News for June 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 7/1/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “State Trooper” by Bruce Springsteen

The guttural howls that he lets out at the end of this psychobilly classic, mixed with its pleading paranoid lyrics conjures the mood of pure dread…and with Bruce Springsteen’s sixth album, it was all about mood.

Hot on the heels of “The River,” his biggest album and the tour to support it, Bruce Springsteen found himself back at home in Colts Neck, NJ with some restless free time on his hand and lots of bummer songs rattling around his brain.

A change of work habits was in the air as well. Up to this point, Springsteen fleshed out his song in the studio with the band waiting around, resulting in albums that took years to complete. For “Nebraska,” Springsteen called upon his engineer friend Mike Batlin to set up a primitive home studio to create demos of his new set of songs to be presented to the band in complete form.

Springsteen worked fast at home and over a period of few days at the end of 1981, he captured fourteen new songs on his very basic Tascam 4-Track cassette recorder including early versions of “Born In The USA,” “Pink Cadillac” and “Working On The Highway” (then titled “Child Bride”) that wouldn’t see the light of day for several more years.

Springsteen proceeded to carry the cassette around with him for several weeks before making a copy and sending it to his manager, Jon Landau, who was blown away by not only the darkness and depth of the material, but the change of musical direction he heard.

Upon reconvening in the studio with the E Streeters to work up full band versions of the songs, it became evident that they couldn’t capture the dark, desolate feeling that the songs needed. So a remixed version of the “demo” cassette that Springsteen recorded at home literally became his next record.

Once the bigwigs at Columbia Records got it in their head that they weren’t going to be releasing another full-band blockbuster Springsteen record as the follow-up to “The River,” they devised a laid-back promotional campaign to suit the material.

Springsteen fans were confused with the release of “Nebraska” in 1982, but the critics were rightfully blown away by its austere grandeur, hailing the record as one of his best…which indeed, it still is.

Edited: June 30th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 6/30/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “36-22-36” by Bobby “Blue” Bland

Thirteen hours in a car, from Chicago to West Orange, New Jersey. Some would think of this mammoth road trip as a major drag…I see it as a golden opportunity for some uninterrupted music listening!

Typically, I like to start long road trips with newer music I’m less familiar with, and as the miles and the hours roll on, I turn to what I like to call “musical comfort food” (or music that I’m very familiar with) to enjoyably pass the time.

We got on the road at 3:30am central time and began with the new Jeff Tweedy-produced Mavis Staples album called One True Vine. It was the perfect way to start the trip, nothing too rocking for the wee hours, and only a 35 minute time investment that includes her cover of Funkadelic’s “Can You Get To That,” plus several new Jeff Tweedy numbers.

Second up was Unorthodox Jukebox by Bruno Mars. Yeah, I know, he’s soooo commercial and very poppy, but I think he writes good songs and it was a fun spin.

We followed this with the new album from Laura Marling called Once I Was An Eagle. Marling is a British singer/songwriter who is often compared to Joni Mitchell. Well, those are mighty big shoes to fill, and while Marling is not the caliber songwriter as Mitchell, her sound is truly reminiscent. The album, her third, is also here longest platter and while I do like her music, the record outwore its welcome before it ended. That said, I did persevere to the end and found it rewarding anyway.

Next up was an audience recording of Wilco’s Solid Sound all-covers, all-request show that took place in Massachusetts this past Saturday. Highlights of this great show include their cover of “Marquee Moon” by Television, The Beatles’ “And Your Bird Can Sing,” “Don’t Fear The Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult and an off the cuff take of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.” And best of all, the concert burned over two hours of the trip leading us to a breakfast stop and change of drivers.

Vicki’s choice from behind the wheel was a 4th Of July playlist I made several years ago that includes such “patriotic” favorites as Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land,” “4th Of July” by both Aimee Mann and X, “Saturday In The Park” by Chicago, “Young Americans” by David Bowie, “Don’t Pull It Down” (“Crazy for the blue, white, red and yellow”) from the musical Hair, “America” from West Side Story, Neil Diamond’s “America,” Paul Simon’s “American Tune,” “Ragged Old Flag” by Johnny Cash, “U.S. Blues” by Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix’s “Star Spangled Banner,” and several others.

Last week, the music world suffered from a seismic loss in the form of Bobby “Blue” Bland. As a result, we played two of the six CDs that make up his complete Peacock recordings, including today’s Song Of The Day, “Turn On Your Lovelight,” “St. James Infirmary,” “Blues In The Night,” “Stormy Monday Blues,” and about 40 more powerful R’n’B tracks.

From there, it was on to more musical comfort food in the form of Elvis Presley’s Memphis Album including “Power Of Love,” “In The Ghetto,” “Suspicious Mind,” “Don’t Cry Daddy,” “Any Day Now,” “Long Black Limousine,” “Rubberneckin’,” and many more, in an essential 23-track collection of Presley recordings from 1969.

This led us to Steve Earle’s latest record The Low Highway, which is one of the best records to come out all year, followed by more comfort food courtesy of George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass (minus the Apple Jam record).

It’s been a long time since All Things Must Pass has received an airing from me, and it’s never sounded better. Sure, everybody knows “My Sweet Lord,” “Wah Wah” and “What Is Life,” but the real stars of this show are tracks like “Let It Down,” “Apple Scruffs,” “Behind The Locked Door,” “I’d Have You Anytime,” ”Beware Of Darkness,” and the album’s title track. It’s also hard to believe that songs like “Isn’t It A Pity” and “All Things Must Pass” were worked up by The Beatles during the Let It Be sessions and were left off the album in favor of “Dig It” and “Maggie Mae.” Go figure…

Our ride came to an end before Joe Cocker’s Woodstock performance, our last musical choice of the day did. Like anything else, good music makes time fly, and I’m thankful for my completely stuffed 160 gig iPod to get me through.

I’m bushed, and will be posting mostly repeated posts during the rest of the week.

Edited: June 29th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 6/29/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Midnight Moonlight” by Old & In The Way

When not playing with The Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia liked to dabble in side projects including stints with his own Jerry Garcia Band, The New Riders Of The Purple Sage, gigging with Merle Saunders, recording with John Wales and guesting on albums by the likes of Ornette Coleman, David Bromberg, Brewer And Shipley, Bob Dylan, CSN&Y, Jefferson Airplane and many others.

But Garcia was also a member of a bona-fide “supergroup.”

When most people hear the term “supergroup,” bands like Cream, Blind Faith, Derek & The Dominos, CSN&Y and The Traveling Wilbury’s come to mind.

Garcia’s supergroup was Old & In The Way, a bluegrass collective of great pedigree featuring Jerry Garcia on banjo and vocals, David Grisman on mandolin, Peter Rowan on guitar, Vassar Clements on fiddle and John Kahn on bass. (John Hartford sat in with the band before Clements came on board.)

Rowan and Grisman played together with ex-Byrd Clarence White in the bluegrass group Muleskinner, and also in the group Earth Opera.  Grisman also played with The Even Dozen Jug Band and guested on The Grateful Dead’s American Beauty album. Rowan and Clements were members of Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys, and John Kahn played with Muleskinner, Howard Wales and Garcia.

Garcia formed Old & In The Way in 1973 as a vehicle to play bluegrass banjo. The group grew out of living room jams between Garcia, Grisman and Rowan who all lived near each other in Marin County, California. Together they would gig around locally with John Kahn in tow and John Hartford on fiddle. After Hartford could not commit to a tour, the group called on Vassar Clements to take his place.

They were together for a total of nine months, and the Old & In The Way album was recorded in October of 1973 in front of an audience at The Boarding House in San Francisco, where most of the group’s discography was recorded.

Their one-off eponymously titled album was subsequently released on The Grateful Dead’s Round record label in 1975 featuring today’s Song Of the Day, which was penned by Peter Rowan. The album also included their bluegrass cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses,” a version of the Peter Rowan-penned New Riders’ tune “Panama Red,” and traditional tunes like the Delmore Brothers’ “Pig In A Pen” and Carter Stanley’s “White Dove.”

With great harmonies and instrumental interplay, Old & In The Way’s old timey, good-feeling vibe struck a chord with Grateful Dead heads, making it one of the best selling bluegrass albums of all time. And indeed, several songs from the album have gone on to become standards of the Bluegrass repertoire including today’s Song Of The Day, “Wild Horses” and the album’s title track, “Old & In The Way.”

Garcia continued to record numerous records with David Grisman, including Not For Kids Only, one of the greatest children’s albums of all time, and two Old & In The Way albums were subsequently released featuring live recordings from the same gigs after Jerry Garcia’s death.

Edited: June 28th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 6/28/13

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

When they formed in 1965, The Shadows Of The Knight described their mission as such: “The Stones, Animals and Yardbirds took the Chicago Blues and gave it an English interpretation. We’ve taken the English version of the Blues and re-added a Chicago touch.” And bringing the British Invasion’s version of Chicago Blues back home was exactly what they did by way of several seminal garage rock classics.

The Shadows Of The Knight’s classic lineup included Jim Sohns on vocals, Warren Rogers  on bass, Jerry McGeorge on rhythm guitar, Joe Kelly on lead guitar and Tom Schiffour on drums.

The group cut its teeth playing at a small club in the northern suburbs of Chicago (Arlington Heights for you local readers) called The Cellar, drawing hundreds of fans each weekend for six months. You can hear one of the group’s earth shattering 1966 shows from The Cellar on an album called Raw ‘n Alive At The Cellar that was subsequently released by Sundazed Records years later. The Cellar gigs got them a coveted opening slot for The Byrds, which led to a recording contract with the tiny Chicago Dunwich record label.

One of the highlights of the band’s set was their version of Van Morrison and Them’s single “Gloria.” Dunwich producers Bill Traut and George Badonski urged the group to record the song as their first single, however the group changed Van Morrison’s original lyric from “she comes to my room, then she made me feel alright” to “she called out my name, that made me feel alright,” thereby alluding the AM Radio censors who had banned Them’s version. As a result, “Gloria” climbed to #10 on the charts and sold over one million copies.

Their first album, also titled Gloria, contained credible covers of John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom,” Muddy Waters’ “I Got My Mojo Working,” Willie Dixon’s “You Can’t Judge A Book By It’s Cover,” “(I’m Your) Hoochie Coochie Man” and “I Just Want To Make Love With You,” Chuck Berry’s “Let It Rock” and Bo Diddley’s “Oh Yeah,” which is today’s Song Of The Day. They adapted their version of “Oh Yeah” not from Bo Diddley’s recording but from a British garage rock band called The Others. It was their second biggest single climbing to #39 on the charts and probably provided the blueprint for David Bowie’s “Jene Genie.”

