Not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (but should be) – POCO

“There’s just a little bit of magic in the country music we’re singin’”

Formed out of the remnants of Buffalo Springfield in 1968, Poco released their debut LP Pickin’ Up The Pieces on May 19, 1969. One of the most frustrating stories in modern rock and roll, Poco was a band that consistently released great music, were a stellar live band, and year after year, LP after LP, sales were lukewarm. Their 25+ LP catalogue is a breathtaking body of work that charts the beginning of the country rock genre from 1969 into the 21st century.  However, the consistent theme in the Poco story is … change and inconsistency.

Buffalo Springfield imploded in 1968, due to the competing egos of Stephen Stills and Neil Young. Both men left the band – Stills hooked up with David Crosby and Graham Nash, and Young began a solo career. That left Richie Furay and Jim Messina responsible for finishing Springfield’s final album, Last Time Around.  After that project was finished, they decided to form a band and steer their new sound toward a harder-edged country rocking sound.

In his autobiography Furay stated,

“One of my main musical influences was Buck Owens … a real musical innovator as a singer, guitarist and bandleader … a genuine inspiration for the country rock sound … harder and edgier than a lot of mainstream country. I wanted them [the new songs] to be accessible as well as uplifting.”

poco68

Poco, 1968: Jim Messina, Randy Meisner, George Grantham, Richie Furay, Rusty Young

Messina and Furay filled out the new band with Rusty Young, a wunderkind multi-instrumentalist (guitar, banjo, mandolin, steel guitar, etc …) George Grantham on drums & vocals and, after a long deliberation, they chose Randy Meisner on bass, over the other candidate, Timothy B. Schmit.

They initially called the band Pogo, after the popular comic-strip character, but ran into legal issues over the name’s copyright. Since they had already been performing under the “Pogo” name for several months around L.A., they simply changed the “g” to a “c” and went with POCO so their fans wouldn’t become too confused. Their first LP was released and although it is considered a “lost classic” the LP never sold. Today, Pickin’ Up The Pieces is a seminal LP of the late 1960s California country rock genre, and sounds just as fresh and energetic 45 years later.

The band played before enthusiastic crowds across America (as an opening act) but the sales were lukewarm. Meisner quit, to join Glenn Frey and Don Henley as part of Linda Ronstadt’s back-up band (later The Eagles), and Timothy B. Schmit joined the band, replacing Meisner. 

In 1970-71 Poco released their second LP, Poco and a year later, a live album, Deliverin’. Jim Messina quit to join Kenny Loggins as a duo (Loggins & Messina).  He was replaced by Paul Cotton and the new band quickly recorded their fourth LP From The Inside.  Again … lackluster sales.

Boston8-72-11

George Grantham, drums; Richie Furay, guitar, vocals; Rusty Young, steel guitar

The band then recorded and released A Good Feelin’ to Know (1972) which is considered the band’s masterwork, and is one of the puzzling chapters of the Poco story. The LP was filled with great songs, the title along, released as a single, is one of the most infectious and upbeat country rockers ever recorded, but the single failed to chart and the album itself peaked at No. 69. As a result, Furay became increasingly discouraged with Poco’s prospects, especially since ex-bandmates Stills, Young, Meisner and Messina were enjoying huge success with their respective groups. In an April 26, 1973 Rolling Stone magazine interview with Cameron Crowe Furay vented that Poco was still a second-billed act and had not increased its audience and the writing was on the wall. The next album, Crazy Eyes (1973), reached No. 38 but Furay departed at its release.

Most people assumed the band would fold without founding father Furay, but Schmidt, Young, Cotton and Grantham re-grouped and released six albums in four years as a quartet, with very little change in sound of quality. In fact, Cotton and Young, in particular, stepped up and picked up the composition void left by Furay. In fact, among fans, 1974’s Cantamos and Rose of Cimarron (1976) among the best Poco LPs ever.

Then, in 1977, Timothy B. Schmidt left the band (with the other member’s blessing) to replace Randy Meisner in The Eagles. Cotton, Young and Grantham regrouped, added two more players and released Legend, which became Poco’s best-selling LP of all time, and included their two highest charting songs, “Crazy Love” and “In The Heart of The Night.” 

Country Rock Band Poco

Throughout the 1980s Poco, under Young and Cotton’s direction, released five more LPs some excellent (Blue and Grey) and some mediocre (Cowboys & Englishman.) In 1989 the original line-up (Furay, Messina, Young, Meisner, Grantham) reunited for a lackluster LP, Legacy.

Since that time, Paul Cotton has released a few solo LPs and Young has carried on performing as Poco with a variety of musicians supporting him – often joined by Cotton. In November 2002 Poco offered a new release of new songs by Cotton and Young, Running Horse

In October 2013, Rusty Young announced his retirement from touring and performing – and after 45 years, no one will deny he deserves it!  He also mentioned he was working on “the book” – hopefully a comprehensive history of Poco. And the last chapter will be their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

 rose_of_cimarron

Major Releases

Title Details
Pickin’ Up the PiecesPoco
  • Release date: May 19, 1969
  • Release date: May 6, 1970
 
