Song of the Week – Holdin’ It Down, Frazey Ford

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Former member of the Be Good Tanyas, Frazey Ford is an artist to be reckoned with.  The Vancouver based, country soul artist released her third solo album earlier this year.  U kin B the Sun is another leap forward in her creative growth.  That’s a huge accomplishment after the giant step she took with her last album, Indian Ocean, when she incorporated Memphis soul into her sound by recoding with the Hi Rhythm Section that supported all of Al Green’s huge 70s hits.

Take a listen to “Holdin’ It Down.”

I held it all together, heavy on my mind
I held it all together but I left it all behind
I didn’t see you coming, coming down the line
Traffic in the atmosphere, salt inside your smile

Lessons I’m unlearning, back and forth in time
Coming up all rocky and opening in my mind

Chorus:

I have been holding down long as I can remember
You know the only thing I have depended upon has been me
Oh well, but I’d like to rest on the shore
Before I go back and do more
And I’m taking a plane and a car straight to your door

The sap it runs in springtime
The thaw begins at night
My hips are moving forward
I come from a mellow line

Reckless deep abandon
Streets that open wide
I thought I wasn’t ready
I was ready all the time

Chorus

Ford, quoted on her record label (Kill Beat Music) website describes the lyrics saying, “To me it’s about an embodied sense of female resilience and self-reliance through generations mixed with the urge to rest and trust in another.”

The instrumentation on this song follows the axiom that sometimes “less is more.”  I love the way the single root note is pounded in time through the chorus.  The sparse arrangement leaves plenty of room for Ford’s expressive vocal.

Check out the rest of Ford’s recordings on Spotify.  You won’t be disappointed!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – 13 Questions, Seatrain

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Seatrain is one of those relatively obscure bands that I really enjoy listening to.  Their first, eponymous album was called Sea Train (1969).  That band was formed by ex-members of the Blues Project, flutist/bassist/songwriter Andy Kulberg and drummer Roy Blumenfeld.  They were joined by fiddler Richard Greene who had played with Geoff and Maria Muldaur in the Jim Kweskin Jug Band.

The second, eponymous album was titled Seatrain (1970).  That’s my favorite and was improved by the addition of Peter Rowan on guitar, but more importantly, lead vocals.  Seatrain was produced by George Martin.  It was the first rock act he produced after completing his run with the Beatles on Abbey Road.  (Seatrain recorded for Capitol Records, as did the Beatles in the US before they formed Apple.)

The country-rock on Seatrain makes some biblical references.  The song “Waiting for Elija” alludes to Elija’s second coming.  Another biblical story is told in “Book of Job.”

Today’s SotW was the band’s only “hit.”  “13 Questions” reached #49 on the Billboard charts.

“13 Questions” flips the typical alien invasion story.  This one is told from the perspective of the alien.

Deep in the darkest hour of a very heavy week,
Three Earthmen did confront me, and I could hardly speak.
They showed me 19 terrors, and each one struck my soul,
They threw me 13 questions, each one an endless hole.
Thirteen questions, each an endless hole.

If anyone is interested in digging deeper, check out Seatrain’s recording of Lowell George’s “Willin’” – there titled “I’m Willing.”  It has a creative arrangement and was on record before either of the two versions released by Little Feat on their first two albums.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Angry Eyes, Loggins & Messina

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In high school, I was a big fan of Loggins & Messina.  If I could transport the current me back to the early ‘70s I might ridicule the young me’s taste.  But I still enjoy listening to a lot of their music when I hear it today.  I’ll admit they are a “guilty pleasure” and leave it at that.

That medley of “Lovin’ Me/To Make a Woman Feel Wanted/Peace of Mind” from their Sittin’ In debut still satisfies.  But one of my favorites is the final track on their 1972 second, eponymous album – “Angry Eyes.”

“Angry Eyes” was the template for the “long song” feature on each of their next few albums.  There was “Pathway to Glory” on Full Sail, and “Be Free” on Mother Lode.  All open with a traditional song melody and lyric but evolve into a progressive “jam.”  I use the term jam loosely because the structure is not improvisational – it is a well orchestrated composition.

