Song of the Week – Good Times, The Jay-Bees

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In late 1964 the Rolling Stones released their second album in the US, 12 x 5. It included a couple of their early hits — “Time Is on My Side” and “It’s All Over Now,” both covers of American R&B songs. But by this time Jagger and Richards were already dipping their toes into the songwriting waters.

One of the originals on 12 x 5 was “Good Times, Bad Times.” It’s a decent slow, country blues. It may remind you of their version of Fred McDowell and Gary Davis’ “You Gotta Move” from Sticky Fingers.

In 1968 a garage band from West Virginia called the Jay-Bees took the song, converted it to a minor key and created a proto punk classic. (They also shortened the title to “Good Times.”)

The creepy laugh that continues throughout the song adds to the haunted house effect of the cut.

Why this track never made it onto one of the Nuggets compilations is a mystery to me. Someone needs to contact archivist Lenny Kaye to try to get the answer.

But no matter… I’d guess the Stones — the original punks — would approve of the Jay-Bees treatment.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – She Sells Sanctuary, The Cult

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The Cult is a band out of the UK that was led by lead singer Ian Astbury and guitarist Billy Duffy. Although they formed the group in 1983, I hadn’t caught wind of them until they released “She Sells Sanctuary” in 1985.

I can’t remember where I was the first time I heard this song but I recall that it grabbed me immediately. How could it not? It launches with a captivating intro. It starts with the sound of a buzzing bee, then distant, distorted guitar for 4 bars that gives way to the full band backing a locomotive riff.

Duffy told the story of how he came up with the intro in an interview with Johnny DeMarco:

It sounds like a silly old story, but we were recording “She Sells Sanctuary” in a studio in London called Olympic, where Zeppelin and Free used to record… I was in there during “She Sells Sanctuary,” and I found a violin bow, and I started to play the guitar with the bow like Jimmie Page. I did it to amuse Astbury, who was in the control room, and in order to make it sound weirder, I just hit every pedal I had on the pedal board. Then once I stopped banging the strings and doing all that, I played the middle section of the song, which was kind of a pick thing with all the BOSS pedals on, and that sound just leaped out. The producer went, “Hold it, hold it, that’s great!” And we decided to start the song with that mystical sound.

When Astbury comes in on vocals, you might think Jim Morrison was reincarnated. Clearly I’m not the only one that hears the similarity of their vocal timbers. Astbury covered two songs (“Touch Me” and “Wild Child”) on the Doors tribute album – Stoned Immaculate: The Music of The Doors.

Then he went on to actually become a member of the Doors! Well, at least performing under the name Doors of the 21st Century (or D21c) with original group members Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger.

The title of the song never makes it into the lyrics. But the clue to its meaning come in the line:

And the fire in your eyes keeps me alive
Inside her you’ll find sanctuary

The singer finds sanctuary in his relationship with the woman that has “the fire in your eyes.”

The version of “She Sells Sanctuary” that I first heard (and featured here as the SotW) was the one released on the Cult’s 1985, second album, Love. But “SSS” was released on a 7” single before the album came out (and without the iconic intro).

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – I Believe in You, Don Williams

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If you’re a regular reader of my weekly posts, you know that I don’t often use my soapbox to deliver political messages but today is an exception.

The Trump policy to separate children from their parents as they seek refugee status at the southern border of the US is cruel and inhumane. It does not represent who we, as American people, are. There has to be a more kind and generous way to protect our borders.

So what has that got to do with the SotW?

I was reminded of the lyrics to a song called “I Believe in You” by the country music star Don Williams.

I don’t believe in superstars, organic food and foreign cars
I don’t believe the price of gold, the certainty of growing old
That right is right and left is wrong, that north and south can’t get along
That east is east and west is west and being first is always best
But I believe in love, I believe in babies, I believe in mom and dad, and I believe in you

The lyrics to this 1980, #1 hit on the country charts are particularly appropriate because they seem to address the political divide in our country. But the last line ties it into the news of the day – “I believe in love, I believe in babies, I believe in mom and dad.”

For me (and probably you if you’re reading this) another line hits home:

But I believe in love, I believe in music, I believe in magic and I believe in you

Yes, I really do believe in the magic of music to heal and bring people together.

So there you have it. I’ve said my piece. Music without politics next time.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Black and White, Flash

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At the height of the prog rock era in the early ‘70s was a British group called Flash that was a poor man’s Yes. Not only did Flash imitate Yes style arrangements and Jon Anderson’s high register vocals, but they also featured former Yes musicians Tony Kaye (keyboards) and Peter Banks (guitar).

