News for December 2014
Song of the Day by Eric Berman – Top Albums 2015 from “The Alta Cocher Rocker”
So this is my 34th Top Albums of the Year list and occasionally I go back to the older lists that I still have and see if I am still as enamored about my picks now as I was then. For the most part I think the records that make my lists are pretty solid for their time and manage to have some staying power years later. There are, of course numerous instances of picks over the years that have me now asking myself “What the heck was I thinking?”
Nevertheless, these are indeed the greatest of times for music lovers. Never has so much music been at our disposal for unlimited listening pleasure. With dispensaries like Spotify, you have access to pretty much everything, instant playback 24-7. What more could a music lover want?
Now I fully admit that Spotify has changed my relationship with music. I am now exposed to much more music than I actually buy, and freed of the expense, I’m more willing to listen to stuff I probably wouldn’t have paid much attention to in the past.
But I also believe that never before has physical product been more important, at least to me. I know, I’m totally old school, but I like the whole package with my music. The artwork, the liner notes, the credits and the lyrics…I want them all, and I want to hold them in my hand and preferably see them spinning on my turntable. They aid to the enjoyment of the music. They give the music an importance that a download never could. And the old argument, vinyl does sound better than the digital counterpart.
That said, this is the first year that I don’t own physical versions of about half of the records listed. This is especially true of the recommended listening section which is comprised of records I found myself going back to many times throughout the year and are more than worthwhile of your attention if you’re so inclined…
At any rate, listen to what you like, and I hope you’ll be inclined to share your lists with me. Have a safe and healthy new year to all!
TOP ALBUMS 2015
- Deerhoof – La Isla Bonita
- St. Vincent – St. Vincent
- Lost On The River – The New Basement Tapes
- Afghan Whigs – Do To the Beast
- TV On The Radio – Seeds
- Spoon – They Want My Soul
- Pharrell – G I R L
- Tweedy – Sukierae
- Ravonettes – Pe’ahi
- Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin – Common Ground – The Songs of Big Bill Broonzy
ALSO WORTH A LISTEN:
- Alvvays – Alvvays
- Beck/Various Artists – Song Reader
- Benjamin Booker – Benjamin Booker
- Black Keys – Turn Blue
- D’Angelo & the Vanguard: Black Messiah
- Flying Lotus – You’re Dead
- Freeman – Freeman (Aaron Freeman of Ween)
- Jack White – Lazaretto
- Jenny Lewis – The Voyager
- Julian Casablancas & The Voids – Tyranny
- Leonard Cohen – Popular Problems
- Mary J. Blige – The London Sessions
- Neil Young – A Letter Home
- Neil Young – Storytone
- New Pornographers – Brill Busters
- Parquet Courts – Sunbathing Animal
- Perfume Genius – Too Bright
- Prince – ArtOfficialAge
- Robyn Hitchcock – The Man Upstairs
- The Roots – and then you shoot your cousin
- Rudy Royston – 303
- Ryan Adams – Ryan Adams
- Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings – Give The People What They Want
- Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – Wig Out At Jagbags
- Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers – Hypnotic Eye
- Tune-Yards – Nikki Nack
- U2 – Songs Of Innocence
Compilations/Reissues (“This one goes to 11”)
- Bob Dylan and The Band – The Complete Basement Tapes
- Sleater-Kinney – Start Together
- John Coltrane – Offering: Live at Temple University
- Miles Davis – Bootleg Series Vol. 3: Miles At The Fillmore 1970
- Wilco – Alpha Mike Foxtrot
- Herbie Hancock – The Warner Bros. Years (1969-1972)
- Beatles – White Album in Mono
- Nilsson – The RCA Albums Collection
- Sonny Rollins – Road Shows 2
- Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young: CSNY 1974
- Michael Jackson – Xscape
Edited: December 23rd, 2014
Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “Skating” by Vince Guaraldi Trio from the album “A Charlie Brown Christmas”
Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “Skating” by Vince Guaraldi Trio from the album “A Charlie Brown Christmas”
Christmas songs…I really don’t like most of them! However, there are some classics you can never really do without…The Ventures’ Christmas Album, John Fahey’s Christmas Album, The Phil Spector Christmas Album, Eugene Ormandy’s performance of The Nutcracker, and holiday classics by Bing Crosby, Johnny Mathis, Andy Williams, Herb Alpert and Bob Dylan (yes, I do think his Christmas album is a classic).
For the most part, Christmas music is so overplayed that I just don’t care if I ever hear most of the stalwarts ever again! And don’t even get me started on that monstrosity of a Christmas song by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, probably the single most cringe-worthy holiday song of them all…with “Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer” a close second! Bah Humbug!