“Angry Eyes” flows a lot like the Rolling Stones “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” – which is truly a jam – but is less bluesy and uses a wider variety of instrumentation.  Still, it creates emotional ebbs and flows that are very pleasing to the ear.

In concert, “Angry Eyes” was a Loggins and Messina staple.  I was fortunate to see them at Cornell University in March of ’73.  Jim Croce was their support act.  I was lucky to have the chance to see Croce too, as he died in a plane crash in Louisiana six months later in September ’73.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – British Invasion Music in Film

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This is the next installment of my series on Rock music in films; today covering the British Invasion.

The Beatles reached into the homes of millions of Americans via The Ed Sullivan Show on Sunday evening, February 9, 1964, launching Beatlemania.  A month later, the Beatles began filming their first movie – A Hard Day’s Night – that was released in the US the following August.

Like the Beatles’ music itself, A Hard Day’s Night set the bar for quality very high.  It’s not only a good Beatle movie or a good Rock music movie; it’s simply a good movie – a very good pun and quip filled movie.

The screenplay was written by Alun Owen and deftly directed by Richard Lester.  Both provide ample opportunities for each Beatle to reveal their personality.  The Beatles prove that they are more than lovable mop tops.  They are smart and funny young men.  The scene where George accidentally stumbles into a focus group meeting for a ‘60s version of a style influencer is hilarious.

The segment where the boys escape the TV studio and romp around the Thornbury Playing Fields in Isleworth, Middlesex, to “Can’t By Me Love” was shot using camera techniques that would be copied many times over, especially by The Monkees.

Other movies starring British Invasion groups include fellow Liverpudlians Gerry and the Pacemakers in Ferry Cross the Mersey (1965), Herman’s Hermits’ Hold On (1966), and The Dave Clark Five in Having a Wild Weekend (1965).  They all seem to try to imitate A Hard Days Night to a greater or lesser degree.  But all fail.

Check out the DC5 mimicking the Can’t Buy Me Love, Thornbury scene at the end of this clip:

Having a Wild Weekend (originally Catch Us If You Can in England) is a decent film, the directorial debut by a young John Boorman who later achieved success with Deliverance (1972).  The plot involves a young model/actress Dinah (Barbara Ferris) who wants to escape the pressure of being the commercial image behind a meat industry campaign.  Stuntman Steve (Dave Clark) – who was a real-life stuntman before becoming a rock star — sympathizes with the craziness surrounding them and takes her away on an impromptu journey.

The film doesn’t take advantage of any “on-screen” performances by the group, a decision that limits its appeal.  But it does include several DC5 recordings – “It’s Gonna Be Alright,” “Move On,” “I Like It” and, of course, “Catch Us If You Can.”

So stay tuned.  There’s more to come in this exploration on the topic of Rock music in films.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Balloon Man, Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians

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“Balloon Man” was a 1988 “hit” for Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians.  (It reached #1 on Gavin Report’s Alternative Music chart.)

Hitchcock wrote the song about walking in NYC in the rain while eating a falafel.

He spattered me with tomatoes, hummus, chickpeas
And some strips of skin
So I made a right on 44th
And I washed my hands when I got in

And it rained like a slow divorce
And I wish I could ride a horse
And Balloon Man blew up in my hand

Besides the falafel hint, the whimsical lyrics are indecipherable.  But after watching the official video, I can’t help but think that it was at least partially inspired by the balloon character Rover from the ‘60s British television series, The Prisoner.  Hitchcock is of the age that he would have been very familiar with the show.

A bass line introduces the song and plays a key role throughout.  The guitars go full jangle in the chorus and then come back at about 2:40 to take us all the way home.

In a 2011 interview Hitchcock gave to Will Harris of the AV Club, he mentioned the song was originally written for The Bangles.

“Well, “Balloon Man” I wrote for The Bangles, if you remember them. I was in touch with a couple of them, and I sent them a quarter-inch, 7.5 IPS reel. I don’t know if they did anything with it.”

