Song of the Week – Tell Me All the Things You Do, Fleetwood Mac

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

I recently learned that Danny Kirwan, one time guitarist and songwriter for an early version of Fleetwood Mac, died last June.  I was very surprised that I missed the announcement of that news until now.

Fleetwood Mac has been around since 1967 but many fans are only familiar with the band as it has been constituted since Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks joined in 1975 and released a string of major hit singles and albums including Fleetwood Mac, Rumours and Tusk.

But the history of the band is way more complicated than that, having gone through at least 3 or 4 other major phases before the Buckingham/Nicks formation.  You can read a summary on Wikipedia, but he best way to get a comprehensive, thumbnail appreciation of the various personnel combinations of the band is through a copy of Pete Frame’s Rock Family Trees.

But back to Kirwan…  He joined the band after they released their second album, as their 18 year old, third guitarist.  (Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer were the other two.)  Kirwan had built a reputation as a guitarist for his ability to play a pure vibrato.

The first single Mac released with Kirwan on it was their signature “Albatross” (UK #1).  Band leader, and guitar hero Green said of Kirwan’s contribution to the recording, “If it wasn’t for Danny, I would never had had a number one hit record.” 

By 1970, Green had left the band, so Kirwan and Spencer soldiered on.  The first release without him was the band’s fourth — Kiln House – that contains today’s SotW, ““Tell Me All the Things You Do.”

“Tell Me…”, a jaunty rocker, showcases Kirwan’s guitar playing and also features him on lead vocal.

Unfortunately, Kirwan’s later life became another sad story of a famous rock star that ended in years of destitution.  In 1993, The Independent reported that he was found sleeping on a park bench and sometimes living in St Mungo’s – a homeless shelter in West London.  He later found his was to a South London care home where he died in his sleep, aged 68, of pneumonia.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – The Halfwit in Me, Ryley Walker

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

Ryley Walker is a Chicago based guitarist and songwriter that is known for his interest in an eclectic mix of musical styles – including folk, rock and jazz.  He developed a finger picking style of playing guitar along the lines of predecessors such as John Fahey and John Martyn.

Today’s SotW is “The Halfwit in Me” from Walker’s third LP Golden Sings That Have Been Sung.

“Halfwit…” is 6 minutes of breezy, guitar-based music that reflects all the influences referenced above.  It harkens back to some of Tim Buckley’s jazzier recordings.  But it doesn’t stay in one place for the entire 6 minutes.  It meanders into some very unexpected places.  The surprises are what infuses it with charm and prevents it from becoming a bore.

Lyrically, the song is full of clever wordplay:

Go on ahead
Build another home
For lean mean eaters
Everything but the bone
Call yourself lucky, we never use the phone

Walker was quoted in MOJO saying “Halfwit…” is “still the coolest song I’ve ever written.”  I agree.  But that doesn’t mean you should stop here.  Go ahead and stream more of his music to delve deeper into the catalog of an important new artist.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Melody, Serge Gainsbourg

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

Serge Gainsbourg was a French Renaissance man.  He made his mark in music (singer, composer, pianist, guitarist) and film (screenwriter, director, actor) but he was also a writer, poet and artist.

In the music world, his most renowned work was the 1971 concept album, Histoire de Melody Nelson.  In seven tracks over about 28 minutes, the album tells the story of a middle-aged man that crashes his car into a 15 year old girl, Melody Nelson, on her bicycle. The accident leads to seduction and an affair.  Eventually Melody meets her demise in a plane crash.

Today’s SotW is the album’s opener, “Melody.”

This is an astounding piece of music.  It combines a rock guitar with a funky bass and an orchestral string arrangement.  Gainsbourg’s vocal is more spoken than sung, like many of Leonard Cohen’s recordings.  The track as a whole is simply mesmerizing.

The link below to a blog post by YellowOnline provides more detail about the album and handy translations of the French lyrics into English.

