Friday, December 31, 2010

Tom Waits: Ol' 55

Today’s post is my final Friday First feature (too many Fs) for a while. In 2011, I am changing the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday features for at least several months. I am doing this to keep the blog somewhat fresh and to keep me interested in continuing this project. It is a commitment to write about something every day of the year. I only missed 11 days in 2010 – which is exceptional when you consider how busy I’ve been and no one is paying me to do this.

Although I mentioned the changes several weeks ago, starting tomorrow I will be doing “One Hit Wonder Wednesdays,” “Flipside Fridays,” and “Bubbling Under Saturdays.” The other features, “Spiritual Sundays,” “Monday Covers,” “Traditional Tuesdays,” and “TV Thursdays” will continue for some time, but I probably will be switching some of these out later in the new year.

So as my last post for 2010 (which by the way is number 450), I pay homage to two of my friends with whom I reconnected with on Facebook this year. On my 55th birthday, Barry Pendry, who was Barry Stewart on WCIR-FM when I first joined the staff in 1981, told me I should have featured the song “Ol’ 55” on that particular day. It certainly made sense, but it hadn’t even crossed my mind.

This week, my old college friend and frequent source of song inspiration for this blog, Greg Rector asked me if I would do a tune from Tom Waits. So today, I will be doing both, as Waits was the author and original artist of the song that is probably better known as an Eagles’ recording. It begs the question: “Is it a breath mint or a candy mint? It’s two mints in one.”

In fact, in addition to a version by the Eagles, I’ll be featuring three versions by Waits: his original release, his original recording, and a later live recording done in a style that most Waits aficionados are most familiar. Warning: if you are not familiar with Tom Waits, you may not like his music. Much like other musical geniuses (namely Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash), he is an acquired taste. Not everyone will appreciate his approach, his style, or most of all his vocal prowess.

I first became aware of Waits during the summer of 1976 and I used to have a life size stand-up of Waits in my living room when I was single. It was the store promo for his “Small Change” LP that was my brother’s until he got married and had to divest of it – lest he incur certain wrath. Married men everywhere will certainly understand and appreciate the reason why.

By the time I married, it had literally fallen apart due to the humidity. Knowing that it wouldn’t have a place ever in our living room and the display wasn’t worth fixing, I trashed it. A wise decision – but I still miss Waits’ ever present watch over my domain. I have several pictures of Waits in my home then, but alas these are all in storage at the present time in anticipation of a move to our latest domain.

Tom Waits’ Original Release

While not his first recording of the song, it was the first release of “Ol’ 55.” From his 1973 “Closing Time” album, you can see how The Eagles’ version was inspired by Waits’ original. It is not, however, in the manner that has grown to be his received performance style. This rendition may be a little bit of a shock to Eagles fans as his harmonies are not as clean as theirs. I think Waits referred to the Eagles’ recording as being a “little too antiseptic for his tastes.” I'm sure he appreciated the royalties though.

Tom Waits’ Original Recording

Released in 1993 as part of Waits’ “The Early Years, Volume Two,” Waits accompanies himself on guitar for “Ol’ 55” rather than on his characteristic piano (which sometimes has been accused of drinking). “Ol’ 55” was one of the songs Waits recorded as part of his demo for Frank Zappa’s Bizarre and Straight record labels. It is an interesting piece of history from 1971 and in some ways I prefer it to his version from “Closing Time.”

Tom Waits’ Live Recording

Although the accompanying version is from 1999, it is the live style that most Waits fans would recognize and one that he had developed by the time of his third album release “Nighthawks at the Diner.” I always thought the “Ol’ 55” was a Chevy, but Waits informs us that it actually was a Caddy.

Eagles’ Live Recording

You will be hard pressed to find a studio version of any recording on a WEA (Warner/Elektra-Asylum/Atlantic) label on YouTube due to Warners’ strict prohibition of their recordings being offered online for free. Expect the first version by Waits to disappear soon from YouTube as it, like the Eagles’ recordings, was released on Asylum Records.

In the absence of the Eagles’ studio rendition from the 1974 “On the Border” LP, here is a live version from from “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert” during the same year. Glen Frey handles the piano and lead vocals while Don Henley provides the high vocal parts and the high harmony.

Happy New Year all.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Madness: Our House

Today’s TV Thursday selection is a song that has been featured on numerous commercials over the past several years. Madness’ “Our House” was used quite successfully for Maxwell House Coffee where the title "Our House" was used as a play on words with their brand.

Most recently it has been used for an ad campaign for Verizon wireless. The holiday version was a mashup of the song with “Jingle Bells.” “Our House” peaked at #5 in the UK and at #7 in the US. Here’s the original video from 1982.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Dutch Treat

Over the years only a handful of Dutch artists have made it to the American charts. To name a few, one of the first was The Shocking Blue with their 1969 number one hit “Venus.” Next the George Baker Selection had a couple of mid-charting schlock rock tunes: “Little Green Bag” and “Paloma Blanca.”

By 1973, everyone in North America was yodeling along with “Hocus Pocus” by Focus. Golden Earring charted twice with “Radar Love” and “Twilight Zone.” In 1983, Vandenburg just barely made the Top 40 with “Burning Heart,” which was a colossal Album Rock track.

Today it’s a Dutch treat. While some of the groups will be familiar, others will not be. The songs in today’s post were not hits on American radio. Likely it will be first time many in North America will hear these songs although they may have had airplay in The Netherlands and other European countries.

Cuby & the Blizzards: Window of my Eyes

With an ever changing lineup, vocalist Harry Muskee and guitarist Eelco Gelling fronted this Dutch blues band of the sixties and beyond. Their biggest hit was 1967’s “Window of my Eyes” can be heard over the credits in the 2010 movie “The American.”