I wish The Bangles had recorded it because it perfectly suits their style of harmony-filled, jangle rock.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know, Blood Sweat & Tears

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“I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know” is my favorite song from one of my favorite albums – Child is Father to the Man by Blood Sweat & Tears.  Child… is the first BS&T album from the time that Al Kooper led the band.  But he was one and done with the band he founded.

A blues in 6/8 time (I’ve never met a song in 6/8 that I didn’t love), ILYMTYEK packs an emotional punch – both lyrically and musically.

If I ever leave you… you can say I told you so
And if I ever hurt you, baby … you know I hurt myself as well

Is that any way for a man to carry on
Do you think he wants his little loved one gone
I love you
More than you’ll ever know

Steve Katz’s guitar tone in the opening riff is perfect!  And those horns!!!  The arrangement is beautiful, especially in the modulated bridge where they build to an emotional peak.  Then there’s that sax solo by Fred Lipsius.  Magnificent!

In his autobiography, Backstage Passes and Backstabbing Bastards, Kooper claimed that he was attempting to channel Otis Redding when he cut the vocal.  Not known as a great singer, he pulls off a gem on this one.  Although his voice is straining at the cut’s climax, it only adds to the sense of pain he’s struggling to convey.

The great Donny Hathaway laid down a wonderful cover version of ILYMTYEK that’s worth tracking down.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – You’ve Been In Love Too Long, Bonnie Raitt, and Martha & the Vandellas

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One of my favorite Bonnie Raitt cuts is the opener on her third album, 1973’s Takin’ My Time – “You’ve Been In Love Too Long.”

The album was produced by John Hall of Orleans, and Raitt was backed by an A-list of musician friends.  “You’ve Been in Love Too Long” features Hall (lead guitar), the late Paul Barrere (rhythm guitar) and Bill Payne (keys) of Little Feat, the great Jim Keltner (drums), and longtime collaborator Freebo (bass).  No wonder the song has such snap, crackle and pop!

“You’ve Been in Love Too Long” is a cover of a 1965 Motown release by Martha and the Vandellas.  The original cracked the Billboard 100 top forty at #36 but wasn’t a “success” by Motown standards – especially as the follow up to “Nowhere to Run” that reached #8 and stayed on the charts for 11 weeks.

I’m usually partial to originals over covers, but not in this case.  Compared to Raitt, Martha Reeves track feels sluggish.  That isn’t an adjective that’s often used to describe a Motown song.  So the credit here goes to Raitt and Co.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Rock Music in Early ’60s Films

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This is the second installment of my series on Rock music in movies.  The first covered Rock music in 50s films.  Today’s post explores the movies of the early 60s.

At the close of the 50s, the great explosion of creative talent in Rock ‘n Roll was against the ropes.  Elvis was in the Army and out of the recording (and film) studio; Chuck Berry was in trouble with the law for a violation of the Mann Act for transporting a 14-year old girl across state lines; Jerry Lee Lewis was fending off a PR nightmare for marrying his 13-year old cousin (once removed) before the divorce from his second wife was final; controversy swirled around Little Richard’s ambiguous sexuality: a plane crash took the life of Buddy Holly.

What filled the void?  On the radio, it was bland covers of R&B songs by the likes of Pat Boone.  On-screen we were treated to a slew of beach movies (Beach Party, Bikini Beach, Muscle Beach Party, Surf Party) and “twist” dance movies (Don’t Knock the Twist, Hey, Let’s Twist).

There were a few highlights though, both involving my first crush – Ann-Margret.

In 1963 she starred in the film version of Bye Bye BirdieBirdie told the story of a rock star (Conrad Birdie) that was being drafted into the Army.  The gold lamé wearing Birdie was loosely inspired by Elvis Presley.  High school Birdie fan Kim MacAfee (Margret) wins a contest that will have her meet and be kissed by the star on the Ed Sullivan Show.

The theme song “Bye Bye Birdie” is sung by Margret at the beginning of the movie and is reprised at the end. In the first version, Margret plays up her youthful, girlish charm.  By the end of the show, Kim is a mature woman, and her performance vamps it up!  Watch the video and you’ll see what I mean!

