Everytime You Go Away: Hall & Oates; Paul Young; Clay Aiken.

Hello there! This week our blog features a terrific “blue-eyed soul” pop song, Everytime You Go Away. We will first discuss the original version by Hall & Oates. Next, we will review a cover by Paul Young and then one by Clay Aiken.

Hall & Oates and Everytime You Go Away:

Daryl Hall and John Oates make up one of the most successful duos in rock music history. They have sold more than 40 million records in their career, including 6 records rated #1 on the Billboard Hot 100.

They met in a most interesting way. In 1967, they were each performing with separate groups at a band competition, when they heard gunshots from an altercation between rival gangs.

Hall and Oates both took refuge in the same service elevator, and began to compare notes. Grew up in Philly? Check. Currently attending Temple University? Check. Interest in R&B-oriented pop music? Check.

The photo below shows Daryl Hall (L) & John Oates performing at Chicago Stadium in Nov. 1981.

Embed from Getty Images

The two began hanging out together, and eventually formed a duo. However, success would still be a ways off. At first, they experimented with folk music, rock ‘n roll, and soul, in an attempt to define a unique sound. Eventually they found the winning formula,
a fusion of their doo-wop and soul roots with New Wave energy and hard rock grit.

After a few lean years, things turned around after Hall & Oates moved from their original label Atlantic Records to RCA Records. In 1976, their song Sara Smile, written by Daryl for his girlfriend and songwriting collaborator Sara Allen, reached #4 on the Billboard pop charts. One year later, they had their first #1 hit with Rich Girl.

The song Everytime You Go Away was written by Daryl Hall in 1980. It was included on their album Voices. For this project Hall & Oates wrote all the songs, supervised the arrangements, and produced the album themselves. The result was a commercial blockbuster, spawning several single hits.

In Everytime You Go Away, the singer laments that he and his girl are not on the same page. She keeps leaving him, and this is slowly tearing him apart.

Babe if we can’t solve any problems
Why do we lose so many tears
Whoa, so you go again
When the leading man appears

Always the same things
But can’t you see we’ve got everything
Going on and on and on

[CHORUS] And every time you go away
You take a piece of me with you
And every time you go away
You take a piece of me with you you

Despite the success of other singles from their album Voices, Everytime You Go Away was not released as a single. It appeared on a live concert album the boys released in 1985. Here is Daryl Hall performing this tune in a 1995 concert.

First, this song features some lovely organ riffs; and it contains a dynamite saxophone solo in the middle, plus impressive vocal assistance from John Oates and a bevy of backup singers.

But Daryl Hall’s vocals are simply stunning. His versatility and range are off the charts. This tune should be exhibit A in any definition of the genre “blue-eyed soul.”

This song is basically a Daryl Hall solo; however, Hall & Oates have been a successful duo for a long time. They write their songs in a collaborative fashion, and each of them reportedly has significant input into the production of their music.

After their success with the album Voices, Hall & Oates continued to have sustained success through the 80s. In recent years, they have continued to tour and release albums, and more recently ‘greatest hits’ compilations.

Here’s an interesting bit of trivia. The boys are reported to dislike the term Hall & Oates, which is how virtually everyone refers to the group. Apparently, on every album released since 1988, the name of the group is listed as “Daryl Hall and John Oates.” Well, how about that!

Hall & Oates were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014.

Beginning in 2007, Daryl Hall has filmed episodes of “Live From Daryl’s House,” a monthly internet broadcast. Instead of touring, Daryl welcomes guest artists who travel to his place.

In addition to some fascinating live music, each show ends with a big meal where Hall and the guest artist prepare food from different cuisines. The chefs also discuss how the dishes are produced.

The show initially was filmed at Hall’s home in Millerton, NY. After the first few years the show shifted production to a club (called, confusingly, Daryl’s House) in Pawling, NY.

We congratulate Daryl and John on their accomplishments and we wish them continued success.

Paul Young and Every Time You Go Away:

British pop singer Paul Young was born in Luton, Bedfordshire, England in January 1956. As a youth, he divided his time between semi-pro soccer and music. He joined a couple of bands as a bass player and vocalist, and they built up a following in England.

In 1980 Young was the lead singer with a group called the Q Tips. They specialized in covers of R&B songs, performing a “blue-eyed soul” routine similar to that of the great American duo Hall and Oates, featured in the preceding section of this post.

The Q Tips never quite managed to break through commercially, so in 1982 they disbanded and Young signed a solo contract with Columbia Records.  Here is a photo of Paul Young.

British pop star Paul Young.

In 1983 Young’s cover of the Marvin Gaye song Wherever I Lay My Hat reached #1 on the UK pop charts. Young became a superstar in Britain and had considerable success in Europe.

Then in 1985, Young’s cover of the Hall & Oates tune Every Time You Go Away became a smash international hit, reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 playlists. At this point Young’s career really took off.

Here is Paul Young in the music video to Every Time You Go Away.

I really enjoy the arrangement of this song. Although Paul Young has neither the power nor the range of Daryl Hall, his voice is lovely and is used to great advantage in this tune.

This song appeared on Young’s 1985 album The Secret of Association. It features Ian Kewley on piano, and an electric sitar and a Spanish acoustic guitar, both played by Paul Turnbull.

Every Time You Go Away was a monster hit for Paul Young; one yardstick of its impact is that the music video has been viewed more than 60 million times. This is yet another example where a song that was never released as a single by the original group becomes a #1 hit for another artist.

Once he achieved international stardom, Paul Young was in great demand. He appeared at Live Aid in 1985, where he performed this song. He also appeared at Nelson Mandela’s 70th birthday tribute in 1988; and in 1992 Young performed Radio Ga Ga with the surviving members of Queen at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert.

In 1992, Paul Young formed the Tex-Mex band Los Pacaminos. The group initially began playing in clubs and small venues; but as they established a fan base, they issued a couple of albums and did some touring.

Paul Young continues to tour today. He has a most attractive voice, and we wish him much success.

Clay Aiken and Everytime You Go Away:

Clay Aiken is an American pop singer. He was born in Raleigh, North Carolina in 1978. There he sang with the Raleigh Boychoir, and he continued performing with musical groups as a youth.

However, he had a serious interest in special education, which began when he served as a substitute teacher for a class of autistic children. While studying for a degree in special education at the University of North Carolina – Charlotte, he tutored an autistic child to help pay his tuition. The child’s mother strongly encouraged him to apply for the TV musical competition American Idol.

Aiken competed on the 2nd season of American Idol in 2003. He was cut from the round of 32; however, he re-surfaced in a “Wild Card” round of that show and steadily gained popularity. Eventually, Aiken came in second to Ruben Studdard, losing by 134,000 votes out of a total of 24 million votes. Below is a photo of Clay Aiken.

American pop singer Clay Aiken.

Despite not winning the competition, Aiken developed a large and devoted following of fans. His first album in fall 2003 debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 album charts, and a single release from that album was cited by Billboard as the top-selling single of 2003.

Aiken has become one of the most successful American Idol contestants ever. In 2006 he was voted “Favorite American Idol” by readers of People magazine. He has parlayed this popularity into a successful career that combines albums with concert tours and TV appearances.

Here is Clay Aiken in a live performance of Everytime You Go Away.

[Note: I’m not sure you can access this link from my blog; if this fails, you can access the clip by going directly to YouTube; at www[dot]youtube[dot]com[slash] followed by the string watch?v=BX3KYucPg7w ].

This begins with a couple of minutes of Aiken chatting with fellow performers and the audience. To me this is a bit cringe-worthy; however, Aiken has legions of loyal fans (known as “Claymates”) and apparently they consider this to be highly amusing.

Anyway, once he begins to sing, Aiken shows off a lovely voice with considerable range. He even manages to carry on a conversation on a fan’s cellphone while singing the tune.

Clay Aiken is also known for his activism and charity work. For several years he dealt with questions about his sexual orientation, until he came out as gay. Aiken continues to practice as a Baptist, the faith he was raised in, despite the fact that this community displays considerable animosity towards homosexuals.

In 2014 Aiken ran for Congress as a Democrat in North Carolina’s 2nd District. He narrowly won the Democratic primary, but was soundly defeated by the Republican incumbent in the general election.

Aiken is the co-founder of a group called the National Inclusion Project, which supports the integration of children with disabilities into the general education community. Aiken has also served as a U.S. Fund for UNICEF national ambassador, where he participates in efforts to ensure that all children around the world are able to complete primary school.

I knew very little about Clay Aiken before writing this blog post. I have to say that I am impressed. Aiken has forged a highly successful career from his participation on American Idol, and he has a large group of enthusiastic fans.

He has shown a serious and continuing interest in special education and devotes much time to charitable activities and advocacy in this area (he also completed his degree in Special Ed even after he began touring).

Aiken is also courageous, although not combative, regarding his personal beliefs. Good for him – we wish him well.

Source Material:

Wikipedia, Everytime You Go Away
Wikipedia, Hall & Oates
Wikipedia, Paul Young
Wikipedia, Clay Aiken

Posted in Pop Music, Rhythm and blues, Soul music | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Memphis, Tennessee: Chuck Berry; Johnny Rivers; Jerry Lee Lewis

Hello there! This week our blog features an iconic 50s rock ‘n roll tune, Memphis, Tennessee. We will first discuss the original version by Chuck Berry. Next, we will review a cover by Johnny Rivers and then one by Jerry Lee Lewis.

Chuck Berry and Memphis, Tennessee:

Charles Anderson “Chuck” Berry, who passed away in March 2017 at the age of 90, was one of the most important figures in the history of rock and roll. His status as a rock music pioneer is so significant that John Lennon once said, “If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry’.”

Chuck grew up in St. Louis and became interested in rhythm and blues, admiring both the guitar style and the flamboyant showmanship of blues guitarist T-Bone Walker. Berry began performing with a trio headed by pianist Johnnie Johnson.

Below is a publicity photo of a young Chuck Berry with his Gibson electric guitar.

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Chuck auditioned for Leonard Chess of Chess Records. At the time Berry was interested in rhythm and blues, so he tried out some blues songs. But Chess Records had an incredible stable of blues musicians such as Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, and so had little use for Chuck’s blues offerings.

In 1955 during a rehearsal with Chess Records, the producer heard Berry goofing off with fellow bandmates between takes. When asked what he was playing, he said it was a variation on a country song, Ida Red, that was performed by Bob Wills’ western swing band. In a critical moment of serendipity, the producer urged Berry to write a rocking song in the spirit of Ida Red. Chuck’s new tune became his first hit record Maybellene, which soared to #1 on the Billboard Rhythm and Blues charts.

The song Memphis, Tennessee was written by Chuck Berry in 1958. In this song, Chuck asks a long distance telephone operator to provide him with the number for “Marie.” It appears that Marie is a former girlfriend who broke up with the singer because “her Mom did not agree.”

