Monday, September 30, 2013

The Clash: London Calling

Last week, I heard The Clash’s “London Calling” used as a promo bed for the season premier of the CBS show “Elementary.” I watched the show; however, do not remember hearing it during the entire episode as I had expected. Since it brought Holmes back to his beloved London from New York, its use in the spot was more than apropos. It is said that Joe Strummer and Mick Jones wrote this apocalyptic tune in 1979 shortly after the Three Mile Island disaster earlier in the year.

I think its lyrics are brilliant. It is full of gloom and doom – it has everything you would expect from the apocalypse: war, mayhem in the streets, nuclear meltdown, famine, the end of mechanization, population relegated to various habitable zones, mutation of the species, zombies, and of course – “London is drownin’ I . . . live by the river.” Perhaps the song was more of a reflection of the dying punk genre and was being replaced by a number of newer musical styles, as Strummer sings, “Phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust” and “see we ain't got no swing.”

Rolling Stone ranks “London Calling” at #15 on the Top 500 songs of all time. Unfortunately, it never charted on the Hot 100 in the US, but strangely enough, it and its flip side “Train in Vain” made it to #30 on the dance charts.


London calling to the faraway towns,
Now that war is declared and battle come down.
London calling to the underworld,
Come out of the cupboard, you boys and girls.

London calling, now don't look to us –
Phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust.
London calling, see we ain't got no swing,
Except for the ring of that truncheon thing.

The ice age is coming, the sun's zoomin’ in,
Meltdown expected, the wheat is growing thin,
Engines stop running, but I have no fear,
Cause London is drownin', I . . . live by the river.

London calling to the imitation zone,
Forget it brother, you can go it alone.
London calling to the zombies of death,
Quit holding out and draw another breath.

London calling and I don't wanna shout,
But while we were talking, I saw you runnin' out.
London calling; see we ain't got no highs,
Except for that one with the yellowy eyes.

The ice age is coming, the sun's zoomin’ in,
Engines stop running, the wheat is growing thin,
A nuclear error, but I have no fear,
Cause London is drownin', I . . . I live by the river.

The ice age is coming, the sun's zoomin’ in,
Engines stop running, the wheat is growing thin,
A nuclear error, but I have no fear,
Cause London is drownin', I . . . I live by the river.

Now get this – London calling, yes I was there too
And you know what they said - well some of it was true!
London calling, at the top of the dial,
And after all this, won't you give me a smile?
London calling . . .

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Parrot Records: Tell Mama

In 1971, a mass exodus of members of Savoy Brown led to the formation of Foghat and left the band’s founder, Kim Simmonds, the only individual remaining. Prior to recording the album “Street Corner Talking,” Simmonds enlisted four new members: Paul Raymond (guitar, keyboards, vocals), Andy Sylvester (bass), Dave Walker (vocals), and Dave Bidwell (drums).

Most of Savoy Brown’s early releases were issued in the US and Canada on Parrot Records and when that label was shut down, they moved to London Records with the release of “Boogie Brothers” in 1974. “Tell Mama,” a Kim Simmonds/Paul Raymond composition, was the band’s single release from “Street Corner Talking.”

Undisputedly, Simmonds plays some excellent slide guitar on this cut. Like most Savoy Brown singles, they were never chart successes in the US with “Tell Mama” peaking at #83 in 1971. With the Tom Joneses, Engelbert Humperdincks, Jonathan Kings, and Lulus of the label, Savoy Brown was one of the more progressive acts in Parrot’s cage of artists.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Parrot Records: It's Good News Week

When we began our look at Parrot Records on Sunday, our first selection was Jonathan King’s “Everyone’s Gone to the Moon.” King returns in part with a UK one hit wonder by Hedgehoppers Anonymous. “It’s Good News Week” was a tongue in cheek tune about social consciousness that King composed and forced on suggested to the band. Actually, it was a good move, as it proved to be a UK hit.

King was thoroughly engaged in this British hit from 1965. Not only was he the songwriter, but he was the band’s producer and promoter of sorts. He even rechristened the band from The Hedgehoppers to become Hedgehoppers Anonymous. A “hedgehopper,” by the way, was British slang for a pilot and the group chose the name as they met while members of the Royal Air Force.

Although “It’s Good News Week” was a Top 5 smash in the UK, Americans simply did not get the dark humor of the song. Add to the trauma of the lyrical content, you had lead vocalist Mike Tinsley’s over-the-top cheerful enunciations regarding verboten topics of nuclear war, reanimating the dead, population control, and experimental brain surgery; consequently, its lack of airplay garnered a US chart position at only #48.

