Tom Petty Sings “Free Fallin'”

Listen to this track by Heartbreaker honcho and first-time solo artist Tom Petty. It’s “Free Fallin'”, a smash hit song as taken from his first solo record, 1989’s Full Moon Fever. The song was the first single from that album, and remains today as his most enduring hit song.

The album was recorded around the same time as Petty’s involvement with the Travelling Wilburys, a “supergroup” that was more of an happily accidental situation that brought Petty together with some of his musical heroes, and by association revealing just what many people knew all along; that Petty himself had achieved hero status himself. Besides impressive results on the charts and with heavy rotation on the radio, one of the many things that came out of that situation was his relationship with Jeff Lynne, former ELO creative head and a producer with a signature style. The two began writing together. “Free Fallin'” is arguably their best result.

In some ways, this gambit in creating a solo album was a tough move for Petty, who’s backing band The Heartbreakers had been his comrades in arms for such a long time by then. Purportedly, others in the band were disdainful of the project, possibly fearing that their association with Petty was nearing its end. Still, a few Heartbreakers appear on the album including lead guitarist Mike Campbell (who plays on this song), bassist Howie Epstein, and keyboardist Benmont Tench. Ironically, instead of being a dramatic departure from his life fronting his old band, there’s something about this song that hearkens back to Petty’s earliest days with the Heartbreakers. Read more

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Between Stations with Three O’Clock Train

And now, one-time regular columnist Geoff Moore makes a triumphant return to the pages of The Delete Bin. This time, it’s in conversation with Mack MacKenzie, the principal of legendary alt-country originals Three O’Clock Train. Mack has a new EP coming out, and with a good cause attached to it …

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“I started busking on the streets of Montreal. I could only play five songs and so I thought I better write one myself,” recalls Mack MacKenzie of Three O’Clock Train. The initial result, ‘Train of Dreams,’ was the synthesis of a crystal radio home kit, haunted record shop aisles, ribs broken while trying to buy Bowie concert tickets, and house music: Beatles, Stones, Monkees, and Johnny Cash. “I had to write more material and start a band. The idea was to play and have fun.”

Reflecting on his younger days, Mack says, “I was a vulture. I don’t think I missed a single concert at the Montreal Forum between 1975 and 1985. I always bought six tickets. I knew every word and every credit on every album.”

Despite the existence of the legendary Blue Angel nightclub with its red leather banquettes and uniformed washroom attendants, a showcase host to Cash and Patsy Cline, Montreal was never really noted as a country and western type of town. And so what to make of Three O’Clock Train’s explosive club shows, their 1986 debut EP Wig Wam Beach and its full-length follow up Muscle In? A prose Polaroid snapshot of those days is facile, washed out, but how could Roy Orbison be fronting the Clash in the shadow of Mount Royal? “We called our own shots. Nobody ever told us what to play. We had freedom from the get-go,” Mack says. “The closest band to us was Rank and File.”

Originally formed as a trio and named for getting home after the closing time of Montreal’s bars, Three O’Clock Train was cowpunk, alt-country before the term existed. “We were a DIY band; we didn’t sign our rights over to anybody in order to not get paid.”

Ignored by commercial radio, the group proved to be a hit on the Canadian university circuit. In 1996, tired of the grind, Mack put the band on hiatus to pursue his interest in the era’s emerging digital technology. “I tried to stay away.” But he never stopped writing and performing. “What else am I going to do?” In 2001 Mack quit an IT position with Cirque du Soleil to revive Three O’Clock Train as a one-man entity. “Now I’m like Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails,” he chuckles, “fluid.”

Recording sessions with Chip and Tony Kinman, Rank and File brothers, have just wrapped up. Cuatro de Los Angeles, a new Three O’Clock Train four-song EP is on the way. The new single, a cover of Rank and File’s ‘Today Was Going to be My Lucky Day’ will be released before Christmas. “Everybody just calls it ‘Lucky Day.’” Luck is fickle. Mack is $300 US lighter having just liberated his car and the vital contents of its trunk (one amp, five guitars and 60 T-shirts) from an LA impound lot.

