New Songs For 2016

Every year I try to add new music to the collection. Nowadays I rarely listen to the radio (either broadcast or satellite) for inspiration. I tend to research new music by reviewing end of the year “best of” lists. This year I branched a little more than usual, trying songs suggested from a number of sources.

Over the last few years, NPR Music has been my most reliable source. My tastes are diverging from Rolling Stone Magazine’s favorites; their sensibilities seem to be changing into the greater mainstream of popular music. Review sites such as Pitchfork have wildly different criteria for musical evaluation than I do. Virtually no modern popular music on the radio interests me. I am offended by the lack of diction and inferior mixing that make singing so hard to understand, the loss of melody as a musical component, and the reliance on electronics as a substitute for instrumental virtuosity. It all sounds less human to me.

All of which makes the selection of new songs a very interesting aspect of the project. I have no obligation to include any artist, and am perhaps more free than ever to choose based on my my opinion. This is a topic I plan on exploring in detail sometime. New songs must adhere to the same criteria as all others. They should be well appreciated if called up in a random iPod shuffle. Some effort is made to include different sounding or innovative music, though today there isn’t much in terms of unexplored territory. Many songs I choose tend to fill holes in my personal music education. The last few years seem to include songs by female country songwriters, where there is a wealth of talent. Or maybe I’m just going country in my old age. Overall, modern music has seemed to have completely abandoned the uptempo swing of yesteryear.

I have added 58 new songs for 2016. This is a typical number of songs in recent years, a little less than half of the overall average (11,000 songs in about 100 years). Great songs grow on you over the years, so songs are rarely given a high rating to begin with. It is a rather sedate group of songs, by my standards. If a certain song appeals to you, then consider further research into that artist. My list for new songs will always be woefully incomplete; they are educated guesses. My focus is generally on older music.

It was a big year for working on the collection. In August I completed standardizing and verifying all the song data, a tiring grind which led to a mild post-effort depression that took several months to battle out of. I think I’m ready to start back up again, with an outline for a general essay on collecting the music, and a compilation of lists of specific types of songs. Like the greatest songs with hand claps, or best one-hit wonders. Happy New Year to everyone. I’m hoping to keep making progress on this big project.

2016 Songs

Little Movies, Aaron Lee Tasjan
Memphis Rain, Aaron Lee Tasjan ★★★
Real Bad Lookin’, Alex Cameron ★★
Am I Wrong, Anderson Paak ★★
Celebrate, Anderson Paak

Time Moves Slowly, BADBADNOTGOOD ★★
E.V.P., Blood Orange ★★
Three Kids No Husband, Brandy Clark
There Goes My Love, Caleb Klauder & Reeb Willms ★★
Opposite House, Cass McCombs ★★

I Am Not Afraid, Charley Crockett ★★
Irene, Courtney Marie Andrews
Wine And Peanuts, Daniel Bachman ★★
Watermelon Slices On A Blue Bordered Plate, Daniel Bachman ★★
Lazurus, David Bowie

Can’t Think, Dawg Yawp
The Government Road, The Del McCoury Band
Falling To Believe, Doug Tuttle
What It Means, Drive-By Truckers
Lord It Over, Dylan Golden Aycock

Looking Up, Elton John
Someone In The Crowd, La La Land (Soundtrack)
Ivy, Frank Ocean ★★
Nothing More To Say, The Frightnrs
June Too Soon, October All Over, Glenn Jones

Mr. Fool, John Scofield
Christmas Makes Me Cry, Kacey Musgraves
Present Without A Bow, Kacey Musgraves
This Girl, Kungs & Cookin’ On 3 Burners
Diamond Heart, Lady Gaga

Humble & Kind, Lori McKenna ★★
Dust, Lucinda Williams
Bitter Memory, Lucinda Williams
Emotions And Math, Margaret Glaspy
You And I, Margaret Glaspy

Moth Into Flame, Metallica
Vice, Miranda Lambert
Tin Man, Miranda Lambert
Me & Magdalena, The Monkees
Tragedy, Norah Jones

It’s A Wonderful Time For Love, Norah Jones
Pining, Parker Milsap ★★
Human Performance, Parquet Courts
I’ve Got To Use My Imagination, The Rides
Never Come Home, Robbie Fulks ★★

Aunt Peg’s Old Man, Robbie Fulks
Drivin’, Robert Ellis
Weirdo, Sammus
What’s It Gonna Be?, Shura ★★
Bluebird Of Delhi, Slavic Soul Party! ★★

Cranes In The Sky, Solange
Easier Said, Sunflower Bean
Every Time I See A River, Van Morrison
Caledonia Swing, Van Morrison
No Woman, Whitney ★★

The Three Of Me, William Bell
Fly Away, Yola Carter ★★
A Change Of Heart, The 1975

2. Van Morrison

George Ivan “Van” Morrison is a singer/songwriter from Belfast, Northern Ireland. An only child, Morrison’s working class upbringing proved to be ideal for a future musician. His mother was outgoing, and loved to sing and dance at gatherings of friends and family, while his more reserved father was fascinated by American culture, and an avid collector of American country, folk, jazz and blues records. Van received his first guitar when he was eleven, and soon thereafter was participating in local music groups. His broad music tastes prompted him to learn the saxophone and harp, and by the time he finished secondary school, he was working full-time and playing music in Irish showbands.

In April 1964, Morrison answered an advertisement for a harp player for a rhythm and blues band. He showed up at the audition to check out the local talent, although he was already rehearsing with another superior group, who began a short but impressive residency at the Maritime Hotel in Belfast. Soon thereafter this quintet changed their name from The Gamblers to Them. Within a couple weeks they were filling the room beyond capacity. Though shy when not performing, Morrison became a dynamo on stage, singing and jumping and playing his saxophone and harp, and overnight Them became Ireland’s greatest rhythm and blues band. At the time, Belfast was considered a remote outpost of the British Empire, but word of their popularity filtered down to Dick Rowe of Decca Records, who went to see the band in Belfast and then invited them to London for an audition.

Van Morrison (b. 1945), singer, songwriter, guitar, alto saxophone, harmonica

Sir Van Morrison with his daughter Shana Morrison at his knighthood ceremony, February, 2016:

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Big Time Operators

The record business is historically predatory, where naive musicians, eager for popularity, sign record contracts that benefit the company.  Without proper legal representation, the musicians sign away most of their rights to the music, and some companies do their best to keep the musicians poor, hungry, and reliant on continued success. Once the musicians no longer produce popular music, they are ignored or discarded. The next few years of Van Morrison’s professional career were traumatic, as he endured two consecutive bad record contracts, experiences that shaped his public persona and music for decades afterwards.

Them’s recorded output of about fifty songs between 1964 and 1966 has aged well. In hindsight, they belong with the Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers as among the best British rhythm and blues bands. They had a couple of hit songs, though their greatest and most influential song, “Gloria”, was relegated to the B-side of their powerful, uptempo rendition of the blues standard “Baby Please Don’t Go”, considered by many the definitive reading of the song. “Baby Please Don’t Go” b/w “Gloria” has to rank among the greatest singles of all time, and for “Gloria” to go unrecognized as a hit song by Decca executives is, at best, perplexing.

Restless to capitalize on the initial success, band manager Phil Solomon contacted New York pop producer Bert Berns to come to London and work with the band. The collaboration produced a second hit song, the Berns composition “Here Comes The Night”, but more importantly, it signaled the beginning of a short but important partnership between Berns and Morrison. When Them broke apart in the summer of 1966, Morrison accepted Berns’s invitation to come to New York and work for Bang Records as a solo performer.

If anything, the record contract with Bang was even more onerous than the Decca deal.  It gave the company the rights to Morrison’s music for five years, as well as full ownership of the master recordings for all songs.  Even when Morrison had legitimate work expenses, he found it impossible to earn a living wage, as creative accounting methods denied the artist his expenses and earned royalties.  Berns’s association with frightening “associates” discouraged the artist from excessive complaint.  Musically, the brief collaboration with Berns was valuable  — Morrison learned much about music production, plus he created “Brown Eyed Girl”, his first solo hit and still his best known song.  But when Berns died suddenly in late 1967, and Berns’s wife Ilene cited the artist’s combative relationship with her deceased husband as a contributing factor, Morrison was faced with the most harrowing of circumstances.  The unsympathetic widow bound him to his agreed contract, while shadowy criminal figures discouraged Morrison from seeking employment elsewhere.

Rescued By Warner Brothers

Van escaped New York City for Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he performed incognito with a trio for several months.  It was during this time that the songs and sound for Astral Weeks, his first major collection, takes place.

“He makes his way to the stage at the Catacombs, joining Bob Kielbania, who plays upright bass, and flutist John Payne, who is trying for a spot in the tour group.  He gets his guitar tuned, carefully adjusts the mike placement, brows knit, anxious that everything be right.  He begins with ‘Cyprus Avenue’.  He’s so involved with it, so into it, that you have the feeling you’re involved in a very intimate communication with him.  He winces and strains to bring the song up from far within him, producing at times a strangely distant sound that carries a lyric of loss and disillusionment.  He sings with great care, making certain that none of the lyrics, none of the tone and intonation are lost to the audience.  He is a performer beautiful to watch in his absorption.  He has total control over the number and, by now, over most of the audience as well.”

—  Eric Kraft¹

Representatives at Warner Brothers Records caught wind of Morrison’s whereabouts, and wanted to sign him directly to the music label.  But Van was in a real bind.  The existing contractual obligations to Bang Records, not to mention his immigration status, were significant obstacles, as Warner Brothers believed that Ilene Berns would sue any competing label.    First, Morrison married Janet Minto, his longtime American girlfriend, which rectified his immigration status.  Warner then carefully negotiated a settlement with Ilene Berns and Bang Records.  Finally, record executive Joe Smith personally handled the non-public business of extricating Morrison from his contract with the label’s Italian representatives for $20,000 in unmarked cash.¹

Finally, with some stability in his professional life, Morrison moved to upstate New York and began his recording career in earnest.  His first album for Warner Brothers, Astral Weeks, is considered by critics one of the great achievements in rock music, though it’s a stretch to consider it “rock”.  It is an innovative passage of music, long poems, steeped in the memories of his Irish heritage, and accompanied by a sensitive jazz combo led by bassist Richard Davis.  Astral Weeks did not sell well, so there was some pressure to follow up with a marketable product.  Moondance did not disappoint, featuring shorter songs with a pop sensibility, and is also considered a definitive collection of Morrison’s music.  These two records epitomize the breadth of expression that would follow in his long, prolific career; his songs cover a wide range of subjects, sung almost exclusively from a first person perspective.  He often reminisces about days gone by and the simple happiness he found in youth.  Morrison is well read, and uses his knowledge of religion, philosophy and literature to reflect a personal quest to understand life through his music.  He uses big bands, generally six to ten players, with horn sections and the occasional orchestral backing.  Over the years he moved to northern California, and then back to Northern Ireland where he lives today. “Van The Man” has produced thirty four albums of original material, not including several dozen songs released in subsequent collections.  He has been awarded the Order Of The British Empire, and is a member of both the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame and the Songwriters Hall Of Fame.

A short list of musical contributors to Van Morrison’s music:

Jay Berliner (b. 1940), guitar
Richard Davis (b. 1930), double bass
Connie Kay (1927-1994), drums
Jef Labes, keyboards
John Platania, guitar
Jack Schroer (1944-1995), saxophone
David Hayes, bass
Albert “Pee Wee” Ellis (b. 1941), saxophone, arranger
Candy Dulfer (b. 1969), alto saxophone
Georgie Fame (b. 1943), keyboards, vocals

A Love That’s Divine

My serious interest in Van Morrison and his music began in 1989, a landmark year in my life.  I had given up drinking and drugs in 1987, and for the first time in adulthood was in the midst of a long period of uninterrupted sobriety.  I attended self-help meetings that emphasized a belief in a higher power, something I never quite embraced.  I was feeling healthy, doing well at work, and was single and unattached for the first and only time since college.  During the summer of 1989 I met and started dating my wife.  I think it was my work friend Greg Vaughan who piqued my interest in Van Morrison, and suggested the album Avalon Sunset.  I bought the album and listened to it regularly that summer and fall.  I remember discussing “Have I Told You Lately” with Greg, and him suggesting the song was not about romantic love, but rather agape, a divine, universal love.  I’ve always remembered that, and use that as an example of ambiguous lyricism, a favorite trait of good songwriting.

There’s a love that’s divine,
And it’s yours and it’s mine like the sun.
And at the end of the day,
We should give thanks and pray,
To the one, to the one.

(Note: All lyric quotes by Van Morrison unless otherwise noted.)

I started collecting Van Morrison albums in earnest.  Avalon Sunset was rapidly followed by Enlightenment and Hymns To The Silence, all of which contained spiritual songs of varying religiosity.  My general appreciation for spiritual music increased.  I prefer it when the message is conveyed in traditional popular styles such as bluegrass and country music, rather than by a church choir.

Morrison is the only musician who became an all-time favorite midway into his career.  In the case of The Beatles, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Los Lobos, and for a shorter period, David Grisman, I became enamored with their music at first or second listen.  Van The Man’s music was there in the background during the late sixties and early seventies, songs like “Brown Eyed Girl”, “Into The Mystic” and “Jackie Wilson Said” on the San Francisco AM and FM radio stations.  I bought the Wavelength album in 1979, and even went to my first Van Morrison concert at Freeborn Hall in Davis, California, but I can’t remember much about it.  My music collection portrays this gap between Morrison’s popular period and my spiritual “awakening” to his music, with few favorite songs from the mid-seventies through the mid-eighties.  In retrospect, it’s a shame I didn’t know that Morrison lived in Marin County and performed regularly around San Francisco when I was growing up.

Van Morrison And The Fame Game

While preparing to write this profile, I read Clinton Heylin’s excellent biography “Can You Feel The Silence?” for a second time.  It is a comprehensive, and at times unpleasant, look at Van’s career through the turn of the century.  Though Heylin is clearly a fan of the music, he spends an inordinate amount of time psychoanalyzing the introverted Morrison, whose least favorite thing in life is to be analyzed.  And yet, I am compelled to offer a few sympathetic thoughts.

A few years ago, a friend mentioned that I have personality characteristics that suggest Asperger’s Syndrome, or high functioning autism (HFA).  After reading about it and taking a few online tests, I’m convinced this is a good general description of how my mind works.  I score highly on IQ (intelligence) and AQ (autism) tests, and poorly on EQ (empathy) tests.  I’m focused on a few subjects of interest, with limited to no interest in other things.  Historically, I’ve often used drugs and drink to feel happy and ease my mind, and in middle age I struggle with mild paranoia and depression.   I have a harsh sense of right or wrong, with scant gray area between the two.  On the other hand, I can see some things in clearer, less complicated ways than others, and have a powerful memory for facts and numbers.  Knowing I’m a little different, I worry what other people think of me, and I overcompensate, often making the mistake of being too talkative with others.   It’s unlikely a professional would diagnose me with Asperger’s Syndrome, but there are hidden struggles, especially in social situations.

Van Morrison was obsessed with music from an early age.  He has an encyclopedic knowledge of popular music, and is a voracious reader, perhaps in his quest to both understand life and write a great song.  He is a synesthete; he refers to the sounds of his music in terms of “shapes”, much like Bob Dylan assigns colors to music.  In concert, he is a fully engaged perfectionist who listens carefully to his musicians, and expects them to sensitively react to his voice and actions.  And he despises the fame game, from strangers who approach him in public to share stories and wishes, to the tabloid writers who capitalize on the details of his personal life.  And he’s been very forthright and honest about it.

Amazon.com Link to “Can You Feel The Silence?”, by Clinton Heylin

In my life I’ve had two friends who were quite famous.  Earl Anthony was perhaps the greatest professional bowler of all time, and during the seventies he was a highly personable and well spoken celebrity, with millions of adoring fans.  I played golf with Earl once or twice a week for a few years, and got to know him very well.  I had made the decision that I would treat celebrities as ordinary people, and avoid asking questions about their profession.  And this worked great with Earl; he was interested in all sorts of things, from nature to high finance.  After knowing him a while, Earl would share some of his bowling experiences, which of course was immensely fun and enjoyable.

I don’t remember exactly where this story comes from, but the best story about Earl comes from an interaction with a longtime member of our local golf club.  Apparently this member had never heard of Earl, and asked Earl whether he liked to bowl, and Earl answering nonchalantly to a series of questions:

“Do you like to bowl?”
“Yes, I like to bowl.”
“Oh yeah? What’s your highest score?”
“300.”
“Really? No way. So how many times have you rolled a 300?”
“Oh, about 650 times in sanctioned competition.”
“What? No way! Have you ever won a tournament?”
“Yeah, about 150 tournaments worldwide.”
“No way!”

Another friend of mine who is well-known is Tom Doak, who designs golf courses for a living. By comparison he is a minor celebrity, but he is very influential within the golfing community. I became friends with him through an Internet discussion group that discusses golf architecture. He is a recognized authority on the subject, with a photographic memory of thousands of golf holes he studied in his long career. He dropped out of the math program at MIT and transferred to Cornell University for landscape architecture, because he knew he wanted to be a golf architect. His online personality is very funny and outgoing, but in person, he is shy and reserved until he feels comfortable. In normal conversation, Tom tends to steer the conversation to golf courses.  Tom and his band of talented course “shapers” build beautiful and natural looking golf courses, modern works of art.  His approach to golf course construction is similar to Van Morrison’s approach to music.  He allows his artists to improvise within the context of the overall plan.  If he doesn’t like something, he gives general instructions to change the shapes to make it look and play better.

Ballyneal_3Best_printGolfing at Ballyneal — Getting The Shapes Right (Photo by L.C. Lambrecht)

 When my wife was a young woman, she dated a well-known professional football player for a short period of time.  Recently she told me how disruptive his fame was in social situations.  The two of them could not enjoy a restaurant meal without several interruptions from well-meaning fans.  “Oh, sorry to interrupt and I hope you don’t mind, but I’m so-and-so from somewhere, and I wanted to tell you this and that about myself.  Oh, and by the way, could you sign this for me?”

Once Van Morrison is comfortably surrounded by trusted friends, he’s probably a lot like everybody else, happily participating. On some evenings he probably likes talking about music, and the greats of the past. How tough it must be to be famous, spending your whole life dealing with people who want your time, attention and business. A couple years back, my wife volunteered for a local golf tournament raising money for Parkinson’s disease. The great basketball player Bill Russell was there, adding his presence to the list of celebrities. After the golf round, he sat mostly alone, with his back to the after-party. He’s a kind man and a great man, but he doesn’t want to endure small talk and he doesn’t want to explain why. Another friend who once played golf with Mr. Russell said that as soon it was clear everybody was there to play golf, he opened up and was very charming.

Why Must He Always Explain?

Biographer Clinton Heylin takes Morrison to task for excessive complaint in his 1991 double album Hymns To The Silence.

“Hymns To The Silence, his first double album of original songs, devotes almost the entire first volume to whingeing about “Professional Jealousy”; how the singer is ‘not feeling it any more’; the fact that he just wants an ‘Ordinary Life’; and why he can’t find ‘Some Peace Of Mind’…This indulgent exercise culminated in ‘Why Must I Always Explain?’, a song that in four minutes seemed to offer a prima facie case for clinical paranoia…As Steve Turner has written, ‘The irony of “Why Must I Always Explain?” was that the thrust of his songwriting had always been explanation, giving his public detailed information about his problems, hardships, and spiritual adventures.”¹

I like Hymns To The Silence; I listened to Disc 1 dozens of times during those happy days of sobriety and courtship.  Perhaps the difference between me and a professional critic like Mr. Heylin is that he gets completely outside his self and interprets the songs from the author’s perspective.  I listen to the songs and think about how they relate to me.  When Van sings about “Professional Jealousy” it reminds me when other engineers who were promoted ahead of me.  The rollicking “Ordinary Life” always made me think about how much I like a simple, regimented life.  I’m not sure who the ‘Village Idiot’ is, but I can relate to that character.  It’s impossible to deny the personal attack of “Why Must I Always Explain?”, but still I’m looking for how the music relates to me and my life.