The group released a second equally excellent Dunwich album called Back Door Men; however they were not able to follow “Gloria” with another smash single so the rest of the band bailed on Sohns leaving him with the rights to the name of the band which proved mighty lucrative years later. Meanwhile, Dunwich sold the Shadows master tapes to Atlantic Records (who was their distributor) for one dollar figuring nothing would ever come from them!

Sohns’ version of The Shadows signed to Buddah Records subsidiary Super K, where he was paired with studio musicians to make a bubblegum album called Shadows Of The Knight.  At the same time, Dunwich released an updated version of “Gloria” called “Gloria ‘69” featuring new bass and guitar tracks overdubbed by Jim Donlinger and none other than Peter Cetera, who would go on to be a founding member of Chicago.

Over the years, Sohns fronted many different permutations of The Shadows Of The Knight, sporadically recording singles and playing gigs on the oldies circuit. He briefly managed punk legends Skafish between 1978 and 1980, and would often join them on stage for their encore of “Gloria.” In 1980, Sohns was arrested on drug charges for which he served three years in prison.

Upon returning from prison, Sohns reformed The Shadows and opened for the likes of Cheap Trick and The Romantics exposing their music to a whole new audience. After a Sohns-led reformed version of the group headlined Little Steven’s Underground Garage tour, the group released an album of new material in 2007 called A Knight To Remember which was followed by another album the following year called Rock ‘n’ Roll Survivors.

Today, The Shadows Of The Knight can still be seen performing shows on the oldies circuit.

Edited: June 27th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 6/27/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Psychotic Reaction” by The Count Five

“I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night” by The Electric Prunes, “Dirty Water” by The Standells, “Pushin’ Too Hard” by The Seeds, “Hey Joe” by The Leaves, “Farmer John” by The Premiers – these are some of the greatest garage rock classics of all time. But, perhaps the gnarliest rave up of them all is today’s Song Of The Day, “Psychotic Reaction” by The Count Five.

The Count Five formed in San Jose, California in the early 1960s and consisted of John “Mouse” Michalski on guitar, Roy Chaney on bass, John “Sean” Byrne on vocals and rhythm guitar, and Craig “Butch” Atkinson on drums.

Byrne came up with the group’s signature song while attending a Health Education class at San Jose City College in California. During a discussion about psychosis, a classmate suggested that “Psychotic Reaction” would make a great song title. By the end of the day, a garage rock classic was born.

“Psychotic Reaction” quickly became the centerpiece of the group’s stage act where it was heard by a local DJ named Brian Lord who shopped the song around to nearly every local record label. The single was ultimately released on the tiny Double Shot record label, after the group was rejected by everyone else they approached.

Even though the song was a brazen rip off of The Yardbirds’ sound, it climbed all the way up to the #5 spot on the singles charts in 1966. Part of the song’s popularity had to do with The Count Five’s shtick of dressing up in Count Dracula capes on stage.

The group’s sole album was also called Psychotic Reaction.  It featured original tunes like “Pretty Big Mouth,” “They’re Gonna Get You” and “Double Decker Bus” that repeated the same formula of their signature hit to no avail. And while credit must be given to the band for covering two songs by The Who (who were relatively unknown in America), their ill-conceived versions of “My Generation” and “Out In The Street” are as amateurish as the rest of the platter.

After the single dropped off of the charts and the album failed to even make a dent, each member of the group decided to pursue college bringing the legend of The Count Five to a close.

The song was subsequently rescued from obscurity by Lenny Kaye and Jac Holzman, who picked the song for the landmark 1972 compilation album Nuggets: Original Artyfacts from the First Psychedelic Era, 1965–1968.

Today, the song is regarded as a bona-fide classic and is regularly covered by bands all over the world. Just this past weekend, Wilco included a version of the song in their Solid Sound Festival all-request show.

Edited: June 26th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 6/26/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Black Slacks” by Robert Gordon

Robert Gordon was born at the wrong time. Right from the beginning, all Robert Gordon ever wanted was to be a 1950s rock ‘n’ roll star like his idols Elvis Presley, Gene Vincent and Carl Perkins. The only problem was that by the time he rose to prominence, the 1950s were nearly thirty years gone.

Growing up in Washington DC during the 1960s, Gordon became enamored of ‘50s Rockabilly music which was totally out of step with the British Invasion and later, the psychedelic rock his peers were into. His performance career began in high school where he played the lead role of Tony in the musical West Side Story, and at the age of 17 in 1964, he made his recording debut with a local band called The Confidentials.

By the dawn of the 1970s, Gordon relocated to NYC and became a member of the punk band Tuff Darts, which was one of the first punk bands to develop a following at CBGB. He was a member of the band for the popular Live At CBGB album compilation, but left the group before they recorded their full-length debut album.

His association with Tuff Darts led him to record producer Richard Gottehrer who co-wrote the hits “Hang On Sloopy,” “My Boyfriend’s Back” and “I Want Candy.” Gottehrer was also an original member of The Strangeloves and a co-founder of Sire Records (with Seymour Stein). He also went on to produce seminal albums by Blondie, Marshall Crenshaw, The Go-Go’s, Richard Hell & The Voidoids and Joan Armatrading.

Gottehrer teamed Gordon up with rockabilly legend Link Wray to cut his debut album on Private Stock Records called Robert Gordon with Link Wray. The record came out a few weeks before Elvis Presley’s death in 1977, and as a result began to sell in large numbers (as did its single “Red Hot”) as the media began turning its attention to Elvis and his era in the wake of his death.

A second Private Stock record called Fresh Fish Special followed in 1978 (featuring Elvis Presley’s backing vocalists The Jordanaires), and was notable for the first appearance of the Bruce Springsteen song “Fire.” Springsteen had originally written the song during the sessions for Darkness On The Edge Of Town. He wrote the song after seeing Elvis Presley perform, but ended up giving it to Gordon after Presley’s death. Springsteen also plays piano on the track. The following year, The Pointer Sisters would take their version of the song to the number two position of the charts.

Gordon signed with Elvis Presley’s label, RCA records in 1979 after Private Stock went under, and released his most consistent record, Rock Billy Boogie featuring Chris Spedding on guitar in place of Link Wray. The album contains today’s Song Of The Day which was originally recorded in 1958 by Joe Bennett and the Sparkletones, along with rockabilly covers like “Rock Billy Boogie” (Johnny Burnett Trio), “All By Myself” (Fats Domino), “It’s Only Make Believe” (Conway Twitty), “Blue Christmas” (Elvis Presley), plus a few Gordon originals.

Gordon’s band on the album included Chris Spedding on lead guitar, Rob Stoner on bass, Howie Wyeth on drums and Scotty Turner on rhythm guitar. Both Stoner and Wyeth were members of Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Review band.

Gordon recorded two more albums for RCA including Bad Boy in 1980 and Are You Gonna Be The One in 1981, which included his hit version of Marshall Crenshaw’s “Someday Someway.” He has recorded sporadically since the early 1980s releasing the albums All For The Love Of Rock ‘n’ Roll (1994), Robert Gordon in 1997, Satisfied Mind (2004), and a reunion album with Chris Spedding in 2007 called It’s Now Or Never.

Edited: June 25th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 6/25/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Simple Game” by The Four Tops (with The Moody Blues)

Today’s Song Of The Day could have only happened in that strange and mystical place where the worlds of The Moody Blues and The Four Tops intersect.

“Simple Game” was originally the B-side to the Moody Blues’ 1967 single “Ride My See-Saw.” The song was written by Michael Pinder, and didn’t appear on a Moody Blues album until the two record compilation This Is The Moody Blues in 1972.

Moody Blues’ producer Tony Clark went to see the Tops in England and approached them with a demo of the song. The group didn’t know who Clark was, but liked the song and agreed to record it in England with Clark producing. The track was recorded on May 5, 1970, and The Four Tops’ backing band on this record was none other than an uncredited Moody Blues!

Two other tracks were recorded during the session with The Moody Blues backing, including “You Stole My Love” (another Moody Blues tune co-written by Tony Clark and Justin Hayward) and “So Deep Within You.” Neither track saw a U.S. release until The Four Tops box set Fourever in 2001; however “So Deep Within You” was used as the B-side to today’s Song Of The Day in England.

The single was arranged by Arthur Greenslade who had much success arranging hits for Dusty Springfield and Tom Jones. It climbed to #34 on the R&B charts and #90 on the pop charts, but did much better in England where “Simple Game” was a #3 hit single.

Strange bedfellows make great music, indeed!

Edited: June 24th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Black Skinhead” by Kanye West

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Kanye West is a mutha-effen’ “G” – that’s not “G” as in Gangsta, by the way, that’s “G” as in GENIUS.

Think what you may about Kanye’s antics, but he’s always full of surprises, and you can’t touch him when it comes to creating some of the most relevant Hip Hop records…ever!

When confronted with anything regarding Kanye, most people like to focus on his arrogance and the Taylor Swift Grammy Awards incident. Truth be told, the point Kanye was making at the Grammy’s when he interrupted Taylor Swift was a valid one. Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” was the best video of that particular year, certainly better than Swift’s video, and with the passage of time the “Single Ladies” video has become one of the most iconic music videos of all time. It was the bone-headed way he chose to handle himself that night that caused him problems.

Big deal, move on! Beside, my hunch is that most of the Kanye haters out there haven’t even heard enough of his music to really have an opinion, and much of their attitude towards West edges on racism.

Yeezy’s new album Yeezus is a full-on assault from beginning to end, and an exhausting spin that is high in noise levels, with equal measures of misogyny and epiphany thrown in. It is, indeed, Kanye West’s industrial album.

In marketing his latest opus, West chose to debut song s from the album by projecting quick-cut video montages on buildings in cities all over the world. It was then followed by an appearance on Saturday Night Live in which West performed the songs “New Slave” and “Black Skinhead” complete with the industrial montages projecting behind him.

Like The Beatles’ White Album and Spinal Tap’s classic album Smell The Glove, Kanye’s latest comes to us issued in a plain cover, a clear plastic jewel case with a sticker on the back sporting sampling credits, as if to (somewhat accurately) say “with music this good, who needs credits and liner notes.”  Kanye recently explained, “With this album, we ain’t drop no single to radio. We ain’t got no NBA campaign, nothing like that. Shit, we ain’t even got no cover. We just made some real music.” Putting it into biblical terms, the rest is all commentary.

And speaking of biblical terms, God permeates this album right down to its nervy title. It makes one wonder, does Yeezy think he’s god? Well, maybe…

At least what we do learn is that he thinks he is a God in “I Am A God,” and not just any God, but a God who drives a Porsche and craves messages and ménage a trois: “I am a god / Hurry up with my damn massage / Hurry up with my damn ménage / Get the Porsche out the damn garage / I am a god / Even though I’m a man of God / My whole life in the hands of God / So y’all better quit playing with God.”

