Monday’s Music Moves Me: Artist Spotlight on Gordon Lightfoot

This is a freebie week in the Monday’s Music Moves Me blog hop which means we are free to do anything we want with the music post. I decided to shine a spotlight on Canadian singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot. 

Following is a bit of background on the man and his music, along with a few of my favorite Gordon Lightfoot songs. They may be your favorites too as they were his biggest hits in the 1970s.

Gordon Meredith Lightfoot Jr. CC OOnt (born November 17, 1938) is a Canadian singer-songwriter who achieved international success in folk, folk-rock, and country music and has been credited for helping define the folk-pop sound of the 1960s and 1970s. He has been referred to as Canada’s greatest songwriter and internationally as a folk-rock legend.

He experienced chart success in Canada with his own recordings, beginning in 1962 with the No. 3 hit “(Remember Me) I’m the One.” Lightfoot’s recordings then made an impact on the international music charts as well in the 1970s, with songs such as “If You Could Read My Mind” (1970) — his first U.S. top 10 hit reaching #5. “Sundown” (1974) a #1 hit, “Carefree Highway” (1974) which followed reaching #10, “Rainy Day People (1975) at #25, and “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” (1976) (No. 2, Hot 100).

The 1970s is the decade that I’m most familiar with in terms of Gordon Lightfoot music. His music career has spanned more than five decades, producing more than 200 recordings. Lightfoot band members have displayed loyalty to him, as both musicians and friends, recording and performing with him for as many as 45 years. That speaks volumes about his character as a person, in my opinion. That’s a lot of loyalty in what is often a very fickle industry.

He helped define the folk-pop sound of the 1960s and 1970s, with his songs recorded by artists such as Bob Dylan, Gene Clark, Dan Fogelberg, Jimmy Buffett, and Jim Croce. Robbie Robertson of The Band described Lightfoot as “a national treasure.” Bob Dylan, also a Lightfoot fan, called him one of his favorite songwriters. Lightfoot has acknowledged Bob Dylan as being one of his primary influences and Dylan, besides being a friend of Lightfoot’s, is also a true admirer. In 1985 Dylan wrote in the liner notes to his Biograph box set, ‘Gordon Lightfoot, every time I hear a song of his, it’s like I wish it would last forever.’

Gordon Lightfoot has had an incredible and prolific career, winning an impressive amount of awards and honors, including sixteen Juno Awards (nine for Top Songwriter, five for Top Male Vocalist and two for Composer of the Year), four ASCAP awards for songwriting and he was also nominated for five Grammy Awards, plus so many more awards. You can read about his extensive and illustrious career at his Wikipedia page and at Lightfoot!, the most complete source of Gordon Lightfoot information online and the most up to date new concert listings.

Fun Fact: In February 2010, Gordon Lightfoot was the victim of a death hoax originating from Twitter, when then-CTV journalist David Akin posted on Twitter and Facebook that Lightfoot had died. Lightfoot was at a dental appointment at the time the rumors spread and found out when listening to the radio on his drive home. Lightfoot dispelled those rumors by phoning Charles Adler of CJOB, the DJ and radio station he heard reporting his demise, and did an interview expressing that he was alive and well. That has to be freaky, driving along and hearing a news report stating that you’re dead! Do you remember that happening a few years ago?

The following are my favorite Gordon Lightfoot songs:

If You Could Read My Mind – This song reached number one on Canadian music charts and was Lightfoot’s first recording to appear on the American music charts, reaching number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in February 1971. Later in the year it reached number 30 in the UK. The song also reached number one for one week on the Billboard Easy Listening chart.

Lightfoot has cited his divorce for inspiring the lyrics, saying they came to him as he was sitting in a vacant Toronto house one summer. At the request of his daughter, Ingrid, he performs the lyrics with a slight change now: the line “I’m just trying to understand the feelings that you lack” is altered to “I’m just trying to understand the feelings that we lack.” He has said in an interview that the difficulty with writing songs inspired by personal stories is that there is not always the emotional distance and clarity to make lyrical improvements such as the one his daughter suggested.

In 1987 Lightfoot took a lawsuit out against the writer of “The Greatest Love of All”, alleging plagiarism of 24 bars of “If You Could Read My Mind”. Lightfoot has stated that he dropped the lawsuit when he felt it was having a negative effect on the singer Whitney Houston, as the lawsuit was about the writer and not her.

 

Sundown – “Sundown” is Lightfoot’s one and only #1 hit in the U.S. It was released as a single in March 1974 and reached No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 and Easy Listening charts and No. 13 on the Hot Country Singles chart. As well it was No. 1 in Canada on RPM’s national singles chart.

The song’s lyrics describe a troubled romantic relationship, with the narrator recounting an affair with a “hard-loving woman [who’s] got me feeling mean.” There are rumors that “Sundown” was inspired by Lightfoot’s then girlfriend, Cathy Smith, later more infamously known for her involvement in the 1982 drug-related death of actor John Belushi. Lightfoot has commented in interviews that Smith was “the one woman in my life who most hurt me”.

Here’s Gordon on The Midnight Special (probably in the year 1974):

 

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald – a song written, composed, and performed by Gordon Lightfoot to commemorate the sinking of the bulk carrier SS Edmund Fitzgerald during a severe storm on Lake Superior on November 10, 1975, resulting in the loss of all 29 crew members.

Lightfoot stated that in the original newspaper article he saw after the Edmund Fitzgerald sank, the name ‘Edmund’ was spelled incorrectly as ‘Edmond’. He thought at the time that those men deserved a fitting and accurate tribute and if not for that misspelling he may not have felt compelled to write the song.

In late November 1975 Lightfoot read a Newsweek magazine article about the loss of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald. He drew his inspiration from this article, entitled “The Cruelest Month” which was published in Newsweek’s November 24, 1975 issue. Most of the lyrics in his song, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” released the following year, were based on facts in the article.

He wrote the song over three days in November 1975, finishing it around noon of the third day. He went straight to the studio that afternoon and recorded it on the first take. Lightfoot considers this song to be his finest work. He continues his practice of meeting privately with the family members of the men who perished in the Edmund Fitzgerald sinking when his touring schedule allows.

Appearing originally on Lightfoot’s 1976 album Summertime Dream, the single version hit number 1 in his native Canada (in the RPM national singles survey) on November 20, 1976, barely a year after the disaster. In the United States, it reached number 1 in Cashbox and number 2 for two weeks in the Billboard Hot 100 (behind Rod Stewart’s “Tonight’s The Night”), making it Lightfoot’s second-most-successful single behind “Sundown”. Overseas it was at best a minor hit, peaking at number 40 in the UK Singles Chart.

 

Carefree Highway – “Carefree Highway” is a song written by Gordon Lightfoot and was the second single release from his 1974 album, Sundown. The song peaked at #10 on the Billboard Hot 100 and spent one week at #1 on the Easy Listening chart in October 1974.

It’s a song about the freedom of the open road. The song’s name comes from a section of Arizona State Route 74 in north Phoenix. Said Lightfoot, “I thought it would make a good title for a song. I wrote it down, put it in my suitcase and it stayed there for eight months.” The song employs “Carefree Highway” as a metaphor for the state of mind where the singer seeks escape from his ruminations over a long ago failed affair with a woman named Ann. Lightfoot has stated that Ann actually was the name of a woman Lightfoot romanced when he was age 22: “It [was] one of those situations where you meet that one woman who knocks you out and then leaves you standing there and says she’s on her way.”

 

Those are my favorite Gordon Lightfoot songs and are part of the soundtrack of my life. The following two songs I just came across while putting together this artist spotlight. Both are powerful in their message.

Black Day in July – This song is about the 1967 Detroit riot, also known as the Detroit Race Riots (or the 12th Street Rioting) that erupted in July 1967. Forty-three people died in the riots.

The 1967 Detroit riot was a violent public disorder that turned into a civil disturbance in Detroit, Michigan. It began in the early morning hours of Sunday, July 23, 1967. The precipitating event was a police raid of an unlicensed, after-hours bar then known as a blind pig (this is a new term to me; I’ve never heard a speakeasy referred to as a ‘blind pig.’ Have you?), just north of the corner of 12th Street (today Rosa Parks Boulevard) and Clairmount Avenue on the city’s Near West Side. Police confrontations with patrons and observers on the street evolved into one of the deadliest and most destructive riots in the history of the United States, lasting five days and surpassing the violence and property destruction of Detroit’s 1943 race riot.

