News for September 2014

Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “You’re Still A Young Man” by Tower Of Power

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Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “You’re Still A Young Man” by Tower Of Power

They took us “Down To The Night Club” in “Bump City” and showed us “What Is Hip”…yet today’s Song Of The Day by Eric Berman doesn’t get much more soulful than this!

Tower Of Power was the East Bay California horn-fueled brain child of Emilio Castillo and Stephen “Doc” Kupka who are as renowned for their own recordings as for the horn work they’ve done for everyone from Santana to PIL.

The group auditioned for Bill Graham to play his Fillmore West Auditorium, and Graham was so enamored of them he signed them to his own San Francisco record label and released their debut album called East Bay Grease in 1970, scoring the regional single “Sparkling In The Sand.”

“You’re Still A Young Man” was the first single from the group’s second album Bump City. The album was their debut album for Warner Bros. Records where they achieved most of their fame, and the song climbed to #29 on the Billboard pop charts and #24 on the R&B singles list in 1972. “You’re Still A Young Man” features the shimmering, soulful lead vocals of Rick Stevens who after leaving the band was convicted of murder and served 36 years in prison. He was paroled in 2012.

The Tower of Power lineup on Bump City includes Rick Stevens (lead vocals), Skip Mequite (tenor sax, flute, vocals), Emilio Castillo (2nd tenor sax, vocals), Greg Adams (trumpet, flugelhorn, vocals), Stephen “Doc” Kupka (baritone sax, vocals), Mic Gillette (trumpet, trombone, vocals), Willie James Fulton (guitar, vocals), Dave Garibaldi (drums), Francis Rocco Prestia (bass) and Jay Spell (piano).

Emilio Castillo told the Song Facts website the story behind the song: “I had a girlfriend that was six years older than me. I was 18, she was 24 and that’s actually what happened. She had kind of cut me loose because of the age difference thing and the whole plea in the story is the young guy’s saying, ‘I’m not too young, I’m not wasting my time and I do love you like a man can truly love a woman.’” (Song Facts)

In 1973, vocalist Lenny Williams and saxophone player Lenny Pickett joined the fold and the Tower Of Power horn section began playing on dozens of records by artists including Little Feat, Cat Stevens, Elton John, The Monkees, Rod Stewart, Rufus, Grateful Dead, Jefferson Starship, Heart Huey Lewis and the News, Aerosmith, Toto, Santana and Phish. Tower Of Power still performs concerts today and they appear as session player on many albums.

Edited: September 30th, 2014

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Salt Peanuts” by Dizzy Gillespie and his Orchestra

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Salt Peanuts” by Dizzy Gillespie and his Orchestra

Like the Rock and Roll that sprang from its loins, a new form of off-the-chart mid-1940s Jazz called Be Bop captured the imagination of the youth of America and positively terrified its parents. Not only was the music primarily an African American form, but “hep” cats known as “Bird” (Charlie Parker) and “Diz” (Dizzy Gillespie) were at its forefront.

Gillespie is credited as the composer of this positively space-age tune, although the main riff can be traced back to the piano playing of Count Basie in 1941. This clip hails from the 1947 film Jivin’ In Be-Bop, a plotless musical film, that featured Gillespie’s Big Band playing eight songs including “One Bass Hit,” “A Night In Tunisia,” “Orthinology,” “Oop Bop Sh’Bam,” “He Beeped When He Should Have Bopped,” “Shaw Nuff,” “Grosvenor Square” and today’s Song of the Day by Eric Berman.

Members of the band include Ray Brown on bass, Milt Jackson on vibes and John Lewis on piano.

“Salt Peanuts”

Jivin’ In Be-Bop – The Whole Film

Edited: September 29th, 2014

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Who By Fire” by Leonard Cohen

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Who By Fire” by Leonard Cohen

It’s that time of year when Jews atone for sins and pray for forgiveness… in exchange for another year on the planet. It’s an unspoken deal Jews strike each year with God and and I am just superstitious enough to continue to go along with it.

Today’s Song of the Day by Eric Berman is a track from Leonard Cohen’s fourth studio album New Skin For The Old Ceremony. The song derives from the Unetanneh Tokef prayer that is said on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Jewish High Holy Days. The song is sung as a duet on the album with fellow Jewish folk singer, Janis Ian.

