music friday: sweet soul music

It's the anniversary of Arthur Conley's death. He died 14 years ago today. He seems destined to always be remembered as a One-Hit Wonder, that hit being "Sweet Soul Music". Conley was taken under the wing of Otis Redding, who helped put together "Sweet Soul Music". He seemed to be an ideal mentor for Conley, but he died in a plane crash later that year. Conley career floundered. Ed Ward tells the story:

In the mid-'70s, Conley abruptly moved to London. That proved expensive, so the next stop was Brussels, which he found too hectic. He then headed to Amsterdam and changed his name to Lee Roberts. Nobody knew Lee Roberts, and at last Conley was able to live in peace with a secret he'd hidden - or thought he had - for his entire career - he was gay. But nobody in Holland cared.

"Sweet Soul Music" was "based" on a Sam Cooke tune, "Yeah Man" ... "based" as in a lawsuit resulted in Cooke's name being listed a co-composer.

The horn introduction borrows from the theme for The Magnificent Seven:

Here is Arthur singing his hit in 1967:

Finally, here's Bruce Springsteen, who has performed "Sweet Soul Music" many times. The video quality is poor, but the audio is fine, and this one is dear to my heart, because it's the only time I saw him play the song in concert. 1988:

 


music friday: john fogerty with brad paisley

Three years ago I devoted a Music Friday to Creedence Clearwater Revival, highlighting their jam, "Keep on Chooglin'". I spent most of that post looking at the ways Creedence were different from other Bay Area bands more identified with the FM underground radio explosion of the late-60s. I described in passing just how prolific (and great) the band was in those days:

In 1969, Creedence released three albums. On those albums were tracks like “Born on the Bayou,” “Proud Mary,” “Bad Moon Rising,” “Lodi,” “Down on the Corner,” and “Fortunate Son”. All in one year. This wasn’t the Grateful Dead … this was a hit-making machine, cranking out one hit after another from the pen of John Fogerty. And they weren’t done. In 1970, there was Cosmo’s Factory (“Travelin’ Band,” “Who’ll Stop the Rain,” “Run Through the Jungle,” “Up Around the Bend,” “Lookin’ Out My Back Door,” and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”).

"Grapevine", of course, was a cover, and CCR did some great ones. Besides "Grapevine," there was "I Put a Spell on You", "Suzie Q", and "Ninety Nine and a Half (Won't Do)" on their debut album, and then later, "The Night Time Is the Right Time", "The Midnight Special", and others. It's a sign of their greatness as a band, and of Fogerty as a songwriter, that their covers are terrific, but the originals fit right in and match the quality of the classic songs they covered.

I guess I'm trying to say that I've underrated John Fogerty too often over the years. He is in the rock and roll pantheon. And many of his songs are frighteningly relevant to this day. The one that gets me every time is "Fortunate Son". Here he performs it with Brad Paisley, just last week:

He and Paisley also took on "Bad Moon Rising", which still carries a wallop.

I hope you got your things together
I hope you are quite prepared to die
Look's like we're in for nasty weather
One eye is taken for an eye
Oh don't go 'round tonight
It's bound to take your life
There's a bad moon on the rise
 

On a lighter note, the two attacked Paisley's "Alcohol", helping white people dance:

I'll finish with the band and one of their cheery numbers:

Just got home from Illinois lock the front door oh boy!
Got to sit down take a rest on the porch.
Imagination sets in pretty soon I'm singin'
Doo doo doo lookin' out my back door.
 
There's a giant doing cartwheels, a statue wearin' high heels.
Look at all the happy creatures dancing on the lawn.
A dinosaur Victrola list'ning to Buck Owens.
Doo doo doo lookin' out my back door.
 
Tambourines and elephants are playing in the band.
Won't you take a ride on the flyin' spoon?
Doo doo doo.
Wond'rous apparition provided by magician.
Doo doo doo lookin' out my back door.
 
Tambourines and elephants are playing in the band.
Won't you take a ride on the flyin' spoon?
Doo doo doo.
Bother me tomorrow, today, I'll buy no sorrows.
Doo doo doo lookin' out my back door.
 
Forward troubles Illinois, lock the front door oh boy!
Look at all the happy creatures dancing on the lawn.
Bother me tomorrow, today, I'll buy no sorrows.
Doo doo doo lookin' out my back door.