To help end the disturbance, Governor George W. Romney ordered the Michigan Army National Guard into Detroit, and President Lyndon B. Johnson sent in both the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions. The result was 43 dead, 1,189 injured, over 7,200 arrests, and more than 2,000 buildings destroyed. The scale of the riot was surpassed in the United States only by the 1863 New York City draft riots during the American Civil War and the 1992 Los Angeles riots. The riot was prominently featured in the news media, with live television coverage, extensive newspaper reporting, and extensive stories in Time and Life magazines. The staff of the Detroit Free Press won the 1968 Pulitzer Prize for general local reporting for its coverage.

Several songs directly refer to the riot. The most prominent was “Black Day in July”, written and sung by Gordon Lightfoot for his 1968 album Did She Mention My Name? Others include “Motor City Is Burning”, from the MC5’s 1969 album Kick Out the Jams; “Panic in Detroit”, from David Bowie’s 1973 album Aladdin Sane; and the title track from Detroit producer and DJ Moodymann’s 2008 EP Det.riot ’67, which sampled audio recordings from news reels talking about the riot.

Here’s a sobering video with historical footage of that event and its aftermath as a backdrop to Gordon Lightfoot’s “Black Day in July”:

 

Ode to Big Blue – a song about the plight and widespread killing of blue whales. “Ode to Big Blue” tells the legend of a great whale who lost his whole family to hunters, but died a natural death. It also makes a statement about whaling: “They’ve been taken by the men for the money they can spend; and the killing never ends, it just goes on.”

Many whales are near the point of extinction yet many countries still continue to hunt them. Some of the history of the whaling industry is depicted in this video. It’s a haunting song for sure.

 

That’s it for my Artist Spotlight. For a continuous block of Gordon Lightfoot, I’ve put together a 10-song playlist, including the ones presented above plus the following: Beautiful, Early Morning Rain, Rainy Day People and The Pony Man. Enjoy!

 

Monday’s Music Moves Me (4M) is a blog hop hosted by X-Mas Dolly, and co-hosted by JAmerican Spice, Stacy Uncorked and Curious as a Cathy.  Be sure to stop by the hosts and visit the other participants.

 

Battle of the Bands RESULTS: A 4-way Battle for Stuck in the Middle with You

It’s RESULTS time for my July battle: This was definitely a fun battle! It was my first 4-way 2-genre battle: The song was Stealers Wheel‘s “Stuck in the Middle with You“. The first round in this 4-way is two artists battling it out for the Jazz title and two artists battling for the Country title.

Going for the Jazz title were multi-award-winning Canadian singer Michael Bublé vs. American jazz singer Nicole Henry.

Battling it out for the Country title were the ever-popular Keith Urban (with twenty-one #1 hits!) and award-winning country and pop singer Juice Newton.

The genre winners were decided early on in this Battle Playoff. Without a doubt the men racked up the votes in both genres. Before I reveal the tally breakdown, I’ll tell you who I voted for in this battle:

In the Jazz category I went with the majority and voted for Michael Bublé. His cover version was so rich and robust. I enjoyed Nicole Henry’s smokey vocals but her version just didn’t hold up against Bublé’s, in my opinion.

As for the Country category, I went against the majority and voted for Juice Newton. I listened to each country cover three times before deciding and I must say, it was a tough call. Keith Urban is, well, Keith Urban after all. His version was absolutely fantastic. But Juice Newton’s version captivated my attention more. With Keith Urban’s, his version kinda ended up in the background as I was working away on the computer. Juice Newton’s version, on the other hand, snapped me out of my mindless typing and made me pay attention. The music grabbed me right from the tickling piano at the onset and took on me on a joyful musical ride, accompanied by Newton’s powerful vocals. Comparatively, I just liked Juice Newton more and so she earned my vote.

Now, for the Results Tally:

JAZZ PLAYOFF

Michael Bublé  – 10 votes

Nicole Henry – 3 votes

COUNTRY PLAYOFF

Keith Urban – 9 votes

Juice Newton – 4 votes

The “Stuck in the Middle with You Playoffs” have concluded and the winners from each genre category will now advance to duke it out for the title win.  Come back next month on August 15th and vote for your favorite cover version of the Stealers Wheel hit and see who will win the ultimate “Stuck in the Middle with You Championship”:

Michael Bublé vs Keith Urban

 

 

Monday’s Music Moves Me – Songs with Names in the Title

Happy Monday everyone! It’s time for another Monday’s Music Moves Me (4M) blog hop and this week’s theme is Songs with Names in the Title. Well, at least I thought that was the theme for this week. It was when I copied down the theme list from the site’s sidebar back in June. Imagine my surprise when I went in to add my link to the list today and discovered that the theme is now European Favorites. What?? I had no idea. Oh well. It’s too late now. I’ve spent too much time on this one to toss it away and I don’t have time to do a new one so this is going to be my 4M post for today. The good news is there are a few European favorites in my bunch here so at least they’ll qualify. Sorry guys. I didn’t know the theme had changed.

As for Songs with Names in the Title, there are TONS of songs with names in the titles and in fact I’m working on a comprehensive compilation of my favorite songs in this category. So far I have well over thirty pages and that was just with the Girls’ names!

For today’s 4M feature, here is a sampling of just 20 songs from my project, using Girl names.

A Boy Named Sue by Johnny Cash – “A Boy Named Sue” is a song written by Shel Silverstein that was made popular by Johnny Cash. Cash was at the height of his success when he recorded the song live at California’s San Quentin State Prison at a concert on February 24, 1969. The concert was filmed by Granada Television for later television broadcast; Carl Perkins played guitar on the performance. The audio of the concert was later released on Cash’s At San Quentin album. Cash also performed the song (with comical variations on the original performance) in December 1969 at Madison Square Garden. The song became Cash’s biggest hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and his only top ten single there, spending three weeks at No. 2 in 1969, held out of the top spot by “Honky Tonk Women” by The Rolling Stones. The track also topped the Billboard Hot Country Songs and Hot Adult Contemporary Tracks charts that same year and was certified Gold on August 14, 1969, by the RIAA.

The song tells the tale of a young man’s quest for revenge on a father who abandoned him at three years of age and whose only contribution to his entire life was naming him Sue, commonly a feminine name, which results in the young man suffering from ridicule and harassment by everyone he meets in his travels. Because of this, Sue grows up tough, mean and smartens up very quickly, though he frequently relocates due to the shame his name gives him. Angered by the embarrassment and abuse that he endures in his life, he swears that he will find and kill his father for giving him “that awful name”.

Sue later locates his father at a tavern in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, during the middle of a summer season, and confronts him by saying, “My name is Sue! How do you do? Now you’re gonna die!” This results in a vicious brawl that spills outdoors into a muddy street. After the two have beaten each other almost senseless, Sue’s father admits that he is the “heartless hound” (“son of a bitch” in the Johnny Cash version) that named him Sue and explains that the name was given as an act of love. Because Sue’s father knew that he would not be there for his son, he gave him the name, believing (correctly) that the ensuing ridicule would force him to “get tough or die.” Learning this, Sue makes peace with his father and they reconcile. With his lesson learned, Sue closes the song with a promise to name his son “Bill or George, anything but Sue.”

Here is a performance from 1969:

 

Ah Leah by Donnie Iris – one of my favorite hits from the 80s

“Ah! Leah!” is a song by American rock musician Donnie Iris from his 1980 album Back on the Streets. The song was released as a single in late 1980 and reached number 29 on the US Billboard Hot 100, 22 on the Cash Box Top 100, and 19 on the US Billboard Top Tracks chart. The song is widely considered to be Iris’ signature song and was most popular in Canada, where it became a Top 10 hit.

What I didn’t realize about Donnie Iris: Donnie Iris (born Dominic Ierace on February 28, 1943) is an American rock musician known for his work with the Jaggerz and Wild Cherry during the 1970s, and for his solo career beginning in the 1980s with his band, the Cruisers. He wrote the # 2 Billboard hit, “The Rapper”, with the Jaggerz in 1970 and was a member of Wild Cherry after the group had a #1 hit with “Play That Funky Music.” He also achieved fame as a solo artist in the early 1980s with the # 29 hit “Ah! Leah!” and the # 37 hit “Love Is Like a Rock.”

