I was watching TV and saw this HomeGoods commercial:
If you’re over 50 years old, you probably recognize the music as “Genius of Love” by Tom Tom Club, the Talking Heads offshoot featuring Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz. I would guess Esquire magazine’s, Bria McNeal is not over 50. In an article titled “The 45 Best Songs of 2022,” she wrote about Big Energy’s song “Latto”:
Latto dominated the charts this year with “Big Energy,” a song that can carry you from your late night TikTok scroll all the way to the club. The track samples Mariah Carey’s “Fantasy,” and reimagines it for a new era of bad b*tches. Her braggadocious lyrics combined with the track’s tantalizing melody make it an undeniable hit.
So, what’s my problem? It’s that she doesn’t seem to know that the Mariah Carey song also samples “Genius of Love.” That is an inexcusable omission in my book. She should have said something like “The track uses the same sample of Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love” that was the foundation for Mariah Carey’s “Fantasy.”
In the arts, it is important to give credit where credit is due!
As many of you know, I’m a huge Steely Dan fan. It pains me that they are often now labeled as Yacht Rock. They are so much better, consistent, and eclectic than most of the schlock that falls into that genre – popular though it is!
So whenever I learn about some Steely Dan obscurities, I need to go deep to learn more. In April 2020 I wrote about the song “American Lovers” by Thomas Jefferson Kaye that featured most of Pretzel Logic era Steely Dan as his backing group.
Today I’d like to introduce you to “I Mean to Shine”, by Linda Hoover, which was written by The Dan’s Donald Fagen and Walter Becker.
Like Kaye’s recording, Hoover’s record was produced by Gary Katz and featured several members of the early Steely Dan line-up (Becker, Fagen, Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, Denny Dias), but two year’s before their debut would appear.
The album had songs composed by The Band’s Richard Manuel (“In a Station”), Stephen Stills (4 + 20), three by Hoover herself, and five by Becker/Fagen.
So why are we just discovering this now? Well, the answer has an interesting backstory.
As it turns out, Katz heard the 19-year-old Hoover and wanted to promote her recording career. He introduced her to the legendary, mob associated, Morris Levy of Roulette Records. Knowing how Levy operated, Katz enticed (bribed?) Levy to sign Hoover by offering him publishing rights to the songs. The only problem was that Katz could only deliver on his offer with Hoover’s compositions. When Levy saw the record cover and realized he would only be paid for three songs, he was pissed off and put the kibosh on its release. The album sat dormant in the vaults until last summer when it was finally released by Omnivore Records. Hoover was 71 upon release!
If “I Mean to Shine” sounds familiar to you it is probably because Barbra Streisand released a version in 1971. On her version, she was backed by the all-female group Fanny with Bobby Keyes and Jim Price on horns.
Linda Hoover’s album deserved to be heard 50 years ago. At least we finally have it now. Give the full album a listen on Spotify.
When I was a teenager growing up in New York’s Hudson Valley, I would listen to WNEW-FM out of New York City. At 60 miles north of the city, we were right on the edge of how far the radio station’s signal would travel. But I would tolerate the signal fading in and out to hear the best music being broadcast by the coolest DJs.
A few weeks ago, I stumbled upon a hip website that has a history of the station and offers a plethora of airchecks. I went deep down into the rabbit hole.
I particularly enjoyed an interview of John Lennon that Dennis Elsas conducted in the WNEW studio on September 28, 1974. Lennon came in to chat with Elsas and to play a few of his favorite records as well as to share a few cuts from his new album Walls and Bridges which had been released just 2 days prior.
One of the songs John chose to play was “Showdown” by The Electric Light Orchestra. He described them as “Son of Beatles.” Then he gave me the idea for this SotW! In his setup for “Showdown,” he said:
“Now for those people who like to know where licks and things come from which I do, ‘cause I’m always making little things myself, this is a beautiful combination of ‘I Heard it Through the Grapevine’ by Marvin Gaye and ‘Lightning Strikes Again’ Lou Christie. And it’s a beautiful job with a little ‘Walrus’ underneath.”
