News for August 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 8/31/13 – “That Old Black Magic” by Tony Bennett with The Dave Brubeck Trio

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “That Old Black Magic” by Tony Bennett with The Dave Brubeck Trio

Every so often the reissue gods bestow upon us a truly special recording that music fans never knew existed.  Recently, one such recording was unleashed upon an unsuspecting public by our friends at Sony Legacy, featuring a musical summit that took place between Tony Bennett and Dave Brubeck on August 28, 1962 at The White House.

The event was a special concert recorded at the Sylvan Theater (at the base of the Washington Monument) welcoming a new group of volunteers (or interns as they are now called) that had come to Washington DC to work for the government.

The show captures the two entertainers at the height of their powers. Bennett’s “I Left My Heart In San Francisco” had been released 17 days prior to the event and was climbing the charts. Brubeck was basking in the afterglow of his classic “Take Five” recording. It was also the first time of two, that Bennett and Brubeck shared the stage together in concert. Fans would have to wait until the 2009 Newport Jazz Festival to see them perform together again on the same stage.

How a recording this vibrant and important remained in the vaults for over fifty years is a mystery to me. According to the liner notes, the recording of “That Old Black Magic” from the show had been used on a compilation album over 40 years ago, lending credibility that a tape of the whole show might exist somewhere within the vaults of Sony Music. After many years of super sleuthing by Sony archivist Matt Kelly, a tape of the concert labeled “An American Jazz Concert” was found filed among classical recordings from the era, with no reference to whom the performers were.

The show begins with introductions by radio personality William B. Williams, followed by a set performed by The Dave Brubeck Quartet. At the time, the Quartet consisted of Brubeck on piano, Paul Desmond on alto sax, Eugene Wright on bass and Joe Morello on drums. The group launches into a quick tempo version of “Take Five,” and follows it with three Brubeck originals, “Nomad,” “Thank You” and “Castilian Blues.” The group is captured in fine form, particularly Morello whose drum solo on “Castilian Blues” is a highlight.

Next up is a set by Tony Bennett backed by his longtime accompanist Ralph Sharon on piano, with Hal Gaylor on bass and Billy Exiner on drums. Bennett’s set includes fan favorites “Just In Time,” “Small World” (from the musical Gypsy, “Make Someone Happy,” “Rags To Riches,” “One For My Baby (And One More For The Road)” and “I Left My Heart In San Francisco.” He still performs most of these songs when he takes the stage today at the tender age of 87.

What next ensues was a truly special, totally unrehearsed set by Bennett backed by The Brubeck Trio (Paul Desmond sat this set out) featuring the two sparring together on “Lullaby Of Broadway,” “Chicago (That Toddlin’ Town),” “There Will Never Be Another You,” and today’s Song Of The Day, “That Old Black Magic,” featuring a terrific piano solo by Brubeck.

“It was very spontaneous – a real jam session, where you really don’t plan what you’re going to sing or how you’re going to play it,” said Bennett, “I just gave Dave the key and the song, and we just went for it.”

The sound quality of the recording is in-your-face crystal clear, giving the listener the immediacy of traveling back in time and being there for the actual event. It’s is indeed amazing that a recording of this vintage and of such high quality has remained unreleased in the vaults so long. Who knows what other gems may lurk in the deepest and darkest crevices of the record company vaults.

Only time will tell…

Edited: August 30th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 8/30/13 – “Tried And True” by Ween

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Tried And True” by Ween

I first heard the music of Ween while watching “Beavis & Butthead” back in 1994…they said “Ween suck”…and I totally disagreed! In fact, I think they are one of the greatest bands of all time, and when it comes to adeptness in all genres of music, they are certainly in a league with Frank Zappa.

Ween hail from New Hope, PA and have been together since 1984. They spent their early days playing any venue they could, including dorm rooms at Rutgers University. (I once saw them play in a small bookstore at Rutgers with 70 other fans.) Dean Ween (aka “Deaner” or Mickey Melchiondo) is a shredding guitarist, a complete angler and a sea captain.  Geen Ween (aka Aaron Freeman) possesses one of the most pliant voices in all of rock music and is the vocalist of the group.

After a layoff of a three years and a jump from Elektra Records to the independent Sanctuary label, Ween released their ninth album, Quebec in 2003. Seeing the Quebec tour at the Vic Theater in Chicago (which was filmed for their Ween Live In Chicago DVD), I came to the conclusion that the new audiences that were attracted to the band didn’t seem to be in on the joke of some of their more masochistic song lyrics, taking songs that original fans laughed at very seriously. This tarnished the way I perceived the Quebec album, which is a shame because it really is one of their best and most diverse collections.

Recently, I came across a two-CD download released by Mickey Melchiondo on his Facebook page called The CaesarDemos. Caesar was the original title for Quebec, and the demos were recorded while drummer Claude Coleman was recuperating after his near fatal car accident in 2002. Many of the demos feature just Mickey and Aaron without backing musicians just like they were at the beginning of their career when they were making their bedroom recordings.

While the demos include alternates of most of the 16 tracks that made the final cut of the album, there are an additional 13 songs that will be new to most Ween fans. Whether in demo form or in their final studio incarnation, songs like “Transdermal Celebration,” “Captain,” “Zoloft,” “Chocolate Town,” “So Many People In The Neighborhood,” “If You Could Save Yourself (You’d Save Us All)” and today’s Song Of The Day, are amongst Ween’s finest songs. The version of “Tried And True” for Today’s Song Of The Day is the demo version from The Caesar Demos, and to my ears, is far superior to the final version on Quebec.

Now that Ween have sadly called it quits, let’s hope that there are more unreleased recordings in store for fans in the future.

Edited: August 29th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 8/29/13 – “Apeman” by The Esso Steel Band

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Apeman” by The Esso Steel Band

My parents married in 1953 and chose Bermuda as the destination of their honeymoon. Like many folks of their era, they came back with souvenirs from their dream vacation. In my parents’ case, they returned with the pregnancy of my older sister, and a souvenir LP by The Esso Steel Band.

The Esso Steel Band began in 1942 as The Tripoli Steel Band which was named for the “Marine’s Hymn” (“On the shores of Tripoli”), and beginning in 1951 the group was led by Hugh Borde.

The steel pan as an instrument rose out of the poorest sections of Trinidad where discarded oil barrels were fashioned into musical instruments, affording the natives an artistic outlet. Once the sound caught on, it became central to the annual Carnival celebration where musicians competed for supremacy on the instruments.

In 1964, the Tripoli Steel Band won the first official Steel Band competition, and the following year, the Esso Oil Company (later Exxon) agreed to sponsor the group which took on the name of The Esso Tripoli Steel Band which was later shortened to The Esso Steel Band.

By 1967, the group was 27 strong and toured the world on Esso’s dime playing at Montreal’s Expo World’s Fair. After Esso dropped sponsorship of the group, they toured for several years as part of Liberace’s show and recorded a Grammy-winning album called Liberace Presents the Trinidad Tripoli Steel Band.

In 1971, Van Dyke Parks rediscovered them and took them into the studio to record an album for Warner Bros. Records including covers of then-current pop songs including Simon & Garfunkel’s “Cecilia,” The Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back” and today’s Song Of The Day, The Kinks’ “Apeman.”

The group splintered in 1976 after Borde relocated his family to the United States, however a new version of the group was organized by Borde’s son Emile, recording the album Momentum in 1985. The group performed well into the 2000s.

Most recently, Parks had the group re-record the song “Aquarium” from the 1971 Warner album for his latest release Songs Cycled.

Edited: August 28th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 8/28/13 – “Do You Know Who I Am? I’m F**kin’ Snooki!!” by The Jeffrey Lewis & Peter Stampfel Band

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Do You Know Who I Am? I’m F**kin’ Snooki!!” by The Jeffrey Lewis & Peter Stampfel Band

It’s a joke…and it’s completely for real…Hey Hey…It’s The  Jeffrey Lewis & Peter Stampfel Band is also one of the most refreshing, rough ‘n’ tumble spins you’re likely to hear all year.

Jeffrey Lewis is a comic book artist and historian who is known for his successful series of Fuff (aka Guff ) comic books. He’s also a guitarist who writes sardonic ramshackle anti-folk songs and has self-released numerous records since 1997. His series of illustrated low budget documentaries complete with fully illustrated historical songs can be found on The History Channel website. (http://www.history.com/search?q=jeffrey+lewis&x=0&y=0) His latest record is a collaboration with Peter Stampfel called Hey Hey It’s…The Jeffrey Lewis & Peter Stampfel Band. It is their second record together.

Peter Stampfel is probably best known as one of the founding members of the 1960s psychedelic folk band The Holy Modal Rounders. He was also briefly a member of The Fugs and has recorded records with The Bottlecaps and if that isn’t enough of a resume, he also contributed to the liner notes for Harry Smith’s Anthology of Folk Music.

Together, the 72 year old Stampfel and the 37 year old Lewis have created a motley collection of shambolic songs that are about as off-the-cuff as they come. If you like your music messy, this is the record for you. The band consists of Peter Stampfel on banjo and fiddle, Jeffrey Lewis on guitar, Isabel Martin o bass, Heather Wagner on drums and Spencer Chakedis on mandolin.