Daft Punk lend a hand on the production and the electronic noise quotient of four of the album’s tracks including today’s Song Of The Day which features a rhythm pattern that is reminiscent of Gary Glitter’s “Rock And Roll.” West elevates the level of paranoia in the song singing “Middle America packed in / Came to see me in my black skin / Number one question they asking / Fuck every question you asking / If I don’t get ran out by Catholics” and when all is said and done, West is heard screaming the word God over and over as the track comes to a close.

West addresses racism on “New Slaves” proclaiming “My momma was raised in the era when / clean water was only served to the fairer skin,” as with many of the tracks on the album, this one abruptly takes a musical left turn into new musical terrain whether its with an old school sample or, in this case with Frank Ocean’s soulful vocal contribution.

The album turns harrowing on “Blood On The Leaves” which samples Nina Simone’s recording of the Billie Holiday classic “Strange Fruit,” and somehow manages to relate the paranoia and hatred of the lynching of blacks before the civil rights movement to a song about divorce: “Then she said she impregnated, that’s the night your heart died / Then you gotta go and tell your girl and report that / Main reason cause your pastor said you can’t abort that / Now your driver say that new Benz you can’t afford that / All that cocaine on the table you can’t snort that / That going to that owing money that the court got / All in on that alimony, uh, yeah-yeah, she got you homie / ’til death but do your part, unholy matrimony.”

The album’s final song, “Bound 2” samples Ponderosa Twins Plus One’s soul classic “Bound” and adds a dash of Brenda Lee’s “Sweet Nothin’s.” Musically, it is the only song on this entire record that could have fit on one of his earlier releases.

During the last few weeks leading up to the release, West brought in producer Rick Rubin to strip these tracks down even more than they already were, resulting in some last minute re-recording of several songs, giving the 40 minute album an unfinished quality about it.

So what do we make of Yeezus. It’s certainly the ballsiest effort from an artist who revels in his restlessness. It’s also his most in-your-face-album, which concedes to no one, not his fans, and certainly not to his detractors.

Edited: June 23rd, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 6/24/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Here Comes My Girl” by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

Perfection…this song is absolute utter perfection…and it’s funny how some of the greatest songs we know and love emanate from situations full of misery and sheer heartbreak.

The Beach Boys’ “Help Me Rhonda” is a song like that. To listen to it, you’d never know the pain and misery that took place during the recording session. An infamous 40 minute bootleg tape of the session has revealed that Brian Wilson and his brothers were relentlessly badgered by their domineering manager/father during the recording of the vocal track. Murray Wilson purported to know what was best for the song and proceeded to “coach” the boys on how to sing it. His consistently inane interruptions forced Brian Wilson to finally ask his father to leave the session. But cue up the song, and all you hear are perfect harmonies and the sheer joy of the performance. The rest is invisible…

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers’ Damn The Torpedoes had its share of trauma behind the scenes. However, the trauma had more to do with record company politics than personal matters. The Heartbreakers were originally signed to Shelter Records by label owners Leon Russell and Denny Cordell. The groups’ first two albums were released on Shelter which was distributed by ABC Records.

Shortly before sessions commenced for Torpedoes, ABC Records was sold to MCA, and the Shelter label went along with the sale. Suddenly, Petty found himself on a new label with no control over negotiating his and the band’s future. Petty was furious about the reassignment of his contract and tried to get off of the label. (This would be the first of several times that Petty would clash with his label. Most famously was when MCA wanted to jack the list price up on the Hard Promises album, which Petty triumphantly rebuked.) Petty ended up negotiating a newly formed MCA distributed Backstreet Record label for him and the band to release their records. However, as a result of the incident he was forced to file for bankruptcy. Such was the back story leading into the recording of Petty’s best and most popular album.

Damn The Torpedoes was the first Petty album co-produced by Jimmy Iovine who gave the record its big radio-ready sound. The album includes the chart hits “Refugee” (#15) and “Don’t Do Me Like That” (#10), plus several Petty classics including “Even The Losers” and today’s Song Of The Day which climbed to #59 on the charts and has remained a staple of his live repertoire. It was also Petty’s first top-ten album climbing all the way to #2 on the charts (kept out of the #1 spot by Pink Floyd’s The Wall).

Today’s Song Of The Day stands tall in an era prevalent with relationship anthems like “Born To Run” by Bruce Springsteen, “Layla” by Derek & The Dominos, “Maggie Mae” by Rod Stewart and “More Than A Feeling” by Boston, with majestic, Byrds-inspired music and lyrics that perfectly encapsulate what it’s like to be young and with the only one who can ever save your life with love…and these lyrics are spoken and not sung to boot making them sound all the more relevant:

“You know sometimes, I don’t know why, / but this old town seems so hopeless. / I ain’t really sure, but it seems I remember the good times / were just a little bit more in focus. / But when she puts her arms around me / I can somehow rise above it.  / Yeah, man when I got that little girl standin’ right by my side, / you know, I can tell the whole wide world to shove it, hey!”

And then the Byrdsy music swells into the anthemic chorus, “Here comes my girl. Here comes my girl. / Yeah, and she looks so right, she is all I need tonight,” sung in Petty’s most inspired Dylan nasal.

Writing “Here Comes My Girl” was no picnic for Petty and Mike Campbell. Basically, they had a great piece of music, but Petty struggled coming up with a great set of lyrics to match. Petty was inspired to ultimately use narration on the track by records like The Shangri-Las “Walking In The Rain,” and the jangly backing track and chorus were surely inspired by The Byrds.

As time goes on, Petty and the Heartbreakers’ brand of rock and roll keeps on getting better. Judging by the reviews I’ve read of their recent multi-gig residencies at The Beacon Theater in New York City and at The Henry Fonda Theater in Hollywood, the shows were not to be missed. I was fortunate enough to attend one of the shows of the residency they did at Chicago’s Vic Theater in 2003, and I’m here to tell you that TP and The Heartbreakers are a band with heart and a whole lot of soul.

Edited: June 22nd, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 6/22/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Be Sweet” (Live Version) by Afghan Whigs

Afghan Whigs are one of the great underrated bands of the 1990s with one of the most enigmatic lead singers in all of Rock.

Greg Dulli’s soul-drenched voice is the perfect vehicle to convey the dark liquor-fueled lyrics about obsession that permeate his songs. As much as I hate to say it, he musically comes off like an early-period Jim Morrison, before the silly trite lyrics and woe-is-me melodrama killed the Doors leader’s life and career.

Add to that the dramatic backing of Rick McCollum on lead guitar, John Curley on bass, and Steve Earle (not that Steve Earle) on drums, and you have a group that quickly outgrew the “grunge” label put onto them, and morphed into one of the premier alternative soul bands of the `1990s, and beyond.

The Whigs were the first group to sign to Sub Pop Records that weren’t from the Pacific Northwest before ending up on Elektra Records where they recorded several records including their magnum opus “Gentlemen” where this song originally hails. After moving on to Columbia Records for the grimy soul album 1965, they split in 2001 and Dulli went on to portray himself as a sleazy lounge lizard with his group The Twilight Singers. He also formed the Gutter Twins with Mark Lanegan of Screaming Trees.

The Whigs reunited last summer for a tour that included a triumphant stop at Lollapalooza that found the band better than they ever were. Since then, they’ve released two new recordings including a cover of Frank Ocean’s “Lovecrimes,” and as recently as the South By Southwest Festival this past March, the band was still gigging.

Would it be too much to ask for a full-length album of new Whigs material?

Edited: June 21st, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 6/21/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Always” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Yeah Yeah Yeah’s last album It’s Blitz was the group’s most mainstream effort, garnering them a much wider audience than they previously had. In contrast, their latest album, Mosquito is much less dancefloor friendly and hearkens back to their earlier electro trash sound.

Although, the dense, layered atmospheric production makes the record initially far less satisfying than its predecessor, with repeated spins the songs begin to insinuate themselves and you begin to realize just how great this record is.

Yeah Yeah Yeahs consist of Karen O (aka Karen Orzolek) on vocals, Nick Zinner on guitar and Brian Chase on drums. Karen O met Chase while attending Oberlin College and the two formed an acoustic duo called Unitard. O transferred to New York University and met Zinner and the two formed a trashy downtown noise band. After adding Chase on drums, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were born.

They began to gain notoriety by supporting the likes of The White Stripes and The Strokes on tour, and they released their self-titled debut EP in 2001. Their first full length album, Fever To Tell followed in 2003 and included the singles “Maps” and “Y Control,” further establishing them with the hipsters as a cutting edge college band.

Their second album, Show Your Bones was released in 2006 and included the singles “Gold Lion” and “Cheated Hearts.”  While Yeah Yeah Yeahs were by no means a mainstream band, their audience began to grow with each new release. After a stop-gap EP called Is Is was released in 2007, they garnered universal acclaim with their 2009 album It’s Blitz. It was their most mainstream record, featuring the dance oriented singles “Zero,” “Heads Will Roll” and “Skeletons” that garnered them radio airplay and a Grammy nomination for Best Alternative Album.

Karen O has one of the best voices in rock, and Today’s Song Of The Day features a blissful sonic landscape that encases her enraptured vocals. It is clearly the most beautiful track the band has ever captured on wax, and its radiant beauty makes it stand out from the noise-filled din of the rest of the record.

The whole album has a dark atmospheric undertone and many of the songs plunge you into dramatic sonic soundscapes. “Subway” is underpinned by the ambient percussive click-clack sound of a subway train racing across track as O lays on a hypnotic vocal, and “Under The Earth” is buried in a dubby dance club drone.

With its choral crescendo, the album’s opener “Sacrilege” is vaguely reminiscent of Madonna’s “Like A Prayer.”  While there are no surefire radio ready singles on the album, “These Paths” does come close to fitting the bill. However, it’s the title track that flits around like a mosquito in flight as O howls “I’ll suck your blood” over and over, that is the current single.

“Buried Alive” was produced by James Murphy (LCD Soundsystem) who creates a great vibe that is interrupted midway by an awkward and completely out of place rap courtesy of Dr. Octagon (aka Kool Keith). The album comes to a close on an intimate (for them) note with “Wedding Song” which O sang to her husband at their nuptials. It features O’s most straightforward vocal on the album as she sings “In flames I sleep soundly/ with angels around me.”

The albums features production by TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek, Nick Launay, and LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy, and while not as immediately accessible or satisfying as its predecessor, it does bear fruit to those whose ears are up for the harvest.

Edited: June 20th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 6/20/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Too Many Creeps” by Bush Tetras

This song used to really set a party in motion back in 1980 when it was released as a single on the New York 99 record label. With its distorted guitar, I-don’t-give-a-fuck vocals and sluggish funky rhythms, Bush Tetras established themselves as part of the downtown Manhattan No Wave dance club scene.

