Song of the Week – Third Rate Romance, The Amazing Rhythm Aces

In the mid to late ‘70s, the eclectic Amazing Rhythm Aces released a series of incredibly good albums on the ABC label that contained their own brand of “roots” music, though it wasn’t called that at the time.  Their debut album, Stacked Deck (1975), contained their greatest hit, “Third Rate Romance,” which reached #14 on the Billboard Hot 100.

“Third Rate Romance” has a “Margaritaville” Caribbean feel with some nice guitar fills played by its songwriter, Russell Smith.  It is a story song about a dalliance at the Family Inn after a couple connects at a “ritzy” restaurant.  The tryst is humanized when the woman says, “I’ve never really done this kind of thing before, have you?” And her partner replies “Yes, I have. But only a time or two.”

You can often measure a song by the company it keeps.  In this case, “Third Rate Romance” has been covered by Jesse Winchester, Sammy Kershaw, Roseanne Cash, and Elvis Costello (on the unreleased Flip City Demo album that can be heard on YouTube).  Not a bad group of characters.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week Revisited – The Finer Things, David Sanborn

I recently learned that alto sax player David Sanborn died on May 12th. In tribute to his artistry, I’d like to post a SotW essay I originally published on July 5th, 2008.

Sometimes a song immediately transports you back to a certain time and/or place.  When it comes on, you can remember every detail of some moment in your life when it was playing.

This week’s song is that way for me.  It is called “The Finer Things” and is credited to saxophonist David Sanborn.  But it was written by Donald Fagen and is performed by the usual Steely Dan cast of characters (that also included Sanborn), so it sounds to me more like The Dan than Sanborn’s usual smooth jazz.

It comes from the soundtrack to Martin Scorsese’s black comedy, The King of Comedy.  Incidentally, that soundtrack also includes out takes and special one off recordings by several other top notch artists such as Robbie Robertson, Van Morrison and Rickie Lee Jones. It’s worth picking up.

But let’s get back to my visceral connection to this song…  Back in the early 80s I spent a few 4ths of July at the beach in Ogunquit, ME.  At the end of one long day of tanning in the sun, it seemed like the whole beach decided they’d had enough at the same time.  As the exodus of beach goers packed up and started walking back to their cars, bars or motel rooms, I popped a cassette tape of this song into a boom box I was carrying.  The song (more or less an instrumental) seemed to perfectly capture the mood of the moment.  As we walked along, a couple of different strangers even tapped me on the shoulder to ask what was playing.

Every time I hear this song I “feel” the heat of the sun in my tanned skin.  I “see” the tired crowd of people dragging their coolers and beach chairs toward town.  I can “smell” the salt water and sun tan lotion.  (Remember Bumble?  Debbie?)

Obviously, this song won’t have the same meaning for you, but if you like Steely Dan (and who doesn’t?) I know you’ll enjoy this selection.

Until next week.

Song of the Week – Happy Together, The Turtles; Immigration Man, Crosby & Nash; Miracles, Jefferson Starship

John Barbata is most well-known as the drummer for Jefferson Starship.  He died on May 8th at the age of 79.

His career began much earlier than his mid/late 70s run with the Starship.  In the mid-60s, Barbata joined the Turtles at the recommendation of the Byrds’ Gene Clark.  He was the drummer on their first hit, “Happy Together.”

“Happy Together” spent three weeks at the top of the charts in 1967.  It’s a chestnut that we all know and love.

By the early 70s, Barbata had hitched his cart to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.  He was the drummer on the tour that produced the 4 Way Street album.  He collaborated with those fellows in all their different configurations.  One of the best is “Immigration Man,” a song from the first Crosby & Nash album, simply called Graham Nash David Crosby (1972).

“Immigration Man” was released as a single and should have fared better than its peak of #36 on the Billboard Hot 100.  It has luxurious harmonies and a tasteful solo provided by Dave Mason.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also acknowledge his work with the Starship.  Their most successful album was Red Octopus which contained the Marty Balin classic “Miracles.”

