Friday, June 22, 2018

Speak/Talk: Talking Heads Burning Down the House

purchase [ Speaking in Tongues ]

It seemed such a no-brainer to include Talking Heads Speaking in Tongues that I feared it had already been done here. It's been done lots of other places, but I'll bring it back from wherever in history it's been lurking for you. We're talking about 1983 here.

To start, I browsed the entire archive of Star Maker posts related to the Talking Heads over the years (of which there are about 20) and don't see that anyone has ever picked this one up.

Curiously, the Wiki tells us that Burning Down the House was their "lone top ten single on the US Billboard Hot 100." Me? I loved them and I still follow David Byrne through his mailing list/blog at

Just about every one of their albums "went gold", so that's nothing to scoff at, and there's no denying that especially Tina Weymouth and David Byrne have written their names in the pantheon of modern music greats.

You are aware of course that their vocal style is pretty heavily built on talking imposed over a funky/new wave instrumental composition. Burning Down the House is no exception. The line itself apparently comes from a common audience chant of those years, which the band adopted/converted to their use.

And then there's the Tom Jones/Cardigans rendition of the same. One of his better outputs (unless you want to count Delilah!)

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Speak/Talk: Let's Give Them Something to Talk About

purchase the whole album! [Luck of the Draw]

There are few living that can play a slide guitar the way Bonnie Raitt does. She's played with them all: Clapton, Duane Allman, Ry Cooder, Lowell George and a number of others. But it isn't just her slide guitar - there's <something to talk about> in her vocals.

Without getting too deep into the #MeToo issue, you can assume that Bonnie Raitt has seen it all. She seems to have weathered it fairly well - I don't see her personal remarks about her man-handling over the years. Yes, she's been the subject of various public broadcasts, but mostly stayed (rightly) UN-affected. Let's Give Them Something to Talk About has gained some notoriety:

I have to note that the song was written by Shirley Eikhard, who you might want to explore, since she's written songs picked up by the likes of Anne Murray and Cher (in addition to Raitt).

Jennifer Love Hewitt

Rae Solomon

Brittney Spears


KT Tunstall & Daryl Hall

Saturday, June 16, 2018


There are a number of songs that, if it's the right word, celebrate FLLD, foreign language learning disability. At least I think that is what doughty old ex-pro gambler Chip is singing, at first to and then with winsome fiddler Rodrigues, and going on about. Or maybe not, but there seems quite a canon of songs around the apparent, um, boost that might be given to an ad-hoc liaison if one participant, usually the woman, contrives to talk dirty in foreign. The stuff of lone men without names, stalking the windswept borderlands, seeking what solace they can, after-hours in the cantinas, with dark-eyed damsels. Usually ahead of shooting everyone to bits. Or being shot. If cinema is slower to embrace such themes these days, americana certainly ain't lagging.

Chip Taylor actually was a professional gambler, it made more money than the sweatshop songwriting he was signed up for. And he was quite successful at that too, certainly more so than his original desire, of following his dad into pro-golf. Calling himself a tune-tailor, from the late 50s to a decade or so later he wrote songs that became hits for a remarkable diversity of acts. Perhaps the best known is 'Wild Thing', originally by Jordan Christopher and the Wild Ones, but memorably later picked up by UK west country band  the Troggs, and, thence, Jimi Hendrix. But he also penned 'Angel of the Morning' and 'Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)', demonstrating his cross-genre ease between rock, country and soul. But the horses and casinos paid more, at least until he was banned. So, at age 53, he picked up his guitar again. Carrie Rodrigues, a classically trained violinist who had switched to fiddle after witnessing a Lyle Lovett soundcheck, caught his eye and they became a team, putting out 4 duet albums between 2001 and 2006, his rough hewed outlaw tones blending with her sweeter voice and stunning playing. She has since built up a strong solo repertoire, although not beyond still performing the odd new song, as penned by, she says, "one of our greatest songwriters of all  time", erstwhile sparring partner Taylor. He himself continues to perform and produce music, in 2016 being inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, at the same time as running his own label, Trainwreck Records.

Here's a nice version of Taylor and Rodrigues together, playing 'Wild Thing'.

Now, before we lose entirely my indulgence around the aphrodisiacal enticements of endearments en espagnol, we shouldn't forget the disappointment when it fails to materialise, as drawn into focus by Mssrs. Sahm, Meyers, Fender and Jimenez, the estimable tex-mex supergroup, the Texas Tornadoes and their complementary paean, 'She Never Spoke Spanish to Me', actually written by erstwhile Flatlander, Butch Hancock.

Instead of pointing you towards any of the songs featured here; it's easy to find 'em, I'm going to direct you to a song the Taylor/Rodrigues duo slipped out a couple of years ago. The epithet remains as strong as ever: 'Who's Gonna Build That Wall?'

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Speak/Talk: Talk Dirty (To Me)

Romeo Void: Talk Dirty (To Me)

Romeo Void briefly shone brightly in the New Wave world with a sound that mixed punk, dance, jazz and funk, fronted by the sexy, soulful voice of Debora Iyall. And yet, after a handful of successful albums, EPs and singles, a major label contract, and packed concerts, they broke up within 5 years. Iyall has maintained that the main reason that the band gave up was because she was overweight. In an interview in 2003, she stated: "Howie [Klein] sold us from 415 [Records] to Columbia Records, and they were like 'Who's this fat chick?' They decided that was as far as it was going to get, and pulled their support." Although Iyall has subsequently backed off that claim somewhat, and there is also evidence of “health issues” and intra-band tensions that helped to break them up, I don’t think that it is inaccurate to say that the perception that it would be hard to promote a band fronted by a heavy singer contributed to the band’s failure to have a longer career. (Didn't seem to stop Meat Loaf, who released Bat Out Of Hell on another label in the Columbia family, from making it big, though. Hmmmmm.)

Founded in 1979 at the San Francisco Art Institute, when Iyall, having recently seen Patti Smith perform, got together with fellow student, bass player Frank Zincavage. They added guitarist Peter Woods and drummer Jay Derrah, and christened themselves “Romeo Void.” Saxophonist Benjamin Bossi was added shortly thereafter, and Derrah left before the band recorded their first full album, leading to an almost Spinal Tap-esque parade of drummers.

I remember hearing Romeo Void’s first album, It's A Condition, in 1981 at WPRB, and being captivated by their sound. Back in the pre-Internet, pre-MTV era [technically, MTV started in August, 1981, but I didn't see it for a couple of years, because in those days, not everyone had cable, and not every cable system had MTV.]  I don’t recall seeing any pictures of the members, and literally had no clue what Iyall looked like. And I didn’t care. It was also clear that many of the band’s songs had sexual undertones, or overtones, for that matter. One highlight from the debut was “Talk Dirty (To Me), which musically had all of the elements that made the band great, with overtly sexual, even kinky, lyrics. It foreshadowed the band’s most famous song, the Ric Ocasek-produced “Never Say Never,” released the following year, that featured the memorable chorus, “I might like you better if we slept together.”

Romeo Void’s biggest hit “A Girl In Trouble (Is A Temporary Thing),” came from their last album, 1984's more mainstream sounding Instincts, so it really seems that Columbia Records’ weight shaming based lack of support might have cost them a successful band.

