News for April 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 5/1/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Follow Your Bliss” by The B-52’s

“Follow Your Bliss” is perhaps the most unique recording in the entire B-52’s catalog; it is also the perfect closer to their greatest album.

By the time of The B-52’s comeback album Cosmic Thing the group was ten years into their career. After becoming media darlings for the new wave, they soon found themselves in a dramatic free fall that left them practically unable to give their records away at retail.

Formed in Athens, Georgia in 1976, The B-52’s consisted of Fred Schneider on vocals, percussion and keyboards, Kate Pierson on organ, bass and vocals, Cindy Wilson on vocals, tambourine and guitar, Cindy’s brother Ricky Wilson on guitar and Keith Strickland on drums. With an image that looked backwards to the 1950s complete with beehive hairdos and thrift-store attire, and a sound that took elements of ‘60s surf and girl group rock filtered through a contemporary sheen highlighted by Ricky Wilson’s angular playing and unusual guitar tunings, the group hit upon a sound and look that made them the face of New Wave music.

Their self-titled debut album from 1979 included the zany signature hit “Rock Lobster,” plus fan favorites “Planet Claire” and “52 Girls” giving them traction in the world of underground rock. An appearance on Saturday Night Live in 1979 further cemented their popularity with the burgeoning college rock crowd. The 1980 follow-up Wild Planet also sold very well and included another big single “Private Idaho” plus “Quiche Lorraine,” “Strobe Light” and “Party Out Of Bounds” that kept the band’s buzz going. A remix record called Party Mix was released next as a stop-gap while the band continued to tour, and an appearance in Paul Simon’s film One Trick Pony continued to keep the band’s momentum going.

Their 1982 summit with Talking Heads leader David Byrne on production was a real coup, bringing the band added credibility. However, things did not go well in the studio and the sessions were aborted with the resultant record Mesopotamia coming out as an EP instead of a full length LP. While the record didn’t produce any big hits, it was critically acclaimed and the title track was a popular album cut on radio.

Their next album called Whammy came two years later and saw a decline in the band’s fortunes. Although it included several strong tracks like “Song For A Future Generation,” “Whammy Kiss” and the single “Legal Tender,” the album only charted in the top 30 and The B-52’s found themselves in litigation with Yoko Ono over the track “Don’t Worry,” forcing them to pull it off of the album.

Bouncing Off The Satellites was guitarist Ricky Wilson’s last album. Unbeknownst to the rest of the band, he was suffering from complications of HIV/Aids during sessions for the record and he succumbed to his illness in October 1985 at the age of 32. The band did not tour in support of the record, resulting in poor sales and no hit singles. It was a shame too, because the record included one of their greatest singles “Summer Of Love” and the song “Girl from Ipanema Goes to Greenland.” With the band’s future in question in the aftermath of Wilson’s death, they took almost two years off to regroup.

When they reconvened in 1988 to work on a new set of songs, Keith Strickland had moved over to guitar and Don Was and Nile Rodgers were brought in to handle the production duties. The resultant album Cosmic Thing is the band’s ultimate party disc featuring an updated sound on a very strong collection of songs including the first single “Channel Z” which went to number one on the Modern Rock charts, reestablishing them with the college rock crowd.

But it was the group’s next single “Love Shack” that found them propelled into stratosphere of popularity. You couldn’t turn a radio on in 1989 for any amount of time without hearing the jubilant party strains of “Love Shack” filling the air, and the single still remains a popular favorite today. The song was inspired by a real cabin with a tin roof in Athens, GA where the band composed their first big single “Rock Lobster.”  Kate Pierson lived there for a time as well, and yes, it did have a “tin roof rusting.”

The album also includes a clutch of contagious dance rock confections like “Channel Z,” “Junebug” (later used in a Target commercial), “Dry County” and “Deadbeat Club.” The latter track also featured a guest shot by Michael Stipe of R.E.M in its video clip.

The follow up single to “Love Shack’s” was called “Roam,” which also climbed to the number three slot on the charts on the wings of a great melody and Kate Pierson’s distinctive vocals. Around this time, Pierson also appeared on Iggy Pop’s single “Candy” landing him into the top forty for the first time in years, and also sang on R.E.M.’s “Shiny Happy People.”

Today’s Song Of The Day, “Follow Your Bliss” is the sole instrumental on the record and is a perfect melding of the symphonic sound The Beach Boys perfected on Pet Sounds with the twang of surf guitar that lies at the heart of The B-52’s sound, bringing the ultimate party that is Cosmic Thing to a chilled out close. And after all was said and done, Cosmic Thing climbed into the U.S. top five and was certified multi-platinum.

By 1990 Cindy Wilson left the group and they continued on as a trio for their next album Good Stuff. Although the album made it into the U.S. top twenty, it was an anemic collection of tired second rate material that failed to gain the group any new momentum.

Wilson rejoined the band in 1998 to record two new songs for their Time Capsule compilation and stayed on for the tour that supported its release. While the group became a popular touring attraction, they wouldn’t release any more new music until 2008’s Funplex.

Funplex debuted at No. 11 on the Billboard album charts in the U.S., immediately making it the second-highest charting album in the group’s career. Although they heavily supported its release with television appearances and extensive touring, the record barely made any money for the group putting the likelihood of any future releases of new B-52’s material in jeopardy.

Meanwhile, the band hits the road every year, sometimes in package tours with like-minded groups of their era like The Go-Gos, Blondie and Cyndi Lauper, making them a top attraction on stage. The touring band includes musicians Sterling Campbell on drums, Paul Gordon on keyboards and guitar and Tracy Wormworth on bass.  At the end of 2012, Keith Strickland gave notice that he would not continue touring with the band leaving them as a trio of Cindy Wilson, Kate Pierson and Fred Schneider. They will once again tour with Blondie this summer in Europe and America.

Edited: April 30th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 4/30/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Just Dropped In” by Tom Jones

Tom Jones just released his 40th album this week called Spirit In The Room. It was released last May in England and has finally gained a release stateside. It is also the second “mortality” album he’s released in a row.

The “mortality album” occurs when a rapidly aging heritage artist is matched with a hip (younger) producer, who in this case is Ethan Johns. (Johns was also at the helm for his last “mortality album” Praise And Blame.) The producer acts as a mentor to the artist and curates the record by choosing the songs that not only will give the artist credibility with the young in-tune hipsters, but will also connect with the original fan base who are also getting older and can totally relate to, you guessed it, a “mortality” album.

Johnny Cash practically invented the genre with the series of late career American Recordings records he made with producer/Svengali Rick Rubin. With each release, his voice became weaker and weaker, while he just became cooler and cooler. Glen Campbell has released several “mortality” records also under the tutelage of producers Julian Raymond and Howard Willing. Both records have given him the kind of credibility he can happily retire on. In the case of Tom Jones, he still has all of his faculties, and still has one of the most thrilling and powerful voices ever.

Crucially, a “mortality” album must have a list of songs by “hipster approved” songwriters like Leonard Cohen, whose “Tower Of Song” kicks off this album, Tom Waits who provides the title track from his latest album “Bad As Me,” Bob Dylan’s Modern Times track “When The Deal Goes Down” (which is arranged here like a Tom Waits recording), the Richard and Linda Thompson classic “Dimming Of The Day,” Paul McCartney’s “(I Want To) Come Home” which he wrote for the 2009 film Everybody’s Fine and Today’s Song Of The Day “Just Dropped In.”

“Just Dropped In” is also known as “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Is In).” It was written by the late, great Mickey Newbury and it put Kenny Rogers on the map by providing his band The First Edition with their biggest hit in the late 1960s. It is also, by far the standout track on this album. Jones makes this classic his own, in spite of Ethan Johns doing his best Mark Ribot imitation on the guitar on an arrangement that sounds like it’s fallen off of a Tom Waits album.

I don’t think the whole “mortality” route is the way to go for Tom Jones. It’s too austere, and he’s much too vital to be giving us an end of career/end of life album. I also don’t think it’s going to get him the late career renaissance he’s probably looking for either. But if you are a fan of Tom Jones, there are several highlights to be found on Spirit In The Room, like today’s Song Of The Day “Just Dropped In,” the Blind Willie Johnson classic “Soul Of A Man” and the self-penned Traveling Shoes, with only a few real clinkers in the bunch. And, most importantly, they are all sung with passion and soul to burn.

Edited: April 29th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 4/29/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – T. Rex Live At Empire Pool, Wembley 3-18-72

I’ve just gotta say wow! I love youtube. It’s a place where all your musical dreams come true. Where else can you go and find a super crisp, super clean 68 minute concert in its entirety by Marc Bolan and T. Rex from 1972. Where has this film been all my life?

I’ll tell you where it’s been…it’s been in Ring Starr’s closet…or wherever he stores his aging tins of film. No doubt, it was tied up in litigation sometime in its past because it was filmed by The Beatles’ Apple Films, and everything that company touched back in the day, turned to litigation.

The entire 68 minute early show from Empire Pool in Wembley London was filmed by Ringo Starr on March 18, 1972. Ringo was capturing footage for the film Born To Boogie, and indeed clips from this concert appear in the film. But here it is, the real deal! T. Rex consisting of Marc Bolan on guitar and vocals, Mickey Finn on percussion, Bill Legend on drums and Steve Currie on bass in all their high-flying glory for a full concert.

What a tune stack! “Jeepster,” “Spaceball Ricochet,” “Cosmic Dancer,” Telegram Sam,” “Hot Love,” “Baby Strange,” “(Bang A Gong) Get It On,” “Summertime Blues”…all captured on filmed during the band’s prime, between the time they released Electric Warrior and The Slider. I’ve said it before, and it looks like I’m gonna say it again…it really doesn’t get any better than this.

If you’ve got the time, it’s well worth a viewing.

Edited: April 28th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 4/28/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Sucker” by Mott The Hoople       

Mott The Hoople were a British pub rock group consisting of Ian Hunter on vocals, guitar and piano, Mick Ralphs on guitar and vocals, Verden Allen on organ and vocals, Pete Overend Watts on bass and  Dale “Buffin” Griffin on drums. By 1972, the band had released four poorly received albums and was ready to throw in the towel.

Enter David Bowie to the rescue!