Hedgehoppers Anonymous recorded five singles only two made it to the American charts: “It’s Good News Week” and “Don’t Push Me”; the latter had a dismal showing at #110. It became better known in Australia when the original recording was used as the theme song for the TV show “Good News” week during its first run from 1996 to 2000. During the show’s second leg from 2008 to 2012, a cover version replaced the original. As “It’s Good News Week” really wasn’t an American “hit,” it still manages to be occasionally played on US oldies radio stations – and that is “good news.”

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Fourth Anniversary / Post 1300: Parrot Records: Here Comes The Night

Today is the fourth anniversary of Reading Between the Grooves as well as being the 1,300th post. For the last several yearly anniversaries, I’ve been able to time these with a post numbered in one hundred increments. Within a month or two, we’ll also celebrate 200,000 page views – too bad that hadn’t come sooner to join this auspicious occasion.

We’ll get into the details concerning this anniversary after we take care of today’s post from Parrot Records. As we’ve done on another occasion during the Thursdays Repeats and Threepeats during the Fourth Week Label Special, we’ve featured a song that was released by two different artists on the same label. Written by Bert Berns, “Here Comes the Night” was recorded in 1964 by two British Decca artists whose singles were issued on Parrot Records in the US.


Lulu’s Version

The first release of “Here Comes the Night” is slower than the eventual hit version and it has a different opening. Of course, it is sung from a female’s perspective. While in comparison to Them’s hit version, it is unusual, but I really like its treatment.

Issued as a non album single, Lulu’s recording was released in November 1964 and peaked only at #50 in the UK. Although marketed in the US on Parrot, it failed to chart. So for my American readers, this may be the first time you’ve heard this particular recording.


Them’s Version

The well known version of “Here Comes the Night” was recorded by the Belfast, Northern Ireland band “Them.” In addition, it was recorded before Lulu ever heard the tune. Berns had just written the song and had an idea of a repeating guitar riff.  He brought the song to Them and the band worked on the tune for four days as it evolved.

Berns, who produced the record, utilized Jimmy Page on second guitar, Phil Coulter on second keyboards, Andy White on second drums and backing vocals, and Tommy Scott on backing vocals. Of course, Van Morrison sang lead. Although it was slated to be issued as Them’s next single, Decca held off on its release and brought Lulu into the studio to record her version. It even used the same guitar riff employed by Them.

Although both were on the same label, Decca (and ultimately Parrot in the US) rush released Lulu’s version. Needless to say, Them was not very happy with the decision; however, the band felt some vindication when Lulu’s version tanked. The label waited until March 1965 to release Them’s version and it did quite well in both The UK and Ireland where it charted at #2. Its US showing on Parrot was not as spectacular, as it only peaked at #24.

RBTG’s 1,300th Post / Fourth Anniversary Retrospect

Like I had reported with every other 100th post anniversary, I took a look backward on how we are doing visitor wise. I began this blog on September 26, 2009, but did not start monitoring the visits until October 16, 2009. Currently, we have 70 declared followers of the blog – up from 67 in June. There are many others who have visited frequently without declaring themselves as followers. The statistics are listed below:

Unique Visitors122,170
Times Visited135,789
Number of Pages Viewed197,782
People Visiting 200+ Times1,952
People Visiting 101-200 Times844
People Visiting 51-100 Times801
People Visiting 26-50 Times784
Number of Visitor Countries Represented179
Percentage of Visitors Referred from Search Engines63.4%
Percentage of Visitors Referred from Other Sites26.6%
Percentage of Visitors via Direct Access11.0%

The Top Ten Visitor Countries

Since our 1200th post, Spain overtook the Netherlands for the ninth spot. Four new countries and territories were added since June 2013. They include one from Europe (The Faroe Islands), one from the Caribbean (Haiti), and two from Africa (Rwanda and Burundi, which at one time were part of a single nation).

1United States66,032
2United Kingdom11,160

As always, I want to take this time to thank all of you for your support of this site and the encouragement to keep going forward. Thanks again for Reading between the Grooves.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Parrot Records: House Of The Rising Sun

Frijid Pink is one of the few American acts signed to Parrot Records, as most of the label’s artists were British Decca acts licensed to its American arm of London Records. Frijid Pink’s only Top 40 hit was recorded in 1969, and their hit version of “House of the Rising Sun” almost didn’t happen.

