Ryley Walker is a Chicago based guitarist and songwriter that is known for his interest in an eclectic mix of musical styles – including folk, rock and jazz. He developed a finger picking style of playing guitar along the lines of predecessors such as John Fahey and John Martyn.
Today’s SotW is “The Halfwit in Me” from Walker’s third LP Golden Sings That Have Been Sung.
“Halfwit…” is 6 minutes of breezy, guitar-based music that reflects all the influences referenced above. It harkens back to some of Tim Buckley’s jazzier recordings. But it doesn’t stay in one place for the entire 6 minutes. It meanders into some very unexpected places. The surprises are what infuses it with charm and prevents it from becoming a bore.
Lyrically, the song is full of clever wordplay:
Go on ahead Build another home For lean mean eaters Everything but the bone Call yourself lucky, we never use the phone
Walker was quoted in MOJO saying “Halfwit…” is “still the coolest song I’ve ever written.” I agree. But that doesn’t mean you should stop here. Go ahead and stream more of his music to delve deeper into the catalog of an important new artist.
When I was in college there was a running battle between my roommates and me regarding our tastes, or lack thereof, in music. They called me a wimp for liking the art-pop of 10cc and I criticized their lack of musical sophistication because one of their favorite bands was Black Sabbath. Today I better understand there’s room for both — no shaming necessary
One of today’s SotW is “I’m Not in Love,” by 10cc. While this isn’t a typical SotW selection – it was 10cc’s most popular hit – I’ve selected it because it is part of a segue I played a couple of times when I had a radio show at WZBC.
“I’m No in Love” in anchored by the “heartbeat” that starts the song. But it is most notable for the multitracked vocals that give it its unique character. Wikipedia has a vivid description of the process:
Stewart spent three weeks recording Gouldman, Godley and Creme singing “ahhh” 16 times for each note of the chromatic scale, building up a “choir” of 48 voices for each note of the scale. The main problem facing the band was how to keep the vocal notes going for an infinite length of time, but Creme suggested that they could get around this issue by using tape loops. Stewart created loops of about 12 feet in length by feeding the loop at one end though the tape heads of the stereo recorder in the studio, and at the other end through a capstan roller fixed to the top of a microphone stand, and tensioned the tape. By creating long loops the ‘blip’ caused by the splice in each tape loop could be drowned out by the rest of the backing track, providing that the blips in each loop did not coincide with each other. Having created twelve tape loops for each of the 12 notes of the chromatic scale, Stewart played each loop through a separate channel of the mixing desk. This effectively turned the mixing desk into a musical instrument complete with all the notes of the chromatic scale, which the four members together then “played”, fading up three or four channels at a time to create “chords” for the song’s melody. Stewart had put gaffer’s tape across the bottom of each channel so that it was impossible to completely fade down the tracks for each note, resulting in the constant background hiss of vocals heard throughout the song.
Lyrically, the singer says “I’m not in love” but goes on to make it clear that he couldn’t live without his lover:
I’m not in love, no no, it’s because
I like to see you But then again That doesn’t mean you mean that much to me So if I call you Don’t make a fuss Don’t tell your friends about the two of us
Now imagine as the song is ending, and the voices and “heartbeat” swell to a climax, it fades into “She’s Gone” by Hall & Oates.
“She’s Gone” also begins with an instrumental introduction that has a pulsating heartbeat and “oohs” sung in harmony.
“She’s Gone” is one of the best examples of blue eyed soul ever recorded. It is right up there with the Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling” and anything by the Rascals.
Much credit should be given to Arif Mardin for his stellar production work and the string and horn arrangements he devised to complement the song. Joe Farrell’s tenor sax solo is a thing of beauty.
Musically, “I’m Not in Love” and “She’s Gone” mix as perfectly as gin and tonic. But thematically they are also similar. “She’s Gone” is also a heartbreak song. The singer is trying to figure out how he’s going to be able to carry on now that it’s clear his woman has left him for good.
