Song of the Week – American Lovers, Thomas Jefferson Kaye

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Have you ever heard of Thomas Jefferson Kaye?

I didn’t think so.  But you should know about him because he had a very successful career in the music biz.

First of all, he was the producer on Gene Clark’s best solo album (IMHO), No Other.  If that was his only accomplishment, he would be noteworthy.  But there is so much more!

In the late 50s, while still a teenager, he hooked up with Scepter/Wand records.  Through the early 60s there, he wrote and produced material for The Shirelles and several notable soul artists.  He also produced ? and the Mysterians; possibly even on their big hit “96 Tears”, though that has been a subject of debate.

In the 70s he worked with Clark, produced “Dead Skunk” for Loudon Wainwright III, co-wrote the Three Dog night hit “One Man Band”, and produced the Dr. John, Mike Bloomfield, John Hammond Jr. super session called Triumvirate.

Of special interest to me is his association with all of the cats at ABC/Dunhill records that were producing (Gary Katz) and playing on Steely Dan records – including Donald Fagen and Walter Becker.

This led Kaye to release two solo albums in the early 70s that allowed him full access to those great artists.  The first eponymous disc is almost a Steely Dan backed record.  Becker, Fagen, David Palmer, Jeff “Skunk” Baxter and, Victor Feldman all make contributions, with Katz producing.

His second solo release, First Grade, even included two Becker/Fagen penned obscurities that they never recorded for Steely Dan.  “American Lovers” is today’s SotW.

“American Lovers” was recorded around the time that Steely Dan was working on Pretzel Logic.  While I wouldn’t claim that Becker and Fagen gave away their best song, it has the chord structure and lyrical intelligence we’ve come to expect from the boys.

Becker plays bass on this number and Jim Gordon pounds the traps.  Backing vocals are provided by Dusty Springfield, Clydie King and Shirley Matthews!

Kaye died in 1994 in Warwick, NY, just a few miles from my hometown of Newburgh.

So the next time someone asks if you’ve ever heard of Thomas Jefferson Kaye you’ll say – “Hell yes!”

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Out of Left Field, Percy Sledge

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Today’s SotW is another guest spot by Michael Paquette, who made his first contribution on February 1st.  His passion for music is evident in this salute to a soul obscurity by Percy Sledge.

Percy Sledge had a massive hit with the first song he ever recorded in the southern soul studio, Muscle Shoals in 1966.  “When A Man Loves A Woman” was a huge hit both here in America and internationally and received even more recognition in the movies The Big Chill (1983), Platoon (1987) and The Crying Game (1992).  It originally reached #4 on the British charts and upon re-release in 1988 hit #2.

He never had another US top 10 chart hit but he did manage to have years of success with lesser known songs on the R&B charts such as “Take Time to Know Her,” “Warm and Tender Love” and “It Tears Me Up.”

But “Out of Left Field” may have been his finest work.  It was released in the spring of 1967 about a year after “When A Man Loves A Woman.”  It is a tender love song about that first moment of suddenly found love.  “Out of Left Field” is a great representation of Percy Sledge’s range and the strength of his voice to move listeners.  It is a soulful song that could almost come off as a country tune.

The lyrics, written by Spooner Oldham and Dan Penn who did so much work for Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, The Box Tops and Bobby Purify, leave an indelible mark on the Muscle Shoals sound through their simplicity and genuineness.

Sugar and peaches in a paradise land,

Good love and sweetness have taken their stand

She made a mountain of love

From a little grain of sand.

Suddenly, out of left field

Came a lover and a friend

These are definitely lines that anyone can relate to and words that could fit into nearly any genre of music.  This song remains a favorite of mine and it is another masterpiece from a seriously underappreciated artist.

“Out of Left Field” was covered by Gregg Allman, Al Kooper and John Fred & His Playboy Band (of “Judy In Disguise” fame)! 

Although many of Sledge’s songs weren’t nearly as famous as his first hit, he was elected to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005 and was fittingly inducted by another soulful artist with a famous voice — Rod Stewart.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Famous Blue Raincoat, Leonard Cohen

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Perhaps my all-time favorite Leonard Cohen song, among so many worthy possibilities, is “Famous Blue Raincoat.”

The lyric is written in the form of a letter; where the letter writer confronts another guy (a friend?) about his affair with the writer’s wife.

It’s four in the morning, the end of December
I’m writing you now just to see if you’re better
New York is cold, but I like where I’m living
There’s music on Clinton Street all through the evening

And you treated my woman to a flake of your life
And when she came back she was nobody’s wife

What can I tell you my brother, my killer
What can I possibly say?
I guess that I miss you, I guess I forgive you
I’m glad you stood in my way

To make the lyrics all the more interesting, Cohen sings many of the lines using the rhythmic pattern called amphibrach.  Amphibrach is where one long syllable is placed between two shorts syllables.  Listen closely and you will pick up on it very quickly.

