Song of the Week – Traveling Alone, Jason Isbell

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About a month ago I went to see Jason Isbell with a few friends at the Warfield in San Francisco.  Shawn Colvin did a nice solo set to warm up the audience, then Isbell took the stage with his talented band – The 400 Unit — including his wife, Amanda Shires (singer, songwriter, fiddle), who only joins Isbell on occasion due to the commitments of her own successful career.

One of the highlights of the set was his signature song, “Traveling Alone.”

Isbell has recounted a story about meeting Bruce Springsteen where The Boss told him that he was introduced to “Traveling Alone” by his son – then proceeded to sing the chorus to Isbell.

I’ve grown tired of traveling alone

Tired of traveling alone

I’ve grown tired of traveling alone

Won’t you ride with me?

But the song is much more than that catchy chorus.  It is a semi-autobiographical story about how he needed Shires to help him through a rehab program to end the downward spiral his life was in due to alcoholism.

I quit talking to myself

Listening to the radio

Long, long time ago

Damn near strangled by my appetite

Ybor City on a Friday night

Couldn’t even stand up right

So high the street girls wouldn’t take my pay

They said come see me on a better day

She just danced away

Isbell is known to include covers in his set.  He has recorded and/or performed Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” and “Because the Night.”  On the night we saw him, he closed his set with a kick-ass version of early Fleetwood Mac standard “Oh Well.”

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Too Many People, Paul McCartney; How Do You Sleep, John Lennon

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Last November, Disney+ relased The Beatles: Get Back.  The three episode documentary, directed by Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings fame, took 60 hours of film footage and 150 hours of audio tape — from 22 days in January 1969 — and reconstructed it into an 8 hour, “fly on the wall” experience that seeks to revise the negative vibe and historical record of what actually occurred during the sessions that culminated in the original Let it Be movie from 1970.  At that, The Beatles: Get Back succeeds.

However, it can’t be denied that a mere 15 months later, on April 10, 1970, Paul McCartney announced that The Beatles had broken up through his ambiguous answers to the questions he was asked during an interview about his first solo album, McCartney.

I was browsing through the recent Paul McCartney book The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present that my wife gave me for Christmas.  It has the lyrics to 156 McCartney compositions along with his commentary and loads of photos and memorabilia.

I was interested in his explanation of the lyrics to “Too Many People”, from 1971’s Ram.

He explains:

This song was written a year or so after The Beatles breakup, at a time when John was firing missiles at me with his songs, and one or two of them were quite cruel.  I don’t know what he hoped to gain, other than punching me in the face.  The whole thing really annoyed me.

The key lyrics blame John for the breakup and scold him for preaching and telling people how they ought to live.

That was your first mistake
You took your lucky break and broke it in two.

Now what can be done for you?
You broke it in two.

Too many people preaching practices
Don’t let ’em tell you what you wanna be
Too many people holding back
This is crazy, and baby, it’s not like me

What surprised me was that John’s most scathing song aimed at Paul, “How Do You Sleep”, was written as a response to “Too Many People.”  I had originally thought it was the other way around.  “How Do You Sleep” was on Lennon’s Imagine that was released about 4 months after Ram.

John’s basic personality had an acerbic, mean spirited side that was foreign to the genial McCartney.  So John’s swipes were direct stabs to the heart where  McCartney’s were more subtle.  John says:

So Sgt. Pepper took you by surprise
You better see right through that mother’s eyes
Those freaks was right when they said you was dead
The one mistake you made was in your head

You live with straights who tell you, you was king
Jump when your momma tell you anything
The only thing you done was yesterday
And since you’ve gone you’re just another day

Those last lines are references to McCartney’s signature Beatles’ tune, “Yesterday”, and the soft rock of his solo song from Ram, “Another Day.”  Ouch!

I’d like to think that if John were still alive today, these past grievences would be forgiven and settled, and the Lennon/McCartney team would be friends again.

Enjoy… until next week.


Albums That Should Exist

One of the first posts here at Rock Remnants was Mike Salfino’s brilliant imagining of the album the Beatles might have made if they hadn’t broken up, based on the best songs from their initial solo albums. You can read that here.

Today I stumbled across a blogpost about a show Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe did for the BBC, playing acoustic covers of (mostly) Everly Brothers tunes as the Beverly Brothers. It’s excellent.

That blogpost is on a now dormant (since 2017) blog called Albums That Should Exist.

Paul, the creator, created scores of elpees out of material that is thematically related but was never released. The blog ended with a third album of Tom Jones duets taken from his TV show, some of which we’ve posted here through the years.

Right now I’m listening to an album of Paul McCartney and Elvis Costello demos.

The albums exist, archived on a Fileshare site called Zippyshare, which seems to be alright. At least my virus software didn’t pick anything up. It’s well worth being careful, but also well worth checking out this ambitious and accomplished project’s website.

Song of the Week – Sleep That Burns, Be-Bop Deluxe

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Have you ever heard of the ‘70s rock band, Be-Bop Deluxe?  Have you ever heard Be-Bop Deluxe?

