News for March 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 4/1/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Concrete And Clay” by Unit 4 + 2

Today’s Song Of The Day is a somewhat forgotten British Invasion classic from 1965, featuring future members of The Kinks and Argent amongst its band members.

Unit 4 was a British harmony vocal group that was started in the early 1960s by Brian Parker who was a member of British star, Adam Faith’s backing band The Roulettes. Parker set out to form his own band and recruited Buster Meikle on vocals and guitar, Tommy Moeller on vocals and piano and Peter Moules on bass. Soon thereafter, they added two more members, Rod Garwood (bass) and Hugh Halliday (drums) who became the “+2” of their namesake. Their first British single was “The Green Fields” which was a top 50 hit in 1964.

By 1965, they were joined by two guest musicians, Bob Henrit who later went on to become a member of The Kinks and Russ Ballard who was a founding member of Argent. Both had worked with Parker and were also members of The Roulettes. Henrit and Ballard later joined Unit 4 + 2 as full members in 1967.

Their 1965 single, “Concrete And Clay” topped the British charts due to its inclusion on pirate radio playlists. In America, Unit 4 + 2’s version of the song competed on the charts with a rival version recorded by singer and Bob Crewe protégé Eddie Rambeau. Rambeau’s version climbed to number 35 on the charts, while Unit 4 + 2’s made it up to number 28. Both recordings kind of cancelled each other out, so neither was able to attain the attention that it should have.

A full length album was rush-recorded and released to capitalize on the success of the single in England, but the material was lacking and attempts to find a suitable follow up single failed to catch fire on the charts. As time went on, the band delved into psychedelic music as they strived to keep up with the ever changing times. During the late 60s, the group with Henrit and Ballard now full members recorded a version of Bob Dylan’s “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” that failed to compete well with the more successful version by The Byrds.

All in all, Unit 4 + 2 released 16 singles and two albums in England between 1964 and 1969, however in the U.S., they are barely remembered for this one great track, which to my ears sounds like a prequel to today’s faux folk groups like Mumford And Sons and The Lumineers.

Edited: March 31st, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 3/31/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman - “Heaven On Their Minds” from “Jesus Christ Superstar”

With Passover and Easter this week, today’s Song Of The Day reaches for the Bible.

I’m not a big fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber…you can keep Cats, Phantom and Evita…or the Bible for that matter, but in the words of this musical: “Hey J.C., You’re alright by me.”

Andrew Lloyd Webber (music) and Tim Rice (book & lyrics) were in their twenties when they wrote Jesus Christ Superstar. The 1970 album came about because Webber and Rice didn’t have the funds to bring their musical to the stage, so they used the medium of a record album to introduce it to the public. The musical was conceived as a rock opera and all of the parts were sung. At this point in time, the notion of rock opera was all the rage, brought upon by the success of The Who’s Tommy.

The album featured stellar performances by Ian Gillan of Deep Purple in the role of Jesus, Murray Head in the roll of Judas, Yvonne Elliman in the role of Mary, Victor Brox as Caiaphas (whose basso vocals steal the show) and John Gustafson as Pilate. Backing vocals were supplied by Madeline Bell and the session band included the likes of guitar great Chris Spedding, Henry McCulloch (later of Paul McCartney & Wings) and Neil Hubbard, Allan Spenner and Bruce Rowland who were all members of Joe Cocker’s Grease Band. Upon its release, Jesus Christ Superstar’s popularity spanned generations and spread the word of Jesus to young and old alike in a fresh new way.

Sure, some thought the whole thing blasphemous, but most of the public accepted the idea that rock music was a totally acceptable vehicle to spread the word of Christ. The musical generated two bona-fide hits including the title song by Murray Head that topped the charts, and “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” by Yvonne Elliman. The album also topped the charts in 1970 and spawned a Broadway stage version and a hit Hollywood film.

For a nice nine year old Jewish boy like me, the album provided an entertaining education about a religion I knew little about when it came out.

Edited: March 30th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 3/30/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “99 Revolutions” by Green Day

Can an artist who has been charged with being a party animal for an arena full of people still be the life of the party after coming off a stint in rehab?

That question was answered yesterday when Green Day took the stage in Chicago for their rescheduled 99 Revolutions Tour supporting three recent album releases Uno!, Dos!  and Tre!. And with the help of his two band mates Mike Dirnt and Tre Cool, plus longtime touring guitarist and new fourth member James White and augmented by touring members Jason Freese on keyboards and saxophone and Jeff Matika on guitars, Billy Joe Armstrong managed to whip up a pretty cool party for the masses.

There was, however, an overall restlessness that prevailed over the entire performance mostly revolving around Armstrong’s incessant shout outs to Chicago and Illinois (I lost count at 25), leading the crowd in numerous requisite “Day-O”s and call and response sing-alongs (too many to count), spraying the audience with a hose, tee-peeing the crowd with toilet paper, shooting t-shirts from the stage, leading the audience in arm swings, body sways and, of course, crowd waves. Heck, there were several times during this show when Armstrong sat himself down on the drum riser to take a breather while the crowd sang for him.

If this type of show is your thing, than Green Day is your band. Having seen Green Day now four times, the shtick gets a little old and somewhat saps the momentum the band generates from the music, even though it does get the kind of crowd reaction Armstrong apparently craves. And speaking of the crowd, the mix was old-timers like myself who have been with the band from the beginning, their kids (hey, I even took my then-12 year old daughter to see them back in 2006), and finally the thirty-somethings who came along for the ride when American Idiot took off.

For a band that is supposed to be supporting the three recent albums that came out between November and December of last year, they didn’t perform much from any of them. Each album has first-rate material, but out of a total of 37 tracks, they only performed seven songs leaving out future Green Day classics (to my ears at least) like “Carpe Diem,” “Let Yourself Go,” “Makeout Party” and “Nightlife.”

Instead we heard sing-along snippets of Guns ‘n’ Roses’ “Sweet Child Of Mine,” AC/DC’s “Highway To Hell,” The Rolling Stones’ “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction,” The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” and The Isley Brothers’ “Shout,” all crowd pleasers true, but at the expense of many great new Green Day songs.

With all that said, there was Green Day music and much of it was terrific. When Green Day was busy playing Green Day songs, they were at their best, specifically on “Basket Case,” “Minority,” “St. Jimmy,” “Boulevard Of Broken Dreams,” “Longview,” “When I Come Around,” “American Idiot” and “Jesus Of Suburbia.”

So, the answer is yes, Billie Jo Armstrong can still be the life of the party even after a much publicized stint in rehab. His voice was spot-on and as strong as ever, but his ever-increasing pandering to the crowd somewhat gets in the way of what the band does best, which is play rock and roll.

Full Set List:

  1. 99 Revolutions
  2. Know Your Enemy
  3. Stay The Night
  4. Stop When The Red Lights Flash
  5. Letterbomb
  6. Stray Heart
  7. Oh Love
  8. Holiday
  9. Boulevard Of Broken Dreams
  10. Burnout
  11. Disappearing Boy (with Sweet Child Of Mine and Highway To Hell)
  12. 2000 Light Years Away
  13. Going To Pasalacqua
  14. Brain Stew
  15. St. Jimmy
  16. When I Come Around
  17. Longview
  18. Basket Case
  19. She
  20. King For A Day/I Can’t Get No Satisfaction/Hey Jude/Shout
  21. X-Kid
  22. Minority


    1. American Idiot
    2. Jesus Of Suburbia
    3. Brutal Love

Edited: March 29th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 3/29/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Kill Your Sons” by Lou Reed

After the huge success of the Transformer album and its top-twenty single “Walk On The Wild Side,” Lou Reed delivered his most beautifully disturbing album as a follow up. The concept album, Berlin was considered at the time to be a depressing mess, and it was not exactly what fans expected or wanted from their newly minted glam rock star. Over time, Berlin’s stature has deservedly risen and is now not only considered a classic, but one of Reed’s greatest albums.

In order to calm the nerves of his record company and his fans, Reed followed Berlin with the live Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal that included readings of Velvet Underground classics with the blazing twin guitar attack of Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner who went on to back Alice Cooper.  The album, which was recorded inNew York City at theAcademy OfMusic in December of 1973, sold very well and still does to this day.

Reed’s next studio album, Sally Can’t Dance was his best selling and highest charting (#10) record to date. The album was a hastily recorded reaction to all of the expectations fans and record company alike put on Reed, and while his involvement on the record was relegated to a minimum of tossed off vocals and some minor acoustic guitar parts, it did restore his standing in the decadent world of glam rock.

