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In Memoriam – February 2010

March 5th, 2010 3 comments

After a hyperactive beginning of the year, the Grim Reaper took it mercifully easy on the world of music in February. So featured this month are some musicians who left us during the month past (and one of them died on the last day of January). As always, I don’t claim that this list is complete.

* * *

Herman Dunham, 73, doo wop singer with The Solitaires, the Vocaleers and The Blenders, on January 31
The Solitaires – Walking Along (1958).mp3

Richard Delvy, 67, drummer of the Bel-Airs, songwriter and producer, on February 6
The Bel-Airs – Mr Moto (1962).mp3

John Dankworth, 82, saxophonist and clarinetist, jazz and movie soundtrack composer, on February 6
Johnny Dankworth and his Orchestra – Experiments With Mice (1956).mp3

Pena Branco, 70, Brazilian folk singer, on February 8
Pena Branca & Xavantinho – Cutelinho (2002).mp3

Dale Hawkins, 73, rockabilly singer and songwriter, on February 13
Dale Hawkins – Suzie Q (1957).mp3

Lee Freeman, 60, rhythm guitarist with Strawberry Alarm Clock, on February 14
Strawberry Alarm Clock – Tomorrow (1967).mp3

Lil’ Dave Thompson, 40, blues guitarist, on February 14
Dave Thompson – Mississippi Boy (1995).mp3

Doug Fieger, 57, frontman of The Knack, on February 15
The Knack – Good Girls Don’t (1979).mp3

Art Van Damme, 89, jazz accordionist of cool repute, on February 15
Art Van Damme – Autumn In New York.mp3

Kathryn Grayson, 88, musicals actress (Kiss Me Kate, Showboat, Anchors Aweigh etc), on February 17
Kathryn Grayson &  Howard Keel – Make Believe (from Showboat, 1951).mp3

Chilly B, 47, co-founder of influential ’80s rap group Newcleus, on February 23
Newcleus – Jam On It (1984).mp3

Tom ‘T-Bone’ Wolk, 58, bassist for Hall & Oates since 1981 (also recorded with Elvis Costello, Carly Simon, Billy Joel a.o.), on February 27
Hall & Oates – Maneater (1982).mp3

Larry Cassidy, 56, singer and bassist of Section 25, on February 27.
Section 25 – Dirty Disco (1981).mp3

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In Memoriam January 2010
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Great Moustaches in Rock: Oates

July 8th, 2008 10 comments

The great pantheon of frightful and stupid moustaches is populated by hairy scary guys like these geniuses:

And then there was John Oates, modelling the porn school reject ‘tache with perm combo:


It must have been hard for Oates to play second banana to the King of the ’80s Mullet; harder yet if on the LP cover on which Hall & Oates went for the Agnetha and Anni-Frid look, the dude without the ‘tache looks the tougher guy.


There always was something slightly ridiculous about John Oates, lipgrowth and comedy perm aside. He was tiny next to Hall, and he had a need to strike axeman poses with his guitar when all we needed him to be was the other Righteous Brother. That seemed to be his destiny: the perennial sidekick. In Lisa Simpson’s dream Oates even took to the stage as part of a supergroup of “the other guys”, which also featured Art Garfunkel and Jim Messina. It was a bit unfair on Garfunkel and, especially, Messina (who was much more talented than Loggins). But Oates seemed to belong there; Daryl Hall was generally supposed to be the superior talent. Ah, but was he? Have you heard Hall’s solo records? They are crap (Edit: apparently not all crap; see comments). In particular that FIFA World Cup song he recorded. Proof that Oates was the indispensible ingredient in the Hall & Oates recipe, much as nutmeg is in Coca Cola? The poor man was terribly underrated. No wonder he’s staring down the bigger Daryl.


I’m delighted to note that Hall & Oates are now undergoing a critical rehabilitation. Even The Quietus, which can be heartlessly scathing in its critique, has recognised the genius of Hall & Oates. Better than I could, Adam Narkiwiecz expresses all I’d say on the subject. “H&A are up there with the greats,” Narkiewiecz rules, and he is damn right.

