Song of the Week – Say It & The Slummer the Slum, “5” Royales

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The earliest history of Rock and Roll covers the period when Alan Freed coined the term for the R&B records he was playing for teenagers in Cleveland on WJW radio.  And one of the most important R&B groups of that era was the “5” Royales.  The group was led by songwriter/guitarist Lowman “Pete” Pauling, who penned songs that would remain important for many decades, including:

Think – also recorded by James Brown and Mick Jagger

Dedicated to the One I Love – Shirelles and Mamas and Papas

Tell the Truth – Ray Charles and Ike & Tina Turner

But besides being a great songwriter, Loman was a terrific early electric guitar player.  I wanted to select a song that would highlight his playing, so I’ve chosen one of the group’s lesser known records, “Say It.”

“Say It” follows a predictable R&B formula, with piano triplets leading the way.  But its fuzzed out licks probably influenced more than a few ‘60s garage band guitarists.  Check out the insane riffs that open and end “Say It!”

Another, more popular “5” Royales track that features Lowman’s Les Paul is “The Slummer the Slum.”

Lowman’s guitar stabs are the prototype for Steve Cropper’s approach on Booker T & the MGs’ “Green Onions.”  Then at about 40 seconds, Lowman rips off a wild solo and does it again at around 1:35.

If you haven’t had exposure to Pauling beyond this post, please read the excellent article by Lisa O’donnell from his hometown Winston-Salem Journal.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Harmony Hall, Vampire Weekend

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Well, we’ve reached December and the year-end is right around the corner.  For me, that means it is time to start thinking about my favorite songs and albums of the year.

An easy call for me is to include Vampire Weekend’s 2019 release, Father of the Bride.  I’m sure I’m not alone.  After waiting 6 years for this long-player, their fans were starving for some new music from the group.  I remember going onto Spotify that May day it was released and seeing that several of the friends I follow were all listening to it simultaneously.

I wanted to make a cut from Father of the Bride a SotW earlier in the year, but I couldn’t decide which song to pick.  Would it be “This Life,” or maybe “Sunflower?”  I’m going to go with the first single they dropped from the album – “Harmony Hall.”

This track is 5 minutes of crisp, clean music that exudes a Grateful Dead, jam band vibe – especially with the guitar figure that starts around 3:45.  They even make judicious use of the vibraslap.

The lyrics are vague and could be interpreted in many ways.  To me, the lyrics evoke societal frustrations, but vocalist Ezra Koenig delivers them with an optimistic tone.

Anger wants a voice / Voices wanna sing

Singers harmonize / Till they can’t hear anything

I thought that I was free / From all that questionin’

But every time a problem ends / Another one begins

I don’t want to live like this / But I don’t want to die

On a side note, last year Koenig had a kid with Rashida Jones (daughter of Peggy Lipton and Quincy Jones) of The Office and Parks and Recreation.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Shine On, Humble Pie

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In October, Peter Frampton officially retired, wrapping up his “Finale: The Farewell Tour” in nearby Concord, CA.  Sadly, the underrated guitarist was motivated to undertake a final tour because he has been battling a degenerative muscle disease – inclusion-body myositis – that would eventually rob him of his ability to perform.

Most famous for his mega-sales, live double album, Frampton Comes Alive! (1976), Frampton deserves recognition for so much more.

Frampton started to play in bands when he was only 12 years old.  By the time he was 16, he was recording with The Herd.

When Steve Marriott, of The Small Faces, formed Humble Pie in 1969, Frampton was recruited to be in that band’s original line-up.  Frampton joined Humble Pie, in part to escape the teen idol image he was tagged with as the frontman for The Herd.  He stayed with the band until 1971 when the development of his softer, pop songwriting didn’t fit in with Marriott’s more hard-rocking vision.

Today’s SotW, “Shine On,” is a good example of that quandary.

“Shine On” is the lead track from Humble Pie’s fourth album, Rock On (1971).  The heavy guitar combined with a keen pop sensibility of “Shine On” point toward the songs that would make Frampton an international superstar later in the decade with hits like “Show Me the Way” and “Baby, I Love Your Way.”  He delivers a terrific, soulful vocal too.

It was fitting that Frampton chose to close out his career in northern California.  His high watermark, Frampton Comes Alive!, was recorded primarily at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Sayonara, Akiko Yano

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Back in the mid-‘70s, a 21-year-old, Japanese jazz pianist, Akiko Yano, was in the midst of recording her first solo album with the Japanese group Caramel Mama, when someone suggested she work with some western rock musicians.

She liked the idea… if she could work with an American rock group that she really adored – Lowell George’s Little Feat.  Little Feat agreed to the gig and met her at Hollywood Sound Studio in Los Angeles for the recording session.

The resulting album, Japanese Girl (1976), has Little Feat on side 1 and her Japanese accompanists on side 2.  My pick for the SotW is “Sayonara.”