Long distance information, give me Memphis, Tennessee
Help me find the party trying to get in touch with me
She could not leave her number, but I know who placed the call
‘Cause my uncle took the message and he wrote it on the wall

Help me, information, get in touch with my Marie
She’s the only one who’d phone me here from Memphis, Tennessee
Her home is on the south side, high up on a ridge
Just a half a mile from the Mississippi bridge

In a clever twist, the end of the song reveals that Marie is his six-year-old daughter, who is currently living with her mother in Memphis.

The song was apparently recorded in St. Louis in September, 1958. The musicians include Chuck’s long-time associate Johnnie Johnson on piano, Willie Dixon on upright bass and Fred Below on drums. Although the song did not make the Billboard singles charts, nevertheless it has become a favorite with rock bands ever since.

Here is the audio of Chuck Berry’s Memphis, Tennessee.

As with so many Chuck Berry tunes, the song contains a simple but memorable guitar line. The song is more sparse and restrained than many of Chuck’s rock ‘n roll tunes. Memphis, Tennessee was not released in the U.K. until 1963, but it then made it to #6 on the British pop charts.

And now here is a live performance by Chuck Berry of Memphis, Tennessee.

This was recorded in the BBC TV Theatre in March 1972. Chuck’s live version is more up-tempo than the record. Like all his hits, it features Chuck’s signature story-telling. Here Chuck also noodles around, throwing in several of his signature rock guitar riffs.

The guitar licks appear rather simple, but one has to remember that Chuck personally introduced these into rock music, after which they were meticulously copied by generations of budding rock guitarists.

This clip also features Chuck’s famed showmanship.  He swings and sways back and forth with his guitar, and briefly shows off his signature move, the duck-walk (just barely visible in this video).

This video also includes a common feature of Chuck Berry performances. To save money, Chuck frequently toured without a backing band; he simply hired local musicians to accompany him.  In fortunate circumstances (such as this concert), Chuck got a group who were familiar with rock ‘n roll, and could play along with him. But he often ended up with jazz combos, or 40s-style big bands who didn’t know the first thing about rock ‘n roll.

Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones commented that, after his initial hits, Chuck continued to release effectively the same song over and over again. It’s true that Chuck Berry’s biggest hits contain many re-cycled elements. But heck, Chuck invented this stuff – why not stay true to a proven formula?

For a song that never made the US charts, Memphis Tennessee has now been covered roughly 200 times. Covers of this song have been released by musicians as diverse as Elvis,
Count Basie … Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs … Al Green …Tom Jones … Led Zeppelin … Roy Orbison, Buck Owens, … Rod Stewart, … George Thorogood, … and Hank Williams Jr.

From 1955-1965, Chuck Berry charted a number of hits that established him as one of the great pioneers in rock music. Chuck keenly understood the irony that, as a 30-year old black ex-con, he was selling records primarily to middle-class white teen-agers. But he was a sublime story-teller, and songs like Sweet Little Sixteen or School Days effectively conveyed the joys and frustrations of growing up in America.

Alas, in 1962 Chuck was convicted of violation of the Mann Act (transporting a minor across state lines for sexual purposes), and served 18 months in jail. Chuck subsequently resumed his career, but with less commercial success.

Paradoxically, the British Invasion put a real dent in his record sales. With cruel irony, groups like the Beatles and Rolling Stones who adored Berry and covered many of his songs, threatened to put him out of business! However, although Chuck’s record sales declined he remained in great demand on tour, which allowed him to stay afloat financially in those difficult times.

Over the years Chuck Berry received virtually every honor in the field. He was a shoo-in for induction into the 1986 inaugural class at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. One of the comments in his bio was that he “laid the groundwork for not only a rock and roll sound but a rock and roll stance.” How true! Chuck is ranked fifth on the Rolling Stone list of 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.

Chuck Berry passed away in March 2017 of cardiac arrest. This rock music pioneer currently is a charter member of the band in Rock ‘n Roll Heaven.

Johnny Rivers and Memphis:

John Ramistella was born in 1942 and grew up in Baton Rouge, LA. While still in high school he started to form his own bands, singing and playing guitar. His striking talent got him noticed by legendary DJ Alan Freed, at the time the most influential figure in rock ‘n roll. Freed advised Ramistella to change his name to Johnny Rivers (presumably after the Mississippi River, which flowed through Baton Rouge).

After changing his name, Johnny Rivers worked his way through clubs in the South, supplementing his income writing songs. His first big break came when fellow Louisiana native and guitar legend James Burton recommended one of Rivers’ songs to Ricky Nelson.

For several years Rivers performed but achieved little success, and he eventually decided to dedicate himself full time to songwriting. He moved to LA in 1961, where he continued to do session work in studios, and to take gigs at clubs.

Here’s a photo of Johnny Rivers performing live at the Hollywood Palace in May 1966.

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Rivers’ big break came in 1964 when he opened at a new bar, the Whisky a Go Go on Hollywood’s Sunset Strip. There he attracted an enthusiastic following, and producer Lou Adler released an album, Johnny Rivers Live at the Whisky a Go Go. This became a surprise hit, making it all the way to #12 on the Billboard album list.

Here is Johnny Rivers in a “live” performance of Chuck Berry’s tune Memphis, Tennessee (which Rivers released as “Memphis”).

This took place on American Bandstand, where Johnny is introduced by host Dick Clark. Rivers’ cover of the song was a cut from his “Live at the Whisky a Go Go” album, and this song made it to #2 on the Billboard singles charts.

Johnny Rivers produces a more up-tempo version of Chuck Berry’s tune (and Rivers’ arrangement is what most people remember). He shows off his technical mastery on the guitar, and the genial stage presence that made him such a hit on the LA club circuit.

However, this song sparked a personal feud. Apparently Elvis Presley had an unreleased cover of Memphis that he played for Rivers.  When Johnny later released his version of Memphis, Tennessee, Mr. Presley felt that Rivers had stolen his arrangement.

Rivers’ commercial success was notable as it occurred at the beginning of the British Invasion, when groups like the Beatles and Stones wiped out most American pop groups. Rivers subsequently had a number of hits, mainly covers of ‘roots’ rock and roll and blues, with a few folk songs thrown in.

Rivers churned out several pop hits during the 70s. While he continued to produce covers from other artists, he had some success with his own songs. Rivers then branched out into producing. He was associated with several new record labels, and apparently was a supportive mentor to a number of young artists.

Johnny Rivers continues to tour even today, some 60 years after he began in the music business. He now focuses on the blues, the music that initially inspired him. Rivers is one of the few artists who owns the copyright to his own songs, and he must have done pretty well financially, with
9 Top 10 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 and 17 in the Top 40 from 1964 to 1977; he has sold well over 30 million records.

Although Johnny Rivers has been nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame several times, he has yet to be inducted. Strange – I would have thought he was a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame.

Jerry Lee Lewis and Memphis, Tennessee:

Jerry Lee Lewis was one of the great early stars of rock and roll. He became an overnight sensation in the mid-50s, and his piano playing helped define rock ‘n roll as a new and vibrant musical genre. Jerry Lee was a larger-than-life performer, whose roller-coaster career featured dramatic twists and turns.

Jerry Lee Lewis was born in 1935 in Concordia parish, Louisiana. Jerry Lee and his two cousins Mickey Gillis and Jimmy Swaggart became seriously interested in music. Mickey and Jerry Lee would continue in music, while Swaggart became a famous, indeed infamous, preacher and TV evangelist.

Below is a photo of Jerry Lee Lewis performing in concert in England, May 1958.

Embed from Getty Images

After Jerry Lee showed a serious interest in music, his parents, bless their souls, mortgaged their farm to buy him a piano. But while Jerry Lee was interested in popular music, particularly R&B and country, his parents envisioned their boy taking up gospel music.

Jerry Lee subsequently enrolled at the Southwest Bible Institute. Fortunately for everyone, he was expelled for playing boogie-woogie at a church assembly. With a religious vocation closed off, Jerry Lee began to play at clubs in Louisiana and Mississippi.

In 1956 he moved to Memphis, where he became a session musician for Sam Phillips’ Sun Records while he attempted to score a hit record. Jerry Lee’s unmistakable piano playing can be heard on Sun recordings of artists such as Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash.

At that time, rockabilly music tended to emphasize the guitar. But Jerry Lee Lewis’ distinctive piano licks were creative and notable, and induced producers to add piano into their instrumental mix.

Jerry Lee Lewis was one of the greatest exemplars for piano and keyboards in rock music. He was in a class with legendary figures such as Fats Domino and Little Richard.

Jerry Lee Lewis’ piano style was an over-the-top combination of boogie-woogie stride piano,
which is characterized by a regular left hand bass figure and dancing beat.
Jerry Lee combined this with elements he absorbed from his Southern gospel upbringing.  In Lewis’ talented hands, the results were electrifying.

For many artists, Jerry Lee Lewis defined rock and roll piano artistry. Young musician Elton John recounted that
My dad collected George Shearing records, but this was the first time I heard someone beat the shit out of a piano. When I saw Little Richard at the Harrow Granada, he played it standing up, but Jerry Lee Lewis actually jumped on the piano! … Those records had such a huge effect on me.

So here is Jerry Lee Lewis in a live performance of Memphis, Tennessee. This took place in 1981.

I greatly enjoy this video, even though what we view here is the “restrained” Jerry Lee. No jumping on the top of the piano, no pummeling the keys with his feet, elbows, or butt – just The Killer working away at the keyboard, accompanied only by guitar and drums.

This is a good example of Jerry Lee’s playing style, with great close-ups of his hands. You can see the influence from boogie-woogie stride piano, which Lewis subtly transformed into rock and roll.

Early in his career, several radio stations refused to play Jerry Lee Lewis’ records on the grounds that they were too sexually explicit. Well, duh – sexual innuendo was an essential element in 50s rock ‘n roll, particularly when expressed by artists like Elvis and Jerry Lee.

At the height of his fame, Jerry Lee’s career suddenly hit the rocks. As he embarked upon a tour of England in 1958 it was revealed that Myra, Jerry Lee’s third wife and his first cousin once removed, was just 13 (Jerry Lee was 22).

This revelation immediately enveloped Jerry Lee Lewis in scandal; he had to cut short his British tour after just 3 shows. This also had a catastrophic effect on Jerry Lee’s career in the States. He was blacklisted from the radio, Dick Clark dropped him from American Bandstand, and his producer (Sam Phillips of Sun Records) also turned against him.  Overnight, Jerry Lee Lewis went from a top rock and roll headliner to showing up at juke joints.

In addition to these problems, Jerry Lee had major issues with both alcohol and pills. He was not only a wild man onstage, but a prodigious drinker as well. And he took copious quantities of amphetamines to fuel his manic lifestyle.
“That was blues and yellows time…. I tell you, greatest pills ever made,” he says. … That would keep me going. Desbutal. Man, you couldn’t beat the Desbutal. Went hundreds of miles a day on them… biphetamines [black beauties], Placidyls, up and down. I took ’em all.”

