor and Muriel Young, and studio recordings of ‘Please Please Me’ and ‘Ask Me Why’ were played. The show was recorded before an audience of around 100 teenagers, and was broadcast live on Radio Luxembourg. The overwhelming crowd size tells you this was still pre-Beatlemania. Though their press officer Tony Barrow said that during the recording, “I was finally convinced that The Beatles were about to enjoy the type of top-flight national fame which I had always believed that they deserved.” Side note: Three years later on that same date, George Harrison married his first wife Pattie Boyd, with Paul McCartney serving as best man.

1966: The Trips Festival, a three-day landmark event in the development of psychedelic music, kicked off at Longshoreman’s Hall in San Francisco. According to Songfacts Music History Calendar, Produced by Ken Kesey, Ramon Sender, and Stewart Brand, the event is largely recognized as the first to bring together what would be called the “hippie” movement. The sold-out festival, which drew 10,000 people, featured the Grateful Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company and Jefferson Airplane, among others. And some 6,000 people drinking punch spiked with LSD, who witnessed one of the first fully developed light shows of the era. I also found this trippy clip!

1978: Saturday Night Fever, the soundtrack album of the 1977 motion picture starring John Travolta, stood at no. 1 on the Billboard 200, the first of 24 weeks on top of the U.S. mainstream chart. It also reached no. 1 in Canada, the UK, Australia and many other countries. Saturday Night Fever became one of the best-selling albums in music history. With more than 40 million copies sold worldwide, it remains the second-biggest selling soundtrack of all time after The Bodyguard. But, as oftentimes is the case, what goes up must come down. Not even three years later, the Bee Gees, the group most associated with the soundtrack and disco, called it quits, finding themselves caught in the furious backlash toward disco including bomb threats – something you could sadly picture nowadays as well! I said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t care whether you call Bee Gees music disco, R&B, disco-influenced or anything else – I dig it!

1984: British progressive rock stalwarts Yes hit no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 with Owner of a Lonely Heart. Co-written by band members Trevor Rabin (guitar, keyboards, vocals), Jon Anderson (lead vocals) and Chris Squire (bass vocals), together with co-producer Trevor Horn, the catchy pop rocker was first released in October 1983 as the lead single for the group’s 11th studio album 90125, which came out the following month. Owner of the Lonely Heart became Yes’s first and only no. 1 on the U.S. mainstream chart. It also did well in Europe, especially in The Netherlands where it peaked at no. 2. While earlier singles like Yours Is No Disgrace, Roundabout and And You and I are great songs as well, they simply weren’t radio-friendly. Yes, Owner of a Lonely Heart has a commercial ’80s sound, but it’s a hell of a catchy tune!

1987: Aretha Franklin, the “Queen of Soul”, was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame by Keith Richards during the Rock Hall’s second annual induction ceremony. Here’s what the Rock Hall posted on their website: Lady Soul. The first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Aretha Franklin was an artist of passion, sophistication and command, whose recordings remain anthems that defined soul music. Long live the Queen. And here are The Rolling Stones guitarist’s live remarks from that night – let’s just say it was a classic Keith Richards speech!

Sources: Wikipedia; The Beatles Bible; Songfacts Music History Calendar; Rock & Roll Hall of Fame website; YouTube

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: January 4

Welcome to the first 2022 installment of On This Day in Rock & Roll History. While the approximately 70 different dates I’ve covered since the start of this irregular music history feature in 2016 feel like a lot of ground, the reality is this still leaves close to 300 dates I can pick. Today it’s going to be January 4.

1967: The Doors released their eponymous debut album, which proved to be a smash. Not only would it become the Los Angeles band’s best-selling record, but it also was a huge chart success. In the U.S., it surged to no. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also performed well in Europe, reaching no. 3, no. 4 and n0.6 in France, Norway and Austria, respectively, as well as no. 43 in the UK, among others. Some of the album’s highlights include the singles Break on Through (To the Other Side) and Light My Fire, as well as the epic closer The End. Here’s the latter credited to all members of the group: Jim Morrison (vocals), Robbie Krieger (guitar, backing vocals) Ray Manzarek (organ, piano, backing vocals) and John Densmore (drums, percussion, backing vocals).

1972: Roundabout by Yes, the only single from their fourth studio album Fragile came out. Co-written by singer Jon Anderson and guitarist Steve Howe, the tune became the English prog rockers’ most successful U.S. single of the ’70s, reaching no. 13 on the Billboard Hot 100. Notably, it missed the charts in the UK. The album did much better in both countries, climbing to no. 4 and 7, respectively. Below is the 8:30-minute album version of Roundabout, one of my favorite Yes tunes. Since there was no way radio stations would play such a long track, the single edit was shortened to 3:27 minutes.

1975: Elton John stood at no. 1 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100 with his rendition of Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds. The recording featured backing vocals by his friend John Lennon (under the pseudonym Dr. Winston O’Boogie), who wrote most of the original. Credited to him and Paul McCartney, as usual, Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds first appeared on The Beatles’ studio album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band from May 1967. John took the tune to no. 1 in the U.S., which according to Wikipedia makes it one of only two songs credited to Lennon-McCartney to top the U.S. charts by an artist other than The Beatles. John’s version was also successful elsewhere, hitting no. 1 in Canada, no. 2 in New Zealand and no. 3 in Australia. In the UK, it peaked at no. 10.

1980: American rock band The Romantics released their eponymous debut album. It reached no. 61 in the U.S. on the Billboard 200 – not bad for a first record. Below is What I Like About You, which first appeared as the album’s lead single in December 1979. The garage rock-flavored tune was co-written by band members Wally Palmar (lead vocals, rhythm guitar, harmonica), Mike Skill (lead guitar, backing vocals) and Jimmy Marinos (vocals, drums, percussion). The Romantics remain active to this day, with Palmar and Skill still being part of the current line-up.

1986: Phil Lynott, who had best been known as a founding member, lead vocalist, bassist and principal songwriter of Irish rock band Thin Lizzy, passed away at the age of 36. The cause was pneumonia and heart failure due to blood poisoning (septicemia). Lynott’s final years of his life following the disbanding of Thin Lizzy in 1983 were marked by heavy drug and alcohol dependency. Here’s one of the group’s best tunes written by Lynott: The Boys Are Back in Town, off their sixth album Jailbreak from March 1976. It also became the record’s lead single the following month.

Sources: Wikipedia; Songfacts Music History Calendar; This Day in Music; YouTube