“Sayonara” immediately grabs you with its sexy, funky groove.  MOJO’s Jim Irvin writes:

The album opens, paradoxically, with Sayonara, introduced by what sounds like the unmistakable New Orleans lope of Bill Payne’s piano.  Except that it’s Akiko who plays all the keyboards on the record.  Halfway through, the song dissolves into a scat vocal segment, jazzy piano leads into a dreamlike jam and climaxes with the band going full tilt as Akiko hits long, siren-like notes on the synthesizer.  You’re immediately aware this record isn’t going down any expected path…”

At the time, Yano didn’t speak English (and Little Feat didn’t speak Japanese), but they clearly had no problem communicating musically.

If you’re a Little Feat fan (and who isn’t!) you will love this hidden gem that has been recently released outside of Japan for the first time.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Not, Big Thief

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I read some very favorable reviews of the fourth album (and second released in 2019) – Two Hands – by the Brooklyn based band, Big Thief, so I decided to give it a listen.  Singer Adrianne Lenker’s breathy vocals are very pretty, but after several cuts, nothing was really grabbing me.

Then the seventh song, “Not,” came on and I was hooked.  And it is worthy to be featured as the SotW.

Instead of the “indie-Americana” (I just made that up) that describes most of Big Thief’s material, this track veers off into a cacophony of grungy guitar distortion – and I mean that in the best way.  Neil Young would approve!

The “negativity” of the lyrics is complemented and reinforced by the noisy accompaniment.

It’s not the room
Not beginning
Not the crowd
Not winning
Not the planet
That’s spinning
Not a ruse
Not heat
Not the fire lapping up the creek
Not food
That you eat

Keep an eye on Big Thief.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Running Scared, Roy Orbison; Beck’s Bolero, Jeff Beck; White Rabbit, Jefferson Airplane; The Bomber: Closet Queen / Bolero / Cast Your Fate to the Wind, James Gang

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In 1927, Joseph Ravel was commissioned to compose his final and most famous piece – Boléro.  Though most people know Bolero as a musical composition, the commission was originally to provide a score for Ida Rubinstein’s ballet company.  But Boléro has become most famous as the score to a different dance.  (More on that later.)

Is the SotW venturing into classical music?  Hell no!  There are quite a few notable rock songs that reference Boléro, and that’s today’s topic.

Roy Orbison (aka “Lefty Wilbury”) is often credited as the first rock musician to use the Boléro theme in a rock song – “Running Scared” (1961).

“… Scared” opens with a simple guitar strumming, then builds with each verse, much like Ravel’s piece.  All of the instruments are layered on, piece by piece, building to an immense climax.  It is also notable that the song has no chorus.

In 1966 Jeff Beck, soon after leaving the Yardbirds, decided to record his first single and called on his old friend Jimmy Page to help out.  They proceeded to lay down “Beck’s Boléro,” which would become the b-side to the “Hi Ho Silver Lining” single.

They called on John Paul Jones to play bass and Keith Moon for drums.  Page agreed to play 12-string electric rhythm so Beck could take on lead guitar responsibilities.

The Jefferson Airplane hired Grace Slick to replace Signe Anderson as their lead singer in 1966. Slick brought a couple of her own songs to the group, including the Boléro based classic, “White Rabbit.”

“White Rabbit” reached #8 on the Billboard pop chart in 1967.  The military march that ties back to Ravel’s Bolero is immediately recognizable.  The song is currently featured in an ad for a cruise line!  Ugh!!!

Joe Walsh, of the James Gang (and later Eagles), was also influenced by Boléro.  The Gang’s second album, Rides Again (1970), included a suite — “The Bomber: Closet Queen”/ “Bolero”/ “Cast Your Fate to the Wind.”

The rights holders to Ravel’s Boléro objected to the James Gang’s use of the composition in their recording and forced the band to delete that section from future pressings of the album, instantly creating a collector’s item.

Ravel’s Bolero received a boost in popularity in 1979 when it was featured in the movie 10.  In the movie, Bo Derek’s character (physically a perfect “10”) tells Dudley Moore’s character “Boléro was the most descriptive sex music ever written” and asks “Did you ever do it to Ravel’s Boléro?”  Millions of copies of Boléro were sold following the commercial success of 10.

In 2012, London based music psychologist Dr. Daniel Müllensiefen analyzed the results of a Spotify survey of songs in “music to make love to” playlists.  The winner?  Marvin Gaye for “Sexual Healing” and “Let’s Get It On.”  But Ravel’s Boléro was next in line.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Crossfire, Stevie Ray Vaughan

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Back in the early ‘80s, I tuned in to Austin City Limits one night to see an episode featuring a guitarist named Stevie Ray Vaughan.  At the time I hadn’t heard of the guy.  But I was really impressed with his guitar playing even though I wasn’t familiar with most of his repertoire because, as I’m ashamed to admit, I didn’t yet know who he was.  But when he played the familiar cover of Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)” I was blown away.  I knew immediately this guy could play guitar.