Sally Can’t Dance was not one of Reed’s most consistent collections of songs either, however there were a few standouts including the glammy “N.Y. Stars,” which was his comment on the many imitators that cropped up in the wake of the success he had with “Walk On The Wild Side,” the sadly beautiful and intimate album closer “Ennui” and “Billy,” a song about a school friend who chose a straighter path than Reed did. The latter track also reunited Reed with his ex-Velvet Underground band-mate Doug Yule on bass.

The album also featured horn charts, which was a first for Reed, and soulful female backing vocals on the funky “Ride Sally Ride,” “Sally Can’t Dance” and the somewhat misguided “Animal Language.”  But the album’s one true classic was also Reed’s most personal song “Kill Your Sons,” which found him reflecting on his childhood stint in a psychiatric hospital where he underwent shock therapy. It is perhaps one of Reed’s most harrowingly frank recordings (and that’s saying something), and also one of his very best.

The top-ten success of Sally Can’t Dance found RCA Records pressuring him for a quick follow up, so Reed acquiesced and delivered the much-maligned Metal Machine Music, which consisted of an hour of nothing but noise and feedback. I guess he showed them! RCA hastily rebounded by assembling the unused Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal tapes into the 1975 album Lou Reed Live.

Edited: March 29th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 3/28/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “At The Hop” by Danny & The Juniors

Three groups…three decades… three stories…one song!

1950s: Philadelphia school friends Danny Rapp, Dave White, Frank Maffei and Joe Terranova formed a group called The Juvenairs in 1957.  They were discovered at a Record Hop by John Madara who changed their name to Danny & The Juniors and introduced them to local record label owner Artie Singer. Madara and Singer liked Dave White’s song “Do The Bop,” but suggested that the title be changed to “At The Hop.” They also took a writing credit on the song for their efforts. The song was released in late 1957 on Singer’s Singular Record label.

Singer brought the song to Dick Clark whose American Bandstand was a local Philadelphia TV show. Clark liked the song and added the group as a last minute booking after Little Anthony & The Imperials canceled their appearance on the show. Clark also took 50% of the publishing proceeds of the song in order to get it played on the radio. Such was the way the rock ‘n’ roll game was played back in the days before payola was illegal. The song topped the charts for seven weeks and became the biggest single of 1958.

1960s: Sha Na Na was a 1950s revival group that hailed from Columbia University in New York City. By a stroke of luck, they were booked to perform at the Woodstock Music & Arts Fair in Bethel, New York in August of 1969 by festival producer Michael Lang who saw them perform in a small club. They appeared at the festival on Monday morning after most people already left the grounds and came on right before Jimi Hendrix’s landmark closing set. Their blazing performance of “At The Hop” was included in the Woodstock film bringing them national attention. While their music was totally out of step with the times, they managed to cause a sensation with their greased back hair, gold lame suits and in-synch dance routines. The group went on to record numerous albums for Buddah Records, host their own variety show on TV and appear in the film version of the musical Grease.

1970s: Flash Cadillac & The Continental Kids formed at the University Of Colorado in 1969 to play frat parties. After appearing on American Bandstand, they were offered the opportunity to perform today’s Song Of The Day as “Herbie & The Heartbeats” in the 1973 movie American Graffiti. (They also performed “She’s So Fine” and “Louie Louie” in the film.) They went on to score two chart hits in the 1970s and appeared on the TV show Happy Days, and in the 1979 movie Apocalypse Now. While many of the original members of the group have since past away, a version of Flash Cadillac still regularly plays gigs today.

Edited: March 27th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 3/27/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “That’s Rock ‘n Roll” by Eric Carmen

Eric Carmen was one of the prime purveyors of 1970s power pop with his group Raspberries and their hits “Go All The Way,” “I Wanna Be With You,” “Let’s Pretend” and “Overnight Sensation (Hit Record).” With the breakup of Raspberries in 1975, producer Jimmy Ienner brought Carmen to the fledgling Arista record label where, under the aegis of Clive Davis, he took on a more baroque ballad style.

Carmen hit the ball right out of the park with the first single from his self-titled debut album, “All By Myself,” which went all the way to the number two position on the charts. The song was inspired by Rachmaninoff’s “Piano Concerto No. 2” and featured a George Harrison-esque guitar solo. It was later covered by Celine Dion who brought the song back into the top five of the charts in the 1980s.

The album’s follow up single was “Never Gonna Fall In Love Again,” which was inspired by a different part of the same Rachmaninoff piece and charted at #11. Carmen seemed to be channeling Elton John and The Beach Boys throughout the album, especially on the tracks “Sunrise,” “My Girl” and the rocker “No Hard Feelings.”  The album culminated with a credible cover of “On Broadway.”

Today’s Song Of The Day is one of a few rockers on the album and is far more in line with the music Carmen made with Raspberries. With its lush Beach Boy harmonies and infectious melody, it’s hard to imagine why Carmen’s recording wasn’t a huge hit back in 1975. That said, the song did go on to become a #3 single for Shaun Cassidy who would also take the song, “Hey Deanie,” (from Carmen’s follow up album Boats Against The Current) into the top ten.

After Carmen’s second Arista album, the hits began to dry up. However, he continued to have hits via covers of his songs by Olivia Newton John, Samantha Sang and Mike Reno and Ann Wilson, whose “Almost Paradise” from the movie Footloose was a huge hit in 1984.  Carmen returned to the top ten again in 1987 with his singles “Hungry Eyes” and “Make Me Lose Control,” from the movie Dirty Dancing.

Edited: March 26th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 3/26/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “When My Man Comes Home” by Brittany Howard and Ruby Amanfu

Yesterday I wrote about a single from Jack White’s Third Man Record label by Gibby Haynes of The Butthole Surfers. The record was a recent release in Third Man’s “Blue Series” of 45rpm releases.

Over the past few years, Third Man has released interesting one-off singles by the likes of Beck, Tom Jones, Stephen Colbert, Jeff The Brotherhood, Wanda Jackson, Chris Thile & Michael Davis, Laura Marling and Insane Clown Posse in the “Blue Series.” Typically the records are produced by Jack White and are recorded very quickly during stop offs at the Third Man headquarters by artists passing through town on tour.

The latest “Blue Series” single marks the pairing of Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes with Ruby Amanfu of Jack White’s all-female band The Peacocks. Amanfu is also the vocalist who shares the spotlight with Jack White on his “Love Interruption” single.

The two-song single features “I Wonder” on the A-Side, which is a rip-roaring cover of a song by Rodriguez who is the subject of the Oscar winning documentary Searching for Sugar Man. The original version of “I Wonder” appeared on Rodriguez’s 1970 debut album, Cold Fact.

Today’s Song Of The Day is the flip of the single, “When My Man Comes Home” which is a Memphis Minnie blues cover. Both songs feature backing by The Buzzards, White’s all-male touring band including Dominic Davis on bass, Daru Jones on drums, Cory Younts on piano, Ikey Owens on keyboards and Fats Kaplin on guitar. The vinyl-only single is available via mail order at Third Man Records website.

Edited: March 25th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 3/25/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Paul’s Not Home” by Gibby Haynes (with Jack White)

Today’s Song Of The Day hails from a Third Man Records’ “Blue Series” single released by Jack White, who also plays guitar and sings on all three tracks. Gibby Haynes is the ex-captain of the Trinity University basketball team and ex-accountant who went on to be a founding member (along with Paul Leary) of Texas’ own Butthole Surfers.

The Surfers remain purveyors of hard core left-wing psychedelic music since their formation in 1976. With albums like Locust Abortion Technician, Hairway To Steven and Psychic…Powerless…And Another Man’s Sac, the Surfers have spent the better part of thirty years bending the rules in rock and roll while staying far left of the beaten path.

Haynes has also worked with the likes of Ministry (“Jesus Built My Hotrod”), Dead Milkmen, Revolting Cocks and Johnny Depp (in their band “P”), and he is the lucky recipient of a blow job in the Jim Jarmusch film, Dead Man, starring Johnny Depp with a feedback soaked soundtrack provided by Neil Young.

Today’s Song Of The Day is an Adrenalin O.D. cover from a brand new three-track single that also includes two excellent Gibby Haynes originals, “You Don’t Have To Be Smart” and “Horse Named George.” The single was recorded in one day at Jack White’s studio in Nashville with bassist Fats Kaplin and drummer Ben Swank.

