Song of the Week – Out of My League, Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts

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“Out of My League” by Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts has been in heavy rotation on Little Steven’s Underground Garage on SiriusXM radio recently.  It was even featured as that station’s “Coolest Song in the World” the week of September 21st.

It is from Hamilton’s latest album, Nowhere To Go But Everywhere, on Little Steven’s Wicked Cool Records imprint.  He was quoted in a press release as saying the album is “a group of songs about heartbreak and finding yourself.”  He goes on to describe “… League” as “a song idea that was almost 10 years old. I found the old demo, and it rang true, considering what I was going through. So, I revisited the song, and reworked it into the version that it is now.”

What “it is now” is a power-pop classic in the same vein as tracks by Fountains of Wayne.  The lyrics are so humble and self-effacing that you instantly fall in love with the singer.

She’s the prettiest thing I think I’ve ever seen.

It’s like she walked right off the cover of a magazine.

Which begs the question.

What’s she doing with me?

and

All my friends are saying she’s just looking to settle.

Guess what? I’m gonna let her.

And you feel his pride when he exclaims “I got a trophy wife!”

Ryan Hamilton & The Harlequin Ghosts are not newcomers.  Their previous album, 2019’s This is the Sound, was critically acclaimed and won Album of the Year at the Independent Music Awards.  That record was also a big hit in the UK where his ties are strong.  The Texan’s band is from the UK and most of the new album was cut while on tour there.

Hopefully “Out of My League” will make it into heavy rotation on your playlist.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Taunta/Nantucket Sleighride, Mountain

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Mountain was guitarist Leslie West’s band, but was also a vehicle for the artistic expression of Felix Pappalardi (bass, guitar, keys, vocals, production, songwriting).

Mountain’s second album was Nantucket Sleighride (1971).  The title song was written by Pappalardi and his then girlfriend (later wife) Gail Collins, who also painted the album’s cover artwork.

For today’s SotW I’m including the 1 minute long “Taunta” with “Nantucket Sleighride (to Owen Coffin)” because to my ear they are inextricable.

By now, most of you have probably heard that a “Nantucket sleighride” refers to what happens to a boat full of whalers when they harpoon a whale that tries to swim away.

The song was written to fictionalize the true story of a tragic whaling expedition in 1820.  The sperm whale they attempted to kill sunk their boat.  The crew survived on small whaleboats but most of them died, one-by-one.  When it got down to the final four, they drew straws to decide who would be sacrificed for the other three to cannibalize.  Poor Owen Coffin, the youngest crewman, lost.

Collins wrote the lyrics to the song that begins:

Goodbye, little Robin Marie
Don’t try following me
Don’t cry, little Robin Marie
‘Cause you know I’m coming home soon

My ships’ leaving on a three-year tour
The next tide will take us from shore
Windlaced, gather in sail and spray
On a search for the mighty sperm whale

No mention of poor Owen Coffin, but who is Robin Marie?  It turns out Robin Marie was a woman Pappalardi was cheating on Collins with.  Collins passive-aggressively wrote her into the song and then sent her man away for three years!

Although Pappalardi and Collins ended up getting married, their relationship continued to be stormy.  In 1983 she shot and killed him with a gun he had given her as a gift.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Runnin’ With the Devil, Van Halen

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My plan for today’s SotW was to write a tribute to Tommy DeVito of the Four Seasons, who died on September 23rd at the age of 92.  But this week Eddie Van Halen died and that takes precedent.

Van Halen was playing the clubs in metro LA when they came to the attention of Gene Simmons of Kiss.  Simmons was impressed with their talent (and cockiness), so he signed them to a contract and brought them back to New York to record some demos at Electric Lady Studios.  This was 1976, two years before their debut on Warner Brothers was released.

Those demos have never seen the light of day on official band releases.  But the “Zero” demos have been circulating on bootlegs for years.

Many of the songs on the Zero demos ended up on the band’s first album, though the demo versions were a little rougher and a little faster.  But the blueprint for what was to come was already there.

In the New York Times obituary for Eddie Van Halen, writer Jim Faber eloquently described his guitar playing as follows:

Mr. Van Halen structured his solos the way Macy’s choreographs its Independence Day fireworks shows: shooting off rockets of sound that seemed to explode in a shower of light and color. His outpouring of riffs, runs and solos was hyperactive and athletic, joyous and wry, making deeper or darker emotions feel irrelevant.