Today’s Song Of The Day (shown here in performance from The Mercury Lounge in New York City) is about everyone’s favorite Jersey Shore character, Snooki. Neither Stampfel nor Lewis claim to have ever seen the show, but Stampfel says that he’s been reading about Snooki since the show’s inception. Apparently, Snooki was heard screaming all the words to the refrain in the song (except for one line – “All you creeps are gonna be real sorry”) when she was arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct.

The album’s opener, “More Fun Than Anyone” originally came from Stampfel’s secret archive of unfinished songs. He says that the only person he thinks is really more fun than anyone is Little Richard. Several other songs on the album have their genesis in Stampfel’s archive including “All The Time In The World” which was finished up with Lewis for this record.

Other highlights on this delicious platter include “Isn’t Summer Fun,” which pays homage to The Beach Boys circa 1963 (Stampfel has said that he doesn’t have it in him to write a Beach Boys tune from  ‘64/’65, his favorite Beach Boys era), “Moscow Nights,” written by the late Fugs member Tuli Kupferberg and making its recorded debut here, “Indie Bands On Tour” which perfectly captures life on the road for an independent touring band, “Money Marbles And Chalk,” a cover of Patti Page’s 1949 hit and “Duke Of The Beatniks” (aka “Dook Of The Beatniks”) which Stampfel has recorded several times before.

The album is self-released and can, and should, be purchased from the Jeffrey Lewis Band website. (http://jeffreylewis.bandcamp.com/album/hey-hey-its-the-jeffrey-lewis-peter-stampfel-band-10)

Edited: August 27th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 8/27/13 – “Aquarium” by Van Dyke Parks

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Aquarium” by Van Dyke Parks

Van Dyke Parks has essentially been making the same album since 1968, and fortunately for his fans, that album is a great one. Parks’ fascination with Tin Pan Alley sounds and Depression-Era songwriting has infused his work since the mid-1960s, resulting in albums that sound like original cast recordings from musicals that don’t exist.

Over the last two years, Parks self-released a series of six 7” singles on his own label. His brand new album, Songs Cycled compiles all of the singles. While the sticker on the outside of the album claims that Songs Cycled is his first “proper solo” album in 24 years, it’s all a matter of record company promotional semantics since his last album of all-new original material was Orange Crate Art, a collaboration with Brian Wilson that was released in 1995.

The album’s title references Parks’ debut album for Warner Bros back in 1968 called Song Cycle, and many of the musical themes in his debut album are revisited here. In the promotional interviews for the new album, Parks has said that due to the high costs associated with releasing records today; this could well be his last album. If that is indeed the case, the music contained within Songs Cycled brings his storied career full circle.

Parks is perhaps best known for his collaborations with Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys, and especially for his lyrical contributions to their ill-fated Smile project. He has also worked with such notable performers as Phil Ochs, The Byrds, Little Feat, Frank Zappa & The Mothers Of Invention, Three Dog Night, Tim Buckley, Loudon Wainwright III, Rufus Wainwright, Harry Nilsson, Keith Moon, Ringo Starr, Randy Newman, Ry Cooder, Victoria Williams, Joanna Newsom, U2, Grizzly Bear, Silverchair and Rufus Wainwright.

Part of his “Zelig-like” charm comes down to being at the right place at the right time. For instance, Parks sessioned on The Byrds’ Fifth Dimension album, after which David Crosby asked him to join the band. He was also later offered membership in Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, however, he declined both offers.

When Parks first met Brian Wilson, he was asked to write new lyrics to “Good Vibrations” because Wilson was dissatisfied with Tony Asher’s lyrics. Parks declined, stating that he didn’t’ think he could improve on Asher’s lyrics. However, it was Parks idea to have the cellos play the eighth notes in the track.

It was through his involvement with “Good Vibrations” that Wilson asked Parks to write lyrics for the Smile album that was recorded in 1966, but did not get a proper release until 2012. In preparation for the writing and recording of the album, Wilson purchased several thousand dollars’ worth of marijuana and hash for him and his friends (including Parks) to consume.

Parks worked on numerous sessions for Warner Bros. and Reprise Records artists throughout the 1960s and 1970s. In the mid-1960s, he pitched a song composed by his brother Carson to Frank Sinatra. Sinatra recorded the song with his daughter Nancy, resulting in the chart-topping single “Somethin’ Stupid.” Parks also directed, arranged, produced and composed soundtracks for a many theatrical films, TV commercials and television shows.

Today’s Song of the Day is one of two tracks on Songs Cycled that are re-recordings of previously written material from Parks’ other albums. “Aquarium” is an instrumental recording made with The Esso Trinidad Steel Band composed originally by the French classical composer Camille Saint-Saëns. The track originally appeared on the 1971 album Van Dyke Parks Presents The Esso Trinidad Steel Band which was produced by Van Dyke Parks.

The Esso Trinidad Steel Band had been performing with Liberace in Las Vegas when Van Dyke Parks heard them. According to Parks, “I saw them as enslaved in their relationship to Liberace; I thought it was a vulgarity. I wanted to save them from their trivialization.”

Of Songs Cycled Parks said, “I think it is safe to say that my work can be branded Americana, but I think it’s also safe to say it can be branded ‘anti-Americana’ and ‘an inconvenient truth’ as well.…There is very little ‘divergent music’ made in America. I go to ‘worldbeat’ to get out of the box. I think those influences show in my perspective.”

To that end, the album features several songs tied to historical events including “Wall Street” which was written in response to the September 11th attacks on the U.S., and “Money Is King” which deals with the post-9/11 corporate greed in America. The song “Dreaming Of Paris” deals with the American bombing of Baghdad and “Missin’ Missippi” was written about Hurricane Katrina.

The most overtly Broadway-esque track on the album is a cover of Billy Edd Wheeler’s “Sassafrass,” which Parks calls “outlaw chamber music,” and the album’s centerpiece, “The Parting Hand” comes from The Sacred Harp Society’s Hymnal of 1835. The track begins as a straight-up acapella hymn and is followed by a long, ornate orchestral coda.

Songs Cycled is everything you’d want from a Van Dyke Parks album, Copland-esque Americana, fussy orchestral arrangements and songs that bring you into another world…a world that today is only inhabited by Parks himself. At 70 years old, Parks keeps pushing the envelope forward and has worked in recent years with Silverchair, Joanna Newsome, Grizzly Bear and Skrillex.

Here’s the whole album:

Edited: August 26th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 8/26/13 – “Brooklyn Roads” by Neil Diamond

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

This was Neil Diamond’s first single after signing with MCA records back in 1968. Diamond had already scored numerous hits for Bert Burn’s Bang record label and was now ready to debut on the MCA distributed UNI label.

The song highlighted a far more personal side of Neil Diamond with its autobiographical lyrics and adult oriented orchestral arrangements. It appeared on the album Velvet Gloves And Spit which also included the singles “Two-Bit Manchild,” “Sunday Sun” and a remake of the song “Shilo.” The album also included the most unhip and embarrassing song in the entire Neil Diamond canon, the anti-drug “Pot Smoker’s Song” in which drug addicts share their bizarre stories.

I’ve always been willing and able to give Diamond a pass for the aforementioned track, and hits like “September Morn,” “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers” and the many other middle of the road cringe-worth songs from the 1980s, in exchange for the greatness of hits like “Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show,” “Sweet Caroline,” “Holly Holy,” “Cracklin’ Rosie,” “I Am…I Said,” “Song Sung Blue,” “Cherry Cherry,” “Kentucky Woman,” “Solitary Man,” “Thank The Lord For The Night Time,” “I’m A Believer, “Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon,” and so many others.

How could you not…

Edited: August 25th, 2013

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “The First Girl I Loved” by Incredible String Band/”The First Boy I Loved” by Judy Collins

I first came into contact with this wistful song via Judy Collin’s version on her Who Knows Where The Time Goes album where it was called “The First Boy I Loved.” It makes sense that she would’ve covered this song as they were both label mates at Elektra Records.

It literally took me years to get into the Incredible String Band. My older sister had their 1967 album The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter when I was growing up and I found it to be impenetrable.  Now, I really love their rootsy psychedelic instrumentation, whimsical lyrics, terrific vocals and the songs of Mike Heron and Robin Williamson.

Today’s Song Of The Day comes from their 1966 psychedelic masterwork, The 5000 Spirits or the Layers of the Onion.


Incredible String Band Version:

Judy Collins Version:

Edited: August 24th, 2013

Song Of the Day by Eric Berman – 8/24/13 – “Even In The Quietest Moments” by Supertramp

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Song Of the Day by Eric Berman – “Even In The Quietest Moments” by Supertramp

At the time of the release of Supertramp’s sixth album Breakfast In America, the band was on the precipice of a major commercial breakthrough that would see them top the U.S. charts for the first time. Yet, all of the elements were already in place and can be found on their previous platter Even In The Quietest Moments.

Before Breakfast, Supertramp was predominantly known for their progressive rock leanings, however what set them apart from all of the other prog groups was their attention to melody and tunefulness. Their music was less about technical prowess, dynamic key signatures and fussy arrangements and more about straight-ahead melody.