“Well I get up in the morning and I get my brief,
I go out and stare at the world in complete disbelief.
It’s not righteous indignation that makes me complain,
It’s the fact that I always have to explain.

The world is so crazy these days; sometimes you just shake your head and wonder what the people with power are thinking.  I can relate.

Van Morrison writes a lot of songs.  There’s something for almost everyone: songs about love and spirituality.  Songs about growing up in Belfast, and songs about getting away from it all and being alone.  For those who like happy-go-lucky novelty songs, there’s not much of that.  Van’s a pretty serious guy.  He’s like Woody Allen — every year or so he goes into the studio with a group of musicians and knocks out another collection of songs.  He records quickly, looking for first impressions and early inspiration from his musicians.  Songs are often completed in one or two takes.  Then he takes his favorites out on tour and refines them.

Seeing Van Morrison Perform In Concert

During our courtship, Cheryl and I saw Van in Berkeley a couple times, then I stopped attending his concerts for a while.  In May, 1994, Morrison released Live In San Francisco, which featured several guest stars and a more soulful sound.  It’s a wonderful record, and I bought Days Like This, the next studio album. But my true Van Morrison epiphany came in September, 1998, the last time he visited Portland, Oregon.  It was a big tour with Bob Dylan, not to mention a thirty minute opening set by Lucinda Williams, who was at the peak of her popularity.  They played at the Rose Garden, the largest venue in town, and not particularly well suited for concerts.  Dylan and Morrison took turns headlining on this tour.  On this evening, Morrison came out second and performed a stunning set of upbeat music, focusing much of his attention on well known songs, perhaps the single greatest performance I’ve ever seen.  Wow songs, one after another.  Poor Bob Dylan had to follow Van that night, and his voice and his live performing abilities are no match for Van The Man’s power.  After a few laconic songs we headed home.

Since then, I’ve made it a point to see Morrison perform every time he travels to the west coast, which usually means a weekend in San Francisco every year or two.  It seems we visit San Francisco as tourists more than I ever did as a longtime Bay Area resident.  I’ve met a few of Morrison’ most devoted fans, who travel from the east coast and even Europe to see him perform, and I’ve be invited to join a private discussion group, which I enjoy very much.  It’s fascinating to read the comments of his longtime fans, and what they liked about each show.  Among the devoted fans of his music, my tastes are pretty conventional.  I have my favorites, which can be figured out by my song ratings.  Many of his longtime fans love to hear the lesser known and rarely played numbers that Van sings and plays on occasion.  Like all of my favorite performers, Morrison’s concert playlists vary from year to year, though several songs remain in the rotation for decades.

In the fall of 2000, I was driving through Austin, Texas with a friend, and stopped at a outdoor record stand to see what they had.  Just looking through the bins I came across a 2-CD collection called Emerald Dreams, a live performance from Dusseldorf, Germany in December, 1998.  I bought it and stuck it in the car CD player, and it quickly became one of my all-time favorites.  It was a similar show to the one I had seen in Portland, essentially the same band with a couple of special guest stars added.  The concert footage from that show is now floating around on YouTube, and two songs from the show are included here.  Over the years I’ve collected a number of concert recordings, and my iPod collection has dozens of these recordings filling out my collection.  These are prized belongings, and among my favorite and most played songs I own.  Since many of these are not readily available, I recommend substituting them with studio recordings or commercially available live albums.

In the grand scheme of 20th century popular music, where does Van Morrison fit?  Rather than the typical comparison to other rock musicians, Morrison should be compared to the great small bandleaders.  As a matter of coincidence, the careers of three men named Louis are quite similar to Morrison: Louis Jordan, Louis Prima and Louis Armstrong.  The three Louis all sing, swing, and play a horn, and they surrounded themselves with musicians with the ability to improvise.  Morrison brings a greater lyrical sophistication, though his songs tend to be a bit less complex musically than pop standards of the twenties and thirties.  The confessional nature of the songs, blurring the lines between romantic and spiritual love, and the repeating mantras of his message wash over the listener in each ninety minute performance, where not a second of time is wasted, and the music flows seamlessly from song to song.  He is my favorite live performer ever, and there’s a sense of urgency to see him again before he retires.

In The Garden

This fall Van Morrison will release “Lit Up Inside”, a book discussing selected lyrics from his lifetime of work.  I’ll be curious to see which lyrics are discussed.  Among the dark horse choices I’m pulling for is “All Work And Play” from the 2002 album Down The Road.  I doubt music scholars, or Van himself, give the bouncy “All Work And No Play” much thought, but sometimes a few simple thoughts does it for me.  It shouldn’t always be deep and profound; that’s not how life goes.  These words evoke a strong image for me.

I’d like to be somewhere else,
Like to be all by myself.
Like to be down at the beach,
Relaxing at the sugar shack.
Hot dogs, coffee black,
Coca Cola, kicking back.

I get most of my spiritual input from music.  Morrison’s shout outs to musicians mean more to me than his references to great authors and poets.  “Real Real Gone” finishes with the following words of wisdom.

Wilson Pickett said, “In the midnight hour,
That’s when my love comes tumbling down.”
Solomon Burke said, “If you need me,
Why don’t you call me.”
James Brown said, “When you’re tired of what you got,
Try me.”
Gene Chandler said, “There’s a rainbow in my soul.”

I enjoy the adaptation of the W.B. Yeats poem “Before The World Was Made”. Both Yeats and poet William Blake were revered for their simplicity. There’s no need to view the world in an overly complicated fashion. We’re human beings, the dominant species on the planet. We’re not separate or special in any regard. We want food and shelter and comfort, and most of us want sex and love, too. My sense of wonder resides in the beauty and diversity of all this life, evolving on Earth for over 500 million years. It is improbable, amazing, and impossibly complicated, the mountains and the oceans, and the fields of grass that turn from green to gold each summer, in the valley where I live.

“If I make the lashes dark,
And the eyes more bright.
And the lips more scarlet,
Or ask if all be right.
From mirror after mirror,
No vanity’s displayed,
I’m looking for the face I had,
Before the world was made.”

— William Butler Yeats

I could have saved Van Morrison years of theosophical longing if he had just asked me, but we would have missed out on a lifetime of lovely thoughts. Despite my atheistic beliefs, I enjoy songs about God and the mysteries of the divine. A hundred years from now, the song most likely to endure as an example of his poetic genius will be “In The Garden”.

“And you went into a trance,
Your childlike vision became so fine.
And we heard the bells inside the church,
We loved so much,
And felt the presence of the youth of
Eternal summers in the garden.

And as it touched your cheeks so lightly,
Born again you were and blushed,
And we touched each other lightly,
And we felt the presence of the Christ,
Within our hearts,
In the garden.

And I turned to you and I said,
No guru, no method, no teacher,
Just you and I and nature,
And the father in the garden.

No guru, no method, no teacher,
Just you and I and nature,
And the Father and the Son,
and the Holy Ghost,
In the garden, wet with rain.”

Van Morrison Song Notes:

1.  “Precious Time” is regularly featured in concert performances since its debut on Back On Top.  I have never heard a satisfactory live performance of this song.  It is the rare Morrison song where the studio version is clearly superior, thanks to Pee Wee Ellis’s fine closing solo.

2.  My college sweetheart was named Andrea.  She was about five foot four, from the head to the ground.  And her name is A…

3.  Van Morrison is sometimes criticized for a lack of facility as a guitar and saxophone player.  Although he is not a virtuoso player of either instrument, I enjoy his guitar and sax solos a great deal, and consider that an integral part of his musicianship.

Van Morrison Songs:

The Story Of Them Featuring Van Morrison

Gloria, Them ★★★★★
Philosophy, Them
One Two Brown Eyes, Them
Baby Please Don’t Go, Them ★★★★
Here Comes The Night, Them ★★
Mystic Eyes, Them ★★★
I Like It Like That, Them
I’m Gonna Dress In Black (Alt), Them
Little Girl (Alt), Them
Turn On Your Love Light, Them
I Put A Spell On You, Them
It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue, Them ★★★
Hey Girl, Them
Friday’s Child, Them
Richard Cory (Alt), Them ★★

Blowin’ Your Mind

Brown Eyed Girl, Van Morrison ★★★
T.B. Sheets, Van Morrison

Astral Weeks

Astral Weeks, Van Morrison ★★
Cyprus Avenue, Van Morrison ★★
The Way Young Lovers Do, Van Morrison
Madame George, Van Morrison ★★★
Ballerina, Van Morrison ★★
Sweet Thing, Van Morrison ★★★
Slim Slow Slider, Van Morrison ★★

Moondance (2013 Deluxe Edition)

And It Stoned Me, Van Morrison ★★
Moondance, Van Morrison ★★★★
Crazy Love, Van Morrison ★★★
Caravan, Van Morrison ★★★★
Into The Mystic, Van Morrison ★★★★
Come Running, Van Morrison ★★
These Dreams Of You, Van Morrison ★★★
Everyone, Van Morrison
Glad Tidings, Van Morrison

Into The Mystic (Take 11), Van Morrison ★★★
Moondance (Take 22), Van Morrison
Glad Tidings (Alt), Van Morrison
These Dreams Of You (Alt), Van Morrison ★★
Caravan (Mono), Van Morrison ★★
I Shall Sing (Mono), Van Morrison

His Band And The Street Choir

Domino, Van Morrison ★★★

Tupelo Honey (Remastered)

Tupelo Honey, Van Morrison ★★★★
I Wanna Roo You (Scottish Derivative), Van Morrison
Wild Night, Van Morrison ★★★
Wild Night (Alt), Van Morrison ★★

Friday’s Child: Live At the Pacific High Studios

Into The Mystic (Live), Van Morrison ★★
I’ve Been Working (Live), Van Morrison ★★
Ballerina (Live), Van Morrison
Tupelo Honey (Live), Van Morrison ★★
Wild Night (Live), Van Morrison ★★
Just Like A Woman (Live), Van Morrison ★★★★
These Dreams Of You (Live), Van Morrison ★★
Domino (Live), Van Morrison

Saint Dominic’s Preview

Jackie Wilson Said (I’m In Heaven When You Smile), Van Morrison ★★★★
I Will Be There, Van Morrison
Listen To The Lion, Van Morrison
Saint Dominic’s Preview, Van Morrison

Hard Nose The Highway

Warm Love, Van Morrison ★★

It’s Too Late To Stop Now

Ain’t Nothing You Can Do (Live), Van Morrison ★★
Cyprus Avenue (Live), Van Morrison

Veedon Fleece

Fair Play, Van Morrison ★★
Who Was That Masked Man, Van Morrison
You Don’t Pull No Punches, But You Don’t Push The River, Van Morrison
Bulbs, Van Morrison

Wavelength

Kingdom Hall, Van Morrison
Natalia, Van Morrison ★★
Wavelength, Van Morrison

Into The Music

Bright Side Of The Road, Van Morrison ★★★★
And The Healing Has Begun, Van Morrison
It’s All In The Game, Van Morrison ★★

Beautiful Vision

Beautiful Vision, Van Morrison
Cleaning Windows, Van Morrison ★★★

Inarticulate Speech Of The Heart

Celtic Swing, Van Morrison
Rave On, John Donne, Van Morrison

A Sense Of Wonder

Tore Down A La Rimbaud, Van Morrison

No Guru, No Method, No Teacher

Foreign Window, Van Morrison ★★
A Town Called Paradise, Van Morrison
In The Garden, Van Morrison ★★★★★
One Irish Rover, Van Morrison ★★

Rave On (Glastonbury, England, June 1987)

Foreign Window (Live), Van Morrison
It’s All In The Game (Live), Van Morrison

Poetic Champions Compose

I Forgot That Love Existed, Van Morrison ★★
Queen Of The Slipstream, Van Morrison
Someone Like You, Van Morrison ★★★
Alan Watts Blues, Van Morrison ★★★
Allow Me, Van Morrison
Did Ye Get Healed?, Van Morrison ★★

Irish Heartbeat

Irish Heartbeat, Van Morrison & The Chieftains
Marie’s Wedding, Van Morrison & the Chieftains

Avalon Sunset

Whenever God Shines His Light, Van Morrison ★★
Coney Island, Van Morrison ★★
Have I Told You Lately, Van Morrison ★★★
When Will I Ever Learn To Live In God, Van Morrison
Orangefield, Van Morrison

Enlightenment

Real Real Gone, Van Morrison ★★★
Enlightenment, Van Morrison ★★
So Quiet In Here, Van Morrison
See Me Through, Van Morrison
Youth Of 1,000 Summers, Van Morrison
In The Days Before Rock ‘n’ Roll, Van Morrison

Bang Masters

Brown Eyed Girl (Alt), Van Morrison ★★

Hymns To The Silence

Professional Jealousy, Van Morrison ★★
I’m Not Feeling It Anymore, Van Morrison ★★
Ordinary Life, Van Morrison ★★
So Complicated, Van Morrison
Why Must I Always Explain?, Van Morrison ★★★
Village Idiot, Van Morrison ★★
See Me Through Part II (Just A Closer Walk With Thee), Van Morrison ★★
By His Grace, Van Morrison
All Saints Day, Van Morrison ★★
On Hyndford Street, Van Morrison
Be Thou My Vision, Van Morrison ★★
Green Mansions, Van Morrison
Pagan Streams, Van Morrison
Carrying A Torch, Van Morrison

Too Long In Exile

Big Time Operators, Van Morrison
Lonely Avenue, Van Morrison ★★
Gloria, Van Morrison
Moody’s Mood For Love, Van Morrison ★★
Before The World Was Made, Van Morrison ★★★

A Night In San Francisco

Did Ye Get Healed? (Live), Van Morrison
I’ve Been Working (Live), Van Morrison
Beautiful Vision (Live), Van Morrison
I’ll Take Care Of You/It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s Man’s World (Live), Van Morrison ★★★

Days Like This

Raincheck, Van Morrison ★★★
Days Like This, Van Morrison ★★★
Ancient Highway, Van Morrison
In The Afternoon, Van Morrison ★★

How Long Has This Been Going On

Who Can I Turn To?, Van Morrison with Georgie Fame
Sack O’ Woe, Van Morrison with Georgie Fame ★★

The Healing Game

Rough God Goes Riding, Van Morrison ★★
Fire In The Belly, Van Morrison ★★
Sometimes We Cry, Van Morrison

The Philosopher’s Stone

Naked In The Jungle, Van Morrison ★★
Drumshanbo Hustle, Van Morrison
Flamingoes Fly, Van Morrison
Street Theory, Van Morrison

I Like Candy – 1998 Christmas Special

Chicken (Live), Van Morrison
Jackie Wilson Said (I’m In Heaven When You Smile), Van Morrison ★★★★★
These Dreams Of You (Live), Van Morrison ★★★
Raincheck (Live), Van Morrison ★★
Moondance/My Funny Valentine (Live), Van Morrison ★★
Rough God Goes Riding (Live), Van Morrison ★★
Give Me A Kiss (Live), Van Morrison
That’s Life (Live), Van Morrison
In The Afternoon (Live), Van Morrison ★★★★
Satisfied (Live), Van Morrison
Summertime In England (Live), Van Morrison ★★
See Me Through/Soldier Of Fortune/Thank You Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again/Burning Ground (Live), Van Morrison

Back On Top

Philosopher’s Stone, Van Morrison ★★
In The Midnight, Van Morrison ★★★
Back On Top, Van Morrison ★★★
When The Leaves Come Falling Down, Van Morrison ★★★
Precious Time, Van Morrison ★★★

Norwegian Wood Festival (Oslo, Norway, Jun 2000)

Days Like This (Live), Van Morrison ★★★
Vanlose Stairway/Trans-Euro Train (Live), Van Morrison ★★
It’s All In The Game (Live), Van Morrison ★★

Think Twice Before You Go (Basel, Switzerland, December 2000)

Think Twice Before You Go (Live), Van Morrison
Fire In The Belly (Live), Van Morrison
Domino (Live), Van Morrison ★★
Moondance (Live), Van Morrison ★★★
Brown Eyed Girl (Live), Van Morrison ★★★
Bright Side Of The Road (Live), Van Morrison ★★★★
Help Me (Live), Van Morrison ★★

Down The Road

Meet Me In The Indian Summer, Van Morrison ★★
Steal My Heart Away, Van Morrison
Choppin’ Wood, Van Morrison
All Work And No Play, Van Morrison ★★★
What Happened To PJ Proby?, Van Morrison
The Beauty Of The Days Gone By, Van Morrison

Meet Me In… (Tempodrom, Berlin, June 2002)

Whining Boy Moan (Live), Van Morrison ★★★
Days Like This (Live), Van Morrison
Did Ye Get Healed? (Live), Van Morrison ★★
Naked In The Jungle (Live), Van Morrison ★★★
In The Midnight (Live), Van Morrison ★★★★★
Hey Mr. DJ (Live), Van Morrison
Meet Me In The Indian Summer (Live), Van Morrison
Sometimes We Cry (Live), Van Morrison
Early In The Morning (Live), Van Morrison

Perugia, July 2003

When You’re Smiling (Live), Van Morrison ★★

What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Evening In June, Van Morrison
Meaning Of Loneliness, Van Morrison ★★
Stop Drinking, Van Morrison
Once In A Blue Moon, Van Morrison
St. James Infirmary, Van Morrison ★★

Nights In November (Germany, November 2003)

I Will Be There (Live), Van Morrison
Once In A Blue Moon (Live), Van Morrison ★★
In The Midnight (Live), Van Morrison ★★★
I Like It Like That/Kansas City (Live), Van Morrison
Back On Top (Live), Van Morrison ★★★
Philosopher’s Stone (Live), Van Morrison ★★
And The Healing Has Begun (Live), Van Morrison ★★★
Gloria (Live), Van Morrison ★★★
Whining Boy Moan (Live), Van Morrison ★★
Little Village (Live), Van Morrison ★★★
Have I Told You Lately (Las Vegas) (Live), Van Morrison ★★★★
Goldfish Bowl (Live), Van Morrison
It’s All In The Game/You Know What They’re Writing About (Live), Van Morrison ★★★★

Live In Toronto (September 2004)

All Work And No Play (Live), Van Morrison ★★★

Magic Time

Stranded, Van Morrison ★★
Celtic New Year, Van Morrison ★★
Keep Mediocrity At Bay, Van Morrison
The Lion This Time, Van Morrison
Magic Time, Van Morrison
They Sold Me Out, Van Morrison

Live At Austin City Limits

Bright Side Of The Road (Live), Van Morrison ★★★
I Can’t Stop Loving You (Live), Van Morrison ★★

Keep It Simple

Keep It Simple, Van Morrison
Behind The Ritual, Van Morrison
End Of The Land, Van Morrison

Astral Weeks: Live A The Hollywood Bowl

Sweet Thing (Live), Van Morrison ★★

Born To Sing: No Plan B

Born To Sing, Van Morrison
If In Money We Trust, Van Morrison
Pagan Heart, Van Morrison

Miscellaneous YouTube Video Recordings

Celtic New Year (Live), Van Morrison ★★★
I’m Not Feeling It Anymore (LIve), Van Morrison ★★★★
Just Like A Woman (Live), Van Morrison ★★
Precious Time (Live), Van Morrison ★★

Related Songs:

Gloria, The Doors
Gloria, U2

Baby Please Don’t Go, The Amboy Dukes
Baby Please Don’t Go (Live), Lightnin’ Hopkins ★★★
Don’t Go Baby, John Lee Hooker ★★

Turn On Your Love Light, Bobby “Blue” Bland ★★★★
Turn On Your Love Light (Live), Grateful Dead

I Put A Spell On You, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins ★★★★
I Put A Spell On You, Nina Simone ★★
I Put A Spell On You, Creedence Clearwater Revival ★★★★