Iyall ended up leaving the music business for years, teaching art and engaging in projects to work with and train fellow Native Americans, although she has, recently, dipped her toe back into recording and performing. I don’t believe that any of the other members of the band had much of a musical career outside of Romeo Void.

They were an excellent live band, too—here’s a clip of “Talk Dirty (To Me)” from a show in 1981, and you can see what I am talking about. No one seemed to care that the lead singer wasn’t a stick figure. It was about this time that I interviewed the band, something that I alluded to in another column, before they performed at Trenton’s City Gardens. Having done a bit more research into the club’s calendar, I believe that the interview was in March, 1982, when they played there, with local heroes Regressive Aid opening. There’s a reference in the City Gardens’ oral history book, No Slam Dancing, No Stage Diving, No Spikes, to the band coming to WPRB for an interview drunk in July, 1981, when school was out and I was in Europe, so I think that Randy Now, City Garden’s leader, has mixed up the two dates.

As I have mentioned, during the interview, Iyall acted really annoyingly, blurting out profanities and doodling penises on scrap paper, so if she was drunk, that makes some sense. In any event, she has noted in another interview, "I do like to be provocative, and I definitely have access to my sexuality, and as a topic I find it ripe.” She did, however, agree to do a station ID, which you can find here, along with probably way more than you ever want to know about my time at WPRB. 

In my early days on Facebook, I found that Iyall and I had a mutual friend, who herself is a sexually provocative performance artist, so it didn’t surprise me. Now, both of them block access to their friend lists, so I can’t see if that relationship has continued, but there are times that I want to reach out to Iyall and ask her if she remembers the interview, which all of us at WPRB involved in the event have not forgotten.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Gems & Stones: Gary Lewis - This Diamond Ring

purchase [This Diamond Ring]

Most 60s music doesn't light my fire - except in that it is seminal. Some of the best of today's musicians were starting out then, so their early material is potentially of interest.

Gary Lewis (and his band, the Playboys) fall into that category - if you had been around then and listening to (AM) radio, you would have heard their "hits":
Everybody Loves a Clown
Save Your Love for Me
and of course, This Diamond Ring

As is often the case, when I set out to write something here, I end up learning some new things:
Gary Lewis is the son of Jerry Lewis and singer Patti Palmer.
This Diamond Ring, while making it into the "Top" lists in 1965 under the Gary Lewis name, was actually written by another musician whose name has always sort of bubbled under the surface - Al Kooper.

Al Kooper is a gem of sorts in his own right: 70+ years playing with and writing for most anyone who's anyone. Prolific to say the least, Kooper's done it all. His Wikipedia entry says "Kooper has played on hundreds of records." Hundreds, including Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Lynryd Skynyrd, Bob Dylan, he formed Blood Sweat & Tears.

As for the Playboys' rendition of the song he sold for $300, Kooper doesn't have a lot of compliments, writing in his "Backstage Passes .." book that he and the song's other writers were "revolted: at how they had made a "teenage [turkey] milkshake" out of a song that had a lot more soul in it. Hmmm. Maybe that why - besides the outdated 60s sound, I cant say I chose this one for love of it - more for the curiosities I came across in checking into its history.

Of further interest, Leon Russell was the arranger. Snuff Garrett, the producer is credited with doing a pretty amazing job not only with pushing Lewis's development as a musician but also with some excellent timing of their hits so that they didn't coincide with the Beatles' output, which was otherwise dominating the chart.

Lewis took a long break from music but has returned to performing - cruise ships, casinos, corporate events ...

Tuesday, June 5, 2018


Well, my tried and tested has again come up trumps, the old my i-tunes library search model. This at least has the advantage of knowing the songs shown, rather than a pretence based on some song that just happens to have amethyst otherwise mentioned, culled from '100 Best Songs with Gemstones in Their Title', those lists forever propagated in the once venerable Rolling Stone magazine. OK, I had a false start with Jade: Wayne Shorter being perhaps too old school for this site, and Opal: Bicep, which is maybe too new. And Lapis Lazuli brought nothing forth, even though I swear it is in a lyric I can't quite grasp right now, perhaps a Jim Morrison. (Answers to me in comments, please, it is too hot a day for me to be researching.)

I really rather like Low, the husband and wife team from Duluth, famously Mormons. Although they have been around for yonks, it is probably only within the last 5 - 10 years I have become aware of them, in part through the promotion given them through the patronage of others. (Robert Plant is a prominent fan, including 2 of their songs on his 2010 album, 'Band of Joy', saying, at the time of this, possibly, given his back catalogue, unusual choice:

"It's great music; it's always been in the house playing away beside Jerry Lee Lewis and Howlin' Wolf, 
you know. There's room for everything." 

Often slow and sombre, with sparse and understated arrangements, they have a mesmerising vocalist in each of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Turner, otherwise guitar and drums respectively, but it is in duet harmony that the gem surely sparkles. I am sometimes minded of Richard and Linda Thompson's less cheerful moments in many of the arrangements, the voices melding both equivalently and equally melancholically. Bass duties have been provided by a variety of bassists over their 24 year recording history, but with Steve Garrington for the past 8. Keyboards, swathes of choral synthesised sound, are provided also by Garrington. As well as their own material they have also produced quite a selection of unlikely cover material, from Neil Young to the Smiths, Joy Division to the Trapp Family Singers(!). 'Amethyst' is from 2013's 'The Invisible Way', possibly my favourite of their output. Here is what UK online hipster resource, 'The Quietus' had to say about it.

I won't go on, the music says more than I possibly can. By way of a sign off, here is another song from the same album, 'Just Make It Stop', just to make me stop.

Amethyst, the song: here!

Friday, June 1, 2018

Gems & Stones: Diamonds Made From Rain

purchase [Diamonds Made From Rain]

I thought I knew a lot about Eric Clapton, so it surprised me to come upon one of his songs I don't recall having heard before.
That's one of the benefits of blogging here - digging around for gems.

Maybe if I more closely followed public media (I watch almost no TV), I would have known about the Cheryl Crowe/Clapton fling back around 1999. I guess it is public knowledge. But their relationship has little or no import on this theme or post. Except that it may have been a gem for either that neither you nor I know about, and it appears to have maybe been the spark for the song I've chosen.

A Google search for <Clapton Gems> brings up a 2017 Miami GEMS festival (with another scheduled for the Fall of 2018) - it appears to be a mix of film and music.
And considering Clapton's heavy touring schedule, it is no surprise that there seems to be no YouTube link to a 2017 GEMS festival/Miami event.

But .. Gems, Stones & Diamonds ... Stones that make you rich. Stones that you can pick up as you walk around are rarely those that turn you into a millionaire. It happens. But rarely, even if you live in Angola or Botswana.

Me, I have a collection of agates (some of them pretty decent) that I have found on the beach. But they aren't worth more than a $ or two - at most (kind of "dime a dozen" stones. But they are beautiful. And they have a different kind of value - they don't just show up without effort.
So .. the value of gems.

Agates are gems, but they aren't worth much.
But then again, diamonds are artificially over-priced stones (gems)
Good music is a gem that only you can place a value on: your wedding song, a song that brings tears to your eyes or a song you want to hear on your death-bed,
You define the value of a musical gem.

