Song of the Week – Grow Old with Me, John Lennon

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Last Monday, October 9th, would have been John Lennon’s 77th birthday. Today, October 14th, is my 33rd anniversary.

I’ve decided to combine the two events with today’s SotW, “Grow Old with Me,” by Lennon.

This is one of the last songs he wrote and recorded as a demo before being murdered in 1980. For several years it was only heard by fans who sought out bootleg recordings. But the song was given an official release on 1984’s Milk and Honey album, albeit in the original demo form.

According to Wikipedia:

The song was inspired from two different sources: from a poem penned by Robert Browning titled “Rabbi ben Ezra” and a song by Lennon’s wife Yoko Ono called “Let Me Count the Ways” (which in turn had been inspired from a poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning).

Lennon and Ono had for some time admired the poetry of Robert and Elizabeth Browning, and the two songs were purposely written with the couple in mind.

Ono woke up one morning in the summer of 1980 with the music of “Let Me Count the Ways” in her head and promptly rang Lennon in Bermuda to play it for him. Lennon loved the song and Ono then suggested to him that he should write a Robert Browning piece to accompany it. That afternoon, John was watching TV when a film came on which had the poem “Rabbi Ben Ezra” by Robert Browning in it. Inspired by this turn of events, Lennon wrote “Grow Old with Me” as an answer to Ono’s song, and rang her back to play it to her over the phone.

The song was later covered by Mary Chapin Carpenter and the late Glen Campbell.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Doctor My Eyes, Jackson Browne & Hello Old Friend, Eric Clapton – feat. Jesse Ed Davis

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When it comes to inspiration for the SotW, I believe in serendipity. Recently my friend Julie C. alerted me to a film she thought I’d be interested in. The movie that premiered at the 2017 Sundance Festival in January is called Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World. Julie was right; I checked out the flick and it was right up my alley. It told the story of the significant contributions Native Americans have made to rock music – from Charley Patton and Mildred Bailey to Link Wray, Jimi Hendrix and Jesse Ed Davis (and more).

Around the same time I saw an article on a blog I’ve recently begun following called Music Aficionado titled “Have You Heard Jesse Ed Davis?” That’s all the push I needed to do a deep dive into his work.

I was familiar with much of his work because I’m of the age where we would scour the details of every credit written on an album cover or sleeve. Davis, a full blood Kiowa Comanche Indian, was listed on some of my favorites – Walls and Bridges and Rock ‘n’ Roll by John Lennon, George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh, and the unfortunately under recognized Asylum Choir II by Leon Russell and Marc Benno.

But his resume is way deeper than that. He worked with Taj Mahal and played slide on his version of “Statesboro Blues” that reputedly inspired Duane Allman to take up the slide (and copied Davis’ riff). He also worked with Buffy Sainte-Marie, Gene Clark, Neil Diamond, Harry Nilsson, Arlo Guthrie, Leonard Cohen, Rod Stewart, Bryan Ferry and several of the blues greats like John Lee Hooker, Lightnin’ Hopkins and the Kings – B.B. and Albert. Obviously, he was a guitarist in demand! He also released several solo albums that mostly went unnoticed but deserve to be heard.

The first SotW is “Doctor My Eyes” by Jackson Browne.

The brief but stylish solo at 1:45 was laid down by Davis on the first (and only) take! I have to assume those are also his tasty licks that are played throughout the cut.

The next SotW is “Hello Old Friend” by Eric Clapton.

When guitar god Eric Clapton invites you to play a slide lead on one of his songs, you gotta have something special… and Davis delivers.

Davis got little work after 1977, the result of his escalating drug and alcohol abuse and the detrimental effects it had on his health, culminating in a stroke. He died in 1988, apparently of a heroin overdose, when his body was found on the floor of a laundry room in Venice, CA.

But the joy in his music has kept his spirit alive and will continue to be appreciated for many years to come.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Snatching it Back, Clarence Carter

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Blind soul man Clarence Carter had a couple of big hits in the 60s, namely “Slip Away” and “Patches” (a family favorite sing-a-long). He also recorded a terrific version of the southern soul classic “Dark End of the Street” that even white bread Linda Ronstadt couldn’t ruin.

But when I want to party and shake a leg, I turn to Carter’s “Snatching It Back” from the 1969 album Testifyin’.

This track was recorded at the legendary FAME Studio in Muscle Shoals. (Duane Allman was part of their house band for a while.) It is slathered with a thick layer of southern funk bar-b-q sauce and a warm side of horns.

The 81 year old Carter still occasionally performs.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Guarda Come Dondolo, Edoardo Vianello

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The Emmy Awards were announced last Sunday and I was again reminded that we are in a golden age of television. The quality of the programing, on cable, HBO, Netflix, and now Hulu and Amazon Prime, is outstanding. It seems like every week someone is recommending a “must see” series for me to binge watch. I have a long list and too little time.

