The Sunday Six

Celebrating music with six random tracks at a time

Welcome to another Sunday Six, my weekly celebration of music in different flavors from the past seven decades, six tunes at a time. Get ready for another eclectic zigzag journey. It starts with some contemporary ambient electronic music. The trip then takes us to an acoustic folk gem from 1972, soft grunge from 1993, new wave from 1984 and a beautiful pop ballad from 2004, before we wrap up with a ’60s rock gem. Hop on board and let’s go!

Leif/Seven Hour Flight to Nowhere

I’d like to start this post with a music genre I rarely pick: Ambient electronic music. Recently, I stumbled upon British electronic music producer Leif Knowles. According to his Apple Music profile, Knowles who is known as Leif creates lush, emotive music ranging from the deep, smooth house of his 2013 debut Dinas Oleu to the warm, soothing ambient of 2019’s Loom Dream. Born in Barmouth, Wales and brought up by a musician father who played the Celtic harp and the guitar — which he taught his son — Leif grew up with a love of music, playing in guitar bands in high school. Through the radio, he was introduced to electronic acts such as Tricky and the Orb, before discovering house and techno through free outdoor raves in the forest…Owing to his formative experiences, his music was inspired by a fusion of the natural world and the dancefloor, and he incorporated organic elements such as guitar, bass, and percussion into a sound produced using a fairly simple setup of computer and synth. I’m completely new to Leif and can’t quite explain what drew me into Seven Hour Flight to Nowhere, a track from his new album 9 Airs released on October 29. I find it very soothing.

Jim Croce/Time in a Bottle

Next, I’d like to go back to April 1972 and a song I’ve always loved because of its beautiful lyrics, melody and neat acoustic guitar-playing: Time in a Bottle by Jim Croce. At the time I first heard this gem, I was taking (acoustic) guitar lessons. Croce’s great finger-picking was an immediate attraction and a motivation to work hard on my finger technique. Time in a Bottle is from Croce’s third studio album You Don’t Mess Around with Jim that appeared in April 1972. He wrote it like all other songs on the record. Sadly, in September of the following year, Croce became yet another music artist who perished in a plane crash. Time in a Bottle was also released separately as a single in the wake of Croce’s death in November 1973. It became his signature song and biggest hit, topping the mainstream charts in the U.S. and Canada. Reminds me of John Lennon and the post-mortem success of (Just Like) Starting Over – the bitter cruelty of an artist’s success when they have passed and can no longer enjoy it!

Collective Soul/Shine

This next song takes me back to my grad school days at SUNY Stony Brook on Long Island, N.Y. I can easily say these two years (1993 and 1994) were the most intense period of my student life where I felt I studied as much as during the prior six years of university in Germany! At the time, there was lots of academic freedom in Germany, and you pretty much could study at your own pace – let’s just say I allowed myself to be distracted and wasn’t exactly in a hurry to finish my graduate degree. Anyway, I well remember Shine by Collective Soul. The lead single, off their debut album Hints Allegations and Things Left Unsaid, received frequent play on the Connecticut FM mainstream radio station I usually had on in the car (blanking on the name now). Originally, the song was released in 1993 on the independent label Rising Storm Records. Subsequently, Collective Soul got a deal with Atlantic Records, which reissued the single and the album in October 1993 and March 1994, respectively. I find it a quite catchy tune and also like the soft grunge sound. Collective Soul, which were founded in 1992, are still together, with three original members remaining in the current lineup.

The Stranglers/No Mercy

Continuing a bit of nostalgia, let’s go back another 10 years to 1984 and The Stranglers. I hadn’t heard that name in ages until I saw their tune The Raven was picked by A Sound Day as part of a song draft by fellow blogger Hans from Slice the Life – thanks, guys! In my case, The Stranglers are similar to The Cars – I know a number of their songs based on radio play but haven’t further explored the group. The first Stranglers tune I recalled after the song draft prompt was Golden Brown, their first hit from 1992. When I checked Wikipedia, some of their other ’80s songs popped up like Always the Sun (1986), Skin Deep and my favorite No Mercy. The last two tracks were on the group’s eighth studio album Aural Sculpture from November 1984. Credited to all four members of the band at the time – Hugh Cornwell (vocals, guitar), Jean-Jacques Burnel (bass, vocals), Dave Greenfield (keyboards) and Jet Black (percussion) – No Mercy didn’t match Golden Brown’s chart success but still gave them a decent hit. Call me crazy: If The Rolling Stones would have gone new wave, this is how I imagine they could have sounded! BTW, like Collective Soul, The Stranglers exist to this day and released their 18th studio album Dark Matters on September 10. Based on sampling a few tunes, it doesn’t sound bad.