In addition to performing on the first three Jaggerz albums and the fourth and final Wild Cherry album, Iris with his solo band has released eleven studio albums, one EP, two live albums, and two compilation albums. He continues to release new material and tours throughout the greater Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Youngstown and Cleveland, Ohio areas.

Here is Donnie Iris and the Cruisers performing live in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio in 1981

 

Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl) by Looking Glass – “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” is a 1972 song written and composed by Elliot Lurie and recorded by Lurie’s band, Looking Glass, on their debut album Looking Glass. The single reached number one on both the Billboard Hot 100 and Cash Box Top 100 charts, remaining in the top position for one week. Billboard ranked it as the 12th song of 1972.

The lyrics tell of Brandy, a barmaid in a western seaport harbor town which serves a hundred ships per day. The sailors tell her she’s a fine girl, who would make a good wife, but their life and love is the sea. Brandy falls in love with a sailor who gives her a silver chain from The North of Spain, and her locket holds his name. She would watch his eyes when he told his sailor tales, and felt the raging ocean. In the end, Brandy is left in love with “a man who’s not around” because no harbor was his home, but she can still hear his words, “Brandy you’re a fine girl…”

 

Cecelia by Simon and Garfunkel – “Cecilia” is a song by American music duo Simon & Garfunkel, released in April 1970 as the third single from the group’s fifth studio album, Bridge over Troubled Water. Written by Paul Simon, the song’s origins lie in a late-night party, in which the duo and friends began banging on a piano bench. They recorded the sound with a tape recorder, employing reverb and matching the rhythm created by the machine. Simon later wrote the song’s guitar line and lyrics on the subject of an untrustworthy lover. The song’s title refers to St. Cecilia, patron saint of music in the Catholic tradition.

The song was a hit single in the United States, peaking at number four on the Billboard Hot 100. On the Cash Box Top 100, it reached number one.

 

Dear Prudence by the Beatles – “Dear Prudence” is a song by the Beatles from their 1968 album The Beatles (also known as “the White Album”). The song was written by John Lennon and credited to Lennon–McCartney. Written in India, it was inspired by Prudence Farrow, a sister of actress Mia Farrow, who became obsessive about meditating while practicing with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

From an article I found in Rolling Stone magazine while researching the song: In January of 1968, a then-20-year-old Prudence Farrow finally fulfilled a dream of hers that had been in the making for two years: to study meditation under Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Rishikesh, India. Accompanied by her sister, actress Mia, Farrow was later joined at the Maharishi’s retreat by none other than the members of the Beatles and their significant others. The Fab Four’s stay in India has been well-documented — aside from seeking spiritual enlightenment through the Maharishi, they wrote songs that later ended up on their self-titled two-record set, better known as the White Album, released later that year.

But Farrow didn’t get caught up in the buzz surrounding the Beatles’ presence at the retreat. Rather, she was more preoccupied with meditating for long hours in her room. Her single-minded devotion to meditation inspired John Lennon to compose “Dear Prudence” (number 63 on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Beatles Songs), which later appeared on the White Album. Discussing the song in an interview with Playboy, published posthumously in 1981, Lennon remarked that Farrow “wouldn’t come out of the little hut we were living in… We got her out of the house — she’d been locked in for three weeks and wouldn’t come out. She was trying to find God quicker than anyone else. That was the competition in Maharishi’s camp: who was going to get cosmic first.” (Source: Rolling Stone article by David Chiu, September 4, 2015)

This video shows the members of the Beatles in Rishikesh in 1968. Rishikesh is known as the “Yoga Capital of the World.” In the video, you’ll see the Fab Four with their significant others and shots of Mia Farrow and her sister Prudence.

 

Jackie Blue by Ozark Mountain Daredevils – One of my very favorite songs! The Ozark Mountain Daredevils are an American Southern rock/country rock band formed in 1972 in Springfield, Missouri. They are most widely known for their singles “If You Wanna Get to Heaven” in 1974 and “Jackie Blue” in 1975.

“Jackie Blue” is a single from their 1974 album, It’ll Shine When It Shines. The song reached #3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and spent two weeks at #1 (May 10-17) on the Cashbox Singles Chart in the U.S. It was also a hit internationally: #2 in Canada, #9 in New Zealand, #10 in South Africa, and #27 in Australia in 1975. The song was sung by the group’s drummer, Larry Lee.

Here’s a performance from an Old Grey Whistle Test appearance (OGWT was a British television music show). Recorded live at Shepherd’s Bush, London, March 26, 1976:

 

Jolene by Dolly Parton – “Jolene” is a song written and performed by American country music artist Dolly Parton. It was released in October 1973 as the first single and title track from her album of the same name, produced by Bob Ferguson.

“Jolene” tells the tale of a woman confronting Jolene, a stunningly beautiful woman, who she believes is trying to steal away her lover and begging her “please don’t take my man.” Throughout the song, the woman implores Jolene “please don’t take him just because you can.” According to Parton, the song was inspired by a red-headed bank clerk who flirted with her husband Carl Dean at his local bank branch around the time they were newly married. In an interview, she also revealed that Jolene’s name and appearance are based on that of a young fan who came on stage for her autograph.

The song became Parton’s second solo number-one single on the country charts after being released as a single in late 1973 (prior to the album’s release). It reached the top position in February 1974; it was also a moderate pop hit for her and a minor adult contemporary chart entry. The song has sold 733,000 digital copies in the US since it became available for digital download.

The song was released as a single later in the UK, and became Parton’s first top ten hit song in the country, reaching number seven in the UK Singles Chart in 1976. The song also re-entered the chart when Parton performed at the Glastonbury festival in 2014. The song has sold 255,300 digital copies in the UK as of January 2017.

 

Lorelei by Styx – “Lorelei” is a song from rock band Styx. It is on their 1975 album Equinox, and was released as a single in 1976.

The video below is from the 1996 Return to Paradise tour: on May 21, 1996, twenty years after the release of Lorelei, Styx’s triumphant Return to Paradise tour got underway at the Five Seasons Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, with Kansas as the opening act. This special 70-plus date Grand Reopening reunion run celebrated Tommy Shaw’s return to the band, following the successful 1995 studio sessions for “Lady ’95,” which had been recorded for inclusion on Styx’s August 22, 1995 Greatest Hits release.

“We didn’t have any idea whether people would still care about us or not,” Tommy recalls of the days and weeks leading up to the RTP tour. “But our then-new manager Charlie Brusco assured us that if you put tickets on sale, people are going to show up. And they did — and in amazing numbers too! Return to Paradise indeed.”

That May 21 Cedar Rapids show also featured the live debut of drummer Todd Sucherman, who had been asked to take over for the ailing John Panozzo. “It was exhilarating,” Todd says. “At the end of the show, I felt like we had just won the Super Bowl.” (note: John Panozzo died in July 1996).

 

Maggie May by Rod Stewart – “Maggie May” is a song written and performed by singer Rod Stewart from his album Every Picture Tells a Story, released in 1971.

“Maggie May” expresses the ambivalence and contradictory emotions of a boy involved in a relationship with an older woman, and was written from Stewart’s own experience. In the January 2007 issue of Q magazine, Stewart recalled: “Maggie May was more or less a true story, about the first woman I had sex with, at the 1961 Beaulieu Jazz Festival.” The woman’s name was not “Maggie May”; Stewart has stated that the name was taken from “… an old Liverpudlian song about a prostitute.”

Rod in a 1998 concert:

 

Mandy by Barry Manilow – In 1974, Barry Manilow recorded the song under the title name of “Mandy”. The song was Manilow’s first #1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 and Easy Listening charts, and his first gold single. Scott English wrote the lyrics and recorded this song in 1971 as “Brandy.” His version was a hit in the UK. In the US, this was changed to “Mandy” to avoid confusion with the Looking Glass hit “Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl).”

The bit about “Mandy” being about Manilow’s dog is an urban myth. Songwriter and original performer Scott English says he was woken by a phone call from a reporter, wanting to know who “Brandy” was. “I would have said anything to get rid of him,” says English, “So I spat out the first thing that came to mind: It was about a dog like Lassie and I had sent her away – now you go away!’ And I hung up on him.”

