Song of the Week – Somebody Help Me, Jackie Edwards, Spencer Davis Group, Everly Brothers

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Today’s SotW is another installment of the “Evolution Series.” The subject song is “Somebody Help Me.” It was written by Jackie Edwards, a Jamaican ska artist that was popular in the early ‘60s. He was an early “discovery” of Chris Blackwell, the founder of Island Records.

Edwards’ release of “Somebody Help Me” was on a 1966, UK album called By Demand. It has a big band sound, complete with a strong horn arrangement.

Blackwell signed The Spencer Davis Group to Island in 1964 and introduced them to Edwards’ songs. They released “Keep On Running” and “Somebody Help Me,” both #1 hits in the UK. In the US, “Somebody Help Me” only reached #47 in mid ‘67. But it shoulda been a bigger hit here too!

This take is more rock oriented and features guitar, organ, and percussion to emphasize the rhythm.

The Everly Brothers picked up on the cut and released their own take on their album Two Yanks in England (1966). This one also relies on power chords from the guitars but also highlights the Brothers trademark close harmony.

All three versions maintain the spirit of the song, yet each also highlights the unique personality of its recording artists.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Pale Blue Eyes, Velvet Underground

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It’s coming up on 5 years since Lou Reed passed away. When he died, many of my readers were asking me to pay him a tribute with a SotW selection. At the time, Reed received so much press that I didn’t feel like I had anything new or worthwhile to add to the coverage.

With the distance of time, I’m ready to weigh in by sharing my passion for a beautiful song that Reed wrote for the Velvet Underground’s third, self-titled album (1969) – “Pale Blue Eyes.”

The song has a very sparse arrangement – an organ lingers on long notes, simple bass figures, an electric guitar strums simple chords (and bends a few strings) and a tambourine keeps time with single shakes on the 2 and 4.

The delicate music is a perfect complement to the lyric about a passionate relationship that sounds like it’s ending. But the kicker comes in the last verse where Reed reveals the person he loves and wants to keep so badly is married.

It was good what we did yesterday
And I’d do it once again
The fact that you are married
Only proves you’re my best friend
But it’s truly, truly a sin

The influence of “Pale Blue Eyes” is justified through many great bands that have covered it. R.E.M. gave us a version on their 1987 rarities album, Dead Letter Office. (DLO also had 2 other VU songs on it – “There She Goes Again” and “Femme Fatale.”) A diverse group of other artists has performed the song live, including Patti Smith, Hole, Alejandro Escovedo, The Killers, and Crowded House(!).

“Linger on…”

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Moon Germs, Billy Cobham

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The great jazz fusion drummer, Billy Cobham, has recently ended a short tour as the Crosswinds Project, paying tribute to his own 1974 renowned album Crosswinds. His band included Paul Hanson (bassoon, saxophone), the brother of one of my bandmates in Rockridge Station.

I was unable to make it to the shows at the famous Yoshi’s in Oakland; but my friends that did, raved about the quality of the performances. That was the catalyst for me to dig out my Cobham discs and revisit the music.

The Cobham album I’ve been most familiar with is Total Eclipse, also from 1974. (I remember buying that record from the cut-out bins at NE Music City in Boston’s Kenmore Square.) When I returned to Total Eclipse I was blown away by a track I’d almost forgotten, “Moon Germs,” so I selected it as today’s SotW.

This funky number rocks! It has a big, dense arrangement, with a strong bass line (Alex Blake) and more horns than a stampede of rhinos (both Brecker brothers and Glenn Ferris). The guitar work by John Abercrombie is powerful. Check out the way the sax and guitar exchange solos halfway through. Remarkable!

It’s no wonder “Moon Germs” has become a staple in Cobham’s repertoire.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – No Excuses, Alice in Chains

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In 1994, Alice in Chains released an EP – Jar of Flies — of amazing quality. The album opens with the terrific “Rotten Apple,” with its “Hey ah na na” mantra over a wah wah guitar.

Next is the hypnotic “Nutshell.” It presaged the “unplugged” trend, focusing on acoustic instruments except for the electric guitar solo.

The third song, “I Stay Away,” is just as good. It’s a pretty dark sounding song that takes advantage of a few orchestral flairs (strings and horns) and a spooky vocal by Layne Staley. It was recognized with a Grammy Award for the Best Hard Rock Performance in 1995.

“I Stay Away” is followed by today’s SotW, “No Excuses.”