Anna Nalick/Breathe (2 AM)

Time to leave the ’80s and ’90s behind and travel to the current century, specifically the year 2004. In October that year, American singer-songwriter Anna Nalick released Breathe (2 AM), the lead single from her debut album Wreck of the Day that appeared in April of the following year. Let’s just say, both the beautiful ballad and the record weren’t exactly a wreck. They became Nalick’s most successful song and album, respectively. Breathe (2 AM) is the only tune by Nalick I can name. She’s still around (in fact she’s only 37) and has released three additional albums to date, most recently The Blackest Crow from December 2019. I find Breathe (2 AM) a pretty compelling and catchy pop ballad. Yes, it’s a bit on the lush side, but the intensity and Nalick’s vocals are just stunning!

The Moody Blues/Go Now

Sadly, on Thursday (November 11), Graeme Edge, co-founder and drummer of The Moody Blues, passed away from cancer at the age of 80. As such, I’d like to wrap up this post with some music by the Moodies whose 1967 sophomore album Days of Future Passed has become one of my favorite ’60s records. Pre-dating this gem is Go Now, the band’s second single from November 1964. Co-written by Larry Banks and Milton Bennett, the song originally was released by Larry’s wife, American soul singer Bessie Banks, in January 1964. But it was the version by The Moody Blues that gained international popularity, topping the charts in the UK, reaching no. 10 in the U.S. and The Netherlands, no. 2 in Canada and no. 12 in Australia. The tune was also included on the band’s debut album The Magnificent Moodies from July 1965, which in the U.S. and Canada was titled Go Now – The Moody Blues #1 and had a different song lineup. It was the only Moodies album to feature guitarist and vocalist Denny Laine who in 1971 joined Paul McCartney’s Wings.

Sources: Wikipedia; YouTube

Advertisement

On This Day in Rock & Roll History: December 30

Before this year and decade are finally over, I thought why not throw in another installment of this recurring feature. For first-time visitors, the idea of these posts is simple: Look what happened on a specific date in rock throughout the decades. Admittedly, it’s a rather arbitrary way to cover music history. Moreover, these posts reflect events I find interesting and are not supposed to be comprehensive summaries. Usually, the selections are heavily focused on the ’60s and ’70s, which generally are my favorite music decades. This time, I’m also throwing in two birthdays. With that being said, let’s get to it!

1928: Ellas McDaniel (born Ellas Otha Bates), the American artist who became known as Bo Diddley, was born in the tiny city of McComb, Miss. When he was six years old, the McDaniel family who had adopted him from his mother, moved to Chicago, where the boy studied the trombone and the violin before taking up the guitar. Initially, he played on street corners with friends. By 1951, he had secured a regular gig at Chicago South Side’s 708 Club. In April 1955, then already known as Bo Diddley, he released his namesake tune featuring his signature Bo Diddley beat. Diddley, who passed away on June 2, 2008, influenced many artists, such as early rock & rollers Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley, as well as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Here’s Bo Diddley, his only tune to top the Billboard Hot R&B chart.

