Song of the Week – Marie Marie, The Blasters

The Blasters are a rockabilly band formed in Southern California in 1979.  They were piloted by the Alvin brothers, Phil (guitar and vocals) and Dave (guitars), along with bassist  John Bazz and Bill Bateman on drums.

I first became aware of this group with their self-titled 1981 album.  It kicks off with today’s SotW – “Marie Marie.”

The opening guitar strum intro kills!  And the track takes off from there with high energy.

In a 2014 interview with NPR’s Terry Gross, Dave Alvin discussed the origins of the song:

“It was one of the earliest songs that I wrote. I don’t think it was the first, but it was the third or fourth. And, yeah, I was laying in my bed, kind of excited about suddenly being in a band and being a guitar player. And so, I have these songs rolling around in my head and the sort of melody and everything kind of came to me. And I thought, well, this would be a great Cajun Balfa Brothers kind of song, and then if you put it to a Chuck Berry beat, this might be pretty cool. But I couldn’t think of any lyrics. And we had a rehearsal the next evening. And so, all that day I was walking around humming this melody. And I was like, what’s it about, what’s it’s about, you know, ’cause I had no idea how to write songs at that point. I still don’t. But I really didn’t have any idea then and I just – whatever I was doing that day, you know, I just – living inside my brain. And then – and the reality was about 30 minutes before we left to go to rehearsal, I sat down at our kitchen table, and I just wrote the lyrics – just came to me. I was kind of – I remember being a little kid and we were driving down this road up near the Puente Hills. And there was an old Victorian farmhouse and there was a girl sitting on the porch with a guitar. And for whatever reason, that image stuck with me and so I just wrote that.”

The British musician Shakin’ Stevens released his own version of the song in 1980 that reached #19 in the UK charts.  But I still prefer The Blasters’ original.

The Blasters are still around and performing, but without Dave Alvin.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Mr. Blue, Clear Light

Happy New Year, readers!

I’m starting 2024 with a psychedelic classic from an obscure late ‘sixties group called Clear Light.  The track is a “far out” cover of a song penned by folkie Tom Paxton, called “Mr. Blue” (1967).

I have to admit that 6 and 1/2 minutes of a song that mixes spoken word segments with fuzzed out psychedelia can be a bit much for some (most?) people, but I dig it for the period piece that it is.  At about 5:30, the band goes into a frenetic wig out that sounds much like their Elektra labelmates, The Doors.

Keyboardist Ralph Schuckett has told the story of playing a morning gig in the chapel of a prep school in Massachusetts in August 1967.  In his account, the “fresh faced, squeaky clean ‘old family’ teenage boys” at the school had no idea what to make of the stoned hippie musicians in Clear Light.  His story continues:

“At the cacophonous end of ‘Mr Blue,’ Dallas and Michael knocked over their drums, Bob was Townshending all over the place, hitting the gleaming wood railings and pews. Cliff banged his mic on the floor and things. There’s not much you can do to a Hammond organ without the proper tools, which I didn’t have, but I was sort of shaking it back and forth and running my hands up and down till they literally bled all over the keys. When the carnage sort of petered out, the band was in the car and on the highway in seconds.”

The band was also a little ahead of the curve with the idea to use two drummers – one of them being Dallas Taylor who would go on to greater fame as the drummer on CSN&Y’s classic Déjà Vu album.  This is a lineup the Grateful Dead and Allman Brothers would adopt some time later.

In order to keep their branding message focused, Clear Light was named after a potent formula of LSD. 

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Trouble Man, Marvin Gaye & Trouble Child, Joni Mitchell

Today’s post is the next installment in my newest concept – the Contrast Series.  Today I’ll cover Mavin Gaye’s “Trouble Man” and “Trouble Child” by Joni Mitchell.

Aside from the obvious fact that both songs have the word “trouble” in their titles, you might be surprised to find out they are connected far more intimately.

Marvin Gaye’s song was the title track for the soundtrack album to the Blaxploitation film directed by Ivan Dixon that was released in 1972.  Dixon was best known for his acting roles in a couple of Twilight Zone episodes and as “Kinch” Kinchloe in the sitcom Hogan’s Heroes on CBS running 1965-1971.

“Trouble Man” describes the sticky situations the film’s lead, Mister T, encounters.