Are you curious to hear what Lennon heard? Let’s do it!
In my final recognition of Black History Month, today’s SotW is “Alright” from Kendrick Lamar’s seminal album To Pimp a Butterfly.
“Alright” was released as a single in 2015, about a half year after the August 2014 protests broke out in Ferguson, MI, related to the killing of the teenage Michael Brown by a police officer. The song confronts the friction between police and the residents of black communities – like Compton, CA, where he grew up – that they serve and has become the unofficial anthem of the Black Lives Matter movement. (The video for “Alright” accentuates this.)
Lamar is no ordinary lyricist. He has a very high intellect that shines through the references he chooses to communicate his message. Take, for instance, the rapid fire lyrics of the second verse of “Alright.”
What you want you, a house? You, a car? 40 acres and a mule? A piano, a guitar? Anything, see my name is Lucy, I’m your dog Motherfucker, you can live at the mall I can see the evil, I can tell it I know when it’s illegal I don’t think about it, I deposit every other zero Thinkin’ of my partner put the candy, paint it on the regal Diggin’ in my pocket ain’t a profit, big enough to feed you Every day my logic, get another dollar just to keep you In the presence of your chico ah! I don’t talk about it, be about it, every day I see cool If I got it then you know you got it, Heaven, I can reach you Pat Dawg, Pat Dawg, Pat Dawg, my dog, that’s all Bick back and Chad, I trap the bag for y’all I rap, I black on track so rest assured My rights, my wrongs, I write ’til I’m right with God
An essay by Kyle Flick dissects the verse:
In this verse, Kendrick illustrates a battle he has with Lucy (Lucifer) as he offers Kendrick everything he could want. Kendrick stands before Cerberus, the hound that guards Hell, and he is beckoning him to come in and speak with Lucy. Kendrick mentions 40 acres and a mule, which is what the government originally promised recently freed slaves but never ended up giving it. Lucy offers Kendrick any material object he could want, trying to tempt him into coming to his side and ignore the opposite, God. Kendrick knows that the devil is evil but he is nonetheless being persuaded by Lucy to give into his greed. Kendrick wants to live like the rich rappers he listened to as a teen and Lucy is using this to his advantage to try and get Kendrick to come to his side. Kendrick realizes though that nothing will be able to satisfy his greed which Lucy embodies. He is becoming consumed with getting as much money as he can, falling into Lucy’s trap. Finally, Kendrick says, “Ah!” he realizes he is falling into his vice of greed and materialism and was very close to accepting Lucy’s offer.
Despite the intense language, imagery, and subject matter, the song is intended to convey hope and optimism – “we gon’ be alright.”
To Pimp a Butterfly reached #1 on the Billboard 200 upon its debut in 2015. A 2019 article in TheGuardian, titled The 100 best albums of the 20th century, placed it at #4. It also took the #19 slot in 2020 when Rolling Stone updated their list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
Today’s SotW installment continues the series of posts in recognition of Black History Month.
I recently watched the PBS American Masters documentary about Roberta Flack. It was very enjoyable and informative. While I was well aware of her solo hits (“First Time Ever I Saw Your Face”, “Killing Me Softly”, “Feel Like Makin’ Love”) and duets with Donny Hathaway (“Where Is the Love”), I didn’t realize how much of her repertoire was dedicated to the confronting social issues affecting the Black community.
Flack was a serious woman. She was educated at HBCU Howard University (entering at the age of 15!) and studied music (piano and voice), before becoming a teacher.
Her musical career began in Washington, DC, where she held residencies at the Tivoli Club, the 1520 Club, and later, Mr. Henry’s. She was “discovered” by Les McCann who helped connect her to Atlantic Records for a recording contract.
“Compared to What” was written by Eugene McDaniels, who was featured in a SotW earlier this month. The recording was Flack’s first single. Her release was first, but a later version recorded by McCann with Eddie Harris became more popular.