This came down to the group’s two distinctly different songwriters, Roger Hodgson and Rick Davies. As a rule, Hodgson’s songs were the most pop oriented, while Davies’ contributions took them into darker more ruminative territory. Most of their songs were credited to both of them, but after 1972 the two seldom collaborated together and wrote individually. Sonically, Hodgson was the vocalist with the high-pitched, child-like voice that contrasted sharply with Rick Davies deeper timber and more straight-ahead delivery.

The band at this point featured Roger Hodgson on vocals, keyboards and guitars, Rick Davies on vocals and keyboards, Dougie Thomson on bass, John Helliwell on wind instruments and vocals and Bob Siebenberg (credited as Bob C. Benberg) on drums and percussion.

The acoustic guitar intro of Hodgson’ album opening “Give A Little Bit” announced a new, more commercially succinct sound that paved the way for Breakfast In America. However, the song was not a new song at all. Hodgson originally wrote it as a teenager in 1970, but believing it was too simple and not up to snuff, he held it back from the band for six years. Ultimately, the song reached the #15 spot on the U.S. pop charts.

The song has been used numerous times in conjunction with fundraising for disaster relief. About this aspect of the track, Hodgson has said, “I’m very, very happy to lend it to any worthwhile fundraising or disaster relief. For Hurricane Katrina, it was used a lot and for the tsunami also and for many others, so it’s very wonderful to have a song that can be used in that way. Very gratifying.”

Today’s Song Of The Day, the album’s title track, is perhaps the most intimate recording in the group’s entire canon. The gorgeous acoustic “Even In The Quietest Moments” was composed during a soundcheck, and is the only song on the album that was collaboratively written by both Hodgson and Davies. Hodgson: “It’s kind of a dual love song – it could be to a girl or it could be to God.”

Another Hodgson gem is “Babaji” that delves into the spiritual journey that ultimately led to his departure from the group several years later. A babaji is a Hindu holy man. “Lover Boy” is perhaps the most melodic song on the album and was written by Davies. The song was inspired by advertisements in men’s magazines offering tips on how to pick up girls.

The album concludes with the nearly eleven minute opus “Fool’s Overture.” The song began as a collage of musical ideas and the lyrics deal with the fall of human mankind. The track contains a sample of Winston Churchill’s “We shall fight them on the beaches” speech. The album’s cover shows an image of a piano covered in snow (which was a real photo and not superimposed) with the sheet music to “Fool’s Overture” in full view, however the actual music on the sheet is for “The Star Spangled Banner.”

The album rose to the #16 spot on the album charts and, at the time of its release, was the group’s most successful album…until Breakfast In America came along and launched the band into the mainstream. Hodgson would stay around for one more album before leaving the band for good. The band limped along for a few more years releasing several albums and touring, omitting Hodgson’s songs from their repertoire, before breaking up in 1988.

Today, Supertramp fans get a choice of a Davies-led Supertramp that tours around the world, or they can go see Hodgson plays separate solo shows. When asked whether Roger Hodgson might appear on some of Supertramp’s 2011 dates Davies replied, “I know there are some fans out there who would like that to happen. There was a time when I had hoped for that too. But the recent past makes that impossible. In order to play a great show for our fans, you need harmony, both musically and personally. Unfortunately that doesn’t exist between us anymore and I would rather not destroy memories of more harmonious times between all of us.”

Unfortunately, the studio version of today’s Song Of The Day is not available on YouTube. In its place, please enjoy this live solo version by Roger Hodgson.

Edited: August 23rd, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 8/23/13 -“Ready For Love” by Bad Company

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Ready For Love” by Bad Company

I was a rock snob during the 1970s and 1980s. I admit it, and for those that know me well, this revelation should come as no surprise. I loved prog rock, some southern rock, glam rock and glam’s second cousin disco. I had little tolerance for what I’ll term meat ‘n’ potatoes “dumb-ass” rock.

As a result, I missed out on huge hit albums by Boston, Kiss and Bad Company, to name but a few. However, over the years I’ve come to appreciate the early albums by all three bands. (For some unexplained reason, I always liked BTO, and still do.)

During the ‘80s, I took a pass on most of the hair metal (Poison, especially) and records by Foreigner, Def Leppard, Whitesnake and REO Speedwagon. I pretty much still hate those bands.

Bad Company was yet another supergroup featuring Paul Rodgers (vocals) and Simon Kirke (drums) from Free, Boz Burrell (bass) from King Crimson and Mick Ralphs (guitar) from Mott The Hoople. (King Crimson’s Mel Collins also plays saxophone on the album.) The group’s secret weapons were Paul Rodgers who had perhaps one of the greatest lead-singer voices in all of rock music and the crunchy guitar work of Mick Ralphs.

Being seasoned musicians, they knew their way around the business and approached Led Zeppelin manager, Peter Grant to handle them. He, in turn signed them to Zeppelin’s Swan Song record label in the U.S. (they were signed to Island everywhere else.) Their association with Zep’s record label also gave them added credibility on these shores.

Their sound was about as formulaic as you can get, and with each successive album they released, the songs became more and more generic, however their self-titled platinum chart topping debut album is a stunner. Like many of the biggest albums from the era, the cover was designed by Hipgnosis, but unlike most of Hipgnosis’ designs, they went for a stark and simple, straight-up branding approach for Bad Company rather than going psychedelic or surreal as they did for Pink Floyd, et al.

Today’s Song Of The Day is one several power ballads on the album. It was originally recorded by Mott The Hoople on their 1972 All The Young Dudes album. While I think that Mott’s glammed up version of the song is still better, Bad Company’s version does feature some really nice piano work courtesy of Ralphs and it is still one of the strongest cuts on the album.

The album included two chart singles, “Can’t Get Enough” (#5/1974) and “Movin’ On” (# 19/1974), but included a clutch of album tracks that have become staples of classic rock radio including the “Rock Steady,” the title track and today’s Song Of The Day.

This album also is one of a handful of albums where the name of the band is shared with the name of the album and also the name of a song on the album (i.e. “Bad Company” from Bad Company by Bad Company). I know of only a few others like that, and “Black Sabbath” by Black Sabbath from Black Sabbath immediately comes to mind.

My one and only attempt at being in a band was in middle school. The band was called Toxic Angel and I was the lead singer. The only song we ever attempted to play was “Can’t Get Enough” by Bad Company because it was so easy to pull off.  In fact, my bright and shining moment of rock star glory was when we performed the song during our 8th grade talent show in middle school. (We didn’t win.)

Straight Shooter, the follow-up album, was just as strong as the debut and spawned two more indelible singles in “Good Lovin’ Gone Bad” (#36/1975) and “Feel Like Makin’ Love” (#10/1975). From there it was all downhill with each successive album being more generic than its predecessor.

Edited: August 22nd, 2013

Song Of the Day by Eric Berman – 8/22/13 -“Some Fantastic Place” by Squeeze

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Song Of the Day by Eric Berman – “Some Fantastic Place” by Squeeze

Cool For Cats, Argybargy, East Side Story, Sweets From A Stranger and Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti — all of the above named albums are among the best records in the Squeeze catalog. For unknown reasons, Some Fantastic Place is a Squeeze record that stands head and shoulders tall amongst the others, but seldom gets mentioned in the same breath. Today, I officially add this album to the list of all-time great Squeeze albums, and if you’re a fan, so should you.

Some Fantastic Place was the band’s tenth album released in 1993. It was the follow up to the album Play, which was possibly the weakest album in their entire catalog. The album saw the return of Paul Carrack to the ranks after an eleven year hiatus, but sadly also saw the departure of drummer and original member Gilson Lavis, who was replaced by Pete Thomas of Elvis Costello and The Attractions. The album was also a return to A&M Records, the group’s longtime record label after a failed release on Reprise.

“There have been several ”golden ages” of popular songwriting. For many listeners…the golden age of the pop song was the 30′s and 40′s, when writers like Jerome Kern and Cole Porter were at their zenith. Fans who are somewhat younger might point to the 50′s, when Chuck Berry, Otis Blackwell and the team of Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller wrote enduring anthems to youth…Then there are the mid-60′s, when Lennon and McCartney of the Beatles, Ray Davies of the Kinks, and Jagger and Richards of the Rolling Stones stretched the limits of pop song forms while creating some unforgettable melodies and literate, allusive lyrics…any list of today’s first-rate songwriters should include Mr. Difford and his partner, Glenn Tilbrook.” – Robert Palmer in The New York Times

The comparison of Difford and Tilbrook to the above named artists is not so farfetched. Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook have had a long running track record of composing strong songs with sophisticated lyrics, memorable melodies, relatable story lines and great harmonies. As was the case with Lennon and McCartney before them; the whole was way more than the sum of the parts with Difford and Tilbrook.

Together, the songwriting team composed some of the greatest pop songs of the late ‘70s and 1980s: “Tempted,” “Pulling Mussels (From A Shell),” “Separate Beds,” “In Quintessence,” “Is That Love,” “Up The Junction,” “Another Nail In My Heart,” “Cool For Cats,” “I Learned How To Pray,” to name but a few… even though they didn’t place many of them up the charts. Apart, their solo recordings didn’t amount to much, except to point out how much they needed each other’s input.

