Isn't it Ironic

Isn’t it Ironic?

Sorry, I’m not talking about Alanis Morissette! But there are artists who have been eclipsed by their own songs. Many of them are amazing songwriters but, ironically, their chart-topping hits were written by someone else. As I pointed out in my series, I Write the Songs, many great songwriters are not well-known, yet their songs are easily recognized by most people. Today I will point out the contrasts in popularity for some singer/songwriters. When I say ironic, I mean that things turned out the opposite or in an unexpected way from what one might have expected.

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I Write the Songs Part 3

 

I Write the Songs (part 3)

Jerry Leiber (April 25, 1933 – August 22, 2011) and Mike Stoller (born March 13, 1933) This pair met in Los Angeles and by age 17 their songs were being recorded. With the success of “Hound Dog” by Big Mama Thornton in 1953, they, along with their mentor Lester Sill, formed Spark Records which was the first of many businesses. Though they were not initially fans of Elvis’s rendition of Hound Dog, they grew to have a great relationship with him and wrote some of his #1 hits such as Don’t” (1958) and “Jailhouse Rock” (1957) as well as several other top tens. They wrote “There Goes My Baby” and “On Broadway” for The Drifters, and “Stand By Me” and “I (Who Have Nothing)” for Ben E. King, which would go on to be a hit song for at least five other artists. Their favorite group were The Coasters who had four #1 R&B songs and a dozen other hits on Billboard’s Hot 100 and the R&B charts. They hit  #1 with “Yakety Yak” in 1958. Jerry Leiber also co-wrote two very memorable songs without Stoller: “Spanish Harlem” by Ben E. King, later a #1 R&B hit for Aretha Franklin, and “Jackson” by The Kingston Trio, later a #2 hit for June Carter and Johnny Cash. Read More »

I Write the Songs

I Write the Songs

Part 1

Carrie Jacobs-Bond

Well I don’t write the songs but I am about to feature some people who did. And yes I stole the (song) title from Captain & Tennille’s “I Write the Songs” written by Beach Boy Bruce Johnson and popularized by Barry Manilow. I have talked about many singer songwriters like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Taylor Swift who are famous for writing their own songs. We know Stevie Wonder writes most of his own songs and for other artists, then there are the Springsteens and Madonna’s of the world not to mention the iconic duo of Lennon and McCartney. But these artists are all known for their singing and/or instrumental talents. So today I am focusing on people who may have all these talents and more but are primarily known for songwriting.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.

References: https://secondhandsongs.com/https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page   https://www.ft.com/content/8a909cda-7cc8-11e5-98fb-5a6d4728f74e https://www.officialcharts.com/artist/30488/elo/

If you like my blog, please consider filling in the follow by email link at the top right hand of the margin. 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!

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: https://secondhandsongs.com/https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Main_Page. images: https://www.davidbowie.com/

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! 

Bruce Springsteen Part 2

Bruce Springsteen Part 2

I’m not the first nor last to state that the legacy of Springsteen’s music is a gift for not only the present listeners to enjoy but the distant future ones as well. I talk about this all the time, history shows we consistently don’t fully appreciate many a talented artist during their lifetime, someone will be recording and no doubt blogging about his music in 3018.  While we don’t have to pass the hat, I just don’t think he gets the credit he deserves. Sounds silly perhaps as he has had amazing success and a remarkable career thus far, but you may be surprised to know he has never had a number one hit single on the Billboard charts. Not that Billboard is the benchmark for greatness but it does reflect popularity, even if just briefly. His highest charting song was “Dancing In The Dark” which peaked at #2 on June 30, 1984. He has had a total of 26 songs chart and 12 hit the top 10. I draw a comparison to Chuck Berry, with one exception he didn’t chart at #1 on the Billboard Pop charts. But we hear and see constant references to his music 60 plus years later, while many others who charted ahead of him are relative unknowns. I don’t think it’s ever been about charts or even record sales with Bruce, having said that no one has had the same success with their albums, Bruce has consistently been in the top 5 for sales and the Billboard Top 200 album chart with rare exceptions. This says a lot about Bruce and his fans, it’s about the experience and the story and if you get a pop song out of it that’s ok too.

Bruce’s fourth album was “Darkness on the Edge of Town”(1978). Full of amazing guitar and songs with intense lyrics, a great representative song is “Badlands”. All songs are written and performed by Bruce Springsteen.

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Bruce Springsteen

Bruce Springsteen

 

Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen was born September 23, 1949 in New Jersey, USA.  Now 69 years old. Inspired by Elvis Presley, Bruce bought his first guitar for $18 when he was 13 years old. These days I expect that’s a bit late to be taking up an instrument that will carry you to the pinnacle of Rock and Roll stardom, but a lot of hard work and practice got him his first record deal with Columbia in 1972. Now a multi-instrumentalist playing piano, electric piano, pump organ, autoharp, ukulele, banjo, electric guitar, and stomping board, as well as acoustic guitar and harmonica the man provides a live performance like no other as I can attest through personal experience.
Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999, he is a Kennedy Center Honouree and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, has a Tony Award, an Academy Award, 20 Grammy Awards and his own Broadway Play. Yet he remains I think a humble man. Not a one blog pony this guy so I will move chronologically and see how far I get for part one. Steve buddy, this one is for you.

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Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry

 

Charles Edward Anderson Berry (October 18, 1926 – March 18, 2017)

Just ahead of the birth date of Chuck Berry I thought it time to blog about him. While there are many artists that shaped the Rock and Roll landscape, other than Elvis one of the biggest, and most enduring was Chuck Berry. While he would later cover many songs, in many ways Berry was a true original. Not to say he did not rest on the shoulders of many of the greats before him and copy a tune or three, but few people capitalized on this new music like Chuck Berry. At least 60 of his songs have been covered and many by the best pop music has ever seen such as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Animals, Buddy Holly, Eric Clapton, Elvis and list goes on and on. While being ‘out of fashion’ soon after his initial success and not producing any popular new music, he still managed to influence a generation or two at least. I’ve referenced him a few times because of his musical reach and impact.

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Carole King

Carole King

 

 
Carole King (born Carol Joan Klein, February 9, 1942) in Manhattan is now 76 years old. At the age of four her mother (a piano player) and father noticed she had absolute pitch. What was known to me and others I’d imagine as ‘perfect pitch’ it means among other things that little Carol could name any note she heard, her formal music lessons began shortly thereafter. Her genius had her accelerated through school and she attended Queens College at The University of New York at age 17. She had changed her name in High School, a common practice among Jewish people to try to avoid Antisemitism .
Also at age 17 Carole met Gerry Goffin, got pregnant and then married. Initially after quitting college to raise their daughter Louise they worked day jobs and started writing songs at night, Gerry wrote lyrics, Carole the music. The two of them would form one of the most formidable writing duos of the 1960’s and part of the legend of the Brill Building in New York City.

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