So ... here, we've got <Diamonds Made from Rain>

Clapton sings:
every stone that I have turned!
wash over me like diamonds made of rain
we can make diamonds from the rain
But the song appears to belong to Cheryl Crowe and not Clapton - apparently written about his infidelity?

And a cover -

Thursday, May 31, 2018


Lawks, did I love this song, at least in it's Kenny Rogers edition, SWITD, both he and I being both too young to realise how utterly naff he would become as an artist. The croaky vocals, the nashville motorik shuffle of the drums, the bim bom bass and all those pauses, all absolutely terrific. (OK, I could abide without the girly chorus.) In truth, it wasn't even this version I heard first, I having been bought a curious E.P. of chart hits copied by almost soundalikes, including a shocking version of Elton's 'Your Song', all the more ironic as it was doing such work where dear old Reggie made his first steps in the biz. But, as ever, I digress, the KR version being still a song that gives me joy. I can't quite recall but have a sneaky feeling that he even sang the song sitting down, even from a wheelchair, do give the lyric that much more gravitas. Good taste was still an optional extra in those days.

The song actually has some history ahead of that. Written by Mel Tillis, it was first recorded by Waylon Jennings in 1966, and first a (country) hit for Johnny Darrell a year later. Both versions have distinctly differing arrangements from Rogers'. Clearly controversial for its day and its notoriously conservative C&W audiences, talk of 'crazy asian wars" raised eyebrows when the draft was sucking up young men for Vietnam. Those earlier versions passed me by, an ocean away, but Kenny Rogers fired straight into the UK charts and my consciousness in 1969, hitting the pole position and then staying in the top 20 for nearly half a year, selling a million copies along the way. And, although apparently a vehicle for rising star Rogers to break into the Nashville scene, for me, as a 12 year old, it was sufficiently uncountry to appeal to my youthful tastes. (It was a at least another 5 years before the Byrds and Flying Burrito Brothers could break me of my prejudice, country smacking then of my mother's Jim Reeves discs.)

In preparing for this piece I discovered a couple of other facts about the song. Or rather about a couple of response records, this being very much a then vogue. So there was 'Billy, I've Got to Go to Town' and, later still, 'Ruby Dean.' The former, sung by Geraldine Stevens, showed, of course, how Ruby's husband had got it all wrong and that she was and would remain ever faithful to her damaged man. The latter, odder still, not least as it was sung by R&B man, Bobby Womack, in which the voice of Ruby and Billy's son is seemingly entreating his mother to stop seeing other men. I'm wishing now for further contemporaneous song commentary from friends and neighbours. 'They always seemed such a quiet couple, kept themselves to themselves....' Even the police could do a version, and then, in true documentary style, the viewpoints of a retired detective and a criminologist. I, to this day, uncertain as to whether he he ever did put her in the ground or turned the gun back on himself. Both, maybe? A missed opportunity for Ruby, the movie, for sure.

There have been a number of subsequent versions, from acts as diverse as the Killers, Cake and Leonard Nimoy, all, especially the last, disappointingly karaoke. However, for me, it is always Kenny and his First Edition that is the absolute gem. I'm going to go listen to it again.

Get it here

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Gems & Stones: Neil Diamond

[purchase Hot August Night]

I’m willing to bet that the first time you saw The Last Waltz, there was a moment when you shook your head, surprised at what you were seeing on the screen. After seeing The Band play, then a guest spot from the rough and tumble rocker Ronnie Hawkins, who basically gave the guys their schooling in the music business, a brief excerpt from The Canterbury Tales (OK, that was kind of a head scratcher), and then performances from Dr. John, Neil Young, and the Staple Singers, out to the stage, in all of his blow-dried, tinted aviator glasses glory, strode none other than Neil Diamond.


In 1976, when the concert was filmed, Diamond was not really considered part of the rock world at all—his music was too theatrical and bombastic, it would have seemed, to have shared the stage with the rest of the performers that night—the royalty of what is now called Americana music—folk, blues, and rock. And yet, there he is, strumming and belting away. Apparently, his inclusion in the show was the result of the fact that he and Robbie Robertson were friends and neighbors. Robertson produced the album from whence came “Dry Your Eyes,” the song that Diamond performed (and which Robertson co-wrote).

Not surprisingly, the decision to include Diamond was as strange to the other Band members as it was to us watching, especially, of course, Levon Helm, who wrote in his autobiography, "When I heard that Neil Diamond was going to play I asked, 'What the hell does Neil Diamond have to do with us?' Robbie called me up and said, 'Well, Neil is like Tin Pan Alley. That Fifties Brill Building scene, songwriters like Doc Pomus.'" Levon wasn't convinced. "Why don't we just get Doc Pomus?'"

The funny thing, though, is that Diamond’s performance was not bad at all.

Here’s the other thing about Neil Diamond—the guy is a hell of a songwriter and performer, whose career really did straddle the music business from the Brill Building era, through the early rock era, into the folk-rock sound before he veered completely off into the easy listening, glossy pop world of people like his former high school chorus mate, Barbra Streisand (apparently, though, they didn’t know each other all that well).

Diamond was inspired to write music by a combination of seeing Pete Seeger perform at his summer camp (!), when Diamond was 16, and the fact that girls seemed attracted to guys who could play guitar and write love songs. He also attended NYU on a fencing scholarship (!) He wrote “I’m A Believer” (among other songs) for The Monkees, He wrote songs that were recorded by Cliff Richard, Jay and the Americans, Elvis Presley and others before he really got his performing career going.

In his early performing years, he had hits with “Solitary Man,” “Cherry, Cherry,” “Sweet Caroline,” and “Holly Holy,” and “Cracklin’ Rosie,” among others. In 1971, Diamond released his album, Stones, which I am basically only mentioning because it fits the theme, although it was successful, and spawned singles “I Am….I Said” and “Crunchy Granola Suite.” And as far as I am concerned, that was pretty much the end for me, other than “Song Sung Blue” from his next album.

The real turning point for Diamond, though was the release, in 1972, of his double live album, Hot August Night, which, as Allmusic aptly states:

Captur[ed] all the kitsch and glitz of Neil Diamond, the showman. And that also means that it's not just loaded with flair, but with filler [and] attempts to write grand, sweeping epics that collapse under their own weight. Still, that's part of the charm of Diamond and while it can sound unbearable on studio albums, it makes some sense here, surrounded by his pomp and circumstance. That spectacle is the great thing about the record, since it inflates not just his great songs, it gives the weaker moments character. 

I actually remember listening to that album, often, in those days, because it was captivating. Looking back now, I think that much of the appeal was the strength of (some of) the songwriting, but also by Diamond’s utter confidence and power as a performer.

There’s a story about Diamond’s performance at the Last Waltz concert that has been denied by him, but is still pretty good, and certainly reflects Diamond’s belief in his performing prowess. Supposedly, after his one song, Diamond came off stage and said to Bob Dylan, "Follow that," to which Dylan responded, "What do I have to do, go on stage and fall asleep?"

Saturday, May 19, 2018

May/Might: Might As Well

purchase [Might As Well ]

I've never been so dedicated as to call myself a Dead Head, but I have spent many a happy hour groovin' to their sound.