A year later, Margret was starring with Presley himself in Viva Las Vegas – one of a handful of Presley movies that holds up.

The terrific title song – written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman – rocks.  It has been covered by artists as diverse as Dead Kennedys, Nina Hagen, Stray Cats, and ZZ Top.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Suavecito, Malo

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“Suavecito.”  It was a top 20 hit on Billboard in 1972 and was off the debut album by the San Francisco based Malo.  The band was made up of Abel Zarate, Pablo Tellez, Arcelio Garcia, Richard Spremich, Richard Kermode, Luis Gasca, Roy Murray, and Jorge Santana, the brother of guitarist Carlos Santana, Richard Bean guested on the lead vocal for “Suavecito.”

Wikipedia claims “Suavecito” (Spanish for “smooth”) has been adopted as “The Chicano National Anthem.”

The song was written by Bean, Zarate and Tellez.  Bean wrote the lyrics in the form of a poem.  He has told the story that the song is about “this girl in algebra class I had a crush on.  I was in love.  Maybe puppy love.  I hated algebra.”

He claims his former classmate, at San Francisco’s Mission High School, still has no idea he wrote the lyrics for her.

Fun fact:  Bean’s great grandfather was Judge Roy Bean, who, according to legend, earned the reputation as a “hanging judge” in Texas jurisdiction.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Rock Music in ’50s Films

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For a very long time, I’ve been ruminating on the idea to write a series of posts that address the subject of Rock music in films.  It has taken me a long time to deal with the subject because it is better suited to long-form journalism, or even a book, than a 500-word blog post essay.  So, I’ve decided to attack it with a series of articles, perhaps by decade.  This is the first in the series, covering the ‘50s.  This has become timelier since the passing of Little Richard last week.

Any discussion of Rock music in film must start with Blackboard Jungle (1955).  The movie’s plot centers around a high school teacher that tries to educate at an inner-city, all boy’s school, many of whose students are juvenile delinquents.  The only rock ‘n roll recording used in the movie was Bill Haley and the Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock.”  But it was used to great effect over the opening credits and into the first scene.

It is often credited for starting the rebellious teenage revolution of the ‘50s and kickstarted the popularity of rock ‘n roll itself.

The Girl Can’t Help It (1956) was a comedy starring the sexy Jayne Mansfield.  But it also provided a showcase for some of the best early rock ‘n rollers, such as Fats Domino, Little Richard, Eddie Cochran, the Platters, and Gene Vincent.

Here’s the title song, by Little Richard.

A week after The Girl Can’t Help It was released, another youth-oriented film ended the year with a bang!  Rock! Rock! Rock! (1956) came out just before the holidays.  Wikipedia describes the flick “as an early jukebox musical featuring performances by established rock and roll singers of the era, including Chuck Berry, LaVern Baker, Teddy Randazzo, the Moonglows, the Flamingos, and The Teenagers with Frankie Lymon as lead singer.”  The movie didn’t have much of a plot, but it did feature 21 performances of songs by those artists, and others (The Johnny Burnette Trio, Connie Francis).

Chuck Berry killed it with “You Can’t Catch Me.”

How can we address rock ‘n roll in ‘50s films without mentioning The King’s best flick – Jailhouse Rock (1957).  This movie, starring Elvis Presley, is a vehicle for his songs but also has a strong storyline (unlike most of his ‘60s films that have very weak screenplays).  The title song is a classic!  But the movie also includes the great Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller penned “(You’re So Square) Baby I Don’t Care.”

This song is so good that it has been covered by countless artists, not the least of which include The Beatles, Buddy Holly, Joni Mitchell, Queen, Bryan Ferry, and Hüsker Dü.

Other films from the ‘50s with notable rock ‘n roll soundtracks include Shake Rattle and Rock, Jamboree, The Big Beat, Hot Rod Gang, and Go, Johnny, Go!  Check ‘em out.

Stay tuned for the next installment of Rock Music in Films.

Enjoy… until next week.