 

Mary Jane’s Last Dance by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” is a song written by Tom Petty and recorded by American rock band Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. It was recorded on July 22, 1993, while Petty was recording his Wildflowers album, and was produced by Rick Rubin, guitarist Mike Campbell, and Tom Petty. The sessions would prove to be the last to include drummer Stan Lynch before his eventual departure in 1994. This song was first released as part of the Greatest Hits album in 1993. It rose to #14 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming his first Billboard Top 20 hit of the 1990s, and also topped the Billboard Album Rock Tracks chart at #1 for two weeks.

This is another song that I love but the music video, I think, is extremely creepy and disturbing really. But what do I know? Because the music video won the MTV Video Music Award for Best Male Video in 1994. It features Petty as a morgue assistant who takes home a beautiful dead woman (played by Kim Basinger). He then tries to bring her back to life by acting as if she were alive, putting her in front of a television set and then dressing her as a bride, sitting her at the dinner table and dancing with her with no effect. A scene in the video featuring the dead woman wearing a wedding dress in a room full of wax candles is loosely based on a passage from the Charles Dickens novel Great Expectations. The plot also has similarities with the French movie Cold Moon, itself inspired by a Charles Bukowski short story (“The Copulating Mermaid of Venice“). Later, Petty is shown carrying her to a rocky shore and gently releasing her into the sea. At the end of the video, Basinger, who is seen floating in the water, opens her eyes.

During the final scenes of the video, Petty is seen carrying Basinger through a cave before placing her in the water. The cave is located at Leo Carrillo State Park, California where many movies and television shows were filmed.

I said, “She’s got to look really good, or why would he keep her around after she’s dead?” I thought, Kim Basinger would be good. I’d probably keep her for a day or two, let’s go see if she would do it.” You can make a joke about it, but you have to act a bit to be dead. It’s not easy.  — Tom Petty, on what made him decide that Kim Basinger would be a good choice for the corpse

Now that was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done in my life. It was classic, wasn’t it? He was a doll, and he was so sweet and asked me to do it, and both of us are extremely shy so we just said three words to each other the whole time. I’ll never forget how heavy that dress was! And I had to be dead the whole time. You know, it’s really one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life, because I had to be completely weightless to be in his arms the way I was. It won all those awards, and the kids love it—even today!  — Kim Basinger

Here’s the video. What do you think of it??

 

Michelle by the Beatles – This is one song that has been sung to me over and over and over throughout the years. The only issue I have with it is that the Beatles spelled Michelle with two L’s instead of the right way with one L, like mine.

“Michelle” is a love ballad by the Beatles, composed principally by Paul McCartney, with the middle eight co-written with John Lennon. It is featured on their Rubber Soul album, released in December 1965. The song is unique among Beatles recordings in that some of its lyrics are in French. “Michelle” won the Grammy Award for Song of the Year in 1967. The song’s win over “Born Free”, “The Impossible Dream”, “Somewhere My Love” and “Strangers in the Night” was seen as something of a triumph for The Beatles, who had in 1966 been nominated, but were unsuccessful, in nine categories. It has since become one of the best known and often recorded of all Beatles songs. In fact, in 1999, BMI named “Michelle” as the 42nd most performed song of the 20th century.

The words and style of “Michelle” have their origins in the popularity of French Left Bank culture during McCartney’s Liverpool days. McCartney had gone to a party of art students where a student with a goatee and a striped T-shirt was singing a French song. He soon wrote a farcical imitation to entertain his friends that involved French-sounding groaning instead of real words. The song remained a party piece until 1965, when John Lennon suggested he rework it into a proper song for inclusion on Rubber Soul.

…we’d tag along to these parties, and it was at the time of people like Juliette Greco, the French bohemian thing… So I used to pretend to be French, and I had this song that turned out later to be ‘Michelle’. It was just an instrumental, but years later John said: ‘You remember that thing you wrote about the French?’ I said: ‘Yeah.’ He said: ‘That wasn’t a bad song, that. You should do that, y’know.’  — Paul McCartney

McCartney asked Jan Vaughan, a French teacher and the wife of his old friend Ivan Vaughan, to come up with a French name and a phrase that rhymed with it. “It was because I’d always thought that the song sounded French that I stuck with it. I can’t speak French properly so that’s why I needed help in sorting out the actual words”, McCartney said.

Vaughan came up with “Michelle, ma belle”, and a few days later McCartney asked for a translation of “these are words that go together well” — sont des mots qui vont très bien ensemble. When McCartney played the song for Lennon, Lennon suggested the “I love you” bridge. Lennon was inspired by a song he heard the previous evening, Nina Simone’s version of “I Put a Spell on You”, which used the same phrase but with the emphasis on the last word, “I love you“.

Here’s Paul McCartney performing in the East Room of the White House, in the company of President Obama and the incomparable Michelle Obama. June 2, 2010.

 

My Maria by B.W. Stevenson – This is one of my favorite songs of all time! It’s a song about a gypsy woman, Maria, who relieves the narrator from problems with which he has been struggling.

“My Maria” is a song co-written by B. W. Stevenson and Daniel Moore. Stevenson released “My Maria” as a single in August 1973, and the song became a Top 10 hit, peaking at number 9 on the US pop chart. It remained in the Top 40 for twelve weeks. In addition, “My Maria” spent one week at number 1 on the US adult contemporary chart. It was Stevenson’s biggest hit. The guitar portion of the track was played by Larry Carlton. Twenty-plus years later, a cover by Brooks & Dunn reached number 1 on the US country music chart and won the 1997 Grammy for Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.

The artist, B. W. Stevenson (October 5, 1949 – April 28, 1988), was an American country pop artist, working in a genre now called progressive country. “B.W.” stood for “Buckwheat.” Stevenson was born in Dallas, Texas.

Fun fact: Stevenson performed and was taped for the intended pilot of Austin City Limits on October 13, 1974. However, the recording quality was deemed too poor to broadcast. Willie Nelson’s performance taped the following night ended up being aired as the first episode of the long-running program.

Stevenson died undergoing heart valve surgery at the age of 38. Since his death, Poor David’s Pub in Dallas has held an annual songwriting competition in his memory.

 

Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town by Kenny Rogers & the First Edition – “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town” is a song written by Mel Tillis about a paralyzed veteran of a “crazy Asian war” (given the time of its release, widely assumed—but never explicitly stated—to be the Vietnam War) who either lies helplessly in bed or sits helplessly in his wheelchair as his wife “paints [herself] up” to go out for the evening without him; he believes she is going in search of a lover, and as he hears the door slam behind her, he pleads for her to reconsider. The song was made famous by Kenny Rogers and The First Edition in 1969. “Ruby” was originally recorded in 1967 by Johnny Darrell, who scored a number nine country hit with it that year.

In 1969, after the success Kenny Rogers and The First Edition had enjoyed with the hits “Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)” and “But You Know I Love You,” Rogers wanted to take his group more into a country music direction. They recorded their version of the song, with Rogers singing the lead, in a single take. The record was a major hit for them. It made #1 in the UK on the New Musical Express (#2 on the BBC chart) staying in the top 20 for 15 weeks and selling over a million copies by the end of 1970. In the United States it reached #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #39 on the country chart.

In 1977, now performing solo after the First Edition disbanded in early 1976, Rogers made re-recordings of this, and a number of other First Edition hits, for his 1977 greatest hits package Ten Years of Gold. (It was later issued in the UK as The Kenny Rogers Singles Album.) Ten Years of Gold topped the US country charts under that title, and as The Kenny Rogers Singles Album, it was just as successful in the United Kingdom.

Here’s Kenny & the First Edition performing the song in 1972:

 

Sara Smile by Hall & Oates – “Sara Smile” is a song written and recorded by the American musical duo Hall & Oates. It was released in January 1976 as the second single from their album Daryl Hall & John Oates. The song was the group’s breakthrough single, its first Top 10 hit in the US, reaching number four on the Billboard Hot 100. It was written about Hall’s then-girlfriend, Sara Allen. The couple were together for almost 30 years before breaking up in 2001.

 

Sussudio by Phil Collins – “Sussudio” is a song by English singer-songwriter Phil Collins, released as a single in January 1985. The song is the first track on Collins’ third solo studio album, No Jacket Required, released in February of the same year. The song entered frequent rotation on MTV in May: by July both single and album reached number-one on their respective US Billboard charts. In the UK, the song peaked at number 12.