YellowOnline – Histoire de Melody Nelson

Histoire de Melody Nelson has influenced many other musicians, including Michael Stipe (R.E.M.), Portishead and Stereolab.  Beck found inspiration from Histoire… for his own “Paper Tiger” on his breakup album, Sea ChangeHistoire… was also cited by Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys as an inspiration for their recent album Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – My Pledge of Love, The Joe Jeffrey Group

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

Today’s SotW is squarely in the category of “restored” songs.

I recently picked up a very large box of 45’s of rock and soul music from the ‘60s, gifted to me by my second cousin Donna.  I had as blast looking through them, organizing them, and playing a few as I went along.

I picked up a 7 incher on the Wand label called “My Pledge of Love” by The Joe Jeffrey Group.  What is this, I thought to myself.  I dropped the needle and recognized it immediately.  I have to admit, I don’t think I ever knew who the artist was, but the song I couldn’t forget!

So I did some research for you and here’s what I found:

The Joe Jeffrey (born Joseph Stafford Jr.) Group was an R&B outfit based in Cleveland, Ohio and took “My Pledge of Love” to #14 in the Billboard Hot 100 in 1969.

The song is driven by a relentless rhythm guitar and, of course, Jeffrey’s powerful vocal performance.

Partway through (at about 1:35) Jeffrey starts to riff on the Four Tops’ “Baby I Need Your Loving,” a song that had hit the charts 5 years earlier, in 1964.  But making a musical reference to a Motown hit could never hurt.

Despite that reference, this song strikes me as more of a rock song than soul number.  The buying public in 1969 must have felt the same way.  “My Pledge of Love” failed place on the Billboard soul chart!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Onion, Shannon and the Clams

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

Shannon and the Clams is a band based out of Oakland, CA that played the Outside Lands festival in San Francisco last night.  Next, they’re off to Europe.

The band is shaped around songwriters Shannon Shaw (bass/vocals) and Cody Blanchard (guitar/vocals), and supported by Nate Mahan (drums) and Will Sprott (keyboards), 

Their latest album, Onion, was released last February.  I’ve been listening to it a lot.  If you think you would enjoy a modern take on ‘60s girl group music, you need to check them out.

Onion was partially inspired by the December 2016 fire at the Ghost Ship warehouse in their hometown that took the lives of 36 people.  This touched the group deeply because the Ghost Ship was a haven for local artists and musicians – and was a place that Shannon and the Clams had performed.

It was hard to decide which cut to feature as today’s SotW, but I settled on the title track.

“Onion” contains all of the elements that make me a fan of Shannon and the Clams’ music.  It’s part Del Shannon, part garage rock (fuzzed guitar), part soul, with a power pop twist.  It straddles the space between the campiness of The Cramps and the oldies covers recorded by Blondie (“Denis Denis” and “I’m Gonna Love You Too”).

The lyrics to “Onion” are simple, but interesting – dealing with the “layers” of personality of those afflicted with mental illness.

Well I’m working on it
Holy shit I avoid so many problems
Holy shit this isn’t it
No one told me I was just an onion
I’m just a kid oh so I thought
Please doc, make it stop
Let me go home
I’ll keep working on it
But I’ll be gone before I peel this old onion

But the music keeps the tragic lyrics from becoming depressing.  You may still want to dance to it.

Onion was produced by the omnipresent Dan Auerbach (Black Keys), at his Nashville headquarters.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Street Fighting Man, Rolling Stones; Peace Frog, The Doors; Peace Dog, The Cult

IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED

Did anyone watch the four-part series on CNN called 1968 – The Year that Changed America? It was very good and highlighted the turmoil that gripped the country the same year that saw the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr and Robert Kennedy as well as marches against the Viet Nam War, the violent clashes at the Democratic National Convention and the civil rights protests by American athletes at the Summer Olympics.

And the strife wasn’t confined within the borders of the US. Events that took place in the summer of ’68 converged in rock music.

