Song of the Week – Famous Blue Raincoat, Leonard Cohen

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Perhaps my all-time favorite Leonard Cohen song, among so many worthy possibilities, is “Famous Blue Raincoat.”

The lyric is written in the form of a letter; where the letter writer confronts another guy (a friend?) about his affair with the writer’s wife.

It’s four in the morning, the end of December
I’m writing you now just to see if you’re better
New York is cold, but I like where I’m living
There’s music on Clinton Street all through the evening

And you treated my woman to a flake of your life
And when she came back she was nobody’s wife

What can I tell you my brother, my killer
What can I possibly say?
I guess that I miss you, I guess I forgive you
I’m glad you stood in my way

To make the lyrics all the more interesting, Cohen sings many of the lines using the rhythmic pattern called amphibrach.  Amphibrach is where one long syllable is placed between two shorts syllables.  Listen closely and you will pick up on it very quickly.

“Famous Blue Raincoat” is another wonderful song on which string arranger Paul Buckmaster – most well-known for his work with Elton John — lent his talents.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week Revisited – Hope She’ll Be Happier, Bill Withers

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Today I learned that the great Bill Withers died at the age of 81. His family released a statement that said it was due to heart complications. At least it wasn’t Coronavirus related! In his honor I’d like to repost a SotW that I wrote about him on December 22, 2012.

I’ve always loved the Bill Withers’ song “Hope She’ll Be Happier” that was on his first album Just as I Am.  So without a lot of fanfare, here it is:

This album is the one with “Ain’t No Sunshine” on it.  It’s really a very good record with some great musical accompaniment from the Memphis boys down at Stax records and other top notch players like Stephen Stills, Jim Keltner and Chris Ethridge.

The song is very simple – a nice guitar figure is repeated over a passionate vocal delivered in the style of a black spiritual.  The lyric is about a man who is in great pain over losing his woman.  He can’t quite come to grips with the reason she left but hopes she will ultimately be happier with the new guy.

This song leaves me in the same emotional state I find myself in after hearing Leonard Cohen’s “Halleluiah” – especially the wonderful Jeff Buckley version.

Now there’s one more thing I need to share and that’s the version Withers’ recorded in Africa when he visited with the James Brown headlined 3 day festival that came to be known as “The Rumble In the Jungle.”  The 1974 concert is available on DVD under the title Soul Power.  Withers’ performance of “Hope She’ll Be Happier” at this concert will take your breath away.

In this version it’s just him, his guitar and his voice.  But it’s powerful.

Enjoy… until next week.

Extra Song of the Week – Stacy’s Mom, Fountains of Wayne

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This “extra” Song of the Week is to recognize the passing of Adam Schlesinger, of the US power pop band Fountains of Wayne, due to COVID-19 complications.  He was 52.

Schlesinger co-wrote and played bass on the band’s biggest hit – “Stacy’s Mom” (2003).

“Stacy’s Mom” was accompanied by a terrific video starring model Rachel Hunter, which depicts a young boy’s lust for his girlfriend’s mother.  It’s not as sophisticated as “Mrs. Robinson”, but it is a lot more innocent and fun.  It’s a power-pop classic!

Schlesinger also wrote the Oscar nominated title track for the 1997 Tom Hanks film That Thing You Do!.  Interesting, then, that Hanks also tested positive for Coronavirus, although he has recovered.

Stay home, listen to more music, stay safe.

Enjoy… until Saturday.

Do You Want an Old Album to Listen to Today?

This is one you may not have heard of. Or may have forgotten. The Golden Palominos were a working outfit from 1981 to 2012, when their last record came out. Their first album was a work of No Wave, a punk jazz fusion thing that highlighted bandleader Anton Fier’s massive drumming, and lots of skronking and wailing by downtown notables like John Zorn, Aarto Lindsey, Fred Frith, and bassist Bill Laswell, who played with the band consistently. I’m not impugning the first album, but like much of No Wave, the joys are hard earned. Worthwhile? Probably, but it is on their second album that Golden Palominos became music for minds like mine. This is a great rock record. For one thing it features guest vocals by Michael Stipe, John Lydon, and Jack Bruce. It has a cover of Skip Spence’s Omaha. Richard Thompson plays guitar. Carla Bley plays organ on Buenos Aires. And it introduces us to Syd Straw, who in subsequent permutations became one of the Palominos’s front people. I only saw them once, on stage at Studio 54, with the great Ordinaires opening for them. But this is a record that is heavy, jazzy, poppy, full of songwriters and singers, with great playing and a killer rhythm section. Try it out.

Song of the Week – Radar Love, Golden Earring; Born to Be Wild, Steppenwolf

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What’s your favorite “speeding ticket” song?  You know, that song you hear in the car that pumps you up and turns your foot into lead without you even realizing it.  You look down at your speedometer and you’re driving waaaay over the speed limit!

But besides the song provoking an adrenaline rush, I also want my speeding ticket songs to have an emotional or conceptual connection driving and speed.  I have two favorites that meet the criteria.  The first is “Radar Love” by Golden Earring.