Collins has said that he “improvised” the lyric. Collins was just playing around with a drum machine, and the lyric “su-sussudio” was what came out of his mouth. “So I kinda knew I had to find something else for that word, then I went back and tried to find another word that scanned as well as ‘sussudio,’ and I couldn’t find one, so I went back to ‘sussudio'”, Collins said. According to Collins, the lyrics are about a schoolboy crush on a girl at school.

 

Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond – “Sweet Caroline” is a song written and performed by American recording artist Neil Diamond and officially released on September 16, 1969, as a single with the title “Sweet Caroline (Good Times Never Seemed So Good)”. The song reached #4 on the Billboard chart and eventually went platinum for sales of one million singles. The song has proven to be enduringly popular, and as of November 2014 has sold over two million digital downloads in the United States.

Diamond wrote this song about his second wife, Marcia Murphey, who he married in 1969 (they divorced in 1995). He needed a three-syllable name to fit the melody, however, so “Sweet Marcia” didn’t work. The name Caroline is one he had written down, and it fit the song perfectly, so that’s what he used.

Neil Diamond is a great manipulator of the media, and has shifted his story about this song to fit the occasion. There was longtime speculation that the song is about Caroline Kennedy, the daughter of the American president John F. Kennedy. Diamond has since revealed that this Caroline gave him the idea for the name, but had nothing to do with the song’s inspiration.

In 2007, however, Diamond performed the song via satellite at Caroline Kennedy’s 50th birthday party, and said that the song was about her. He told the Associated Press: “I’ve never discussed it with anybody before – intentionally. I thought maybe I would tell it to Caroline when I met her someday. I’m happy to have gotten it off my chest and to have expressed it to Caroline. I thought she might be embarrassed, but she seemed to be struck by it and really, really happy.”

Diamond added that he was a young, broke songwriter in the ’60s when he saw a cute photo of Caroline Kennedy in a magazine. Said Diamond: “It was a picture of a little girl dressed to the nines in her riding gear, next to her pony. It was such an innocent, wonderful picture, I immediately felt there was a song in there.” A few years later, Diamond wrote the song in a Memphis hotel in less than an hour. Caroline was 11 years old when the song was released.

SWEET CAROLINE AND BASEBALL?? Even though the song has nothing to do with Boston, the Red Sox, baseball or New England, it is played at Red Sox home games in Fenway Park before the Red Sox bat in the the 8th inning. Amy Tobey, who worked the music at Fenway, first started playing the song in 1997 – it’s often reported that she played it in honor of a Red Sox employee who named her newborn daughter “Caroline,” but Tobey told NPR that she simply liked the song. It caught on with the fans, becoming a popular selection between innings. When Charles Steinberg took over as Red Sox executive vice president of public affairs in 2002, he championed the song, and instituted it as an 8th inning ritual (strategically placed before the Sox come up to bat late in the game), where it has been played ever since. Caroline Kennedy even attended a game that year, which was before Neil Diamond revealed her as the inspiration.

The song is an audience participation number in that the crowd sings “dum-dum-dum” after the words “Sweet Caroline” in the chorus and “so good, so good, so good” after “good times never seemed so good,” assisted by the music director who ducks the song down at this point so the crowd sounds louder. This Fenway ritual is portrayed in the Drew Barrymore/Jimmy Fallon movie Fever Pitch.

On April 16, 2013, the day after the Boston Marathon bombing, the New York Yankees—longtime Red Sox rivals—announced they would play the song during their home game, preceded by a moment of silence, as a tribute to the victims. On Saturday, April 20, 2013, during the 8th inning of the Red Sox-Kansas City game in Fenway Park, Neil Diamond made a surprise appearance at Fenway Park where he performed the song in its traditional 8th inning timeslot. Diamond, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame just two days earlier, appeared in street clothes rather than his usual lustrous performance garb as he led the crowd in a full version of the song.

The song was sung at sporting events across the country after the Boston Marathon bombings, in efforts to show solidarity with those affected by the tragedy. It was also played right before the start of the Hamburg Marathon in Hamburg, Germany, on Sunday, April 21, 2013, subsequent to a minute of silence. The song was also played before the start of the Stockholm Marathon in Stockholm, Sweden, on Saturday, June 1, 2013, as a tribute to those affected by the Boston Marathon bombings.

On April 25, 2013, “Sweet Caroline” was played following a tribute to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing during the NFL Draft. Diamond has announced that he will donate all royalties from sales of the song since the marathon bombings to the One Fund Boston charity to help the people most affected by the bombings. Diamond said that sales of the song surged nearly 600 percent in the week after the bombings, to 19,000 copies, up from 2,800 the week before.

 

Take a Letter Maria by R. B. Greaves – “Take a Letter Maria” is a song written and recorded by R. B. Greaves, an American soul singer. The song has a Latin music flavor, complete with a mariachi-style horn section featuring trumpets. It tells of a man who has learned of his wife’s infidelity the night before, and dictates a letter of separation to Maria, his secretary, whom he asks out for dinner later in the song in order to “start a new life.” The song was released in September 1969, quickly gaining regular airplay and peaking at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States. It stayed in the Billboard chart for 15 weeks. The single was certified gold in December 1969, with one million copies shipped. By 1970, sales of the song totaled 2.5 million.

 

The Ballad of John & Yoko by the Beatles – “The Ballad of John and Yoko” is a song written by John Lennon, attributed to Lennon–McCartney as was the custom, and released by the Beatles as a single in May 1969. The song, chronicling the events associated with Lennon’s marriage to Yoko Ono, was the Beatles’ 17th and final UK number one single. It reached number eight in the U.S.

Interestingly, “The Ballad of John and Yoko” never appeared on the surveys of WLS in Chicago or WABC in New York, two of the largest Top 40 stations in the US. Several US radio stations declined to broadcast the song because of what they saw as sacrilegious use of the words Christ and crucify in the chorus:

Christ, you know it ain’t easy,

You know how hard it can be,

The way things are going,

They’re gonna crucify me.

Authored by Lennon while on his honeymoon in Paris, the song tells of the events of his marriage, in March 1969, to Ono, and their publicly held honeymoon activities, including their “Bed-In” at the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel and their demonstration of “bagism.”

(Bagism is a term which was created by John Lennon and Yoko Ono as part of their extensive peace campaign in the late 1960s. The intent of bagism was to satirize prejudice and stereotyping. Bagism involved literally wearing a bag over one’s entire body. According to John and Yoko, by living in a bag, a person could not be judged by others on the basis of skin color, gender, hair length, attire, age, or any other such attributes. It was presented as a form of total communication: instead of focusing on outward appearance, the listener would hear only the bagist’s message. John and Yoko introduced the idea during a well-received press conference in Vienna on March 31, 1969 and explained it more thoroughly in a June 14, 1969 interview with David Frost. Bagism reflected the whimsical, carefree, and often comedic mood of John and Yoko’s other peace efforts, such as their Bed-Ins. By catching the attention of the masses with its outlandish premise, bagism presented a powerful social and political message to the world. As Lennon stated, “Yoko and I are quite willing to be the world’s clowns; if by doing it we do some good.”

Yoko said that bagism was inspired by the theme of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince, which was “One sees rightly only with the heart, the essential is invisible to the eyes.” She hoped that the bag (by hiding her and John’s physical appearance) would make their essence, or the essence of their message, visible).

Lennon brought the song to McCartney’s home on April 14, 1969, before recording it that evening. Recalling the controversy engendered by Lennon’s “more popular than Jesus” remark in 1966, McCartney was alarmed at the references to Christ in the new song but agreed to assist Lennon. Ono later said: “Paul knew that people were being nasty to John, and he just wanted to make it well for him. Paul has a very brotherly side to him.”

The song was recorded without George Harrison (who was on holiday) and Ringo Starr (who was filming The Magic Christian). In Barry Miles’ biography, McCartney recalls that Lennon had a sudden inspiration for the song and had suggested that the two of them should record it immediately, without waiting for the other Beatles to return. Reflecting this somewhat unusual situation, the session recordings include the following exchange:

Lennon (on guitar): “Go a bit faster, Ringo!”

McCartney (on drums): “OK, George!”

