Saturday, October 26, 2013

Asylum Records: James Dean

It’s our final look at Asylum Records and our Bubbling Under Hit for this Saturday is the Eagles’ “James Dean.” Showing the incestuous nature of Asylum Records, “James Dean” was co-written by label solo artists Jackson Browne and J.D. Souther and two members of the Eagles, Don Henley and Glenn Frey.

Originally recorded during the sessions for the band’s second album, “Desperado,” it was shelved because, although the song’s subject had a rebellious side, it did not fit the outlaw theme of that particular album. When sessions for “On the Border” were initiated, the band resurrected “James Dean” – at least the song that is.

James Dean, the man not the song, had become legendary despite his starring roles in only three motion pictures. Two events were primary in Dean becoming a cultural icon for a generation: his role of the troubled Jim Stark in “Rebel without a Cause,” with which many teens identified, and his premature death as a result of an automobile accident while driving his Porsche Spyder. The Eagles’ lyrics refer to both of these:
“You were the low-down rebel if there ever was, even if you had no cause” and
“Along came a Spyder and picked up a rider; took him down the road to eternity.”
While Bernie Leadon played the lead guitar on the cut, Glenn Frey was lead singer. I had a chance to meet Frey when he was opening for Tina Turner in 1985. He was a lot of fun. Backstage, I was wearing my Y-94 station baseball jacket with my name sewn on the front. Radio jocks and programmers from three markets were present.

Frey immediately said to me, “Jim, how are you doing?” And then he gave me a big man hug and whispered to me, “I saw your name on your jacket – let’s make these other radio guys think we’re long lost friends.” He then proceeded to do a little dance with me. That’s depicted below and is the only picture I have with Glenn. He’s a fun guy and provided me a great memory for the rest of my life.

“James Dean,” while an album radio cut, was not successful as a single and only charted at #77 in 1974. It was one of the minor hits for the band that had been preceded by two other songs that failed to make the Top 40: “Tequila Sunrise” and “Outlaw Man,” but were well known otherwise. “Already Gone,” which peaked at #32, acted as a Top 40 buffer between these under-performing singles. “James Dean” would be the last single to fail to make a solid dent in the pop charts for the next six years.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Asylum Records: Mohammed's Radio

One of the more misunderstood songsmiths of our generation was the late Warren Zevon. A very prolific songwriter that received the accolades of most musicians, but is sadly remembered by many Americans for one tune and one tune only: “Werewolves of London.”

While that single charted at #21 in 1978 and was one that even I purchased, it was not Zevon’s only composition. Those with a little more musical knowledge realize that he also penned Linda Ronstadt’s eventual hit “Poor Poor Pitiful Me,” as well as other compositions she recorded.

Zevon needs to be remembered for far more – and those who ventured far beyond the confines of Top 40 radio know of “Excitable Boy,” “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner,” “Lawyers Guns and Money,” “The Envoy,” “Leave my Monkey Alone,” “Keep Me in Your Heart for a While,” and today’s Friday Flipside – “Mohammed’s Radio.”

Just to set the record straight, this song is not about the prophet of Islam. It is about a man who happened to also be named Mohammed and who runs what appears to be a pirate radio station that plays rock ‘n roll all night long – although knowing Zevon, that’s only superficial explanation and likely the song has some deeper meaning that escapes me.

“Mohammed’s Radio” was the flipside to Zevon’s first single on Asylum Records, “Hasten Down the Wind.” Neither side charted; but, both appeared on his second LP – the self-titled album that was released by Asylum in 1976. This LP was produced by Jackson Browne who has also performed “Mohammed’s Radio” both as a solo work and as a duet with Zevon.

Linda Ronstadt’s Flipside

There was a lot of (musical) incest with Asylum Records. We’ve seen this so far this week. Graham Nash, who dated Joni Mitchell and was managed by Geffen but was not on his label, produced Judee Sill’s debut single. Nash and David Crosby sang backup on Jackson Browne’s “Doctor My Eyes.”

Crosby was a member of (The) Byrds for the reunion album on Asylum. Numerous others were guest stars on Zevon’s first Asylum LP including Jackson Browne, Glenn Frey and Don Henley of the Eagles, J.D. Souther, and Waddy Wachtel of Linda Ronstadt’s band.

Ronstadt probably covered more Zevon compositions than any other single artist. And yes Alice, she recorded “Mohammed’s Radio.” It too was a flipside. The “A” side was a cover of Elvis Costello’s “Alison” that failed to chart on the Top 40, but made it #30 on the Adult Contemporary charts. Not a stellar performance, but I always liked her version even if Elvis Costello didn’t – he garnered some royalties and this should have pleased him, but you know these temperamental artists.