Deliverin’!
  • Release Date: January 13, 1971
 
From the Inside
  • Release date: September 5, 1971
 
A Good Feelin’ to Know
  • Release date: September 25, 1972
 
Crazy Eyes
  • Release date: September 15, 1973
 
Seven
  • Release date: April 12, 1974
 
Cantamos
  • Release date: November 1, 1974
 
Very Best of Poco
  • Release date: May 1975
 
Head over Heels
  • Release date: July 1975
 
Rose of Cimarron
  • Release date: May 26, 1976
 
Live
  • Release date: April 3, 1976
 
Indian Summer
  • Release date: May 1977
 
Legend
  • Release date: November 1978
 
Under the Gun
  • Release date: July 1980
 
Blue and Gray
  • Release date: July 1981
 
Cowboys & Englishmen
  • Release date: February 1982
 
Ghost Town
  • Release date: September 20, 1982
 
Inamorata
  • Release date: April 16, 1984
 
Legacy
  • Release date: September 23, 1989
 
The Forgotten Trail
  • Release date: October 1990
 
Running Horse
  • Release date: November 18, 2002
 
All Fired Up
  • Release date: March 5, 2013
 

Top 20 Beatles Solo Songs

Since the Beatles disbanded in 1970, Paul McCartney has released the most solo music of any of the former Beatles. Paul’s output is the most varied in quality, from excellent (Ram, Band On The Run, Flaming Pie) to awful (Flowers In the Dirt, Red Rose Speedway).

John Lennon, of course, has the smallest output due to his murder, and his self-imposed “retirement” 1975-80 to rear his son Sean. John’s output is also varied, due to his erratic recording schedule and the number of songs he allowed his wife Yoko to record.

George Harrison may have the strongest catalogue album by album starting with the astonishingly great All Things Must Past. Every George LP is worth a listen.

Ringo Starr, oddly enough, had the most commercial success out of the gate, mainly because George Harrison was very hands-on with Ringo’s early LPs – producing, writing and performing on most of the songs.

I started out with a list of 62 songs and pared it down to 29. The last nine songs were the toughest to cut. They could have easily been on this list. When I couldn’t decide, I just went with personal preference. So, here it is, my list of the best solo songs by the former Beatles.

 

20 “Imagine” – John Lennon

john-lennon-peaceDocked 15 spots for several reasons. Due to being overplayed for the past 20 years to point of nausea, “Imagine” has become the “God Bless The USA” for the socialistic/progressive crowd. It’s basic message – imagine a world at peace, without the divisiveness and barriers of borders, religions and nationalities, and to consider the possibility that the focus of humanity should be living a life unattached to material possessions – is at best, naïve, particularly from a man who had all the trappings of material success the world could offer. It hasn’t aged well.

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.

19 “Handle With Care” – The Traveling Wilburys

Originally written by Harrison for his solo LP Cloud Nine in 1987. It was shelved and ended up as the rollicking opening track for the first Traveling Wilburys LP. Jointly sung by Harrison, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and Jeff Lynne, it becomes a fun, goofy song.

 “Everybody’s got somebody to lean on/ Put your body next to mine and dream on.”

18 “Watching The Wheels” – John Lennon

Released posthumously in 1981 after his murder, “Watching the Wheels” was the third and final single released from Lennon and Ono’s album Double Fantasy album, and reached number #10 US on the Billboard Hot 100

One of his most personal songs, Lennon addresses those who were confounded by his “househusband” years, 1975–1980, when he “retired” from the music industry to concentrate on raising his son Sean.

I tell them there’s no hurry / I’m just sitting here doing time

17 “Photograph” – Ringo Starr

ringo-starr-reuters-rtr2no0h#1 for Ringo. Written by Starr and George Harrison. A song that doubles as a love song and as commentary on the reality that Beatles were no more.

Everytime I see your face/ It reminds of the places we used to go                 

But all I’ve got is a photograph / And I realize you’re not coming back anymore.

16 “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five” – Paul McCartney & Wings

The closing song from the Band On The Run LP, this is one of McCartney’s most infectious songs. The cinematic sweep of the song is propelled by the best piano playing of McCartney’s career. The grandiose ending features a full orchestra with includes mellotronorgan and horns, an almost “A Day In The Life” effect.

I didn’t think I never dreamed / That I would be around to see it all come true

15 “Mind Games” – John Lennon

Another thoughtful philosophical song with a gorgeous melody. Lennon was inspired to write the song after reading Mind Games: The Guide to Inner Space by Robert Masters and Jean Houston.

“YES is the answer.”

14 “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)” George Harrison

GH2The opening track of his 1973 album Living in the Material World and George’s second #1 song. It bumped Paul McCartney & Wings‘ “My Love” from the top of the Billboard Hot 100 which was a good thing!

Opting for a simpler production sound this time around, “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)” features some of Harrison’s best slide-guitar work. Harrison described the song as “a prayer and personal statement between me, the Lord, and whoever likes it”.

“Give me hope / Help me cope / with this heavy load”

13 “Monkberry Moon Delight” – Paul McCartney

From Ram, this is one of the most fun songs that Paul ever recorded, Five-plus minutes of mid-tempo craziness with Paul shouting out a set of ridiculously nonsensical, stream of consciousness lyrics over some bouncy repetitive guitar and piano riffs.  No serous message here, just a master musician jammin’ on a fun song. 

“Of two youngsters concealed in a barrel, Sucking monkberry moon delight.” 

12 Working Class Hero” – John Lennon

A beautiful rumination/commentary/criticism of the difference between the social classes. Lennon at his most reflective.

“They hate you if you’re clever and they despise a fool.”

11 “Live and Let Die” Paul McCartney & Wings

paul-mccartney2THE epic James Bond theme song and one of McCartney’s most complex compositions. A piece of pure production overkill that works!  Watching McCartney and Wings perform this song at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C. in the 1990s ranks as one of the greatest live concert moments in my life. Paul gets the “Throw-in-an-extra-preposition-and-call-it-art Award” for the awkward lyric:

“In this ever changing world in which we live in.”