The Shocking Blue: Waterloo

Remembered in the US for their one hit wonder Venus, vocalist Mariska Veres had a strange resemblance both physically and vocally to the Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick. “Waterloo” certainly had hit potential; however, it was relegated to “B” side status as the flip of their 1971 Dutch hit “Shocking You.”

The photo accompanying this video has bassist Klaasje van der Wal playing a Danelectro Longhorn bass and guitarist Robbie van Leeuwen on a Coral Long Horn (also made by Danelectro).

Golden Earring: Back Home

Before Golden Earring made it big in the US, they had a string of hits in The Netherlands including this one from 1970. “Back Home” sort of reminds me of what Grand Funk Railroad and Jethro Tull might sound like if they were morphed together.

This tune followed up their cover of The Byrds’ “Eight Miles High” which appeared on their first US album as an 18 minute track. Needless to say, ala Iron Butterfly’s “Ina Gada Da Vida,” the single version was edited down. On “Back Home,” bassist Rinus Gerritsen is also playing a Danelectro Longhorn bass.

Brainbox: Reason to Believe

Brainbox was formed by future Focus members Jan Akkerman, Pierre van der Linden, and Cyril Haversman. Their 1969 version of Tim Hardin’s “Reason to Believe” was a Dutch hit single two years before Rod Stewart recorded the song. It was on their self-titled debut LP. Kazimir Lux provided the lead vocals.

A little strange twist of fate told to me after this initial post was made today. My friend John Sellards informed me that thirty years ago today Tim Hardin passed away. Ironically, I had originally picked Brainbox's song "Between Alpha and Omega." I had selected this tune over a month ago to be part of my feature on Dutch musicians.

Last night while composing this post, I wasn't satisfied with my original choice for Brainbox and listened to several of their other singles. "Reason to Believe" was chosen instead in a moment of hasty inspiration. For this to occur in conjunction with the anniversary of Tim Hardin's death is serendipitous indeed. R.I.P. Tim Hardin - the world misses your muse.

Focus: Sylvia

Here’s one I remember hearing as the follow up single to Focus’ classic hit “Hocus Pocus.” Unlike its predecessor that was a top 10 hit in America, “Sylvia” only peaked at #89. It’s a great little tune and it features the characteristic vocal gyrations of Thijis van Leer.

Figuring out the identity of the guitar Jan Akkerman was playing drove me crazy. Originally, I wasn't sure if it is an actual Gibson Les Paul, a Framus copy, a Hagstrom Swede, or a Frankenstein edition made by Akkerman. It had elements of all three but the headstock shape ruled out the Hagstrom model.

The angled fretboard end and pickup were mystifying until I saw another photo of Akkerman playing this baby. It was an early edition of the Gibson Les Paul Recording model. Gibson made this version of the Les Paul from 1971 to 1980.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little Dutch treat of music.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Tony Seeger: The Messenger

My definition of “traditional” in Traditional Tuesday has been fairly loose and could mean anything from actually traditional releases to songs played acoustically on traditional instruments. I was looking for a harp guitar piece last night when I stumbled on “The Messenger” by Tony Seeger on a guitar of his own design.

The harp guitar had its heyday in the early twentieth century, but resurged in the 1980s with Michael Hedges. Tony is playing a harp guitar of modern design from Seraph Guitars in England. Inspired by the music of Hedges Seeger teamed up with luthier Nathan Sheppard and Seraph Harp Guitars was born. The rest, as they say, is history.

“The Messenger” is an original composition by Tony Seeger.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Judas Priest: Diamonds & Rust

One of my Christmas presents this year were sets of new strings for my menagerie of instruments. One of those is my nylon string guitar – it was my $10.00 guitar. It was handmade (cheaply I might add) in Mexico for the tourist market. I bought it around 1989 or 1990 from an ad in the local trading times with words – “Mexican made guitar $10.” They had it strung with steel strings – which I removed and replaced with nylon strings immediately. It was sold under the "Jom" brand. 

I believe the woman who sold it to me said they watched the luthier make the guitar during part of one day. It has its problems, but it frets true and a friend who has borrowed it on a number of occasions for recording purposes swears by its sound. So it must be a decent sounding instrument; however, it is not much to look at. When I told my wife what I paid for it, she commented: “The strings cost more than the guitar – isn’t that like putting lipstick on a pig?” Perhaps.

While replacing the strings and tuning up, one of the songs that came to mind was Joan Baez’s 1975 hit “Diamonds and Rust.” I started playing it immediately. A little later on that evening I began looking for covers of the song and found an excellent version by “Blackmore’s Knight”; however, since I featured them last week – they were out of the question. While pursuing another cover, I recalled that Judas Priest had recorded this tune more than once. Therefore, I turn the stage over to Rob Halford and company.

Rumors have it that the song was written by Baez regarding her early relationship with Bob Dylan; however, Baez has stated on several occasions that the song was really about her activist ex-husband David Harris. The illusions to Dylan, however, are quite strong and some believe that Baez may have used both as an inspiration. Judas Priest doing the song has them coming full-circle as they took their name from the Dylan tune “The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest” from his “John Wesley Harding” album,

Live Version by Judas Priest

Vocalist Rob Halford shows that he may be the very best vocalist in heavy metal today. Check out his range, dynamics, and his immaculate pitch on this version.

Unplugged Version by Judas Priest

Same arrangement as the above; however, it is fully acoustic. Guitarists K.K. Downing and Glenn Tipton are both playing Ovation Elite 1778-TX5 models that have spruce tops that are covered in black enamel paint.

These is one of the more expensive Ovation thin line acoustic electrics and comes with an on-board tuner.

