Song of the Week – Through With Buzz, Steely Dan

As most of you know, I’m a major Steely Dan fan.  How can I prove it?  How about admitting that I really like “Through with Buzz” from Pretzel Logic (1974).

Most Rock critics and fans alike rate it as one of the Dan’s worst songs.  Released as the B-side to the “Pretzel Logic” single, it is very unusual by Steely Dan standards.  First of all, it is their shortest recording, clocking in at about 90 seconds.  That leads to the next criticism – that it doesn’t go anywhere.  How far can you take a song that only lasts a minute and a half?  I’ve never had a problem with short songs.  I once wrote a SotW post about a couple of my favorite short songs (July 11, 2009).

All that said, Walter Becker and Donal Fagen make the most of their limited time.  The short verses – one line each – with the repeated “You know I’m through with Buzz, Yes I’m through with Buzz” conveys the frustration the singer feels toward Buzz.  He’s done, over it!  He can barely say another word to, or about the guy.

If you scour the internet, you’ll find the most common interpretation of the song is that it is about drugs.  But Fagen has been quoted as saying:

“Through With Buzz’ was just about a more-or-less platonic relationship between two young people. There’s nothing really sexual about it until one of the young people in the relationship realizes he’s being used and starts having paranoid fantasies and breaks off the relationship. There’s no symbolism or anything. We never used puns. It’s a very saccharine sounding track with a very cynical lyric. We often do that for an ironic purpose. That is to juxtapose a rather bitter against rather sweet music.”

Another thing that draws me to the song is the band’s use of strings.  “Buzz” is the only song in their catalog to use strings other than “FM”.  But the string arrangement on “Buzz” is so much more interesting.  It is the star of the dish.  It comes across more like a “classical” arrangement you might expect from ELO or from the Beatles on songs like “Eleanor Rigby” and “She’s Leaving Home.”  It’s beautiful.

Give “Buzz” a fresh listen.  I’ll bet you’ll be surprised by how fresh it sounds.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Outrageous, Paul Simon

Today’s post was written by my friend Julie Chervin.  Julie has a very deep appreciation for good music in a wide variety of styles that she demonstrated in her suggestions for our repertoire when we were in bands together.

Paul Simon wrote “Father and Daughter” as the theme song for the 2002 animated family film The Wild Thornberrys Movie.  At the time, the song was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song, and in 2006 was released in an alternate version on Simon’s album Surprise in 2006.  Surprise reached number 14 on the Billboard 200 and number 4 in the UK, was written with significant collaboration from Brian Eno, and was largely inspired by 9/11, the Iraq invasion and the wars that followed.  Another critical inspiration for the album as a whole was that Simon had turned 60 in 2001.

Outrageous”, the third cut on the album, was also released as its third single.

While it received some radio airplay, it never reached the pop heights of “Father and Daughter”. A thoughtful, catchy, and playful tune that transitions rhythmically, melodically, and lyrically to carry the listener from an angry “old person’s” rant to a humble appreciation of loving and being loved, is perhaps the track that most explicitly represents Simon’s reflections on aging:

Who’s gonna love you when your looks are gone?

Tell me, who’s gonna love you when your looks are gone?

(Instrumental transition)

God will

Like he waters the flowers on your window sill

Take me

I’m an ordinary player in the key of C

And my will 

Was broken by my pride and my vanity

Surprise was heralded as a “comeback” for Simon by some, but so far as this listener is concerned, he never left!  For an even more playful reflection on aging by Simon, also check out “The Afterlife” on the 2011 album So Beautiful or So What

Happy Listening!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Now and Then, The Beatles

Ignored             Obscured              Restored

Back in 1995, The Beatles released two new singles to promote the release of The Beatles Anthology documentary.  The songs were based on demos that John Lennon had recorded and were provided by Yoko Ono for the rest of the band to complete.  In fact, Ono had provided four songs for The Beatles to consider.  “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love” are the two that were released.  One – “Grow Old With Me” – was set aside because it had already been released on Lennon’s posthumously released Milk and Honey (1984).  The last, called “Now and Then” was started, but shelved due to a technical problem (a 60-Hz mains hum) that the technology of the 20th century couldn’t correct.