Van Halen will be missed, but his music will live on for a very long time.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Words of Love, The Beatles; Well All Right, Blind Faith; I’m Gonna Love You Too, Blondie

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Buddy Holly released his first record – “Blue Days, Black Nights”/”Love Me” – on Decca in April 1956, when he was just 19 years old.  He died less than three years later, in February 1959, at the age of 22.  In that very short career, Holly recorded eight Billboard Top 40 hits in the US, 3 of which were Top 10.

His discography is so well known and so highly respected that it should be no surprise that his songs have remained alive for generations via cover versions.  Today’s SotW post highlights a few of the best.

The Beatles were huge Buddy Holly fans.  They chose their name as a play on Holly’s Crickets, but not Beetles, instead making a pun out of their “beat group” music.  They also included as many as a dozen of his songs in their early club sets, many of which can be heard on the BBC recordings.  So, let’s start with “Words of Love” from Beatles For Sale in the UK and Beatles VI here at home; the only cover to make it onto an official, studio release.

The Beatles don’t stray very far from Holly’s original arrangement – the “handclaps” are a new feature – but the Lennon/McCartney (Lennon/Harrison?) harmony is sublime.  The boys laid this track down in two takes – no surprise since it was in the band’s repertoire since their days woodshedding in Hamburg, Germany.

In 1969, Steve Winwood, Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker, and Rick Grech formed Blind Faith, one of the first rock “supergroups.”  The short-lived band released only one album that had only 6 cuts – but one of them, “Well All Right,” was a cover of a Buddy Holly B-side.

Blind Faith made the song their own, adding a heavy opening riff and an improvisational middle section that extended its play time to a whole 4 ½ minutes!

In 1978, Blondie released their power-pop classic, Parallel Lines.  On it, they covered Holly’s “I’m Gonna Love you Too” and released it as the first single from the album (though it didn’t chart!).

Deborah Harry’s vocal and the bands aggressive backing adds some punk/new wave fury to the arrangement that modernizes Holly’s original, smoother rockabilly approach.

A Buddy Holly tribute album, Rave On Buddy Holly, was released in 2011.  It has covers of Holly songs by contemporary artists The Black Keys, She and Him, Modest Mouse, My Morning Jacket, Fiona Apple, the recently deceased Justin Townes Earle, and classic rockers Paul McCartney, Nick Lowe, Patti Smith, Lou Reed, and Graham Nash.  It proves that Holly’s music remains vital.  The album is worth a listen.

Rave on!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – How Deep It Goes, Arbouretum

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Arbouretum often draws comparisons to Richard Thompson for their brand of psychedelic folk music and tasteful guitar solos.  This holds true on the Baltimore band’s most recent album, Let It All In.

Take a listen to the opening track, “How Deep It Goes.”

It gallops along with a steady rhythm and chiming guitars until it flows into a Grateful Dead-like wig out of guitar soloing (Dave Huemann) over a synth bed (Matthew Pierce), about halfway through.

Arbouretum has been releasing quality records since the early oughts.  Let It All In is another in that long line.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Early Soundtracks by Rock Artists in Film

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Today’s post is the next installment in my series on rock music in films.  The last in the series covered rock in ‘60s psychedelic movies.  It was largely centered on soundtracks that included performances by rock bands.  Today’s post focuses on movie soundtracks written and performed by rock acts.

One of the best movies of the ‘60s was The Graduate (1967), starring a young Dustin Hoffman.  Directed by Mike Nichols, with a screenplay by Buck Henry and Calder Willingham, and also starring Anne Bancroft and Katherine Ross, it was a coming of age story and a box office smash.  The hip vibe of the flick was aided by the soundtrack by Simon and Garfunkel.

The soundtrack recycled several songs from the first couple of Simon and Garfunkel albums that perfectly reflected the mood of the scenes that used them.  But there was one original, the major hit “Mrs. Robinson.”  This is the soundtrack version, not the hit that was on Bookends.

A year earlier, Francis For Coppola hired The Lovin’ Spoonful to provide the soundtrack to You’re A Big Boy Now.  Interestingly, YABBN tackled a subject very similar to The Graduate – a young man engaged in an affair with an older woman.

