Song of the Week – Silver Heels, Fleetwood Mac

In the annals of Fleetwood Mac’s storied history, stands the band’s Bob Welch period.  Snuggled between the group’s formative Peter Green time and the wildly popular and enduring Buckingham/Nicks era, the middle period Welch years form a fascinating chapter of transformation and creativity. Among the gems from this period is the evocative track “Silver Heels,” a song that exemplifies Welch’s unique contributions to the band’s sound and ethos. Released on the 1974 album Heroes Are Hard to Find (Welch’s last with the band), “Silver Heels” highlights his songwriting prowess.

To understand the significance of “Silver Heels,” it’s essential to consider the broader context of Fleetwood Mac during Bob Welch’s tenure. Welch joined Fleetwood Mac in 1971, succeeding the departing Peter Green, whose departure marked the end of the band’s initial blues phase. Welch’s arrival signaled a new direction for the band, integrating more rock and pop elements into their music. This shift was not merely a change in style but a strategic pivot that aimed to revitalize Fleetwood Mac’s commercial prospects.

Welch brought with him a distinct songwriting ability and a knack for blending melodic sensibilities with rock and pop influences. This creative evolution was crucial as the band navigated its identity during this transitional phase. By the time “Silver Heels” was recorded, Fleetwood Mac had begun to see some success with their new sound, albeit still striving for the breakthrough that would eventually come with the addition of Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks.

“Silver Heels” is emblematic of Welch’s ability to craft songs that are both introspective and accessible. The song’s title, “Silver Heels,” immediately conjures images of glamour and mystique, suggesting a narrative or character-driven exploration. The lyrics, coupled with Welch’s distinctive guitar work and smooth vocal delivery, create a sense of allure and enigma.

She came in and her flags were flying
She was a sailboat of sweet perfume
And I could see that her eyes were smiling
From across the room
Well, I couldn’t think of conversation
I was busy looking at her fur
She said hey, you never ask me
So I guess I’ll say the word

Musically, “Silver Heels” showcases Welch’s deftness in merging rock and pop elements. The track features a layered arrangement that includes subtle yet effective guitar riffs and a steady rhythm section. Welch’s guitar work – including a nice solo at about 2:15 — adds a nuanced texture to the song, blending seamlessly with the melodic lines

His vocals, characterized by their smooth, almost ethereal quality, further enhance the song’s atmospheric feel, especially on the catchy chorus, with its name-checking of Paul McCartney and Etta James.

“Silver Heels” may not have achieved the iconic status of some of Fleetwood Mac’s later hits, but it remains a testament to the band’s versatility and Welch’s influence. The song captures a moment of experimentation and growth within Fleetwood Mac, underscoring the band’s willingness to explore new directions and sounds.

In retrospect, “Silver Heels” serves as a reminder of the rich tapestry of Fleetwood Mac’s musical journey. It highlights how each era, including the Bob Welch period, contributed to the band’s enduring legacy. As you revisit “Silver Heels,” you will not only experience a snapshot of Fleetwood Mac’s past but also appreciate the nuanced artistry and cultural references that helped shape one of rock’s most long-lived bands.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Itchycoo Park, The Small Faces

Few songs scream “summer” as loudly as “Itchycoo Park” by the Small Faces.

The track was released in August 1967 – the Summer of Love!  It has a joyous pop melody with carefree lyrics about frolicking in the park, in the sun, getting high.  That sounds like a great summer day to me!

“Itchycoo Park,” written by the talented duo of Steve Marriott and Ronnie Lane, peaked at #16 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1968.  It famously employed an effect called flanging, which produced that “swooshing” sound heard in the drum breaks and choruses.

Both songwriters went on to further their careers in rock and roll.  Marriott left the Small Faces to form Humble Pie alongside Peter Frampton.  When Marriott split, Lane hired Ronnie Wood to replace him, then snatched Rod Stewart from the Jeff Beck Group.  The band dropped the word “small” from their name and became known simply as The Faces.

Tragically, both died in the ‘90s at young ages. Yet, their contributions to the realm of music endure. So, crank up the volume, let the music take you back to the trippy ‘60s, and groove to the eternal magic of “Itchycoo Park.”

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – They Never Met, Martin Mull

Martin Mull passed away on June 27th.  He held a warm place in my heart.  I enjoyed his snarky sense of humor and his amusing songs.  I had a copy of his self-titled debut album (1972) that included some of my favorite titles like “Livin’ Above My Station”, “Eggs”, and “Partly Marion”, all of which had Levon Helm on drums.  (Helm’s partner at the time, Libby Titus, supplied backing vocals.)

I fondly remember seeing him live in the fall of 1975 at Paul’s Mall on Boylston Street in Boston.

The show was probably a lot like this:

 Martin Mull – Soundstage 4/24/1976

Later he became a regular on the late-night soap opera parody, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, playing the character Garth Gimble.  My friends and I made time nightly to catch the show in college.  That role led to a couple of offshoots, Fernwood 2 Night (1977), America 2 Night (1978), where Gimble (Mull) was in the lead role.

All this led to dozens of television and film roles in a career that kept him busy up until now.