Everybody’s high on consolation Everybody’s trying to tell me what is right for me, yeah My daddy tried to bore me with a sermon But it’s plain to see that they can’t comfort me
Sorry, Charlie, for the imposition I think I got it (got it), I got the strength to carry on, oh yeah I need a drink and a quick decision Now it’s up to me, ooh, what will be
If you can find a way to play these two songs together, with a fade out between (I think you can do that on iTunes), you’ll never hear them the same way again!
It seems to be the fashion to knock the music streaming services, although not with you guys which is good. I have Spotify but I rarely listen because of the commercials. I already pay to have no commercials on Pandora, and since I have no serious complaints with Pandora I figured why pay twice? Indeed, almost all the great songs I’ve discovered in the last ten years I first heard on Pandora. When you subscribe for a long time and are specific in creating your “stations,” you WILL hear great music new to you. You can create stations based on genres, which is dumb and you’ll get dumb if you do, or you can use artists, which is good as long as you don’t get too broad like Rolling Stones Radio. And you can use songs, which is often what I do. These are my stations:
That Great Love Sound (Raveonettes)
X Offender (Blondie)
New York Dolls
Viginia Plain (Roxy Music)
The Kids Are Alright (Who)
Lee “Scratch” Perry
You’re Gonna Miss Me (13th Floor Elevators)
Rock and Roll Sinners (The Pillows)
Don’t Let The Green Grass Fool You (Wilson Pickett)
Finger Poppin Time (Hank Ballard/Midnighters)
Halfacre Gunroom (punk/country band)
The Senders (NYC R&B)
Jeepster (T Rex)
Of those stations, I had never heard of The Pillows, The Raveonettes, or Halfacre Gunroom until Pandora. And damn right the algorithm knows what to do with them.
I put it on mix and if I don’t want to hear a particular song I am virtually assured that I will love the next one. Turns out there is quite a bit of good new music out there. Of course it helps that I consider anything less than 20 years old as new – you know you’re old when you see nostalgia for Y2K. But anyway, this came up on my X Offender station. It’s got a boatload of influences but what it really really has is a killer chorus. Anybody know this babe, Santogold?
Serge Gainsbourg was a French Renaissance man. He made his mark in music (singer, composer, pianist, guitarist) and film (screenwriter, director, actor) but he was also a writer, poet and artist.
In the music world, his most renowned work was the 1971 concept album, Histoire de Melody Nelson. In seven tracks over about 28 minutes, the album tells the story of a middle-aged man that crashes his car into a 15 year old girl, Melody Nelson, on her bicycle. The accident leads to seduction and an affair. Eventually Melody meets her demise in a plane crash.
Today’s SotW is the album’s opener, “Melody.”
This is an astounding piece of music. It combines a rock guitar with a funky bass and an orchestral string arrangement. Gainsbourg’s vocal is more spoken than sung, like many of Leonard Cohen’s recordings. The track as a whole is simply mesmerizing.
The link below to a blog post by YellowOnline provides more detail about the album and handy translations of the French lyrics into English.
Histoire de Melody Nelson has influenced many other musicians, including Michael Stipe (R.E.M.), Portishead and Stereolab. Beck found inspiration from Histoire… for his own “Paper Tiger” on his breakup album, Sea Change. Histoire… was also cited by Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys as an inspiration for their recent album Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino.
Today’s SotW is squarely in the category of “restored” songs.
I recently picked up a very large box of 45’s of rock and soul music from the ‘60s, gifted to me by my second cousin Donna. I had as blast looking through them, organizing them, and playing a few as I went along.
I picked up a 7 incher on the Wand label called “My Pledge of Love” by The Joe Jeffrey Group. What is this, I thought to myself. I dropped the needle and recognized it immediately. I have to admit, I don’t think I ever knew who the artist was, but the song I couldn’t forget!