Along with Sonic Youth, Suicide, Glenn Branca, Material, Lydia Lunch, Arto Lyndsay, Lounge Lizards, Teenage Jesus & The Jerks and DNA, Bush Tetras were part of a downtown music scene known as “No Wave” that melded heavy distortion, infectious dance and funk beats and plenty of New York City attitude, creating a wholly original form of dance music that offered a hip alternative to disco and had a huge influence on the industrial music scene of the 1980s.

The group consisted of Pat Place on angular funk guitar (originally of James Chance & The Contortions), Cynthia Sley on half-sung/half-spoken vocals, Laura Kennedy on bass and Dee Pop (no relation to Iggy) on drums.

After the relative success (#57) of today’s Song Of The Day, the group went on to release another EP on Stiff records that was produced by Topper Headon of the Clash. That record was followed by a live album that was released on the cassette only ROIR label.

The group broke up by 1983. By 1995, the original lineup reunited and recorded two more albums that went unnoticed. In fact, their last album Happy was shelved by Mercury Records before it was even released, only to finally appear on ROIR in 2012.

Edited: June 19th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 6/19/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Never Say Never” by Romeo Void

Patti Smith, Chrissie Hynde, Debbie Harry, Belinda Carlisle, Susanna Hoffs, Debora Iyall – all of these women rockers from the punk and new wave era became huge superstars…except for one.

It’s not like Debora Iyall of Romeo Void didn’t possess a coolly detached emotional voice…and it certainly had nothing t do with the fact that her indelible self-penned songs had memorable hooks and even more memorable lyrics.

Debora Iyall’s lack of popularity came down to her looks, or more specifically, her weight. Iyall’s weight pretty much resulted in Columbia Records pulling all support for Romeo Void because she refused to do anything about it when the company confronted her.

Romeo Void formed in San Francisco on Valentine’s Day 1979 and quickly became the darlings of the new wave dance music scene with their highly danceable songs that featured Iyall’s sultry voice and intelligent, confrontational lyrics. The group consisted on vocalist Debora Iyall, Peter Woods on guitar, John “Stench” Haines (of Pearl Harbor & The Explosions) on drums, Frank Zincavage on bass and Benjamin Bossi on saxophone.

Iyall was primarily influenced by Patti Smith whose popularity came down to her music and lyrics, and not some pimped out beauty queen sex symbol image. Her Native American heritage (she is from the Cowlitz tribe) and robust weight allowed her to perfectly portray the part of a punk outsider while performing, creating a unique bond between her and the audience. Her sultry voice, which was reminiscent of Chrissie Hynde’s, oozed sensuality, fuelling two of the most sexually frank and infectiously danceable new wave singles, today’s Song Of The Day, “Never Say Never” and “A Girl In Trouble (Is A Temporary Thing)”

After releasing a single for the San Francisco record label 415, Romeo Void cut their debut album; It’s A Condition which was produced by 415’s house producer David Kahne. (Kahne would go on to produce records for the likes of The Bangles, Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, The Strokes and many others.)  415 Records was an independent San Francisco label founded by Howie Klein, who later helmed Reprise Records during the 1980s. The album’s melding of new wave, jazz, funk and punk became an underground hit attracting Ric Ocasek of The Cars, who became a big fan of the group.

Ocasek offered to record them at his Synchro Sound Studio in Boston resulting in the Never Say Never EP that contained today’s Song Of The Day. The song went on to become a big dance club hit, with its confrontationally frank hook “I might like you better if we slept together.” It was later featured in the 1984 film Reckless starring Jennifer Grey, Aiden Quinn and Daryl Hannah. The success of the single also led to a distribution deal between Columbia Records and 415 garnering major label distribution and a shot at the big time for the group.

For Romeo Void’s 1982 second album Benefactor, David Kahne was replaced by Ian Taylor on production duties and John Haines was replaced by Aaron Smith on drums. The album was a far more commercial affair focusing on dance tunes with less confrontational lyrics. It included an edited version of “Never Say Never” which garnered video play on MTV, but none of the other tracks became hits.

David Kahne was back in the production chair for their third and final album Instincts. In it, the band followed their instincts and reverted back to more provocative ways, resulting in the hit “A Girl In Trouble (Is A Temporary Thing).” The song was written in response to Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean,” and it climbed up to #35 on the pop charts.

While touring to support the album, Columbia Records pulled the plug on promotion support for the record because they saw Iyall’s unwillingness to lose weight as a liability. Shortly thereafter, the group decided to call it quits. Today, Iyall occasionally records and performs with Peter Dunne of Pearl Harbor & The Explosions.

Edited: June 18th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 6/18/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “The Hero Takes A Fall” by The Bangles

Power pop doesn’t get any better than this!

Along with The Go-Go’s, The Bangles were the main purveyors of the 1980s girl group sound. But while The Go-Go’s were lightweight and effervescent, The Bangles’ brand of rock was rooted in the sound of The Byrds and early Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, giving them much more clout with critics and music aficionados alike.

After forming out of the Los Angeles “Paisley Underground” music scene and changing their name from The Bangs to Bangles, sisters Vickie Peterson on guitar and Debbie Peterson on drums, plus Susanna Hoffs on guitar and Michael Steele (formerly of The Runaways) on bass (replacing original member Annette Zilinskas) brought the girl group sound into the modern rock era with All Over The Place, their full-length debut album for Columbia Records. (The group had already released an EP on the independent Faulty Products record label produced by Miles Copeland.)

While the album only got up to number 80 on the U.S. charts, it did include the classic single “Going Down To Liverpool” which was written by Kimberly Rew of Katrina & The Waves and received heavy rotation on MTV. Also included were a few other classic FM radio staples that helped establish The Bangles as an underground hipster band, including “All About You” and their superb cover of the Merry-Go-Round’s 1966 hit “Live,” that in a perfect world, would have been a chart topper. Across the pond, “Going Down To Liverpool” climbed into the British top 40 and won a BPI Award (the British equivalent of The Grammy) for the album.

Even though their 1984 album All Over The Place received pretty good exposure on MTV and sold respectively well, it took the involvement of Prince to break the band big. Prince had written the song “Manic Monday” (under the pseudonym Christopher, his character in the movie Under the Cherry Moon) for his girl group, Apollonia  6 in 1984 and then left it unreleased in the can. After hearing The Bangles’ recording of today’s Song Of The Day, Prince contacted Hoffs and offered the group the song.

With some very commercial sounding production courtesy of David Kahne (who has produced everyone from Bruce Springsteen and Paul McCartney to The Strokes and Sugar Ray), their next album Different Light was the one that made them worldwide sensations. It included their version of “Manic Monday,” which went all the way to number two on the pop charts, plus it also featured the Jules Shear-penned hit “If She Knew What She Wants” (a top 30 hit), “Walking Down Your Street” and “Walk Like An Egyptian” which ultimately topped the American singles charts.

“Walk Like An Egyptian” was written by Liam Sternberg who initially offered it to Toni Basil to record. After she turned the song down, it found its way into the hands of producer David Kahne, who in turn, shared it with the Bangles.

If The Bangles drew you in with the jangly brand of power pop of All Over The Place, they certainly lost you by the time of “Walk Like An Egyptian.” Kahne gave the group’s sound a radio-ready sheen that smoothed out all of their edge. As a result, they soon conquered the charts again (#2) with their cover of Paul Simon’s “Hazy Shade Of Winter” from the Less Than Zero film soundtrack, and their 1988 album called Everything (which contrary to its title, wasn’t).

The group became MTV darlings and turned into one of the many faceless entities churning out successful chart pabulum like “In Your Room” which climbed to #5, and even worse yet, “Eternal Flame,” which topped the charts, while totally losing their credibility and the lion share of their original fan base.

Meanwhile behind the scenes, acrimony was brewing within the band over the fact that Hoffs was singled out as the leader by the press because she sang the lead vocals of most of their singles. In reality, the group evenly shared the vocal duties, and co-wrote most of their songs together as well.

Shortly after Everything, the group broke up and Vicki Peterson went on to replace Charlotte Caffey in The Go-Go’s. She would also join The Continental Drifters and record alongside her future sister-in-law Susan Cowsill of The Cowsills. Meanwhile, Hoffs tried her hand at a solo career, releasing two albums that went nowhere, and Debbie Peterson formed the group Kindred Spirit with British singer/songwriter Siobhan Maher.  Steele retired from the music industry and settled down in California.

The group reformed again in 1999 to record the song “Get The Girl” for the movie Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, and in 2003 they recorded the Elvis Costello penned single “Doll Revolution” which was the title track to their comeback album. Their latest album, Sweetheart Of The Sun, was released in 2011.

Edited: June 17th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 6/17/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Grimsby” by Elton John

To use the title of one of the songs included on this album, Elton John’s Caribou is indeed a “Stinker.” That said, this beautiful turd of an album, his first to be recorded in the U.S., captures Elton John at his commercial apex and at the height of his creative powers. The fact that it contained two of his most indelible singles, “The Bitch Is Back” and “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me,” was just the icing on the cake of a very hectic year.

By the release of Caribou in 1974, Elton John’s career was so white-hot he could do no wrong. His previous albums Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player (released in 1972) and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road had both topped the charts in 1973, and combined, they sold in neighborhood of 24 million copies.

Hence, Elton unleashed a flimsy, tossed-off album chock full of half-baked songs (by a fully baked superstar), that topped the charts all over the world. But let’s be kind and cut Elton and the band some slack. They were under extreme pressure to record the record very quickly and had only about nine days to get the job done before embarking on a world tour. At one point, the title of the album was to be Ol’ Pink Eyes Is Back, which was a comment on the extreme fatigue Elton and the band were feeling at the time, and also a pun on the title of Frank Sinatra’s classic Ol’ Blue Eyes Is Back album. Instead, the album takes its title from the studio it was recorded in, Caribou Ranch in Colorado.

Musicians on the album consisted of Davey Johnstone on guitar, Dee Murray on bass, Nigel Olsson on drums and Ray Cooper (making his first appearance on an Elton John album) on percussion. The band was joined by special guest including The Tower Of Power Horn Section featuring Lenny Pickett on saxophone, Carl Wilson, Bruce Johnston, Clydie King, Shirlie Matthews, Billy Hinsche, Toni Tennille and Dusty Springfield on background vocals, and Chester Thompson on organ. And, of course, Bernie Taupin wrote all the lyrics to the songs, and Daryl “The Captain” Dragon was credited with arrangements.

Only two tracks on the album rank among John’s best work. “The Bitch Is Back” is the terse self referential rocker that kicks off the album. It has also become one of Elton’s signature songs and a concert staple. The song climbed to the number four slot on the pop charts, and the title came from a comment Bernie Taupin’s wife made about Elton John. The song was later masterfully covered by Tina Turner.

The other is the timeless love song “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me,” which is one of Elton’s most beautiful ballads. The track features lush background vocals by Carl Wilson and Bruce Johnston of the Beach Boys, Toni Tennille of Captain & Tennille and Dusty Springfield, and went all the way to the number two position on the pop charts.