Bowie was much too big a fan of the band to let them call it quits, so he urged them to glam up their image, offered to produce their next album, set them up with Tony Defries and MainMan management and gave a new song to them called “Suffragette City” as the album’s first single. Ian Hunter and company weren’t to keen on “Suffragette City,” so Bowie quickly wrote another song for them to record called “All The Young Dudes,” resulting in their biggest hit and the title cut for their next album.

All The Young Dudes opens with a cover of The Velvet Underground classic “Sweet Jane,” which was written by Lou Reed who would soon also jump onto the glam wagon after benefitting from a Bowie makeover. His Bowie-produced 1972 album Transformer yielded the huge hit “Walk On The Wild Side.” Mott had never heard the original version of “Sweet Jane” and learned if from Bowie right before committing it to tape

The band’s songwriting really came into its own here, and some of Mott’s greatest rockers including “One Of The Boys,” “Mama’s Little Jewel,” “Jerkin’ Crocus” and today’s Song Of The Day, “Sucker” – a raunchy S&M rocker and clearly the albums best song – have all become Mott classics.

Guitarist Mick Ralphs wrote “Ready For Love,” and later took the song with him when he left to form Bad Company. The song was one of the highlights of Bad Company’s debut album. “Soft Ground” was written and sung by Verden Allen who left the group shortly after recording Dudes, and the album’s closer “Sea Diver” featured a string arrangement courtesy of Bowie sideman and Spiders From Mars guitarist, Mick Ronson.

The band toured opening for Aerosmith in support of the album and enlisted ex-Spooky Tooth guitarist Luther Grosvenor to join them. They renamed him Ariel Bender, with “Bender” being British slang for homosexual. They also totally glammed up their style by wearing high platform shoes and feminine clothing on stage.

While All The Young Dudes was the album that saved Mott The Hoople from obscurity, the band’s follow up record called Mott was actually their greatest achievement.

Fun fact: The melody of the song “Move On” from Bowie’s 1979 album Lodger, was written by reversing the melody of “All The Young Dudes.”

Edited: April 27th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 4/27/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Lovely Rita” by The Beatles

I just heard The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band for the first time today!

Well, that’s not entirely true. I’ve been listening to this record since it was new. I guess that’s one of the big positives of having older siblings, you got to hear cool records when they came out, way before your peer group caught on to them.

I’ve been reading the Howard Kaylan biography Shell Shocked which was written by Kaylan and Jeff Tamarkin. Howard Kaylan was a member of The Turtles and The Mother’s Of Invention. He was also Eddie of Flo & Eddie. So far, the book is a great read with numerous first person accounts of historic musical moments, a real page turner!

Kaylan tells the story of The Turtles’ first visit to England in 1967 when their hit “Happy Together” was riding high on the charts. No sooner had the band arrived at their hotel, they received a call from Graham Nash, then of The Hollies, who invited the group over to his house for a little “refreshment.” While visiting, Nash pulls out a reel-to-reel tape of The Beatles’ forthcoming Sgt. Pepper album. Kaylan proceeds to tell about that game changing first listen, and the seismic impact the record had on him and everything that came after it. The story continues with Nash taking them to a swingin’ London club for an audience with The Fabs (at least three of them) that went awry because John Lennon was being a prick.

Inspired by Kaylan’s story, I tried an experiment on my way to work today. I cued up Sgt. Pepper on my iPod and tried to listen to the record as if it were the first time I’d ever heard it. In my mind, I wiped away the impact the record had on everything that came after, and proceeded to attempt to experience the record as if it was the first time I’d ever heard it.

It was impossible to do. Too much baggage, too many lyrics ingrained in my memory, too much life lived with this record for it to sound truly brand new.

What I did get from my experiment was a newfound appreciation for how it really was one of the most groundbreaking records of the time, and for that matter all time. With its segued songs and symphonic sequencing, use of recording techniques and layers upon layers of sound, plus its distinctive front cover graphics that begged hours of study and the inclusion of lyrics on the back, it really is a special record from a very special time in history.

That said, it was never my favorite Beatles record, but after 46 years the record still remains fresh and unique. Its inventiveness remains stunning. So what more can I possibly say about this record that hasn’t been said before? Absolutely nothing, except if you haven’t visited its wonderment in awhile, it’s high time you did.

Edited: April 26th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 4/26/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “I Was Kaiser Bill’s Batman” by Whistling Jack Smith

Whistler’s brother?

Actually, no. Then who was Whistling Jack Smith, and why is his sole hit from 1967 haunting me?

I played an album of British Invasion hits released on the Parrot Record label from the late ‘60s before I went to work this morning. When this song came on, my ears quickly perked up. Although I recognized the recording, I hadn’t heard it in years and didn’t even know who it was or what it was called. Ever since then, this little ear worm has ceased to leave me alone.

The song was initially titled “Too Much Birdseed” and was written by Roger Cook and Roger Greenway. It was renamed “I Was Kaiser Bill’s Batman” and was recorded by Whistling Jack Smith (a play on the name of 1920s singer “Whispering” Jack Smith). Cook and Greenaway went on to greater fame as the songwriters of the Hollies’ smash hit “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress.”

So who exactly was Whistling Jack Smith? That’s where our story gets a little convoluted, because the artist known as Whistling Jack Smith was actually two people…or maybe even three…

The actual whistler on the record was alleged to be trumpeter John O’Neill. O’Neill was known for famously provided the whistling on Ennio Morricone’s theme to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, as well as for singing the theme to the TV show, Wagon Train under the name Johnny O’Neill. I say allegedly because it is also believed that Noel Walker, who was a record producer for the British Deram record label, was the guy who did the actual whistling on the record. Nevertheless, no one seems to really want to cop to the deed, so let’s just move on.

So we don’t really know who did the actual whistling on the record, but we do know that the smiling guy on the cover of the sole Whistling Jack Smith album was Billy Moeller. Moeller went by the stage name of Coby Wells, and it is he who lip-synched (or whistle-synched) the song on this clip from the TV show The Beat Club. Moeller was also a roadie for British one-hit-wonders, Unit 4+2 who scored a hit on these shores with “Concrete And Clay” in 1965. His brother, Tommy was also a member of the group.

To further confuse things, the Batman of the song’s title is not the comic strip character, but rather is the term the British use for a military valet.

Upon its release, the single shot up to number 20 on the Billboard charts in America. Although four additional singles and an LP were released under the name of Whistling Jack Smith, nothing was ever heard from him again.

Edited: April 25th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 4/25/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Never Run Away” by Kurt Vile

Kurt Vile’s lo-fi bedroom records from the past have given way to a more produced sound on his latest record called Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze.  While some of the edges have been smoothed out production-wise, the songwriting is as sharp as ever on his most assured collection yet, as he comes to terms with balancing life on the road and raising a family at home.

Vile is married and has two young children and more than on any of his previous albums, the overriding theme of homesickness pops up time and time again. Both “Pure Pain” – “well I want to be with you (when can I?) / I don’t know, well I’m workin’” and “Snowflakes Are Dancing” – “when I’m away out there/ I wanna go home/ when I am home/ my head stays out there,” touch on dealing with the rootless experience of touring versus the stability of family and home.

On the song “Too Hard,” Vile proclaims “I will promise not to smoke too much and/ I will promise not to party too hard” as a pledge of responsibility while away, then a few songs later on “Shame Chamber” he seems to do an about face; “It’s just another day / in the shame chamber / livin’ life to the lowest power / feelin’ bad, in the best way a man can.”

The album opens with a snoozy wake-up call “Waking On A Pretty Day.” There’s no rush in getting things going over this song’s nearly ten minute duration, while crystalline guitar work bolsters come-what-may lyrics like “I gotta think about what wisecracks/ I’m gonna drop along the way today.” And just when you begin to settle into the relaxed pace of the track, Vile jars us into reality with an appropriated riff from Deep Purple’s “Woman From Tokyo,” announcing one of the album’s few rockers “KV Crimes.”

Vile is an artist that gets put into the lo-fi stoner bag due to his oh, so groovy long-haired appearance, and the fuzzy dreamscapes and mumbled vocals that dominate his recordings. But this record has real production value courtesy of John Agnello who also produced Vile’s last platter. So while he may not be able to fully shake the stoner label sonically, he does come right out and address the issue on the album’s pastoral sun-soaked ten minute closer “Goldtone”  –  “Sometimes when I get in my zone / you’d think I was stoned / but I never as they say ‘touch that stuff… I might be adrift but I’m still alert/ Concentrate my hurt into a gold tone.”

Vile’s band, The Violators is now down to a trio consisting of multi-instrumentalists Jesse Trbovich and Rob Laakso due to the amicable departure of Vile’s longtime War On Drugs collaborator Adam Granduciel. They will be joined by drummer Vince Nudo and guitarist Steve Gunn on their upcoming tour in May. Today’s Song Of The Day, “Never Run Away” is the also the album’s first single.

Edited: April 24th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 4/24/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Pocket Full Of Rain” by Steve Earle & The Dukes (& Duchesses)

Steve Earle is an American Storyteller, poet and novelist, and his brand new album is certainly his best and most varied since Transcendental Blues, which came out almost 20 years ago.

Recording with his crack live band, The Dukes (& The Duchesses) consisting of Chris Masterson on guitar, Eleanor Whitmore on violin, Kelley Looney on bass, Will Rigby on drums, singer Allison Moorer on piano and Siobhan Kennedy on vocals, makes all the difference in the world here. There’s electricity that crackles through the grooves on The Low Highway that could only come from a group of musicians who’ve moved from stage to stage throughout the world living their lives on the road together.

Earle also had the good sense to ditch T. Bone Burnett from the production chair of his last album, in favor of his Twang Trust buddy Ray Kennedy. Burnette’s oh so tasteful modus opperandi in the studio smoothed out all of Earle’s raw edges until all personality had been sucked out of the recording. What we ended up with, in essence, was Earle’s flattest sounding record ever. In contrast, the Twang Trust production sounds alive and crackling with energy.

The Lone Highway opens with the one-two punch of the title ballad, which is a stark travelogue of people and places that quickly fly by the windshield over miles of endless road. It also pretty much lays out this record’s statement of purpose – “Travelin’ out on the low highway/Three thousand miles to the ‘Frisco bay.” It is then followed by the blazing rocker “Calico County,” with its half-spit lyrics and Stonesy guitar riffs – “Born in a double wide out behind the county dump / Mama never told me why daddy didn’t live with us / Only picture I had he’s climbin’ on a prison bus / Stencil on his back said Calico County.” Both songs open the door for the litany of aimless characters that follow.