Today’s Song Of The Day is perhaps one of Difford and Tilbrook’s most personal songs: Difford: “‘Some Fantastic Place’ is an example of a very personal song. It’s about a friend of mine and Glenn who died of cancer. She was very responsible for Glenn and I sort of sticking together as friends since I was a kid.” Tilbrook: “She was my first proper girlfriend whom I loved very much, and she contracted leukemia. Throughout her illness she was very positive in her outlook and never lost her sense of optimism.” They have both said in interviews that it is also one of their all-time favorites of the songs they’ve composed.

Nobody does groveling better than Squeeze! Case in point is the song “Cold Shoulder” which finds the song’s protagonist with his head in the cat flap on the door: “My head was stuck in the cat flap on the door / Where I could see her walking on the kitchen floor / Down on my knees just like a dog / Begging for scraps that she said she hadn’t got / She took her pen, she poked me in the eye / As through the lock I looked to see my world inside / I kicked and swore, void of all brain / I couldn’t see that I was the one to blame.”

And, no Squeeze album would be complete without a few failed relationships as in the song “It’s Over” – “Hey wait a minute, that’s not right / I didn’t want this to cause a fight / All I’m saying is nothing new / Listen to me, believe it’s true / What’s there to hide, it baffles me / Throw out those thoughts of jealousy / So don’t you cry and hold your head / It’s over.”

Elsewhere, Difford sums up lost love in the song “Images Of Loving” in terms of the records that are left behind: “Your initials on the singles / That you chose to leave behind / Sit in my collection / They get played from time to time / Left to remind me of something I’d forgot / The images of loving before I lost the plot.”

Elsewhere on the record, lightning fails to strike twice with the song “Loving You Tonight,” which is a direct rewrite of Squeeze’s signature hit “Tempted,” complete with predominance of organ and horns and Paul Carrack taking the lead vocals on the track. The album’s first single “Third Rail” also deserves mention as a highlight, and it was also the first Squeeze single to crack the top forty (in the UK) in six years.

Squeeze would go on to release two more studio albums (Ridiculous and Domino) before ceasing to be a recording entity in 1999. A touring version of Squeeze reunited in 2007 and continues to play shows around the world today.

Edited: August 21st, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 8/21/13 – “The Worst Band In The World” by 10cc

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “The Worst Band In The World” by 10cc

The premise of a super group is that all of the members are well known entities unto themselves. Everyone knew who Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young were, and what bands they played with before they united. The group members behind today’s Song Of The Day were also a super group, however they were behind-the-scenes super stars that few people knew before they joined forces.

10cc consisted of two sets of incredibly talented songwriters: Graham Gouldman and Eric Stewart, and Kevin Godley and Lol Creme.

Gouldman wrote the classic hits “For Your Love,” “Heart Full Of Soul,” and “Evil Hearted You” for The Yardbirds, “Bus Stop” and “Look Through Any Window” for the Hollies and “No Milk Today” for Herman’s Hermits. His partner, Eric Stewart, was a member of Wayne Fontana and The Mindbenders scoring hits with “Groovy Kind Of Love” (which he also sang) and “The Game Of Love.” Kevin Godley and Lol Creme (along with Eric Stewart) were session musicians who became members of the group Hotlegs scoring the #2 UK hit “Neanderthal Man.”

The group’s story revolves around a recording studio named Strawberry Studios (after The Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields Forever”). Stewart became a partner in the studio and worked with Gouldman, Godley and Crème recording Bubblegum tunes for producers Jerry Kasenetz and Jeff Katz of Super K Productions.

Kasenetz and Katz were best known as the producers behind the biggest hits by Ohio Express, The 1910 Fruitgum Company and Crazy Elephant. (It was Graham Gouldman’s vocals that graced the Ohio Express single “Sausalito,” while the rest of the group members appeared on tracks credited to Crazy Elephant, Freddie & The Dreamers, Silver Fleet and Fighter Squadron.) The Kasenetz and Katz deal afforded the group the ability to properly outfit Strawberry Studios where ultimately all of 10cc’s recordings were made.

Godley, Creme & Stewart stumbled upon a catchy drum pattern while working at Strawberry and recorded “Neanderthal Man,” which became a big hit under the moniker Hotlegs. The group also toured behind the single, opening for The Moody Blues. After working with Neil Sedaka at Strawberry on his hit album Solitaire, the group decided to give it a go on their own and began to record songs with an eye towards scoring a record deal.

The quartet were eventually signed to UK Records (after being rejected by Apple) by label head Jonathan King, who dubbed the group 10cc, named after the average amount ejaculated by men. (Jonathan King was well known for his own hit single, “Everyone’s Gone To The Moon,” and for signing Genesis to Decca Records.)

Their 1972 self-titled debut album included the European hit singles “Donna,” “Rubber Bullets” and “The Dean And I.” The dynamics within the group had Stewart and Gouldman writing their most poppy tunes, while Godley and Creme delved into artier and more experimental side.

Their second album was called Sheet Music and is their best and most consistent recording, featuring the hit singles, “Wall Street Shuffle” and “Silly Love.” The record covered all bases from the sublime of “Wall Street Shuffle,” “Old Wild Men” and “Silly Love” to the ridiculous of “The Sacro-Iliac,” “Clockwork Creep” and today’s Song Of The Day, all filtered through a Beatle-esque sheen.

The group’s keen sense of humor shines through especially on “The Worst Band In The World” which was sampled by J Dilla for his track “Workinonit,” “The Sacro-Iliac,” a pseudo dance craze that never was, and the ticking time bomb waiting to explode of “Clockwork Creep.”

Elsewhere, “Somewhere In Hollywood” is a multi-part suite that points in the direction the band would take with “Une Nuit A Paris,” the opening track from their breakthrough album, The Original Soundtrack. Rounding out the album are two of the groups most wigged out tunes: “Baron Samedi” and “Oh Effendi.”

After Sheet Music, the group signed with Mercury Records and released The Original Soundtrack in 1975 which included their worldwide smash hit “I’m Not In Love.” They followed the release with How Dare You! in 1976, which included the hit “Art For Art’s Sake.”

Godley and Creme left the fold in 1976 to promote an early guitar synthesizer they invented called The Gizmo. They released the triple album called Consequences,  however neither the album nor The Gizmo ever took off. They persevered over the next decade by becoming video vanguards, producing hit videos for the likes of Sting, The Police, Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Duran Duran. They also scored a late ‘80s hit with their video and song, “Cry.”

Meanwhile the Stewart-Gouldman version of 10cc went on to score the hits, “The Things We Do For Love” (from the album Deceptive Bends)and “Dreadlock Holiday” (from Bloody Tourists). Stewart left the band in 1996, and today 10cc regularly tour Europe with Gouldman at the helm.

Edited: August 20th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 8/20/13 – “Jungle Boogie” by Kool & The Gang

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Jungle Boogie” by Kool & The Gang

When Kool & The Gang topped the charts with “Celebrate” in 1980, they were at the peak of their success, but as far as I was concerned, they were long past their prime. To many, that prime happened seven years earlier with the 1973 album, Wild And Peaceful and its clutch of super funky singles.

Kool & The Gang hailed from Jersey City, New Jersey and formed in 1964 as The Jazziacs. They then changed their name to Kool & The Flames, and later settled on Kool & The Gang so as not to be confused with James Brown and His Famous Flames. Their most famous lineup included Robert “Kool” Bell on bass, brother Ronald Bell on tenor saxophone, James “J.T.” Taylor on lead vocals, George Brown on drums, Robert “Spike” Mickens on trumpet, Dennis “Dee Tee” Thomas on alto saxophone, Clay Smith on guitar, and Rick West on keyboards. While James J.T. Taylor would later go on to become a solo star in his own rite, he was not a member of the band when they recorded today’s Song Of The Day.

The group signed to Gene Redd’s De-Lite Records in 1969, but it was their 1973 album Wild And Peaceful that put the group on the musical map. The album included three bona-fide hit singles including today’s Song Of The Day, “Hollywood Swinging” (“Hey Hey Hey, What cha got to say!”) which topped the R&B charts in 1974 (#6 Pop) and the two horn-driven funk workouts that opened the album, “Funky Stuff” and “More Funky Stuff” (“Can’t get enough…of that funky stuff…”). The three singles were all recorded in one night and were based on aspects of Manu Dibango’s hit recording of “Soul Makossa.”

With its “Get Down, Get Down” call to action, and a rumbling bass line designed to move the tush, “Jungle Boogie” crowded dance floors all over the world as it climbed to the #4 position on the pop charts in 1973. Samples of the track have turned up in The Beastie Boys’ “Hey Ladies,” Madonna’s “Erotica,” Janet Jackson’s “You Want This” and M/A/R/R/S’ “Pump Up The Volume.” The song was also featured in the Quentin Tarentino film Pulp Fiction, as well as in many video games. The clip of the song shown here is from the group’s 1974 appearance on The Midnight Special.

The hit albums Light Of Worlds and Spirit Of the Boogie followed in 1974 and 1975 respectively before the group decided to change their focus from funk to pop with the addition of new lead singer James J.T. Taylor in 1979. That’s when the group lost me, however they did pick up millions of new fans with their new pop direction.