10 Isn’t It A Pity” – George Harrison

From the massive All Things Must Pass LP, “Isn’t It a Pity” was rejected by the Beatles during the January 1969  sessions that resulted in their final album, Let It Be. According to Abbey Road engineer Geoff Emerick, however, the song had been offered for inclusion on 1967’s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

The most majestic of Harrison’s songs, “Isn’t A Pity” is lyrically complex and musically dream-like. Tom Petty and Eric Clapton both consider this song to be Harrison’s masterpiece.

“Isn’t it a pity / Isn’t it a shame

How we break each other’s hearts and cause each other pain”

9 “#9 Dream” – John Lennon

John LennonOne of Lennon’s most audacious songs. If McCartney had written and recorded this, it would be considered a piece of fluff. Filled with Sgt. Pepper-like flourishes it’s a weird trip into John’s subconscious mind. The female voice whispering John’s name is not Yoko, but his then-mistress May Pang. The nonsense lyrics, “Ah! böwakawa poussé, poussé”, came to Lennon in a dream (hence the title) and have no specific meaning.  But they are fun to sing!

“On a river of sound / Through the mirror go round and round”

Ringo8 “It Don’t Come Easy” – Ringo Starr

Reached #4 in 1971. Written by Ringo and George Harrison, this is Ringo’s signature solo song. The lyrics are a thinly veiled reflection of the lives of all four Beatles at the time. The band on this recording included Harrison and Badfinger. 

“I don’t ask for much / I only want your trust

And you know it don’t come easy”

And just for fun … listen to George’s demo of the song that he gave to Ringo.

7 “Junior’s Farm” – Paul McCartney & Wings

One of McCartney’s best rockers. Recorded in Nashville it reached #3 in 1974.  For a man world famous for his love songs, as time goes by the McCartney songs that tend to age better are his rockers. 

“At the Houses of Parliament / Ev’rybody’s talking ’bout the President,
We all chip in for a bag of cement”

6 “My Sweet Lord” – George Harrison

One of the most overt religious songs to ever hit #1 on the Billboard charts. A massive worldwide hit, this song epitomized what the public wanted in 1970-71: shimmering harmonies, lustrous acoustic guitars, a solid Ringo Starr backbeat, and an exquisite Harrison guitar solo.  The backing musicians again include the Delaney and Bonnie band and Badfinger.

The song is now as well known for the infamous copyright infringement lawsuit against Harrison that “My Sweet Lord” was direct copy of The Chiffon’s 1963 #1 hit, “He’s So Fine.” (And who are we kidding, it was!) Harrison was found guilty of “subconscious” plagiarism. The suit was settled in 1981 with Harrison buying the rights to the earlier song for $600,000. Nonetheless, “My Sweet Lord” is a gorgeous pop song. 

I really wanna be with You!”

5 “Let Me Roll It” – Paul McCartney

paulOne of McCartney’s truly great songs. Awash in echo and reverb the Lennonesque vocals are pushed back in the mix beneath the wicked guitar riff, cheesy organ and funky bass line which drive the song.

“You gave me lovin’ in the palm of my hand.”

4 “Whatever Gets You Through The Night” – John Lennon

From Lennon’s Walls & Bridges 1974 LP, this was his only #1 solo single in his lifetime. A rollicking rock n’ roll record, with Memphis-style horns blaring and Elton John on backing vocals, this is an infectious ode to having too much fun with a truly ironic lyric giving what the future held.

“Don’t need a gun to blow your mind, oh no, oh no”

3 “Maybe I’m Amazed” – Paul McCartney

McCartney wrote the song in 1969, just before The Beatles’ break-up. One of his best love songs, it was recorded at the Abbey Road studio in London with McCartney playing all the instruments: guitars, bass, piano, organ and drums. He declined to release the song as a single in 1970, but it nonetheless received a great deal of radio airplay worldwide.

A live recording from the 1976 album Wings over America was released as a single by McCartney’s band Wings in February 1977 and reached number 10 in the US on the Billboard pop charts. McCartney has said ’Maybe I’m Amazed’ was “the song I would like to be remembered for in the future”

“Maybe I’m amazed at the way I really need you”

2 “Instant Karma (We All Shine On)” – John Lennon

This song encompasses everything Lennon stood for—peace, love and understanding. It is a masterpiece of pop songwriting and production, from the slap backbeat of the drums to the pounding piano, this song is everything “Imagine” is not, a true anthem of the 60s philosophy, without the overt uncomfortable socialistic message.

“We all shine on/ Like the moon and the stars and the sun”

1 “What Is Life?” – George Harrison

all things must passHarrison wrote the song in 1969 during the Abbey Road sessions and it was released on his 1970 triple album All Things Must Pass. It became a Top 10 hit in the United States in February 1971. Harrison’s backing musicians on the recording included the entire Delaney & Bonnie Friends band as well as all the members of Badfinger.  

Built around an infectious guitar riff, the song can be seen doubly as a romantic love song and one of George’s spiritual ruminations of human existence. Lushly produced with tasteful horns, tambourines and layers of acoustic guitars strumming behind the massive guitar riff it is impossible NOT to nod your head, smile and sing along with this song,

Tell me, what is my life without your love?
And tell me, who am I without you, by my side?

CHINABERRY SIDEWALKS: A Review

I’ve been a Rodney Crowell fan since 1978. He is, to be blunt, one of the great American songwriters of the last 40 years and I have listened to his music for 1000s of hours. What little guitar playing I learned, I learned so I could play Crowell’s songs. During the 70s and 80s Nashville artists waited for new Rodney songs to record. He has also recorded seventeen LPs (or CDs) since 1978, charting eight Top Ten Country songs, including five consecutive #1 hits, in 1988-89. 

chinaberry1Crowell has written a memoir about his early life growing up in hardscrabble Houston, Texas in the 1950s. Crowell’s former wife, Rosanne Cash, published an amazing memoir last year, Composed, which was less a memoir of her public life, than an intense meditation on how her life influenced her artistically. I was hoping for something like that from Crowell, but not this time out. It is a study of his life as a child, and tells the story of his parent’s life more than his own.

