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).
In 1985, the Philadelphia based band The Hooters, released the album Nervous Nights that contained three Top 40 hits – “Day by Day” (#18), “Where Do the Children Go?” (#38), and “And We Danced” (#21).
The song title — “And We Danced”— is perfect for this ‘80s dance club, power-pop nugget. The Melodica (a hooter) and mandolin intro draw you in, then the song explodes with enough energy to “shake the paint off the walls.”
The Hooters were formed by Rob Hyman and Eric Bazilian who had met over a decade earlier when they were both students at the University of Pennsylvania. Hyman co-wrote “Time After Time” with Cyndi Lauper, which was a #1 hit for her in 1984 from the She’s So Unusual album. (Hyman and Bazilian also provided most of the musical accompaniment on that album.)
Earlier, Hyman and Bazilian were recording albums together in a late ‘70s band called Baby Grand. Their sound is of its time. It sure ain’t punk rock, but it is music that is arranged and played well, and displays its own songcraft. Worth a listen in the same way that you might enjoy Journey, Foreigner, or Toto.
“Never Enough” was revived by producer Rick Chertoff as a hit for Scandal singer Patty Smyth in 1987, albeit with rewritten lyrics.
Carole King had two phases of mega-success. The first was as a Brill Building songwriter with her partner and then-husband, Gerry Goffin. The hits they penned as teens in the early ‘60s include “Up on the Roof”, “One Fine Day”, “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”, and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman”, among others.
The second phase was as a singer-songwriter and performer. The pinnacle of her fame during this period was the now 50-year-old album Tapestry. It’s a classic that is in just about everyone’s record collection (if you have a record collection!).
But there was a period in between when King was doing other things. In 1968 she was in a band called The City. That band, which included old friend and colleague Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar (guitar), future husband Charles Larkey (bass), and Domino (as in Layla) Jim Gordon (drums). They released one Lou Adler produced album – Now That Everything’s Been Said (1968). One song on the record was called “That Old Sweet Roll” and was later made a hit by Blood, Sweat & Tears as renamed “Hi-De-Ho.”
By 1970, Kootch and Larkey had moved on to their next project, Jo Mama. Their sophomore effort, J Is for Jump (1971), was a fine collection of blue-eyed-soul. Though King didn’t play on the album, she let them release a version of “Smackwater Jack” that would also appear on Tapestry.
In 1970 King went to work for King, as in B.B. King. Really! B.B.’s album Indianola Mississippi Seeds was produced by Bill Szymczyk in a successful bid for crossover success from the blues market into Rock. Carole played piano and electric piano on “Ain’t Gonna Worry My Life Anymore.” The interplay between the two Kings sparkles.
So as you can see, King remained quite busy and prolific during her “middle” period.
In 2008, the Norton Records reissue label released “Rock ‘Til the End of Time” by Little Johnny and The Silvertones.
The Norton website description of the song says:
Blood curdling unissued 1963 R&B booze savagery!… This recently unearthed Ohio acetate is over the top WILD!!! Dig these lyrics, dad – I wanna cash my check at the liquor store/Crawl into that barroom door/Goin’ to the bar get me a jug of wine…Savage guitars, pounding drums, this is IT!!!!
One of the contemporary bands I’ve been grooving to lately is the British band Black Country, New Road. The seven-piece band (4 men and 3 women) has a sound that fits somewhere between ‘70s progressive rock, Gang of Four styled post-punk, and Arcade Fire-like anthems. (You can throw in some jazz influences too.) But what would you expect from a band that features the traditional two guitars, bass, and drums – but then mixes in keys, violin, and sax?
Their debut album – For the First Time – was released last February and contains the entertaining “Athen’s, France” and “Science Fair.” A couple of weeks ago they released their newest single, “Chaos Space Marine.”
Chaos Space Marines are characters in the popular wargame Warhammer 40,000. Not being a gamer myself, there’s not more for me to share on the subject. (I just like the music!) But I can only imagine that some of the lyrics directly tie into the game:
So I’m leaving this body And I’m never coming home again, yeah I’ll bury the hatchet Between the window, and the kingdom of men Oh, I’m becoming a worm now And, I’m looking for a place to live, yeah Here I come now
The single is an advance on the band’s sophomore effort, Ants from up There, which is scheduled for release in February 2022. It should be good!
Today’s SotW was written by guest contributor, Michael Paquette. Michael has become a regular!
Doug Sahm began his career as a country singer as a young boy, performing at age eleven with Hank Williams Sr. in one of his last appearances. He crafted his musical skills and style in the barrios, dance halls, juke joints, and parking lots across the Lone Star State. He formed his first band, the Knights, in high school when he realized he’d rather play music than football. He assembled the Sir Douglas Quintet with his childhood friend Augie Meyers and original band members Jack Barber, Frank Morin, and Johnny Perez, in 1964. Their musical style was heavily influenced by the sound of bluesmen Jimmy Reed, Bobby “Blue” Bland, and Lightnin Hopkins. Sahm had listened to these artists and their ilk laying down their blues styles in Fort Worth and San Antonio as had many others who would go on to perform authentic Texan music and refused to compromise their style to become top 40 artists. The music scene at that time included Boz Scaggs, Johnny Winter, Freddie King, and Janis Joplin. This was an emerging blues and TexMex sound that was also influenced by the Texas swing of Bob Wills, the guitar blues of T-Bone Walker, and the Mexican-American rockers like Don Santiago Jiménez of San Antonio which was Doug Sahm’s hometown.
Much of the music of the Sir Douglas Quintet was a bit too far out to be classified as Pop. The band had a couple of hits with their first single “She’s About a Mover”, and the classic “Mendocino” from the album of the same name which they recorded after moving to San Francisco in the mid-‘60s. The song I have chosen from their pantheon of great blues and white soul material is “At the Crossroads.”
