Song of the Week – Third World Man, Steely Dan

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

Today is the 40th anniversary of the release of Steely Dan’s album GauchoGaucho is perhaps my least favorite Dan disc – a little too “yacht rocky” for me – but by the standards of other artists, it’s a damn fine record.

Gaucho was not an easy album to make.  Multiple personal issues caused major distractions.  Walter Becker was deep into his heroin addiction at the time.  Add to that a freak car accident while walking back to his apartment in New York that resulted in a broken foot that laid him up for six months!  If that wasn’t enough, his then girlfriend died of an overdose in his home which led to a multi-million-dollar lawsuit by her family that he eventually won.

Then there was the technical snafu.  The band worked for weeks on a song called “Second Arrangement” that they felt was one of their best songs ever.  That was until an assistant engineer accidentally erased most of the master.  (Something similar happened years earlier when the masters for Katy Lied were damaged due to an equipment malfunction.)  They tried to recreate it but when the new takes didn’t live up to the standard of the erased mix, they abandoned the song.  (It’s no wonder that the band stopped recording for some 20 years after they finished Gaucho.)

The “Second Arrangement” debacle left the album light one track.  So, Donald Fagan went back to the vaults from earlier album sessions and found the tapes for a song called “Were You Blind That Day.”  The lyrics were changed and the new track, “Third World Man,” was added to the album, and is today’s SotW.

Some Steely Dan fans think “Were You Blind That Day” was an Aja outtake.  But Larry Carlton, who played the song’s outstanding guitar solo has been quoted as saying it was a leftover from The Royal Scam sessions.  Experts agree that Carlton’s solo is the best of any Steely Dan recording.  It is less busy than his typical solos but perfectly complements the feel of the unusually slow Dan song.

As is typical for Steely Dan songs, the lyrics to “Third World Man” are ambiguous and can be interpreted in multiple ways.

Johnny’s playroom
Is a bunker filled with sand
He’s become a third world man
Smoky Sunday
He’s been mobilized since dawn
Now he’s crouching on the lawn
He’s a third world man

Soon you’ll throw down your disguise
We’ll see behind those bright eyes
By and by
When the sidewalks are safe
For the little guy

I saw the fireworks
I believed that I was dreaming
Till the neighbors came out screaming
He’s a third world man

Soon you’ll throw down your disguise
We’ll see behind those bright eyes
By and by
When the sidewalks are safe
For the little guys

When he’s crying out
I just sing that Ghana Rondo
E l’era del terzo mondo

He’s a third world man

Is Johnny a child playing Army?  Is he a real soldier that was deployed to a hostile country?  Are the fireworks real or the consequence of PTSD?

In 2005, Joni Mitchell released a covers CD album that was only available through Starbucks coffee shops.  Artist’s Choice – Music That Matters to Her included “Third World Man.”  It should be no surprise that Mitchell is so fond of that song for two reasons.  Firstly, since she is such an accomplished writer herself, it is no wonder she would be attracted to “Third World Man’s” sophisticated lyrics.  Then there’s her affection for guitarist Carlton’s work.  He has played on many of her albums, including Court and Spark, The Hissing of Summer Lawns, and the awesome Hejira.

Happy anniversary, Gaucho!  “I just sing that Ghana Rondo e l’era del terzo mondo.”

Enjoy… until next week.

A Whole Lot of Gordon Lightfoot

Robbie Fulks is a songwriter I had heard about a lot more than I’d heard until a few years ago he made an album with the Mekons. A good album.

Fulks is a good songwriter and player, the opposite of a star, but a lifer with a lot to offer if you dig in. I haven’t yet dug in far enough, but this unbelievably long and detailed analysis of Gordon Lightfoot’s life and performance and songwriting is a marvel of storytelling, aesthetic analysis and covering the whole of a subject.

For instance, Fulks listened to every Gordon Lightfoot song at least once. Except maybe not all of that last 2004 album, but many others more than once.

He relates the story of Cathy Smith, a groupie with amazing breadth who went to jail for administering John Belushi’s final fatal dose, with aplomb, because it is Lightfoot’s story too at a few points.

My point is this is well worth a read even though it is way long, and if you start to lose interest skim ahead a few grafs and you’ll be onto another Lightfootian topic that will amuse and astound, ending with an in depth analysis of Lightfoot’s writing, which is exacting and sharp and a lesson in poetry and lyrics.

Dig in by clicking this link.

Song of the Week – Children’s Fantasy, Glass Harp

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

In late ‘60s Ohio, there were two bands on the circuit with gun-slinger guitarists – Joe Walsh’s James Gang, and Phil Keaggy’s Glass Harp.  Yes, Phil Keaggy of Glass Harp.

Keaggy deserved the accolades.  Listen to the guitar solo the 19-year-old Keaggy rips off on “Children’s Fantasy” from the band’s debut, self-titled album (1970).