It’s hard to find actual Beatles recordings on YouTube. This is an APPLE 45 r.p.m. single vinyl record of the Beatles song “The Ballad of John and Yoko” side “A” played on an old 60`s “SEARS SOLID STATE” turntable. The sound isn’t great but at least you can hear the full song. Plus seeing that old turntable sure brings back some memories.

In searching for the song I found this wonderful piece, The Ballad of John & Yoko: The Story Behind the Bed-In for Peace. It is featured on Canada’s History channel: Established in 1994 as a charitable organization devoted to popularizing Canadian history, Canada’s History aims to make Canadians more aware and appreciative of their past.

You can hear the song in the background and there is some great footage of the famous event.

 

So that’s my Monday’s Music Moves Me post for July 17. 2017. Do you like any of the songs that I featured here? What are your favorite songs with Girls names in the titles?

Monday’s Music Moves Me (4M) is a blog hop hosted by X-Mas Dolly, and co-hosted by JAmerican Spice, Stacy Uncorked and Curious as a Cathy.  Be sure to stop by the hosts and visit the other participants.

 

 

BATTLE OF THE BANDS: Stuck in the Middle with You by Stealers Wheel

It’s July 15th so not only are we halfway through summer but it’s also time for another Battle of the Bands. This month’s battle features a hit song by Stealers Wheel. Stealers Wheel was a Scottish folk rock/rock band formed in Paisley, Scotland, in 1972 by former school friends Joe Egan and Gerry Rafferty. Their best-known hit is “Stuck in the Middle with You“, a Dylan-esque pop favorite recorded in April, 1974. The band broke up in 1975 and re-formed briefly in 2008.

Here’s what Wikipedia says about the song: “Stuck in the Middle with You” (sometimes known as “Stuck in the Middle”) was released on Stealers Wheel’s 1972 eponymous debut album. Gerry Rafferty provided the lead vocals, with Joe Egan singing harmony. Rafferty’s lyrics are a dismissive tale of a music industry cocktail party written and performed as a pastiche of Bob Dylan. (I didn’t know what a pastiche was and had to look it up. In case you’re wondering too, it’s an artistic work in a style that imitates that of another artist).

The band was surprised by the single’s chart success. The single sold over one million copies, eventually peaking at number 6 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, number 8 in the UK, and number 2 in Canada.

Any Tarrantino fans out there? The song is used in Quentin Tarantino’s 1992 debut film Reservoir Dogs, during the scene in which the character Mr. Blonde (played by Michael Madsen) taunts and tortures bound policeman Marvin Nash (Kirk Baltz) while singing and dancing to the song. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Tarantino recalled:

“That was one of those things where I thought [the song] would work really well, and [during] auditions, I told the actors that I wanted them to do the torture scene, and I’m gonna use ‘Stuck in the Middle With You,’ but they could pick anything they wanted, they didn’t have to use that song. And a couple people picked another one, but almost everyone came in with ‘Stuck in the Middle With You’ and they were saying that they tried to come up with something else, but that’s the one. The first time somebody actually did the torture scene to that song, the guy didn’t even have a great audition, but it was like watching the movie. I was thinking, ‘Oh my God, this is gonna be awesome!'”

The Reservoir Dogs: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack was the first soundtrack for a Quentin Tarantino film and set the structure his later soundtracks would follow. This includes the extensive use of snippets of dialogue from the film. The soundtrack has selections of songs from the 1960s to ’80s. (Only the group Bedlam recorded original songs for the film). Reasoning that the film takes place over a weekend, Tarantino decided to set it to a fictional radio station ‘K-Billy’ (presumably KBLY)’s show “K-Billy’s Super Sounds of the Seventies Weekend”, a themed weekend show of broadcasts of songs from the seventies. The radio station played a prominent role in the film. The DJ for the radio was chosen to be Steven Wright, a comedian known for his deadpan delivery of jokes.

An unusual feature of the soundtrack was the choice of songs; Tarantino has said that he feels the music to be a counterpoint to the on-screen violence and action. He also stated that he wished for the film to have a 1950s feel while using ’70s music. A prominent instance of this is the torture scene to the tune of “Stuck in the Middle with You“. (Source: Wikipedia)

The Stealer’s Wheel music video is quite strange, in my opinion. Even the explanation of it didn’t make sense: “The video portrays the band performing in a corner of a large, empty building. Their performance is intercut with shots of Egan (who is miming to the by-then-departed Rafferty’s vocal track, although Gerry Rafferty did not die until January 2011) at a small banquet table with a number of garishly-dressed and made-up supper guests. These include an actual clown, a bespectacled bowler-hatted gent devouring spaghetti and a lavishly dressed woman eating cream cakes and grapes. The clown, who has difficulty eating a plastic chicken, continually squeezes Egan out whenever he tries to take food from the table. The guitar solo is played on a guitar played flat with an empty beer bottle used as a slide. Eventually, the other band members appear, driving off the strange characters so that Egan can sit down at last.”

HUH??? Whatever. It’s a good song. Enjoy! (and remember, this version is presented as the original source only; don’t vote for this one):

 

Now for my Battle: In searching for covers of this song I found four that I really liked and ironically two of them were by Jazz artists and the other two by Country artists. I couldn’t decide which two to pick, so with a little input from Stephen, I’m going to do my first FOUR-WAY BATTLE in which you’ll place TWO votes: one for your Jazz favorite and one for your Country favorite. Then next month I’ll have the two winners from each genre battle it out for a championship win in August. Hope you guys are okay with this.

Jazzy covers

Jazz Contender #1:  Michael Bublé – Micheal Bublé (born September 9, 1975) is a Canadian singer, songwriter, actor and record producer. He has won several awards, including four Grammy Awards and multiple Juno Awards. Bublé’s interest in jazz music began around age five when his family played Bing Crosby’s White Christmas album at Christmastime.

Here’s his jazzy take on Stuck in the Middle with You:

 

Jazz Contender #2:  Nicole Henry – Nicole Henry is an American jazz singer. She has performed in the world’s most acclaimed jazz venues, including clubs such as the Tokyo’s famed Cotton Club and Blue Note NYC. She has performed at numerous festivals including the Festival Miami and the San Jose Summer Jazz Fest (2014).

In 2013, she sang new renditions of hits from the 1970s for her album So Good, So Right: Nicole Henry Live recorded in front of sold-out crowds at Feinstein’s in New York. Stuck in the Middle with You is on that album:

 

Country covers

Country Contender #1:  Keith Urban – Keith Lionel Urban (born 26 October 1967) is a New Zealand born country musician (singer, songwriter, guitarist, TV show judge and record producer) with an impressive award-winning career.

This cover version of Stuck in the Middle with You is from the 2004 re-release of The Ranch’s self-titled album. The Ranch was a country music trio, which formed in 1997 by Peter Clarke on drums and percussion, Jerry Flowers on harmony vocals and bass guitar, and Keith Urban on lead vocals, guitar, ganjo, and keyboards. Most of the group’s material was co-written by Urban and Vernon Rust. Self-titled album The Ranch is the band’s only album. It was released by Capitol Nashville in 1997. After disbanding the group The Ranch, Urban resumed his solo career. Due to his solo success, The Ranch’s album was re-issued in February 2004 on Capitol/EMI as Keith Urban in The Ranch with two bonus tracks: “Billy” and “Stuck in the Middle with You“. Here is that bonus track:

 

Country Contender #2:  Juice Newton – Judy Kay “Juice” Newton (born February 18, 1952) is an American pop and country singer, songwriter, and musician. To date, Newton has received five Grammy Award nominations in the Pop and Country Best Female Vocalist categories (winning once in 1983), as well as an ACM Award for Top New Female Artist and two Billboard Female Album Artist of the Year awards (won consecutively).

Juice Newton did this cover of Stuck in the Middle with You in 1985 on her tenth studio album Old Flame (released in November 1985).

Old Flame was recorded after Newton signed a new recording contract with RCA. It peaked at number fifteen on the Billboard album chart. In his review of the album music critic Thom Owens notes that “out of all of Juice Newton’s albums, Old Flame has the strongest country roots and influences”. Featured on the album were cover versions of Del Shannon’s “Cheap Love”, Roy Hamilton’s “Hurt”, The Byrds’s “Feel a Whole Lot Better” and Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle with You”.