Today’s SotW is a duet he did with Melissa Manchester called “They Never Met.”  It’s the story of two aging virgins whose destiny could have been different, but “they never met.”

But they never met
Not even briefly
I know what you thought
You thought that they might
Now, what was the problem?
Thе problem was, chiefly
She workеd the day shift
And he worked the night

A few years ago, I went to the Pageant of the Masters in Laguna Beach.  The ticket included a pre-show featuring a concert by Manchester.  When her performance ended, she hung around for a “meet and greet.”  When my turn came to say hello, I sang her the chorus to “They Never Met.”  I clearly caught her by surprise.  She seemed to recognize the song but also had a quizzical look on her face – like she couldn’t quite place it.  Her reaction was priceless!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – You Got the Silver, Rolling Stones

A new documentary about the life of Anita Pallenberg was recently released.  Pallenberg, The First Lady of The Rolling Stones, was a significant part of the band, even though she was not a musician.

The film is superb.  The story moves along briskly.  It has excellent video footage (much of it from private home movies), great interviews (including audio from Keith Richards), and readings from Pallenberg’s unpublished memoir (voiced by Scarlett Johansson).

One of my favorite moments was learning that Richards wrote “You Got the Silver” for Pallenberg after the birth of their first son, Marlon.  Though Richards was reluctant to become a father, this was a very tender moment in their often stormy relationship.

“… Silver” is a bluesy, deep cut from Let It Bleed (1969).  It is one of the few songs on which Richards is the lead vocalist.  The Stones recorded a version with Mick Jagger singing lead but opted to include Richards’ version on the album.  That was an appropriate choice given the personal nature of the track.

Hey babe, what’s in your eyes?
I saw them flashing like airplane lights
You fill my cup, babe, that’s for sure
I must come back for a little more

You got my heart you got my soul
You got the silver you got the gold
You got the diamonds from the mine
Well that’s all right, it’ll buy some time

By the time of the Let It Bleed sessions, founding Rolling Stone Brian Jones was, for the most part, a “no show.”  But he did contribute an autoharp part to “… Silver.”

Catching Fire: The Story of Anita Pallenberg can be seen on most streaming services (to rent for $6.99).  Here is a link to the New York Times review of the film:

Catching Fire – NYT Review

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Warren Ellis’ Picks

I recently finished reading the book Nina Simone’s Gum, by Warren Ellis, a musician in the Dirty Three and collaborator with Nick Cave in the Bad Seeds and Grinderman.

The book synopsis reads:

I hadn’t opened the towel that contained her gum since 2013. The last person to touch it was Nina Simone, her saliva and fingerprints unsullied. The idea that it was still in her towel was something I had drawn strength from. I thought each time I opened it some of Nina Simone’s spirit would vanish. In many ways that thought was more important than the gum itself.

On Thursday 1 July, 1999, Dr Nina Simone gave a rare performance as part of Nick Cave’s Meltdown Festival. After the show, in a state of awe, Warren Ellis crept onto the stage, took Dr Simone’s piece of chewed gum from the piano, wrapped it in her stage towel and put it in a Tower Records bag. The gum remained with him for twenty years; a sacred totem, his creative muse, a conduit that would eventually take Ellis back to his childhood and his relationship with found objects, growing in significance with every passing year.

Nina Simone’s Gum is about how something so small can form beautiful connections between people. It is a story about the meaning we place on things, on experiences, and how they become imbued with spirituality. It is a celebration of artistic process, friendship, understanding and love.

I have to admit, when I started this book, I was very skeptical that a whole book could be interesting about a piece of chewed gum, even if it came from Nina Simone.  But in the hands of Ellis, it works.

Warren’s memoir weaves stories about his musical influences, his instruments, and his obsession with collecting artifacts into the main thread about Simone’s gum.

But the SotW is about music, so I’ll focus on that.  Although there are no recordings that survived the Meltdown Festival performance, it was contemporaneously reported in a review in The Guardian that she opened with “Black is the Colour (sic) (of My True Love’s Hair).”

This version is the lead track from Simone’s1959 live album, Nina Simone at Town Hall.  I wonder if it is a coincidence that it was still her opening song, 40 years later.

Ellis tells the story of being introduced to the Greek singer Arleta when a girlfriend gave him a cassette by her in 1988.  He writes:

“I stayed in Europe for ten months and I ended up hitchhiking across the continent with my violin, busking in the streets, or wherever, drenched in a song, ‘Mia Fora Thymamai’, sung by Arleta.”

“I loved the whole album but there was that one song called ‘Mia Fora Thymamai’, which stopped time.  I didn’t know what it was about, or anything about Arleta, but I thought it was the most beautiful song I’d ever heard, and it comforted me for 2 minutes, 31 seconds.”

This simple folk song was a huge influence on Ellis.  His band, the Dirty Three, recorded their version under the title “I Remember a Time When Once You Loved Me.”  There’s much more to the story of Ellis’ connection to Arleta and ‘Mia Fora Thymamai’ but I don’t want to be a spoiler.  Read the book.

In 1984, Ellis was looking for a violin instructor.  He was rejected by several teachers until he was accepted by Phil Harrington, who tried to help Ellis select music that fit his playing style.  Harrington introduced him to Beethoven.

