118. The Four Tops

The Four Tops are a vocal quartet from Detroit, Michigan. The four men met at a house party in 1954, and stayed together for over forty years.

artists_fourtops_large_1

The Four Tops Biography on Wikipedia
The Four Tops Page on soulwalking.co.uk

Levi Stubbs (1936-2008), lead vocalist (baritone)
Renaldo “Obie” Benson (1936-2005), vocalist (bass)
Lawrence Payton (1938-1997), vocalist (tenor)
Abdul “Duke” Fakir (b. 1935), vocalist (tenor)

Note: Renaldo Benson is the co-writer (with Al Cleveland) of the pop standard “What’s Going On”, best known as performed by Marvin Gaye.

The Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting and production team:

Brian Holland (b. 1941), songwriter, producer
Lamont Dozier (b. 1941), songwriter, producer
Eddie Holland (b. 1939), songwriter, producer

A Classy Courtship

The Four Tops are as American as apple pie, one of Motown Records’ most popular and enduring groups. When I was a kid, their music was a consistent presence on AM pop radio. There’s a consistency to several of their biggest hits from the sixties, a style that features the great Motown bassist James Jamerson, who shines on songs such as “Bernadette” and “Standing In The Shadows Of Love”. My favorite Four Tops song is their first hit, “Baby I Need Your Loving”. I find the presentation of their music, with the four handsome, neatly dressed men singing and performing loosely choreographed dance steps, classy and attractive.

When I was about thirty years old, I had a crush on a girl who worked nearby. Peppy had been a lieutenant in the Air Force before entering the civilian work world. After I got to know her, I found out her favorite band was the Four Tops. I discuss my one date with Peppy, taking her to see the Four Tops at the county fair, in the Louis Prima profile. It was under the impression we came pretty close to a serious relationship, and I never even kissed her. She admired Louis Prima’s wife and musical partner Keely Smith, and kind of looked like her, too. The fact that Louis Prima, the Four Tops and Nat “King” Cole became integral parts of the collection is partially attributable to our friendship. Still think about you every now and then, kid; I’ll always be three months older than you.

Four Tops Songs:

Baby I Need Your Loving, The Four Tops ★★★★

Reach Out (I’ll Be There), The Four Tops ★★★
Bernadette, The Four Tops ★★★

I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch), The Four Tops ★★
It’s The Same Old Song, The Four Tops ★★
Standing In The Shadows Of Love, The Four Tops ★★
Ask The Lonely, The Four Tops ★★
Ain’t No Woman (Like The One I’ve Got), The Four Tops ★★
If I Were A Carpenter, The Four Tops ★★

Something About You (Mono), The Four Tops
Are You Man Enough?, The Four Tops
Still Water (Love), The Four Tops
When She Was My Girl, The Four Tops
On The Street Where You Live, The Four Tops
It’s The Same Old Song (Live), The Four Tops

Monaural versions of “Baby I Need Your Loving” and “Standing In The Shadows Of Love” included in the collection.

Related Songs:

On The Street Where You Live, Mel Tormé with Marty Paich Orchestra ★★

If I Were A Carpenter, Tim Hardin ★★★
If I Were A Carpenter (Live), Tim Hardin
If I Were A Carpenter, Bobby Darin ★★★

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)

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 ★★

17. Jimi Hendrix

James Allan “Jimi” Hendrix was a guitarist, singer and songwriter from Seattle, Washington. His childhood was defined by hardship and uncertainty. His parents married when his mother Lucille was only sixteen years old, and his father Al left a few days later to serve in the Army during World War II. Hendrix was often neglected as an infant, but family members helped raise him until Al returned home in 1945. The young family reunited, but Al struggled to find steady work. Both parents drank to excess. The couple had four more children, but gave the three youngest up for adoption, and eventually divorced in 1951.

When Dad bought James his first guitar in 1958, the young man promptly began devoting most of his free time to playing and learning the guitar. With few prospects after school, he enlisted in the Army in 1961, but was honorably discharged for “unsuitability” within eighteen months. While in the Army, he made friends with Billy Cox through their mutual interest in music, and after Cox left the Army, the two headed to Nashville, Tennessee. Over the next three years, Hendrix toured and recorded as a support musician for such acts as Little Richard and the Isley Brothers, and moved to New York City, to improve his chances of success as a solo artist. By the summer of 1966, now a top notch, soulful rhythm and lead guitarist, James (or Jimmy) caught his big break. Former Animals bassist Chas Chandler was trying to break into the record business as a manager, watched Hendrix perform, and convinced to move to London, England. To add a distinctive ring, Hendrix changed his stage name to Jimi, and paired himself with two young British musicians, drummer Mitch Mitchell and guitarist Noel Redding, who switched to bass, and formed the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

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Their first single was a version of the recent folk song “Hey Joe”, which reached #6 on the British pop charts.

Buoyed by the success of “Hey Joe”, the band recorded an album of original material. The resulting effort, called Are You Experienced?, is one of the greatest debut albums in popular music history, featuring a broad exploration of the electric guitar’s capabilities, with strange but evocative lyrics that helped define the psychedelic era of rock music. Within months, Hendrix had become the toast of the town, winning the envy and admiration of the biggest rock stars in London’s orbit.