 

TIME TO VOTE! Which two versions do you like better and why? Please pick one from the Jazz group battle and one from the Country group battle. When you’re done voting, please visit these other BOTB participants and check out their cool battles:

Thanks for your participation and your votes! I’ll be back next month, on August 15th, for the Stuck in the Middle with You Championship, pitting the winners from today’s battle against each other. Until then, rock on…

 

 

Monday’s Music Moves Me – Freebie Focus on John Cougar Mellencamp

It’s Monday so it’s time for the Monday’s Music Moves Me (4M) blog hop! Last week we used a 4th of July theme and my holiday post included the song, R.O.C.K. in the USA by John Cougar Mellencamp. And during this past week, I’ve just been in a Heartland Rock kind of mood.  Heartland rock is a genre of rock music that is exemplified by the commercial success of singer-songwriters Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, Tom Petty, and John Mellencamp. It is characterized by a straightforward musical style, a concern with the average, blue-collar American life, and a conviction that rock music has a social or communal purpose beyond just entertainment.

Heartland Rock speaks directly to me. So I decided to do my 4M Freebie post on John Cougar Mellencamp. The following is a little background info on this artist and showcases some of my favorite songs by him. At the end is an extended playlist in case you want to groove all day on the ever-relatable John Cougar Mellencamp.

image sourced my last.fm

John J Mellencamp (born October 7, 1951), previously known as Johnny Cougar, John Cougar, and John Cougar Mellencamp and now simply as John Mellencamp, is an American musician, singer-songwriter, painter, and actor. He is known for his catchy, populist brand of heartland rock, which emphasizes traditional instrumentation.

Mellencamp rose to superstardom in the 1980s while honing an almost startlingly plainspoken writing style that, starting in 1982, yielded a string of Top 10 singles including “Hurts So Good,” “Jack & Diane,” “Crumblin’ Down,” “Pink Houses,” “Lonely Ol’ Night,” “Small Town,” “R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A.,” “Paper in Fire,” and “Cherry Bomb.” He has amassed 22 Top 40 hits in the United States. In addition, he holds the record for the most tracks by a solo artist to hit number one on the Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, with seven, and has been nominated for 13 Grammy Awards, winning one. Mellencamp released his latest album, Sad Clowns & Hillbillies, on April 28, 2017, to widespread critical acclaim.

Mellencamp is also one of the founding members of Farm Aid, an organization that began in 1985 with a concert in Champaign, Illinois, to raise awareness about the loss of family farms and to raise funds to keep farm families on their land. Farm Aid concerts have remained an annual event over the past 32 years, and as of 2017 the organization has raised over $50 million to promote a strong and resilient family farm system of agriculture.

Mellencamp is critically acclaimed and widely respected throughout the industry. Johnny Cash called Mellencamp “one of the 10 best songwriters” in music. Said longtime Rolling Stone contributor Anthony DeCurtis: “Mellencamp has created an important body of work that has earned him both critical regard and an enormous audience. His songs document the joys and struggles of ordinary people seeking to make their way, and he has consistently brought the fresh air of common experience to the typically glamour-addled world of popular music.”

The late Billboard magazine editor-in-chief Timothy White said in 2001:

John Mellencamp is arguably the most important roots rocker of his generation. John has made fiddles, hammer dulcimers, Autoharps and accordions lead rock instruments on a par with electric guitar, bass and drums, and he also brought what he calls ‘a raw Appalachian’ lyrical outlook to his songs. Mellencamp’s best music is rock ‘n roll stripped of all escapism, and it looks directly at the messiness of life as it’s actually lived. In his music, mortality, anxiety, acts of God, questions of romance and brotherhood, and crises of conscience all collide and demand hard decisions. This is rock music that tells the truth on both its composer and the culture he’s observing. (Source: Wikipedia)

WHY SO MANY NAMES IS WHAT I WANTED TO KNOW:

To make a long story short: For starters: After about 18 months of traveling back and forth from Indiana to New York City in 1974 and 1975, Mellencamp finally found someone receptive to his music and image in Tony DeFries of MainMan Management. DeFries insisted that Mellencamp’s first album, Chestnut Street Incident, a collection of covers and a handful of original songs, be released under the stage name Johnny Cougar, insisting that the bumpy German name “Mellencamp” was too hard to market. Mellencamp reluctantly agreed, but the album was a complete failure, selling only 12,000 copies. Mellencamp confessed in a 2005 interview: “That (name) was put on me by some manager. I went to New York and everybody said, ‘You sound like a hillbilly.’ And I said, ‘Well, I am.’ So that’s where he came up with that name. I was totally unaware of it until it showed up on the album jacket. When I objected to it, he said, ‘Well, either you’re going to go for it, or we’re not going to put the record out.’ So that was what I had to do… but I thought the name was pretty silly.” (Wikipedia)

He parted ways with that manager and Rod Stewart’s manager Billy Gaff took an interest in him and signed him to the Riva Records label. It was in 1979 when he started going by John Cougar with the release of his self-titled album. In 1980, his album Nothin’ Matters & What If It Did yielded two Top 40 singles, “This Time” (No.27) and “Ain’t Even Done With the Night” (No.17). In 1982, he released his breakthrough album, American Fool, which contained the singles “Hurts So Good,” an uptempo rock tune that spent four weeks at No. 2 and 16 weeks in the top 10, and “Jack & Diane,” which was a No. 1 hit for four weeks. A third single, “Hand to Hold on To,” made it to No. 19. “Hurts So Good” went on to win the Grammy Award for Best Male Rock Vocal Performance at the 25th Grammys.

With some commercial success under his belt, Mellencamp had enough clout to force the record company to add his real surname, Mellencamp, to his stage moniker. The first album recorded under his new name John Cougar Mellencamp was 1983’s Uh-Huh, a Top-10 album that spawned the Top 10 singles “Pink Houses” and “Crumblin’ Down” as well as the No. 14 hit “Authority Song,” which he said is “our version of ‘I Fought the Law’.”

It was his 1991 album, Whenever We Wanted, that was the first with a cover billed to John Mellencamp—the Cougar was now gone forever. Whenever We Wanted yielded the Top 40 hits “Get a Leg Up” and “Again Tonight,” but “Last Chance,” “Love and Happiness” and “Now More Than Ever” all garnered significant airplay on rock radio.

And from that point on, through today, he goes by John Mellencamp. Wowsa!

Most recently: In December 2015, Mellencamp began recording a duets album with Carlene Carter (daughter of June Carter), who was his opening act for all shows on the Plain Spoken Tour (promoting his 2014 album) and would join Mellencamp for two songs during his set. “We really enjoyed singing together on tour,” Carter told The Advocate. “Our voices clicked really good. John got the idea to do an album together. I was blown away.” The result was Mellencamp and Carter’s duets album, titled Sad Clowns & Hillbillies, which was released this year on April 28, 2017. “We wrote a couple of songs together, and she wrote some and I wrote some,” Mellencamp told USA Today.

Here are just a few of my favorite John Cougar Mellencamp songs, from various versions of his name incarnations, in no particular order:

Crumblin’ Down – “Crumblin’ Down” is the lead single from John Mellencamp’s 1983 album Uh-Huh. It was a top-ten hit on both the Billboard Hot 100 and Mainstream Rock charts. “Crumblin’ Down” was the first single released by Mellencamp to include his real last name: previous releases were credited to “John Cougar.”

It was written by Mellencamp and longtime writing partner George Green. According to Green, the song attempts to answer the question of what to do when success eventually fades, and “the big-time deal falls through.” The song touches on Mellencamp’s fame as well as the frustrations of losing one’s livelihood: the lyrics were inspired, in part, by Mellencamp’s cousin losing his job as an electrical engineer.

Here’s the video that received heavy play on MTV:

 

Cherry Bomb –  “Cherry Bomb” is a 1987 hit song released as the second single from Mellencamp’s ninth studio album The Lonesome Jubilee.

The song was a success in the U.S., reaching #1 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, #12 on the Adult Contemporary Chart and becoming a top ten hit on the main Billboard Hot 100 chart, where it reached #8.

“Cherry Bomb” is a nostalgic song that reflects back on Mellencamp’s teenage years hanging out in clubs with his friends. In a 1989 BBC radio interview, Mellencamp said: “Cherry Bomb is just a name of a club that I made up. The real name of the club was The Last Exit—The Last Exit Teen Club actually was the name of the place. It was a place that we went as kids. The whole world seemed to exist there. Everything that was important happened down in the basement of this church is what it was.”