Richard Cory, Simon & Garfunkel

Ain’t Nothing You Can Do, Bobby “Blue” Bland ★★★★

It’s All In The Game, Tommy Edwards ★★

Lonely Avenue, Ray Charles ★★★★

Moody’s Mood For Love, King Pleasure ★★★

I’ll Take Care Of You, Bobby “Blue” Bland ★★★★

It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World, James Brown ★★★
It;s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World – Lost Someone (Live), James Brown ★★
It’s A Man’s World, James Brown ★★★★

Sack O’ Woe, The Mar-Keys ★★
Sack O’ Woe, Manfred Mann

My Funny Valentine, Chet Baker ★★★★
My Funny Valentine, Artie Shaw & His Gramercy 5 ★★
My Funny Valentine, Elvis Costello ★★
My Funny Valentine, The Gerry Mulligan Quartet & Chet Baker
My Funny Valentine, Miles Davis ★★

That’s Life, Frank Sinatra ★★★
That’s Life (Live), James Brown ★★★★

Help Me, Sonny Boy Williamson ★★★★
Help Me, Charlie Musselwhite ★★

Early In The Morning, Sonny Boy Williamson
Early In The Morning (Live), Eric Clapton

When You’re Smiling/The Shiek Of Araby, Louis Prima ★★★
When You’re Smiling, Billie Holiday ★★★★

I Can’t Stop Loving You, Don Gibson ★★★
I Can’t Stop Loving You, Ray Charles ★★★

Just Like A Woman, Bob Dylan ★★★★★
Just Like A Woman (Live), Bob Dylan ★★★

 

¹  Excerpts from “Can You Feel The Silence?”, by Clinton Heylin

4. Los Lobos

Los Lobos is just another band from East Los Angeles, California. The original quartet all attended the same high school; Louie Pérez and David Hidalgo were in the same graduating class at Garfield High School, and bonded over a mutual interest in lesser known musical artists such as Ry Cooder and Randy Newman. Conrad Lozano and Cesar Rosas were already a year or two out of school, and playing in local bands. Like most aspiring young American musicians, they listened to the diverse sounds of the late sixties and early seventies, perhaps the peak era for creativity and growth for guitar-based popular music. British greats The Rolling Stones and The Beatles, soul musicians James Brown and Sly & The Family Stone, and guitar virtuosos Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix were among the influential artists of the era. For young men growing up in the Chicano neighborhoods of East Los Angeles, local stars Ritchie Valens and Thee Midniters served as inspiration, in a town with a rich musical heritage. Though they played modern music in their own bands, the four young men who would become Los Lobos forged their long partnership by learning traditional Mexican folk music together.

los-lobos

Conrad Lozano (b. 1951), bass, guitarron, vocals
David K. Hidalgo (b. 1954), guitar, accordion, vocals, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist
Cesar Rosas (b. 1954), guitar, bajo sexto, vocals, songwriter
Steve Berlin (b. 1955), saxophone, keyboards
Louis Pérez (b. 1953), guitar, jarana, percussion, vocals, songwriter

Three drummers who have contributed to the band are:

Enrique “Bugs” Gonzalez, drums, percussion
Cougar Estrada, drums, percussion
Victor Bisetti, drums, percussion

Los Lobos on Wikipedia
Official Los Lobos Website
Los Lobos Tour Dates & Setlists 1983-Present (Unofficial)

The band spent many hours at Cesar’s house, listening to his mother’s record collection for study, and learning the intricacies of this complex music. The band began to perform at local social functions in 1973:

After lots of living room rehearsals they played at that Florence tardeada/tamalada. The response was amazing and overwhelming for both the audience and the guys. Here were five hippie-looking Chicanos playing for an audience that ranged from teenagers to gray-haired abuelitas. The grandmothers were amazed. Tears welled up in their eyes to hear the music of their heart being played by these youngsters. It was a sign that the musical legacy of Mexico would be perpetuated, albeit with a new, creative, universally appealing twist. Dave recalls, “At that point, we knew we had hit on something.”¹

In its early inception, the fifth band member was Francisco Gonzalez, a gifted harp and mandolin player. In this 1975 documentary video, Gonzalez has a dominant role as lead singer and band spokesperson. The highlights are the introduction, where Gonzalez explains the band’s motivation for learning the traditional songs, and the performance of “Sabor A Mí” at about 10:30 into the documentary.

Small “p” Politics

In 1976, Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles was recruited to provide the music for Sí Se Puede, a charity album for the United Farm Workers of America. In 1978, they produced their eponymous first album, which sold a limited number of copies. By then, Francisco Gonzalez had left the group. In the future, he would serve as the musical director for El Teatro Campesino, a theatrical troupe that served as the cultural arm of the United Farm Workers, and a teacher of son jarocho, a musical style from the Mexican state of Veracruz.

Little has been written about Los Lobos; to date, no comprehensive biography exists. However, the band’s role in the growing Chicano movement of the sixties and seventies was analyzed in Stevan Cesar Azcona’s book Movements in Chicano Music: Performing Culture, Performing Politics, 1965-1979. Azcona concludes that Los Lobos, who spoke English as a first language, wore beards, and dressed in American working clothes for gigs, used musical excellence rather than overt protest as a political statement:

I submit that it was the particular musicality of the Lobos, within the traditional styles of son and huapango, which excited audiences. The technical musical proficiency of the group as instrumentalists, coupled with the improvisational aspect of the son jarocho, in the words of Loza, “affected not only the performance of the son jarocho, but also the manner in which it was heard and evaluated by Chicanos.”²

The Lobos Go West (Of The River)

Los Lobos spent several years performing folk music in East Los Angeles and surrounding cities. But they hadn’t lost interest in electric guitars and rocking music. Pop music had experienced a period of relative stagnation, but the late seventies brought a wave of new bands reverting to simpler forms of rock and roll music, with shorter songs and often rudimentary musicianship. Some bands displayed their societal disaffection with anger and violent behavior. The punk rock movement was growing, and Los Angeles was a hotbed for this new direction in pop music.

The band experimented with electrified instruments at gigs, and took note of the burgeoning punk scene in Hollywood and Los Angeles. They attended concerts and befriended members of the local bands The Plugz and The Blasters. The quartet reorganized for electric music, with Louie Pérez moving to drums and Dave Hidalgo learning accordion in addition to his guitar expertise. They developed a new repertoire of music, Tex-Mex polkas and straight ahead rock and roll songs, while maintaining their Mexican-American roots and sensibilities. In January, 1981, they received their “big break” opening for The Blasters at the Whisky-A-Go-Go in Hollywood. They became a fixture on the punk rock scene, and eventually signed a contract with Slash Records, a subsidiary of Warner Brothers. In 1983, they released …and a Time to Dance, their first major label record. The short, seven song EP sold modestly, but enabled the band to begin touring nationally to develop a larger audience.

Here is the band performing in 1984, the subject of its second short documentary in a decade. Steve Berlin, who previously played saxophone in the Blasters, has been added to complete the quintet which has remained intact for thirty years.

Who Is That?

For the first seven years after college, I lived in an old apartment in East Palo Alto, on Woodland Avenue just across San Francisquito Creek from Palo Alto proper. It was a third story apartment with a balcony, and you entered from a central hallway. My next door neighbor Keith and I worked for the same company, and we became loingtime friends after spending three years living across from one another. For a year or so, Keith had a roommate, Mike Murphy, who would come home periodically with a few record albums. One evening, with the doors open between the apartments, Mike played some music which got my attention immediately. It was either “Serenata Norteña” or “Evangeline”.

“Mike, what is that?”, I demanded.
“That’s Los Lobos. You’ve never heard Los Lobos before?”
“No.”

And that was that; I went in to their room, listened carefully for the next 10-15 minutes, and have been in love with the band ever since. I bought a copy of their new album, How Will The Wolf Survive?, plus their first EP as soon as I could find it. I went to my first Los Lobos concert with Mike Murphy later that year, at the old Keystone in south Palo Alto. Thanks to the Internet, the date must have been June 1st, 1985. We were in the middle of the small, packed dance floor bouncing around, just a few feet from the band. I remember the impassive look on Dave Hidalgo’s face as the audience reveled. I also remember Murphy being appalled when I spent something like twenty bucks for a six pack of Michelob beer, only to give four of the beers away when I returned to the fray.

Since then I’ve seen the band perhaps fifteen to twenty times. They always perform at a high level, but like every band some concerts are better than others. At a San Jose Cinco De Mayo celebration in 1990, salsa great Willie Colón opened for Los Lobos and played for three hours, in what appeared to be an act of sour grapes for not headlining. Later that year, we took Cheryl’s youngest daughter to her first rock concert, at the Paul Masson Winery in Saratoga. One of the great concerts was in May 2004, at the tiny Catalyst club in downtown Santa Cruz. It was right after they released their album The Ride to commemorate thirty years together as a band. I drove down from Portland, listening to The Ride a couple times to familiarize myself with the new songs. My old neighbor Keith joined me for dinner and the concert. By then the band had added a dedicated percussionist, with Louie Pérez moving back to the front of the stage as a third guitarist. It was loud in there, and we were blazed, and the songs from the new album came alive. Then there was a 2010 concert at an old theater in Ventura, California with an old college friend which didn’t go well. The acoustics were awful, and before the concert started I witnessed this great big guy lift a much smaller man up by his neck and hold him helplessly against the wall for a good thirty seconds before letting him go. It’s scary to see violence like that close up. Finally, in July of 2011 my wife and I saw Los Lobos at the Portland Zoo. There wasn’t any room to sit down when we got there, so we opted to stand right in front of the stage. The band was on and sounding great. In the middle of the concert, a very tall, athletic woman and her boyfriend moved up to the little dance area, right in front of Cheryl, not only obscuring her view, but also occasionally bumping into her while we all danced in place. She was really pissed. For a moment I thought they were going to go! That girl was big and strong; I don’t know if that would have been a good idea.

America’s Greatest Band

With about one hundred and sixty songs, Los Lobos retains their position as having the third most songs in my music collection. They remain in my top five with four titans of popular music. What an interesting subject to write about! Evaluating bands quantitatively, by the number and quality of songs, makes perfect sense to me. I don’t understand how some bands with just a few good songs receive the type of recognition that has eluded Los Lobos. So why do I love Los Lobos so much?

On the “Introduction” page of the blog I have a list of general criteria for evaluating music. I wrote a rough draft six years ago, and the review of Los Lobos prompted me to take a second look at this section. The Introduction page has been edited and updated.

A. Clear, Understandable Singing: Call me old fashioned, but I like the style of singing where the lyrics can be easily understood. I like plain, controlled singers, and don’t care for singers who sustain notes unnecessarily. Overly emotive singing has the opposite effect; songs lose their emotional impact. Frank Sinatra and Ray Charles are examples of good singers who don’t wail and sing effectively.

B. Musical Virtuosity: Perhaps more than anything I admire skillful musicianship. Though I lack a formal musical education, I’ve listened for a long time, and believe I can tell who can play. Skillful musicians often play with restraint; it’s not always about being the center of attention. Great musicians and great bands play fast or slow, in different keys and different rhythms, and use their instruments to convey a variety of emotions.

C. Swing It and Move Me: Even as simple as bobbing your head back and forth, music that moves the body is the greatest kind. Dance is the timeless mating ritual, where two people express themselves physically. Some songs are too fast or slow for dance; at any speed I’m looking for songs that move the mind.

D. Different Rhythms, Different Sounds: In recent years, popular music seems to have strayed from the use of complex, danceable rhythms, choosing to play it safe with a 4/4 tempo with the emphasis on the 2nd and 4th beat. This would limit both the creativity of the dance, and the musician’s ability to improvise. My music collection should offer good examples of both traditional and non-traditional music rhythms.

Variety is everything. There should be a grand variety of instruments and sounds, and the recognized masters of the common popular instruments shall be included.

E. The Lyrics and The Story: Defining great lyrics is hard, and may require repeat listenings before they make an impact. More than half of my collection features songs about love, sex, and the concepts of home and God. Since I like “moving” songs, I also have many songs that remind me of trains, or driving along in an automobile. I tend to like simple, direct lyrics, and often tire of deciphering dense, complex subjects. On the other hand, ambiguous lyrics that can be interpreted differently by two people are special. As are catchy songs with unique subjects. I recently added a song called “Plea From A Cat Name Virtute”, sung from the standpoint of the cat trying to cheer up its owner. There are infinite possibilities for a good song.

What constitutes good lyrics is personal, though there are consensus favorites. The lyrics should fit to the melody and the cadence. How the singer emphasizes the syllables is essential. Bob Dylan is a master of punctuating his lyrics. Dylan is also the rare author who tells a long story well. Overly abstract lyrics, and nonsensical lyrics chosen for their sound rather than their meaning, have limited value. As always, there are exceptions. “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” is rather abstract and nonsensical, but it evokes dreamy imagery well, of plasticine porters with looking glass ties.

F. Exceptions To The Rule: There are exceptions to the rule, good songs about nothing in particular, good songs where the singing is unclear, or the music is crude and amateurish. Once again, variety is the key.

G. Perfect Sounding Music is a No-No: I dislike overproduced music, where every human imperfection is filtered out of the final product. There are few exceptions, as it dehumanizes the music. I have a tough time enjoying modern popular music, though part of the problem is the well established repertoire developed over fifty plus years. In contrast, accomplished musicians can take a loosely rehearsed concept and create something spontaneous and beautiful with limited preparation. Many great jazz and pop songs were completed in just a couple of takes.

H. Variety Within an Artist’s Career Almost without exception, the greatest bands and musicians evolve, and have distinctive stages of their careers. The Beatles are still the gold standard in this regard, from their beginnings as a rock and roll quartet singing overt love songs, to a mature phase, writing songs on a variety of subjects, and incorporating the instruments and studio sound effects deemed best to achieve the desired result.

I. Originality: The first musicians to introduce a new style of music, and the best practitioners of that style, are considered valuable traits. I study traditional forms of popular music, including some that originated in foreign countries. Less attention is paid to recent musical trends, after the demarcations between musical styles started to blur. Even the roots of rap music, a genre I listen to infrequently, can be found in the dub poetry of men like Linton Kwesi Johnson, or the socio-political rants of Gil Scott-Heron.

A songwriter’s original version of a song tends to be the highest rated and most coveted interpretation.

J. Short Songs Are Best: When I first started listening to music, most popular songs were brief, often with a short instrumental break between the second and third verse. Beatles and other pop music songs were two to three minutes long. Before the development of long playing records, and the advanced recording techniques of the late forties and early fifties, musicians were limited to about three and a half minutes per song, the outside limit for recording on 78 rpm records. By the late fifties, jazz musicians were creating longer songs with well developed improvisations, and eventually all musicians followed suit. I tend to like short songs better; longer songs, and especially longer improvisational passages, must conform to a higher standard, as it more difficult to maintain the listener’s interest. Ten minute songs are a rarity, about one percent of the collection, and multiple improvisational pieces by a single artist are the exception rather than the rule.

Analysis of Los Lobos Music

Los Lobos is unique among American bands. They began their professional career playing Mexican music, even though they spoke English as a first language. The folk music they perform is complex; they became accomplished musicians at a young age. Los Lobos evolved from Veracruz folk songs to Tex-Mex polkas, on by the mid-eighties had incorporated elements of both rock & roll and country & western music.

A representative song from this era is “A Matter Of Time”. The story of a man searching for work while his family waits at home is revisited in future songs.

The band’s songwriters tend to not make sweeping statements. Even when composing the rare anthem, the small town reality of life’s struggle remains.

A young girl tosses a coin in the wishing well,
She hopes for a Heaven while for her there’s just this Hell.
She gave away her life, to become somebody’s wife,
Another wish unanswered in America.

People having so much faith,
Die too soon while all the rest come late,
We write a song that no one sings,
On a cold black stone where a lasting peace will finally bring.

A wise man was telling stories to me,
About the places he had been to,
And the things that he had seen.
A quiet voice is singing something to me,
An age old song ’bout the home of the brave,
And this land here of the free,
One time, one night in America.

— David Hidalgo/Louie Pérez

The La Bamba Conundrum

In the early days, Los Lobos featured three Ritchie Valens songs in their live repertoire. While performing in Santa Cruz, California, the Valens family approached the band, and asked them to provide the music for a proposed movie about the young star who died tragically in the same accident which claimed Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper. The band was honored to do so, and provided the music for La Bamba, which became a surprise summer hit in 1987. After toiling in relative anonymity for fifteen years, the remake of the song “La Bamba” became a #1 hit.

This created a dilemma for the band, who created three solid albums of original material to limited national exposure and success. The next few years were difficult, as they struggled to establish their own methods of operation. Rather than attempt to capitalize on “La Bamba”, the band reverted to its roots and released La Pistola y El Corazón, a second album of Mexican folk songs. The Neighborhood followed two years later, which was a good rock record, with well crafted songs and performances, but a frustrating experience for the band, who spent months poring over the tiny details. They went back to the drawing board to find a better way to do business.

“So all we could do at that point was basically entertain ourselves and make the kind of music we wanted to make, and use the instruments we wanted to use, and just completely ignore everything and everybody. And that’s more or less the vibe we went into Kiko with. It was like, ‘Nobody’s gonna tell us shit.'”³

— Steve Berlin

“The core of the song was there. The band would listen to it and the run to our instruments. We’d capture that first impression and a lot of times it would be the run-through of the track, but it had a feel to it — I don’t know, it was something we’d never had before…I realized why I loved Jimmy Reed so much, or Howlin’ Wolf, because that was the way they did records. Nobody knew the songs; they came and did them in one or two takes, ’cause they weren’t gonna waste their time thinking, and they had to move on to the next song. So that’s why they’re so fresh.”³

— David Hidalgo

In 1992, Los Lobos released Kiko, a quantum leap forward in songwriting and musical diversity. Solos are kept to a minimum on these song templates, with plenty of room for improvisational exploration in concert. While still grounded in day-to-day life, there’s an element of psychedelic mysticism from deep within the southwestern United States. Kiko is a great record.

As an eagle soars,
Our spirits fly,
To our gentle rest,
Under loving sky.
Oh sacred night,
On quetzal plumes,
Of dying suns,
And purple moons.
Oh sacred night.

— “Wake Up Dolores”, Hidalgo/Pérez

By the early nineties, the band was augmenting both their studio and live music with additional percussionists. This allowed Pérez to move forward as a third guitarist and occasional singer. In concert, Pérez still plays drums for short periods, especially when they perform the old songs. Here are three songs from Kiko:

“Angels With Dirty Faces”

“That Train Don’t Stop Here”

“Kiko And The Lavender Moon”

Having reached a mature phase of their career, Los Lobos continues to produce new music and tour the world. They have a devoted following, but they receive little national publicity. That they only command small to medium size venues is a bonus for true fans, who get to see the band up close and hear their music in a relatively quiet environment. Their new approach to studio recording resulted in greater productivity. They’ve made twelve albums since Kiko, including three live performances and two children’s records. Of these, my favorites are The Ride (2004) with a number of cameo appearances, and The Town And The City (2006), a loose concept album about Los Angeles, which conveys a tired sense of sadness and concern for their hometown.

Cesar Rosas has evolved as a songwriter. From writing bluesy, “greasier” songs in English, many of Cesar’s best songs are now written in Spanish, and incorporate traditional Caribbean rhythms. “Marciela” from Colossal Head is a crowd favorite.

The Beatles used a variety of studio tricks and tape loops to create their iconic songs from Revolver and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. A testament to Los Lobos musicianship is their ability to recreate the mood of “Tomorrow Never Knows”:

Dear Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame

Music is very personal, and each person can only hear a small subset of new music. When I was young, there were fewer performers and fewer bands, and the world focused its attention on a few talented artists. By the early seventies, artists like the Beatles, and Charlie Parke, and Sun Ra, had challenged the boundaries of popular music. Since then, the number of gifted musicians has grown, but the frontiers for innovation are more limited. Among post-seventies bands who played traditional dance music, Los Lobos is a rare innovator who incorporated a unique traditional style into their music. Los Lobos plays music of astonishing breadth; no other American band can lay claim to such a wide variety of styles and rhythms. Their songs are grounded in their reality; they do not attempt to make grand, vague statements outside their sphere. To the best of my knowledge, they have never cursed on record or in concert. They sing their songs plainly, and they enunciate well. Their music is often playful; they recorded an album of Disney songs, and a few of their songs have a child-like simplicity. They are very humble in their appearance and presentation. When they were presented with a chance to capitalize on the success of “La Bamba”, they retreated to their own music. They are all family men, with wives and children, though Cesar’s wife passed away unexpectedly in 1999. They have stayed together as a quartet for forty years, and now as a quintet for thirty. From this outsider’s view, they are a clean-cut, great American success story.