In the late 60s when it appeared that Jerry Lee was washed up in rock and roll, he re-surfaced as a country artist. His new career began with a couple of surprise country hits. It turned out that his songs were extremely popular with country fans.

A defining event for Jerry Lee was his debut appearance on Grand Ole Opry in 1973. His performance there led to a thunderous standing ovation that helped jump-start a successful country career.

For the past 40 years, Jerry Lee Lewis has persevered as a living legend in rock and roll. He was one of the inaugural class of artists inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986.

In May 2013 he opened a club in Memphis, and to the best of my knowledge he is still performing as of March 2019. As befits the title of his 2006 album, Jerry Lee Lewis is truly the Last Man Standing. He has survived a lifetime of sex, drugs, and rock and roll – Jerry Lee, long may you rock!

Source Material:

Wikipedia, Memphis, Tennessee (song)
Wikipedia, Chuck Berry
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Chuck Berry bio
Wikipedia, Johnny Rivers
Wikipedia, Jerry Lee Lewis

Posted in Pop Music, Rhythm and blues, Rock and roll, Rockabilly | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

White Rabbit: The Great Society; Jefferson Airplane; Elephant Revival.

Hello there! This week our blog features a terrific 60s hard-rock tune, White Rabbit. We will first discuss the original version by The Great Society. Next, we will review a cover by Jefferson Airplane and we finish with a cover by Elephant Revival.

The Great Society and White Rabbit:

The Great Society was one of the early Bay Area acid-rock bands. It was formed in the summer of 1965 by musicians who were inspired by the Beatles. After a couple of personnel changes, the group eventually featured Grace Slick, who was born Grace Barnett Wing in October 1939, on lead vocals. The other band members were Grace’s husband at the time Jerry Slick on drums, Jerry’s brother Darby Slick on guitar, and Peter Van Gelder on bass and other instruments.  Below is a photo of The Great Society.

The 60s Bay Area rock band The Great Society.

The Great Society developed some notoriety in the Bay Area. They only released a single song, Someone To Love written by Darby Slick. The producer of that record was Sylvester Stewart, who later achieved fame as the leader of Sly and the Family Stone.

Grace Slick wrote the song White Rabbit in 1965. Legend has it that she composed it after an acid trip, and that would certainly make sense. The song chronicles events described in Lewis Carroll’s masterpieces Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through The Looking-Glass (1871).

Slick injects references to several of Lewis Carroll’s characters – the White Rabbit, the caterpillar, the White Knight, the Red Queen, and of course The Dormouse.

One pill makes you larger, and one pill makes you small
And the ones that mother gives you, don’t do anything at all
Go ask Alice, when she’s ten feet tall

And if you go chasing rabbits, and you know you’re going to fall
Tell ’em a hookah-smoking caterpillar has given you the call
And call Alice, when she was just small

When the men on the chessboard get up and tell you where to go
And you’ve just had some kind of mushroom, and your mind is moving low
Go ask Alice, I think she’ll know

What an inspired idea – to use scenes from Alice In Wonderland, so redolent of a drug trip, as a means to smuggle in allusions to drug use. In hindsight, it is mind-boggling that these lyrics made it past the censors on AM radio. There is nothing at all subtle about the drug references here!

White Rabbit contains some absolutely memorable lines – “One pill makes you smaller, one pill makes you tall, and the ones that Mother gives you don’t do anything at all …. Remember what the Dormouse said, Feed Your Head.”

This song was frequently featured by The Great Society in live performances. Here is audio of The Great Society featuring lead singer Grace Slick, in a live performance of White Rabbit.

This performance took place in April 1966 at The Matrix in San Francisco. We will hear more about The Matrix in the following section.

Anyway, this is a long, drawn-out version of White Rabbit. It begins with a 2 ½ minute soprano sax solo by Peter Van Gelder, where you can definitely see the influence of John Coltrane on Van Gelder. It then segues into a 2-minute guitar solo by Darby Slick that is – how can I say? – pretty darn awful. Darby displays pedestrian guitar skills and his solo simply wanders around aimlessly.

In the last two minutes of the song we finally hear from Grace Slick. At the beginning her vocals are somewhat halting; however, by the end we get the powerful contralto voice with the shimmering vibrato that we associate with Grace.

I always like to show live video performances of my bands. If I can’t locate a video of the desired song, I will include a clip of a different tune. However, for The Great Society I have struck out; I am unable to locate any live video of the band.

Despite this, I am happy to profile The Great Society. They were one of the early Bay-Area psychedelic bands, along with The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane. They featured lead singer Grace Slick, who would rapidly reach super-star status with Jefferson Airplane.

Based on their live sets at The Matrix, and also opening for local bands such as Jefferson Airplane, the Great Society began to gain a devoted following in northern California. In fall 1966 Columbia Records offered the band a record deal.

Unfortunately, just days earlier Jefferson Airplane’s lead singer Signe Toly Anderson quit after she had a baby, and Grace Slick had agreed to join the Airplane. The Great Society could not survive without their lead singer and main songwriter, so they folded.

However, after Grace became world-famous as the lead singer for Jefferson Airplane, Columbia Records released two Great Society albums that were compiled from tapes of live performances at The Matrix.

When she changed bands, Grace brought along two songs from her former group. These two tunes – White Rabbit and Somebody To Love – would become the first mammoth commercial hits for the Airplane, and turned into two of the signature Jefferson Airplane tunes.

So although they were never very successful as a rock band, The Great Society nevertheless played a significant role in the history of psychedelic rock, and on the growth of hippie culture in the Bay Area.

Jefferson Airplane and White Rabbit:

In 1965, singer Marty Balin bought an old pizza joint in San Francisco and opened a club called The Matrix. Inspired by groups such as The Byrds, Balin was interested in the folk-rock scene. Piece by piece, Balin began assembling the house band at The Matrix, which became Jefferson Airplane.

By summer 1966, Jefferson Airplane included Balin and Signe Toly Anderson as co-lead vocalists, Paul Kantner on rhythm guitar, Jorma Kaukonen on lead guitar, Jack Casady on bass and Spencer Dryden on drums.

When Grace Slick replaced Signe Toly Anderson in October 1966, this formed the “classic lineup” of Jefferson Airplane. Rock entrepreneur Bill Graham took over as the band’s manager, and within a few months the band’s fame spread from the Bay Area to the world stage.  Below is a photo of Jefferson Airplane.

The psychedelic rock band Jefferson Airplane.

In February 1967, Jefferson Airplane released the album Surrealistic Pillow, which shot up the Billboard album charts, eventually peaking at #3. Two single releases from that album, Somebody To Love and White Rabbit, made it to #5 and #8, respectively, on the Billboard Hot 100 playlists.

Next, Jefferson Airplane were headliners at the 1967 “Summer of Love” Monterey Pop Festival. The band prominently featured in D.A. Pennebaker’s documentary of the festival – whereupon Jefferson Airplane, in addition to Monterey Pop performers such as Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding and Janis Joplin, rocketed to international stardom.

Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead were bands that seemed to exemplify the Bay Area music and culture scene. San Francisco, and in particular the Haight-Ashbury district, became the epicenter for the hippie lifestyle.

So here is Jefferson Airplane in a live performance of White Rabbit.

This is from an appearance by the Jefferson Airplane on the Smothers Brothers TV show. I am not sure whether the band is actually playing or just lip-synching. However, I include this clip because it features pulsating colored shapes in the background. This involved a new ‘Chroma Key’ process and was considered a breakthrough in TV video technology. These increasingly complex psychedelic light shows became a signature look for the Airplane, and represented an integral part of their prominence in the acid-rock scene.

It is stunning to see the transformation of the tune White Rabbit. Where the Great Society version was long, slow and meandering, the Jefferson Airplane version is short and snappy. It begins with a brief intro featuring Jack Casady on bass and Jorma Kaukonen on guitar. Legend has it that the tempo chosen by Grace Slick was inspired by Ravel’s Bolero, and you can certainly hear the similarities.

There is nothing hesitant about Grace Slick’s vocals, which start out strong and continue to build. The tune climaxes with Grace’s stirring vibrato declaiming “Feed your head.” It is said that Grace was attracted by the professionalism of the Jefferson Airplane musicians, in contrast to the Great Society amateurs (apparently their record producer Sly Stone quit after Great Society required 50 takes on a song, before they got it right).

Below we show one of those great 60s posters for Jefferson Airplane that explicitly refers to White Rabbit.

A 1967 psychedelic poster for Jefferson Airplane.

And here is yet another poster for White Rabbit, this one featuring a profusion of psychedelic mushrooms (plus a tiny ‘Jefferson Airplane’).

A poster for the Jefferson Airplane tune White Rabbit.

In August 1969 Jefferson Airplane were headliners at the Woodstock Festival. Given their breakout two years earlier at the Monterey Pop Festival, it is not surprising that the Airplane were also triumphant at Woodstock – in fact, they were the only band to headline all three of the iconic late-60s festivals: Monterey Pop, Woodstock and Altamont.

In the late 60s, Jefferson Airplane were flying high; however, strong tensions arose within the group. A major issue was antipathy between their co-lead singers Marty Balin and Grace Slick. While Marty favored sophisticated ballads, Grace was associated with the band’s hard-rocking anthems.

With the advent of hard-rock ensembles such as Jimi Hendrix and Cream, Jefferson Airplane followed suit and increasingly began to emphasize psychedelic music. Several of their new hits were co-written by Slick and Paul Kantner.

As a former model, Grace was a charismatic presence and she rather eclipsed Balin in the public eye. To make matters worse, Grace was prone to sleeping with various of her bandmates. This is never a recipe for stability in a group, and her behavior in this regard really bothered Balin.

In 1969, Grace Slick had throat surgery and during her recuperation, Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady fronted a combo called Hot Tuna, that oscillated between acoustic folk-rock sets and power-blues electric jams reminiscent of Cream. For the next couple of years, Hot Tuna would frequently open for Jefferson Airplane concerts, and that band began to occupy more and more of Kaukonen and Casady’s time.

A competing faction was led by Paul Kantner and Grace Slick. In late 1970 Kantner released an album titled Blows Against The Empire that was credited to “Paul Kantner/Jefferson Starship.” Starship was a group that initially included David Crosby and Graham Nash from CSN, Grateful Dead members Jerry Garcia, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart, plus several others.

Tired of being shunted to the side, Balin left Jefferson Airplane in 1971. Another reason for Balin’s departure was that he had taken up yoga and began abstaining from drugs and alcohol. This put him at odds with the notorious substance abuse by Airplane band members.

Although they never officially left Airplane, Kaukonen and Casady began working full-time on Hot Tuna sometime in 1973. With several new musicians, Kantner and Slick fronted a rather bloated Jefferson Starship ensemble for several years. Eventually Marty Balin re-joined his old mates in Starship.