And more than once I have noted here and in my now retired alternate blog (noted to the right side here for its inactivity for many a moon) my appreciation that the Dead have been pretty liberal in the way they allow dissemination of their product.

One of the best sources of Dead concerts is the Internet Archive, where there is in fact a dedicated channel to their live shows - much of it downloadable. Their message? Might as well let them record and share. Sharing our music is good.

I consider myself lucky in that I experienced some of the 70s free-flowing culture - frequently hitch-hiking up and down the East Coast, but not so much with abandon - I was generally headed to a place where I could lay my head on a known pillow.

There's a lot of funky stuff out there if you're willing to let it go and give it a try. The message being, "Might as well give it a try."

Decide for yourself if I read it right:

Never had such a good time in my life before
I'd like to have it one time more
Whoa! One good ride from start to end
I'd like to take that ride again, again!
Ran out of track and I caught the plane
Back in the county with the blues again
Great North Special been on my mind
I might like to ride it just one more time

The word <might> shows up not infrequently in the Dead's lyrics, most often not in terms of might, as in power, but as in might, not sure what the future brings.

Use the left-side Home/Search and plug in <might> as your search term to see what I mean.

Another version by the Persuasions:

Friday, May 18, 2018

May/Might: She May Call You Up Tonight

The Left Banke: She May Call You Up Tonight 

When you think of the Left Banke, if you do, you probably think about “Walk Away Renee,” or maybe “Pretty Ballerina.” And maybe, just maybe, you think about “She May Call You Up Tonight.” After that, though, I bet you are drawing a blank. Certainly, those are three great songs that helped to define a style referred to as “baroque rock,” but after that, the Left Banke’s musical output is pretty much unknown.

I’m in the camp of people who know about those three songs, and basically nothing else about the Left Banke. Luckily, though, I have access to the Interwebs. Turns out, the band has one of those stories that is all too familiar. Early success, internal bickering, revolving door membership, even competing versions of the band, and various reunions over the years, with varying lineups. There are even some brushes with future fame—versions of the band included, at times, Michael McKean, better known as an actor, including as David St. Hubbins of Spinal Tap, and Bert Sommer, who played Woof in the original Broadway production of Hair in 1969-70 (and whose actual hair was immortalized on the Playbill). A young Steven Tyler sang background vocals on the band’s little-heard second album. But you cannot deny that the Left Banke’s sound was influential well beyond the band’s output or commercial success. You can hear their influence in early Linda Ronstadt, in Eric Carmen, and Belle & Sebastian, among many others.

I’m pretty sure, though, that while I may have heard the original version of “She May Call You Up Tonight” at some point, I really paid attention to it when I heard Richard Thompson do it live, with son Teddy, at the Tarrytown Music Hall. I remember thinking that it sounded familiar, but was totally unable to place it. There’s a recording of it, with Teddy, on 1998’s live album Celtschmerz. There’s also another version on Thompson’s Chrono Show album, featuring performances from his 2004 tour. The Wikipedia article for that album says that Thompson had been doing the song live since the 1970s, and it must have been something that the Fairport Convention crowd was into (Thompson has been quoted about his love for the Left Banke’s debut album)—The Albion Country Band, led by former Fairport member Ashley Hutchings, played it live in 1972 (with a gender change), with Richard and Linda Thompson guesting, Ian Matthews (who left Fairport in 1969) did a cover of it in 1980, and Linda Thompson did the gender-changed version of it on her solo album in 1985, after breaking up with Richard.


Disclaimer: This post might well contain folk music.

May, both the day and the month, is big in british folk, with any number of songs relating to happenings in the the days thereof, many more specifically to actual individual days. Why not so April or June? I don't know, and there probably are examples in and of each, but I suspect it has to do with the whole pagan shebang of Mayday, a date long important before any international workers apprehended the date. Walpurgisnacht and Beltane vie with the Floralia for the earliest affectations, each being, broadly, celebrations of spring into summer.  Thus, and unsurprisingly, many of the songs set in May are based around sex and fertility, with, often, the snatched deflowering of maidens fair, overtly or in allegory.

This is one of my favourites, the initial amalgam of Shirley Collins, linnet voiced doyenne of the early 60s folk movement, and Ashley Hutchings, soon to be her husband, and the guv'nor of the whole  english electric folk-rock movement a near decade later, founding, in turn, Fairport Convention, Steeleye Span and the various incarnations of the Albion (Country and/or Dance) Bands.
This first iteration of the Albion b(r)and was a remarkable mix, melding many of his chums from Fairport/Steeleye alongside such mavericks as Lol Coxhill, free jazz sax maven, and some of the champions of the unaccompanied choral song tradition, the Watersons.  (Shirley had earlier included the song on a recording with her sister, Dolly, in which the genesis of the version below is ever more apparent.)

This next version, an unashamed tribute to the first, to the extent of later royalties having to cross hands for the appropriation of the arrangement, was my first exposure to the wonderful and still extant 10,000 Maniacs. Short and simple, carried by the ghostly vocal of Natalie Merchant and the swell of keyboard in the instrumental middle eight, this was enough for me to give up my then immersion in only folk to explore the rest of their catalogue, as it appeared, in turn leading me on to the delights of the then not unassociated act, R.E.M. (Natalie and Michael Stipe were factionalised, or not, by their respective publicity machines into being a couple, 10k M often appearing as support to the more famous group, and Natalie sharing a vocal on 'Photograph', for a charity recording.) Whilst some of the sparkle may have dropped since Natalie left to plough her own furrow, 10k M forge on, with a thoroughly decent 2015 offering, 'Twice Told Tales', containing only songs culled from the trad.arr folk tradition, give or take a lyric by W.B. Yeats.

Sort of full circle, I guess, in the never more incestuous canon of the UK folk scene, Eliza Carthy, daughter of Martin, who appears on 'No Roses', as do her uncle and auntie, Mike and Lal Waterson. (Carthy is married to Norma, the 4th and final member of the celebrated Watersons.) Here she slows the song right down, and imbues it with a drama missing from the two earlier and jauntier versions, her voice retaining, however, the same degree of melancholia. 'Anglicana' was, arguably, her breakthrough solo recording, but she remains a powerful force on the circuit, with her Wayward Band.
As a footnote, the Watersons themselves were no stranger to May songs, with, strangely enough, this also turning up on 'No Roses.'

Keep it simple, get this, this and this. (Yep, all of 'em.)

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

May/Might: Might As Well Be Spring

Purchase "It Might As Well Be Spring"

"It Might as Well Be Spring" is a Rogers and Hammerstein composition from the 1945 film, State Fair.  As part of its designation as an "old standard", the song has been done numerous times, by some notable performers.

Sarah Vaughn did it, with a somewhat obtrusive Miles Davis trumpet line stepping all over her silky vocals.

Nina Simone covered the song for her first album, and it is tinged by the same dark sadness that all of her music simmers and broods with.

Peggy Lee took the mid-tempo ballad and swung it about, making it a snazzy, floor-filling dance tune.

Sinatra had a hit with it in 1961. But, Sinatra made everything a hit, didn't he?

The Bill Evans Trio turned the song into a smoldering yet bright instrumental, that might put you in the mood for a smoke and bourbon on the rocks.

