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.

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.

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.

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.

Song of the Week – Whole Lotta Love, Led Zeppelin; You Need Love, Muddy Waters; You Need Loving, Small Faces

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Today’s post is yet another in the ongoing Evolution Series.

Led Zeppelin left a huge influence on the development of Rock and Roll.  It seems ironic, then, that they’ve been accused so often of plagiarism.

I first wrote about this in February 2009 when the subject was “Dazed and Confused,” an obvious and undisputed rip off of Jake Holmes “I’m Confused.”  In June 2016 I posted about the lawsuit by the estate of Randy California that claimed the intro to “Stairway to Heaven” was lifted from Spirit’s “Taurus.”  I defended Zep on that one because, although there are similarities, there just wasn’t enough to justify calling it plagiarism (at least IMHO).

But let’s move on to “Whole Lotta Love.”

Most people attribute Robert Plant and Jimmy Page’s song to an original by Muddy Waters.  His 1962 release, “You Need Love,” was written by Willie Dixon and has lyrical similarities to “Whole Lotta Love.”

You’ve got yearnin’ and I got burnin’
Baby you look so ooh sweet and cunnin’
Baby way down inside, woman you need love
Woman you need love, you’ve got to have some love
I’m gon’ give you some love, I know you need love

Although Page and Plant were steeped in the traditional American blues masters, I don’t think the Muddy Waters track was their inspiration.  Instead, it may have been the Small Faces “You Need Loving,” released in 1966.

The Small Faces recording clearly copped the same lyrical phrases from Waters/Dixon, but they modernized it into a blues-rock version.  Ronnie Lane and Steve Marriott took writing credits for their song.  But aside from the lyrics, it is undeniable that Marriott’s vocal approach was an influence on Plant.  If you’re not convinced, check out the breakdown near the end of the Small Faces cut at about 3:35 in.  If that doesn’t seal the deal, I don’t know what will!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – That’s Just the Way That I Feel, Purple Mountains

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Purple Mountains was the latest project by David Berman, previously of Silver Jews.  Since Silver Jews released their last album in 2008, this was a comeback of sorts.  And the lyrics to the album’s opener, “That’s Just the Way That I Feel” confirm it!

Well, I don’t like talkin’ to myself
But someone’s gotta say it, hell
I mean, things have not been going well
This time I think I finally fucked myself
You see, the life I live is sickening
I spent a decade playing chicken with oblivion
Day to day, I’m neck and neck with giving in
I’m the same old wreck I’ve always been

Course I’ve been humbled by the void
Much of my faith has been destroyed
I’ve been forced to watch my foes enjoy
Ceaseless feasts of schadenfreude
And as the pace of life keeps quickening
Beneath the bitching and the bickering
When I try to drown my thoughts in gin
I find my worst ideas know how to swim

Well, a setback can be a setup
For a comeback if you don’t let up
But this kind of hurtin’ won’t heal
And the end of all wanting
Is all I’ve been wanting
And that’s just the way that I feel

This guy clearly knew how to turn a phrase.  But as amazing an achievement as Purple Mountains was, it clearly wasn’t enough to rid Berman of his demons.  He committed suicide on August 7, 2019 – less than a month after the release of Purple Mountains.  Substance abuse issues, marital problems, and a feud with his well-connected lobbyist father (Richard Berman) due to disapproval of his conservative, anti-regulation positions, all weighed heavily on his psyche.

It’s too bad he didn’t live long enough to enjoy the rave, critical notices for his final work.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Ozark & This Is Not America, Lyle Mays

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Keyboard player, and long-time collaborator with Pat Metheny, Lyle Mays died on February 10th.

Although I never saw the Pat Metheny Group, of which Mays was a key player, I did see Mays, Metheny, Jaco Pastorius and Michael Brecker in Providence, RI on August 27, 1979, as members of Joni Mitchell’s touring band on the Shadows and Light tour.

I bought the first Pat Metheny Group album, As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls, an album that featured songs that were all co-written by Mays and Metheny.  The first SotW is “Ozark” from that 1981 album.

I selected this track because it features Mays unique keyboard style.

In 1985, Mays and Metheny worked with David Bowie to write “This Is Not America” for the soundtrack to The Falcon and the Snowman

That song is based on a Pat Metheny Group instrumental called “Chris” (also included on the soundtrack) for which Bowie wrote lyrics.  The song reached the Top 40 on the Billboard charts.

Mays won 11 Grammys and received 23 nominations in his professional career that ended in 2011, when he pivoted to a career as a software consultant.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Somebody That I Used to Know, Gotye; Don’t You Want Me, Human League; I Never Talk to Strangers, Tom Waits; You Don’t Know Me, Ben Folds; July, Noah Cyrus ft. Leon Bridges

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Happy Valentines!

Back in 2011, Gotye had a surprise, viral hit with “Somebody That I Used to Know.”  In fact, it went on to win a Grammy for Record of the Year.

One of the features of the song that made it so appealing was the conversational nature of the lyrics.

He said:

Now and then I think of when we were together

Like when you said you felt so happy you could die

Told myself that you were right for me

But felt so lonely in your company

But that was love and it’s an ache I still remember

She said:

Now and then I think of all the times you screwed me over
But had me believing it was always something that I’d done
But I don’t wanna live that way
Reading into every word you say
You said that you could let it go
And I wouldn’t catch you hung up on somebody that you used to know

This brought to mind another song that is structured around a dialog between two lovers – “Don’t You Want Me,” by Human League.

He said:

You were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar
When I met you
I picked you out, I shook you up
And turned you around
Turned you into someone new
Now five years later on you’ve got the world at your feet
Success has been so easy for you
But don’t forget it’s me who put you where you are now
And I can put you back down too.

She said:

I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar
That much is true
But even then I knew I’d find a much better place
Either with or without you
The five years we have had have been such good at times
I still love you
But now I think it’s time I live my life on my own
I guess it’s just what I must do

The more I thought about this format, the more similarly arranged songs came to mind.  One of my long time favorites is the Tom Waits/Bette Midler duet, “I Never Talk to Strangers.”  This one takes place in a dive bar.

He said:

Stop me if you’ve heard this one
But I feel as though we’ve met before
Perhaps I am mistaken

She said:

But it’s just that I remind you of
Someone you used to care about
Oh, but that was long ago
Now tell me, do you really think I’d fall for that old line
I was not born just yesterday
Besides, I never talk to strangers anyway

Another, more obscure track that uses this ploy is “You Don’t Know Me” by Ben Folds and Regina Spektor.

This one is a little different.  Ben carries the dialog with Regina just making side comments.

He said (she said):

So, what I’m trying to say is
What (What?)
I’m trying to tell you
It’s not gonna come out like I wanna say it cause I know you’ll only change it.
(Say it.)

You don’t know me at all
(You don’t know me)
You don’t know me at all (at all)

This design was built to last.  The most recent song that fits this lyrical device is the late summer 2019 release, “July,” by Noah Cyrus (Miley’s sister) remixed into a duet with Leon Bridges.

She said:

I’ve been holding my breath
I’ve been counting to ten
Over something you said
I’ve been holding back tears
While you’re throwing back beers
I’m alone in bed

He said:

Feels like a lifetime
Just tryna get by
While we’re dying inside
I’ve done a lot of things wrong
Loving you being one
But I can’t move on

There are surely many more songs in this “genre” – “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” (Petty/Nicks) comes to mind.  What can you come up with?

So that’s my opposite Valentine!  It’s the best I could do.

Enjoy… until next week.