Song of the Week – Autumn Song, Van Morrison

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

Back in the early ‘70s I would scour the “cut out” bins for discounted records wherever they were sold.  If you knew what you were doing you could pick up some real bargains – often albums by great artists that were overstocked because they didn’t meet sales expectations, for whatever reason.

I distinctly remember scoring The Great Lost Kinks Album and Van Morrison’s Hard Nose the Highway, both released in 1973.  They are both excellent albums that are considered minor efforts in each artists’ catalog.

Earlier this year, MOJO magazine published an article entitled “20 Unloved Albums… and Why We Love Them.”  Hard Nose… was one of them.  The article points out that upon release the record suffered mostly negative reviews.  The most scathing may have been from Charlie Gillett.  MOJO reports Gillett criticizing Morrison for “’flabby’ lyrics, ‘boring vocal[s]’ and ‘lack of … melodic focus.’”  According to Wikipedia, Robert Christgau rated the album a B-, and Rolling Stone reviewer Dave Marsh called it “a failed sidestep, a compromise between the visionary demands of Morrison’s work and his desire for a broad-based audience” and gave it only one star.

But MOJO also pointed out that Lester Bangs wrote that it had an “entire side of songs about falling leaves.”  I’m not sure if that was meant as a compliment, but it is certainly accurate.  And that leads me to today’s SotW – “Autumn Song.”

“Autumn Song” is my favorite cut from HNtH.  The song is a 10+ minute exercise in autumnal mindfulness.  Close your eyes, clear you mind, and roll with his honied, ecstatic excursion through the simple joys of life.

Little stroll past the house on the hill
Some more coal on the fire will do well
And in a week or two it’ll be Halloween
Set the page and the stage for the scene

Little game the children will play
And as we watch them while time away
Look at me and take my breath away

You can almost see and hear the leaves falling.

Leaves of brown they fall to the ground
And it’s here, over there leaves around
Shut the door, dim the lights and relax
What is more, your desire or the facts

Pitter patter the rain falling down
Little glamor sun coming round
Take a walk when autumn comes to town

Jef Labes’ piano trills and John Platania’s guitar fills perfectly compliment the melody and sentiment of the song.  And, as usual, Van’s singing is superb.  About halfway through Van starts to riff on the lyrics in a sort of stream of consciousness that evolves into a melodic “da da, da da da, dah da-da” then back into the riffing through to the end.

The imagery is so vibrant that you might assume the song was written and recorded in New England.  But the album was recorded at a studio he had built near a home he once owned in Fairfax, California.

Hard Nose the Highway?  Unloved no more.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Black Cloud, Trapeze

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

Trapeze was a ‘70s British blues rock band that was led by Glenn Hughes (lead vocals, guitar), Mel Galley (guitar, primary songwriter), and Dave Holland (drums).  Aside from the success these musicians had together in Trapeze, each burnished their artistic pedigree with other prominent heavy metal bands – Hughes with Deep Purple and Black Sabbath, Galley with Whitesnake, and Holland with Judas Priest.

To my ear Trapeze sounds more like Free, cousin Bad Company, or maybe Humble Pie, than any of those harder rock bands that the members graduated to.  Take, for instance, today’s SotW – “Black Cloud” — from the second Trapeze album, Medusa (1970).

The song blasts off with a heavy, electric guitar riff, then transitions into the acoustic guitar driven verse.  By the time the chorus comes around the fuzz is back with a cowbell emphasizing every beat.

Hughes delivers an especially soulful performance on “Black Cloud.”  Galley delivers a funky blues rock boogie to drive it.  Drummer Holland holds it all together.  The Trapeze power trio — a very popular format in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s — proves that it could be very powerful and effective.  Though they’re no equivalent to the Jimi Hendrix Experience or Cream, they can run with Mountain or Grand Funk.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Tell Me All the Things You Do, Fleetwood Mac

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

I recently learned that Danny Kirwan, one time guitarist and songwriter for an early version of Fleetwood Mac, died last June.  I was very surprised that I missed the announcement of that news until now.

Fleetwood Mac has been around since 1967 but many fans are only familiar with the band as it has been constituted since Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined in 1975 and released a string of major hit singles and albums including Fleetwood Mac, Rumours and Tusk.

But the history of the band is way more complicated than that, having gone through at least 3 or 4 other major phases before the Buckingham/Nicks formation.  You can read a summary on Wikipedia, but he best way to get a comprehensive, thumbnail appreciation of the various personnel combinations of the band is through a copy of Pete Frame’s Rock Family Trees.

But back to Kirwan…  He joined the band after they released their second album, as their 18 year old, third guitarist.  (Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer were the other two.)  Kirwan had built a reputation as a guitarist for his ability to play a pure vibrato.

The first single Mac released with Kirwan on it was their signature “Albatross” (UK #1).  Band leader, and guitar hero Green said of Kirwan’s contribution to the recording, “If it wasn’t for Danny, I would never had had a number one hit record.” 

By 1970, Green had left the band, so Kirwan and Spencer soldiered on.  The first release without him was the band’s fourth — Kiln House – that contains today’s SotW, ““Tell Me All the Things You Do.”

“Tell Me…”, a jaunty rocker, showcases Kirwan’s guitar playing and also features him on lead vocal.

Unfortunately, Kirwan’s later life became another sad story of a famous rock star that ended in years of destitution.  In 1993, The Independent reported that he was found sleeping on a park bench and sometimes living in St Mungo’s – a homeless shelter in West London.  He later found his was to a South London care home where he died in his sleep, aged 68, of pneumonia.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – The Halfwit in Me, Ryley Walker

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

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.

Enjoy… until next week.

Weird Part of the Night, Louis Cole

I learned about Louis Cole today. He’s a drummer, and a singer, and apparently a night owl who can splay with the best of them.

I’ve got no argument this is great in any genre I know, but I’m old and for new music this seems awfully personal, catchy, not derivative, and maybe too slick.

Think Beck’s Midnite Vultures.

A different kind of blue-eyed soul.

Song of the Week – I’m Not in Love, 10cc & She’s Gone, Hall & Oates

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

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 Not 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!

Enjoy… until next week.

Good Song, New To Me

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

Howlin Wolf

Viginia Plain (Roxy Music)

The Kids Are Alright (Who)

The Marvelettes

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)

Mike DeVille

Gimme Shelter

The Senders (NYC R&B)

Jeepster (T Rex)

Johnny Thunders

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?

Song of the Week – Melody, Serge Gainsbourg

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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.

YellowOnline – Histoire de Melody Nelson

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 ChangeHistoire… was also cited by Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys as an inspiration for their recent album Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino.

Enjoy… until next week.