Thursday, July 31, 2014

Graham Nash: Chicago

For this week’s “Thirty Something Thursday” feature, I was looking for a song that charted on Billboard’s Hot 100 from 30 to 39 and stumbled onto Graham Nash’s single from 1971. Interestingly enough, last week as I was traveling back from vacation I was singing this tune. Having not heard the song for years, I don’t know inspired me to remember it, but I’m glad I did.

Nonetheless, this single from Nash’s “Songs for Beginners” album met the criteria as it charted at #35. “Chicago” has all sorts of references to the tumultuous times in the Windy City during the late sixties. It references the 1968 Democratic National Convention and the riot incited by the Chicago Eight and their subsequent arrest and trial.

One of the defendants, Bobby Seale, was bound and gagged in the courtroom during the trial because of his frequent outbursts. His experience inspired the opening line, “So your brother’s bound and gagged and they chained him to a chair.” Nash wanted to play a benefit in behalf of the Chicago 8’s defense fund and in the lyrics, he pleads with his Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young bandmates to “please come to Chicago just to sing.”

Although CSN regularly perform the tune in concert, Nash is the only member of CSNY to appear on the studio recording of “Chicago.” Besides providing vocals, he plays guitar, organ, piano, and tambourine. Rita Coolidge, Venetta Fields, Clydie King, and Dorothy Morrison sang the backup lines, “We can change the world.”

Monday, July 28, 2014

J-Man and Keith: 20th Century Boy

Back from a short vacation, I’m ready to rock with “Reading Between the Grooves.” Since today is my father’s birthday, I’ve picked a song that was used in Verizon’s Father’s Day commercial from last month.

Sounding a great deal like T-Rex’s 1973 original recording of “20th Century Boy,” the cover by J-Man and Keith captures the soul of Marc Bolan. The cut was released just weeks before Father’s Day in May 2014.

Original Recording from T-Rex

The original T-Rex recording was originally issued only as a single and did not appear on CD until 1994 when it was added as a bonus track to the 1973 album “Tanx.” The single did quite well in Europe; however, I cannot find any documentation that it was released as such in the US. If it was, it failed to chart.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Dead of Winter - Johnny Winter

I heard the bad news today that one of the great guitarists of all time passed from this life into the next. John Dawson Winter, better known to most of us as Johnny Winter, died yesterday in his Zurich, Switzerland hotel room. Details of the cause of the 70 year-old’s death have not been released.

Winter was a king of the slide guitar – whether he was playing his National Duolian or Tricone resonator models or one of his many Gibson Firebirds, Johnny put many other slide players to shame. While he played other guitars besides Nationals and Firebirds, they were his signature instruments.

Unfortunately, I’ve only seen him play once and that was during the summer of 1977. My brother, bassist friend Nick Brack, and I piled into one of our Chevy Vegas (Chuck and I both had one) and traveled west on the Pennsylvania Turnpike to see Johnny play at Youngstown, Ohio’s Tomorrow Club. It was our mother’s birthday, but we celebrated with Johnny. I hope she has forgiven us after all these years.

Johnny’s playing was unmistakable and his gritty voice was like none other. Prior to going to college, I picked up several of his early albums including “First Winter” on Buddha Records, which Johnny never legitimized. When Johnny began to make noise on the musical scene, one of his early cuts that got airplay was his raucous rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited.”

This classic was issued on his third legitimate album and the second for Columbia appropriately called “Second Winter.” This 1969 album was unique as it was a three-sided LP. I have 15 thousand LPs and believe that it’s the only three-sided album I have. There probably were several others, but I can’t think of any – however I have a number of one sided records in my collection. Really “Second Winter” was a typical double-sided record coupled with a one sided LP.

From a talented family, Johnny and his younger brother Edgar began signing together as children and often collaborated over the years while also pursuing solo careers. The world will miss this gifted musician who was slated to begin a US tour next month. Unfortunately, that won’t happen. Rest in Peace Johnny.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Tommy Ramone Was A Punk Rocker

By the time The Ramones hit the music scene, I had just come off from a long association with progressive rock and had moved into listening to jazz and fusion. The Ramones and other punk rock bands were not my cup of tea at the time; however, I learned to appreciate their simplistic style that invoked their rock ‘n’ roll roots. As Tommy Ramone is credited as saying, their choice of music was “hugely influential blasts of short, aggressive, cartoonishly fast songs.”

