Song of the Week – I Don’t Like Mondays, Boomtown Rats

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Can we all agree on one thing – that there is too much gun violence in the world today.  Muslim extremists killing “infidels,” racists going into churches, synagogues and mosques to kill worshipers, and just plain crazies shooting people at schools, workplaces and concerts!

Enough is enough.  “People, I just want to say, you know, can we all JUST get along?”

Today’s SotW was written about a very early school shooting that occurred 40 years ago, on January 29, 1979.  On that day, a 16-year-old girl named Brenda Ann Spencer opened fire on the children arriving for the day’s lessons at the Cleveland Elementary School in the Lake Murray section of San Diego.  Two men (the school principal and a custodian) were killed.  Eight children and one adult were injured.

In a telephone interview, a reporter with The Evening Tribune asked Spencer why she did it.  She responded, “I just don’t like Mondays… this livens up the day.”

Bob Geldof and Johnnie Fingers, of the Irish band The Boomtown Rats, used this awful backstory to write the song “I Don’t Like Mondays.”

“… Mondays” was a #1 hit in the UK but only managed to reach #73 here in the US – though it did receive quite a bit of airplay in the US on college campuses and alternative rock radio.

The piano based composition renders it a perfect vehicle to be taken up by Tori Amos, as she did on her 2001 covers album, Strange Little Girls.

After 40 years, what have we learned?  Mass shootings seem to happen more and more frequently each year.  “People, I just want to say, you know, can we all JUST get along?”

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Slow Burn, Kacey Musgraves

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I generally don’t have much respect for the Grammys.  They have a long history of picking one-hit-wonders for Best New Artist (Starland Vocal Band, Milli Vanilli) and awarding Album of the Year to iconic artists long after they released their best work (Dylan, Clapton, Bonnie Raitt).  Not to be too cynical, I must admit there have also been some very good choices in both of those categories that have made amends for their boo-boos.

Last month, the 2019 award for Album of the Year went to Golden Hour by Kacey Musgraves, a great choice.  Two songs from the album, “Butterflies” and “Space Cowboy”, also won Grammys – for Best Country Solo Performance and Best Country Song.

Musgraves has the rare quality of mainstream popularity with a bit of rebel mixed in.  While primarily a conventional country artist, she bucks the stereotypical demographic of country music fans with her open position supporting LGBT rights and a fondness for booze (she and her band drink a tequila shot before each show), weed and the occasional psychedelic (she openly admits that she wrote “Mother” on acid and has taken mushrooms).

This is an image she cultivated since the release of her first album Same Trailer Different Park (2013) that included the song “Follow Your Arrow” with the lyrics:

Make lots of noise
Kiss lots of boys
Or kiss lots of girls
If that’s something you’re into
When the straight and narrow
Gets a little too straight
Roll up the joint, or don’t
Just follow your arrow

Today’s SotW is “Slow Burn,” the opening track from Golden Hour.

Regarding “Slow Burn,” Musgraves told Rolling Stone:

“It’s an idea I can apply to a lot of different areas of my life,” she says, taking a break from editing a new video. “I want to be here for a long time doing what I love, and I don’t feel I need to try to be the biggest I can be, the quickest. And I even thought of a good drink that you sip on for a long time. Or a slow burn of a relationship that starts with a little bit of a spark and doesn’t burn out too quick.”

There’s something about the arrangement of this song that reminds me of “Casimir Pulaski Day” from Sufjan Steven’s Illinois which in turn reminded me of Neil Young’s “Old Man” (maybe it’s the banjos).

Dig in to Golden Hour and the rest of Musgraves’ catalog.  You won’t regret it.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Blend, Sandy Bull

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THIS IS A TEST.

Today’s SotW is one of the most challenging I’ve ever posted.  I know it’s not for everybody, but the SotW wasn’t started to share hit songs that will be liked by the greatest numbers of people.  It was created with the goal of bringing new and different music (Ignored Obscured Restored), that I find worthwhile, to open-minded music lovers – that’s YOU!

So, what do I have up my sleeve?  How about a 22-minute instrumental excursion through Eastern and Western musical styles, by just a guitarist and a jazz drummer?

Today’s SotW is “Blend,” by Sandy Bull, from the 1963 album Fantasias for Guitar and Banjo.