“Los Lobos Marks 40 Years of Distinctive, Eclectic Music”, by Chris Junior, Goldmine Magazine, June 2013

I grew up in Palo Alto, the home of the Grateful Dead, but my heart belongs to Los Lobos del Este Los Angeles, four hundred miles to the south. They are closer to my age, and lived close enough where I heard and enjoyed all the same musical influences. I’d like to believe life was not that different for children raised in Palo Alto and East Los Angeles. In conversation they sound like the Californians I know. From the first time I heard them, Los Lobos music resonated deeply with me, and their appearance and behavior is the essence of California cool.

This reminds me of a story. I played basketball in college, at UC Davis near Sacramento, California. For the first couple of years, I was an understudy for Audwin Thomas, the team’s starting point guard, who became one of the school’s all-time leading scorers. He was from Oakland, and in high school the two of us played against each other in a holiday basketball tournament. One day we were talking about that day we played against each other. Before the game, his coach came into the locker room and said, “You can’t let these guys beat you. These guys eat donuts and hot chocolate for breakfast!” Their coach was wrong, as I stopped eating donuts for brunch in junior high.

On the Not In Hall of Fame website, Los Lobos is currently ranked as the 133rd ranked band not in the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame. A few publications and websites give the band a little more love, but the chances appear slim. When I suggest to non-fans that Los Lobos belongs in the Hall Of Fame, I get either blank stares or comments that I’m crazy. I admit a tendency to latch onto a favorite band with a passion. But only three or maybe four of the top hundred bands in the countdown appear to be personal favorites that look wildly out of place. I’ve studied music reviews for many years, and the rest of my list looks very reasonable, with consensus great artists of rock, jazz, blues, folk, bluegrass and reggae. If Los Lobos has a weakness as an all-time rock band, it would be the inability or reluctance to make the grand statement, the catchy pop song with that memorable hook that everyone knows and loves. Had they done this, I still have doubts whether their songs would have gained widespread acceptance.

Perhaps the most compelling reason to induct Los Lobos is to recognize David Hidalgo, a most versatile and talented musician. Not only a fine singer and songwriter, he has the rare gift of swing, propelling songs forward with his guitar or his accordion. Here’s how Hidalgo and the band sent the Austin City Limits crowd home in 2001:

“There’s a big fat heart,
With an arrow through the middle,
Of this place that I call home.
And when I get lost,
And don’t even got a nickel,
There’s a piece of dirt I call my own.

I gotta say one, two, three,
More things before I go on.

You can’t run and try to hide away,
Here it comes, here comes another day.
You can’t run to try to hide away,
Here it comes, here comes another day.
Where you are, never really far away,
Good morning Aztlan.”

— Hidalgo/Pérez

Los Lobos Song Notes:

1. There are a couple of essential documents to obtain if possible. One is Chuy’s Tape Box, Volume 1, a 1984 soundboard recording from a small club in Santa Barbara. There are only a few thousand copies floating around. It captures the band in rare form with a very enthusiastic audience. The second is a KFOG radio recording of the December 16, 1993 Christmas benefit program in San Francisco, California. Not only was Kiko recently released; it features both acoustic and electric programs, with definitive versions of “A Matter Of Time” and “One Time, One Night”.

Los Lobos Songs:

Sí Se Puede

De Colores, Los Lobos

(Just Another Band From East L.A.)

El Canelo, Los Lobos ★★
Sabor A Mi, Los Lobos ★★★
Flor De Huevo, Los Lobos
La Iguana, Los Lobos
El Cuchipe, Los Lobos ★★★
Guantanamera, Los Lobos ★★★
La Feria De Las Flores, Los Lobos
El Bon Bon De Elena, Los Lobos

…And A Time To Dance

Let’s Say Goodnight, Los Lobos ★★★★
Walking Song, Los Lobos
Anselma, Los Lobos ★★★
Come On, Let’s Go, Los Lobos ★★
How Much Can I Do?, Los Lobos ★★★
Why Do You Do, Los Lobos
Ay Te Dejo En San Antonio, Los Lobos

How Will The Wolf Survive?

Don’t Worry Baby, Los Lobos ★★
A Matter Of Time, Los Lobos ★★★★
Our Last Night, Los Lobos
I Got Loaded, Los Lobos ★★★
Evangeline, Los Lobos ★★
I Got To Let You Know, Los Lobos
Lil’ King Of Everything, Los Lobos
Will The Wolf Survive?, Los Lobos ★★★

By The Light Of The Moon

One Time, One Night, Los Lobos ★★★★★
Shakin’ Shakin’ Shakes, Los Lobos
Is This All There Is?, Los Lobos
Set Me Free (Rosa Lee), Los Lobos
The Hardest Time, Los Lobos ★★
My Baby’s Gone, Los Lobos
Tears Of God, Los Lobos ★★

La Pistola Y El Corazón

La Guacamaya, Los Lobos ★★
Las Amarillas, Los Lobos
Estoy Sentado Aquí, Los Lobos ★★
El Canelo, Los Lobos ★★★★
La Pistola Y El Corazón, Los Lobos

The Neighborhood

Down On The Riverbed, Los Lobos
Emily, Los Lobos ★★
I Walk Alone, Los Lobos
Angel Dance, Los Lobos ★★
Little John Of God, Los Lobos
Deep Dark Hole, Los Lobos ★★
Georgia Slop, Los Lobos ★★
I Can’t Understand, Los Lobos
The Giving Tree, Los Lobos ★★★
Take My Hand, Los Lobos ★★
Jenny’s Got A Pony, Los Lobos
Be Still, Los Lobos ★★★
The Neighborhood, Los Lobos ★★

Kiko (20th Anniversary Edition)

Dream In Blue, Los Lobos
Wake Up Dolores, Los Lobos ★★
Angels With Dirty Faces, Los Lobos ★★★
That Train Don’t Stop Here, Los Lobos ★★
Kiko And The Lavender Moon, Los Lobos ★★★★
Saint Behind The Glass, Los Lobos ★★★★
Reva’s House, Los Lobos
When The Circus Comes, Los Lobos ★★★★
Arizona Skies, Los Lobos ★★
Short Side Of Nothing, Los Lobos
Two Janes, Los Lobos
Wicked Rain, Los Lobos ★★
Just A Man, Los Lobos ★★★
Peace, Los Lobos ★★★
Peace (Live), Los Lobos ★★
Arizona Skies/Borinquen Patria Mia (Live), Los Lobos ★★★
Kiko And The Lavender Moon (Live), Los Lobos ★★

Just Another Band From East L.A. – A Collection

Someday, Los Lobos
Bertha (Live), Los Lobos ★★
What’s Going On (Live), Los Lobos

Live At The Warfield (12/16/1993, KFOG Broadcast) (Unauthorized)

Los Ojos De Pancha (Live), Los Lobos
One Time, One Night (Live), Los Lobos ★★★★★
A Matter Of Time (Live), Los Lobos ★★★
Red Headed Woman (Live), Los Lobos
Don’t Worry Baby (Live), Los Lobos ★★★
Wicked Rain (Live), Los Lobos ★★★★

Papa’s Dream

Cielito Lindo, Los Lobos
La Bamba, Los Lobos

(I chose the second version of “La Bamba” from this disc. Both versions are moderately interesting.)

Colossal Head

Revolution, Los Lobos ★★
Mas Y Mas, Los Lobos ★★
Maricela, Los Lobos ★★
Manny’s Bones, Los Lobos ★★

This Time

This Time, Los Lobos ★★★
Cumbia Raza, Los Lobos ★★

El Cancionero: Mas Y Mas (4-CD Box Set)

La Bamba, Los Lobos ★★
Goodnight My Love, Los Lobos
I Wan’na Be Like You (The Monkey Song), Los Lobos ★★★
The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas To You), Los Lobos
Alone In A Crowd, Los Lobos
Tomorrow Never Knows (Live), Los Lobos ★★
Lonesome Tears In My Eyes, Los Lobos (with Paul Burlison) ★★

Good Morning Aztlan

Hearts Of Stone, Los Lobos ★★★
Luz De Mi Vida, Los Lobos ★★
Good Morning Aztlan, Los Lobos ★★★★
Tony y Maria, Los Lobos
What In The World, Los Lobos
Round & Round, Los Lobos

The Ride

La Venganza De Los Pelados, Los Lobos
Rita, Los Lobos ★★★
Somewhere In Time, Los Lobos ★★★
Wicked Rain/Across 110th Street, Los Lobos
Wreck Of The Carlos Rey, Los Lobos
Someday, Los Lobos
Chains Of Love, Los Lobos ★★★

Ride This – The Covers EP

It’ll Never Be Over For Me, Los Lobos ★★

Live At The Fillmore

The Neighborhood (Live), Los Lobos ★★
Maricela (Live), Los Lobos ★★★
Kiko And The Lavender Moon (Live), Los Lobos ★★★

Live In Carmel (3/3/2005) (Unauthorized)

La Llorona (Live), Los Lobos
Sabor A Mi, (Live), Los Lobos ★★
Gema (Live), Los Lobos ★★

Acoustic En Vivo

Canto A Veracruz (Live), Los Lobos ★★
Colas (Live), Los Lobos ★★
El Cuchipe (Live), Los Lobos
Two Janes (Live), Los Lobos
Saint Behind The Glass (Live), Los Lobos ★★★
Soy Mexico Americano (Live), Los Lobos
Volver, Volver (Live), Los Lobos ★★
Teresa (Live), Los Lobos
Guantanamera (Live), Los Lobos ★★

The Town And The City

The Valley, Los Lobos ★★
The Road To Gila Bend, Los Lobos ★★★
Chuco’s Cumbia, Los Lobos ★★
If You Were Only Here Tonight, Los Lobos ★★
Luna, Los Lobos
The City, Los Lobos
No Puedo Más, Los Lobos
The Town, Los Lobos ★★

Los Lobos Goes Disney

I Will Go Sailing No More, Los Lobos ★★

Tin Can Trust

Burn It Down, Los Lobos ★★
Tin Can Trust, Los Lobos
Jupiter Or The Moon, Los Lobos ★★
Do The Murray, Los Lobos
West L.A. Fadeaway, Los Lobos
27 Spanishes, Los Lobos

Kiko Live

Dream In Blue (Live), Los Lobos
Angels With Dirty Faces (Live), Los Lobos
That Train Don’t Stop Here (Live), Los Lobos ★★
Saint Behind The Glass (Live), Los Lobos
When The Circus Comes (Live), Los Lobos ★★
Arizona Skies (Live), Los Lobos

Disconnected In New York City (Live)

Chuco’s Cumbia (Live), Los Lobos ★★
La Venganza De Los Peladoes (Live), Los Lobos
Little Things (Live), Los Lobos

Chuy’s Tape Box Volume 1 (Live in Santa Barbara, 1/14/1984)

Let’s Say Goodnight (Live), Los Lobos ★★★
Our Last Night (Live), Los Lobos
Ay Te Dejo En San Antonio (Live), Los Lobos ★★
I Got To Let You Know (Live), Los Lobos
Buzz Buzz Buzz (Live), Los Lobos ★★
Los Ojos De Pancha (Live), Los Lobos
Volver, Volver (Live), Los Lobos
How Much Can I Do? (Live), Los Lobos ★★
Anselma (Live), Los Lobos ★★
I’m Sorry (Live), Los Lobos ★★
Come On, Let’s Go (Live), Los Lobos ★★★
La Bamba (Live), Los Lobos ★★
Sleep Walk (Live), Los Lobos
I’m Tore Down (Live), Los Lobos

One Time, One Night (Live Recordings Vol. 1)

Just A Man (Live), Los Lobos

One Time, One Night (Live Recordings Vol. 2)

Angel Dance (Live), Los Lobos ★★
I Can’t Understand (Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone Intro), Los Lobos
Estoy Sentado Aquí, Los Lobos
Hearts Of Stone (Live), Los Lobos ★★
Three Hundred Pounds Of Joy (Live), Los Lobos

Miscellaneous

Rolling, Los Lobos
Carabina 30-30, Los Lobos ★★

“Rolling” is a 56 second single, while “Carabina 30-30” can be found on KCRW Sounds Eclectico.

Related Songs:

Sabor A Mí, Eydie Gorme & Trio Los Panchos ★★
Sabor A Mí (Live), Bebo Valdés & Javier Colina

El Cuchipe, Brigitte Bardot

Guantanamera, Evaristo Quintanales ★★★
Guantanamera (Live), Pete Seeger

El Bombón De Elena, Cortijo y Su Combo ★★

Come On, Let’s Go, Richie Valens ★★

Ay Te Dejo En San Antonio, Flaco Jimenez ★★★

I Got Loaded, Lil’ Bob & The Lollipops ★★★

Georgia Slop, Big Al Downing ★★★
Georgia Slop, Jimmy McCracklin (added to Wish List)

Borinquen Patria Mia, Claudio Ferrer y Su Conjunto (added to Wish List)

Bertha (Live), Grateful Dead ★★★★

What’s Going On, Marvin Gaye ★★★★
What’s Going On (Alt), Marvin Gaye ★★★★
What’s Going On (Live), Chaka Khan

Los Ojos De Pancha, Los Alegres De Terán

Cielito Lindo, Trio Los Panchos

La Bamba, Ritchie Valens ★★★
La Bamba, Los Nacionales de Jacinto Gatica

Goodnight My Love, Jesse Belvin ★★

I Wan’na Be Like You, Louis Prima & Phil Harris ★★★★★

The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas To You), Nat King Cole ★★★★
The Christmas Song (Merry Christmas To You), Vince Guaraldi Trio ★★

Tomorrow Never Knows, The Beatles ★★★★
Tomorrow Never Knows (Alt), The Beatles

Midnight Shift, Buddy Holly ★★

Lonesome Tears In My Eyes, Johnny Burnette & The Rock ‘n’ Roll Trio ★★
Lonesome Tears In My Eyes (Live), The Beatles

La Llorona, Chavela Vargas ★★
La Llorona, Alberto Vasquez ★★

Canto A Veracruz, Andres Huesca & Trio Huracán

Soy Mexico Americano, Los Cenzontles
Soy Mexico Americano, Los Pinguinos Del Norte

I Will Go Sailing No More, Randy Newman ★★

Buzz Buzz Buzz, Hollywood Flames ★★★
Buzz Buzz Buzz (Live), Jonathan Richman ★★

I’m Sorry, Bo Diddley

Sleep Walk, Santo & Johnny ★★★

I’m Tore Down, Freddie King ★★

Angel Dance, Robert Plant

Three Hundred Pounds Of Joy, Howlin’ Wolf ★★★

¹ Excerpts from “Siendo la Verdadera Historia de Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles”, by Luis Torres (found in liner notes of the El Cancionero: Mas y Mas box set)
² Movements in Chicano Music: Performing Culture, Performing Politics, 1965-1979, by Stevan Cesar Azcona, p. 234
³ Excerpts from “The Hollywood Years and Beyond” by Chris Morris (found in liner notes of the El Cancionero: Mas y Mas box set)

5. Bob Dylan (Robert Zimmerman)

Bob Dylan (born Robert Allen Zimmerman in 1941) is a singer/songwriter from Hibbing, a mining town in the Mesabi Iron Range of northern Minnesota. As a schoolboy, Zimmerman was an indifferent student with a keen interest in art and poetry. At nights he would often listen to the radio, where he heard the sounds of blues and country music from Louisiana and other far-flung places. He discovered rock and roll in the mid-fifties, and organized local bands as a teenager. After graduating from high school, he spent one year enrolled at the University of Minnesota. He rarely attended class, but he managed to discover the beautiful storytelling within folk music.

“Folk music was a reality of a more brilliant dimension. It exceeded all human understanding, and if it called out to you, you could disappear and be sucked into it. I felt right at home in this mythical realm made up not with individuals so much as archetypes, vividly drawn archetypes of humanity, metaphysical in shape, each rugged soul filled with natural knowing and inner wisdom. Each demanding a degree of respect. I could believe in the full spectrum of it and sing about it. It was so real, so more true to life than life itself. It was life magnified. Folk music was all I needed to exist. Trouble was, there wasn’t enough of it. It was out of date, had no proper connection to the actualities, the trends of the time. It was a huge story but hard to come across. Once I slipped in beyond the fringes it was like my six-string guitar became a crystal magic wand and I could move things like never before. I had no other cares or interests besides folk music. I scheduled my life around it. I had little in common with anyone not like-minded.”

— Bob Dylan “Chronicles, Volume 1”

Bob Dylan (b. 1941), singer, songwriter, guitar, harmonica, piano

Bob Dylan Records His First Album For Columbia

In early 1961, Dylan traveled to New York City, where he hoped to both perform and meet his musical idol, Woody Guthrie, who was hospitalized there. Indeed, he spent significant time with the ailing folk singer, and established himself as a regular act in the burgeoning Greenwich Village folk scene. Dylan was not considered a premier performer at first; he was renowned for his encyclopedic knowledge of old folk songs, but artists such as Dave Van Ronk, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Fred Neil were more popular.

By late 1961, his talent began to attract attention. A positive review in the New York Times, followed by session work playing harmonica for Carolyn Hester caught the attention of producer John Hammond, who signed Dylan to a record contract. This was a surprise to both the folk music community and Columbia Records management. Hammond was a legend in the business, having discovered and promoted the talents of jazz greats Benny Goodman, Count Basie and Billie Holiday, among others, but few could see the potential in the young folk singer with the unusual voice. Bob Dylan’s first album, recorded in just six hours in November 1961, sold poorly, prompting fellow Columbia record executives to label the singer “Hammond’s Folly”. But Dylan responded with a brilliant second album (The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan in 1963), which included several songs now considered folk standards, especially “Blowin’ In The Wind”, an instant classic and a popular hit for folk trio Peter, Paul & Mary. Over the next two years, Dylan revolutionized the art of folk songwriting, crafting songs of great lyrical sophistication, songs of love and protest and hypocrisy, that sent musicologists and sociologists scrambling for their notepads and record players, eager to decipher what the great young philosopher meant. Suddenly, Bob Dylan was the country’s preeminent songwriter, and thrust into an uncomfortable, unwanted role as “spokesman for a generation”.

Dylan Goes Electric

From his arrival in New York City in 1961, until the release of Bringing It All Back Home in May, 1965, Bob Dylan performed as a solo act, though his songs were sometimes recorded with spare, acoustic accompaniment. But he always had an interest in rock and roll music. Bringing It All Back Home marks the first major transition in Dylan’s career, with one full side of music recorded with an amplified band. In July, 1965, he stunned the audience at the Newport Folk Festival by plugging in and playing raucous and distorted music, offending folk purists who considered the switch to electric music as “going commercial”, and destroying myths that this man was beholden to any group or generation. During this busy period of his career, Dylan also recorded the classic Highway 61 Revisited in the summer of 1965, perhaps his greatest achievement, which cemented his intention to employ electric instruments. Dylan adopted the practice of performing one acoustic set and one electric set at concerts, to mixed reviews. He received a nasty reception in England, documented in D.A. Pennebaker’s documentary Don’t Look Back. The press hounded him, peppering him with irrelevant and condescending questions. In July 1966, an exhausted Dylan crashed his motorcycle near his home in Woodstock, New York. It nearly killed him.

