Song of the Week – Freedom Death Dance, Eugene McDaniels

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February is Black History Month.  In honor of that, I’ll feature an artist who made music that contributed to raising issues affecting the black community over 50 years ago – Eugene (Gene) McDaniels.

McDaniels had been in the music business since the early ‘60s when he recorded his first hit, “One Hundred Pounds of Clay” (#3).  Other hits followed, including “Tower of Strength”, co-written by Burt Bacharach and Bob Hillard.

But by the late ‘60s, McDaniels had begun to write songs focused more on black consciousness.  His 1971 album Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse is a cult classic and treasure among record collectors.  The album straddles jazz, soul, and funk.  It falls somewhere between the cool soul of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On and jazzy, spoken-word protest songs by Gil Scott-Heron.

One of the most overtly political songs is “Freedom Death Dance.”  It touches on issues of war and social justice.

Everybody wants happiness
Everybody wants peace of mind
Everybody says we should ignore
The graves we dance upon
But I’ve really got news for you
There’s no amount of dancing we can do
That will ban the bomb
Feed the starving children
Bring justice and equality to you and me

No amount of dancing
ls gonna make us free, yeah

Gather round the riots, children
Everybody wants to dance
Gather round the murders
And be free. yeah
Gather round, brother
This could be you only chance
To be in touch
With your own humanity. oh yeah

It has often been rumored that the Nixon administration was so intimidated by this record that they had Vice President Spiro Agnew call Atlantic Records to squash promotion for it.

The backing musicians include Alphonse Mouzon (drums) and Miroslav Vitous (bass), both of whom would go on to play in Weather Report.

Like many other obscure, classic soul albums, Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse has been sampled by many hip-hop artists, including Eric B & Rakim, Q-Tip, and the Beastie Boys.

The full album is available to stream on Spotify and is worth a listen.  Go check it out.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Drum Introductions in Rock Songs

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I “wrote” today’s SotW using ChatGPT.  I decided I wanted to write about Rock songs with great drum intros and selected the songs that I wanted to feature.  I plugged that information into ChatGPT and “presto”, an essay was drafted within about 15 seconds!  It is pretty bland, but still pretty amazing.  The links and sentences in italics were added by me.  Otherwise, the essay is unedited intentionally to demonstrate to you what the software produced.  This was done today as an experiment.  I won’t be using ChatGPT again.

Drum introductions in rock music songs have long been used to capture the listener’s attention and set the tone for the rest of the track. Some of the most iconic examples of drum introductions can be found in songs like “Honky Tonk Woman” by The Rolling Stones, “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder, “Rock and Roll” by Led Zeppelin, and “Sunday Bloody Sunday” by U2.

In “Honky Tonk Woman,” the drum introduction is simple yet effective, consisting of a steady, pounding beat that immediately sets the mood for the song. This drumbeat, along with the slide guitar riff that follows, perfectly captures the gritty, bluesy feel of the song.  Charlie Watts is drumming with Jimmy Miller on cowbell.  They are out of sync, but Keith Richards comes in at the right spot and turns the screw-up into a “happy accident.”  Another “happy accident” is how the tempo of the recorded performance of “Honky Tonk Woman” speeds up by the end.  All of this “sloppiness” are consistent with the honky tonk feel that the Stones wanted to capture.

The drums in “Superstition” also serve to set the mood, with a funky, syncopated beat that perfectly complements Stevie Wonder’s soulful vocals.  An interesting tidbit about the drum intro on “Superstition” is that as iconic as it is, it was conceived by the late, great guitarist,  Jeff Beck.  You can read my post from May 22, 2021, for the full story.

“Rock and Roll” by Led Zeppelin also features a powerful drum introduction that sets the stage for the rest of the song. The drums in this track are played with a raw, powerful energy that perfectly captures the spirit of rock and roll.  But what really captures listeners is the way the beats are counted.  We mere mortals simply can’t figure it out!  That confounding twist is what lures us in.

The drums in “Sunday Bloody Sunday” by U2 are also notable for their energy and intensity. The drums in this song are played with a driving, urgent feel that perfectly captures the song’s political themes.  The intro, played by drummer Larry Mullen Jr. has the feel of the military marching into battle (the Irish Republican Army?).  Like “Rock and Roll”, the magic is in the counting.  Mullen uses the hi-hat and snare against the steady rhythm set by the bass drum.

In conclusion, drum introductions in rock music songs like “Honky Tonk Woman,” “Superstition,” “Rock and Roll,” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday” are powerful tools for capturing the listener’s attention and setting the tone for the rest of the track. These introductions are simple yet effective, perfectly capturing the mood and spirit of the songs they introduce. Drummers have always played an important role in rock music and the introductions in these songs are one of the ways they make their mark.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Almost Cut My Hair, Crosby Stills Nash & Young

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As you all no doubt have heard by now, David Crosby died this week.  Though his personality could be ornery, and he seemed to alienate just about everyone he ever came in contact with, it is undeniable that this flawed character created some incredibly beautiful music.