I really dig the “I buried Paul” Beatles reference in the lyrics to the track.

Edited: March 24th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 3/24/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Ballad Of Billy The Kid” (Live from C.W. Post College, 1977) by Billy Joel

Absence makes the heart grow fonder. Things change… and so do opinions. Several years ago I thought that my days listening to Billy Joel were over. It had been many years since he released a record, and even many more since he released a really good record.

I mistakenly passed on the Billy Joel/Elton John stadium tours of the 1990s. Like many, I pretty much stopped caring about him when the trials and tribulations of his personal life began to take center stage in the media instead of his music. But things do change.

First there was the 12/12/12 concert at Madison Square Garden where in my opinion, Joel literally stole the show. He was so much better than any of the other performers on the bill that day,

Then there’s the YouTube video that recently made the rounds featuring Joel at a Q&A at Vanderbilt University. A student named Michael Pollack asks Joel if he can accompany him on piano while he sings “New York State Of Mind.” What ensues is a brilliant off-the-cuff performance that has deservedly gone viral. (

Another Joel “touch” came to me via the Clive Davis biography, a book where Davis takes responsibility for everything that happened in rock music during the late ‘60s and ‘70s. In the book he retells the story of how he came to sign Billy Joel.

All of this recent attention led me to dig out my trusty WLIR broadcast recording of his concert from C.W. Post College in Brookville, NY recorded on May 6, 1977. And it doesn’t get any better than hearing Joel in his prime before a home town crowd introducing songs from his forthcoming album The Stranger.

There were few better songwriters during the 1970s, and Joel’s strongest songs are here for your ears to feast on including fierce takes of “Miami 2017,” “Angry Young Man,” “The Entertainer,” “Captain Jack,” “Piano Man” and a song that saw its debut at this show “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant.”

Of course there were the ballads. Joel ranks right up there with Paul McCartney when it comes to writing ballads, and he did not disappoint at this show with performances of “Just The Way You Are” (which was a relatively unknown new song at the time), “Summer Highland Falls,” “James,” “She’s Got A Way,” “New York State Of Mind” and “I’ve Loved These Days.”

The clear highlight of this show is today’s Song Of The Day, “The Ballad Of Billy The Kid,” especially for the audience’s reaction when he gives a call out to his home town in the last verse. If only moments of spontaneity like this could be bottled up forever.

Track Listing

  1. Miami 2017
  2. Somewhere Along the Line
  3. Summer, Highland Falls
  4. Piano Man
  5. Scenes From an Italian Restaurant
  6. James
  7. Angry Young Man
  8. New York State of Mind
  9. Traveling Prayer
  10. Just the Way You Are
  11. The Entertainer
  12. You Are My Home
  13. Root Beer Rag
  14. She’s Got A Way
  15. The Ballad Of Billy The Kid
  16. I Loved These Days
  17. Captain Jack
  18. Worse Comes to Worse
  19. Ain’t No Crime
  20. Say Goodbye to Hollywood
  21. Weekend Song
  22. Souvenir

Edited: March 23rd, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 3/23/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Brand New Key” by Melanie

When Melanie’s released her biggest hit back in 1972, roller skating and roller rinks were all the rage in my eleven year old age group, and “Brand New Key” was speaking our language.

Having an older sister, I had been exposed to Melanie’s music since 1970 and her single with The Edwin Hawkins Singers, “Lay Down (Candles In The Rain).”  Around that time, my sister became enamored by Melanie Safka, and scrambled to not only get her latest album, Candles In the Rain, but also Born To Be, her first one.

To say that my sister was enamored by Melanie’s at times histrionic vocals and songs about peace, beautiful people and Winnie The Pooh would be an understatement, and as a result of her fascination with Melanie, I paid close attention. Anyway, it was Melanie’s covers  of James Taylor’s “Carolina In My Mind” and The Rolling Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday” that ended up introducing me to the originals.

But Melanie had quite a few first-rate original songs that were favorites of mine including “What Have They Done To My Song Ma,” “The Living Bell,” “The Nickel Song” and “Beautiful People.”  More Melanie albums followed in my sister’s collection including Leftover Wine from 1970, The Good Book from 1971 and Gather Me from 1972, before she outgrew Melanie and left for college.

Melanie formed her own record label in 1972 and released this single which topped the charts and sold over three million copies. I would have to think that today’s Song Of The Day was probably the straw that broke the Melanie fan’s back and caused my sister to pretty much decide that Melanie had become yesterday’s news.

But to my age group, Melanie’s star was on the rise. Forget the apparent double entendre going on in the lyrics with locks and keys, and “going pretty far,” that was all lost on me and my cohort (I think) the first time around.

Today, this song is a guilty pleasure, but the fact that I, for one, still have this single in my jukebox, says that it is still a pleasure.

P.S. – Love this video!

Edited: March 23rd, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 3/22/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Midnight At The Oasis” by Maria Muldaur

You either loved it…or you completely loathed it, but there’s no doubt that if you were around in 1974, you could not avoid Maria Muldaur’s “Midnight At The Oasis.”

Today’s Song Of The Day was released on Muldaur’s eponymously titled first solo album which soared all the way to the #3 position on the Billboard charts on the wings of this David Nichtern-penned top-ten single. Yet, most people don’t know much about Maria Muldaur before she sent her camel to bed in back in 1973.

Muldaur’s maiden name was Maria D’Amato and she got her start performing as a member of the Even Dozen Jug Band alongside future Lovin’ Spoonful member John Sebastian, David Grisman and Stefan Grossman. The Jug Band was part of the same Greenwich Village folk scene that spawned Fred Neil, Phil Ochs and Bob Dylan. D’Amato then went on to join the Jim Kweskin Jug Band where she met her future husband Geoff Muldaur. After Kweskin’s outfit split up, Geoff and Maria went on to release two marvelous down-home old-timey albums for Reprise records. The first one called Pottery Pie was released in 1968, and a second called Sweet Potatoes followed in 1971.

Muldaur went solo after their marriage split up in 1972 and released her first album the following year. On the album, Muldaur wraps her precious pipes around the songs of Dolly Parton (“My Tennessee Mountain Home”), Dr. John (“Three Dollar Bill”) and Jimmie Rodgers (“Any Old Time”). It was also a springboard for several then-unknown songwriters including Wendy Waldman whose “Vaudeville Man” and “Mad Mad Me” were both included, as well as Kate McGarrigle’s wonderful “Work Song.”

Producers Joe Boyd and Lenny Waronker assembled a who’s who of the current rock and jazz scene for backing support on the album,  including Clarence White, Ry Cooder, David Lindley, David Grisman, Dr. John, Jim Dickinson, Spooner Oldham, Chris Ethridge, Klaus Voorman, Freebo, Ray Brown, Dave Holland, Jim Keltner, Bettye LaVette and Jim Gordon. But it was the lyrical and languid guitar solo of the great Amos Garrett (who also played on the Geoff & Maria records) that lights up the album’s signature song.

During the late 70s, Muldaur sang backing vocals with The Jerry Garcia Band. She’s released over 30 albums over the years and continues to release folk and gospel albums to this day.

Edited: March 21st, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 3/21/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Love On A Two Way Street” by Boz Scaggs

Boz Scaggs has led a dual career over the years. On one hand, he’s been a master bluesman who cut his teeth recording with the likes of Steve Miller and Duane Allman, and then there’s the silky-smooth soul man who became a platinum- plated superstar during the late ‘70s. Fortunately for his fans, both sides of Scaggs are present on his essential new album, Memphis.

The record was recorded in three days at Royal Studios in Memphis, the hallowed ground where Willie Mitchell once worked with Al Green on his biggest hits. Matched with sympathetic backing from drummer Steve Jordan (who also produced), Ray Parker Jr. on guitar and Willie Weeks on bass, plus special guests including Spooner Oldham on keyboards and Lester Snell on string arrangements, Scaggs has delivered his best record since Silk Degrees.

The soul man is evident on well chosen covers like Tony Joe White’s classic “Rainy Night In Georgia,” Mink DeVille’s “Mixed Up Shook Up Girl,” Steely Dan’s Countdown To Ecstasy rarity, “Pearl Of The Quarter,” and today’s Song Of The Day, “Love On A Two-Way Street,” which was a hit for the Moments in 1970, and again for Stacy Lattisaw in 1981.