This largely improvised piece covers a range of genres, including classical, folk, jazz, raga and psychedelic rock.  It has been reported that Steve Winwood has given Bull some credit for leading Traffic toward its psychedelic roots.  That also leaves me wondering if “Blend” may have provided inspiration to Jimmy Page for Led Zeppelin compositions like “Kashmir” or “In the Light.”

The drums were played by jazzman Billy Higgins, whose best work was in collaboration with Ornette Coleman.

Did anyone make it through the full 22 minutes?  If yes…

YOU PASSED THE TEST!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Billy Jack & So in Love, Curtis Mayfield

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February 28th brought Black History Month 2019 to a close.  Perhaps it was fitting that last Sunday’s Academy Awards were amongst the most diverse ever witnessed.  Oscar nominations and winners in many categories included films focused on African American casts/themes such as Black Panther, BlacKkKlansman, and If Beale Street Could Talk.  And in a surprise to most, Green Book walked away with the award for Best Picture.

This is progress, though still more needs to be done before we achieve a truly color-blind society.

This subject caused me to reflect on the work of Curtis Mayfield, a pioneer in writing and recording songs that reflected the condition of Blacks in the US.  Long before Marvin Gaye (What’s Going On, “Inner City Blues”) or Stevie Wonder (“Living for the City”) were laying it out there, Mayfield was releasing gospel-tinged, message songs like “Keep on Pushing” (1964), “People Get Ready” (1965), “We’re a Winner” (1968), “Choice of Colors” (1969), and “We the People Who Are Darker Than Blue” (1970).  Some of these may have even inspired James Brown to become more politically strident with songs like “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” (1968).

I was tempted to select a song from Mayfield’s soundtrack to Super Fly, in keeping with the Academy Awards theme.  But instead, I’ve chosen something you’re less likely to have heard, in keeping with the black history/political songs (and SotW) themes.

The consistency of Mayfield’s catalog is impeccable.  Despite the steady quality of his releases, shortly after the success of Super Fly, his already modest audience began to wane.

In 1975, Mayfield released the terrific There’s No Place Like America Today.  Even before you get to the music, the album cover conveys that you are about to hear something special.  It is a variation on a famous photograph taken by Margaret Bourke-White called “At the Time of the Louisville Flood.”

Mayfield’s team colorized it and changed the wording to fit his album.  But the1937 image still suited the status of Blacks in 1975 (and may still be relevant today).

There’s No Place Like America Today is a slow burn.  This album is a single malt Scotch, nightcap – not a Cosmopolitan.  It moves at a pace that reminds me of Sly’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On (though it’s not similarly as druggy or dark).

My first SotW is “Billy Jack,” the album’s lead track.

This is a funk workout with effective use of congas and a stellar horn arrangement.  There’s a lot going on and a lot to like on this track.  The lyrics deal with the issue of gun violence in the ghetto (another situation that remains as common today as it was in ’75):

There can’t be no fun, can’t be no fun
To be shot, shot with a handgun
Your body sprawled out, you without a doubt
Running people out, there on the floor

Sad bloody mess
Shot all up in his chest, shot in his chest
One-sided duel, gun and a fool, ah
What a way to go

As a change of pace, the next SotW is “So in Love.”

This song departs from the social commentary of the rest of the album’s selections.  It is a simple love song – nothing more, nothing less – sung in Mayfield’s gentle falsetto that must have influenced scores of soul singers, from Al Green to Prince, and beyond.  It too has a fantastic horn arrangement and was Mayfield’s last release to manage to reach the pop chart (#67) in the US.

The choice of Green Book as the Oscar winner for Best Picture has generated quite a bit of controversy.  One of the most consistent complaints was that it followed the formula for “white savior” films.  Personally, I don’t see it that way (though admittedly from a white guy’s POV).  To me, it was a story of two people who started out from different worlds and grew to know and respect the others’.  Curtis Mayfield once said:

“Segregation will only end when people get to know the people they think they hate.  To start to know somebody is to respect them.”

That’s the message I heard!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Them Changes, Buddy Miles

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Drummer Buddy Miles is mostly recognized because of his affiliation with Jimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys.  Hendrix, Miles and Billy Cox released one album together, recorded live at the Fillmore East on January 1, 1970, and it holds up almost 50 years later.

