Showing posts with label Leon Russell. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Leon Russell. Show all posts

Monday, June 20, 2022

Fifty Years of Music • June, 1972

I'm not an Alice Cooper fan, but his timely June, 1972 release of School's Out was a big hit with all the kids back in the day. Years later as a teacher inside the educational system, I remember our host playing School's Out at a year-end staff party at his house with assorted beverages. I was ready to hit the beach.

On a recent weekend trip to Santa Maria to see my mother, I was driving on a two lane blacktop back road (the old Highway 1) heading down from the Nipomo mesa to Oceano. I suddenly had a flashback of being on this same stretch as a 14 year old in the summer of 1969 with pals, Ron, Paul, and Gary on our bikes. As I remember it, they were all on their 10-speed bikes, but I had my sister's old three-speed clunker as my 10-speed had recently been stolen from my front driveway, the frickin' nerve. I even wrote a letter to the Santa Maria Times editorial page warning of the rash of bike thefts at the time. That bike was a jewel with its metallic pearl white finish.

"And meaner than a junkyard dog"
–Bad, Bad Leroy Brown
So the lads and I just out of school head out one early morning west of Santa Maria on Main St. (166) to the little town of Guadalupe. 

Note- I guess living in a small town in the late 60's our parents would just let us take off on our bikes to go beach camping by ourselves. I can't even imagine a parent letting a 14 year old do that today.

Anyway, somewhere on the often dangerous two lane to Guadalupe, Gary gets a flat tire and we waste a good part of the day walking to a gas station in Guadalupe to get the tire patched. Then we head north through the eucalyptus trees on Nipomo Highway 1. I remember we rode past one of the old junkyards that used be there in the woods and suddenly several junkyard dogs emerge chasing us on this backroad. My friends on their 10-speeds put their bikes into gear and easily sped away from the dogs. I on the other hand with a rusty chain in a single gear was instantly the sole target now standing and frantically pedaling to get some speed. With the handlebars swaying from side to side I thought I'd finally pumped up enough speed when suddenly I feel a stinging pain as the lead dog sinks his teeth into my right ankle. Winded and defeated, I ride up to the rested and waiting boys. They ridicule the old family 3-speed, and revenge visions of catching my 10-speed bike thief in his criminal act come back to play in my head.


So, we proceed on our bike journey and come to a downward grade (pictured above from Google Maps).  I will estimate it is about a mile long as you come out of Nipomo. It drops into a left turn on Highway 1 that leads into Oceano and then north to our destination, the Pismo Beach Campgrounds.

The boys take off for the glide and brake down the hill as I follow in tow. As I pick up speed, the bike starts to shake, rattle and rattle some more. I apply both the front and rear brakes on my handlebars... nothing! I'm now speeding down this hill in this rocket rust bucket as the worn down brake pads serve only as a hood ornament. 

If you look at the picture where the road bends, I think this is the spot where I was going to attempt to ride up the side of the hill to slow myself down. Unfortunately, my front tire flipped sideways as it hit the dip at the edge of the asphalt. This did stop the bike cold, but my inertia propelled me straight over the handlebars in a momentary superman fashion before landing hands first sliding across the road for probably 5 or 6 feet. Luckily, I was wearing my trusty Levi 501 jeans that protected my knees, but my hands absorbing the impact were a fire hot red from the horizontal skid on the pavement. I picked myself up, the bike actually still rideable. I then straddle the bar with my tennis shoes acting as my new brake pads until I get to the bottom of the hill, where I find the boys rested and waiting for me. 


When we finally got to Pismo Beach, I remember going into the pacific ocean with the healing properties of the salt water washing over me like a cool blanket. School's out. I'm surrounded by great friends, free and on our own as young teenagers on the central coast of California with many fun days of summer still ahead.

Enjoy the eclectic sounds of June, 1972 with the Eagles debut album, David Bowie taking off as Ziggy Stardust, Aretha's gospel roots on full display, Leon Russell's great songwriting, and Jethro Tull with sort of a compilation album with some songs never released in the U.S. before. No format radio here. Take it easy my friends and have a great summer!