The album’s opener “Gone Baby Gone” sounds like a long-lost outtake from Silk Degrees, and along with the album’s closer “Sunny Gone,” is one of two originals here. And Scaggs would have been totally remiss if he’d gone all the way to Royal Studios and had not taken a shot at an Al Green cover. His superb version of Green’s “So Good To Be Here” features an equally superb string arrangement by Willie Mitchell.

Boz’s grittier side can be felt on his version of Mink DeVille’s “Cadillac Walk,” featuring a guitar part inspired by Buddy Miller, and also on “Dry Spell” with guests Keb’ Mo on guitar and Charlie Musselwhite on harmonica.  Elsewhere, Scaggs takes the blues standard “Corrina, Corrina” out for a leisurely stroll, and then kicks it up a notch on Jimmy Reed’s sinewy “You Got Me Cryin’” (featuring ace guitar work by Rick Vito).

In the hands of a less adept singer, this album wouldn’t be much more than musical comfort food for the baby boomer generation, but Scaggs brings something fresh and real to each song making this exceptional new record a must have.

Edited: March 20th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 3/20/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “18th Avenue” by Cat Stevens

By 1972, not everything was moon shadows and peace trains for Cat Stevens. The bloom was off of the rose and his unease with stardom and the state of the world began to overpower his songs. Such was the world inhabited by Cat Stevens’ fourth album, Catch Bull At Four.

It was a far more dour affair than the albums Teaser And The Firecat and Tea For The Tillerman that preceded it; however the album was no less popular, shooting up to the number one position in the U.S. charts for several weeks.

In the album, Stevens’ dealt with his own well-being on “Sitting” and “Can’t Keep It In,” his Greek heritage on “O Caritas,” his shifting religious beliefs on “The Boy With The Moon And Star On His Head” and “Silent Sunrise,” and his ever-darkening world view on “Ruins” and “Freezing Steel.”

Today’s Song Of The Day conjures feeling of paranoia as it paves the way for what would come on his next album, Foreigner, where he stretched his ideas into the side-long “Foreigner Suite.”

Edited: March 19th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 3/19/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” by Billie Holiday

You can tell a lot about people by the records they own. A relative of a friend dropped some records off at my house this weekend for me to look at. While most had condition issues and were hardly worth selling on eBay, the guy did have some interesting and really good records which he graciously told me to keep anyway.

There were jazz records from the 1950s, at least a dozen Sinatra albums, a fair share f classical recordings including several by Russian composer Shostakovich, some requisite Broadway cast albums, and, of course, a copy of Herb Alpert’s Whipped Cream & Other Delights. (Another one for the collection!) All in all, the guy had sophisticated taste in music.

God, I love those deep groove (micro-groove) records from the 1950s! Back then, records were thicker and had deeper grooves which masked the sound of the scratches. Many of the records that I looked at this weekend are visually damaged, many with scratches that you can feel when you run your finger over the surface of the record. As a record collector, that is always a sign of trouble upon playback. But many of the records from the first batch I played sounded pretty good.

One of the records was the Verve Clef Series Hi-Fi album Body And Soul by Billie Holiday. This eight track album was recorded over four days in January 1957 with sympathetic backup by the great Ben Webster on tenor saxophone, Harry “Sweets” Edison on trumpet, Barney Kessel on the very tasty guitar parts, Jimmy Rowles on piano and Alvin Stoller playing drums on half the tracks, with Larry Bunker on the rest. For an artist that is so identified with pain, heartbreak and sorrow, Holiday sounds downright lighthearted here with her lilting voice sinuously slurring the melody.

Another highlight is another one from the Verve Clef Seri es credited to Charlie Parker and His Orchestra called Swedish Schnapps. In spite of the credit, the 1951 album is not an orchestral record at all, rather it features Parker backed by two different small groups from 1949 and 1951.

The collection also included a five record Art Tatum solo piano set on the Clef label, several Ella Fitzgerald albums, and albums by McCoy Tyner and Ahmad Jamal.

Some of the other interesting records in the lot were a record on the Cook label called Burlesque Uncensored, a private pressing of a left-wing radio show from the 1950s called The Investigator, and Music For Losers by Dixieland jazz trombone player Turk Murphy.

Edited: March 18th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 3/18/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Jitterbug Waltz” by Art Tatum

Blind from cataracts at an early age, Art Tatum used his gift of perfect pitch to teach himself how to play piano. The child prodigy grew to be one of the most lyrical and technically proficient stride piano players of all time.

As a child, Tatum moved to the Toledo School Of Music where he studied piano and braille. Soon after, he found himself on radio billed as “Toledo’s Blind Pianist.” Tatum’s early style was inspired by the playing of James P Johnson, Fats Waller and Earl Hines. He achieved early notoriety by creating a sensation in the 1930s by winning a Cutting Contest (where players try to outplay each other in competition) at Morgan’s Bar in New York City playing “Tea For Two” and “Tiger Rag.”

During the 40s, he formed a trio and recorded for Decca records and then moved to Capitol in the late ‘40s. Although he did record in groups with the likes of Ben Webster, Lionel Hampton, Roy Eldridge and Benny Carter, Tatum primarily recorded solo for most of his career since musicians couldn’t keep up with his improvisational style.

During the 1950s, Tatum recorded prolifically for Norman Granz’s record labels (Clef, Norgran and Verve).  You can hear the influence he had on the Bebop movement in the sophisticated gymnastic playing on today’s Song Of The Day from 1953 which was his interpretation of a Fats Waller original.

After gigs, Tatum would show up at parties and play the piano into the wee hours of the night. Some of his “party” recordings exist and show off his ability to effortlessly pull off some of the most intricate, mind-blowing fills within a relaxed environment, while meanwhile drinking copious amounts of alcohol. About ten years ago Verve released a 2 CD set called 20thCentruy Piano Genius comprised of recordings he made at the home of Hollywood music director Ray Heindorf in 1950 and 1955. These recordings are chock full of jaw-dropping greatness.

His influence can be felt in the music of Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, Herbie Hancock and Thelonious Monk. Tatum died of uremia from kidney failure at the age of 47 in 1956.

Edited: March 17th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 3/17/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Improvisation #2” by Pat Metheny Orchestrion Project

If the essence of Jazz is to listen to and improvise off of the musical ideas of those you are playing with, and you are in essence a one man band, can you still consider the music you make jazz?

The orchestrion is a mechanically controlled mini orchestra that was designed by Pat Metheny and controlled by his touch on the guitar. Metheny based his orchestrion on his childhood fascination for his grandfather’s player piano. But where the player piano plays itself, Metheny, in essence plays an entire orchestra controlled through his guitar in the album and film, The Orchestrion Project. Metheny has termed the act of playing the orchestrion, “orchestrionics”

The orchestrion dates back to the time of player pianos in the late 1800s, right before the advent of sound recording. Inventors began to apply the principals of the player piano to the orchestra and developed early orchestrions that included piano, percussion and other mallet instruments.

Working with a number of musicians, technicians and engineers, Metheny developed his orchestrion with pianos, vibraphones, drums, guitars, basses, glass bottles, cymbals, hand percussion, tape loops and many other instruments. He then toured the world with it, following the release of his 2009 studio album Orchestrion.

The Orchestrion Project was filmed by Grammy and Emmy Award winning directors Pierre & François Lamoureux while on tour, at the former St Elias Church in Greenpoint, Brooklyn in November 2010. It features Pat Metheny on guitar performing “The Orchestrion Suite” as well as other tracks from across his career.

Today’s Song Of The Day, “Improvisation #2,” comes from the 2 CD soundtrack to the film and the celestial sounds that Metheny brings forth from the orchestrion sound truly amazing. Metheny continues to take a compact version of the orchestrion out on the road with him, most recently for his 2011 reunion tour with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Bill Stewart.

So, to answer the question posed at the beginning of this piece…whether improvising together or alone, one spin of The Orchestrion Project confirms that this music is unequivocally jazz.

Edited: March 16th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 3/16/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Sarah Jackman” by Allan Sherman

Funny guys are often tragic figures, and Allan Sherman surely fits into this category. In the span of several years, Sherman went from the pinnacle of success as a TV sketch writer and recording artist who had a huge hit with the song “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh,” (plus the requisite books, cartoons and board games that spun off of the song’s success), to being a divorced alcoholic, living on unemployment benefits with emphysema and diabetes… and dead by the all-too-young age of 49.