I’ve posted about him several times.

September 15, 2012                  Laughing                     David Crosby

September 26, 2013                  Blackbird                     Crosby, Stills & Nash

August 20, 2022                       Lady Friend                  The Byrds

As a teenager, I was a huge CS&N and CSN&Y fan.  At that time, Crosby’s songs were probably my least favorite.  Today, many top my list.  They were more sophisticated, almost a little jazzy, with interesting chord changes.   And that voice!!!

Today’s SotW is “Almost Cut My Hair” from CSN&Y’s Déjà Vu.

“Almost Cut My Hair” was one of the most relatable counterculture songs of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s.  Though Crosby was later almost embarrassed by the “juvenile” lyrics, they spoke to a generation of nonconformist hippies – “to be or not to be” a long-haired rebel.

Almost cut my hair
It happened just the other day
It’s gettin’ kinda long
I coulda said it wasn’t in my way
But I didn’t and I wonder why
I feel like letting my freak flag fly
Yes, I feel like I owe it to someone

The fiercely independent Neil Young was only partially involved in the recording of Déjà Vu.  Most of his contributions were recorded alone.  When ready, he would bring the tracks into the studio for CS&N to add their voices.  But he fully contributed to “Almost Cut My Hair”, providing blistering solos throughout that took Crosby’s anthem over the top.

And if you want to enjoy this SotW to its fullest, listen on headphones and crank it up!

After many years of substance abuse and ill health, Crosby entered a period of renewed creativity beginning with the release of Croz (2014), his first solo album in 20 years.  His son, James Raymond, who he had put up for adoption in 1962, was his collaborator on that and several subsequent releases including Sky Trails (2017) and For Free (2021).  These and other recent releases – Lighthouse (2016) and Here If You Listen (2018) – were all well received by critics, although they went mostly unheard by the general public.  They are worth a listen.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Down by the Sea, Strawbs

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The band Strawbs, founded by Dave Cousins, began as a folk-rock band the Strawberry Hill Boys, in 1963.  Early on, Sandy Denny was in the band for about 6 months in 1967.  By 1970, keyboardist Rick Wakeman joined them for about a year and a half, before rising to fame with Yes.

By 1972, Richard Hudson and John Ford has joined the band and they transitioned to more of a progressive rock band.  In this configuration, they released the albums that are at the core of their discography – Grave New World (1972), Bursting at the Seams (1973), and Hero and Heroine (1974).

Bursting at the Seams included a couple of minor “hits” in “Part of the Union” (written by Hudson and Ford) and “Lay Down”.  While I enjoy both, my favorite track on the album – and today’s SotW – is “Down by the Sea”.

“Down by the Sea” is big.  It opens with an epic, arpeggiated riff, moves into a folky verse, and then takes a surprising turn into a hard rock section.  From there the arrangement veers back into a sweetly sung soft section and ends with a heavy, foreboding, symphonic reprise of the original theme.

Last night I lay in bed
And held myself
Trying to remember
How it once was with you
How your hands were softer.

Yesterday I found myself
Staring into space
Rather like the sailor
In my own home surroundings
I’m not sure I know me.

Cousins has said ‘The song was very much tied up with my crumbling marriage, but it was actually written walking along the sea wall with this mountainous sea in Dover.’

As a side note, there is a story that  Alice Cooper was recording Billion Dollar Babies in the same studio as Strawbs during the Bursting at the Seams sessions.  He and his producer, Bob Ezrin, would pop in to listen to the Strawbs recordings and loved what they heard.  I’m right there with them!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Solar Sister, The Posies

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The Posies were a band out of Seattle that launched at the height of the grunge movement.  But they never really fit in with the other grunge bands.  The Posies were more power pop-minded, with key influences being The Beatles and XTC.

Led by Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow, they further burnished their power pop credentials when they helped to reform the legendary Big Star by joining original members Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens for a concert in 1993.

The Posies’ most successful album was their third – Frosting on the Beater (1993).  It contains today’s SotW, “Solar Sister.”

Listen for the dynamics in the vocals and the interesting harmonies over a nice melody, distorted guitars, and a nifty solo about two minutes in.  The production by Don Fleming (Teenage Fanclub) suits the material.

The Posies also contributed the soundtrack to the Bert Bacharach scene in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Songs The Beatles Gave Away

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Let’s start the New Year with a post that features music by my all-time favorite band, The Beatles; but with a twist.  This one presents “songs that the Beatles gave away.”  In other words, it includes songs written by one of them but never officially released by the group.  Instead, it was recorded and released by another artist.

Being democratic, I’ll highlight one song (primarily) written by each of the Beatles’ songwriters.  Sorry, Ringo!

“Bad to Me” was written by John Lennon and recorded by Billy J. Kramer with the Dakotas.

The song is very typical of the early Beatle style – a “love song” with a simple, catchy melody.  It reached #1 in the UK in 1963 and #9 in the US in 1964, after the Beatles reached our shores.