Zevon performed his original in the key of “G”; however, Linda Ronstadt kicked it up a fourth to “C” to match her vocal range. See, you do learn some new things on this blog.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Asylum Records: Help Me

Forty years ago this coming spring, I walked into the Sundry Store in Grayson, Kentucky and plopped down 84¢ for Joni Mitchell’s new single on Asylum Records: “Help Me.” I’m back in Grayson and the Sundry Store has been long gone, but I still own the 45 rpm record. It wasn’t the lyrics that spoke to me that spring semester of my college freshman year; it was Joni Mitchell’s stacked vocal harmonies, Tom Scott’s flutes and baritone sax, and Larry Carlton’s electric guitar that beckoned me to buy this single.

It also had a a somewhat jazzy feel – a sound that I was beginning to have an affinity towards. That proclivity would increase during my college years, as I would discover more songs that fit that particular genre of music. While “Help Me” was far from being a jazz number, it featured the backing from Tom Scott’s LA Express and it whet my appetite for those artists who ranged from Dixieland to progressive, from bebop to avant-garde, and from swing to fusion.

Being that “Court and Spark” is such a great album, I cannot for the life of me explain why I never bought it. I must buy this CD and soon. “Court and Spark” also contains some of my other favorite Mitchell songs: “Free Man in Paris,” “Raised on Robbery,” and her take on the Lambert, Hendricks, and Ross classic “Twisted” – “My analyst told me that I was right out of my head . . .”

“Help Me” was Joni Mitchell’s highest charting single by peaking at #7 on the Hot 100; it also was a #1 adult contemporary hit. In addition, “Court and Spark” was her most successful album. This double-platinum release climbed to #2 on the US charts and was a #1 album in her native Canada.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Asylum Records: Full Circle

Recorded by Gene Clark in 1972 as “Full Circle Song,” he presented the song to The Byrds for their self-titled reunion album on Asylum Records later the same year. Since Clark’s solo version would only be released in the Netherlands, it would not compete with The Byrds version which was recorded later in 1972. Renamed as “Full Circle,” the song was not about the reunion of the band’s five original members as Clark had written “Full Circle” prior to reunion becoming a suggestion.

Not to compete with the current lineup of The Byrds, who were signed to Columbia, the reunion band was identified without the definite article and was identified as “Byrds.” “Full Circle” was the first single to be released from the album; however, its chart performance was limited, as it peaked at #109. Although a critical failure, the album was initially a commercial success and debuted on the album charts at #20. The band blamed album’s inherent problems on the project not their being able to congeal since the five had not played together in six years.

Add to this a short recording window of six weeks and the reality that Clark, Crosby, McGuinn, and Hillman may not have provided their best material for the album saving it for other projects. The critics were also distraught that no Dylan songs appeared on the album; however, two Neil Young and one Joni Mitchell compositions were recorded.

As expected, Gene Clark sang the double tracked lead vocals on “Full Circle.” As with earlier Byrds’ recordings, David Crosby provided the high harmonies. The jewel of this song, however, is Chris Hillman’s mandolin playing – a perfect complement to Roger McGuinn’s acoustic guitar. “Full Circle” sounds as good today as it did 40 years ago in 1973.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Asylum Records: Saturate Before Using

While many people, including myself, have referred to Jackson Browne’s debut album as “Saturate Before Using,” it was not the album’s title. It was officially named “Jackson Browne.” When designing the cover, Gary Burden and his company R. Twerk received cues regarding the cover design. Browne wanted it to resemble a canvas radiator water bag that, when saturated with water, cooled the contents via the process of evaporation. It really is an ingenious device.

Browne was hesitant to put the words “Saturate Before Using” on the front of the album for fear that it would be mistaken as the album’s title. So he suggested placing it on the reverse, but Burden insisted it remain on the front and dismissed any concern that Browne might have. Even the label initially rejected the cover art for the same reason, but Burden’s creation remained intact. And yes, everyone thought it was the album’s title. Even when the album was released on CD, Asylum put “Saturate Before Using” on the tray card so that it showed as the CD’s title. While it never was the title, perhaps it should have been.

The cover had an atypical design as it was textured to give it the feel of canvas. Later editions of the album mimicked the canvas design by printing lines on the cover and thus saving the company manufacturing costs. In addition, the original cover was darker than the eventual faux canvas versions.

It’s a great album that I didn’t get until 1976 or so, but I remember buying the single, “Doctor My Eyes,” at a Gimbels in the Monroeville Mall. One Saturday, my friend Regis Franko and I decided to set off for the mall. We walked to East McKeesport and took the bus to Wilmerding, but missed the connecting bus to Monroeville and we decided to walk the remaining miles to what was once considered the largest shopping mall in the US. It also was the location for the shooting of George Romero’s “Dawn of the Dead.”