Throughout Earle shares tales of transient characters with dead end lives moving forward but getting nowhere. “Burnin’ It Down” finds a restless character sitting behind the wheel of his car pondering whether to burn the local Wal-Mart down because “Nothin’s ever gonna be the same in this town.” And the album’s first single “Invisible” includes this lyric “I’m taking my time but I ain’t slow / ‘Cause it ain’t like I got anyplace else to go,” while “Down The Road, Pt. 2” has a character “Standin’ on the highway with the road burnin’ through my shoes / Roll over Kerouac and tell Woody Guthrie the news / Heard it said there ain’t nothin’ ahead but I don’t know / Down the road I go.”

Three of Highway’s tunes come from the HBO series Tremé, in which Earle had a recurring role. In the show, “Is That All You Got?” was performed by violinist/actress Lucia Micarelli with The Red Stick Ramblers, here we have Earle’s take on the tune. Micarelli also co-wrote the other two Tremé tunes “Love’s Gonna Blow My Way” and “After Mardi Gras.” They both had such chemistry on the TV screen, it’s a shame we don’t get a taste of it on the record.

Alison Moorer’s piano drives today’s Song Of The Day, “Pocket Full Of Rain,” another tale of the down trodden – “Ain’t like it’s been easy / I been up and down / and lately I can’t seem to keep / My chin up off the ground.” The song has a straight-from-A-Charlie-Brown-Christmas piano sound and is one of the finest songs Earle has ever committed to vinyl.

“Warren Hellman’s Banjo” is a bluegrass homage to the founder of the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival in San Francisco, and elsewhere, “21st Century Blues” mingles the incredulity of the state of the world, with hope for the future – “We stand now on the verge of history / The world can be anything that we want it to be / Where there’s a will there’s a way; where there’s a fire there’s a spark / Out in the streets downtown in the park / Maybe the future’s just waitin’ on you and me In the 21st century.”

The album’s final track, “Remember Me” channels the sense of loss felt raising a family while being on drugs and on the road. It’s a clear-eyed dedication to getting it right this time around, realizing that nobody’s getting any younger – “You’re lookin’ at me I’m lookin’ at you / And it’s everything a grown man can do / Not to break down and cry like a fool / When you smile at me / I can only hope I do my best / With whatever time that we got left / And when everything’s done and said / You’ll remember me.”

It’s an album that finds Steve Earle rejuvenated with his trusty backing band who are ready and willing to rock the world on tour. These songs will only get better on stage.

Edited: April 23rd, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 4/23/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Chances Are” by Johnny Mathis

Fluff piece…or Pure Pop For Then People…

Smooth and intimate. Those are adjectives you don’t hear that often to describe much of the music being made today. But there was a time when smooth and intimate was the basis for an entire genre of music. I’m talking about Pop Music. Pop music of the pre-rock era. Pop music your mom and pop listened to. Real pop music, Mitch Miller Pop, Ray Conniff Pop, like that of unforgettable singers like Doris Day, Bobby Vinton, Rosemary Clooney, Tony Bennett and, of course Johnny Mathis.

Sure, there were numerous, more accomplished vocalists back then too, vocalists who worked with some of the finest jazz players and arrangers of the day. Singers like Ella, Nat Cole, Frankie, Mel Tormé, Carmen McRae, et al. But, with the exception of Sinatra, they really didn’t rule the airwaves.

So, if Michael Jackson was the King of Pop of the ’80s and beyond, then Johnny Mathis was his predecessor, the king of late 1950s and early 1960s pop.

“Chances Are” was written by the songwriting team of Robert Allen and Al Stillman. They were the same team that also wrote Mathis’ “It’s Not For Me To Say,” The Four Lads’ “Moments To Remember,”
“No Not Much” and “Enchanted Island,” and the holiday classic “Home For The Holidays.”

It’s all pillow talk from Mathis. The first thing that gets you is the fabulous echo-laden sound that puts the listener smack dab in the middle of cloud nine, provided courtesy of producer Mitch Miller. Then there’s the piano, gently caressing and embellishing the melody. But it all wouldn’t mean a hill of beans if it wasn’t for the gossamer-smooth Mathis magic on the vocals. “Chances Are” is one of the iconic records of the late 1950s. It’s a heavenly slice of pop production and much more than just a great song, it’s a great record. It’s the culmination of songwriting craft, performance and production that creates the whole sonic picture, and makes this record one for the ages.

When released as a single back in 1957, “Chances Are” soared all the way to the number four spot on the charts, while its flip side, “The Twelfth Of Never” also became a big hit.

Edited: April 22nd, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 4/22/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Walkin’ The Dog” by Grateful Dead/Record Store Day Recap

I’m a dyed in the wool, straight up record collector. I’ve been collecting records for more than 40 years and my thirst for music is pretty much insatiable.

Today, I got totally played on by “the man.” I’m talking about “the man” who presses the records I buy. The man that I help keep relevant by going back to the tap and sipping in new music in all different formats. It gives me pleasure and enjoyment.

By now, record labels fully how to push record collector buttons to get me back into the record store. They’ve turned record buying into a holiday, an event that I literally totally buy into. All the buzz words are fully at play here: “limited edition,” “180 gram,” “colored vinyl,” “MONO,” “previously unreleased,” I’m a total sucker for all of the above. It’s much more than my love for the music; it’s also the appreciation of great sounding physical product.

So, Record Store Day (RSD) comes twice a year, once in April, and once on Black Friday in November. The Black Friday RSD is a recent addition, and judging by the turnout last November, is here to stay. Today was the seventh RSD, and while this is only the fourth I’ve participated in, I do find myself getting exciting, and yes sometimes a little apprehensive, about getting the titles I’m interested in as I begin to drink in the hype well in advance of RSD.

I go to this store in Barrington, Illinois called Rainbow Records. This morning, I got there at 8:15 and found my place in line was already at 13. The store is just the kind of record store I like, a great selection of used records at reasonable (for retail) prices, and a well-curated selection of new releases by longtime owner, John Thominet. Thominet is the fifth owner of Rainbow which has been around since the 1970s. Thominet is also the kind of guy who fosters community around him which breeds a great atmosphere to hang out in.

My wife, who tolerates all of this nonsense (and has done so for years), gamely went with me for the ride although she stayed in the car where it was warm and enjoyed the parade of males before her, all of paunch and receding hairlines, including of course, me in line. However, there were plenty of younger people in line as well. It was a cool enough group of people. We all swapped war stories about record collection and past RSD and what we were hoping to add to our collections.

I did very well. I was most interested in obtaining the Grateful Dead’s 2 LP Rare Cuts & Oddities 1966. The album was originally released over ten years ago through the band’s distribution channel as a limited edition CD only, and it has long been out of print. I love 1966 Grateful Dead. Garcia was a much different guitar player back then. He was a far more conventional and played much harder then, but boy he sure could ramble. It was far different than the type of fluid/noodling kind of jamming he ended up doing. The material on this album is all stellar too. Lots of organ-drenched covers including rare studio demos and alternate takes of “Good Lovin,” “Walking The Dog,” “Silver Threads And Golden Needles,” and very early versions of “Not Fade Away” and “Promised Land” (with Jerry on vocals instead of Bob)that never ever left their repertoire.

I also picked up a couple of the Miles Davis reissues today. I originally purchased most of my Miles vinyl in college during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s when I worked in record stores. At the time they were only selling re-channeled fake stereo pressings of the albums Milestones and Round About Midnight. It never really bothered me; it was the only way I knew the records until they were properly reissued on CD many years later. So today, I picked up MONO 180g individually numbered pressings of both records. I listened to them in their entirety this afternoon at a pretty nice volume and, I’m here to say, that these records have never sounded better. The bass on this pressing is so vivid, it generates an energy that just couldn’t be felt on my old pressings of these two classic albums.

I also got several other albums by the likes of The White Stripes (Elephant), Flaming Lips (Zaireeka), Shuggie Otis (Introducing) and also some cool singles by Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Frank Zappa and Pink Floyd.

Yup, I got played by “the man.” I took the bait like catnip, and I’m happy I did. I’ll write about some of these other records as I ingest them, so stay tuned.

Edited: April 22nd, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 4/21/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Oh Yeah” by Foxygen

When I recently went to see Unknown Mortal Orchestra play in Chicago, the opening act was their Jagjaguwar label mates Foxygen. I had never heard of them before, however I must say that not only was I duly impressed enough to delve further into their oeuvre, but there were probably more people there to see them than UMO who were the headliners.

Foxygen is a California duo consisting of Jonathan Rado and Sam France who formed in 2005. Although they are a duo, the band adds several members including vocalist Elizabeth Fey when touring.

The group self-released six EPs, between 2005 and 2011 and got their big boost by handing their (at the time) just recorded EP Take The Kids Off Broadway to producer and Shins member, Richard Swift at one of his shows, not knowing if he would listen to it or toss it in the dustbin on his way out of the venue. Not only did he listen to it, he also agreed to produce and perform on their record.

Their sound is a thoroughly modern take on ‘60s psychedelia, infusing Kinks inspired melodies buried under a barrage of Velvet Underground drone with a hint of Bowie-Rex glam. Their second full-length album, We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace & Magic is chock full of interesting non-sequitor lyrics and plush melodies that are undercut with energy and drive.

The album is an embarrassment of well-written riches including tracks like “Oh Yeah” with its “Mambo Sun” stop-start rhythms and jivey Bolan-esque vocals with rewarding lyrical couplets like “I’ve got a movie playing in my mind / I’ve got some money but it isn’t mine / And if you wanna be a bummer, take a number / Baby, get in line,” that make you think and smile with admiration at the same time. Elsewhere, “Shuggie,” the record’s first single, finds the band in a Paul McCartney moment, shape-shifting all over the place in its three minutes from funk to rock to melodic AM radio sing-a-long.

The quasi-religious “On Blue Mountain” unapologetically lifts the melody of Elvis Presley’s “Suspicious Minds” and finds Sam France channeling Bob Dylan in the vocal department while singing “On Blue Mountain / God will save us/ Put the pieces back together.”

“San Francisco” seems to have fallen off of an electric Kool Aid truck fully formed with a call and response chorus that gravitates between the pie-eyed naiveté of the sixties sifted through the lens of today’s WTF generation.

All in all, We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace & Magic is a record that really gets under your skin after repeated spins, and is well worth the investment in time and money to check it out. They will be performing again in the Chicago area this summer at the Pitchfork Music Festival. I will definitely be there!