Part of the blame can be left to the cultural shift this country went through after the assassination of John F. Kennedy that found our nation not much in the mood for anything fun. But by 1964, comedians like Sherman and Vaughn Meader (“The First Family”) found themselves out of work and out of public favor. One day Sherman was guest hosting the “Tonight Show” for Johnny Carson, and the next thing you know, he was recording songs for vending machine distributors — such was the dramatic rise and fall of Allan Sherman.

But during the early 1960s, no Jewish household was without at least one of his records, and in fact most Americans, Jewish or not, purchased them resulting in three of the biggest records in the country between 1962 and 1963 – “My Son, The Folk Singer,” “My Son, The Celebrity” and “My Son, The Nut.” Today, no garage sale is complete without stumbling upon an Allan Sherman record (usually tucked in between Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass’ “Whipped Cream and Other Delights,” Vaughn Meader’s “The First Family” and Bob Newhart’s “Button Down Mind” albums).

Sherman was not only a pioneer of song parody; he also created what became the hit game show “I’ve Got A Secret,” which ran on CBS from 1952 to 1967. Many of his songs were co-written by Lou Busch, who some of you may know as Joe “Fingers” Carr, the artist behind numerous instrumental honky-tonk piano albums released during the late fifties and early sixties (and also easily found in garage sale bins).

Today’s Song Of The Day is a parody of the children’s French song “Frere Jacques” and is from Sherman’s debut album “My Son, The Folk Singer,”  which sold over a million copies within weeks of its release in 1962 and also topped the Billboard charts in 1962

Perhaps Sherman is a distant memory to many or worse yet, completely unknown, but kids of all generations are usually none the wiser, that his was the voice in Dr. Seuss’ “The Cat In The Hat.”

Edited: March 15th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 3/15/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Whipped Cream” by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass

Before forming the Tijuana Brass and a record company (A&M) that still lives today, Herb Alpert was best known for co-writing Sam Cooke’s “Wonderful World” and producing tracks for Jan & Dean.  All that changed in 1962 when he recorded “The Lonely Bull” in his garage and gave birth to one of the biggest recording acts of the 1960s rivaling The Beatles.

The first few Tijuana Brass albums were recorded with a cadre of Los Angeles studio musicians. For the group’s fourth album, Whipped Cream & Other Delights, Alpert recruited future Tijuana Brass members John Pisano (guitar) and Bob Edmondson (trombone) and augmented them with Wrecking Crew members Hal Blaine, Carol Kaye, Chuck Berghofer, and Russell Bridges (aka Leon Russell). Once the album took off, Alpert solidified the TJB lineup by adding Nick Ceroli (drums), Pat Senatore (bass), Tonni Kalash (trumpet), Lou Pagani (piano), and Julius Wechter who played marimba and vibes only on studio recordings.

The food-themed album featuring such tasty tunes as “Tangerine,” “Butterball,” “Peanuts” and “Love Potion No. 9,” topped the charts and sold over 6 million copies in the United States. It also won five Grammy Awards, three for the single, “A Taste of Honey.’ Sol Lake, who contributed numerous original songs to the TJB repertoire, wrote “Green Peppers,’ “Bittersweet Samba” and “El Garbanzo” for the album.

Today’s Song Of The Day is an Allen Toussaint-penned creation (under the pseudonym Naomi Neville) that was heard regularly on the TV game show, The Dating Game, as bachelorettes were being introduced to the audience.  Three other songs from the album, “Lollipops And Roses,” “Lemon Tree” and “Ladyfingers” were also used on the show as musical cues, as well as “Spanish Flea” from the TJB’s follow-up album, Going Places!.

And then there’s the album cover…the most iconic in all of recorded music…the cover that launched millions of young adolescent boys sex lives!

The model on the cover, Dolores Erickson, was three months pregnant when the photo was taken!  It was parodied by such artists as Pat Cooper (Spaghetti Sauce & Other Delights), Soul Asylum (Clam Dip & Other Delights), Cherry Capri and the Martini Kings (Creamy Cocktails & Other Delights), The Frivolous Five (Sour Cream & Other Delights), plus on Herb Alpert tribute albums by Peter Nero and Dave Lewis.

Thanks to my buddy Kent, I am the proud owner of not one…not two…but 151 copies of this record…can you really ever get enough “Whipped Cream & Other Delights?”

Edited: March 14th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 3/14/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Caramels” by Mort Shuman

“For those who will listen and not just hear…”

That was the intended audience for the album where today’s Song Of The Day comes from, according to its back cover, and they certainly broke the mold after this one was committed to wax. But back in 1969 record labels like Reprise let artists experiment and follow their muse, resulting in one of the most eccentric records ever pressed.

Long before Mort Shuman released this kooky and bizarre album, he was Doc Pomus’ songwriting partner in the Brill Building. Together they composed some of the best known songs of the ‘50s and early ‘60s including  “Surrender,” “Viva Las Vegas,” “Little Sister” and  “Kiss Me Quick” by Elvis Presley, “Save The Last Dance For Me,” “Sweets For My Sweet” and “This Magic Moment” by The Drifters, “A Teenager In Love” by Dion And The Belmonts, “Can’t Get Used To Losing You” by Andy Williams, “Suspicion” by Terry Stafford, “Seven Day Weekend” by Gary “U.S.” Bonds, plus many more.

By 1965, Shuman moved to England for a few years, and then to Paris where he discovered the songs of Jacques Brel, whose work would shape the rest of his career. Before Shuman, Brel was primarily known to the American market for his song “le Moribond,” which was translated by Rod McKuen  as “Seasons In The Sun” and recorded by The Kingston Trio. (Yes, it’s the same song that topped the U.S. charts in 1974 by Terry Jacks.)

Upon discovering Brel, Shuman set his sights on translating Brel’s songs for the American market, forming the basis of his 1968 revue, Jacques Brel Is Alive And Well And Living In Paris. He reprised this role in the 1975 film version of the musical.) In the meantime, Scott Walker recorded Shuman’s versions of Brel’s “If You Go Away” and “Jackie,” turning both of them into easy listening classics.

In 1969, Shuman released his debut album, My Death, a rumination of life from birth to death, complete with theatrical poetry readings and baroque musical passages over anatomically correct songs about giving birth, miscarriages and finally death. And, of course, there’s lots of good old ‘60s harpsichord thrown in for good measure. It’s a record that is shockingly beautiful, and beautifully shocking.

Case in point is the album’s opener, “Born 1969,” featuring Shuman reciting from a medical manual in graphic detail about child birth, while Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” plays in the background. Then there’s this alarming couplet, “She tried to tie herself to life, but then she broke the cord, I went to see my baby, in the psychiatric ward,” from the song “She Ain’t Nothin’ But a Little Child, Oh My”

But underneath all of the classical flourishes and deadly serious poetry reading, you can hear traces of Shuman’s brilliant Brill Building past, in the dramatic string arrangements of “Wait A Minute,” the doo-wop flavoring of “Mon Enfance,” and in the Broadway tinged melody of “Caramels,” which is today’s Song Of the Day.

It’s a record that at times is unintentionally hilarious, but also recalls a great time in music where anything was acceptable.

Edited: March 13th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 3/13/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Did You See?” by John Simon

John Simon’s 1970 debut album for Warner Brothers, called John Simon’s Album, was a culmination of the many album projects he produced over the two years it took to record. While a staff producer at Columbia Records, Simon produced such classics as Simon & Garfunkel’s Bookends, Big Brother & The Holding Company’s Cheap Thrills, Leonard Cohen’s Songs By Leonard Cohen, Blood Sweat & Tears’ Child Is Father To The Man, The Electric Flag’s self-titled debut album and The Cyrkle’s Paul Simon-penned hit “Red Rubber Ball.”

Simon met Albert Grossman through his work with Peter Yarrow on the film You Are What You Eat, who in turn introduced him to The Band. Simon helped them negotiate their record contract with Capitol and produced their first two albums, Music From Big Pink and The Band.  He also produced Mama Cass Elliot’s “Dream A Little Dream Of Me,” Peter Paul & Mary’s Late Again, Seals And Croft’s Down Home and Gordon Lightfoot’s Did She Mention My Name for other labels.

Simon was also a prolific session musician, participating on records by Howlin’ Wolf, Eric Clapton, Taj Mahal, John Hartford, Bonnie Raitt, Bob Dylan, Dr. John, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison and Dave Mason. He even played the tuba on The Band’s “Rag Mama Rag.”