 

music friday: solo lou reed in the 70s

I had a serious Lou Reed obsession in the 1970s. Saw him several times, the first being in late 1974 on the Sally Can't Dance tour (a show I wrote about here) ... I think the last time I saw him was in 1989. Some of this was lingering Velvets love. I'd been a fan of theirs since the first album, but I was 13 when it was released and living on the other coast, so my love of the band came from their records (and their infrequent appearances on FM radio), not because I lived the life or saw them in concert. My favorite of his 70s albums was Coney Island Baby. I had a homemade Coney Island Baby t-shirt ... my wife made it for me:

Coney island baby

When we were first married, we had a hand-me-down record player ... I think it only played mono, and the stylus was awful, so it probably ruined a lot of vinyl. I played Berlin over and over, then I played Rock and Roll Animal over and over ... after that, we might have finally gotten a good stereo. Once we started going to see his shows in earnest, I saw him a couple of times at Berkeley Community Theater (Rock and Roll Heart tour and New York tour), and a couple more times at the Old Waldorf, a showcase club where you could buy "dinner seats" and sit right up against the stage ... it was then that Robin decided Lou's hands looked like her grandfather's from Iowa. I especially liked the band that turns up on Take No Prisoners. I'm not a big fan of the album, but the band sounds like my memories of a Lou Concert. I never saw the Velvets, and I never saw the great band with Robert Quine and Fernando Saunders (although Fernando was in the band for several of the shows we saw), so I'm sure I missed the best, but that late-70s band as good.

Here are six Lou songs from the 70s. I'll give a special shoutout for the last three. "Coney Island Baby" remains my favorite Lou Reed Solo track ever, for the way his voice breaks at the end as he says "Man I swear I'd give the whole thing up for you." "Temporary Thing" feels like a lost classic to me ("Where's the number, where's the dime and where's the phone?"). And "Street Hassle" is his magnum opus ... even has an appearance by Bruce Springsteen.

You know, some people got no choice
And they can never find a voice
To talk with that they can even call their own
So the first thing that they see
That allows them the right to be
Why they follow it
You know, it's called bad luck

 


music friday: fats domino

In the summer of 1970, a friend and I lived in a church in San Francisco for a month. We'd just gotten out of high school, the minister at the church said we could stay there, so we pretended to be grownups for a few weeks. (Well, my friend almost tried ... I didn't quite make it.)

We hung out a lot at a nearby park that we called Dog Heaven. I'd wanted to be a hippie so badly, this was my chance to live the dream. I'd walk around The City barefoot ... what a moron. One night we walked to Fillmore West, which was a couple of miles away ... saw Sha Na Na, Pacific Gas & Electric, and Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks.

Another night, we ordered delivery from a dessert place that advertised on KSAN. It was called Magnolia Thunderpussy, and their specialty was ... well, I'll let Wikipedia describe it:

Magnolia Thunderpussy ... was a San Francisco burlesque performer, radio personality, filmmaker and restaurateur. Thunderpussy operated two San Francisco restaurants in the 1960s: the one at 1398 Haight Street (at the corner of Haight and Masonic), which bore her name, featured a late-night delivery service and erotic desserts such as "The Montana Banana", which was an unsplit banana, representing a phallus, served "erect" in a food service "boat" with two scoops of ice cream, representing the other components of male genitalia, with shredded coconut, representing pubic hair, and a small dollop of whipped cream at the end of the banana.

One day we were walking around the Fillmore District, and this drunk guy came over to us. I thought he was a 100 years old, but he was probably more like 35. I had just turned 17, anything older than 30 seemed ancient to me. He had a lot of missing teeth, and he smelled like the proverbial brewery, but he was in a very good mood, so we talked with him for a bit. Suddenly, he started singing to us, and it was a song I knew:

I admit, I was a little scared by this man. Which was ironic, because Fats Domino, whose song the drunk man was singing, never, ever scared me. His voice, instantly identifiable, always brought a smile to my face, even when he was singing sad songs. His excellent piano playing, combined with his vocals and the great backing from guys like Dave Bartholomew, Earl Palmer, Lee Allen, and so many others, produced one wonderful single after another. He cut a million of them ... he sold more records than you can imagine. He was a titan of the early days of rock and roll ... hell, he predates rock and roll, his first single coming out at the end of 1949. Almost 20 years later, he was back on the charts with "Lady Madonna", which was a tribute from Paul to Fats.

Robert Christgau wrote:

Domino was the most widely liked rock and roller of the '50s--nobody hated him, which you couldn't say of Elvis, or Pat Boone, who despite the color of his skin charted just two more top 10 records. Warm and unthreatening even by the intensely congenial standards of New Orleans, he's remembered with fond condescension as significantly less innovative than his uncommercial compatriots Professor Longhair and James Booker. But though his bouncy boogie-woogie piano and easy Creole gait were generically Ninth Ward, they defined a pop-friendly second-line beat that nobody knew was there before he and Dave Bartholomew created "The Fat Man" in 1949. In short, this shy, deferential, uncharismatic man invented New Orleans rock and roll.

"Invented New Orleans rock and roll" ... that's pretty much like saying he invented rock and roll. But he wasn't scary, the way all of the other pioneers could be. Elvis, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee, Little Richard ... they could be scary. But not Fats.