Edited: April 21st, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 4/20/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Chicken Fat” by Robert Preston

It’s “Poultry in motion!” (Sadly, I didn’t write this line but it was too great to pass up.)

How many of you remember this gem from the early 1960s? Even though I was only one year old when this record was released to public schools across the nation, I distinctly remember exercising to this song in gym class when I was in grade school. “Go you Chicken Fat, Go Away!”

Childhood obesity is nothing new. Even though the problem has risen to epidemic proportions, it was an issue in America as early as the late 1950s.

Enter Chicken Fat to save the day!

In the late 1950s, an international study found that American children were far less fit than children from other countries. In response, President Dwight D. Eisenhower created the President’s Council on Youth Fitness. During the 1960 Presidential election, John F. Kennedy made physical fitness an integral part of his campaign. While on the campaign trail, he wrote an article for Sports Illustrated called The Soft American which spelled out his proposed fitness program.

When Kennedy got into office, Physical Fitness for America’s youth was a very high priority: “We’re in a war with two great nations. Not a shooting war, but we’re at war with China and Russia. If we cannot do something to improve the physical fitness of Americans, then, as history has proven, in fifty years we will not be able to compete with these societies.” (John F. Kennedy) And as we know today, Kennedy was absolutely prescient on this topic. To that end, Kennedy chose Bud Wilson, the football coach from the University of Oklahoma to be the first Physical Fitness Consultant to the President.

Around this time, Meredith Wilson’s musical The Music Man was a smash Broadway hit starring Robert Preston as Professor Henry Hill. The musical included such Meredith-penned standards as “76 Trombones,” “Goodnight My Someone” and “Till There Was You.”

Upon hearing about Kennedy’s program, Meredith Wilson offered to write an exercise song completely free of charge to help, and Robert Preston agreed to sing it. Wilson consulted with Physical Fitness Council director Ted Forbes, to ensure that the song would provide a good workout and came up with today’s Song Of The Day, Chicken Fat.

Since Capitol Records was riding high on the charts with the Original Cast Recording of The Music Man, they agreed to provide their musicians, chorus and recording studios to record the song. Crucially, they also provided their distribution network, shipping over three million copies of the record to public schools across the country, completely free of charge.

There were two versions of the song recorded for the 7-inch, 33 1/3 RPM small-holed single. One version ran over six and a half minutes and featured eleven different exercises, including push-ups, sit-ups, jumping jacks, toe touches and marching in place. The flip side was a two-minute “Disk Jockey” version, that was edited for radio and television use.

After being out of print for close to 40 years, an updated version was released in 2000 by Bernie Knee who was a part-time cantor and commercial jingle singer. That recording is still a popular favorite in schools today.

Edited: April 20th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 4/19/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Most People” by Dawes

Dawes make musical catnip circa 1976 for Mumford-loving, aging boomers who are desperately trying to stay musically relevant, while never ever leaving their musical comfort zone. And along with Fleet Foxes, Dawes have created a sound that is grounded in well-written songs, hummable melodies, plush harmonies and poetic lyrics that are chock full of credibility, offering a welcome relief from the jingoistic sing-a-long fare provided by musical peers like Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers who dominate the charts these days with their brand of feel-good pep rally music.

Too bad it isn’t 1976, for if it was, Dawes’ latest album Stories Don’t End would be selling like hotcakes standing head and shoulders tall next to records by The Eagles, Crosby Stills & Nash, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Jackson Browne. (While we’re name checking Jackson Browne, it should be noted that Dawes vocalist Taylor Goldsmith, is Browne’s vocal twin on this record.) While it’s tempting to say that Dawes’ retro sound is pure mimicry, the Goldsmith brothers’ seventies-centric songwriting was no doubt partially informed by their musician father, Lenny Goldsmith who was a member of bands Sweathog and Tower of Power during the 1970s. That said, the music that brothers Taylor (guitars and vocals), and Griffin Goldsmith (drums), Wylie Gelber (bass) and Tay Strathairn (keyboards) make is certainly worthy of a wider audience.

But first a little history…

After the group Simon Dawes abandoned their modern post punk sound for folk rock, they changed their name to just plain Dawes and became part of a Laurel Canyon, California jamming collective that also included Conor Oberst (aka Bright Eyes), Bentmont Tench of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers and Chris Robinson of The Black Crowes. These informal jams informed the recording of their well-received 2009 debut album North Hills. More non-stop touring ensued followed by a second album called Nothing Is Wrong that appeared in 2011 and peaked at #23 on the album charts.

Dawes recently released their third album in five years, and like any good Neil Young album, Stories Don’t End begins and ends with versions of the same song; in this case the song is “Just Beneath The Surface.” It also serves as somewhat of a mission statement – “Just beneath the surface, there’s another one of me / At the root of all my trouble, in the twitch before I speak,”- as if to say that if you scratch beneath the surface, there’s much more to this record than its mid-seventies sound.

The very poppy “Hey Lover” sounds as it if came flying off of a Loggins And Messina album, and probably would have topped the charts back in the day. The song was written by ex-Simon Dawes band mate, Blake Mills who supplies the clever couplet “I want to raise with you, and watch our younglings hatch / Fucking make the first letters of their first names match.”

Today’s Song of the Day is told from the perspective of a young girl who is an outsider but desperately wants to fit in, and is one of a few songs on the record with guitar teeth. The album’s first single “From A Window Seat,” supplies lyrics about air travel from the perspective of a window seat, and glides along on a percolating bass line courtesy of Wylie Gelber and a Stills-esque guitar solo from Taylor Goldsmith.

It’s not all living in the past on Stories Don’t End, for this record they worked with producer Jacquire King (Kings of Leon, Norah Jones, Tom Waits) and expanded and updated their sonic pallet to include elements of Dire Straits and My Morning Jacket. Baby steps they are, but on a record as solid as this one, why try to fix what isn’t broken.

Edited: April 18th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 4/18/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Lightning Bolt” by Jake Bugg

Things you need to know about Jake Bugg…

  1. He’s not a young Dylan. There was only one young Dylan and he’s not young anymore.
  2. He’s not a New Dylan. You can choose everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Elvis Costello to Beck to fill in the blank, none of them were new Dylans, and neither is Jake Bugg. Jake Bugg is, well, Jake Bugg.
  3. Although he was dubbed the “East Midlands Bob Dylan” early on, he’s not that guy either.
  4. Dylan was barely an influence – “Bob Dylan’s cool, you know, he’s great, but he’s not a major influence.” – Jake Bugg. Besides, if you want to play spot the influence, you could say he sounds more like Donovan than Dylan anyway, and you can hear echoes of The Beatles and Johnny Cash in there too.
  5. If you’re looking for an influence, look no further than Don McLean’s single “Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)” as broadcasted on an episode of The Simpsons. Bugg says that was his formative musical moment.
  6. Bugg is not an affected made up name. His real name is Jacob Edward Kennedy, but his father’s last name is actually Bugg.
  7. His hair style spells Bieber; everything else about him spells credibility.
  8. He was chosen by the BBC to appear on their “Introducing” stage at the 2011 Glastonbury Festival at the age of 17. This appearance resulted in him being signed to Mercury Records.
  9. When his debut album was released in England last October, it shot all the way to the top of the charts. The album’s single, “Two Fingers” climbed to number 28.
  10. Today’s Song Of The Day was played at the London 2012 Olympic games during the buildup to the 100m Men’s Final.
  11. Bugg was nominated for a 2012 Brit Award in the category “British Breakthrough Act.” He lost out to Ben Howard. (Who the heck is Ben Howard?)
  12. Bugg’s debut album is one of the best records to be released this year. It includes the soon-to-be-classics “Broken,” “Slide,” “Two Fingers” and “Seen It All,” among its fourteen track tune stack.
  13. Although, there is a tendency to place him in the same category as such folk revivalists as Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers, he’s way better and way different than both.

Edited: April 17th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 4/17/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Knocking ‘Round The Zoo” by James Taylor

It is indeed a fascinating story as to how a singer songwriter from America who was recovering from heroin addiction came to the attention of The Beatles in 1968, leading to the release of the first album by an American artist on their newly-christened Apple record label.

James Taylor came from a wealthy family and grew up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina where he learned to play cello and then guitar. The family vacationed in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts during the summers where he first met Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar at the age of 14. Even at their young age, Kootch realized that Taylor’s singing and songwriting were indeed something special. The two began gigging together in folk clubs under the name Jamie and Kootch.

Taylor had a hard time dealing with the pressure of attending college prep school, resulting in his first bout with depression issues. He checked himself into the McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts where he wrote many of the songs that would figure into his first proper album while recovering.

Upon leaving McLean, Kortchmar urged Taylor to move to New York City where they formed a band called The Flying Machine and began playing many of the songs that would later turn up on Taylor’s debut album, including “Knocking ’Round The Zoo,” “Something’s Wrong,” “Night Owl” and “Brighten Your Night With My Day.”

While in New York, The Flying Machine frequently played at the Greenwich Village nightclub, The Night Owl Café that ultimately inspired Taylor’s song “Night Owl.” Taylor also began to become involved in the seedier side of New York City life and got hooked on heroin which inspired the song “Rainy Day Man.”

In New York, the band came to the attention of Chip Taylor who agreed to record them for the Jay Gee record label which was a subsidiary of Jubilee Records. After their first single, “Brighten Your Night With My Day”/”Night Owl” failed to chart higher than number 102, Jay Gee decided to shelve the band’s recordings which were later released in 1971 as James Taylor And The Original Flying Machine. After bottoming out in New York City from his heroin addiction, Taylor’s father came to retrieve him and he returned home for six months, spending more time in rehab before deciding to move to London in 1967 to try his hand as a solo artist.

In the meantime, Kortchmar became good friends with Peter Asher (of Peter And Gordon) after his band The King Bees opened for Peter And Gordon on tour. It was through Kortchmar’s connection with Peter Asher that James Taylor was able to fly onto The Beatles’ radar. At the time, Asher was head of artists and repertoire for The Beatles’ newly formed Apple record label. Taylor sought Kortchmar out a few days after arriving in London, and an audition was scheduled. Asher was duly impressed and introduced Taylor to Paul McCartney. After winning McCartney’s approval, Taylor became the first non-British act signed to Apple, and he began recording his first proper album at the same time that The Beatles’ were working on The White Album.