Today’s Song Of The Day is one of several lesser gems on the album that have become fan favorites over the years. According to the Songfacts website, Bernie Taupin grew up on a farm that was about 50 miles away from a fishing port on the Lincolnshire Coast of England called Grimsby. Elton prompted Bernie to write the song
because Randy Newman wrote a song about Cleveland.

Several other songs on the album also make the grade including “Dixie Lily,” which is a country tribute to a Louisiana riverboat with a honkin’ “Yakety Sax” style solo by The Tower Of Power horns, and “Pinky” which is also another great Elton John love ballad that really deserves to be elevated to “classic” status.

The rest of the album is composed of forgettable rockers like “You’re So Static” and “Stinker,” and the somewhat bloated ballad, “Ticking” which is a tale about a mass murderer. The song has unfortunately become all too relevant over the years.

“Solar Prestige A Gamon” is the Seinfeld of songs, meaning that it is a song about…nothing! “Solar” is the “Mairzy Doats” of the 1970s, and if you are too young to know what that is (and you probably are), you should check out that precedent-setting Merry Macs’ hit from 1944 on YouTube. The song, whose lyrics are purely gibberish, was inspired by none other than The Beatles’ Abbey Road track “Sun King.” Elton thought it would be fun to sing a song comprised of real words strung together to mean nothing, so Bernie Taupin wrote up a set of on-demand nonsense lyrics to fulfill his wishes. Sure, it’s a goof performed by the ultimate goofball, but if this musical dud doesn’t manage to put a smile on your face, you are far more jaded than I am.

And finally, there’s the unintentionally silly song “I’ve Seen The Saucers,” which is a pseudo epic tale of alien abduction. It ranks among Elton’s weakest tracks, but it is saved by the terrific backing vocals that sound like they were peeled off of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.

Several B-sides were also recorded during the Caribou sessions including “Sick City” and “Cold Highway.” Both songs can be found on the CD reissue of the album. Elton would go on to recover his creative mojo with his next album, the sublime Captain Fantastic And The Brown Dirt Cowboy, and his massive popularity would continue unabated for several more years.

As an added bonus for reading this far, I am also including a rare Old Grey Whistle Test solo version of “Grimsby” performed on 12/24/74. As a Christmas present to fans, Elton brought out Rod Stewart and Gary Glitter to perform “White Christmas.”

Edited: June 16th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 6/16/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Daddy’s Home” by Shep & The Limelites

Shep & The Limelites consisted of James “Shep” Sheppard, Clarence Bassett and Charles Bakersfield. They formed in Queens, New York in 1960 and are primarily remembered for their signature hit “Daddy’s Home.”

Sheppard was originally a member of a group called The Heartbeats that signed with the Hull record label in the late 1950s. The group scored several minor hits on Hull including “Your Way,” Baby Don’t Go” and “A Thousand Miles Away.” It was while a member of The Heartbeats that Sheppard co-wrote and recorded an early version of today’s Song Of The Day as their last single on Hull.

The Heartbeats met the demise of so many groups of the day and called it quits in 1959 after being ripped off by managers and not paid for their shows by promoters.

Two years later, Sheppard formed The Limelites with Bassett and Bakersfield and were once again signed by Hull Records. Their first single as The Limelites was “Daddy’s Home,” which soared all the way to the number two position on the charts in 1961 and was covered by the likes of PJ Proby, Jermaine Jackson, Toots & The Maytals and Cliff Richard. The group scored several other hits including “What Did Daddy Do,” “Ready For Your Love” and “Our Anniversary.”

The group continued until 1966 before breaking up. Sheppard was found shot to death in his car on the Long Island Expressway in January of 1970. He had just reformed The Limelites and was beginning to tour the rock and roll revival circuit.

Edited: June 16th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 6/15/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Harry’s House/Centerpiece” by Joni Mitchell

Joni Mitchell was coming off of Court And Spark, her most commercially successful studio recording to date, sporting several hit singles including “Free Man In Paris,” “Raised On Robbery” and “Help Me.” So by 1975 interest was very high as critics and fans alike awaited her next record which was believed to be the one that would take her to the next level of super stardom.

Would she rock out like she did with the L.A. Express on the tour that resulted in the live double album Miles Of Aisles? Would it be a return to the voice-and-guitar folk roots of Ladies Of The Canyon? Would she open up her soul by delivering a set of confessional songs a la Blue?

She did nothing of the sort, and fans were mostly confounded by The Hissing Of Summer Lawns, while many critics flat-out hated it. This was not the confessional folkie or the cocaine-fueled ‘70s rocker at all. This was something completely new and different. This was a modal jazz Joni who turned the commerciality of Court And Spark upside down and left it in the gutter to die like road kill.

The ringer was the album’s first single and opening cut. “In France They Kiss On The Main Street” could have fit very comfortably on Court And Spark, and the song reassured fans that this was the same Joni Mitchell they’ve always loved.

But then the album takes a sharp left turn. First we hear tribal drums, like nothing we’ve ever heard on a Joni Mitchell album before. No problem, we’re comfortable with the fact that soon the guitar and the band will kick in and Joni will lay some kind of vibrant melodic hook on top of it all, giving us another indelible hit song for the radio to play. It never happens…

A decade before Paul Simon’s Graceland, Joni Mitchell spreads her multi-cultural wings on “The Jungle Line” by recording vocals, wiggy synthesizer and angular guitar parts on top of a recording by the African Drummers Of Burundi. The song pays homage to the jungle themed paintings of French Post-Impressionist painter Henri Rousseau by marrying his imaginary jungle worlds with the all too real world of drugs, sex and crime.

Lots of surprises follow, but the one constant is Mitchell’s sharp eye for detail in creating very real and well developed characters on a set of songs with arrangements that steer far away from the radio-ready confines of her soft-rock peers.

“Beauty parlor blondes with credit card eyes…”

The poetry of the “Harry’s House” part of today’s Song Of The Day is some of the greatest to ever come from a Joni Mitchell record…and that’s saying a lot! Where does that inspiration come from? And how can she weave so many stereotypes into a song without sounding, well, stereotypical?  Check out these lyrics for yourself:

“Heatwaves on the runway / as the wheels set down

He takes his baggage off the carousel / He takes a taxi into town

Yellow schools of taxi fishes / Jonah in a ticking whale

Caught up at the light in the fishnet windows / of Bloomingdale’s”

 

“Watching those high fashion girls / Skinny black models with raven curls

Beauty parlor blondes with credit card eyes / Looking for the chic and the fancy to buy”

 

“He opens up his suitcase / in the continental suite

And people twenty stories down / Look like colored currents in the street

A helicopter lands on the Pan Am roof / like a dragonfly on a tomb

And business men in button downs / press into conference rooms

Battalions of paper-minded males / talking commodities and sales

While at home their paper wives and paper kids / paper the walls to keep their gut reactions hid”

 

“Yellow checkers for the kitchen / climbing ivy for the bath

She is lost in House and Gardens / he’s caught up in Chief of Staff

He drifts off into the memory / of the way she looked in school

With her body oiled and shining / at the public swimming pool …”

 

The “Centerpiece” part of the song is based on the Lambert, Hendricks and Ross jazz standard of the same name. It was not Mitchell’s first foray into the catalog of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, as “Twisted” from Court And Spark is also one of their songs.

Other highlights abound like “Don’t Interrupt The Sorrow” which hearkens back to her older acoustic sound, “Shadows And Light,” a hymnal that provides another musical left turn at the end the album, the light and jazzy “Edith And The Kingpin” and “The Boho Dance” which comments on the disparity between art and commerce.

Mitchell chose a great set of musicians from her rolodex to make her adventurous music a reality, including old friends James Taylor, Graham Nash and David Crosby on background vocals, Robben Ford, Jeff “Skunk” Baxter and Larry Carlton on guitar, Joe Sample and Victor Feldman on keyboards, Max Bennett and Wilton Felder on bass, Chuck Findley and Bud Shank on brass and reeds respectively, and John Guerin on drums.

While not the commercial blockbuster I’m sure David Geffen wanted for Asylum Records, The Hissing Of Summer Lawns did climb all the way to the number four position on the album charts. It was also nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Female Vocal Pop Performance, but lost out to Linda Ronstadt’s Hasten Down The Wind. After all was said and done, Mitchell did not tour in support of the album, but rather went out on the road as a member of Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue.

Recently, I discovered the mostly acoustic demos Mitchell made for this album under the title The Seeding Of Summer Lawns. One of the many surprises in the collection is that the song “Dreamland,” which was later released on the album Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter, had its genesis in this album.

The artist currently known as Prince has said on numerous occasions that The Hissing Of Summer Lawns is his favorite album…and it’s certainly one of mine too.

Edited: June 14th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 6/14/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Creepin’” by Stevie Wonder

Today’s Song Of The Day is from Stevie Wonder’s 1974 album Fulfillingness’ First Finale which was released shortly after a car accident that almost took his life, making the album an all-the-more-important part of his canon. While on tour in North Carolina in August of 1973, Wonder’s car smashed into the back of a logging truck, and the bed of the truck crashed into the windshield of his car. Wonder suffered head injuries that left him in a coma for four days. He also partially lost his sense of smell and temporarily lost his sense of taste.

The brush with death had a great impact on the tone of the album, bringing a renewed spirituality and an awareness of his mortality to the lyrics. During the first interview he gave at the hospital several days after the accident, Wonder had this to say: “I was unconscious, and that for a few days, I was definitely in a much better spiritual place that made me aware of a lot of things that concern my life and my future, and what I have to do to reach another higher ground.”

At the time of its release, Fulfillingness’ was seen as somewhat of a disappointment following nearly-perfect records like Innervisions and Talking Book. It also didn’t help that his next record was 1976′s Songs In The Key Of Life which was a critically acclaimed double album, leading most people to gloss over this record.

However, upon closer inspection, Fulfillingness’ is a first rate collection of songs that finds Stevie Wonder in transition, but still stands mighty tall amongst his other releases. And any album that can sport classics like “Heaven Is 10 Zillion Light Years Away,” “You Haven’t Done Nothin’,” “It Ain’t No Use,” “Boogie On Reggae Woman,” “They Won’t Go When I Go” and “Please Don’t Go” betters most of the records on the musical landscape circa 1974.

Like on his previous albums, Wonder played almost all of the instruments here, enlisting  first class help from Michael Sembello on guitar, Sneaky Pete Kleinow on pedal steel,  James Jamerson and Reggie McBride on bass, and on background vocals The Jackson 5, Minnie Riperton, Deniece Williams, Paul Anka, Syreeta Wright, The Persuasions, Shirley Brewer and Jim Gilstrap.

