Listen to this track by blues-rock supergroup and proto-metal progenitors Humble Pie. It’s “Black Coffee” a track as taken from their 1973 double album bluntly entitled Eat It, and presented in this clip from the British music program The Old Grey Whistle Test. This song was a part of a section on the record that featured the band’s interest in R&B covers. This one is from Ike & Tina Turner no less, written and recorded a year previous to this one on their Feel Good album, although Humble Pie’s take features modified lyrics to suit lead singer Steve Marriott’s point of view.
Besides Marriott, the earliest version of the group also included singer and guitarist Peter Frampton, who served as a co-lead singer, also sharing vocal leads with bassist Greg Ridley, late of Spooky Tooth. All three were backed up by drummer Jerry Shirley. But, by the early ’70s, Frampton had left, and Marriott was secured in the role of frontman, with new guitarist Clem Clempson as a lead to Marriott’s rhythm playing.
Marriott would also introduce a new dynamic to the band by encouraging a group within the group who would provide a much-needed counterweight to his searing vocal skills; backing singers! But who were they, and how did they fit in and then change the sound of the band? (more…)
Bonnie Raitt in the early ’70s (via Bonnie Raitt official site)
Listen to this track by redheaded guitar slinger and roots and blues ingenue turned American music matriarch Bonnie Raitt. It’s “Love Me Like a Man” as taken from her second album Give It Up, released to the world in the summer of 1972, when she was a fresh-faced 22 year old.
Bonnie Riatt is known today particularly for the work she created in the late ’80s and into the ’90s. Albums like Nick Of Time and Luck of the Draw, plus songs like “Something To Talk About”, and “I Can’t Make You Love Me” led to armfuls of Grammies. They also reveal Raitt’s superior command of emotional tone, arrangement, and great chops, even if they were created with a polished, adult contemporary sound in mind. But, her career began well before that work was created, upon a sturdy foundation of the blues.
The idea of “contemporary blues” is off-putting to some. It’s a bit of a red flag for me, if I’m honest. But, this song is certainly one that can be called contemporary although maybe in a different way then one might expect.
Listen to this track by Irish new wave chart-botherers The Boomtown Rats. It’s the 1979 smash-hit song “I Don’t Like Mondays” as taken from the album The Fine Art of Surfacing. After a series of singles that made an impact on the UK and Irish charts, this is the song that gave them international attention.
The inspiration for this song was international as well. The news story arrived by way of a Telex machine (that machine making an appearance in this song, of course) while head writer Bob Geldof sat in the offices of an Atlanta college radio station waiting to be interviewed. This was basically the source for news before text messages, smart phones, and the Internet, for you young’uns! The story concerned a sixteen year old girl who shot up a school ground in a middle-class neighbourhood, killing two people, wounding eight children, and one police officer. Her excuse upon her capture? “I don’t like Mondays. This livens up the day.”
The song was written in short order, and was on the set list within a month of the incident. But, I think this song covers thematic ground that certainly goes past what originally inspired it. (more…)
Listen to this track by art rock doyen and former Genesis frontman turned re-invented solo artist Peter Gabriel. It’s “Humdrum”, a track as taken from his 1977 solo record, and the first to bear the title Peter Gabriel. In addition to appearing on that record, it would soon be a popular live track as well.
And on this first statement as a solo artist, he had the help of some pros. The record was produced by Bob Ezrin in Toronto, and with sessions at Olympic Studios in Barnes that included a number of musicians you’ve heard of, including Robert Fripp on guitar, and bassist/Chapman stick player Tony Levin.
It’s important to note that this record was fairly long-awaited. Gabriel left Genesis in 1975, and it was a highly publicized departure considering that Gabriel had defined the band’s tone, and presentation. So, how does this song reflect both his role in Genesis and as a singular solo artist, too? (more…)
Listen to this track by million-selling piano man and singular ’70s rock clothes horse Elton John. It’s “Rocket Man (I think It’s Going To Be A Long, Long Time)”, a hit single in the spring of 1972, and a key track as taken from his Honky Chateau album that year.
In line with the times when space missions were more common perhaps than they are today, or simply more celebrated, this song stormed the charts with top ten showings all over the world. It also marked a change in approach for Elton John who used his road band on the entirety of the recording instead of sessioners; Dee Murray on bass, Davey Johnstone on guitars and other assorted stringed instruments, and Nigel Olssen behind the kit.
Addtionally on this track, he worked with studio whiz, composer, and keyboardist David Hentschel who added the distinctive ARP synthesizer lines to this track, which gave it an appropriately futurist feel. This is not to minimize John’s own contribution, in particular his singing which is some of the finest of his career, completely selling this tale of space travel and emotional disconnectedness.
The result of all these elements would be one of Elton John’s best known and best loved songs. But, how does it perhaps apply to the touring rock star as much as it does to the story of the Rocket Man? (more…)
Listen to this track by singer-songwriter-satirist with a jaundiced eye Warren Zevon. It’s “Werewolves of London”, his biggest hit off of his best-selling record to date, Excitable Boy from 1978. The song was written with sought-after session guitarist Waddy Wachtel, with the record (and the rest of the album) produced by fellow singer-songwriter Jackson Browne.