The studio expenses are a bit of a tightrope too. Tricky business. Mack is only about half way to his GoFundMe goal to pay the costs. “It’ll work out, it always has. I’ve never been too concerned with money.” His laissez-faire attitude combined with a fierce streak of independence has allowed him to weather disruption in the music industry better than the major labels. “I keep my cool.” Nor is the Cuatro de Los Angeles GoFundMe campaign a one-sided deal. Contributor enticements include house concerts, copies of the new EP, sets of Three O’Clock Train’s re-mastered back catalogue, downloads and merchandise. A portion of funds raised in excess of the goal will be donated to the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal. Mack already donates $2 from the sale of every Three O’Clock Train T-shirt to the organization. “Not a huge sum, but it’s a good cause and we need to raise their exposure and people’s awareness.”

And backtracking to tickets for Bowie’s 1976 Station to Station tour: “I lined up all night,” Mack says. “I was near the doors. When they opened them there was a crush of people behind me. I was up against the handle. There was a stampede. The staff picked me up off the floor and said I should go to the hospital. I said, ‘I know, but can I buy my tickets first?’”

And since then? “It’s been a lot of fun.”

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Thanks Mack!

Concert dates for the spring and summer of 2018 are accumulating.

For music, tour news and more information on Mack MacKenzie and Three O’Clock Train visit threeoclocktrain.com or facebook.com/ThreeOClockTrain.

To contribute to the Three O’Clock Train GoFundMe page where you can help Mack put out a new EP and get a chance to donate to Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal at the same time, click right here!

Enjoy!

Geoff Moore is a transplanted Montrealer, music fan, author, and roving reporter all rolled into one. He lives in Alberta.

 

 

 

Steely Dan Play “Peg”

Listen to this track by sardonic studio-bound jazz-rock duo Steely Dan. It’s “Peg”, a joyous hit single as taken from their 1977 album Aja, their sixth. The song is one of their most recognizable singles, spending several weeks in the top twenty on the Billboard charts.

By this time in their development, Steely Dan had reached the pinnacle of the artistic mountain they’d been climbing since the cessation of their life as a stable touring band. From 1974 to the time they were recording tracks for Aja, they’d created a meticulous workflow for themselves as a studio-bound concern, hiring studio musicians to supplement their own parts and to help them achieve the results of some very ambitious arrangements. They’d certainly displaced the contributions of former members who had played on their early hits. In this, we catch The Dan just where they wanted to be at the time, and with successful placements in the charts to justify their efforts.

“Peg” is one of the greatest expressions of Steely Dan’s approach to making records, just bursting with life, full of optimism and musical effervescence. It’s downright happy and life-affirming! As usual though, all is not necessarily as it seems here when the lyrics are considered. If one thing hadn’t changed in the modus operandi of principals Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, it was that what we find on the surface of a made for radio pop song by Steely Dan isn’t the whole picture.  Read more

All Saints Sing “Never Ever”

Listen to this track by London-based hit-single generating vocal group All Saints. It’s “Never Ever”, their smash 1997 single as taken from their self-titled album All Saints, their debut full-length. The group had been together since 1993, led by members Melanie Blatt and Shaznay Lewis, along with former member Simone Rainford, after serving as back-up vocalists for ZTT recording studios. With this song, and with then-new members in Canadian sisters Nicole and Natalie Appleton joining them,  they managed to score a number one single that would eventually become the second best selling single by a British girl group, just behind The Spice Girls “Wannabe”.

Like their spicy contemporaries, All Saints (named after a road in London) sought to appeal to a pure pop audience with a decidedly R&B flavour. With the kind of hooks their material featured, they were certainly able to get the attention of commercial radio, although perhaps with a bit less cultural impact than The Spice Girls initially. But one thing that All Saints had was an instinct for writing their own material. Shaznay Lewis wrote this song with writers Robert Jazayeri and Sean Mather. “Never Ever” was released in Britain in November of 1997, becoming a smash hit and remaining to be their biggest charting single to date with scores of accolades attached to it.