I always liked to look at the singles at Gimbels, as the prices were a little cheaper than National Record Mart – our local music retailer. That day, I picked up Emerson, Lake, & Palmer’s “From the Beginning,” Sailcat’s “Motorcycle Mama,” and Jackson Browne’s “Doctor My Eyes.” It obviously was a good day for WEA.

The Browne single? Well, I loved the whole thing – Jackson’s piano, the congas, Jesse Ed Davis’ guitar leads, and the harmony vocals by David Crosby and Graham Nash. To nudge radio into playing the single, Asylum listed both Crosby and Nash on the label – something that was not done on the commercial releases. Perhaps it worked, as “Doctor My Eyes” peaked at #8 in 1972.

While Jackson Browne was the catalyst for the founding of Asylum Records, “Doctor My Eyes” was the label’s fifth release with a catalog number of AS-11004.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Asylum Records: Let There Be Music

Day two at our look at Asylum Records takes us to the band Orleans – an unlikely name for a band from Woodstock, NY; however, in their early days they chose the moniker as they were doing a number of songs influenced by Louisiana artists and it made sense at the time. Unfortunately like the city which inspired their name, Orleans was a band that had incredibly bad luck with record labels.

They cut their first two albums with ABC Records and the label sat on “Orleans II” for release in the US until the band produced hits on their next label, Asylum. With Asylum they had two significant hits: “Dance with Me” and “Still the One.” But after two albums with Asylum, John Hall left the band and Asylum kept Hall on contract, while Orleans segued to Infinity Records.

Orleans cut one album with Infinity in 1979 – “Forever,” which produced their third most popular song, “Love Takes Time” – and then, Infinity filed for bankruptcy. MCA, which had already absorbed ABC’s catalog, did the same with Infinity and upheld Orleans’ contract and released an album in 1980 titled “Orleans” – the same title as their debut album – also part of MCA’s catalog. I’m sure it was confusing to someone, but the first “Orleans” album was probably not in print in 1980.  In 1978, ABC had repackaged the first two albums as “Before the Dance.”

Confused? Good, as it gets worse.  MCA failed to promote the 1980 album and it went bust as did their contract with the label. By 1982, Orleans signed to Radio Records and released the album “One of a Kind,” which failed to generate any interest, as Radio Records also filed for bankruptcy and the record went out of print soon after it hit the market.

While Orleans continued to record, they fell into relative obscurity. Two of the original members, Wells Kelly (1984) and Larry Hoppen (2012), have since passed, but the band presses on with John Hall back at the helm as he had been three other times in their history.

Released in 1975, “Let There Be Music” was Orleans’ first single to chart in the Hot 100 and their first for Asylum Records. Although it only made it to #55, it is a killer tune that features excellent slide guitar work from John Hall and lead vocals by Larry Hoppen. While it didn’t chart that high, it paved the way for some of the biggest records of the band’s career.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Asylum Records: Jesus Was A Cross Maker

David Geffen and Elliot Roberts became frustrated in their unsuccessful attempts to sign Jackson Browne, one of their management artists, to a major record label. Because of this, they decided to form Asylum Records in 1971. The label was initially distributed by Atlantic Records, but in 1972 Warner Communications bought the label and merged its operations with Elektra Records and Elektra/Asylum became the “E” in the rechristened Warner Music Group’s identity of WEA (Warner-Elektra/Asylum-Atlantic) Records.

By the 1990s, Asylum took a backseat to Elektra and was repurposed as a country music label. By 2004, Asylum was reformatted as an urban music vehicle. During its early years, Asylum was primarily a folk/rock outlet and became known for artists like the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, Bob Dylan, The Byrds, Warren Zevon, Tom Waits, Joni Mitchell, and of course Jackson Browne.

Although Asylum was formed to promote Browne, his first single on the label was actually Asylum’s fifth single release. “Doctor My Eyes” was preceded by two singles by Judee Sill and one each by David Blue and Jo Jo Gunne. Today, we begin a week-long look at the Asylum Record label, and what better place to start than its first single – Judee Sill’s “Jesus was a Cross Maker.”

Although not a religious song, “Jesus was a Cross Maker” may have been neglected by radio because of its title. I have never seen a US commercial version of this single and am not sure if it ever made it beyond the promotional stage. It was the only song on Sill’s self titled debut album that was produced by Graham William Nash.

