Song of the Week – Be My Baby, The Ronettes; You Mean So Much to Me, Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes; Take Me Home Tonight, Eddie Money

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

Ronnie Spector (Veronica Bennett) died last Wednesday, January 12th, at the age of 78, after a brief bout with cancer.

As the lead singer of The Ronettes, she recorded a few of the true standards of Rock and Soul, including “Be My Baby”, “Baby, I Love You”, and “Sleigh Ride”, all with her future husband Phil Spector and employing his famous “wall of sound” production technique.

Her famous “Whoa-oh-oh” refrain was featured prominently in her collaboration with Southside Johnny & the Asbury Dukes on “You Mean So Much to Me”, written by Bruce Springsteen around the time of The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle sessions.

Later, in 1986, it is specifically called out in her duet with Eddie Money on “Take Me Home Tonight.”  His chorus says:

Take me home tonight
I don’t want to let you go ’til you see the light
Take me home tonight
Listen honey, just like Ronnie sang, “Be my little baby”

Her trademark “Whoa-oh-oh” has been imitated often by the likes of Elvis Costello (“Oliver’s Army”) and Bruce Springsteen (“Out in the Street”).

Ronnie’s impact and influence went way beyond her hits.  Her fashion aesthetic – beehive hairstyle, heavy mascara, and tight skirts – were the model for many female artists to come, among them Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders) and Amy Winehouse.

RIP, Ronnie, you will be missed.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – That Life, Unknown Mortal Orchestra

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

Like many of you, as the year is coming to an end, I review the new music I discovered during the year to compile my “best of” list.  One of the songs I dropped onto my 2021 list was “That Life” by the Unknown Mortal Orchestra (UMO).  I simply like its vibe!

UMO originated from New Zealand but currently hail from Portland, Oregon. The core of the band is Ruban Nielson (lead vocals, guitar, drums, bass, piano, keyboards, synthesizers) and Jacob Portrait (bass, synths, backing vocals).

“That Life” was a single released by the band last August and addresses a life of luxury and indulgence.  In a press release that accompanied the single Nielson said:

I saw this painting by Hieronymus Bosch called The Garden of Earthly Delights and in the painting there was a mixture of crazy stuff going on, representing heaven, earth, and hell. When I was writing this song, “That Life,” I was imaging the same kind of “Where’s Waldo” (or “Where’s Wally” as we call it in New Zealand, Australia, and the UK) of contrasting scenes and multiple characters all engaged in that same perverse mixture of luxury, reverie, damnation, in the landscape of America. Somewhere on holiday under a vengeful sun.

The track’s cool video features a puppet created by puppeteer and fabricator Laura Manns (The Muppets and Sesame Street).

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Linger, The Cranberries

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

A teenaged Dolores O’Riordan walked into a rehearsal of The Cranberries, having been introduced to the rest of the band by their ex lead singer, Niall Quinn.  O’Riordan.  The rehearsal went well enough that when it ended, bandmate Noel Hogan handed her a cassette tape demo of some music he was working on and asked her to take a stab at writing lyrics for it.  She returned a week later with the group’s biggest hit, “Linger.”

O’Riordan has been known to claim the song was about her first serious kiss.  But to my ear it sounds like it about an ex-lover that’s keeping her hanging on.

But I’m in so deep
You know I’m such a fool for you
You got me wrapped around your finger
Do you have to let it linger?
Do you have to, do you have to, do you have to let it linger?

“Linger” carried the album it was on — Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can’t We? — to #1 in the UK, and to #18 in the US.  Their next several albums did even better, several earning multi-platinum status.  But it all started with “Linger.”

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – 7 O’Clock News/Silent Night, Simon & Garfunkel; Phoebe Bridgers feat. Fiona Apple and Matt Berninger

Ignored           Obscured            Restored

In 1966, Simon & Garfunkel release a “song” titled “7 O’Clock News/Silent Night” on their album Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme.

The track was intended to juxtapose the quiet, peacefulness of the traditional Christmas carol against the disturbing events that were dominating the news at that time.

Simon & Garfunkel sing “Silent Night” as a news broadcaster (voiced by announcer Charlie O’Donnell) summarizes the headlines of a mock report of events that actually occurred, though not all on the same day.  Mention is made of a civil rights march, the Vietnam War, and the Richard Speck mass murder of nurses (among others).