Here, then, are a few Hall & Oates songs. The version of Everytime You Go Away is from the live album with David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks, though the two great Temptations don’t appear on that song. They are, however, represented on Out Of Touch, here as a live version from Live Aid (how brilliantly ’80s are those echo effects?). Your Kiss Is On My List, from the 1980 album that also yielded the original version of Everytime You Go Away, ranks among the duo’s finest moments of the ’80s, while the mid-’70s trilogy of She’s Gone, Sara Smile and Rich Girl serve as a potent reminder that Hall & Oates are essentially a ’70s group, and not the ’80s novelty act some appear to regard them as — usually because of Daryl’s hair and John’s moustache.

EDIT: Ooops, I uploaded the studio version instead of the Live Aid version of Out Of Touch. Below the Live Aid and the studio version. And to make amends, the Live Aid performance of Maneater. (Look out for the Live Aid special next week!)

Hall & Oates – Maneater (at Live Aid).mp3
Hall & Oates – Out Of Touch (at Live Aid).mp3
Hall & Oates – Everytime You Go Away (live).mp3
Hall & Oates – Sara Smile.mp3
Hall & Oates – Your Kiss Is On My List.mp3
Hall & Oates – Out Of Touch.mp3
Hall & Oates – She’s Gone.mp3
Hall & Oates – Rich Girl.mp3
Hall & Oates – Private Eyes.mp3

And do watch the video for She’s Gone. It is a comedy classic.

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Perfect Pop – Vol.1

March 17th, 2008 7 comments

Jim Irvin in the latest issue of that fine British music magazine The Word makes the point that when his fellow critics describe something as perfect pop, it probably is neither. “It’ll be the work of a tone-deaf beanpole with a great haircut who sings like a rusty hinge while his mates commit acts upon musical instruments that the Spanish Inquisition would have thought twice about,” he writes, exaggerating for effect only marginally. Irvin mentions three songs as examples of what does constitute perfect pop: Britney’s Toxic, Take That’s Back For Good, and the Beatles’ I Feel Fine. I think these are excellent choices. But perfect pop is not a rarity, as I and a few Internet buddies found.

So, what are the ingredients in a perfect pop record? One pal suggested that pursuing a recipe is like “unweaving a rainbow” (a reasoning which might recall Stephen Fry’s immortal line, “Don’t analyse comedy; it’s beautiful as it is”). Unlike my pal, I prefer to approach such things scientifically, so here are some criteria I’d employ:

1. Great tune (obviously)
2. A killer chorus
3. Relative brevity (six-minute epics really must justify their time)
4. Instant recognisability
5. A certain timelessness (it should sound fresh three decades later)
6. Singalongabillity (or humalongability)
7. something undefinable; let’s call it aural fairydust (probably the one essential ingredient)

With all that in mind, and acknowledging that discerning perfection in pop is intrinsically subjective, let’s dip into the first bumper lot of 20 perfect pop records (enough to make a mix-tape, so take your time):

Hall & Oates – Private Eyes.mp3
It is easy to make fun of Hall’s mullet and of Oates in general, but Daryl and John were purveyors of many a perfect pop record. ‘She’s Gone’, ‘Kiss On My List’, ‘Rich Girl’, ‘Everytime You Go Away’, ‘One On One’, perhaps also ‘Out Of Touch’ (were it not for the horrible ’80s production) are all contenders. ‘Private Eyes’, however, towers above all of these in capturing a flawless pop sensibility: you sing along with it involuntarily, you do the drum thingy, your foot taps, you remember the lyrics even when you haven’t heard the song in years…
Best bit: The whipping drum thingy (0:42)

The Sweet – Teenage Rampage.mp3
It could have been any number of Sweet hits. ‘Ballroom Blitz’, ‘Blockbuster’, ‘The Six Teens’ or ‘Fox On The Run’ have no deficiency in the pop perfection stakes. When the verses are almost good enough to be the chorus, and the chorus tops it, and you have to sing along, then it has the main ingredients for perfect pop.
Best Bit: When the chorus kicks in (0:54)