Most reviews are giving the book a home run … I have to differ. First of all, it is written in too much of a folksy, aw shucks style, peppered with down home expressions that most of us heard while growing up, but left behind as we moved out into the world. Crowell and his editor obviously had never read the old adage, “a little bit goes a long way.” It also is a bit clunky at times jumping from chapter to chapter, back and forth in time. There is an endless chapter about attending pentecostal church meetings that wears out its welcome after the first 2000 words, but goes on and on and on.

Here’s hoping Crowell has another memoir in the works that will illuminate his professional career as a songwriter and musician. Until then, I recommend you pull out your copies of Diamonds & Dirt or Fate’s Right Hand and enjoy the music!

NOT in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (But Should Be) – Amazing Rhythm Aces

Amazing Rhythm Aces

The Amazing Rhythm Aces1The Aces came out of Memphis, TN.  in 1972. At the recommendation of Barry “Byrd” Burton, who was engineering and producing at the famous Sam Phillips Recording Studio they recorded and developed a sound mixing of pop, country and blue-eyed soul, led by the literate and often quirky lyrics, and distinctive vocals by lead singer/songwriter Russell Smith. They have released 18 LPs over 30s.

Their first LP, Stacked Deck, was a hit, powered by the Top 10 country & pop,(and  now-classic) song, “Third Rate Romance.” In 1976 they earned a Grammy for “Best Vocal Performance” for “The End Is Not In Sight.” With their music described as “roots rock”, “country rock” mixing reggae, blues, country, bluegrass, rock and folk, the Aces were too eclectic to ever have consistent mainstream success. But their musical legacy today can be heard in most modern country and Americana music. The Aces are a band musicians love to love.

PLAYLIST:

  1. Third Rate Romance
  2. Hit The Nail On The Head … 3.19
  3. The End Is Not In Sight (the Cowboy Song) … 5: 43
  4. Typical American Boy … 9.26
  5. Who Will the Next Fool Be? … 12.55
  6. Amazing Grace (Used To Be Her Favorite Song) … 16.32
  7. I Got The Feeling … 20.21
  8. Out Of The Storm … 26.04
  9. DUI/SOL … 29.43
  10. Thangamalang … 33.01
  11. I’m A Dog …37.14

Recommended listening: Stacked Deck; Too Stuffed to Jump; Nothin’ But The Blues; Full House, Aces High.

Best Songs Written By a South Carolinian

South Carolina musicians run through the wide spectrum of American music – blues, jazz, country, soul, funk, and rock and roll. This is NOT a comprehensive list of great musical artists from the Palmetto state, rather it is an attempt to show the wide range of diversity and quality music that South Carolina has given to the world.  If you’re interested in reading about the roots of American popular music (and South Carolina’s role) read my book, Doin’ the Charleston. 

“Smooth,” “Push” & “3 AM” – Written by Rob Thomas (Lake City and Turbeville, SC)

Thomas is the lead singer of the band Matchbox 20. “Smooth” won a Grammy Award for both Santana and Thomas.

An Army brat, he was born at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, West Germany an army hospital. Thomas’s parents divorced while he was very young, at which point his father retired and disconnected from the family. He and his sister were raised by his mother and grandparents in Turbeville, South Carolina. When he was 12, his mother was diagnosed with cancer. He attributes the song “3AM” to this time.

“Little Darlin’” & “Stay” by Maurice Williams. (Lancaster, SC)

Maurice (with the Zodiacs)earned Rock and Roll immortality for the classic “Stay”, which was famously covered by Jackson Brown in 1977. “Little Darlin’ hit #2 in 1957 and was featured in the film American Graffiti.

“Take The Highway” & “Can’t You See” by Toy Caldwell (Spartanburg, SC)

As guitarist and main songwriter for MTB, Caldwell and the Marshall Tucker Band are stalwalts of the 1970s Southern rock movement and the greatest rock band from South Carolina … 

“FIRE ON THE MOUNTAIN” by George McCorkle (Spartanburg, SC)

McCorkle, second guitarist for The Marshall Tucker Band, was a major songwriter for the Tuckers. “Fire” is one of the great Southern country rock songs of the 1970s.

“HALF OF MY MISTAKES” by Radney Foster and Bobby Houck (of the Blue Dogs, Charleston, SC)

Houck, who is part of The Blue Dogs, wrote this amazing song with Texas music legend, Radney Foster. Foster is one of the best writers/performers on the Country/Alt/Americana scene today.

“AIN’T NO MOUNTAIN HIGH ENOUGH” & “AIN’T NOTHING LIKE THE REAL THING” & “YOU’RE ALL I NEED TO GET BY” & “LET’S GO GET STONED” by Nicholas Ashford (Fairfax, SC) and Valarie Simpson

The husband and wife team known as Ashford & Simpson is as big a part of the Motown story as is Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross; they were one of the top songwriting units for Berry Gordy’s assembly line production. “Stoned” was their first major success as a hit for Ray Charles.

“SUMMERTIME” by George Gershwin and Dubose Heyward (Charleston, SC)

Heyward wrote the libretto for this opening song for the opera “Porgy and Bess.”  There are more than 1000 recorded versions of this song, but Billie Holiday’s version takes the cake. 

“EVERY DAY IN THE WEEK BLUES” by Pink Anderson (Laurens, SC)

After being raised in Greenville and Spartanburg, SC Anderson joined Dr. Frank Kerr of the Indian Remedy Company in 1914 to entertain the crowds while Kerr tried to sell a concoction purported to have medicinal qualities.He traveled with Leo “Chief Thundercloud” Kahdot  and his medicine show, often with the Jonesville, South Carolina based harmonica-player Arthur “Peg Leg Sam” Jackson. In May 1950, Anderson was recorded by folklorist Paul Clayton at the Virginia State Fair.