So it should come as no surprise that when Simon set out to record his debut album, many of his musical friends including Garth Hudson, Richard Manuel, Rick Danko, Delaney Bramlett, Leon Russell, Jim Gordon, Carl Radle, Jim Price, Rita Coolidge and Bobby Whitlock joined in the recording sessions.

It easy to play spot the influence all over this album and you can hear elements of Randy Newman’s quirkiness and Brian Wilson’s psychedelia on “The Elves’ Song,” “Railroad Train Runnin’ Up My Back” and today’s Song Of the Day, ”Did You See?,” which sounds like a lost outtake from The Beach Boys’ Friends album. There are echoes of BS&T on the horn-fueled “Tannenbaum,” and “Davey’s On The Road Again,” (which was co-written by Robbie Robertson) and hints of The Band’s own brand of Americana on tracks like “Rain Song” and “Don’t Forget What I Told You.”

It’s hard to tell why neither of Simon’s albums on Warner Bros. did any significant  business, but they both stand up well next to the classic albums of the era that he produced. Simon sporadically continued to produce albums through the years, most notably Steve Forbert’s Jackrabbit Slim, The Band’s Islands and The Last Waltz, Bobby Charles’ Small Town Talk, Al Kooper’s Act Like Nothing’s Wrong and the cast album of Best Little Whorehouse In Texas. He also released several more solo albums throughout the years.

Edited: March 12th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 3/12/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Speak To Me/Breathe/On The Run/Time” by Pink Floyd

So Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon hit its 40th anniversary this past week,  and not only did most of us know upon first hearing it that it was a classic, but it has also held up awfully well over the years.

The anniversary got me thinking about some of my favorite records from 1973. Back then, a new record was a much anticipated event. Sure, I still look forward to some new releases (like the new Bowie album, coming out this week), but with the advent of downloaded music, it’s nearly impossible to have a cultural moment anymore just by releasing a new record.

That’s because nobody experiences new music at the same time anymore. We all listened to radio back then; making it more likely we’d all experience a new record roughly at the same time. However with the internet as the primary channel for music distribution, music is either leaked early or streamed before the release date to build hype. As a result, people tend to experience a new song or album at different times. (The new Bowie album has been streaming on iTunes for over a week.) And when you finally get a copy of the record after hearing it online, it somehow lessens its impact.

The early ‘70s was the height of what would end up being the era of classic rock radio. And I still regularly turn to so many of the great albums that came out that year, records like Todd Rundgren’s A Wizard, A True Star, The Rolling Stones’ Goats Head Soup (which most people hated back then), Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Stevie Wonder’s Innervisions, Alice Cooper’s Billion Dollar Babies, David Bowie’s Pin Ups, Gentle Giant’s Octopus, The World Is A Ghetto by War, Foreigner by Cat Stevens, Led Zeppelin’s Houses Of The Holy, The Doobie Brothers’ The Captain And Me and even Chicago VI.

And, of course each of the ex-Beatles was in the early stages of a solo career. Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr each released a career-best album in 1973 with Band On The Run and RINGO respectively. Meanwhile George Harrison and John Lennon were hardly slouches with their albums Living In the Material World (by George) and Mind Games (by John) either.

Neil Young’s Time Fades Away and Lou Reed’s Berlin were both totally misunderstood and much maligned when new in 1973, and I can remember initially not liking them much either, but each is rightly recognized as a classic today.

So, no matter how many times they get around to re-releasing them, or how many multi-disc permutations they can manage to squeeze out of a classic album over the span of 40 years (immersion editions anyone?), we still seem to always come back to the original.

OK, so now I toss the ball to you…what were your favorite albums from 1973?

Edited: March 11th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 3/11/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Café Regio” by Isaac Hayes

This breezy instrumental comes from the movie Shaft, one of the most popular Blaxploitation films of all time. However, most people probably first discovered today’s Song Of The Day on the B-side to Isaac Hayes’ number one single “Theme From Shaft.”

Hayes initially agreed to write the score for the film only if he was given the chance to try out for the lead role. And while he did have a bit part in the film as a bartender, he was never afforded the opportunity to audition for the lead. Fortunately he decided to fulfill the agreement anyway.

Isaac Hayes was the backbone of Stax Records, who with his partner Dave Porter,  wrote classic songs like “Soul Man,” “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby” and “Hold On, I’m Coming.” He also produced numerous hits for the label by the likes of Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Booker T & The MG’s, Carla Thomas and many others.

Hayes brand of symphonic soul was perfect for love making, and numerous children were no doubt conceived to the strains of his extended recordings of “Walk On By,” “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” and “Never Can Say Goodbye,” from classic albums like Black Moses and Hot Buttered Soul.

But it his voicing of the lovable character “Chef” on South Park for nine seasons, that gave his career a second life, culminating in a late-career hit with his South Park recording, “Chocolate Salty Balls.”

Today’s Song Of The Day features a classic Hayes arrangement expertly performed with the help of two of Stax’s most durable studio groups, The Bar-Kays and The Movement. And while the Shaft soundtrack is clearly not one of his best records, it does include the title theme, today’s Song Of The Day, plus the essential album tracks “Soulsville” and the epic 19-minute “Do Your Thing.”

Edited: March 10th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 3/10/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Aries: The Fire Fighter” by The Zodiac

At any other time in music history, this record would have never happened. But the timing was right for Cosmic Sounds by The Zodiac in 1967, and Elektra Records boss, Jac Holzman, was just the man to make it happen.

The album cover promised “Celestial counterpoint with words and music,” and the resultant record delivered the sublime and the ridiculous, all in one place. But first a little background…

Holzman was basking in the glory of the success of The Doors’ debut album when he got the idea to create a record that would match the psychedelic music that was currently all the rage, with poetry a la Jim Morrison, and use the signs of the Zodiac to tie it all together.

Holzman contacted Alex Hassilev of the folk group, The Limeliters to produce the project, and Hassilev brought in Moog synthesizer pioneers Mort Garson (who was also his business partner) and Paul Beaver (later of Beaver and Krause) to create suitable music for the endeavor.

Bassist, Carole Kaye and drummer, Hal Blaine of the L.A. studio collective The Wrecking Crew, made up the rhythm section along with “exotic percussionist” Emil Richards who had previously worked with Frank Zappa. Rounding out the stellar cast of musicians was West Coast jazzman Bud Shank on the flute and Mike Melvoin on keyboards.

But the icing on the proverbial cake was the heavy-lidded narration written by Jaques Wilson, which was “expertly” recited by folk singer Cyrus Fayer. Each song on the twelve track album was inspired by one of the zodiac signs, although the dialog is pretty much interchangeable between all the tracks, and always unintentionally hilarious.

The album did next to no business when released back in 1967, but heard with today’s ears, it contains a fair amount of first-rate music, and of course, the giggle-inducing dialog makes this record one of the coolest period pieces from the psychedelic era.

Take heed of the recommendation on the back cover of this record: “Must Be Played In The Dark.”

Edited: March 9th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 3/9/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Lordy” by Neil Diamond

If ever an album was ripe for reissue and expansion, it’s Neil Diamond’s 1970 live album Gold.

While most people reach for their copy of the Hot August Night when they want a live fix of Neil Diamond, his Gold album finds him sweating it out backed by a small group in front of an intimate audience, and is a far more satisfying listen.

The album was recorded live at The Troubadour in Hollywood, California on July 15, 1970. Diamond’s small but powerful backing band included Carol Hunter on guitar, Randy Sterling on bass and Eddie Rubin on drums. While the band was small in numbers, they manage to whip up a frenzy throughout this essential Neil Diamond live document.

The Neil Diamond we hear on this album isn’t the syrupy sweet balladeer of “Heartlight” and “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers.” Instead, we get a rough-cut Diamond with straight-up unpretentious readings of some of his greatest songs, including his current single at the time, “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show” and “Sweet Caroline,” way before it became the property of karaoke stars doing Elvis Presley.

Diamond digs into his Bang catalog for spirited performances of some of his early singles like “Cherry, Cherry,” “Kentucky Woman,” “Solitary Man” and “Holly Holy,” no gratuitous medley’s here, we get the full performances of each song. The set also included a hushed intimate reading of what he said at the time was one of his own favorite songs, “And The Singer Sings His Song,” as well as his hit cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now.”