The album was his first to top the Billboard album charts and it spawned two big singles including the funky “Boogie on Reggae Woman” (#1 R&B/#3 Pop) and his indictment of the Nixon administration, “You Haven’t Done Nothin’” (#1 R&B/#1 Pop) featuring background vocals by the Jackson 5. It also won three Grammy Awards for Best Male Pop Vocal, Best Male Rhythm and Blues Vocal Performance (for “Boogie On Reggae Woman”), and Album of the Year.

When it comes to a vibe, today’s Song Of The Day has it all: dreamy atmosphere, lush melody and deeply romantic lyrics. The song features Wonder on lead and background vocals, Fender Rhodes, harmonica, drums, Moog bass and T.O.N.T.O. synthesizer. Crucially, the vibe comes down to the T.O.N.T.O. (The Original New Timbral Orchestra) synthesizer that was the first and largest multitimbral polyphonic analog synthesizer in the world. It was brought into the fray by Malcolm Cecil and Robert Margouleff and used on Wonder’s three previous albums. The female background vocals on the track were supplied by Minnie Riperton, and the song was also covered by Luther Vandross and Kenny Rankin.

Bottom line: the run of records Stevie Wonder released from 1971′s Music Of My Mind through 1976′s Songs In The Key Of Life are an essential part to any comprehensive music collection!

Well, it seems that Stevie Wonder’s recording of “Creepin’” has been blockedon YouTube by thought police (or is that the thoughtless police) at the record companies. So if you have Spotify or this Stevie Wonder album, I recommend that you cue it up and enjoy it while reading this…and if you don’t have it, buy it immediately…and you can thank me later.

Edited: June 13th, 2013

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

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “No Lullaby” by Jethro Tull

By 1978, Jethro Tull had been an entity for ten years and they were at the brink of irrelevancy due to the onslaught of punk rock. One would have thought that a veteran band like Tull would have either thrown in the towel, or tried its best to keep up with the times (and they did a few years later on the album A). But ever the contrarian, Ian Anderson and company dug their collective heels in and returned to the English countryside for musical and lyrical inspiration, making a somewhat ornate British folk album that made them completely out of step with the musical climate.

Heavy Horses followed on the heels of Songs From The Wood which was seen as somewhat of a comeback for the band following their disastrously heavy handed 1976 concept album Too Old To Rock And Roll, Too Young To Die. The album was also part of a “back to the roots” English folk album trilogy that consisted of the albums Songs From The Wood, Heavy Horses and concluded with 1979’s Stormwatch.

Lyrically, Ian Anderson turned his attention toward animals, using cats (“The Mouse Police Never Sleep”), horses (“Heavy Horses”), insects (“Moths”), mice (“One Brown Mouse”) and dogs (“Rover”) as an allegory for the human condition. Musically, the band toughened up their sound from their last album, with closer miked vocals and harder-edged playing on an album that was more progressive than its predecessor. It was also their last consistently great album.

Much of the consistency of the album comes down to the tight musicianship of the Tull lineup that had been playing together for a number of years, including Ian Anderson on flute and vocals, Martin Barre on guitar, Barriemore Barlow on drums, John Evan on keyboards, David Palmer on keyboards and orchestral arrangements and John Glascock on bass. Unfortunately, this was Glascock’s last full album with the group as his health had begun to deteriorate. He would pass away in 1979 as the result of a genetic heart valve defect.

Today’s Song Of The Day hearkens toward the prog rock sound of Thick As A Brick and A Passion Play with its rapidly shifting gears. It is a sprawling tune that features a great guitar riff by Martin Barre followed by the song’s signature stripped down bass and drum line that introduces the vocals. The song was also the opening track of the live Bursting Out double album that was recorded on the Heavy Horses tour.

Other highlights on this varied platter include “Moths” with its trademark flute-and-guitar interplay on a song about the suicidal attraction moths have to bright light, the title track which paid tribute to England’s vanishing work horses in favor of machinery, and fan favorites like the Celtic flavored “Acres Wild” (featuring violin played by Darryl Way of Curved Air) and the album’s closer “Weathercock” (which would turn up a years later on their Christmas album).

Sadly for Tull, the punk rock movement saw to it that this record was followed by a long downward spiral from which Jethro Tull would never recover. Today, Ian Hunter tours around the world either as a solo act or under the Jethro Tull moniker. Most recently, he’s recorded a sequel to Thick As A Brick called TAAB2 and is currently touring this summer performing both albums in their entirety.

Edited: June 12th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 6/12/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Thelma” by Paul Simon

It boggles the mind how a song this good could have been left in the can, but that was indeed the fate of the Paul Simon outtake “Thelma,” which was originally intended for his 1990 album The Rhythm Of The Saints. (The song would surface three years later on the Paul Simon 1964 – 1993 box set.)

By 1988, Simon had to begin thinking about the near impossible task of creating a follow up record to his 1986 Grammy-winning smash hit album Graceland. But how do you follow up a record as dominant and successful as Graceland? For Simon, it meant fashioning a record along the same culturally exploratory lines as Graceland, but changing the locale from South Africa to Brazil, and melding the music from both locales together.

The resultant Rhythm collection was a far more adventurous record than its predecessor featuring groove oriented songs like “The Obvious Child,” “Can’t Run But,” “Proof” and today’s Song Of The Day, that were built from the percussion on up. The album is also more subtle and intricate than Graceland with a set of nuanced experimental songs like “Further To Fly,” “Cool Cool River,” “Spirit Voices” and “She Moves On” that insinuate themselves with the listener upon repeated listening.

Like it’s predecessor, Rhythm featured an all-star international collective of musicians including the likes of Clifton Chenier, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Milton Nascimento, Adrian Belew, J.J. Cale, Hugh Masakela, Michael Brecker, Randy Brecker, Greg Phillinganes, Steve Gadd, Naná Vasconcelos and many others, working together to create a patchwork quilt of exotic sound to house Simon’s sharp, impressionistic lyrics.

Rhythm was also the first album that Simon collaborated with Cameroonian guitarist Vincent Nguini, whom he still works with today. Most of the record was recorded in Rio de Janeiro and then brought back to New York’s Hit Factory for final touch ups. Together, Simon and Nguini fashioned finished songs out of the bare rhythm recordings captured in Rio for Simon to put his lyrics on.

Simon toured extensively after the release of the album, culminating in a free concert in New York City’s Central Park in front of 750,000 attendees. (I was there!) While it is inevitable that Rhythm will always exist in the shadow of Graceland, the album’s failing is that it sounds at times more like a genre exercise than an actual Paul Simon album. That said, the album did peak the #4 position on the album charts and sold several million copies.

Edited: June 11th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 6/11/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “(Miss) Silver Dime” by Ian Hunter

After the demise of Mott The Hoople, Ian Hunter’s solo career got off to a strong start with his 1975 eponymously titled debut album. Not that the album was by any means a hit upon release, however it did have standout tracks like “Once Bitten Twice Shy” (brought to the charts x years later by Great White), “It Ain’t Easy When You Fall” and “The Truth, The Whole Truth, Nothing But The Truth” that are some of Hunter’s best-loved tunes.

But his second solo record All American Alien Boy was poorly received and sold minimally. As a result, his third album Overnight Angels didn’t even receive a release here in the United States in 1977, and is still unavailable today. (Not even on Spotify.) At the time, Hunter was in the process of changing management and Columbia Records in the states wouldn’t release the record until Hunter found new management.

The album was produced by Roy Thomas Baker who also produced six Queen albums (including Sheer Heart Attack and A Night At The Opera), several hit albums by The Cars (including their first three long players) and albums by Devo, Foreigner and Alice Cooper. Baker brought a huge sound to the record that was supported by Hunter’s band including Earl Slick on guitar (who had just come off of David Bowie’s StationToStation tour, Pete Oxendale on keyboards, Rob Rawlinson on bass and Dennis Davidson on drums.

It was his most American sounding album, and Hunter later disavowed it as forced. While nowhere near the standard of his first two albums, it does feature great vocals by Hunter and a clutch of terrific songs including the title track, the album opener “Golden Opportunity,” “Justice Of The Peace,” “The Ballad Of Little Star” and today’s Song Of The Day. Later copies of this record were amended by the addition of the B-side “England Rocks” (also from the Overnight Angels session) which he would later record as “Cleveland Rocks,” becoming one of his signature songs.

A new band and a change in record labels brought success the following year with the release of his hit album You’re Never Alone With A Schizophrenic.

Edited: June 10th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 6/10/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “The Dipsy Doodle” by Chick Webb & His Orchestra featuring Ella Fitzgerald  

Chick Webb was known as “The King of the Savoy” where he and his orchestra would regularly win battles of music against the other leading big bands of the day. He stood tall amongst big band drummers even though his diminutive frame was only a tad over 4 feet tall. His major discovery was Ella Fitzgerald whose jive vocals light up this gem from 1937.

This stuff is hipper than the latest offerings from Daft Punk and Kanye West!

Edited: June 9th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 6/8/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Win” by David Bowie

Plastic soul…on a plastic record.

Shifting gears was nothing new for David Bowie who seemingly shedded skin during the 1970s like others took out the trash. So when Bowie booked time in Philadelphia’s Sigma Sound Studios during a two-week break during the Diamond Dogs tour, it should not have come as a surprise to anyone that he would emerge in the guise of a suave and sophisticated soul man, sans costumes, make-up and theatrics.

The signs were already there. Bowie had begun to work on an album called People From Bad Homes for his protégé, Ava Cherry And The Astronettes who consisted of his friend Geoffrey MacCormack (aka Warren Peace), Jason Guess, Aynsley Dunbar, Herbie Flowers and Mike Garson. Recording for the Cherry album was abandoned before completion as Bowie decided to focus on the recording of his Diamond Dogs album instead.  The tapes for Cherry’s album then became tied up in litigation as Bowie tried to separate himself from Tony DeFries and his Mainman management company. As a result, the record remained unreleased for over 20 years, and is still hard to find today.

Several songs from the Cherry album would end up making the cut on future Bowie records, including “I Am Divine” which became “Somebody Up There Likes Me” from Young Americans, “I Am A Laser” which emerged as “Scream Like A Baby” on Scary Monsters and a cover of The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” that Bowie would get around to recording for his Tonight album. Cherry and company also covered Frank Zappa & The Mothers’ song “How Could I Be Such A Fool” for the album as well.

While on the American leg of the Diamond Dogs tour Bowie began to perform the Eddie Floyd soul classic “Knock On Wood,” and midway through the tour he dropped much of the elaborate costuming and staging in favor of a more stripped down and soulful approach. After the tour, Bowie released the double live album David Live At The Tower Philadelphia as a stop-gap while he feverishly tried to work through the Mainman management issues. The first official inkling of Bowie’s new direction was the release of the live version of “Knock On Wood” as a single.

