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Friday, October 28, 2011

Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass--Work Song (1966)

     It's not unusual today to see an artist take off on his own and start a record label. Nor is it strange to see them market themselves in a way that allows for the music to be heard on TV and in advertising. However all of those who are making it happen as moguls as well as musicians can look to Herb Alpert as the ground breaker.

     Along with Jerry Moss, they turned a cottage record company which was basically just Alpert on the roster, into a major force in popular music. The Tijuana Brass and then later Herb alone has sold over 72 million records worldwide. Not to mention that the music was marketed to advertisers and television shows which continued the growth of his popularity. Since it was Friday....I thought this song appropriate....happy Friday everyone!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Ace of Base Essentials

My brief review of the recording history of the 90's era Euro pop group can be found here:

Steve Miller Band--Fly Like An Eagle (1976)

     It seemed in 1976/77, you couldn't have the radio on without hearing Steve Miller. Although his breakthrough, "The Joker" was back in 73, it wasn't until "Fly Like An Eagle", and "Book of Dreams" that he fully hit his top 40 stride.

     Miller was/is first and foremost a blues player. That sensibility, informed his first few albums in the late 60's.. His biggest successes during that time was because of FM radio, which helped propel four of his first five albums into the top 40. The music itself was a mix of blues and San Francisco style rock.

      Listening to his 70's output, one can hear the development of Miller's music. The songs became more streamlined, without losing the swagger (at least lyrically) of the blues. It was a winning combination for several years. As the hits faded he has returned to the style of music that brought him to performing in the first place. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Air Supply--Lost in Love (1980)

      Doing these blogs from a bit of a historic perspective has given me a different view of many of the songs of our past. It also reminds me that, just like histories of other events (say US history for example) that one can document what actually happened, but interpreting the event is another thing altogether, and proves that historians can be subjected to prejudices just like anyone else.

       I say all of this to confess that not all of the music that you find here on the blogs are...shall I say favorites of mine? The late 70's combined my disdain of top 40  music (overproduced LA rock, disco, some form of soft rock that made groups like Bread sound like The Who), with my more rebellious years (it's a relative thing....but compared to  my geeky high school years, it was revolutionary). I wouldn't be caught dead with an Air Supply album.

      The truth however is that there WERE some songs (like this one), that I truly loved. Graham Russell and Russell Hitchcock did have a tendency to get a bit heavy handed with the syrup, especially as the hits kept coming, but looking back now over 30 years after they first hit stateside, I realize there had to be a lot more closet fans. I never actually met anyone who would admit it, but SOMEBODY had to be buying all of those records. 

      They still continue to tour and record, but hadn't heard any of their music for at least a couple of decades, and are probably known more to a generation of TV watchers now as two guys who are hawking some soft rock albums on infomercials. If your one of those kids, ask your old rocker parents about Air Supply, then after you get the "unhip" line about them....rummage through their old records to see if it's not there (Christopher Cross' debut album would also out them....)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Helen Reddy--I Am Woman (1972)

    Helen Reddy was looking for a song. She had become inspired by the burgeoning women's rights movement and was wanting to record something that reflected the strength of those who stood in the face of adversity. To her amazement, there was none to be had. So she wrote lyrics and Ray Burton provided the music.   

     Neither writer thought it would go anywhere other than an album cut and in fact when first released in May of 1972, it went nowhere. A combination of TV appearances and women who began picking up on the song propelled it the fall of that year to #1. It was the first of 6 top 10 songs on the Billboard charts throughout the 70's.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The AC/DC Essentials (the Brian Johnston era)

Part two of our brief retrospective of AC/DC is now available on Associated Content:

Sunday, October 23, 2011

a-ha -- Take On Me (1985)

     There was a day not so long ago that artists from around the world wanted to "make it" in the US music market. Although still true, there are many examples of artists who have become worldwide stars without a lot of help from the American listeners. A-ha is one of those groups. Obviously, "Take On Me" was a huge hit stateside, and it's follow up, "The Sun Always Shines On TV" was also in the top 20. After that however they fell off of the Billboard charts except for one more #50 showing in 1986 ("Cry Wolf")

      The song was released initially in 1984 and went nowhere outside of their native Norway. It was the next year, when coupled with a groundbreaking video directed by Steve Barron using pencil sketch/animation/live action combo called rotoscoping. It shot up #1 and the video still remains a favorite of 80s fans. For the US the ride was short, but in the rest of the world, A-ha was just getting warmed up as the group released a series of singles that went top ten in many markets all the way up to 2000, and even later in Norway and Germany. The group went on a four hiatus in the 90's and then regrouped again until final retirement last year.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Beach Boys--Good Vibrations (1966)