One show that I did watch this year was (both seasons of) Master of None. The romantic comedy/drama was created by Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang, and stars Ansari. It is well written and performed and totally charming. It was nominated for Emmys in eight categories last weekend and was the winner for Outstanding Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Comedy Series, and Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series (Aziz Ansari and Lena Waithe).

One category the show was nominated for but didn’t win was Outstanding Music Supervision. It was for the hour long episode called “Amarsi Un Po.” I have to admit, the show used music from many different genres to great effect – each song perfectly selected to enhance the emotion that was unfolding on the screen.

That leads me to today’s SotW – “Guarda Come Dondolo” by Edoardo Vianello.

The scene is set when Dev (Ansari) and Francesca (Alessandra Mastronardi), who is engaged but is developing feelings for Dev, are stuck at his apartment during a blizzard. She reluctantly agrees to spend the night at his apartment, but she really has no choice due to the severity of the storm. They get ready to go to sleep – she in his bed, he on the sofa – but neither can sleep; the situation causing a degree of anxiety. They agree to get up and dance. Francesca chooses the Italian pop song “Guarda Come Dondolo” (1962). The scene flawlessly conveys how they break the romantic tension by dancing to this goofy song. It’s perfect!!!

Here’s a clip of the scene:

“Guarda Come Dondolo” doesn’t translate to anything that really makes sense in English. Suffice to say that it is an Italian version of “The Twist.” So rock on!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Mandinka, Sinead O’Connor

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In 1987 Sinead O’Connor burst onto the music scene with her debut album The Lion and the Cobra. The 20 year old Irish lass with the shaved head and tattoos made it clear from the start that she would be an unconventional force to be reckoned with. That album did OK in the US, reaching #36 on the Billboard album chart and spawning a couple of singles that were popular on modern rock radio and in dance clubs.

A few years later O’Connor scored big time on MTV with Prince’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” from her second album, I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got. Everyone remembers the video close ups with her striking blue eyes and the tear drops that delicately roll down her cheeks toward the song’s sad conclusion.

But let’s get back to The Lion and the Cobra for today’s SotW, “Mandinka.”

“Mandinka” reached #14 on the Billboard Hot Dance/Club Play chart at a time that I was a club DJ in Boston. It was one of my favorite tracks to spin.

Some people have interpreted the song to be a protest against the African Mandinkan tribe’s tradition of female genital mutation.

I have refused to take part
I told them “drink something new”
Please let me pull something through

I don’t know no shame
I feel no pain
I can’t

It would be no surprise if that wat the topic given O’Connor’s penchant for courting controversy. In 1992 she appeared on Saturday Night Live and tore up a picture of the Pope and tossed it at the camera to protest sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

In the late 90s she was ordained a priest in Orthodox Catholic and Apostolic Church, which is not part of the Roman Catholic Church (that does not allow women to become priests).

As recently as 2014/15, O’Connor has released new music that has received nominations for music industry awards.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – My City of Ruins, Bruce Springsteen

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All of the recent natural disasters – multiple hurricanes and a huge earthquake off the coast of Mexico – have caused me to think about Bruce Springsteen’s “My City of Ruins,” today’s SotW.

“My City of Ruins” was included on Springsteen’s album The Rising (2002). The Rising was The Boss’s answer to the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center although “My City of Ruins” was actually written a couple of years earlier about Asbury Park.

In Springsteen’s autobiography Born to Run, he describes “My City of Ruins” as “the soul gospel of my favorite sixties records, speaking not just of Asbury Park but hopefully of other places and other lands.”

“Soul gospel”… that’s just how I always heard it. Let’s call it a distant cousin to Curtis Mayfield’s (The Impressions’) “People Get Ready,” a long time favorite of mine.

Springsteen is one of the few artists whose later albums speak to me as completely as his early albums. There aren’t many.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Hard Work, John Handy

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A few weeks ago I picked up a vinyl copy of an album called Hard Work (1976), by John Handy. The saxophonist had an early career in the 50s and 60s working with some serious jazz heavyweights such as Charles Mingus.

He took a hiatus from performance to become an academic – teaching music at several prestigious San Francisco area schools such as Stanford, UC – Berkeley, SFSU and the SF Conservatory of Music.

Hard Work was only Handy’s second album since the late 60s. By this time he was incorporating more R&B into his work, perhaps due to exposure from his young students. This isn’t pure jazz, it’s a 70’s jazz/funk hybrid that is similar to the work of contemporaries like the Crusaders or Weather Report.

The dorian mode title track is today’s SotW.

As soon as I heard this dance floor groover I knew it had to secure a spot as a SotW. What better time than Labor Day weekend?

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Push Push, Herbie Mann

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In Mojo #282, writer Michael Simmons opens an article about Delaney & Bonnie with this anecdote:

It’s a steamy August night in New York City, 1970, and Herbie Mann is in his pad when he hears equally hot music blasting from nearby Central Park. The veteran jazz flautist, bandleader and sessionman for Sarah Vaughn, Count Basie and Chet Baker, is bewitched. A female voice – as sultry as the weather – oozes carnality, while a guitarist bends blue notes like an electrified Robert Johnson. Behind them, a fiery band blends southern R&B and rock’n’roll.