“Famous Blue Raincoat” is another wonderful song on which string arranger Paul Buckmaster – most well-known for his work with Elton John — lent his talents.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week Revisited – Hope She’ll Be Happier, Bill Withers

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Today I learned that the great Bill Withers died at the age of 81. His family released a statement that said it was due to heart complications. At least it wasn’t Coronavirus related! In his honor I’d like to repost a SotW that I wrote about him on December 22, 2012.

I’ve always loved the Bill Withers’ song “Hope She’ll Be Happier” that was on his first album Just as I Am.  So without a lot of fanfare, here it is:

This album is the one with “Ain’t No Sunshine” on it.  It’s really a very good record with some great musical accompaniment from the Memphis boys down at Stax records and other top notch players like Stephen Stills, Jim Keltner and Chris Ethridge.

The song is very simple – a nice guitar figure is repeated over a passionate vocal delivered in the style of a black spiritual.  The lyric is about a man who is in great pain over losing his woman.  He can’t quite come to grips with the reason she left but hopes she will ultimately be happier with the new guy.

This song leaves me in the same emotional state I find myself in after hearing Leonard Cohen’s “Halleluiah” – especially the wonderful Jeff Buckley version.

Now there’s one more thing I need to share and that’s the version Withers’ recorded in Africa when he visited with the James Brown headlined 3 day festival that came to be known as “The Rumble In the Jungle.”  The 1974 concert is available on DVD under the title Soul Power.  Withers’ performance of “Hope She’ll Be Happier” at this concert will take your breath away.

In this version it’s just him, his guitar and his voice.  But it’s powerful.

Enjoy… until next week.

Extra Song of the Week – Stacy’s Mom, Fountains of Wayne

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This “extra” Song of the Week is to recognize the passing of Adam Schlesinger, of the US power pop band Fountains of Wayne, due to COVID-19 complications.  He was 52.

Schlesinger co-wrote and played bass on the band’s biggest hit – “Stacy’s Mom” (2003).

“Stacy’s Mom” was accompanied by a terrific video starring model Rachel Hunter, which depicts a young boy’s lust for his girlfriend’s mother.  It’s not as sophisticated as “Mrs. Robinson”, but it is a lot more innocent and fun.  It’s a power-pop classic!

Schlesinger also wrote the Oscar nominated title track for the 1997 Tom Hanks film That Thing You Do!.  Interesting, then, that Hanks also tested positive for Coronavirus, although he has recovered.

Stay home, listen to more music, stay safe.

Enjoy… until Saturday.

Song of the Week – Radar Love, Golden Earring; Born to Be Wild, Steppenwolf

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What’s your favorite “speeding ticket” song?  You know, that song you hear in the car that pumps you up and turns your foot into lead without you even realizing it.  You look down at your speedometer and you’re driving waaaay over the speed limit!

But besides the song provoking an adrenaline rush, I also want my speeding ticket songs to have an emotional or conceptual connection driving and speed.  I have two favorites that meet the criteria.  The first is “Radar Love” by Golden Earring.

I’ve been drivin’ all night, my hand’s wet on the wheel
There’s a voice in my head that drives my heel
It’s my baby callin’, says I need you here
And it’s a half past four and I’m shiftin’ gear

“Radar Love” was on an album called Moontan, that had its original cover banned because it had a semi-nude, feather dancer on it.  It is now a collectors’ item.  (I own a copy!)  It was replaced with a picture of a… golden earring.

Steppenwolf’s “Born to Be Wild” has the same effect on me.

Get your motor runnin’
Head out on the highway
Lookin’ for adventure
And whatever comes our way

… and the track uses the phrase “heavy metal” and is credited with inspiring rock critic Lester Bangs to use it to describe a genre of music.  Heavy metal music is now a common term in our lexicon.

I like smoke and lightning
Heavy metal thunder
Racin’ with the wind
And the feelin’ that I’m under

The song’s placement in a road scene in the classic movie Easy Rider nails it as the perfect road song.

What is your favorite speeding ticket song?

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Infinite Soul, Grip Weeds

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When the New Jersey-based Grip Weeds released their 15 song “Best of” compilation, they named it after their best song – “Infinite Soul.”

The Grip Weeds are a favorite of Little Steven Van Zandt and his Underground Garage.  Their influences are as clear as a window washed with Windex – British invasion mainstays The Beatles (the band is named after John Lennon’s character, Musketeer Gripweed, from the movie How I Won the War), Kinks, Who and Zombies.  And any of myriad other bands that have jangly guitars (Big Star, Byrds, Smithereens) and psychedelic inclinations (Buffalo Springfield, Jefferson Airplane, Yardbirds).