Syd Barrett, of English progressive rock band Pink Floyd, came up with the band’s name by juxtaposing the first names of Pink Anderson and North Carolina bluesman, Floyd Council.

“STILL” by Whisperin’ Bill Anderson (Columbia SC)

Major country star of the 60s, 70s and 80s. In later years Anderson hosted a game show on TNN.

“THINKIN’ PROBLEM” by David Ball (Rock Hill, SC)

A successful country singer during the 1980s, this is a bone fide honty tonk classic.

“I GOT YOU (I FEEL GOOD)” & “PAPA’S GOT A BRAND NEW BAG” & “IT’S A MAN’S MAN’S MAN’S WORLD” by James Brown (Barnwell & Beach Island, SC)

Where do you stop listing the classic songs of James Brown? A legend and a force of nature. 

“A NIGHT IN TUNISIA” & GROOVIN’ HIGH” by Dizzy Gillespie (Cheraw, SC)

A monumental talent … one of the greatest musicans of the 20th century. 

“CORNER POCKET” by Freddie Green (Charleston, SC)

Freddie Green was guitarist for the Count Basie Orchestra for 50 years … the longest job in jazz history. “Mr. Rhythm” was also a brilliant song writer and arranger, as you will hear in this Basie classic. 

“LONG BLACK TRAIN” by Josh Turner (Hannah, SC)

A major country /gospel star, whose first hit, “Long Black Train” is a genuine classic. 

“BLUES FOR LAWRENCE” & A GATHERING IN THE CLEARING” by Cat Anderson (Greenville, SC)

Anderson grew up in the Jenkins Orphanage in Charleston, SC and played in their boys brass band. He played for more than 20 years with Duke Ellington in the 1950s-70s. 

“YOU’VE GOT TO STAND FOR SOMETHING” by Aaron Tippin (Traveler’s Rest, SC)

A honky-tonky singer who had a successful run in the 1990s. 

“ONLY WANNA BE WITH YOU” & “OLD MAN & ME (WHEN I GET TO HEAVEN)& “TIME” by Darius Rucker, Mark Bryan, Dean Felber and Jim Sonnefield (Hootie and the Blowfish)

These guys need no introductions … took the music world by storm in 1990s and now a South Carolina icon …

“JAZZ BATTLE” & “LET’S GET TOGETHER” “Lina Blues” & “TILL TIMES GET BETTER” by Jabbo Smith

A legendary jazz player who never became a legend. He was another member of the Jenkins Orphanage Band from Charleston, SC and a major artist in the 1920s and 30s. 

“JAZZ ME BLUES” & “DOWN HOME BLUES” & “AT THE JUMP STEADY BALL” by Tom Delaney

Yet another musician from the Jenkins Orphanage House in Charleston. He was a prolific songwriter of “negro blues” songs in the 1920s. “Jazz Me Blues” is an American Standard. Delany also wrote the obscure and filthy “All The Girls Love Big Dick”.

A Night At The Opera by Queen: The Essentials

In November 1975, the most audacious rock and roll / pop album since The Beatles’ Sgt.Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released – A Night at the Opera by Queen.  It was a spirited shot across the bow of the 1970s excesses of the glam-glitter-psychedelic rock and roll world by being cheekily glam and outrageous with their tongue firmly in their cheeks.  

Queen_A_Night_At_The_OperaAt the time my musical world was mainly confined to the wonderful world of 1970s AM pop radio. Within one hour we were able to hear: The Beatles (as well as solo songs by John-Paul-George-Ringo), Carol King, Three Dog Night, Jerry Reed, Stevie Wonder, John Denver, Carly Simon, the Temptations, the Rolling Stones, Deep Purple, Tammy Wynette, Doobie Brothers, the Osmonds, etc … a diversity that is unfathomable in today’s fractured broadcast world.  Then, in 1973 (age 13), I got my first job delivering newspapers and purchased two magazine subscriptions, Rolling Stone and Circus. I was also able to purchase the Holy Grail for a 1970s teenager – a stereo system complete with turntable and speakers.

My first LP purchases included all the usual suspects: Beatles, Deep Purple, Led Zep, Foghat and Pink Floyd. And then, based on the stories I was reading in Circus, I took a leap of faith and ordered an import copy of the debut LP by a new band from England called Queen. Three weeks later it arrived; when the needle dropped and the opening guitar riff from “Keep Yourself Alive” filled my bedroom I knew I had found a new favorite band. 

Problem was: I could not convince any of my friends of their brilliance.  They preferred Carly Simon, Chicago, the Eagles and (God help them) Tony Orlando and Dawn. Next year, Queen II arrived and with its dense sound and elaborate arrangements I made no headway in convincing my friends to embrace this band. The thaw began with the third LP, Sheer Heart Attack and the hit song “Killer Queen.” 

And then A Night at the Opera arrived. The album took its name from the classic Marx Brothers movie of the same name, which the band watched one night at the studio complex during recording. The music contained within was an astonishingly mixed bag – one song could be Led Zep, the next Spike Jones and the next Yes. It covered musical styles from heavy metal to pop to folk to mystical sci-fi to 1920s jazz and old English music hall ditties – all performed with exquisite gloss and panache, with a sly wink.

At the time, A Night at the Opera was the most expensive album ever recorded and it turned Queen into one of the biggest bands in the world, paving their path into becoming English rock and roll royalty on the same dias with the Beatles, the Stones and The Who. It also finally convinced my high school friends that Queen were, after all, a pretty damn good band.