But it’s the album’s opener and today’s Song Of The Day, “Lordy,” that finds Diamond rocking out harder than he ever has before (and would ever do again) as he spits out the opening lyrics “Hey, Lady, she got painted eyes, Have a way of talking to you, Cut your heart out for the prize, While the bitch sings hallelujah.” The song gained much notoriety when it was issued as the B-side of the “Cracklin’ Rosie” single.

I’ve often wondered if the tapes from this all too brief album still exist, and if so, why the whole show hasn’t been issued. Diamond was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1984 and into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011. Additionally, he was an honoree at the Kennedy Center Honors in 2011.

Shine on you crazy Diamond!

Edited: March 9th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 3/8/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “The Holy Drinker” by Steven Wilson

If you thought that the progressive rock dinosaurs that dominated the musical landscape of the 1970s were all but extinct today, think again. Sure, bands like Yes and Jethro Tull are still churning out the classics on stages around the world, but in recent years the prog-rock scene has seen a full on rejuvenation starting in the ‘80s with Metallica, whose brand of progressive metal made them superstars and in the ‘90s when The Mars Volta rose out of the ashes of the punk band At The Drive In to dress their music in proggy clothing.

Over the last decade, there’s been a plethora of full-on prog bands like Porcupine Tree, Dream Theater, 30 Seconds to Mars, Coheed and Cambria, Muse and even Radiohead and The Flaming Lips, who have folded elements of progressive rock into their arsenals and kept the genre fresh and alive.

And then there’s Steven Wilson, the studio wunderkind who is known as much for his 5.1 surround mixes of the King Crimson and Jethro Tull back catalogs, as for his numerous recordings under numerous names.

Perhaps, Wilson is best known as the founder, lead guitarist, singer and songwriter of Porcupine Tree. But his involvement with that storied group is just the tip of the iceberg, an iceberg that includes groups like Blackfield, which he formed with Israeli rock star Aviv Geffen, and No-Man (originally named No Man Is An Island (Except The Isle Of Man)) with fellow musician and vocalist Tim Bowness. And if that wasn’t already enough, there’s also  IEM, or Incredible Expanding Mindfuck, which Wilson formed to explore his love of krautrock, Bass Communion in which he focuses his attention on ambient music and Storm Corrosion, a collaboration with Mikael Åkerfeldt, who is the front man of Opeth.

Porcupine Tree started out as a duo of Wilson and his school friend Malcolm Stocks. After a series of singles and cassette only releases, Porcupine Tree became a proper band with the addition of Richard Barbieri, Colin Edwin and Chris Maitland. Numerous releases followed including Up the Downstair, The Sky Moves Sideways, Signify, the live Coma Divine, Stupid Dream and Lightbulb Sun before Maitland left and was replaced by Gavin Harrison in 2001. The following year, Porcupine Tree released In Abstentia and followed it with Deadwing (an album inspired by a film script written by Wilson and Mike Bennion), the live DVD Arriving Somewhere, Fear Of A Blank Planet and the double disc The Incident.

By 2008 Wilson began his solo career with the release of Insurgentes, followed by Grace For Drowning, a deluxe CD and Blu-ray release from 2011 with the individual parts named “Deform to Form a Star” and “Like Dust I Have Cleared From My Eye.”

Today’s Song Of The Day, “The Holy Drinker,” comes from Wilson’s just-released The Raven That Refused To Sing (And Other Stories), whose six extended compositions are based on the supernatural. You can hear the influence of Gentle Giant and Return To Forever all over this album, especially in the mellotron-drenched opener “Luminol,” in the fusion guitar solos of “Drive Home” and in the stop-start precision of “The Holy Drinker.” The album was engineered by Alan Parsons, whose guitar solo lights up today’s Song Of The Day.


Wilson’s current band includes Guthrie Govan on guitars, Marco Minnemann on drums, Nick Beggs on bass guitar, Adam Holzman on keyboards and Theo Travis on woodwinds. With the exception of Govan, all of the rest of the band members played on Wilson’s last album and the tour that supported it.

Wilson will be touring the U.S. this spring with former Frank Zappa sideman, Chad Wakerman filling in for Marco Minnemann on drums.

Edited: March 8th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 3/7/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Simbah” by Gerry Mulligan Tentette

The innovative instrumentation and arrangements of Miles Davis’ landmark Birth Of The Cool nonet sessions from 1948, on which Gerry Mulligan played baritone saxophone, was a major influence on Mulligan’s Tentette recordings from January of 1953 that included “Simbah,” today’s Song Of The Day. But even though the Tentette recordings are less well known than the storied Birth Of The Cool sessions, they are every bit as essential and influential.

Sessions for the songs “Westwood Walk,” “A Ballad,” “Walking Shoes” and “Rocker” took place in Los Angeles on January 29th 1953, while the recordings of “Flash,” “Ontet,” “Taking a Chance On Love”  and today’s Song Of The Day “Simbah,” took place on January 31st, 1953. Seven of the eight compositions were penned by Mulligan and the doubling up of the voices of the trumpet, baritone saxophone and drum parts was inspired by the arrangements from Davis’ Birth Of the Cool session.

The Tentette line-up consisted of Chet Baker and Pete Candoli on trumpet, Bob Enevoldsen on ventile trombone, John Graas on the French horn, Ray Siegel on tuba, Bud Shank on alto saxophone, Don Davidson and Gerry Mulligan on baritone saxophone, Joe Mondragon on bass and Larry Bunker and Chico Hamilton on drums.

While Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan had an, at-best turbulent relationship, there is no sign of animosity in the grooves of the eight tracks from the session that are featured on the album Walking Shoes,”  a 1972 vinyl Capitol compilation album. In 1971, Mulligan commented “The tentet (sic) is essentially my original quartet with Chet Baker combined with the instrumentation of the Miles Davis nonet…I would have liked to pursued (the tentette) further at the time, but c’est la vie.”

The recordings of the Mulligan Tentette and Davis’ Birth Of The Cool both marked a major development in post-bebop jazz whilst casting a long, lingering shadow on all that would follow in symphonic jazz.

Edited: March 6th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 3/6/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “A Lot Of Livin’ To Do” by Sammy Davis, Jr.

It’s the wham of Sam, from the musical Bye Bye Birdie.

Without Sammy Davis Jr., there wouldn’t have been a James Brown or Prince. He was clearly the most talented of the Rat Pack by a mile…could sing circles around Frank and Dino…and had the moves and comedic talents to make him the total entertainment package. He was in a word, a dynamo!

Davis was born into a family of vaudevillians, and he began his career dancing as part of the family act at the age of three. Over the years, he gained popularity as a standout in the act which led to a recording contract with Decca Records and the lead role in the Broadway Musical, Mr. Wonderful.

By the late 1950s, Davis was rubbing shoulders with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford, and the media began referring to them as The Rat Pack. Together, they all had a jolly old time while breaking down the racial barriers in the entertainment world. When Sinatra formed his own Reprise record label in 1961, Davis was one of the first artists he signed.

This swingin’ gem comes from Sammy’s 1962 Reprise album What Kind Of Fool Am I. The album, a collection of twelve songs from the Broadway stage, proved to be one of his most popular landing at #14 on the album charts. The album included  “Once In A Lifetime,” “Begin The Beguine” with a spare percussive arrangement, and the very groovy “Gonna Build A Mountain,” songs that would remain amongst his most requested performances for the rest of his career.

The album’s title track would go on to become one of Davis’ signature songs, but it is today’s Song Of The Day that is the essence of cool hipness, as Sammy effortlessly swings against a sturdy Marty Paich arrangement. This album was issued on CD, along with most of the rest of his Reprise recordings, in 2004 by Collectors’ Choice Music.

Edited: March 5th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 3/5/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Push Push” by Herbie Mann

Herbie Mann was already ten years into a career that established him as a purveyor of Afro Cuban Jazz, Latin Jazz and Bossa Nova music by 1971 and the release of his album Push Push.

Mann had released albums for Bethlehem, Prestige, Epic, Verve and Savoy, before signing with Atlantic Records in 1962 where he would release numerous records over the next eight years that established him as the premiere flautist in all of jazz. While at Atlantic, Mann worked with a whole host of influential percussionists and instrumentalists like Ray Barretto, Michael Olatunji, Sergio Mendes, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Bill Evans and Chick Corea, while stretching the very boundaries of Jazz to include elements of world music.