Leonard Cohen: “That song derives very directly from a Hebrew prayer that is sung on the Day of Atonement…according to the tradition, the book of life is opened and in it is inscribed all those who will live, all those who will die for the following year…In that prayer is cataloged all the various ways in which you can quit this veil of tears. The melody is, if not actually stolen, is certainly derived from the melody that I heard in the synagogue as a boy. But, of course, the conclusion online casinos of the song as I write it is somewhat different…”who shall I say is calling”…that is what makes the song into a prayer for me. In my terms, which is who is it, or what is it that determines who will live or who will die.” (from the Harry Rasky film The Song of Leonard Cohen 1979 -http://www.leonardcohen-prologues.com/who_by_fire.htm)

The album also includes several other bona-fide Leonard Cohen classics including “Chelsea Hotel #2,” a song about a sexual encounter Cohen had at the Chelsea Hotel with Janis Joplin, “Take This Longing” and “Field Commander Cohen.”

Just this past week Leonard Cohen celebrated his 80th birthday by releasing his 13th studio album called Popular Problems. May he also be inscribed in the book of life…and you as well…

Edited: September 28th, 2014

Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “World Away” by Tweedy

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Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “World Away” by Tweedy

Today marks the release date for the first semi-solo outing by Jeff Tweedy of Wilco. Teaming up with his 18 year old son, Spencer and going under the “Tweedy” moniker, the duo have released a sprawling, ramshackle record called Sukierae that brings another double album to mind, The Beatles.

Over its 20 songs, Tweedy cover a vast array of styles which is vaguely reminiscent to The White Album in its scope and some of Paul McCartney’s bedroom recordings of his self-titled 1970 debut album in its unfinished sound. “World Away,” today’s Song of the Day by Eric Berman, also brings to mind the sound of comfortable familiarity and common ground that hearkens back to Bob Dylan & The Band’s Basement Tapes from Big Pink in 1967. (I can’t wait until that comes out!)

Most of the album’s songs are built on drum and guitar grooves that carry the tracks, and songs like the under two minute opener “Please Don’t Let Me Be So Understood” which is a rough-shod rockin’ blast of unfinished business.

With a backdrop of a diagnosis of lymphoma for Susan Miller Tweedy, Spencer’s mother and Jeff’s wife, the album was made as a way for the family to bond and heal as she went through chemo treatments. The album’s title, Sukierae is also her nickname.

After a few days of playing this record, the early highlights for me include “Low Key” which has a catchy set of lyrics that I predict will become a concert favorite, the melodic “Flowering,” and the album’s first single “Diamond Light, Pt. 1,” which is a wiggy piece of psychedelia that builds to a Wilco-esque noise climax.

Edited: September 23rd, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today’s Song Of The Day comes from one of Light’s later Command projects, the 1969 album Enoch Light Presents Spaced Out – Exploratory Trips Through The Music of Bach, Bacharach & The Beatles – Integrating The Moog, The Guitar Scene, Electric Harpsichord, Flugel Horns, etc…. The album included super swingin’ stereo versions of the Burt Bacharach and Hal David songs “Walk On By,” “What The World Needs Now Is Love” and “Knowing When To Leave,” plus Beatle covers of “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,” “Get Back,” “Norwegian Wood” and “Eleanor Rigby.” The cover had some of the coolest period graphics I’ve ever seen on any record cover ever.

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

Edited: September 21st, 2014

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “New World Rising/Ocean Breakup (Reprise)” by Electric Light Orchestra

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “New World Rising/Ocean Breakup (Reprise)” by Electric Light Orchestra

By 1973 and the release of their third album, On The Third Day, ELO had literally rid themselves of all the Wood (Roy Wood, that is) from the lineup, and the band was firmly under the artistic direction of Jeff Lynne.

The record was far more progressive in its arrangements than those that came before, and the music acquired a melodic flair attributed to the group’s new leader. Lynne’s goal of seamlessly melding classical music motifs and instrumentation into a traditional rock format was accomplished with the record’s first side, which was a continuous suite featuring intricate string parts tying the tracks together.

The album was by far, the group’s most consistent record, even though it didn’t soar to the commercial heights of their later albums. In America, the album was also known as the “belly button” album because of its Richard Avedon cover photo with the band showing off what they probably thought was an alluring part of their anatomy. In England, the album sported a cover designed by Hipgnosis (see video image) who were famous for designing album covers for Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, 10cc, Yes, Bad Company, T. Rex and Black Sabbath, to name but a few. Americans wouldn’t see the original album art until the record was re-mastered and re-released on CD in 2006.

Jeff Lynne has reformed Electric Light Orchestra and performed what is expected to be the first show of a world tour on September 15th in London’s Hyde Park.

The video for the full show can be seen here:

And here’s Today’s Song Of The Day by Eric Berman

Edited: September 18th, 2014

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

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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 in 1984. Cherry and company 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 excellent David Live At The Tower Philadelphia double live album 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. This can be viewed on YouTube.