Queen Night_At_The_Opera LP cover

LP Cover opened

At the start of 1975, despite having two Top Ten albums and two Top Ten singles to their name, Queen found themselves in serious dire financial straits. They had been touring and recording relentlessly for five years, and none of their hard work had started to pay off yet, which raised concerns for the band members.  So they threw themselves into the recording of A Night at the Opera with gusto. They knew rather early on that they had something special on their hands, and invited the press for a special hearing of the album only days before they were due to go on tour again. The feeling among the band was that the LP was going to change their lives one way or the other – either it was going to be a hit or become a massive failure and kill the band’s career. The album was still being mixed hours before the playback, and further tweaks and edits were made afterward, but the general consensus was that Queen had recorded a masterpiece, and that it was a major step forward from their previous three albums. Thirty-eight years later, it’s hard to disagree.

SIDE ONE (remember, LPs have two sides; you have to flip it over to listen to the entire album.)
  1. “Death on Two Legs (Dedicated to…)”

Composed by Freddie Mercury. Vocal by Mercury. This is Freddie’s vitriolic letter towards Queen’s ex-manager, Norman Sheffield, who, from 1972 to 75, was reputed to have mistreated the band and abused his role. Prior to the recording of A Night at the Opera the band fired Sheffield and began legal proceedings against him. Though the song never mentions him by name, upon listening to a playback of the song Sheffield was appalled and sued the band and the record label for defamation which resulted in an out of court settlement. In the Classic Albums documentary about the making of A Night at the Opera, Brian May stated that the band at first was somewhat taken aback by the incisiveness of Mercury’s lyrics and described by Mercury as being, “so vindictive that I felt bad singing it.”During live performances, Mercury would usually rededicate the song to “a real motherfucker of a gentleman.”

The song fades in with Mercury’s ominous piano (straight out of a 1950s horror soundtrack) accented by May’s death-toll style guitar chords. Most of the guitar parts on this song were initially played on piano by Mercury, to demonstrate to May how they needed to be played on guitar.

  1. Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon

Composed by Freddie Mercury. All vocals by Mercury. One of Mercury’s silliest upbeat ditties, v-e-r-y British. To create the 1920s “megaphone” sound, Mercury’s lead vocal was sung in the studio and reproduced through headphones sitting in a tin bucket elsewhere in the studio. A microphone then picked up the sound from the bucket which gave it the “hollow” sound.

  1. I’m in Love with My Car

Composed and sung by drummer Roger Taylor with a “driving” (a-hem) beat. It is probably Taylor’s most famous song in the Queen catalogue. The song was initially taken as a joke by guitarist Brian May, who after first hearing the demo thought that Taylor couldn’t be serious. The revving sounds at the conclusion of the song come from Taylor’s current car at the time, an Alfa Romeo. The lyrics were inspired by one of the band’s roadies, Jonathan Harris, whose Triumph TR4 was evidently the “love of his life”. The song is dedicated to him, the album says: “Dedicated to Johnathan Harris, boy racer to the end”. Taylor played the guitars in the original demo, but they were later re-recorded by May.

  1. You’re My Best Friend

Composed by bassist John Deacon. Vocals by Freddie Mercury. “You’re My Best Friend” was written by bass player John Deacon for his wife, Veronica Tetzlaff. It was a catchy bit of pop shuffle which reached the Top Ten on the charts. Deacon composed the song while he was learning to play the Wurlitzer Electric Piano on the recording and overdubbed the bass later on. On stage Mercury refused to play a Wurlitzer piano; he called it a “horrible” instrument in an interview. “Why play that thing when you have a grand piano available?” Freddie quipped.

  1. ’39

Composed and sung by Brian May. This may the first rock song that accurately uses Einstein’s special theory of relativity as a theme. May graduated from Imperial College with a degree in mathematics and physics and was working on his Ph.D. when Queen became successful, so he abandoned his doctoral work (which he completed in 2007). 

“’39” is a sci-fi folk-rock skiffle that relates the tale of a group of space explorers who embark on what is, from their perspective, a year-long voyage. Upon their return, however, they realize that a hundred years have passed and because of the time dilation the loved ones they left behind are now all dead. A haunting song, and a bone fide Queen classic.

NOTES: George Michael claimed that “’39” was his favorite Queen song, and that he used to busk the song in the London Underground as a teenager. He later performed “’39” at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert in April 1992.

While Queen was on their 1977 American tour, they were invited by Groucho Marx to visit him at his LA home. He wanted to thank them personally for naming their two most popular LPs after the two most successful Marx brother’s films – A Night at the Opera and A Day at the Races. During the band’s visit they performed “’39” a cappella for the ill comedian, who died five months later.

  1. Sweet Lady

Written by Brian May. Sung by Freddie Mercury. “Sweet Lady” is an unusual distorted guitar crunching rocker. What makes it unusual?  It’s written in 3/4 meter (which gives way to 4/4 at the bridge) which is not a typical time signature for a rock and roll song. Roger Taylor called this the most difficult drumming part he ever recorded.  The song’s crunchy guitar chords have an early “We Will Rock You” feel to them.

  1. Seaside Rendezvous

Written by Freddie Mercury. Vocals by Mercury.  Another classic Mercury cheeky ditty. The song is notable for the “instrumental” bridge section which begins at around 0:51 into the song. It is performed entirely by Mercury and Taylor using their voices alone. Mercury imitates woodwind instruments including a clarinet and Taylor mostly brass instruments, including tubas and trumpets, and even a kazoo. The “tap dance” segment is performed by Mercury and Taylor on the mixing desk with thimbles on their fingers. Mercury plays both grand piano and jangle honky-tonk.

