Song of the Week – Water Song, Hot Tuna

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Today’s SotW is “Water Song” by Hot Tuna.

Hot Tuna was the spin-off group from Jefferson Airplane, led by guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady in 1969.  “Water Song” was on their 3rd album, Burgers (1972), that also featured (ex-Jefferson Airplane) violinist Papa John Creach, and drummer Sammy Piazza.

“Water Song” is ideally named.  The shimmering acoustic guitar and rolling drum fills evoke the image of a rippling stream flowing through a forest of dappled light.

If you’re into the technical aspects of guitar playing, check out this video of Kaukonen teaching how to tune your instrument to open G and play “Water Song.”

Jorma Kaukonen – Water Song Tutorial

As an instrumental, “Water Song” was very popular at WZBC in the ‘70s, used by many of the DJs as the bed played behind their reading of the nightly live music updates.

“Water Song” is also a fan favorite.  Hot Tuna often saves it for the encore at their live performances, still to this day.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Float On, The Floaters

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Back in the ‘70s, in the Disco era, one of the most cliché’ pick-up lines was conceived – “What’s your sign?”  In some ways, it isn’t as corny as it seems today.  You see, back then there was a significant cultural meme around horoscopes and astrology.  The website at the link below documents the era.

Flashbak – What’s Your Sign?

Needless to say, that cultural phenomenon could not escape popular music!

“Float On,” by the soul group The Floaters, did their best to capitalize on the trend.

Each of the group’s singers states his sign, name and what attributes he desires in women.

Aquarius and my name is Ralph
Now I like a woman who loves her freedom

Libra and my name is Charles
Now I like a woman that’s quiet

Leo and my name is Paul
You see I like all women of the world

Cancer and my name is Larry, huh
And I like a woman that loves everything and everybody

The sultry r&b music holds up but the lyrics haven’t aged well.  Yet I still enjoy hearing it because it’s so ludicrous.  It always makes me smile.

The album version extends to almost 12 minutes of slow jam sensuality.  The single was cut to 4 minutes to accommodate radio programming.  In 1977 it reached #1 on US Hot Soul Singles chart and #2 on Billboard Hot 100.

“Float On” was the subject of a parody, “Bloat On,” by comedy team Cheech and Chong.  It was originally released as a single and later included on their Let’s Make a New Dope Deal album.

Harry Nilsson (featuring Gloria Jones and the Zodiac Singers) recorded a song called “What’s Your Sign” (1975) and Frank Zappa’s “Dancin’ Fool” (1979) is a scathing lampoon of the Disco culture and has the line “Love your nails … You must be a Libra… Your place or mine?”

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – You Don’t Have to Walk in the Rain, The Turtles

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Today’s SotW celebrates the 50th anniversary of one of the strangest events ever to occur in Rock History.  On May 10, 1969, The Turtles took drugs in the Nixon White House and all hell broke loose.

The accounts of what actually happened that day are a little sketchy.  (The were no smartphones capturing everything on video.)  I’ll do my best to tell the story as pieced together from several sources.

Tricia Nixon, the President’s daughter, was a big fan of The Turtles.  She was having her first party in the White House and invited The Turtles and The Temptations to provide the entertainment.  The guests were socialites and the children of high-powered business execs – about 450 of them!

The first incident occurred when the Secret Service freaked out because the could hear something ticking in the equipment cases.  Turns out it was only a metronome, but just to be safe, the agents stomped it into pieces to make sure it wasn’t an IED.  In another telling, the SS pried the cover off of it and drowned it in water.

Next came the drugs and alcohol.  Some say The Turtles snorted cocaine off the Lincoln Desk (as Howard “Eddie” Kaylan claims in his 2013 autobiography — Shell Shocked: My Life with the Turtles, Flo and Eddie, and Frank Zappa, etc.) and others that they smoked some weed in the Lincoln Bedroom.  Who really knows?  There was also an abundance of champagne being poured.

But one thing’s for sure – Mark “Flo” Volman, got so wasted that he fell off the crowded stage several times.

Later, Volman tried to hit on Lucy Baines Johnson, The former President’s daughter, much to the dismay of her angry husband, Pat Nugent.

At this time The Turtles were making their underappreciated album, Turtle Soup.  That’s the one that they called on The Kinks’ Ray Davies to produce.  Today’s SotW is “You Don’t Have to Walk in the Rain” from Turtle Soup.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Talking Straight, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever

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The Melbourne, Australia based Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever had a good 2018.  They released an album, Hope Downs, that found its way onto many “best of” lists last year and also played to huge American audiences at the 2018 Coachella Festival.

I like their sound.  It reminds me a little of early R.E.M.  Take, for instance, “Talking Straight,” today’s SotW.

Jangly guitars provide a galloping rhythm that evokes mid-‘80s modern rock.  The vocals are like The Only Ones’ Peter Perrett.  (Remember “Another Girl, Another Planet?”)

The song’s writer, singer/guitarist Joe White, has been quoted suggesting that the track is about loneliness.

I’m hopeless, no embrace
I wanna know
I wanna know where the silence comes from
Where space originates

“The idea in this song is that we might be lonely, but we could be lonely together.”

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Fresh Air, Quicksilver & Before the Water Gets Too High, Parquet Courts

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April 22, 1970, was the date of the first Earth Day.  It has been celebrated every April 22nd ever since.  Long before we understood the impact of greenhouse gasses or coined the terms “climate change” or “global warming,” the environment was being polluted by gas-guzzling cars using leaded petrol and factories were spewing toxic gasses and smoke into the air.