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 by Eric Berman, “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 Bowie’s only chart-topping single, “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 disco-fied “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: September 17th, 2014

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

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

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

Enter David Bowie to the rescue!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edited: September 16th, 2014

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Voice Poetry” by Ornette Coleman

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Voice Poetry” by Ornette Coleman

Back in 1978, Ornette Coleman formed Prime Time, his first double trio, and began releasing records on his own Texas-based label, Artist House Records.

Today’s Song Of The Day by Eric Berman comes from the first release on the label called Body Meta which was recorded in 1976. Prime Time featured Jamaaladeen Tacuma on bass, Charles Ellerbee and Bern Nix on guitars, and Ronald Shannon Jackson and his son Denardo Coleman on drums.

While by no means top 40 music, the record was one of Coleman’s easier to listen to records providing a good entry point for those into discovering more about him and his Harmolodic sound. The short-lived Artists House label also released terrific and challenging records by James “Blood” Ulmer and Waymon Reed.

Edited: September 15th, 2014

Song Of the Day by Eric Berman – “California” by U2

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Song Of the Day by Eric Berman – “California” by U2

So U2 literally dropped their new album Songs Of Innocence the other day on an unsuspecting public by giving it away via Apple iTunes. It was announced by Apple CEO Tim Cook at the company’s latest presentation touting their new iWatch and iPhone 6. Apple paid for a five week exclusive window to give the record to more than 500 million subscribers making it the biggest album release of all time.

Coincidentally, it was this past Monday at my weekly Vinyl Night at The Green Room in Libertyville, IL (well-deserved shameless plug) my friend Lance Schart, who is the biggest U2 fan I’ve ever met, and I were discussing the trouble U2 was having in releasing a new record.

After all, the band had been promising new music since the end of last year when they released the “Ordinary Love” single from the film Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom and an additional track called “Invisible” as a giveaway tied to a Super Bowl commercial in February (both unmemorable). After attempting to build hype and failing, the band decided to go back to the drawing board and postpone the release of the record.

I told my friend that what U2 really needed to do at this juncture was to stop trying to be another band by working with a myriad of “hip” producers in order to produce a huge hit, and just go about the business of being U2 by releasing a record that sounds exactly like a U2 album should…. which is exactly what they did.

For long-time fans of the band like me, this was great news and I quickly and eagerly snapped up the files in order to give the record a “virtual spin.”

Personally, I think it’s a good record after a few spins. Not one of their strongest, but certainly not their weakest either. With a few spins, it’s evident to me that songs like “The Miracle (Of Joey Ramone),” “Every Breaking Wave,” “Iris (Hold Me Close)” and today’s Song Of the Day by Eric Berman, “California” would end up being highlights of sing-alongs in stadiums around the world when they take the album on tour.

Now, I’m also one who gets caught up in the hype of a new release that I’m truly excited about, so I posted a photo of the album on the “Now Playing” Facebook page, which is a closed group consisting of music geeks who get a kick of posting pictures of the records that we’re playing and getting comments from fellow collectors. I posted the photo on Wednesday morning and was met by a barrage of negativity.

It seems I broke a cardinal rule by posting something the “hip cognoscenti” don’t consider hip. Below is a list of some of the comments I received:

“Burn it with fire.”

“Fuck U2”

“Fucking scum is what they are.”

“To call it this cash grab “Songs of Innocence” takes some stones…”

My reply to the last comment was “Cash grab? They gave it away for free.”

That assertion led to battle cries of how Apple paid them a boat load of money for the privilege, and that it was hypocritical to act like you’re giving something away for free when you are profiting from it.

My response to that was that it was great co- branding opportunity which was brilliant in every way. After all, it had everybody talking about the record and the band, and they found an inventive way to make money in the climate of today’s music industry which most artists do not.

To which another member replied “There’s nothing “inventive” about corporate log rolling at the Apple/ U2 level. It’s no more inventive than a happy meal.” To me, the happy meal was a great way to market fast food to children.

Another fellow member posted “The argument is less around the music itself (for some) and more around the fact that Apple forced it on one-half billion people with no way to remove it. If you didn’t fancy a band and someone said, “I’m going to permanently put this album by a band you dislike into your music collection and you have no say whatsoever,” you would likely be annoyed or even disgusted, too.” His point is well taken, however you can easily delete the album and be done with it, so no skin off anyone’s back.

I should say that there were also many comments on the thread that supported the band’s move and were complimentary towards the music as well.