The core of the band consists of siblings Kurt (vocals, drums) and Rick (vocals, guitars) Reil, and Kristin Pinell (guitars, vocals).  The brothers write most of their originals, but the band has recorded many covers too.

If you read my missives regularly, you may recall my affection for songs that feature the electric sitar.  “Infinite Soul” features one of the best electric sitar solos I’ve heard.

The Grip Weeds still perform, but mostly just in NJ.  So, if you’re in the tri-state area, keep an eye open for their tour dates and go to check them out.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Lights Out, Jerry Byrne

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I had plans to go back to New Orleans – one of my favorite cities – for the French Quarter Festival in April.  But yesterday they announced that it would be postponed until October.  :^(

To help get me psyched for the Fest, I read the most important book to document the historical importance of New Orleans to the early development of R&B and Rock and Roll in the ‘50s and ’60.  Rhythm & Blues In New Orleans was written in 1974 by Brit John Broven, an authority on the subject of Louisiana music.

The book told a story about a white artist that recorded in Cosimo Matassa’s studio in New Orleans named Jerry Byrne.  I’d never heard of him, so I had to check out his most popular song – “Lights Out” (1958).

How is it that I have not heard of this song before now?  This kicks ass!!!  It has everything you could want in a rockabilly song – A wild vocal, a honking sax (played by Harold Battiste), and a killer piano solo pounded out by Art Neville (of the Neville Brothers).  As accurately summarized by Broven, it “contains all the power, energy and excitement that is the essence of rock ‘n roll.”

The track was co-written by Seth David and Mac Rebennack (Dr. John) who was Byrne’s cousin!

And the lyrics have the rebellious attitude that is essential for early rock songs.  It opens like this:

Standin’ on my front porch Grabbed her and I kissed her Boy was I surprised when I saw her little sister Lights out, lights out I’m glad now the lights were out Sister knows more about What to do when the lights go out Mother looked at me She was a-peepin’ through the window The way she looked at me Boy, I thought I was a sinner

“Lights Out” was popular regionally but never found a national audience.  How did that happen?  It shouldda been a hit!

I hope you’re as happy as I am to have discovered this classic, early rock song.  It will be on many of my playlists in the future.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – That’s Just the Way That I Feel, Purple Mountains

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Purple Mountains was the latest project by David Berman, previously of Silver Jews.  Since Silver Jews released their last album in 2008, this was a comeback of sorts.  And the lyrics to the album’s opener, “That’s Just the Way That I Feel” confirm it!

Well, I don’t like talkin’ to myself
But someone’s gotta say it, hell
I mean, things have not been going well
This time I think I finally fucked myself
You see, the life I live is sickening
I spent a decade playing chicken with oblivion
Day to day, I’m neck and neck with giving in
I’m the same old wreck I’ve always been

Course I’ve been humbled by the void
Much of my faith has been destroyed
I’ve been forced to watch my foes enjoy
Ceaseless feasts of schadenfreude
And as the pace of life keeps quickening
Beneath the bitching and the bickering
When I try to drown my thoughts in gin
I find my worst ideas know how to swim

Well, a setback can be a setup
For a comeback if you don’t let up
But this kind of hurtin’ won’t heal
And the end of all wanting
Is all I’ve been wanting
And that’s just the way that I feel

This guy clearly knew how to turn a phrase.  But as amazing an achievement as Purple Mountains was, it clearly wasn’t enough to rid Berman of his demons.  He committed suicide on August 7, 2019 – less than a month after the release of Purple Mountains.  Substance abuse issues, marital problems, and a feud with his well-connected lobbyist father (Richard Berman) due to disapproval of his conservative, anti-regulation positions, all weighed heavily on his psyche.

It’s too bad he didn’t live long enough to enjoy the rave, critical notices for his final work.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Ozark & This Is Not America, Lyle Mays

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Keyboard player, and long-time collaborator with Pat Metheny, Lyle Mays died on February 10th.

Although I never saw the Pat Metheny Group, of which Mays was a key player, I did see Mays, Metheny, Jaco Pastorius and Michael Brecker in Providence, RI on August 27, 1979, as members of Joni Mitchell’s touring band on the Shadows and Light tour.

I bought the first Pat Metheny Group album, As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls, an album that featured songs that were all co-written by Mays and Metheny.  The first SotW is “Ozark” from that 1981 album.

I selected this track because it features Mays unique keyboard style.

In 1985, Mays and Metheny worked with David Bowie to write “This Is Not America” for the soundtrack to The Falcon and the Snowman

That song is based on a Pat Metheny Group instrumental called “Chris” (also included on the soundtrack) for which Bowie wrote lyrics.  The song reached the Top 40 on the Billboard charts.

Mays won 11 Grammys and received 23 nominations in his professional career that ended in 2011, when he pivoted to a career as a software consultant.

Enjoy… until next week.