“Darling Be Home Soon” is a beautiful song that was covered with a gospel feel by Joe Cocker and was previously featured as a SotW.

The Spoonful also provided the soundtrack for Woody Allen’s What’s Up, Tiger Lily? (1967).

There was a trio of films with notable rock soundtracks that came out in 1971:

Harold & Maude – Cat Stevens

Friends – Elton John

Percy – The Kinks

Like The Graduate soundtrack, Harold & Maude’s reused tracks from early Cat Stevens albums supplemented with some new material.  The most famous of the two new songs – “If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out” – was a SotW in August 2013, so let’s hear the other – “Don’t Be Shy.”

Elton John was considered for the role of Harold and was instrumental in connecting director Hal Ashby with Stevens.

Friends was John’s release between Tumbleweed Connection and Madman Across the Water.

“Friends” made it into the Billboard Top 40 and the soundtrack was nominated for a Grammy in 1972 for Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture.  Despite those accolades, the Friends soundtrack album didn’t sell and could be found in the cut-out bins for a couple of bucks for years.

The strangest of these 1971 soundtracks was for Percy, by the Kinks.

“The Way Love Used to Be” is the best of the lot and was later included on The Great Lost Kinks Album (1973).  But it must be difficult writing songs for a story that is about a guy named Edwin that loses his penis when a man falls from the sky and lands on him.  When he gets a penis transplant, he names it Percy.

All of these soundtracks set the stage for rock music to be used to score films in the years to come.  A few examples of outstanding soundtracks by rock musicians are:

Mark Knopfler – Princess Bride

Queen – Flash Gordon

Richard Thompson – Grizzly Man

Ry Cooder – Paris, Texas

Peter Gabriel – Last Temptation of Christ

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – When Your Parents Go To Sleep, Kevin Ayers

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Kevin Ayers is considered one of the most influential musicians in the British psych era – along with Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett.

Ayers started in a band called Wilde Flowers with Robert Wyatt.  That group splintered in 1967 – with Wyatt and Ayers forming the Soft Machine and the rest of the band starting Caravan.  By 1969, Ayers was off on a remarkable solo career, though he is largely underrecognized here in the US.

Today’s SotW is “When Your Parents Go to Sleep” from Ayers’ 4th solo album, Bananamour (1973).

While many of Ayers’ tracks feature his baritone vocals delivered in a Lou Reed-ish style, WYPGTS is different.  It is an R&B inspired cut with a soulful vocal by bassist Archie Legget.  Supported by a wonderful horn arrangement and backing vocals by A-list singers Doris Troy, Liza Strike and, Barry St. John, the song takes on a Stax, gospel quality (or maybe Exile era Stones).

Ayers had an illustrious career that allowed him to work with  Barrett, Brian Eno, John Cale, Elton John, Andy Summers, Mike Oldfield, Nico, and many others greats. 

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Oliver’s Army, Elvis Costello

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Today’s SotW is “Oliver’s Army,” by Elvis Costello.

For those of you that aren’t familiar with the song, I need to warn you upfront that it contains the “N” word.  But it doesn’t offend me – and I hope it doesn’t offend you – because the song isn’t about racism against black and brown people.  (Though I admit the fact that Costello had an argument in 1979 with Stephen Stills and Bonnie Bramlett that included racial slurs seems to weaken my case.)  Still, I maintain the track is an anti-war rant that criticizes how the British government took advantage of enlisting young men with few job prospects into its military back in the late ‘70s when the song was written and recorded.  Costello was once quoted as saying “I was upset by the idea that armies always get a working-class boy to do the killing.”

Call careers information, have you got yourself an occupation

and

If you’re out of luck or out of work, we could send you to Johannesburg

Besides having such penetrating lyrics, it’s handed off to us like a stick of candy floss.  You could be forgiven missing the heft of the pointed lyrics amid the pop genius of the music, especially the Abba like piano part (think “Dancing Queen”).  The harmony soars on the last verse (“But there’s no danger…) and Costello gives the song a perfect ending when he imitates Ronnie Spector’s trademark Oh-oh-ohs.

But back to the lyrics.  Who would have thought these lines, written in 1978, would have any relevance today?

