Classic Rock

Classic Rock

What is now referred to as ‘Classic Rock’ was just plain ole R&R when I was growing up, so while the music is now ‘classic’, me…not so much. In part thanks to baby boomer parents like myself who exposed their children to the songs, 1970’s and 80’s Rock is alive and well. What has really kept it alive though (apart from demographics) is the music itself, a lot of really talented artists making great tunes. Everyone I think has some songs from their youth that hold a lot of meaning, but few era’s of music have the staying power these bands produced.Read More »

Jeff Lynne and ELO

Jeff Lynne and ELO

Jeff Lynne (born 30 December 1947) is about to turn 71 years of age. I just finished watching the documentary “JEFF LYNNE’S ELO: WEMBLEY OR BUST” and it was a reminder of why I loved (Electric Light Orchestra) ELO so much in the 1970/80’s and why I still do today.

First his voice is still amazing, second all the songs hold up and exceed most of what’s being produced today and lastly the doc’s a very well put together blend of concert footage, interviews and a look behind the scenes. So why does he need to call it Jeff Lynne’s ELO? There are past band members that have tried to capitalize on the name so he wanted people to know this was the real deal. For someone who does not read or write music, Lynne has produced some of the finest orchestral rock music ever, and it’s all in his head.

Rock ‘n’ Roll is King” by Electric Light Orchestra (1983), written by Jeff Lynne and something upbeat to get things started.
Rockaria!”  by Electric Light Orchestra (1976), written by Jeff Lynne, featuring Welsh Soprano Mary Thomas. This song showcases Lynne’s groundbreaking creativity.
Livin’ Thing” by Electric Light Orchestra (1976) written by Jeff Lynne. This demonstrates all of Lynne’s talents quite well as he is an accomplished guitarist (self taught) and vocalist as well. Here is Matthew Sweet (2006).

Once again I find myself talking about an artist that despite huge international success never charted a #1 hit on Billboard and in the UK, the only chart topper was “Xanadu“with Olivia Newton-John (1980).  However, with ELO Lynne did sell over 50 million records, have 15 top tens and 27 top 40’s in the UK and chart 25 songs in the US, including 7 in the top 10. In fact they hold the record for the most charted hit songs without a #1. Seems a bit harder to find ELO chart data for Canada but I managed to find their music easily enough as I mentioned in the Chuck Berry issue I saw them play in Toronto in 1978. With these kinds of numbers it’s hard to say he is underrated but there, I said it!
Don’t Bring Me Down” by Electric Light Orchestra (1979) written by Jeff Lynne; was their highest chart hit at #4. Here is the German Heavy Metal band Axxis with their version.

Before we move on from the ELO years here is my favorite.  “Telephone Line” by Electric Light Orchestra (1976) written by Jeff Lynne. Jack And White with a great cover- “Telephone Line” (2012) feat. Fitz (Fitz and The Tantrums).

The ELO logo which was stylized into a spaceship is based on a model of Wurlitzer Jukebox.

Apart from the accomplishments with ELO Jeff Lynne has produced records for Paul McCartney, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, Dave Edmunds, Bryan Adams and several others.

As part of the all-star/supergroup, nay ‘legend’ group the ‘Traveling Wilburys’ (also including; Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and George Harrison) Lynne once again proved his genius. “Handle with Care” (1987) by the Traveling Wilburys, all song credits going to the whole band (but actually written by George Harrison and Jeff Lynne). Originally a song written by Lynne and Harrison for a bonus track on a  George Harrison Album, the record company thought it ‘too good’ and the result was the formation of the new band. All production of the group’s two albums ‘Traveling Wilburys Vol 1’ and Traveling Wilburys Vol 3 (post Roy Orbison’s death) were handled by Lynne and Harrison (just to mess with people there is no Vol. 2). Here is a version by a well known pair of artists forming up for a duo, Judy Collins and Stephen Stills.

Mr. Blue Sky” written by Jeff Lynne as were all of the ELO songs, he also produced virtually all their songs as well. Lynn was quoted as saying this about staying in a Swiss chalet trying to write a follow-up from their last album. “It was dark and misty for 2 weeks, and I didn’t come up with a thing. Suddenly the sun shone and it was, ‘Wow, look at those beautiful Alps.’ I wrote Mr. Blue Sky and 13 other songs in the next 2 weeks”. This song has been used in at least 10 movies including Guardians of the Galaxy 2. Brilliant!

A playlist of all the videos.


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Banned Songs

Banned Songs

Unless you’ve successfully insulated yourself from the media lately (at least in Canada and the U.S.) you have heard of the latest casualty of ‘social’ and or ‘political correctness’, as I write this “Baby it’s Cold Outside” is being dropped like a hot potato. I hope more rational heads will prevail but we’ll see; this may not be the last song on the list to be banned this season.