But like many hit songs, it was based in some very real struggles, specifically on Lewis’ part. Its success and its positive impact on the group struck her as ironic, rooted as it was in the pain of a real break-up. Beyond its undeniable commercial value and appealing pop hooks, there is a lot of darkness swimming below the surface that brings out some pertinent questions about break ups, and how they can very often skew our perceptions of ourselves. Read more

Johnny Cash Sings “Hurt”

Listen to this track by venerable country-folk patriarch and one-time Man In Black Johnny Cash. It’s “Hurt”, a song as taken from his 2002 album American Recordings IV: The Man Comes Around, Cash’s 87th (!) studio album, and last to be released in his lifetime.  As may be ascertained, that album was one in a series starting from the 1990s that had Johnny Cash working with producer Rick Rubin, showcasing material that on the surface seemed to be unlikely candidates for songs for Johnny Cash to cover.

This is certainly one of those songs, written by Trent Reznor the creative fulcum behind industrial rock outfit Nine Inch Nails. Upon hearing that Cash would cover his song, Reznor was flattered. But even he thought it might be an awkward fit for the guy who once had a hit with “A Boy Named Sue”. And yet, even Reznor would discover that through this new version of the track from an unlikely, and some might say mismatched, connection between artist and material, that there were hidden layers of meaning that could be brought out in his own song. Cash’s take on the song was a hit, as was the album off of which it had come; his best selling, non-compilation album in decades. But by the time this song was recorded, Johnny Cash was not a well man, suffering from neurodegenerative disease Shy-Drager syndrome. It shows on this performance. It certainly was demonstrably true as evidenced by the gut-wrenching video that accompanied it.

This goes well beyond the realm of commercial success of course. This remains to be one of those songs that goes beyond its writer, and in many ways also beyond Johnny Cash. And maybe that’s why it had such impact. Read more

10 Reasons The Beatles Broke Up

Other than the magnificently transportive music they made that shaped the way pop music itself was conceived, made, and culturally codified thereafter, one of the key things that makes The Beatles such a compelling band is the strength of their myth. Now, I have personally bored many people senseless in conversation, and even in podcasts, on the nature of The Beatles as a story, not just as a musical act.

What kind of story are we talking about exactly? I’ve come to believe that their story is a quest myth, and a coming of age story all rolled into one. To the former, it really is a story full of colourful characters that seem to be so huge that recognizing the fact that they were and are living, breathing human beings is rational, but not quite complete. They were, and are, more than that. This is because they take up space in our imaginations as much as they did and do in real life time and space. But as to the latter, the coming of age part of the equation, that’s the aspect of The Beatles story that adds a splash of mournful blue to the psychedelic spectrum. For something to be so wonderful to those outside looking in, it couldn’t possibly have been made to last.

As with everything in life, the answer to Why Did The Beatles Break Up? is and always has been more complicated than one factor affecting the whole. As much as fans like me venerate the people involved, we are talking about human beings here, however talented. They were subject to conflicting forces and grey areas that we all are. What were those forces according to me at least? Here in (very!) rough chronological order are at least 10 for you to consider, Good People.

Read more

John Cougar Mellencamp Sings “Jack and Diane”

Listen to this track by Indiana-born and bred heartland troubadour John Mellancamp, aka Johnny Cougar, aka John Cougar, aka John Cougar Mellencamp (whew!). It’s “Jack and Diane”, his enormous 1982 number one hit single as taken from the album American Fool, his fifth.

The song had enormous impact not only on the charts, but on pop culture during a time when music was becoming more and more stylistically ghettoized. As popular as it was, and is, there’s just something about this one that set it apart, seeming to have a cinematic quality that very few songs at the time contained. By 1982, “Jack and Diane” sounded like a progression for Mellencamp, who was then gathering momentum for a classic run of singles during the eighties and into the early nineties.