Like Browne, Zevon was on the scene in Los Angeles by the 1970s, moving in some of the same circles. But, unlike Browne, Zevon’s impact on the mainstream charts was not quite as ubiquitous, that is until this song helped him to move up in stature with a top 40 hit. But, despite having a hit, the song still reflects Zevon’s approach, that being slightly bent and left of center, with a broad streak of dark humour. His work has a satirical edge, certainly on display on songs like “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner” and “Lawyers, Guns and Money”, also appearing on this same record.
So, what about this song which evokes the classic 1941 The Wolf Man, starring Lon Chaney, Jr. (actually namechecked in this song!) while also being something of a comment on characters that are perhaps more contemporary? (more…)
Listen to this track by one-time Woodstock New York homeowner, family man, and singer-songwriter Bob Dylan. It’s “Man In Me”, a cut as taken from his 1970 album New Morning.
This record was something of a comeback record for Dylan, who had released two rather unexpected albums previous to its release. The first was Nashville Skyline, which was a collection of short country songs sung in a voice that very few immediately recognized as Dylan the singer. And then he released Self Portrait, an album that few would recognize as coming from Dylan the songwriter.
But all the while, Dylan had other things on his mind. One was trying to figure out how to stop being Bob Dylan as other people understood him. And this song would be one his most revealing to date on this score. (more…)
Listen to this track by first graduating class members of the funk-soul school of hit singles Sly & The Family Stone. It’s “Family Affair”, the last number one hit they’d enjoy, and one included on their seminal There’s A Riot Going On album released in 1971.
By this time, the soulful togetherness that their material exemplified so well by the end of the idealistic 1960s had given way to darker, more claustrophobic themes that were perhaps more appropriate to the cultural landscape of the early ’70s. The war in Vietnam was raging with no end in sight, Kent State students had been gunned down by the National Guard, and Altamont had made the hippy dream of Woodstock into something of a zero net gain.
This shift in tone on this record also had a lot to do perhaps with leader Sly Stone’s descent into hard drugs, and his tendency to isolate himself from his band members in all kinds of other ways, too. This track was created largely without them, with Sly and his sister Rose taking on vocal duties, and with Sly playing everything else himself but for the Fender Rhodes (Billy Preston), and electric guitar (Bobby Womack). As for the drums, this song was the result of the earliest use of a drum machine on a mainstream hit. Technically then, this isn’t really a band effort in the strictest sense. But, neither was the rest of the album.
Nevertheless, it was a hit even if it would also be their peak. Despite some notable material afterward (“If You Want Me To Stay”, “Que Sera Sera”), it was all downhill from here for Sly & The Family Stone as a band. Maybe it’s appropriate that this was their last number one single, seeing how relevant the subject matter is to who Sly Stone was as a writer, and as an individual as a part of a group at the time. (more…)
Listen to this track by seminal Toronto punk rock scene starters and once nominated “best Toronto band ever”, The Diodes. It’s “Tired of Waking Up Tired” as taken from their 1979 record Released. It would appear on compilation records to follow, and became something of a signature track for the band, enduring even after they’d faded away.
Like many bands from this country of mine, the Diodes were brimming over with talent and potential, yet largely unknown to the mainstream in the rest of the world. This is not to say that they didn’t hit the road to put themselves across. They’d associated themselves with east coast punk rock, playing bills with the Ramones, the Runaways, the Dead Boys, and others. They’d also have something of a connection with UK scenes in the 1980s after transplanting the band there.
They’d formed at a time when punk was being recognized by major labels for its radio play potential, and were signed to Columbia records (in Canada, mind you). They’d move on to other labels, with the title of the album off of which this song comes possibly relating to a changeover to Epic.
But, like a lot of the best punk, this tune has miles of pop appeal rooted in rock n’ roll traditions of the previous decade.
Listen to this track by leather-jacketed punk rock architects from Queens, New York, The Ramones (or simply ‘Ramones’). It’s “Rock N’ Roll High School” a song that served as a title track to the Roger Corman-produced movie of the same name, and appearing on the soundtrack album, and later in a Phil Spectre-produced version on End Of The Century.
By the time this song, and the movie, came out, the Ramones was an institution. Founded in 1974, they took to writing songs for the simple reason that they didn’t have the confidence to play other people’s songs as well as ones they could come up with on their own. The four guys from Forest Hill in Queens New York would craft a sound, and a look, that would solidify what many acts had reached for over the decades since rock n’ roll as a social phenomenon was established.
Their music is basic, visceral, and appealing to the teenaged mind no matter how old that teenager gets. Maybe this is why they were incorporated into the plot of the film which is all about teenagers. In many ways, the movie is much like a Ramones song in cinematic form; it concerns itself with the pursuit of kicks, chicks, and resistance to oppressive authority. (more…)