The group’s signature single was “Celebrate” which became the go-to goodtime party anthem of the 1980s. The chart-topping single was produced by Eumir Deodato who had chart success of his own in the early 70s with his hit version of the Strauss-composed classical piece “Also Sprach Zarathustra.”

More hit singles followed including “Ladies Night” (#8/1979), “Too Hot” (#5/1979), “Get Down On It” (#10/1982), Joanna (#2/1983), “Fresh” (#9/1985), “Misled” (#10/1985) and “Cherish” (#2/1985). Over the years, the group has sold over 70 million records worldwide, and they still perform today.

Edited: August 19th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 8/19/13 – “We Have No Secrets” by Carly Simon

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “We Have No Secrets” by Carly Simon

Words cannot describe the captivating effect that the album cover of today’s Song Of The Day had on me when I was eleven years old. The image of Carly Simon on the cover of No Secrets launched hundreds of fantasies throughout my teenage hormone-infused head. And it wasn’t the layout and design of the cover that got to me, either…

The photograph for the cover was taken by Ed Caraeff in front of the Portobello Hotel, on Stanley Gardens in London’s Notting Hill, and to me, it was one of the hottest album covers I’d ever seen. That said, the album turned out to be a pretty good pop album as well, that, at least in the house I grew up in, bridged the generations enabling the whole family to enjoy it at the same time. For 1972, this was indeed no small feat.

Carly Simon was a member of the affluent Simon & Schuster publishing family, and with her sister Lucy got her start as part of The Simon Sisters. The sisters recorded three albums and scored a minor hit in 1964 with their recording of “Winkin’, Blinkin’, and Nod.”

Simon released her first eponymously titled solo album on the Elektra label in February 1971. The album established her as a member of the then-burgeoning singer-songwriting elite, and featured the top-ten single “That’s The Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be.” Eight months later, the follow-up album Anticipation was released featuring the top-twenty title hit that later went on to become a long-running Heinz Ketchup commercial.

By the time Richard Perry had connected with Simon for No Secrets, he was already a well-established hit-making producer who had produced hit albums like Nilsson Schmilsson by Harry Nilsson, Stoney End by Barbra Streisand, Sentimental Journey by Ringo Starr, God Bless Tiny Tim by Tiny Tim, Safe As Milk by Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band, plus albums for Fats Domino, Ella Fitzgerald, Johnny Mathis and Percy Faith.

No Secrets was recorded at Trident Studios, London and featured the cream of the UK session world including Klaus Voorman on Bass, Jim Gordon, Jim Keltner and Andy Newmark on drums, Nicky Hopkins on piano, Ray Cooper on congas, Jimmy Ryan on guitar, Lowell George on slide guitar, Bobby Keys on saxophone and Paul & Linda McCartney, Mick Jagger, James Taylor, Bonnie Bramlett and Doris Troy on vocals. The album sat at the top of the Billboard Album charts for six consecutive weeks in 1972.

For an album called No Secrets, the platter has harbored a deep dark secret for many years, as to who the subject of the #1 hit, “You’re So Vain” might be. The song was said to be about Warren Beatty or Mick Jagger, however the only thing certain is that the backing vocals were provided by an uncredited Mick Jagger. On August 5, 2003, Carly Simon finally auctioned off the identity of the subject of the song to Dick Ebersol (NBC television executive at The Today Show) at a charity function for $50,000 with the condition that he would never reveal the answer.

Simon married James Taylor in 1972, and their relationship is the main thematic undercurrent throughout the whole record, especially on songs like “Right Thing To Do” (a #17 hit) and Waited So Long,” with its chorus that has Taylor confirming that Simon is no virgin. Elsewhere Simon even covers Taylor’s “Night Owl” featuring Paul & Linda McCartney, Bonnie Bramlett and Doris Troy on vocals.  Simon and Taylor remained married for 11 years and had two now adult children.

Other highlights on this durable disk include the poignant song of remorse “The Carter Family,” co-written by longtime friend and journalist Jacob Brackman, and today’s Song Of The Day “We Have No Secrets” which includes the very telling lyrics: “We have no secrets / We tell each other everything /  About the lovers in our past / And why they didn’t last… Sometimes I wish / Often I wish / That I never ever knew / Some of those secrets of yours.”

In true A Star Is Born fashion, as Carly Simon’s star rose for this album and its follow-up Hotcakes (which contained the hits “Mockingbird” with James Taylor and top five hit “Haven’t Got Time For the Pain”), Taylor was at a commercial low ebb releasing his poorly received One Man Dog and Walking Man albums.

Simon’s star continued to rise fueled by big radio hits like “Nobody Does It Better” (the Theme from the James Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me), “Coming Around Again” and “Let The River Run” (the first song to win a Grammy Award, Academy Award and a Golden Globe for a song written by a performing artist). During the 1980s, Simon recorded a series of mostly poorly received formula albums for Clive Davis at Arista Records and still occasionally records and performs today.

Edited: August 18th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 8/18/13 – “Playing The Game” Live 1978 by Gentle Giant

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Playing The Game” Live 1978 by Gentle Giant

They were one of the premier Progressive Rock groups in their day…right up there with King Crimson, Yes and Genesis. With a stellar lineup of brothers, Derek and Ray Shulman, Kerry Minnear, Gary Green and John Weathers, the Giant were adept multi-instrumentalists who would dazzle in concert with their intricate vocal arrangements and odd time signatures.

The group’s “purple period” of greatness was roughly from the 1972 release of Octopus through 1975’s Free Hand, and encompassed the albums In A Glass House (1973) and The Power And The Glory (1974). In America, their early albums were released by Columbia Records and starting with The Power And The Glory, they were released by Capitol. They, once again, returned to Columbia for Civilian, their final album which was released in 1980.

In England, their early albums through 1974 were all released on the Vertigo (or Vertigo/WWA) label, and all records from Free Hand onward were released by Chrysalis. This past week a new import five CD set called Memories Of Old Days – A Compendium Of Curios, Bootlegs, Live Tracks, Rehearsals and Demos 1975-1980 was released covering the Chrysalis years.

By 1977 Gentle Giant were trying to score a radio hit. Their last three studio albums featured shorter tracks in an attempt to get themselves played on radio. However, Punk Rock was burgeoning and the band was totally irrelevant to that fan base, and with their new radio friendly material, they were also becoming irrelevant to their own fan base as well.

Much of the material from Memories was culled from a 12-hour rarities collection released as an import in 2004 called Scraping The Barrel which was programmed by Dan Bornemark with the participation of the members of Gentle Giant. That collection featured four CDs, plus another 8 hours of material presented in the MP3 format. Memories Of Old Days is a five-CD distillation of that 12-hour set, featuring much of the material that was originally presented only in MP3 format. While some of the recording quality is subpar, the band’s performances are never less than exceptional.

This collection is for die-hard fans only and features tour rehearsals from 1975, 1977 and 1980, BBC concert recordings from 1978, and studio sessions from Free Hand, Interview and Giant For A Day. (For the uninitiated, I would recommend passing on this set and beginning with either Free Hand or The Power And The Glory.)

Today’s Song Of The Day originally comes from The Power And The Glory and is seen here from a 1978 performance of unknown origin. This song turns up in several different guises on Memories, as it was a staple of their concert sets from 1974 onward.  I was fortunate enough to see the band on the day before the Bicentennial (7-3-76) at the Calderone Concert Hall in Hempstead, New York, and I’m here to tell you that they were one of the most technically proficient and exciting bands I’ve ever seen!

By 1980 and the advent of Punk and New Wave, the purveyors of prog walked the earth like dinosaurs on the verge of extinction, so Gentle Giant packed it in. Derek Schulman went on to become a top A&R guy for Mercury Records and was responsible for signing Bon Jovi to the label…but let’s not hold that against him…

Edited: August 18th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 8/17/13 – “At The Hop” from “Woodstock” by Sha Na Na

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They were the penultimate act at the Woodstock Music & Arts Fair, coming on right before Jimi Hendrix 44 years ago today.

Sha Na Na was a 1950s revival group that hailed from Columbia University in New York City. By a stroke of luck, they were booked to perform at the Woodstock Music & Arts Fair in Bethel, New York in August of 1969 by festival producer Michael Lang who saw them perform in a small club.

They were on site for the whole weekend waiting for their turn to appear, but it wasn’t until Monday morning after most people already left the grounds that they took the stage.

It was by a stroke of luck that their blazing performance of “At The Hop” was included in the Woodstock film bringing them national attention. While their music was totally out of step with the times, they managed to cause a sensation with their greased back hair, gold lame suits and in-synch dance routines.

Several years ago, a six CD set was released that included two more songs from their morning set. I would still like to see, and yes hear, their entire set from Woodstock. Hopefully, someday the powers that be will release all of the music and footage captured that weekend. Perhaps they’re saving it all for the 50th Anniversary in 2019.

The group went on to record numerous albums for Buddah Records, host their own variety show on TV from 1977 through 1981, and appear in the film version of the musical Grease. Henry Gross, an original member of the group went on to score the huge ‘70s top ten hit “Shannon.”