America’s introduction to the Jimi Hendrix Experience came a few months later, at the Monterey International Pop Festival in June, 1967. Their wild performance, featuring Hendrix’s mastery of feedback techniques and ending with a ceremonial guitar burning, gained him instant notoriety. Combined with the instrumental virtuosity and the hip, humorous stories of Are You Experienced?, Jimi Hendrix became a worldwide sensation.

In His Prime and Decline

The next three years were a whirlwind of activity, and a period of rapid decline. From 1967 to 1970, Hendrix performed and recorded incessantly, issued three more albums of material, fought to gain control of his finances and music, and opened the Electric Lady studios in New York City, while trying to manage his entourage of friends and managers, especially the women who demanded his attention. Hendrix indulged heavily in a wide variety of drugs, which took their toll on his health and well being. Similar to his mother Lucille, who passed away at only thirty three due to alcoholism and cirrhosis of the liver, Jimi Hendrix passed away on September 18th, 1970, only twenty seven years old, due to an overdose of barbiturates and alcohol. With the possible exception of Duane Allman, the premature loss of Jimi Hendrix is the greatest tragedy in rock music history. Hendrix was evolving rapidly, moving away from pop music and into the broader world of jazz music expression.

There’s your obligatory boilerplate opening passage, my dismal effort to summarize a great musician’s life into as few paragraphs as possible. There is a wealth of information of the beloved Hendrix for those so inclined. While studying Jimi Hendrix I read “Excuse Me While I Kiss The Sky” by David Henderson, a rambling yet ultimately rewarding book which, in particular, well describes the chaos and tragedy during the final couple years of the great guitarist’s life. In the book, a conspiracy theory of Hendrix’s demise is offered, the suggestion that he was murdered by either a greedy businessman or a jealous lover. None of these allegations were proved. Hendrix’s financial affairs were in disarray at the time of his death; it took his father Al more than twenty years to regain full control of his son’s estate.

www.jimihendrix.com — Official Website

The Jimi Hendrix Experience:

Jimi Hendrix (1942-1970), guitar, bass, vocals, songwriter
Noel Redding (1945-2003), bass
Mitch Mitchell (1947-2008), drums

The Band Of Gypsys:

Jimi Hendrix with:

Billy Cox (b. 1941), bass
Buddy Miles (1947-2008), drums

Amazon.com Link to “Excuse Me While I Kiss The Sky”, by David Henderson

Do Chicks Dig Hendrix?

I listen to music a couple hours a day; lately, I’ve been reviewing music over breakfast. Inevitably, my wife hears a cross section of each artist in the big countdown. Jimi Hendrix is her least favorite musician to date, a distinction that will stand, given the ten remaining artists to profile. She doesn’t hate his music, but there are few if any songs she actively enjoys, and the shrill sound of Hendrix’s stinging lead guitar grates on her nerves.

A while back I played “Little Wing” for a friend, who didn’t think much of it, and she couldn’t comprehend why I considered it a top song. About ten years ago, I sent my sister a Hendrix compilation for Christmas, along with other music I consider essential, only to have the CD returned with the comment, “We (her family) don’t listen to that kind of music anymore.”

I don’t recall ever meeting a woman who said she enjoyed Jimi Hendrix, or made an effort to listen to his music. I’m a bit surprised by this, as some of his gentle songs have a cosmic warmth to them. He was considered by those closest to him a shy, nice person, except those rare occasions when he had too much to drink.

By contrast, Jimi Hendrix was a veritable sex symbol in London, constantly surrounded by female friends and admirers. Though he had steady girlfriends throughout his career, he also maintained a policy of open sexuality and promiscuity.

“Pete Townshend of the Who had found Hendrix’s early London performances very sexual, not in an “appealing way”, but rather, more “threatening.” When he asked his girlfriend Karen Astley (who he married in 1968) if she thought Hendrix’s act was sexual, and she replied, “Are you fucking kidding?,” Townshend had been unaware of how “aroused” his girlfriend had become seeing those shows.”

— David Henderson, “Excuse Me While I Kiss The Sky”

“I saw Paul (McCartney) again at the Bag ‘O Nails in Soho, where Jimi Hendrix was making a celebratory return. Mick Jagger came for a while and then left, unwisely leaving Marianne Faithfull, his girlfriend at the time, behind. Jimi sidled up to her after his mind-bending performance, and it became clear as the two of them danced together that Marianne had the shaman’s stars in her eyes. When Mick returned to take Marianne out to a car he’d arranged, he must have wondered what the sniggering was about. In the end, Jimi himself broke the tension by taking Marianne’s hand, kissing it, and excusing himself to walk over to Paul and me. Mal Evans, the Beatles’ lovable roadie-cum-aide-de-camp, turned to me and breathed a big, ironic Liverpudlian sigh. “That’s called exchanging business cards, Pete.”

— Peter Townshend, “Who I Am”

Here’s a very amusing clip, the first known video featuring Jimi Hendrix. He’s on the left in the back row, and you can hear him quite clearly making some fancy fills in the background:

Why So Many Jimi Hendrix Songs?

In a new feature to be repeated for Lucinda Williams, Grateful Dead and especially Los Lobos, it’s time to defend the high ranking of the profiled artist. Why is Jimi Hendrix rated so highly, given his career was only four years long, and typical American baby boomerettes find his music unappealing? How can I possibly recommend sixty four songs?