“Miracles” didn’t quite reach the heights of “Happy Together,” but it came damned close.  It soared to #3 and parked there for three weeks in 1975.  Non-band member Irv Cox adds a screaming sax solo to this soft rock gem.

Besides the groups mentioned, Barbata contributed to the work of many other artists.  Too many, in fact, to mention in this short post.  But to name a few, he drummed with Lee Michaels, Linda Ronstadt, Ry Cooder, Johnny Rivers, and the Byrds.

John Barbata, RIP.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Chevrolet; Kansas Joe & Memphis Minnie, Donovan, Jim Kweskin & His Jug Band, Foghat

It’s been quite a while since I’ve written a post featuring the Evolution Series.  I’m returning to that today with a fun one!

Kansas Joe and Memphis Minnie recorded many songs together, including “When the Levee Breaks” in 1929.  (As most of you will recognize, that song was later recorded by Led Zeppelin in a reworked version.)  In 1930, they recorded another song called “Can I Do It For You”, written by Memphis Minnie.

The country blues number is a duet between the artists where the male singer offers several expensive items to his woman.  He wants “to do something for” her.  But she’s a feminist that can’t be bought.  For each offer, she responds “I don’t want nothin’ in the world you got, and you can’t do nothin’ to me.”

In 1965, Donovan resurrected the song in an updated version he titled “Hey Gyp (Dig the Slowness)”.

Donovan’s version was a tribute to his friend Gyp Mills (Gypsy Dave).  By this time, the “expensive” gifts included different cars, including a Chevrolet, a Ford Mustang, a Cadillac, and a sugar cube to which the response is “I don’t want to go for no trip”!

The song was picked up again in 1966 by Jim Kweskin & His Jug Band, but by now it was called “Chevrolet.”

This version harkens back to the Kansas Joe & Memphis Minnie version with a male and female call and response in each verse.  The woman’s voice is Maria Muldaur, of “Midnight At the Oasis” fame.

In 1978, the British hard rock band Foghat took a shot at the song.

I’ve never been a Foghat fan, but their rendition of this classic song rocks!  It begins acapella, then the band kicks in.  By the end, the guitar solos are screaming!

“Chevrolet” has been covered many other times in versions I didn’t feature in this post but include artists such as The Animals, The Soul Survivors, Taj Mahal, The Derek Trucks Band, and Jack White’s Raconteurs.

This “evolution” is a wonderful example of how a simple country blues can become a rock classic.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Tonight; West Side Story, The Raspberries, and Smashing Pumpkins

Today’s post is the next installment of my Contrast Series, this time analyzing a group of songs with the theme “Tonight.”

Let’s start with “Tonight” from the movie soundtrack for the musical West Side Story (1961), with music written by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.

This is a key song from the show, portraying its version of the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet.  As such, it is an ode to teenage romance, though it sounds much more mature.

Tonight, tonight
The world is full of light
With suns and moons all over the place
Tonight, tonight
The world is wild and bright
Going mad
Shooting sparks into space

The Raspberries released the Eric Carmen penned “Tonight” in 1973.

This power pop classic opens with a count-in and a guitar intro the lead guitarist Wally Bryson has claimed “nobody knows how to play but me” because he made up “weird chords to get different sounds.”  Hmmm.

It is a typical Carmen teenage drama but without the innocence of the West Side Story song.  The protagonist wants to bed the “too young” person that smiled at him.  (I guess it doesn’t take much to make Carmen horny!)  I dig the “bop-om-doo-doh-woh-mop-shoo” he exhorts while “making love” in the bridge section.

Sadly, Carmen recently passed away in March at the age of 74.

“Tonight, Tonight” from Smashing Pumpkins’ epic Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness (1995) is something totally different, both musically and lyrically.  It was recorded with a 30-piece string section that adds palpable drama to the recording, making it a very unlikely single release.