Back in the day, there were rumored quotes of more well-known guitar heroes giving props to Keaggy.  The most famous was that Johnny Carson had Jimi Hendrix on the Tonight Show in the late ‘60s and asked him how it felt to be the world’s greatest guitar player.  Hendrix purportedly responded “I don’t know. You’d have to ask Phil Keaggy.”  A review of the tape of Hendrix’s only Tonight Show appearance (with Flip Wilson sitting in for Carson) proves that never happened.  But that doesn’t diminish Keaggy’s talent.

Just before the debut album was recorded, Keaggy’s mother died after a serious car accident.  This incident led him to follow his sister into Christianity.  In fact, a couple of songs on the debut reflected his newfound faith.  “Can You See Me” contained the lyric:

The Son died for you and me
That we may live eternally
Through Him there is a peace we can share
Yes, we can share

Later in his career, Keaggy devoted his music primarily to contemporary Christian rock and earned Grammy nominations for his work.

At age 69, Keaggy is still recording and touring.

Enjoy… until next week.

Erik Holcomb is Dead. Hans Condor bassist and, it turns out, a lot more.

I didn’t know Erik, I think I emailed him once, but maybe it was someone else in Hans Condor. They were a Nashville band that gloriously went on a Japan tour, and leave behind a great album and at least one terrific video.

So this isn’t a personal reminiscence.

But a lot of Nashville loved Erik. Reading the remarks would be emotional (a young person dies) but his generosity is legend.

Rock on Erik!

https://www.nashvillescene.com/music/nashville-cream/article/20999684/nashville-punk-and-metal-standardbearer-erik-holcombe-dies-at-37

Song of the Week – Groovy Kind of Love; Diane and Annita, Patti LaBelle & the Bluebells, The Mindbenders, Phil Collins

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

Today’s SotW is another installment of the Evolution Series – where I trace a song from its original version through various cover interpretations.  Today’s subject is “Groovy Kind of Love.”

“Groovy Kind of Love” was written in 1965 by Toni Wine and Carol Bayer Sager.  Wow, I didn’t realize those ladies were in the biz when they were that young – they were only 18!

They picked up on a “new” slang word and decided to write a song using it.  When it was done – they claim to have finished it in about 20 minutes – they pitched it to Leslie Gore, but her producer rejected it.  He didn’t like the word “groovy.”

So it was recorded by Diane and Annita and proceeded to go nowhere.

There isn’t much information about Diane and Annita on the internet.  The most common “fact” about them is that they met working for Ray Anthony’s Bookends.

In 1966, the next version was recorded by Patti LaBelle & the Bluebells and was produced by Bert Berns of Bang Records fame as well as writing and producing songs for the Rolling Stones, Van Morrison, and numerous early soul/R&B acts.

The LaBelle version made it across the Atlantic to England where it was introduced to the Wayne Fontana-less Mindbenders.  Fontana was replaced as the group’s lead singer by guitarist Eric Stewart, who would later go on to be a key member of 10cc.

The Mindbenders took the song all the way to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the late Spring of 1966.

The song bounced around on oldies stations for the next 20+ years until Phil Collins recorded a remake in 1988.

Collins was working on the soundtrack for the movie Buster that was mostly a compilation of oldies.  He thought “Groovy Kind of Love” would be a good fit and recorded a demo to present to the movie’s production team.  They agreed and decided to use his demo, untouched, instead of The Mindbenders’ version.  Collins’ recording did even better than the Mindbenders’, topping the charts in both the US and UK and finding its way onto many wedding reception playlists.

Covers have been recorded by Sonny & Cher, Gene Pitney, Petula Clark, and Neil Diamond, among others.

The melody of the song was based on the “Rondo from Sonatina in G Major” by 18th/19th century classical composer Muzio Clement.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Pick Up the Pieces, Average White Band

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

In 1974, the ironically named Average White Band (AWB) released their second album, AWB, that contained their biggest hit – “Pick Up the Pieces.”  The song reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

During my freshman year in college – 1974-75 – “Pick Up the Pieces” was ubiquitous.  It was on the radio, on friend’s turntables, and always playing in bars and clubs where it was certain to fill the dancefloors.  Since those were the days of “disco sucks” and I was a rocker, you would think that I’d hate this song.  But I don’t.  It’s just too good!!!

The songwriting credit on the album was given to “R. Ball, H. Stuart & AWB.”  (Hamish) Stuart wrote the guitar part.  Sax player (Roger) Ball wrote the horn melody.  But the tenor sax solo was played by Malcolm “Molly” Duncan.  And it’s a killer! 

Duncan died a little over a year ago, on October 8th, 2019, of cancer.

