Monday, May 31, 2021

#NewMusicMonday • May, 2021

Curating new music playlists is no slapdash exercise in doing the search, shift, and sort from 'New Releases' across the Internet to find worthy new songs and covers. I follow my Rock 'n' Roll, Folk, Americana, Country, Indie, Blues, Soul, and Alt Rock ears to give you an eclectic playlist different from streaming service generated playlists*.

In most streaming services, algorithm-created or hand-made playlists are collected into a current narrow genre format. From a pure listening perspective, I can't take the same-same type of songs all in a single playlist for one sitting. I guess it's the same reason I gave up on commercial AM-FM format stations years ago. 

So if you feel the same way, let's get this #NewMusicMonday started for your week ahead and mix things up with this new100 song playlist! There's even some new releases from a few folks who've been around the block a couple times, or are smiling down from the stars above.

*Note- I do 'steal' songs from many different sources on the Internet to make my playlists. In turn, I would be honored if someone stole from this playlist to add to their mix.

Monday, May 24, 2021

The Covers Series: Interpretation and the "Traditional Folk Song"

When your favorite band covers a classic tune, their version is their interpretation — their translation — of the music. Is it better than the original? That's up for interpretation.

Dave Van Ronk at the Gaslight coffee house in New York’s Greenwich Village in 1963

I got inspired to start this covers series after reading The Mayor of MacDougal Street, a memoir by folk singer, Dave Van Ronk

Dave Van Ronk was born in Brooklyn in 1936.  He moved to Greenwich Village in the late 1950's to be a Blues musician which evolved into him being a folk singer as "The Village" became the epicenter for the new folk revival. Early 1960's famous folk revival acts included The Kingston TrioPeter, Paul and Mary, and Joan Baez.

Van Ronk besides being a larger than life character to all that knew him, also became Greenwich Village's resident music historian who would experience first hand the transition from —"traditional folk songs" performed and passed down over the years — to the singer-songwriter movement starting in the mid-1960's. 

Like most things in life, music starts with copying. Musicians learn their craft by first learning songs written by others, often people they admire and want to emulate. 

As musicians develop their skills over time, they progress from playing someone's original song to building from it — adapting and adding lyrics and/or composition to create a new version of the song, and thus the phrase, "Steal like an artist." What famous musician hasn't said in an interview at some point, "Yeah, I took that lick from________," as both traditional and contemporary popular songs serve as the musical foundation to become completely new songs.

In the 20th century, the term, "cover" gained usage as sheet music became published to the masses, recorded music was sold on records, and copyright law was implemented. 

However, passed down traditional folk songs without an original author were an easy choice with no permissions necessary to record a song, and with the added benefit of not paying out any royalties. 

Here's one such famous example of a traditional song passing through several hands, The House of the Rising Sun. Now this traditional song has been recorded by many artists, starting with Roy Acuff in 1938, then Woody Guthrie (1941), Josh White (1942), Lead Belly (1944), Pete Seeger (1958), Joan Baez (1960), Nina Simone (1962), and even Dolly Parton (1981) to name a few. 

But in giving Dave Van Ronk his due (from someone many have never heard of), he revived the song with his own arrangement and began performing it in the coffee houses of Greenwich Village around 1960. It is Van Ronk's arrangement that you've possibly heard by Bob Dylan on his self-titled first album in 1962 (Dave called him Bobby), and then most famously by The Animals version in 1964. 

So let's start with Dave Van Ronk's version first and picture a very animated performer singing his crowd favorite to a bunch of drunken patron's in a hole in the wall club in The Village.  

Now let's hear Bob Dylan's version, building off of Van Ronk's arrangement.

And now, the rock 'n' roll #1 Billboard hit (also based on Van Ronk's version ) by The Animals, who were influenced by Bob Dylan.
Side Note- The Animals' keyboard player Alan Price took song credit (Traditional, arrangement by Alan Price) and got all the songwriting royalities for their #1 hit which in fact started the bickering and breakup of the original group shortly after.

And, here's a film clip from the Bob Dylan documentary, No Direction Home that brings this song full circle, and gives an often uncredited Dave Van Ronk, a little satisfaction.

Traditional folk songs from centuries past to contemporary popular songs have a rich history performed by people as Dave Van Ronk would say are, "best known for interpreting material written by others." 

This series in the weeks, months and even years ahead, will explore covers from amateur to famous song "interpreters," and also, the singer-songwriters themselves paying homage to the writers that influenced their work, and put food on their table. 