The British band released five excellent studio albums of obscure progressive rock, helmed by songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist extraordinaire, Bill Nelson.

Many consider the third album, Sunburst Finish, to be their best album, I included.  (All of their first three albums make references to guitar terminology – Axe Victim, using the slang, axe, for a guitar; Futurama, a brand of mid-priced guitars popular in England in the late ‘50s/early ‘60s; and Sunburst Finish, a recognizable style of finish very popular on Fender Stratocasters and Gibson Les Pauls.)  It also had a provocative cover with a silhouetted, naked woman.  I’m surprised it wasn’t banned like similar covers for records by Roxy Music and Golden Earring.

“Sleep That Burns”, from Sunburst, captures what Be-Bop Deluxe was all about.

The song opens with galloping hard rock, goes to a middle section with a Latin feel, then returns to climax with a screaming guitar solo.

Lyrically, the song describes an anxiety filled night of insomnia:

The night winds are howling…
Seducing the trees,
I wake in a cold sweat
With the sheets ‘round my knees

I lay in the darkness
With visionless eyes…
Exhausted and reeling…
All heartbeats and sighs…

But the sleep still burns,
Got a sleep that burns all night

Sunburst also marked the debut credit for the successful producer, John Leckie (XTX, Radiohead).

If you find Sunburst Finish to be of interest, you can dig deeper and watch the 45 minute documentary, The Making of Sunburst Finish, on YouTube.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Save the Last Dance for Me, The Drifters (Doc Pomus)

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Today’s SotW was written by guest contributor, Michael Paquette.  This is Michael’s sixth post since February 2020.

Doc Pomus was a blues singer in the 1940s who would later become one of the most prolific songwriters in American history.  He was crippled by polio as a child and spent most of his adult life confined to a wheelchair.  Doc Pomus was married to the Broadway actress and dancer Willi Burke.  On their wedding day she danced with friends and family while he wrote the lyrics to today’s SotW.  Here is the 1960 version of “Save The Last Dance for Me” by the Drifters with a classic vocal by Ben E. King. 

The song was released as a B-side but Dick Clark flipped it over and decided it was the stronger song. He was proven right when it became a number one hit on all the charts.  It was also released by The Searchers and later recorded by Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, and the European star Dalida, who, because she could sing songs in ten different languages, was the most Internationally famous French singer in history.

The song contains the refrain that captures the mood:  “But don’t forget who’s taking you home / and in whose arms you’re gonna be / so darling, save the last dance for me.”

Doc Pomus was born Jerome Felder and he liked to say that he was called Doc because his songs made you feel good.  This song, along with several other classic hits he wrote, including “This Magic Moment,” A Teenager In Love,” “Turn Me Loose,” “Suspicion,” and “Surrender”, certainly fit the bill.

Elvis recorded 20 songs written or co-written by Doc Pomus (mostly with Mort Shuman) including the classic “Little Sister.”  Doc Pomus never actually met Elvis.  He was in a press line waiting to meet him at the Hilton in NYC in 1974 but \ before he got the chance he was told that Elvis had left the building.  Three years later they arranged a meeting but Elvis died a week before it was to happen which spooked Doc.

Doc Pomus had a revival to his career in the late 1970s, writing songs for Dr. John and producing the debut albums for Roomful of Blues and the Fabulous Thunderbirds (unreleased).

He was the first white recipient of the Rhythm & Blues Foundation Pioneer Award and he is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

His songs were recorded by Mink DeVille, Bob Dylan, Brian Wilson, Dr. John, Solomon Burke, John Hiatt, Shawn Colvin, Lou Reed, The Band, B. B. King, Roseanne Cash, Charlie Rich, Andy Williams, Ruth Brown, Marianne Faithful, Irma Thomas, Joe Cocker, ZZ Top, The New York Dolls, Los Lobos, Dion and hundreds of others.

Doc Pomus died on March 14, 1991, of lung cancer at the age of 65 at NYU Medical Center in Manhattan.  His legend and songs live on.  “Save The Last Dance for Me” is one of my favorites from his incredible library of work.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Live in the Dream & The Melting of the Sun, St. Vincent

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The LP (long playing) record album was introduced by Columbia Records in 1948.  At the time, shellac “78s” (records played at the speed of 78 RPM – revolutions per minute) were the standard.  “45s” (7 inch discs with one song per side, played at 45 RPM) were introduced by RCA in 1949.  For many years, the recorded music market was dominated by singles.

With the introduction of stereo LP and high fidelity reproduction equipment, the album slowly became the dominant format, reaching its heyday with ‘70s rock music.

Even though cassettes, then CDs, took over from the vinyl record format, the album was still the preferred way for fans to consume their music.  But with the evolution from physical records to digital devices that began 20 years ago with the iPod, today streaming services like Spotify are the dominant listening format.

The digital formats have had an unintended consequence; their convenience in selecting songs and building playlists has returned us to being singles consumers.  Most people, especially those under 40, rarely listed to full albums – sadly, me included.