     No matter how you look at it, "Good Vibrations" marked a turning point in rock music. Brian Wilson put this song together out of his fertile imagination and pure studio craft. This song, along with the album, "Pet Sounds" profoundly influenced Lennon and McCartney as both were inspired to produce music that was crafted in the same way...the result was Sgt. Pepper. This inspired many (if not most) groups to go down the same path. This has produced some of the most inspired music in the history of rock. It has also produced some of the most insipid stuff as well. To say that it changed the face of rock history is no understatement.

     To hear the song now is amazing. It has not aged one day as the music itself still sounds fresh and exciting. The song starts out with the organ and voice, then opens up into a world that was (at the time) part traditional Beach Boys harmonies wedded with the theremin and a wall of various non-rock instrumentation which takes it to another place. It reminds me of watching "The Wizard of Oz" where Dorthy opens the door of her black and white world into one of full blazing color. We are then taken on a roller coaster ride of musical wonder which doesn't end until the last strains of the theremin fades away. We are so filled with studio craft now, it's hard to imagine the impact this song had on the musical world at the time

Friday, October 21, 2011

After the Fire--Der Kommissar (1983)

     The British group, After the Fire began in the early 70's as a progressive rock band. This incarnation produced one album in 1978 (which was released in 2004), which went nowhere. After this, a change in direction to shorter, pop songs was pursued. This gave them a couple of minor hits in Britain, and the one big hit here in America.

      "Der Kommissar" (which means 'the commissioner' in German) was co-written and sung by Austrian singer Falco. (remember 'Rock Me Amadeus??) in 1981. The group released this first in the summer of 1982, and it didn't fare well at all. While working on an album in December of that year, they announced it would be the last one as the group was shutting it down. Ironically, the single released began to catch fire in the states and would eventually reach #5 in February of 1983. Despite the record company begging them to reform, the group remained dormant until 2004, when they reunited and still tour today.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Peter, Paul and Mary--Blowin' In the Wind (1963)

     In the early 60's there had been a revival of folk music in America. Led by Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and the Kingston Trio, the airwaves could be filled with traditional music along with the more strident, social conscious music being made from a new generation of songwriters.

      Manager Albert Grossman had his finger on the pulse of this movement and it's commercial possibilities. At one time he had Dylan, Odetta, Phil Ochs, Gordon Lightfoot, Richie Havens and many others. He brought Peter, Paul and Mary together in 1961 after holding auditions among several singers in the New York folk scene. Their debut album, "Peter, Paul, and Mary" was released the following year and was an immediate hit on the strength of the singles, "Lemon Tree", and "If I Had a Hammer". The next album was 1963's, "Moving" which contained the trio's first top 5 hit, "Puff, the Magic Dragon".

     That same year, Bob Dylan released the song, "Blowin' in the Wind" to wide acclaim within the music community although it never charted (the B side was, "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right"....a pretty cool combo). The Chad Mitchell Trio recorded it next, but there were problems with the record company releasing it because of the word, "death" in the song. This gave Grossman the opportunity to have Peter, Paul and Mary record and release it. Not only was it became their signature song (Dylan's too), but was adopted by both the civil rights and anti-war movements.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

New CD review: Daryl Hall--Laughing Down Crying (2011)

I write about the new Daryl Hall album on Associated Content....check it out!

George McCrae--Rock Your Baby (1974)

     There is much debate on what the first disco song is. At least for me, it's kind of like Rock and Roll, where there is really no "first" song, just a gradual development of the style. However, there are some songs that we can point to as huge steps in the popularity of the genre, and this is one of them.

     George McCrae had been singing for years in his native Florida, the last few he had been working with his wife, Gwen. Nothing much had been going on and by the mid-70's was planning to go to college to study law enforcement when he had an opportunity to record a song with a then untested songwriting duo, Harry Wayne Casey and Richard Finch.

     The song became a massive hit, not only reaching #1 in the US and Britain, but became a worldwide dance phenomenon. In fact, it is one of only a handful of songs to have sold over 10 million copies. McCrae had chart success until about 1977, but continues to release material and tour. Casey and Finch went on to form KC and the Sunshine Band and became one of the leading bands of the disco era.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The AC/DC Essentials (the Bon Scott era)

My guide for the novice of the Bon Scott era of AC/DC has been published and ready to read here:

The Beatles--Helter Skelter (1968)

     It's difficult to separate this song from it's link to Charles Manson and his brutal madness, but just a couple of years before it was Paul McCartney's response to an article he had read....