Here’s Lennon’s demo.

Paul McCartney wrote “Goodbye” for Mary Hopkin as a follow-up to her #2 cabaret hit “Those Were the Days” (1968).

“Goodbye” has another prototypical McCartney melody.  It skips along like schoolgirls in the playground on a sunny day.  McCartney, himself, played most of the instruments on the recording.  It reached #13 in the US in 1969.

Hopkin was one of the first acts signed to the Beatles’ newly formed Apple Records.

Now listen to McCartney’s demo.

Although much less prolific than Lennon/McCartney, George Harrison also wrote a few compositions he was willing to share with other artists.  He gave “Sour Milk Sea” (1968) — written on the Beatles’ famous trip to Rishikesh, India — to Jackie Lomax, another Apple Records signee.

“Sour Milk Sea” is more obscure but is a pretty good rocker.  It didn’t chart despite featuring musical accompaniment from Harrison, McCartney, and Starr.

Now Harrison’s demo.

You probably can remember and name a few other “songs the Beatles gave away”, including Peter & Gordon’s “A World Without Love” and “Come and Get It” by Badfinger.  But there are quite a few more.  Check out this Wikipedia page for a more comprehensive list:

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – ’70s Stoner Christmas Comedy

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Today’s SotW has very little actual music.  Instead, it brings some levity to the holiday with a few bits of ‘70s stoner Christmas comedy.  Who even knew that was a thing!?!

Let’s start with my favorite comedy troupe of all time, The Firesign Theatre.

Only the Firesign would use a Christmas hymn (The First Noel) as a vehicle for their absurdist humor.

“Toad Away” was the lead track from Dear Friends (1972).  Dear Friends was a compilation of routines that the Firesign recorded from the radio show they had on KPFK in Los Angeles, from September 1970 to February 1971.

Who better represents ‘70s stoner humor than Cheech & Chong?  Their first release on a single was their holiday bit, “Santa Claus and His Old Lady” (1971).

Aside from the politically incorrect references to Santa’s wife as his “old lady” and the elves as midgets, this is still a pretty entertaining story.  The part where Santa gets held up at the border shows that things haven’t changed much in 50 years.

I first discovered “Santa Doesn’t Cop Out on Dope” (1972) on the Warner Brothers Loss Leader album All Singing – All Talking – All Rocking (1975).  Do you remember those terrific samplers?

“Santa Doesn’t Cop Out…” is typical snarky Martin Mull humor.  It was later covered by Sonic Youth for the Christmas compilation Just Say Noel (1976).

Now I’m primed to hit the spiked eggnog.  Merry Christmas!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week Revisited – Hero to Zero, Savoy Brown

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For the second time this week, I’m posting an extra SotW.  This time it is to pay tribute to Savoy Brown guitarist Kim Simmonds.  He died on December 13th at the age of 75.  His full obituary can be read here:

I believe Simmonds was one of the most underrated (or at least unheralded) rock guitarists ever.  So check out this SotW post I originally published on March 21, 2009.

In 1975 my college roommate, Dabinsky, recorded this cool radio broadcast of a Savoy Brown concert on this little, high quality cassette deck he owned (was it a Wollensak?).  “Back in the day” that was the primary vehicle for collecting and sharing bootleg recordings.  We played that tape an awful lot.  The broadcast was eventually “officially” released in 1998 as an album called Live at the Record Plant.  The highlight of that tape, for me, was the number “Hero to Zero” – the song of the week.  I’ve attached the studio version from the album Wire Fire.

Savoy Brown was a blues based rock band led by the (sadly) under recognized lead guitarist Kim Simmonds.  Savoy Brown had several albums that charted in the U.S., including Raw Sienna (1969), Looking In (great cover, [looking in cover] 1970), Street Corner Talking (1971) and Hellbound Train (1972).

If you like blues based rock guitar, you’re really going to like this one.

Enjoy, until next week…

Song of the Week Revisited – Find Somebody, The Rascals

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On Thursday, December 15th, we lost the great drummer for the (Young) Rascals, Dino Danelli.  His New York Times can be read here:

In tribute to Danelli I’m reposting a SotW I first published on June 21, 2008.

In the mid 60s, The (Young) Rascals epitomized the genre that was to become known as “blue-eyed soul.”  Naturally, we associate them with a slew of Top 40 hits beginning with “Good Lovin’” and running through “Love Is A Beautiful Thing”, “Lonely Too Long”, “A Girl Like You,” “How Can I Be Sure” and their #1 summer smash, “Groovin’”.  Most of these also made the R&B charts.

But few are familiar with some of the garage/psych cuts buried deep in their albums.  This weeks’ song, “Find Somebody”, is from their 1967 album Groovin’.  Check out the fuzztone guitars, Eastern influenced chords (all the rage in the “Summer of Love”) and exploitation of the early stereo “ping pong” gimmick (listen on headphones).

This is a very cool song.  Enjoy.  Until next week.