But then there’s A Charlie Brown Christmas by Vince Guaraldi. The A Charlie Brown Christmas TV special first aired in December of 1965. At the time, Guaraldi was already a renowned Jazz pianist who worked with the likes of Cal Tjader, Woody Herman and Stan Getz, but he was best known for the Grammy Award-winning hit “Cast Your Fate to the Wind.” Guaraldi was originally asked to compose music for an unaired documentary on Charles M. Schulz by producer Lee Mendelsson in the early ’60s. When Coca-Cola later commissioned the creation of the Christmas special, Guaraldi was called again to compose the music.
Today’s Song of the Day by Eric Berman is only one of several classics on Guaraldi’s classic 1965 album A Charlie Brown Christmas. The other two members of the Vince Guaraldi Trio were Fred Marshall on bass and Jerry Granelli on drums. Close your eyes and you can almost feel the gently falling snow falling as you circle round your favorite ice rink!
Edited: December 22nd, 2014
Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “The Nutcracker Suite” by Les Brown & His Band of Renown
The story of The Nutcracker was inspired by E.T.A. Hoffmann’s The Nutcracker and the King Of Mice and was presented to Russian composer, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, by Marius Petipa who was maître de ballet of the Imperial Theater from Dumas. Tchaikovsky was unmoved by the prospect of writing a ballet for the story and was practically strong-armed into doing so. Meanwhile, he was also writing an opera called Yolanta
Work on the ballet was put on hold when Tchaikovsky took a trip to America for the opening of Carnegie Hall. It was there he was introduced to the music of the celeste. A celeste is like a piano, but instead of mallets hitting strings like they do in a piano, celeste mallets hit metal plates giving the instrument a kind of woozy bell-like sound. The celeste inspired Tchaikovsky to write “The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” and finish the ballet upon his return, so he could introduce the instrument to Russia. Upon its debut, The Nutcracker was widely panned, and the opera, Yolanta, was hailed as a great success…
Fast forward to 1957, by now Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker is considered the classic it has rightfully become (does anyone remember Yolanta?), and arranger Frank Comstock writes this jazz arrangement of the piece for Les Brown & His Band of Renown to record. They, in turn, record it for the album Concert Modern and history is made again.
While I adore listening to the classical recordings of this gorgeous piece of music, especially Eugene Ormandy & the Philadelphia Orchestra’s late 1960s interpretation on the Columbia label, Les Brown takes the cake for recording the most satisfying and enjoyable adaptation of the piece. Today, the piece is kept current by annual performances by the very superb Brian Setzer Orchestra.
Edited: December 21st, 2014
Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “Who Knows Where the Time Goes” by Judy Collins
This wistful gem is one of Judy Collins’ greatest recordings from her greatest album, the 1968 classic Who Knows Where the Time Goes. The song was written by the late, great Sandy Denny who recorded a demo of it in 1967. Shortly thereafter, Denny joined forces with The Strawbs who had a go at the song on their All Our Own Work album which was recorded in 1967 but not officially released in the U.S. until 1973. After hearing the original demo in 1967, Collins recorded it and relegated to the B-side of her smash hit single “Both Sides Now,” which gave it enormous exposure.
The song surfaced again the following year as the title track to the Who Knows Where the Time Goes album, whose super group of musicians included Stephen Stills (guitar), James Burton (guitar), Buddy Emmons (pedal steel), Van Dyke Parks (piano), Chris Ethridge (bass) and drummer/mother murderer Jim Gordon.
Sandy Denny then took the song with her when she joined Fairport Convention where it was released on their superb 1969 Unhalfbricking album, becoming the group’s signature tune. Others who have committed this song to wax include Greek pop star Nana Mouskouri, 10,000 Maniacs, Cat Power, Charlie Louvin, Susanna Hoffs & Matthew Sweet, Nina Simone and many others.
Denny would later go on to be the only guest vocalist ever to appear on a Led Zeppelin record when she supplied vocals to “The Battle of Evermore.” She later succumbed to complications from a brain hemorrhage after she fell down some steps on April 21st 1978 at the age of 31.
Denny would later go on to be the only guest vocalist ever to appear on a Led Zeppelin record when she supplied vocals to “The Battle of Evermore.”
Edited: December 18th, 2014
Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “Wings” by Tim Buckley
My sister is seven years my senior, and growing up she was my biggest musical influence introducing me to artists and albums I would have never otherwise discovered at such a young age. And so it was back in 1972 when she brought Tim Buckley’s album “Goodbye and Hello” home when I was eleven years old.
To be honest, it took me years to actually get into Tim Buckley because the combination of his ethereal brand of psychedelic folk music combined with my young age made the music somewhat incomprehensible to me, and it was enough of an obstacle to keep my interest in his albums distant at best. Meanwhile, she continued to follow Buckley’s career adding Buckley’s Lorca and Greetings from L.A. albums to her collection. At the time I felt that Lorca was unlistenable, but I did, in fact, learn to like the more rock oriented Greetings album.