Thanks to Peter Jackson, the director and producer of The Beatles: Get Back documentary (2021), and his audio restoration technology, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr were able to complete the song including guitar tracks from the 1995 sessions, by George Harrison.

So, now we have it; the final final song by The Beatles; and it is a worthy ending.

Jackson made a complimentary video that is also “must see” for any Beatles’ fan.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Back Street Girl, The Rolling Stones; Quicksilver Girl, The Steve Miller Band

Ignored             Obscured              Restored

Today’s post is the second installment of my recent concept called the Contrast Series.  This time I’ll share my views on “Back Street Girl” by the Rolling Stones and “Quicksilver Girl” by the Steve Miller Band.

Let’s start with “Back Street Girl.”

“Back Street Girl” was on the Stones’ UK version of Between the Buttons (1967).  But in the US it was on FlowersFlowers was one of those rip-off albums that compiled Stones tracks that were left off UK studio albums to create an “extra” album here in the US – much like the Beatles’ Yesterday and Today.  But IMHO, the album hangs together pretty well on its own.

Musically, “Back Street Girl” is a sweet little song!  It is basically an acoustic folk number, featuring acoustic guitar, accordion (played by Nick de Caro), and percussion (tambourine) in waltz time.

Lyrically… hmmm.  It fits into the misogynist category of several early Stones’ songs like “Under My Thumb” and “Stupid Girl” among others.  It tells the story of a mistress that Jagger wants to use but not acknowledge.

Please don’t be part of my life
Please keep yourself to yourself
Please don’t you bother my wife
That way you won’t get no help

Please don’t you call me at home
Please don’t come knocking at night
Please never ring on the phone
Your manners are never quite right

Don’t want you part of my world
Just you be my backstreet girl

Pretty harsh!

Let’s take a listen to “Quicksilver Girl.”

It too is a gentle ballad.  This one has an electric guitar and percussion but, like “Back Street Girl”, essentially no drums.  But lyrically, it couldn’t be more different.  In the Steve Miller Band’s song, the quicksilver girl is respected and appreciated for all that she does for her lover.

If you need a little lovin’
She’ll turn on the heat
If you take a fall
She’ll put you back on your feet
If you’re all alone
She’s someone to meet
If you need someone

She’s a quicksilver girl
A lover of the world
She spreads her wings
And she’s free

I don’t know who it was written about, but in my imagination, it was for a woman like the fictional Penny Lane from Almost Famous.  In the memoir called Last Girl Standing (2017), underground, feminist cartoonist, and “Lady of the Canyon”, Trina Robbins claims it was written about a couple of 15-year-old runaways from Sausalito that David Crosby asked her to let crash at her pad for a while.  One of those young ladies, Julia “Girl” Brigden, was later married to David Freiberg of Quicksilver Messenger Service, so it all makes sense.

The song was used in the film “The Big Chill” but, for the life of me, I can’t remember which scene.  Rickie Lee Jones did a nice cover version on her Kicks album (2019).

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Open the Door, See What You Find; High Flying Birds

Ignored             Obscured              Restored

Noel and Liam Gallagher are the brothers behind the massive success of Oasis.  Noel wrote the songs and played lead guitar.  Younger brother Liam was the front man on lead vocals.  Much like the Kinks’ Davies brothers, the Gallagher brothers could never get along, so Oasis is no more.

Both have gone on to form new bands – Liam has Beady Eye and Noel, High Flying Birds.  Neither of those groups has ascended the heights of Oasis, but both have produced some fine listening.

Take, for example, “Open the Door, See What You Find” by High Flying Birds.

This track fits the mold of many of Oasis’ greatest hits.  It pays homage to The Beatles and ‘60s psych without sliding into parody.

Last May, Noel told NME:

“Lyrically, the premise is that, at a certain point in your life you look in a mirror and you see all you’ve ever been and all you’re ever going to be,” he explained. “It’s about being happy with that. Being happy with where you are in life, with who you are, and where you’re going. Life is good!”

And to put a little icing on the cake, “Open the Door, See What You Find” features an appearance by The Smiths’ Johnny Marr on guitar!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – February, Complete Mountain Almanac

Ignored             Obscured              Restored

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  To honor that, today’s SotW is “February” by Complete Mountain Almanac.