The group continues to tour today with several original members amongst its ranks.

Edited: August 17th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 8/16/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Evil Ways” by Santana from “Woodstock”

This week we are celebrating the 44th anniversary of “An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music” which took place August 15-18th 1969 on Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel, N.Y. Of course, everyone knows the festival by its more common name, Woodstock.

While most people are familiar with Santana’s blazing performance of “Soul Sacrifice” that single handedly established the group to the American public and appeared in the movie, most people have never seen anything else from the group’s afternoon set on 8/16/69.

At the time, not only were the band unknown out of their native San Francisco, but so was this Tito Puente standard. The song wouldn’t become popular for many months, after the group released the studio version as a single and took it to the upper echelon of the charts. It’s amazing to watch Carlos Santana catch fire in front of the biggest audience he had ever played to at that point…especially since he has said that he was tripping his face off on acid.

Santana’s appearance was part of a barter deal made by manager Bill Graham – if Woodstock wanted Graham’s premium acts Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead, they would have to take Santana and give them a good slot in the festival.

Obviously, Graham already knew what the Woodstock Nation was soon to find out…that they were to be treated to a career-making performance for the ages!

Edited: August 15th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 8/15/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “I Just Can’t Help Believing” by Elvis Presley

Everybody has a favorite version of Elvis: the hip-swivellin’ 1950s hep-cat, the swarmy good ‘ol boy of his many second rate films, the leather-clad comeback kid of 1968, the sequined-suited star of Vegas, and, sadly, the fat bloated disaster of the late ‘70s before he met his maker, 36 years ago tomorrow.

My particular favorite is the post-comeback Vegas Elvis of 1970 as heard and seen in the film That’s The Way It Is. The film was shot at The International Hotel in Vegas in August 1970 and it highlighted the fabulous entertainer Elvis could be when he took himself somewhat seriously.

Here we have his cover of the Barry Man-Cynthia Weil classic “I Just Can’t Help Believing” which was currently a big hit for B.J. Thomas at the time of this recording. Elvis’ was touring with his finest band featuring the ever dependable James Burton on guitar, John Wilkinson on rhythm guitar, Glen D. Hardin on keyboards, Jerry Scheff on bass, Ron Tutt on drums, Charlie Hodge on guitar and vocals, plus Millie Kirkham, The Imperials and Sweet Inspirations on vocals.

If you’ve never seen the film, what are you waiting for? If you have, now’s a good time to see it again!

Edited: August 15th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 8/14/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” by Bonnie Tyler

If ever there was a song that I love and revile in equal measures at the same time, “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” is that song.

When it first blasted onto radio and MTV in 1983, I instantly recognized the song’s appeal and truly loved the melody. However, the very bombast of the track (courtesy of Jim Steinman) that set the song soaring up the charts, coupled with the husky voice of Bonnie Tyler also made me hate it, especially when it was pummeled repeatedly onto my psyche via constant airplay.

With the passage of time, and its absence from media saturation, I now truly appreciate and love this AM radio gem more than ever.

The song was written and produced by Jim Steinman, the man behind Meat Loaf’s epic Bat Out Of Hell album. In truth, “Eclipse” could have easily fit on a Meat Loaf album as all the Steinman hallmarks are present – the quiet initial statement of an alluring melody leading to a grand bombastic build up, interweaving vocals and larger-than-life Broadway production values. It should come as no surprise that Meat Loaf has said that the song was originally written for him to record.

Jim Steinman got his start working in musical theater writing for the minor musicals including Whistle Down The Wind and Tanz der Vampire. It was while working on a theatrical adaptation of Wagner’s opera Das Rheingold in 1974, that Steinman met Marvin Lee Aday who would go on to change his name to Meat Loaf a few years later. While touring with National Lampoon, Steinman and Aday began working on a set of songs with an eye toward making an album together.

The two shopped their magnum opus, Bat Out Of Hell to practically every record label and were met with nothing but utter rejection. When they got to Columbia Records, Clive Davis claimed that Steinman knew nothing about writing or rock music in general. The album was finally released by Cleveland International Records, which was distributed by Epic Records whose parent company coincidentally was Columbia Records. The album ultimately sold over 40 million copies worldwide.

After Meat Loaf developed problems with his voice and had a tough time recording a suitable follow-up to Bat Out Of Hell, Steinman worked on his musical score for Tanz der Vampire, which included the motifs for two more of his hits, Air Supply’s “Making Love Out Of Nothing At All” and “Total Eclipse Of The Heart.”

Raspy voiced, Bonnie Tyler was born in Wales and found worldwide success with her 1978 top five single “It’s A Heartache.” She released four albums for RCA between 1977 and 1981, but became disenchanted with her handlers’ efforts to market her as a pop-country artist. After seeing Meat Loaf perform “Bat Out Of Hell” on The Old Grey Whistle Test, she approached Jim Steinman to produce her next record.

Steinman presented Tyler with “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” and she readily agreed to record it.  The song was released as a single from Tyler’s Steinman-produced 1983 album Faster Than The Speed Of Light. The single topped the charts all over the world and sold over nine million copies. The song received two 1984 Grammy nominations for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance and Best Female Rock Vocal Performance.

“Total Eclipse” also dueled it out on the charts with Air Supply’s “Making Love Out Of Nothing At All,” and ultimately “Eclipse” topped the charts to Air Supply’s number two showing. Tyler continued to work with Steinman, releasing the 1985 album Secret Dreams and Forbidden Fire which included the single “Holding Out For A Hero,” which was featured on the soundtrack to the movie Footloose.

You may wonder, what led to me choosing this song as today’s Song Of The Day. While trolling on Facebook, I came across a clip of comedienne and impressionist, Christina Bianco performing this song in the guise of numerous famous divas including Adele, Cher, Barbra Streisand, Gwen Stefani, Kristin Chenoweth, Julie Andrews, Liza Minnelli and Bernadette Peters. It’s a clip you don’t want to miss!

Christina Bianco Version: http://now.msn.com/christina-bianco-sings-total-eclipse-of-the-heart-as-19-divas#tscptmf

Edited: August 13th, 2013

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

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Andmoreagain” by Love

Love were the biggest rock act on the Elektra Record label, and along with The Byrds, were the darlings of the Whiskey a Go Go rock music scene on the Sunset Strip. That was until The Doors came along…

The Summer Of Love wasn’t all sunshine and flower power, and Arthur Lee wasn’t your average psychedelic band leader. For one, Lee was an African American in a white man’s rock world who was leading a mixed-race band. His music was based on his reality reflecting the trials and tribulations of inner city life channeled through a prism of drug addiction, street violence and the Vietnam War. His world was a bummer, and the lyrics on Love’s third album, Forever Changes don’t sugarcoat this fact.  – “Sitting on a hillside, watching all the people die/ I’ll feel much better on the other side” from “The Red Telephone.”

Convinced he was going to die at the age of 22, the group’s most pastoral album Forever Changes was fashioned by Lee as his final testament. The album was a mostly acoustic affair including horns and strings with arrangements by David Angel. It only climbed to #154 in the charts after its release in 1967, however over time the record has risen in stature as one of the great psychedelic rock records from the late 1960s, right up there with The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper and The Doors eponymously titled debut album.

The first two Love albums were terse psychedelic garage punk guitar albums that established the band as a top-tier draw around Los Angeles. However Love’s popularity was quickly surpassed in 1967 by the self-titled debut album from The Doors, profoundly affecting Arthur Lee and making the band’s clout fall dramatically within the confines of Elektra Records.

Born in Memphis, Lee was raised in the Crenshaw ghetto of Los Angeles and was strongly influenced by Mick Jagger. In contrast, Lee’s songwriting partner, Bryan MacLean was raised on Broadway and classical music and grew up in Hollywood. As a member of the Hollywood elite, he swam in his neighbor Elizabeth Taylor’s pool and dated Liza Minnelli.

Forever Changes was originally to be produced by Neil Young, but he backed out due to commitments with Buffalo Springfield. It is rumored that Young arranged the album track “The Daily Planet,” however Young has denied his involvement. The album was ultimately produced by Arthur Lee and Elektra Records producer Bruce Botnick (who had recently worked with Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass which could explain the mariachi trumpet sound on the album’s opening and closing tracks).

The album was also to be the first Love album to use studio session musicians in place of the actual band members who weren’t cutting it in the studio due to their drug-taking extracurricular activities. Wrecking Crew members Billy Strange (guitar), Don Randi (piano), Hal Blaine (drums) and Carol Kaye (bass) were brought in to the studio and were used on today’s Song Of The Day and “The Daily Planet.”

The presence of the studio musicians spurred the band members to clean up their act and they were used in lieu of the Wrecking Crew on the rest of the record. Nevertheless, this was the last Love album to feature the original group lineup of Arthur Lee on lead vocals and guitar, Johnny Echols on lead guitar,  Bryan MacLean on rhythm guitar and background vocals (lead vocals on “Old Man” and co-lead vocals on “Alone Again Or”), Ken Forssi on bass guitar and Michael Stuart on drums and percussion. (Don Randi was kept in the lineup for the sessions since the band didn’t have a regular keyboard player.)

