Song of the Week – Back Door, Rhinoceros

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

If any of you are vinyl record collectors (as I am) you can appreciate the joys of “crate digging” in thrift shops, garage sales, or used record stores.  For me, the greatest reward comes from buying an album I’ve never heard (or heard of), bringing it home, putting on the turntable for a spin, and finding out it’s a nugget!

Based on experience, I’ve learned a few tricks to increase the odds that I’ll take a flyer on a good record instead of a dog.  I look at the credits to see who was involved as session players, producers, or engineers.  What label is it on?

I bought an album by the band Rhinoceros because of the font used for the track listing on the back cover.  I recognized it from albums by Tom Rush, Tim Buckley, The Butterfield Blues Band, The Doors, and Love – all late 60s artists on Elektra.

Rhinoceros, it turns out, was a band of musicians that were auditioned, selected, and assembled by Elektra producers Paul Rothchild and Frazier Mohawk in 1967 to form a “supergroup.”  They released three albums that received critical accolades but sold poorly.  Perhaps the inorganic nature of the group’s formation rubbed the public the wrong way at a time when authenticity was a strongly held value.

But there’s no denying that the band could write, play and sing.  They were funky and soulful.  Three Dog Night and Rod Stewart both covered their recordings.  TDN cut a speeded-up “I Will (Let Me) Serenade You” on 1973’s Cyan.  Stewart included “You’re My Girl” as the closer on Gasoline Alley (1970).  Songs by Rhinoceros are frequently heard on Sirius XM’s Underground Garage playlists.

Today’s SotW is “Back Door” from the second Rhinoceros album, Satin Chickens (1969).  It’s an R&B workout that captures a funky groove.

Keep your eyes (and mind) open for cool records that you’ve never heard.  You may discover a gem.  Happy hunting!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Be My Baby, The Ronettes; You Mean So Much to Me, Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes; Take Me Home Tonight, Eddie Money

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Ronnie Spector (Veronica Bennett) died last Wednesday, January 12th, at the age of 78, after a brief bout with cancer.

As the lead singer of The Ronettes, she recorded a few of the true standards of Rock and Soul, including “Be My Baby”, “Baby, I Love You”, and “Sleigh Ride”, all with her future husband Phil Spector and employing his famous “wall of sound” production technique.

Her famous “Whoa-oh-oh” refrain was featured prominently in her collaboration with Southside Johnny & the Asbury Dukes on “You Mean So Much to Me”, written by Bruce Springsteen around the time of The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle sessions.

Later, in 1986, it is specifically called out in her duet with Eddie Money on “Take Me Home Tonight.”  His chorus says:

Take me home tonight
I don’t want to let you go ’til you see the light
Take me home tonight
Listen honey, just like Ronnie sang, “Be my little baby”

Her trademark “Whoa-oh-oh” has been imitated often by the likes of Elvis Costello (“Oliver’s Army”) and Bruce Springsteen (“Out in the Street”).

Ronnie’s impact and influence went way beyond her hits.  Her fashion aesthetic – beehive hairstyle, heavy mascara, and tight skirts – were the model for many female artists to come, among them Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders) and Amy Winehouse.

RIP, Ronnie, you will be missed.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – That Life, Unknown Mortal Orchestra

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Like many of you, as the year is coming to an end, I review the new music I discovered during the year to compile my “best of” list.  One of the songs I dropped onto my 2021 list was “That Life” by the Unknown Mortal Orchestra (UMO).  I simply like its vibe!

UMO originated from New Zealand but currently hail from Portland, Oregon. The core of the band is Ruban Nielson (lead vocals, guitar, drums, bass, piano, keyboards, synthesizers) and Jacob Portrait (bass, synths, backing vocals).

“That Life” was a single released by the band last August and addresses a life of luxury and indulgence.  In a press release that accompanied the single Nielson said:

I saw this painting by Hieronymus Bosch called The Garden of Earthly Delights and in the painting there was a mixture of crazy stuff going on, representing heaven, earth, and hell. When I was writing this song, “That Life,” I was imaging the same kind of “Where’s Waldo” (or “Where’s Wally” as we call it in New Zealand, Australia, and the UK) of contrasting scenes and multiple characters all engaged in that same perverse mixture of luxury, reverie, damnation, in the landscape of America. Somewhere on holiday under a vengeful sun.