 

Paper in Fire – another 1987 hit from The Lonesome Jubilee album. The song was a success in the U.S., reaching #1 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, and becoming a top ten hit on the main Billboard Hot 100 chart. It also topped the Canadian Singles Chart, and charted on various European singles charts.

The inspiration for the song was revealed in a 1989 interview with the BBC: Mellencamp said: “‘Paper in Fire’ deals with a lot of biblical things – paper in fire, in fact, is hell, and is referred to in the Bible as hell. ‘A man will be cast into paper in fire.’ It’s in there, believe me, it’s in there. That’s where that term came from.”

The line “we keep no check on our appetites,” from the song’s final verse, was cited in the 1963 movie Hud, which is one of Mellencamp’s favorite movies and has inspired many of his songs.

 

Rain on the Scarecrow – “Rain on the Scarecrow” was co-written by John Mellencamp and George M. Green for Mellencamp’s eighth studio album Scarecrow. Released in September 1985, it peaked at #2 on the U.S. chart.

About the album: The overall theme of the album is the fading of the American dream in the face of corporate greed. Rolling Stone wrote that songs such as “Face of the Nation,” “Minutes to Memories” and “Small Town” have a “bittersweet, reflective tone.”

In his 2016 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame exhibit, Mellencamp said: “With Scarecrow, I was finally starting to find my feet as a songwriter. Finally, for the first time, I realized what I thought I wanted to say in song. …I wanted it to be more akin to Tennessee Williams, John Steinbeck, Faulkner, as opposed to the Rolling Stones or Bob Dylan.”

 

Check It Out – “Check It Out” is a 1987 song by John Mellencamp released as the third single from his album The Lonesome Jubilee in 1988. The single was a top 20 hit, reaching number 14 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The music in this song is fantastic and I love the electric violin especially. Here is the live performance from a concert on December 11, 1987 at the Market Square Arena in Indianapolis, Indiana:

 

Pink Houses – “Pink Houses” was released on the 1983 album Uh-Huh on Riva Records. It reached #8 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 in early 1984. “Pink Houses” was ranked #439 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Recorded in a farmhouse in Brownstown, Indiana, the song was inspired when Mellencamp was driving along an overpass on the way home to Bloomington, Indiana from the Indianapolis airport. There was an old black man sitting outside his little pink shotgun house with his cat in his arms, completely unperturbed by the traffic speeding along the highway in his front yard. “He waved, and I waved back,” Mellencamp said in an interview with Rolling Stone. “That’s how ‘Pink Houses’ started.”

The song also served as a scathing critique of Yuppies and Reaganomics and the overall “Greed is good” atmosphere of the time.

Its Use in Politics: In 2004, the song was played at events for Senator John Edwards’ presidential campaign. The song was also used at events for Edwards’ 2008 presidential campaign.

“Pink Houses” along with “Our Country” was played by Senator John McCain at political events for his 2008 presidential campaign. Mellencamp contacted the McCain campaign pointing out Mellencamp’s support for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party and questioning McCain’s use of his music; in response, the McCain campaign ceased using Mellencamp’s songs.

In January 2009, Mellencamp played “Pink Houses” at We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial.

In 2010, “Pink Houses” was used by the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) at events opposing same-sex marriage. At Mellencamp’s instruction, his publicist sent a cease and desist letter to NOM stating that “Mr. Mellencamp’s views on same sex marriage and equal rights for people of all sexual orientations are at odds with NOM’s stated agenda” and requesting that NOM “find music from a source more in harmony with your views than Mr. Mellencamp in the future.”

Love it!

 

Small Town – “Small Town” is a song released on the 1985 album Scarecrow. The song reached #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Mellencamp wrote the song about his experiences growing up in a small town in Indiana, having been born in Seymour, Indiana, and living in Bloomington, Indiana, which, at the time of the release of the song, was much smaller. The music video has references to both towns.

“I wrote that song in the laundry room of my old house,” Mellencamp told American Songwriter magazine in 2004. “We had company, and I had to go write the song. And the people upstairs could hear me writing and they were all laughing when I came up. They said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding.’ What else can you say about it?”

Here John Mellencamp performs “Small Town” at Farm Aid III held on September 19, 1987 in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp founded Farm Aid in 1985 and serve on the board of directors. The three agreed that family farmers were in dire need of assistance and decided to plan a concert for America. Farm Aid III was held in Lincoln, Nebraska at Memorial Stadium. Artists including Emmylou Harris, Steppenwolf, Vince Gill, Lyle Lovett, John Denver, Lou Reed, Joe Walsh, and many more performed).

 

And here’s a few of his earlier songs: “The singles were stupid little pop songs,” Mellencamp told Record Magazine in 1983:

Ain’t Even Done with the Night – One of Mellencamp’s earliest of hit songs, from the 1981 album Nothin’ Matters and What If It Did. It was his fourth studio album, under his pseudonym of John Cougar. It includes the moderate hits “Ain’t Even Done with the Night,” which reached #17 on the Billboard Hot 100 as the album’s second single.

Here’s a live performance of Ain’t Even Done with the Night in 1981, with some odd costuming, in my opinion:

 

This Time – “This Time” is the lead single, also from the 1981 album Nothin’ Matters and What If It Did. The song peaked at #27 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The woman on the album’s cover and in the music video for “This Time” is actress Edith Massey, a member of the Dreamlanders troupe who often appeared in the films of John Waters. Massey was chosen because, as Mellencamp told Rolling Stone in late 1980, “I was looking for a typical heavy woman to convey a lower-middle-class way of living.”

 

A decade later, this next song is a powerful social commentary from Mellencamp’s 1991 album Whenever We Wanted. This, his 11th album, is the first to be credited simply to Mellencamp’s given name (i.e., without the “Cougar” name).

The album includes the hits “Get A Leg Up” (#1 for three weeks on the Album Rock Tracks chart), “Now More Than Ever” (#3 on the Album Rock Tracks chart), “Last Chance” (#12 on the Album Rock Tracks chart), and “Again Tonight” (#1 for two weeks on the Album Rock Tracks chart). “Get A Leg Up” (#14) and “Again Tonight’ (#36) also cracked the Billboard Hot 100. (You can see these videos in my full playlist below).

Regarding the styling of the album: After his previous two albums (The Lonesome Jubilee and Big Daddy) featured such non-traditional rock instruments as the accordion and violin, Mellencamp said that on Whenever We Wanted he wanted to put those instruments “back in their cases” and return to a harder-edged sound. Mellencamp further elaborated on the album, saying: “It’s very rock ‘n’ roll. I just wanted to get back to the basics.”

Love and Happiness

 

Finally, here is one of Mellencamp’s newly released songs from his 23rd studio album, Sad Clowns & Hillbillies (released April 28, 2017):

Easy Target – Politically-charged “Easy Target” was dropped (premiered) on the eve of Trump’s inauguration (January 19, 2017) on Yahoo’s The Katie Couric Interview. It is John’s reflection on the state of our country.

Ahead of the performance, John Mellencamp sat down with Yahoo Global News Anchor Katie Couric to discuss the inspiration behind the song, the Trump inauguration, and his views on a divided country. An outspoken artist, Mellencamp continues his journey to convey the truth through this passionate and plain-spoken song.

As for the album’s cover art:

The artwork on the front cover of Sad Clowns & Hillbillies was taken from a 2005 Mellencamp painting called “Twelve Dreams.” This marks the first time since 1991’s Whenever We Wanted that Mellencamp has displayed one of his paintings on an album cover.

Without further ado, here is “Easy Target”:

 

JOHN MELLENCAMP INTERVIEW: CBS SUNDAY MORNING

Mellencamp was interviewed earlier this month by Jane Pauley and aired on CBS Sunday Morning (July 2, 2017). Thanks Alana (Ramblin’ with AM), for the reminder! This is a fantastic interview and gives great insight into John Mellencamp the man. Take a few minutes and check it out:

 

Didn’t get enough? Below is a comprehensive playlist of Mellencamp songs (30 of them, including some of his newest material) that I really enjoy so if you want to listen to a big long block of John Cougar Mellencamp today, here’s your ticket:

 

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