Sill’s album, the first released on Asylum, was issued on September 15, 1971 and the single, “Jesus was a Cross Maker,” followed 16 days later. Coincidentally, Nash’s former band The Hollies revived the song in 1972 as single from their “Romany” LP. Their version, which has a more lush production, failed also to chart.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Justin Hayward: Forever Autumn

Ron Richards and I have been friends since our grade school adventures at Green Valley Elementary in North Versailles, Pennsylvania; however, the last time I saw Ron was in a laundromat at Great Valley Shopping Center in 1978. Awhile back, we reconnected on Facebook. When the first day of fall hit in September, Ron asked me if I would feature Justin Hayward’s “Forever Autumn.”

I had already planned some songs that week and I promised I would get to it; however, as the days progressed, I neglected my pledge. This week Ron gently nudged me about the tune and I told him that I would get to it during my Bubbling Under Feature this Saturday. Needless to say, this weekend has been very busy and I am just getting to Saturday’s post.

“Forever Autumn” is a rarity in Justin Hayward songs as he did not write it. It was penned by Jeff Wayne, Gary Osborne, and Paul Vigrass. Wayne originally wrote the music as a bed for a Lego’s commercial in 1969. Vigrass and Osborne, who had actually performed on the original jingle, rewrote the words in 1972 and recorded “Forever Autumn.”

“Forever Autumn” attracted a small amount of attention in Japan, but that was about it. It was released in the US as the flipside of Vigrass and Osborne’s single “Men of Learning,” which charted at #65. I will probably feature it in the future, but today’s selection is the 1978 release by Justin Hayward.

When Wayne was writing “Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of War of the Worlds,” he wanted to include a love song like his tune “Forever Autumn.” Instead of writing another song, he resurrected his former composition but desired a voice that was reminiscent of “Nights in White Satin.” So instead of choosing a sound-alike, he went for the real thing with Justin Hayward. He was selected to sing the thoughts of the journalist, which included “Forever Autumn.”

Although the guitar lead sounds like a Hayward’s style, it actually was played by session musician Chris Spedding. “Forever Autumn” did quite well in the UK charting at #5. In the US, not so much, as it only peaked at #47 and is not greatly known this side of the Atlantic. Because of its popularity in the UK, Hayward still sings the tune in concert even though he had no hand in its creation.

As a concept, Wayne wanted his adaptation of H.G. Wells’ classic to feature rock band and orchestra – hmm, sounds a little like what The Moody Blues accomplished with “Days of Future Passed.” It’s a perfect day for this song as I sit in my warm house in Southern West Virginia. It was a cool afternoon and the leaves are about changed from green to “the browns, reds, and golds of autumn.” I love this season. Thanks Ron for a fantastic Bubbling Under suggestion.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Graham Nash: Simple Man

Earlier this week, I posted a photo of me and Graham Nash on my Facebook page. Upon seeing it, Greg Rector, a college friend and regular visitor to this blog, reminded me of Nash’s “Song for Beginners” album. It was Nash’s first solo attempt and this 1971 gem charted at #15. The LP produced a hit single, “Chicago,” that lamented the 1968 Democratic National Convention in the Windy City. “Chicago” peaked at #35.

For this Friday Flipside presentation, I give you the “B” side to “Chicago,” “Simple Man.” While it never charted on its own, it was often played on album radio and even made an appearance at the beginning of the 2007 film “Reign Over Me.” Perhaps Atlantic Records intended the single to be a double sided hit, as “Chicago” is listed on the 45 as “Side A” and “Simple Man” is identified as “Side One.” ¿Confusing, No?

The album was released shortly after Nash’s break-up with Joni Mitchell and it is said that many of the songs were inspired by this tumultuous time in his life. The lyrics may allude to this, as Nash opines, “I’ve never been so much in love and never hurt so bad at the same time” and “I hear what you’re saying and it’s spinning my head around and I can’t make it alone.”

“Simple Man” has a sparse arrangement featuring Nash on vocals and piano. It appears that the piano was not closely miked, as it sounds as if it was, as represented in the lyrics, “just across the room.” Rita Coolidge joined Nash on back-up vocals and concert cellist Dorian Rudnytsky adds to the lower register.

Interestingly enough, the fiddle was played by multi-instrumentalist David Lindley, who is known for all manner of stringed instruments, but is primarily known for his lap steel work. The fiddle is somewhat of an early departure for Lindley, but he plays it with the same bravado as he does everything that comes into his talented hands.

Thanks Greg for the suggestion.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Billy Vera & The Beaters: At This Moment

It’s been a busy couple of weeks and I took a well needed rest from the blog for the first part of this week. Now, I am raring to go with a Thursday Repeats and Threepeats selection. Many folks will remember Billy and Beaters’ live recording of “At this Moment” appearing twice on the scene, but only the discerning record collectors will know about three releases of the single.

