Song of the Week – Drum Introductions in Rock Songs

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I “wrote” today’s SotW using ChatGPT.  I decided I wanted to write about Rock songs with great drum intros and selected the songs that I wanted to feature.  I plugged that information into ChatGPT and “presto”, an essay was drafted within about 15 seconds!  It is pretty bland, but still pretty amazing.  The links and sentences in italics were added by me.  Otherwise, the essay is unedited intentionally to demonstrate to you what the software produced.  This was done today as an experiment.  I won’t be using ChatGPT again.

Drum introductions in rock music songs have long been used to capture the listener’s attention and set the tone for the rest of the track. Some of the most iconic examples of drum introductions can be found in songs like “Honky Tonk Woman” by The Rolling Stones, “Superstition” by Stevie Wonder, “Rock and Roll” by Led Zeppelin, and “Sunday Bloody Sunday” by U2.

In “Honky Tonk Woman,” the drum introduction is simple yet effective, consisting of a steady, pounding beat that immediately sets the mood for the song. This drumbeat, along with the slide guitar riff that follows, perfectly captures the gritty, bluesy feel of the song.  Charlie Watts is drumming with Jimmy Miller on cowbell.  They are out of sync, but Keith Richards comes in at the right spot and turns the screw-up into a “happy accident.”  Another “happy accident” is how the tempo of the recorded performance of “Honky Tonk Woman” speeds up by the end.  All of this “sloppiness” are consistent with the honky tonk feel that the Stones wanted to capture.

The drums in “Superstition” also serve to set the mood, with a funky, syncopated beat that perfectly complements Stevie Wonder’s soulful vocals.  An interesting tidbit about the drum intro on “Superstition” is that as iconic as it is, it was conceived by the late, great guitarist,  Jeff Beck.  You can read my post from May 22, 2021, for the full story.

“Rock and Roll” by Led Zeppelin also features a powerful drum introduction that sets the stage for the rest of the song. The drums in this track are played with a raw, powerful energy that perfectly captures the spirit of rock and roll.  But what really captures listeners is the way the beats are counted.  We mere mortals simply can’t figure it out!  That confounding twist is what lures us in.

The drums in “Sunday Bloody Sunday” by U2 are also notable for their energy and intensity. The drums in this song are played with a driving, urgent feel that perfectly captures the song’s political themes.  The intro, played by drummer Larry Mullen Jr. has the feel of the military marching into battle (the Irish Republican Army?).  Like “Rock and Roll”, the magic is in the counting.  Mullen uses the hi-hat and snare against the steady rhythm set by the bass drum.

In conclusion, drum introductions in rock music songs like “Honky Tonk Woman,” “Superstition,” “Rock and Roll,” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday” are powerful tools for capturing the listener’s attention and setting the tone for the rest of the track. These introductions are simple yet effective, perfectly capturing the mood and spirit of the songs they introduce. Drummers have always played an important role in rock music and the introductions in these songs are one of the ways they make their mark.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Almost Cut My Hair, Crosby Stills Nash & Young

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As you all no doubt have heard by now, David Crosby died this week.  Though his personality could be ornery, and he seemed to alienate just about everyone he ever came in contact with, it is undeniable that this flawed character created some incredibly beautiful music.

I’ve posted about him several times.

September 15, 2012                  Laughing                     David Crosby

September 26, 2013                  Blackbird                     Crosby, Stills & Nash

August 20, 2022                       Lady Friend                  The Byrds

As a teenager, I was a huge CS&N and CSN&Y fan.  At that time, Crosby’s songs were probably my least favorite.  Today, many top my list.  They were more sophisticated, almost a little jazzy, with interesting chord changes.   And that voice!!!

Today’s SotW is “Almost Cut My Hair” from CSN&Y’s Déjà Vu.

“Almost Cut My Hair” was one of the most relatable counterculture songs of the late ‘60s/early ‘70s.  Though Crosby was later almost embarrassed by the “juvenile” lyrics, they spoke to a generation of nonconformist hippies – “to be or not to be” a long-haired rebel.

Almost cut my hair
It happened just the other day
It’s gettin’ kinda long
I coulda said it wasn’t in my way
But I didn’t and I wonder why
I feel like letting my freak flag fly
Yes, I feel like I owe it to someone

The fiercely independent Neil Young was only partially involved in the recording of Déjà Vu.  Most of his contributions were recorded alone.  When ready, he would bring the tracks into the studio for CS&N to add their voices.  But he fully contributed to “Almost Cut My Hair”, providing blistering solos throughout that took Crosby’s anthem over the top.