The track’s cool video features a puppet created by puppeteer and fabricator Laura Manns (The Muppets and Sesame Street).

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Linger, The Cranberries

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A teenaged Dolores O’Riordan walked into a rehearsal of The Cranberries, having been introduced to the rest of the band by their ex lead singer, Niall Quinn.  O’Riordan.  The rehearsal went well enough that when it ended, bandmate Noel Hogan handed her a cassette tape demo of some music he was working on and asked her to take a stab at writing lyrics for it.  She returned a week later with the group’s biggest hit, “Linger.”

O’Riordan has been known to claim the song was about her first serious kiss.  But to my ear it sounds like it about an ex-lover that’s keeping her hanging on.

But I’m in so deep
You know I’m such a fool for you
You got me wrapped around your finger
Do you have to let it linger?
Do you have to, do you have to, do you have to let it linger?

“Linger” carried the album it was on — Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? — to #1 in the UK, and to #18 in the US.  Their next several albums did even better, several earning multi-platinum status.  But it all started with “Linger.”

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – 7 O’Clock News/Silent Night, Simon & Garfunkel; Phoebe Bridgers feat. Fiona Apple and Matt Berninger

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In 1966, Simon & Garfunkel release a “song” titled “7 O’Clock News/Silent Night” on their album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.

The track was intended to juxtapose the quiet, peacefulness of the traditional Christmas carol against the disturbing events that were dominating the news at that time.

Simon & Garfunkel sing “Silent Night” as a news broadcaster (voiced by announcer Charlie O’Donnell) summarizes the headlines of a mock report of events that actually occurred, though not all on the same day.  Mention is made of a civil rights march, the Vietnam War, and the Richard Speck mass murder of nurses (among others).

It has occurred to me many times over the years that this could be updated with equal effect every year since Simon & Garfunkel executed their concept.  In fact, in 2019, Phoebe Bridgers and Fiona Apple ran with the idea and recorded their own update, with The Nationals’ Matt Berninger taking the announcer’s role.

Their version addressed the Sackler family, of Purdue Pharma, avoiding criminal charges for their role as major contributors to the opioid crisis, the murder of Botham Jean, and the first Trump impeachment.

I hate to be such a bummer on this special day, but sometimes a dose of reality helps us to be grateful for all the joy in our lives.

Merry Christmas.  Peace on Earth.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – In the Cage, Genesis

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Almost 50 years ago, in mid-November 1974, Genesis released their ambitions double album The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway.  I remember very clearly, listening to the album over the Thanksgiving break of my freshman year in college.  Is The Lamb the band’s shining moment or its final calamity with Peter Gabriel in the group?

In MOJO 316, writer Michael Putland summed it up saying today it “sounds sporadically brilliant, impenetrable, over-reaching and inspired.”

The back story is that Genesis began working on their sixth and final album with Gabriel in mid-1974.  The band decided to work at Headley Grange, the rural stone cottage made famous by Led Zeppelin for being the “recording studio” for parts of Led Zeppelin III, Led Zeppelin IV, Houses of the Holy, and Physical Graffiti.  The building was run-down, rat-infested, and some say haunted.  Making matters worse, personal/family turmoil surrounded the group – divorce, and pregnancy issues among them.

While there, Gabriel decided to take leave from (quit?) the band to work on a project with film director William Friedkin of The Exorcist fame.  While he was gone, the remaining group members continued to write and record music without lyrics.  When the Friedkin project went south, Gabriel rejoined the band to a mixed reception.  He lobbied to be the sole lyric writer for a concept he created, and prevailed.

A character named Rael, a Puerto Rican street denizen would be the protagonist in a semi-autobiographical rock opera that reflects Gabriel’s state of mind at the time.  Rael prowls the streets of New York looking for his missing brother.

Today’s SotW is “In the Cage”, one of the album’s highlights.

A review of The Lamb on the Classic Rock Review website says:

… the intro to “In the Cage” contains an exception link as it builds towards driving rhythms. The song itself builds tension with odd timings and beats, as all the instruments seem to be doing their own independent thing but yet somehow all jive together. There are exception rhythms by Rutherford and Collins and fantastic, multi-part leads by Banks in the long mid section. Noticing he is trapped in one of several linked cages, Rael sees his brother John for the first of several encounters that add metaphor to the deeper story.