For a band like U2 who have stood at the precipice of irrelevance for many years now, they’ve managed to not only release a good record, but to make themselves relevant at least for a day or two.

Now you can be the judge, while YouTube is totally devoid of tracks from the album, you can always go to iTunes to give it a spin.

Edited: September 11th, 2014

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

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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 “instant records” 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 by Eric Berman 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: September 10th, 2014

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Nutted By Reality” by Nick Lowe

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Nutted By Reality” by Nick Lowe

The album title, Pure Pop For Now People is the American name for Nick Lowe’s 1978 debut solo record which across the pond carried the much cooler title Jesus Of Cool. The American and English editions of the record featured similar covers with a different array of images of Nick Lowe dressed in varied types of garb, and both editions sport similar but different track listings. When the album was reissued in 2008 by Yep Rock, it was rightly retitled Jesus Of Cool all over the world and combined all of the tracks from both editions in a new sequence.

Lowe was initially marketed as a burgeoning new artist who was part of the late ‘70s Punk and New Wave music explosion, however he’d been recording records since the late 1960s with British pub rockers Brinsley Schwarz. Jesus Of Cool sports an array of styles including hard rockers (“Music For Money”), New Wave (“So It Goes”), pub rock (“Heart Of The City”), sugar-coated pop (“Marie Provost” – a song that deals with a starlet who died and was found partially eaten by her dog) and today’s Song Of The Day by Eric Berman, a Motown-flavored disco-fied gem that abruptly shifts direction in the middle as if the song (as well as its protagonist) was also “Nutted By Reality.”

After leaving the Schwarz in 1975, Lowe became the in-house producer for Jake Riviera’s newly-formed Stiff Record label, where he also began recording with Dave Edmunds’ Rockpile. In fact, if you look closely at the cover to Jesus Of Cool, one of the photos of Nick Lowe is actually that of Dave Edmunds dressed up as Nick Lowe.

While with Stiff, Lowe produced Elvis Costello’s first five albums and The Damned’s debut album, and at the same time began recording records under his own name. Over the years Lowe has scored hits on his own like “Cruel To Be Kind,” and has written hits for others including “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace Love And Understanding” for Elvis Costello, “The Beast In Me” for Johnny Cash (who was his father-in-law for a time) and “I Knew The Bride (When She Used To Rock and Roll)” for Huey Lewis and the News.

During the 1990s, he formed the super group Little Village with John Hiatt, Jim Keltner and Ry Cooder, who recorded one record and toured the world before disbanding. He has continued to release records throughout the years and today writes and records intimate pop records along the lines of Nat King Cole.

Edited: September 7th, 2014

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Sebbin Come Elebbin” by Jimmy Heap

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Sebbin Come Elebbin” by Jimmy Heap

I recently spent some time with the first volume of A Capitol Rockabilly Party. The three-part compilation spans over 90 tracks and was released in the late 1990s by a CD reissue company in the Netherlands called Disky. Disky’s forte was extensively reissuing lots of great rare sides from the storied vaults of Capitol Records, and one of Capitol’s fortes was the wealth of superb rockabilly sides they recorded throughout the 1950s.

One of the tracks that stood out is today’s Song Of The Day by Eric Berman, “Sebbin Come Elebbin” by Jimmy Heap.

Heap was probably best known for writing two standards: Hank Thompson’s classic honky-tonk hit “The Wild Side Of Life,” which climbed to the top of the charts in 1952, and “Release Me,” which was a huge hit for both Engelbert Humperdinck (1967) and Esther Phillips (1962).

But Heap had a prolific career for over three decades making records with his group The Melody Masters. Although Heap was generally better known for his smooth delivery a la “Release Me,” and his many Western Swing and Honky Tonk recordings, he occasionally liked to cross over to the “dark side” with some unhinged, greasy rockabilly, like this one from 1955.

Edited: September 4th, 2014

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Dancin’ Wild” by Tom & Jerry

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Dancin’ Wild” by Tom & Jerry

Before “The Boy In The Bubble” and “Graceland”…before “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover” and “Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard”…and before “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “Sound Of Silence,” there was “Hey Schoolgirl” and a multitude of early recordings by the likes of Tom & Jerry, Jerry Landis, Tommy Graph, Artie Garr, True Taylor, The Mystics and Tico And The Triumphs. No matter what name they recorded under they were still two teenagers named Art and Paul, and when their voices blended, they were undeniably Simon & Garfunkel.

Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were childhood friends who grew up living three blocks from each other in Kew Gardens, Queens, New York. They met in elementary school in 1953 and attended Parsons Junior High School and Forest Hills High School together.