The Jesus And Mary Chain – Just Like Honey.mp3
Can a record with excess feedback be perfect? In this case, I think it can be. Indeed, had the Reid brothers dispensed with the feedback for ‘Just Like Honey’, the song might have been just another Phil Spektor pastiche.
Best bit: The guitar solo gets even louder (1:42)

The Turtles – Happy Together.mp3
The sound of 1966, a great year in pop. A judiciously employed backing vocal of ba-ba-ba-bah and a martial beat can make a difference between a good pop song and a perfect one.
Best bit: “How is the weather?” (2:21)

Guildo Horn – Guildo hat euch lieb.mp3
Germany’s quite brilliant Eurovision Song Contest entry in 1998 seemed to at once embrace the contest and give it the finger (hence his relatively poor showing in seventh place). The name alone suggests some ribbing at the German Schlager (Guildo is phonetically identical to the surname of the late Schlager icon Rex Gildo, whose ‘Fiesta Mexicana’ can be found here). On ‘Guildo hat euch lieb’ (Guildo loves you [plural]), Horn accomplishes the impossible: he makes German sound good in a pop song.
Best bit: “Tief, tief, tief, ich hab’ dich lieb” (1:00)

Big Bopper – Chantilly Lace.mp3
This might have aged a bit since it was a hit 50 years ago, but if you have to listen to somebody speak on record, wouldn’t you rather it was the Big Bopper instead of bloody Fabolous?
Best bit: “Helllooooo baaaaaaybee” (0:01)

The Buggles – Video Killed The Radio Star.mp3*
Not quite three-and-a-half minutes packed with so many endearing touches, from the piano intro to the sing-along fade out. It’s impossible, surely, not to love this song.
Best bit: The drum comes in (0:31)

Kylie Minogue – Can’t Get You Out Of My Head.mp3
Would one say this song was perfect pop if it wasn’t for that video? “Spinning Around” is perhaps the bouncier pop song, but this creeps into your head without you even noticing and squats there like a hippie commune. Where do I apply for the job as Kylie’s gold shorts?
Best bit: “La la la, la-la-lala-la…” (0:15)

Abba – Dancing Queen.mp3
Some would say that this is the most perfect pop song ever. If one takes the view that there can be such a thing as a single “most perfect pop song” ever, then ‘Dancing Queen’ would be as good a choice as any (but there can’t be, of course). Indeed, there are a number of worthy challengers in the Abba canon: there is only a sliver of difference in the perfection of ‘Dancing Queen’ and, say, ‘S.O.S.’ or ‘Mamma Mia’.
Best bit: “You can dance, you can jive…” (0:20)

Pet Shop Boys & Dusty Springfield – What Have I Done To Deserve This.mp3*
The Pet Shop Boys are another outfit who could churn out some wonderful pop. The 1986 debut album, Please, in particular boasted four singles which accomplished or neared perfection, especially ‘Suburbia’. But it was in tandem with another purveyor of great pop that they conjured indisputable perfection.
Best bit: Dusty’s voice goes higher as she sings “make me feel better” (2:48)

Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel – Come Up And See Me.mp3*
Steve Harley’s periodically stuttering, spluttering and sneering delivery are complemented by a great tune, infectious hooks and an exciting arrangement, with sudden stops and those “oowooh-la-la-la” backing vocals.
Best bit: The two second pause between the acoustic guitar solo and Steve Harley resuming (2:19)

The Temptations – My Girl.mp3
One could fill a whole 2GB iPod with perfect pop from Hitsville, and still regret leaving out great songs. So we’ll settle for “My Girl” as a representative for Motown, appropriately so not only because it is a mindbogglingly great song, but also because it combines two agents of serial pop perfection: it was written by Smokey Robinson, and performed by the Temptations.
Best bit: “Hey hey hey” (1:42)