My iPod collection, and my list of best artists, attempts to highlight the major innovators of 20th century pop music, and among them is Jimi Hendrix. Jimi Hendrix was the first to fully explore the spectrum of sounds possible with an electric guitar. Pete Townshend and John Lennon experimented with feedback, but not to the extent Hendrix did. His command of his instrument sent other musicians home to practice, thinking they’d better try harder; sometimes they thought they should just quit trying. He’s also the rare guitarists able to play complex riffs while singing.

Especially in his first year recording with the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Hendrix showed a flair for writing concise, unique and fun pop songs. He had a way of telling a story, of talking to his audience that drew in the listener. His narrative story telling is equal parts Howlin’ Wolf and Bob Dylan. After the initial success of his first two albums, his music became more ambitious, with mixed results. Years on the Chitlin’ Circuit made him a great R&B rhythm guitarist; at the time of his death, his ability to play engaging solos was improving. When compared to the all-time great soloists, men like Charlie Christian, Django Reinhardt or Eric Clapton, Hendrix was a neophyte, still learning how to construct dynamic, coherent passages that resolved in a pleasing fashion. His solos showed a great command of the sounds a guitar could make, but he hadn’t yet become a master of improvisation. Included are several examples of his posthumous work to show his progress as a musician, and the musical direction he was headed. As a soloist, “All Along The Watchtower” is perhaps his greatest achievement, and also notable as the greatest, most inventive cover version in rock music history.

Beyond his psychedelic pop sensibilities, Hendrix was a first class blues musician, and it would be fair to suggest that his most similar musical ancestor is Robert Johnson. Take away the electrification of his instrument, and the connection appears more obvious. Hendrix owned an extensive knowledge of old blues music, and recorded dozens of blues songs in his career.

Stone Free

“Everyday in the week I’m in a different city,
If I stay too long people try to pull me down.
They talk about me like a dog,
Talk about the clothes I wear,
But they don’t realize they’re the ones who’s square.”

— Jimi Hendrix

You might think that Jimi Hendrix would appear menacingly swinging from treetops, brandishing a spear, and yelling blood-curdling cries of “Aargh!”

For Jimi, who makes Mick Jagger look as respectable as Edawrd Heath and as genial as David Frost, could pass for a hottentot on the rampage; looks as if his foot-long hair has been petrified by a thousand shock waves, and is given to playing his guitar with his teeth.

When the Jimi Hendrix Experience made its first appearance in Britain a few months ago, he was immediately dubbed “The Wild Man of Borneo,” and the group was referred to as “an unfortunate experience.”

“Yet Jimi Hendrix is no snarling jungle primitive.

Though the gold-braided military jacket over the black satin shirt could be taken as incongruous, Jimi off-stage behaves with a quiet polite charm that’s almost olde worlde.

He stands up when you enter a room, lights all your cigarettes, and says: “Do go on,” if he thinks he might be interrupting you.

That “ugly” image, however, doesn’t worry him in the slightest. And he says: “Some of the fans think I’m cuddly, and as long as people buy my records I’ll be happy.”

He could be laughing all the way to the bank.

— Anne Nightingale, Sunday Mirror, May 9, 1967

“Listen to this baby…
A woman here, a woman there, try to keep me in a plastic cage,
But they don’t realize it’s so easy to break.
Oh, but sometimes I get a ha,
I can feel my heart kind a runnin’ hot.
That’s when I got to move before I get caught.
And that’s why, listen to me baby, you can’t hold me down,
I don’t want to be tied down,
I gotta be free!”

— Jimi Hendrix, “Stone Free”, 2nd verse

Sadly, Jimi Hendrix was anything but free in his final years. He was surrounded by people who wanted something, and he was trapped. Women fought for his time and affection; (Monika Dannemann), who was with Jimi during his last evening, had declared to all who would listen that she and Jimi were engaged, and protested when he wanted to spend time with other people. Manager Chas Chandler resigned when Jimi’s music became less pop oriented, and his new manager, Michael Jeffery, was unscrupulous. Offshore Bermuda banking accounts were established, and Hendrix’s personal balance always seemed short of funds. Jeffery surrounded himself with large, thuggish associates, who always had high quality drugs available for Jimi and his entourage. David Henderson’s book chronicles his descent in detail. Just four years before his death, the fresh young guitarist from Washington state proclaimed his freedom. In the last year of his life, he tried to reclaim it, and failed.

Jimi Hendrix plays an unusual role in pop music history —— he was a dark-skinned performer (mixed descent including African and Native American blood) popular with white audiences while receiving little attention from the African American community. Chas Chandler actually discouraged him from performing with Billy Cox and Buddy Miles, both black musicians, because they might lose their appeal with white audiences. But Jimi was black, and comfortable in the company of black men, and as he evolved, he wanted to perform more music with black artists.

In terms of introducing a generation of white music fans to hip African American lingo and culture, Jimi Hendrix was perhaps the most influential. James Brown was influential within the black community, but not outside it. Sly & The Family Stone were also popular with white audiences, but Jimi Hendrix’s hip use of language and emotive on-stage persona was most admirable and impressive. Hendrix was impossibly cool. In unheralded fashion, Jimi Hendrix was a key figure in liberalizing racial views during the civil rights era.

Conversely, Hendrix went largely unrecognized by his own community during his lifetime. Soul and R&B music stations rarely if ever played his music. The African American community may have resented Hendrix for crossing over and playing hard rock music; more likely, the community was just as shocked as conservative white audiences by his radical departure from traditional sounds. Historically, African-Americans embrace this artistic creativity, but in this rare case they failed to fully endorse one of their most creative contributors.