      An 1967 article in Guitar Player, had Pete Townshend describing The Who's, "I Can See For Miles" as the loudest, dirtiest, rawest song the group had done to date. Paul began to think about a song that would have that feel as well. One also wonders if the criticisms about him being the "ballad" writer was stinging a bit as well. 

      Helter Skelter is a nonsense song that is raw, brutal and does exactly what Paul envisioned for it.  The version that ended up on the White Album was done in 18 5 minute takes. Despite what many think, the last exclamation, was Ringo  After the last take, Ringo threw his sticks across the room and screamed, "I've Got Blisters On Me Fingers".....we can almost feel the pain as the song grinds to a satisfying halt...

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Stevie Wonder---I Wish (1976)

      By 1976, Stevie Wonder was on top of the pop and r&b world. The transformation that began in 1971 with the, "Where I'm Coming From" album saw him move as a teen from love song singles to a serious, socially conscious adult who could mine a serious groove. His albums from 1971-1976 are classics of the pop/rock era 

     "Songs in the Key of Life" was his reflections on his short but busy life (he was on 26 at the time of it's release), and his dissatisfaction with the US government and it's policies. Not only did it produce great singles, but the album itself have great cohesion and is one of (if not THE ) best double albums ever. There were so many songs to choose, but this one where he sings about his childhood is my favorite. Happy Sunday all.....

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The ABC Essentials

My brief retrospective of the 80's dance group ABC can be found here:

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Moody Blues--Nights in White Satin (1967/1972)

     "Nights in White Satin" was written by Justin Hayward at the age of 19. The song was developed after a friend gave Hayward a gift of satin sheets. It was on the Moodies second album, "Days of Future Passed) and made the top 20 in Britain in 1967. It was not released as a single in the US until 1972 and reached #2 here. The hit version was heavily edited, but for me the only one to bother with is the album version....which you can hear below.

     The spoken word poem at the end of the song was written by Graeme Edge and read by keyboardist Mike Pinder. The last five lines also appear at the end of "The Day Begins" which is the first track on the "Days" album, which reached top 5 in the states.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Paul Simon--Mother and Child Reunion (1972)

    All of these years later, we forget that when Simon and Garfunkel broke up, it was not clear what would happen with Simon. He was the major songwriter of the two, but Art Garfunkel's beautifully clear tenor was the duo's calling card. There had been a two year gap since the album, "Bridge Over Troubled Water", and with Art dabbling in acting, and Paul doing some teaching, no one seemed interested in another recording. With the release of, "Paul Simon", it was official. 

     The release itself was an extension of the "Waters" album, but was showing Simon attempting to stretch out musically. Elements of jazz, blues, Latin, and in the case of our feature song, reggae, could be heard in the grooves. It was a hit, reaching #4 in late winter/early spring of 1972. It was the beginning of a successful career where Simon has never stopped experimenting. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Hall & Oates--You Make My Dreams (1981)

     Am in the process of writing a review of Daryl Hall's new CD, and noticed that today is his birthday. First of all, I'd like to look him when I'm 65 years old (hell, I'd like to look like that now....). Secondly, his voice believe it or not sounds better now then it did in their heyday. The sharpness of the voice has mellowed out without losing any of the soulfullness....but well you have to wait to hear the review....

     Daryl Hall and John Oates have been friends since the day they met at the Adelphi Ballroom in Philadelphia in 1967. They were at a band competition when shots rang out between rival gangs. In an attempt to escape both men ducked into a service elevator. While waiting for things to calm down, they began talking and discovered that not only did they go to the same school (Temple University), but they had the same interests musically. They became roommates in school and by 1969 had formed a musical duo.

      They were signed by Atlantic Records and released their first album in 1972, a label change to RCA brought them initial success as, "Sara Smile", "She's Gone", and "Rich Girl" in 1975/76  all reached top 10 status. After that however, there was a period where they were continuing to refine their sound and go deeper into the R&B that both loved so well,  although they continued to reach the top 40 with singles.

     The real breakthrough came in mid-1980 with a cover of the Righteous Brothers, "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling". This began a string of top 40 hits that stretched to 1990. You Make My Dreams is by far my favorite from that period. It reached #5 in the summer of 1981. For you fans that came this far in the post, I'm also including a bonus featuring one of my favorite 70's songs in a cover that will knock your socks off....

