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.

Song of the Week – Blend, Sandy Bull

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THIS IS A TEST.

Today’s SotW is one of the most challenging I’ve ever posted.  I know it’s not for everybody, but the SotW wasn’t started to share hit songs that will be liked by the greatest numbers of people.  It was created with the goal of bringing new and different music (Ignored Obscured Restored), that I find worthwhile, to open-minded music lovers – that’s YOU!

So, what do I have up my sleeve?  How about a 22-minute instrumental excursion through Eastern and Western musical styles, by just a guitarist and a jazz drummer?

Today’s SotW is “Blend,” by Sandy Bull, from the 1963 album Fantasias for Guitar and Banjo.

This largely improvised piece covers a range of genres, including classical, folk, jazz, raga and psychedelic rock.  It has been reported that Steve Winwood has given Bull some credit for leading Traffic toward its psychedelic roots.  That also leaves me wondering if “Blend” may have provided inspiration to Jimmy Page for Led Zeppelin compositions like “Kashmir” or “In the Light.”

The drums were played by jazzman Billy Higgins, whose best work was in collaboration with Ornette Coleman.

Did anyone make it through the full 22 minutes?  If yes…

YOU PASSED THE TEST!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Billy Jack & So in Love, Curtis Mayfield

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February 28th brought Black History Month 2019 to a close.  Perhaps it was fitting that last Sunday’s Academy Awards were amongst the most diverse ever witnessed.  Oscar nominations and winners in many categories included films focused on African American casts/themes such as Black Panther, BlacKkKlansman, and If Beale Street Could Talk.  And in a surprise to most, Green Book walked away with the award for Best Picture.

This is progress, though still more needs to be done before we achieve a truly color-blind society.

This subject caused me to reflect on the work of Curtis Mayfield, a pioneer in writing and recording songs that reflected the condition of Blacks in the US.  Long before Marvin Gaye (What’s Going On, “Inner City Blues”) or Stevie Wonder (“Living for the City”) were laying it out there, Mayfield was releasing gospel-tinged, message songs like “Keep on Pushing” (1964), “People Get Ready” (1965), “We’re a Winner” (1968), “Choice of Colors” (1969), and “We the People Who Are Darker Than Blue” (1970).  Some of these may have even inspired James Brown to become more politically strident with songs like “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” (1968).

I was tempted to select a song from Mayfield’s soundtrack to Super Fly, in keeping with the Academy Awards theme.  But instead, I’ve chosen something you’re less likely to have heard, in keeping with the black history/political songs (and SotW) themes.

The consistency of Mayfield’s catalog is impeccable.  Despite the steady quality of his releases, shortly after the success of Super Fly, his already modest audience began to wane.

In 1975, Mayfield released the terrific There’s No Place Like America Today.  Even before you get to the music, the album cover conveys that you are about to hear something special.  It is a variation on a famous photograph taken by Margaret Bourke-White called “At the Time of the Louisville Flood.”

Mayfield’s team colorized it and changed the wording to fit his album.  But the1937 image still suited the status of Blacks in 1975 (and may still be relevant today).

There’s No Place Like America Today is a slow burn.  This album is a single malt Scotch, nightcap – not a Cosmopolitan.  It moves at a pace that reminds me of Sly’s There’s a Riot Goin’ On (though it’s not similarly as druggy or dark).

My first SotW is “Billy Jack,” the album’s lead track.

This is a funk workout with effective use of congas and a stellar horn arrangement.  There’s a lot going on and a lot to like on this track.  The lyrics deal with the issue of gun violence in the ghetto (another situation that remains as common today as it was in ’75):

There can’t be no fun, can’t be no fun
To be shot, shot with a handgun
Your body sprawled out, you without a doubt
Running people out, there on the floor

Sad bloody mess
Shot all up in his chest, shot in his chest
One-sided duel, gun and a fool, ah
What a way to go

As a change of pace, the next SotW is “So in Love.”