And if you want to enjoy this SotW to its fullest, listen on headphones and crank it up!

After many years of substance abuse and ill health, Crosby entered a period of renewed creativity beginning with the release of Croz (2014), his first solo album in 20 years.  His son, James Raymond, who he had put up for adoption in 1962, was his collaborator on that and several subsequent releases including Sky Trails (2017) and For Free (2021).  These and other recent releases – Lighthouse (2016) and Here If You Listen (2018) – were all well received by critics, although they went mostly unheard by the general public.  They are worth a listen.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Down by the Sea, Strawbs

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The band Strawbs, founded by Dave Cousins, began as a folk-rock band the Strawberry Hill Boys, in 1963.  Early on, Sandy Denny was in the band for about 6 months in 1967.  By 1970, keyboardist Rick Wakeman joined them for about a year and a half, before rising to fame with Yes.

By 1972, Richard Hudson and John Ford has joined the band and they transitioned to more of a progressive rock band.  In this configuration, they released the albums that are at the core of their discography – Grave New World (1972), Bursting at the Seams (1973), and Hero and Heroine (1974).

Bursting at the Seams included a couple of minor “hits” in “Part of the Union” (written by Hudson and Ford) and “Lay Down”.  While I enjoy both, my favorite track on the album – and today’s SotW – is “Down by the Sea”.

“Down by the Sea” is big.  It opens with an epic, arpeggiated riff, moves into a folky verse, and then takes a surprising turn into a hard rock section.  From there the arrangement veers back into a sweetly sung soft section and ends with a heavy, foreboding, symphonic reprise of the original theme.

Last night I lay in bed
And held myself
Trying to remember
How it once was with you
How your hands were softer.

Yesterday I found myself
Staring into space
Rather like the sailor
In my own home surroundings
I’m not sure I know me.

Cousins has said ‘The song was very much tied up with my crumbling marriage, but it was actually written walking along the sea wall with this mountainous sea in Dover.’

As a side note, there is a story that  Alice Cooper was recording Billion Dollar Babies in the same studio as Strawbs during the Bursting at the Seams sessions.  He and his producer, Bob Ezrin, would pop in to listen to the Strawbs recordings and loved what they heard.  I’m right there with them!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Solar Sister, The Posies

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The Posies were a band out of Seattle that launched at the height of the grunge movement.  But they never really fit in with the other grunge bands.  The Posies were more power pop-minded, with key influences being The Beatles and XTC.

Led by Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow, they further burnished their power pop credentials when they helped to reform the legendary Big Star by joining original members Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens for a concert in 1993.

The Posies’ most successful album was their third – Frosting on the Beater (1993).  It contains today’s SotW, “Solar Sister.”

Listen for the dynamics in the vocals and the interesting harmonies over a nice melody, distorted guitars, and a nifty solo about two minutes in.  The production by Don Fleming (Teenage Fanclub) suits the material.

The Posies also contributed the soundtrack to the Bert Bacharach scene in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Songs The Beatles Gave Away

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Let’s start the New Year with a post that features music by my all-time favorite band, The Beatles; but with a twist.  This one presents “songs that the Beatles gave away.”  In other words, it includes songs written by one of them but never officially released by the group.  Instead, it was recorded and released by another artist.

Being democratic, I’ll highlight one song (primarily) written by each of the Beatles’ songwriters.  Sorry, Ringo!

“Bad to Me” was written by John Lennon and recorded by Billy J. Kramer with the Dakotas.

The song is very typical of the early Beatle style – a “love song” with a simple, catchy melody.  It reached #1 in the UK in 1963 and #9 in the US in 1964, after the Beatles reached our shores.

Here’s Lennon’s demo.

Paul McCartney wrote “Goodbye” for Mary Hopkin as a follow-up to her #2 cabaret hit “Those Were the Days” (1968).

“Goodbye” has another prototypical McCartney melody.  It skips along like schoolgirls in the playground on a sunny day.  McCartney, himself, played most of the instruments on the recording.  It reached #13 in the US in 1969.

Hopkin was one of the first acts signed to the Beatles’ newly formed Apple Records.