Joan Baez’s Original Version

I love the mix of keyboards and the volume pedal effects used on the electric guitar. The single charted at #11 in 1975.

Two Additional Judas Priest versions

Being the completist that I am, here are two earlier recorded versions of Diamonds and Rust. Both are different from each other and the previously featured videos above. The first is the 1977 Studio version from Judas Priest’s album “Sin after Sin” album. This was recorded just two years after Baez’s hit version of the song.

The second is from the Priest’s classic live album from 1979 “Unleashed in the East.” I like this version probably the best due to the delay used on the guitar on the song’s intro and the vocals on the tune’s bridge.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Rod Stewart: Amazing Grace

Again, I am somewhat late for my post on this Spiritual Sunday due to oversleeping this morning. Today’s tune is courtesy of Rod Stewart’s number one, multiplatinum selling LP “Every Picture Tells a Story.” “Amazing Grace” was not even listed on the label of the 1971 American release on Mercury Records.

This two minute version, which is mostly instrumental, only includes the first verse of John Newton’s hymn. The recording features only two musicians: Rod Stewart on vocals and Sam Mitchell on slide guitar. The song was additionally featured in the 2010 movie “Due Date.”

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Phil Spector's Christmas Album

This iconic Christmas album has been released several different times under three different titles. The original album on Philles Records in 1963 was titled as “A Christmas Gift for You from Philles Records.” The initial reaction to the record was not as strong as subsequent issues of the album as it hit the record stores the same day as John F. Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963.

Subsequent reissues on Philles were released under the title of A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector.” When the album was reissued on The Beatles’ Apple Records label, the artwork was changed and re-titled as “Phil Spector’s Christmas Album.” It was this particular reissue that had the highest chart position on Billboard’s Christmas Chart at number 6.

Famous for featuring Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound,” the album featured the talents of Philles recording artists Darlene Love, The Crystals, The Ronettes, and Bob B. Soxx and the Blue Jeans. Spector’s recording technique included massive layering of instruments playing parts in unison and then recording these parts using an echo chamber.

Phil Spector in more festive days

Spector’s technique has been criticized by some for obscuring the vocals with the instrumentation. Others have lauded Spector as a genius for creating the sound that he compared to the arrangements of Richard Wagner.

Darlene Love: Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)

I heard Darlene do this song on the Letterman show the other night and her version was as powerful as it was in 1963. While the original single release did not achieve national success, it epitomized the album’s sound. Originally intended for Ronnie Spector to sing lead, Phil felt that she didn’t quite have the vocal power to do the song justice; therefore, Darlene Love was asked to try her hand (er, voice) at the tune and the rest is history.

The Ronnettes: Sleigh Ride

Ronnie and the Ronnettes, however, did get to shine on “Sleigh Ride,” a version that manages to still get much airplay despite the more popular version by Johnny Mathis.

The Crystals: Santa Claus Is Coming to Town

If you are familiar with Bruce Springsteen’s version of this tune, you will automatically hear the inspiration of the The Crystals’ version in his rendition.

The Album – Part One

The Album – Part Two

The Album – Part Three

This will be the last album feature for some time. Beginning next week, our Saturday feature changes from albums to those “near misses” of musicdom. Have a Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Charles Brown: Please Come Home For Christmas

I am extremely late with this Christmas Eve post, so I’ll get down to our Friday First holiday tune. While the Eagles' version had a higher chart position, the original was released by Charles Brown in 1960. Brown’s single made it to the Hot 100 in December 1961 where it peaked at #76.

The song appeared on his 1961 LP “Charles Brown Sings Christmas Songs” that was released on King Records. It was not Brown’s only Christmas hit. In 1947 as a member of Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers, Brown lent his piano and lead vocal talents to “Merry Christmas Baby.”

The Eagles’ Version

In 1978, the Eagles released their single only version backed with “Funky New Year.” The song was an immediate hit peaking at #18 on Billboard’s Hot 100. In the UK, the song peaked at #30. The lead vocals are provided by Don Henley. Merry Christmas all.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Thurl Ravenscroft: You're A Mean One Mr. Grinch

TV Thursday during the week of Christmas features a song from a timeless TV Christmas special – “The Grinch who Stole Christmas.” Narrated by Boris Karloff, the actor famous for his roles in horror movies of a generation earlier is often mistakenly credited as singing the song “You’re Mean One Mr. Grinch.” This occurs because the actual singer was not credited on the TV special or on its soundtrack.

The correct performer was a man by the name of Thurl Ravenscroft. What a name. It is so unusual that I love it. Ravenscroft is an English name meaning field of ravens and the first name of Thurl is even rarer. Although conjuring up images of Scandinavia, the name is actually Irish for “strong fort.” The name Thurl has never been popular in America and has never broken the top 1000 forenames in the census from 1880 onwards.

Thurl’s father had a friend with that name and thought it went well with the surname Ravenscroft, so his unique identity was born. Although I like the name Thurl, I would never saddle a child with that appellation these days. You can imagine the teasing, “Here comes Thurl – I think I’ll hurl.” So don’t expect a boost in popularity of this name.

You know Thurl too. From 1953 until his death in 2005, Thurl was the voice of Tony the Tiger and his characteristic, “They’re great” slogan. He also has added his voice and singing talents to numerous children’s films. More recently, he was the voice of Kirby (the sweeper) in “The Brave Little Toaster” series of children’s animated films.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Three Stooges: Wreck The Halls With Boughs Of Holly

You can’t say that I didn’t warn you about this, but on July 27 during my 300th post I stated that I might just feature this song for Christmas. “Wreck the Halls with Boughs of Holly” was my very first record and I received it with my Mickey Mouse turntable in 1961.