1947: Jeffrey (Jeff) Lynne was born in the Birmingham suburb of Erdington, England. Jeff got his first (acoustic) guitar as a child from his father Philip Lynne. In 1963, he formed his first band, The Rockin’ Hellcats – that’s when bands still had fun names! Three years later, Jeff joined Birmingham rock group The Idle Race as lead guitarist, keyboarder and vocalist, and played on their first two albums. While the band developed a cult following, it did not achieve commercial success. In 1970, Lynne’s friend Roy Wood invited him to join The Move, the band that eventually morphed into Electric Light Orchestra. After a successful run that lasted 11 albums and 15 years, ELO disbanded in 1986. In 2000, Lynne revived ELO, but until 2013, they mostly released re-issues and played occasional mini-reunions. Since 2014, the band essentially has been a Jeff Lynne project billed as Jeff Lynne’s ELO and released two albums. Lynne also was a co-founder of Traveling Wilburys. In addition to producing for “his” bands, Lynne produced for many other artists, such as Dave Edmunds, Tom Petty, George Harrison, Paul McCartney and Joe Walsh. Here’s Livin’ Thing from ELO’s sixth studio album A New World Record, released in July 1976. Like most ELO tunes, the song was written by Lynne who turned 72 years today. Happy birthday!

1967: For the 15th time, The Beatles stood at no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, this time with Hello, Goodbye. Written by Paul McCartney, the tune was released as a non-album single in November 1967, backed by I’m The Walrus. According to Songfacts, John Lennon wasn’t fond of the tune, calling it “three minutes of contradictions and meaningless juxtapositions.” Apparently, he was also mad that his song I’m The Walrus was relegated to the B-side. While Hello, Goodbye has nice harmony singing and a cool bassline, I have to say I’m with Lennon here. The lyrics are silly and the much stronger I’m The Walrus would have deserved to be an A-side release.

1973: Jim Croce topped the Billboard Hot 100 with Time In A Bottle, his second and last no. 1 hit. Sadly, he didn’t get a chance to witness this milestone. On September 20, 1973, Croce was killed in a plane crash during a tour while taking off from Natchitoches, La.  He was en route to Sherman, Texas for his next scheduled gig at Austin College. All of the other five people who were on board of the chartered Beechcraft E18S died as well. Time In A Bottle was the third single off Croce’s third studio album You Don’t Mess Around With Jim, which had come out in April 1972. The poetic love song is a timeless gem!

1974: Bob Dylan recorded the take of Tangled Up In Blue that ended up on his 1975 album Blood On The Tracks while visiting his brother David for the holidays in Minnesota. Written in the summer of 1974, the tune deals with personal matters Dylan was going through at the time, including his failing marriage to his first wife Sara Dylan (born Shirley Marlin Noznisky). Dylan had first recorded the song with producer Phil Ramone in New York but not released it. During the session that generated the album version, Dylan asked Kevin Odegard, a local singer and guitarist who had been brought in to support the recording, what he thought about the song. Odegard suggested changing the key from G and A. Dylan gave it a try and apparently was satisfied with the outcome. Odegard never received any credit on the record but graciously said the experience was instrumental in launching his own successful music career.

Sources: Wikipedia; This Day In Music; Songfacts; This Day In Rock; YouTube

I Got A Name: Jim Croce

Prolific singer-songwriter’s life was cut short after his career had just taken off

…If I had a box just for wishes/And dreams that had never come true/The box would be empty/Except for the memory/Of how they were answerd by you…

The above is an excerpt from the lyrics of one of the most beautiful love songs I know, written by a great singer-songwriter whose life was tragically cut short. Time In A Bottle became one of Jim Croce’s biggest hits topping the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks in January 1974, not even four months after he had died at age 30 in a plane crash.

James Joseph Croce was born on January 10, 1943 in South Philadelphia. His parents James Albert Croce and Flora Mary (Babusci) Croce were both Italian Americans. While Croce git into playing accordion at the age of 5, he did not start taking music seriously until he was a student at Villanova University in the early 1960s. At that time, he began forming bands and playing local gigs at fraternity parties, coffee houses and universities around Philadelphia, performing a broad variety of cover music.

Jim Croce & family
Jim & Ingrid Croce with their son Adrian James

In 1966, Croce self-published his debut album Facets with a $500 cash gift he had received from his parents for his wedding to Ingrid Croce (née Jacobson), an author and singer-songwriter. The two had met in November 1963 and performed as a duo since 1964. Croce’s parents had hoped their son’s record would fail and he would come to realize he should use his eduction to pursue a “respectable” profession. Instead, Croce not only managed to sell all 500 copies of the record that had been pressed but also made a profit of close to $2,500. Here’s Texas Rodeo, the album’s only tune solely credited to Croce. Despite that promising start, true success for Croce was still years away.

