Song of the Week – All Things Must Pass, George Harrison

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the release of George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass.  The timing of the release ensured that the 3 disc, boxed set would be found under the Christmas tree of Beatles fans all over the world.

ATMP may be the best Beatles’ solo album.  OK, John Lennon’s Plastic Ono Band (1970) and Paul McCartney’s Band on the Run (1973) may give it a run for that claim.  ATMP was the result of compiling a backlog of great songs after many years of being “subtly sat on” by Lennon, McCartney, and George Martin, as Harrison described his situation to Dick Cavett in a 1971 interview that can be seen on YouTube.  In a June 1970 interview with Al Aronowitz, of Rolling Stone, Harrison said “I thought after I moved into my new house, I’d take a year off and do nothing, but here I am getting ready to make my own album in two weeks.  The point is that we’re all of us writing too much now to put it all onto one Beatle record anyway.”

The album used a who’s who of session musicians including Klaus Voorman, Gary Wright, Billy Preston, Dave Mason, Bobby Keys, Pete Drake, Gary Brooker, Badfinger, Ringo Starr, Derek (Eric Clapton) and his future Dominoes – Jim Gordon, Carl Radle, Bobby Whitlock – coming off tour with Delaney and Bonnie.

Phil Spector co-produced the album with Harrison, so it is predictably drenched in reverb.  Cal Poly’s Professor James Cushing said “The album’s blend of an epic Phil Spector orchestral sweep and the intimacy of Harrison’s voice is the key to the album’s paradox, and why the music holds up (mostly) after a half century, because it’s as big as the Beatles ever wanted to be, bigger than Shea Stadium, while it’s also George taking you aside and speaking to you privately about important matters.”

That brings me to today’s SotW – the album’s title song, “All Things Must Pass.”

A Let It Be reject, “All Things Must Pass” contains some very nice guitar work.  Harrison said, “I wrote it after [The Band’s 1968] Music From Big Pink album; when I heard that song in my head I always heard Levon Helm singing it!”

It also has some of Harrison’s wisest lyrics.

All things must pass
None of life’s strings can last
So I must be on my way
And face another day

While often interpreted as a statement about the Beatles’ break-up, I think it is much deeper than that.  It reflects Harrison’s spirituality and being mindful and present in the “now” because everything is impermanent – even life.

It’s a song that is very meaningful to me today.

Enjoy… until next week.

Note:  Several of the quotes above are from an article by Harvey Kubernik that was published in Music Connection.

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!

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”