I picked the song for the obvious title match with our chosen theme this month, but also for the light airiness of the tune, and certain happy feeling it brings to hear the timidly melancholy lyrical musing on the change of season as a stand in for silly love, and the metaphorical discovery of being out of season.

Here in the desert, Spring is the end of the season, and rather than a new beginning, there is a sense of sad goodbye that pervades everything. As the days get hotter, the whole place is winding down, the cafes are closing, the outside world we've made is being rolled back, pulled into storage and put undercover until the fall returns, when the sun won't be so relentless and we can all go outside again, blooming back into life. Spring is backwards here, and the desert is hard pressed to give up the only possession it owns. But, even if the time of year is wrong, when it's beautiful again here on the wrong side of the world, it might as well be spring. 

Monday, May 14, 2018

May/Might - Carl Perkins: The Rain Might Wash Your Love Away

purchase [Carl Perkins]

I don't 'specially follow Carl Perkins. It's a name I know, but I couldn't - before today - provide much background.

That's one of the side benefits of writing for SMM - you might learn something new: in this case, how is Carl Perkins associated with May/Might.

May/Might is a theme so open as to include <the month of May>, <any songs including May/Might in the title or lyrics> and most anything in between.
I went for the chance to learn something new by looking for songs with May/Might in the title: and there are many.

Carl Perkins - y'all know the name, but ... can you correctly associate it to:
a) Rockabilliy
b) Blue Suede Shoes
c) The Beatles' <Honey Don't>
d) May/Might
e) All of the above!!!

Correct Answer: e) - Carl Perkins did it all. RIP 1998. Age ~ 62

Perkins should rightly get credit for helping establish/define the rockabilly sound - a melange of hillbilly, boogie, honkey-tonk and the evolving musical styles of the early 1950's.
He wrote Blue Suede Shoes. According to Paul McCartney, he influenced the Beatles. And of course he wrote the May/Might song featured here.

Lots of other names come into play in defining the Rockabilly sound, but Sam Phillips, James Cotton, and a guy named Elvis Presley make the list of those most of us know. Most of them would note the influence that Carl Perkins had on their style and the genre.

Carl Perkins ... Chet Atkins ... anyone who can pick a guitar that way (and that includes Mark Knopfler with Chet Atkins and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and so many more of the same ilk) - folks that display a form of country pickin' with a jazz edge, if you please. I'll gladly listen. And wish I could come close.

While I also like the sax style of Spyro Gyra (and for me, the sax just rolls and the guitar picks the way I like to hear it), it's the roots of the style - the essential I-IV-V format with a significant variation that turns me on, and Carl Perkins does the job.

Friday, May 11, 2018

May/Might: You Might As Well Pray

Jules Shear (w/ Amy Rigby): You Might As Well Pray

Jules Shear has had a pretty interesting life, for a musician who has never really become famous. He’s released more than 20 albums since 1976, most recently in 2017, as a solo artist and with others. He’s acknowledged as a top-notch songwriter, and has penned hits for Cyndi Lauper ("All Through the Night"), The Bangles ("If She Knew What She Wants") and has had written or co-written songs recorded by artists as diverse as Olivia Newton John, Iain Matthews, Aimee Mann, Art Garfunkel, Alison Moyet, and Roger McGuinn. He dated Aimee Mann, who wrote a song about their breakup. He’s worked with Todd Rundgren, Tony Levin, Elliot Easton, Rick Danko, Jimmy Vivino, Rod Argent, and Chuck Prophet, among many others. Shear was the inspiration for, and host of the first 13 episodes of MTV’s Unplugged. And yet, he is one of those musicians who have had a long career tarred by the phrase “critically acclaimed, but commercially unsuccessful.” Although I don’t know for sure, I’ll assume that Shear has been able to make financial go of it for all these years, but I bet it wasn’t always easy.

I remember seeing his second and third albums, as a member of Jules and the Polar Bears, released in 1978 and 1979, around the WPRB studios, but they made no musical impression on me. I have no recollection of having played them on the radio, but maybe the name was distinctive enough to stick in my brain. I’m also pretty sure that I don’t remember hearing any of Shear’s music until his 1998 album, Between Us. (I wasn’t watching MTV back when Unplugged was on). And I’m fairly certain that I heard songs from the album on WFUV.

Between Us quickly became a family favorite. It is an album of 15 low-key duets between Shear and (mostly) female singers (and one instrumental duet with bassist Rob Wasserman). The songs are charming, interesting, and I remember listening to them in the car as my family sang along (and I kept my terrible voice quiet). Some of the highlights are his duet with Suzzy Roche (“On These Wheels Again”), complete with barking dog, “Who's Dreaming Who,” with Rosanne Cash, and “Betrayal Takes Two,” featuring Angie Hart (best known, I guess, as a member of Australian band Frente).

But another favorite from the album was his duet with Amy Rigby, the wistful “You Might As Well Pray.” I think that it is about a couple looking at the damage they have caused each other, yet hoping that just maybe, with divine intercession, they can work things out. I could be wrong, of course, because the lyrics are a bit vague, but as is common in a Jules Shear song, they are interesting and well chosen.

I’ve picked up a few of his albums over the years, both recorded before and after Between Us, and while I have enjoyed them, nothing of his has stuck with me as much as that album. It’s an interesting thing about music, isn’t it? As good an album as I think Between Us is, it is far from universally appreciated, even among Shear fans (and it doesn’t even appear to be available in downloadable form anywhere). But it was a combination of the music, and the time in my life when it came out, and the fact that my wife loved it (and still plays it from time to time), that has cemented it in my mind. With music, like comedy, sometimes timing is everything. There are times when I hear a song on the radio, and it does nothing for me, but it reminds me in some respects of stuff that I like, and I wonder if I might have felt different about the song if I had heard it, say, 20 years ago. Or conversely, whether music that I love would leave me cold if I heard if first today.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Punk: Proto-Punk - Velvet Underground

purchase [Velvet Underground ]

The second group of  10 albums I owned included Janis Ian's '68 record, <The Secret Life of J. Eddy Fink> and the Velvet Underground's '69 <The Velvet Underground>.

At that time I had a mentor who directed my music selections and was ahead of his time - he also turned me on to Hendrix at about this time ('69)

I was certainly aware that these musicians were outside the mainstream (that would have been the first 10 albums I bought: Sgt Peppers, Between the Buttons, Smokey Robinson, Simon and Garfunkle..).

To me, the Velvet Underground had something meaningful to say - something beyond "corn flakes floating in a bowl" - lyrics that gave pause, music that made you sit up and listen. Something like what Elvis Costello had to say 20 years later.

It seems like I was listening to "proto-punk" without realizing it. Of course, that nomenclature only came about after the fact. Back then, it was a reaction to main-stream rock.

The general perception of Punk is <hard driving>, but I think that isn't a given: take a listen to this anti-most and see if it fits the "proto-punk" genre.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Punk: Punky Reggae Party

Bob Marley & The Wailers: Punky Reggae Party

On the one hand, punk music and reggae don’t appear to have much in common musically—one is hard, fast, aggressive, and loud, the other, more laid back, slower, and mellow. I think that it is fair to point out that both styles arose as music of angry, rebellious, disaffected youth, making their philosophical connections more obvious than their musical connections. And yet we know that there has been a strong merger of the two styles, by bands like The Clash, the Two Tone bands, and in the ska-punk genre.