Monday, December 14, 2020

My Favorite Songs of 1970





1970 was an incredible year in rock 'n' roll history. Some of my favorite songs of all-time are contained in the albums above. The playlist this week is a treasure of jewels for me, some discovered in 1970, and some discovered much later.

The year was full of great music and news.

The biggest news of 1970 was the biggest band break-up that ever was as The Beatles go their separate ways and start making their own albums. Their fans never stop hoping that they will get back together.

The Beatles also released their last album, Let It Be recorded before Abbey Road and released after. 

Simon and Garfunkel also made their last album together, Bridge Over Trouble Water. The album wins 6 Grammy's and wins The Song, Record, and Album of the Year. Their fans never stop hoping that they get back together.

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young make a masterpiece, Déjà Vu  and then promptly break-up for the first time, as their fans never stop hoping that they will get back together again, and again, and again...

Drugs and death also intersect in 1970, as both Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin both die of overdoses just three weeks apart at the tender age of 27. Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones had died the year prior in 1969 at 27, and in the following year of 1971, Jim Morrison would also die of an overdose at 27 and fuel the rock culture phenomenon of Club 27.  

Speaking of phenomenon, the singer-songwriters to emerge as stars in 1970 is literally on the charts. James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Carole King, Kris Kristofferson, Stephen Stills, Leon Russell, Cat Stevens, Van Morrison, and Elton John all breakout with solo albums that will put them on the map and on the road for years to come. In 1970, Stevens, Morrison, John, and Badfinger each release two albums during the same year as fans cannot get enough. 

I was hooked by all these talented people and I start buying their albums whenever I could scrap up the money. My friends are doing the same, and we are all listening to each other's albums. Getting into rock concerts was going to be the next big step.

At fifteen, I'm becoming aware that two of my new heroes- James Taylor and Neil Young, are a bit like me, painfully shy to the point that it wasn't helping me move forward in life. By listening to their songs by myself in my bedroom, I began to get a sensibility for their music and what they were communicating to the world. I began to internalize their music, like millions of other kids. I start to examine who I am- my self-worth, what will I do? James and Neil didn't magically answer these questions, but they did give me a feeling, a new sense that I wasn't alone. James has this beautiful voice and yet he's always hunched over (like me), walking and talking without a lot of confidence. Neil's as quirky as hell and has this unique shaky voice and distant stare. But yet, both are opening up on a big stage in the spotlight, and becoming massively successful, folk-rock stars no less. Could I actually make something of myself? 

1970 was a new decade but still part of the 1960's, and I wanted in, to be a long-hair. Music was becoming a part of my identity and it was a cornerstone of the counter-culture. I wanted to be part of something bigger, something completely different from my parents and my conservative upbringing.

This year in the blog, I started the reoccurring monthly post of 50 Years of Music. As I reflect back over the entirety of 1970, the blog often serves as a retro-journal to myself. This year, I also caught myself playing an old game, the 'shoulda-woulda-coulda' mind game. I wished I had joined the cross-country team, I wished I had started playing tennis with my dear friend Bill DeVoe as he would eventually go on to become the number one player on the high school varsity team. I wished I hadn't quit piano lessons, and I wished that I had starting writing a journal when I was young. In retrospect, all these wishes where not a lack of opportunities presented to me, but a basic lack of self-confidence on my part. 

I would go through most of the 1970's with that general lack of confidence that slowly melted away as I began my professional career as a K-12 teacher with a variety of job assignments and experiences. Over the years, I discovered that confidence is often revealed in a couple basic ways. One, you see the overt confidence, often coupled with words over action. Second, and the confidence I tried to model from the good people around me was the purposeful actions that followed their words.

On this day, I'm thankful for my core group of friends who helped me believe in myself, and I'm thankful for the music we shared together as kids and continue to share today with old and new songs.