I come up hard baby, but now I’m cool
I didn’t make it sugar, playin’ by the rules
I come up hard baby, but now I’m fine
I’m checkin’ trouble sugar, movin’ down the line
I come up hard baby, but that’s okay
‘Cause Trouble Man, don’t get in my way
I come up hard baby, I’ve been for real, baby
Gonna keep movin’, gonna go to town
I come up hard, I come up gettin’ down
There’s only three things that’s for sure
Taxes, death and trouble, oh
This I know, baby, this I know, sugar
Girl, ain’t gon’ let it sweat me, babe

That part about “taxes, death and trouble” might relate more to Gaye’s personal life.

Joni Mitchell was fond of this song.  By 1998, she had added it to the set list for some of her concert performances.  She once explained “In the process of learning [the song] for performance, I discovered how truly original and eccentric the form of it is.”

In the early 2000s, Starbucks released a series of exclusive CD albums called Artist’s Choice.  For each, a famous musician was asked to curate an album’s worth of their favorite songs.  The Joni Mitchell version that came out in 2005, had 18 selections, the 15th being “Trouble Man.”  In the CD’s liner notes, Mitchell explained why she chose each of the songs on the disc.  For “Trouble Man, she said “I had this song on an album and I kept the needle on this track—playing it over and over.  It was so influential to my music and my singing. It excites me from the downbeat—the way the drums roll in – the suspense – the approaching storm of it.”

Mitchell’s 1974 classic, Court and Spark, included a song called “Trouble Child.” 

There is speculation that Gaye’s “Trouble Man” influenced this song.  While the lyrical theme isn’t the identical, there are similarities.  Gaye’s subject is in trouble with the law and gangsters.  Mitchell’s subject’s trouble is with inner conflicts and self-doubt.

Up in a sterilized room
Where they let you be lazy
Knowing your attitude’s all wrong
And you got to change
And that’s not easy
Dragon shining with all values known
Dazzling you, keeping you from your own
Where is the lion in you to defy him
When you’re this weak
And this spacey

So what are you going to do about it
You can’t live life and you can’t leave it
Advice and religion, you can’t take it
You can’t seem to believe it
The peacock is afraid to parade
You’re under the thumb of the maid
You really can’t give love in this condition
Still you know how you need it

Lyrics aside, the jazzy sophistication of the music is undeniably similar to the direction Gaye pursued.

These are both songs that are under the radar but deserve closer listening.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Now That Everything’s Been Said, Spring

In 1972 an eponymous album by Spring (later called American Spring) was released.  The group consisted of the duo Marilyn Wilson (Beach Boy Brian’s wife) and Diane Rovell, who along with Ginger Blake were The Honeys in the ‘60s.

Spring’s album received critical praise but sank like a stone in the charts.  The album consisted of mostly covers – “Tennessee Waltz,” “Mama Said,” “Superstar” – and a hand full of originals provided by Brian Wilson, including “Good Time.”  “Good Time” began as a candidate for the Beach Boys’ Sunflower album (1970) but didn’t make the cut.  The backing track was tossed over to Spring to add vocals for their record.  The song was eventually released by the Beach Boys on their 1977 disc, The Beach Boys Love You.

But the best song on the album is their cover of Carole King’s “Now That Everything’s Been Said.”

“Now That Everything’s Been Said” was the title of the album released by King’s band, The City, in 1968.  (The City was a subject of my post on November 13, 2021.)  Like Spring, Now That Everything’s Been Said also failed to connect with the public despite critical acclaim.

The song “Now That Everything’s Been Said” would have fit nicely on either of King’s Tapestry or Music LPs.  It is a piano based song that bounces along like a kid on a pogo stick.  It has a pleasant melody and lyrics about a lover that picks up and leaves unexpectedly.

Spring isn’t available on Spotify, but you can hear the whole album on YouTube.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Cool About It, boygenius

Every December for the past many years, a group of younger people in my family, mainly millenniums, send me their five favorite songs for the year.  I build an anonymous Spotify playlist and share it with the group.  Part of the fun is guessing who selected which songs.  It is a great way for an old geezer like me to keep a finger on the pulse of what younger people are listening to.  But it also prompts me to think about my favorite songs, albums, and artists from the year.

That leads me to boygenius – the “supergroup” that’s made up of Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus – all talented and successful artists in their own right.

They released their first full length album this year called the record.  It is a worthy follow up to their 2018 EP that gave us the first taste of what they could accomplish together.

All three of the group members take their turn with the pen, so it’s hard to choose just one SotW from this fine album, but I’m going with “Cool About It”.