The lyrics are more vague than the other songs.  Exactly who is vocalist Billy Corgan singing to?  Wikipedia reports:

On The Howard Stern Show, Corgan has said that the song pays homage to Cheap Trick, with its black humoresque lyrics and theme, and that the song is addressed to himself, who escaped from an abusive childhood against all odds, so as to keep him believing in himself.

If this is right, the song’s final verses are the payoff:

We’ll crucify the insincere
Tonight, Tonight
We’ll make things right
We’ll feel it all
Tonight, Tonight
We’ll find a way to offer up the night
The indescribable moments of your life
The impossible is possible
Tonight, Tonight

Believe in me as I believe in you
Tonight, Tonight
Tonight, Tonight

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Finding Out True Love Is Blind, Louis XIV

Today’s SotW has me conflicted.  It is “Finding Out True Love Is Blind,” by Louis XIV.

In 2005, when this song was released, I was living in San Diego, the home base of Louis XIV.  I remember hearing it on XETRA-FM, Radio 91X .

I know, you’re confused that the prominent British accent of the lead singer, Jason Hill, could be from a guy based in San Diego, CA.

So, what is my conflict?  The track has a very cool sound.  It has primal guitar riffs and a great arrangement with sweet female backing vocals.  But the lyrics!?!  Oh, those lyrics.  They are so troublesome.  Here’s just a sample from the first two verses:

Ah chocolate girl, well you’re looking like somethin’ I want
(finding out true love is blind)
Ah your little Asian friend well, she can come if she wants
(finding out true love is blind)
I want all those self-conscious girls who try to hide who they are with make-up
(finding out true love is blind)
You know it’s the girl with the frown with the tight pants I really want to shake up
(finding out true love is blind)

Hey carrot juice, I want to squeeze you the way until you bleed
(finding out true love is blind)
And your vanilla friend well she looks like something I need

I want miss little smart girl with your glasses and all your books
(finding out true love is blind)
And I want the stupid girl who gives me all those dirty looks
(finding out true love is blind)

Where do we go from here?  We can go totally woke and cancel the song, or we can accept it as the same kind of misogynistic, rock and roll stance that the Rolling Stones took with songs like “Stupid Girl” and “Under My Thumb.”  Tell the truth.  We love those songs, even though the lyrics might make us cringe, having the benefit of current enlightenment.  It’s only rock and roll, and I like it.

Walmart doesn’t agree.  They censored the cover of the band’s album by cropping off the bottom of the model’s butt crack.

Hill went on to work with David Bowie, The Killers, and The New York Dolls.  He also wrote film music for director David Fincher’s Gone Girl and Mindhunter, among other soundtracks.

So don’t judge me.  Just groove to the music.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Book of Love Songs

I wonder, wonder who, mmbadoo-ooh, who.  Who wrote the Book Of Love?

The Monontones, 1957

I know the answer.  Lots of people.  But the first in the rock and roll era were members of the R&B/Doo-wop group, the Monotones – Warren Davis, George Mason, and Charles Patrick.

This popular song went all the way to #5 on the Billboard pop chart and has been included on the soundtracks of several “period” films, including American Graffiti and Stand by Me.

Fast forward through the ‘60s and ’70s to 1980 when British pub rock band Rockpile released their only album, Seconds of Pleasure.  The disc included the upbeat “When I Write the Book”, penned by Nick Lowe.

Seconds of Pleasure was one of the best albums of 1980,  so if you haven’t heard it, check it out.

Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello had a long-standing relationship, coming from the same music scene in England.  So it should come as no surprise that Costello credited Lowe for influencing him to write his “Everyday I Write the Book” (1983).

Included on Costello’s Punch the Clock, and released as a single, “Everyday…” was his first recording to make it into the US Top 40.

In the ‘80s, Fleetwood Mac also embraced the topic.  Their follow-up to the commercially disappointing Tusk was Mirage (1982), which included the track “Book of Love.”

“Book of Love” is a deep track, written by Lindsey Buckingham and Richard Dashut, who produced Mirage and other Fleetwood Mac albums.

In 1999, the Magnetic Fields (Stephin Merritt) released 69 Love Songs, one of which was another “Book of Love.”