Now listen to McCartney’s demo.

Although much less prolific than Lennon/McCartney, George Harrison also wrote a few compositions he was willing to share with other artists.  He gave “Sour Milk Sea” (1968) — written on the Beatles’ famous trip to Rishikesh, India — to Jackie Lomax, another Apple Records signee.

“Sour Milk Sea” is more obscure but is a pretty good rocker.  It didn’t chart despite featuring musical accompaniment from Harrison, McCartney, and Starr.

Now Harrison’s demo.

You probably can remember and name a few other “songs the Beatles gave away”, including Peter & Gordon’s “A World Without Love” and “Come and Get It” by Badfinger.  But there are quite a few more.  Check out this Wikipedia page for a more comprehensive list:

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Keep on Shining, Curtis Harding

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Lately I’ve been listening to a lot of music by Curtis Harding.

Harding is a soul artist that has released three albums – the last of which, If Words Were Flowers, came out about a year ago.  His sound is influenced by Otis Redding’s gospel soul.  He is most often compared to contemporaries Leon Bridges and Gary Clark, Jr.  That’s not bad company to be in.

Check out “Keep On Shining” from his first album, Soul Power (2014).

This number could blend right into any mix of Northern soul, highlighting Harding’s falsetto vocals, a tight rhythm section, and punchy horns.

Although far from being a household name, Harding has mixed it up with numerous artists that are.  He’s worked with Danger Mouse, CeeLo Green, Lauren Hill, The Black Lips, and The Roots.

The striking portrait on the Soul Power album cover was snapped by fashion photographer Hedi Slimane.

If you like classic ‘60s and ‘70s soul with a modern twist, you will like Curtis Harding.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – In a Manner of Speaking, Tuxedomoon

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In the late 1970s, there was a post-punk band out of San Francisco called Tuxedomoon.  Their first album, Half-Mute (1980), was released on Ralph Records, home to another avant-garde Bay area band – The Residents.

Their fourth album, Holy Wars (1985), included today’s SotW – “In a Manner of Speaking.”  It is their most well known song, though probably few of you have ever heard it.

The song has sparse instrumentation; a simple riff — first on keys, then guitar – with a whistled melody that transforms into a haunting electronic whirr that emphasizes the tortured vocal and lyrics.

In a manner of speaking I just want to say
That I could never forget the way
You told me everything by saying nothing
In a manner of speaking I don’t understand
How love in silence becomes reprimand
But the way I feel about you is beyond words

Oh, give me the words
Give me the words
That tell me nothing
Give me the words
That tell me everything

I find the line “You told me everything by saying nothing” to be beautifully evocative.

Tuxedomoon composed songs using unusual instrumentation and electronics, at least for “rock” music.  In that regard, they remind me of yet another avant-garde band from the ‘80s, Pere Ubu.

Wikipedia gives a quote from original band member Steve Brown that describes their musical raison d’etre:

“The only rule was the tacit understanding that anything that sounded like anyone else was taboo.”

They most often succeeded at creating music that was fresh and unique.  That probably accounts for their lack of widespread popularity and ultimate cult status.  But you have to admit, “In a Manner of Speaking” is strangely catchy.

I can hear how Tuxedomoon would have been an influence on groups like Depeche Mode.  In fact, that band’s Martin Gore covered “In a Manner of Speaking” on his 1989 EP, Counterfeit.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – December, Teenage Fanclub

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Teenage Fanclub is a Scottish band that reached the height of its popularity in the ‘90s.  The core band was Norman Blake (vocals, guitar), Raymond McGinley (vocals, lead guitar), and Gerard Love (vocals, bass)  All three were songwriters and worked with an occasional keyboardist and a revolving cast of drummers.

Their most popular album was Bandwagonesque and was voted the Album of the Year by Spin magazine in 1991 (beating out Nirvana’s Nevermind).

The SotW is the timely “December”, written and sung by Love.

Musically, “December” is slower than many TFC songs.  The guitars are reminiscent of their contemporaries, The Jesus and Mary Chain.  A false ending is rescued with strings.

The lyrics are vague, ending with the repeated line “I wanted to assassinate December.”

The band Big Star is often cited as a major influence on TFC and Bandwagonesque, in particular.  That may offer a clue as to what the “assassinate December” line is referencing.  Big Star’s classic “September Gurls” has the line “December boys got it bad.”