Flash released three albums in 1972-73, but bad vibes between Banks and the rest of the band led to a break up by the end of ’73.

Today’s SotW is “Black and White” from their middle album – In the Can.

“Black and White” is a showcase for Banks’ stellar guitar work. At 12 minutes, the cut risks becoming boring – but that never happens. The playing, singing and thematic changes keep it interesting throughout.

Keith Gordon posted this description of the song on his blog — That Devil Music: classic rock & blues remembered… – in 2013:

A wildcat reading of “Black And White,” from Flash’s sophomore effort In The Can, opens with Hough’s spry drumbeats atop which Banks layers on swirling, prog-psych guitar textures. A twelve-minute opus, the song is the perfect showcase for both the band’s individual talents and immense chemistry. The odd man out may be vocalist Colin Carter, who is too frequently (and unfairly) compared to Jon Anderson of Yes when, in fact, he has his own distinctive style. “Black And White” is as much a display of Carter’s impressive vocal gymnastics as it is for the guitar or percussion and, at nearly a quarter-hour of playing time, there’s a lot of virtuoso sounds emanating from the grooves.

Flash also produced a couple of noteworthy LP covers that would not fly today given the current sensitivity to the #MeToo movement. One showed a woman’s panties and another displayed hair falling over a shoulder, barely concealing a naked breast. (Both were far more provocative when the gatefold was opened!)

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Somebody Help Me, Jackie Edwards, Spencer Davis Group, Everly Brothers

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Today’s SotW is another installment of the “Evolution Series.” The subject song is “Somebody Help Me.” It was written by Jackie Edwards, a Jamaican ska artist that was popular in the early ‘60s. He was an early “discovery” of Chris Blackwell, the founder of Island Records.

Edwards’ release of “Somebody Help Me” was on a 1966, UK album called By Demand. It has a big band sound, complete with a strong horn arrangement.

Blackwell signed The Spencer Davis Group to Island in 1964 and introduced them to Edwards’ songs. They released “Keep On Running” and “Somebody Help Me,” both #1 hits in the UK. In the US, “Somebody Help Me” only reached #47 in mid ‘67. But it shoulda been a bigger hit here too!

This take is more rock oriented and features guitar, organ, and percussion to emphasize the rhythm.

The Everly Brothers picked up on the cut and released their own take on their album Two Yanks in England (1966). This one also relies on power chords from the guitars but also highlights the Brothers trademark close harmony.

All three versions maintain the spirit of the song, yet each also highlights the unique personality of its recording artists.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Pale Blue Eyes, Velvet Underground

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It’s coming up on 5 years since Lou Reed passed away. When he died, many of my readers were asking me to pay him a tribute with a SotW selection. At the time, Reed received so much press that I didn’t feel like I had anything new or worthwhile to add to the coverage.

With the distance of time, I’m ready to weigh in by sharing my passion for a beautiful song that Reed wrote for the Velvet Underground’s third, self-titled album (1969) – “Pale Blue Eyes.”

The song has a very sparse arrangement – an organ lingers on long notes, simple bass figures, an electric guitar strums simple chords (and bends a few strings) and a tambourine keeps time with single shakes on the 2 and 4.

The delicate music is a perfect complement to the lyric about a passionate relationship that sounds like it’s ending. But the kicker comes in the last verse where Reed reveals the person he loves and wants to keep so badly is married.

It was good what we did yesterday
And I’d do it once again
The fact that you are married
Only proves you’re my best friend
But it’s truly, truly a sin

The influence of “Pale Blue Eyes” is justified through many great bands that have covered it. R.E.M. gave us a version on their 1987 rarities album, Dead Letter Office. (DLO also had 2 other VU songs on it – “There She Goes Again” and “Femme Fatale.”) A diverse group of other artists has performed the song live, including Patti Smith, Hole, Alejandro Escovedo, The Killers, and Crowded House(!).

“Linger on…”

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Moon Germs, Billy Cobham

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The great jazz fusion drummer, Billy Cobham, has recently ended a short tour as the Crosswinds Project, paying tribute to his own 1974 renowned album Crosswinds. His band included Paul Hanson (bassoon, saxophone), the brother of one of my bandmates in Rockridge Station.

I was unable to make it to the shows at the famous Yoshi’s in Oakland; but my friends that did, raved about the quality of the performances. That was the catalyst for me to dig out my Cobham discs and revisit the music.