It has occurred to me many times over the years that this could be updated with equal effect every year since Simon & Garfunkel executed their concept.  In fact, in 2019, Phoebe Bridgers and Fiona Apple ran with the idea and recorded their own update, with The Nationals’ Matt Berninger taking the announcer’s role.

Their version addressed the Sackler family, of Purdue Pharma, avoiding criminal charges for their role as major contributors to the opioid crisis, the murder of Botham Jean, and the first Trump impeachment.

I hate to be such a bummer on this special day, but sometimes a dose of reality helps us to be grateful for all the joy in our lives.

Merry Christmas.  Peace on Earth.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – In the Cage, Genesis

Ignored            Obscured             Restored

Almost 50 years ago, in mid-November 1974, Genesis released their ambitions double album The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway.  I remember very clearly, listening to the album over the Thanksgiving break of my freshman year in college.  Is The Lamb the band’s shining moment or its final calamity with Peter Gabriel in the group?

In MOJO 316, writer Michael Putland summed it up saying today it “sounds sporadically brilliant, impenetrable, over-reaching and inspired.”

The back story is that Genesis began working on their sixth and final album with Gabriel in mid-1974.  The band decided to work at Headley Grange, the rural stone cottage made famous by Led Zeppelin for being the “recording studio” for parts of Led Zeppelin III, Led Zeppelin IV, Houses of the Holy, and Physical Graffiti.  The building was run-down, rat-infested, and some say haunted.  Making matters worse, personal/family turmoil surrounded the group – divorce, and pregnancy issues among them.

While there, Gabriel decided to take leave from (quit?) the band to work on a project with film director William Friedkin of The Exorcist fame.  While he was gone, the remaining group members continued to write and record music without lyrics.  When the Friedkin project went south, Gabriel rejoined the band to a mixed reception.  He lobbied to be the sole lyric writer for a concept he created, and prevailed.

A character named Rael, a Puerto Rican street denizen would be the protagonist in a semi-autobiographical rock opera that reflects Gabriel’s state of mind at the time.  Rael prowls the streets of New York looking for his missing brother.

Today’s SotW is “In the Cage”, one of the album’s highlights.

A review of The Lamb on the Classic Rock Review website says:

… the intro to “In the Cage” contains an exception link as it builds towards driving rhythms. The song itself builds tension with odd timings and beats, as all the instruments seem to be doing their own independent thing but yet somehow all jive together. There are exception rhythms by Rutherford and Collins and fantastic, multi-part leads by Banks in the long mid section. Noticing he is trapped in one of several linked cages, Rael sees his brother John for the first of several encounters that add metaphor to the deeper story.

When recording was finished Genesis went on tour to promote the album, playing it in its entirety.  After 102 performances, Gabriel quit the band – this time for good.

Guitarist Steve Hackett has said, “For some The Lamb… is absolute magic, for others an absolute tragedy.”  So what do you think?  Magic or tragedy?  I vote magic!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Are You Experienced, Jimi Hendrix; Heroin, Velvet Underground; Hurt, Johnny Cash

Ignored            Obscured             Restored

Recently I was listening to “Are You Experienced” by Jimi Hendrix and observed that the droning note in the song is utterly mesmerizing.

A drone is when a single note or chord is sounded continuously throughout a piece of music.  It is popular in Indian music and with Scottish bagpipes.

After hearing “Are You Experienced” I began to think about other Rock music songs that employ the technique.  There are many songs with Indian Raga influences that came to mind, like “See My Friends” by the Kinks, and a few tracks by the Beatles and the Byrds.  But I was fixated on songs with more prominent, single note drones.

One that came to mind was “Heroin” by the Velvet Underground.  Listen to how John Cale uses his viola, varying his attack to enhance the song’s emotion.

VU’s “Venus in Furs”, from the same album, also fits the bill.

Another is the Johnny Cash version of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt.”  The piano drone in the choruses provides the tension that drives the song.

Can you think of others?

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Baby Come Back, The Equals; Police on My Back, The Clash

Ignored            Obscured             Restored

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).

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – And We Danced, The Hooters; Never Enough, Baby Grand

Ignored            Obscured             Restored

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.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – That Old Sweet Roll, The City; Smack Water Jack, Jo Mama; Ain’t Gonna Worry My Life Anymore, B.B. King

Ignored            Obscured             Restored

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.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Rock ‘Til the End of Time, Little Johnny and the Sivertones

Ignored            Obscured             Restored

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!!!!

‘Nuff said!

Enjoy… until next week.