It sounds to me like an acknowledgment of the cold, bleakness of December, or the depression that afflicts many people during the holidays.

TFC is still around (albeit without Love) and released an excellent album, Endless Arcade, as recently as 2021.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Turn it on Salvador, Toy Matinee

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A few weeks ago, I was ushering at the Guild in Menlo Park and was having a very nice conversation about music with one of our guests.  Through our conversation, I learned that his son, Alex Jordan, was sitting in on keys and vocals with the warm-up group, Santa Cruz’s Wolf Jett.  The dad, Jay Jordan, was the music teacher at Junipero Serra High School, in San Mateo, CA, for over forty years.  Serra’s most famous alumnus is quarterback Tom Brady.

Jay told me he knew Brady back in the day but was very proud of another Serra alumnus that he worked with as the music teacher.  He asked if I was familiar with the work of Kevin Gilbert.  (I wasn’t.)  He told me Gilbert had an interesting backstory that I should look into.  I did, and Jay was right – Gilbert has a very colorful and interesting backstory.  Here’s the thumbnail (courtesy of Wikipedia):

  • Gilbert was an accomplished composer, singer, producer, and instrumentalist who played keyboards, guitar, bass guitar, cello, and drums.
  • Released the eponymous No Reasons Given album with Jason Hubbard in 1984.
  • Toured with Eddie Money.
  • Placed 2nd in the 1988 Yamaha International Rock Music Competition with his progressive rock group Giraffe.
  • Worked on the projects of several established pop musicians, including Madonna (I’m Breathless), Michael Jackson, and Keith Emerson.
  • Released one album with his next group, the eclectic Toy Matinee.
  • Was part of the LA songwriting collective “The Tuesday Music Club”.
  • Introduced his then-girlfriend, Sheryl Crow, to The Tuesday Music Club which became the title of her debut album.
  • Released his first solo album Thud in 1995.
  • Reformed Giraffe to perform the Genesis double album The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway at Progfest ’94, reflecting his fondness for progressive rock and early Genesis in particular.
  • Died in 1996 of autoerotic asphyxiation.

This is exactly the type of story I wanted to share when I started the SotW almost 15 years ago!

Today’s SotW is “Turn it on Salvador” by Toy Matinee.

It was dedicated to Salvador Dali and features backing vocals by Julian Lennon.  I like the arrangement that is mostly typical power pop but incorporates New Orleans jazz elements at the end using Sal’s Clarinet Trio.

Gilbert was an unhappy person.  He was never able to gain the fame and recognition that his talent deserved.  That frustrated him, as did the superstar status of Crow whose career he played a significant role in launching.

As for his early death at age 29, look it up yourself.  I prefer not to go into the salacious details here.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Vinnie’s Lookin’ Good, Dan Hicks

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Dan Hicks made music that both was and wasn’t of its time.  He created his own brand of swing, I call it hippie swing, that harkened back to influences from the 1920s, ‘30s, and ‘40s without turning off his contemporary audience as performing corny, old-timey music.

Hicks released four albums with his band, the Hot Licks, between 1969 and 1973, when he broke up the band.  In those years Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks released several classic songs, including “I Scare Myself”, “Canned Music”, “Walkin’ One and Only” (skillfully covered by Maria Muldaur), and the hilarious “How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away?”.

For the next 5 years, he was on hiatus from releasing music but resurfaced with a solo album, It Happened One Bite, in 1978.

… One Bite is a terrific album.  It includes “Cruzin’”, “Crazy ‘Cause He Is”, and today’s SotW, “Vinnie’s Lookin’ Good”.

The interesting thing about … One Bite is that it was originally written as the soundtrack for a film by Ralph Bakshi, the director behind the X-rated, animated, Fritz the Cat (1972).

In 1975, Bakshi was working on his next full-length movie to be called Hey Good Lookin’.  It used a combination of animated and live-action characters. However, it ran into problems and wasn’t released until 1982 – without the live-action and without the Hicks soundtrack.  (Rumor has it a performance by the New York Dolls was one of the live-action sequences that fell to the cutting room floor.)  But fortunately for us, Hicks signed with Warner Brothers in 1978, resurrected his soundtrack, and released it as It Happened One Bite.

If you like the revivalist western swing of Asleep at the Wheel or Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, you will dig “Vinnie’s Lookin’ Good”.

Enjoy… until next week.