“At this Moment” was issued originally on the Japanese owned Alfa Records label in 1981 as the follow-up to Billy and the Beaters’ “I Can Take Care of Myself,” which narrowly made the Top 40 charts at the #39 slot. The ballad “At this Moment” wasn’t nearly successful and it tanked at #79. Both singles had been recorded live earlier in the same year at The Roxy in Los Angeles.

While I played both songs at WCIR-FM in 1981, the fact that Alfa Records did not have a strong presence in the US probably kept the singles from doing any better than their respective positions. Billy Vera and his 10 piece band wandered off of the charts until – until, that is, the TV show “Family Ties” started playing “At This Moment” on several episodes during its 1985-86 season.

The television airplay rekindled immediate interest in the song and Rhino Records licensed the masters for re-release as a single in October 1986. It’s originally flip side was “Peanut Butter”; however, within a month, Rhino replaced the flip side with “I Can Take of Myself” and issued the third single of “At this Moment” under the same catalog number as the second.

The cross media exposure had a profound effect, as “At this Moment” charted at the #1 slots on the Hot 100 and Adult Contemporary charts. It stayed at the #1 position for two weeks on the Hot 100 in late 1986. The song was produced by Jeff Baxter of Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers' fame.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Initial 16: P.M. Dawn

I extended our Second Week Special for an eighth day with one final artist with the initial “P”: P.M. Dawn with their song “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss.” Released in 1991 when I was working in oldies radio, I didn’t get to play this tune on the radio; however, I was doing mobile DJ work at that time and it was a selection that received its share of requests.

While I am not a fan of most hip hop, I like “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss.” Part of this may be because Spandau Ballet’s “True,” which was sampled for this tune, is one of my favorite 80s songs. Add to that, you have the excellent harmony by the Cordes brothers who constituted P.M. Dawn.

“Set Adrift on Memory Bliss” was the P.M. Dawn’s only #1 hit and strangely enough for a hip hop tune is that it charted higher on the Hot 100 than it did on the R&B chart – where it peaked at #16.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Initial 16: P.J. Soles (song)

It’s not very often that a two man band can make it to the big time, but Local H from Zion, Illinois did just that with a three album deal with Island Records from 1995-1998. In the band’s second iteration since 1999, Local H consisted of Brian St. Clair on drums and Scott Lucas, a founding member, on everything else. The future of Local H hangs in the balances, as St. Clair has announced that after this fall’s tour he intends to leave the band.

Today’s selection immortalizes actress P.J. Soles. She was often cast in “B” movies, but is best known for her movie roles in the original “Halloween” and “Stripes.” She had a knack for playing younger parts, but managed to pull it off. Her role of high school student Lynda Van Der Klok in “Halloween” was believable even though she was 10 years older than your typical high school senior.

Although she was a movie and TV staple for a couple of decades, you don’t see P.J. Soles much these days. Although she hasn’t really disappeared from the screen, it just seems like it – and that’s the reason that Scott Lucas laments,

“I think of P.J. Soles,
And wonder where you are –
I'll never see you anymore.
Where do you think they go?
All the fallen stars –
Heaven doesn’t know you like I do.”

Not only is the actress memorialized in the song, she also was honored in the 2004 CD title: “Whatever happened to P.J. Soles?” It’s an interesting concept and a unique song with a title using the initial “P.”

Friday, October 11, 2013

Initial 16: P.S. I Love You

Doubling our pleasure not only do I provide a sixth look at the initial “P,” our song is also our Friday Flipside selection. Recorded in September 1962, The Beatles’ “P.S. I Love You” was one of the few Beatles’ singles not produced by George Martin. That honor went to EMI producer Ron Richards who was in the studio on the days the band cut the tracks. Norman “Hurricane” Smith was the engineer. 

Written by Paul McCartney in Germany during 1961, this love song became one of their better known tunes during the band’s Cavern Club days. When the session was scheduled, Pete Best was still in the band; however, George Martin booked Andy White to play drums on the session.

Martin felt that Best did not have the drumming prowess for the tune and did not know that the band had already replaced him. Ringo, however, appears on the recording playing maracas, but is not seated on the drum throne. The song was the “B” side to “Love me Do.”