During the Philadelphia tour stop, Bowie decided to check in to Sigma Sound with Tony Visconti as producer to record some of the new soulful music he heard in his head. He had intended to record with the MFSB rhythm section, but conflicts left only conga player Larry Washington available for the sessions. So Bowie recruited Carlos Alomar on guitar, Willie Weeks on bass, Andy Newmark (of Sly & The Famiily Stone) on drums, David Sanborn on saxophone, Mike Garson on piano, and for background vocals Ava Cherry, an unknown Luther Vandross and Alomar’s wife, Robin Alomar.

The session was the first time Carlos Alomar and Bowie worked with each other leading to a working relationship that has lasted for over 30 years. It was also one of David Sanborn and Luther Vandross’ first sessions. The album was essentially recorded live with the full band playing at the same time that Bowie sang.

When fans got wind that Bowie had checked into Sigma Sound, they began to hang outside the studio every evening to catch a glimpse of their hero and to get autographs. As the sessions went on, Bowie and his entourage came to know the regulars as the “Sigma Kids.” On the final day of tracking for the album, Bowie invited them in to the studio to listen to the rough versions of the songs.

The first single from Young Americans was the title track which was co-written by Luther Vandross. Bowie said the song was about “the predicament of two newlyweds,” although the meaning of the lyrics remains vague. Nevertheless, the single climbed to the #28 position on the charts, which was Bowie’s biggest single up to that point. A very coked up Bowie also performed the song on television on The Dinah Shore Show in 1975.

When Young Americans was released in March of 1975, Bowie described it as both “plastic soul” and “the squashed remains of ethnic music as it survives in the age of Muzak rock, written and sung by a white limey.” It was met with mixed reviews by critics and fans alike.

However, several of the songs on the album were absolute stunners including “Win” which is today’s deep soul Song Of The Day, “Fascination” which originated from a Luther Vandross song called “Funky Music” that the Mike Garson Band would play to warm up before Bowie concerts on the ’74 tour, “Somebody Up There Likes Me” which came from the Ava Cherry sessions and, of course, “Fame.”

The recording of “Fame” and “Across The Universe” happened after the album wrapped up at Sigma Sound. Back in New York City, Bowie met John Lennon who was celebrating the release of his Walls And Bridges album and the pair hit it off. They booked a one-day session at Electric Lady Studios in January 1975 and assembled most of Bowie’s touring band. The group worked up an atrocious version of “Across The Universe” for kicks, which for some reason Bowie liked.

Meanwhile, Carlos Alomar started jamming on a riff and soon the rest of the band joined in and before they knew it Bowie, Lennon and Alomar worked up a new song called “Fame.” The lyrics came from a discussion between Bowie and Lennon about the perils of celebrity; however Bowie has said that a fair amount of malice in the lyrics was also directed at Mainman management.

The song became David Bowie’s first number one single with a riff so funky that James Brown, “The Godfather Of Soul” lifted it for his track “Hot (I Need To Be Loved, Loved, Loved).” Lennon can be heard singing background vocals on the track, particularly at the end when his voice is modified from very high to very low. As a result of the New York sessions, the songs “Who Can It Be Now” and “It’s Gonna Be Me” were pulled from the finished Young Americans album at the last minute in favor of “Across The Universe” and “Fame.” They would emerge years later as bonus tracks on the CD reissue of the album.

Several other tracks were recorded during the Young Americans sessions including a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “It’s Hard To Be A Saint In The City.” Bowie had been knocked out by Springsteen’s performance at Max’s Kansas City and was jazzed to record the song and meet the artist behind it. Springsteen was summoned to Sigma Sound for an audience with Bowie and a playback of the song. Springsteen took a bus from Asbury Park to Philadelphia and arrived at the studio sometime after midnight. While the two artists mutually admired each other, the meeting was said to be awkward, and after all was said and done, Bowie decided not to play his version of the song for Springsteen because it was not finished yet.

Bowie also remade the 1972 B-side “John, I’m Only Dancing” as an extended dance track during the Young Americans sessions. When RCA began to pressure Bowie for more new music, the plan was to release the discofied “John, I’m Only Dancing Again,” however Bowie was already on to his next phase and released “Golden Years” well in advance of his next album StationToStation . Out went the soul man; in came “The Thin White Duke.” Another year, another new persona…

Edited: June 8th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 6/8/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Aire” by Chicago

By the time of the sessions for their sixth studio album (and seventh overall), Chicago had dozens of hits behind them and had grown restless and unhappy with the concise nature of their previous two records. Sure the albums established the group as a hit making machine, but the band began to feel that their credibility was at stake. To that end, Chicago decided to use some of the leeway their many hits had bought them to stretch out and make the jazz album they always wanted to.

Not all of the members were on board with the idea, especially Peter Cetera and producer James William Guericio who thought a pure jazz album would be too much of a creative risk for the band. Much of their unease came as a result of the group performing some of the newer jazz oriented material while on tour behind Chicago VI to mixed reaction from the audiences.

After convening at Guericio’s Caribou Ranch to record, the band struck a compromise to incorporate more radio friendly material in with the jazz material. The result was their first double album since their third long player.

The album was sequenced with the most of the jazz tracks up front which puzzled many fans and made the suits at Columbia Records most unhappy. The effect was like cueing up a record by a totally different band than the one who just recently gave fans hit singles like “Feeling Stronger Every Day” and “Just You ‘N Me,” however the strength of the material did establish Chicago as a credible jazz act.

The group’s new material was fairly typical of the jazz-rock direction Chicago’s label-mates Santana and Weather Report set out on, and especially highlighted the instrumental chops of the band, especially on today’s Song Of The Day, “Aire” which features tasty fluid guitar soloing by Terry Kath. By now the band was also augmented by Laudir DeOliveira on percussion and David J. Wolinski on ARP synthesizer, whose contributions were particularly felt throughout the jazz material.

It wasn’t that Chicago’s jazz leanings were too far out, but the first half of Chicago VII confounded fans’ expectations, especially on tracks like the ten minute “Devil’s Suite” that was perhaps their most experimental recording since “Free Form Guitar” on their debut album.

Jazzier material aside, Chicago VII had plenty of commercial radio-ready tracks throughout its second half including James Pankow’ #9 chart hit “(I’ve Been) Searching So Long,” Lee Loughnane’s “Call On Me” (a #6 hit), and Peter Cetera’s “Wishing You Were Here,” (#11) which was notable for the inclusion of Dennis Wilson, Carl Wilson and Al Jardine of The Beach Boys on background vocals. Guericio was also The Beach Boys manager, leading to the two bands co-headlining numerous future tours together.

Other highlights on this album include Terry Kath’s “Byblos,” which was named after a club in Osaka, Japan where the band had played, James Pankow’s “Mongonucleosis” which was Chicago’s tribute to Latin musician Mongo Santamaria, Robert Lamm’s distorted rocker “Life Saver,” and Kath’s ballad “Song of the Evergreens.”

On the poppier side, Peter Cetera contributed “Happy Man,” that pointed towards the middle of the road direction he would take Chicago in the future. (The song was later be covered by Tony Orlando & Dawn.) Robert Lamm contributed several strong songs including “Skinny Boy” which was originally slotted to be the title track to his first solo album that he was recording at the same time as Chicago VII.

Despite its jazz leanings, Chicago VII topped the album charts upon its release in 1974, giving fans the best of both sides of Chicago, but after this album, it was artistically downhill from here for the group.

Edited: June 7th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 6/7/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Skateaway” by Dire Straits

Today’s Song Of The Day comes from Dire Straits’ third album Making Movies. The album was co-produced by Jimmy Iovine whom Mark Knopfler contacted because he liked the production sound he gave to Patti Smith’s single “Because The Night,” and Iovine brought a similar New Wave sheen to Making Movies.

David Knopfler left the group during the making of this album, and Iovine brought Roy Bittan (of The E Street Band) into the fold on keyboards to help fill the void. It was the first time that Dire Straits had ever worked with a keyboard player, and Bittan expanded the band’s musical palate especially on the songs “Tunnel Of Love,” “Romeo And Juliet” and “Expresso Love.”

As a result, Making Movies was Dire Straits’ first real cohesive album, or at least side one was, with lengthier songs that took on cinematic proportions. The first side of this album is about as perfect a record side as you can imagine, featuring the epic trilogy of “Tunnel Of Love,” “Romeo And Juliet” and today’s Song Of The Day, “Skateaway.”

The album’s eight minute opener “Tunnel Of Love” features an excerpt from Rodgers And Hammerstein’s musical Carousel that introduces the carnivalesque ambiance of the song as Knopfler ruminates on growing up in the lyrics. It is followed by “Romeo And Juliet” which imagines a scenario where Juliet leaves Romeo for fame. Knopfler wrote today’s Song Of The Day while spying a woman on roller skates listening to music on her Walkman. You can’t get any more 1980s than that. The video for the song garnered heavy rotation on MTV, and the single peaked at #58 on the charts. It was a perfect video for a perfect song.

Knopfler’s guitar work is dazzling throughout the album, and the rest of the Dire Straits lineup included John Illsley on bass and vocals, Pick Withers on drums and Sid McGinnis on guitars. Unfortunately, the second side of the record is kind of a letdown after the heights reached on side one.

There were four outtakes from the sessions including the album’s title track “Making Movies,” “Suicide Towers,” “Sucker For Punishment” and “Twisting By The Pool.” Three of the four tracks remain unreleased, but “Twisting By The Pool” was subsequently released the following year on an extended play 12” single.

Edited: June 6th, 2013

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

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Keep Your Children In A Coma” by Future Bible Heroes

Stephin Merritt is one of today’s greatest songwriters. Whether solo or with groups like Magnetic Fields, The Gothic Archies, The 6ths or Future Bible Heroes, Merritt has given us hundreds of great songs over the years with a Broadway sensibility, deadpan delivery and a droll sense of humor. He’s even released a soundtrack to the A Series Of Unfortunate Events books composed with none other than author Lemony Snicket.

Future Bible Heroes, which has served as one of several outlets for Stephin Merritt’s prolific songwriting abilities, features Chris Ewen of Figures On The Beach (who co-writes all of the songs here with Merritt) and Claudia Gonson who also plays the musical foil to Merritt in Magnetic Fields.  In the past, the main distinction between Future Bible Heroes and the mothership group was the Heroes’ penchant for electronic dance music, but with their just-released third album Partygoing, the lines between the two groups have blurred.

Today’s Song Of The Day, “Keep Your Children In A Coma,” is typical Stephin Merritt fare, featuring absurd and shockingly humorous lyrics (“You can’t let them go to school for fear of bullying little beasts / and you can’t take them to church for fear of priests / Keep your children in a coma.”), and a hummable Brill Building melody that supports Merritt’s sad, hound dog delivery.

