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.



			

Song of the Week – Reflections of My Life, Marmalade

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The obituary page of the New York Times was filled with musicians this week.  Ray Sawyer of Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show was the first to draw me to the page.  Then I saw that Pegi Young, Neil’s long-time wife, passed away – as did Christine McGuire of the McGuire Sisters and “Honey” Lantree of the Honeycombs.

Finally, Dean Ford, singer in the Scottish group Marmalade died last Monday in LA.  He was only 72.

Marmalade’s most famous hit was “Reflections of My Life.”

Yeah, I know, it’s kind of sappy, but it brings back happy memories (for me) from a simpler time back in the early ‘70s.  Its harmony vocals and orchestration give the track an early Bee Gee’s sound.

Besides, it also has that “reverse” guitar solo by Junior Campbell.  Here’s how Wikipedia describes the solo (that begins at about 1:45):

The song is in the key of G major and the solo was recorded thus:

The first 4 bars were recorded as normal, with Campbell playing a long “G” note, tied over from the last beat of bar 3, through bar 4, with slight feedback sustaining the long note.

The eight track tape was then turned over, and Campbell played against the reverse sound of the track, including his initial first four bars ensuring that he played another long “G” near the same point which could be cross-faded against the original – the tape was then turned over to normal setup, and he selected just 4 bars from the reverse recording which are bars 4-7 inclusive – this was cross-faded with the original at bar 4 – he then picked up from bar 8 through to bar 16 as normal, so in fact, only 4 bars are actually “reversed”.

“Reflections…” reached #3 in the UK and #10 in the US.

Enjoy… until next week.

Ray Sawyer has died

Ray Sawyer, the lead singer for Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show who wore a pirate’s eye patch, has died at the age of 81.  You can read his obituary in Rolling Stone here:

Rolling Stone – Ray Sawyer obituary

Dr. Hook was featured with a Song of the Week in February, 2014.  You can check that out here:

SotW – Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show, February 15, 2014

Enjoy!

Song of the Week – True Love Part 2, X

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Toady’s SotW is by the Los Angeles based band X.  X was formed in 1977 by John Doe (vocals, bass) and Billy Zoom (guitar) and included Doe’s girlfriend Exene Cervenka (vocals) and DJ Bonebreake (drums).

Due to the timing and proximity of their formation, they’ve often been thrown in with the “punk rock” movement.  But although the band initially played some fast and ferocious rock, they were not really all punk all the time.  They often incorporated rockabilly, folk and other genres into their recordings.

Take, for instance, “True Love Part 2” from their 1983 disc, More Fun in the New World.

The Doors’ Ray Manzarek produced cut starts off with a riff sounding like early Doobie Brothers (“Long Train Runnin’”) and quickly turns into something more like a Talking Heads funk work out, from the Stop Making Sense era.  Of course there are other influences too; like in the section about a minute and a half in, where they sing “true love is the devil’s” yes-man, hot house, lunch box, wishbone, door knob, pass key, etc.  When they get to “crow bar” the voice goes down to a low bass register that’s an obvious nod to Sly & the Family Stone.

Later the song references “Land of 1000 Dances” and quotes lyrics from a potpourri of American roots music including:

Be-bop-a-lula – Gene Vincent

D-I-V-O-R-C-E – Tammy Wynette

Skip To My Lou – 19th century traditional children’s song

Burning Love – Elvis Presley

I’ve Been Working On the Railroad – American folk song

Black Betty – Ram Jam

Freddie’s Dead – Curtis Mayfield

Land of 1000 Dances – Cannibal & the Headhunters

Shake your booty!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Livin’ With a Flashlight, Lawr Michaels

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Today’s SotW is very personal, and has been very difficult to write.  I hope you will indulge me.

My friend Lawr Michaels died this week.

Lawr and three of his friends (Gene, Peter and Steve) that are all famous in fantasy baseball circles started this blog as an outlet for their other passion — music.  In June 2013, Lawr invited me to share my weekly SotW posts here.  I was honored that he asked me to join the group as the only writer that wasn’t also part of his fantasy baseball group.

Last March Steve Moyer, one of the original Rock Remnants 4, passed away at the age of 57.  Now Lawr is gone and we’re down to three (including me).

Lawr was one of a kind.  He suffered substantial pain in his life – chronic illness, loss of loved ones (including a wife and special needs child) – but always had a positive, inspirational spirit.  He was kind, generous and always, always considerate.  His passions for his wife Diane, baseball and rock and roll were palpable.  When he spoke of these things he lit up like a pinball machine.

The first time I met Lawr our conversation led us to discover we both loved the album 801 Live.  He’s still the only person I’ve met that even heard of the record, let alone cherished it.  I later came to learn that’s what you should expect from Lawr – a deep and fervent knowledge of many subjects.

Lawr played in bands.  I was in a band with him only once through the Oakland based BandWorks.  Unfortunately, I missed our performance when my brother died unexpectedly and I was called back east.  Lawr was also in The Biletones, a band that gigs occasionally in the east bay.  His musicianship further extended to the recording of an album of original tunes – Downward Facing Dog – that’s available through Amazon.  I reviewed the album on Amazon when it was released in 2011 and wrote:

Lawr Michaels’ recent release, Downward Facing Dog, is a gem. Its songs were written at a time of significant personal loss – his wife, son and dog all died within a very brief period – but the record isn’t an exercise in self pity. Rather, it is a celebration of the journey toward “happiness and contentment” that the tragedy imposed. Only a couple of the songs (I Miss You and Between Sorrow And Beauty) explicitly address the situation.

Today’s SotW is “Livin’ With a Flashlight,” from that album.