Then in 1989, all members of the “classic” Jefferson Airplane lineup (except for drummer Spencer Dryden) re-united. They released an album that had indifferent sales, but the subsequent tour was a commercial success.

In 1996 the classic Jefferson Airplane lineup was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. All members were present at the induction ceremony and performed, except for Grace Slick who was unable to travel for medical reasons.

Jefferson Airplane was the quintessential acid-rock band. Their classic lineup was a tight, hard-rocking band that featured two extremely talented lead singers (Balin and Slick). The Airplane became a symbol of San Francisco’s hippie movement, and they helped attract a horde of counterculture youth to the Bay Area.

Jefferson Airplane produced several rock anthems and became known for their psychedelic light shows and politically-tinged tunes. They were also infamous for their rampant drug and alcohol use.

It has now been more than 50 years since the 1967 “Summer of Love,” but I still remember it vividly. Both the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane were right at the heart of the action. By now several of the Airplane have passed away – Spencer Dryden in 2005, Paul Kantner in 2016 and Marty Balin in 2018.

To the surviving members we say “Power to the people.”

Elephant Revival and White Rabbit:

Elephant Revival is an indie musical ensemble. They originally formed in 2006 and hail from Colorado and Oklahoma. Their style of music is described as “transcendental folk,”
which incorporates elements of Scottish/Celtic fiddle tunes, original folk pieces, traditional ballads, bluegrass, and indie rock. I first noticed the group after they got a shout-out from NY Times op-ed columnist Paul Krugman.

Each member of Elephant Revival plays several different instruments. They operate as a collective, where each of them takes part in the songwriting process, and they all contribute to the vocals.

Elephant Revival is sufficiently eclectic that they have collaborated with or opened for artists as diverse as Bela Fleck and Nickel Creek, to John Paul Jones and George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic.

The group released their first self-titled album in 2008. Here is Elephant Revival in a live performance of White Rabbit.

Isn’t this neat? It was performed at Red Rocks Ampitheatre in 2015. I especially enjoy lead singer Bonnie Paine’s vocals.  Although Paine does not possess the sheer power of Grace Slick, she does have a pleasant vibrato, and overall her vocals are an excellent fit to White Rabbit.

Somewhat to my surprise, I also enjoyed hearing the guitar solo from White Rabbit reprised on electric violin and, of all things, an electrified banjo. The song builds to a powerful conclusion, aided by an interesting mix of percussion instruments; I found this to be a successful cover of an iconic acid-rock anthem.

Sadly, Elephant Revival has been on hiatus since 2018. In the meantime, several of the band members are involved in solo projects. My hope is that “Elephant Revival” has a long memory and that they reunite soon – they appear to be a talented and creative group.

Source Material:

Wikipedia, White Rabbit (song)
Wikipedia, The Great Society (band)
Wikipedia, Jefferson Airplane
Wikipedia, Elephant Revival

Posted in Classic Rock, Folk-rock music, Hard Rock, Psychedelic music, Rock and roll | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

To Love Somebody: The Bee Gees; Nina Simone; Janis Joplin.

Hello there! This week our blog features a great 60s pop ballad, To Love Somebody. We will first discuss the original version by The Bee Gees. Next we review a cover by Nina Simone and we finish with a cover by Janis Joplin.

The Bee Gees and To Love Somebody:

The Bee Gees were an extraordinary pop group. Over their long career, there were arguably three distinctly different manifestations of this trio of brothers.

The Gibb family lived in Manchester, England. They had five children; the oldest was a girl, Lesley, then four brothers including Barry, twins Robin and Maurice, and Andy.

The brothers Barry, Robin and Maurice started a music group called The Rattlesnakes in England. Similar to The Beatles, this was initially a skiffle group that morphed into a rock and roll band. The Gibb family then moved to Queensland, Australia.

Once again, the Gibb boys began to perform as a trio. A Brisbane DJ re-named the boys “The BGs.” Although legend has it that The Bee Gees name stands for “The Brothers Gibb,” the initial name referred to the fact that the DJ Bill Gates, race-car driver Bill Goode (the boys used to perform at the Redcliffe Speedway in Brisbane) and Barry Gibb all had initials “BG.”

Here are the Bee Gees circa 1968. Back row from L: Vince Melouney, Maurice Gibb, Barry Gibb; front row Robin Gibb, Colin Petersen.

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The group subsequently changed their name to The Bee Gees, and added lead guitarist Vince Melouney and drummer Colin Petersen to the ensemble. Although the band developed a loyal following in Australia, they returned to the U.K. in early 1967 because of their inability to land a major record contract in Australia.

They mailed a demo tape to the Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein. Epstein’s family owned a major record store, so Epstein passed the tape along to one of the record store employees, Robert Stigwood. Stigwood would become the group’s manager and promoter over the next several decades.

With Stigwood as their promoter, the Bee Gees began to score hits. Starting in 1967 with their first hit New York Mining Disaster, they began a long run in the pop charts.

The song To Love Somebody was the 2nd Bee Gees hit. It was written by Barry and Robin Gibb, but intended for Otis Redding after Otis requested that Barry write a song for him. The tune was a ballad designed to fit Otis’ soulful style.

There’s a light
A certain kind of light
That never shone on me
I want my life to be lived with you
Lived with you

There’s a way everybody says
To do each and every little thing
But what does it bring
If I ain’t got you, ain’t got you? Hey, babe,

You don’t know what it’s like, baby
You don’t know what it’s like
To love somebody
To love somebody
The way I love you

The Bee Gees released To Love Somebody as a single in summer 1967, and the song made it to #14 on the Billboard Hot 100. Tragically, Otis Redding died in a plane crash in fall 1967 before he was ever able to record the tune.

Here are the Bee Gees in a live performance of To Love Somebody.

This took place in 1974. The Bee Gees are backed up by a full orchestra, and the tune is highlighted by Barry Gibb’s terrific lead vocals — but I believe the highlight is the superb three-part harmony from the Gibbs brothers.

The Bee Gees remind me of the Everly Brothers – a family group that sang together so frequently that their vocals were invariably perfectly synched. The Bee Gees are capable of producing a superb live show.

The song To Love Somebody has become incredibly popular. There are at least 150 covers of this tune. In addition to the two covers that we feature, there are versions by Roberta Flack, Michael Bolton and Hank Williams, Jr. In 2017, Australian country singer Keith Urban produced a great live version of this tune as a salute to the Bee Gees at the Grammys.

From 1967-1969 The Bee Gees had a very successful run as a pop group. They developed a fan base heavily loaded with teeny-boppers, and their songs and albums generally landed in the Billboard Top 20 playlists.

In the Bee Gees, Barry and Robin were the most prolific songwriters, and took nearly all the lead vocals. However, Maurice was by far the most versatile musician of the group: he played
bass guitar, acoustic guitar, lead guitar, harmonica, piano, organ, mellotron, keyboard, synthesizer and drums.
Later in the group’s career, Maurice became the Bee Gees’ musical director.

But in 1969, tensions surfaced in the group. Initially, the band’s songs generally featured Robin Gibb’s beautiful high tenor voice in the lead. As time went by, Barry became more frequently the lead vocalist, and Robin believed that producer/manager Robert Stigwood favored Barry.

By 1970, the Bee Gees had disbanded, and it looked as though they might never re-form. However, one year later the brothers once again hooked up and released a couple of successful albums.

However, by 1973 the hits again ceased and the group’s fortunes seriously declined. In 1975, Eric Clapton suggested that the band re-locate to Miami, where Clapton was then recording. It was here that the boys had an epiphany.

Barry Gibb discovered that he could sing falsetto really, really well. So the Bee Gees began recording disco songs, enlisting the services of producers Albhy Galuten and Karl Richardson.

The first big Bee Gees disco song was Jive Talkin’. At this point the Bee Gees began the second major phase of their career: as disco superstars.  Below is a photo of the Bee Gees in their unforgettable disco outfits (featuring acres of chest hair).

The Bee Gees during their “disco” era.

Well, the Bee Gees rode the crest of the disco wave during the 70s. Buoyed by songs such as Stayin’ Alive, and featuring Barry Gibbs’ powerful falsetto, they became the kings of disco.  At one point, all of the top 5 songs on the Billboard pop charts were either written or performed by the Bee Gees! It seemed as though their popularity would continue indefinitely; however, the group was headed for a crash.

Their first big mis-step was the 1978 film Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The rock opera, brainchild of Robert Stigwood and featuring covers of dozens of Beatles tunes, starred the Bee Gees as the band and Peter Frampton as Billy Shears. Below is the poster for that movie.

Poster for the 1978 film Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Although Stigwood foresaw the film as a smash hit and the soundtrack album a best-seller, critical reviews for the movie were viciously negative, and the album also sank like a stone.

To make matters worse, when the disco bubble popped around about 1980, so did the Bee Gees’ career. People seemed eager to blame the Bee Gees for the excesses of the disco era. In retrospect this seems terribly unfair, but the Bee Gees did not have another U.S. top 10 single until 1989.

During the interlude between hits, each of the brothers worked as a producer, and they continued to write songs that were best-sellers, but for other artists. Eventually, the Bee Gees once again began releasing hit records.

Once when I was visiting Australia, I got the chance to see the Bee Gees live. They did not disappoint, running through a number of great hits from their catalog.

In January 2003, Maurice Gibb died of a heart attack at age 53, while awaiting emergency surgery for a strangulated intestine. After his death, Robin and Barry continued to perform occasionally. In 2011 it was announced that Robin Gibb was suffering from liver cancer, and he died in May 2012 from liver and kidney failure.

So, Barry Gibb is currently the last surviving Bee Gee. They had a remarkable career – initial fame in the late 60s and early 70s as a folk-pop group; phenomenal commercial success in the disco era, propelled by Barry Gibb’s powerful falsetto; and re-emergent pop recognition in the 1990s.

We salute the Bee Gees – what a memorable group, we remember them with great fondness.

Nina Simone and To Love Somebody:

Nina Simone was a terrific musician and a fierce warrior for human rights. She was born Eunice Waymon in Tryon, North Carolina in 1933.

Nina was a musical prodigy and her family and friends raised money to send her to the Julliard School of Music. There, she applied for a music scholarship at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute of Music. However, she was rejected and (despite the fact that only 3 of 72 applicants received scholarships) she was convinced that racial discrimination played a role in this decision.

In order to pay for classical piano music lessons, she arranged a gig as a jazz pianist at a bar in Atlantic City. Realizing that her family would be horrified that she had crossed over to “the Devil’s music,” she adopted the stage name Nina Simone (her family never caught on).

When her manager offered to double her salary if she would also sing, Nina added vocals to her repertoire. She used her classical piano training and a great “ear” for music to branch out into jazz, and at first she was completely self-taught as a vocalist.  Below is a 1969 photo of Nina Simone.