The Cobham album I’ve been most familiar with is Total Eclipse, also from 1974. (I remember buying that record from the cut-out bins at NE Music City in Boston’s Kenmore Square.) When I returned to Total Eclipse I was blown away by a track I’d almost forgotten, “Moon Germs,” so I selected it as today’s SotW.

This funky number rocks! It has a big, dense arrangement, with a strong bass line (Alex Blake) and more horns than a stampede of rhinos (both Brecker brothers and Glenn Ferris). The guitar work by John Abercrombie is powerful. Check out the way the sax and guitar exchange solos halfway through. Remarkable!

It’s no wonder “Moon Germs” has become a staple in Cobham’s repertoire.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – No Excuses, Alice in Chains

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In 1994, Alice in Chains released an EP – Jar of Flies — of amazing quality. The album opens with the terrific “Rotten Apple,” with its “Hey ah na na” mantra over a wah wah guitar.

Next is the hypnotic “Nutshell.” It presaged the “unplugged” trend, focusing on acoustic instruments except for the electric guitar solo.

The third song, “I Stay Away,” is just as good. It’s a pretty dark sounding song that takes advantage of a few orchestral flairs (strings and horns) and a spooky vocal by Layne Staley. It was recognized with a Grammy Award for the Best Hard Rock Performance in 1995.

“I Stay Away” is followed by today’s SotW, “No Excuses.”

Lyrically, the song is about the complicated and tempestuous relationship between Staley and guitarist Jerry Cantrell.

It’s alright
There comes a time
Got no patience to search
For peace of mind
Layin’ low
Want to take it slow
No more hiding or
Disguising truths I’ve sold

Everyday it’s something
Hits me all so cold
Find me sittin’ by myself
No excuses, then I know

Then in the last verse, reconciliation…

Yeah, it’s fine
We’ll walk down the line
Leave our rain, a cold
Trade for warm sunshine
You my friend
I will defend
And if we change, well I
Love you anyway

The vocal harmony is complex and arresting.

I’m telling you, you’d be hard pressed to find four songs of better quality at the start of any album. This may support the argument for more Eps rather than albums stuffed with filler

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Floating in the Forth, Frightened Rabbit

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I wasn’t planning for this to be today’s SotW. But then I heard the news that the singer/guitarist for Frightened Rabbit died and read this unnerving headline in yesterday’s edition of the British newspaper, The Daily Mail:

Frightened Rabbit singer Scott Hutchison imagined his own death in song Floating in The Forth – the river where police have found his body

The article continued:

Scottish musician Mr Hutchison, 36, disappeared on Wednesday after walking out of a South Queensferry hotel at 1am and he was found dead close to the Forth Road Bridge last night.

Police today confirmed a body found in the river is the Frightened Rabbit star as his heartbroken family admitted he had been fighting depression but they still hoped he ‘would walk back through the door’.

On his band’s acclaimed 2008 album The Midnight Organ Fight he penned the song ‘Floating in the Forth’, which Scott himself said ‘would remind him that he was alive’ every time he performed it.

He sings: ‘And fully clothed, I float away. Down the Forth, into the sea’ and the song ends with the words: ‘I think I’ll save suicide for another year.’

Here’s the song:

Too, too sad.

The band formed in 2003 and released their debut album in 2006. Several more critically celebrated discs came out, the last being Painting of a Panic Attack (2016). They had just recently begun a tour to celebrate the 10th anniversary of The Midnight Organ Fight.

While it’s too soon to conclude on Hutchinson’s cause of death, it is regrettable to think that revisiting “Floating in the Forth” may have played a part.

Another talented, tortured artist has left this mortal coil.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – I Don’t Want To Be Without You, James Hunter Six

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I read MOJO magazine for a reason! I still find it the best source to discover new music, especially these days when the likes of Spotify, YouTube and Pandora put the universe of recorded music at your fingertips, but that multitude leaves you aching for a curator. Well, that’s where MOJO comes in (for me).

In the March 2018 issue (#292) I spotted a review of Whatever It Takes, a record on the Daptone label by The James Hunter Six. I called it up on Spotify and was instantly hooked by the classic soul/R&B/blues influences. Hunter is a pretty damn good singer too.

Today’s SotW is the lead track from the album, “I Don’t Want To Be Without You.”

MOJO says Hunter’s song is — “an under-the-influence-of-love rhumba, (that) frames his tough-yet-tender croon with bubbling organ and punchy brass.”

Hunter is a middle-aged dude from the UK with connections to Van Morrison who’s been kicking around since the mid ‘80s. But he’s never sounded better than he does today.

Enjoy… until next week.