Hong Kong is up for grabs
London is full of Arabs
We could be in Palestine
Overrun by a Chinese line
With the boys from the Mersey and the Thames and the Tyne

And back to that controversial lyric…  It was originally inspired by the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland, but how does that feel today?

Only takes one itchy trigger, one more widow, one less white nigger

Tom Waits once said “I like beautiful melodies telling me terrible things.”  That’s “Oliver’s Army” in a nutshell!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – I Used to Be a Cop, Drive-By Truckers

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There are dozens of songs I like by Drive-By Truckers.  Today’s SotW is one of my favorites – “I Used to Be a Cop” – from their 2011 album, Go-Go Boots.

No, I’m not trying to be political.  The song isn’t about police brutality.  It’s about a damaged guy that can’t seem to overcome his demons and keep his life on track. 

I got scars on my back from the way my Daddy raised me.
I used to have a family until I got divorced.
I’ve gone too far from the things that could save me.
I used to be a cop, but they kicked me off the force.
I used to be a cop, ’till they kicked me off the force.

He screws up every opportunity he’s had and especially regrets losing his job as a cop.  He loses his wife and family, his car, and laments that he was too small to play college football.  After all of that, he still can’t figure out how to put his broken life back together and move forward.

Used to have a wife, but she just couldn’t deal
with the anger and the tension that was welling inside of me.
Sometimes late at night, I circle ’round the house
I look through the window and I remember how it used to be.
I look through the windows and I remember how it used to be.

What I dig most about this track is the groove.  On the blog 95 North… The Newspaper, writer D Stefanski sketches it like this:

The song is lit by a moving, fluid baseline and streaks of dark guitar.  There is the occasional major chord triumph during the bridge, but only briefly, as it serves to celebrate past experiences of the character, not the present, nor future prospects.  This is when we learn he used to play football, and that the police academy “was the only thing” he was good at. In contrast, the dark verses are filled with foreboding, twisted tales of a life that’s disintegrated.  Classic tune from the Truckers, indeed.  Almost feels like it could’ve been featured in the movie “Taxi Driver”.

The last two minutes of the song is the band jamming over the main riff.  It is both haunting and beautiful.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – World Shut Your Mouth, Julian Cope

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In 1986, Julian Cope released his biggest hit – “World Shut Your Mouth.”  It made it to #84 in the US and did even better in the UK where it broke the Top 20 (#19).  What’s confusing is that the song was on Cope’s third solo album, Saint Julian, not on his first solo album World Shut Your Mouth (1984).  My post from May 9, 2015, touched on the subject of songs that did not appear on the album of the same name.  The SotW that day was “Waiting for the Sun” that appeared on The Doors’ Morrison Hotel (1970), not Waiting for the Sun (1968).

The song is a prime example of ‘80s Modern Rock and has interesting lyrics that are subject to myriad interpretations:

She’s flying in the face of fashion now
She seems to have a will of her own
She’s flying in the face of fashion now
She seems to have it all chromed
The time was going so frequently
She said if I try harder again
She’s flying in the face of fashion now
She sells the world annually to a friend

She sings, “World, shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth
World, shut your mouth, shut your mouth
Put your head back in the clouds and shut your mouth”

She always used to live so secretly
She’d be seen in and out of the sound
She’s taking on the role of the four winds now
She’s having tea there out in the crowd
She’s flying in the face of fashion now
She seems to have a will of her own
In lieu of what you’re saying so frequently
She seems to have, it all adds up

My interpretation of the lyrics is that it is a song about a woman who became famous but is now rebelling against losing her privacy to that fame.  She’s rejecting her public image in order to reclaim her private life; telling the world to stop talking about her and to leave her alone.

Cope is an interesting character.  His first brush with fame in the music industry came when he was a member of the late ‘70s/early ‘80s band The Teardrop Explodes.  They had hits with “Reward,” “Treason,” and “Sleeping Gas” but I remember them best for “When I Dream” that wasn’t even included on Cope’s greatest hits album Floored Genius: The Best of Julian Cope and The Teardrop Explodes 1979-91.

But Cope is a complicated man.  You might even say he is an eccentric revolutionary, whose interests and talents go far beyond the music industry.  He is an outspoken activist and author on many subjects including the occult, archeology (Neolithic culture), and musicology (Krautrock and Japrock).

Shut your mouth!

Enjoy… until next week.