ABC – Poison Arrow.mp3*
I’ve been reluctant to admit it in the face of strong feelings on the subject, and I do like much of their music, but I think ABC are overrated. Maybe it is the Roxy Music influence (and, my goodness, aren’t they overrated?), but ABC always struck me as insincere popsters. If ABC do deserve the adulation they continue to receive (by people of a certain age anyway), then it must be for their two bona fide pop classics, “The Look Of Love” and “Poison Arrow”. I regard the former as a fine song, but the latter is genius. Especially the way the drums simulate the arrow being shot.
Best bit: “That’s stupid!” (2:45)

The Smiths – This Charming Man (Peel session).mp3*
There are people who have bought into the foolish notion that The Smiths were in any way depressing. Who created that idea? The Smiths were a great pop combo, and ‘This Charming Man’ is the best example of that.
Best bit: Marr’s closing chords (2:39)

The Kingsmen – Louie Louie.mp3
If you have the right hi-fi equipment and good hearing, apparently you can hear the drummer say “fuck” when he screws up as he comes into song. Which would be the first instance of the f-word word being released on record. Everything about this song is shambolic, which adds to its attraction. It makes even the untalented among us believe that anyone could do this rock ‘n roll lark. So it’s probably more punk than the Sex Pistols ever were.
Best bit: “OK, let’s give it to them, right now” (1:25)

Strawberry Switchblade – Since Yesterday.mp3*
My son’s 13-year-old friend Thabo was going through my iPod, and attracted by this duo’s name (mmm, strawberries) discovered ‘Since Yesterday’, a piece of pop heaven from 1984/85. Thabo was so enchanted by it, he recorded it on to his cellphone (when all he needed to do was visit this blog to get the MP3. Or just ask me for it).
Best bit: The instrumental break (1:32)

David Essex – Gonna Make You A Star.mp3
Is this glam rock or bubblegum pop? Either way, it is faultless pop with loads of little touches which reveal themselves the more familiar one becomes with this1974 hit.
Best bit: “I’ gonna make you a stah-yee-yah-yee-yah-yee-yah-yee-yah-ee-yah-ee-ye-yay-yeaaaa-ur (2:39)

Rainbow – Since You’ve Been Gone.mp3*
Great opening chords, some of the best handclaps outside a Motown studio, a catchy chorus, and fantastic pop-rock vocals of the kind that would come to influence every big hair rocker (by a dude with short hair).
Best bit: Things picking up again after the bridge (2:15)

Wham! – Club Tropicana.mp3
Wham! had their share of great pop tunes: ‘I’m Your Man’, ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’, ‘Freedom’. But this trumps any of these. It’s a total joy from the first few seconds when the crickets chirp to the final “coooo-ooool”. Only a curmudgeon could not derive pleasure out of this.
Best bit: The duelling saxophones (2:45)

DJ Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince – Summertime.mp3
It is indeed the sound of a lazy summer’s day. If this is going to be Will Smith’s sole legacy worth preserving (as seems likely), then we nonetheless owe him a debt of gratitude for adding to the pop canon this most evocative seasonal anthem. Props to DJ Jazzy Jeff who presumably was responsible for sampling so well from Kool & the Gangs ‘Summer Madness’ (download that as well).
Best bit: The Kool & the Gang sample throughout.

* previously posted

Love Songs For Every Situation: Heartbreak

February 23rd, 2008 4 comments

When unrequited love girl communicated to me gently that she didn’t like me that way, I experienced validation for the term heartbreak. It did feel as though my actually heart was broken right down the middle. Of course it didn’t, because else I would be dead, but the instant pain manifested itself in the location where the blood-pumping organ resides. It then moved to my chest and stomach, but lungache or gutbreak don’t sound terrible romantic.

The genre of love songs is rich in lyrics about broken hearts, from Sinatra learning the blues to Alicia Keys bemoaning that she can’t have you and any number of country singers picking up the shards of their broken hearts. Somehow this hugely intense emotion has given rise to some astoundingly banal lyrics — take a bow Bonnie Tyler and Mariah Carey. Here then, in the penultimate installment of this series, we deal with heartbreak in a non-banal manner.

