Song of the Week – The Battle of Who Could Care Less, Ben Folds Five

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How do you feel about Ben Folds?  I first heard of him when he released his second album as the Ben Folds Five (there were only 3 people in the band), Whatever and Ever Amen (1997) – that’s the one with one of his most well-known songs, Brick.”

I kind of liked his sense of humor and self-deprecation.  At the time he described the groups sound as “punk rock for sissies.”

The band’s guitarless lineup of piano (Folds), bass (Robert Sledge) and drums (Darren Jessee) made them stand out against other popular groups of the day.  I often thought they sounded a bit like Todd Rundgren on some of his more poppy, piano-based hits, like “Hello It’s Me.”

Take a listen to the SotW, “The Battle of Who Could Care Less,” from Whatever… to see if you hear the similarity.

“Battle…” exemplifies the previously mentioned self-deprecating humor.  The song is about a guy who’s competing to prove his “coolness” by being aloof and indifferent.

Do you not hear me anymore?
I know it’s not your thing to care
I know it’s cool to be so bored
It sucks me in when you’re aloof
It sucks me in, it sucks, it works
I guess it’s cool to be alone

This should cheer you up for sure
See, I’ve got your old I.D.
And you’re all dressed up like the Cure

Will you never rest
Fighting the battle of who could care less
Unearned unhappiness
You’re my hero, I confess

Pretty funny stuff!

Folds indie cred was burnished through his work as the producer of the first solo album by the provocative performance artist, Amanda Palmer (formerly of The Dresden Dolls).

But somehow, I hold it against him that he was a judge on a TV singing show – the a capella contest The Sing Off, that was on NBC for five years.  That’s not very hip in my book.  Then again, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith agreed to judge American Idol for two seasons.  So who knows?

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – So It Goes, Let Me Kiss Ya & I Live on a Battlefield, Nick Lowe

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I was listening to a Spotify Daily Mix a few days ago that was feeding me a healthy dose of Nick Lowe songs… and I was digging it.

Lowe began his musical career in the Pub Rock scene in early ‘70s London.  By the mid/late ‘70s he was working with Stiff Records as a producer and recording artist – vaguely associated with “punk” rock, but not really.

His first solo album was called Jesus of Cool (1978) in the UK but was given the less offensive title Pure Pop for Now People in the US (with a reprogrammed song order).  It contained Lowe’s first single release for Stiff, “So It Goes.”

Pure pop, indeed!  The song ended up on the soundtrack of The Ramones film Rock ‘n Roll High School.

Lowe’s next album, Labour of Lust (1979), contained one of his most popular hits, “Cruel to Be Kind.”

Lowe’s third solo LP, Nick the Nife (1982), gave us the power pop classic “Let Me Kiss Ya.”

This song is so innocent and sweet it could give you a cavity.

Lowe continued to write and record terrific songs.  In 1994, Lowe released one of my favorites in his catalog – “I Live on a Battlefield” (co-written by Paul Carrack) – from The Impossible Bird album.

An irony of his career is that he’s become a wealthy man from a song he wrote that was made more famous by Elvis Costello — “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.”  But the big bucks came from the song’s inclusion on the soundtrack to the Whitney Houston/Kevin Costner film The Bodyguard (1992) and it wasn’t even Costello’s version!  The massive sales success of that album generated royalties to Lowe estimated to exceed $2.5 million.  Not bad!!!

Lowe was married to Carlene Carter for 11 years.  That made him Johnny Cash’s stepson-in-law.  He played in “supergroup” Little Village with John Hiatt, Ry Cooder, and Jim Keltner.  He is also one of a relatively small collection of artists that have performed at least 5 times at the free, San Francisco music festival, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass.  All of these connections put him in damn good company!

No wonder I was digging that Spotify playlist.  Nick Lowe is a treasure.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Oye la noticia, Ray Barretto

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Ray Barretto was a Puerto Rican conga drummer that released dozens of Latin albums between 1960 and his death in 2006.  He was a sought after session musician for many great names in the jazz world, including Kenny Burrell (Barretto played on August 5th, 2017, SotW “Chitlins Con Carne”), Billy Cobham (on his landmark Spectrum album), Dizzy Gillespie, Yusef Lateef, Herbie Mann, Wes Montgomery, Sonny Stitt and Weather Report.