During the sessions which also featured ex-Flying Machine drummer Joel “Bishop” O’Brien, Paul McCartney brought in noted jazz arranger and trumpeter, Richard Hewson to orchestrate many of the links that tie the songs together, creating a unique listening experience.

Paul McCartney and George Harrison guested on the song “Carolina On My Mind” which was the album’s first single. One of the other songs recorded for the album was “Something In The Way She Moves” that provided George Harrison with the inspiration for his song “Something,” which later topped the charts for The Beatles. Taylor also wrote and recorded an early version of “Fire And Rain” for the record, but the recording was ultimately rejected by Peter Asher. This version still remains unreleased.

Today’s Song Of The Day was one of the songs specifically written about his stay at McLean Hospital, and it features a superb swingin’ sixties horn chart. While the lyrics of the song are dead serious – “Just knocking around the zoo on a Thursday afternoon, There’s bars on all the windows and they’re counting up the spoons, yeah. And if I’m feeling edgy, there’s a chick who’s paid to be my slave, yeah, watch out James. But she’ll hit me with a needle If she thinks I’m trying to misbehave” – Taylor’s sly delivery and use of slang is most humorous.

For all of the drama surrounding the back story of the creation of the album, it did feature many lyrically upbeat songs including “Sunshine, Sunshine,” “Taking It In,” “Brighten Your Night With My Day” and “Circle Around The Sun.”

Taylor relapsed into full-blown heroin addition during the sessions for the album and returned back to the states checking himself back into rehab before the album’s release. Meanwhile, Apple released the album and the single “Carolina On My Mind” which both performed poorly on the charts, partially due to Taylor’s inability to promote it.

As Apple Records began to crumble under the weight of its high ideals, a power struggle developed between Allen Klein who was brought in by Lennon, Harrison and Starr to clean things up, and Peter Asher was ultimately forced out. When Asher left, he agreed to take on the management of James Taylor, ending the artist’s relationship with the label.

Shortly thereafter, Taylor was in a motorcycle accident in which he broke both hands and both feet, sidelining his career for months. While recuperating, Taylor wrote many of the songs that would make up his breakthrough album Sweet Baby James, which led to a new record deal with Warner Bros., and ultimate superstardom.

Edited: April 16th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 4/16/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Careers In Combat” by Parquet Courts

I love the Pitchfork Music Festival. It’s my one opportunity per year to feel a little ahead of the curve when it comes to discovering new music. Attending the festival gives me bragging rights about getting the chance to see bands before they make it big.

Pitchfork is also the most user friendly of all the music festivals. Its 30,000 capacity per day is much smaller than Lollapalooza, which maxes out at 100,000 each day. There are only two stages with music going at any given time, and since you don’t have to walk miles to get between them, you can easily sample six to ten bands each day.

My modus operandi toward Pitchfork is to listen to the many bands on the bill that I’ve never heard of on Spotify well in advance, so by the time the festival rolls around, I’ll have a pretty good idea of who I want to see. With the lineup announced and the festival several months away, I’ve already found one must see band.

Parquet Courts formed in Brooklyn in 2010, around Andrew Savage (guitar, vocals) and Austin Brown (guitar) who were members of the band Fergus And Geronimo. After recording several F&G records, they relocated from Texas to Brooklyn and recruited Sean Yeaton on bass and Max Savage (Andrew’s brother) on drums. Their first record, American Specialties was self-released on cassette in 2010. It was followed last year by their first full length album, Light Up Gold.

With 15 songs in just a little over 35 minutes, Parquet Courts create tightly wound jangly post punk song bursts that cover such topics as stonerism, joblessness, munchies, stonerism, girlfriends and even more munchies. Like Guided By Voices and They Might Be Giants before them, many of the songs on Light Up Gold clock in at just over a minute, yet they are very well written and fully formed.

On today’s Song Of The Day, vocalist Andrew Savage, who sounds like a cross between Stephen Malkmus (of Pavement) and Jonathan Richman (of The Modern Lovers), details the prospects for job security in this day and age, and quickly comes to the conclusion that the military is his only choice. While the song is born of the punk esthetic, it manages to make its point on a bed of rolling drums in just 67 seconds without histrionics.

But Parquet Courts’ sound is not all short bursts of adrenalin either. The band  proudly wears their sixties influences on their sleeve, particularly on the album’s centerpiece, “Stoned And Starving,” which clocks in at a little over five minutes and features a rambling guitar solo courtesy of Andrew Savage. Elsewhere, the pseudo-psychedelia of “Caster Of Worthless Spells” sounds like a long lost Mothers Of Invention outtake.

Light Up Gold is a riveting record full of hazy disenfranchised lyrics brought into sharp focus by the band’s succinct indie guitar laden tunes. It is also a record well worth checking out.

Edited: April 15th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 4/15/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Rip Off” by T. Rex

Here are Marc Bolan and company at their finest from the killer 1971 album “Electric Warrior.” Before Bowie there was Marc Bolan and while Bowie certainly surpassed him in popularity, Bolan’s influence was profound on making David Bowie the glam king he became in the early ’70s. It wasn’t a rip off…but this song is “Rip Off.”

Edited: April 14th, 2013

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

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Collide-A-Scope” by Todd Rundgren

I love Todd Rundgren. I’ve been a fan since the early 1970s, and at this point I don’t see that ever changing. Like Neil Young, Todd is one of the most mercurial artists who still makes interesting records in all sorts of genres mainly to please himself. That’s made for lots of experimentation along the way resulting in all different types of records like Beatles sound-alikes, samba reworking of older material, a record of Robert Johnson covers (called Todd Rundgren’ s Johnson, no less), rap and disco. So even when Rundgren doesn’t hit the ball out of the park, say on records like (re)Production and One Long Year, you can always count on at least taking an interesting ride.

Things must get awful claustrophobic all alone in that studio for Todd Rundgren, judging by the state of affairs on his new album State. It’s an album full of doctor visits, heart attacks, death, bummer relationships, a little bit of faith and a dash of party liquor to make things better.

Todd’s 24th studio effort features him alone in the studio playing everything on ten tracks in different states of heaviosity. The album’s opener “Imagination” begins with classic swirling synths circa 1974 Utopia, before morphing into Black Sabbath territory. The eight minute track features Rundgren’s statement of purpose for the album, “I am what I am…I don’t have a plan to sell myself…Every day’s the same old song…” Unfortunately he fulfills this purpose on a record that pays more attention to creating electronic soundscapes than on writing actual songs.

The first thing you notice is the expansive, thunderous electronic sound inherent in all of the tracks. The audio tracks are powerful and sound good when played loud, but they are almost completely devoid of any melody whatsoever. By the end of the ten tracks, you’ve been exhausted from being pounded into submission. If you’re a fan of the Philly soul Todd, the pop tunesmith Todd or the prog rock Todd, this isn’t going to be the album for you.

The overall sound of the record uses dubstep and EDM as a jumping off point, but by trying to keep up with these trends, Rundgren comes off sounding even more out of step, especially with the wood and strings revival taking place by the current crop of groups that are ruling the charts. And besides, Rundgren did electronica much better before there ever was dubstep.

The new album has more in common with Liars and The Individualist than any of his other records; however both records have songs with far more memorable melodies than this one. Today’s song of the day employs the same lyrical format as on “Happy Anniversary” from Liars, although it really doesn’t have anything much to say. Elsewhere, the song “Serious” comes off like a techno version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Crosstown Traffic,” and “Smoke” attempt to get things going on the dance floor, but ultimately fall a little flat.

State is also one of Todd’s most lyrically inane records, with songs whose sentiments travel from the misguided to the just plain senseless, especially on “Party Liquor,” one of the record’s weakest tracks. The rest of the songs try to make heavy comments on different states of the world, like “Angry Birds” and “Ping Me” which take on our phone-centric tech savvy lifestyles, although they really don’t say much at all.

Songs like “Something From Nothing,” “Sir Reality” and “In My Mouth” come closest to the Todd most people love the most in both feel and vocal style (and as a result are the best of the bunch), but they only provide a diversion from the claustrophobic electronics elsewhere.

To make matters worse, the deluxe version of the CD includes a second disc with a live performance from last November featuring the Metropole Orchestra backing Todd on such classics as “Another Life,” “Hello It’s Me,” “We Gotta Get You A Woman,” a gorgeous “Flamingo” from A Wizard A True Star, “Mammon,” “Fascist Christ,” several songs from Hermit Of Mink Hollow: “Can We Still Be Friends,” “Bag Lady” and “Fade Away,” several songs from 2nd Wind: “It I Have To Be Alone,” “Love In Disguise” and  “Love Science,” plus many others. Unfortunately, listening to this disc only puts how weak some of Rundgren’s new songs are into hard contrast.

So, Todd really has nothing to prove with State, as stated in the album’s very first song, and overall he does a good job at doing just that.

Edited: April 13th, 2013

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

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Where Life Begins” by Madonna

It’s a dirty little song…from a dirty little record!

“My name is Dita, I’ll be your mistress tonight…” so began Madonna’s fifth and most artistically accomplished record with this introduction from “Erotica,” its title track. In it, Madonna took on the alter ego of Dita which was inspired by 1930s actress Dita Parlo.

Erotica came out at a time when many people believe Madonna jumped the preverbal shark from overexposure, resulting from the simultaneous release of the record, an erotic picture book called Sex, a worldwide tour dubbed The Girlie Show and a role in the film Body of Evidence.

For me, Erotica signaled Madonna’s creative apex.

Much of the activity surrounding the release of Erotica stemmed from the formation of Madonna’s multi-media company which she based on Andy Warhol’s Factory. Maverick became her record label and dabbled in the world of book publishing, photography and film.

By the time of the record’s release, Madonna was an icon at the height of her popularity. It also appeared during the height of a full blown Aids outbreak that made sex dangerous. As a result the icon began to challenge her audience in ways it didn’t want to be challenged, by appearing in videos as a gold-toothed dominatrix (Dita) in various forms of bondage, foisting tales of pleasurable and deviant sex onto an unsuspecting audience, and appearing totally naked for the entire world to see in the Sex book.

Sure Madonna had titillated and challenged her audience before, specifically in the realm of religion with the video for “Like A Prayer,” but many believed the Erotica project took it a step too far. For instance, the album’s title track and biggest single takes on the topic of bondage and poses the question “If I take you from behind, push myself into your mind when you least expect it, will you try and reject it?”… “Like A Virgin” this wasn’t! The video for the song was pulled from most outlets when it came out, and MTV deemed it to racy to be aired during the daytime, choosing to air it only after midnight.