 It was a 78 RPM release and was the first of the few I owned during a period when 78s were being replaced by 45s and Long Playing albums. By 1961, they were already anachronistic in nature.

The Three Stooges were wildly popular in the Pittsburgh area being featured daily on WTAE-TV4’s Paul Shannon’s Adventure Time. Because Shannon was one of several TV personalities who helped to reinvigorate their careers, he was given the part of Wild Bill Hickok in the move “The Outlaws is Coming.”

At age six, I was already a Three Stooges fan and “Wreck the Halls with Boughs of Holly” backed with “Jingle Bells” was an instant favorite of this first grader. The song featured the Three Stooges in their final decade of performance featuring the final performing lineup of Moe Howard, Larry Fine, and Curly Joe DeRita.

It was this fourth group of Stooges that produced the majority of the full length movies made by the trio. Their films included “Have Rocket Will Travel,” “The Three Stooges Meet Hercules,” and “The Three Stooges in Orbit.” They also appeared in a cast of comedic thousands in “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.” During this period, the Stooges also voiced the animated “The New Three Stooges” series which aired in 1965 and 1966.

There were officially six Stooges: Moe Howard, Larry Fine, Shemp Howard (who was with the trio twice), Curly Howard, Joe Besser, and Curly Joe DeRita. Shemp (Samuel), Moe (Moses), and Curly (Jerome) were three of five brothers named Horowitz. As many had done in the early days of film entertainment, the trio adopted an Anglicized surname (Howard) for publicity purposes.

When Larry became ill and unable to perform, plans were made to add Emil Sitka as his replacement named Harry. Sitka was a supporting cast member to the Stooges in their shorts and full length features. His most memorable role was in the short “Brideless Groom” where he plays the Justice of the Peace J.M. Benton where he repeats the line “Hold hands you love birds.” Due to the death of Moe in 1975, Sitka’s official role as a member of the Stooges never came to fruition.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Blackmore's Night: Ding Dong Merrily On High

Traditional Tuesday’s fare today is a Christmas carol that has its roots in a 16th century French dance tune “Le Branle de l'Official.” In the early 20th century, George Ratcliffe Woodward added lyrics to the tune to become “Ding Dong Merrily on High.” The new carol was first published in 1924.

The version heard here is by Blackmore’s Night from their 2006 “Winter Carol” CD. The guitar is by former Deep Purple and Rainbow guitarist Ritchie Blackmore with his wife Candace Night providing the vocal performances. Very nice indeed.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Brian Setzer: Run Rudolph Run

As the Monday before Christmas, it’s time for a cover of a past Christmas hit. It didn’t take me long to pick the song or its cover. Chuck Berry first popularized “Run Rudolph Run” in 1958 when it peaked on the Hot 100 at #69.

Since most Christmas records tend not to chart at all due to their limited run on the charts, a mid charting Christmas record indicates the level of its popularity. Brian Setzer, formerly of the Stray Cats, leads the charge with his cover of this Christmas rocker.

Chuck Berry’s Original

Although written by Johnny Marks and Marvin Brodie, the original Chess single listed C. Berry and M. Brodie as composers. This was done so R&B and Rock ‘n Roll disc jockeys wouldn’t pass on playing the record due to Johnny Marks name being listed as an author.

Marks was known for his repertoire of Christmas music such as “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer,” “Holly, Jolly Christmas,” “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” and “The Most Wonderful Day of the Year.” He also set the Longfellow poem “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” to music.

“Run Rudolph Run,” which is often miscredited as “Run, Run Rudolph,” has been recorded by numerous rockers including Dave Edmunds, Keith Richards, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Sheryl Crow, The Grateful Dead, Foghat, Billy Idol, and Bryan Adams to name only few. The best know rendition, however, is the original by Chuck Berry.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Hawk Nelson: I Heard The Bells On Christmas Day

I hope you weren’t looking for me yesterday, as I decided to take the day off from the blog. While I didn’t actually work on it, I was thinking about some changes for 2011. One of the changes will be a set theme for Wednesday as “One Hit Wonder Wednesday.” Numerous bands hit the charts will only one hit record – they need to be remembered before fading into oblivion.

Friday Firsts is one of my favorite features, but I need to freshen up the blog somewhat and there are an entire group of songs that one does not find fitting some of the other categories. These songs are being missed as they are flip sides of popular records.

Friday Flipsides will begin the first week in January and will feature tunes that were relegated to the other side of the record. Some will be familiar and some will not. In some cases, the “B” side became the hit song and in other cases the single was a double sided hit record. That is inconsequential as I’ll feature the flip – well known or not.

Saturday’s album feature, while I will bring it back from time to time, will be temporarily retired as it really requires a great deal of time and effort on my part to find the music. I am toying with an idea of featuring songs that did not make it in to the Top 40 charts, but rather were records that were bubbling under the Top 40 or perhaps an album cut the achieved its fame via AOR airplay.

While I've changed the blog in the past, I don’t think I’ve changed as many daily features at once. The other daily features (Spiritual Sundays, Monday Covers, Traditional Tuesdays, and TV Thursdays) will remain the same – but look for changes perhaps on some of these by summer 2011.

Now that we got some housekeeping out of the way, as the old Bugs Bunny cartoons used to sing: “On with the show this is it.” This week we will feature Christmas music through Saturday. I try to do a thematic set around holidays and of course Christmas has thousands of recordings from which to draw.

Today’s Spiritual Sunday Christmas song (that’s a mouthful) is by an alternative Christian band from Peterborough, Ontario. Peterborough is very close to Asphodel Township (same county) where my ancestors settled when coming to North America from the British Isles in 1820. The band is Hawk Nelson and today’s selection is a reworking of the Christmas classic “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” It is from their 2006 EP of Christmas music entitled “Gloria.”