Born in Budapest, Hungary as Erdélyi Tamás – a name which he also reversed as Thomas Erdelyi before taking the stage surname Ramone. The Ramone moniker was chosen by the band because Paul McCartney had previously used the pseudonym Paul Ramon early in his career.

Last Friday, Tommy Ramone – the last remaining original member of the band – passed away from bile duct cancer at the age of 65. Because of his disdain for touring, Ramone left his post as the band’s drummer in 1979 shortly after the release of their third album, “Rocket to Russia.”

Ramone served as drummer on the band’s first three albums and the 2003 live release of “NYC 1978.” After leaving the band, he served as producer on 1979’s “It’s Alive” and co-producer of 1984’s “Too Tough to Die.” To add to his resume, Ramone/Erdelyi served as an assistant engineer on Jimi Hendrix’ “Band of Gypsies,” Hendrix’s only album for Capitol Recrods.

To honor the last living original Ramone, I have selected “Sheena is a Punk Rocker” from the last studio album with Tommy Ramone as drummer. It was their second highest charting single; as it placed at #81 on the Hot 100. The song also appeared in the movie “Pet Sematary.”

Rest in Peace Tommy – you’ll be missed.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Year's The Thing: 1921

Our final look at songs with years in the title brings us to an album cut from the very first rock opera: The Who’s “Tommy.” The song “1921” is the third selection on the album. The back story of the song is that Captain Walker, who had been presumed dead, returns from World War I and discovers that his wife moved on with her life with a new lover.

Incensed, Walker kills his rival; however, his young son Tommy (who was born when he was off to war) witnesses the act. The parents tell him “You didn’t hear it”; “You didn’t see it”; and “You won’t say nothing to no one.” Forced into silence, Tommy retreats into his own post-traumatic shell and becomes the deaf, dumb, and blind kid – who later excels at pinball by sense of touch.

Pete Townshend sings lead on “1921” and is joined by Roger Daltry in a duet later during the song’s chorus. While concept albums had been released for several years, “Tommy” introduced the rock opera idea. “Got a feeling '21 is going to be a good year.”

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Year's The Thing: 1900

Probably best known as the label of The Turtles, White Whale Records hit dire financial straits when their flagship act disbanded in 1970. In an effort to reinvigorate sales, White Whale signed Liz Damon’s Orient Express to the label and licensed their recordings from Makaha Records in Hawaii.

This Hawaiian based band fronted by Liz Damon was making waves on the islands, and White Whale hoped to ride the crest to financial stability. Their single “1900 Yesterday” did quite well, as this relatively unknown band was able to land the #33 slot on the Hot 100 in early 1971.

Liz Damon’s Orient Express’ best response came via easy listening audiences where “1900 Yesterday” charted at #4 on that specialized chart. Unfortunately, the album failed to make a dent, as it only peaked at #190. After only two weeks on the album charts, it drifted into nothingness. A follow-up single, “But for Love”/“You Make Me Feel Like Someone,” failed to chart and did not repeat the performance of “1900 Yesterday.”

The album and the two singles were among the final releases for the label. It was essentially too little, too late for White Whale to capitalize on Liz Damon’s only chart success; the label folded in 1971.

That same year, White Whale owners Ted Feigin and Lee Lasseff began another recording venture with Anthem Records. Distributed by United Artists, Anthem was home for a number of White Whale alumni including Liz Damon’s Orient Express. The band, however, never achieved the success that they experienced with “1900 Yesterday.”

Liz Damon’s Orient Express’ version of “1900 Yesterday” was a cover of the original 1969 recording by Betty Everrett. John Cameron wrote the tune for fellow Chicagoan Everrett; however, her version was relegated to the Uni Records’ flipside of “Maybe.” That particular single only made it to #116.

While I prefer Everrett’s soul tinged version, Liz Damon’s cover is the one that is familiar with most audiences. Damon’s recording became an unexpected gift to Cameron who reaped more benefit from her single than did White Whale Records.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Year's The Thing: 1974

Today’s selection is the most recent recording that we’ll feature this week; however, it is not the most recent year, “1974.” Written about the year of Ryan Adams birth, it appears on his 2003 album “Rock N Roll.” The album was released on November 4, 2003 – the day prior to Adams’ 29th birthday. In “1974,” Adams references “just like the day I was born” over and over.