Like Magnetic Fields, half the songs here are sung by Claudia Gonson, whose distant singing style is the perfect counter to Merritt’s deep basso voice. Her passive delivery on the songs “A Drink Is Just The Thing,” “When Evening Falls On Tinseltown” and “Living, Loving, Partygoing” feels right at home in the intentionally murky girl group production values.

Merritt’s “Sadder Than The Moon” and “All I Care About Is You” would fit comfortably on Magnetic Field’s magnum opus 69 Love Songs, and are every bit the caliper of those on that hallowed record. When the Merritt and Gonson’s voices do come together as they do on the duet “How Very Strange,” they paint a sonic picture akin to having an angel whispering in one ear while the devil is groaning in the other.

Partygoing is by far the best of the three Future Bible Heroes records, and easily better than the last Magnetic Fields offering. However, if you really want the Stephin Merritt experience (and take it from me, you do), start with the three CD magnum opus, 69 Love Songs by Magnetic Fields.

Edited: June 5th, 2013

Song Of the Day by Eric Berman – 6/5/13

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Song Of the Day by Eric Berman – “I’m Going” by Neil Young & The Bluenotes

After going electronic on Trans, country and western on Old Ways, and then turning himself into a rockabilly cat with The Shocking Pinks, what else could Neil Young have had in store for fans whose patience was beginning to wear thin as the 1980s drew to a close?

Soul man!

In 1988, Neil Young put together a soulful horn band called The Bluenotes and recorded the album This Note’s For You. The album was seen as a return to form after a string of patchy genre-hopping releases for Geffen Records, and it was also his first release back on the Reprise label. The band consisted of Neil Young on vocals and guitar, Chad Cromwell on drums, Rick Rosas on bass, Frank Sampedro on keyboards, Steve Lawrence on lead tenor saxophone, Ben Keith on alto saxophone, Larry Cragg on baritone saxophone, Claude Cailliet on trombone, John Fumo on trumpet and Tom Bray also on trumpet, and the sound was pure electrifying barroom rhythm, blues and soul.

The record stands as one of many dark horses within Young’s catalog that fans either didn’t understand, or just outright didn’t like. However, it is a solid collection of sturdy rhythm and blues-based tunes including the highlights “Coupe de Ville,” “Ten Men Workin’,” “Life In The City,” “Twilight” and “One Thing.”

Today’s Song Of The Day was not actually on the album. It was released as the B-side to the record’s first single “Ten Men Workin’,” but it’s such a great track that it should not be ignored. I’ve chosen a video of Neil performing the tune with The Bluenotes from the Agora in Cleveland, Ohio on 4/23/88. In it, you get a real sense of the intensity of the shows on this tour with Neil wailing on the harmonica and then manically ripping into guitar fills as the band keeps things wildly swinging.

Several other tracks from the sessions also did not make the final album including “Ordinary People,” which runs a full 18 minutes long and was subsequently released in 2007 on Young’s Chrome Dreams II album, and “Sixty To Zero” which was subsequently released in edited form (from 20 minutes to 12 minutes) as “Crime In The City” on Neil’s 1989 Freedom album.

The album centered on the concept of crass commercialism in rock music, and the lead-off video for the title track caused much controversy for its depiction of artists whom Young deemed as commercial sellouts. Neil didn’t do any favors for MTV as he derided their many sponsors by plainly singing “Ain’t singin’ for Pepsi / Ain’t singin’ for Coke / I don’t sing for nobody / Makes me look like a joke / Ain’t singin’ for Miller / Don’t sing for Bud…”

The Julien Temple directed video was initially banned by MTV who feared lawsuits from the artists who were depicted and then mocked, but the network did an abrupt turnaround when it began to garner press and added it back into heavy rotation on their playlists. It ended up winning the MTV Video Of The Year Award in 1989.

Young and The Bluenotes took to the road after its release and played numerous small club dates. I had the pleasure of catching their act at the now-defunct New York City club, The World.

After the album’s release, Young was successfully sued by Harold Melvin (of Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes) for use of the Bluenotes name. Subsequently the group was billed as Neil Young & Ten Men Workin’ (after the album’s lead-off track).

Word has it that Young worked up a fine live album from the Bluenotes dates called Blue Note Cafe, but like many great Neil Young projects, it’s sitting in the vaults awaiting release, however several songs from the album turned up on the Neil Young compilation Lucky Thirteen. It sure would be great for Young to take the album, all of the B-sides, the tracks that ended up on different albums and the live Blue Note Café recordings and release them all together. But for an artist as mercurial as Neil Young, that’s asking way too much…

Edited: June 4th, 2013

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

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Bacon Fat” by Andre Williams and his New Group

Oh lawd, have moicey…this “Bacon Fat” is show nuff greasy!

I listened to Taj Mahal’s 1969 double album Giant Step earlier this week for the piece I wrote on his cover version of “Take A Giant Step.” The album also has a version of the song “Bacon Fat” that is credited to J.R. Robertson and Garth Hudson of The Band.

Upon digging deeper, I found out that “Bacon Fat” was originally written by Andre Williams, who scored a top-ten hit with the song in 1956, and the erroneous writing credit probably stems from an arrangement credit they received for the song when they were performing as Levon & The Hawks shortly after they left Ronnie Hawkins and before they joined forces with Bob Dylan.

Williams cut the original “Bacon Fat” for the Fortune record label along with several other hits including “Jail Bait” and “Greasy Chicken.” When “Bacon Fat” began to take off on the charts, Fortune leased the record to Epic Records for national distribution and the song climbed all the way to #9 on the singles chart. Contrary to popular belief, “Bacon Fat” is not an ode to clogged arteries or some weird sexual proclivity for food by-products, but rather the “Bacon Fat” of this song is a dance.

Early on, Williams realized he wasn’t gifted with a voice as good as other soul singers of the day like Clyde McPhatter or Jackie Wilson, so he began to talk over his records instead of sing. As a result, many people have credited him as “The Father Of Rap” for developing a new style.

Following his stint with Fortune, Williams spent four years working at Motown as a recording artist, arranger and songwriter. Although he did not release any records for the label, he did co-write Stevie Wonder’s first hit “Thank You For Loving Me,” and “Twine Time,” a hit for Alvin Cash and the Crawlers. His best known composition is “Shake A Tail Feather,” which became a big hit for Ike & Tina Turner.

After supervising the recording of two albums by Motown group, The Contours, Williams became a roadie for Edwin Starr before signing with Chess Records in 1966. He recorded many great R&B tunes for Chess, although none became big hits. During the 1970s, Williams also wrote for Parliament and Funkadelic.

A long period of drug addiction followed before he was signed to Chicago’s Bloodshot Records in 1998 where he recorded records with The Sadies (who were also covered in this column last week for their work with John Doe), Jon Spencer and Two Star Tabernacle (featuring a young Jack White). He was also the subject of a documentary, Agile, Mobile, Hostile that premiered at the 2008 SXSW Film Festival.

Williams released two albums in 2012 on Bloodshot Records and continues to tour around the world today.

Edited: June 3rd, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 6/3/13 – Reposted from 7/26/11

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “My Dark Hour” by Steve Miller Band – Reposted from 7/26/11

Here’s an instance where an artist cribs from his own back catalog and creates another hit. Miller revisited this riff from this 1969 song that originally appeared on his “Brave New World” album again in 1976 for “Fly Like An Eagle” and took it to new heights.

The bass and backing vocal duties on this track are handled by Paul Ramon, an alias Paul McCartney would occasionally use.

Edited: June 2nd, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 6/2/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Lose Yourself To Dance” by Daft Punk

So Daft Punk has released a straight-up ‘70s Disco album and everybody is going nuts.

Daft Punk fans are going nuts because there are real instruments and, gasp, real voices on this record. Critics are going nuts because the group has made a ‘70s disco album, and a ‘70s disco album stands out because it’s the antithesis of the loud-soft dynamic of today’s EDM. This gives critics something to write about, which in turn makes them excited, resulting in amazingly positive reviews. Mind you, these are some of the same critics who back in the ‘70s, wouldn’t have been caught dead listening to a disco record.

That said, although Random Access Memories is indeed a departure for Daft Punk, the ‘70s disco left turn works well for them. Under all of the vocodered voices and electronic rhythms, the songs really have heart and emotion. It’s the clash of heart and transistors that is the key to this record, and you really can’t beat the rhythm section of Nathan East on bass and Omar Hakim on drums laying the groundwork for the guitar dynamics of Nile Rodgers funky-Chic style combined with the lighter, jazzier leanings of Paul Jackson Jr.

The record’s power will be in its ability to blend generations of fans, appealing to today’s dance music aficionado and the disco generation alike. This is probably why the record will end up not only being a multi-hit, multi format smash, but also one of the biggest records of the summer.

Nile Rodgers’ fingerprints are all over several of the album’s best tracks including the album’s lead-off track “Give Life Back To The Music,” “Get Lucky, which is sitting at the #4 position of the pop charts this week, and today’s Song Of The Day, “Lose Yourself To Dance,” which no doubt will also climb the charts in weeks to come. (Note: “Lose Yourself To Dance” and “Get Lucky” feature vocals from producer and Neptunes’ member Pharrell Williams.) The influence the man behind “Le Freak” and dozens of other Chic hits from the ‘70s and early ‘80s brings to this album humanizes Daft Punk’s mechanistic sound, as it harkens back to the production sheen he provided for David Bowie’s Let’s Dance.

Along with “Get Lucky” and “Lose Yourself To Dance,” the album’s centerpiece is clearly the Broadway disco showcase, “Touch,” featuring the dramatic vocals of Paul Williams. The song begins as a dark ruminating electronic soundscape and then bursts alive into Technicolor disco with Williams’ dramatic vocals. I can see this track crossing over big time and sending this album into the stratosphere.

“Georgio By Moroder” pays homage to the disco producer behind Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love,” with a nine minute moto-disco track that features Moroder talking about his craft over the music. Other cameos include Julian Casablancas, whose co-written track “Instant Crush” is not too different than the direction The Strokes have taken on their latest record, except that his collaboration with Daft Punk has a great hook which is something his own band has been lacking for a while. Elsewhere, Panda Bear lends a Beach Boy’s flavored vocal to “Doin’ It Right.”

I had the pleasure of seeing Daft Punk at Lollapalooza several years ago, and at the time their act relied heavily on spectacle more than songs. That’s not a slam. I love dance music and have for many years, but their live presentation was amazing complemented the music sending the audience into a literal frenzy. (I should know, I was up front for a good portion of their set and it was a crush.) Musically however, they were sonically closer to Kraftwerk than Giorgio Moroder or Nile Rodgers.

So who cares if the French duo of Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter have a penchant for wearing robot disguises and appearing before audiences in a pod, their new musical direction has resulted in a record for the ages from this group, and one I’ll be coming back to again and again.

Edited: June 2nd, 2013