Lawr Michaels – Livin’ With a Flashlight

“… Flashlight” shuffles along like a JJ Cale number with Tom Verlaine-like vocals and tells a humorous story of coping with a power failure.

Like George Bailey in the holiday classic It’s a Wonderful Life, Lawr probably had no idea how he impacted so many people’s lives.  He will be missed profoundly.

Rest in peace, brother!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Haunter of the Darkness, Zuider Zee

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Once upon a time (the early ‘70s) there was a power pop band that should have been huge, but few know about them.  They were called Zuider Zee.  Although the Memphis based band (via Louisiana) was signed to Columbia, they received little to no promotional support from the company so their only album release (there were no singles) attracted zero radio play and sank into obscurity.

But this year indie record label Light in the Attic rescued a dozen previously unreleased gems by the band and issued it under the title Zeenith.

Today’s SotW is “Haunter of the Darkness.”

The easy comparisons are to the Raspberries and Badfinger.  But I hear a strong influence to Big Star and Emmitt Rhodes (and the Merry Go Round).  In any case, those bands form a club any band would (should) be happy to join!

This recording still sounds fresh today.  Great playing by the guitars and keys, hooks that instantly grab you, and harmonies that soar.  Isn’t that what power pop is all about?

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Picture Book, The Kinks

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1967 was the year of psychedelic music – Pink Floyd’s The Piper…, Surrealistic Pillow, Disraeli Gears, Hendrix, and of course, Sgt Pepper.  But soon a change was comin’.  In late December 1967 Bob Dylan signaled a new direction with his release of the country influenced John Wesley Harding.  A couple of the best albums released at the beginning of ‘68 included The Band’s Music from Big Pink and The Byrds’ Sweetheart of the Rodeo – both very early examples of what would eventually come to be called Americana.

Even the superstars of rock, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, would take heed with The Beatles (The White Album) and Beggars Banquet, released within two weeks of one another in late 1968.  Both turned away from the psychedelic stylings of their predecessors for a more organic, back-to-basics approach.  And songs from both of those classic albums have already been featured as Songs of the Week.

Another great album from that golden anniversary year of 1968 was The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society – released the SAME DAY as The Beatles.  That was one helluva trio of record releases to end the year!

The Kinks, never a group to follow fashion (they mocked it!), put their own very nostalgic, British twist on “Americana,” including today’s SotW, “Picture Book.”

Some of the lyrics seem especially prescient in these days when every moment of our lives seems to be snapped in a photo and posted to social media.

Picture book, of people with each other, to prove they love each other a long ago. 

Picture book, your mama and your papa, and fat old Uncle Charlie out cruising with their friends.

Picture book, a holiday in August, outside a bed and breakfast in sunny Southend. 

Picture book, when you were just a baby, those days when you were happy, a long time ago. 

Head Kink Ray Davies said of the cut  “The whole magic of that track is that 12-string guitar and the snare drum with the snare off.”

You Millennials may remember this song from a really cool commercial for HP digital photo products that came out in 2004.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Helter Skelter & Dear Prudence, The Beatles

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The Beatles (more commonly known as the White Album) was released 50 years ago.  In celebration, a new, boxed set has just come out with remixes of the songs by Giles Martin, the son of the Beatles’ long time producer, George Martin.  The box includes the Esher demos – primitive recorded sketches of the songs, mostly written on the band’s trip to India, intended for learning them prior to entering the recording studio.  It also has previously unreleased outtakes and alternate versions.

The Beatles has long been admired and excoriated for the range of styles it explores.  Its 30 songs cover a broad spectrum of styles – some more successfully than others.  This has led to a decades long debate among Beatles’ scholars about whether or not the album should have been edited down to a single album instead of a double, and which songs should have made the cut.

The breadth of the album also provided an opportunity for John and Paul to break out of their stereotyped songwriting roles.  Paul was known for his sentimental ballads (“Yesterday,” Michelle,” “Here, There and Anywhere”) and John for writing caustic rockers (“Day Tripper,” “Help,” “Run for Your Life”).  Not that the White Album didn’t hold true to those labels — i.e. Paul’s “I Will” and “Mother Nature’s Son,” and John’s “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except for Me and My Monkey” — but they also did a role reversal.

Paul’s “Helter Skelter” stands among the Beatles’ recordings with the hardest edge.

Who would have thought this track would evolve from the blues dirge heard on Take 2 (available on the Anthology series) into the up-tempo rocker we know from the White Album?

“Helter Skelter” was ruined for many people by its association with Charles Manson and his “family” of murderers.  I like the intro Bono made when U2 covered the song in concert – “This is a song Charles Manson stole from the Beatles.
We’re stealing it back.”  Hopefully we have all stolen it back now that Manson is dead and gone.

John contributed two beautifully sentimental cuts to The Beatles.  “Julia” is a tribute to his mother that abandoned him in his early childhood but came back into his life as a teenager only to be killed shortly afterward in a car accident.  The other was “Dear Prudence,” which was one of his finest compositions – not just for the White Album, but in his entire repertoire.

“Prudence” was written for Prudence Farrow (Mia’s sister) who was on the India meditation trip with them.  She became so focused on her practice that she locked herself in her room to meditate all day.  John tried to persuade her through song to “come out and play.”  At the end of the Esher demo John explains “Who was to know that [suppressed giggle] sooner or later she was to go completely berserk in the care of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.  All the people around were very worried about the girl, because she was going insane.  So we sang to her.” 

Although The Beatles has been criticized for being bloated with non-essential cuts (“Don’t Pass Me By,” “Wild Honey Pie,” “Revolution #9”) it still holds up after 50 years.  In my opinion, it is the diversity, risk taking, and wide range of musical genres that account for its enduring charm.  There’s something for everyone.

Enjoy… until next week.