The album did moderately well at the #33 slot; however, “1974” was not released as a single. Adams does all of the guitar work and a good number of other instrumentation on the album. It has been reported that Adams has been temperamental at times and some of that angst comes out in his music. Enjoy.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Year's The Thing: 2001

In 1973, Eumir Deodato’s recording of the song made famous as the theme from “2001: A Space Odyssey” was a colossal success. Not only did “Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001)” make it the number #2 slot on Billboard’s Hot 100, this hit was the Grammy winner for Best Pop Instrumental in 1974.

German Richard Strauss composed the tone poem “Also Sprach Zarathustra” or “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” in 1896. Zarathustra is an alternate name for Zoroaster, the prophet who founded the Old Persian religion Zoroastrianism.

On Deodato’s jazz arrangement, he plays electric piano. Bassist Stanley Clarke and guitarist John Tropea are two of the many talented musicians assembled by producer Creed Taylor to perform on the LP “Prelude.” In addition, “Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001)” was the only hit single for Taylor’s CTI Records label.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Year's The Thing: 1984 (a twofer)

When George Orwell wrote his classic novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” he probably never imagined its impact upon society. The book introduced the idea of “Big Brother,” “newspeak,” “thoughtcrime,” “doublethink,” as well as others into the English language. In fact, dystopian societies as featured in the novel have become known by the eponymous adjective “Orwellian.”

The impact of “Nineteen Eighty-Four” has spread to rock music as well, and today we feature two songs titled as “1984.” The first of these was recorded in 1969 by the band Spirit. Originally issued as a single only release, Spirit’s “1984” was written and sung by lead guitarist Randy California.

Spirit’s “1984” made it to 12-inch disc in 1973 when it appeared on “The Best of Spirit” album. It later was issued as a bonus track on the CD release of Spirit’s third album “Clear.” The single peaked at #69 on the Hot 100.

In 1973, David Bowie began working on a stage musical based on Orwell’s novel; however, George Orwell’s estate would not give permission for its production. The music that Bowie had already recorded in preparation for this work eventually was issued as part of his 1974 “Diamond Dogs” album.

Released as single only in the US, Bowie’s “1984” failed to chart. Its funky, Isaac Hayes inspired, proto-disco production was a new musical direction for Bowie. Unfortunately, “1984” failed to chart.

Alan Parker plays the chunka-chunk, wah-wah guitar that provides the overall base for the song’s production. Ten years later in 1984, Tina Turner recorded her own version of the Bowie classic. Her version is equally as good, but I prefer Bowie’s original.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Year's The Thing: 1969

Sometimes considered a garage band, The Stooges were probably one of the earliest punk-rock outfits and predated that movement in rock by a decade. Today, we turn to the 1969 band’s debut album its lead track, “1969.” While released as an “A” side in other countries, “1969” was issued as the flipside to “I Wanna Be Your Dog.”

Although production credits were given to Velvet Underground member John Cale, the finished product was actually produced by Elektra Records owner Jac Holzman and Stooges’ lead vocalist Iggy Pop who actually remixed the songs rather than use Cale’s original mixes.

Ron Asheton’s guitar work on “1969” got the song listed in Rolling Stone’s “Top 100 Guitar Songs” list. This release sounds more indicative of a recording from 1979 rather than 1969.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Year's The Thing: 1963

It’s the second week of the month and as always, I tried to find a unique topic to promote. This week, “The Year’s the Thing” – songs with years in their titles – is our feature. Unfortunately, some songs you may expect to be featured will not have a presence this week. The obvious omission will be Prince’s “1999” as Warner Brothers will not allow this song to be posted on YouTube. Another possible favorite, Zager and Evans’ “In the Year 2525” was already featured in 2012.

To start us off, the year is “1963” from the English dance band New Order. It was released as the “B” side to the band’s 1987 single “True Faith” and also appeared on the “Substance” album. “True Faith” only made it to #32 on the Hot 100, but was a #3 song on the dance charts. As for “1963,” the protagonist, Johnny, kills his wife so he could marry another woman. It really is a dismal story, but you can obviously dance to this strange little song.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Kim WIlde: Kids In America

Well today is our nation’s birthday and 238 years ago the Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence separating the United States from Great Britain. It is only fitting that we pick a song that mentions America – in fact, its record label, EMI America, has our national identity also in its name.

Interestingly enough, even though Kim Wilde’s “Kids in America” references the US, Wilde is a Brit and EMI Records was a UK owned concern. Released worldwide in 1981 and in the US in 1982, the technopop “Kids in America” did better in other countries than it did in the US.

In fact, the song’s performance in Canada at #34 was worse than its #25 slot in the US. It was a number one hit in Finland and South Africa and a top 5 hit in 10 other countries. I remember playing this on WCIR in Beckley, WV and it produced a lackluster local performance – which was prophetic of its activity across the nation.