“Cool About It” is a gentle folk song centering on acoustic guitar and banjo.  It would fit nicely on a Simon & Garfunkel album.  The harmonies are stunning.

The lyrics tell the story of the singer meeting up either with an ex or someone she has a crush on, and trying to act like she doesn’t have feelings for him/her.

Met you at the dive bar to go shoot some pool
And make fun of the cowboys with the neck tattoos
Ask you easy questions about work and school

I’m trying to be cool about it
Feelin’ like an absolute fool about it
Wishin’ you were kind enough to be cruel about it
Tellin’ myself I can always do without it
Knowin’ that it probably isn’t true

This song is just a small sample of what boygenius is all about.  And don’t let this one song fool you.  The rest of the album is powerful indie Rock.  Its place on the record takes the role that “Landslide” fills on Fleetwood Mac.  Check out the complete record and this video from their recent appearance on Saturday Night Live.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – What a Way to Die, Pleasure Seekers

Ignored             Obscured              Restored

Back on January 18, 2014, I wrote a post called “Pioneering 70s All Women Bands.”  In it, I credited the band Fanny with being the first “self-contained, all women rock band to get a major label deal.”  Well, that may have been true of ‘70s bands, but not 100% accurate.

You see, in the 60s, a Detroit based, all women band called the Pleasure Seekers was formed.  They comprised future rock star Suzi Quatro and her sister Patti, along with Nancy Ball (drums), Mary Lou Ball (guitar), and Diane Baker (piano).  The group looked and acted tough, like the Shangri-Las, but with instruments.  By 1968 the group had landed a deal with Mercury Records and released a couple of singles.

But my favorite is the B-side of the single they released in 1966 on the indie Hideout Records label.  The Hideout was a teen club in Harper Woods, Michigan that also had a record label.  Hideout released records by The Omens, a band that included a young Bob Seger, and the Mushrooms, with Glenn Frey.

“What a Way to Die” is wild, guitar-based garage rock.  The vocals by 15-year-old Suzi are uninhibited, shrieking, and strained – perfectly suited to the song.  Each verse is followed by a cool, little guitar motif.  And it has a familiar, 60s, British Invasion styled ending.

Suzi Quatro would go on to release a slew of albums in the 70s that were much more popular abroad (Europe and Australia) than in the US.  But she gained fame here as an actress, playing the role of Leather Tuscadero in the ABC television series Happy Days.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Outrageous, Paul Simon

Today’s post was written by my friend Julie Chervin.  Julie has a very deep appreciation for good music in a wide variety of styles that she demonstrated in her suggestions for our repertoire when we were in bands together.

Paul Simon wrote “Father and Daughter” as the theme song for the 2002 animated family film The Wild Thornberrys Movie.  At the time, the song was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song, and in 2006 was released in an alternate version on Simon’s album Surprise in 2006.  Surprise reached number 14 on the Billboard 200 and number 4 in the UK, was written with significant collaboration from Brian Eno, and was largely inspired by 9/11, the Iraq invasion and the wars that followed.  Another critical inspiration for the album as a whole was that Simon had turned 60 in 2001.

Outrageous”, the third cut on the album, was also released as its third single.

While it received some radio airplay, it never reached the pop heights of “Father and Daughter”. A thoughtful, catchy, and playful tune that transitions rhythmically, melodically, and lyrically to carry the listener from an angry “old person’s” rant to a humble appreciation of loving and being loved, is perhaps the track that most explicitly represents Simon’s reflections on aging:

Who’s gonna love you when your looks are gone?

Tell me, who’s gonna love you when your looks are gone?

(Instrumental transition)

God will

Like he waters the flowers on your window sill

Take me

I’m an ordinary player in the key of C

And my will 

Was broken by my pride and my vanity

Surprise was heralded as a “comeback” for Simon by some, but so far as this listener is concerned, he never left!  For an even more playful reflection on aging by Simon, also check out “The Afterlife” on the 2011 album So Beautiful or So What

Happy Listening!

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Now and Then, The Beatles

Ignored             Obscured              Restored

Back in 1995, The Beatles released two new singles to promote the release of The Beatles Anthology documentary.  The songs were based on demos that John Lennon had recorded and were provided by Yoko Ono for the rest of the band to complete.  In fact, Ono had provided four songs for The Beatles to consider.  “Free as a Bird” and “Real Love” are the two that were released.  One – “Grow Old With Me” – was set aside because it had already been released on Lennon’s posthumously released Milk and Honey (1984).  The last, called “Now and Then” was started, but shelved due to a technical problem (a 60-Hz mains hum) that the technology of the 20th century couldn’t correct.