According to their collective memories, the band had some studio time remaining, and so they broke into a jam of “House of the Rising Sun,” but they considered it a throwaway track at best. After hearing the cut, WKNR Detroit’s program director Paul Cannon urged the band to use “House” as their single instead of “God Gave Me You,” which was being issued by Parrot.

The label’s execs listened to Cannon’s recommendation and turned their attention to “House of the Rising Son.” So close were the two singles’ release dates, they sported consecutive numbers as Parrot 340 and 341. Both singles sported “Driving Blues” as their flip sides.

Quite a bit different than The Animals’ #1 hit of five years earlier, Frijid Pink’s guitar centric version was much heavier than the previous hit which was organ centric. In addition, Frijid Pink’s versions was recorded in common time while The Animal’s hit was played in 6/8 time. While the time signature was different, Frijid Pink’s version credited The Animals’ Alan Price as the author – even though the arrangement of this traditional tune was different. The song also featured a wah-wah pedal on the guitar – characteristic of the music of the period.

“House of the Rising Sun” peaked on the Hot 100 at #6. In addition, it was a #1 record in Germany and Norway. The song also hit the Top 10 in the following countries: #2 in Switzerland and Poland; #3 in Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, and Austria; #4 in The UK and Israel; #6 in Sweden and Belgium; and #7 in Greece and Ireland. Not bad for an impromptu jam that the band felt was not worthy of release.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Parrot Records: Tell Her No

While The Zombies released eight singles on the Parrot label, only two charted within the Top 40: 1964's “She’s Not There” at #2 and 1965's “Tell Her No” at #6. A third single, “Time of the Season” issued on Date Records in 1969, peaked at #3. In their native Britain, The Zombies only had one hit and that was their first – “She’s Not There.”

Like their other hits, “Tell Her No” was written by keyboardist Rod Argent. It appears that Argent is playing two keyboard parts on the song. One sounds like a Vox organ and may be double tracked; the other, which may be the Vox as well, sounds like a RMI Electra Piano or Hohner Pianet.

 I’m just speculating on the instrumentation, as I haven’t found any documentation on it as of yet. In the only vintage live performance that I could find (which is an obvious lip-synch version from Shindig), Argent has only one keyboard on stage – a Vox Continental.

Of course, Colin Blunstone sings the lead with the other band members providing the backup.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Parrot Records: Thunderball

I hadn’t originally planned the theme from “Thunderball” to be the Tom Jones song I would feature this week, but two recent events inspired me to choose it instead of my original selection, “Detroit City.” About three weeks ago, I watched the movie on one of the cable networks during their Bond weekend. I hadn’t seen the movie in years and remembered seeing it on the big screen in 1965.

The other reason is that last week, I found out that I am not too distantly related to Anthony Dawson who played the body (but not the voice) of Ernst Stravo Blofeld in “From Russia with Love” and “Thunderball.” His face is never seen in these two films as he strokes his white angora cat. Dawson actually had a much larger role in “Dr. No” as Professor Dent. He appeared in numerous movies and TV shows during his long illustrious career from 1940 to 1991.

But I digress; let’s talk about Tom Jones’ illustrious career on Parrot Records. Jones had 10 Top 20 hits on Parrot between 1965 and 1971; he recorded for the label from 1965 to 1975. “Thunderball” was not one of them, as it peaked at 25 on the Hot 100. Fortunately, it did better on the Adult Contemporary chart where it reached #5. John Barry and Don Black wrote the theme song; however, its appearance in the film was not without incident.

Barry originally composed a theme song titled “Mr. Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang” based on a statement made by an Italian journalist. Shirley Bassey, who sang the “Goldfinger” theme, initially recorded the song. Barry apparently was not satisfied with Bassey’s performance and asked Dionne Warwick to also record the tune. Two events nixed the song from the film – Bassey sued when she heard that Warwick’s version was planned to be used and not her treatment.

In addition, EON Productions wanted a song that featured “Thunderball” in the title and lyrics. Barry and Black quickly wrote a new piece and enlisted Tom Jones to sing the theme. His voice is perfect for this tune; however, singing it was stressful on Jones. He passed out after holding the high note at the end of the recording – now that’s an artist putting his all into the song.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Parrot Records: Everyone's Gone To The Moon

In 1929, The Decca Gramophone Co., Ltd. was formed in England and its American arm was established in 1934. During World War II, the companies separated and American Decca eventually was purchased by Music Corporation of America (MCA).

Because of the separation of the two Deccas, British Decca could not use the trademark in the US; therefore, they set up London Records in 1947 to be British Decca’s American arm. To diversify the popular music licensed by British Decca to London Records, London set up several subsidiary labels including Parrot Records for American and Canadian distribution.