When recording was finished Genesis went on tour to promote the album, playing it in its entirety.  After 102 performances, Gabriel quit the band – this time for good.

Guitarist Steve Hackett has said, “For some The Lamb… is absolute magic, for others an absolute tragedy.”  So what do you think?  Magic or tragedy?  I vote magic!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Are You Experienced, Jimi Hendrix; Heroin, Velvet Underground; Hurt, Johnny Cash

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Recently I was listening to “Are You Experienced” by Jimi Hendrix and observed that the droning note in the song is utterly mesmerizing.

A drone is when a single note or chord is sounded continuously throughout a piece of music.  It is popular in Indian music and with Scottish bagpipes.

After hearing “Are You Experienced” I began to think about other Rock music songs that employ the technique.  There are many songs with Indian Raga influences that came to mind, like “See My Friends” by the Kinks, and a few tracks by the Beatles and the Byrds.  But I was fixated on songs with more prominent, single note drones.

One that came to mind was “Heroin” by the Velvet Underground.  Listen to how John Cale uses his viola, varying his attack to enhance the song’s emotion.

VU’s “Venus in Furs”, from the same album, also fits the bill.

Another is the Johnny Cash version of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt.”  The piano drone in the choruses provides the tension that drives the song.

Can you think of others?

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Another Man’s Woman, Atlanta Rhythm Section

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Atlanta Rhythm Section (also known as ARS) was formed in 1971.  The band was formed by combining members of The Candymen (sometimes backing group for Roy Orbison) and Classics IV (whose hits included “Spooky”, “Stormy”, “Traces”).  They served as the session band for Studio One in Doraville, GA.  They had substantial success in the ‘70s when their brand of Southern Rock was in vogue. 

The band’s first five albums – ending with Red Tape (1976) – were not very successful, except with a loyal group of fans that followed the band in concert.  Then 1976’s A Rock and Roll Alternative changed everything.  It included the Top 10 hit “So in to You” and was given five stars in the first edition of the Rolling Stone Record Guide (1979).  Champagne Jam (1978) followed and offered another Top 10 with “Imaginary Lover.”

ARS toured extensively and was a very successful live act.  They released an album to document their live prowess called Are You Ready! (1979).  It included a 15 minute version of the concert favorite “Another Man’s Woman”, the third time they released the song on an album.  The first was on their debut release – a five minute track on the eponymous Atlanta Rhythm Section (1973).  To me, the definitive recording is the closing cut on Red Tape (1976).  Coming in at about 10 minutes, it is tighter and has more energy than the live take, but still leaves room to show off the band’s soloing skills.  It is ARS’s “Free Bird.”

Enjoy… until next week.

The Beatles, Get Back

Carl Wilson, the rock writer, does a great job here explaining Peter Jackson’s epic (when it comes to the Beatles in January 1969, not civilization) TV show about the Beatles, called Get Back. I finished it last night and it is delightful, insightful, and well worth watching. Read his story here.

Song of the Week – Baby Come Back, The Equals; Police on My Back, The Clash

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In 1965 Eddie Grant (yes, the Grant of 1983’s “Electric Avenue”) was a founding member of one of England’s first integrated bands, The Equals.  The others in the group were John Hall, Pat Lloyd, and brothers Derv and Lincoln Gordon.

Beginning in 1968 they enjoyed some international success with a series of hit singles, including “I Get So Excited”, “Viva Bobby Joe”, “Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys”, and their biggest hit “Baby Come Back.”

The ska-influenced “Baby Come Back” was originally the B-side to “Hold Me Closer” but proved to be much more popular.  It’s easy to see why.  “Baby Come Back” is simple, but irresistibly catchy.  It rose to #1 in the UK though it barely crashed the Top 40 in Billboard in the US.  Dig the opening, fat string guitar riff, and the way they build tension by repeating the final word of each verse as they ascend into the chorus.  And listen carefully for the addition of a syncopated beatbox at the end.

Bonnie Raitt, no slouch when it comes to picking cool songs to record, covered “Baby Come Back” on the underappreciated Green Light (1982), which may be her most rock and roll album.

Grant penned another song for the Equals that was brought to widespread popularity in the form of a cover version.  The Clash released “Police on My Back” on Sandinista! (1980).

Enjoy… until next week.