Wikipedia Page for “Electric Dylan Controversy”
Dailymotion Clip: “Dylan Goes Electric”

Dylan recovered, and though some of the insanity with obsessive fandom remained, he was able to begin a mature phase of his musical career which continues today. He is popular music’s “most interesting man” — hundreds of books have been written about his life and work. He has received dozens of awards and honors, including the Presidential Medal of freedom in 2012. I read two books while studying his music, “Bob Dylan In America” by Sean Wilentz and “Chronicles, Volume 1” by Bob Dylan. Both are recommended. He is intensely private, and rarely makes himself available for interviews. After touring sporadically for years, Dylan embarked on a Never Ending Tour in 1988, and has played about a hundred concerts per year through 2013. He is arguably the most influential artist from the second half of the 20th century. There is a wealth of information available about Bob Dylan; here are a few links to get started.

Offical Bob Dylan Website
Johanna’s Visions: Fine Music Site Featuring Dylan and Others
Boblinks: An Extensive List of Websites Dedicated to Bob Dylan

Amazon.com Link to “Bob Dylan In America” by Sean Wilentz
Amazon.com Link to “Chronicles, Volume 1” by Bob Dylan

A Short List of Contributing Musicians

Bruce Langhorne (b. 1938), guitar
Mike Bloomfield (1943-1981), lead guitar
Al Kooper (b. 1944), Hammond organ, guitar
Charlie McCoy (b. 1941), guitar
Bill Lee (b. 1928), bass
Hargus “Pig” Robbins (b. 1938), piano, keyboards
Tony Garnier (b. 1956), bass
David Hidalgo (b. 1954), guitar, violin, accordion
Augie Meyers (b. 1940), organ, accordion

The Band
Rick Danko (1942-1999), bass
Levon Helm (1940-2012), drums
Garth Hudson (b. 1937), organ
Richard Manuel (1943-1986), piano
Robbie Robertson (b. 1943), guitar

bob-dylan-manchester-2002

A Very Brief Recap of His Career, 1967-Present

As he recovered from his motorcycle accident, Bob Dylan recorded a series of informal sessions (The Basement Tapes) with The Band, who would soon achieve widespread popularity of their own. From 1967 to 1969, he recorded three strong albums using country session musicians in Nashville, Tennessee. Nashville Skyline is my favorite of the three, featuring short, sentimental songs and Dylan as a deep-voiced country crooner. One of the great curiosities of Dylan’s career is how his voice changed, from the nasal sounding delivery of his youth, to the thing, gravelly voice in recent years.

The Delete Bin Blog: The Eight Voices of Bob Dylan

I have limited interest in Dylan’s work of the seventies and eighties. There are fewer compelling songs. And many major record companies lost their way in terms of understanding what makes good sounding records. Synthesizers often replaced traditional musical instruments, and the performances often sound as if every wrong note is eliminated from the finished product. This studio perfection sucks the life out of popular music, a practice that continues today in many genres. The consensus choice for best album during these two decades is Blood On The Tracks.

The Modern Guitar Band

Dylan evolved as a songwriter in a fascinating way. Over the last quarter century he relied more on his vast knowledge of folk music, both recasting traditional songs or using snippets of previously used phrases to create new songs. The practice of using phrases from older folk songs is an ancient tradition, though few employ it today. His skill at assembling soulful musicians continued to grow, and he recorded them in a live informal manner, with minimal production interference. The best post-1990 Dylan recordings sound like live music. A great example is this take on “Cold Irons Bound”, from Time Out Of Mind:

A great example of what is essentially a small jazz combo, with three guitarists (including bass guitarist Tony Garnier) loosely improvising around a highly syncopated rhythm, with Dylan singing and adding the occasional fill. Five and six piece bands with two lead guitars dominate the top of my list of favorite bands. Fleetwood Mac, The Rolling Stones and The Allman Brothers Band are among the early practitioners, with Bob Dylan’s modern work, along with Los Lobos and late-nineties era Lucinda Williams more recently examples. The modern improvising guitar band is not that far removed from dixieland and swing jazz bands of the past.

Bob Dylan has had a great career as a bandleader, with three distinct great bands — the Highway 61 Revisited sessions, with the tinny, upright piano and bright organ lending a carnival atmosphere, the subtle Nashville sessions of Blonde On Blonde and John Wesley Harding, and the contemporary twin guitar sound featured on recent records like Modern Times and Love And Theft.

With A Little Help

By the time I study each musician, I usually have most of the songs I want. Elvis Costello, Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong were examples of artists where I was able to find a number of new songs I liked. Bob Dylan is similar, and the last artist in the countdown with a substantial body of unexplored music. Although not yet featured, Billie Holiday is another artist I’m compelled to explore in significant detail; her supporting bands featured many great jazz musicians.

To expedite the process of learning more Bob Dylan songs, I first studied on my own, then showed my initial list to three friends, asking for suggestions. As a result, I added perhaps twenty more songs, for a total of about one hundred and forty recordings. I’ve enjoyed my three month excursion into Bob Dylan’s music. i learned a lot, and my opinion of his music has grown. Thanks to my friends Kelly, Corry and John for their help.

My Concert Experience

I’ve seen Bob Dylan in concert once. He performed as the headliner with Lucinda Williams and Van Morrison, at the Rose Garden, a large modern basketball arena in Portland, Oregon, in September, 1998. On that tour, Dylan and Morrison took turns playing last. Lucinda opened, and though she was riding a crest of popularity after the release of her most famous album, was given only a half-hour to perform. Van took the stage after a very brief intermission, and proceeded to tear the house down with an upbeat, swinging no-nonsense set, one of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen. Dylan came next and was a major disappointment, though it would be hard to follow Morrison’s passionate performance. The music was uninspiring, and Dylan’s singing was hard to understand. Everything sounded fuzzy and distorted. It was hard to even tell which songs were being played. He played “Mr. Tambourine Man”, but different than the way I knew it. We left about halfway through the set. Part of the problem was not knowing all the songs beforehand, but it’s hard to appreciate the music when it can’t be understood. Surely there are great live performances in Bob Dylan’s career, but he seems best suited to the recording studio, where his expressive but weak voice can be properly heard.

Van Morrison is the musician most similar to Bob Dylan. I see Morrison as highly influenced by Dylan, and not the other way around. Among songwriters of the past half century, Dylan is the top of the influence pyramid. If I had to choose one quality of Dylan’s music I like best, it would be the way he punctuates his lyrics, syncopates the sounds, emphasizes the syllables in such a pleasing manner. I rock my head gently back and forth, feeling the rhythm of the words and listening to the sound of the lyrics that roll along with the music so gently. He doesn’t wail. He sings to the music. His ability to make the lyrics swing within the music is beautiful.

Listen To That Duquesne Whistle Blowing!

“Duquesne Whistle” is the opening song on Bob Dylan’s newest album, Tempest. Co-written by Bob Dylan and Robert Hunter, “Duquesne Whistle” is one of my favorite songs of the past few years. It shares a recent distinction of being the greatest song ever by a seventy year old man, along with Paul Simon’s “The Afterlife”, in the last blog entry.

“Can’t you hear that Duquesne whistle blowing,
Blowing like the sky is gonna blow apart.
You’re the only thing alive that keeps me going,
You’re like a time bomb in my heart.
I can hear a sweet voice gently calling,
Must be the mother of our Lord.
Listen to that Duquesne whistle blowing,
Blowing like my woman’s on board.”

The song starts gently, a delicate but complete introduction to the song structure, before the drums and bass kick and take us on our journey. The recording quality has a primitive feel; it sounds like it was recorded at Chess Studios. This one hits all the right buttons for me, with a train as a metaphor for life. The song makes references to his woman, his Lord, and hints that the end of the line is within sight. Elvis Presley was the big train from Memphis, and Bob Dylan is the Duquesne Whistle.

“Duquesne Whistle” is a medium-fast shuffle, a dance song. The band subtly pushes the throttle down as the song moves through the five verses, but never so fast that the train derails. There is a short pause after the fourth verse, a little stop, before kicking into gear for the final verse:

“Can’t you hear that Duquesne whistle blowing,
Blowing through another no good town.
The lights of my native land are glowing,
I wonder if they’ll know me next time around.
I wondered if that old oak tree’s still standing,
That old oak tree, the one we used to climb.
Listen to that Duquesne whistle blowing,
Blowing like she’s blowing right on time.”

— Dylan/Hunter

A little riff for tension, and off they go, over the horizon and into the sunset, with David Hidalgo (I think that’s right. I’m researching it.) leading the way on guitar. If I were to summarize Dylan’s career as a musician, I see a man who began his career determined to bring attention to the injustices of life, who matured into an elder statesman who wants to have fun and enjoy his life and his music. My father would’ve loved “Duquesne Whistle”. I’ve thought so many times about it. He’s the only one I know that would understand. I just wish I could have played it for him before he was gone.

Bob Dylan Songs:

Although my collection draws upon some greatest hits compilations, I will try to present the collection chronologically, as the songs were first made commercially available:

Bob Dylan

Song To Woody, Bob Dylan ★★
The House Of The Rising Sun, Bob Dylan
Talkin’ New York, Bob Dylan
Baby, Let Me Follow You Down, Bob Dylan

The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan

Blowin’ In The Wind, Bob Dylan ★★★★
Girl From The North Country, Bob Dylan ★★
Masters Of War, Bob Dylan ★★
A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall, Bob Dylan ★★★
Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright, Bob Dylan ★★★★
Corrina, Corrina, Bob Dylan ★★★
I Shall Be Free, Bob Dylan

The Times They Are A-Changin’mr.

The Times They Are A Changin’, Bob Dylan ★★
Ballad Of Hollis Brown, Bob Dylan
With God On Our Side, Bob Dylan
Only A Pawn In Their Game, Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death Of Hattie Carroll, Bob Dylan ★★

Another Side Of Bob Dylan

All I Really Want To Do, Bob Dylan
Chimes Of Freedom, Bob Dylan ★★
My Back Pages, Bob Dylan
It Ain’t Me Babe, Bob Dylan ★★

Bringing It All Back Home

Subterranean Homesick Blues, Bob Dylan ★★★
She Belongs To Me, Bob Dylan ★★★
Love Minus Zero/No Limit, Bob Dylan
Maggie’s Farm, Bob Dylan
Mr. Tambourine Man, Bob Dylan ★★★★★
It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleeding, Bob Dylan
It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue, Bob Dylan ★★★★

Highway 61 Revisited (Deluxe Version)

Like A Rolling Stone, Bob Dylan ★★★★★
Tombstone Blues, Bob Dylan ★★★
It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry, Bob Dylan ★★
Ballad Of A Thin Man, Bob Dylan ★★
Queen Jane Approximately, Bob Dylan
Highway 61 Revisited, Bob Dylan
Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues, Bob Dylan
Desolation Row, Bob Dylan ★★
Tombstone Blues (Alt), Bob Dylan ★★

Blonde On Blonde

Rainy Day Women 12 & 35, Bob Dylan ★★★
I Want You, Bob Dylan
Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again, Bob Dylan ★★
Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat, Bob Dylan
Absolutely Sweet Marie, Bob Dylan
Fourth Time Around, Bob Dylan ★★
Just Like A Woman, Bob Dylan ★★★★★
Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands, Bob Dylan

John Wesley Harding

I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine, Bob Dylan
I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight, Bob Dylan
The Ballad Of Frankie Lee And Judas Priest, Bob Dylan

Nashville Skyline

Girl From The North Country, Bob Dylan (with Johnny Cash) ★★★★
To Be Alone With You, Bob Dylan
Tell Me That It Isn’t True, Bob Dylan
I Threw It All Away, Bob Dylan ★★
Lay Lady Lay, Bob Dylan ★★★
Country Pie, Bob Dylan
Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You, Bob Dylan ★★★

New Morning

If Not For You, Bob Dylan ★★★
Day Of The Locusts, Bob Dylan

Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid (Soundtrack)

Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door, Bob Dylan ★★

Planet Waves

On A Night Like This, Bob Dylan
Forever Young, Bob Dylan

Blood On The Tracks

Tangled Up In Blue, Bob Dylan ★★
Simple Twist Of Fate, Bob Dylan ★★
Shelter From The Storm, Bob Dylan ★★
Buckets Of Rain, Bob Dylan

The Basement Tapes

Million Dollar Bash, Bob Dylan & The Band
Lo And Behold!, Bob Dylan & The Band

Desire

Hurricane, Bob Dylan

Hard Rain (Live)

Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again (Live), Bob Dylan ★★

Shot Of Love

Every Grain Of Sand, Bob Dylan

Infidels

Sweetheart Like You, Bob Dylan

Real Live

Tangled Up In Blue (Live), Bob Dylan

Knocked Out Loaded

Brownsville Girl, Bob Dylan

Oh Mercy

Man In The Long Black Coat, Bob Dylan
Most Of The Time, Bob Dylan

World Gone Wrong

Delia, Bob Dylan
Lone Pilgrim, Bob Dylan

Time Out Of Mind

Love Sick, Bob Dylan ★★
Dirt Road Blues, Bob Dylan
Cold Irons Bound, Bob Dylan ★★

Love And Theft

Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum, Bob Dylan
Mississippi, Bob Dylan
Summer Days, Bob Dylan ★★★
High Water, Bob Dylan ★★

Modern Times

Thunder On The Mountain, Bob Dylan ★★★
Spirit On The Water, Bob Dylan
Rollin’ And Tumblin’, Bob Dylan ★★
When The Deal Goes Down, Bob Dylan
Someday Baby, Bob Dylan ★★★
Workingman’s Blues #2, Bob Dylan
The Levee’s Gonna Break, Bob Dylan ★★★

Together Through Life

Beyond Here Lies Nothin’, Bob Dylan ★★

Tempest

Duquesne Whistle, Bob Dylan ★★★★
Soon After Midnight, Bob Dylan ★★
Narrow Way, Bob Dylan
Early Roman Kings, Bob Dylan
Long And Wasted Years, Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits, Vol. 2

The Mighty Quinn (Quinn, The Eskimo), Bob Dylan
I Shall Be Released, Bob Dylan ★★

Biograph

You’re A Big Girl Now (Alt), Bob Dylan ★★
Lay Down Your Weary Tune, Bob Dylan

The Bootleg Series, Vol. 1-3 (Rare And Unreleased Recordings) 1961-1991

He Was A Friend Of Mine, Bob Dylan
Let Me Die In My Footsteps, Bob Dylan
Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues (Live), Bob Dylan
Mama, You Been On My Mind, Bob Dylan
She’s Your Lover Now, Bob Dylan
I’ll Keep It With Mine, Bob Dylan ?
If Not For You (Alt), Bob Dylan
Tangled Up In Blue (Alt), Bob Dylan ★★★
Call Letter Blues, Bob Dylan
Idiot Wind (Alt), Bob Dylan ★★
If You See Her, Say Hello (Alt), Bob Dylan
Blind Willie McTell, Bob Dylan ★★

Jerry Macguire (Soundtrack)

Shelter From The Storm (Alt), Bob Dylan ★★

Masked And Anonymous (Soundtrack)

Cold Irons Bound (Live), Bob Dylan ★★★

The Bootleg Series, Vol. 4: The “Royal Albert Hall” Concert

Fourth Time Around (Live), Bob Dylan ★★
Visions Of Johanna (Live), Bob Dylan ★★★★
It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue (Live), Bob Dylan ★★
Just Like A Woman (Live), Bob Dylan ★★★
Mr. Tambourine Man (Live), Bob Dylan ★★
Baby, Let Me Follow You Down (Live), Bob Dylan
Ballad Of A Thin Man (Live), Bob Dylan ?
Like A Rolling Stone (Live), Bob Dylan ★★★

The Bootleg Series, Vol. 7: No Direction Home — The Soundtrack

Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright (Alt), Bob Dylan ★★★
Blowin’ In The Wind (Alt), Bob Dylan ★★★
Masters Of War (Live), Bob Dylan ★★★
A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall (Live), Bob Dylan ★★★
It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue (Take 1), Bob Dylan ★★★
She Belongs To Me (Alt), Bob Dylan ★★★★
Maggie’s Farm (Live), Bob Dylan ★★★
It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry (Alt), Bob Dylan ★★
Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues (Alt), Bob Dylan ★★
Desolation Row (Alt), Bob Dylan
Highway 61 Revisited (Alt), Bob Dylan ★★

The Bootleg Series, Vol. 8: Tell Tale Signals

Mississippi (Alt), Bob Dylan ★★★
Red River Shore, Bob Dylan
‘Cross The Green Mountain, Bob Dylan ★★

The Bootleg Series, Vol. 9: The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964

Tomorrow Is A Long Time, Bob Dylan

The Bootleg Series, Vol. 10: Another Self-Portrait

I Threw It All Away (Alt), Bob Dylan ★★

Related Songs:

House Of The Rising Sun, The Animals ★★★★
House Of The Rising Sun, Josh White ★★

Blowin’ In The Wind, Peter, Paul & Mary ★★
Blowin’ In The Wind, Stevie Wonder

Corrine Corrina, Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys ★★

All I Really Want To Do, Sonny & Cher

My Back Pages, The Byrds ★★★★
My Back Pages (Live), The Byrds

It Ain’t Me Babe, The Turtles ★★

Mr. Tambourine Man, The Byrds ★★★

It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue, Them ★★★

Like A Rolling Stone (Live), The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★

Just Like A Woman (Live), Van Morrison ★★★
Just Like A Woman (Live), Van Morrison ★★

If Not For You, George Harrison
If Not For You, Olivia Newton-John ? (on wish list…maybe her best song)

On A Night Like This, Buckwheat Zydeco ★★

Rollin’ And Tumblin’, Muddy Waters ★★★
Rollin’ And Tumblin’, The Seldom Scene ★★★
Rollin’ And Tumblin’ (Live), Cream ★★

Trouble No More, Muddy Waters ★★★★
Trouble No More, The Allman Brothers Band ★★★
Trouble No More (Live), The Allman Brothers Band ★★★

Someday Baby, Ray Charles

Worried Life Blues, Big Maceo Merriweather ★★

When The Levee Breaks, Led Zeppelin ★★★

The Mighty Quinn (Quinn The Eskimo), Manfred Mann ★★

I Shall Be Released, The Band ★★

He Was A Friend Of Mine, The Byrds ★★

Down On Penny’s Farm, The Bently Boys

Tomorrow Is A Long Time, Rod Stewart ★★

Delia’s Gone, Johnny Cash ★★

Wallflower (Live), David Bromberg

The Ballad Of Frankie Lee And Judas Priest, David Grisman & Jerry Garcia

6. Paul Simon

Paul Simon is a singer, songwriter and guitarist from Queens, a borough of New York City, New York. Simon’s father Louis was a professor at the City College of New York, and a part time bandleader, who gradually gave up his musical aspirations to support his family. Like many New York boys growing up in the forties and fifties, Simon’s first love was baseball, but he took a greater interest in music during elementary school. Simon met longtime collaborator Art Garfunkel in sixth grade; by eighth grade Simon was writing songs that the two would sing together. Success came early for the duo; as teenagers the two had a hit song. Billed as Tom & Jerry, “Hey, Schoolgirl” was a top 50 national hit in 1957.

After high school, Simon and Garfunkel each attended college, and only performed occasionally. Simon graduated from Queens College with a degree in English, while Garfunkel received a degree in mathematics from Columbia University. Simon continued to write songs, performing them solo, or with Garfunkel and other musicians. In 1964, the duo had a successful audition with Columbia Records, and recorded an album of folk songs titled Wednesday Morning, 3 AM. Sluggish sales prompted Simon to leave and pursue a solo career in England, but he returned a year later when an electrified version of “The Sounds Of Silence” became a surprise #1 hit. Simon & Garfunkel reunited and became one of America’s most beloved folk rock groups, with four acclaimed albums, culminating with the Grammy Award winning Bridge Over Troubled Water in 1970.

Here Paul and brother Ed Simon play the finger picking standard “Anji”, originally by British guitarist Davy Graham:

Paul Simon (b. 1941), guitar, songwriter, singer, bandleader
Art Garfunkel (b. 1941), singer

Solo Career

Bridge Over Troubled Water is Simon & Garfunkel’s most diverse album, with Simon beginning to experiment with different rhythms and instrumentation. At the height of their career, Simon & Garfunkel disbanded, and both men pursued solo careers. Though Art Garfunkel had success as both a singer and actor, it was Paul Simon who embarked on a long, influential career that includes dozens of literary and music awards, plus the grand distinction of being a member of Saturday Night Live Five-Timers club.