I decided on Parrot Records because of a recent event.  On trip with a couple of coworkers, Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck came up in the conversation. Besides being British, I asked my friends if they could tell me two things the singers had in common. They couldn't, so I provided the answers. In addition to both changing their names (Thomas Woodward to Tom Jones and Arnold Dorsey to Engelbert Humperdinck), they recorded in the US on Parrot Records; therefore, I decided on Parrot Records as our Fourth Week Label Feature for this month. Parrot was established by London during 1964.

In 1965, Parrot released the first single by Jonathan King – “Everyone’s Gone to the Moon.” While it was #3 hit on British Decca for King, the single charted at #17 in US on Parrot. The song, both written and sung by King, helped establish his career in the music business, which included being an artist, songwriter, producer, record label owner, concert promoter, and much more. At the time of the recording, King was a student at Cambridge University

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Dave Mason & Cass Elliot: On and On

The teaming of Mama Cass Elliot and Dave Mason seems on the surface to be an unlikely pairing, but the duo, which later evolved into a trio with Ned Doheny, really worked. The album simply titled as “Dave Mason & Cass Elliot” only went as high as #49 on the album charts. It also produced two singles that failed to chart. Interestingly enough, this 1971 album was released in the US on Mason’s Blue Thumb label, but the singles were issued on Cass Elliot’s label, ABC Dunhill. By 1974, ABC would purchase Blue Thumb.

“On and On” was not issued as a single, but is a strong track that illustrates the vocal prowess of both Cass Elliot and Dave Mason. The song was penned by Ned Doheny who would become their partner in crime; however, he does not appear on the album including his own song.

Besides vocals, Mason played all of the guitars and is joined by Bryan Garo on bass, Paul Harris on piano, and Russ Kunkle on drums. Cass Elliot considered her performances on the album as some of her best. She was also credited as co-producer along with Mason.

Had “On and On,” a much stronger track than “Something to Make You Happy” and “Too Much Truth, Too Much Love,” been released as a single, perhaps this collaborative effort would have been better known. “On and On” has the characteristics of being both a rock and a pop song. I love Mason’s guitar on this cut and it may be some of his best work. Harris’ piano parts add to the driving nature of “On and On.”

Most people are unfamiliar with this song as well as its parent album; thus, making it a perfect bubbling under tune for this Saturday.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Johnny Rivers: Come Home America

In 1972, the US’ presence in South East Asia was a constant reminder of the turbulent times America was facing. We had environmental issues, racial issues, and to top it off, “America’s long national nightmare” would begin with a break-in at the Democratic National Headquarters at the Watergate Hotel Complex. While most would not feel the impact of this paranoid act dictated by the Nixon administration until 1973, it changed the future of politics and the role of journalism in America.

Watergate did not have to happen, as Nixon needlessly feared competition from Senator George McGovern. McGovern’s grass roots campaign electrified the youth vote with 18 year-olds, as of 1971, able to participate in the electoral process; however, Richard Nixon had one of the greatest landslide victories in American history.

He carried all of the US except the 14 electoral votes of Massachusetts and one lone elector in Virginia. I often wondered what would have happened had Nixon run a clean campaign, as it appears that he would have won anyway. We’ll never know, but he may have been remembered more favorably in history.

Part of McGovern’s campaign strategy was to use a song written by Johnny Rivers and his new songwriting partner Michael Georgiades. The flip side to River’s cover of Huey Piano Smith’s “Rockin’ Pneumonia – Boogie Woogie Flu” that charted at #6, the ballad “Come Home to America” showed a softer and more serious side to Rivers. Like most “B” sides, “Come Home to America” never charted.

From the album “L.A. Reggae,” “Come Home America” featured acoustic guitar, strings arranged by Jimmy Webb, and a wonderful sax solo. Since both Jim Horn and Jackie Kelso played sax on the album, I cannot tell you who actually played on this cut. From the range, it sounds like an alto sax. While some may prefer the rockier side of Johnny Rivers, “Come Home America” has great historical significance, but alas, it did little to energize the public to vote for George McGovern.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Mason Proffit: Hope

For our Wooden Music Wednesday, I turn again to another band that had a cult-like following: Mason Proffit. I have spoken at length concerning this folk-country-rock band out of Chicago that spawned the Talbot Brothers: Terry and John Michael. By the time the band signed to their only major record label, Warner Brothers, the band was heading towards its natural end. Since the The Byrds, Poco, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and the Eagles had already blazed this musical trail, Mason Proffit would appear as imitators when in reality they had been among the innovators.

