Today’s SotW was written by my cousin, Mark Vincent. He has written posts several times before. He is in the Brooklyn, NY based band, The Occasionalists.
Pride Month is coming to a close, and my Live Karaoke Band is playing an LGBT fundraiser tonight in Brooklyn, at 7:30 PM ET, at littlefield (635 Sackett Street).
My dad band, The Occasionalists, consists of five middle-aged, straight, white guys, which presents a challenge in creating an appropriate and relevant set list for such an event. We searched the internet for ideas and stumbled upon my new favorite song (at least for the summer). Two of my bandmates are musicologists near the level of my cousin Tom, so when neither heard of the Scissor Sisters, I thought I may have met the Obscure requirement to be a SotW.
“Take Your Mama” is a little bit of glam and a lot of classic three-chord rock with a fun groove and a rebellious vibe. The song celebrates taking the singer’s mother out for a night on the town to see what gay nightlife is all about. Coming out hasn’t sounded like this much fun since Diana Ross, nearly a quarter century earlier.
The joy of the song and band is best captured in this live performance — the kind of video you can watch over and over. Have a great summer.
I have already posted about songs written by the pre-Steely Dan songwriting team of Walter Becker and Donald Fagen that were recorded by other artists. The first was “American Lovers” by Thomas Jefferson Kaye (April 18, 2020) and another was “I Mean to Shine” by Linda Hoover (March 11, 2023). Another, today’s SotW, is “Sail the Waterway” by Denny Doherty.
After the Mamas and the Papas broke up, Doherty went on to record a couple of solo albums. The first was 1971’s Watcha Gonna Do? The album had a country rock feel and contained several Doherty originals alongside Hank Williams’ “Hey Good Lookin’” and a Beatles’ medley of “Here Comes the Sun/Two of Us.”
After that album was completed and released Doherty entered the studio again in 1972. This time he recorded four songs. None had been heard until they were released on an album called Of All the Things: The Complete ABC/Dunhill Masters, in 2017.
Of note is that two of the aforementioned four 1972 songs were written by the pre-Steely Dan Becker/Fagen team — “Sail the Waterway” and “Giles of the River”. Further, Becker and Fagen played on the tracks, and they were produced by Gary Katz, a name very familiar to Steely Dan fans.
Later, in November 1972, Steely Dan released their own debut. But a well-kept secret is that they released a single ahead of the album on June 16, 1972. The A-side was “Dallas”, and the B-side was “Sail the Waterway”!
There’s a song that was recorded several times in a short period of time in 1970-1971 by major Rock artists. You probably are familiar with “It Ain’t Easy” by one of them.
If you were into MOR Rock you would know the version by Three Dog Night.
If you favored British, blues-based Rock you may have heard Long John Baldry’s take.
If you were into Glam Rock you definitely heard the cut on David Bowie’s … Ziggy Stardust… album.
But despite the exposure from all these renditions, I’ll bet you never heard the original by the song’s composer, Ron Davies.
Davies was a talented songwriter that never broke through with commercial success. “It Ain’t Easy” was on his acclaimed album Silent Song Through the Land (1970). Unfortunately, that album isn’t available to stream on Spotify, and vinyl copies on Discogs command a pretty penny.
The Three Dog Night version was released on their album of the same name in 1970. It was their fourth release in 18 months! That’s a remarkable achievement, even for a band that curated its repertoire from other songwriters, and one of the four was a live album.
Baldry’s recording was also on an album with the same name (1971). This is the album that was produced by Rod Stewart (side one) and Elton John (side two). “It Ain’t Easy” was on the Stewart side and was backed by a number of the musicians that supported him on the Every Picture Tells a Story album. Maggie Bell is the sassy female vocalist harmonizing with Baldry.
Bowie’s take was initially recorded for the Hunky Dory sessions but was ultimately left off that album. But he brought it back and placed it at the end of side one of Ziggy. Ultimately that was an odd choice since “It Ain’t Easy” does not fit with the thematic content of the rest of Ziggy Stardust. But as I’ve said many times in the SotW… you can’t keep a good song down!
On May 19th, one of the greatest lyricists in Rock history, Pete Brown, died. As the cowriter with Jack Bruce, Brown’s lyrics psychedelicized some of Cream’s most memorable songs, including “I Feel Free”, “White Room”, “SWBALR”, “As You Said”, and “Sunshine of Your Love” (with Eric Clapton too).
My favorite Bruce/Brown composition is “Rope Ladder to the Moon” from Bruce’s debut solo album Songs for a Tailor (1969).
The track seems to be about a lover’s manipulation and dominance. In the first three verses he/she lures in their “prey” with fun, love, and promise.
You asked me to a party To a house just by the moon You gave me silver loving The end was all too soon
You asked me to the theater In a place quite near the sun You gave me golden sunbeams Your act was all in fun
You asked me to a meeting In a cottage in the snow You gave me central heating I can’t forget the glow
But by the end the lover is in total control.
You asked me to a weekend Down by the stormy sea You took me to a ceremony And the sacrifice was me!