I’ve been drivin’ all night, my hand’s wet on the wheel
There’s a voice in my head that drives my heel
It’s my baby callin’, says I need you here
And it’s a half past four and I’m shiftin’ gear

“Radar Love” was on an album called Moontan, that had its original cover banned because it had a semi-nude, feather dancer on it.  It is now a collectors’ item.  (I own a copy!)  It was replaced with a picture of a… golden earring.

Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild” has the same effect on me.

Get your motor runnin’
Head out on the highway
Lookin’ for adventure
And whatever comes our way

… and the track uses the phrase “heavy metal” and is credited with inspiring rock critic Lester Bangs to use it to describe a genre of music.  Heavy metal music is now a common term in our lexicon.

I like smoke and lightning
Heavy metal thunder
Racin’ with the wind
And the feelin’ that I’m under

The song’s placement in a road scene in the classic movie Easy Rider nails it as the perfect road song.

What is your favorite speeding ticket song?

Enjoy… until next week.

Jerry Lee Lewis, Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)

The song was written by Mickey Newbury, a famed Nashville songwriter, supposedly about the LSD experience. What I learned today is that while it was made into a hit by The First Edition, the first version was by Jerry Lee Lewis, who always rocks.
One of the commentators on the above clip said to look for the Mickey Newbury version. Why not?

Song of the Week – Infinite Soul, Grip Weeds

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When the New Jersey-based Grip Weeds released their 15 song “Best of” compilation, they named it after their best song – “Infinite Soul.”

The Grip Weeds are a favorite of Little Steven Van Zandt and his Underground Garage.  Their influences are as clear as a window washed with Windex – British invasion mainstays The Beatles (the band is named after John Lennon’s character, Musketeer Gripweed, from the movie How I Won the War), Kinks, Who and Zombies.  And any of myriad other bands that have jangly guitars (Big Star, Byrds, Smithereens) and psychedelic inclinations (Buffalo Springfield, Jefferson Airplane, Yardbirds).

The core of the band consists of siblings Kurt (vocals, drums) and Rick (vocals, guitars) Reil, and Kristin Pinell (guitars, vocals).  The brothers write most of their originals, but the band has recorded many covers too.

If you read my missives regularly, you may recall my affection for songs that feature the electric sitar.  “Infinite Soul” features one of the best electric sitar solos I’ve heard.

The Grip Weeds still perform, but mostly just in NJ.  So, if you’re in the tri-state area, keep an eye open for their tour dates and go to check them out.

Enjoy… until next week.

Kenny Rogers is dead.

I can remember the first time I heard Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town. I was in the Grand Union supermarket in Smithtown NY. My memory is that I was buying a box of a new popcorn product that came in a black box (radical design back then) with lots of smart-alecky copy on it, but I can’t recall the product name (turns out Smartfood wasn’t introduced until 1985) and who really knows. But the song is a fact. It’s really an amazing song, catchy, spare, with a narrative that his expansive, as much not said as is said and implied, almost epic yet also close up and exact. Kenny Rogers didn’t write it, Mel Tillis did, and Waylon Jennings first recorded it in 1966, but it was Rogers and The First Edition who made it a hit in 1969.
Ruby wasn’t The First Edition’s first hit. That was Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Is In), which is a pretty excellent example of commercial garage rock. Moyer would note the excellent face-making of the guitarist during his solo, and the excellent chops of the tambourine player.
The First Edition eventually broke up and Rogers went on to have a long career as a MOR singer, bit actor, award-winning celebrity. His two No. 1 songs were Lady and Islands in the Stream, the latter with Dolly Parton. He also sang on We Are the World, for what it’s worth. He died earlier this week.

Song of the Week – Lights Out, Jerry Byrne

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I had plans to go back to New Orleans – one of my favorite cities – for the French Quarter Festival in April.  But yesterday they announced that it would be postponed until October.  :^(

To help get me psyched for the Fest, I read the most important book to document the historical importance of New Orleans to the early development of R&B and Rock and Roll in the ‘50s and ’60.  Rhythm & Blues In New Orleans was written in 1974 by Brit John Broven, an authority on the subject of Louisiana music.

The book told a story about a white artist that recorded in Cosimo Matassa’s studio in New Orleans named Jerry Byrne.  I’d never heard of him, so I had to check out his most popular song – “Lights Out” (1958).

How is it that I have not heard of this song before now?  This kicks ass!!!  It has everything you could want in a rockabilly song – A wild vocal, a honking sax (played by Harold Battiste), and a killer piano solo pounded out by Art Neville (of the Neville Brothers).  As accurately summarized by Broven, it “contains all the power, energy and excitement that is the essence of rock ‘n roll.”

The track was co-written by Seth David and Mac Rebennack (Dr. John) who was Byrne’s cousin!

And the lyrics have the rebellious attitude that is essential for early rock songs.  It opens like this:

Standin’ on my front porch Grabbed her and I kissed her Boy was I surprised when I saw her little sister Lights out, lights out I’m glad now the lights were out Sister knows more about What to do when the lights go out Mother looked at me She was a-peepin’ through the window The way she looked at me Boy, I thought I was a sinner

“Lights Out” was popular regionally but never found a national audience.  How did that happen?  It shouldda been a hit!

I hope you’re as happy as I am to have discovered this classic, early rock song.  It will be on many of my playlists in the future.

Enjoy… until next week.