Twenty Year Old Bob Dylan
in his first apartment in NY.
Photo by Ted Russell
Many of the famous stars we know and love started from humble beginnings. Struggling artists, often without much money, performing covers in bars, cafes, restaurants, and small venues for tips and little pay, just trying to scratch out a living. Young artists like Bobby Dylan, slowly slipping in his own material and honing his craft like all the ones before, standing on the shoulders of the traditional folk song. Now Dylan is one of the giants, if not thee giant, with an untold number of individuals, artists and bands covering his songs everyday. 

The circle of song is unbroken, like the musical iterations of an infinite Slinky®.

In 1964, Bob Dylan performed his new song, Mr. Tamborine Man at the Newport Folk Festival, leading the transition from traditional to contemporary folk. (Note- Happy 80th Birthday today Mr. Dylan!)

A year later in 1965, The Byrds would arrange and electrify Mr. Tamborine Man into jingle-jangle Folk rock as popular music would evolve into new cycles of songs interpreted from the foundations of folk.

My peers and I could not get enough. Rock 'n' roll with all its influences was here to wash our souls.

Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning I'll come following you

Monday, May 17, 2021

Fifty Years of Music • May, 1971

May, 1971 was a big month for me in the album purchasing department. My budget was tight, but somehow I scrapped up enough money to by:

  1. Ram, Paul McCartney
  2. Songs for Beginners, Graham Nash
  3. Every Picture Tells a Story, Rod Stewart
  4. 5th, Lee Michaels
Upon reflection, I'm sure I spread those purchases over the summer and think that three of my four selections hold up fifty years later. Last week, I featured Ram and Songs for Beginners having fond memories of playing those two records to death in my bedroom as a sophomore in high school.

Every Picture Tells a Story was a one-off for me as I really liked Stewart's old band Faces as most of that band plays on most tracks of the album. In my opinion, Every Picture Tells a Story was Steward's best rock 'n' roll album who later sank into doing smaltzville pop standards. I do remember trying to learn to play the mandolin on the family antique bowlback mandolin for a New York minute, so the album did have an effect on me. 

Lee Michael's 5th was a pure impulse buy as I really liked his big hit, Do You Know What I Mean? Unfortunately, that didn't translate to the rest of the album as I believe that went bye-bye from my vinyl collection in a garage sale.  

This month, I was excited to see CNN's special, What’s Going On: Marvin Gaye’s Anthem for the Ages. However, this documentary seemed like it was thrown together very quickly, like some TV executive said, "Holy s***, it's the 50th anniversary of What's Going On and we better put something together pronto!"

That doesn't mean there aren't some great moments, with one of my favorite parts being the Spike Lee interview. Spike recalls that he got Gaye’s What’s Going On as a sophomore in high school and would listen to it at the Coney Island High School Library. “They had turntables, so if you brought an album they had headphones, and you could put the album on and listen to it. So I would cut class and listen to this album,” Lee said. “This mojo right here is timeless. You listen to Marvin Gaye, this album right here, he’s singing to you.”

When Spike Lee said he was a sophomore in high school when What's Going On was released, it got me thinking about being the same age but how different our lives were. Spike's world growing up in urban Brooklyn was completely different compared to my west coast small town upbringing in Santa Maria, California.

As AM radio programming was playing in our respective communities, Marvin Gaye was singing to Spike, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young were singing to me. 

Eventually, in my cognitive maturation and experience, I grew to appreciate a broader range of music compared to my sixteen year old self. Marvin Gaye started singing to me in the early 1980's, not to mention my newly found appreciation for the singing duo of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell and their recordings together in the late 60's.

Speaking of my sixteen year old self, I for the life of me don't know how I missed John Entwistle's (bass player for The Who) first solo album, Smash your head against the wall. The Who were definitely on my radar in 1971, so why am I only listening to this album fifty years later?

This album is packed with great songs, and who knew Entwistle could write and better yet sing to go with his incredible bass playing? Smash your head against the wall is aptly named in the sense that Entwistle like George Harrison wasn't getting his songs on his famous band's records, and finally just made his own record. The irony here is that so many of the songs on this album would have been good Who songs spread out over several albums.  This album's dark tone and style fit perfectly as classic Who songs. What were Pete Townshend  and Roger Daltry thinking? Poor bass players (except Paul McCartney), they never get any respect.

The playlist this week features songs from nine albums, some deep cuts from other albums and a few hits heard on Top 40 AM radio back in the day.

Enjoy my friends 
as the great albums of 1971 just keep coming back round!

Monday, May 10, 2021

Fifty Years of Music • Ram, Paul McCartney & Songs for Beginners, Graham Nash

Both Ram and Songs for Beginners hold a special place in my heart as I purchased both albums in 1971. It was also a time where Paul McCartney and Graham Nash were without a band.