Lyrically, the song is about the complicated and tempestuous relationship between Staley and guitarist Jerry Cantrell.

It’s alright
There comes a time
Got no patience to search
For peace of mind
Layin’ low
Want to take it slow
No more hiding or
Disguising truths I’ve sold

Everyday it’s something
Hits me all so cold
Find me sittin’ by myself
No excuses, then I know

Then in the last verse, reconciliation…

Yeah, it’s fine
We’ll walk down the line
Leave our rain, a cold
Trade for warm sunshine
You my friend
I will defend
And if we change, well I
Love you anyway

The vocal harmony is complex and arresting.

I’m telling you, you’d be hard pressed to find four songs of better quality at the start of any album. This may support the argument for more Eps rather than albums stuffed with filler

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Floating in the Forth, Frightened Rabbit

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I wasn’t planning for this to be today’s SotW. But then I heard the news that the singer/guitarist for Frightened Rabbit died and read this unnerving headline in yesterday’s edition of the British newspaper, The Daily Mail:

Frightened Rabbit singer Scott Hutchison imagined his own death in song Floating in The Forth – the river where police have found his body

The article continued:

Scottish musician Mr Hutchison, 36, disappeared on Wednesday after walking out of a South Queensferry hotel at 1am and he was found dead close to the Forth Road Bridge last night.

Police today confirmed a body found in the river is the Frightened Rabbit star as his heartbroken family admitted he had been fighting depression but they still hoped he ‘would walk back through the door’.

On his band’s acclaimed 2008 album The Midnight Organ Fight he penned the song ‘Floating in the Forth’, which Scott himself said ‘would remind him that he was alive’ every time he performed it.

He sings: ‘And fully clothed, I float away. Down the Forth, into the sea’ and the song ends with the words: ‘I think I’ll save suicide for another year.’

Here’s the song:

Too, too sad.

The band formed in 2003 and released their debut album in 2006. Several more critically celebrated discs came out, the last being Painting of a Panic Attack (2016). They had just recently begun a tour to celebrate the 10th anniversary of The Midnight Organ Fight.

While it’s too soon to conclude on Hutchinson’s cause of death, it is regrettable to think that revisiting “Floating in the Forth” may have played a part.

Another talented, tortured artist has left this mortal coil.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – I Don’t Want To Be Without You, James Hunter Six

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I read MOJO magazine for a reason! I still find it the best source to discover new music, especially these days when the likes of Spotify, YouTube and Pandora put the universe of recorded music at your fingertips, but that multitude leaves you aching for a curator. Well, that’s where MOJO comes in (for me).

In the March 2018 issue (#292) I spotted a review of Whatever It Takes, a record on the Daptone label by The James Hunter Six. I called it up on Spotify and was instantly hooked by the classic soul/R&B/blues influences. Hunter is a pretty damn good singer too.

Today’s SotW is the lead track from the album, “I Don’t Want To Be Without You.”

MOJO says Hunter’s song is — “an under-the-influence-of-love rhumba, (that) frames his tough-yet-tender croon with bubbling organ and punchy brass.”

Hunter is a middle-aged dude from the UK with connections to Van Morrison who’s been kicking around since the mid ‘80s. But he’s never sounded better than he does today.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Debaser, Pixies

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I was lucky enough to catch v 2.0 of Pixies in concert at Street Scene in San Diego in 2005. I never saw them in their first incarnation that lasted from 1986 to 1993, even though they were based in Boston and I was living there at the time. But at least the group I saw shortly after they reunited in 2004 still consisted of all the original members, including bassist Kim Deal. (A 2006 documentary film called loudQuietloud: A Film About The Pixies captures the behind-the-scenes trials and tribulations of the band’s reunion. It is available for viewing on YouTube.)

The Pixies debut album, Surfer Rosa, is a gem. But their high-water mark was their second album, Doolittle (1989). Today’s SotW is the opening cut on Doolittle, “Debaser.”

The lyrics relate to the 1929, Luis Buñuel silent film Un Chien Andalou. In the opening scene of this cult classic a man appears to slit the eye of a young woman. In “Debaser” Black Francis sings:

Got me a movie
I want you to know
Slicing up eyeballs
I want you to know

Girlie so groovy
I want you to know
Don’t know about you
But I am un chien andalusia

In a 2014 interview with Esquire magazine, Francis said of “Debaser”:

“The song is sort of my Cliff Notes for the surrealist film Un Chien Andalou. There’s just enough information to get you through a test or if you need to know a few nuggets about that film. That was it from a lyrical point of view. Musically, it is what it is. I’m not even sure how I feel about that song. Sometimes I really enjoy playing it, sometimes I find it… I’m on the fence with it. We do it almost every night when we’re on tour. People seem to like it. It’s a good example of Pixies minimalism.”