Mason Proffit was not plagued by their musical abilities, their song crafting, or the production of their recordings. Their downfall was signing to small record labels with even smaller budgets. Their first two albums were released on Happy Tiger Records – the musical arm of the Flying Tiger Freight Company.

The first album, “Wanted,” failed to take off; although, it is quite good. “Movin’ Toward Happiness,” their second, was their highest charting album at #177. Their third, “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream,” saw the bands movement to the ill fated Ampex Records.

While Mason Proffit had a Midwestern following, they were never able to move from a regional band to a national act. Although they released three albums for Warner Brothers and the Talbot Brothers’ first album fulfilled the band’s contract of four albums with the label, most people remember and clamor for the albums on Happy Tiger and Ampex.

At least one single was released from the “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream.” It is a perfect prelude of the positive music recorded by the Talbot Brothers as contemporary Christian music artists. Released in 1971, “Hope” failed to chart; however, the album was their second most popular release charting at #186.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Gentle Giant: Octopus

Well I’m back from my reunion and a return to blogging as we head toward our fourth anniversary and our 1300th post – both of which occur next week. A few weeks ago I introduced a new feature called “Atypical Tuesdays” which looks at unusual packaging of albums. About a week ago someone on a Facebook site that deals with classic concerts in Charleston, West Virginia mentioned that Gentle Giant had once played there as well in Morgantown, WV. Since I’ve never featured this largely unknown prog rock band, I thought I would give it a shot.

Today, we feature a cut from their fourth album titled “Octopus.” It is said that Roberta Shulman, wife of horn player and vocalist, named the album as a pun on “octo” – eight and “opus” – musical numbers, as the album had eight tracks. While the European release of the album had a standard gatefold cover featuring the characteristic artwork of Roger Dean, the North American release was radically different.

While Columbia picked up the option from Vertigo to release two albums, “Three Friends” and “Octopus,” they decided on alternate covers for both. The North American release of “Three Friends” took the artwork from the band’s first album, as it had never been released here. The iconic image of a “gentle giant” was probably a good move.

I am not so sure on the choice of covers for the American and Canadian issues of “Octopus.” Dean was a rising star in the album cover business by the 1972 release of “Octopus” and certainly the art department at CBS should have recognized this.

He had already designed 20 album covers that included “Fragile” and “Close to the Edge” by Yes and Uriah Heep’s “Demons and Wizards” that were recently ingrained in the minds of the record buying public. His covers of “Octupus,” the debut album by Osibisa, and Uriah Heep’s “The Magician’s Birthday” rank as my three favorite Dean album covers of all time.

For North America, Columbia turned to John Berg for a cover concept and design that utilized an illustration by Charles White, III. The artwork was coordinated by Fluid Design and employed Kenny Kneitel’s design and Michael Doret’s lettering. The finished product was a die cut album cover that resembled an octopus in a jar. The die cut cover contributed to the overall 3D effect for the cover.

While I would have stuck with the Dean cover, the North American artwork was quite good and certainly a cover “to be reckoned with.” Like all Gentle Giant albums in the US, its chart activity was dismal at best. Of the albums that charted (and there were some that didn’t), “Octopus” and its die cut cover had one of the poorest showings on the album charts as it only peaked at #170.

Way ahead of their time, Gentle Giant just never developed a following on this side of the pond – even though critics lauded them as one of the more innovative progressive rock bands. Today’s feature is “A Cry for Everyone” which sounds more like an 80s rock tune rather than 1972 prog rock song. It features the following Gentle Giant members:
  • Derek Shulman: lead vocals;
  • Phil Shuman: backing vocals;
  • Ray Shulman: bass, tambourine, and backing vocals;
  • Gary Green: electric guitars;
  • Kerry Minnear: piano, Hammond organ, and Moog synthesizer;
  • John Weathers: drums and bongos.

Although it is not credited, I swear there is a tubular bell hit on the last note. Take a listen and see what you think about this largely unknown band that had a very loyal and distinct following.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

1973: Cindy Incidentally

Since I typically feature a bubbling under hit on Saturday, I thought that I might combine that feature with the second week special. Released in February 1973, “Cindy Incidentally” was the last charting single in the US from The Faces – even though it was not their final single. “Cindy Incidentally” peaked in March ’73 at #48 and was one of several singles from the band’s last studio LP, “Ooh La La.”