MacLean quit after Forever Changes, but went on to write songs for the likes of Debbie Boone, Patty Loveless and his sister, Lone Justice member Maria McKee. Lee continued to release records under the Love band name, and with many different lineups under his own name until going to jail.

He was sentenced to 12 years in federal prison in the mid-‘90s for illegally discharging a firearm in public. Since he already had a few minor infractions on his record, Lee got caught up in California’s “three strikes you’re out” legislation forcing him to do time.

After serving six years behind bars, Lee was freed in 2002 and returned to the music world backed by a group called Baby Lemonade. With the help of a 15-piece orchestra, Lee and the band went out on tour to perform Forever Changes in its entirety. I still have no idea what I was thinking when I turned down the opportunity to see Love perform the album on this tour…

Arthur Lee succumbed to acute myeloid leukemia in 2006.

Edited: August 12th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 8/10/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Born To Run” by Bruce Springsteen

Some of my favorite scenes from The Sopranos are when Tony Soprano is shown driving in his SUV rocking out and singing along to ‘70s tunes, usually by BTO or Journey.

Today, I felt a little like Tony Soprano while driving to work, but instead of Journey or BTO, I was rocking out to one of the greatest albums ever released, Born To Run by Bruce Springsteen.

A strange and wonderful sensation came over me by the time the title track came on (which will always signal the beginning of Side Two to me even when hearing it on an iPod).

“Born To Run” is still such a powerful song, and I got the chills this morning as if I was hearing it for the first time all over again. Except, something was dramatically different…all of the years that have passed by, the friends that have come and gone and the life events that have taken place began to run through my mind as the song played, bringing tears to my eyes as I realized just how many years have slipped away and how much I’ve changed since I first experienced the power of “Born To Run.”

It was a coming of age album, and I just happened to be coming of age in 1975 when the album came out. This song vocalized the feelings most of us in my age group shared of needing an escape, and being on the precipice of something unknown that cannot be found in your own home town – “Baby this town rips the bones from your back / It’s a death trap, it’s a suicide rap / We gotta get out while were young / `cause tramps like us, baby we were Born To Run…Together we could break this trap / Well run till we drop, / baby we’ll never go back…” – and it all came drifting back to me this morning during its four and a half minute duration.

While listening, I experienced the same feeling of nirvana I’ve gotten many times over the years watching The E Street Band kick into this song in lit up arenas and stadiums (especially in NJ) with thirty to fifty thousand fans singing along in unison as if their lives depended on it.  And it felt great…it’s too bad that all of that greatness culminated in going to work, but that’s what happens when you don’t hit the Powerball…

Back in the ‘70s, I usually found out about new record releases either from magazines like Rolling Stone and Creem, or most importantly, from reviews in the Sunday New York Times Arts & Leisure section which were usually written by Jon Pareles or John Rockwell. Not only would I find out about artists and records I’d never heard about before, but I could also see what the album covers were going to look like in Sam Goody’s ads, hoping that I’d be able to score one of the precious platters on display during the coming week.

I distinctly remember reading the article that introduced me to Patti Smith’s Horses back in 1975, and I also remember opening the August 29th 1975 edition of the NY Times and reading Rockwell’s headline about Bruce Springsteen’s new album: “Springsteen’s Rock, Poetry At Its Best.” I probably first heard tracks from the album, including today’s Song Of The Day, introduced by Scott Muni on 102.7 WNEW, our local FM rock station in New York City.

I can also remember seeing the album cover for the first time with a smiling, leather-clad Bruce leaning on the Big Man’s shoulder. They were comrades in arms hoping to take the world by storm with their latest opus. What we didn’t know at the time was that it was the last chance for Bruce and Columbia Records. After two failed releases for the label, it was either produce or be dropped. It’s a good thing that Jon Landau saw the future of rock ‘n’ roll…and thankfully, we did too.

Before the release of Born To Run, I had never heard of Bruce Springsteen, which might seem strange to some since I grew up in New Jersey. But after the album’s release, I went back and picked up his first two albums (as did most of my friends), and from then to now, I’ve never missed one of Springsteen’s new releases. I can’t say I’ve liked them all, especially the recent ones, but I don’t think I will ever get to the place where a new Springsteen release will instill indifference within me.

These days I don’t reach for Born To Run as often as I used to, but this morning I got both the renewed sense of youth and that feeling of the passage of time all at once, while driving on the highways of Chicago.

Edited: August 10th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 8/9/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “The Nicest Things Happen” by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass

By 1971, the non-stop run of hit albums and singles by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass was becoming a distant memory.  In fact, Alpert was more intent on producing other artists and running his mega-successful A&M record label than going into the studio to record new material, especially if it was under the Tijuana Brass moniker.

However, the Tijuana Brass brand was a potent one, and there was still great demand for more product. So a compilation of singles and previously unreleased off cuts was assembled to meet the demand of the masses. While the resultant album is nowhere near the greatness of albums like Whipped Cream, Going Places or SRO, the Summertime release does have several tracks that would sit comfortably next to anything on those aforementioned classics.

Case in point is today’s Song Of The Day, the warm and pastoral “The Nicest Things Happen.” The song was written by Julius Wechter (with his wife Cissy) who was the writer responsible for several indelible Tijuana Brass hits including “Spanish Flea” and “Brasilia.” In the spectrum of great easy listening instrumentals, this one is every bit as good in creating a pleasing mood as “Pet Sounds” by Brian Wilson (The Beach Boys), “Theme From A Summer Place” by Percy Faith, “Quite Village” by Martin Denny and The B-52’s “Follow Your Bliss.”

The album’s title track pointed in the direction Alpert would take in the future, leaning farther into the jazz idiom with an arrangement of the Gershwin classic from Porgy And Bess inspired by the recordings of Miles Davis, Lambert Hendricks & Ross, and Ahmad Jamal. It is also the first Tijuana Brass track to feature vocals by Alpert’s wife and Sergio Mendes & Brasil 66 member, Lani Hall.

Rounding out the album are TJB takes on current pop tunes of the day including versions of The Beatles’ “Martha My Dear” (marred by Alpert’s flat vocals), Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind,” a spirited take on The Beach Boys’ “Darlin’,” and a great version of Little Anthony & The Imperials’ “Hurt So Bad.” And no Tijuana Brass album would be complete without a few nostalgic gems thrown in for good measure, including a version of Perry Como’s “Catch A Falling Star” and another Gershwin classic, the rousing march “Strike Up The Band.”

The only other track of note on this album is “Montezuma’s Revenge,” which was written by Sol Lake who was also responsible for writing the TJB classics “The Lonely Bull,” “The Mexican Shuffle” (aka “The Teabury Shuffle”), “More And More Amor” and “Bittersweet Samba.”

Summertime closes the era of Alpert recording pure pop confections. It was also the last album to carry the Tijuana Brass name. His next album of all new material, You Smile, And The Song Begins, followed three years later and was credited to Herb Alpert & The TJB. It was also the beginning of the next phase of his career, finding Alpert leaving pop music behind and recording more straight ahead jazz albums.

Edited: August 8th, 2013

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

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Foolin’ Around” by Vince Gill & Paul Franklin

Paying homage to those who have come before you is nothing new in Country music. Merle Haggard paid tribute to Jimmie Rodgers on his classic 1969 album Same Train Different Time, and also recorded tribute albums to Bob Wills and Elvis Presley.  Buck Owens also did it on albums that saluted the influence that Tommy Collins and Harlan Howard had on him.

It’s a tradition that has continued throughout the years with one notable entry being Dwight Yoakam’s 2008 Buck Owens tribute album Dwight Sings Buck. Dwight and Buck were also very good friends who toured together in 1988 (I was lucky enough to see that tour).

This past week, country music star Vince Gill and ace steel guitarist Paul Franklin released a new album called Bakersfield which pays homage to both Merle Haggard and Buck Owens, and the Bakersfield California country sound they created. The Bakersfield sound was a guitar-driven Honky Tonk style popularized by artists like Owens, Haggard, Wynn Stewart, Jean Shepard and Freddie Hart, that came as a reaction to the string laden country hits that were pouring forth from Nashville during the 1960s.

Gill’s storied career has seen him sell more than 26 million albums, and win 20 Grammy and 18 CMA awards. Franklin is one of the most recorded pedal steel guitar session players in Nashville, whose pedal steel and dobro has been heard on over 500 records including sessions for Randy Travis, Reba McEntire, George Strait, and even Barbra Streisand and Megadeth. The two artists have also performed together before in their recurring Western Swing side project, The Time Jumpers.

Rather than record carbon copies of the originals on Bakersfield, Gill and Franklin have lengthened the solos to emphasize the interplay between Gill’s Fender Telecaster and Franklin’s pedal steel.

Today’s Song Of The Day was a #2 hit for Buck Owens in 1961. It is one of five Owens songs on the album that also includes “Together Again,” a 1964 chart-topping B-Side that features one of the greatest pedal steel solos of all time (that inspired Jerry Garcia to pick up the instrument),  “Nobody’s Fool But Yours,” a #11 hit from 1962, “But I Do,” which was originally from the 1963 tribute album Buck Owens Sings Tommy Collins, and “He Don’t Deserve You Anymore,” a 1966 track that was never released as a single from the album Roll Out The Red Carpet.