But he also left his mark on popular music; appearing on recordings by The Bee Gees and Eddie Harris and performing as part of the Fania Allstars at the 1979 Havana Jam with the likes of Bonnie Bramlett, Rita Coolidge, Billy Joel, Kris Kristofferson, and Stephen Stills.

In his book 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die, Tom Moon chose Barretto’s Barretto Power (1972) as a “must find” listen.  Today’s SotW is “Oye la noticia” (“Hear the news”) from that album.

Moon says this about the song:

“Oye la noticia” …begins as a medium-tempo dance tune, but right around the three-minute mark, Barretto breaks into a marathon conga roll that sends an unmistakable signal: Change is coming. The percussionists heed his call. Within seconds, they begin smacking the rhythm around, adding inspired jabs. These don’t simply outline the beat but pummel it into submission with phrases that require both brute strength and tremendous dexterity.

This tune was designed to get you up, on your feet, and dancing. So stand up and shake it!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Water Song, Hot Tuna

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Today’s SotW is “Water Song” by Hot Tuna.

Hot Tuna was the spin-off group from Jefferson Airplane, led by guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady in 1969.  “Water Song” was on their 3rd album, Burgers (1972), that also featured (ex-Jefferson Airplane) violinist Papa John Creach, and drummer Sammy Piazza.

“Water Song” is ideally named.  The shimmering acoustic guitar and rolling drum fills evoke the image of a rippling stream flowing through a forest of dappled light.

If you’re into the technical aspects of guitar playing, check out this video of Kaukonen teaching how to tune your instrument to open G and play “Water Song.”

Jorma Kaukonen – Water Song Tutorial

As an instrumental, “Water Song” was very popular at WZBC in the ‘70s, used by many of the DJs as the bed played behind their reading of the nightly live music updates.

“Water Song” is also a fan favorite.  Hot Tuna often saves it for the encore at their live performances, still to this day.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Float On, The Floaters

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Back in the ‘70s, in the Disco era, one of the most cliché’ pick-up lines was conceived – “What’s your sign?”  In some ways, it isn’t as corny as it seems today.  You see, back then there was a significant cultural meme around horoscopes and astrology.  The website at the link below documents the era.

Flashbak – What’s Your Sign?

Needless to say, that cultural phenomenon could not escape popular music!

“Float On,” by the soul group The Floaters, did their best to capitalize on the trend.

Each of the group’s singers states his sign, name and what attributes he desires in women.

Aquarius and my name is Ralph
Now I like a woman who loves her freedom

Libra and my name is Charles
Now I like a woman that’s quiet

Leo and my name is Paul
You see I like all women of the world

Cancer and my name is Larry, huh
And I like a woman that loves everything and everybody

The sultry r&b music holds up but the lyrics haven’t aged well.  Yet I still enjoy hearing it because it’s so ludicrous.  It always makes me smile.

The album version extends to almost 12 minutes of slow jam sensuality.  The single was cut to 4 minutes to accommodate radio programming.  In 1977 it reached #1 on US Hot Soul Singles chart and #2 on Billboard Hot 100.

“Float On” was the subject of a parody, “Bloat On,” by comedy team Cheech and Chong.  It was originally released as a single and later included on their Let’s Make a New Dope Deal album.

Harry Nilsson (featuring Gloria Jones and the Zodiac Singers) recorded a song called “What’s Your Sign” (1975) and Frank Zappa’s “Dancin’ Fool” (1979) is a scathing lampoon of the Disco culture and has the line “Love your nails … You must be a Libra… Your place or mine?”

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – You Don’t Have to Walk in the Rain, The Turtles

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Today’s SotW celebrates the 50th anniversary of one of the strangest events ever to occur in Rock History.  On May 10, 1969, The Turtles took drugs in the Nixon White House and all hell broke loose.