Portrait of the singer Nina Simone, October 1969. (Photo by Jack Robinson/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

In 1958, Nina Simone released a recording of George Gershwin’s I Loves You Porgy, basing her style on a Billie Holiday record. The song made it into the top 20 on the pop charts. Nina would have profited handsomely from the royalties from her subsequent debut album, but she had sold the music rights for $3,000.

Here is Nina Simone in a live version of To Love Somebody.

This is typical of Nina Simone’s performing style. She made little effort to “make contact” with her audience, and her facial expression remained relatively unchanged throughout the tune. She simply sang her songs, backing herself on piano. Because of the distance she kept from her audience, I found it difficult to “warm up” to Nina at first.

However, if you pay attention to her vocals, she converts the Bee Gees pop song into a stirring soul ballad, with some clear influences from both jazz and gospel. Nina uses her classical music training to provide an impressive piano backing to the song. Her cover of To Love Somebody reached the top 10 in the UK pop charts in 1969.

Furthermore, Nina Simone had tremendous musical range. She mastered everything from classical to jazz to gospel to pop music – her repertoire even included folk music.

Nina Simone was a civil-rights activist from an early age. At age 12, she gave her first piano recital. When her parents were forced to move to the back of the concert hall to make room for white folks, she refused to perform until they were moved back up to the front.

But it was Simone’s 1964 protest song Mississippi Goddam that made the most dramatic impact. She wrote the tune in 1963, shortly after the assassination of civil rights activist Medger Evers in Jackson, Mississippi (taken to the hospital with a bullet through his heart, Evers was initially refused admission because of his race), and the bombing of the 16th St. Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama that killed four young children.

Mississippi Goddam had an angry, biting message and received major circulation. It was a big hit with civil-rights activists (Simone performed it before 10,000 people at the end of the 1965 Selma to Montgomery civil rights march). However, the song was also banned in several Southern states, led to death threats for Nina, and probably harmed her career.

Although Nina Simone participated in several civil-rights marches, her personal sympathies were closer to Malcolm X than to Martin Luther King. She favored the idea of a separate black state, and would have supported an armed revolt to accomplish this.

Following the ruckus with Mississippi Goddam, Nina Simone moved to Barbados for a while. When she returned to the States, she found that there was a warrant for her arrest as she had withheld some of her taxes as a protest against the Vietnam War.

Simone then relocated to Liberia for a few years, and after that spent most of the remainder of her life in Europe. She performed frequently in London, and eventually moved to southern France. For several years she was treated for breast cancer before she passed away in April 2003.

Nina Simone was a great talent and a spirited civil-rights activist. In the last few days of her life, the Curtis Institute of Music, which had turned her down for admission in 1950, awarded Nina an honorary degree.

I like Maya Angelou’s assessment of Nina Simone. In 1970 Ms. Angelou wrote, “She [Nina] is loved or feared, adored or disliked, but few who have met her music or glimpsed her soul react with moderation.” Here’s to you, Nina, a pioneer in both music and activism.

Janis Joplin and To Love Somebody:

Janis Joplin was one of the greatest rock and blues singers. Born in Port Arthur, Texas, Janis was a loner in high school. She suffered from serious acne and hung out with a small group of misfits. She could not wait to leave town after high school.

After a short stint at the University of Texas, Joplin dropped out and headed for San Francisco. There she tried without much success to break into the music scene. Eventually, her over-the-top blues style caught the attention of psychedelic rock band Big Brother and the Holding Company, who signed her on as their lead singer.

Janis and Big Brother garnered much local fame in the Bay Area. However, their breakout performance took place at the 1967 ‘Summer of Love’ Monterey Pop Festival.

Here is a photo of Janis Joplin standing next to her psychedelically painted Porsche roadster in 1969.

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One secret to Janis’ appeal was that she held absolutely nothing back. Her songs often addressed feelings of loneliness, abandonment and despair, expressed in a rough and brutal vocal style. She wailed, screamed and pleaded until her voice gave out.

Unfortunately, Janis had serious issues with both alcohol and drugs, in particular with Southern Comfort and heroin. She struggled with addictions throughout her career, and these issues had surfaced even before she became famous. However, being stoned apparently released Janis’ inhibitions and allowed her to reveal those naked emotions in her performances.

Here is Janis Joplin in a live version of To Love Somebody on the Dick Cavett Show.

This took place in July 1969. Here Janis is backed by the Kozmic Blues Band. This ensemble included Sam Andrew, her guitarist from Big Brother. However, it also included a horn section, as the group aimed for a sound similar to the soul offerings of Otis Redding and The Bar-Kays.

It is fascinating to see Janis’ take on the Bee Gees’ To Love Somebody. She transforms the sophisticated pop sounds of the Gibb Brothers into her own unique brand of blues. This was one of the cuts on Joplin’s 1969 release I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama! The album achieved gold status.

Joplin’s version is a raw, searing blues lament. As always, she bares her soul and shreds her vocal cords for the listener. It’s a treat to experience three radically different treatments of To Love Somebody from the Bee Gees, Nina Simone and Janis.

In September 1970, Janis and her band Full Tilt Boogie were laying down tracks in LA for the album Pearl. Janis was staying at the Landmark Hotel in Hollywood during the tapings. Unfortunately, Joplin’s associates, who were making a concerted effort to keep her off drugs, seem not to have realized that the Landmark was a major hangout for heroin dealers.

On Oct. 4, 1970, Janis Joplin was found dead in her hotel room at the Landmark. The cause of death was a heroin overdose, compounded by alcohol.

Janis Joplin’s career was like a shooting star – a sudden brilliant appearance, a blazing trajectory, followed by an equally sudden extinction. Her untimely death was a tremendous shock to rock and roll fans, particularly since Jimi Hendrix had died just three weeks earlier and at the same age (27).

We had anticipated watching her career unfold over several years. Could Janis maintain her intensity? Would she transition to other musical genres, or would she stay focused on the blues? Unfortunately, we will never know the answers to these questions.

Source Material:

Wikipedia, To Love Somebody (song)
Wikipedia, The Bee Gees
Wikipedia, Nina Simone
Wikipedia, Janis Joplin

Posted in Pop Music, Rhythm and blues, Rock and roll, Soul music | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lola: The Kinks; Andy Taylor; Weird Al Yankovic.

Hello there! This week our blog features an iconic British Invasion song, Lola. We will first discuss the original version by The Kinks. Next we will review a cover by Andy Taylor, and we finish with a parody cover by Weird Al Yankovic.

The Kinks and Lola:

The Kinks were one of the most influential British Invasion bands. Although they first appeared on the charts in the mid-60s, the band continued on with significant commercial success until they broke up in 1996.

The Kinks were apparently named after their unusual tastes in fashion. Below is a photo of the original lineup of The Kinks from 1965. From L: lead singer and rhythm guitarist Ray Davies, bassist Pete Quaife, Ray’s brother Dave Davies on lead guitar, and drummer Mick Avory. In 1969, the group added keyboardist Nicky Hopkins to their lineup.

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The Kinks’ first big hit was the 1964 song You Really Got Me. As with almost all Kinks song, it was written by Ray Davies with lead guitar from Dave Davies.

Lola was written in 1970 by Ray Davies. It describes an encounter in a club between a young man and someone who could be either a transvestite or a trans woman.

I met her in a club down in North Soho
Where you drink champagne and it tastes just like cherry cola
C-O-L-A cola

She walked up to me and she asked me to dance
I asked her name and in a dark brown voice she said, “Lola”
L-O-L-A Lola, lo lo lo lo Lola

….Well, I’m not dumb but I can’t understand
Why she walks like a woman and talks like a man
Oh my Lola, lo lo lo lo Lola, lo lo lo lo Lola

Well, we drank champagne and danced all night
Under electric candlelight
She picked me up and sat me on her knee
And said, “Little boy won’t you come home with me?”

As you might guess, there are some interesting anecdotes connected with this tune. Ray Davies claims that the idea for the song arose after the band’s manager picked up a trans woman at a club in Paris.

However, Kinks drummer Mick Avory states that inspiration for the tune came from his habit of hanging out at clandestine transvestite bars in London. He claims that Ray Davies accompanied Avory when Mick visited one of these clubs.

Dave Davies constructed the iconic opening chords for the song by combining the sounds from Dave’s Martin guitar with those from a Dobro resonating guitar played by Ray Davies. As you can see, this produces an epic and unforgettable beginning to the tune.

So here are The Kinks performing Lola.

This was an appearance on the British TV show Top of the Pops in 1970. It looks like The Kinks are merely lip-synching their big hit here. But isn’t this great? Ray Davies’ gritty lead vocals mesh perfectly with Dave Davies’ guitar solos. With Ray Davies spelling out “L-O-L-A” and singing the name repeatedly, the tune can easily get stuck in your head for days.

Not only does the song have a wonderfully catchy melody, but the topic was basically new to rock music. The controversial issue caused some problems – some radio stations would fade out before the line “I know what I am and I’m glad I’m a man, and so is Lola.” Australian radio went even further and temporarily banned the entire song!

Ray Davies ran into even more difficulty with the tune. After it had been recorded, he discovered that the BBC would not play a song that mentioned a product by its brand name. So Davies had to fly back to London from an American tour, just to change the words “Coca-Cola” to “cherry cola” for the single release (the original phrase “Coca-Cola” remained on the album cut).

Lola was a big hit (and rather unexpected), reaching #2 on the UK Singles charts and #9 on the Billboard Hot 100. It became one of the Kinks’ signature songs, a crowd favorite at their live concerts.

Although the Kinks are best known for their hard-rocking style, Ray Davies also wrote a number of more standard pop tunes. Later Ray Davies songs such as Waterloo Sunset, Sunny Afternoon and Come Dancing
exemplified the development of Davies’ songwriting style … toward songs rich in social commentary, observation and idiosyncratic character study, all with a uniquely English flavor.

One feature of the Kinks was their frequent on-stage aggression. At one venue, Mick Avory and Dave Davies got into a squabble that ended with Mick cold-cocking Dave with his high-hat stand. On other occasions, Ray and Dave would get into violent arguments during concerts.

One result of their behavior was that in 1965 the American Federation of Musicians banned the Kinks from performing in the U.S., because of their rowdy on-stage antics. Unfortunately, this kept the group from American audiences for almost five years, during the period of their greatest fame.

The Kinks were one of the most influential musical groups from the British Invasion. Their early music is now heralded as one of the first examples of heavy-metal and punk music. Both the vocal and instrumental contributions from the Kinks were a major force in the development of hard rock, paving the way for groups like The Doors, Jefferson Airplane, Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. The Kinks were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.

Ray and Dave Davies are still active. Nowadays each of them mainly produces his own individual work, but they reunite from time to time and either release new material or go on tour. We wish the fighting Davies brothers all the best – what an amazing legacy they have created!