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Carpenters--We've Only Just Begun (1970)

      The suits at Crocker National Bank of California wanted something different. The desire was to plan an advertising campaign that was appealing to young couples, but at the same time, desired to steer clear of traditional jingles.  The bank enlisted the songwriting team of Roger Nichols and Paul Williams to write a song that conveyed the feelings of a newly married couple. The plan was to play the song over the film footage, a concept that was fairly new to advertising.

     Late one night, Richard Carpenter was watching TV when the ad came on the air, he immediately recognized Williams voice and the next day called to inquire about it's availability. There were only two verses and no bridge at the time, but the songwriters, who had never had more than a couple of minor hits, didn't want to pass up the chance to work with one of the hottest duos in music at that time, so Williams admits that he flat out lied to Carpenter and told him it was finished. This began a series of feverish, late night sessions to complete the song as they stalled for time until it was complete.

     The song was an immediate hit with it going to #2 on the charts, and helped The Carpenters to win two Grammy's in 1971. It also propelled the career of Paul Williams as he wrote two more top 10 songs for the Carpenters (Rainy Days and Mondays, Won't Last A Day Without You), Three Dog Night (Just an Old Fashioned Love Song), Barbara Streisand (Evergreen) and others.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Beatles--A Hard Days Night (1964)

     As those who know me well would attest, I'm not much of a movie watcher, and it seems as if the older I get, the less likely it is that the time will be spent watching one. However, there was a time that movies held a bit more of an allure and just like with my writing subjects, movies about music were a must watch....

     Rock stars have always had a thing for being in movies (the opposite is true as well), with very mixed success, especially when real acting is going on.  More common, if not more interesting is the actual rock film where we follow around the musician(s) to see how they live life on the road, or in the studio. Every once in a while they go beyond and truly give a snapshot of the person, such as Madonna in "Truth or Dare". However, they are mostly vanity films that are little more than collector items for fans.

     Except for the rare occurrence when some real acting chops are shown, musicians are under the best light when either asked to play themselves in a movie, or a character that mimics their real persona. The blueprint of this kind of  movie was "A Hard Days' Night". The movie not only stands as a musical, but as one of the best films, period. Part of the reason belonged to Alun Owen who wrote the dialogue. The Beatles were familiar with his work and showed an ability to capture the dialect of a common Liverpool resident. Because the result was so natural for the boys, it put them at ease and allowed for their personalities to peek beyond the words themselves.

     Richard Lester who directed the film got along so well with the group that he was asked to film their second film, "Help". He also asked John Lennon to act in a comedy several years later, "How I Won the War". There were several cameos of note as well. Patti Boyd was an extra as a schoolgirl riding on the train with the boys. She would rebuff George Harrison's advances for a date, saying that she had a boyfriend, but they would soon be a couple and marry less than 2 years later.  There was also a sighting during a concert scene of a young Phil Collins....who I'm sure we will write about in a later blog.

     The soundtrack in my opinion began the transformation of The Beatles into something more than the sum of their influences. The whole package was a charming glimpse of four boys from a northern town who was still marveling at what success was bringing them. Although marketing attempted to keep them pigeon-holed in the same personalities seen here....but we would also never see them like this again. 

Friday, October 7, 2011

10cc--I'm Not In Love (1975)

    The group 10cc was an interesting lot. Two of them, Graham Gouldman and Eric Stewart were more of a poppy songwriting team, while Lol Creme and Kevin Godley were more "artsy" in style, with more cinematic type writing and unusual direction. The four of them had good, if spotty success in the UK since the early 70's,.

     Stewart came up with the initial idea, but in a much different form. Creme and Godley suggested to slow it down to instead of instruments to use a wall of voices. The idea was to take their 4 voices and sing a single note in unison. Then to dub it down on a 16 track tape. That was repeated across all 16 tracks to make this lush orchestra of voices. Some of them were made into endless loops where the pitch could be changed at the mixing board to make chords.The only other instruments was a guitar which was equipped with a device that Creme and Godley had invented called the "Gizmotron" which gave it a cello-type sound.

     The woman's voice you here in the song belonged to Kathy Warren, who was the receptionist at the Strawberry Studios where the album was cut. By the way, the whispered lyric was, " Be Quiet, Big Boys Don't Cry"....