Last year, friend Paul Hobbs and I took on a 'What If' scenario if both The Beatles and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young had stayed together as bands in 1970. 

Our first go around was A 'What if' Album: Apple Scruffs • The Beatles 1970Paul McCartney's first solo album in 1970, McCartney included several songs in our Beatle fantasy album complete with fake album cover and press release. 

Ram came out in May, 1971 with McCartney being another year removed from the Fab Four. Then and now, I just think it was so upbeat! If you were a Paul snob before and/or after The Beatles broke up, so sorry, you missed out as one of the most talented people on earth was simply having a wonderful time. Being a solo act, he was now free to create whatever he wanted to on vinyl as a happily married man with wife Linda and their newly blended family together.

As a sixteen year old, I had started a quiet depression questioning my self-worth that I didn't share with anyone. Needless to say, millions of my peers were also going through the same slow drip of life in high school, living under the roof of their parents, wanting something more. Maybe this is where the term "sophomore slump" is derived, being stuck in a place in time before your break out year would be realized. 

Summer would be coming, and with my new driver's license my friends and I would soon be heading up the coast, to the beaches and back country roads with a little bit of independence to build on. 

1971 was a great year for rock 'n' roll and Paul McCartney's Ram came at a good time to lift my spirits and put a positive tone under my small town skies. 

Songs for Beginners was part of our second 'What If' album featuring Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's solo albums from 1970-71. Song For Beginners would be Graham's masterpiece and completed our, A 'What If' Album: All In • CSNY 1970. Our fantasy title, All In was our pipe dream of CSNY committing to each other to be that great band that some were calling, "The American Beatles" after their Déjà Vu album in 1970.

Graham Nash was simply a hitmaker tunesmith in all his bands. He wrote hits for The Hollies, CS&N, CSN&Y and Crosby & Nash. 

In Songs for Beginners, Graham's hadn't lost his midas touch for writing catching hooks in most of the eleven songs on the album. This was his spotlight moment coming after his break up with Joni Mitchell and his thoughts were poured into song. I also think of this as a positive album even though the subject matter is actually a little dark. What shines through is Graham's attitude on this album, his pushing forward on both the personal and social fronts. At sixteen, his song, Be Yourself really spoke to me. 

Paul McCartney and Graham Nash, both born in England in 1942 are still making music today as solo acts. God save the Brits and their invasion to our shores in the 1960's!

Enjoy these two albums my friends.
 ram on... we can change the world!

Ram Playlist

Songs for Beginners Playlist

Monday, May 03, 2021

#BestSongIHeardToday • Volume IV

  Volume I • II • III • IV  • V • VI • VII • VIII • IX • Team Tortoise Blogs • 
Volume 10 • 

The #BestSongIHeardToday series is often centered around hearing great songs while exercising. These posts will tend to drift into health related topics but will always come back to the music that brought you here. This particular series is probably more about a self journal to help me stay on the path of healthy living that includes, listening to old and new tunes. If you're looking for a great mix playlist of 25-30 songs, just click on one of my Volumes above.

A beach walk with good friends Ron & Paul
last week on the California Central Coast.
In this and future rounds
of #BestSongIHeardToday, I've dropped the Running on the Trial part. I'm now taking songs from wherever I hear that gem song for the day to add to the current volume. I also see so many great live tracks on YouTube that you'll be seeing more performance videos in this series of playlists from now on. 

With that said, I still get most of my songs for this segment while running and hope you'll still stomach my slogger (slow jogger) advise here. 

In my last installment (Volume III), I talked about slowing my pace down even further to prevent injury and boy that sure seems to be the ticket for me. I'm not so tired after a run and have been even running a couple of days in a row now in the past several weeks. 

My running app has also taken notice, as Siri has said to me several times, "Runner Paused" when I walk to cross a rocky part on the trail. Geez Siri, "I'm not dead yet, I'm still moving." I can see her saying to me at some point, "Runner are you still there? Runner, should I send out a search party?"

For all of you walkers out there, I've found a great pair of Altra shoes that I highly recommend for walking, or for road running. These shoes have soooo much cushion like a HOKA shoe, but I especially love the Altra toe box that has the same toe box shape as Birkenstocks. I have a wide foot, which for me is usually 10EEEE. Altra does not have width sizing, so I just go up a 1/2 size and get a 10 1/2 and they fit great! Altra also has a great return policy and if you're buying directly online, they send you the free shipping return label in the box if they don't fit to your liking. Here's the Altra website links for their Paradigm 5.

Enjoy the Playlist this week on your phone while out doing that walk or run!