Jimi Hendrix Song Notes:

The first three albums are all highly recommended:

Are You Experienced?
Axis: Bold As Love
Electric Ladyland

The other recommended songs can be found on the following CDs:

Band Of Gypsys

Who Knows (Live)
Machine Gun (Live)
Them Changes (Live)
Message Of Love (Live)
Power To Love (Live)

First Rays Of The New Rising Sun

Angel
Dolly Dagger
My Friend
Belly Button Window

The Jimi Hendrix Experience Box Set

Little Wing (Live) (★★★ version)
Little Wing (Alt)
Hey Joe (Live)
Purple Haze (Alt)
If 6 Was 9 (Alt)
Message To Love

Live At Monterey

Rock Me Baby (Live)
Like A Rolling Stone (Live)
Wild Thing (Live)

BBC Sessions

Catfish Blues (Live)
Stone Free (Live)
Driving South (Live)
Day Tripper (Live)

West Coast Seattle Boy

In particular, the alternate mix of “Fire” is better than the original.

Love Or Confusion (Alt)
Fire (Alt)
May This Be Love (Alt)
The Wind Cries Mary (Live)
Castles Made Of Sand (Alt)
Red House (Live)

Miscellaneous Albums

“Johnny B. Goode (Live)” and “Little Wing (Live)” (★★ version) can be found on Hendrix In The West.—

“Hey Baby (New Rising Sun) (Live)” can be found on Live At Berkeley.

“All Along The Watchtower (Alt)” can be found on Voodoo Child — The Jimi Hendrix Collection.

“Pali Gap” can be found on South Saturn Delta.

“Hear My Train A-Comin’ (Live)” can be found on Live At The Fillmore East.

“Star Spangled Banner (Live)” can be found on Woodstock: Three Days of Peace & Music.

Jimi Hendrix Songs:

All Along The Watchtower, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★★★

Voodoo Child (Slight Return), The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★★
Manic Depression, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★★
Hey Joe, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★★
The Wind Cries Mary, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★★
Little Wing, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★★
Fire (Alt), The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★★

Stone Free, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★
Purple Haze, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★
Foxy Lady, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★
If 6 Was 9, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★
Castles Made Of Sand, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★
Crosstown Traffic, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★
Rainy Day, Dream Away, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★
Little Wing (Live), The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★
Like A Rolling Stone (Live), The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★
Little Wing (Alt), The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★★

Machine Gun (Live), Jimi Hendrix ★★
Them Changes (Live), Jimi Hendrix ★★
Message Of Love (Live), Jimi Hendrix ★★
Message To Love, Jimi Hendrix ★★
Red House (Live), Jimi Hendrix ★★
Third Stone From The Sun, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★
Spanish Castle Magic, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★
Wait Until Tomorrow, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★
Bold As Love, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★
Have You Ever Been (To Electric Ladyland), The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★
Little Wing (Live), The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★
Purple Haze (Alt), The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★
If 6 Was 9 (Alt), The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★
Red House, The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★
All Along The Watchtower (Alt), The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★
Love Or Confusion (Alt), The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★
The Wind Cries Mary (Live), The Jimi Hendrix Experience ★★

Who Knows (Live), Jimi Hendrix
Power To Love (Live), Jimi Hendrix
Angel, Jimi Hendrix
Dolly Dagger, Jimi Hendrix
My Friend, Jimi Hendrix
Belly Button Window, Jimi Hendrix
Johnny B. Goode (Live), Jimi Hendrix
Hey Baby (New Rising Sun) (Live), Jimi Hendrix
Hear My Train A-Comin’ (Live), Jimi Hendrix
Pali Gap, Jimi Hendrix
Star Spangled Banner (Live), Jimi Hendrix
Castles Made Of Sand (Alt), The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Are You Experienced?, The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Remember, The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Up From The Skies, The Jimi Hendrix Experience
You Got Me Floatin’, The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Catfish Blues (Live), The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Stone Free (Live), The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Driving South (Live), The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Day Tripper (Live), The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Voodoo Chile, The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Burning Of The Midnight Lamp, The Jimi Hendrix Experience
1983…(A Merman I Should Turn To Be), The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Still Raining, Still Dreaming, The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Hey Joe (Live), The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Killing Floor (Live), The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Rock Me Baby (Live), The Jimi Hendrix Experience
Wild Thing (Live), The Jimi Hendrix Experience
May This Be Love (Alt), The Jimi Hendrix Experience

And The Gods Made Love, The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Related Songs:

Mercy, Mercy, Don Covay ★★

Old Times, Good Times, Stephen Stills ★★

Testify (Parts 1 & 2), Isley Brothers

All Along The Watchtower, Bob Dylan ★★★★
All Along the Watchtower, Dave Mason ★★

Hey Joe, The Leaves ★★
Hey Joe, Tim Rose
Hey Joe, Patti Smith

Little Wing, Derek & The Dominos ★★
Little Wing (Live), Derek & the Dominos
Little Wing, Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble ★★

Like A Rolling Stone, Bob Dylan ★★★★★
Like A Rolling Stone (Mono), Bob Dylan ★★★★★
Like A Rolling Stone (Live), Bob Dylan ★★★