The playlist(s) this week are 220 songs as it is contains some of the best music I ever heard when first released 50 years ago that has endured the test of time. To quote John Lennon on the roof of Abbey Road Studios in the Let It Be film, "I would like to say thank you on behalf of the group and ourselves, and I hope we've passed the audition." Yes John, your band certainly passed the audition- giving all the people you inspired to pick up musical instruments and make rock 'n' roll. Those musicians and the listening fans from all over the world are forever indebted and eternally grateful for the music of 

(Note- I just discovered this morning in publishing the blog that an embedded YouTube playlist will only display 200 videos, damnit-all. So, I have taken the last 20 videos and created a Part II Playlist and embedded below the first playlist. There's some great songs in the last group of 20, including the last song which has a lot of meaning to me.)

Merry Everything! Stay well my friends and mask-up. 

So let's now get back to where we once belonged.


 

 Reference:

Monday, December 07, 2020

Christmas Mix 2020

Christmas Mix
2015 • 2016 • 2017 • 2018 • 2019 • 2020 • 2021

Santa Santa, Surfin' Santa Claus
Here he comes, Here he comes
Surfin' Santa Claus
Bringin' toys for girls and boys
Surfin' Santa Claus
–Joe Lubin & Stan Stan Stenner

Sometime in the middle of the year, I usually create a YouTube Playlist called Christmas Mix for that year and just start squirreling away traditional and alternative songs that I think would make a good mix with no general theme in mind. I have one general goal with the Mix- to be a little different and always make Christmas a little more inclusive no matter one's belief system. With that said, it should be noted that a lot of great artists have made some terrible Christmas albums over the years, and a streaming playlist is one remedy to broaden the category of 'Christmas Music.'


Being from San Diego, my first idea for this year was a Surfin' Santa theme. Then I started looking for a good graphic. When I found the 'Merry Christmas 1942' graphic above it had everything I wanted, a traditional Coca-Cola® Santa surfing, and then a new thought, 1942- with all the great musicians born that year.

The class of '42 includes: Paul McCartney, Aretha Franklin, Brian Wilson, Carole King, Jimi Hendrix, Graham Nash, Leon Russell, Barbara Streisand, and Roger McGuinn. I've included at least one song from my short list of musical greats born that year, and if you're interested, here's a complete list of musicians and singers born in 1942. 

Also, I can't ignore the elephant in the room, the original 1942 release of Irving Berlin's White Christmas by Bing Crosby, the #1 selling single of all-time with more than 50 million sales alone. 

This is all a bit ironic for me as when I started the Christmas Mix in 2015, I tried to generally avoid the sappy standards with White Christmas being at the top of the list. For me it's like eating turkey every year at Thanksgiving since my birth. I can imagine my dad saying to my mom when I'm a baby, "Fern just put a slice in the blender, he'll be fine." Anyway, I just got to the point where I couldn't take turkey anymore, same for White Christmas.  I get this 1942 idea from the graphic and low and behold, White Christmas is released that year. So, I start reading about White Christmas, and then I read this about Bing Crosby.

According to Crosby's nephew, Howard Crosby, "I once asked Uncle Bing about the most difficult thing he ever had to do during his entertainment career… He said in December, 1944, he was in a USO show with Bob Hope and the Andrews Sisters. They did an outdoor show in northern France… he had to stand there and sing 'White Christmas' with 100,000 G.I.s in tears without breaking down himself. Of course, a lot of those boys were killed in the Battle of the Bulge a few days later." Wikipedia

Sweet Jesus, that made me cry too. So Irving and Bing, I yield the space here, thinking of all the babies born during war, and their dads fighting around the world wishing they were home with their families. 

It should also be noted that today is as Franklin Roosevelt told congress, "December 7, 1941- a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan." The attack on Pearl Harbor thrust us into World War II, and changed our country overnight. White Christmas coming out the following year was a song we needed to hear as a nation and the world needed too. The lyrics, I'm dreaming of a white Christmas, Just like the ones I used to know, were in 1942, as impactful as any song that's ever been recorded. The history and power of this song endures.

 

Then, I thought about the babies born this year in the time of coronavirus. My granddaughter was born April 17, 2020. This virus is a different kind of war, but a worthy advisory nevertheless. Somehow our country has to band together as if we are in a world war against fascism, everybody on the same page working for our victory, all together. 