SIDE TWO
  1. The Prophet’s Song

Composed by Brian May. Vocals by Freddie Mercury. It is a heavy and dark number with a strong progressive rock influence. On the show In the Studio with Redbeard, May explained that he wrote the song after a dream he’d had about a great flood while he was recovering from being ill while recording the Sheer Heart Attack album.

The overt Biblical references (the great flood) should also be filtered through May’s astrophysics background. In 1974 – a massive human skeleton was found somewhere in the Sahara Desert (36 ft. tall). Some speculated it could be one of the Fallen Angels that God kicked from Heaven, along with Satan.  At the time, an archeological / astronomical theory was being postulated of the “lost” planet Nibiru, whose humanlike creatures once lived on Earth. Due to an internal struggle for power they destroyed everything and everyone on earth, except Noah and his family, in a great flood.

The song includes the dazzling centerpiece – an amazing vocal canon sung by Mercury. The vocal, and later instrumental canon, was produced by early tape delay devices. At over eight minutes in length, is also Queen’s longest song.

  1. Love of My Life

Written by Freddie Mercury. Vocals by Mercury. Written for Mercury’s girlfriend at the time, Mary Austin it is one of Queen’s most covered songs Mercury plays piano and did all of the vocals with multi-tracking precision. May played the harp, doing it chord by chord and pasting the takes to form the entire part. He eventually arranged the song so it could be played on an acoustic 12 string for live performances.

“Love of My Life” became one of Queen’s concert favorites. During performances Mercury often stopped singing and allowed the audience to take over.

  10. Good Company

Composed and sung by Brian May. It is a narrative tale of a man who in young age was advised by his father to “take care of those you call your own, and keep good company”. In his younger years, the singer follows his father’s advice, keeping his friends and marrying a girl named Sally. As he grows older, he becomes increasingly skilled at and dedicated to his occupation, working long nights and neglecting his family and friends. Eventually, the man’s efforts are rewarded, he begins his own Limited Company (a pun) and becomes so dedicated to his business, he hardly notices as his wife leaves him. The song concludes with the speaker as an elderly man, puffing on his pipe and pondering the lessons of his life, which he has no one left to share with.

May provides all vocals and plays a “Genuine Aloha” ukulele, and remarkably recreates a Dixieland-style jazz band, on his homemade Red Special guitar and Deacy Amp.

11. Bohemian Rhapsody

Composed by Freddie Mercury. Vocals by Mercury.  This song is Queen’s “Stairway to Heaven” and “Freebird.” It was a massive hit in 1975-76, and sixteen years later it was introduced to another generation of listeners when it was featured in the hit movie “Wayne’s World.” In 2004 it was inducted into the Grammy hall of Fame and in 2012 it was voted the UK’s “Favorite Number One Song” of the past 60 years.

Bohemian_RhapsodyIt is also one of the most unusual and complex rock and roll songs ever to become a hit. It has no chorus, and consists of several sections: a ballad segment ending with a guitar solo, an operatic passage, and a hard rock section. At the time, it was the most expensive single ever made and it remains one of the most elaborate recordings in popular music history.[1]

All piano, bass and drum parts, as well as the vocal arrangements, were thought up by Mercury on a daily basis and written down “in blocks” on a phonebook. The other members of Queen recorded their respective instruments for each “section” of the song with no concept of what the final mix would sound like. The sections were held together by a drum click to keep all layers synchronized The now famous operatic section was originally intended to be only a short interlude of “Galileos” that connected the ballad and hard rock portions of the song.

The entire piece took three weeks to record, and in some sections featured 180 separate overdubs. Since the studios of the time only offered 24-track analogue tape, it was necessary for the three to overdub themselves many times and “bounce” these down to successive sub-mixes. Mercury, May and Taylor reportedly sang their vocal parts continually for ten to twelve hours a day.

Mercury wrote most of “Bohemian Rhapsody” at his home in Holland Road, Kensington, in west London. Much of Queen’s material was written in the studio according to Brian May, but this song “was all in Freddie’s mind” before they started., Judith Peraino said that “Mercury intended… [this song] to be a ‘mock opera’, something outside the norm of rock songs, and it does follow a certain operatic logic: choruses of multi-tracked voices alternate with aria-like solos, the emotions are excessive, the plot confusing.”

Mercury refused to explain his lyrics other than saying it was about relationships. “It’s one of those songs which has such a fantasy feel about it. I think people should just listen to it, think about it, and then make up their own minds as to what it says to them … it didn’t just come out of thin air. I did a bit of research although it was tongue-in-cheek and mock opera. Why not?”

Brian May supports suggestions that the song contained veiled references to Mercury’s personal traumas. He recalls “Freddie was a very complex person: flippant and funny on the surface, but he concealed insecurities and problems in squaring up his life with his childhood. He never explained the lyrics, but I think he put a lot of himself into that song.” In a BBC Three documentary about the making of “Bohemian Rhapsody”, Roger Taylor maintains that the true meaning of the song is “fairly self-explanatory with just a bit of nonsense in the middle.[7]

Basically, “Bohemian Rhapsody” is about a young man who has accidentally kills someone and, like Faust, sold his soul to the devil. On the night before his execution, he calls for God in Arabic, “Bismillah”, and with the help of angels, regains his soul from Shaitan.[19]

Still others interpreted them as Mercury’s way of dealing with personal issues. Music scholar Sheila Whiteley observes that Mercury reached a turning point in his personal life in the year he wrote “Bohemian Rhapsody”. He had been living with Mary Austin for seven years but had just embarked on his first gay love affair. She suggests that the song provides an insight into Mercury’s emotional state at the time, “living with Mary (‘Mamma’, as in Mother Mary) and wanting to break away (‘Mamma Mia let me go’).”