But that’s not without exception.  There was one 2021 album release that I tend to listen to from start to finish – St. Vincent’s (aka Annie Clark) Daddy’s Home.  Yes, it’s that good!

The album title refers to the real life situation of her father being released from prison after being convicted in 2010 for his involvement in a stock manipulation fraud.

“Live in the Dream” is the fourth track on the album.  It starts as a dreamy dirge reminiscent of Pink Floyd’s “Us and Them”, from their Dark Side of the Moon album, builds to a crescendo with a screaming Clark guitar solo, then drops back to its wistful beginning.

“The Melting of the Sun” follows.

“The Melting of the Sun” has a ‘70s soul/funk/R&B feel.  St. Vincent takes a little from Sly Stone and a bit from Stevie Wonder and makes it her own.  I dig the sounds of the clavinet and electric sitar.

The song opens with the line “So sorry, missed the party/Hello, on the dark side of the moon.”  I find it hard to believe this is a coincidence.

It has been reported that St. Vincent took inspiration for the writing of this album after rooting through her dad’s record collection.  If true, that would bring us full circle.

Listen to the whole album.  Then listen to it again.  You will be rewarded for the familiarity.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Music in Films as Vehicles for Rock Stars

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In May of 2020, I started a series of posts under the theme of Rock Music in Films.  I notched eight posts in the series through May 2021.  But the series isn’t complete.  I have a few more ideas and today I resume after nine months – this time featuring films as vehicles for rock stars.

This idea was “invented” by Elvis Presley.  The Beatles and other British Invasion groups took advantage of the medium to enhance their popularity.  But those were all covered in earlier installments of the series.

Take note – my idea of films as vehicles for rock stars doesn’t include movies that simply star rock musicians.  The film has to feature their music as a key component.  So, Madonna’s Desperately Seeking Susan and David Bowie’s Labyrinth are out.  Bob Dylan’s music was critical to Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, but his acting role was too insignificant to qualify as a vehicle for him.  That one’s out.  Mick Jagger starred in Performance and sang the excellent “Memo From Turner” but that’s his only song on the soundtrack.  Out.

So, what films do meet my criteria?  One great example is The Harder They Come (1972), starring Jimmy Cliff.  I know, this film features Reggae music not rock.  But by my definition, Cliff is a rock star!

The title tune is terrific, but the best song on the soundtrack is “Many Rivers to Cross.”

“MRtC” has a gospel feel and an amazing vocal performance.  It is even more spectacular when you consider the legend that it was recorded in one take at the end of a session where the backing musicians had never heard the song before!  In Wikipedia, Cliff is quoted as saying “I started singing, the band came in, and that was it.  Once.  That was it.”

“MRtC” has been covered by many stars – from Harry Nilsson to Linda Ronstadt.  You can’t keep a great song down.

Another super film that was a vehicle for a rock star was Prince’s Purple Rain (1984). I know, this film features funk and R&B music, not rock.  But by my definition, Prince is a rock star!

The title tune is terrific, but the best song on the soundtrack is “When Doves Cry.”

“WDC” was written as a metaphor (doves being the bird of peace) for the dysfunction in relationships – in this case, the discord between his mother and father coming full circle in his own relationship.

How can you just leave me standing
Alone in a world that’s so cold? (So cold)
Maybe I’m just too demanding
Maybe I’m just like my father, too bold
Maybe you’re just like my mother
She’s never satisfied (she’s never satisfied)
Why do we scream at each other?
This is what it sounds like
When doves cry

“WDC” received a wonderful cover by Patti Smith.  You can’t keep a great song down.

The underappreciated One Trick Pony (1980), by Paul Simon, was also a film vehicle for a rock star.  I know, many of you don’t consider Paul Simon a rock musician.  But by my definition, he is a rock star!

The key song on the soundtrack is “Late in the Evening.”

Steve Gadd’s drum groove and the spicy Cuban horn charts (arranged by Dave Grusin) drive it.  No one would dare cover it!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Time Won’t Let Me, The Outsiders

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In 1966 a band from Cleveland, OH scored a top 5 hit with “Time Won’t Let Me.”  That band was The Outsiders.

The song was a simple R&B influenced rocker that sounds of its time, yet also still sounds fresh today.  It is enhanced by a horn section.  I love the screaming trumpet at the end, played by session musician John Madrid.

“TWLM” was written by the band’s guitarist, Tom King, and his brother-in-law Chet Kelley.  It was sung by Sonny Geraci who later hit again as the vocalist on “Precious and Few” by Climax (1972).

Drummer Jimmy Fox, who later played in the James Gang with Joe Walsh, hit the skins for all but two of the songs on their debut album – one was “Time Won’t Let Me.”

I always thought “TWLM” had a Beatlesy sound to it.  Maybe that was just because it was released on the same Capitol, yellow and orange swirl label that graced so many Beatles’ hit singles.

It was covered by The Plimsouls (Peter Case), Iggy Pop, and The Smithereens, among others.

Enjoy… until next week.