Most of the record was produced by Madonna and Shep Pettibone, however the two strongest tracks, “Secret Garden” and today’s Song Of The Day, were produced by Madonna and André Betts. Betts had worked with Madonna before on the single “Justify My Love,” while Pettibone had remixed many of Madge’s singles for several years and was fresh off helming the production duties for the single “Vogue.”

Erotica was Madonna’s most clubby record featuring frosty beats and a cold, remote sound throughout. Today’s sextastic Song Of The Day about the pleasures of cunnilingus features a sinuous bass line and the very clever lyrics “I’d like to direct your attention to something that needs directing to, A lot of people talk about dining in eating out, I guess that’s what this song is all about…” and “Colonel Sanders says it best, finger licking good. Let’s put what you learned to the test, can you make a fire without using wood. Are you still hungry; aren’t you glad we came, I’m glad you brought your raincoat, I think it’s beginning to rain…”

While I wouldn’t say the record creates the ultimate party atmosphere, it does have several audacious dance tracks including the clubby disco house of the single “Deeper And Deeper,” “Thief Of Hearts” and a cover of Little Willie John’s “Fever,” in which Madonna channels an even icier Peggy Lee than on the original hit version.

The songs “Bad Girl” and “Rain” come closest to the sound of Madonna’s earlier hits with Madonna singing in full on voice, and “Why’s It So Hard” offers a plea for peace and solidarity that is also a throwback to earlier triumphs. These songs provide some necessary relief from the somewhat steely, detached word speak of tracks like “Bye Bye Baby” (“This is not a love song…”) and “Words.”

Elsewhere Madonna get personal in the lounge jazz of the record’s best cut “Secret Garden” in which Madge ponders “You plant the seed and I’ll watch it grow, I wonder when I’ll start to show” and on “In This Life” that mourns the loss of artist Keith Haring and one of Madonna’s mentors from early in her career to the Aids epidemic.

Along with Bedtime Stories which was this record’s follow up, Madonna would never reach the creative heights she did here. While she managed to come close six years later with her album Ray Of Light, it was sadly all downhill from here.

Edited: April 12th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 4/12/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Piggies” by Theo Bikel

Broadway and film star, folk singer, songwriter, civil rights activist, and back in 1969 Theodore Bikel attempted to add pop star to his list of credentials with the release of one bright and shining album for Reprise Records.

As a Broadway star, Theodore Bikel originated the role of Captain Von Trapp in The Sound Of Music on Broadway and he’s portrayed the role of Tevye from Fiddler On The Roof on stage over 2000 times. In film, he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in The Defiant Ones (1958) and also acted in The African Queen (1951) and Frank Zappa’s 200 Motels (1970) to name but a few.

He was one of the first artists signed to Jac Holzman’s upstart Elektra Records where he recorded 16 albums of ethnic folk songs throughout the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, helping to establish himself as a recording artist and the label as an entity to be reckoned with.  He also founded the Newport Folk Festival (with Pete Seeger, Oscar Brand and George Wein) in 1959 and became a civil rights activist in the early ‘60s and a delegate to the 1968 Democratic Convention.

He was signed to Mo Ostin’s artist friendly Reprise Records in 1968 where he was paired with hip producer of the day, Richard Perry to record the album A New Day where today’s Song Of The Day was culled. Perry’s stock in trade within the Warner/Reprise family was as a career revivalist. He worked with established artists who hadn’t had hits in awhile and put them into the context of what was currently happening in music. To that end, Perry recorded albums with Ella Fitzgerald, Fats Domino and Little Richard for the label, casting them all into a more hip and contemporary vein.

As he did with the others in his charge, Perry surrounded Bikel with sympathetic backing musicians including Larry Knechtel on bass and keyboards, Eric Weissberg on banjo, Jim Gordon on drums, Louie Shelton on guitar, Paul Beaver (of Beaver & Krause) on synthesizer and Sid Sharp, Donnie Gallucci and Joey Newman on strings. Together they worked to update Bikel’s sound by choosing current songs that would spotlight Bikel’s interpretive talents.

Today, the album is purely a pop period piece from the late ‘60s that features Bikel performing current hits of the day in contemporary easy listening settings of the time, as evidenced by the chamber pop arrangements on Donovan’s “Jennifer Juniper,” The Rolling Stones’ “Lady Jane,” The Beatles’ “For No One,” Joni Mitchell’s “Urge For Going” and today’s Song Of The Day, The Beatles’ “Piggies.” While the arrangements date the material, the material doesn’t sound dated at all.

Elsewhere Bikel rocks out on Cat Stevens’ “I Love My Dog” and gets positively theatrical (and a little hysterical) on Jaques Brel’s “Amsterdam.” Other songs include covers of Peter Yarrow’s (of Peter, Paul & Mary) “The Great Mandala (The Wheel Of Life),” Paul Williams’ “The Lady Is Waiting,” Bikel’s own “I Hear The Laughter” and yet a third Beatles song, “Mother Nature’s Son.” Bikel lends a theatrical touch to several of the songs by incorporating spoken word vignettes that occasionally drag the proceedings down.

Back in the late 1960s, Warner Bros. and Reprise Records release sampler albums in a series they called The Loss Leaders. They charged $2.00 for each double album and included tracks from all of the labels’ new releases. As a pre-teen kid, I first discovered groups like Frank Zappa and The Mothers Of Invention, The Fugs, Randy Newman, Jimi Hendrix, Jethro Tull, Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, Rod McKuen, Harper’s Bizarre, The Mike Post Coalition, Petula Clark and Kenny Rogers & The First Edition through these albums.

I first came into contact with tracks from Bikel’s A New Day from the Loss Leader albums Schlaggers, which included his cover of Joni Mitchell’s “Urge For Goin’,” and The 1969 Warner/Reprise Record Show that included today’s Song Of The Day.

1969 Reprise Records RS-6348

Edited: April 12th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 4/11/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Okolona River Bottom Band” by Bobbie Gentry

Bobbie Gentry performed one of the greatest disappearing acts in all of music history. Unlike Elvis Presley and the still persistent Elvis sightings, Gentry really is alive and well and living in California…in glorious obscurity.

But back in 1967, you couldn’t turn a radio on without hearing her single “Ode To Billie Joe,” or tune into a variety show on TV without seeing her performing it. In her wake, Gentry left seven interesting albums of varying quality including Ode To Billie Joe, the album that established her, a duet album with Glen Campbell, and one bona-fide lost classic, The Delta Sweete, which is the criminally unknown concept album she released in 1968 about growing up in the deep South of the Mississippi Delta.

Timing certainly played a part in rendering The Delta Sweete an obscure gem. The album was released as the follow up to Gentry’s Grammy-winning, 1967 chart-topping single ”Ode To Billy Joe” and the album of the same name. While “Ode” established Gentry with the American public, the song pretty much overshadowed the album it was culled from, as well as everything else that came after it. As a result, Sweete didn’t’ register at all with the American public barely denting the album charts at #132, with its only single, “Louisiana Man” climbing as high as #100.

Today’s Song Of The Day kicks off the album with all the down-home swampiness that fans have come to know and love from Gentry. Her sultry delivery sits atop a pulsating horn arrangement, while the lyrics take us on a tour of the Mississippi Delta under the guise of a talent show.

The rambunctious sound of “Reunion” captures the vibe of a family gathered around the dinner table while its structure stems from the jump rope playground games of Gentry’s youth. The album benefits from the inventive arrangements of Jimmie Haskell and Shorty Rogers, while Gentry is heard playing guitar, banjo, bass and vibes throughout.

Several gorgeous ballads highlight Gentry’s husky, emotive delivery including “Morning Glory” a beautiful track that comes on like a gentle summer breeze, “Jessye ‘Lisabeth” with a classical chamber pop arrangement and “Courtyard” which brings the album to a delicate close.

Amongst Sweete’s originals are several well-chosen covers that further the down-home vibe of the record, including versions of Mose Allison’s “Parchman Farm,” John D. Loudermilk’s “Tobacco Road,” and Doug Kershaw’s “Louisiana Man.” There’s also a cover of Luther Dixon’s “Big Boss Man” which was originally made famous by Jimmy Reed in 1961. There have literally been hundreds of recordings of this standard most notably by Elvis Presley in 1967 and The Grateful Dead in 1971, and Gentry’s reading stands tall among them.

It’s an album that fell through the cracks instead of rightfully gaining stature as a classic, and Bobbie Gentry has become one of the most underrated and largely forgotten songwriters of the late 1960s. She would go on to release five more albums before removing herself from the spotlight entirely after years of performing in Vegas and a failed TV career. She retired in 1978 at the age of 36, never to be professionally heard from again. Today, her career is ripe for rediscovery. Come back Bobbie, the world is still waiting…

Edited: April 10th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 4/10/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Light My Fire” by Bob Thiele and his New Happy Times Orchestra with Gabor Szabo

It was the year of Sgt. Pepper’s and Are You Experienced. Rock was becoming jazzy…and jazz was taking on the current crop of rock greats. Hence today’s Song Of The Day.

Credited to Bob Thiele and his New time Happy Orchestra with Gabor Szabo on guitar, here we have one of the great lost guitar jazz albums of the 1960s.

Just look at this line up!

You’ve got Bob Thiele who was head of Impulse Records between 1961 and 1969. Producer of such artists of great renown as John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, Archie Shepp, Albert Ayler, Sonny Rollins, Charles Mingus and many others. Gypsy guitar great Gabor Szabo laying out the slabs of psychedelic sound on the guitar, Bill Plummer on raga sitar, plus the sturdy backing of Wrecking Crew regulars Carol Kaye on bass, Mike Melvoin on keyboards and the drummer on hundreds of ‘60s rock singles, Jim Gordon on the drums.

But that’s not all. Here we have the legendary Tom Scott on saxophone very early in his career. Scott and Szabo’s interplay throughout this necessary platter is essential. And how can you beat the likes of then-current hits like “Light My Fire” by The Doors, The Byrds’ “Eight Miles High,” Simon & Garfunkel’s “Fakin’ It,” and Bob Dylan’s “Rainy Day Woman # 12×35” (with some of the corniest sixties vocals credited to The California Dreamers who soound very middle of the road and very Ray Conniff).