Originally from the movie “Neptune’s Daughter” written by someone who apparently should have known better; Frank Loesser who won an Academy Award in 1949 for this song (so they will need to be banned as well). As will the movie ‘Elf‘ where the song makes an appearance. It’s originally performed in the movie by the actors Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalbán (1949) and note in the video clip the roles are reversed with  Red Skelton and Betty Garrett. The first record release was by Don Cornell and Laura Leslie with Sammy Kaye and His Orchestra (1949). Just how it became a ‘holiday’ song I’m not too certain. Since recorded over 350 times.

Listen, I’m a husband and father of two girls (now young women) and I have always worried about them being safe. I just don’t think targeting songs like this is helping to make girls or women safer regardless of the fact that the #MeToo movement is doing a lot of good. We can’t lose sight of things like context, intention and the period of time songs were written. Banning is one way of saying this and other songs didn’t or shouldn’t exist, instead they should generate discussion and promote healthy exchanges between people (and not just men and women) and not simply ignored and erased. It’s a steep and slippery slope and without someone putting on the breaks just about anything becomes fair game, hence my not so tongue in cheek remark about banning the Academy Awards.
So, being a student of music history this banning business does not surprise me very much as there are thousands of songs that have been banned by one radio station or another, a network, city, state, country or countries over the years.  Most of these bans don’t last all that long as in most cases the reasons for banning them just don’t hold up over time and people just forget. Unless you get the ‘Fire Department’ al’a Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 on it, somebody’s going to have a copy and it’s going to get listened too!

There are (I think) some songs that truly need to be banned, those by people who have committed morally repugnant crimes ought not have a voice. On the other hand there are songs that have been subject to some restricted airplay, but can be heard not infrequently on certain radio and satellite/internet stations. One such example is a song by the famed rapper ‘Eminem’, I won’t name the song but the lyrics (as I understand) describe the protagonists plan to send ten of his ‘boys’ to take the virginity of his sister on her birthday. Seems songs like this might be a better target for banning than the above mentioned and I’m sure most would agree. There is a tendency I believe when political correctness (and Twitter) gets in the way of common sense and reason that the easy and ‘low hanging fruit’ gets picked off and the tough stuff gets ignored. I will focus on “Rap” music a bit as there is no shortage of songs with misogynistic, violent and racists lyrics that receive regular airplay. Everyone has their limits I suppose, profanity as an example in of itself is no cause to ban a song if it serves a purpose in conveying a message, but clearly inciting violence and hatred is not something we should be supporting.

When it comes to ‘bans’ and I’ve touched on this a bit in previous blog posts, with the exception of “Rap” no genre gets very much of a free pass. Here are some songs you may be surprised to find that they have been banned by someone for one reason or another.

Wake Up Little Susie” written by the husband and wife duo of Boudleaux Bryant and Felice Bryant. Recorded by the Everly Brothers (1957). This song was deemed inappropriate because two young lovers although quite ‘innocently’ fell asleep while watching a movie didn’t wake up until 4 a.m.; spending the night together was quite taboo in 1957.
Behind Closed Doors” written by Kenny O’Dell, it was a hit song for Charlie Rich in 1973. With lyrics like “She’s never far away, Or too tired to say, I want you” and the whole idea I guess of “closed doors” was too much for some Country Music Stations. Nevertheless covered over 45 times, including Diana Ross (1973) and Loretta Lynn (1974).

Bring the Boys Home” recorded by Freda Payne (1971) written by Angelo Bond, General Johnson (Norman Earl Johnson and far as I know not an actual “General”) and Greg Perry. The Vietnam protest song was banned from American Forces Radio for fear it would “give aid and comfort to the enemy”. Covered only once that I can find by Jann Arden (2007).
“Deep in the Heart of Texas” music written by Don Swander, Lyrics by June Hershey. While there are several versions of this song the most egregious rendition banned by the BBC in the 1940’s was this one from Ted Weems and His Orchestra with Perry Como (1941). Deemed too ‘catchy’ officials were worried it would distract the factory workers.
One of my favorites in this category is “Louie Louie” written by Richard Berry and recorded by Richard Berry and The Pharaohs (1957). The offending version was by The Kingsman (1963). Indiana Governor Matthew Welsh declared the song “Pornographic” in 1964 which apparently led to an FBI and FCC investigation as well as several radio stations not playing the song. Turns out that the  semi-unintelligible lyrics in this version prompted a college student to make up his own lewd ones and distribute them to his friends. All this attention created a desire among musicians to re-record the song and people to listen to it, with dozens more versions in the sixties and whole dedicated compilation albums, we’re at over 150 versions and counting.

And men don’t have a lock on sexually suggestive songs, Olivia Newton John then billed just as ‘Olivia’ had a smash #1 hit and video with “Physical” (1981) written by Steve Kipner and Terry Shaddick. Banned in many conservative communities such as Salt Lake City in Utah.  I for one resemble some of the participants in the video so I’m hoping for a resurgence in a ban on this one.