While the album’s title cut is better known for later airplay, it was released as a promotional only single and it never charted. The band’s success was never as great as their lead singer’s solo recordings, which also included members of The Faces but could not use the band’s name for contractual reasons.

Although “Cindy Incidentally” did not fare very well, it was their second highest charting single. Only “Stay with Me” from 1971’s “A Nod is as Good as a Wink . . . to a Blind Horse” did better by charting at #17.

Friday, September 13, 2013

1973: Daniel

I’m running little late for today’s second week feature from 1973. “Daniel,” the second of two Top 5 singles from “Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player,” made it to #2 on the Hot 100 and #1 on the Adult Contemporary charts.

The song was written from the vantage point of a younger brother of a Vietnam vet who returned to Texas after losing his sight in the war. Unfortunately, some of this information is not presented in the version recorded by Elton John, as the verse that speaks of the war and the wounds was cut prior to the recording of the song.

Daniel, the older brother, escapes from his physical and personal pain by traveling to a place he loved to visit – Spain. Without the setup concerning his malady, “Daniel’s” meaning is often misunderstood. While John played all of the keyboards, the signature synthesizer parts on “Daniel” were played by recording engineer Ken Scott on an ARP synth.

I was always partial to ARPs, but I never owned one or even a Moog. When I was in the market for a synthesizer, ARP had gone out of business, so I decided to purchase a Micro Moog as it had a ribbon controller; however, the salesman talked me into a new model – a Sequential Circuits Pro One and I was a happy camper for buying this less expensive and easier to program synthesizer. I later got its big brother the Prophet 5.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

1973: Long Train Runnin'

Most people will recognize the opening rhythm guitar playing of Gm7 to G7sus4 chords. Tom Johnston made The Doobie Brothers’ “Long Train Runnin’” – literally. He wrote the song, sang lead, played the signature rhythm guitar, and wailed on the harmonica solo. For harmonica aficionados, Johnston used a C harmonica while an Eb harp would typically be used for Gm. As you can tell, the C harmonica really works well. 

This 1973 hit began as an instrumental jam that the band played in concert. As many songs have working titles (The Beatles’ “Yesterday” was originally known as “Scrambled Egg”), “Long Train Runnin’” began as “Rosie Pig Moseley” and later was named “Osborn.”

Producer Ted Templeton encouraged Johnston to pen words to this instrumental and the finished product was propelled to the #8 position. It was one of two singles from the band’s third album, “The Captain and Me.” The LP’s other hit recording was “China Grove” that charted later in ’73 at #15.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

1973: Let's Pretend

As we trek back to the spring of 1973, I am reminded of this mid-charter by The Raspberries. Hailing from Cleveland, Ohio and fronted by Eric Carmen, “Let’s Pretend” was more of a pop hit than their two previous singles – both of which I purchased in 1972. While “Go All the Way” peaked at #5 and “I Wanna Be With You” charted at #16, “Let’s Pretend” did not keep the momentum and only made it to #35.

I liked the band as they had a Beatlesque sound – especially with “Go All the Way” – in fact, I bought that single based on the fact that someone told me they sounded like The Beatles. The single was not yet being played on Pittsburgh radio, but that didn’t take long to happen.

Enough with the previous singles, “Let’s Pretend” came from the band’s second album “Fresh.” It was their fourth single and fourth highest charting single being bested by 1974’s “Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)” that made it to number 18. “Let’s Pretend” cold opening was a DJ’s nightmare as there was no intro to front sell the tune. Perhaps this influenced its overall performance as it isn’t really a bad song.

All in all, The Raspberries released 10 singles prior to their break-up in 1975. Of those, six failed to chart in the Top 40 with three failing to chart at all. “Let’s Pretend” is indicative of the ballad sound made popular with Eric Carmen’s solo career from 1975 to 1988.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

1973: So Very Hard To Go

Released in May 1973, Tower of Power’s biggest hit of their career began its ascent up the charts to its peak position of #17 on the Hot 100 and #11 on the R&B charts by June. As TOP’s new lead vocalist, Lenny Williams puts soulful emotion into “So Very Hard to Go,” which appeared on the band’s self titled third album. I was reminded of this talented horn band from Oakland, California the other day by a friend who mentioned that he was working on an arrangement of a TOP song for his marching band.

“So Very Hard to Go” was written by tenor saxophonist Emilio Castillo and baritone saxophonist Doc Krupka. I love this tune, but its only failing point (in my estimation) is the tonality of Jay Spell’s piano –  definitely not his playing, as it is impeccable.