The accounts of what actually happened that day are a little sketchy.  (The were no smartphones capturing everything on video.)  I’ll do my best to tell the story as pieced together from several sources.

Tricia Nixon, the President’s daughter, was a big fan of The Turtles.  She was having her first party in the White House and invited The Turtles and The Temptations to provide the entertainment.  The guests were socialites and the children of high-powered business execs – about 450 of them!

The first incident occurred when the Secret Service freaked out because the could hear something ticking in the equipment cases.  Turns out it was only a metronome, but just to be safe, the agents stomped it into pieces to make sure it wasn’t an IED.  In another telling, the SS pried the cover off of it and drowned it in water.

Next came the drugs and alcohol.  Some say The Turtles snorted cocaine off the Lincoln Desk (as Howard “Eddie” Kaylan claims in his 2013 autobiography — Shell Shocked: My Life with the Turtles, Flo and Eddie, and Frank Zappa, etc.) and others that they smoked some weed in the Lincoln Bedroom.  Who really knows?  There was also an abundance of champagne being poured.

But one thing’s for sure – Mark “Flo” Volman, got so wasted that he fell off the crowded stage several times.

Later, Volman tried to hit on Lucy Baines Johnson, The former President’s daughter, much to the dismay of her angry husband, Pat Nugent.

At this time The Turtles were making their underappreciated album, Turtle Soup.  That’s the one that they called on The Kinks’ Ray Davies to produce.  Today’s SotW is “You Don’t Have to Walk in the Rain” from Turtle Soup.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Talking Straight, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever

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The Melbourne, Australia based Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever had a good 2018.  They released an album, Hope Downs, that found its way onto many “best of” lists last year and also played to huge American audiences at the 2018 Coachella Festival.

I like their sound.  It reminds me a little of early R.E.M.  Take, for instance, “Talking Straight,” today’s SotW.

Jangly guitars provide a galloping rhythm that evokes mid-‘80s modern rock.  The vocals are like The Only Ones’ Peter Perrett.  (Remember “Another Girl, Another Planet?”)

The song’s writer, singer/guitarist Joe White, has been quoted suggesting that the track is about loneliness.

I’m hopeless, no embrace
I wanna know
I wanna know where the silence comes from
Where space originates

“The idea in this song is that we might be lonely, but we could be lonely together.”

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Fresh Air, Quicksilver & Before the Water Gets Too High, Parquet Courts

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April 22, 1970, was the date of the first Earth Day.  It has been celebrated every April 22nd ever since.  Long before we understood the impact of greenhouse gasses or coined the terms “climate change” or “global warming,” the environment was being polluted by gas-guzzling cars using leaded petrol and factories were spewing toxic gasses and smoke into the air.

Musicians took up the cause and wrote songs about it.  The earliest one I recall was “Out in the Country” (written by Paul Williams and Roger Nichols) from Three Dog Night’s album It Ain’t Easy (1970).

About the same time, Quicksilver Messenger Service released “Fresh Air.”

“Fresh Air” was written by Dino Valenti (aka Dino Valente, Chet Powers, and Jesse Farrow).  He also wrote the hippie anthem “Get Together” which was a major hit for Jesse Colin Young and The Youngbloods.

Throughout the years many other songs that touch the issue of the environment have been recorded by major stars.  A few examples (and there are many more) include:

Mercy, Mercy Me (the Ecology) – Marvin Gaye

Big Yellow Taxi – Joni Mitchell

Fall on Me – REM

My City Was Gone – The Pretenders

Beds Are Burning – Midnight Oil

Still, very recently, this issue was addressed by Parquet Courts in their song “Before the Water Gets Too High” on 2018’s Wide Awaaaaake!

State TV helps the public explain
Broadcast beamed into the dry terrain
Images of drenched survival
Without hope but soaked with pain
Consequences of reality felt
All conditions of humanity built
On the bridges
Tent villages waiting for the state to help

Before the water gets too high

This brings back the memories of the trauma left behind in post-Katrina New Orleans and 2017’s Maria in Puerto Rico.

Almost 50 years after the first Earth Day there is still more work to be done!

Enjoy… until next week.

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.