Andy Taylor and Lola:

Andy Taylor was the lead guitarist for the 80s British rock band Duran Duran. The band formed in the late 70s, and took their name from the character Dr. Durand Durand in Roger Vadim’s 1968 sci-fi film Barbarella.

Duran Duran churned through several different lineups before their most successful incarnation, with Andy Taylor joining lead singer Simon Le Bon, keyboardist Nick Rhodes, drummer Roger Taylor and bassist John Taylor (none of the Taylors is  related).  Below is a photo of Duran Duran.

The 80s rock group Duran Duran.

Duran Duran became famous during the 80s. They had the great good fortune to appear at almost the exact time when MTV burst upon the pop scene. I was not paying much attention to that era’s pop music. From casual exposure to MTV, I was aware of their big hit Hungry Like The Wolf, a release from the band’s second album in 1982.

That single initially experienced disappointing U.S. sales, until the Hungry Like The Wolf music video received almost continuous airplay on MTV. The catchy melody of the tune, slick production values of the music video, and MTV saturation caused the song to rise to #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. Duran Duran made heavy use of synthesizers in their songs, and were trail-blazers in a “synthpop” movement (not my favorite musical style).

For a while, the band members became pop superstars and teen idols. But my impression was that Duran Duran were pretty much “one-hit wonders.” I remember a second song Rio that cracked the Billboard top 20 singles, but I guessed that the band pretty much disappeared after that.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that Duran Duran placed 21 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 charts and that, over the years, the band has sold more than 100 million records! In addition, they won two Grammy Awards and a Lifetime Achievement Award from MTV Video.

Duran Duran benefited from very savvy marketing. The lads capitalized on their good looks by inking marketing deals with fashion designers such as Giorgio Armani. Their polished music videos were produced using cutting-edge techniques (they were shot by experienced movie producers using 35-mm film, rather than the more common videotape).

For a few years, Duran Duran rode a wave of popularity. Princess Diana joined a small army of adoring teeny-boppers when she announced that they were her favorite band.  But while Duran Duran remained superstars in Britain, their record sales in the U.S. fell off dramatically.

The group were headliners in the 1985 world-wide spectacular Live Aid concert that was watched by an estimated 1.5 billion people. In contrast to the Queen Live Aid act from London, now considered one of the world’s greatest live performances, Duran Duran’s Philadelphia appearance was sufficiently bad that the group did not perform live again for another 18 years.

Around 1985, various members of Duran Duran began releasing solo albums. This is almost invariably an ominous sign for a band’s viability, and sure enough in 1986 both Roger Taylor and Andy Taylor left the group.

Here is the music video from Andy Taylor’s cover of Lola.

This was from Taylor’s 1990 album Dangerous, which was a series of covers of songs that influenced Taylor and his guitar style. The song is quite enjoyable although unremarkable. Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect is the video, which was shot using classic MTV-video techniques.

The clip is a succession of rapid jump cuts, combining black and white footage with insertions of color.  Quick shots of the musicians are interspersed with snippets showing scantily-clad women dancers (or could they be trans women)? The video takes me right back to the 80s and the zenith of the MTV era.

Well, Duran Duran is still in existence even today. In 2003 the original lineup (with the exception of Nick Rhodes) re-united, issued a couple of albums and embarked on a few successful tours of Britain, Japan and the U.S.

In terms of musical style, Duran Duran is not really my cup of tea. However, one has to be impressed at a group that has shown so much longevity. Over the years, apparently their music has evolved considerably.

In the beginning, Duran Duran was the target of scathing reviews from critics, who considered them a pretty-boy pop band with limited musical talent (it didn’t help that their nickname “The Fab Five” invited comparisons with the Beatles). However, some view them as early exemplars of significant trends in rock music of the 80s and 90s.

Weird Al Yankovic and Yoda:

Think about this: a geeky young accordion player and polka aficionado decides to try his hand at writing rock music parodies. How would you rate his chance of long-term success?

Alfred Yankovic was born in October 1959 and raised in Lynnwood, California. When his parents were offered music lessons for Al on either guitar or accordion, they chose the latter — possibly the only known time where this was the correct choice.  Below is a photo of Weird Al Yankovic.

Parody rock performer Weird Al Yankovic.

Al was inspired to try his hand at music parodies when he listened to a weekly syndicated radio program, The Dr. Demento Show, the brainchild of ethnomusicologist Barry Hansen. Dr. Demento would play a collection of unusual and weird records, in addition to music parodies by people like Stan Freberg and Tom Lehrer.

When Dr. Demento visited Yankovic’s high school, the 16-year-old gave Demento/Hansen a homemade tape containing some of his parody songs accompanied by himself on accordion. These were immediately featured on the Dr. Demento Show and earned Al some early public exposure.

Then in 1979 during his senior year at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Al produced two parodies. The first was a parody of My Sharona by The Knack (“My Bologna”). This song earned Yankovic a 6-month recording contract at Capitol Records after Doug Fieder, lead singer with The Knack, recommended to his record company that they release the parody.

The second parody was Another One Bites The Dust by Queen (“Another One Rides The Bus”). This song got “Weird Al” a TV appearance on The Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder.

In the early 1980s, Weird Al received a big boost from MTV. He was able to produce “music videos” of parody songs that spoofed not only the original song, but also the official music video.

For example, in 1984 Yankovic released a parody of Michael Jackson’s Beat It. Jackson’s music video featured a simulated knife fight between two members of rival gangs. Weird Al’s parody, “Eat It,” showed gang members facing down one another with forks in their hands.

“Eat It” also included a spot-on spoof of the dance routines in Jackson’s video, and of the iconic guitar solo supplied by Eddie Van Halen. Much to everyone’s surprise, Weird Al’s send-up shot up to #12 on the Billboard Hot 100.

After this time, Weird Al Yankovic regularly scored best-selling parody songs. He segued effortlessly from rock ‘n roll to grunge to rap music. Until 1992, his albums and music videos were produced by rock guitarist Rick Derringer, who won two Grammy Awards for his efforts.

So here is Weird Al Yankovic and the music video for Yoda.

This song follows Weird Al’s standard format, taking a popular song (The Kinks’ “Lola”), but completely changing the focus. Here, instead of a song about a transvestite, Yankovic refers to the elf-like guru Yoda who appeared in several episodes of George Lucas’ Star Wars saga. Yoda was first seen in The Empire Strikes Back, part of the original Star Wars trilogy.

The video features clips from The Empire Strikes Back that show Yoda interacting with Luke Skywalker.  One of Weird Al’s lines regarding the Star Wars series (“The long-term contract that I had to sign says I’ll be making these movies till the end of time”) was funny when it was written, but now seems quite literally accurate.

Note that Weird Al follows the format and rhyming scheme of the original song very closely. Here are some of his lyrics for Yoda.

I met him in a swamp down in Dagoba
Where it bubbles all the time like a giant carbonated soda
S-O-D-A, soda

I saw the little runt sitting there on a log
I asked him his name and in a raspy voice he said “Yoda”
Y-O-D-A, Yoda
Yo-yo-yo-yo Yoda

…. Well, I left home just a week before
And I’ve never ever been a Jedi before
But Obi Wan, he set me straight, of course
He said, “Go to Yoda and he’ll show you the Force”

One of Yankovic’s most useful skills is that his voice is extremely plastic. He can produce a reasonably close imitation of many of the vocalists that he parodies, and Ray Davies is no exception.

Now, here is an opportunity to see Weird Al Yankovic in concert. Here he is with a live version of Yoda.

Before the song, the audience is revved up with an organ lick reminiscent of a baseball or hockey game. Weird Al and his band are dressed in robes such as were worn by members of the rebel alliance in Star Wars.

Clutching his accordion, Weird Al then launches into his parody routine. As is his custom, Yankovic mimics the instrumental accompaniment almost exactly. In fact, on a few of his parodies he was accompanied by some of the artists who produced the original song.

We get the iconic initial guitar riff, as well as a parody of the repeated phrase “L-O-L-A Lola, Lo-Lo-Lo-Lo Lo-La, Lo-Lo-Lo-Lo Lo-La.” At about the 3:30 mark, the audience is invited to sing the chorus.

After that there is roughly half a minute of nonsensical rock syllables, including “Boom-shaka-laka-laka.” After that, Al returns to the ending of the “Lola” parody, and the audience goes wild. It appears that this is the final song on his program.

Many of the artists that we highlight have faced serious addiction issues, and several have died from drug or alcohol overdoses. So it is refreshing to feature an artist who abstains from alcohol, drugs, tobacco – and even profanity!

Since his parodies are so close to the original songs, it is important that Yankovic get the permission of the artist before releasing a song. In a few cases, artists have refused permission. In one famous case, Lady Gaga’s manager refused Weird Al permission to release a parody of her song Born This Way (“Perform This Way”).

However, since Al had already recorded the song, he released it for free on the Internet. It then transpired that Gaga’s manager had never talked to his client. She enjoyed Al’s parody, and he was given permission to release the song.

Another contretemps occurred with rap artist Coolio. Under the impression that the record label had granted him permission, Yankovic released a parody of a Coolio song, only to have the artist insist that Al had never been granted permission. Eventually the two musicians made up, but since these issues Weird Al has always communicated directly with the artist.

Paul McCartney refused Weird Al permission to release a parody of his song Live and Let Die (“Chicken Pot Pie”). Because McCartney is a vegetarian, he
didn’t want a parody that condoned the consumption of animal flesh.
On McCartney’s suggestion, Al tried “Tofu Pot Pie” as an alternative, but was not satisfied with the outcome.

Weird Al is still touring and releasing albums. His latest was the 2018 “Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour.” He has hosted numerous TV specials, and in 1997 he even had his own Weird Al Yankovic Show on CBS (a children’s show that lasted for 13 episodes). In addition, he has appeared on various TV shows, both live and animated (The Simpsons). He does voice-over work for several animated films, and he has authored a couple of children’s books.

Who would have thought that a novelty song-writing accordion player could have a career that spanned four decades and made him a headliner on tour? Weird Al has recorded over 150 songs and sold at least 12 million records.  He has been nominated for 16 Grammy Awards and has won 5 times. An album released in 2014, nearly 40 years after his first release, reached #1 on the album charts in its debut week.

We salute the always-wacky Alfred Matthew Yankovic, congratulate him on never growing up, and wish him a long and happy life.

Source Material:

Wikipedia, Lola (song)
Wikipedia, The Kinks
Wikipedia, Duran Duran
Wikipedia, Andy Taylor (guitarist)
Wikipedia, “Weird Al” Yankovic

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Stairway To Heaven: Led Zeppelin; Frank Zappa; Ann & Nancy Wilson.

Hello there! This week our blog features a song that many rate as the greatest rock ‘n roll song ever, Stairway To Heaven. We will first discuss the original version by Led Zeppelin. Next, we will review a cover by Frank Zappa, and we will finish with a cover by Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart.