Complete Mountain Almanac is the work of Norwegian singer/composer Rebekka Karijord and lyricist Jessica Dessner.  The two met way back in 2006 but it took 10 years for them to reconnect to consider working together.  But the project was sidetracked when, in 2018, Dessner underwent a mastectomy after being diagnosed with breast cancer.  However, they agreed that dealing with Dessner’s condition head on might be therapeutic and stimulate her creativity.

Dessner has said of today’s SotW:

“February is a song that began as a reckoning with the profound physical changes wrought by breast cancer and how they threaten to dismantle every aspect of life, and yet, somehow the spirit rises, remains constant, immutable, a force, like nature.”

Musically, the track displays hints of both classical music and European folk songs.  It has an arpeggiated acoustic guitar and a film score-like orchestration played by the Malmö Symphony Orchestra.  The guitars are played by Dessner’s brothers – twins Aaron and Bryce of The National.  The lyrics are treated beautifully by Karijord.

Near the hunter’s forest
Someone will take apart my body
In order to save me

She went to her great love
Without her body intact
Did he take her in his arms
To love all that was left?

What haven’t I done yet?
Well lived in signs of life
Carried away
Now the signs reads:

“Here she lived, here she is, she’s still here”
“Here she lived, here she is, she’s still here”

February is a very brave and poignant song.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – (Let’s) Get Together, Kingston Trio, Jefferson Airplane, Youngbloods

Ignored             Obscured              Restored

Back in the mid-‘60s, a guy named Chet Powers wrote a song called “Let’s Get Together”.  It was originally recorded by the Kingston Trio in 1964 but would become one of the best known “hippie anthems” of the ‘60s.

A version of the song was included on the Jefferson Airplane’s debut album, Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, released in 1966.

But in 1967, the version that is most notable was released by the Youngbloods (featuring Jesse Colin Young) retitled simply “Get Together”.  It was released as a single that year and stalled at #62.  But upon its re-release in 1969, it rose all the way up to the peak chart position of #5.  The popularity of the re-release was tied to the song being used in a PSA for the National Conference of Christians and Jews.  Maybe we need to bring it back again!

Powers was going by the stage name Dino Valenti as a member of the San Francisco’s Quicksilver Messenger Service.  Drug busts landed him in Folsom Prison, so he wasn’t on the band’s first couple of albums until he was able to rejoin in 1970.  While in prison, he needed some cash for his legal defense so in 1966 he sold the rights to “Get Together” to Frank Werber who was the colorful manager (and Holocaust survivor) of the Kingston Trio.  I don’t know if it is true, but I’ve read his price was $100!  Werber’s royalties certainly far exceeded that.  The bad move by Powers brought the whole story full circle.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – I Am The Seed, Harp

Ignored             Obscured              Restored

Back in 2006 I learned about a band from Texas called Midlake.  I bought a CD copy of their second album, The Trials of Van Occupanther, and played it endlessly.  I still think it is one of the underappreciated albums of the aughts.

Tim Smith was the band’s primary songwriter as well as their vocalis and guitarist.  When he left Midlake in 2012, I lost interest in the group, though their music without him still received positive critical notice.

Smith has been pretty quiet ever since, but he recently released a single – “I Am The Seed” – in advance of an album to be called Albion, under the band name Harp.  Harp is a project Smith has launched with his wife, Kathi Zung.

“I Am The Seed” sounds like classic Midlake.  Smith’s forlorn vocals are still a distinctive feature of the tune that has Baroque pop/rock trappings.  In an interview he mentioned that this album will feature songs inspired by the music of Joy Division, Cocteau Twins, The Smiths, Tears For Fears, and The Cure.  Not a bad group of artists to emulate!

The full album is scheduled for release in December.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Caroline, No, The Beach Boys; Caroline Says II, Lou Reed

Ignored            Obscured              Restored

This is the first of a new series I’ve created that I’m calling the Contrast Series.  The Contrast Series will compare and contrast songs with similar titles and/or themes.  To start I’ll discuss The Beach Boys’ “Caroline, No” with Lou Reed’s “Caroline Says II”.

“Caroline, No” is the final track on the Beach Boys’ seminal album, Pet Sounds (1966).  Pet Sounds was conceived by Brian Wilson as a “teenage symphony to God.”  The music was very technically complex, but lyricist Tony Asher said the words needed to be “topics that kids could relate to.”  “Caroline, No” is the perfect example.