Smokey Robinson & The Miracles – The Tracks Of My Tears.mp3
This may well be the best song ever about a broken heart, by Motown’s poet laureate. Smokey is stoic, like the stiff-lipped Englishman of cliché, and won’t publicly exhibit his inner turmoil. He jokes around, has a cute girlfriend, but it’s an act. “The Tracks Of My Tears” also contains one of the most wonderfully delivered lines in pop ever: “My smile is my make-up I wear since my break-up with you”. There is joy in sadness.

Colin Hay – Lifeline.mp3
Part-time genius Colin Hay (who used to be Men At Work’s frontman) has a great way of expressing inner discontent with philosophical easy-goingness (take “Beautiful World” as an example of that). Here our man is a bit more forthright. She “broke my heart, I saw it coming from the start”, and now he is drowning in a sea of depression, hence the request for a lifeline in the chorus. He acknowledges that he needs to learn how to swim, throwing away the prozac (“You’ll never forget her, so why do you even try?”) and try to get over the depression by drinking water from appears to be a lake with magical healing properties. A really powerful song.

The Weepies – World Spins Madly On.mp3
When your heart is broken, inertia and feelings of alienation are normal reactions. The Weepies’ Steve Tannen outlines just that: “Woke up and wished that I was dead, with an aching in my head I lay motionless in bed. I thought of you and where you’d gone, and let the world spin madly on.” Perfect.

April Sixth – Dear Angel.mp3
I don’t usually do stuff with emo tendencies, but I’ll make an exception for this song (by a group named after my birthday, bless them), which I like a lot. Girl has dumped dude, and dude is feeling very bad about it. He thinks about her all the time, as you do, and naturally this causes him grief (“If only my love could be with you, if only this pain, this pain died too”). So he has decided that the best thing to do is to cut her out of his life entirely, for both their sakes (“So I’ll break you away”). Will he succeed?

Aqualung – Breaking My Heart Again.mp3
Heartbreak need not be a consequence of a break-up, but can kick in while a relationship still exists. And so it is here. “Need to know, don’t want to know, already know: I’ve seen the signs;
I watch you as you pull yourself away from.” And so our man out-Coldplays Apple Sr as he anticipates having his heart broken, apparently not for the first time, and observes: “I’m losing all strength” and, finally, “I’m losing you”.

Mozella – Light Years Away.mp3
Here’s a woman, in the singer-songwriter mode, who has her heart broken so badly that she is entirely embittered while saying she isn’t. “It’s almost like you had it planned, it’s like you smiled and shook my hand and said: ‘Hey, I’m about to screw you over big time’.” Clearly, the break-up was not easy (“I think I cried for days”), nor was the recovery. She has found a way of dealing with it: “But I don’t blame you anymore; that’s too much pain to store”, but takes care to inform him that the whole experience has changed her irrevocably. It’s all a rather clever fuck-off letter.

Damien Rice – Cannonball.mp3
I really wanted to use this song somewhere in this series, because it is one of the most powerful  songs about love I can think of. But in which part of the series? It is a song that captures perfectly the pain and confusion of imperfect love, the kind of emotion that ties your stomach in a knot, which is a manifestation of what we call heartache. The first two stanzas speak of confusion: “There’s still a little bit of your taste in my mouth. There’s still a little bit of you laced with my doubt. It’s still a little hard to say what’s going on.” Not exactly heartbreak, but a good dose of confusion here. The kick in the stomach comes later when our boy seeks distance, perhaps because he is scared of getting hurt in this relationship, or perhaps because it can’t be. “So come on courage, teach me to be shy. ‘Cause it’s not hard to fall, and I don’t want to scare her; it’s not hard to fall and I don’t want to lose…” Whatever the case, he is frightened of crashing (“It’s not hard to fall when you float like a cannonball”), and that inhibits his quest for letting love find full expression. And that is heartbreaking in itself.