As a war baby himself, Paul McCartney grew up reading the British children's comic strip and books, Rupert Bear. In 1984, Paul wrote the song, We All Stand Together, arranged and produced by George Martin and made into a short film about Rupert Bear. The song has just been released again with the animated video and included here in my playlist Mix in several versions. 

These World War II children knew a thing about banding together in a crisis and maybe a reason, they're the greatest generation of rock 'n' roll. Sir Paul was no exception, and even if this song's about frogs, you'll feel the bond, like a lot of his work. His lyrics have now come back around in 2020 and a perfect theme for this season and moving forward together during this difficult time. I also have to think this generation of children are maybe special too, and will know how to stand together when the chips are down when they are the decision-makers.


Win Or Lose, Sink Or Swim
One Thing Is Certain We'll Never Give In
Side By Side, Hand In Hand
We All Stand Together

Play The Game, Fight The Fight
But What's The Point On A Beautiful Night?
Arm In Arm, Hand In Hand
We All Stand Together

Keeping Us Warm In The Night
La La La La
Walk In The Night
You'll Get It Right

Win Or Lose, Sink Or Swim
One Thing Is Certain We'll Never Give In
Side By Side, Hand In Hand
We All Stand Together
–Paul McCartney 

This has been a rough year for many who have been laid off or lost their small business in the time of coronavirus. However, we begin this coming new year with a fresh start with great hope and energy that will carry our people and country to a better place. 

In good times or bad, music has alway been central to Christmas time as it can take us to a place, the want for peace, comfort and joy, to dream the dream. My Christmas Mix is always a kitchen sink of tunes but I tried to find some songs this year that have that spirit of people needing people to get us through anything if we stick together. 

I like to also think my Christmas Mix might even spark an interesting conversation around the Christmas dinner table, or distanced smartphone video call this year-  
  • Why does Uncle Dave (an atheist) love gospel music?
  • Is eggnog still a thing? Why can't I just have a White Russian?
  • Do you care if someone says, "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas?" Who gives a rat's ass in 2021? And who really cares about gay people marrying? Oh yeah... those people.
  • Winter Soltice and Christmas, Spring Equinox and Easter, is that timing just a big coincidence? "Hey Uncle Dave, grandma says 'Pagan' is a bad word?"
  • Beyoncé, Queen B? Sorry their's only one Queen and that's Retha, period.
  • Why does mom always tear up when Carol of the Bells comes on? 
Here's wishing you and your family a Happy Christmas and better days this New Year as we give thanks for the good people around us, no matter our beliefs.

Stay well my friends, and mask-up. We all stand together.

Monday, March 30, 2020

50 Years of Music • January - March, 1970

50 Years of Music Series • 1970
January - March | April - May

Simon and Garfunkel at the 1971 13th Annual Grammy Awards | Bettmann/Getty Images
Something old, something new... part of the good luck tradition for a bride on her wedding day. In the past several months I haven't seen any brides floating about, but thought I'd borrow the expression.

Three weeks ago, I put together a playlist of "something new" music releases from January-March, 2020 thinking that might be popular with so many people home and online. It wasn't a dud but maybe not the #ComfortSongs to go along with maybe some of the #ComfortFoods you've been wanting or having at your #StayatHome. By the way, has cooking made a comeback at your house too?

Last week, I put together the 50th anniversary of CSN&Y's Déjà vu album, and Joni Mitchell's Ladies of the Canyon, and that got a pretty good bump of blog hits coming in. With that in mind, I'll continue the "something old" theme by highlighting albums released from January - March from 1970. It's an amazing collection of albums and the number of great songs within those albums are truly impressive.

Here are a few thoughts I strung together while putting this 100+ Playlist together derived from my Wikipedia source, 1970 in music.

I'll start with the Grammy album of the year for 1970,
Bridge over Troubled Water by Simon and Garfunkel. What's not to like on this entire album. If I have to pick one to start off the playlist, I'm going with Cecilia an all-time favorite which also reminds me of a quick story growing up in a Baptist Church. I remember when Love The One You're With was a hit by Stephen Stills in late 1970 and a girl in my youth group commented to me, "I just can't stand these dirty songs like Cecilia and Love The One You're With." About a year later, I came up to her at church and said, "Guess you'll have to add Change Partners to your dirty songs list."