Paul-Simon

As an independent songwriter, with no affiliation to a specific group of musicians, Paul Simon traveled far and wide to create different musical backgrounds. He traveled to Jamaica to record “Mother And Child Reunion” and Muscle Shoals, Alabama to record “Loves Me Like A Rock”. He traveled to South Africa and Brazil to record compelling native rhythms, and returned to New York to complete the tracks with lyrics and studio musicians, the songs for the albums Graceland and Rhythm Of The Saints. The talents of New York’s finest studio musicians are featured throughout his career.

An artist of uncommon stamina and longevity, Simon created what is considered his greatest work (Graceland) in his mid-forties. His most recent album, the highly acclaimed So Beautiful or So What from 2011, includes “The Afterlife”, my favorite song in the last few years. Simon also “reunites” every now and then with Art Garfunkel to play Simon & Garfunkel songs. Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 1990, and Simon was inducted as a solo artist in 2001.

An incomplete list of New York City’s best studio musicians, a small subset of those who contributed to Paul Simon’s music:

Steve Gadd (b. 1945), drums
Richard Tee (1943-1993), keyboards
Bill Lee (b. 1928), bass
Eric Gale (1938-1994), guitar
Joe South (1940-2012), guitar
The Brecker Brothers (Michael (1949-2007) and Randy (b. 1945)), core horn section
David Sanborn (b. 1945), saxophone

Emory University: Paul Simon Brings a New Verse to the Ellman Lectures, Sept. 25, 2013

Songwriting

“No, the early songs, I can’t say I really like them. But there’s something naive and sweet-natured, and I must say I like that about it.

They’re not angry. And that means that I wasn’t angry or unhappy. That’s my memory of that time; it was just about idyllic. It was just the best time of my life, I think, up until recently, these last five years or so, six years…This has been the best time of my life. But before that, I would say that that was.”

— Paul Simon

Simon is somewhat dismissive of his early work; I like the Simon & Garfunkel songs better than he does. Songs like “I Am A Rock”, “Homeward Bound” and even the playful “At The Zoo” are among my favorite Paul Simon songs. Taken together, Simon & Garfunkel’s earliest music paint my imagined portrait of life growing up as a schoolboy in New England; I feel the chill of their winter, and the warmth and happiness of life there. An older person still appreciates, and often longs for younger days. Songs about winning or losing love, and wanting to be home, ring true forever. Like emptiness and harmony, I need someone to comfort me. It’s hard not to reminisce fondly, even if life didn’t go according to plan.

For the first time in ten or so artists, I passed on reading a full biography of Paul Simon. I’m very familiar with his music, and sensed I would not learn much. Besides, Bob Dylan is up next and I have to study and prepare. That’s not a knock on Simon; Dylan is a complex character with a vast library of music. This is as good a place to point out that Simon may prefer his post-Garfunkel music because he, like virtually all young folk songwriters, was so influenced by Bob Dylan, that he was not satisfied until he broke free and found a more authentic voice.

I reviewed Simon’s long interview in Paul Zollo’s “Songwriters on Songwriting”, and used a few quotes to facilitate a discussion.

Amazon.com Link to “Songwriters On Songwriting”, by Paul Zollo

“As soon as your mind knows that it’s on and it’s supposed to produce some lines, either it doesn’t or it produces things that are very predictable. And that’s why I say I’m not interested in writing something I’ve thought about. I’m interested in discovering where my mind wants to go, or what object it wants to pick up.

It always picks up on something true. You’ll find out much more about what you’re thinking that way than you will if you’re determined to say something. What you’re determined to say is filled with all your rationalizations and your defenses and all of that. What you want to say to the world as opposed to what you’re thinking. And as a lyricist, my job is to find out what it is that I’m thinking. Even if it’s something that I don’t want to be thinking.

I think when I get blocked, when I have writer’s block (though I never think of it as writer’s block anymore), what it is is that you have something to say but you don’t want to say it. So your mind says, “I have nothing to say. I’ve just nothing more to say. I can’t write anything. I have no thoughts.” Closer to the truth is that you have a thought that you really would prefer not to have. And you’re not going to say that thought. Your mind is protected. Once you discover what that thought is, if you can find another way of approaching it that isn’t negative to you, then you can deal with that subject matter.”

— Paul Simon

I’ve used this philosophy for the blog, especially the last couple of years. After reading and listening to music for a few weeks, I write whatever emerges. No thought is given to organization until the profile is in progress; at some point I find the logical path to a satisfactory conclusion. For the second time in the last six months (Neil Young post), I’ve had writer’s block, not knowing how to start. I’m out of my league; I can’t possibly offer insight or reasonable analysis of Paul Simon’s fifty-plus year career, impossibly long and diverse to capture in a couple thousand words, even if I had the formal musical training. I can write down a list of songs I like, and the ones I like best, but even then I’m having yet an inner crisis over the concept of attaching a rating to songs. Recently, I’ve had like-minded critics and analysts question assigning a value to artistic expression. Another friend said recently that ranking songs was against her principles. The closer I get to finishing this project, which began over four years ago, the more I feel the rating exercise is misguided at best, and at times I feel sheepish and stupid evaluating my favorite musicians and songs in numerical terms. But I am nearly done, compelled to finish what I started, and show how my calculating mind thinks. Though the ratings connote some hierarchy of music, my words nearly always champion the artists and their brilliance.

Simon On Beginning And Ending Songs

“Because how you begin a song is one of the hardest things. The first line of a song is very hard. I always have this image in my mind of a road that goes like this (motions with hands to signify a road that gets wider as it opens out) so that the implication is that the directions are pointing outward. It’s like a baseball diamond; there’s more and more space out here. As opposed to like this (motions an inverted road getting thinner.) Because if it’s like this, at this point in the song, you’re out of options.

So you want to have that first line that has a lot of options, to get you going. And the other thing that I try to remember, especially if a song is long, you have plenty of time. You don’t have to kill them, you don’t have to grab them by the throat by the first line.

In fact, you have to wait for the audience — they’re going to sit down, get settled in their seat…their concentration is not even there. You have to be a good host to people’s attention span. They’re not going to come in there and work real hard right away. Too many things are coming: the music is coming, the rhythm is coming, all kinds of information that the brain is sorting out.

So “You Can Call Me Al”, which was an example of that kind of writing, starts off very easily with sort of a joke: “Why am I soft in the middle when the rest of my life is so hard?” It’s a joke, with very easy words. Then it has a chorus you can’t understand. What is he talking about, you can call me Betty, and Betty, you can call me Al? You don’t know what I’m talking about. But I don’t think it’s bothersome. You don’t know what I’m talking about, but neither do I, at that point.

The second verse is really a recapitulation of the first: A man walks down the street, he says…another thing. And by the time you get to the third verse, and people have been into the song for long enough, now you can start to throw abstract images. Because there’s been a structure, and those abstract images, they will just come down and fall into one of the slots that the mind has already made up about the structure of the song.

So now you have this guy who’s no longer thinking about the mundane thoughts, about whether he’s getting too fat, whether he needs a photo opportunity, or whether he’s afraid of the dogs in the moonlight and the graveyard, and he’s off in, listen to the sound, look what’s going on, there’s cattle and…”

— Paul Simon

Describing what makes a song enjoyable is a complicated proposition. I have my favorite subjects — love, God, work, nature, beauty: the small handful of life’s most precious things. Good songs can have simple words, or be complex and literate. There are good songs using only one or two chords, with monotonous melodies that compel the listener into a trance-like groove. There are good songs with elaborate chord structures and unusual melodies, that must be listened to several times to even begin understanding. How the singer “phrases”, accenting and punctuating the words within the melody to tell the story, is essential, a reason why I generally prefer an author’s original version. It’s also why I gravitate to “plain” singers over the wailers and belters of the world. By singing at a medium volume, and not yelling every word, allows the plain singer to emote more effectively, to enunciate each word, and accent the song with higher or lower volume where appropriate. Many of my favorite artists are great songwriters who don’t have particularly strong voices, but they sing with finesse. John Lennon, Paul Simon, and Jerry Garcia are among those who interpret a song well.

Ambiguity

I like songs whose words can be interpreted in more than one way. The classic example I often use to illustrate this is Van Morrison’s “Have I Told You Lately”:

“Have I told you lately that I love you,
Have I told you there’s no one above you,
Fill my heart with gladness,
Take away my sadness,
Ease my troubles, that’s what you do.

There’s a love that’s divine,
And it’s yours and it’s mine,
And it shines like the sun.
At the end of the day, we will give thanks
And pray, to the One.”

— Van Morrison

The song can be viewed as either romantic love or religious devotion. This type of ambiguity is a rare and wonderful trait. Paul Simon’s practice of letting his subconscious participate lends itself well to lyrics open for interpretation.

Mini-Concert

Let’s look at a couple of Paul Simon performances. My favorite song on Graceland has always been “Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes”, featuring the South African singing group Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Performed in concert, the song displays the singing group’s grace and agility:

In the fall of 2003, Simon & Garfunkel embarked on the elaborate “Old Friends” tour, in which they assembled a fine orchestra, and invited their heroes, The Everly Brothers, to participate for a few songs each evening. First, here is Simon & Garfunkel performing “The Boxer” as a duet on the David Letterman show. Note the inclusion of the song’s “missing verse”.

And here, with the full orchestra, Simon & Garfunkel perform “I Am A Rock” in 2003:

In 2007, Paul Simon became the first recipient of the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song. The concert to commemorate this occasion included a performance of Simon’s “Loves Me Like A Rock”, featuring the Dixie Hummingbirds on vocals and Stevie Wonder on piano and vocals. Complete with false start, “Loves Me Like A Rock” begins around the eight minute mark of this fifteen minute video:

Ever since I saw this video, “Loves Me Like A Rock” is the song that makes me think about Mom. What a great, unselfish person she was. And boy, did she ever love me love me love me.

The Afterlife

“After I died, and the makeup had dried, I went back to my place.
No moon that night, but a heavenly light shone on my face.
Still I thought it was odd, there was no sign of God just to usher me in.
Then a voice from above, sugar coated with Love, said,

Let us begin.
You got to fill out a form first, and then you wait in the line.
You got to fill out a form first, and then you wait in the line.”

In the first verse, Simon introduces the topic — he died, so what happens next? One good thing is he gets to go back to his place. I like the rhyme of “usher me in” with “let us begin”. We now know that heaven requires a bit of paperwork before entry is granted.

“OK, a new kid in school, got to follow the rule, you got to learn the routine.
Whoa, there’s a girl over there, with the sunshiny hair, like a homecomin’ queen.
I said, “Hey, what you say? It’s a glorious day, by the way how long you been dead?”
Maybe you, maybe me, maybe baby makes three, but she just shook her head…

You got to fill out a form first, and then you wait in the line.
You got to fill out a form first, and then you wait in the line.

Buddah and Moses and all the noses from narrow to flat,
Had to stand in the line, just to glimpse the divine, what you think about that?
Well it seems like our fate to suffer and wait for the knowledge we seek,
It’s all his design, no one cuts in the line, no one here likes a sneak.

You got to fill out a form first, and then you wait in the line.
You got to fill out a form first, and then you wait in the line.”

In the self-explanatory second and third verses, Simon addresses the two great mysteries in life. There’s always the magnetic appeal of a beautiful woman. And while you’re waiting in line, notice that no one is exempt from final judgement. After a short, shimmering instrumental passage, Simon returns with the final verse.

“After you climb up the ladder of time, the Lord God is near.
Face to face, in the vastness of space, your words disappear.
And you feel like swimming in that ocean of love, and the current is strong.
But all that remains when you try to explain is a fragment of song…

Lord, is it ‘Be Bop A Lu La’ or ‘Ooh Poo Pah Doo’?
Lord, ‘Be Bop A Lu La’ or ‘Ooh Poo Pah Doo’?
‘Be Bop A Lu La’.”

Assuming I have time to think about life before I die, I’m sure to swim in that ocean of love and reminisce about the great times I’ve had. Words to describe my gratitude will not suffice. Life’s a struggle, but when my time gets near, I’ll give up battling and just swim.

It seems like a throwaway, but “Lord, is it ‘Be Bop A Lu La’ or ‘Ooh Poo Pah Doo’?” is the key statement. After four beautifully constructed verses of rhythmic, literate prose, he finally distills what he wants to say. Finally, he decides on ‘Be Bop A Lu La’.

Paul Simon Song Notes:

Most of these songs are easy to find. The exceptions are:

1. “Hearts And Bones/Mystery Train/Wheels (Live)” can be found on iTunes Festival: London 2011 — EP.

2. “Paranoia Blues (Alt)” can be found on Paul Simon.

3. “Something So Right (Live)” can be found on Paul Simon In Concert: Live Rhymin’.

4. “The Afterlife (Live)” is the official YouTube performance as presented in the blog.

5. “The Sound Of Silence (Alt)” can be found on The Columbia Studio Recordings — 1964-1970.

6. “Scarborough Fair/Canticle (Live)” and “I Am A Rock (Live) can be found on Live 1969.

7. “The Sound Of Silence (Live)” can be found on Live from New York City, 1967.

8. “A Hazy Shade Of Winter (Live)”
“I Am A Rock (Live)”
“At The Zoo (Live)”
“Baby Driver (Live)”
“Homeward Bound (Live)”
“The Sound Of Silence (Live)”

can be found on Old Friends: Live On Stage.

9. “Homeward Bound (Live)”
“The Boxer (Live)”
“Fakin’ It (Live)”
“The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) (Live)”
“Anji (Live)”
“America (Live)”

can be found on the unauthorized live recording 59th Street Bridge Songs: France 1970.

Simon & Garfunkel Songs

Homeward Bound, Simon & Garfunkel ★★★★★

The Sound Of Silence (Alt), Simon & Garfunkel ★★★★
The Boxer, Simon & Garfunkel ★★★★
America, Simon & Garfunkel ★★★★
I Am A Rock (Live), Simon & Garfunkel ★★★★

At The Zoo, Simon & Garfunkel ★★★
The Sound Of Silence, Simon & Garfunkel ★★★
Mrs. Robinson, Simon & Garfunkel ★★★
Scarborough Fair/Canticle, Simon & Garfunkel ★★★
I Am A Rock, Simon & Garfunkel ★★★

Bridge Over Troubled Water, Simon & Garfunkel ★★
Baby Driver, Simon & Garfunkel ★★
Peggy-O, Simon & Garfunkel ★★
Wednesday Morning, 3 AM, Simon & Garfunkel ★★
Anji, Simon & Garfunkel ★★
The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy), Simon & Garfunkel ★★
The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy), Simon & Garfunkel ★★
Fakin’ It, Simon & Garfunkel ★★
A Hazy Shade Of Winter, Simon & Garfunkel ★★
Scarborough Fair/Canticle (Live), Simon & Garfunkel ★★
I Am A Rock (live), Simon & Garfunkel ★★
The Sound Of Silence (Live), Simon & Garfunkel ★★
Homeward Bound (Live), Simon & Garfunkel ★★
The Boxer (Live), Simon & Garfunkel ★★
Anji (Live), Simon & Garfunkel ★★

El Condor Pasa (If I Could), Simon & Garfunkel
The Only Living Boy In New York, Simon & Garfunkel
Kathy’s Song, Simon & Garfunkel
Richard Cory, Simon & Garfunkel
Cloudy, Simon & Garfunkel
The Dangling Conversation, Simon & Garfunkel
Flowers Never Bend With The Rainfall, Simon & Garfunkel
A Simple Desultory Phillipic (Or How I Was Robert McNamara’d), Simon & Garfunkel
Old Friends, Simon & Garfunkel
Bookends Theme, Simon & Garfunkel
Sparrow, Simon & Garfunkel
Somewhere They can’t Find Me, Simon & Garfunkel
Bleecker Street, Simon & Garfunkel
Patterns, Simon & Garfunkel
The Sound Of Silence (Live), Simon & Garfunkel
A Hazy Shade Of Winter (live), Simon & Garfunkel
At The Zoo (Live), Simon & Garfunkel
Baby Driver (live), Simon & Garfunkel
Homeward Bound (live), Simon & Garfunkel
Fakin’ It (Live), Simon & Garfunkel
America (live), Simon & Garfunkel

Paul Simon Songs:

The Afterlife (Live), Paul Simon ★★★★★

Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes, Paul Simon ★★★★
Late In the Evening, Paul Simon ★★★★
The Afterlife, Paul Simon ★★★★

Mother And Child Reunion, Paul Simon ★★★
Me And Julio Down By The Schoolyard, Paul Simon ★★★
Under African Skies, Paul Simon ★★★
Graceland, Paul Simon ★★★
Something So Right, Paul Simon ★★★
Born At The Right Time, Paul Simon ★★★
Loves Me Like A Rock, Paul Simon ★★★
Dazzling Blue (Video), Paul Simon ★★★

Take Me To The Mardi Gras, Paul Simon ★★
Slip Slidin’ Away, Paul Simon ★★
She Moves On, Paul Simon ★★
50 Ways To Leave Your Lover, Paul Simon ★★
That Was Your Mother, Paul Simon ★★
Dazzling Blue, Paul Simon ★★
Hobo’s Blues, Paul Simon ★★
Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes (Alt), Paul Simon ★★
Something So Right (Live), Paul Simon ★★
Homeless, Paul Simon ★★
Hearts And Bones, Paul Simon ★★

Father And Daughter, Paul Simon
The Boy In The Bubble, Paul Simon
Gumboots, Paul Simon
You Can Call Me Al, Paul Simon
Crazy Love, Vol. II, Paul Simon
Still Crazy After All These Years, Paul Simon
Kodachrome, Paul Simon
Train In the Distance, Paul Simon
Duncan, Paul Simon
Paranoia Blues (Alt), Paul Simon
Proof, Paul Simon
Can’t Run But, Paul Simon
The Coast, Paul Simon
Born At the Right Time (Demo), Paul Simon
Getting Ready For Christmas Day, Paul Simon
Rewrite, Paul Simon
One Man’s Ceiling Is Another Man’s Floor, Paul Simon
St. Judy’s Comet, Paul Simon

Related Songs:

Angi, Davy Graham ★★

Bridge Over Troubled Water, Aretha Franklin ★★

13. Grateful Dead

The Grateful Dead are a rock band from Palo Alto, California. The band formed around Jerry Garcia, who grew up in the Balboa neighborhood of San Francisco, but moved to Palo Alto in early 1961. Garcia became the guitar and banjo teacher at Dana Morgan’s Music Store in downtown Palo Alto, and over the course of the next four years, he recruited Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Ron “Pigpen” McKernan and Bill Kreutzman into the band. They evolved from a jug band into a rock and roll band, with roots in many styles of music, from Garcia’s love of bluegrass to Lesh’s training as a classical composer. During these formative years Garcia also played music with Robert Hunter, who became a primary lyricist for the group.

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As a young man, Jerry Garcia embraced the poetry and literature of the Beat Generation.

From Wikipedia:

“The Beat Generation was a group of American post-World War II writers who came to prominence in the 1950s, as well as the cultural phenomena that they both documented and inspired. Central elements of “Beat” culture included rejection of perceived standards, innovations in style, experimentation with drugs, alternative sexualities, an interest in Eastern religion, a rejection of materialism, and explicit portrayals of the human condition.”

Garcia spent much of his free time at Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park, where he found like-minded souls who shared his desire for free expression. He became friends with authors Allan Ginsberg and Ken Kesey, as well as the noteworthy free spirit Neal Cassady, the subject of Jack Kerouac’s novel “On The Road”.

The Long Golden Road

The Grateful Dead’s journey to worldwide success and notoriety was long. If one might identify when the band caught its “big break”, it happened when Ken Kesey asked them to perform at his Acid Test house parties in the remote, coastal mountains west of Palo Alto. At the time the band was known as The Warlocks; they soon changed their name to the Grateful Dead. They were young, raw and experimental in their approach.