A playlist of all the videos.


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David Bowie

David Bowie

Born David Robert Jones (January 8, 1947) he died January 10, 2016 at the age of 69. I find that the more well known an artist is, one runs the risk of just blogging about stuff everyone already knows. If I stick close to my theme of cover songs, there might be something here you have not already read or heard.
Bowie’s first record release was a 45 r.p.m. with “Rubber Band” on the ‘A’ side. “Rubber Band” a cover by Shane Devon (2017) who hails from Owensboro, KY of all places does an amazing job. This song written by an 18 year old Bowie and recorded at 19 seems an odd choice for one so young in the 1966 music scene but he is emulating one of his early influences Anthony Newley . Still I find the song quite remarkable. On the ‘B’ side is one of my favorite Bowie songs “London Boys” written by David Bowie, the two songs are quite different and this one gives us a glimpse I think of the David Bowie to come, brilliant and unique. Neither song did well commercially and each covered only once. A very respectable cover of the later by Marc Almond (2007) “The London Boys” .

Starting as a saxophone player Bowie would master various percussion instruments including the drums, also keyboards such as the piano, Mellotron, Chamberlin, and synthesizers. The harmonica; alto and baritone, stylophone, viola, cello and koto (a Japanese string instrument) and both acoustic and electric guitar. He also played a Lamellophone from Africa, commonly known in the west as a ‘Thumb Piano’ which is not much like a piano really.  My buddy Steve and I saw a synthesizer used by Brian Eno for a Bowie Album in a Calgary Piano/Keyboard Music Museum that was the precursor to the National Music Centre.

Bowie has had at least 177 of his songs covered and he himself recorded 87 songs from other people. At least one of those songs he covered he wrote himself but specifically for ‘Mott the Hoople’. “All the Young Dudes” recorded by the then struggling band they had a huge hit with this song reaching #3 in the UK (1972).
Bowie recorded his version of the song (possibly in 1972) but released on a single in 1974 and added it to a live album as well (I discovered on Discogs) that was never released in North America. So most of us in this part of the world never got a copy and discovered it on the Album ‘RarestOneBowie’ in 1995 or like me in 1997 on ‘The Best of David Bowie 1969/1974’. Here is Bowie’s version, remastered for the ’97 release. Added to the mix is an interesting myth surrounding the song, here is a link to a good story . (Shayne another mystery solved!)

Not surprisingly his most covered song at 236 versions is “Space Oddity” by David Bowie and John Hutchinson (as Ground Control), written by David Bowie. This was his ‘breakthrough’ hit from 1969. It would be quite un-Canadian of me not to insert the video from Commander Chris Hadfield from the International Space Station (2013). A nod also to Emm Gryner who played keyboard and was instrumental in producing the video, starting with emailing her old boss (she toured with Bowie in 1999) to get his blessing for the project.
A bit of a surprise to me at least is the second most covered song at 135 versions is “Life on Mars” (Hunky Dory 1971). Even more surprising was this version from Barbra Streisand (1974). Here is an impressive version from Meg Birch (2018).

In addition to Space Oddity, David Bowie has three other songs on the list of the “500 Songs that Changed Rock and Roll” (complied by James Henke, chief curator-Rock and Rock Hall of Fame); “Ziggy Stardust” (David Bowie), “Fame” (Carlos Alomar, David Bowie, John Lennon) and “Changes“, written by David Bowie and this song was also from the 1971 Album ‘Hunky Dory’ and covered at least 43 times. The song is not only musically stunning but it’s lyrics are deep and meaningful. Here is respectable version from The Muffs a UK Punk band who did a tribute album in October of 2015.

Bowie is another example (such as Springsteen) where #1 hits and legendary talent don’t always meet. Bowie had only two songs reach the top of the Billboard charts, “Fame” in 1975 and “Let’s Dance” in 1983. Bowie had 5 songs hit #1 in the UK, these same two plus “Space Oddity”, “Ashes to Ashes” (1980) and “Under Pressure” (1981) with of course ‘Queen’ – featuring two of the finest voices in recorded music.

A playlist of all the videos.

References: images:

Answer to the last blog question was ‘Dolly Parton’!
Music Trivia: In addition to many movie roles David Bowie voiced Lord Royal Highness in an episode of SpongeBob Squarepants (2007). R.I.P., Stephen Hillenburg and of course David Bowie.

If you like my blog, please consider clicking the ‘Subscribe’ button at the top of the home page. Remember to confirm the subscription when you get the first email. Confidentiality is assured unless you are a close friend or family member then all bets are off. While I can compile data from my blog it’s not tracking in terms of anyone’s identity. For past blog posts click on the menu at the top left corner. Pass it along to a friend who might enjoy it as well! And many thanks as always for reading my blog!