Here he is, late in life, on the great TV show Treme:


the rock and roll hall of fame nominees

The nominees for the 2018 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame have been announced. Sister Rosetta Tharpe stands atop all the others, so of course, she's 15th in the fan ballots as I type this (The Meters are last), with about 1/8th the number of votes as Bon Jovi. I'd also vote for The Meters and LL Cool J ... they are also down on the fan vote list. I accept the inevitability of Radiohead, even though I don't care for them. I suppose I'd vote for Nina Simone, but not with the same enthusiasm I have for Sister Rosetta. Bon Jovi is running away with the early fan voting.

Last.fm keeps track of everything I listen to on streaming services (not including things like YouTube), and has done this since 2005. It often provides a reality check by showing me what I actually listen to, rather than what I like to say I listen to. I checked the 19 HoF nominees to see which ones I listened to the most over the years. The top five are:

The Moody Blues 
Nina Simone 
The Meters
Dire Straits
Radiohead

Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who I say is the #1 nominee this year? She's 18th out of 19, with 5 listens in the past 12 years. In fairness, I usually listen to her on YouTube. (Last place is Judas Priest, who I have listened to 3 times since 2005. For reasons unknown to me, the nominee I have listened to the most times in 2017 is The Zombies.)

If I had one vote, Sister Rosetta would get it. Here's a documentary about her:

The Meters have always been a favorite of mine, for their records under their own names, of course, but also their work as the house band for Allen Toussaint. They also appeared on one of the greatest one-shot albums of all time, The Wild Tchoupitoulas. And Ziggy Modeliste is one of the handful of best drummers in history. Here they are with "It Ain't No Use":

LL Cool J was only 17 when his first album came out (it was great). Five years later, he topped it with Mama Said Knock You Out. The greatest hits album, All World, answers any questions you might have. Here's "Mama Said Knock You Out":

My other two selections are outside of my personal canon, but I think they belong in a Hall of Fame. Nina Simone is iconic for more than her music, but her music stands on its own.

Finally, there's Radiohead. I'm of the Nick Hornby school re: this band. But "Creep" is magnificent ... all by itself, that song belongs in the Hall of Fame. And Radiohead is definitely a case of my own taste preferences being mostly irrelevant. They belong.

As for the rest of the nominees:

In my youth, I listened to a lot of Moody Blues. I'm not that young anymore. Dire Straits was a breath of fresh air when they came out, but that didn't last long. Most of the rest are largely uninteresting to me, which doesn't mean much ... I could be missing something good. The Cars were a nice band with some fine singles that made for a solid Greatest Hits album, but I don't see them as any more than that. I saw the J. Geils Band many times back in the 70s and 80s, and was never sorry, but they aren't Hall of Famers.

A Facebook group of Christgau fans has a poll going, and the top five are The Meters, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, The MC5, LL Cool J, and The Cars. (Thanks to some cheaters, Warren Zevon actually came in third.) The Moody Blues are in last place, with only one vote (The Meters have 56).

Finally, Stephen Thomas Erlewine has some predictions over on Pitchfork. He thinks the "definites" are Radiohead, Eurythmics, Moody Blues, and Nina Simone. He lists nine acts "on the bubble", and says if he had to guess, Dire Straits would make it.


music friday: tom petty

I've gone back and forth on whether to post this or not. I have no desire to dump on the favorite artists of others, at least not when I have no hatred for the artist in question. I don't have much to say about Tom Petty. I couldn't name the Heartbreakers ... for some reason, Benmont Tench's name sticks in my head, but I don't know the others without checking the Internet. For most of my life since the emergence of Petty, I've used him as a marker for a time when rock and roll music changed. When punk arrived, I would say, some of the people thought it was a tremendous reflection of true rock and roll spirit, while everyone else went to their Tom Petty albums and never listened to new music again. That's unfair, of course, to Petty if not to the baby boomers who never wanted to hear anything that didn't sound like what they'd already heard. (Of course, hip hop followed, becoming the true revolution I had imagined happening with punk.)

Chris Willman wrote in Variety, "Tom Petty may have been the least polarizing figure in rock history. Literally everyone else you could cite has a substantial 'not a fan' base, from Dylan to Springsteen, Bowie to Bono. And the very nature of the eternal Beatles-vs.-Stones debate attests that there will always be someone, somewhere, immutably meh on Mick and McCartney. But there’s an argument to be made that Petty almost never caused an argument, at least not among music fans."

I think Willman is onto something. It would be an exaggeration for me to say I was "not a fan" of Petty. But the very fact of his non-polarizing nature is a point against him, in my mind. People argue about Dylan and Bruce and Bowie and Bono because there is something larger than the mere ordinary about them. But everyone seemed to agree that Tom Petty was one of the good ones.