This song departs from the social commentary of the rest of the album’s selections.  It is a simple love song – nothing more, nothing less – sung in Mayfield’s gentle falsetto that must have influenced scores of soul singers, from Al Green to Prince, and beyond.  It too has a fantastic horn arrangement and was Mayfield’s last release to manage to reach the pop chart (#67) in the US.

The choice of Green Book as the Oscar winner for Best Picture has generated quite a bit of controversy.  One of the most consistent complaints was that it followed the formula for “white savior” films.  Personally, I don’t see it that way (though admittedly from a white guy’s POV).  To me, it was a story of two people who started out from different worlds and grew to know and respect the others’.  Curtis Mayfield once said:

“Segregation will only end when people get to know the people they think they hate.  To start to know somebody is to respect them.”

That’s the message I heard!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Them Changes, Buddy Miles

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Drummer Buddy Miles is mostly recognized because of his affiliation with Jimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys.  Hendrix, Miles and Billy Cox released one album together, recorded live at the Fillmore East on January 1, 1970, and it holds up almost 50 years later.

But Miles’ career had much more to it than the Hendrix connection.  He was a founding member of The Electric Flag, along with guitarist Mike Bloomfield and vocalist Nick Gravenites, that released two albums in 1968.

In 1970, Miles released a couple of solo discs.  The first came out a few months before Hendrix died and was titled after his signature song, “Them Changes” (which was also on the Band of Gypsys album).

“Them Changes” is a terrific, funk rock rave-up, fueled by the Memphis Horns (Stax Records’ Steve Cropper produced the album).  Miles delivers a strong vocal too.

(For a goof, check out the Bobby McFerrin a capella version recorded on his Simple Pleasures album — the one that also had the insipid “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”.)

Them Changes is a very good album that included a few interesting covers of prominent artists like The Allman Brothers (“Dreams”), Neil Young (“Down by the River”) and Otis Redding (“Your Feeling is Mine”).

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Action Woman, The Litter

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Back in 1967, at the height of the original garage rock era that was immortalized on the Nuggets and Pebbles compilations, a Minneapolis band called The Litter released a 7-incher called “Action Woman” on the local Scotty label.  In fact, the song made it onto both of the named comps.  It wasn’t on the Nuggets original 1972, 2 album set but was added to the 1998, 4 CD reissue.  However, it was the lead-off track on Volume 1 of the 28-disc set of the Pebbles series.

This song has everything a classic garage/psych tune needs – fuzzy lead guitar (played by Bill Strandlof) and a snotty vocal (by Denny Waite) sung with an overabundance of attitude.

Waite snarls:

Hey, Miss High and Mighty
I’ve had all I can take
Walkin’ right on by me
That’s your last mistake

I’ve gotta find myself some action
To satisfy my soul
A little mad distraction
Before I lose control

and

Yeah, I’m gonna find me an action woman
To love me all the time,
A satisfaction woman
Before I lose my mind.

Other than this evergreen rocker, The Litter found little success beyond recognition as a regional working band.  But they caught lightning in a bottle and cemented their place in rock history.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Future Me Hates Me, The Beths

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This week marks the 11th anniversary of the Song of the Week.  Thank you all for reading and commenting.

Each December my kids and their cousins assemble a playlist of their favorite music of the year.  I really liked one selection on the 2018 list, “Future Me Hates Me” from The Beths album of the same name, and was surprised I missed it during the year.

The Auckland, New Zealand indie rock band is fronted by singer/songwriter/guitarist Elizabeth Stokes.  Her songs are full of smart lyrics, catchy hooks and memorable choruses.

The song is about getting into a relationship that the singer knows is doomed but goes ahead with it anyway.

It’s getting dangerous
I could get hurt I know
I’ve counted up the cons
They far outweigh the pros

Future heartbreak
Future headaches
Wide-eyed nights late-lying awake
With future cold shakes
From stupid mistakes
Future me hates me for
Hates me for

Future Me Hates Me is an excellent debut album (though The Beths had released an EP in 2016) and deserves the recognition it received last year – not only from the “cuzzies” but also from the music press.  Check it out.

Enjoy… until next week.