You asked me to a storm cloud Up near the rainbow’s end Then you threw away the ladder And gave me to your friend
You took me to a prison And you said its chief was me Then you locked me deep inside you And thew away the key
“Rope Ladder…” has been covered a few times with the version by Brian Auger and Julie Tippet that is worth a listen.
It’s Boston in the early ‘80s and I’m in my mid-20s… Maybe I’ve been out at The Seven’s draining a few pints of Guinness over heavy, deep, and real discussions with close friends. Maybe I just got home from hearing some great live music at The Rat or The Paradise, or from partying at a wildly fun house party.
I’m on a work assignment that has me taking a 3-hour drive, back and forth between Albany every Sunday night, and Boston each Friday evening. I’m spending a lot of hours with my Alpine cassette player, in my car – alone – in the dark.
It’s at times like these that I most enjoy The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. The album always fits the mood when you are having quiet time, alone – physically or in your own head space.
So, I honor this album, today, on
the 60th anniversary of its release.
Two of the five songs Dylan chose to play at The Concert for Bangladesh (1971) were from The Freewheelin’… Let’s let them be the SotW.
And how many ears must one man have Before he can hear people cry? Yes, and how many deaths will it take ’til he knows That too many people have died?
Sadly, today’s plague of gun violence makes these lyrics as relevant now as they were 60 years ago.
Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son? And where have you been, my darling young one? I’ve stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains I’ve walked and I’ve crawled on six crooked highways I’ve stepped in the middle of seven sad forests I’ve been out in front of a dozen dead oceans I’ve been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall
Sadly, it too has lyrics that still apply today!
BTW, that cassette I was playing in my late-night car drives had The Freeewheelin’ Bob Dylan on one side, and Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska on the other. A perfect combo. Just like rice and beans.
Jerry Jeff Walker is best known for two songs – his own “Mr. Bojangles”, and “London Homesick Blues” from his terrific, live ¡Viva Terlingua! album (1973). The peculiar detail is that “London Homesick Blues” was written and sung by Gary P. Nunn!
The song is autobiographical and was written while Nunn was on tour in England in a band supporting Michael Murphey. The lyrics are a straightforward description of what Nunn was experiencing while he was in London, squatting on the couch in a flat with four other guys. He has described that it was foggy and rainy all the time, and that the heat in the flat went off from 6 AM to 6 PM every day – difficult surroundings for a boy from south Texas.
Well it’s cold over here and I swear, I wish they’d turn the heat on.
And where in the worldis that English girl, I promised I would meet on the third floor?
And of the whole damn lot, the only friend I got, is a smoke and a cheap guitar.
My mind keeps roamin’, my heart keeps longin’ to be home in a Texas bar.
Then there’s the line everyone remembers and many mistake for the title of the song.
I want to go home with the armadillo.
Nunn thought about making “armadillo” a proper noun in reference to the Armadillo World Headquarters, a large venue in Dallas where he performed with Murphey in 1972. But he didn’t, and even he isn’t sure why.
The way Nunn tells the story, the idea for playing “London Homesick Blues” on ¡Viva Terlingua! was a spontaneous decision. At one of the concerts where the album was recorded in the Lukenbach Dancehall, the atmosphere was electric. The hall was packed to the gills, and everyone was pumped up and having a great time. Walker looked over to Nunn and said, “Do that song you were singing under the trees this afternoon.” The rest is history!
“London Homesick Blues” became the informal state song of Texas. For many years it was played over the closing credits for the PBS program Austin City Limits.
Stealers Wheel is best known for their 1973, Leiber and Stoller produced, one-hit-wonder – “Stuck in the Middle with You.” It was written by Gerry Rafferty and Joe Egan and appeared on their debut album. Rafferty went on to greater fame as a solo artist with the evergreen “Baker Street” among other hits.
The band’s next album Ferguslie Park (1973) contained another song that I always enjoy hearing called “Star.” It was penned by Egan and released as a single but only managed its way to #29 on the US singles chart.
Lyrically, “Star” addresses the subject of fame and how public adulation also has a downside – isolation.
So they made you a star, now your head’s in a cloud And you’re walking down the street, with your feet off the ground They read in the press all about your success They believe every word they’ve been told After all you’ve been through, tell me, what will you do When you find yourself out in the cold?
The music blog No Words, No Song summarizes the music:
“Star”, for example, boasts the wonderful poignancy of Joe Egan’s lyrics, alongside a delightful melody. Gerry Rafferty’s voice complements Joe Egan’s perfectly. And the song features a number of unexpected elements for a record made in the midst of the glam rock era — including a mournful harmonica, a kazoo, some woodblocks and an upright piano sounding like something you used to find pushed against a back wall in those clubs which host promising acts on the way up and former superstars on the way down.
“Star” is another example of a great pop song buried on an album that almost no one has heard.
I always loved the music of The Zombies. They had a string of Billboard Top 10 hits beginning with “She’s Not There” (#2) and “Tell Her No” (#6), and ending with “Time of the Season” (#3) in 1969.
But as you know, the SotW likes to go further into the deep cuts. So today I offer a cool Zombies’ track from 1965 called “Just Out of Reach.”