Them Changes, Buddy Miles ★★

Johnny B. Goode, Chuck Berry ★★★★★
Johnny B. Goode (Live), Grateful Dead

Catfish Blues, Robert Petway ★★
Rolling Stone (Alt), Muddy Waters ★★

Travelin’ To California, Albert King

Day Tripper, The Beatles ★★★
Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles ★★

Killing Floor, Howlin’ Wolf ★★

Rock Me, Muddy Waters ★★★★
Rock Me (Alt), Muddy Waters ★★
Rock Me Baby, B.B. King ★★
Rock Me Mama, Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup ★★

10. Ray Charles

Ray Charles Robinson, better known as Ray Charles, is a singer, songwriter and pianist from Greenville, a rural town in northern Florida. A great American success story, he experienced tragedy in early life, but also benefited from a loving family and community who cared for him and encouraged his musical ability. His story is well documented in the 2004 movie “Ray”. At the age of five, he lost his younger brother in a drowning accident, and also started to lose his sight, probably due to glaucoma. Despite a warm and loving environment at home, his mother thought it best to send her gifted son to the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind in St. Augustine, where he attended for eight years and became the school’s premier musician. Ray was trained as a classical pianist, but he also liked jazz and blues music, and began to play piano and sing songs at school social events.

936full-ray-charles

Ray Charles (1930-2004), piano, vocals, saxophone, songwriter

Notable Collaborators

David “Fathead” Newman (1933-2009), saxophone
The Raelettes, backing vocal group
Lowell Fulson (1921-1999), guitar, vocals, songwriter

Ray’s mother Aretha died when was fifteen, and he dropped out of school and moved to Jacksonville, where he lived with family friends, and ingratiated himself with the local jazz and blues musicians. A year of seasoning in Jacksonville, followed by a year in Orlando and one more in Tampa, and Charles made the bold decision to move to Seattle, Washington. He quickly established himself on the west coast, and after about three years and a couple a regional hit songs (“Confession Blues”, “Baby, Let Me Hold Your Hand”), received his big break when Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun signed him to New York City’s Atlantic Records in 1952. The Ertegun brothers gave Charles free reign in the company studios, and during this period Ray “found his voice” and became a key figure in the integration of blues, country, gospel and jazz music. “I Got A Woman” was the first big hit, and “What’d I Say” gave him widespread national exposure. Although his fifties rhythm and blues career with Atlantic may be the most fertile, Charles is best known for his big band interpretations of popular songs with ABC-Paramount Records, especially country and western standards. Throughout he is largely responsible for orchestral arrangements of both the small combo and big band performances; during his later career he collaborated with Sid Feller and other arrangers. Nicknamed “The Genius”, Ray Charles is a self-described “utility player” who produced a diverse and influential library of music.

To write this summary, I used Wikipedia liberally, because it is concise and well done. While reviewing Ray Charles music, I enjoyed reading the biography “Brother Ray” by Ray Charles and David Ritz.

Biography of Ray Charles on HistoryLink.org
http://raycharles.com – Official Website
Amazon.com Link to “Brother Ray” by Charles and Ritz

Everyone Is Not Going To Like You!

The British Broadcasting Corporation (“BBC”) produced a fine documentary on American soul music. Episode 1 of “Deep Soul” devotes considerable attention to Ray Charles’s music and influence. It is a fine documentary, though a bit dismissive of rock and roll as not distinct from its predecessor, rhythm and blues music. Thanks to my friend R.S. for finding this documentary. I would include a link for purchasing this documentary, but I cannot find it for sale anywhere.

Parts 5 and 6 of the documentary are here:

I particularly liked two of the interview clips with Ray Charles. The first occurs around 39:30, when Charles describes the difference between rock and roll and rhythm and blues. It is a short segment, but I noted his ability to get me laughing early in a story. I occasionally have experiences at the movies, where I’ll be the only one laughing in the theater five to ten seconds before the punch line. I love those moments, feeling I’m somehow gifted and different, able to see the tension build first. There’s that sense of urgency and playfulness as Charles winds up the listener with his thoughts. For the few people in his inner circle, I’m guessing Ray Charles could be very funny company, using his sense of drama and timing to tell a story.

Around 47:20, Charles defends the song “I Got A Woman”, which is a hybrid of gospel and blues music. Charles’ song was not universally well liked; in particular, many religious people considered it irreverent. He offers a simple defense of the song, saying that “you do what you do” and “I’m just being myself”, and then says his mother taught me well, and to remember that “everyone is not going to like you!”. He punctuates the point by leaning back in his chair, smiling with his head held high. I found this very moving, and watched it several times over. I waste so much time worrying about what others think, and here is this fearless blind musician, raised in poverty, telling me something I need to remember on a daily basis.

The Expert Opinion

A few nights ago, we were on our way for supplies when number one daughter asks if Grandma and Grandpa can take care of the eight year old twins tonight. It was a festive evening; we were listening to some of Ray Charles’s biggest hits on the way there. I announce it is time for the twins to hear Ray Charles on the way home, something I rarely impose on the family. I’m thinking this should be, at a minimum, funny.

I start out by quietly playing “What’d I Say” as we head back home. About 20 seconds into the song, twin T. makes the call:

“Grandpa John, I think I like this music.”
“Me too, T. This is one of Grandpa’s favorites.”