Capping things off is a Charles Lloyd cover “Forest Flower” and two very swinging Szabo originals, including “Sophisticated Wheels “ and “Krishna” that provide the necessary raga interplay between Szabo and the rest of the ensemble.

Edited: April 9th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 4/9/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Groovy Movies” by The Kinks

The Great Lost Kinks Album isn’t really The Great Lost Kinks Album.

That distinction goes to Reprise Records RS-6309 which would have been released in late 1967 or early 1968 as Four More Respected Gentlemen. But for reasons unknown, that record was never released and ultimately its best tracks finally saw the light of day on The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society, and judging by the quality of that platter, we can all be thankful that The Great Lost Kinks Album never materialized anyway. You follow?

By 1971, The Kinks jumped ship to RCA Records and released the also wonderful Muswell Hillbillies album, while still owing their old label Reprise two more records. The first of the contractual agreement records was the superb and super necessary two record set known as The Kink Kronikles that featured many Kinks’ hits, should-have-been-hits and numerous necessary rarities that Kinks fans were grateful to wrap their ears around.

The second contractual album was the fourteen track, rarity filled Great Lost Kinks Album that featured songs recorded between 1966 and 1970, and was released on Reprise in 1973. On it were songs written for a British TV show (“When I Turn Off The Living Room Light” (one of Raymond Douglas Davies finest) and “Where Did The Spring Go?” from Where Was Spring? ), a film soundtrack (“Till Death Do Us Part” from the film adaptation of the TV show of the same name), a British single (“Plastic Man”), a B-side (“I’m Not Like Everybody Else”), lots of album outtakes including off cuts from Something Else (“Lavender Hill” and “Rosemary Rose) and Village Green (“Misty Waters” and “Mr. Songbird), plus several Dave Davies tracks that were recorded for his ill-fated never released solo record including (“There Is No Life Without Love,” “This Man He Weeps Tonight” and today’s Song Of The Day, “Groovy Movies.”)

“Groovy Movies” is very much a product of its time with its swinging arrangement, colloquial lyrics and driving horn arrangement. And as for the sadly out of print Great Lost Kinks Album, Kink kastoffs like the ones included within are way better than most groups’ keepers.

God Save The Kinks!

Edited: April 8th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 4/8/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – Mad Men Double Header – “Don’cha Go ‘Way Mad” by Frank Sinatra and “Wives And Lovers” by Jack Jones
I know I’ve featured both of these classics before, but with the return of Mad Men to our TV screens for a new season, they both seemed appropriate to feature again.

The first song is the epitome of the early seasons of Mad Men by America’s favorite playboy of the time. Back in 1962, Frank Sinatra was the epitome of that “Ring A Ding Ding” era with his Rat Pack buddies tearin’ up the Vegas town on a nightly basis. Oh to be a fly on the wall for some of them hi-jinx!

“Don’cha Go ‘Way Mad” is a somewhat chauvinistic comment on the subservient role women played during the early ’60s. It has lots of verve and swagger as it nonchalantly asks the woman to forgive and forget her man’s fling…but at least it does swing! It comes from one of The Chairman Of The Board’s greatest sixties albums, Sinatra and Swingin’ Brass, and was written by Jimmy Mundi, Al Stillman and Jazz saxophonist, Illinois Jacquet. The arrangements come from the one and only Neal Hefti.

The second song in today’s Mad Man salute is one of my very favorite Burt Bacharach-Hal David compositions! Jack Jones was awarded a 1964 Grammy award for Best Pop Male Performance for “Wives And Lovers.” He also won one in 1962 in the same category for his hit “Lollipops and Roses.” Along with the equally talented pop vocalist, Robert Goulet, he was also known for his recording of “The Impossible Dream” from the musical Man Of LaMancha. Mr. Jones also scored big with the incomparable “Love Boat Theme” and “Lady.”

The times were different back then…and as we enter yet another new season of Mad Men, the times are a-changin’ still!

Edited: April 7th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 4/7/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Bond Street” by Enoch Light

Shagadelic indeed! Literally hundreds of records were released during the 1950s and 1960s carrying the Enoch Light name. Light was born in Ohio and led The Light Brigade, which was a big band that primarily played on the radio and in theaters that scored the 1937 hit “Summer Night.” After they disbanded, they became a studio-only entity.

Light was a vice president of easy listening record label, Grand Award, before founding Command Records in 1959. Light’s stock in trade was state-of-the-art mood music records pressed on virgin vinyl that took full advantage of the capabilities of stereo hi-fi systems of the day by featuring ping-pong stereo effects. The albums were some of the first to use 35mm film as a recording method instead of tape, providing crystal-clear distortion free sound.

The packaging on his records, like the classic Persusasive Percussion and Provocative Percussion albums, featured minimalist modern art usually designed by Josef Albers on the covers. The covers were designed to stand out in record bins with heavy cardboard gatefold sleeves featuring copious liner notes about the recording techniques employed within. When you saw one of the covers, you automatically knew it was a Command release.

Light sold the label to ABC in 1965, who in turn sold it to MCA. MCA proceeded to run Command as a budget label, reissuing the records on cheap vinyl with abbreviated single-pocket sleeves minus the original high-gloss art. Light continued to run the label under the new ownership where his later recordings were still recorded, packaged and marketed with the same attention to detail as they were from before the sale.

Today’s Song Of The Day comes from one of Light’s later Command projects, the 1969 album Spaced Out. The album included super swingin’ stereo versions of the Burt Bacharach and Hal David songs “Walk On By,” “What The World Needs Now Is Love” and “Knowing When To Leave,” plus Beatle covers of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” “Get Back,” “Norwegian Wood” and “Eleanor Rigby.” The cover had some of the coolest period graphics I’ve ever seen on any record cover ever.

By 1970, the label was no longer profitable and MCA shut it down. Light continued working, both as an arranger/conductor and headed up an all new audiophile record label, Project 3 Records, which was marketed by London Records.

Edited: April 7th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 4/6/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Power Of My Love” by Elvis Presley

I vividly remember the day Elvis died. My too hip for the world sixteen year old friends and I realized that it was a big deal for some, but the Elvis fans we knew were so old and out of touch, that his passing wouldn’t have registered at all on our radar had it not been for the media frenzy that surrounded it. To us, Elvis was a totally irrelevant, washed up and bloated middle of the road singer whose death was no big deal.

It wasn’t until several years later that I finally got what all the fuss was about, and at that point I joined the masses who realized that Elvis really was The King! Everybody has a favorite version of Elvis: the hip-swivellin’ 1950s hep-cat, the swarmy good ‘ol boy of his many second rate films, the leather-clad comeback kid of 1968, the sequined-suited star of Vegas, and, sadly, the fat bloated disaster of the late ‘70s, right before he met his maker.

My particular favorite is the post ’68 Comeback Elvis of The Memphis Record. Elvis was fired up to start performing again after the famous ’68 Comeback Special aired. A residency in Vegas was booked and it was decided that Elvis would go into the studio to record a new batch of songs before returning to Vegas.

Elvis recorded with Chips Moman at American Sound Studios in Memphis over four days in January of 1969. It was one of the first times that Elvis entered the studio without Colonel Tom Parker choosing the songs he would record. With Moman firmly in charge, Elvis was able to update his sound by covering some of the best song copyrights of the day.

By this point in his career, Elvis’s star had fallen after years of bad movies and equally bad soundtrack recordings. Sure, Elvis was basking in the glow of the recent ’68 Comeback Special, but that was just a blip on the radar and no one was really sure about whether Elvis would bring his A-game with him into the studio. “I mean we were thrilled about Elvis,” said trumpeter Wayne Jackson, “but it wasn’t like doing Neil Diamond,” who in their eyes was professional and had the creative clout that Elvis lacked.

As it turned out, Elvis did bring his A-game and sang with a passion and conviction that proved the comeback was for real. But Elvis bringing his A-game to the sessions wouldn’t have meant a thing had it not been for the band of session musicians Moman recruited to back him including Reggie Young and Dan Penn on guitar, Bobby Wood and Ronnie Milsap on piano, Bobby Emmons on organ, Tommy Cogbill and Mike Leech on bass, Gene Chrisman on drums, Ed Kollis on harmonica, John Hughey on pedal steel, Wayne Jackson, Dick Steff and R.F. Taylor on trumpet, Ed Logan, Jack Hale and Gerald Richardson on trombone, Tony Cason and Joe D’Gerolamo on French horn, Andrew Love, Jackie Thomas, Glen Spreen and J.P. Luper on saxophone and Joe Babcock, Dolores Edgin, Mary Greene, Charlie Hodge, Ginger Holladay, Mary Holladay, Millie Kirkham, Ronnie Milsap, Sonja Montgomery, June Page, Susan Pilkington, Sandy Posey,  Donna Thatcher and Hurschel Wiginton on backing vocals. Together, they helped to make Elvis sound relevant on record again.

The recordings were originally divided up between two separate LPs, From Elvis in Memphis and Back In Memphis. By doing so, the seismic impact of these recordings could not be felt. (“Power Of My Love” was originally released on From Elvis In Memphis.) It wasn’t until 1987 when A&R man, Gregg Geller compiled The Memphis Record that you could really hear the concentration of greatness that came out of these sessions.

Amongst the songs cut were now Elvis classics like “Suspicious Minds” (his first #1 single since 1962), In The Ghetto” (his first top-ten single in four years), “Kentucky Rain,” “Any Day Now,” “True Love Travels On A Gravel Road,” “Only The Strong Survive,” “”Rubberneckin’,” “Stranger In My Home Town,” “Don’t Cry Daddy,” and “Long Black Limousine,” that encompassed gritty soul, funk, country, pop, ballads and rockers.

Today’s Song Of The Day features a sturdy blues infused horn arrangement and a stunning economy in the lyrics…”Punch it, pound it, what good does it do / There’s just no stoppin’ the way I feel for you / Cos’ every minute, every hour you’ll be shaken / By the strength and mighty power of my love.”

Elvis would never sound this great again…<br><br><br>

Edited: April 6th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 4/5/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Devil And Jesus” by Eric Burdon

While the world gets ready to get their ya-ya’s out over The Stones’ 50th Anniversary tour, and the two somewhat lame new tracks they recently released on yet another greatest hits record, another legendary British Invasion hero just released a new album that stands head and shoulders next to much of his material from is glory days with The Animals.