There is an obvious mispronunciation in the second verse that drives me crazy. Lead singer Jason Dunn pronounces the word “Christendom” as “Christian-dom” rather than having the “T” silent as it is correctly pronounced as “krisən’dom.” I guess I can forgive them for this very minor indiscretion as it is a good rendition of this tune otherwise.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Staple Singers: This May Be The Last Time

Our Friday First tune is not an exact original of a later hit, but it was an influence on a Rolling Stones song that charted 10 years later. In 1955, the Staple Singers recorded the gospel tune “This May be the Last Time” for Vee Jay records. The family band at that time included Roebuck Staples’ son Pervis who did not perform with the band when they had some of their bigger hits.

The Rolling Stones – The Last Time

While it is totally different song with a different message, Keith Richards admitted that the Stones were influenced by the Staple Singers’ “This May be the Last Time” when he and Mick Jagger penned their hit song. In fact, the chorus uses the same lyric: “This may be the last time – I don’t know.”

While it was a number one record in several European countries, “The Last Time” only peaked at #9 in the US. The accompanying video from 1965 which is an actual live recording and not lip-synched shows how tight the band was during these years. Brian Jones is playing the riff and the rhythm on his Vox Mark IV guitar, while Keith Richards handles the lead guitar on his Gibson Firebird.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Black Keys: Girl Is On My Mind

Today’s TV Thursday selection is the current music bed for Zales’ Jewelry Stores and is performed by the Akron, Ohio duo The Black Keys. The song is “Girl is on my Mind” and The Black Keys are guitarist and vocalist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney. Back in September, I featured The Black Keys' “Tighten Up” as another TV Thursday song.

From their third album and 2004 release “Rubber Factory,” “Girl is on my Mind” had also been used in commercials for Sony Ericsson and Victoria’s Secret. It has a great guitar hook and is reminiscent of the garage bands of the mid to late 1960s.

Zales’ Commercial

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Mamas And The Papas: Creeque Alley

A few weeks ago my old buddy Mike Kinsley asked me to feature the Mamas and Papas’ autobiographical hit “Creeque Alley.” The song is one of those hit record anomalies that does not include the title either in the song's hook or anywhere in the lyrics. It was written by the band’s two primary members: John and Michelle Phillips. “Creeque Alley” chronicles how the band emerged out of John and Michelle’s vocal duo and the short-lived band the Mugwumps.

The Mugwumps included future Mamas and Papas members Denny Doherty and Cass Elliot, future Lovin’ Spoonful members John Sebastian and Zal Yanovsky, and folksinger James Hendricks. Hendricks, Elliot, and Tim Rose had previously performed in a folk trio known as the Big Three.

When the Mugwumps split, Denny Doherty joined with John and Michelle (identified both as Michelle and Mitchie in the song) as the New Journeymen. While they were on vacation in the Virgin Islands, Doherty convinced John Phillips to allow his former singing partner Cass Elliot to join the band.

Phillips reluctantly agreed to allow Cass to join, but he was initially skeptical that Elliot’s weight would keep them from fame he desired. While they all were starving folk musicians, the lyrics persisted that “No one was getting fat except Mama Cass” – a reference to Elliot’s obesity. I always wondered what she felt about this demeaning line that she had to sing.

The title “Creeque Alley” comes from the area of the Virgin Islands where the seminal Mamas and Papas formed and performed at Hugh Duffy’s club located on Creque Alley. The band was living off of their American Express cards at the time.

Wanting to “leave their folk music behind,” there is the constant reminder in the song of the success of two former folkies who had crossed over into the pop scene. “McGuinn and McGuire just a-catchin' fire in L.A., You know where that's at” is a reference of the success of Roger McGuinn of The Byrds and former New Christy Minstrel member Barry McGuire who had a hit record with “Eve of Destruction.” Finally, their own success is mirrored in the line “And California dreamin' is becomin' a reality...”

The song is really a well written tune that chronicles the band’s prehistory and history. The lyrics are very clever in telling the story. Even though the title is never found in the song, it managed to score a top five hit for the Mamas and Papas.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tony Rice: Song For A Winter Night

For Traditional Tuesday, Tony Rice interprets a Gordon Lightfoot original: “Song for a Winter Night.” There are only a handful of vocalists who have the tonality of pulling off a Lightfoot song. One is the late Trevor Lucas and the other is Tony Rice. Tony, who recorded an entire album of Lightfoot music, is joined live with Alison Krauss. This is a perfect tune for a cold wintery day.


The lamp is burnin' low upon my table top
The snow is softly falling
The air is still within the silence of my room
I hear your voice softly calling
If I could only have you near
To breathe a sigh or two
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
Upon this winter night with you

The smoke is rising in the shadows overhead
My glass is almost empty
I read again between the lines upon each page
The words of love you sent me

If I could know within my heart
That you were lonely too
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
Upon this winter night with you

The fire is dying now, my lamp is growing dim
The shades of night are liftin'
The morning light steals across my windowpane
Where webs of snow are driftin'

If I could only have you near
To breathe a sigh or two
I would be happy just to hold the hands I love
Upon this winter night with you
And to be once again with you

Monday, December 13, 2010

Steve Vai: Celluloid Heroes

“Celluloid Heroes” is one of my all time favorite Kinks’ songs, but it never saw the chart success that it deserved. It did, however, get some album play though – and that’s how I became familiar with it. “Celluloid Heroes” appeared on the band’s 1972 “Everybody's in Show-Biz” album.

One of the better covers of the song is by guitarist extraordinaire Steve Vai. Vai uses a number of studio techniques to make his version somewhat different than the original.

The Kinks’ Original

While many covers are excellent in their own right, none can hold a candle to Ray Davies and The Kinks' original recording.