Led Zeppelin and Stairway To Heaven:

In 1968 Jimmy Page had left the Yardbirds, and he set out to create a new blue-based group.  He eventually settled on a quartet with himself on guitar, John Paul Jones on bass, John Bonham on drums and vocalist Robert Plant. This turned out to be a true rock supergroup, as each member of the group is generally considered to be one of the world’s greatest on his particular specialty.

Below is a photo of Led Zeppelin performing at the Bath Festival in June, 1970. From L: Robert Plant, Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and John Bonham.

Embed from Getty Images

Led Zeppelin was an incredibly successful combo. The quartet combined tremendous virtuosity with an extraordinary musical range. Although they were known as the quintessential hard-rock band, initially focusing on heavy-metal covers of blues standards, they also produced some exceptional acoustic music.

Stairway To Heaven is arguably the best-known Led Zeppelin tune. The song was written in fall 1970. The genesis for this and other Zeppelin songs was a trip by Page and Plant to the remote Bron-Yr-Aur cottage in Wales. There, the two became interested in branching out to include acoustic songs, and also in Celtic music and traditional folk tales.

Page recorded snippets of the tune on a portable tape recorder, while Plant worked out the lyrics. Recording of Stairway To Heaven began in December 1970, but then continued into 1971 as Plant added the lyrics and Page supplemented his guitar solos. Stairway To Heaven was a cut on the band’s fourth untitled album (generally referred to as Led Zeppelin IV).

Robert Plant’s lyrics describe a mythical woman who is so wealthy that she is reputed to be purchasing a stairway to heaven.

There’s a lady who’s sure
All that glitters is gold
And she’s buying a stairway to heaven

When she gets there she knows
If the stores are all closed
With a word she can get what she came for
Oh oh oh oh and she’s buying a stairway to heaven

There’s a sign on the wall
But she wants to be sure
‘Cause you know sometimes words have two meanings

In a tree by the brook
There’s a songbird who sings
Sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiving
Ooh, it makes me wonder
Ooh, it makes me wonder

Here is Led Zeppelin in a live performance of Stairway to Heaven.

Stairway to Heaven contains a number of different segments. The song begins as a stately ballad in Baroque style, with Robert Plant singing his intricate lyrics while Jimmy Page finger-picks the melody.  On the record this is played on a Harmony acoustic guitar, accompanied by four recorders (multi-tracked by John Paul Jones).

In the live performance Page’s guitar solos are played on a double-necked guitar, so that he could play the “acoustic” parts on one guitar and the later hard-rock segment on the second guitar [bad joke: why do rock musicians employ double-necked guitars? So they can rock – and roll!].  John Paul Jones arranged the recorder parts on a synthesizer.

After a few minutes, Jimmy Page transitions to a slow rock tune. Shortly before the 5-minute mark, John Bonham’s drums enter for the first time.  A couple of minutes later, Jimmy Page commences a tour de force guitar solo that picks up speed and power; on the studio cut, this was played on Page’s 1959 Fender Telecaster electric guitar that he used during his days with the Yardbirds. During this segment, Robert Plant’s vocals shift from his normal range to falsetto.

Right at the very end, Plant sings the final solo line “And she’s buying a stairway to heaven.”

Jimmy Page’s extremely inventive and intricate guitar solos, combined with Robert Plant’s lyrics and tremendous vocal range, make the tune simply unforgettable.

Despite great demand and massive play on the radio, Stairway To Heaven was never released as a single. At the time, if you wanted the song you had to purchase the album.

Several critics cite Jimmy Page’s guitar solos on this piece as the best ever in rock music. In 2001, VH1 ranked the song #3 on its list of the 100 Greatest Rock Songs. Rolling Stone ranked the song #31 on its list of The 500 Greatest Songs Of All Time. Stairway To Heaven was the most-requested song on FM radio stations during the 70s (this despite never being released as a single!).

The arcane lyrics are famously confusing (e.g., “if there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now, it’s just a spring clean for the May Queen”) – which I always misheard as “it’s just a sprinkling.”

Apparently I am not the only person who confused the song’s lyrics — there is a massive list of misheard lyrics for Stairway To Heaven. It’s hard to imagine that some of these “misheard lyrics” are genuine – for example, can you imagine the line “and as we wind on down the road” being mistaken for “and there’s a rhino down the road,” or “and there’s Bill Wyman down the road” [Wyman was the bass player for the Rolling Stones]?

As a side note, in 1982 Paul Crouch of the Christian TV Trinity Broadcasting Network claimed that Satanic messages were being programmed into pop songs through a technique called “backmasking.” Crouch claimed that Stairway To Heaven was one of those backmasked songs.

Crouch’s claim was that, if these songs were played backwards, a hidden message would be revealed. For Stairway to Heaven,
the alleged message, which occurs during the middle section of the song (“If there’s a bustle in your hedgerow, don’t be alarmed now…”) when played backward, was purported to contain the Satanic references “Here’s to my sweet Satan \ The one whose little path would make me sad whose power is Satan \ He’ll give, he’ll give you 666 \ There was a little tool shed where he made us suffer, sad Satan.”

Well, the California Consumer Protection and Toxic Materials Committee took this seriously. They brought in self-proclaimed “neuroscientific researcher” William Yarroll, who claimed that the human brain could decode backward audio messages. The committee briefly considered passing a law that would require warning labels on any songs containing encrypted messages. Led Zeppelin’s record company felt compelled to release a statement that “Our turntables play in only one direction – forwards.

In addition to their stunning musical abilities, the musicians in Led Zeppelin were famed for their legendary sexual excesses, alcohol and drug usage. In the late 70s, Jimmy Page’s heroin use apparently became sufficiently incapacitating that John Paul Jones took over most of the band’s composing and producing duties.

Tragically, in October 1980 John Bonham died from alcohol-related asphyxiation after reportedly consuming 40 shots of vodka. Following that, the surviving members of the group decided to disband, rather than continue on without Bonham. The band has occasionally reunited for short periods or for special occasions. Page and Plant went out on tour in the 1990s, and each of the surviving members continues to produce records and to tour with other groups.

The three remaining Zeppelin members successfully made it through the turbulent 70s, and produced some breathtaking music.  We salute them and wish them all the best.

Frank Zappa and Stairway To Heaven:

Frank Zappa was one of the most prolific and inventive rock musicians of all time. There is no way we can do justice to his entire career, so we will provide a brief intro to his life and work.

Frank Antonio Zappa was born in Baltimore in 1940. His father was a chemist who worked on chemical weapons for the defense industry. As a youth, Frank began amassing a vast record collection and an eclectic taste for music ranging from experimental classical to funky R&B.

By the end of his senior year in high school, Zappa was writing and arranging avant-garde music for his school band. Afterwards, he began to work at a recording studio that had experimental multi-track capabilities in an era that was dominated by monotonic sound.

Below is a photo of Frank Zappa.

Musician Frank Zappa.

In his spare time, Zappa produced a number of movies. In 1966 Zappa was “discovered” by producer Tom Wilson, who had produced Bob Dylan and Simon & Garfunkel. Wilson produced the first album by Frank Zappa and his band, The Mothers of Invention.

Zappa’s debut album, Freak Out, was typical of Zappa’s eclectic tastes. It was a diverse mixture of
R&B, doo-wop, musique concrète, and experimental sound collages.
Zappa gained fame as an innovative and prolific artist. This continued with a series of albums that combined avant-garde musical ideas with wicked satire.

Although Frank Zappa amassed a devoted worldwide cult following, his records never sold that well, and he was chronically short of funds. In 1969 he dissolved the Mothers of Invention and became a solo artist.

Here is Frank Zappa and his entourage with a live cover of Stairway to Heaven. This was from Zappa’s final tour in 1988 with a 12-member band.

As is often the case, it is not evident whether Zappa is being serious or whether he is spoofing. As soon as they finish the previous song, the band segues directly into the guitar intro to Stairway to Heaven.

Frank Zappa is at left front playing guitar, while the vocalist is sitting at far right. While the arrangement largely follows the Led Zeppelin version, Zappa throws in the occasional bizarro touches, including animal noises and electronic special effects.

Note that the horn section is throwing in some coordinated dance moves during the song. However, right at the 5-minute mark in the song, the horn section commences a note-for-note reproduction of Jimmy Page’s guitar solo.

So, as it happens, Zappa is creating an homage to Jimmy Page. At the very end, the entire ensemble sings the final line. The audience is extremely pleased with this, and erupts into thunderous applause.

Frank Zappa’s career was legendary. Although he died from prostate cancer in 1993 at the age of 52, he had released over 60 albums. And following his death, another 40 albums have been released posthumously by the Zappa Family Trust, which consists of his wife and the four Zappa children Dweezil, Moon Unit, Ahmet and Diva.

When he passed away, among the people lamenting his passing were L.A. Symphony conductor Zubin Mehta and classical pianist and composer Pierre Boulez. Both had collaborated with Zappa and had high praise for his creativity.

Apparently Zappa managed to maintain a high level of productivity by working every day for at least 12 hours. In addition to his music, he also produced music videos and full-length movies, and designed album covers.

Frank Zappa was an extreme libertarian. He was deeply opposed to any restrictions on free speech, and as an atheist was bitterly critical of the religious right in the U.S. When Czechoslovakia became independent following the collapse of the Soviet Union, its first president Vaclav Havel designated Zappa a “Special Ambassador on Trade, Culture and Tourism.”

Frank Zappa’s biting satire made him a number of enemies in the music industry. I enjoyed his frequently sophomoric humor (one of his albums was titled Sheikh Yerbouti, and another Weasels Ripped My Flesh :-)). After being turned down a couple of times, Zappa was inducted posthumously into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995. Well-deserved, Frank.

Ann & Nancy Wilson and Stairway To Heaven:

Heart is a hard-rock band that was fronted by sisters Ann and Nancy Wilson. In the late 60s, a number of rock bands formed in the greater Seattle area. White Heart became Hocus Pocus, and then in 1973 Heart was formed in Vancouver.  Below is a photo of the Wilson sisters in their early years.

The Wilson sisters from Heart: L: Ann Wilson; R: Nancy Wilson.

Lead vocalist Ann Wilson was an original member of Heart, and her sister Nancy soon signed on as a rhythm guitarist. One feature of Heart has been its ability to switch effortlessly from folk-inspired acoustic ballads to hard-rocking anthems.

In 1973 the band released its debut album Dreamboat Annie, which became quite popular in Canada and was subsequently released in the U.S.

In 1976 two singles from that album, Crazy On You and Magic Man, turned into best sellers. Featuring Ann Wilson’s powerhouse vocals, Heart rode a series of single hits to rock ‘n roll stardom. The band headlined a number of festivals, including the 1978 California Jam with an audience of 350,000, and the inaugural Texxas Jam the same year that drew 100,000.