Tragedy visited the band early on.  On September 22, 1974, AWB played a sold-out show at Hollywood’s Troubadour club.  After their performance, the band and friends went to a party at the home of Wall Street “whiz-kid” Kenneth Moss.  Many guests snorted white powder from a vial they thought contained cocaine, but it was heroin.  AWB drummer Robbie McIntosh died from an OD the next day.  The band’s bass player, Alan Gorrie, also might have died, but Cher took him back to her place and kept him up and walking until the drugs wore off.

Oh yeah, and the band’s name…  It has been attributed to Bonnie Bramlett, of Delaney & Bonnie, because she was amused that these pale-skinned, Scottish boys played such convincing soul music.

Enjoy… until next week.

Chuck Berry and John Lennon on Mike Douglas

This clip is another example of Mike Douglas’s magic. John Lennon meets Chuck Berry for the first time and they do a kind of weak Memphis Tennessee because Lennon seems to be insisting on sharing vocals.

On Johnny B. Goode balance is restored.

I’m a fan of Yoko’s, but her mike seems to be cut in the Johnny B. Goode mix. It’s just weird during Memphis Tennessee.

Ian Hunter, Dandy

Tim McLeod writes:

From “half way to Memphis” to rocking Cleveland and everything in-between, Ian Hunter has now brought us five generations of songwriting wit and musical prowess. This ode to a dear friend, David Bowie, reminds us of better days. Days when we smiled, we laughed, and we enjoyed the camaraderie and friendship shared between two amazing human beings.

“Dandy – the world was black ‘n’ white
You showed us what it’s like
To live inside a rainbow
Dandy – you thrilled us to the core
You left us wanting more
And then we took the last bus home”

Song of the Week – Out of My League, Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

“Out of My League” by Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts has been in heavy rotation on Little Steven’s Underground Garage on SiriusXM radio recently.  It was even featured as that station’s “Coolest Song in the World” the week of September 21st.

It is from Hamilton’s latest album, Nowhere To Go But Everywhere, on Little Steven’s Wicked Cool Records imprint.  He was quoted in a press release as saying the album is “a group of songs about heartbreak and finding yourself.”  He goes on to describe “… League” as “a song idea that was almost 10 years old. I found the old demo, and it rang true, considering what I was going through. So, I revisited the song, and reworked it into the version that it is now.”

What “it is now” is a power-pop classic in the same vein as tracks by Fountains of Wayne.  The lyrics are so humble and self-effacing that you instantly fall in love with the singer.

She’s the prettiest thing I think I’ve ever seen.

It’s like she walked right off the cover of a magazine.

Which begs the question.

What’s she doing with me?

and

All my friends are saying she’s just looking to settle.

Guess what? I’m gonna let her.

And you feel his pride when he exclaims “I got a trophy wife!”

Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts are not newcomers.  Their previous album, 2019’s This is the Sound, was critically acclaimed and won Album of the Year at the Independent Music Awards.  That record was also a big hit in the UK where his ties are strong.  The Texan’s band is from the UK and most of the new album was cut while on tour there.

Hopefully “Out of My League” will make it into heavy rotation on your playlist.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Taunta/Nantucket Sleighride, Mountain

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

Mountain was guitarist Leslie West’s band, but was also a vehicle for the artistic expression of Felix Pappalardi (bass, guitar, keys, vocals, production, songwriting).

Mountain’s second album was Nantucket Sleighride (1971).  The title song was written by Pappalardi and his then girlfriend (later wife) Gail Collins, who also painted the album’s cover artwork.

For today’s SotW I’m including the 1 minute long “Taunta” with “Nantucket Sleighride (to Owen Coffin)” because to my ear they are inextricable.

By now, most of you have probably heard that a “Nantucket sleighride” refers to what happens to a boat full of whalers when they harpoon a whale that tries to swim away.

The song was written to fictionalize the true story of a tragic whaling expedition in 1820.  The sperm whale they attempted to kill sunk their boat.  The crew survived on small whaleboats but most of them died, one-by-one.  When it got down to the final four, they drew straws to decide who would be sacrificed for the other three to cannibalize.  Poor Owen Coffin, the youngest crewman, lost.

Collins wrote the lyrics to the song that begins:

Goodbye, little Robin Marie
Don’t try following me
Don’t cry, little Robin Marie
‘Cause you know I’m coming home soon

My ships’ leaving on a three-year tour
The next tide will take us from shore
Windlaced, gather in sail and spray
On a search for the mighty sperm whale

No mention of poor Owen Coffin, but who is Robin Marie?  It turns out Robin Marie was a woman Pappalardi was cheating on Collins with.  Collins passive-aggressively wrote her into the song and then sent her man away for three years!

Although Pappalardi and Collins ended up getting married, their relationship continued to be stormy.  In 1983 she shot and killed him with a gun he had given her as a gift.

Enjoy… until next week.