Everybody's a dreamer and everybody's a star,
And everybody's in movies, it doesn't matter who you are.
There are stars in every city,
In every house and on every street,
And if you walk down Hollywood Boulevard
Their names are written in concrete!

Don't step on Greta Garbo as you walk down the Boulevard,
She looks so weak and fragile that's why she tried to be so hard
But they turned her into a princess
And they sat her on a throne,
But she turned her back on stardom,
Because she wanted to be alone.

You can see all the stars as you walk down Hollywood Boulevard,
Some that you recognize, some that you've hardly even heard of,
People who worked and suffered and struggled for fame,
Some who succeeded and some who suffered in vain.
Rudolph Valentino, looks very much alive,
And he looks up ladies' dresses as they sadly pass him by.
Avoid stepping on Bela Lugosi
'Cos he's liable to turn and bite,
But stand close by Bette Davis
Because hers was such a lonely life.
If you covered him with garbage,
George Sanders would still have style,
And if you stamped on Mickey Rooney
He would still turn round and smile,
But please don't tread on dearest Marilyn
'Cos she's not very tough,
She should have been made of iron or steel,
But she was only made of flesh and blood.

You can see all the stars as you walk down Hollywood Boulevard,
Some that you recognize, some that you've hardly even heard of.
People who worked and suffered and struggled for fame,
Some who succeeded and some who suffered in vain.

Everybody's a dreamer and everybody's a star
And everybody's in show biz, it doesn't matter who you are.

And those who are successful,
Be always on your guard,
Success walks hand in hand with failure
Along Hollywood Boulevard.

I wish my life was a non-stop Hollywood movie show,
A fantasy world of celluloid villains and heroes,
Because celluloid heroes never feel any pain
And celluloid heroes never really die.

You can see all the stars as you walk along Hollywood Boulevard,
Some that you recognize, some that you've hardly even heard of,
People who worked and suffered and struggled for fame,
Some who succeeded and some who suffered in vain.

Oh celluloid heroes never feel any pain
Oh celluloid heroes never really die.

I wish my life was a non-stop Hollywood movie show,
A fantasy world of celluloid villains and heroes,
Because celluloid heroes never feel any pain
And celluloid heroes never really die.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sheryl Crow: I Shall Believe

Here’s a Sheryl Crow live recording from 2007’s “Home for the Holidays” special that showcases her talent as a keyboardist. “I Shall Believe” originally appeared on her debut album “Tuesday Night Music Club.” It is our Spiritual Sunday selection for today.

Studio Version

Crow's studio version of the song follows a different format altogether. I don’t know about you, but I prefer her gospel piano version that we included above better than her original release of “I Shall Believe.”

Matt Brouwer’s Single Release

In 2005, Canadian Matt Brouwer released his second album “Unlearning,” which featured his second single – a cover of Sheryl Crow’s “I Shall Believe.”

While it didn’t chart as high as his debut single “Water,” it did see some action on Billboard’s Christian Chart as well as on CCM’s charts. Brouwer follows a different style than the two previous versions preferring instead an acoustic alternative interpretation.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Who Sell Out

The first Who album I had an opportunity to own was their third: “The Who Sell Out.” I purchased it in the cut out section at H.L. Greens in McKeesport for a reduced price. It is a quasi-concept album. While the songs do not generally follow any set lyrical content or story line, the album is set up to be like a broadcast from Radio London.

The station was a pirate 50kw AM facility operating outside of the three mile limit of the UK in the North Sea. Included in the album are real Radio London jingles and faux commercials for real and fake products that were interspersed between the songs.

I Can See for Miles

The album produced one hit single: “I Can See for Miles,” which peaked at 10 in the UK and at 9 in the US. Although it had an excellent showing within the top 10 in both countries, Pete Townshend was disappointed that it had not performed better on the charts. He considered it the quintessential Who song at that moment of their career.

Mary Ann with the Shaky Hand

In the US, the “I Can See for Miles” single was released with an alternative electric version of “Mary Ann with the Shaky Hand. The version heard here is the LP mix with acoustic instrumentation.

Armenia City in the Sky

The opening cut after Radio London’s days of the week voicers is “Armenia City in the Sky.” It is the only song on the album not written by a member of the band. John “Speedy” Keen penned “Armenia City in the Sky.” Keen was Pete Townshend’s roommate and would go onto some limited success as a member of Thunderclap Newman and as songwriter of “Something in the Air.”

The Album in its Entirety

Here’s a YouTube playlist of the album in its entirety. I apologize for the sloppy editing made by the individuals who posted these songs. It could be a little cleaner, but next to impossible without the correct software as the cuts are strung together.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Elvis Costello: Alison

I’ll have to confess that Elvis Costello’s original recording of “Alison” is the definitive version of the song and it is the most popular version in the UK and among American music junkies. Such was not the case with mainstream America in 1978, as adult contemporary radio tended to gravitate towards Linda Ronstadt’s version.

Costello’s original was released twice as a single in the US, but it failed to chart either time in 1977. The refrain from the tune became the title for his debut LP, “My Aim is True.”

Linda Ronstadt’s Version

Although this fourth single from Ronstadt’s double platinum “Living in the USA” album failed to chart in the Hot 100, it was a mid-charting AC hit where it peaked at #30. The sax solo is by David Sanborn. Mike Mainieri plays the vibes which are also featured heavily on this cut.

I have a picture disc of this single and it may be the first picture disc that I purchased. It was either this song or The Cars “Just what I Needed” a song that I first heard in Columbus, Ohio on my trips to that city several times that same year.

While many die hard rock fans and critics have panned Ronstadt’s version of this song, I think the production is excellent – but I also like the original as well.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Donnie Iris: Ah! Leah!