Hall & Oates – She’s Gone.mp3
Well, it had to feature at some point in this series. Apparently the lads who’d become ’80s icons for their hairstyles (the serious mullet and bubble perm combo) were both dealing with heartbreaks at the time this song was written. The lyrics are fantastic. I love this: “Think I’ll spend eternity in the city [cue disapproving sound effect]. Let the carbon and monoxide choke my thoughts away. And pretty bodies help dissolve the memories. [However:] There can never be what she once was to me.” And the vocal performance, especially on the last line of the quoted verse and the drawn out “she’s gone” at 3:08, is wonderful.

Brandi Carlile – My Song.mp3
This might be about a failed romance or a friendship gone sour. Either way, Brandi (and don’t let her name put you off this wonderful songbird) harbours some anger as she sings: “If you only knew my mind was full of razors to cut you like a word” and “I’m way too old to hate you” (if you have to point out a lack of hatred, then there must be residual resentment). She holds out an olive branch, but won’t any longer run after the addressee of the song: “I’m too proud to beg for your attention and your friendship and your time. So you can come and get it from now on.”

PP Arnold – The First Cut Is The Deepest.mp3
This is, in my view, the best version of Cat Stevens’ great song (though I rather like Rod Stewart’s version too). Here our protagonist finds it difficult to be in love because of a previous episode of heartbreak. “I would have given you all of my heart, but there’s someone who’s torn it apart, and he’s taken just all that I had.” As he Bee Gees would ask a couple of years later: “How can you mend a broken heart?”

Roy Orbison – Crying.mp3
Rebekah Del Rio – Llorando.mp3

I was torn between using the original version, or the one Orbison recorded with k.d. Lang, or Rebekah del Rio’s breathtaking a cappela interpretation from Mulholland Drive. Much as I love the duet, I’ll go with the 1961 original and del Rio’s Spanish cover. Apparently Orbison wrote this after meeting an ex-girlfriend and realising in the process how much he had lost when she became an ex. “I thought that I was over you. But it’s true, so true: I love you even more than I did before.” So, as you will have guessed, Roy will be crying over her. It seems to surprise him: “It’s hard to understand, but the touch of your hand can start me crying.”

Sandie Shaw – Always Something There To Remind Me.mp3
Doesn’t Sandie Shaw sound incredibly sexy on this song? Burt Bacharach and Hal David built a great repository of love songs (and a few terribly sexist ones as well), and heartbreak featured prominently, hence two inclusions of their songs in this post. The set up here is explained in the songtitle: girl loves boy who doesn’t love girl anymore and she can’t forget him. Common stuff that is no less relevant for it: “How can I forget you when there is always something there to remind me? I was born to love you, and I will never be free; you’ll always be a part of me.”

Isaac Hayes – Walk On By (full version).mp3
The other Bacharach/David song. Everybody should know the lyrics well. “If you see me, do me a favour and just fuck off because talking with you will mess with me.” Or words to that effect. The song found its perfect expression in Dionne Warwick’s version. There have been many covers since, and it is quite difficult to do a bad cover of it, though not for lack of trying. Some have put their own spin on it. The Stranglers did, but I don’t like their cover much. Isaac Hayes, on the other hand, appropriated the song without taking it from Dionne, which is a mark of his genius. He took “Walk On By” and resculptured it into a psychedelic soul symphony going on for 12 minutes – and not a single second is wasted. As he did on other Bacharach songs — “The Look Of Love”, “Close To You” – he invested into the straightforward lyrics and melody whole new dynamics and drama. Where Warwick sweetly attracts your sympathy, Hayes involves you in the inner drama of the heartbreak to the point that it leaves you feeling the torment yourself. But by then you’re so exhausted, the heartbreak feels almost sweet.

In the middle of the road: Part 5

November 8th, 2007 6 comments

Big middle of the road update to nearly conclude the series. I still have a handful of suitable tracks in my back pocket, but I think five installments should do for now. I’ll post the others when I can think of something nice to say about Jackson Browne.