But Miles’ career had much more to it than the Hendrix connection.  He was a founding member of The Electric Flag, along with guitarist Mike Bloomfield and vocalist Nick Gravenites, that released two albums in 1968.

In 1970, Miles released a couple of solo discs.  The first came out a few months before Hendrix died and was titled after his signature song, “Them Changes” (which was also on the Band of Gypsys album).

“Them Changes” is a terrific, funk rock rave-up, fueled by the Memphis Horns (Stax Records’ Steve Cropper produced the album).  Miles delivers a strong vocal too.

(For a goof, check out the Bobby McFerrin a capella version recorded on his Simple Pleasures album — the one that also had the insipid “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”.)

Them Changes is a very good album that included a few interesting covers of prominent artists like The Allman Brothers (“Dreams”), Neil Young (“Down by the River”) and Otis Redding (“Your Feeling is Mine”).

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Action Woman, The Litter

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Back in 1967, at the height of the original garage rock era that was immortalized on the Nuggets and Pebbles compilations, a Minneapolis band called The Litter released a 7-incher called “Action Woman” on the local Scotty label.  In fact, the song made it onto both of the named comps.  It wasn’t on the Nuggets original 1972, 2 album set but was added to the 1998, 4 CD reissue.  However, it was the lead-off track on Volume 1 of the 28-disc set of the Pebbles series.

This song has everything a classic garage/psych tune needs – fuzzy lead guitar (played by Bill Strandlof) and a snotty vocal (by Denny Waite) sung with an overabundance of attitude.

Waite snarls:

Hey, Miss High and Mighty
I’ve had all I can take
Walkin’ right on by me
That’s your last mistake

I’ve gotta find myself some action
To satisfy my soul
A little mad distraction
Before I lose control

and

Yeah, I’m gonna find me an action woman
To love me all the time,
A satisfaction woman
Before I lose my mind.

Other than this evergreen rocker, The Litter found little success beyond recognition as a regional working band.  But they caught lightning in a bottle and cemented their place in rock history.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Future Me Hates Me, The Beths

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This week marks the 11th anniversary of the Song of the Week.  Thank you all for reading and commenting.

Each December my kids and their cousins assemble a playlist of their favorite music of the year.  I really liked one selection on the 2018 list, “Future Me Hates Me” from The Beths album of the same name, and was surprised I missed it during the year.

The Auckland, New Zealand indie rock band is fronted by singer/songwriter/guitarist Elizabeth Stokes.  Her songs are full of smart lyrics, catchy hooks and memorable choruses.

The song is about getting into a relationship that the singer knows is doomed but goes ahead with it anyway.

It’s getting dangerous
I could get hurt I know
I’ve counted up the cons
They far outweigh the pros

Future heartbreak
Future headaches
Wide-eyed nights late-lying awake
With future cold shakes
From stupid mistakes
Future me hates me for
Hates me for

Future Me Hates Me is an excellent debut album (though The Beths had released an EP in 2016) and deserves the recognition it received last year – not only from the “cuzzies” but also from the music press.  Check it out.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Crying, Waiting, Hoping, Buddy Holly; Come On, Let’s Go, Ritchie Valens; Chantilly Lace, The Big Bopper

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Tomorrow marks the 60th anniversary of the plane crash that took the lives of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, near Clear Lake, Iowa – “the day the music died” as it later became known, thanks to Don McLean’s “American Pie.”

Rather than rehash the details of the accident (I’m sure you’ll be hearing them all weekend) let’s simply celebrate the music made by those artists!

I have dozens of favorite Holly songs but you’ve heard them all a million times before.  So I’ll treat you to something that, perhaps, you haven’t discovered yet – the demo version of “Crying, Waiting, Hoping.

In December 1958, exactly two months before the crash, Holly got his hands on a new Ampex tape recorder.  He used it to record a series of demos in his New York City apartment between December 3rd and December 17th, and again between January 1st and January 19th, before heading off to begin the fateful Winter Dance Party tour.  This version of “CWH” is from the “Apartment Tapes,” captured on December 17th.  It even has Holly’s famous hiccup!