Yesterday, I talked about being on the air in Huntington, WV the night that John Lennon was killed. Within two months, I took a job in Beckley, WV as the evening jock for WCIR-FM. One of the songs that I heard for the first time in Beckley was Donnie Iris’ “Ah! Leah!”

During those first few months of 1981, the song was played in what was called a recurrent status. For you non-radio types, this was the song rotation for recent hits and these songs were typically played between one to three times daily.

Apparently, it received tons of airplay at CIR before I joined the staff in early 1981, but was a song that was overlooked by the stations in Huntington. Music director and later program director Ron Hill was responsible for getting this record its start in Southern West Virginia. I had totally missed this release.

By the summer of 1981, an Album Oriented Rock (AOR) station came on the air in the market - WOAY which replaced country formatted WRJL at 94.1. Charlie Jennings, WOAY's program director, made sure that Iris’ tune was played in a pretty significant rotation throughout their years in what they termed as the Adult Rock format.

I later worked at WOAY from 1983 to 1987 and helped transition the station from an AOR to a Contemporary Hit Radio station beginning in 1984. We still played “Ah! Leah!” in the new format as an oldie.

“Ah! Leah!” was also a colossal hit in my hometown of Pittsburgh. Domenic Ierace, as he was born, was something of a Greater Pittsburgh legend playing in the biggest local band during my high school years. The Jaggerz had one national hit – “The Rapper” which peaked at #2 in 1970. Donnie Iris wrote and sang lead on this hit.

Following the break-up of The Jaggerz, Iris later joined another Upper Ohio River Valley band, Wild Cherry – but it was after the band had reached the peak of their success. He contributed to their third and fourth albums, but not to any of their hit releases.

The year 1980 was primed for Donnie Iris and “Ah! Leah!” was originally released on Midwest National Records before being picked up by MCA. While its chart performance wasn’t outstanding (#29 on the singles chart and #19 on the rock charts), it is a timeless song that is still heard today. In fact, I heard it last week on an episode of Bones – thus qualifying it for inclusion as this week’s TV Thursday selection.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

30 Years Ago Today - A Tribute To John Lennon

It was thirty years ago today and it seems just like yesterday. I was working the evening shift at WEMM in Huntington, WV and my girlfriend at the time who was studying in the break room came running into the control room to tell me that the bells on the UPI teletype were dinging like crazy.

Knowing that the ten bells meant news of great importance, I rushed back and pulled the wire copy. It read “Former Beatle John Lennon was shot outside of The Dakota and that he had been rushed to a nearby hospital.”

It was a little before 11 PM and the top of the hour news covered the story but had no additional details. About 20 minutes later, the teletype sounded ten bells again accompanied by the sad news that John Lennon had died.

I have every teletype story about his death from that evening as well as UPI Audio’s 30 minute tribute to Lennon that they issued at about 2 AM the next morning; unfortunately, these are now in storage in preparation for moving into new quarters. I have them, but I can’t get to them easily to share online.

Much like there was a run on Elvis records when he died three years earlier, I headed to the National Record Mart in Huntington the next morning and picked up two albums by Lennon and two by The Beatles that I didn’t already have. That’s all I could afford on such short notice, but I wanted to get them while I could.

In memory of the most outspoken of the Fab Four, I have picked several of John’s more poignant compositions: “In My Life,” “Imagine,” “Julia,” and “Because.”

In My Life

Although I featured this song from “Rubber Soul” back in February, I would be remiss not to include it here. It’s my from favorite Beatles' album – both the US and UK configurations (which are different) are excellent collections of songs by the world’s most popular band.


No doubt considered John’s most famous song and the only single release in this mix of songs. In 1971, It was a number one record in the UK, Canada, and Australia. In the US, it peaked at #3. It was re-released in 1975 in the UK with his “Shaved Fish” compilation (by the way, I have one in green vinyl from the UK). The second release charted at #6. It is a song that has transcended its own popularity as an icon in the religion of music.


A solo performance by John from the “White Album” that was written about his mother, Julia Lennon, who was killed by a drunk driver when John was 17. The song features John on acoustic guitar and double tracked vocals. Donovan is credited with teaching John to finger pick his guitar. It’s believable; because according to Donovan, Mr. Leitch created electric folk, psychedelia, the hippie movement, and even the color purple.


John wrote this song that appeared on the Beatles “Abbey Road” LP after hearing Yoko Ono play Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata.” He was lying on the sofa and asked her if she could play the chord progression in reverse. She did and he wrote “Because” to this backwards progression. George Harrison is playing a Moog synthesizer – much better than he did on his solo album “Electronic Sound.” The harmonies are John, Paul, and George that were triple tracked to give the appearance of nine men singing.

Rest in Peace John – the world misses your creativity.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Odetta: Tomorrow Is A Long Time

The other night I was watching the season finale of “The Walking Dead” and as the survivors were exiting Atlanta, they played Bob Dylan’s “Tomorrow is a Long Time.” It was fitting song for the last scene of the season's closing episode.

While Bob’s official release of the song did not occur until 1971’s release of “Greatest Hits Volume II,” it was a tune that was well known in the folk community. This was largely because of a demo recording the Dylan recorded for his publisher M. Witmark and Sons and a subsequent bootleg release of the song.

Nearly every major folk act of the day performed or recorded “Tomorrow is a Long Time.” The list of cover artist includes Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Ian and Sylvia, The Silkie, and The Kingston Trio. The song also was recorded by Elvis, Sandy Denny, Nickel Creek, Nick Drake, and others. The one recording that stands out in my mind is the 1965 version by Odetta from her LP “Odetta Sings Dylan.”