And, in fairness, with his death, many people have written eloquently about what his music meant to them, so I'm clearly in the minority when I am, if not meh, than at least not inspired by Petty.

The year Petty and the Heartbreakers were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, they were part of a group that included The Ramones, Talking Heads, Brenda Lee, Isaac Hayes, and Gene Pitney. In my personal Hall, the Ramones and Talking Heads are in, you can make a good case for Brenda Lee, and Isaac Hayes makes sense. Not so sure about Gene Pitney, who is the only one of the group that I'd place below Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.

As a nod to Petty on his death, I put together a 20-song playlist that we listened to in the car on a trip from Sacramento to Berkeley. Any artist who has 20 worthy songs to their name is pretty good (and some people were making lists with 50 songs ... as I say, my taste preferences don't really match the majority here). But that 20 was a bit of a cheat. I included five cover songs, and two ringers, one by Stevie Nicks and one by the Traveling Wilburys. I could only come up with 13 "Tom Petty songs" I wanted to hear. Which still isn't bad, but I can't say I think a baker's dozen good songs makes a Hall of Fame artist.

And I mean it when I say "good songs". "American Girl" is the only Tom Petty song I think of as a true classic. It was on his first album. He gets credit for longevity, but for me, he never cut a track better than the last song on his first album.

But picky, picky, picky. Tom Petty made plenty of good music, and touched a lot of listeners. There's nothing wrong with that.

We saw him in concert once, as a solo acoustic performer at the first Bridge concert in 1986. Honestly, we thought he was drunk. Maybe he was just having fun. He opened with "American Girl", tossed in "Blue Moon of Kentucky", and finished with "Twist and Shout." He did have good taste in covers.

Here are my three favorite Tom Petty song, a rather dull selection to be sure:

 


music friday: willie and lucinda

On this date in 2004, we saw Willie Nelson and Lucinda Williams. We'd seen Lucinda many times, but this was the only time we saw Willie. I wrote about it at the time, and since I'm in Spain, I'm going to cheat and just offer a link to that post, along with a few excerpts.

Her set was sloppy in a good way ... I don't suppose she was drunk, but she was so much looser than we'd ever seen her that the thought crossed our minds. You see, Robin and I love Lucinda Williams and have been going to see her for many years now, but what carries her concerts is her songs ... she isn't exactly a dynamic performer. But tonight? She talked before every song, she seemed to be making up the setlist as she went along, she told stories, and she really tore into the songs, especially "Still I Long For Your Kiss." At the end of the night, after closing with "Get Right With God," she planted mushy kisshugs on each of the band members, even climbing through the drumset to get to the drummer. Meanwhile, she wore a CBGBs t-shirt, showed off her tattoo, and generally had a raucous good time, which I never thought I'd say about Lucinda Williams. ...

It's kinda odd seeing a legend ... I spent the first few minutes just staring at him, thinking "man, there he is, Willie Nelson, it's really him." Actually, even before he came out, we were staring at a legend: his guitar, which sat on its stand as the roadies set things up. If you've never seen it, it's the damnedest thing  ...

Willie played for about an hour and 45 minutes. Never having seen him before, I can only go by what I read, but it seemed like a standard set, with most of the classics. At one point he did an extended medley of "'Funny How Time Slips Away/Crazy/Night Life," and I yelled at Robin, "it's like he wrote every song in history!" But then he did other people's songs, songs that we identify with him, like "Always on My Mind" and "Georgia on My Mind," and you realize if there's a song he didn't write, he's probably sung it at some point, anyway. The weird thing was, he did songs across a wide variety of styles, and every time you thought "he fits right in" or "he makes this his own" or "I think he invented this." So there was the countrypolitan "Crazy" and a rockin' version of "Me and Bobby McGee," there was the gospel of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" and the vocal classics like "Always on My Mind," there was a handful of Hank Williams songs and "Milk Cow Blues." And Willie Nelson always sounded like he and the song belonged together. I'm not saying he was bringing something new to the table tonight ... he's sung most of these songs literally thousands of times. But they fit him like a snug hemp sweater. ...

When Lucinda was done with her set, she gave a pretty long speech about what performing meant to her. I swear, I thought she was gonna cry ... we really have never seen her like she was tonight. She said she'd been doing this for 30 years, and she's finally figuring out why people like Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan and B.B. King keep playing and playing and playing, no matter how old they get. She told us that you can't put a price on the gratification you get when you can perform your songs for an appreciative audience. She just seemed so thankful to be able to do what she did. And her words resonated with me as I watched Willie Nelson sing "On the Road Again" for the three billionth time ... this is what he does, and you can't put a price on it.

As a bonus, here's Lucinda and Willie singing her "Over Time":