This song was from the album as Mendocino (#27 in 1969) and peaked on the charts at #104. It contains the great line, “You can teach me lots of lessons; you can bring me a lot of gold; but you just can’t live in Texas if you don’t have a lot of soul.”
I lived in Texas for many years and ran across some people from all walks of life who loved Doug Sahm. He was a beloved artist whose band performed in venues and rooms for a mix of Black, Latino, and White audiences where the only color in the room was the music. I had the pleasure of enjoying musical acts in clubs, bars, Christmas craft shows, dance halls, concert halls, and arenas. I heard several artists whose music was clearly influenced by SDQ including Marcia Ball, Carolyn Wonderland, Alejandro Escovedo, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and even the longtime county act Alvin Crow and the Pleasant Valley Boys. With its rolling Chicano rhythms and pumping Farfisa organ SDQ influenced numerous new wave acts including Elvis Costello who patterned both his band and his vocals after the SDQ.
Doug Sahm and Augie Meyers formed the conjunto band Texas Tornadoes in 1989 with Flaco Jiménez, and Freddy Fender, a band that continues to tour today. Sadly, Doug Sahm died of a heart attack in 1999 in his sleep in Taos, New Mexico. He was 58. But his fusion of Texas C & W, Western Swing, Texas Blues, South Texas German polkas, and Tex Mex music lives on in artists who remain devoted to his sound.
In the late ‘60s heyday of Southern soul, there was a recording artist out of Memphis named Don Bryant. In 1969 he released an album on Willie Mitchell’s Hi label (later the home of ‘70s soul great Al Green) called Precious Soul.
The album didn’t make much noise, even though Bryant was a very good singer. Perhaps the reason was for lack of originals – the album contained 12 cover versions of songs written by the likes of Isaac Hayes, James Brown, David Porter, Eddie and Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Chris Kenner.
Bryant’s vocals are in the soul shouter style of Wilson Pickett. That leads me to choose “She’s Looking Good”, a cover that reached #15 on the Billboard Hot 100 for Pickett, as today’s SotW.
About a year after the release of Precious Soul, Ann Peebles arrived at Hi and captivated the attention of Mitchell. Bryant’s reaction was to concentrate on songwriting rather than performance. Along with Peebles (and DJ Bernard Miller), he co-wrote her classic hit “I Can’t Stand the Rain.” (That song was ranked at #197 in the recently published list of Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.) Soon after, Bryant and Peebles married. They are still together after almost 50 years, though Peebles suffered a stroke in 2012 that caused her to give up performing.
In 2017, after 48 years, Bryant was given another shot at performing. He recorded and released Don’t Give Up on Love for the Eat Possum label. His next album, You Make Me Feel (2020), earned the 79-year-old Bryant his first Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Blues Album.
The Watersons was a famous English folk group that originally consisted of siblings Norma, Mike, and Elaine (known as Lal) along with their cousin John Harrison. Their mid-60s albums received significant critical acclaim. Their recordings were in the same general genre as Fairport Convention and Steeleye Span.
This music isn’t for everyone, but I’ve always enjoyed the simplicity of folk songs that tell interesting stories that survive because they are handed down from generation to generation.
In 1996, Lal collaborated with her son, Oliver Knight, to record and release the album Once in a Blue Moon. Its songs, written by Lal, receive guitar accompaniment from Knight that is a perfect complement to each one’s mood.
My choice for the SotW is the lead track, “At First She Starts.”
In addition to Knight, Charles O’Connor provides fiddle accompaniment. I interpret the lyrics to be about stage fright, or a singer’s struggle to interpret a song, but I could be wrong.
First she starts and then she’s startled. I see that light in her eyes Didn’t you realise you were a bird, At dawn when you woke with air in your throat.
Chorus: So far doe-ray-me Sing to me loudly, Serenade me, Mess with the melody. Light and shade All my eyes can see.
Oh but you are the phrase at the end of the bar, a long and high refrain. Hanging around for the choir to strike sound, So’s you can holler your joy and your pain.
In a recent Last Night a Record Changed My Life column in MOJO, Cathal Coughlan of the Irish band Microdisney was quoted saying that Once in a Blue Moon reminds him “… how the finest work can exist independent of ornamentation and commercial fanfare.” That is so true!
Waterson died in 1998 of cancer at age 55, just a couple of years after the release of Once in a Blue Moon.
You can follow the link above and read the full story but I’ll provide a thumbnail summary here.
It turns out Burton Silverman had a long and successful career as a well-respected realist artist. But all that takes a back seat to what he is most famous for – painting the cover to Aqualung.
To add insult to injury, Silverman was paid a flat fee of $1,500 for the three paintings that made up the front and back covers and the gatefold of the album. (The artwork was also in the background of the lyric sheet insert.)
Silverman’s paintings were inspired by the lyrics to the title cut, “Aqualung.”
Sitting on a park bench Eyeing little girls with bad intent Snot’s running down his nose Greasy fingers smearing shabby clothes
Silverman “decided to place the figurant of Aqualung in a lonely, dank doorway, gripping his shabby coat for warmth and menacingly warding off all comers like a cornered animal.”
The artwork adds a visual dimension to the song and album that enhances how the music is perceived and can’t be separated from the enduring popularity of the record.
From here the story strays into the details of legal considerations due to Silverman’s resentment that he was paid so little for the artwork he created that is now plastered on all sorts of merchandise, earning money for lots of people, but not him!
I was a big fan of Aqualung when it came out 50 years ago. I first heard it when my brother brought it back from college in May 1971. I confiscated his copy, never to be returned. As I think about it, that’s almost a metaphor for the Silverman story.