This one is a lovely, introspective ode to the simple things that make us love someone.  It was later covered by Peter Gabriel on the album Scratch My Back (2010).

I have a feeling we should expect more books to be written in the years to come.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Fun to Lie, Psycho Sisters

Hello readers.  I’m posting today from the French Quarter Fest in sunny New Orleans!  I’ve heard a lot of great music so far including Lena Prima, Kermit Ruffins, Bonerama, and Irma Thomas.  I also heard Susan Cowsill (yes, of the famous Cowsill family of the 60s) who has been a resident of New Orleans for many years.  That inspired me to make today’s SotW one of my favorite songs that features her.

The Psycho Sisters was a side project by Cowsill and Vicki Peterson, who was the lead guitarist for The Bangles.  They worked together in The Continental Drifters, along with Peter Holsapple (the dBs) and Mark Walton (the Dream Syndicate).  The duo wrote tunes together and toured as the Psycho Sisters in the mid-90s.  But they didn’t record their work together… until 10 years ago!

In 2014 their schedules realigned and they decided the songs they wrote and performed together as the Psycho Sisters were worthy of recording, along with a few covers.  I couldn’t agree more.  The result was a 10-track album called Up On The Chair, Beatrice.

The songs they wrote together are what you would expect, given their backgrounds – hook-laden power pop, complete with jangly guitars and memorable choruses.  The highlight is their tight, soaring harmonies.  But don’t let the music distract you from the charming and witty lyrics.  They deliver the complete package.

By the way, Cowsill and Peterson are now really sisters – or at least sisters-in-law.  Peterson married Cowsill’s brother John in 2003.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Scratch My Back, Jan Panter

In the mid-60s, the British music industry seized on the popularity of “girl” singers with artists such as Marianne Faithfull (“As Tears Go By”), Petula Clark (“Downtown”), and Lulu (“To Sir With Love’).

But remaining true to the SotW mission statement, I need to go deeper than those well know singers.  Today’s track is “Scratch My Back” (1966), written and performed by Jan Panter.

The song reeks of mid-60s musical clichés.  It opens with a cowbell counting off quarter notes and a heavy, fuzz guitar riff.  I immediately picture this recording being used in an Austin Powers movie.  Horns and background vocals amp up the intensity.  You can see why it was chosen as the lead track on Ace Records compilation disc Scratch My Back! Pye Beat Girls 1963-1968.

Panter is a decent singer, but there’s no doubt that her good looks and sex appeal helped her launch her musical career.

I perused Discogs to check out the availability of Panter’s singles (she never released a full album).  A copy of “Scratch My Back” will set you back over $300!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Imaginary Lover, “Stevie Nicks” & Atlanta Rhythm Section

My wife is reading Gold Dust Woman: The Biography of Stevie Nicks (2017), by Stephen Davis.  She occasionally reads a section to me that she finds to be particularly interesting.  I will have to read it myself when she finishes.

So to celebrate Stevie, I’ll make today’s SotW a Nicks’ obscurity – a cover of the Atlanta Rhythm Section’s “Imaginary Lover.”

April Fools!

This recording is actually the Atlanta Rhythm Section played at a higher speed.  But you have to admit… it really sounds like Nicks!

The legend is that back in 1978, when both Fleetwood Mac and ARS were at the top of their games, a radio DJ accidentally played “Imaginary Lover” at 45 rpm rather than 33 1/3 and was amazed at how much it sounded like Nicks.

A Rolling Stone article by Cameron Crowe reported:

News quickly reached Nicks in Los Angeles. She rushed out to buy the record and played it at the wrong speed. “I got chills,” says Stevie. “It sounds exactly like something I’d sing, the way I’d sing it. I even played it for Christine [McVie], mixed in with some other demos for the new album. She complimented me on it.”

Out of respect for the ARS, here’s their original, played at the proper speed.

Think of the fun we’re missing out on, now that radio stations only play digital recordings!

Enjoy… until next week.