“One day we were over at Phil’s house…He had a big dictionary. I opened it and there was ‘Grateful Dead’, those words juxtaposed. It was one of those moments, you know, like everything else went blank, diffuse, just sort of oozed away, and there was GRATEFUL DEAD in big, black letters edged all around in gold, man, blasting out at me, such a stunning combination. So I said, ‘How about Grateful Dead?’ And that was it.”

— Jerry Garcia

gratefuldead4

Wikipedia Biography of the Grateful Dead

Jerry Garcia (1942-1995), guitar, vocals, primary songwriter
Bob Weir (b. 1947), guitar, vocals, primary songwriter
Bill Kreutzmann (b. 1946), drums
Phil Lesh (b. 1940), bass guitar, vocals, songwriter
Ron “Pigpen” McKernan (1945-1973), keyboards, harmonica, vocals
Robert Hunter (b. 1941), lyricist

Mickey Hart (b. 1943), drums, percussion
Tom Constanten (b. 1944), keyboards
Keith Godchaux (1948-1980), keyboards
Donna Jean Godchaux (b. 1947), vocals
Brent Mydland (1952-1990), keyboards, vocals, songwriter

The association with the hippie subculture in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco, combined with the notoriety of the experimental LSD-25 acid tests, raised their profile to a national level. Growing up in the late sixties in the San Francisco Bay Area, it was unclear the Grateful Dead would become the preeminent San Francisco band. The Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow was the most successful album among local bands, though Jerry Garcia played guitar on several of their songs.

But the Grateful Dead, a quintet of societal misfits, were busy playing and performing all the time, writing their own songs, and utilizing their disparate influences to expand their musical boundaries. They toured nationally, and gradually built a devoted audience. Bob Weir, the kid, became a strong singer and fine second guitar who loved to sing swinging country songs. Pigpen McKernan, whose Dad was a soul and blues disk jockey, was the band’s soul and blues man. Bill Kreutzmann, the famous football coach’s grandson, hit the drums instead. They became a sextet when Mickey Hart was added as a second drummer and percussionist in 1967. Phil Lesh, the budding classical composer who never played the bass until Garcia asked him to do so, learned how to use the bass as counterpoint behind the soloists to great effect. Jerry Garcia, the reluctant leader, refined his quiet and mournful singing, and became a versatile, inventive guitarist of great renown, with long improvisational solos that thrilled his fans.

To prepare for this profile, I re-read “A Long Strange Trip”, Dennis McNally’s fine Grateful Dead biography.

Amazon.com Link to “A Long Strange Trip: The Inside Story of The Grateful Dead, by Dennis McNally”

“Flashback: Jerry Garcia, October 1978”, Guitar Player Magazine, by Jon Sievert
“Deadhead, The Vast Recorded Legacy of the Grateful Dead”, by Nick Paumgarten, New Yorker Magazine, November 26, 2012″
Grateful Dead Lyric/Song Finder
The Grateful Dead Clubhouse Projects

Also, here are two fine blogs about The Grateful Dead and the San Francisco music scene, by Corry Arnold, a high school classmate:

Hooterollin’ Blog
Lost Live Dead Blog

By the mid-seventies the Dead had become a cultural phenomenon, a traveling party attracting huge audiences, with a devoted fan base who enjoyed the atmosphere of dance, drugs and free expression, not to mention the band’s constantly evolving set list. No two shows were the same, and over their career they performed hundreds of different songs. Sometimes the band’s performance was tired and sloppy; at other times, their improvisations clicked, inciting audiences into a state of bliss. They continued to tour and perform throughout the eighties, despite the deteriorating health of Garcia. In 1986, Jerry fell into a diabetic coma, after which he temporarily improved his consumption habits. The band experienced a final prime in their career in the last eighties and early nineties, but were derailed by the premature death of keyboard player Brent Mydland in 1990. Garcia, who tired of the rigors of travel and performance, resumed some of his habits and eventually passed away in 1995. The Grateful Dead disbanded, though the four remaining original members (Lesh, Weir, Kreutzmann and Hart) continue to perform together periodically.

The Grateful Dead’s large traveling family of musicians, technicians and roadies experienced more than their fair share of tragedies, losing three keyboard players to consumption problems along the way. The band often dealt with these losses in a seemingly cavalier fashion, as if the train was moving too fast to worry about lost passengers.

The Grateful Dead were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 1994.

Either You Love Them Or…

The Dead are perhaps the most polarizing band of all time. With the exception of the Beatles, the Grateful Dead is the favorite band of more people I know than any other. Perhaps five to ten percent of my best music friends built their music listening lives around Grateful Dead concerts. The band did not discourage amateur recording enthusiasts from taping concerts, which spawned a whole subculture of sharing tapes, which allowed their audience to collect far more music than other bands.

“The Grateful Dead epitomize hippie rock & roll, and if you’re a hippie yourself, you might want to invert the ratings above. But unless you are, this is one assertedly major oeuvre that’s virtually worthless except for documentary purposes. The Dead’s long modal jams may be the stuff of mesmerism in concert (though even there, it’s questionable), but they’re simply self-indulgent and boring on disc. The band’s attempts at pop, rock and country are rendered effortlessly irritating and stodgy by the band’s lack of a crisp rhythm section and/or a single competent vocalist.

The Dead are worshipped for their image as hip patriarchs, which meant that as long as Jerry Garcia has that acid twinkle in his eye, he’ll never have to worry about his pedestrian set of chops. Truthfully, there simply isn’t very much about this group that’s impressive, except the devotion of its fans to a mythology created in Haight-Ashbury and now sustained in junior high schools across America. At its peak, the Dead has essayed competence: Workingman’s Dead is third-rate next to (The Byrds’ album) Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, much less anything Gram Parsons ever recorded on his own, but it has a sweet ingenuousness that renders it bearable. Similarly, Live Dead isn’t much less interminable that any other Dead concert piece, but it has a freshness that feints towards vitality. But when the Dead attempt to rework rock and blues standards — as they did on their horrible debut album, and have sporadically since — they are a pox on the face of pop. And the group’s patchouli-oil philosophy, which does nothing more than reinforce solipsism and self-indulgence in its listeners, except when it’s nurturing its Hells Angels fan club, is exactly the sort of stuff that gave peace ‘n’ love a bad name.”

Dave Marsh, “The New Rolling Stone Record Guide”, 2nd Edition, 1983

I took LSD about eight or ten times in my teenage years, always in a controlled environment. These were great experiences that I cherish. Though there have been serious LSD casualties in the history of rock music, like Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd and Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac, the Grateful Dead managed to use LSD regularly early in their career, and emerge relatively unscathed, while benefiting from the magnificently sensory experiences the drug provides. This is not an endorsement. You have to be with friends, and if you get frightened, it will swallow you in fear, and send you tumbling fast.

Here’s a great video, when the Grateful Dead were invited to perform on Hugh Hefner’s “Playboy After Dark” program in 1969. The merry pranksters dosed the coffee on the set, and shared their psychedelic experience with the more conventional Playboy crowd, prompting Hefner to remark, “Thanks for the gift.”

“It’s a language, that’s all, without words — just the images themselves.”, wrote Art Kleps, an early associate of LSD researcher Timothy Leary, and one of the few to consider LSD in Western philosophical terms. LSD, he argued, lays waste to supernaturalism, since, ironically, much of the LSD experience lies in the realm of the absurd, and there is “no room for the absurd in the cosmologies of the occultists and supernaturalists.” The simple materialism of the lower reaches of scientific thought also had to go: “It is materialism that is destroyed by these overwhelming demonstrations of the limitless power of the imagination, not, necessarily, as those who liked to disparage nihilism and solipsism assume, empricism, logic or honor. It is not one’s experience or character that is intimidated, but only certain abstract concepts about the organization of experience.

Most people come out of LSD trips believing in the oneness of all life, the interconnectedness of things, and from that, the philosophically disposed frequently hit on Jungian synchronicity, the notion that things can be on a non-cause-and-effect basis, as in dreams. “If one’s thesis is that ordinary life is a dream,” wrote Art Kleps, “then anything that can happen in a dream in sleep can happen in waking life also, without disproving the thesis. If you can see that, you can see everything.”

— Excerpt from “A Long Strange Trip”, Dennis McNally

Although not commercially released, the Barton Hall concert at Cornell University (May 8, 1977) was added to the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry. Here Bob Weir sings “Estimated Prophet” (audio only) with its uncharacteristic 7/4 time signature.

The Grateful Dead flew in the face of convention; most Americans have dismissed them without investigation. Throughout their career they were odds with the corporate mentality, music executives looking for a hit song and a certain image. The Dead focused on the music, and let their sound engineers perfect a stadium-size sound system, no matter the cost. They built their business around the concerts, allowed the tapers to record the shows, and learned to market themselves independently. And please don’t tell me they can’t play. It would be foolish to suggest they possessed the chops of Miles Davis or John Coltrane, but they are early rock practitioners of modal jazz improvisation, not to mention their facility with folk, country and rock and roll. They are one of rock music’s most versatile bands.

“Early in 1981 the Dead went to Europe to play a few shows in London and then appear with the Who on the German TV show “Rockpalast”, and while in London Garcia gave one of his most extraordinary interviews. Few patently hostile interviewers get within yards of a star, and rarer still is the star who will tolerate hostility. Garcia found it stimulating. The interviewer, Paul Morley, was a cutting-edge young punk from New Musical Express, and Garcia revolted him. “You’re just a part of a perpetuation of bland, blanketing myths,” said the punk. “Does that disappoint you?” Garcia chuckled. “Naah! I didn’t have any expectations…If you start out expecting to fail and expecting the worst then anything that happens is an improvement over that…we’re just starting.” Does it upset you that I don’t dig you? “No! I don’t give a damn. I would be afraid if if everybody in the world liked us…I don’t want to be responsible for leading the march to wherever. Fuck that. It’s already been done and the world hates it…a combination of music and the psychedelic experience taught me to fear power. I mean fear it and hate it…First of all, I don’t think of myself as an adult. An adult is someone who’s made up their mind. When I go through airports the people who have their thing together, who are clean, well-groomed, who have tailored clothes, who have their whole material thing together, these people are adults. They’ve made a decision to follow those routines…I would say that I was part of a prolonged adolescence. I think our whole scene is that…I feel like someone who is constantly on the verge of losing it, or blowing it. I feel tremendously insecure.” “My heated irrationality bumps into Garcia’s sheer reasonableness,” wrote Morley, and it was true. Garcia’s egoless interest in authentic communication, even when it involved mocking him, made for one of the more fascinating encounters in rock journalism.

— Dennis McNally, “A Long Strange Trip”

Growing Up In Palo Alto

While researching the Grateful Dead, I came across these two interviews conducted by the Silicon Valley Historical Association. The first is Jerry Garcia’a final interview; the second is a semiconductor executive who discusses the open sharing of technology among scientists over drinks after work:

The Bay Area zeitgeist. Since World War II, artists and engineers alike shared knowledge and wisdom and pushed society forward. Even in the integrated circuit industry growing south from Stanford University, there was a willingness to share and try things differently.

My Dad worked at the university physics lab, and though their Department of Energy directive was to study the nature of matter in its elemental form, their enduring legacy will be to help establish the ARPANET, the world’s first TCP/IP packet switching network. The ARPANET allowed the world’s high energy physics laboratories to share research in a timely fashion. Embraced by other government and educational institutions to share information, the ARPANET grew into the modern Internet, the most disruptive and important technology of the last fifty years. Its economic importance cannot be overestimated.

Not all change has been good for Palo Alto, from the perspective of a kid who grew up there when things were quieter. The county grew crowded and fabulously wealthy. Housing is unaffordable. The egalitarian nature of my hometown slowly slipped away. I moved away twenty years ago, and I probably won’t move back. If I’m lucky enough to live another twenty years, old Palo Alto still has delightful, quiet neighborhoods, places where you could have breakfast downtown, and then walk around town like my granddad did the last thirty years of his long life. Palo Alto has nice sidewalks.

Can you separate the beat generation movement from the the burgeoning scientific community? The Bay Area saw an influx of young, science-minded talent after World War II; my parents followed that dream in 1956. It wasn’t crowded and the weather is so gentle. There were strong bohemian influences, with lots of people ready to stretch boundaries, at a time when society was ripe for it. In my parents’ case, they were first generation college grads who wanted out of an Ivy League society they didn’t feel comfortable being in.

I’m proud of being from Palo Alto. I’m grateful for my parents to have moved there. It’s such a great town, the flatlands below the coastal scrapes near the Bay. As a young high school student I rode my ten-speed Peugeot bike everywhere. I remember riding no-handed down the middle of Hamilton Avenue at ten o’clock on a Saturday night. Many of us were allowed out late at night, and some of us boys used our bikes when we needed to get somewhere. Here’s a weird memory which fits. Of the few times I took LSD, one time we took a light dose early in the day. It was mid-afternoon, and we have no particular place to go, just sticking around our neighborhood in south Palo Alto. So we get on our bikes and jam down to the 7-11 on Middlefield Rd. and Colorado Ave. Not a long ride; about a mile or so. I’m riding no-handed on and off, no problem, but at some point I lose the bike beneath me, and the bike starts to fall. I sense the crash coming, and jump off the bike on purpose, and land standing as the bike fell on the ground. I laughed, looked at my friends, got back on my bike, and finished the short ride to for Slurpees.

1972

Dead Heads talk about concerts the way baseball geeks discuss statistics. It’s a wonder I didn’t geek out on the Dead; many folks got “collection oriented” when the Dead came around with their repertoire. They were never my favorite band; starting around age five or six, the Beatles were my favorite, followed by Creedence Clearwater Revival for a couple years. Curiously, my next favorite was David Grisman, Jerry Garcia’s long time friend. For a few years I never saw a Dead concert, but saw Grisman play a bunch of times, playing that string swing, once with the great Grappelli, with Dad. It was great when Garcia & Grisman started hanging out together and recording music at Grisman’s house in Stinson Beach.

I went to two Dead concerts, the first one (with parents in about 1967) I don’t remember, and during the second one (Laguna Seca, July 30, 1988), we left a few songs after Los Lobos finished. I heard it was a good show. I did give two angel tickets away that day to fans who showed their appreciation by bouncing away with energy, which was nice.

I’ve got a few stories about the Dead that I could share. Not much. A few connections here and there. Mama used to teach exercise class at the local high school with Janice Kreutzmann, Bill’s mom. The McKernans lived in the same Palo Alto neighborhood, and I met Pigpen’s brother Kevin, though not under the best of circumstances. Mom embraced both the music and implied freedom of the San Francisco scene, but it was Dad who liked the Grateful Dead music best. He recorded a cassette tape of the Dead’s first album for regular play. Here lies a difference between me and the typical Dead fan. Daddy liked the amped-up fast songs on their first album, like “Cold Rain And Snow”, “Beat It On Down The Line” and “Sittin’ On Top Of The World”. This kind of hot music runs in my blood. I rate the first Grateful Dead album as among their best.

The Grateful Dead are one of many bands influenced by the beat generation. But they were perhaps the one band closest to the movement, in terms of both physical location and philosophical intent.

How do the Grateful Dead rank seventh among my favorites? For one thing, they have such a large recorded library of music. I can’t possibly take the time to carefully listen to every song to create my personal list of favorites. I’ve collected Dead songs one, two, or a few at a time, over the years. I gravitate towards the fast swinging music more, and the long slow ones less than the typical fan. I’m certain to add more songs to the list.

I like the earliest years of the Dead’s music, from their earliest recordings in 1965 and lasting about a decade. The Golden Road (1965-1973) represents this era beautifully. It’s awkward to say that my favorite year is 1972. It’s a lean year; Mickey Hart was taking temporary leave from the group. Pianist Keith & singer Donna Godchaux joined the band, and Pigpen had become very sick. As a result, Bob Weir is a more prominent part of the soundscape. I also like hearing Bill Kreutzmann drumming by himself. To me, the one drummer sound is more austere and focused. These 1972 recordings show the integral guitar trio and Kreutzmann at their peak. I should probably buy that big box set of 1972 European live recordings. Every Dead Head should own the tremendous new 3CD + DVD box set Sunshine Daydream, a newly issued document that is essential.

My analysis does not give enough credit to singer and keyboardist Brent Mydland. I’ve included a few songs that feature Mydland, when he was an integral part of the band’s sound, but it is not an era I paid much attention to. By all accounts, he was well liked and admired, and in the case of one Dead Head friend, his contributions to Dozin’ At The Knick are among the finest of the band’s career.

Here is a vintage 1972 performance of the band’s seventy-five minute first (of three) set, which conclude with “El Paso”, “Big Railroad Blues”, and a first class version of “Truckin'”. Listen to them go get gone!

Grateful Dead Songs:

More than any other band so far, whittling down the list of songs into a focused overview of their music seems both fruitless and cold. This is a band where there is so much music, over a long period of time, that each person’s list of songs is personal, and will vary dramatically. I’ll offer my favorite ninety or so songs, and hopefully someone will take the time to offer their opinion.

Because the band’s recorded legacy is so complex, I am presenting the list by album, because it is more coherent and efficient. By album, in alphabetical order:

American Beauty (Remastered)

Box Of Rain, Grateful Dead ★★
Friend Of The Devil, Grateful Dead ★★★★
Sugar Magnolia, Grateful Dead ★★★
Operator, Grateful Dead
Candyman, Grateful Dead ★★
Ripple, Grateful Dead ★★★
Brokedown Palace, Grateful Dead
Attics In My Life, Grateful Dead
Truckin’, Grateful Dead ★★
Friend Of The Devil (Live), Grateful Dead ★★★

Anthem Of the Sun

That’s It For The Other One (Suite), Grateful Dead

Aoxomoxoa

China Cat Sunflower, Grateful Dead

Birth Of The Dead – The Studio Sides

I Know You Rider, Grateful Dead ★★
Don’t Ease Me In, Grateful Dead
Cold Rain And Snow (Alt), Grateful Dead ★★★

Blues For Allah

Help On The Way/Slipknot!, Grateful Dead
Franklin’s Tower, Grateful Dead ★★★

Complete Live Rarities Collection

Viola Lee Blues (Live), Grateful Dead
Pain In My Heart (Live), Grateful Dead
Scarlet Begonias (Live), Grateful Dead
Cassidy (Live), Grateful Dead

Dick’s Picks, Volume 4

Dire Wolf (Live), Grateful Dead ★★
Dark Star (Live), Grateful Dead ★★

Dick’s Picks, Volume 6

Althea (Live), Grateful Dead

Dick’s Picks, Volume 8

I Know Your Rider (Live), Grateful Dead ★★★★
Beat It On Down The Line (Live), Grateful Dead ★★
Candyman (Live), Grateful Dead
Cumberland Blues (Live), Grateful Dead
The Other One (Live), Grateful Dead

Dick’s Picks, Volume 35

Next Time You See Me (Live), Grateful Dead

Dozin’ At The Knick

Just A Little Light (Live), Grateful Dead
Row Jimmy (Live), Grateful Dead

Europe ’72

One More Saturday Night (Live), Grateful Dead
Jack Straw (Live), Grateful Dead ★★★
Tennessee Jed, Grateful Dead

The Grateful Dead (Remastered, Expanded Edition)

Beat It On Down The Line, Grateful Dead ★★
Good Morning Little School Girl, Grateful Dead ★★
Cold Rain And Snow, Grateful Dead ★★★
Sittin’ On Top Of The World (Alt — Full Length), Grateful Dead ★★★
Morning Dew, Grateful Dead ★★

Grateful Dead From The Mars Hotel

U.S. Blues, Grateful Dead ★★★
Scarlet Begonias, Grateful Dead ★★
Ship Of Fools, Grateful Dead ★★

Live At The Fillmore East, 2/11/69

The Eleven (Live), Grateful Dead

Hundred Year Hall

I Know You Rider (Live), Grateful Dead ★★★★

In The Dark

Touch Of Grey, Grateful Dead
West L.A. Fadeaway, Grateful Dead

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Grateful Dead (Fillmore East, April 1971)

Bird Song (Live), Grateful Dead

Live/Dead (Remastered, Expanded Edition)

St. Stephen (Live), Grateful Dead
Death Don’t Have No Mercy (Live), Grateful Dead
Dark Star (Single), Grateful Dead
Turn On Your Love Light (Live), Grateful Dead

One From The Vault

Big River (Live), Grateful Dead
Franklin’s Tower (Live), Grateful Dead ★★★★
Eyes Of The World/Drums (Live), Grateful Dead ★★

Reckoning (Remastered, Expanded Edition)

Deep Elem Blues (Live), Grateful Dead

Shakedown Street

Shakedown Street, Grateful Dead
Fire On The Mountain, Grateful Dead ★★★

Skull & Roses

Bertha (Live), Grateful Dead ★★★★
Mama Tried (Live), Grateful Dead ★★
Big Railroad Blues (Live), Grateful Dead
Playing In the Band (Live), Grateful Dead
Big Boss Man (Live), Grateful Dead
Wharf Rat (Live), Grateful Dead ★★
Not Fade Away/Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad (Live), Grateful Dead ★★★★

Sunshine Daydream

Me And My Uncle (Live), Grateful Dead ★★
Deal (Live), Grateful Dead
China Cat Sunflower (Live), Grateful Dead ★★★
I Know You Rider (Live), Grateful Dead ★★★
El Paso (Live), Grateful Dead
Sing Me Back Home (Live), Grateful Dead ★★

Terrapin Station

Estimated Prophet, Grateful Dead ★★★

Wake Of The Flood

Stella Blue, Grateful Dead

Workingman’s Dead (Remastered, Expanded Edition)

Uncle John’s Band, Grateful Dead
Dire Wolf, Grateful Dead
Cumberland Blues, Grateful Dead
Casey Jones, Grateful Dead
New Speedway Boogie (Alt), Grateful Dead

Related Songs:

Songs by David Grisman & Jerry Garcia, which are listed here.