The Haggard tracks include “The Fightin’ Side Of Me,” one of Hag’s most popular singles that originally topped the charts in 1970, “Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down,” a #3 hit from 1966 that was covered by Elvis Costello in 1980, “Branded Man,” another chart topping single originally from 1967, “I Can’t Be Myself” which climbed all the way to #3 in 1970 and “Holding Things Together,” which was originally a 1974 LP track from the album Merle Haggard Presents His 30th Album.

Together, Gill and Franklin have fashioned an album that cuts through the jingoistic ‘70s rock crap that passes for Country music today, with something that is far more rewarding and down to earth.

 

Edited: August 7th, 2013

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

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Infestissumam / Per Aspera Ad Inferi” by Ghost B.C.

It’s not Spinal Tap during their “Stonehenge” phase, however Ghost B.C.’s satanic metal church music offers a theatrical twist (a la Tap’s “Henge”) unseen in rock music for many years.

The stage fills with thick plumes of white smoke while the sound of Latin liturgical chanting fills the air. Out of the haze emerge five group members wearing hooded robes, their faces obscured by masks. The band members, known as Nameless Ghouls, represent one of five elements; fire, water, wind, earth and ether. Their robes are adorned with a different symbol for each element, and their brand of rock is the chunkiest, crunchiest heavy metal sludge and dirge this side of early Metallica. With great fanfare, the lead singer emerges in skull make-up, dressed as a Roman Catholic Cardinal wearing black, augmented by an upside down cross. His hands raised in the air as the band kicks in with a killer riff destined to slay the audience.

The band is known as Ghost in Sweden, but due to legal reasons, they are Ghost B.C. in America. Nameless Ghoul: “The B.C. is silent, and as soon as we can, it’s gonna be taken away forever.” The band’s lineup includes Papa Emeritus II on vocals, Nameless Ghoul on lead guitar, Nameless Ghoul on bass, Nameless Ghoul on keyboards, Nameless Ghoul on rhythm guitar and Nameless Ghoul on drums.  Their real identities are kept a secret which adds to their intrigue. Papa Emeritus is now known as Papa Emeritus II, and although he is believed to be the same person, he now portrays a different character.

Convoluted? You bet. Intriguing? Definitely, and all this would be totally laughable, if it weren’t for the fact that the band are capable musicians and some of their songs are downright exceptional. Their songs are credited to “A Ghoul Writer,” however it is rumored that Tobias Forge formerly of the Swedish Bands Subdivision, Repugnant and Crashdiet is the real identity of Papa Emeritus II and is also “A Ghoul Writer.”

The band takes the Roman Catholic Church and turns it upside down, worshipping Satan instead of the Holy Trinity. Nameless Ghoul: “The sort of Satanism, or devil-worship, that we want to portray in the confines of Ghost, is a very biblical version of goat worship…we’re playing with the idea of divinity, and we’re using the diabolical symbolisms to set a mindset.”

Songs like “Ritual,” “Monstrance Clocks” (which Papa Emeritus II introduced as “a song about fucking”) and today’s Song Of The Day which opened their set at Lollapalooza, rock out in reckless abandon while never losing sight of song structure and, at times even melody. The B-side of the “Secular Haze” single is “I’m a Marionette” which is an ABBA cover featuring Dave Grohl on drums. The album’s second single is “Year Zero” which is backed with “Orez Raey” (“Year Zero” played backwards).

The lyrics are blatantly satanic, but they are filtered through a biblical lens, trading the coming of Christ for the coming of Satan. Nameless Ghoul: The album also deals with “how people relate to a deity or God, themes like submission and superstition, the horrors of being religious.”

It’s all very tongue and cheek, a total goof, and it wouldn’t work if the band didn’t have the musical chops to back it up. Nameless Ghoul:  “We have no militant agenda. We are an entertainment group. Our mission is to put on a show. We want people to go into the experience the same way that you would lose yourself in a horror movie for an hour or two…We knew very early that to make this material work we needed to fulfill our dream of putting a horror show together with music.”

Predictably, their satanic themes have not been welcomed with open arms in the U.S. The album was recorded in Nashville, where they had difficulty booking choir vocalists to sing their lyrics. It has been banned by several retail chains, radio has been reluctant to play them, and they have had a hard time getting booked onto late night talk shows for appearances.

Ghost B.C. hail from Linköping, Sweden, and formed in 2008. Their first album Opus Eponymous (2010) was nominated for a Grammis Award (Sweden’s equivalent to the Grammy Awards) for best Hard Rock Album in 2011. The release of their latest album, Infestissumam (where today’s Song Of The Day hails from) was pushed back in America because U.S. CD manufacturers refused to press up the release due to objectionable artwork on the deluxe version. The artwork was described as an illustration of a 16th century orgy. As a result, the U.S. CD carries different artwork than the vinyl version and the European CD version which carries the original artwork.

The group just wrapped up their Haze Over America U.S. tour with a final date at Lollapalooza this past Friday. Listening to them on record is beside the point; Ghost B.C. is a group that must be seen to be believed.

Edited: August 6th, 2013

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – 8/2/13

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “The Promised Land” from Sunshine Daydream by Grateful Dead (from the film Sunshine Daydream, Veneta Oregon, 8/27/72)

I look all around me and see dead people…”

We’re in our local movie theater in Lincolnshire, Illinois waiting for the Third Annual – (Jerry Garcia’s Birthday) -Grateful Dead Meet-up At The Movies to begin. This year’s film is from footage that was shot at a benefit show for the Springfield Creamery (makers of Yogurt) in Veneta Oregon on August 27, 1972.

The superb footage in this film is a treat for the eyes …where has this footage been for 41 years?

The film captures the band basking in the afterglow of their triumphant Europe ’72 tour from the previous April and May where they introduced a whole host of new classics into their repertoire. Most of the songs performed in the film turned up the classic trio of 1972 albums Europe ’72, Garcia (his first solo record), and Bob Weir’s Ace. Only about half of the show is represented by video in the movie, but what is there is terrific to watch.

It’s great to see such great footage of the Dead at the height of their powers with the classic lineup Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Bill Kreutzman, and Keith & Donna Godchaux, still settling down as a unit, in the wake of the departure of founding member Ron ‘Pig Pen’ McKernan from the group. There is very little footage of Keith and Donna Godchaux in the film. Although heard on the soundtrack, neither of them show up on the screen until well after an hour has lapsed.

The show took place on a blazingly hot August afternoon where temperatures were over 100 degrees, and indeed themes of dire heat and water conservation play as a backdrop to footage. It doesn’t stop Jerry and company from raising the temperature from the get-go on a rollicking concert-opening version of Chuck Berry’s “The Promised Land.”

Jerry, Bob and Phil are all in very strong voice throughout the show, harmonizing together on a terrific “Jack Straw.” Donna Godchaux shows up on stage with the band late in the film for a tender Jerry-led version of Merle Haggard’s “Sing Me Back Home.” There’s also great footage of Bill Kreutzman throughout the film playing the drums looking like a total biker dude.

You really get a great sense of the interplay between Garcia and Weir in the film, particularly watching Weir drive Jerry’s soloing along with his rhythm playing.  There’s so much improvisational electricity between Garcia and Weir on “Bird Song,” and they musically challenge each other on a rousing performance of “China Cat Sunflower/I Know You Rider,” as the band cooks up their own kind of prog-rock-psych-jazz brew.

And there are lots of naked dancing hippies!

Did I mention the naked dancing hippies? I love the classic concert footage of 20,000 hippies getting down to the music. (It’s a scene I only wish would reproduce itself this weekend at Lollapalooza.) There are also great photos and some vintage footage of many from the Dead’s inner circle including Owsley Stanley (Bear), SF legend Wavy Gravy (who does his interview in the reclining position), tour manager  John Cutler, Rock Skully, most of their crew, and many others.

Like 1974’s The Grateful Dead Movie, psychedelic visuals accompany the trippiest parts of the music, and in this concert it’s the epic 31 minute “Dark Star.” I would gladly forgo the psychedelic visuals in Sunshine Daydream in favor of the rest of the footage of Jerry, Bob and Phil improvising together. You can actually see how intently they listen to each other as they are playing.

The film and the full concert are being released in September in several different formats through Rhino Records. Here’s a link to www.dead.net for more information about the Sunshine Daydream film and soundtrack, plus the full track listing of show:

1. Introduction [4:01]

2. Promised Land [3:24]

3. Sugaree [7:30]

4. Me And My Uncle [3:16]

5. Deal [4:55]

6. Black-Throated Wind [7:01]

7. China Cat Sunflower> [7:58]

8. I Know You Rider [7:03]

9. Mexicali Blues [3:49]

10. Bertha [5:59]

11. Playing In The Band [19:57]

12. He’s Gone [9:32]

13. Jack Straw [5:06]

14. Bird Song [13:17]

15. Greatest Story Ever Told [5:36]

16. Dark Star [31:28]

17. El Paso [5:04]

18. Sing Me Back Home [10:51]

19. Sugar Magnolia [8:45]

20. Casey Jones [6:25]

21. One More Saturday Night [5:03]

Edited: August 2nd, 2013