“Just Out of Reach” has a cool backstory. While most of the Zombies’ songs were written by Rod Argent, “… Reach” was written by vocalist Colin Blunstone as one of their contributions to director Otto Preminger’s 1965 movie Bunny Lake is Missing. It was only the second song Blunstone had written. Argent and the group’s other main songwriter, Chris White, were on a deadline to produce three songs for the film but ran into a bout with writer’s block. So, they challenged Blunstone to come up with something… and he did!
“… Reach” is a great example of ‘60s British Invasion/Garage Rock. Its rhythm reminds me of The Monkees’ “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” (1966), though the melody is much different, and it has a cracking, ‘60s sounding Argent organ solo. It was released as a single in the US but dropped off the charts without even breaking the Top 100. Too bad because it deserved much better.
A few weeks ago, I watched A Grammy Salute to the Beach Boys on CBS. The two-hour special featured performances by John Legend, Brandi Carlile, and Beck, among many others. It reminded me how much I love the music of the Beach Boys.
The group had so many big hits that fans often overlook some of the hidden gems that weren’t in the Top 40. And believe me, there are many if you take the time to dig for them. Take, for instance, today’s SotW – “Please Let Me Wonder” from The Beach Boys Today! (1965).
“Please Let Me Wonder” is a bridge from “Don’t Worry Baby” (another classic) to the more sophisticated song cycle on Pet Sounds. The instrumentation used is not typical for rock music, but there isn’t any excess — every note serves the song. Many of the players are from the famous Wrecking Crew, including Carol Kaye (bass), Glen Campbell (12-string), Barney Kessel (guitar), and Earl Palmer (drums). It is worth listening to very carefully to try to pick out each instrument as they are layered to construct this beautiful arrangement.
Lyrically, Brian Wilson sings of “wondering” if a girl is in love with him, rather than facing the reality that she may not. It is backed by beautiful Four Freshman inspired harmonies like so many other Beach Boys’ tracks.
In the month of 4/20, it is notable that “Please Let Me Wonder” has often been cited as the first song Wilson wrote on marijuana.
Today’s SotW was written by guest contributor Michael Paquette. This is Michael’s 8th SotW essay since 2020.
John Hiatt grew up in the Indiana cornfields as the sixth of seven children in a Roman Catholic family. When he was 9 years old his brother committed suicide and two years later his father died after a long illness. He took up the guitar at the age of 11 and began listening to blues, Elvis, and Bob Dylan.
At the age of 18, he moved to Nashville where he became a staff writer for Tree Publishing. One of his recordings, “Sure As I’m Sitting Here”, was recorded by Three Dog Night and became a hit (#16) in 1974. As a solo artist, he first worked with the Epic label before moving to MCA and then recorded four albums with Geffen Records in the early eighties until they dropped him because none of them charted. When financial problems drove him out of Nashville and out on the road, he became influenced by the edgy music of Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello.
His dependence on alcohol and drugs nearly ruined his career until he was offered an opportunity by Andrew Lauder, who ran the British label Demon Records in association with Elvis Costello and his management. Andrew promised him he would put out any album he recorded and asked him who he would like to work with. Hiatt replied Jim Keltner and Nick Lowe, never imagining they would accept the invitation. He returned to Nashville and worked with those two artists. Given only four days in the studio to work together, he managed to cut one of the finest albums of his career — Bring the Family (1987). He finally had a minor Billboard hit with “Thank You Girl” (#27). Bonnie Raitt brought some attention to the album by including “Thing Called Love” on her multi Grammy winning album Nick of Time (1989).
The song I chose from this breakthrough work is “Lipstick Sunset”. A song, like many of his works, that is about heartbreak and lost love. Ry Cooder lays down a terrific slide guitar accompaniment on this recording.
This is a song about how love is hard for the artist. He sings:
And Lord I couldn’t tell her
That her love was killing me
By the end of the day
All her sweet dreams would fade
To a lipstick sunset
The song continues and it appears that he ”can only see as you take away the light.” And then it seems that he left his lover waiting, and calls out:
So hold me in the darkness
We can dream about the cool twilight
Til the dawning of the day
When I make my getaway
To a lipstick sunset
It is uncertain whether the lovers will meet or part. Maybe another day.
A prolific songwriter, many of his compositions have been covered by other artists. “Have A Little Faith In Me” was covered by Joe Cocker, Delbert McClinton, Jewel, Mandy Moore, and Bon Jovi. But “Lipstick Sunset” remains solely his own. He breaks it out in concert on rare occasions. Having seen him a few times over the years I would say that his shows remain some of the best I have ever witnessed. His storytelling is captivating and his rapport with his audience makes it a pleasure to attend.
In 2000 and 2001 Hiatt recorded two albums with Vanguard Records — Crossing Muddy Waters and The Tiki Bar Is Open. These two albums were critical successes and earned him Grammy nominations. Like “Lipstick Sunset”, all of Crossing Muddy Waters was recorded without a drummer. It is a raw and spare album with elements of bluegrass brought into his Americana sound. He has had considerable artistic success and he is highly respected in the industry but has never enjoyed commercial success beyond what he achieved with Bring the Family.