Stevie Nicks – Edge Of Seventeen.mp3
Cocaine Rock at its cokest (I take it everybody knows the stories about Nicks’ alleged methods of coke ingestion). A song about the death of Stevie’s uncle in Phoenix, and that of John Lennon, the nervous riff was an obvious sampling choice for that other deeply affecting song about the vagaries of the inevitable mortality that comes to all living things: Destiny’s Child “Bootylicious”. The thing I like best about this song is the clashing cymbals throughout.

Climax Blues Band – Couldn’t Get It Right.mp3
Lyrically, this song — about life on the road — is unremarkable. Musically, it has classic written all over it. The vocals in particular are quite special, with two-octave dual voices and the rest of the sextet joining in the harmonies. So, yeah, one to croon along to.

Gino Vanelli – I Just Want To Stop.mp3
Here’s a bit of trivia: Gino Vanelli was the first white singer to appear on Soul Train. The Canadian veered between creating fusion and straight soul-infused rock which was similar to the sound of the great Boz Scaggs. This soaring ballad, from 1978′s excellent Brother To Brother album, falls in the latter genre. You just have to dig the saxophone solo, but what I really like is the short pause when our man sings the title’s line (for example at 2:04), with the drum beat virtually accentuating the letter p in the word “stop”.

Larsen-Feiten Band – Who Will Be The Fool Tonight.mp3
Neil Larsen and Buzz Feiten were better known as session musicians, highly respected in jazz fusion circles especially, than as recording artists in their own rights. As far as I know, they released only one album, whence came this pretty funky track. Guitar and bass guitar enthusiasts may recognise Buzz’s name from the tuning system he invented.

Loggins & Messina – Danny’s Song.mp3
As I mentioned a couple of episodes ago, Jim Messina is generally regarded as the second banana in this duo, unfairly so. Fact is that Messina — a sound engineer, former drummer of Buffalo Springfield and then of Poco (which he co-founded) — was brought in to help out the budding talent Kenny Loggins, who was struggling getting his debut album together. One thing leading to another, the two decided to form a duo. The best work on the Sittin’ In, from which “Danny’s Song” comes, album is Messina’s. This ballad, a Loggins composition, is the sweetest song, though. Dude is newly-wed and sings about all the bliss and chains of love and there being a family where there once was none et cetera. On my mix-CD in the car, I follow “Danny’s Song” with Gram Parsons’ version of “Love Hurts”, just to remind myself that “Danny” is just a dreamy idealist whose heart is bound to be broken when Mrs Danny goes fogelberging elsewhere.

Hall & Oates – Rich Girl.mp3
How incomplete this series would be without a bit of Hall & Oates. Amid the collective memory of Hall’s mullet and Oates’ moustache, it’s easily forgotten just how good they were back in the day. The trilogy of “Rich Girl”, “Sara Smile” and “She’s Gone” should dispel any notions of our two friends being as naff as their hair suggests. Of these three tracks, I used to like “She’s Gone” the best, until I saw the mindbogglingly, hilariously bad video (even for its time). Instead, here’s “Rich Girl”, which Hall intended as a jibe at an ex-boyfriend of his then girlfriend (the Sara of the smile). Hall’s vocal performance here is quite excellent.

Poco – A Good Feelin’ To Know.mp3
Ah, the harmonies of West Coast country-rock, a genre Poco helped invent. I love the chord changes, and check out the drumming. It seems nobody told the drummer that this was supposed to be a mid-tempo wind-in-the-hair kind of number, because he plays this as a hard rock song. And it works very well, giving the song a bit of edge. Along with Jim Messina, a founding member of Poco was Randy Meisner. He left the group in 1969, unhappy with the musical direction it was taking, presumably the country rock thing. So who did Meisner find fortune and fame with? The Eagles. Of course. Meisner was replaced by Timothy B Schmitt. And when Meisner left the Eagles, guess who replaced him there.