Vee Jay Records, which had The Beatles’ early recordings on license from EMI for the US market, released the single on their Tollie subsidiary in April 1964. It was their second of two singles issued on that label and was a double sided hit. “Love Me Do” took the number one slot and “P.S. I Love You” charted at #10. I do not believe that “P.S. I Love You” charted anywhere but in the US.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Initial 16: P.P. Arnold

Much like P.J. Proby, P.P. Arnold was an American who saw a limited amount of success in the UK, but not much in her own country. Unlike Proby, Arnold never had an American hit. Her climb to what success she did garner began when she was hired as replacement singer in Ike and Tina Turner’s Revue as a member of the Ikettes.

When the Turners went to England to support The Rolling Stones in 1966, Mick Jagger convinced the band’s manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, to sign P.P. Arnold to his new Immediate Records label. Oldham took the advice and two albums were recorded before the label folded in the late 60s.

While she remained in England and had a moderately successful solo career, she was relatively unknown in the US. One of the songs that put her on the British charts was the original recording of “The First Cut is the Deepest.” Although Cat Stevens wrote the song, Arnold recorded it first in spring 1967. Immediate released the single twice with different catalog numbers and flip sides. The first was issued in June 1967 and the second in March 1969. The American release was the first of two singles Immediate issued under license to United Artist Records.

Although most Americans associate the song with Rod Stewart and Canadians remember Keith Hampshire’s 1973 recording, most Brits will identify it with P.P. Arnold. While absent from the CD mixes, the single was said to contain an early usage of tape flanging – an idea that was copied by label mates The Small Faces on “Itchycoo Park.” The single mix is definitely different with background vocals and reverb on the lead vocal.

If it is there, the flanging effect is not overly apparent as it is with “Itchycoo Park” and it appears that the two tape machines may have been more in sync rather than producing an in and out phasing due to speed differences. There is an obvious tape delay on the song and this may be part of what the engineers referred to as phasing. It is one of the few pop records, however, to feature a harp as a primary instrument.

The single charted at #18 in Britain, but never made the Hot 100 in the US. This may be more of a reflection of the stance of Immediate Records in the US than it would the performance of the artist.

Single Mix

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Initial 16: P.J. Proby

One of the things I like about doing this blog is exposing people to artists and songs where there is a certain level of unfamiliarity. With this week’s unusual topic of the initial “P,” I would imagine that all but a couple will be unfamiliar to the majority of those who visit this site. Today’s artist, P.J. Proby, is no exception to that rule.

Although I was familiar with his only US hit, I was not aware of his name until 1971. I was bedridden with the mumps that February and friend dropped off a book about the history of rock ‘n roll which I read voraciously during that week long malady. It was there that I first encountered the name P.J. Proby and wondered why the author went at lengths to talk about someone of whom I had never heard about until then.

P.J. Proby was an American artist, but he failed to become known to any great extent on this side of the Atlantic. In the UK, it was a different story. Proby scored eleven Top 40 hits in Britain and this was largely initiated by his connection to The Beatles, as he appeared on their 1964 TV special. Additionally, he had five Top 40 releases in Canada. After a string of bad luck, his popularity began to wane.

Proby, who was born as James Marcum Smith, had only one US hit. “Niki Hoeky” was released in the US on Liberty Records in 1967 and ascended to the #23 position on the Hot 100. It wasn’t that he didn’t have other singles that charted, none of the others charted very high. For example, “Hold Me,” his second most popular US single, charted at #70; the third most popular, “Somewhere,” peaked at #91.

He had four others to briefly appear as bubbling under hits and they landed between #119 and #135 positions. Essentially, “Niki Hoeky” was the extent of his American recording success – “gonna dig ya on a Scooby-doo.”

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Initial 16: P.J. Harvey

As we continue our look at the 16th letter, we move on to British artist P.J. Harvey. If there was ever a musical successor to the Pretenders’ Chrissie Hynde, it would be Harvey. Not only does she slightly resemble Hynde, she is also an excellent guitarist. Harvey’s single “Good Fortune” is from her fifth album “Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea” and was released in late 2000.

I don’t know why “Good Fortune” didn’t do very well on the charts. It failed to even chart on the US Alternative Rock chart – the place where her singles normally do well. In her native Britain, the song narrowly missed the Top 40 by placing at the #41 slot.

“Good Fortune” was written by Harvey and was produced by her, Mick Harvey (no relation), and Rob Ellis. Mick Harvey normally supports Nick Cave while Ellis was P.J. Harvey’s former drummer.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Initial 16: P.F. Sloan (song)

Yesterday, we began our look at the initial “P” used in artist names or song titles and we have a continuation of our first post with a song written in honor of P.F. Sloan. I first became aware of this song when I saw it listed on a 1971 album by The Association. At the time, I was not aware of Sloan’s songwriting contributions and his years in the music business. I assumed that P.F. Sloan, like The Monkees’ “D.W. Washburn,” was a fictional character.