Eric Burdon seemingly all but disappeared from the musical landscape until last year’s South By Southwest gathering where Bruce Springsteen talked about the profound influence Burdon had on him during his keynote speech. Later that evening, Burdon joined Springsteen and The E Street Band on stage for a rousing version of “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place” reintroducing him to a new generation of rock fans.

The fact is, Burdon never really went away or stopped performing. Over the years, he’s released quite a few solo records and he even reunited and toured with The Animals. Last November he released a limited edition four-song EP on Black Friday Record Store Day backed by The Greenhornes. (The Greenhornes are an Ohio band that has been around for over fifteen years. Two of the band’s members are Jack Lawrence and Patrick Keeler who left the group to form The Raconteurs with Brendon Benson and Jack White.)

That record was a patchy appetizer to his first all new record of original material since 2004 called ‘Til Your River Runs Dry. Burdon is in fine voice on this solid effort that captures him doing what he does best, meat and potatoes rock ‘n’ roll. Burdon wrote or co-wrote 10 of the12 tunes here, and at age 71, he sounds positively renewed.

The rockers on this record find Burden at his most Animalesque, especially on the fierce “Old Habits Die Hard” and the album’s opener and first single, “Water,” which is a hippy diatribe about water conservation.

Burdon has been paying tribute to Bo Diddley since his days in The Animals, and although he never met him in person, there are two salutes to his hero here; one is a fierce and faithful cover of Diddley’s “Before You Accuse Me,” and the other is a tribute called “Bo Diddley Special” featuring the patented Bo Diddley beat.

Burdon also runs the voodoo down to “Nawlins” with the low down funk of “Devil In Jesus,” (today’s Song Of  The Day) and “River Is Rising” is a song inspired by Fats Domino’s ordeal right after hurricane Katrina when he was thought to be missing. Burdon recorded this track, which he says is one of his favorites on the album, in New Orleans with members of Domino’s band.

War is also a central subject on this record. On “Memorial Day,” Burdon sings “It’s the rich man’s war but the poor will pay / Innocence is lost and guilt will fade in time,” and “Invitation To The White House” finds Burdon in a dream sequence advising the president to focus on our country before going out and trying to fix the world.

The toll of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle is addressed on “27 Forever,” an ode to the “27 club” that includes Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Robert Johnson, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse, who all succumbed at that young age.

Burdon is still a great vocalist whose voice has held up way better than, say Mick Jagger…so roll over Mick, the original Animal is on the loose and back in action.

Edited: April 4th, 2013

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

 

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Pusher Love Girl” by Justin Timberlake

Growing up in public is nothing new. Sammy Davis, Jr. did it. So did Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson. Heck, even Justin Bieber’s doing it now. Some have handled it better than others, and while it’s probably not the easiest thing to do, there are some that make it seem effortless.

Justin Timberlake is one of them. He’s the total package…actor, comedian, singer, musician, fashion plate, record label honcho, business man…he’s got it all!

Timberlake’s career began at age 11 when he sang country tunes on Star Search under the name Jason Randall. From there, he went on to become a cast member of The New Mickey Mouse Club along with Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, JC Chasez and Ryan Gosling.

His career really took off when he joined the boy band, ‘N Sync (along with JC Chasez). Worldwide success ensued with record breaking tours, smash hit singles like “Bye Bye Bye,” “That I Promise You,” “Girlfriend,” “Gone,” “Tearin’ Up My Heart” and “It’s Gonna Be Me,” and the chart-topping albums No Strings Attached and Celebrity.

But what would happen to young JT once ‘N Sync’s popularity waned? Could he make it in music? Perhaps he could go back to the medium of TV. It was a crap shoot as to whether he’d even have a career at all. Look at the rest of ‘N Sync, and the members of New Kids On The Block for that matter. Where are they now?

No worries, Justin Timberlake took the bull, and the opportunities, by the horn and let his talent lead the way by releasing his first solo album Justified in 2002. The album was not only a critical success, but it also spawned the hit singles “Like I Love You,” “Senorita,” “Cry Me A River” and “Rock Your Body.”

In the meantime, our golden boy recorded with everybody from Madonna and Duran Duran to 50 Cent and Lil Wayne, which just added to his allure and credibility. A movie career ensued, including parts in The Social Network, Bad Teacher, In Time, Friends With Benefits, Alpha Dog, Black Snake Moan and Shrek the Third, and he mostly got good notices too!

He emerged pretty much unscathed from his participation in the Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction that caught Janet Jackson with her breast exposed to over 100 million people. Then came his second album, FutureSex/LoveSounds where he singlehandedly brought sexy back to the top of the charts, and with Andy Samberg and The Lonely Island he also brought bawdy back to the television airwaves with “D**k In A Box” and its companion piece “Motherlover” on Saturday Night Live. He recently became a member of the “Five Timers Club” for hosting that show five times.

And so with great fanfare, Justin Timberlake announced his return to music this year after a seven year layoff with The 20/20 Experience, and it is a stunner of a record. The album features ten long song-suites that have as much in common with Paul McCartney’s “Band On The Run” and “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” as they do with the retro soul music of Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder, and the dance music that is currently all over the charts today.

With sturdy production by Timbaland, his trusted companion in music, The 20/20 Experience is both totally up to date and retro at the same time.

Many of the songs have long codas, abrupt rhythm changes and elongated vamps that take them into many different directions, like today’s Song Of The Day which switches gears half way through, and “Strawberry Bubblegum,” whose coda comes straight from the Stevie Wonder playbook. All of the songs revolve around metaphors for love and sex, as drugs in “Pusher Love Girl,” candy in “Strawberry Bubblegum” and even space travel in “Spaceship Coupe” (with room for two and making love on the moon).

There’s the deep soul grind of “That Girl” that is punctuated by a great rhythm guitar and horn part, and Timberlake is at his most Michael Jackson on the dance floor shaker “Let The Groove Get In.” Barry White is channeled on the retro string intro of “Pusher Love Girl,” as well as during the opening vamp of “Strawberry Bubblegum” and throughout “Hold The Wall.” While the backbeat on “Suit & Tie” is very reminiscent of Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy Mercy Me.” The proceedings come to a close with the album’s sole atmospheric ballad, “Blue Ocean Floor” which ends things on a meditative note.

While some of the songs tend to ponder on a little too long at times, for the most part Timberlake has delivered his most consistent effort yet. Stay tuned for the second ten songs of The 20/20 Experience coming out this November…

Edited: April 3rd, 2013

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

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Friendship” by Louis Jordan & His Tympany Five 

Some stone cold advice from Mr. Jordan and company waxed back in 1947.

It’s all here on this track…the roots of rock ‘n’ roll…rap…and comedy all rolled up into one tall tale of hilarity. That’s Wild Bill Davis on the piano and, of course, Jordan himself on the vocals. When it came to big band, jump blues, jazz and boogie woogie, Jordan was top of the heap ranking just behind Duke Ellington and Count Basie in popularity back in the day.

Louis Jordan was an accomplished songwriter, saxophone player and entertainer.  His first big gig was playing sax and singing with the great Chick Webb Orchestra.  After striking out on his own, he landed 57 hits on the R&B charts including “G.I. Jive,” “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie,” “Saturday Night Fish Fry,” “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens,” “Buzz Me,” “Beans And Cornbread” and many others leading to his being dubbed “King Of the Jukebox.”

Jordan fronted his own band for over twenty years. His unbridled charisma led to features in many films with his band The Tympany Five, allowing us the pleasure of seeing him in action today.

I recently acquired a 5 CD set on the JSI label featuring 131 of his recordings…that’s over six hours of Jazz, Jump and Jive!

Edited: April 2nd, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 4/2/13

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Nurse Jackie Title Sequence” by Wendy & Lisa

Like so many things in our disposable pop culture, the TV Theme has taken a massive hit over the years. What used to be a staple of every show has now been relegated to a mere few seconds, or even worse completely skipped over.

TV Themes generally came in two varieties. There are themes that were created specifically to establish the premise of the series through the lyrics. Themes like Harry Nilsson’s “Best Friend” from The Courtship Of Eddie’s Father, “Welcome Back” by John Sebastian from Welcome Back Cotter, “The Ballad of Gilligan’s Isle” from Gilligan’s Isle, “The Ballad Of Jed Clampett” from The Beverly Hillbillies, “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” by Will Smith and Quincy Jones, Vic Mizzy’s Addams Family Theme and “Movin’ On Up” from The Jeffersons by Ja’net Du Boise are but a few that fall into this category.

The other category includes those that just work as great music, while setting up the feel of the show. These themes are far more evocative of the show themselves because there are no lyrics. Themes like Danny Elfman’s theme for The Simpsons, Lalo Schifrin’s classic Mission: Impossible, The Ventures’ Hawaii Five-O theme, Henry Mancini’s Peter Gunn and Quincy Jones’ theme from Sanford & Son are all instrumental, yet totally associated with their shows.

Today’s Song Of The Day is a TV theme that was written by Wendy & Lisa. Most people know Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Coleman as members of Prince’s background band, The Revolution, during the height of his purple streak of hits roughly between 1984 and 1986 and encompassing the records Purple Rain, Parade and Around The World In A Day.

After leaving Prince’s purple reign, Wendy & Lisa went on to release several well received albums on their own while also working with the likes of Joni Mitchell, Seal, k.d. lang, Pearl Jam, Liz Phair, Sheryl Crow, Madonna, Gwen Stefani, Eric Clapton and Grace Jones. They also wrote several television themes including those for Crossing Jordan, Heroes, The Bionic Woman and today’s Song Of The Day, the theme from Nurse Jackie which also won them an Emmy Award.

Wendy Melvoin’s is also part of the Melvoin musical dynasty that includes her father, Mike Melvoin, who was a member of The Wrecking Crew whose session work can be heard on hundreds of 1960s hits by such artists at Glen Campbell, The 5th Dimension, The Monkees, The Byrds and numerous other groups. Her brother, Jonathan was a touring member of Smashing Pumpkins and her twin sister Susannah was once engaged to Prince who wrote the song “Nothing Compared 2 U” about her. She also wrote songs for Madonna and Eric Clapton and has sung on sessions for Rogers Waters, Eric Clapton and Mike Oldfield.

While the TV show has certainly gone downhill over the years, Wendy & Lisa’s Nurse Jackie
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holds its own as a great piece of music.

Edited: April 1st, 2013