Al Stewart – Year Of The Cat.mp3
More trivia: Al Stewart was the first singer to commit the f-word as part the lyrics of a recorded song, the line “Love being more than a fuck” on “Love Chronicles” in 1969. Soon after, Jefferson Starship used the word “motherfucker”, the first intentional use of an expletive on record (disregarding swearing in the background, as the drummer in the beginning of “Louie Louie”). Anyway, so much for the idea of Al being a little prissy. Fair enough, he did very little to advance the punk revolution, and his music was mild-mannered. It was consistently beautiful though, and at times quite at odds with the lyrics. And any song that references the great Peter Lorre deserves my vote. Though I prefer the Time Passages album, this song is rightly regarded as Stewart’s masterpiece.

Elvin Bishop – Fooled Around And Fell In Love.mp3
He was through about a million girls??? Not disputing Elvin’s charm, sex appeal and stamina here, but I think he’s not levelling with us. Usually the guys who count their conquests in six figures or more actually are still virgins. Anyway, Elvin Bishop doesn’t really sing this. The blues guitarist handed the vocal duties for this West Coast pub song to Mickey Thomas, the singer in Bishop’s band. This is one of those songs you crank up the volume for and sing along to, possibly aggressively out of tune.

Elkie Brooks – Fool If You Think It’s Over.mp3
You wouldn’t guess it, but Elkie Brooks is one of the most successful female British singers of all time. To be honest, I can think of only three songs by her which I’d recognise: “Pearl’s A Singer”, “Only A Fool” and this one. Oh, but the Chris Rea-penned “Fool” is a fine song, with its rich orchestration and gently swinging chorus.

Journey – Who’s Crying Now.mp3
Great keyboard intro, enter Steve Perry, set the song up for the sing-along chorus. Perfect. Randy Crawford covered this song to great effect (Randy Crawford covers any song to great effect). The story has it that guitarist Neal Schon disliked this song so much that, when called to play a guitar solo at the end, he cobbled together what he thought was the most hackneyed bit of guitar wankery, hoping it would offend enough for excision. As it turned out, the other band members liked it so much that it was retained. With Journey you want a bit of cliché CocRock, so the solo is absolutely perfect.

Bad Company – Feel Like Makin’ Love.mp3
Don’t let the torture that moron Kid Rick inflicted upon this great song undermine your enjoyment of it. In its original incarnation, it is near-perfect. I starts out as a West Coast track of the sort the Eagles would have been proud of — remarkable in itself, since Bad Company was an English blues-rock band. Suddenly, as the chorus approaches, the heavy rock guitars kick in, and Paul Rodgers (him of Free) repeatedly roars out the song’s title, before it goes all Eagles again. Marvellous stuff for the long road. The song is from the band’s second album, titled Straight Shooter, the sort of cliché used by people who claim to have fogelberged about a million women.

Andy Gibb – I Just Want To Be Your Everything.mp3
Admittedly, including this song in this series is a bit of a stretch. It’s really a pop song — and one of the finest of the ’70s. Andy’s career, if not his entire life, suffered from living in the shadows of his older brothers (hence the dancing, ho ho). His career certainly was not helped by the reputation the Bee Gees earned when they became the supposed “Kings of Disco”: those who liked the Bee Gees’ disco stuff regarded Andy as Bee Gees Lite; those who hated it would not give Andy a fair shot. Yet, “I Just Want To Be Your Everything” is an exquisite song which swings beautifully and evokes sunshine. A very happy song from a very unhappy man.

Steve Miller Band – The Joker.mp3 (link fixed)
Can one still sing along to this song without launching into a Homer Simpson parody? Recorded in 1973 (it really doesn’t sound as old as that), it is as self-referencing a song as they come. Other Steve Miller Songs were called “Enter Maurice”, “Space Cowboy” and, of course, “Gangster Of Love”. The song caused a bit of a mystery over the lyric “the pompatus of love”. the mystery is solved here. Listen to “The Joker”, and then play “Two Princes” by the Spin Doctors to hear a most shameless rip-off.
Homer Simpson – The Joker.mp3

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