Musicians took up the cause and wrote songs about it.  The earliest one I recall was “Out in the Country” (written by Paul Williams and Roger Nichols) from Three Dog Night’s album It Ain’t Easy (1970).

About the same time, Quicksilver Messenger Service released “Fresh Air.”

“Fresh Air” was written by Dino Valenti (aka Dino Valente, Chet Powers, and Jesse Farrow).  He also wrote the hippie anthem “Get Together” which was a major hit for Jesse Colin Young and The Youngbloods.

Throughout the years many other songs that touch the issue of the environment have been recorded by major stars.  A few examples (and there are many more) include:

Mercy, Mercy Me (the Ecology) – Marvin Gaye

Big Yellow Taxi – Joni Mitchell

Fall on Me – REM

My City Was Gone – The Pretenders

Beds Are Burning – Midnight Oil

Still, very recently, this issue was addressed by Parquet Courts in their song “Before the Water Gets Too High” on 2018’s Wide Awaaaaake!

State TV helps the public explain
Broadcast beamed into the dry terrain
Images of drenched survival
Without hope but soaked with pain
Consequences of reality felt
All conditions of humanity built
On the bridges
Tent villages waiting for the state to help

Before the water gets too high

This brings back the memories of the trauma left behind in post-Katrina New Orleans and 2017’s Maria in Puerto Rico.

Almost 50 years after the first Earth Day there is still more work to be done!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Natural High, Bloodstone

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My friend Sean H. has been bugging me for months to feature Bloodstone’s “Natural High” as the SotW.  I’ve been trying to persuade him to write it up himself as a guest contributor, but he hasn’t.

Well a few weeks ago the song came up on one of my playlists and it occurred to me that I really like it!  So here you go Sean – this one’s for you.

“Natural High” is the perfect mid-‘70s soul ballad.  What does that mean?  It has sweet, falsetto vocals and harmonies, and a sexy, slow jam backing.  It also has a short, simple, but jazzy guitar solo about 2:30 in.  It reached #10 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1973.

Demonstrating his impeccably good taste, Quentin Tarantino selected it for a scene in his blaxploitation influenced film Jackie Brown.

Bloodstone entered the blaxploitation field themselves in 1975 through a self-financed film that they cast themselves in — Train Ride to Hollywood.  Check out the zany trailer.

Last Train to Hollywood trailer

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Anthem, Greta Van Fleet

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Greta Van Fleet is a band out of Michigan that can’t seem to escape comparisons to Led Zeppelin.  That should make them very popular with the legions of Zep fans.

They have a pretty slight discography – so far consisting of two Eps released in 2017 and their late 2018, full-length debut, Anthem of the Peaceful Army.

So, what’s all the fuss about?  Take a listen to today’s SotW, “Anthem.”

“Anthem” focuses on acoustic guitar (Supertramp’s “Give a Little?), electric slide guitar and percussion, leaving the “heavy” aside.  It’s catchy!  The lyrics are sweet but their “peace and love” hippie idealism may be just a little too hokey.  The song climaxes with the final chorus:

And every glow

In the twilight knows
That the world is only what the world is made of

Just you and me

Can agree to disagree

That the world is only what the world is made of

I find myself on the fence regarding this group.  I like their approach but find the vocals a little too screechy.  But none other than Robert Plant has given GVF his blessing.  In an interview with Australia’s Network Ten, Plant said the band “are Led Zeppelin 1” and also described frontman Josh Kiszka as “a beautiful little singer.”  That’s a pretty high endorsement from someone that isn’t normally quick to hand out compliments.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore, Walker Brothers & Jackie, Scott Walker

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The enigmatic Scott Walker died on Friday, March 22nd, although the news was not released until this week.  Walker, who achieved more fame and fortune in the UK than here at home in the US, cultivated a 40-year career in three distinct phases.

The first was with his band, The Walker Brothers.  They were sort of a mid-‘60s version of a boy band and had a couple of hits here and in the UK.  “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore” is a classic that often draws comparisons to the hits of the Righteous Brothers.

Starting in 1967, Walker released four solo albums, creatively titled Scott, Scott 2, Scott 3, and Scott 4.  In this period, Walker moved toward a more crooning style of music featuring a mix of originals and covers – frequently favoring songs written by Jacques Brel.

“Jackie” was the lead track from Scott 2.  It was written by Brel and was released as a single in late 1967.

Lyrics that referenced “authentic queers and phony virgins,” bordellos, whiskey, and opium, especially in ’67, made clear that Walker’s teen idol days were behind him.

Later, in the ‘90s, Walker moved even farther out of the mainstream and recorded works that would most aptly be described as avant-garde.  This became increasingly evident with each album, culminating with his final release, Bish Bosch (2012).

A wonderful documentary of Walker’s career – Scott Walker – 30th Century Man – was released in 2006.  It is available for rent on YouTube, Google Play and Amazon Prime.  It is worth checking out.

David Bowie was the executive producer of the documentary.  He often professed his admiration for Walker.  Influence on Bowie’s more experimental recordings such as his final release, Blackstar, can be traced directly back to Walker – musically and the vocal style of their similarly matched baritone voices.

Enjoy… until next week.

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.