Saturday, February 16, 2013

Heart: Heart of Gold

Neil Young: Heart of  Gold via YouTube [above]
[purchase mp3 at Amazon]

I held back until the last minute before our new theme comes online because I thought for sure some other SMM poster would surely hit on this: it has the weekly theme in the title and it is a classic.

Heart of Gold is the only one of Neil Young's many songs to reach the #1 spot on the US charts. First released on his 1972 "Harvest" album, he generally plays it on an acoustic guitar with harmonica accompaniment in addition to his vocals (as in the recording here.)

The late 60s and early 70s were Young's most productive years: member of Buffalo Springfield, solo work, and member of CSN&Y. Albums from this era include the eponymous "Neil Young" (1968), Everybody Knows This is Nowhere (1969), After the Gold Rush (1970) and Harvest (1972). The previous list does not reference his "side career" with CSN&Y during the same time frame.

This particular video starts off kind of rambling, but in the process, provides a certain insight into the man's personality, and so, while there are other more direct renditions of the song at YouTube, I chose this for the depth of character it imparts.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Heart: May I Take A Giant Step Into Your Heart

Between their two biggest Top 10 singles, "Simon Says" and "1,2,3 Red Light", bubblegum rockers The 1910 Fruitgum Company released the oddly titled "May I Take a Giant Step (Into Your Heart)". Like the other singles it's based on a children's game. This one is called " Mother, May I" in which kids ask the mother figure whether they can take a certain number of steps towards her.

 May I take a giant step into your heart
May I give you love and sweet affection
May I take a giant step into your heart
So that you will look in my direction

Oddly, women don't know what to make of the line "May I take a giant step into your heart". I got a very strange look from my wife.

The track peaked at only #63 but the band had already earned a supporting act role in The Beach Boys 1968 tour of the Deep South. The 1910 Fruitgum Company had one more hit, the politically incorrect on so many levels "Indian Giver".Today the lead singer, Mark Gutkowski, owns a piano store in New Jersey.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Heart: Heart of Stone

SVT: Heart of Stone

I’ve written about Jorma, so now it is time to write about Jack.

Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen have been friends since their teens, playing together in bands in the Washington, D.C. area. When Jorma moved west, he recommended that his new band, the Jefferson Airplane, hire his friend to play bass. Jack had become a prominent bass player in the Washington area, despite his age, and backed up touring artists such as Ray Charles. After joining the Airplane, he became one of the most well respected bass players in rock music, using the bass as more of a melodic, lead instrument.

Jack and Jorma formed Hot Tuna, first as a side project, then as a main band, and have been the two constant members to this day. Casady’s bass playing is remarkable in its virtuosity, yet he never seems to call attention to himself. In addition to playing with the Airplane and Hot Tuna, he has appeared on albums by and/or played with Jimi Hendrix, David Crosby and Warren Zevon, as well as being involved in projects featuring members of the extended Airplane/Starship family and the Grateful Dead.

But in the 1980s, the music world was turning toward “New Wave” music—an uptempo melding of rock and power pop with influence from punk. Jorma formed a band called Vital Parts, which went nowhere, and Jack joined SVT, which was either named after a medical condition or a bass amplifier.

SVT’s first single, “Heart of Stone,” is truly a forgotten classic of the genre. Written by singer Brian Marnell, and featuring great bass playing by Casady, it became a radio hit in the San Francisco area, and crossed over a little into the then burgeoning “college rock” world. It hit my sweet spot, as a college D.J., fan of Casady, and lover of power pop, and I know I played it many times on the radio. I note that this is my third consecutive week posting about power pop songs, so next week, I’ll try to find something a little different, maybe something in 9/8 time about dragons or Vikings. It all depends on the theme…..

I have often speculated on this blog about why some bands or artists make it and others don’t. It appears from my quick research that the band started to disintegrate when they failed to hit it big, and then Marnell, the songwriter, guitarist and singer, died from an overdose (or in a car accident, depending on the source).

Casady tried another New Wave band, Yanks, continued to play in projects with others, and released a solo album in 2009. In the early 1980s, Jorma and Jack restarted Hot Tuna, and they have toured regularly, putting out an album in 2011. They are on tour now and the Hot Tuna website shows dates for shows into November. I saw them a few years ago (for the first time since high school), and they continue to impress, whether playing electric, acoustic or both. Jack’s bass playing is still amazing.

Heart: Heartbreaker

Led Zeppelin: Heartbreaker via YouTube (above)


Valentine's Day = forever love, flowers, chocolate, diamond rings, matters of the heart ... Well, perhaps it depends on your defintion of "the heart". The source of life, the fount of our emotions, our hearts are heavily weighted with much more than simply pumping our blood. Often ... more than they can carry.

Whereas this week's theme aims to take you into (sweet) variations related to the usual Valentine's Day sounds of love, there is another perspective to the heart which doesn't always follow the romantic path. Savants say that to know true love, one needs to endure its negative: could be "Heartbreak". There is sweet (lite-pop style) heartbreak, and then there's heavier heartbreak.

In the '70s, Led Zeppelin came up with a number of songs that I would label as "romantic"- to me, Stairway to Heaven evokes many romantic emotions. In other songs, there's lots of un-requited love in their lyrics (Whole Lotta Love), so ... despite the perception of Led Zeppelin as a rough/rock band, they often touch on love.

From their second album, Zeppelin's "Heartbreaker" is not "sweet". While including our focus word from this week's theme, the song embodies the rougher side of our hearts: we sometimes have to "break to make"- as painful as it is.  To move on, you may need to stop and start again. Catharsis, it's called.