The piano sounds like a spinet that has been miked from too great of a distance. Although not a primary instrument in the tune, the piano really adds to the overall sound and even mimics a harp at times – I just wish it sounded clearer and closer like every other instrument on this recording. Besides Spell’s keyboard skills and Williams’ vocals, the other crowning moment of this tune is Greg Adams’ trumpet solo. Good stuff from 1973.

Monday, September 9, 2013

1973: Kodachrome

Climbing up the charts at the time of my high school graduation, Paul Simon’s Kodachrome may have been the only song to make it to the Top Five while sporting a registered trademark for its title. The single peaked at #2 in early summer 1973. One of the most memorable lines of the song is the opening of “When I think back to all the crap I learned in high school, it’s a wonder I can think at all.”

Recorded in 1972 at the famed Muscle Shoals Studios, the song features the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section who also received co-production credit. During the writing process, the working title for the tune was “Going Home,” but Simon wanted the song to be unconventional. The name Kodachrome, a color slide film from Kodak, provided the inspiration; in addition, it had the same syllabic rhythm as “Going Home.”

Kodak’s only request was that the disclaimer “KODACHROME® is a registered trademark for color film” appear on the album and the single’s label. Kodak later used the song as a music bed for TV commercials in the 1990s.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

1973: Reelin' In The Years

Well, it’s the second week of the month and time for our “Second Week Special.” This coming Saturday, I’ll be joining members of the East Allegheny High School class of 1973 for our 40 year reunion. I’ve made it to every reunion except one – the 25th, as I didn’t get the invitation due to moving. All this week, I’ll be featuring songs that were on the radio during the first half of the year – our final semester in high school.

Our first featured song from 1973 contains the epitome of guitar solos, as Elliott Randall cranks it up on Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ in the Years.” In addition, guitarists Jeff “Skunk” Baxter and Denny Dias both contributed to overall guitar sound of this classic anthem.

“Reelin’ in the Years” was the second of two singles from the 1972 album “Can’t Buy a Thrill.” While “Do it Again” peaked at #6, “Reelin’” didn’t crack the Top 10 and charted at #11. Written by Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, Fagen takes the lead vocals and plays piano on this cut, and Becker adds the bass. In addition to others who were previously mentioned, the song features drummer Jim Hodder and percussionist Victor Feldman. In an unusual twist of fate, the tune named “Reelin’ in the Years” was identified on the single as “Reeling in the Years.”

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Terry Knight and the Pack: I (Who Have Nothing)

For folks in my generation growing up outside of the Rust Belt will equate the song “I (Who Have Nothing)” with Tom Jones’ version from 1970. Jones had the biggest hit with the recording by charting at #14. Those older than me may remember the original 1963 recording by Ben E. King which peaked at #29.

But for those of us who lived from Detroit to Buffalo and from Pittsburgh to Cleveland, the quintessential version of “I (Who Have Nothing)” was recorded by the precursor to Grand Funk Railroad, Terry Knight and the Pack from Flint, Michigan. The band was fronted by future producer and manager of Grand Funk, Terry Knight, and included members Don Brewer on drums and Mark Farner on bass.

While “I (Who Have Nothing),” failed to break the national Top 40, its performance in the Rust Belt brought its overall success to #46 – the band’s highest charting record. For the original version by Ben E. King, songwriters/producers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller rewrote the lyrics to an Italian hit “Uno Dei Tanti “(One of Many)” and even used the original backing track from Joe Sentieri’s original 1961 Italian hit for King’s American release.

Over two dozen versions of the song have been recorded with several reaching the Hot 100 charts. Besides King, Terry Knight and the Pack, and Tom Jones; Liquid Smoke took the song to #82 in 1970 and Sylvester peaked at #40 in 1979. My favorite, because I remember hearing it quite often on Pittsburgh radio, was the first popular cover by Terry Knight and the Pack in 1966.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Cat Stevens: Where Do The Children Play?

It’s time for the Friday Flipside and today we look at the “B” side to Cat Stevens’ “Peace Train.” While the “A” side peaked at #7, its flip “Where Do the Children Play?” was a staple of album radio in 1971. It was a song of political consciousness than even rings true 43 years later. With all of the trouble in the world, where is it safe for children to go and play? In 2013, it’s a lot less safe than it was in 1971.

Both “Wild World” and “Where Do the Children Play?” appeared on his first major US release, “Tea for the Tillerman.” The album charted at #8 and was certified triple platinum in the US. Several of the songs from the album including “Where Do the Children Play?” appeared in the 1971 film “Harold and Maude.”