So, how did this marriage get arranged? Not having a clue, I turned to Google, which served me up this article that makes the case that the matchmaker was Don Letts.

Letts was born in England, of Jamaican heritage, and ran a London clothing store popular with musicians from both the punk and reggae scenes. He was able to meet Bob Marley after a gig, and they became friendly. When the Roxy nightclub opened, catering to the emerging punk scene, Letts became the DJ, and began to spin reggae and dub songs, along with punk music, in large part because the scene was so new, there weren’t that many punk records to play. Apparently, the punks enjoyed the music, including Joe Strummer of The Clash, and members of The Slits and The Sex Pistols.

Meanwhile, Letts convinced Marley, who appeared to have a negative feeling about punk based on sensationalist tabloid newspaper articles rather than from actually listening to the music, that it was worthwhile. According to Letts, he went to collect some money from Marley, dressed in punk bondage clothing, and Marley mocked him, to which Letts responded, “They ain't no crazy baldheads, they're my breddrin.” Shortly thereafter, inspired by the message and the music of punk rock (and by The Clash’s cover of the reggae song “Police and Thieves”), Marley wrote “Punky Reggae Party,” which referenced punk and New Wave, and namechecked The Clash, The Jam, The Damned, Dr. Feelgood (really more of a pub rock than a punk band, but whatever), as well as The Wailers and The Maytals. But even more importantly, Marley makes sure to point out that while all of those musicians would be at the party, “no boring old farts will be there.”

Letts went on to a career as a musician, most notably as a member, along with former Clash member Mick Jones, of Big Audio Dynamite, which mixed many genres of music, including punk and reggae where his role was, mostly, to supply audio samples to the songs. But he is best known as a filmmaker and video producer.

And the punk and reggae marriage remains strong to this day.

Saturday, April 28, 2018


There is a programme on UK television called QI, a comedic panel show where guests have to respond to clues with explanations, which, if falling too far within cliche or to fulfil urban mythology, it causes a klaxon to blare. (Yeah, I'm selling it, aren't I but here's the gist.) Anyhoo, for me to answer this theme with this song would surely fire that klaxon. But who cares, it's a great slab of cheesey kitsch and I love it. I even bought the single. Of course, it has nothing to do with punk in the later better received sense of the word, no spiky cuts and spitting, being very much an amalgam of poodle rock and near Jim Steinman grand guignol. The punk reference is more hollywood american, c'mon, punk, make my day, cataloguing the nonsenses when rich kids go slumming in L.A. dives in the search of sex, drugs and rock and roll. I recall the video, all grotesques on enormo-heels, or were they stilts, and with huuuuuuge hair. Staying up late by myself, watching Whistle Test, it certainly rattled my enthusiasms for living a life more wasted. I didn't, needless to say, but I could dream.

The Tubes didn't really, for me, ever have much else up their sleeve. OK, they made a slew of discs and were able to notch up different Greatest Hits collections on different labels. I suspect hit was maybe a loose  description, or thought so until I checked. They seem to have shifted a ton of product in those hinter years pre (real) punk, either in the Ramones/Blondie CBGBs sense or the Clash/Pistols british "invasion" sense of the word, as adult oriented rock was running out of ideas. (I know, this is rose-tinted whimsy; did punk ever mean for much on your side of the pond, other than for media frenzied s(c)h(l)ock-rock portrayals? ) I know I bought one of those hits compilations, played it once and never needed to bother my ears with it again, but the single, both sides, I kept on playing. Remarkably, neither song featured on that hits collection. (Actually, thinking back, I have a sneaking there were two songs on the flip, but I only remember one, another right up there stone cold classic. And of course I'm going to give it you.)

Wow, I just read their wiki page. They really were huge, weren't they? And I could have seen them only last year, supporting fellow ghoul Alice Cooper, a match made in purgatory, on their/his tour of Europe last year. And front focus Fee Waybill, one of the great, possiblynothisreal, names in the industry, still at the helm. No, I couldn't and wouldn't. And didn't. I caught Cooper in about 1984 and he was already older than the collective combined of the audience; seeing kids singing along to 'I'm Eighteen', a song they weren't even born as Alice first sang it. I digress. So, back to the Tubes, and as they grew into any number of images, wretchedly they failed then and now to catch my enthusiasm. Hell, they didn't need to. Why spoil my reality with the truth? I'm off to play my vinyl. Loud.

And, for a change, I really do want you to get that single, for only 75p of my money. And there were/are three songs.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Punk: Radio, Radio

purchase [Radio, Radio]

I'm not particular about the genre of music I pick - kind of the opposite of the Ry Cooder line, "I used to be particular ...".  And I can generally classify what I hear as being in one or another of several major categories, but there are some labels that seem arbitrary: Pop-Rock? Folk-Rock? Where do you place Springsteen? And does it matter?

I confess I never really <subscribed> to punk. Maybe it's the connotations I ascribe to the word: "punk" sounds pejorative for some reason. If you had asked me a week ago, "Do you like punk?" I would likely have said, "Not especially. Never really paid it much attention."

Checking out one online list of all time best punk hits, I see that there are many that I (inadvertently) enjoyed without having them labeled as punk.

There are equally many bands in that top list that I never (wrongfully) paid much attention to: the Sex Pistols, Blondie, the Ramones ... all certainly known to me (as in "they exist and make profitable music") but I still couldn't tell you much about them.

But among that top <punk> hits list I was working off, one stuck out partly because I had never pegged the band as punk (but as a result of this awareness, can now sort of profess a better sense of what is punk/what punk is)... and that is Elvis. Costello, that is.

His outre look -a sort of  <I don't give much of a f*** about what you think I look like... my lyrics are my lyrics and make of them what you will>...and music that may come across as discordant (but isn't). I think that partially describes the punk genre.

And I love/loved Elvis. The lyrics always seemed to vie with the best (as in Bob Dylan). The music? - not at all as monotonous as your standard I-IV-V. And catchy - many of the Costello songs got stuck inside my head to the point that they "ran" all night through my sleep. Kept me away going round and round.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Punk: Fly The Flag

Stiff Little Fingers: Fly The Flag

It is a complete coincidence that our Punk theme follows our Jokes, Pranks & Fools theme, since one of the meanings of being punked is being the victim of a prank. Although people may go there, I suspect that most of the posts over the next couple of weeks will be about punk music (or songs with the word in the title).

As I think I’ve mentioned somewhere before, when I showed up in college in 1978, I had begun to dip my toes into “New Wave” music, but found “punk” music, such as The Ramones and The Sex Pistols, to be basically unlistenable. It didn’t take too much time working at WPRB before I did a full 180 on that, and began to appreciate much of what is called punk. That being said, my tastes have always leaned toward punk bands that could write good tunes, and still have problems with some of the more hardcore bands that sound like a bunch of screaming. But that’s me.

Stiff Little Fingers was a band that I fell hard for, and fast. My introduction to them was their second album, Nobody’s Heroes, which came out in 1980. It was only later that I discovered their excellent debut album, Inflammable Material, and the song that vaulted them to prominence, “Alternative Ulster.” It was clear that SLF were a political band—the first album was mostly about the “Troubles” in their native Belfast, and I learned, much later, that the advance that they got from Chrysalis Records before recording Nobody’s Heroes allowed most of the members to flee to the relative safety of London.