“Jack and Diane” concerns itself with two American kids growing up in the heartland and unsure of their places in the world. And yet, as with so many records that help define the times in which they’re released, there is an ocean of meaning underneath the scant story presented here. And ironically, much of it only comes to light as one gets older. Read more

Fall Into Tunes 2017

Ordinarily, I would start off my annual Fall Into Tunes edition with something about the changing colours and cooling weather that comes with the autumn season. At the time of this writing though, lawns are still crunchy and golden here in the (supposed) rainforests of Canada. And unfortunately, the smoke of forest fires is still hovering over many parts of the region. It’s like we’re living on an entirely different planet these days, Good People! What’s the weather like where you are? Whatever it is, I hope it suits your state of mind.

No matter where climate change may take us in the future, there will always be music in some form or another. A good tune can sustain us like a gentle rain. Although, I wouldn’t say no to a gentle rain, too. To tide us all over during this fall of 2017, a time that will never be repeated (so enjoy it to its fullest, everyone!), here is a selection of new music to serve as a soundtrack while scratching one’s head about the state of things, or just for the sheer sake of the music itself while pushing all other thoughts aside.

As is our custom down here at the lavish offices of the Delete Bin, tell me your favourites among these gems. And in turn, tell me what new artists you’ve discovered this summer now past who do not appear here.

Step right up … Read more

The Stooges Play “Search and Destroy”

Listen to this track by garage rock, glam, and proto-punk champions from Ann Arbor Michigan, The Stooges, aka Iggy & The Stooges. It’s “Search and Destroy”, a landmark cut off of their monumental third LP, Raw Power released in February 1973 . The song was a single, with album track “Penetration” as a b-side, kicking off the album like the sound of an exploding munitions dump. This was the sound of a fully realized Stooges, a band brought back from the dead by the time the album was recorded, produced by lead singer and creative head Iggy Pop, and David Bowie.

By the time this song was laid down and the band was reassembled after breaking up, changes had been made to The Stooges’ line-up. Drummer Scott Asheton remained behind the kit. But bassist Dave Alexander was gone, sidelined by substance abuse and addiction. Guitarist Ron Asheton took his place on bass, while lead guitar duties were handed over to newcomer James Williamson, co-writer of this song. His parts are brought well to the foreground throughout, although the approach to production and mixing of the record didn’t leave too much room for nuance initially. The history of how the record was recorded and mixed is an elaborate and intricate one even before it was transferred to CD format in the late-nineties under the guidance of Bruce Dickinson (Mr “more cowbell” himself). One of the notes on the CD version I have includes Iggy’s assurance that “everything’s still in the red”. Thank goodness for that!

All the while, this song has taken on a life of its own, being a go-to track when compiling lists of best hard rock, punk, glam, whatever, songs ever recorded. It certainly one that demands attention, and one of the high points of Iggy Pop’s career all around. A good portion of the reason for that in my mind is that despite the seeming lack of nuance happening in the music, there are definite layers of meaning to be found in its text that belie the blunt force of its delivery. Read more

Beck Sings “Guess I’m Doing Fine”

Listen to this song by cut-and-paste irony merchant and heartfelt singer-songwriter all in one, Beck. It’s “Guess I’m Doing Fine”, a single as taken from his 2002 album Sea Change, his seventh. The album’s title can be taken in a few ways, with one being the impression that Beck had embraced a new level of candour in terms of subject matter and perspective. This may be due to the fact that the album was released during a period of upheaval for its creator.

This song is one of many that documents the break-up of a relationship, with a requirement for the narrator in each song to confront the associated emotional turbulence before moving beyond it and starting a new chapter for himself. Sea change indeed, then. Evidently, Beck was apprehensive about revealing the depths of his feelings around these kinds of themes, given that he’d personally broken up with his partner of nine years around the time this album was released. He wanted to avoid self-indulgence, and capturing his own misery in amber. Eventually though, it occurred to him that songs about break-ups are legion because the pain associated with the end of a relationship is universal to the human experience. Why not write about it?

As a result, this song goes beyond any one personal story and opens things up in the material for an audience. This resulted in some pretty solid reviews. And there are still some eyebrow-arching lines in there that are true to their writer’s M.O to boot.
Read more