“P.F. Sloan” (the song) was written by Jimmy Webb and appeared on his 1970 album “Words and Music.” While Sloan had done much in the music business, he longed for a successful career as an artist; that desire never materialized. Realizing Sloan’s unfulfilled dream, Webb wrote a song in honor of his contemporary and mentor “P.F. Sloan.” It was a situation with which Webb could identify, as neither Sloan nor Webb, both prolific songwriters, ever received recognition for their artistic talents as performers.

While other artists have been mentioned in a song, very few have had songs named in their honor. It may also be the only song that references the stuffing of Roy Roger’s horse Trigger. While the song is rather personal to Webb, it has been recorded by a number of artists including The Association, Jennifer Warnes (under the name “Jennifer”), Unicorn, and Rumer.

Webb recorded it two additional times with the third go around as a duet with Jackson Browne in 2010. It’s most recent run of the charts came in 2012 when British singer Rumer recorded it. On Webb’s original release, he utilized a Melodica and it may have been one of the earlier usages of this keyboard instrument in pop music. The first hit single I remember it being used was on Orleans’ “Dance with Me” in 1975. The Melodica had further exposure to the public when it became a primary instrument of The Hooters in the 1980s.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Initial 16: P.F. Sloan (artist)

Being that it’s the second week of the month, we bring on a new Second Week Special and a quite an unusual one at that. For the next eight days, I am featuring the 16th letter of the English alphabet in the form of the initial “P.” In most cases, it shows up in the name of the artist; however, we’ll also feature three songs that use the initial in their titles.

Our first example comes from a man who had participated in every aspect of the music business, but was best known as a songwriter and session musician. P.F. Sloan was born Philip Gary Schlein; but when he was 12 years old, his father changed their surname to Sloan. The younger Sloan later adopted the artistic persona of P.F. Sloan – the “F” being a reference to his nickname “Flip.”

Sloan’s best known contributions to the music world were the compositions “Eve of Destruction” and “Secret Agent Man.” In 1965, Barry McGuire took the politically charged “Eve of Destruction” to the #1 slot. During the following year, Johnny Rivers had a #3 hit with the Sloan/Steve Barri composition of “Secret Agent Man.” It is said that P.F. Sloan originated the guitar riff that made the song famous.

Sloan also penned Top 40 hits for Herman’s Hermits, The Turtles, The Grass Roots, and Jan and Dean. Numerous other artists would also record his tunes. Sloan’s guitar work, as part of the famed Wrecking Crew, can be heard on a plethora of recordings. Up through 2006, Sloan was still recording material; however, his only charting single was the 1965 release of “The Sins of a Family.”

Hoping to capitalize on “Eve of Destruction,” Dunhill Records gave Sloan the opportunity to record two solo albums: “Songs of Our Times” and “Twelve More Times.” “The Sins of a Family,” which appeared on his debut album, charted at #87.

In the protest vein and with a dylanesque treatment, “The Sins of a Family” describes a young lady who is doomed by the cyclic nature of family tragedy. She was destined to commit the sins of her parents – mimicking the only role models that she had. “The stones been cast and blood’s thicker than water – oh, the sins of a family fall on the daughter.”

Steve Barri, Sloan's longtime recording and writing partner, produced the single. I don’t know if it is just me or not, but the right channel of the stereo version sounds out of phase when the instrumentation drops from the left channel. The left channel vocals and harmonica, however, sound fine.

There is also a mistake on the recording – Sloan, whom I am assuming is playing the Dylan style harmonica, blew into the microphone at several times during recording. It’s a wonder they didn’t re-record this track; however, it is not noticeable on the mono rendition of the song as the breaths are lost in the mix.  

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Limp Bizkit: The One

I enjoy odd instrumentation and one of those infrequently used variations of the guitar is the tenor guitar. In doing research for a week long feature on the tenor guitar, I read that Wes Borland of Limp Bizkit played an unusually tuned tenor guitar on a number of the band’s songs. Unfortunately, just because it was a four-string guitar doesn’t mean that it was a tenor guitar.

Wes Borland (in body paint) with his baritone guitar

What the unusually adorned Borland actually played was a custom made Ibanez AX baritone guitar. I think the confusion lies in the fact that baritone guitars typically have six strings and not four, while tenor guitars always have four strings, a shorter scale length, and thinner strings. In addition to these aspects, Borland tunes the instrument as F#-F#-B-E. The F# stings are an octave apart.