The a cappella opening was too complex to perform live, mainly the operatic middle section proved a problem. Because of extensive multi-tracking, it could not be performed on stage. Starting in 1977 the band adopted their lasting way of playing the song live. The opening ballad section would be played live on stage, and after Brian May’s guitar solo, the lights would go down, the band would leave the stage, and the operatic section would be played from tape, while stage lights provided a light show based around the voices of the opera section. A blast of pyrotechnics after Roger Taylor’s high note on the final “for me” would announce the band’s return for the hard rock section and closing ballad.

12. God Save the Queen

Brian May recorded the anthem in 1974 before their Sheer Heart Attack tour. He played a guide piano which was edited out later and added several layers of guitars.  Guitar layering is one of May’s distinctive techniques as a rock guitarist. He has said that the technique was developed whilst looking for a violin sound. After the song was completed it was played as an outro at virtually every concert while the band was taking their bows. May has stated that he performed the song on roof of Buckingham Palace as an homage to Jimi Hendrix’s version of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

PRODUCTION DETAILS

A Night At The Opera by Queen

Freddie Mercury – vocals, vocals, Bechstein Debauchery, and more vocals, jangle piano and vocal orchestration of woodwinds on Seaside Rendezvous, operatic vocals on Bohemian Rhapsody.

Brian May – guitars, orchestral backdrops, vocals, lead vocals on ‘39 and Good Company, toy koto on The Prophets Song, orchestral harp on Love Of My Life, genuine ‘aloha’ ukulele (made in Japan) and guitar jazz band on Good Company, operatic vocals on Bohemian Rhapsody.

Roger Taylor – drums, percussion, vocals, lead vocals on I’m In Love With My Car, bass drum and tambourine on ’39, vocal orchestrations of brass on Seaside Rendezvous, operatic vocals on Bohemian Rhapsody, timpani and gong on Bohemian Rhapsody and God Save The Queen, orchestral cymbals on God Save The Queen.

John Deacon – bass guitar, electric piano on You’re My Best Friend, double bass on ’39.

Produced by: Queen and Roy Thomas Baker.

Recorded: August – November 1975 at Sarm Studios, Olympic Studios, Scorpio Studios, Lansdowne Studios, Roundhouse Studios, London; Rockfield Studios, Monmouth. (God Save The Queen recorded July – October 1974 at Wessex Studios.)

1966: Beatles Release “Revolver” LP in America (Essentials)

Revolver announced to the world that a new Beatles had replaced the fresh-faced  pop stars. Performing live concerts was a thing in the past. The loveable moptops had grown up and were now free to explore and push musical boundaries from within the studio. They were artists, not just performers.

revolverRevolver was the first step toward the extensive experimentation on “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “I Am The Walrus” and Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Despite Pepper’s lofty status as the greatest rock and roll record of all time, Revolver  is better. It shows all four members of The Beatles working together, equally for the first time, at their creative peak. It is also the record in which George steps up and produces songs that stand equal with those of Lennon and McCartney. 

McCartney noted about the recording process:

This album has taken longer than the others because, normally, we go into the studios with, say, eight numbers of our own and some old numbers, like Mr Moonlight or some numbers we used to know, which we just do up a bit. This time, we had all our own numbers, including three of George’s, and so we had to work them all out. We haven’t had a basis to work on, just one guitar melody and a few chords and so we’ve really had to work on them. I think it’ll be our best album yet. They’ll never be able to copy this!

The Beatles’ previous album, Rubber Soul, had also been a change – exploring R&B and folk stylings (“Nowhere Man,” “Norwegian Wood”),  Revolver took the experimentation further, bringing in influences such as Motown, classical Indian music, children’s songs and full orchestration. George Harrison once commented:

 I don’t see too much different between Rubber Soul and Revolver. To me, they could be Volume One and Volume Two.
revolver back cover

Revolver – back cover LP

The LP showed remarkable songwriting leaps by McCartney, Lennon and Harrison. Harrison, with “Taxman,” “I Want to Tell You” and “Love You To” challenged Lennon and McCartney.  Paul responded with “Eleanor Rigby,” “Tell No One,” “Here, There, and Everywhere” and “Got To Get You Into My Life.” 

But, of course, it was Lennon who was the most innovative with “I’m Only Sleeping,” “She Said, She Said” and the remarkable “Tomorrow Never Knows.” Attempting to distill an LSD trip into a three-minute song, Lennon borrowed lyrics from Timothy Leary’s version of The Tibetan Book of the Dead, and recorded his vocal to sound like “the Dalai Lama singing from the highest mountaintop.”
Revolver was the Beatles’ artistic high-water mark, and unlike Sgt. Pepper, it was the product of a collaborative effort, the group fully vested in creating “Beatle music. Revolver announced to the pop world (and the world at large) that the 1960s had arrived and everything that followed was going to be different.


Side one  
No. Title Lead vocals Length  
1. “Taxman”   Harrison 2:39
2. “Eleanor Rigby”   McCartney 2:08
3. “I’m Only Sleeping”   Lennon 3:02
4. “Love You To”   Harrison 3:01
5. “Here, There and Everywhere”   McCartney 2:26
6. “Yellow Submarine”   Starr 2:40
7. “She Said She Said”   Lennon 2:37
Side two  
No. Title Lead vocals Length  
8. “Good Day Sunshine”   McCartney 2:10
9. “And Your Bird Can Sing”   Lennon 2:02
10. “For No One”   McCartney 2:01
11. “Doctor Robert”   Lennon 2:15
12. “I Want to Tell You”   Harrison 2:30
13. “Got to Get You into My Life”   McCartney 2:31
14. “Tomorrow Never Knows”   Lennon 2:57