Fast forward about eight years, and I finally really began to understand the cosmic wonder of Buckley’s music, and began to enjoy his unique way of singing. Over the years, I began to seek out as much of his recorded output as I could, and especially came to love his exceptional 1969 albums Happy Sad and Blue Afternoon. Further cementing my appreciation of Buckley was his wide-eyed and super-psychedelic performance of “Song to a Siren” from The Monkees TV show.
Today’s Song of the Day by Eric Berman is Buckley’s eponymously titled debut record from 1966. With a band that included Lee Underwood on guitar, Van Dyke Parks on piano, harpsichord and celeste, Billy Mundi (from Mothers Of Invention & Rhinoceros) on drums and James Fielder on bass,Buckley’s debut was a much more straightforward pop and rock affair than what was to follow, including great songs like “Understand Your Man,” “Aren’t You The Girl” and today’s Song Of The Day.
What gets me about “Wings,” as well as the rest of the record, is the whole late ‘60s audio mise en scene happening in the instrumentation and production. It all comes right down to the band’s secret weapon, Van Dyke Parks, who was an in-demand session musician (The Mothers Of Invention Freak Out – they also asked him to join the group, The Byrds’ Fifth Dimension) before working with Buckley. He would later go on to co-write and work on The Beach Boys’ legendary Smile album and Judy Collins’ Who Knows Where The Time Goes, whose instrumentation makes it a piece with other albums of the day from Fred Neil and Tim Hardin.
Rhino Records’ collector label, Handmade, released an expanded version of this album last year featuring the mono and stereo versions of the album, plus 23 previously released recordings made around the time of the sessions for the album.
Edited: December 17th, 2014
Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “Dancing Machine” by The Jackson 5
They were growing up…but the world liked their Jacksons young.
By 1973, The Jackson 5 were becoming somewhat of a spent force around Motown. It had been a few years since the group scored a bona-fide top ten hit, and there was plenty of dissatisfaction to go around.
Brother Michael was no longer the pint-sized dynamo that he once was. He was now a pimply 15 years old geek with a much deeper voice. Motown had been grooming him as a solo star much to the detriment of his singing brothers, and between 1971 and 1973 he scored several substantial solo hits including the top five smash “Got To Be There,” “Ben” which was a chart topping hit about a rat from the movie Willard, a cover of the Bobby Day hit “Rockin’ Robin” which climbed to the #2 position on the charts and “I Wanna Be Where You Are,” which went to #16 on the pop charts and #2 on the rhythm and blues charts.
Meanwhile, some of the other brothers were also branching out. Jermaine released a solo record in 1972 that included a cover of the Shep & The Limelites’ hit “Daddy’s Home” which rose up to the top ten of the charts, and Jackie also released solo record the following year. All of this activity was beginning to play on the dynamic within the group in negative ways.
What the group collectively craved most was more control over what they recorded, and more involvement in the making of their records. While they were writing, producing and playing songs in their home studio, Motown wouldn’t let them play on their own records insisting that they use the Motown house band, The Funk Brothers, or The Wrecking Crew (for West Coast sessions). Not only that, they were only allowed to record songs that were chosen for them by “The Corporation.”
Changes needed to be made, and it was within this atmosphere of disillusion that the group’s father and manager, Joe Jackson began to look for a new record deal for his charges.
The group’s 1973 album, GIT: Get It Together, was the first Jackson 5 album to feature lead vocals by each brother. The album also found the group dipping their collective toes into disco waters by segueing all the songs together in order to provide a non-stop mix of music for dancing.
By far, the best song of the album is today’s Song of the Day by Eric Berman, “Dancing Machine.” The song was an “automatic, systematic” call to the dance floor featuring syncopated funky rhythms and terrific vocal interplay between Michael and the rest of the group who traded off lead vocal lines and sang backup on the track. It was also one of the first songs that Michael employed the vocal hiccup that would end up being one of his lasting trademarks.
Like “Billy Jean” and the moonwalk, “Dancing Machine” also benefitted by an accompanying dance move which helped propel it up the charts. When the group appeared on Soul Train to promote the album, Michael Jackson was seen doing the robot dance resulting in a spectacle that left fans wanting more.
The song was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1975 for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals, but lost out to Rufus’s hit “Tell Me Something Good.” While the other seven tracks on the record were less commercial, the title track was a moderate hit that charted at #28 on the singles charts, and “Hum Along and Dance” became a popular favorite in the group’s live act.