Lyrically, “Compared to What” is a protest of the social conditions that existed in late 60s/early 70s America – especially the Vietnam war.
Said the President, he’s got his war Folks don’t know just what it’s for No one gives us rhyme or reason You have one doubt, they call it treason I said we’re chicken feathers, all without one gut. Tryin’ to make it real, but compared to what?
Unreal values, crass distortion Unwed mothers need abortion
The timeless relevance of the lyrics is astounding!
The American Masters documentary is streaming if you want to see it:
This weekend marks the 15-year anniversary of the Song of the Week. 15 years!!! It started humbly the weekend of February 9-10, 2008. I sent out The Beatles’ “All My Loving” from the Ed Sullivan Show and “Sexy Sadie” from the White Album. I didn’t explain that my selections were chosen to celebrate the anniversary of the Beatles’ debut performance in America, launching the British Invasion; and the passing of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, whom “Sexy Sadie” was written about, and who had died earlier that week. I assumed everyone would figure that out.
When I started this I had no plan for how long it would continue. But if you had asked me that first week if I would still be doing it 15 years later, that would have been unimaginable. I’ll keep on writing until I run out of ideas. I hope you continue to read.
Now today’s song of the week.
“The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five was one of the first songs to utilize rap music to deliver a political message. Urban ghettos like the Bronx in New York City were badly ignored under Ronald Reagan’s spending priorities and budget cuts in the early 80s. “The Message” called out the reality of life in these inner-city neighborhoods in stark detail. “Broken glass”, homelessness, drugs, prostitution, filth, noise, poor education, unemployment… it’s all in there.
The situation all comes together in the line “It’s like a jungle, sometimes it makes me wonder how I keep from going under.”
“The Message” is consistently listed as one of the “Greatest Songs of… whatever.” Dave Marsh scored it at #87 in his 1989 list of the 1001 Greatest Singles Ever Made. Rolling Stone’s 2012 list of The 50 Greatest Hip-Hop Songs of All Time voted it #1. In 2018, liveabout.com gave “The Message” the #3 slot on their list of The 100 Best Rap Songs of All Time.
February is Black History Month. In honor of that, I’ll feature an artist who made music that contributed to raising issues affecting the black community over 50 years ago – Eugene (Gene) McDaniels.
McDaniels had been in the music business since the early ‘60s when he recorded his first hit, “One Hundred Pounds of Clay” (#3). Other hits followed, including “Tower of Strength”, co-written by Burt Bacharach and Bob Hillard.
But by the late ‘60s, McDaniels had begun to write songs focused more on black consciousness. His 1971 album Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse is a cult classic and treasure among record collectors. The album straddles jazz, soul, and funk. It falls somewhere between the cool soul of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On and jazzy, spoken-word protest songs by Gil Scott-Heron.
One of the most overtly political songs is “Freedom Death Dance.” It touches on issues of war and social justice.
Everybody wants happiness Everybody wants peace of mind Everybody says we should ignore The graves we dance upon But I’ve really got news for you There’s no amount of dancing we can do That will ban the bomb Feed the starving children Bring justice and equality to you and me
No amount of dancing ls gonna make us free, yeah
Gather round the riots, children Everybody wants to dance Gather round the murders And be free. yeah Gather round, brother This could be you only chance To be in touch With your own humanity. oh yeah
It has often been rumored that the Nixon administration was so intimidated by this record that they had Vice President Spiro Agnew call Atlantic Records to squash promotion for it.
The backing musicians include Alphonse Mouzon (drums) and Miroslav Vitous (bass), both of whom would go on to play in Weather Report.
Like many other obscure, classic soul albums, Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse has been sampled by many hip-hop artists, including Eric B & Rakim, Q-Tip, and the Beastie Boys.
The full album is available to stream on Spotify and is worth a listen. Go check it out.
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.
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.
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!