I turn up the music, and six minutes of bouncing and twisting follows, with Grandpa singing, and the smiling twins receiving an early lesson in call and response. It went so well we also tried and succeeded with “Hit The Road Jack”, another easy one to sing along with. It was great to see the universal appeal. In fifteen, maybe twenty years, I’ll explain what these songs mean, if anyone asks.

The Genius

There are stories of Ray Charles’s intellectual prowess, like his ability to type eighty words a minute while in grade school, or the sense other musicians had that Charles would see right through them, into their souls. He had simple goals — making love, making music, taking care of business, and getting high, when he wanted, on his terms. His music reflects that simplicity. With only a few exceptions, Ray Charles songs are about love and heartbreak. Some of these songs are quite simple; the beauty lies in the sounds: the use of syncopation and volume, different instruments, and especially his expressive singing voice.

Is Ray Charles a true genius? I like the way he thinks. A few simple things in life, music and sports and someone warm to snuggle up with, and during some periods of life a bit of partying. Doing things well takes hard work, plus the ability to be happy and productive when you’re all by yourself. My month long education in Ray Charles has been a revelation.

Slate Article about “Ray”

Ray Charles Song Notes:

1. All of these songs are available at the iTunes Music Store. The oldest Ray Charles songs, before signing with Atlantic Records, can be found as follows:

“Confession Blues” by Ray Charles & The Maxin Trio can be found on The Best Of The Blues, Vol. 1.
“Kissa Me Baby” can be found on several compilations, including Greatest R&B Hits of 1952, Vol. 7.
“Baby, Let Me Hold Your Hand” can be found on several compilations, including Greatest R&B Hits of 1951, Vol. 4.

2. Atlantic recordings can be found on Pure Genius: The Complete Atlantic Recordings (1952-1959).

3. The ABC Paramount recordings from the sixties are presented less coherently, and some may not be available on iTunes. Try the album called Genius Of Soul for most of the big hits.

4. As usual, I focused my attention on the artist’s early career. There are few if any songs recorded after 1970.

5. I recommend the following individual CDs and albums:

Modern Sounds In Country & Western Music
Ray Charles In Person
The Genius Sings The Blues

6. I am particularly pleased with the related song list, which is quite elegant, and shows the breadth of Ray Charles’s influence and central position in 20th century popular music.

Ray Charles Songs:

What’d I Say, Ray Charles ★★★★★

I Got A Woman, Ray Charles ★★★★
Hit The Road Jack, Ray Charles ★★★★
I’m Movin’ On, Ray Charles ★★★★
Baby, It’s Cold Outside, Ray Charles ★★★★
The Right Time, Ray Charles ★★★★
What Kind Of Man Are You, Ray Charles ★★★★
Lonely Avenue, Ray Charles ★★★★

I Believe To My Soul, Ray Charles ★★★
Hard Times, Ray Charles ★★★
Early In The Morning (Alt), Ray Charles ★★★
Georgia On My Mind, Ray Charles ★★★
I Don’t Need No Doctor, Ray Charles ★★★
Careless Love, Ray Charles ★★★
Busted, Ray Charles ★★★
I Can’t Stop Loving You, Ray Charles ★★★

Losing Hand, Ray Charles ★★
Mess Around, Ray Charles ★★
Mary Ann, Ray Charles ★★
Drown In My Own Tears (Live), Ray Charles ★★
Hallelujah I Love Her So, Ray Charles ★★
Leave My Woman Alone, Ray Charles ★★
Rockhouse Parts 1 & 2, Ray Charles ★★
Talkin’ About You, Ray Charles ★★
I Want a Little Girl, Ray Charles ★★
You Be My Baby, Ray Charles ★★
Early In The Morning, Ray Charles ★★
Joy Ride, Ray Charles ★★
Unchain My Heart, Ray Charles ★★
Born To Lose, Ray Charles ★★
Crying Time, Ray Charles ★★
Let’s Go Get Stoned, Ray Charles ★★
That Lucky Old Sun (Just Rolls Around Heaven All Day), Ray Charles ★★
You Are My Sunshine, Ray Charles ★★
Makin’ Whoopee (Parts 1 & 2) (Live), Ray Charles ★★
Let The Good Times Roll, Ray Charles ★★
Night Time Is The Right Time (Live), Ray Charles ★★
Drown In My Own Tears (Live), Ray Charles ★★
Tell The Truth (Live), Ray Charles ★★
Tin Tin Deo, Ray Charles & David Newman ★★
Hard Times, Ray Charles & David Newman ★★
Willow Weep For Me, Ray Charles & David Newman ★★
Hallelujah I Love Her So, Ray Charles & Milt Jackson ★★
Talkin’ About You (Live), Ray Charles ★★
Drown In My Own Tears, Ray Charles ★★

Confession Blues, Ray Charles
Kissa Me Baby, Ray Charles
Baby, Let Me Hold Your Hand, Ray Charles
Roll With My Baby, Ray Charles
Heartbreaker, Ray Charles
Don’t You Know, Ray Charles
Nobody Cares, Ray Charles
Ray’s Blues, Ray Charles
A Fool For You, Ray Charles
This Little Girl Of Mine, Ray Charles
What Would I Do Without You, Ray Charles
Ain’t That Love, Ray Charles
Swanee River Rock, Ray Charles
Someday Baby, Ray Charles
X-Ray Blues, Ray Charles & Milt Jackson
One Mint Julep, Ray Charles
You Don’t Know Me, Ray Charles
Your Cheatin’ Heart, Ray Charles
Baby Don’t You Cry, Ray Charles
Take These Chains From My Heart, Ray Charles
Them That Got, Ray Charles
Don’t Set Me Free, Ray Charles
At The Club, Ray Charles
America The Beautiful, Ray Charles
The Danger Zone, Ray Charles
Blackjack, Ray Charles
I Had A Dream, Ray Charles
Fathead, Ray Charles & David Newman
The Genius After Hours, Ray Charles & Milt Jackson
Bag’s Guitar Blues, Ray Charles & Milt Jackson