Shortly after the release of the album, the group found themselves riding high in the charts again as background vocalists on Stevie Wonder’s 1974 single “You Haven’t Done Nothin’” from his Fulfillingness’ First Finale album.
The group signed with CBS/Epic Records in 1975 and had to change their name to The Jacksons, since Motown owned the rights to the Jackson 5 name. Jermaine chose to stay on at Motown since he was married to Berry Gordy’s daughter, and was replaced by the youngest Jackson brother, Randy.
While the group’s commercial prospects at CBS weren’t much better, Michael eventually scored a huge hit with the 1979 album Off the Wall, and then came Thriller and The Victory Tour, and Jackson mania swept the world again…
Edited: December 11th, 2014
Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “Things Will Never Be the Same” by Four Just Men
I recently wrote about Freddie & The Dreamers’ single, “I’m Telling You Now,” and the American album of the same name. The record was not a Freddie & The Dreamers album per se, although they were the featured group on the cover. It was a compilation released in 1965 to introduce unknown British Invasion groups to American audiences featuring two tracks each by Freddie & The Dreamers, Mike Rabin & The Demons, The Toggery Five, Linda Laine & The Sinners, Heinz and the group whose song is today’s Song Of The Day by Eric Berman, Four Just Men.
Four Just Men were one of the better groups to ride on the coattails of The Beatles and The British Invasion, and while their output was miniscule to say the least, it was indeed potent.
They were a Merseybeat group whose original name was Dee Fenton & the Silhouettes. Upon changing their name to Four Just Men in 1964, they were signed by George Martin who produced several non-charting British singles for them in 1964 through 1965. The group’s two Parlophone singles were “Things Will Never Be the Same” b/w “That’s My Baby (which were the two songs on the U.S. compilation album) and “There’s Not One Thing” b/w “Don’t Come Any Closer.” Both singles were originals, written by singer-guitarist Dimitrius Christopholus and guitarist John Kelman. The group changed their name yet again, this time to Just Four Men after another band also calling themselves Four Just Men threatened to sue EMI.
While the group toured with The Rolling Stones, The Searchers and Del Shannon in support of the two singles neither charted and they were dropped by EMI. They resurfaced in 1966 as a psychedelic group called Wimple Winch, who was known for the local hits “Rumble on Mersey Square South” and “Save My Soul.”
The two Four Just Men singles, as well as eight previously unreleased tracks from the era and 16 songs by Wimple Winch, were released on the now out of print import CD, The Wimple Story 1963-1968.
Edited: December 10th, 2014
Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “All or Nothing at All” by Frank Sinatra
So, Bob Dylan officially announced today that he will be releasing a new self-produced record of Frank Sinatra covers called Shadows in the Night during the first week of February.
I say, bring it on!
But then again, I said the same thing when Dylan announced he was going to put Christmas Through the Years out several years ago, and lo and behold, it was an artistic success that has become one of my go-to Christmas records every year since its release in 2009.
Say what you will about Dylan’s vocals, but he’s been nothing short of brilliant throughout his career when it comes to reinterpreting his own material. So the jump to record songs associated with the world’s greatest interpreter of them all could provide some very interesting results.
Through an announcement on his website, here’s what Dylan had to say about the project:
“It was a real privilege to make this album. I’ve wanted to do something like this for a long time but was never brave enough to approach 30-piece complicated arrangements and refine them down for a 5-piece band. That’s the key to all these performances. We knew these songs extremely well. It was all done live. Maybe one or two takes. No overdubbing. No vocal booths. No headphones. No separate tracking, and, for the most part, mixed as it was recorded. I don’t see myself as covering these songs in any way. They’ve been covered enough. Buried, as a matter a fact. What me and my band are basically doing is uncovering them. Lifting them out of the grave and bringing them into the light of day.” (BobDylan.com)
I think his motives for this project are spot on, but it’ll be interesting to see if he can pull off stripped down versions of arrangement-heavy songs like today’s Song of the Day by Eric Berman, which comes from Frank Sinatra’s 1966 classic Nelson Riddle-arranged Strangers in the Night.
Edited: December 9th, 2014
Song of the Day by Eric Berman – “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’” by The Rolling Stones
He played saxophone on the road or on recordings with everybody, including The Rolling Stones, Joe Cocker, Ronnie Wood, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr, Donovan, Eric Clapton, Rod Stewart & The Faces, Harry Nilsson, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Warren Zevon, Keith Richards, John Hiatt, Keith Moon, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, B.B. King, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Bobby Vee, Dion & the Belmonts, Dr. John and even Barbra Streisand. The list goes on and on, but in my book today’s Song of the Day by Eric Berman is the quintessential Bobby Keys sax solo. Rest in peace you crazy horn man!
Edited: December 2nd, 2014