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Paula Abdul Essentials

Wrote this blog on's not exactly within the purview of this blog, but if your curious about Paula Abdul's musical career....check it out here...

REO Speedwagon--Ridin' The Storm Out (1973)

     REO Speedwagon has always been a difficult subject for me to address. The group that many remember was an arena rock force in the early/mid' 1980's, and were known for the album, "Hi Infidelity" (and those....ballads).

     The REO we grew up with however was a much different animal. Starting out in the late 60's as a college covers band out of Southern Illinois University, their debut album came out in 1971. Driven by the guitar and songwriting of new member Gary Richrath, they did well in the new underground FM market in St. Louis. Although switching lead vocals three times on the first three albums, they continued to grow and was doing very well playing the bar circuit in the mid-west. For my money those first three albums hold up better than just about anything in their catalog. 

     A few more years of albums and touring led up to a make or break album that the folks at Epic records shockingly allowed them to produce themselves. This lead to the breakthrough album, "You Get What You Play For" in 1977. It went gold, and set the table for the album, "You Can Tune a Piano, But You Can't Tune a Fish" which became a mainstream success.

      I have nothing against the 80's stuff, and my wife tells me I have a bias about groups that started out in the mid-west, became well known regionally, then became famous (Kansas, Journey, Styx...etc). Maybe it's a belief that once the money started rolling in, the music became more product and less inspired?? Am not sure, but what is for sure is that record companies do not allow for this kind of development any more, and that is a shame. In today's musical climate, none of those groups I mentioned would have gotten past the first couple of albums before being dropped.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Mike Oldfield--Tubular Bells (Theme from 'The Exorcist') (1973)

     I hate that title...but it would be the only way that many would recognize the tune. Never saw the movie (neither has Oldfield), and have no intention too (horror isn't my bag). As it turns out, it was a career defining moment for him, and for Virgin records president, Richard Branson.

     Branson was attempting to get his record company off of the ground and heard a small demo of a then 19-year old Oldfield and signed him up. He played most of the instruments by layering one over another. It is an impressive work, as it was for Branson to take a risk on a young musician who's desire was to make an album that consists of one two sided song. A shortened version for the movie was made and hit the US charts, making Mike a one hit wonder in the states, but his success has gone far beyond the singles market.

     The album became a hit and helped Branson off to become one of the richest men in the world. Oldfield, although never having a "hit" single again, has a very devoted and loyal fan base. His music laid the foundations for what is now known as "New Age" music, but he has dabbled in many styles including dance, celtic, world, and electronic. If you liked what you heard on this single, I suggest you listen to this entire album and his third album (Ommadawn--1975)

Monday, October 3, 2011

Eddie Cochran--Summertime Blues (1958)

    No one disputes the fact that Elvis blew open the doors for all "Rock and Roll" artists in the mid-50's. However, I believe that Buddy Holly and Eddie Cochran, had a much deeper influence on the post-Beatle era of musician. Their guitar playing and experimental work in the studio opened the door to many a young guitarist (especially in England). Holly and Cochran were close friends, both enjoyed working in the studio rather than touring. Eddie was badly shaken when his friend died in a plane crash in 1959, and was determined to dial down his having to travel so much so he could just work on making music. However, the times demanded that he be on the road to make enough money to continue, which led him to make a tour to Great Britain where he died in an auto accident  in April of 1960.
     His best known work is, "Summertime Blues" which came out in July of 1958 and was written by Cochran and his manager Jerry Capehart. It has been covered many times, most notably by The Who in 1970, and Alan Jackson in 1994.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Don McLean--American Pie (1971)

     One of the first blogs I wrote was on this song (1/15/11) but it was little more then a video with a couple of sentences. With today being McLean's 66th birthday, it should get a better treatment....

     It was released when I was in 5th grade and woke up my musical awareness like no other song. At the time Buddy Holly was just a name, rye was a sort of bread, and had no clue what much of the song meant. Forty years later, my suspicions of the meaning(s) of the song are much stronger, even if McLean himself isn't talking, but it's sing along style even go beyond the attempts of people over the years to explain it all. 

     Just like a good poem, and like a good poet, "American Pie" and Don McLean give just enough to allow for the mind to take over and the imagination to soar in attempting to interpret. Many of his songs are like this however, McLean at his core is much more than a songwriter, he is a poet who has a very romantic view of things. Listen to this song's follow up, "Vincent", or, "And I Love You So" (a hit for Perry Como in 1973).