Mann grabs his axe, heads for the park and, squeezing his way on-stage, joins the dozen-strong cast of crack instrumentalists. Hey! – says the look on their delighted faces – it’s Herbie Mann! The female voice, Mann discovers, belongs to blond bombshell Bonnie Bramlett; on the other vocal mike is her handsome, bearded husband Delaney, dispensing cues with the neck of his guitar. The collective crew are Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, the Friends tonight including transcendent slide guitarist Duane Allman – whose own Allman Brothers Band is just taking off – plus King Curtis – hands down the greatest soul saxophonist of all time.

This story led me to recall that Mann recruited Allman to play guitar on the sessions for his breakthrough album Push Push in 1971. I wonder if the Central Park concert is where they first met and decided to work together.

Today’s SotW is the title track “Push Push,“ the album cut that leaves the most room for some tasty Allman guitar work.

But Allman wasn’t the only stellar musician to play on these dates. Mann’s backers also included Chuck Rainey (bass), Bernard Purdie (drums) and Ralph McDonald – all who later would play on sessions for Steely Dan. And let’s not fail to mention Donald “Duck” Dunn (bass) and Al Jackson Jr. (drums), both from the famous Stax studio house band.

Unfortunately, any article about Push Push has to make mention that is has one of the worst album covers of all time. Here’s one article that makes that case:

Bad Album Covers Exposed! The Music Behind the Worst Vinyl Art Of All Time

Enjoy,,, until next week.

Song of the Week – Bigelow 6-2000, Brenda Lee; Beachwood 4-5789, The Marvelettes; 6060-842, B-52s; 853-5937, Squeeze

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Ever since the telephone became an essential appliance in homes, it has also found a place in music… in the form of songs referencing telephone numbers.

The earliest example I know of is “Pennsylvania 6-5000,” the Glenn Miller Orchestra’s 1940 hit (though I’m sure there are even earlier ones). Does anyone remember the scene form Twin Peaks when Leland Palmer puts it on his Victrola then dances with his murdered daughter Laura’s photograph? Creepy in that Twin Peaks way.

By the mid 1950’s a phone number was used in the Brenda Lee rockabilly hit “Bigelow 6-2000.” Brenda is impatiently sitting by her phone, waiting for her “baby” to dial her number. (If he doesn’t, she’ll call him!)

Motown got into the act in 1962 with the release of “Beechwood 4-5789” by the Marvelettes. In this one the singer wants very badly for a guy she’s eyeing at a dance to take her number and give her a call.

In 1979 The B-52s released “6060-842” on their debut album, a song about a disconnected number. (It starts off the same way Tommy Tutone’s “867-5309” does, with “a number on the wall.”)

“853-5937” was released by Squeeze in the late 80s on their album Babylon and On. It’s about a guy who is frustrated because he gets Angela’s voice message machine every time he calls her. In the end, the jealous and paranoid guy thinks his friend – who also isn’t answering – may be hooking up with Angela.

Of course there are many others including the aforementioned “867-5309,” Wilson Pickett’s soul classic “634-5789,” Etta James’ sweaty R&B on “842-3089 (Call My Name)” and the funky “777-9311” by Morris Day. And these are just examples of songs that have the phone number in the title! There are probably countless others that have a number in the lyrics but not the title. Alicia Key’s “Diary” (489-4608) comes to mind. My daughter informed me that (678) triple 9-8212 is referenced in Soulja Boy’s “Kiss Me Thru the Phone.”

Can you think of any others?

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Pattern Against User, At the Drive In

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One of the most popular SotW posts I’ve written was for “L’Via L’Viaquez” by the Mars Volta (August 30, 2014). It has received over 800 hits on this Rock ‘n’ Roll Remnants blog.

The Mars Volta rose out of the ashes of another punk band called At the Drive In, so it was only a matter of time before I posted about them. AtDI recently reunited, 17 years after their initial break up (and released a new album called in•ter a•li•a) making now as good a time as any to delve into their history and music.

In the early 90s, guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez met singer Cedric Bixler-Zavala at an El Paso punk club called the Dead End. Cedric formed several bands before recruiting Jim Ward and Omar to form AtDI. Over the next few years and multiple line ups (Ward joined and left the band several times) the group settled with the original three plus the rhythm section of bassist Paul Hinojos and drummer Tony Hajjar.

Fighting over artistic direction, exhaustion from relentless touring and the scourge of excessive drug use all converged to cause the band to call it quits in 2001.

Today’s SotW is “Pattern Against User” from AtDI’s 2000 album Relationship of Command.

According to Wikipedia, “Relationship of Command is now seen as one of the most influential rock albums of the decade, receiving accolades such as being ranked 47th in the 50 Greatest Albums of the 21st century in Kerrang!, number 83 on Spin Magazine’s 100 Greatest Albums 1985–2005, as well as number 90 on MTV2‘s greatest albums ever list.”

The new album has the band back in form and is worth checking out on Spotify.

Enjoy… until next week.