Bob Dylan Sings “Gotta Serve Somebody”

Gotta_Serve_Somebody_coverListen to this track by gospel music fan and one-time “topical” singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, who recently had another birthday; he’s 74! It’s “Gotta Serve Somebody”, his 1979 hit single that would represent the last time to date he’d have a song in the top 40. This one reached #24 on the Billboard 100 upon its release in August of 1979.

The song was also featured on his new record, Slow Train Coming, a work that reflected his philosophical shift toward evangelical Christianity. It was the beginning of the Gospel Bob period! As such, it was something of a controversial release, with many of the songs on the album taking on a strident and spiritually polemical tone, tinged with a religiosity that seemed to be antithetical to the rock ‘n’ roll aesthetic. Dylan had always been something of a mercurial figure who seemed committed to undercutting expectations at every turn. But, even the session musicians who played on this track, and producer Jerry Wexler, were taken aback by Dylan’s new worldview. It was something of a surprise to Dylan’s peers, too. John Lennon of course wrote “Serve Yourself” in direct response to this tune. Many fans held the same point of view as Lennon on Bob’s gospel trip.

Yet, with this song that won him a Grammy for Best Male Vocal that year, there are elements here that had been a part of Dylan’s songwriting style all along, even celebrated in his earliest work. Continue reading

Hunters And Collectors Play “Throw Your Arms Around Me”

Hunters and Collectors Human FrailtyListen to this track by Australian post-new wave ambassadors Hunters And Collectors. It’s “Throw Your Arms Around Me”, a hit single off of their high-profile 1986 record Human Frailty, and released earlier as a stand-alone two years earlier

This song is considered to be a national treasure, being highly regarded as one of the best singles recorded by any band in Australia. It has scored top ten placements in poles for decades after it was re-recorded on the album and put out again as a single. Maybe a part of its appeal is that it’s a love song, although one that adds some lyrical angles that isn’t typical in love songs. Another aspect is that it’s nothing short of an anthem, designed to be sung for and with a live crowd. Listening to it, you can hear the space set apart in the arrangement for the heaving throngs singing along while swaying out in front of stages.

It also hints at something that is certainly resonant to human experience; our ephemeral existence and our call to seize the day. Continue reading

The Spinners Sing “They Just Can’t Stop It (Games People Play)”

Pick of the Litter The SpinnersListen to this track by soulful R&B crossover hitmakers The Spinners, sometimes known as The Detroit Spinners. It’s “They Just Can’t Stop It (Games People Play)”, a hit single from their 1975 album Pick Of The Litter. The song was a hit on the pop and the R&B charts that year, with lots of AM radio play during the short time between the end of the classic soul era and the dawn of disco.

The Spinners came out of Detroit in the days before Motown was founded, and just before rock ‘n’ roll had united a common audience all over the country and the world. They had formed on the cusp of a new musical era, when all manner of gospel-based singing groups began to explore the idea of creating a secular version of church vocal music, later to be known as soul.

But, it would be the seventies in which they would make their biggest mark as a group by delivering the coveted crossover hit, and by exemplifying a new style of soul music altogether.

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Bob Dylan With The Plugz Play “Jokerman” On Letterman

Bob Dylan and the PlugzListen to this track by mercurial singer-songwriter who likes a good jam as much as the next guy, Bob Dylan. It’s “Jokerman” a cut that is featured on his 1983 record Infidels.  On that album, the song is presented in a tasteful reggae-seasoned arrangement. But, Bob being Bob, when it came time to play it on David Letterman in March of 1984, he had other ideas.

Bob was living in Malibu around this time, and still very interested in exploring some musical alchemy with local musicians. I imagine the ride he’d been trying to get off since his early days as a would-be folk-rock messiah had a lot to do with that, trying to stretch himself as a player and a performer as the times were beginning to do some a-changin’ as the eighties began in earnest. Among some of the attendees at Bob’s house jams during this period was bassist Tony Marsico and drummer Charlie Quintana of the L.A punk band The Plugz, the first recognized Latino punk band active in a field of mostly white groups on that scene, and who in fact had gone indie during a time when that wasn’t really a thing yet, forming their own record label.  The alchemy Bob sought must have become adequately manifest by their gumption, but also their playing.

In short order along with punkily-monikered guitarist Justin Jesting (aka J.J Holiday) , they were to be Dylan’s backing group on the Letterman appearance. The performance would be both a triumph and a tragedy in equal measure. Continue reading

Sleeper Play “Sale Of The Century”

Sleeper_-_The_It_Girl_album_coverListen to this track by Brit-pop rear guard band and early to mid-nineties music industry case-study Sleeper. It’s “Sale Of The Century”, a top ten hit from 1996’s The It Girl. Even if they never made a record as big or as era-defining as Parklife, let’s say, this album is looked upon as their definitive statement during the height of the Brit-pop period, a bona fide platinum-selling record. This one is my favourite of their singles, of which they had eight in the top twenty during their tenure together before the end of the decade.

Sleeper formed at just the right time, and were active on the local scenes in London just as one era was ticking over into another. A record deal seemed to materialize before their eyes. But, by the time “Sale Of The Century” came around, they’d been on the scene playing the parts of jaded pop stars for a year and a half, touring with Blur, REM, and later with Elvis Costello & The Attractions. “Sale Of The Century” can be viewed in a different way when one considers their trajectory, and the mindset of lead singer Louise Wener as the writer and central figure in the eye of their particular storm. Continue reading

Los Lobos Play “Don’t Worry Baby”

Los Lobos How Will The Wolf SurviveListen to this track by East L.A rock ‘n’ roll and Tex-Mex paragons Los Lobos. It’s “Don’t Worry Baby”, a blues-steeped workout that is featured on their 1984 album How Will The Wolf Survive? 

Given that their name has a definite lupine association, that question was certainly pertinent to a group of otherwise regular guys playing music during the height of the MTV era. In the meantime, they had just scraped enough together after their EP … And A Time To Dance to buy a van and do a proper tour of the United States on their own steam after opening for Public Image, Ltd in the early eighties. The gambit seemed to pay off, with the band gaining traction and industry attention to record this, their first major label full-length record in the summer of 1984, with the help of the meticulous production ear of T-Bone Burnett, who also co-wrote this song.

This tune is infused with several musical streams the band were exposed to before forming in East L.A in the early 1970s as high school kids. The overall effect is a sort of bluesy rockabilly feel that not many in the mainstream were putting forward on top forty radio by 1984. Even the title of the song seems to be self-reflexive of their situation, being a singular group with no proven template for success to follow outside of their own identity as a band. So, how indeed would the wolf survive? Continue reading

Mavis Staples Sings “Fight”

Mavis Staples Your Good FortuneListen to this track by message music maven and one-time Staple Singer Mavis Staples. It’s “Fight” a brand new single as taken from her 2015 EP Your Good Fortune.  The EP was produced by none other than Anti-Records labelmate Son Little, also an artist with a feel for music with a message. This song is a kind of artistic mobius strip, with one artist who followed in the footsteps of another making footsteps of his own for her to follow. Saying that, there is more than just a turnaround between two artists with a similar set of motivations.

“Fight” seems to capture the anger related to any number of systemic aggressions against black people specifically and poor people in general as perpetrated by those who’s job it is to protect them. These events have alerted us to a social crisis that is not isolated to a few areas in our society. Songs about struggle and rage are appropriate in 2015 to say the least. I think essential may be the more precise word.

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