The Magic Christian was a February 1970 movie starring Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr. The soundtrack, Magic Christian Music is by the band Badfinger and features their first big hit written and produced by Paul McCartney, Come and Get It. I thought this was going to be a quick skip-through album, but I kept saying to myself, "wait a minute, this one's good...this one's good" and so on. Like so many albums I discover fifty years after their release, Magic Christian Music's a gem from a truly great band as most people only know their hits.

Last week I watched a 2011 documentary about George Martin (the 5th Beatle) on Amazon Prime called, Produced by George Martin (link here) that I highly recommend. George Martin produced Ringo's first solo album, Sentimental Journey and the two make a great team doing a complete album of "standards" that had not had been attempted by any rock star until Ringo did it. Ringo has always been maligned by the press over the years, but now most critics say he's not only a great drummer but a very good singer to boot. Listen to Ringo sing Night and Day by Cole Porter.

When I was fifteen, I would have never have listened to Frank Sinatra's Watertown, much less Ringo's Sentimental Journey. In Watertown, Sinatra takes a 1970 ride on the singer-songwriter wave with a themed-based album.  All the songs were written by the same team of  Bob Gaudio and Jake Holmes which is something Frank had never done before. This indeed was a risky move as Watertown was Frank's worst selling album, but the critics loved it and I think it's a wonderful album too. It's a heartbreaking tale of a wife who leaves her husband and two children searching for stardom. Make sure you listen to, The Train.

If I didn't mention the band Mountain here, I'd probably get a concerning phone call from my old friend and childhood next door neighbor Ron Zieman wondering if I lost my mind. Ron introduced me to the best "heavy" rock bands over the years starting with Cream. Felix Pappalardi who produced some of Cream's albums started Mountain with Leslie West and their first album Climbing climbed the charts with their big hit, Mississippi QueenWhen the group proceeded to record "Mississippi Queen", Pappalardi insisted on numerous takes. Growing weary, Corky Laing the drummer started using the cowbell to count off the song. Pappalardi liked it so much he left it in the mix, creating the song's recognizable intro (Wikipedia). And as Christopher Walken would say, "More Cowbell."

Moondance is simply one of the greatest albums of all time. As a teenager I really didn't appreciate Van Morrison until I got to San Diego State and started rooming with my buddy Mark Hunter. Mark was from Millbrae CA, just south of San Francisco and if you're from the Bay Area you know "Van the man." Every song on this album is fantastic. In the last several years, I've really taken a deeper dive into his music and loved seeing him in Las Vegas in February. Check out Into the Mystic, this song is right up there...

The personnel on Leon Russell's debut album is largely a who's who of rock 'n' roll royalty, not to mention half of England. Again, so many great songs on this album including the all-time, "A Song for You", written by Russell, is a slow, pained plea for forgiveness and understanding from an estranged lover, the tune is one of Russell's best-known compositions. It has been performed and recorded by over 200 artists, spanning many musical genres. Elton John has called the song an American classic (Wikipedia).

I purchased Nilsson Sings Newman in a used record shop after Harry Nilsson become really famous with his 1971 album, Nilsson Schmilsson. Again, this album is filled with great songs. Both albums followed me to college and I listened to them often in my dorm room and then in a series of forgettable apartments. In fact in my first forgettable apartment, my complete stereo system was stolen (a high school graduation present) with Harry Nilsson's 1974 Pussy Cats album on the turntable. I'll never forget coming home, opening the door and seeing a large empty space where the stereo system used to be with now the Pussy Cats empty album jacket laying in its place. My first thought was F***!!!!!, then I thought, well Pussy Cats was not Harry's finest hour on vinyl. But as long as I'm talking today about great "standards" albums like Sentimental Journey and Watertown today, check out Nilsson's 1973 A Touch of Schmilsson in the Night, a classic and one of Harry's finest hours.

Mary Kit says to me, "108 videos this week, man you must have some spare time..."