“Street Fighting Man” by the Rolling Stones was written about Tariq Ali, a British Pakistani political activist, after he marched on the American embassy in London’s Grosvenor Square in 1968 in a demonstration against the Vietnam war.

Keith Richards guitar part on “Street Fighting Man” was famously recorded using an acoustic guitar overloaded onto a cassette tape. No electric guitars are on the cut.

It took another 18 months for the Doors to weigh in, but they contributed “Peace Frog” from their Morrison Hotel album.

Wikipedia says the “lyrics were adapted from a couple of Morrison’s poems, one being entitled “Abortion Stories”. Guitarist Robby Krieger has told the story of writing (and then recording) the music for “Peace Frog,” and then working with Morrison to look through his notebooks of poetry until the lyrics came to the song.”

But many listeners interpreted the song as a response to the Chicago Convention protests or to Morrison’s arrest in New Haven for lewd behavior onstage. (He does refer to New Haven in the lyrics.)

I’m all in on the Chicago Convention theory because the first and last verse say:

There’s blood in the streets, it’s up to my ankles (She came)
Blood in the streets, it’s up to my knee (She came)
Blood in the streets in the town of Chicago (She came)
Blood on the rise, it’s following me
Think about the break of day
She came and then she drove away
Sunlight in her hair

We could use more of this 50 years later, in 2018!

I don’t really know if The Cult’s “Peace Dog” has anything to do with The Doors recording but the stylistic and title similarities will forever connect these two songs in my mind. So I’ll throw that one in here too, for good measure

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Avenging Annie, Andy Pratt

IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED

Today’s SotW was written by guest contributor, Debbie Doherty. Debbie has been a lover of rock music since her childhood and has extensive knowledge of the subject. She’s always been partial to men that have some connection to the music world – though she’s no groupie. And not only does she know how to properly handle a vinyl album, she’s my wife!

“Stairway to Heaven,” “Jungleland,” “Free Bird.” “Bohemian Rhapsody” all epic rock songs for the ages. In my humble opinion, “Avenging Annie” by Andy Pratt should have achieved status in this elevated playlist.

Written in ’72 by Pratt, a recent Harvard graduate and a skilled studio engineer, “Avenging Annie” combines passionate piano with a strong bass line throughout. A colorful ballad loosely based on a “Pretty Boy Floyd” story line. Pratt’s alternating falsetto and tenor voices provide a strong female narrative in the telling of Annie’s love for Floyd, “the avenger from Oklahoma,” her decision to join up with her outlaw, and the terrible consequences that lay ahead. You feel Annie’s emotions and passion thru Pratt’s in-character voice.

I’m not a musician so I can’t speak to how the song was created. You do hear a mix of very intricate play, a western flavor, lots of complicated piano, not unlike similar sounds by ELP and Rick Derringer from that time period.

In 1973 I was a sophomore at a Catholic high school – we listened to WGTR a small, kilowatt, daytime station in Natick, Massachusetts. “Avenging Annie” was recorded in part, in nearby Southboro. Maybe they dropped a copy off at the station? All I know is that when I heard this song I thought it rocked and I loved the emotional roller coaster it took me on. It initially became popular when a bootleg copy was aired on WBRU at Brown University. Columbia records got wind of the song and signed Pratt. “Avenging Annie” only made it to #78 on The Billboard 100 but it did reach #1 in Providence and New Orleans.

Fun fact, guess what appeared on the B side of “Avenging Annie” on a 1973 Columbia promo disc? “Blinded by the Light” by Bruce Springsteen. Anyone have a copy of that? Ten minutes of music bliss.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Good Times, The Jay-Bees

IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED

In late 1964 the Rolling Stones released their second album in the US, 12 x 5. It included a couple of their early hits — “Time Is on My Side” and “It’s All Over Now,” both covers of American R&B songs. But by this time Jagger and Richards were already dipping their toes into the songwriting waters.