“Fly The Flag” was the song that stuck out to me then, and I still like it today, despite the fact that it doesn’t seem to be one that gets mentioned much in discussions of the band or its music (and it doesn’t even make some of their “best of” collections, which is crazy). It is anthemic and stirring, but its energy, and singer Jake Burns’ gruff vocals, place it clearly in the punk style. The song is also, from start to finish, sarcastic. It appears to be sung from the viewpoint of an ultra-conservative super patriot, similar to the rhetoric advanced by the fascist National Front in Britain at the time. But because the message of the song seemed so contrary to the band’s other music, it was clear that they were mocking that position, not supporting it. (You had to be careful, because other punks at the time did support racist and nationalist policies). If anything was a giveaway, though, it was the repeated “gimme gimmes” that made it clear that they were pointing out the selfishness of the ostensible narrator and his ilk.

Burns has written that the song was a response to the Thatcher generation, and “the whole ‘me, me, me’ attitude and the naked greed that was around at the time.” But he was horrified when National Front supporters took the song at face value.

When I started writing this, I just wanted to discuss a band that I haven’t written about, and a song that I like. But when I listened to it again, it struck me that it works today (with a minor change of venue) as a satire of Trumpism, with its cruel anti-immigrant and nativist sentiment, its greedy social Darwinism, and mocking of the “helpless.” I mean, here are just some of the lyrics:

Gimme a nation where people are free 
Free to do and free to be 
Free to screw you before you screw me 


Gimme a Britain that's got back the Great 
A race of winners not cramped by the State 
And only the helpless get left at the gate. 

SLF put out an excellent live album and another studio album, both of which I played the crap out of on the radio. They released one more studio album in late 1982, which I have no recollection of, before disbanding. They reformed in the late 1980s, with former Jam bassist Bruce Foxton replacing original member Ali McMordie, and have put out albums and toured, with some lineup changes, on and off since then. I admit to not being aware of any of this music.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Jokes, Pranks & Fools: What A Fool ...

purchase [What a Fool ..]

Fools abound. Make your pick.

Your perception of the fool may range from the benign to the malevolent - no names mentioned.

Praise be, you have a wide selection to choose from. You can start at the low end of the chart with your least favorite SMM blogger or move all the way up to your least favorite Tweeter -  your choice. Especially in the Internet age -the fool  just types away - often without considering th repercussuions. Once done, your foolishness might as well be everywhere.

My choice of the Doobie Brothers. .. Doobie... a what?

I wonder if I would have chosen that as my band's name? Maybe so? Maybe not. Maybe they  wanted to make a statement 40+ years ago. Maybe they weren't such a bunch of fools,because they saw the future of the doobie.

Heck .. I don't know ... but doobie people are generally portryed as ... well ... fools who are wasting their lives.

But compared to you and me, Jeff Baxter, Michael McDonald, Kenny Loggins and the rest wouldn't be portayed as wasting their lives away - doobies aside or not.

Song written by M McDonald and K Loggins.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018


It is astonishing to believe the video above and the one below are the same singer, separated, as they are, by nearly three decades. And more so that the first one represented the band, the Bee Gees, then already in their first stride, a full decade before they became near ubiquitous for disco falsettos and windblown hair. In this, their first heyday, they were producing intelligent and sensitive ballads, often, as this, with quirky lyrics that actually are worthy of some thought. Perhaps also astonishing is the fact that the 2nd clip (below), is itself already two decades old, the band now well into their post Saturday night Fever zeitgeist, able to call on songs from all their careers. Now I am no fan of their 70s fame and fortune, only with the passage of enough time able and willing to admit I was a fan of theirs, as a boy, in the 60s. Indeed, I remember singing this very song, into a hairbrush, standing on my bed, for the benefit of my cohort of fellow school chums. (Yup, dormitory days in the UK private school system.......) Robin Gibb, for it is he, was always my top Bee Gee. He always seemed to have a little more grit than his brothers Barry and Maurice, escaping them for a brief moment in '69 through '70, with his solo hit, 'Saved by the Bell', another part of my youthful repertoire.

Joke was the 2nd single from the 1968 album 'Idea', and went top ten across most markets. Written by all three brothers, it was primarily a vocal showpiece for Robin, who described it as a "very spiritual song". Big brother Barry was a bit less serious, citing it as an example of how you could write almost anything in those psychedelic days and then someone would be able to find a meaning for it. It was possibly peak period for their early career as, although they continued to produce a stream of fairly successful records thereon, they were ultimately beginning to fade from view until 1975's Jive Talking'. Which was my cue to lose interest.

Over the years the song has popped up in a number of cover versions, often prompted by film soundtracks. Most well known, perhaps, have been the ones by Faith No More and by Low. My favourite, sneaking out on a single b-side, was by The Beautiful South, the quirky and melodic band fronted by Paul Heaton, who lightened up the UK charts in the 90s and noughties. 

Barry Gibb remains the only living brother Gibb, Robin having died in 2012, aged 62, 9 years after his twin brother Maurice. It seems only now that the majesty of their first decade seems to be rising to the top of their canon. 'Odessa', from 1969, is now seen as a masterpiece to go alongside the Beatles' 
'Sgt Pepper'. If that is the case, 'Idea', with the track here featured, must surely be a 'Revolver'.

Look for an 'Idea'.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Jokes, Pranks & Fools: Fooled Around And Fell In Love

Elvin Bishop: Fooled Around And Fell In Love

I really wanted to write about a prank, but the only two musical pranks that I could think of were “Paul is Dead,” which would require essentially regurgitating the stuff that I linked to in this, and “Rickrolling,” which I really don’t find interesting. I also thought about going to the Monty Python well again, but decided against it. But this is a good song, by an artist that I’ve never written about, so here we go.

Elvin Bishop has had a long career as a blues guitarist, after he decided not to finish his degree in physics at the University of Chicago and join the Paul Butterfield Blues Band in 1963. He formed his own band in the 70s, and had a minor hit with the song “Travelin’ Shoes,” from an album on the Allman Brothers’ label, Capricorn Records, that featured contributions from Dickey Betts, Charlie Daniels, and Sly Stone, among others. The follow up to that album was almost finished, but the producer said that they needed one more song. Bishop suggested “Fooled Around And Fell In Love,” but they were all unhappy with the way Bishop’s vocals sounded. In all of the interviews that I’ve read about the song, Bishop is incredibly self-deprecating about his voice, which he considers to be average, at best—although he believes that this has forced him to write better songs.

Bishop suggested that his backup singer, Mickey Thomas, who he acknowledged had an incredible voice, give it a whirl, and rock and roll history was made. “Fooled Around” was a #3 hit on the Billboard charts, and has been a staple on FM radio, and on soundtracks, maybe most notably Guardians of the Galaxy. It is also regularly covered.