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Proclaimers: I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)

I thought I had already featured The Proclaimer’s “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles),” but I must have featured it on Facebook prior to starting this blog. This song is a perfect example of our Thursday Repeats and Threepeats category, as it was released probably five different times in the UK. In the US, it had two runs at the charts – once in 1988 and then later in 1993. The first time, it failed to chart in the Hot 100, but placed at #21 on the Alternative Music chart.

Its use in the 1993 movie “Benny & Joon” gave the song a well needed boost and it was re-released. With its second stab at the US charts, “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” peaked at #3 on the Hot 100, #8 on the Alternative Music charts, and #25 on the Adult Contemporary Charts. Not bad for a second time around.

The Reids hail from the home town of my Scottish ancestors – Leith. In the second verse, the word “haver” is used – this is Scottish slang for talking nonsense or blabbering. If you would dismiss the obvious Scottish accents of twin brothers Charlie and Craig Reid, I could hear The Who doing this song. In fact, the first time I heard it, the harmonies reminded me of Roger Daltry and Pete Townshend.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Pierre Bensusan: So Long Michael

Pierre Bensusan is a wonder on the acoustic guitar and his specialty is the D-A-D-G-A-D tuning. While it is quite beautiful in its own right, the hands of a master musician show you what is capable with this modal tuning. Today our Wooden Music Wednesday features a live recording from 2012 that was recorded in Takoma Park, MD. Takoma Park was the home of acoustic guitarist John Fahey, which he memorialized by christening his own label as Takoma Records. 

“So Long Michael” was written by Bensusan as a tribute to the late Michael Hedges and incorporates some of Hedges’ style in the process. I think the most amazing thing about this recording is the brief modulation from Dm to Em. I hope you like this as much as I do.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Traffic: The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys

Back to our Atypical Tuesday feature of unusual album packaging. Two weeks ago, I featured Grand Funk Railroad’s “E Pluribus Funk” that was shaped like a coin. Today, we travel back to 1971 when a six-sided die cut cover when combined with the album’s artwork gave the visual impression that the cover was actually a cube.

The band would repeat the effect with their next album, “Shoot out at the Fantasy Factory.”  Although the LP did not have a high charting single release, “Low Spark” did quite well charted at #7 on Billboard’s Top 200 Albums chart.

Traffic’s sixth LP “The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys” is, in my opinion, one of their best albums. It features a reconstituted lineup of Traffic that was introduced on the preceding album, “Welcome to the Canteen.” It doesn’t feature Dave Mason, however, as he again left the band shortly after the previous tour and would never again return to the band.

By the recording of “Low Spark,” Traffic had grown from its core membership of Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi, and Chris Wood with the additions of bassists Ric Grech, drummer Jim Gordon, and percussionist Rebop Kwaku Baaha.

This allowed for a number of things to occur, but most importantly the band could replicate on stage much of what they recorded. It took Winwood off of the bass, as if he still didn’t have too much to do playing guitar and keys. Capaldi moved out from the drum kit to a more visual role with vocals and percussion. The Latin percussion of Rebop added a new flavor to a band with an already mature sound.

“The Low Spark of High Heeled” boys features Capaldi on lead vocals on two cuts: “Rock & Roll Stew” and today’s feature “Light Up and Leave Me Alone.” Capaldi was the sole author of this cut. Even though he is prominently featured as the lead vocalist, Winwood still contributes greatly to this song with what appears to be double tracked rhythm guitars, electric piano, a killer lead guitar, and perhaps more that I’m missing. He also is using a wah-wah pedal on one of the guitar tracks and on the electric piano. Good stuff from one of my all time favorite bands – Traffic.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Johnny Cash: God's Gonna Cut You Down

Recorded shortly before his death in September 2003, Johnny Cash’s version of the traditional gospel song “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” is quite different than previous versions of the song. It was released in 2006 on the posthumous CD release “American V: A Hundred Highways.”

Odetta’s 1956 version is a cappella and continually gets faster as the song progresses and has its roots in field hollers that were the roots of Southern Blues. Elvis’ version from 1967 was titled as “Run On” and his treatment with the Jordanaires was in a Southern Gospel vein. There is a minimalistic approach to Johnny Cash’s version.

Although not as sparse as Odetta’s recording, the Johnny Cash version includes several guitars, foot stomps, hand claps, and a jaw harp. It is slower than either Odetta’s or Elvis’ recording. Others (such as Moby) recorded the song prior to Cash; however, these versions probably held no influence on Cash’s interpretation.