It is unclear who inspired the lyrics.  Wikipedia says Asher wrote them about a former girlfriend named Carol Amen.  But other sources say that Wilson provided the inspiration as a combination of three different girls, including a high school friend named Carol Mountain.

In any case, it is a stunningly intimate song about lost innocence.

Where did your long hair go?
Where is the girl I used to know?
How could you lose that happy glow?
Oh, Caroline, no

Who took that look away?
I remember how you used to say
You’d never change, but that’s not true
Oh, Caroline, you

Break my heart
I want to go and cry
It’s so sad to watch a sweet thing die
Oh, Caroline, why

Could I ever find in you again
Things that made me love you so much then?
Could we ever bring ’em back once they have gone
Oh, Caroline, no

“Caroline Says II” was included on Lou Reed’s Berlin (1973), the follow up to his breakthrough TransformerBerlin was initially panned by the critics who were expecting (and wanted) more Transformer.  According to MOJO’s Gus Stewart:

“In Rolling Stone, Stephen Davis denounced the album as “a disaster” and “patently offensive,” declaring the end of “a once-promising career” with the kiss-off, “Goodbye, Lou.”

But in time the album has earned respect as a Reed classic due in part to songs like “Caroline Says II”.

The song begins as a simple, acoustic guitar number then adds piano and strings.  But this is no song about lost innocence.  It is a brutally realistic snapshot of domestic violence.

Caroline says
As she gets up off the floor
“Why is it that you beat me?
It isn’t any fun”
Caroline says
As she makes up her eyes
“You ought to learn more about yourself
Think more than just I”

But she’s not afraid to die
All of her friends call her “Alaska”
When she takes speed, they laugh and ask her
What is in her mind
What is in her mind

Caroline says
As she gets up from the floor
“You can hit me all you want to
But I don’t love you anymore”
Caroline says
While biting her lip
“Life is meant to be more than this
And this is a bum trip”

She put her fist through the window pane
It was such a funny feeling

It’s so cold in Alaska

Jordan Potter, of Far Out, describes the song’s finale – “As she puts her “fist through the window pane”, a shiver in the spine is palpable, as if the air of Alaska had entered the room.”  I can feel the chill!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Songs that use the baion (Hal Blaine) beat

Ignored             Obscured              Restored

One of the most important songs in the history of Rock and Roll is “Be My Baby” by the Ronettes.  The most distinctive feature of the Phil Spector produced track, other than Ronnie Spector’s outstanding vocal, is the opening beat played by Wrecking Crew drummer Hal Blaine, which has become known as the Hal Blaine Beat.  You may not know it by name, but you will instantly recognize the ‘Bum-ba-bum-BOOM’ beat in the song’s intro.

Blaine was modest about his “invention” of the beat, saying:

“That famous drum intro was an accident. I was supposed to play the snare on the second beat as well as the fourth, but I dropped a stick. Being the faker I was in those days, I left the mistake in and it became: ‘Bum-ba-bum-BOOM!’ And soon everyone wanted that beat.”

Now I don’t mean to start a controversy here, or to take credit away from the huge contribution Blaine made to popular music, but that rhythm had been “a thing” before Blaine’s happy accident.  In fact, the Brazilian baion beat (as it is formally known), was used on the Leiber and Stoller produced recordings by The Drifters – “There Goes My Baby”, ”Save the Last Dance for Me”, and “Under the Boardwalk”, though not as prominently as it was on “Be My Baby”.

Phil Spector acknowledged that “There Goes My Baby” was a major influence on his Wall of Sound technique.

But let me be clear.  The way Blaine played the beat has been an inspiration for hundreds of other songs from The Beach Boys outstanding “Don’t Worry Baby”

… to Badfinger’s “Baby Blue”

…to Billy Joel’s “Say Goodbye to Hollywood”

… to “Just Like Honey” by the Jesus and Mary Chain, the SotW on March 25, 2017.

Tonypop has compiled a list of 373 songs in a Spotify playlist called “Be my baby! – The songs that use Hal Blaine’s drum intro of “Be My Baby” by The Ronettes.”  You can listen to it using this link:

Enjoy… until next week.