For our Saturday bubbling under cut, an album cut from Limp Bizkit’s 2000 CD “Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water” – “The One” is our feature. The song features Borland with the nu-metal band and his custom baritone axe.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

German Unity Day: Nena: 99 Luftballoons

In celebrating Germany Unity Day and our Thursday Repeats and Threepeats feature, we bring you the second highest charting German language song in the US – Nena’s “99 Luftballoons.” Its initial August 1983 American release with “Just a Dream” as the flip side was pulled from the shelves rather quickly; the second release in September, however, gave purchasers the opportunity to have both the German language original in addition to its English counterpart, “99 Red Balloons.” Both singles were issued by Epic under the same catalog number of 34-04108.

The English version was not a direct translation and took some liberties to be able to adjust for correct phrasing and rhyming in the context of the same tune. In fact, “red” in the title was added because “luftballoon” is simply translated as “balloon” in English and a word was needed for the additional syllable.

Interestingly enough in America, the German version was the preferred variation. While the English version did get airplay, most airtime was credited to the original recording. While Australia’s preference was similar, the Brits, Irish, and Canadians preferred the English version. Nena, by the way, was the name of the group and not the lead singer; her name is Gabriele Kerner.

The song originated as an anti-nuclear war protest song. The idea was that someone released a number of helium balloons which were subsequently spotted on West German RADAR. Thinking that it was a Soviet attack, a subsequent retaliation led to a nuclear war. Thank goodness that never happened. On this date in 1990 both East and West Germany were reunited – thus giving rise to today’s national holiday in Germany.

“99 Luftballoons” did quite well in the US, as it charted on four separate Billboard charts. It peaked at #2 on the Hot 100, #22 on the dance chart, #23 on the rock chart, and #42 on the adult contemporary chart. “99 Luftballoons”/”99 Red Balloons” was a #1 record in eleven countries. Two newer versions of the tune were subsequently released in 2002 and 2009. The original flip side, “Just a Dream,” was later released as a single in its own right during spring 1984; however, its second time around peaked with a dismal showing at #102.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

America: Don't Cross the River

For today’s Wooden Wednesday selection, I bring you a Dan Peek tune from America’s second LP: “Homecoming.” “Don’t Cross the River” was not the best known song from America, as this 1972 hit only charted at #35. It didn’t fare much better on the adult contemporary chart either where it peaked at #23.

I’m not sure why it wasn’t a bigger success. America had a great following in 1972. The lyrics have a catchy hook; however, it does come late in the song – and the song was short. At 2:29, it was the perfect length for AM radio. They didn’t have to edit the song as was the custom of many stations back in the day to give the illusion that they played more music than the competition across town.

Snip a guitar solo out here, shorten a verse there – it was a real talent in those days before music editing software. You had to have a splicing block, a sharp razor blade, a china marker, and plenty of splicing tape. It was an art form. How I miss those days . . . not. You can do a whole lot more with Sound Forge or other software today, and if you make a mistake – you just undo and recalibrate your edit.

Maybe its poor performance was due to Harry Diltz’s banjo. Surely, a pop song couldn’t have a banjo? But then again, there were the Eagles with “Take it Easy,” The Stampeders with “Sweet City Woman,” The Who’s “Squeeze Box,” and The Doobie Brother’s “Listen to the Music” to name but a few. Interesting note, Diltz not only played banjo, but he also shot the cover photo for the album. How often does that happen? Oh, yeah, back in 1977-78 I did the photograph for an album as well having played on it – so I guess it’s not that uncommon of feat.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Captain Beyond

Take two parts of Iron Butterfly, one part of Deep Purple, and one part of Johnny Winter And – the result is Captain Beyond. The concoction was created in 1971 when Larry “Rhino” Reinhardt, Lee Dorman, Rod Evans, and Bobby Caldwell joined forces in one of the most underrated rock bands of all time. Their self-titled debut album fits our Atypical Tuesday category as the original album cover sported a lenticular 3D effect that included floating circles in the design.

Dedicated to the passing of label mate Duane Allman, the band’s first LP was released on Capricorn Records in 1972. It was hoped that the star-studded lineup and 3D cover would enamor the record buying public. It didn’t, and the album stalled at the #134 spot for two weeks in October 1972. Unfortunately, most folks were never exposed to this particular band.

Detail of the 3D cover.
Today’s featured cut is the “A Thousand Days of Yesterday (Time Since Come and Gone),” which appeared in the first of two suites of music on side two of the album. This particular cut was end of the suite that also featured “Thousand Days of Yesterday (Intro)” and “Frozen Over.”

 Captain Beyond’s lineup would change after the release of this album as Bobby Caldwell would join forces with his former Johnny Winter And colleague Rick Derringer and was ultimately replaced by Brian Glascock. In addition, percussionist Guille Garcia keyboardist Reese Wynans joined the band in 1973.