From that point I began to follow Vaughan and became a big fan.  Too bad his life was cut short in a helicopter crash in 1990, at the age of 35.  The real shame of it is that after many years of drug and alcohol abuse, Vaughan was finally getting straight.  In fact, his last studio album with his band Double Trouble, In Step (1989), was a reference to the sobriety he reached through a 12 Step program.

So, today’s SotW is my favorite track from In Step, “Crossfire.”

“Crossfire” opens with a funky baseline and solid beat that leaves room for an organ riff and a few nicely placed guitar stabs.  Vaughan gives an impassioned vocal performance and whips off some tasteful guitar solos.  In the last 30 seconds, Vaughan plays a very cool, staccato run of notes that lifts the song to another level just before it ends.

The “Crossfire” writing credit was given to the full band – Vaughan, Tommy Shannon (bass), Chris Layton (drums) and Reese Wynans (keyboards).  The cut also has a horn section made up of Joe Sublett on sax and Darrell Leonard on trumpet.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – If I Didn’t Love You, Squeeze

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“A healthy marriage is composed of windows and walls.  The windows, which must stay open, are between you and your spouse.  The walls are between the two of you (together) and the outside world.”

These quotes come from a very interesting article I read recently that you can check out here:

Somehow, I’m not sure I can explain why, that story reminded me of a song I love – today’s SotW, “If I Didn’t Love You” by Squeeze on the album Argybargy (1980).

This is a typical Squeeze (Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook) composition that has wonderfully detailed lyrics and a quirky musical arrangement.

If I didn’t love you, I’d hate you
Watching you play in the bath
A soap suds stickleback navy
A scrubbing brush landing craft
Your skin gets softer and warmer
I pat you down with a towel
Tonight it’s love by the fire
My mind goes out on the prowl

If I, if I, if I, if I, if I, if I, if I

And later, they goof on their own repetition of the “If I” lyric in another verse that includes the line “The record jumps on a scratch.”

And if that’s not enough for you, check out Tillbrook’s slide guitar solo at the 2:10 mark.  Amazing!

But back to the windows and walls… — Difford was quoted as saying the lyrics  mean “at the back of your mind you’ve got that insecurity about your inability to have a proper relationship with somebody.”

I guess that’s it!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Ruby, Kaiser Chiefs

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The first time I attended Coachella was in 2007.  2007 was the first year that the festival was expanded to three days, adding a Friday bill.  The lineup was outstanding, including an as yet little known British singer named Amy Winehouse, who had an early Friday afternoon timeslot.  I’ve always felt lucky to see her that day since she left us just a few years later.

Another band I was excited to see was Kaiser Chiefs, who were on the Sunday lineup.  The band was good but it turned out lead singer Ricky Wilson was an a-hole.  He was pissed off that, in his opinion, the audience wasn’t showing him enough love – and let us know several times.  The more he complained, the more I was inclined to sit on my hands.

But I won’t let that diminish my fondness for their biggest hit, “Ruby.”

“Ruby” is a power pop gem.  It has a catchy riff and even catchier chorus that begs you to sing along.  It reached #1 in the UK, but only #14 on Billboard’s Modern Rock chart in the US.  It has a very cool video too.

Oh, and that guy who saw himself as a giant rock star worthy of worship?  He ended up as a coach on The Voice UK in 2013!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – What a Bringdown, Cream

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Last Sunday, October 6th, the world said goodbye to drummer Ginger Baker.  To learn more about him, read the New York Times obituary or watch the Beware of Mr. Baker documentary.

The SotW MUST pay tribute to such an influential and wacky rock star.  My first thought was to select a song that featured one of Baker’s famous drum solos.  Maybe the live version of “Toad” from Cream’s Wheels of Fire, with its 13 minute blast of drums.  Nope, that’s a bit too much.  Maybe another long jam, Blind Faith’s “Do What You Like.”  This is another tour de force of stick work.  But, nah, that’s not it either (though I suggest you listen to both on your own).

Then it hit me!  Today’s SotW should be one of my favorite Cream deep cuts – “What a Bringdown”, written by Baker.

“… Bringdown” is a wild, psychedelic ride that uses unusual time signatures (5/4 to 3/4?) and has ‘60s style, surreally lysergic lyrics.  It also has some interesting and innovative sonics.  Felix Pappalardi (the “4th Cream member”) plays a violin bass.  Jack Bruce, who was ordinarily on bass, moves to keys.  Clapton layers guitars, including a spacey, high pitched wah-wah solo after the bridge and on the fade out.  Baker pounds away at his kit and also plays tubular bells (listen carefully at the end).  This all adds up to a recording that sounds more like early Jethro Tull than Cream.

“…Bringdown” was the last song on Cream’s last album – Goodbye (1969), making it an apropos way to acknowledge Baker’s passing.

Enjoy… until next week.