Inspired by their heroes, The Everly Brothers, they began recording as Tom & Jerry in 1957, when they were 16 years old. Paul changed his name to Jerry Landis (taking the last name from a girl he’d been dating) and Art became Tommy Graph (taking his last name from his propensity to graph the hits on the weekly pop charts.)

Their first professional recording was the Paul Simon original, “Hey Schoolgirl,” backed with today’s Song Of The Day by Eric Berman, “Dancin’ Wild,” which they recorded for Sid Prosen’s Big Record label. The single climbed up to #49 on the charts on the strength of its A-side, and sold 100,000 copies. Despite an appearance on American Bandstand, subsequent recordings for MGM, Warwick and Laurie Records, under various names, failed to chart. After high school, Simon attended Queens College and Garfunkel went to Columbia University.

Between 1957 and 1963, Simon and Garfunkel continued to write and record songs around The Brill Building. In early 1964 they were signed to Columbia records by Clive Davis, and recorded their debut album Wednesday Morning 3AM. The record didn’t sell well, so Simon took off to England to try his luck at a solo career. He recorded his first album, The Paul Simon Story, which was a UK only release that wouldn’t see a U.S. release until 2004.

While Simon was in England playing cafes and writing songs like “Cathy’s Song” and “Homeward Bound” for his girlfriend, Garfunkel continued with his studies. Meanwhile radio stations began to get requests for the Simon & Garfunkel album track, “The Sound Of Silence,” from their debut album. Producer, Tom Wilson was having success with early folk-rock recordings by The Byrds, so he overdubbed the track with electric guitar, bass, and drums and released it as a single. The recording became Simon & Garfunkel’s first number one hit, and the rest, as they say, is history.

My first contact with the early Tom & Jerry recordings was from a “Simon & Garfunkel” album released by Pickwick Records back in the mid-1960s. My parents purchased it for me thinking it was one of their real releases, only for us to all be disappointed by the early rock ‘n’ roll recordings we heard on the record. Over time, I’ve come to appreciate the innocence of these recordings and their unique place in music history. A few years ago, Jasmine Records in England released the Two Teenagers compilation featuring the duo’s complete recordings from 1957 through 1961.

Edited: September 3rd, 2014

Song Of the Day by Eric Berman – “Peace Like A River” by Paul Simon

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Song Of the Day by Eric Berman – “Peace Like A River” by Paul Simon

Can you imagine signing up for a college course in songwriting, and showing up on the first day of class to find that your professor is none other than Paul Simon.

Such was the reality for some lucky NYU students in 1971 including Maggie and Terre Roche of The Roches and Melissa Manchester. Teaching was just one of the endeavors Simon embarked upon after the demise of Simon & Garfunkel in 1970. He also began to do some traveling, both musical and physical, which led to his experimentation with Jamaican (“Mother And Child Reunion”) and Latin American sounds (“Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard” and “Duncan”).

It all culminated in the release of his eponymous first post Simon & Garfunkel solo album in 1972. While the record included the two aforementioned chart hits, it also had its share of superb lesser known gems including “Run That Body Down,” “Everything Put Together Falls Apart,” “Paranoia Blues” and today’s Song Of The Day by Eric Berman, “Peace Like A River” featuring Simon’s amazingly adept guitar work.

Edited: September 2nd, 2014

Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Haunts Of Ancient Peace” by Van Morrison

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Song Of The Day by Eric Berman – “Haunts Of Ancient Peace” by Van Morrison

Today’s Song of the Day by Eric Berman is one of Van Morrison’s most soulful pieces of music, originally from one of his most underrated albums.

Common One was released in 1980 and features six deeply-moving extended jazz meditations that harked back to Morrison’s 1968 masterpiece, Astral Weeks in sound and texture.

Unlike Astral Weeks, this record’s release was met with unanimous derision from the critics who didn’t understand the literary and jazz underpinnings of the music and found it ponderous and boring.

While Common One does lack the kind of immediacy that grabs you on the first listen, it does reap generous rewards upon further listening. The title of this song was inspired by a 1902 book by Alfred Austin (Poet Laureate 1896-1912).

The live version video shows the Common One band in action from Montreux before the album’s release. The personnel includes new band members at the time Mark Isham on trumpet (channeling his best Miles), John Allair on organ and synthesizer, Pee Wee Ellis on saxophones and Peter Van Hooke on drums, along with Jeff Labes on piano, John Platania on guitar, David Hayes on bass and Dahaud Shaar on percussion, who were all members of Morrison’s Caledonia Soul Orchestra.

Edited: September 1st, 2014