Related Songs:

What’d I Say, Lyle Lovett ★★★
What’d I Say, John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers ★★

I Got A Woman, Jimmy Smith ★★
I Got A Woman (Live), The Beatles
I Got A Woman, Booker T. & The M.G.’s

I’m Movin’ On. Hank Snow & His Rainbow Ranch Boys ★★★
I’m Movin’ On No. 2, Homer & Jethro ★★★

Baby, It’s Cold Outside, Homer & Jethro ★★★
Baby, It’s Cold Outside, Johnny Mercer, Margaret Whiting & Paul Weston & His Orchestra ★★★

The Night Time Is The Right Time, Creedence Clearwater Revival Band

Lonely Avenue, Van Morrison ★★

Hard Times, Tom Jones & Jeff Beck ★★
Hard Times (Live), The Crusaders ★★

Georgia On My Mind, Hoagy Carmichael ★★★★
Georgia On My Mind, Willie Nelson

I Don’t Need No Doctor, Humble Pie

Careless Love Blues, Josh White Trio
Careless Love, Ottille Patterson & Chris Barber’s Jazz band ★★

Busted (Live), Johnny Cash

I Can’t Stop Loving You, Don Gibson ★★★
I Can’t Stop Loving You (Live), Van Morrison ★★

Drown In My Own Tears, Lulu ★★★

I Want A Little Girl, Big Joe Turner ★★★
I Want A Little Girl, Clark Terry & Oscar Peterson Trio ★★
I Want A Little Girl (Take 2), Kansas City Six ★★

That Lucky Old Sun (Just Rolls Around Heaven All Day), Johnny Cash ★★

Let’s Go Get Stoned, Joe Cocker ★★

You Are My Sunshine, Jimmie Davis ★★
You Are My Sunshine, Albert Ammons ★★★

Makin’ Whoopee, Eddie Cantor ★★★
Makin’ Whoopee, Gerry Mulligan Quartet ★★★
Makin’ Whoopee, Nat King Cole Trio ★★

Let The Good Times Roll, Louis Jordan & His Tympani Five ★★★

Tell The Truth, The “5” Royales ★★

Tin Tin Deo, Dizzy Gillespie ★★★

Willow Weep For Me, Art Tatum ★★
Willow Weep For Me, Stanley Turrentine ★★
Willow Weep For Me (Live), Sarah Vaughan

This Little Girl Of Mine, The Everly Brothers ★★

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

Someday Baby, Bob Dylan ★★★★

Your Cheatin’ Heart, Hank Williams ★★★

20. James Brown

James Brown was a singer, dancer and songwriter. He was a bandleader, and played piano, organ and drums. James grew up in the woods near Augusta, Georgia, and moved into Augusta at an early age to hustle and make his way. He quit school after seventh grade. For James it was always hustle time.

James-Brown-that-grape-juice

James Brown (1933-2006), vocals, songwriter, bandleader, piano, organ, drums

A Short List of James Brown’s Most Significant Contributors:

Bobby Byrd (1934-2007), vocals, keyboards, producer
Bobby Bennett (1938-2013), vocals

Fred Wesley (b. 1943), trombone
Maceo Parker (b. 1943), saxophone
Alfred “Pee Wee” Ellis (b. 1941), saxophone, arranger

Bernard Odum (1932-2004), bass
William “Bootsy” Collins (b. 1951), bass
Fred Thomas, bass

Jimmy Nolen (1934-1983), guitar
Alphonso “Country” Kellum, guitar

John “Jabo” Starks (b. 1938), drums
Clyde Stubblefield (b. 1943), drums
Nat Kendrick, drums

The Short List

My short list of albums to own:

Live At The Apollo (1963)
Live At The Apollo II (1967)
Star Time (1991) (4-CD compilation)

The More I Listen To James Brown

Many times over the years I have said “the more I listen to James Brown’s music, the more I like it.” Although I heard a few James Brown songs on the radio beforehand, the first time I really listened was in 1976, when my friend Rich played me the second side of Live At The Apollo II. Muscular, athletic dance music, with chicken scratch guitars and thumping horn ensembles. James Brown sang with such confidence; even when he begged please, please, please for love, the agenda was to satisfy his unquenchable desire. Nicknamed “the hardest working man in show business” with good reason, James Brown rose from abject poverty and neglect to become a great American bandleader, though in his prime, his music and live performances were mostly enjoyed by non-white audiences. One of the most compelling and creative artists in this countdown, I recommend the Wikipedia entry and these magazine articles as a starting point to learn about this tireless force of nature.