Mexican American singer/songwriter Ritchie Valens had several hits including Donna (#2) and the ever-present “La Bamba” (#22).  But “Come On, Let’s Go” is the one that really rocks.

The Big Bopper is known for only one song – “Chantilly Lace.”  (At least that’s the only one I’ve ever heard!)

On a personal note, “Chantilly Lace” was a bath time favorite when my kids were small children.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Hooked on a Feeling, B.J. Thomas & Cry Like a Baby, The Box Tops

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There is a very distinct guitar sound that I love and have been trying to find a vehicle for in the band I’m in.  It’s the late ‘60s sound of the Coral electric sitar (by Danelectro).  Whenever I’ve tried to explain the sound I’m referring to I always cite two, well know examples – The Box Top’s “Cry Like a Baby, and “Hooked on a Feeling” by B.J. Thomas.

I had no idea they were both played by the same guy, southern session guitarist Reggie Young, who died last week.

Young played on many other classic tracks from the ‘60s and ’70s, including:

Suspicious Minds                  Elvis Presley

Sweet Caroline                      Neil Diamond

Skinny Legs and All              Joe Tex

Dark End of the Street          James Carr

Son of a Preacher Man        Dusty Springfield

The Letter                               The Box Tops

Drift Away                              Dobie Gray

Cocaine                                  J.J. Cale

I Can Help                              Billy Swan (a previous SotW)

According to the New York Times obituary, “a compilation album of 24 tracks from sessions on which Mr. Young played, including recordings by Merle Haggard, Jackie DeShannon and Bobby (Blue) Bland, is to be released by the English label Ace Records this week.”

It will be well worth checking out!

BTW, use of the Coral did not end in the late ‘60s/early ‘70s.  Dave Stewart, of Eurhythmics’ fame, played it on Tom Petty’s 1985 hit “Don’t Come Around Here No More.”

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – If You Wanna Be Happy, Jimmy Soul; First I Look at the Purse, J. Geils Band; When I Turn Off the Living Room Light, The Kinks

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A few weeks ago I had the idea bouncing around in my head to write a post about my favorite misogynistic, politically incorrect songs.  The deal was sealed when I was at a fantastic wedding in New Orleans last weekend and one of the songs that DJ Pasta played at the reception was on my list — Jimmy Soul’s “If You Wanna Be Happy” (#1, 1963).

If you don’t know the song, it has the lyric:

If you wanna be happy for the rest of your life
Never make a pretty woman your wife
So from my personal point of view
Get an ugly girl to marry you

And has a spoken work dialog that goes like this:

Voice #1  Say man!
Voice #2  Hey baby!
V#1  I saw your wife the other day!
V#2  Yeah?
V#1  Yeah, an’ she’s ug-leeee!
V#2  Yeah, she’s ugly, but she sure can cook, baby!
V#1  Yeah, alright!

Now you can’t be too sensitive about this, because it’s all meant in good fun.  But at a wedding reception?

Then there’s “First I Look at the Purse.”  The original was recorded by The Contours of “Do You Love Me” fame.  It was released on Motown’s Gordy label in 1965 and was written by Smokey Robinson and Bobby Rogers and only managed to reach #57 on the Billboard Hot 100.

But the J. Geils Band rescued the song, put it onto their eponymous 1970 debut album, and released it as their first single.

This one has offensive lyrics such as:

Some fellas like the smiles they wear
Some fellas like the legs that’s all
Some fellas like the style of their hair
Want their waist to be small.
I don’t care if their legs are thin
I don’t care if their teeth are big
I don’t care if their hair’s a wig
Why waste time lookin’ at the waistline?
First I look at the purse!

The last song I’ve selected for this little theme (though I’m sure there are many more that fit it) is “When I Turn Off the Living Room Light” by The Kinks.

“… Living Room Light” was released on The Kinks’ The Great Lost Kinks Album.  This 1973 set was a collection of previously unreleased tracks in the Reprise vaults that the label put out after the band had moved to RCA.

More demeaning lyrics:

Your nose may be bulbous, your face may be spotty
Your skin may be wrinkled and tight
But I don’t want to see you, the way that you are
So I turn off the living room light

All intended with tongue firmly in cheek, so don’t be offended.  Just giggle a little!

Enjoy… until next week.