By the late ‘60s, influences from the soul and rock scene began to seep into Mann’s repertoire and he went down south to Memphis to record with producer Tom Dowd and the folks at Stax Records. In 1970, Mann founded his own Embryo Record label (a subsidiary of Atlantic Records by way of Cotillion Records) as an outlet for him to release his own albums and those of artists he felt were worthy.

Today’s Song Of the Day is the title track from Mann’s second Embryo release, Push Push. Once you get past the creepy and somewhat offensive cover image (I guess this passed for sexy back in 1971), and the raised velvet image of a copulating couple on the inside of the gatefold, you were treated to one of the premiere jazz rock recordings of all time.

For one,  Mann’s backing group included some of the greatest jazz and soul session men of the time, including Cornell Dupree and David Spinozza on guitar, Richard Tee on piano and organ, Chuck Rainey, Jerry Jemmott and Donald “Duck” Dunn on bass, Bernard Purdie and Al Jackson, Jr. on drums and Ralph MacDonald on percussion. And, with the exception of one track, all of the guitar solos were played by Duane Allman, in what was his last session.

The album includes several Mann originals, including the title track, plus covers of Aretha Franklin’s “Spirit In The Dark, “ Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On ,” Ray Charles’ “What I’d Say,” Bread’s “If” and the Jackson Five’s “Never Can Say Goodbye.”

To show you where Mann’s head was at, in the inner gatefold he plainly states that “Marvin Gaye’s album What’s Going On is the best album of the year!!” Even back then, they already knew what they had.

Edited: March 4th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman –3/4/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Savoy Truffle” by Ella Fitzgerald

About a month ago, I featured Fats Domino’s recording of “Lady Madonna” from the 1969 album Fats Is Back. That record was produced by Richard Perry for Reprise Records, and today’s Song Of the Day follows Perry to the very next project he worked on, Ella by Ella Fitzgerald.

Reprise records of the late ‘60s was an artist’s haven due in no small part to the approach label head Mo Ostin took towards nurturing his roster. As a result, the label attracted top-shelf folk and rock attractions like Neil Young, Frank Zappa, Joni Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix, Fleetwood Mac, Ry Cooder and Arlo Guthrie.

But let’s face it, Reprise was once Frank Sinatra’s label and it always had a sweet spot for its easy listening releases. Under Sinatra’s leadership, the Reprise roster featured records mostly by him and cronies like Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney and Jo Stafford. When Sinatra sold the label in 1963 to Warner Bros., the label came under the direction of Mo Ostin.

Under Ostin’s tutelage, the label’s easy listening roster grew hipper and included releases by Theo Bikel, Petula Clark, The Vogues, Gordon Lightfoot, Rod McKuen, Randy Newman, Dion, Harper’s Bizarre, Lee Hazelwood, Tom Lehrer, Mike Post Coalition and Kenny Rogers & The First Edition.

One of the label’s early strategies was to find worthy artists who had fallen out of the spotlight, and match them up with a sympathetic producer who could give their recordings a contemporary sheen. For Ella Fitzgerald’s Reprise debut, Ostin matched her up with producer Richard Perry.

Perry booked time at Olympic Studios in London and had Ella record no less than three tunes by Smokey Robinson, including a sumptuous take on “Ooh Baby Baby,” The Temptations’ “Get Ready” and a sultry and soulful version of “The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game.”  And under Perry’s direction in choosing repertoire, she also turned in more than credible versions of songs by Randy Newman (“Yellow Man” and “I Wonder Why”), Bacharach and David (“I’ll Never Fall In Love Again”), STAX men Steve Cropper and Eddie Floyd (“Knock On Wood”) and Harry Nilsson (“Open Your Window”).

However, no late ‘60s career resuscitation could be complete without a couple of Beatle tunes thrown in for good measure, and on this album Ella sings “Got To Get You Into My Life” which had been covered by numerous artists, and George Harrison’s “Savoy Truffle,” which was covered by almost no one, making Ella’s version such a treat. Although Ella sang well throughout the album, no hits ensued and the album quickly went out of print.

For her second and last album for Reprise, Things Ain’t What They Used To Be (And You Better Believe It), Ella teamed up with arranger Gerald Wilson and producer Norman Granz to record a record with far more traditional jazz arrangements, while still offering some outstanding cover choices like “Sunny,” “Mas Que Nada,” “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” “A Man And A Woman” and “Days Of Wine And Roses.”

Edited: March 3rd, 2013

Song Of the Day by Eric Berman – 3/3/13

Song Of the Day by Eric Berman – “On The Air” & “Moribund The Burgermeister” by Peter Gabriel (Live from Rockpalast, 1978)

By the time of the broadcast from this 1978 Rockpalast show, Peter Gabriel was three years past his Genesis days and was out on the road promoting his second solo record, Peter Gabriel (which also goes by the names Peter Gabriel II and Scratch because of its album jacket image).

I’ve already written several pieces on Peter Gabriel’s second album and its unique relationship with two other Robert Fripp productions, Sacred Songs by Daryl Hall and Fripp’s own Exposure , but a nice pro-shot concert from this era is a real find worth sharing.

The video was shot on September 15th 1978 and was shown on the long-running German music TV show, Rockpalast. It’s Gabriel in full theatrics, gyrating and rolling around on stage in costume, with dramatic lighting and an even more dramatic haircut.

His first-rate band includes Peter Gabriel on piano and vocals, Tony Levin on bass, Jerry Marotta on drums, Sid McGuiness on guitar, Larry “Synergy” Fast on keyboards and Timmy Capello on keyboards and saxophone.

The set list features all you could’ve wanted from a Gabriel show from this period, including White Shadow and Perspective from the second album and Solisbury Hill, Here Comes The Flood, Humdrum and Waiting For The Big One from the first. Toss in and early version of “I Don’t Remember,” that wouldn’t see a proper release for two more years and, of course, a token Genesis classic, “The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway,” and you’ve got a feast for the eyes and ears for any Gabriel fan.

Thanks to my musical comrade in arms, Bob Wintermute, for sharing this with me.

Edited: March 3rd, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 3/2/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Picture This” by Blondie

There was nothing new about punk and new wave. It came about as a reaction to the bloated excesses of progressive rock groups like Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Genesis and Yes and their seemingly obligatory side-long multi-part suites of music.  (Not that there was anything wrong with that…)

Groups like Ramones and Blondie brought back the sounds of the early 1960s. They simplified things, kept their songs under three minutes and created sugary-sweet melodic gems that were bashed out on guitars and drums.

But being from New York, Blondie were just as inspired by the Broadway scene, and you can feel the presence of Broadway all over their third album Parallel Lines, in the sugar-coated poppiness of “Sunday Girl,” or the call and response chorus of “Just Go Away,” or even in the full on Broadway rock of “I Know But I Don’t Know,” that wouldn’t have felt out of place on the Original Cast Recording of Hair

By the time of their breakthrough album Parallel Lines, Blondie had consisted of Deborah Harry on vocals, Chris Stein on guitar, Jimmy Destri on Keyboards and electronics, Clem Burke on drums, and new members Frank Infante on guitar and Nigel Harrison on bass. They had been together for several years and had scored hits throughout Europe. Their sound had matured and now included elements of the electronic disco that was being played all around the clubs of New York City, hence the percolating electricity that is the hit, “Heart Of Glass.”

They had been playing a slowed down version of the song as early as 1974. Inspired by Kraftwerk and the New York City club scene, Jimmy Destri recast the original as an electronic disco track and it topped the charts in 1979. There were several more worldwide smashes from the album including the urgent rockers “One Way Or Another” and “Hangin’ On The Telephone,” that further established Blondie here and abroad as mainstream artists while at the same time representing the newly-coined new wave music scene.

“Sunday Girl,” is pure girl group sweetness, with a coolly detached edge that only Deborah Harry could be responsible for. It was never released as a single in the U.S; however it topped the charts in England. Today’s Song Of The Day was the first single released from the album in the U.K. where it climbed all the way to number twelve on the charts. It was also never released as a single here in the states.

The album’s tune stack also included, the rocker “11:59,” a cover of Buddy Holly’s “I’m Gonna Love You To” that failed to chart when it was released as the record’s first single in the  U.S., and the atmospheric ‘60s Goth of “Fade Away And Radiate,” featuring guitar work by Robert Fripp.

In 2006 the group was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall Of Fame notably for incorporating elements of ‘60s girl group rock, punk, new wave, disco and rap in to their music.

Edited: March 2nd, 2013