After that, Mickey Thomas left Bishop’s band, tried some solo work, and became the lead singer of Jefferson Starship, recording one pretty good album, and a series of less good albums, ultimately (after litigation) dropping the “Jefferson” and recording something that is regularly on lists of the worst song ever recorded. (My Cover Me piece here links to a couple of such lists). Interestingly, the drummer on “Fooled Around,” Donny Baldwin, later also joined Jefferson Starship, but in 1989, in Scranton, PA, he attacked Thomas, who needed reconstructive surgery. Attacking your lead singer is generally a bad idea, and Baldwin was fired, but as history has shown, the Airplane/Starship revolving door is always turning, and Baldwin rejoined a Mickey Thomas-less version of the band in 2008.

Bishop, on the other hand, returned to the relative obscurity of the blues world, continuing to record and tour both as a leader and sideman. When he performs the song these days, he either does it as an instrumental, or with his background singers stepping forward—and occasionally with Thomas. (who also performed the song with Starship). He’s had a couple of Grammy nominations, in the Best Traditional Blues Album category, losing out to B.B. King and The Rolling Stones (no shame there), and is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, as a member of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. And, one can assume, Bishop continues to cash royalty checks for “Fooled Around,” demonstrating that he is nobody’s fool.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018


And, indeed, those who bought this as a single, in it's first incarnation, in 1978, could indeed be deemed as potential fools if they then thought the tousle-haired soul-lite balladeer would still be at it a full 40 years later. Number 12 in the U.S. Billboard chart that year, with 3 weeks at the top of the (do they still call it that) Adult Contemporary Chart, bagging a grammy the following year. That was his peak stateside, but he has gone on to have a number of careers in different markets, different genres even, as the years have rolled by. Ironically, for what he states is still his only song not performed on the guitar, he was pitched headlong into the Elton John/Billy Joel marketplace, a place he has never quite fitted. When the next 2 or 3 albums flopped, he was dropped.

Not that you could tell from the featured song, his first love was actually the blues, the real delta bottleneck variety, Charlie Patton through  Howlin' Wolf. Born in Middlesborough, in England's industrial north east, his first band was alongside later rock screecher David Coverdale. Rea only began to sing when the singer failed to show for a gig. In some debt to his record company, he then had a surprise hit in europe, I Can Hear Your Heart Beat, which displays his gradual transition into a (slightly) rockier style, albeit with a retained pop sensibility. Building on this momentum, he then toured constantly, gaining an especially big fanbase in Germany. His home country took a few years yet to catch his drift, with 1985's Shamrock Diaries, which broke him on the back of the success of the song  Stainsby Girls, a paean to the girls, his wife included, of his (Stainsby, north Derbyshire) youth. This is where I first caught sight of him, and remains my favourite of his songs. This album, and the next 2 each sold over a million and, buoyed by a run of further hit singles, finally allowed him to repay his initial advance to the record company of 10 years earlier.

It took his next album, New Light Through Old Windows, to break him back into the U.S. market. Then a relatively unusual step, now much more commonplace, this was the trick of re-reording and reprising his back-catalogue, principally the hits, thus gaining control of his own songbook. The 2nd version of Fool, above, is lifted from that and, whilst broadly similar, shows the more gravelly tones he is now more recognised by, with a little more oomph in the rhythm track. Singles found themselves back in the Adult Contemporary and, yay, finally the Rock Mainstream charts. (Who defines these genres?)

For several years he could do no wrong, albeit still a greater pull in Europe and the U.K., each record getting greater sales and accolade until the early to mid 90s. Whilst The Road to Hell gave him his biggest hit in 1989, an ill-conceived Part 2 a decade later, signed the end of this second wind. This was an unexpected foray into sax'n'electronica . The less said.

In 2001 he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, an illness with a dire reputation that is generally well onto the killing of you before its discovery. He was lucky, caught early he had a Whipple's procedure, massive surgery to remove the pancreas and much of the gut, transforming you instantly into being dependent both on insulin and the need to take extra digestive enzymes to manage any sort of normal diet. Promising himself that, should he survive, he would espouse his more commercial persona and return to his blues roots, this is exactly what he has done. Setting up his own label and distribution, and often a sidesman and/or producer, allowing other musicians the limelight, he released a number of largely instrumental albums. building up to his major opus of 2005, Blue Guitars, an 11(!!) cd set featuring 137 tracks. Each disc covered a separate theme, to include Chicago blues, Texas blues, electric Memphis blues, country blues etc etc. (The featured selection is from electric Memphis blues. He also painted the cover.

Since then he has produced further and similarly ambitious pieces and tried to get back on the road, albeit dogged by poor health, suffering a stroke in 2016. At the time of writing his last tour remains unfinished, an onstage collapse in December 2017 possibly calling an end to any such further plans. But with all his luck, good and bad, you'd be a fool if you thought him over.......

Fill yer boots.......

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Steps and Stairs: "No Stairway. Denied!"

So, wait: we're doing a "steps and stairs" themed set here and no one's gonna talk about the most obvious choice there is? Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven"?

Yeah, I get it--I wouldn't write about it, either. Given that the song is one of the biggest epics in the history of rock 'n roll, and growing up I think I heard it more than any other song, by many, many listens,  it's odd that "Stairway" has such an odious reputation.

Perhaps, as this great piece from GQ elucidates, we all hate "Stairway" because, like "Smoke on the Water", "Back in Black" or "Iron Man", it's the first song anyone learns to play and thus, not only did rock radio run the track on a near non-stop loop, every kid we've ever known who plays the guitar started by playing "Stairway" (well, the opening riff, at least). And made you listen as he fumbled and plucked his way through it. Over and over.

Or maybe, we just got tired of it, despite Led Zeppelin's best efforts to keep their music from being overexposed and overused. Zeppelin are famous for refusing licensing of their music, and from what I can recall, Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous and Jack Black's School Of Rock are but a tiny handful of films to feature a Zep tune. I suppose it's a question of integrity. Which is fine. Nothing wrong with trying to preserve the sacred in your artwork. This makes sense when you think about this: perhaps the band's greatest, or at least most monumental song is also their most maligned. I mean, we haven't reached "Mmmmbop" or "Boyfriend" levels of hatred, but if there is one joke about Led Zeppelin that persists, it's the "No Stairway" one. I know growing up, it was an absolute staple of the FM rock stations I listened to, and I easily heard it once a day, for many years in a row.  So, Led Zeppelin has tried to maintain some control where they can. The surviving  band members charge a lot of money to use their songs in movies (somewhere in the seven figures), if they relent at all, and have only recently been loosening up and allowing their music to be used. Hence, the famous little easter egg story of where I took the title of this post from: when Wayne goes to play "Stairway" in a scene from Wayne's World, the filmmakers were not allowed to use the actual song. They were allowed to use about three notes before they were in violation of the copyright, so what Wayne (Mike Myers) actually plays is in no way "Stairway." Yet, the scene illustrates the point: people love the song, but never really want to hear it again.

But, what I find funny is this: for as much ill will that  "Stairway" generates, it really is epic--I'd bet it's often the first "blow your mind" rock track young kids hear, and I'd bet on the odds that "Stairway" has been a stadium's worth of fans gateway song to a lifetime of rock music addiction. And it has the power and the majesty to continue to amaze those who are just coming to rock music. So, like anything we love and overuse, "Stairway to Heaven" will always be a song whose value and worth remain high, though the song itself will maintain a quiet presence. Dust it off every few years, but for the most part, let it rest.