One of the originals on 12 x 5 was “Good Times, Bad Times.” It’s a decent slow, country blues. It may remind you of their version of Fred McDowell and Gary Davis’ “You Gotta Move” from Sticky Fingers.

In 1968 a garage band from West Virginia called the Jay-Bees took the song, converted it to a minor key and created a proto punk classic. (They also shortened the title to “Good Times.”)

The creepy laugh that continues throughout the song adds to the haunted house effect of the cut.

Why this track never made it onto one of the Nuggets compilations is a mystery to me. Someone needs to contact archivist Lenny Kaye to try to get the answer.

But no matter… I’d guess the Stones — the original punks — would approve of the Jay-Bees treatment.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – She Sells Sanctuary, The Cult

IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED

The Cult is a band out of the UK that was led by lead singer Ian Astbury and guitarist Billy Duffy. Although they formed the group in 1983, I hadn’t caught wind of them until they released “She Sells Sanctuary” in 1985.

I can’t remember where I was the first time I heard this song but I recall that it grabbed me immediately. How could it not? It launches with a captivating intro. It starts with the sound of a buzzing bee, then distant, distorted guitar for 4 bars that gives way to the full band backing a locomotive riff.

Duffy told the story of how he came up with the intro in an interview with Johnny DeMarco:

It sounds like a silly old story, but we were recording “She Sells Sanctuary” in a studio in London called Olympic, where Zeppelin and Free used to record… I was in there during “She Sells Sanctuary,” and I found a violin bow, and I started to play the guitar with the bow like Jimmie Page. I did it to amuse Astbury, who was in the control room, and in order to make it sound weirder, I just hit every pedal I had on the pedal board. Then once I stopped banging the strings and doing all that, I played the middle section of the song, which was kind of a pick thing with all the BOSS pedals on, and that sound just leaped out. The producer went, “Hold it, hold it, that’s great!” And we decided to start the song with that mystical sound.

When Astbury comes in on vocals, you might think Jim Morrison was reincarnated. Clearly I’m not the only one that hears the similarity of their vocal timbers. Astbury covered two songs (“Touch Me” and “Wild Child”) on the Doors tribute album – Stoned Immaculate: The Music of The Doors.

Then he went on to actually become a member of the Doors! Well, at least performing under the name Doors of the 21st Century (or D21c) with original group members Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger.

The title of the song never makes it into the lyrics. But the clue to its meaning come in the line:

And the fire in your eyes keeps me alive
Inside her you’ll find sanctuary

The singer finds sanctuary in his relationship with the woman that has “the fire in your eyes.”

The version of “She Sells Sanctuary” that I first heard (and featured here as the SotW) was the one released on the Cult’s 1985, second album, Love. But “SSS” was released on a 7” single before the album came out (and without the iconic intro).

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – I Believe in You, Don Williams

IGNORED OBSCURED RESTORED

If you’re a regular reader of my weekly posts, you know that I don’t often use my soapbox to deliver political messages but today is an exception.

The Trump policy to separate children from their parents as they seek refugee status at the southern border of the US is cruel and inhumane. It does not represent who we, as American people, are. There has to be a more kind and generous way to protect our borders.

So what has that got to do with the SotW?

I was reminded of the lyrics to a song called “I Believe in You” by the country music star Don Williams.

I don’t believe in superstars, organic food and foreign cars
I don’t believe the price of gold, the certainty of growing old
That right is right and left is wrong, that north and south can’t get along
That east is east and west is west and being first is always best
But I believe in love, I believe in babies, I believe in mom and dad, and I believe in you

The lyrics to this 1980, #1 hit on the country charts are particularly appropriate because they seem to address the political divide in our country. But the last line ties it into the news of the day – “I believe in love, I believe in babies, I believe in mom and dad.”

For me (and probably you if you’re reading this) another line hits home:

But I believe in love, I believe in music, I believe in magic and I believe in you

Yes, I really do believe in the magic of music to heal and bring people together.

So there you have it. I’ve said my piece. Music without politics next time.

Enjoy… until next week.