“Debaser” is a prototypical Pixies song. It utilizes the loud/quiet dynamic that Nirvana later employed and made even more popular during the ‘90s grunge craze. But Pixies did it first!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Golden Rough, The Bamboos

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The Bamboos are a contemporary, (mostly) white, 8-piece funk band from Australia — kind of a modern day Average White Band.

I stumbled upon their 2006 debut release, Step It Up, and immediately fell in love with the James Brown inspired grooves that they lay down.

Today’s SotW is “Golden Rough” from that album.

It opens with a drum pattern. After four bars bass and a funky rhythm guitar join in; then come the horns – those glorious horns! Once the groove is fully established, the band makes room for a trumpet solo before returning to the main groove. This is a track The Meters could dig.

“Get on the good foot.”

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Ain’t Gwine to Whistle Dixie (Any Mo), Taj Mahal

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Today’s SotW is the fourth time Taj Mahal has been featured in this communiqué – twice before under his own name and once as a member of the Rising Sons.

The song is “Ain’t Gwine to Whistle Dixie (Any Mo)” which was originally a very short instrumental that served as an intro to the album Giant Step (1969). But the version that’s today’s SotW is an extended jam from the 1971 album recorded live at the Fillmore East, The Real Thing.

Can you believe that Taj Mahal went on the road with a 9-piece band that included four tubas? Well he did. And it works!

Beside the tubas, the band also included the great Jesse Ed Davis and John Hall (Orleans) on guitars, and John Simon (producer of the first two Band albums and the first BS&T disc) on piano.

The three solos are contributed by session pro Howard Johnson (sax), Hall, and Simon. Taj Mahal adds fife, and true to the song’s title, he whistles his way through this lazy river, instrumental jam.

This is perfect music for a beautiful, Spring day.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – One Fine Morning, Lighthouse

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In December 1968, Blood Sweat & Tears released their eponymous 2nd album. In 1969, three singles – “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy”, “And When I Die” and “Spinning Wheel” – each reached #2 on the Billboard singles chart and made the album ubiquitous. Eventually, this popular, horn-based disc won the Grammy for Album of the Year (1970).

That recording eclipsed the first BS&T album (Child Is Father to the Man), the Al Kooper brainchild that I discovered after BS&T, that I have come to decide is the much better record.

Around the same time, Chicago was breaking out. Chicago Transit Authority (1969), Chicago (1970) and Chicago III (1971) were all excellent albums that took Al Kooper’s idea to merge rock music with a horn section to another level… and “horn rock” became a thing.

Now let’s not argue about it. I’m well aware that horns have been used in popular music before BS&T or Chicago. But it was more common in the genres dominated by black artists. The early R&B hits of the ‘50s almost always had a sax, if not a complete horn section. The soul music on Atlantic, Stax/Volt, and Motown all relied heavily on horn arrangements. But this was less so in Rock, at least if you consider acts with the horn players as permanent members of the band.

Other horn rock acts include The Electric Flag (with the great blues guitarist, Mike Bloomfield), The Ides of March (remember “Vehicle”), The Sons of Champlin (popular here in the Bay area) and Chase (featuring the screaming high note trumpet of Bill Chase).

Another band, Lighthouse, recorded today’s SotW – “One Fine Morning.”

I’ll bet when a few of you hear this you remember the song but say to yourself “I always thought that song was by Chicago!” No surprise since the Canada based Lighthouse often makes lists of “one hit wonders.”

But you have to admit, this cut rocks. The vocals, the guitar and (of course) the horns are a rocket shot to the moon! And you have to love the way the band builds tension through to the ending.

If you have any interest in digging a little deeper into the history of horn rock, check out this article at the Music Aficionado website:

Horn Rock Bands: Quaint… or Killer

Also worthwhile are both of the recent Chicago documentaries that you can catch on NetFlix or on demand:

Now More Than Ever: The History of Chicago (2016)
Chicago: The Terry Kath Experience (2017)

Enjoy… until next week.