Deal, Jerry Garcia ★★
Sugaree, Jerry Garcia ★★★
To Lay Me Down, Jerry Garcia
The Wheel, Jerry Garcia

Friend Of The Devil (Live), David Grisman & Jerry Garcia ★★★
Friend Of The Devil, Lyle Lovett ★★★

I Know You Rider, Seldom Scene ★★★★

Bertha, Los Lobos ★★
Bertha (Live), Los Lobos ★★

Not Fade Away, Buddy Holly & The Crickets ★★★
Not Fade Away, The Rolling Stones ★★★★
Not Fade Away (Live), The Rolling Stones ★★★

Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad, Big Bill Broonzy ★★

Rain And Snow, Obray Ramsey ★★★
Cold Rain And Snow (Live), Peter Rowan & Tony Rice ★★★

Sittin’ On Top Of The World, Mississippi Sheiks ★★★
Sittin’ On Top Of The World, Doc Watson ★★★
Sittin’ On Top Of The World, Howlin’ Wolf ★★★★

Wharf Rat, Midnight Oil ★★

Good Morning Little School Girl, Sonny Boy Williamson I ★★
Good Morning Little School Girl, The Yardbirds ★★

Morning Dew, Lulu ★★★
Morning Dew, Jeff Beck ★★
Morning Dew, The 31st of February

Ship Of Fools, Elvis Costello ★★

Ripple, Jane’s Addiction

Mama Tried, Merle Haggard ★★

Sing Me Back Home, Merle Haggard

Me And My Uncle, Judy Collins ★★

Pain In My Heart, Otis Redding ★★

Cassidy, Bob Weir
Cassidy, Suzanne Vega

Next Time You See Me, James Cotton ★★★

Death Don’t Have No Mercy, Reverend Gary Davis ★★

Turn On Your Love Light, Bobby “Blue” Bland ★★★★

Big River, Johnny Cash ★★

Deep Elem Blues, Les Paul

Big Boss Man, Jimmy Reed ★★★
Big Boss Man (Take 2), Elvis Presley ★★

El Paso, Marty Robbins ★★★★

11. Fleetwood Mac

Fleetwood Mac is a blues and rock band from England. They are unique in this countdown, a rhythm section with the brand name, Fleetwood the drummer and McVie the bassist, that attracted singing and songwriting talent for a long time. They are difficult to justify as a top ten band; as hard as I tried to trim the songs and ratings down, they remain so. They have a long history, first as a blues band and then as a popular mainstream rock band, and the early work with Peter Green, the band’s founder, is an underrated chapter.

Let’s look at Fleetwood Mac’s songwriting collaborators one at a time.

Wikipedia Biography of Fleetwood Mac

Fleetwood Mac Personnel:

Since 1967, Fleetwood Mac has always been:

Mick Fleetwood (b. 1947)
, drums
John McVie (b. 1945), bass

Fleetwood and McVie established the beat for these well known collaborators:

Peter Green (b. 1946), guitar, singer, songwriter
Jeremy Spencer (b. 1948), guitar, singer, songwriter
Danny Kirwan (b. 1950), guitar, singer, songwriter
Christine McVie (b. 1943), keyboards, singer, songwriter
Bob Welch (1945-2012), guitar, singer, songwriter
Stevie Nicks (b. 1948), singer, songwriter
Lindsey Buckingham (b. 1949), guitar, singer, songwriter

Pater Green

Peter Green is a guitarist from East London, England. He met Mick Fleetwood and John McVie through their membership in John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers; Mayall selected Green to follow Eric Clapton in the popular blues combo. Green quickly established himself as a worthy successor and soon wanted to form his own band, convincing Fleetwood and McVie to follow him.

Over the years, Green has achieved a cult status during his three years as the leader of Fleetwood Mac. He was a wonderful blues guitarist, perhaps the second greatest bluesman of the British Invasion period, behind Eric Clapton. He was considered to be less technically gifted than his predecessor in the Bluesbreakers, but blessed with outstanding tone. He was notably unselfish, naming the band after his rhythm section and incorporating the talents of guitarists Jeremy Spencer and Danny Kirwan. His early songs are obsessed with loving women, but as he struggled to handle fame and the drug-fueled culture that accompanied the lifestyle, he started to withdraw, and his songs became darker and more foreboding. A bad acid trip in Munich, Germany, is cited by Fleetwood and McVie as the final blow to Peter Green’s psyche; shortly afterwards, he left the band and descended into schizophrenia, which hospitalized him for many years. He eventually recovered, and returned to composing and performing music on a much smaller scale.

Here Green riffs on Danny Kirwan in “Like It This Way”:

In the lead, Peter Green:

A technical discussion of Peter Green’s guitar playing:

Guitar Player Magazine: 10 Things To Play Like Peter Green (1966-1970), by Jesse Grees, May 16, 2012

Recollections of the Munich LSD incident:

The beautiful “Man Of The World”:

I guess I’ve got everything I need,
I wouldn’t ask for more.
And there’s no one I’d rather be,
But I just wish that I’d never been born.

I could tell you about my life,
And keep you amused I’m sure.
About all the times I’ve cried,
And how I don’t want to be sad anymore,
And how I wish I was in love.

— Peter Green

Green became obsessed with the idea of giving the band’s wealth away. “The Green Manalishi (With The Two Pronged Crown)” is his ode to money:

Can’t believe that you need my love so bad,
Come sneakin’ around tryin’ to drive me mad.
Bustin’ in on my dreams,
Making me see things I don’t wanna see.

‘Cause you’re the green manalishi with the two prong crown,
All my tryin’ is up, all your bringin’ is down.
Just taking my love then slippin’ away,
Leavin’ me here just tryin’ to keep from following you.

— Peter Green

Jeremy Spencer

Jeremy Spencer is a slide guitarist and songwriter from south London, England. Part of the original Fleetwood Mac quartet, Spencer was a devotee of Elmore James, as well as a notable mimic of other musicians, and a very popular performer. After Peter Green left the band in 1970, Spencer soldiered on for one more album, and then unexpectedly left the band in 1971 to pursue religion.

You can hear Spencer’s mimickry on display on a couple of songs from the Fleetwood Mac Live At The BBC compilation, represented here by “Linda (Live)” and “How Can We Hang On To A Dream? (Live)”.

Danny Kirwan

Danny Kirwan is a guitarist and songwriter from south London, England. Kirwan was only eighteen years old when he joined Fleetwood Mac; Peter Green wanted to add another guitarist willing to work on guitar duets. Jeremy Spencer was less interested in that role.

The tempermental Kirwan grew as a musician, and persevered through the departure of Peter Green and Jeremy Spencer. Battling alcoholism and his inability to get along with his band mates, Kirwan was fired by the band in the fall of 1972. He contributed many fine songs, including “Without You”, “Sands Of Time” and “Coming Your Way”, as well as adding lead guitar to songs like “Future Games” and “Show Me A Smile”.

Bob Welch

Bob Welch is a guitarist and songwriter from Beverly Hills, California. The son of a screenwriter and movie producer, Welch had dropped out of college and was living in Paris, France when he was suggested as a replacement for Jeremy Spencer. Welch changed the sound of the band in the early seventies, adding a jazz-inflected, spacey sound to the music.

I can only find one YouTube video of the Bob Welch era, this Midnight Special performance of “Miles Away” from 1973. The lead guitarist in this clip is Bob Weston (1947-2012), who played with the band for a couple of years:

One of my favorites by Bob Welch is “Hypnotized”, featured on the album Mystery To Me. Back in high school, I had a high school friend who landed a job as a late night disk jockey on KZSU, the Stanford University radio station. One night I decided to join him at the station during his 2-6 AM program. I remember hearing “Hypnotized” for the first time that night. It was 4:44 in the morning, and the song, plus the fatigue of being up all night, put me into a trance.

Welch left Fleetwood Mac at the end of 1974, once again with some controversy. He went on to a modestly successful career as a solo artist, propelled by a remake of the fine “Sentimental Lady”, and also created two albums with his band Paris. In 1998, when Fleetwood Mac was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame, Welch was the only primary contributor left out of the celebration.

Christine McVie

Christine McVie is a pianist and songwriter from a small village in Cumbria, in northern England. The daughter of a concert violinst, she began her education as a concert pianist, but became enamored with Fats Domino and rock and roll. She was playing in a blues band called Chicken Shack when she met and eventually married bassist John McVie. She joined Fleetwood Mac in 1970.

Although she made a few important contributions to the band (“Spare Me A Little Of Your Love”, “Show Me A Smile”, among others) in the early seventies, she emerged as a rock star when the band moved to Los Angeles, to rekindle the band’s flagging career. When Bob Welch left the band and was replaced by guitarist Lindsey Buckingham and singer Stevie Nicks, the quintet found enormous worldwide success with their first two albums, Fleetwood Mac and Rumours.

Lindsey Buckingham

Lindsey Buckingham is a guitarist and songwriter from Palo Alto, California. He and his girlfriend Stevie Nicks met in high school, and joined the band in 1975 to complete the most famous lineup. This core unit stayed together on and off until Christine McVie left the band in 1997, although Nicks, Buckingham and Christy McVie all took extended breaks to pursue solo careers. Despite the relative permanence of the band, the three young men and two young women quickly experienced problems of infidelity and mistrust, which became public knowledge after the release of Rumours. Buckingham was always the band’s conductor, producing and overseeing the creation of their studio music. Songs like “I’m So Afraid”, “Go Your Own Way” and “Big Love” are laced with palpable emotion; his voice cracks under the weight of the underlying tensions. While not a great guitar soloist, Buckingham is a fine fingerstyle picker whose mostly focuses on augmenting the song, rather than rising to the foreground to make the guitar sing on its own. There are exceptions; the fade guitar solo on “Go Your Own Way” is short and powerful, and a precursor of a similar solo by Mike Campbell on Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ Down A Dream”.

Of all the contributors, Buckingham is my second favorite, behind Peter Green.

Stevie Nicks

Stevie Nicks is a singer from Phoenix, Arizona, though her family moved often during her childhood. She settled into the San Francisco Bay Area to finish high school in Atherton, California, where she met her lifetime musical collaborator Lindsey Buckingham. Joining Fleetwood Mac with Buckingham in 1975, Nicks made immediate strong contributions, adding songs, style, and a deep, sexy voice to the band. She is by far the most popular member of the band; between Fleetwood Mac albums plus her solo efforts, Nicks has sold over 140 million records worldwide.

Stevie and Lindsey revisit “Landslide” in later life:

Stevie Nicks has always been my least favorite of the Fleetwood Mac songwriters, which says more about me than it does her. I perceive her to be the most ambitious and the biggest “sellout” to pop stardom, and perhaps that’s true. Interview footage with Nicks show her to be serious, and exasperated with the band when progress is not positive and consistent. It’s been great to review her best songs with the Mac; the quality of her songs on Fleetwood Mac and Rumours is obvious. An unknown favorite is “Crystal”, which Buckingham sings, on the first “White” album. I have no doubt her drive helped them succeed.

fleetwood-mac

Fast forward to late 2013. Fleetwood Mac just cancelled their world tour; lifetime smoker John McVie has cancer and needs treatment. Bob Welch committed suicide a couple years ago; he was in great pain and did not want to be a burden on his wife. All other important members of the band are alive.

Back in 2009, before I had the grand idea of counting down the common artists in my collection, I wrote a pair of blog posts about Fleetwood Mac. You are welcome to analyze these to see how I chopped the list from almost a hundred songs down to about seventy. I still see the first album of the Buckingham/Nicks era as the superior effort; it’s typical for me to see things that way.

One last story. In the spring of 1975, my senior year in high school, I went to a Day On The Green concert at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. For this one, we showed up at 11 PM the night before and waited to get a ticket the next morning. By 9 AM the next morning we were in the stadium; the concert began sometime between 10-11 AM. The lineup was: Gary Wright, Fleetwood Mac, Dave Mason, Peter Frampton, and Robin Trower. We left during Robin Trower; everything before them was so good. Gary Wright sang the new “Dreamweaver” and “Love Is Alive”, Fleetwood Mac debuted their new lineup with Buckingham and Nicks, and Peter Frampton performed the music set that would become his famous Frampton Comes Alive double album. Dave Mason was good, too. Me and my friends took some chances in early life, and this one was memorable.

Rock Critic Robert Christgau’s Short Takes on Fleetwood Mac Albums
The Elaborate AllMusic Guide to Fleetwood Mac Albums

Fleetwood Mac Song Notes:

1. Many of the selected songs are not available on either iTunes or Amazon. Several albums released during the early seventies are not represented. They can all be found, but it will take a bit of work.

“Sentimental Lady” and “Spare Me A Little Of Your Love” can be found on Bare Trees.

“Future Games”, “Sands Of Time” and “Show Me A Smile” can be found on Future Games.

“Oh, Well, Part 2”, “Coming Your Way” and “Fighting For Madge” can be found on Then Play On.

“Miles Away” and “Hypnotized” can be found on Mystery To Me.

“The Green Manalishi (With The Two Pronged Crown) (Alt)” can be found on The Vaudeville Years Of Fleetwood Mac.

2. “Madison Blues (Live)”, “Trying So Hard To Forget (Live)” and “I Loved Another Woman (Live)” can be found on Helsinki Carousel, an unauthorized compilation of two early concerts. “I Loved Another Woman (Live)” features Paul Butterfield on harmonica.

3. “Black Magic Woman (Live)” and “Jumping At Shadows (Live)” can be found on Live In Boston, Vol. 1. “Got To Move (Live)” can be found on Live In Boston, Vol. 2.

4. “Over My Head (Single)”, “Say You Love Me (Alt)” and “Rhiannon (Will You Ever Win) (Single)” can be found on the deluxe version of Fleetwood Mac, and are also not current available on iTunes. All three of these single versions are superior to the album mixes.

5. “Never Going Back Again (Live)”, “Dreams (Take 2)” and “Rhiannon (Live)” can be found on Rumours (Deluxe Edition).

Fleetwood Mac Songs:

Black Magic Woman, Fleetwood Mac ★★★★
Black Magic Woman (Live), Fleetwood Mac ★★★★
Rhiannon (Will You Ever Win) (Single), Fleetwood Mac ★★★★
Hypnotized, Fleetwood Mac ★★★★

Sentimental Lady, Fleetwood Mac ★★★
Rhiannon (Will You Ever Win), Fleetwood Mac ★★★
Over My Head (Single), Fleetwood Mac ★★★
Over My Head, Fleetwood Mac ★★★
Crystal, Fleetwood Mac ★★★
Landslide, Fleetwood Mac ★★★
Without You, Fleetwood Mac ★★★
A Fool No More (Live), Fleetwood Mac ★★★
I Loved Another Woman, Fleetwood Mac ★★★
Need Your Love So Bad, Fleetwood Mac ★★★
Need Your Love So Bad (Version 2)(Remake), Fleetwood Mac ★★★
Go Your Own Way, Fleetwood Mac ★★★
Dreams, Fleetwood Mac ★★★
Albatross, Fleetwood Mac ★★★

Spare Me A Little Of Your Love, Fleetwood Mac ★★
How Can We Hold On To A Dream (Live), Fleetwood Mac ★★
Oh Well, Part 1 (Live), Fleetwood Mac ★★
Albatross (Live), Fleetwood Mac ★★
Say You Love Me (Alt), Fleetwood Mac ★★
Say You Love Me, Fleetwood Mac ★★
I’m So Afraid, Fleetwood Mac ★★
Future Games, Fleetwood Mac ★★
Trying So Hard To Forget (Live), Fleetwood Mac ★★
I Loved Another Woman (Live), Fleetwood Mac ★★
Long Grey Mare, Fleetwood Mac ★★
Shake Your Moneymaker, Fleetwood Mac ★★
Got To Move, Fleetwood Mac ★★
Don’t Stop, Fleetwood Mac ★★
The Chain, Fleetwood Mac ★★
Dreams (Take 2), Fleetwood Mac ★★
Oh Well, Part 1, Fleetwood Mac ★★
The Green Manalishi (With The Two Pronged Crown), Fleetwood Mac ★★
Tusk, Fleetwood Mac ★★

Only You (Live), Fleetwood Mac
Linda (Live), Fleetwood Mac
Like Crying, Fleetwood Mac
Like Crying (Live), Fleetwood Mac
World Turning, Fleetwood Mac
Show Me A Smile, Fleetwood Mac
Madison Blues (Live), Fleetwood Mac
Bermuda Triangle, Fleetwood Mac
Miles Away, Fleetwood Mac
My Heart Beats Like A Hammer (Take 2), Fleetwood Mac
The World Keep On Turning, Fleetwood Mac
Second Hand News, Fleetwood Mac
Never Going Back Again, Fleetwood Mac
Never Going Back Again (Live), Fleetwood Mac
You Make Loving Fun, Fleetwood Mac
Gold Dust Woman, Fleetwood Mac
Rhiannon (Live), Fleetwood Mac
Coming Your Way, Fleetwood Mac
Oh Well, Part 2, Fleetwood Mac
The Green Manalishi (With The Two Pronged Crown) (Alt), Fleetwood Mac
Big Love, Fleetwood Mac
Everywhere, Fleetwood Mac
Little Lies, Fleetwood Mac
Rattlesnake Shake, Fleetwood Mac
Man Of The World, Fleetwood Mac
Fighting For Madge, Fleetwood Mac

Related Songs:

Gold, John Stewart

Magnet And Steel, Walter Egan ★★★

Need Your Love So Bad, Little Willie John ★★★★

Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen, Santana ★★★★

Sun King, The Beatles ★★

Black Dog, Led Zeppelin ★★★★

How Can We Hang On To A Dream, Tim Hardin ★★★

Shake Your Moneymaker, Elmore James ★★★
Dust My Broom, Elmore James ★★
Got To Move, Elmore James ★★
Madison Blues, Elmore James ★★

A Fool No More, Peter Green ★★

Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around, Stevie Nicks & Tom Petty ★★
Edge Of Seventeen, Stevie Nicks

Time Precious Time (KBCO Studio C Sessions), Lindsey Buckingham
Trouble, Lindsey Buckingham ★★
Big Love (Live), Lindsey Buckingham ★★
Holiday Road (Live), Lindsey Buckingham ★★