“One day he [Harrington] brought in Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, and every time we rehearsed the second movement, it sent me catatonic.”

Ellis has opened my ears to some wonderful music that I would otherwise have never heard.  I hope you get pleasure from sharing that experience with me.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Woman to Woman, Shirley Brown, and Henderson Thigpen

I’ve been a huge fan of the Memphis based Stax label for a long time. Their brand of southern soul music appeals to me much more than the sanitized sounds that came out of Motown, though I love a lot of Motown too.

Over the years I have immersed myself in the Stax catalog and history.  I downloaded The Complete Stax/Volt Singles compilations as soon as they were released.  One of the best music books I ever read was Peter Guralnick’s Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom.  While that book isn’t only about Stax, the label plays a huge role in his story.  I have also watched the Wattstax concert movie and listened extensively to the soundtrack record.

Now there is a new four-part documentary series about Stax on HBO called Stax: Soulsville U.S.A.  I watched it a few weeks ago and highly recommend it to anyone who loves 60s/70s soul music.

The docu-series devoted significant time to the story behind Shirley Brown’s “Woman to Woman,” the 1974 single that was a #1 R&B hit but stalled at #22 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The song was penned by the trio of James Banks, Eddie Marion, and Henderson Thigpen. On the website, Thigpen is quoted saying:

James and I used to get together every day, and we were at a studio one day trying to come up with some ideas, something different. When people get serious, they say ‘hey, let’s talk man to man’. So we came up with a concept. We thought it would be interesting to have a song with somebody coming up ‘hey, let’s talk woman to woman’. I had overheard my wife at the time arguing over the phone with a friend of hers about a man with another woman, so we – James, myself and Eddie – came up with the monologue. But no females were doing it. Isaac Hayes was doing long monologues at the time. Whenever we came up with an idea, we demoed it to give the rough idea of the whole song.

Fortunately for us, last February a boxed set titled Written In Their Soul: The Stax Songwriter Demos was released.  It includes 146 demos from the Stax stable of songwriters – 140 previously unreleased – including the one of “Woman to Woman” made by Thigpen and mentioned in the quote above.

So, sit back and enjoy both versions of this slow jam, soul classic.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Deco Dance, Elliott Murphy

Billy Joel has been all over the news in recent months.  In February he dropped his first new song in over 20 years, called “Turn the Lights Back On,” and performed it to an ecstatic audience at the 2024 Grammys that same month.  In April he gave the 100th performance of his concert residency at New York’s Madison Square Garden.  The show was broadcast on CBS on April 14th.  On the personal side, it was recently disclosed that he purchased a 5-acre property in East Hampton, complete with a horse farm, pool, and lily pond, making him a neighbor to Alec Baldwin.

But this being the SotW, you know there’s a curveball coming.  Instead of making the obvious choice of some Billy Joel obscurity, today’s SotW is “Deco Dance,” by Elliott Murphy.

You’re probably thinking “How did Tom get from Billy Joel to Elliott Murphy?”  Let’s talk!

In 1975, Murphy released a particularly good album called Night Lights.  At the time, Murphy was vying for some of the same turf Bruce Springsteen was claiming.  That may seem quaint with the benefit of hindsight, but it’s true.

Anyway, one of the best songs on Night Lights was “Deco Dance.”  Billy Joel played piano on the campy cut.  It’s blatantly evident on the opening piano intro.  Joel’s style is unmistakable.

The track also takes advantage of the stellar horn section of Michael Brecker (too many credits to list!), Howard Johnson (The Band, John Lennon), Lou Marini (Frank Zappa, J Geils, Blues Brothers), Lew Soloff (B,S&T) and Tom Malone (B,S&T, Blues Brothers).

Night Lights is of its time, but still satisfies today.  Besides “Deco Dance,” Murphy’s rant about the fleeting satisfaction of celebrity culture and fame, it has another song called “Lady Stilletto (sic),” written as an homage to Patti Smith.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Black, Pearl Jam

Pearl Jam hit the national scene in 1991, at the height of the Seattle-based grunge rock movement led by Nirvana.  I liked their debut album, Ten, but was skeptical of all the hype the grunge bands received.  I asked myself, “Is this band for real or not?”

Then I saw them perform on Saturday Night Live in April 1992, and I was hooked.  The video is no longer available, but there is a YouTube “video” of the sound recording from that performance of “Alive” and “Porch.”

In 2017, Rolling Stone rated that appearance at #13 on their list called Saturday Night Live Rocks: 25 Greatest Musical Performances.

Today’s SotW is Pearl Jam’s “Black,” also from Ten.

The lyrics to “Black” were written by vocalist Eddie Vedder.  They tell the story of a very personal, emotional breakup with a lost lover.  As the song builds to a sentimental peak, the singer howls:

I know someday you’ll have a beautiful life 
I know you’ll be a star 
In somebody else’s sky 
But why 
Why can’t it be 
Why can’t it be mine?

Rarely has a male rock star exhibited such naked vulnerability.  It is easy to understand how this song has endured as a fan favorite for over 30 years.

Enjoy… until next week.

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.