The recording of an album of all Dylan material was cyclic in nature as Odetta Holmes was an early influence on Dylan. In a 1978 interview, Dylan reminisced about hearing her LP “Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues”: “The first thing that turned me on to folk singing was Odetta. I heard a record of hers in a record store, back when you could listen to records right there in the store. Right then and there, I went out and traded my electric guitar and amplifier for an acoustical guitar, a flat-top Gibson.”

Odetta, who had been classically trained as opera singer, began singing folk music in 1950. This was a decade before the folk music craze of the early 60s, so there were plenty opportunities for her to influence scores of folk musicians in addition to Dylan. Even Elvis' version of this song is more akin to Odetta's rendition than to the other recordings of the period.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Echo & The Bunnymen: People Are Strange

The other day I mentioned Echo and the Bunnymen and my wife thought it was a strange name for a band. This post-punk, pre-alternative band from England had limited success in the US; however, they had a sizable following in their native UK. Their interpretation of the Doors’ classic “People are Strange” is from the soundtrack to “The Lost Boys.” Not a bad version if I do say so myself and very close to the original.

The Doors’ Original

The follow-up to The Doors’ first and most popular single “Light My Fire,” “People are Strange “ was released in the fall of 1967 and peaked the American singles charts at #12. The song was the first of two singles from The Doors’ second LP “Strange Days.”

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Charlie Haden's Family And Friends: Spiritual

I actually heard about this recording from a coworker this week and was unaware of this side of jazz bassist Charlie Haden and his family. The song written and sung by Charlie’s son Josh was originally recorded by Josh’s band Spain. It originally appeared on the 1995 album "The Blue Moods of Spain." Probably the most notable cover of the tune was by the late Johnny Cash.

Joining Charlie and Josh on stage are two other members of the Haden family. Petra Haden on violin and Tanya Haden on ‘cello. Tanya, by the way, is married to Jack Black. The only musical family member missing from this ensemble that performed on the Letterman show was bassist/keyboardist Rachel Haden. Rachel, Tanya, and Petra are triplet daughters of Charlie Haden; Josh is their older brother.

As for the other musicians, I am not sure of their identities at this point. While I like this song, it really needs someone with a more powerful delivery to convey the message. Not that Josh Haden does a bad job, as he technically performs well; however, his voice just isn’t strong enough for my tastes for this type of ballad performance.

Charlie Haden and Pat Metheny Instrumental

From the album "Beyond the Missouri Sky (Short Stories)," Charlie Haden teams up with guitarist Pat Metheny on an instrumental version of Josh's song "Spiritual."

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Byrds: You Showed Me

Let me apologize for the late post on this today. Our ISP was down when I tried to post this in the morning. In addition, there will not be a post for tomorrow - I am taking a vacation from the blogosphere.

Written by Roger McGuinn and Gene Clark in 1964, “You Showed Me” was a 1969 hit for The Turtles. The song was originally performed by McGuinn and Clark as a duo when they performed at the Troubadour. It was later recorded by their band The Byrds during their sessions at World Pacific Studios in Los Angeles in 1964.

While the song demo was not originally carried over to their first Columbia release, it did appear on the 1969 LP named “Preflyte.” The original was a much faster interpretation of the song.

The Turtles’ Hit Version

The interpretation of “You Showed Me” appeared on the The Turtles’ “Battle of the Bands” album that was released in late 1968. It has a slower tempo than The Byrds’ original. Producer Chip Douglas who played bass in the Gene Clark Group introduced the song to The Turtles.

When Douglas played the song for The Turtles he did on a pump organ with a set of broken bellows and thereby was performed slower than normal. The band liked the slower version and it ended up being The Turtles final Top 40 hit charting at #6.

The major/minor chord progression with the strings and the interplay of the synthesizer throughout the tune really makes this recording spectacular. U2 later sampled The Turtles version for their song “The Playboy Mansion.”

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Ben Harper: Suzie Blue

I caught today’s song on the tube about a month ago advertising for Cadillac’s 2011 SRX. Today’s TV Thursday features Ben Harper from his 1999 LP “Burn to Shine” and the song “Suzie Blue.” Harper’s musical portfolio, in a word, is eclectic. This song's style is reminiscent of Dixieland features the rhythm and instrumentation of the genre including the fine clarinet work by Jim Bogen and trombone by James Leigh.

The Caddy Commercial

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Sammy Hagar: I Can't Drive 55

For those in the know, the number 55 holds special significance to me and so I’ve planned to play Sammy Hagar’s “I Can’t Drive 55” for this Anything Goes Wednesday feature. It is not because I can’t drive 55 (although that has been an occurrence from time to time), it is for other reasons that I won’t go into today.

While the song only charted at 26, it has a legacy that has gone beyond a mid charting top 40 hit – part of that legacy is due to album oriented radio and MTV playing the song to death. It was on his album “Voice of America” which was released in 1984 prior to his involvement in the group HSAS and his selection as David Lee Roth’s replacement in Van Halen.

The song was inspired by Sammy’s trip from Albany, New York to Lake Placid where he was clocked as going 62 (not 125) in a 55 zone. The cop told him that around there they gave tickets for going over 60 and Sammy responded, “I can’t drive 55.” At that moment he knew he had a song to write and when he got to his cabin at Lake Placid he finished the song. “I Can’t Drive 55” is listed in Rolling Stone’s Top 100 Rock Songs at the final position – 100.

Me with Sammy Hagar in early 1985

I had a chance to meet Sammy twice: once in 1985 when he was on his VOA Tour and also in 1986 when he appeared with Van Halen. Both shows were in Charleston, WV.  By the way, I found him to be one of the more friendly rock and rollers I have had the privilege to meet. 

 Alex Van Halen, Kevin Cordle, Sammy Hagar, Michael Anthony, and me.