So I did some research for you and here’s what I found:
The Joe Jeffrey (born Joseph Stafford Jr.) Group was an R&B outfit based in Cleveland, Ohio and took “My Pledge of Love” to #14 in the Billboard Hot 100 in 1969.
The song is driven by a relentless rhythm guitar and, of course, Jeffrey’s powerful vocal performance.
Partway through (at about 1:35) Jeffrey starts to riff on the Four Tops’ “Baby I Need Your Loving,” a song that had hit the charts 5 years earlier, in 1964. But making a musical reference to a Motown hit could never hurt.
Despite that reference, this song strikes me as more of a rock song than soul number. The buying public in 1969 must have felt the same way. “My Pledge of Love” failed place on the Billboard soul chart!
I’m posting today from Newburgh, New York – my hometown – which makes today’s SotW especially appropriate.
When I was a kid, growing up in Newburgh, my dad owned and operated a roller skating rink called the Avalon. Occasionally the building would be used to promote special events like professional wrestling (I remember Bruno Sammartino, Haystacks Calhoun and Gorilla Monsoon) and concerts.
The most famous person to perform at the Avalon was Johnny Cash. In my adult life I was able to find references to his gig there on November 13, 1964, but I’ve never been able to find any memorabilia from the event. I’ve scoured the internet for a poster, a bill or a newspaper ad for the show and always came up empty. But I recently found these:
It turns out Cash did two shows that night – 7:00 and 9:30. In November ’64, he would have been at the tail end of promoting his I Walk the Line album (released in May 1964) and starting to promote Bitter Tears (October 1964).
One of the songs he must have played would have been “Understand Your Man” which held the #1 spot on the Billboard Country Charts for six weeks in the spring of ‘64.
As you listen to “Understand…” you will undoubtedly hear the resemblance to Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.” This should be no surprise. Cash and Dylan were connected from the earliest days. They both listened to and respected each other’s music. They first met at the Gaslight in 1963 and again at the Newport Folk Festival in 1964.
Cash openly admitted morphing “Don’t’ Think Twice…” into “Understand…” He kept most of the melody, and lyrically turned another one of Dylan’s many put down songs into a Cash styled “my way or the highway” rant.
But the story goes even further. Dylan’s song is itself a variation of a folk song by Paul Clayton called “Who´s Gonna Buy You Ribbons When I´m Gone” from 1960. If you have any doubt about it listen to the lyrics to Clayton’s recording that contains the lines “T’ain’t no use to sit and wonder why, darlin” and “So I’m walkin’ down that long, lonesome road/You’re the one that made me travel on.”
And you can take that a step further – Clayton’s recording was an adaptation of a public domain folk song called “Who’s Gonna Buy You Chickens When I’m Gone,”
You can check them out on to decide for yourself if the lineage holds up.
Apparently there is a recording of a medley Cash and Dylan did of their two songs. I have a bootleg of their session together but it doesn’t include the medley. Darn!
“Understand Your Man” was the last song Cash ever performed in public, at the Carter Family Fold, Hiltons, VA on July 5, 2003.
As I write this I’m aware the 50 years ago today, the Beatles were in Abbey Road Studios recording The Beatles, better known as the White Album. Recording of The Beatles would eventually be completed on October 14th and it would be released on November 22, 1968, just in time to be placed under the Christmas tree for millions of adoring fans.
I love the White Album and will probably post about it again before the end of the year. But I’ll start with today’s observation that it is the Beatles’ animals album. Well what the hell does that mean?
There are four songs on the album that specifically mention an animal in the title:
Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey
Martha My Dear was written about Paul’s sheep dog, but does not explicitly mention it in the lyrics. However, there are several other songs that do mention animals in the lyrics. “He went out tiger hunting with his elephant and gun…” “She’s well acquainted with the touch of the velvet hand like a lizard on a window pane…” And several more. Go find them.
Today’s SotW are the three that were presented all in a row on Side 2.