Thanks to Peter Jackson, the director and producer of The Beatles: Get Back documentary (2021), and his audio restoration technology, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr were able to complete the song including guitar tracks from the 1995 sessions, by George Harrison.

So, now we have it; the final final song by The Beatles; and it is a worthy ending.

Jackson made a complimentary video that is also “must see” for any Beatles’ fan.

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Back Street Girl, The Rolling Stones; Quicksilver Girl, The Steve Miller Band

Ignored             Obscured              Restored

Today’s post is the second installment of my recent concept called the Contrast Series.  This time I’ll share my views on “Back Street Girl” by the Rolling Stones and “Quicksilver Girl” by the Steve Miller Band.

Let’s start with “Back Street Girl.”

“Back Street Girl” was on the Stones’ UK version of Between the Buttons (1967).  But in the US it was on FlowersFlowers was one of those rip-off albums that compiled Stones tracks that were left off UK studio albums to create an “extra” album here in the US – much like the Beatles’ Yesterday and Today.  But IMHO, the album hangs together pretty well on its own.

Musically, “Back Street Girl” is a sweet little song!  It is basically an acoustic folk number, featuring acoustic guitar, accordion (played by Nick de Caro), and percussion (tambourine) in waltz time.

Lyrically… hmmm.  It fits into the misogynist category of several early Stones’ songs like “Under My Thumb” and “Stupid Girl” among others.  It tells the story of a mistress that Jagger wants to use but not acknowledge.

Please don’t be part of my life
Please keep yourself to yourself
Please don’t you bother my wife
That way you won’t get no help

Please don’t you call me at home
Please don’t come knocking at night
Please never ring on the phone
Your manners are never quite right

Don’t want you part of my world
Just you be my backstreet girl

Pretty harsh!

Let’s take a listen to “Quicksilver Girl.”

It too is a gentle ballad.  This one has an electric guitar and percussion but, like “Back Street Girl”, essentially no drums.  But lyrically, it couldn’t be more different.  In the Steve Miller Band’s song, the quicksilver girl is respected and appreciated for all that she does for her lover.

If you need a little lovin’
She’ll turn on the heat
If you take a fall
She’ll put you back on your feet
If you’re all alone
She’s someone to meet
If you need someone

She’s a quicksilver girl
A lover of the world
She spreads her wings
And she’s free

I don’t know who it was written about, but in my imagination, it was for a woman like the fictional Penny Lane from Almost Famous.  In the memoir called Last Girl Standing (2017), underground, feminist cartoonist, and “Lady of the Canyon”, Trina Robbins claims it was written about a couple of 15-year-old runaways from Sausalito that David Crosby asked her to let crash at her pad for a while.  One of those young ladies, Julia “Girl” Brigden, was later married to David Freiberg of Quicksilver Messenger Service, so it all makes sense.

The song was used in the film “The Big Chill” but, for the life of me, I can’t remember which scene.  Rickie Lee Jones did a nice cover version on her Kicks album (2019).

Enjoy… until next week.

Song of the Week – Open the Door, See What You Find; High Flying Birds

Ignored             Obscured              Restored

Noel and Liam Gallagher are the brothers behind the massive success of Oasis.  Noel wrote the songs and played lead guitar.  Younger brother Liam was the front man on lead vocals.  Much like the Kinks’ Davies brothers, the Gallagher brothers could never get along, so Oasis is no more.

Both have gone on to form new bands – Liam has Beady Eye and Noel, High Flying Birds.  Neither of those groups has ascended the heights of Oasis, but both have produced some fine listening.

Take, for example, “Open the Door, See What You Find” by High Flying Birds.

This track fits the mold of many of Oasis’ greatest hits.  It pays homage to The Beatles and ‘60s psych without sliding into parody.

Last May, Noel told NME:

“Lyrically, the premise is that, at a certain point in your life you look in a mirror and you see all you’ve ever been and all you’re ever going to be,” he explained. “It’s about being happy with that. Being happy with where you are in life, with who you are, and where you’re going. Life is good!”

And to put a little icing on the cake, “Open the Door, See What You Find” features an appearance by The Smiths’ Johnny Marr on guitar!

Enjoy… until next week.