Written by Wilde’s brother Ricky and her father Marty, “Kids in America” served as Kim’s introduction to the music scene. Additionally, “Kid’s in America” was remixed and rereleased in 1994, but alas, it failed to chart then as well. In 2006, Wilde rerecorded the song, but did not release it as a single for a third time.

Happy Fourth of July to all the “Kids in America.”

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Who: The Relay

A few years ago when I began this blog, a friend of mine with whom I attended all 12 grades of public school asked me a very personal question, “Who is your favorite band of all time?” To which I replied, “You got that right; The Who is probably my overall favorite band of all time.” Today’s Thirty Something Thursday selection comes from the tail end of 1972: The Who’s “The Relay.”

I remember perusing the singles at Gimbles in the Eastland Shopping Center and spotting “The Relay” by The Who. Like its predecessor “Join Together,” “The Relay” and its unusual flipside “Waspman” were single only releases. Realizing that if I didn’t buy this single, I might be missing out on some Who songs that would be impossible to find once the singles went out of print. I laid down my 89¢ and took these two new songs home.

“The Relay” features three guitars by Pete Townshend. The first one you hear is an electric guitar in the left channel that is being run through a sample and hold voltage control filter of an ARP 2600 synthesizer. This processed guitar gives an authentic feel of a relay switch and, in my opinion, makes the song. In the right channel, Townshend plays acoustic rhythm guitar and an electric that is used for accompaniment and lead.

Piano is also begins in the right channel but pans to the left. As typical, the drums, bass, and lead vocals are in the center. Additionally, the backup vocals are double tracked in both channels. The Who and Glyn Johns did an excellent job in producing this record.

“The Relay” was titled as such in the USA, but not so in the UK where the song was simply “Relay.”

At the time I purchased “The Relay,” I assumed that it was the first Track/Decca release for The Who; however, later runs of “Join Together” had also been issued on Track/Decca as well. My version of that single was from the first run of pressings on the Decca label.

Although previous Track releases by other artists had been issued by Atlantic (The Crazy World of Arthur Brown and Thunderclap Newman), these would be the only two singles issued on Track/Decca. Solo albums by Pete Townshend (“Who Came First”) and John Entwistle (“Whistle Rhymes”) were also released on the Track/Decca label and were that label configuration’s only two 12-inch releases.

By the end of 1972, the Music Corporation of America merged all of its labels into MCA Records. Further releases on Track by The Who (corporately and independently) were issued on Track/MCA. While it only made it to #39, it was a number one record in my heart.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Steve 'n' Seagulls: The Trooper

For today, I’m going to revert back to the Wooden Music Wednesday feature with a little acoustic rock and roll. While Canada has its Wailin’ Jennys, Finland has Steve ‘n’ Seagulls. It’s not often that you find an acoustic rendition of an Iron Maiden tune, but I love Steve ‘n’ Seagulls’ version of the song loosely inspired by “The Charge of the Light Brigade”: “The Trooper.”

Had it not been for my former radio coworker Doug Dillon posting this on Facebook last week, I would have missed this nugget. It features a nice mix of acoustic guitar, mandolin, banjo, bass, and cajon. The instrumentation is great and the vocals pristine. Eddie would be proud.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Elmore James: The Sky Is Crying

From 1951 to 1962, Elmore James recorded 29 singles. Of those, only three charted – and at that, they placed only on the R&B charts. His first two singles, 1951’s “Dust My Broom” and 1952’s “I Believe” both peaked at #9. His only other record to chart was 1960’s “The Sky is Crying,” which made it to the #15 slot.

Known as the “King of the Slide Guitar,” Elmore James and His Broomdusters recorded the impromptu “The Sky is Crying” in 1959 during a Chicago thunderstorm. Credited to “Elmo” James, the single was released in both 78 and 45 formats on the New York based Fire Records. Fire was a sister label to Fury Records and others. Bobby Robinson, who is credited as the producer, owned the label and probably was not present for the Chicago recording session.

James was known to record for several labels. How he achieved the unique sound on his slide guitar on “The Sky is Crying” has been debated since the record was released in March 1960. The Broomdusters who provide the backup include the following: Homesick James on bass, Odie Payne on drums, Johnny Jones on piano, and J.T. Brown on sax. Good stuff for a Bluesday Tuesday.

James died in Chicago at the age of 45 of a heart attack in 1963.