By 1984, Heart’s record sales had begun to slide, although the group was still pulling in big crowds on their tours. In 1985, a re-tooled Heart band moved to Capitol Records, where they developed a more hard-edged “arena rock” sound.

In 1986, Nancy Wilson married writer-director Cameron Crowe, who had begun his career as a teen-age rock journalist for Rolling Stone magazine. In the mid-90s Nancy was in charge of the musical score for several of Crowe’s most successful movies, including Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous and Vanilla Sky.

Here are Ann and Nancy Wilson, with Jason Bonham on drums, in a live performance of Stairway to Heaven.

This took place in Dec. 2012 at the Kennedy Center Honors tribute to Led Zeppelin. Nancy Wilson begins by reprising Jimmy Page’s acoustic guitar intro. Ann Wilson’s powerful vocals are a good fit for this song, particularly as it shifts from soft folk-rock to the harder-edged finale.

Ann is joined in the middle of the song by not one but two choirs of background singers; and there appears to be a full orchestra supporting this tune. Of course, the arrangement follows closely the iconic original version, even though the final guitar solo is merely a pale imitation of Jimmy Page’s licks.

You can see the surviving members of Zeppelin (Page, Plant and Jones) in the audience, who seem to be greatly enjoying the music, as well as the Obamas. The tribute by the Wilson sisters was only available on iTunes for two weeks, but it immediately shot to #1 on those charts.

Heart achieved great commercial success over a sustained period of time. Worldwide, they have sold over 35 million records, and they placed 10 albums in the Billboard Top 200 charts over a period of four decades. In 2013 the original lineup of Heart was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Unfortunately, the sisters had a falling-out in 2016 when Ann’s husband pleaded guilty to assaulting Nancy’s twin sons. After a couple of years where the sisters went their separate ways, they have apparently reunited and Heart is currently part of the Love Alive Tour in 2019.

Ann and Nancy, glad to see you back together. All the best, your fans are “crazy on you.”

Source Material:

Wikipedia, Stairway To Heaven
Wikipedia, Led Zeppelin
Wikipedia, Frank Zappa
Wikipedia, Heart (band)

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Don’t Dream It’s Over: Crowded House; Paul Young; Sixpence None the Richer.

Hello there! This week our blog features a big pop hit by an Australian band, Don’t Dream It’s Over. We will first discuss the original version by Crowded House. Next, we will review a cover by Paul Young and we will finish with a cover by Sixpence None The Richer.

Crowded House and Don’t Dream It’s Over:

The band Crowded House was formed in Australia in 1985 by New Zealander Neil Finn, together with Australian musicians Nick Seymour on bass and Paul Hester on drums. Later, multi-instrumentalist Mark Hart was added to make a quartet. Finn wrote the songs and was lead vocalist for the band. Below is a photo of Crowded House.

The band Crowded House; Neil Finn is 2nd from right.

Neil Finn and Paul Hester had been mates in the band Split Enz. This was originally a New Zealand band led by Neil’s older brother Tim Finn. Split Enz then moved to Australia in 1975.

Crowded House issued its debut album in 1986 and in December, 1986 they released the single Don’t Dream It’s Over from that album. In that song, the vocalist assures his lover that if they stick together, they can survive whatever the world throws at them.

There is freedom within, there is freedom without
Try to catch the deluge in a paper cup
There’s a battle ahead, many battles are lost
But you’ll never see the end of the road
While you’re traveling with me

[CHORUS] Hey now, hey now
Don’t dream it’s over
Hey now, hey now
When the world comes in
They come, they come
To build a wall between us
We know they won’t win

Now I’m towing my car, there’s a hole in the roof
My possessions are causing me suspicion but there’s no proof
In the paper today tales of war and of waste
But you turn right over to the T.V. page


Don’t Dream It’s Over became a smash hit. It rose to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, reaching #1 in New Zealand and Australia. The success of this song was a big surprise to their record company Capitol Records, which had spent very little on promotion for the album.

Don’t Dream It’s Over is one of my favorite songs, and I will attempt to explain why. The melody is really lovely and seems a perfect fit for Neil Finn’s vocals. In addition, the song features a couple of haunting organ solos.

The lyrics are a bit mysterious – I think that the song has an upbeat message but I’m not 100% certain. In my opinion, this is a true gem of a pop song. All I know is that once this tune gets stuck in my head, it can remain there for weeks.

The first Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) Awards took place in 1987. Crowded House won awards for Best New Talent, Song of the Year and Best Video. The band also won the MTV Video Music Award for Best New Artist.

In one year, Crowded House suddenly became a hot group. The second single from their debut album, Something So Strong, also charted in the Billboard top ten.

After their first album was so successful, Neil Finn found himself under great pressure to craft another smash hit. Finn’s bandmates took to referring to the upcoming second album as “Mediocre Follow-Up.”

Sure enough, the band’s next album reached #1 in New Zealand and #2 in Australia, but made it only to #40 on the Billboard album playlist. And none of the singles from the second album dented the top 40 in the American pop charts.

In 1996, Crowded House decided to break up, and they embarked on a farewell tour.  At the end of that tour, they added a charity benefit “Farewell To The World” concert outside the Sydney Opera House on Nov. 24, 1996.

Here is Crowded House at that charity concert, in a live performance of Don’t Dream It’s Over.

This is a very emotional performance, as it is the final song in the final performance by Crowded House. Funds from this concert went to the Sydney Children’s Hospital.

From the video, it appears that drummer Paul Hester is near tears during this song. Of course, this is also an emotional experience for fans of the band. Right at the end, the audience sings the chorus. The band members hug one another and come together to acknowledge their fans.

After the Crowded House breakup in 1996, the band’s musicians went their separate ways. Neil and Tim Finn collaborated on a couple of albums, and Paul Hester and Nick Seymour joined the brothers on a couple of their concert tours. Mark Hart joined the alt-rock band Supertramp in the late 90s and also toured with Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band.

In 2005, Paul Hester committed suicide. He had suffered from depression for some time. In 2006, the surviving members of Crowded House reunited. Neil Finn, Mark Hart and Nick Seymour joined up with drummer Matt Sherrod to form a new edition of Crowded House.

They issued a few albums and performed in some festivals. The albums tended to chart in the top 5 in Australia and New Zealand, and in the top 20 in the UK, but did not fare well in the U.S.

The Crowded House reunion continued until 2016. At that time, guitarist Lindsey Buckingham was kicked out of Fleetwood Mac, and Neil Finn and Mike Campbell (formerly with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers) were brought in to replace Buckingham. So at the moment, Neil Finn is one of the lead vocalists for the re-constituted Fleetwood Mac, and Mike Campbell is their lead guitarist.

Crowded House had only a few hits, but for me they were memorable. Don’t Dream It’s Over is one of my favorite tunes, and I am also a big fan of their second hit, Something So Strong. I wish Neil Finn all the best in his musical journey.

Paul Young and Don’t Dream It’s Over:

Paul Young was born in Luton, Bedfordshire, England in January 1956. As a youth, he divided his time between semi-pro soccer and music. He joined a couple of bands as a bass player and vocalist, and they built up a following in England.

In 1980 Young was the lead singer with a group called the Q Tips. They specialized in covers of R&B songs, performing a “blue-eyed soul” routine similar to that of the great American duo Hall and Oates. The Q Tips never quite managed to break through commercially, so in 1982 they disbanded and Young signed a solo contract with Columbia Records.  Below is a photo of Paul Young.

British pop star Paul Young.

In 1983 Young’s cover of the Marvin Gaye song Wherever I Lay My Hat reached #1 on the UK pop charts. Young became a superstar in Britain and had considerable success in Europe.

Then in 1985, Young’s cover of the Hall & Oates tune Every Time You Go Away became a smash international hit, reaching #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 playlists. At this point Young’s international career really took off.

Here is Paul Young in a live performance of Don’t Dream It’s Over.

I really enjoy Paul Young’s vocals. Of course, the Crowded House version of Don’t Dream It’s Over provides the definitive arrangement for the song, so Paul Young copies the original in rather straightforward fashion (we will see a similar arrangement from Sixpence None The Richer in the next section).

This performance is from the British pop show Top Of The Pops (TOTP) in October 1991. That show was a key factor in the rise of rock ‘n roll in Britain – it began in 1964 and ran until 2006. In the 90s, TOTP licensed itself in many other countries. Eventually, there were as many as 100 versions of TOTP playing around the world.

Don’t Dream It’s Over has become one of Paul Young’s signature tunes. He sang it at the 1988 Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute in London’s Wembley Stadium. Young also sang Radio Ga Ga with the surviving members of Queen at the 1992 Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert.

In 1992, Paul Young formed the Tex-Mex band Los Pacaminos. The group initially began playing in clubs and small venues; but as they established a fan base, they issued a couple of albums and did some touring.

Paul Young continues to tour today. He has a lovely voice and we wish him much success.

Sixpence None The Richer and Don’t Dream It’s Over:

Sixpence None The Richer is an alternative Christian band. Although the band formed in Texas in the early 90s, after a short period of time they moved to Nashville.

The band’s name was taken from a story told by C.S. Lewis in his book Mere Christianity. A man gives his son a sixpence, which the boy uses to purchase a Christmas gift for his father. The father is appreciative of the gift even though it was purchased with his own money. The moral of the story is that we should be grateful for the gifts God has bestowed upon us, and should credit God for whatever we have.

The group’s big breakthrough came in 1998 when their song Kiss Me was nominated for a Grammy, and their self-titled album was also Grammy-nominated for Best Rock Gospel Album (I didn’t know there was such a category!).  Below is a photo of Sixpence None The Richer.

Alternative Christian rock band Sixpence None The Richer.

Shortly afterwards, the band appeared on late-night shows such as The Late Show with David Letterman and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. They also were featured on many syndicated morning TV shows. The band headlined a number of tours with alt-rock or Christian rock groups. For a few years Sixpence None The Richer were rather successful.

Here is Sixpence None The Richer in a live performance of Don’t Dream It’s Over.

I quite enjoy the tender and vulnerable vocals of lead singer Leigh Nash. In particular, for this song her vocal style is just perfect. However, both the audio and video in this clip is sub-par, for which I apologize. The song Don’t Dream It’s Over was from the band’s 2002 album Divine Discontent.

In 2004, Sixpence None The Richer disbanded and its musicians went their separate ways. However, at the end of 2007 the band reunited. They released a couple more albums, including a Christmas album (it would seem a natural for a Christian band to have a Christmas album).

They have appeared in a few festivals in the past few years. Don’t Dream It’s Over is one of the band’s signature tunes. We wish all the best to the group’s founding members Leigh Nash and lead guitarist Matt Slocum.

Source Material:

Wikipedia, Don’t Dream It’s Over
Wikipedia, Crowded House
Wikipedia, Paul Young
Wikipedia, Sixpence None The Richer

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