In 1968, record producer Tommy West persuaded Croce and his wife to relocate to New York. By that time, they had started writing their own songs. This led to the release of Croce’s second record in September 1969, the duos album Jim & Ingrid Croce. Here’s the lovely Spin, Spin, Spin, which like most songs on the record was co-written by the couple.

The music business in New York City and playing small clubs and college gigs to promote the couple’s album proved to be tough. Disillusioned they returned to Pennsylvania to live on an old farm in the countryside. Since music wasn’t bringing in enough money, Croce took on a variety of odd jobs like driving a truck, construction work and teaching guitar lessons. Meanwhile, he continued writing songs.

Following the birth of their son Adrian James, Ingrid became a stay-at-home mother while Jim played concerts to promote his music. The breakthrough came in 1972 after Croce had signed a contract with ABC Records and released his third studio album You Don’t Mess Around With Jim in April that year. The record’s title track came out as a single in July and climbed to no. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100. By comparison, the album’s second single Operator (That’s Not The Way It Feels) “only” made it to no. 17 on the U.S. chart. And then there is the above-mentioned Time In A Bottle, which didn’t appear as a single until after Croce’s death and became his second of two no. 1 hits in the U.S.

In July 1973, Croce’s fourth studio album Life And Times came out. The last record released during his lifetime included his first Billboard Hot 100 no. 1 hit Bad, Bad Leroy Brown. The great piano-driven boogie woogie tune was inspired by a guy with that name Croce had met during his short time in the National Guard. One evening the guy said he was fed up and went AWOL. When he inexplicably decided to come back at the end of the month to get his paycheck, he was caught and taken away in handcuffs.

On September 20, 1973, during the supporting tour for Life And Times, Croce was planning to fly from Natchitoches, La. after a show there to his next gig in Sherman, Texas. During takeoff, the pilot of a chartered propeller plane clipped a tree at the end of the runway, causing a crash. Croce, pilot Robert N. Elliott; guitarist Maury Muehleisen; comedian George Stevens, manager and booking agent Kenneth D. Cortese, and road manager Dennis Rast were all killed. The next day, the lead single and title track from Croce’s fifth and final studio album I Got A Name was released. Co-written by Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel, the song was one of record’s few tunes that were not written by Croce.

After Jim’s death, Ingrid Croce among other activities released two solo albums. She also did various things to keep Jim’s legacy alive. In 1985, she started a restaurant in downtown San Diego in the same spot where in 1973 Jim had joked about opening Croce’s Restaurant & Jazz Bar and inviting their friends and fellow artists like James Taylor, Jimmy Buffet, Arlo Guthrie and Bonnie Raitt to perform there. After various expansions and opening a second restaurant in the ’80s, Ingrid closed all restaurant operations in 2016. In 1996, she wrote Thyme in a Bottle, an autobiographical cookbook with memories and recipes from Croce’s Restaurant. And in 2004, she published Time in a Bottle, a photographic memoir of Jim’s songs with lyrics and her favorite photos. Jim’s and Ingrid’s son Adrian James “A.J.” Croce also became a singer-songwriter and has released 10 albums since 1993.

A bio on Jim Croce’s website quotes Ingrid: “Jim poured everything he heard and saw into his music. He was like a sponge, soaking up experiences and – sometimes it might take him a while, ‘Roller Derby Queen’ took him two or three years to write. But sooner or later, everything would make it into a song, and people recognized that.”

I’d like to close this post with a nice clip of a 1973 live performance of Operator, showing Croce with Muehleisen. Croce had met the classically trained pianist-guitarist and singer-songwriter from Trenton, N.J. in 1970. Muehleisen became a collaborator in the studio who influenced Croce’s songwriting. For 18 months, they were also frequently together on the road. He was only 24 years at the time of the crash.

Sources: Wikipedia; Jim Croce website; Ingrid Croce website; YouTube