“Being James Brown, by Jonathan Lethem, Rolling Stone Magazine, December, 2010

Downbeat Magazine, “James Brown’s Musicians Reflect On His Legacy”

With the exception of one or maybe two friends, I like James Brown music more than anyone I know. Was it because I loved basketball and was good at it, which moved me into an athletic, talented, and bi-racial circle of friends? While this may account for my fondness for soul music, it doesn’t explain the interest in James Brown, whose music covers decades of trends, is jazzier and often very intense. In my case, it’s more about being an introvert, the guy who sits at home and studies music, reads books and listens carefully for songs I make my own. It’s also about dance; I get that mostly from my mother. James Brown was an influential dancer who created good dance songs, both the swinging hot numbers and the slow grinders.

The ultimate criteria for the iPod collection is whether a song is enjoyed in iPod shuffle mode. From the doo-wop R&B songs of the fifties to the funk classics of the early seventies, there’s a wide variety of quality James Brown songs. Every important review guide or ranking puts James Brown among the all time greats. I agree, and have over sixty songs in my collection.

Though James Brown is a seminal influence on rap and hip-hop music, I have little interest in the music created by sampling his rhythms and grooves. Here are three links to lists of rap songs that sample James Brown music:

Article: Hip-Hop’s Top 25 Greatest James Brown Sampled Records

A.J. Woodson, 50 Greatest Hip-Hop Songs That Sampled James Brown

Kevin Nottingham: The 10 Most Sampled Songs in Hip-Hop

James Brown Song Notes:

1. James Brown is the first artist in the countdown to have zero star songs included as recommended songs. Four of these are connecting passages, ten to forty second snippets of music that connect together full songs on Live At The Apollo and Live At The Apollo II. I consider “Opening Fanfare”, the introduction to the star of the show on Live At The Apollo, iconic and worth two stars. These connecting pieces are essential to the pace and enjoyment of these concert albums, and are an enjoyable amusement during an iPod shuffle.

James Brown’s studio and concert performances are distinctly different. In concert, the songs are often played at a fast tempo, as Brown and his singing group, the Famous Flames, dance manically and go for maximum emotional impact. James Brown becomes one of the first artists in the countdown where the live performances add a significant component to the collection. Several of the top twenty artists (including some like Los Lobos and Lucinda Williams that seem out of place) are there because of the good live performances I’ve collected. Fortunately for James Brown fans, the best live performances are readily available.

The fifth zero star song, “Funky Drummer (Bonus Beat Reprise)”, is included as a widely used sample for hip hop music.

2. James Brown created great new beats, syncopated rhythms using drums, bass, guitar and horns together in inventive ways. He owes a lot to his great bands for helping him. Often, the lyrics he adds are based on a simple mantra — “Say It Loud, I’m Black And I’m Proud” and “I Don’t Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing” are good examples — upon which Brown augments the simple story of pride. At other times he comes up with a priceless, simple set of lyrics. The two quatrains in “I’ll Go Crazy” are ambiguous and special:

“If you leave me, I’ll go crazy,
If you leave me, I’ll go crazy,
‘Cause I love you, love you,
Oh, I love you too much.

You’ve got to live for yourself,
Yourself and nobody else,
You’ve got to live for yourself,
Yourself and nobody else.

— James Brown

The overt chauvinism of “It’s A Man’s World” may distract the sensitive (female) listener from hearing the beauty:

“How man needs a woman,
How man needs a woman.
The man who don’t have a woman. He’s lost!
In the wilderness.
The man who don’t have a woman. He’s lost!
In bitterness.
The man who don’t have a woman. He’s lost!
In loneliness.”

— James Brown

“King Heroin” is a meaningful poem about the dangers of drug addiction:

“My little white grains are nothin’ but waste,
Soft and deadly and bitter to taste.
I’m a world of power and all know it’s true,
Use me once and you’ll know it, too.
I can make a mere schoolboy forget his books,
I can make a world-famous beauty neglect her looks.
I can make a good man forsake his wife,
Send a greedy man to prison for the rest of his life.
I can make a man forsake his country and flag,
Make a girl sell her body for a five-dollar bag.
Some think my adventure’s a joy and a thrill,
But I’ll put a gun in your hand and make you kill.”

— James Brown

3. Every song in this collection can be found on the three suggested albums, plus the Christmas album titled James Brown’s Funky Christmas, except:

“Make It Funky, Part 2” can be found on The Singles, Vol. 7: 1970-1972
“Living In America” can be found on Living In America
“Like It Is, Like It Was” can be found on Messing The Blues
“Funky Drummer (Bonus Beat Reprise)” can be found on In The Jungle Groove (another highly acclaimed compilation)
“The Boss” can be found on Black Caesar

4. One of my favorite musicians, Van Morrison, has covered at least two James Brown songs in live performances. Mr. Morrison adopted many of James Brown’s approaches to live performance, though he is very shy by contrast. Both men demand perfection from their bands, and both men sing with great emotion.

Conclusion

James Brown is difficult to profile. It would be fair to suggest that many black and Hispanic baby boomers considered James Brown a hero, someone who made them feel proud. Many of those same people lost respect for Brown when he endured highly publicized drug and legal problems in middle age. Accounts of hard life on the road with James Brown’s orchestra surfaced, and the bandleader was cast as a tyrant and a miser. Some years these men and women would play 300+ nights a year, often multiple shows each day, trying to execute perfectly to avoid paying fines and incur Mr. Brown’s wrath. On off days, Brown would bring the band into the studio to record.

And yet, there is no doubt that artists like Bootsy Collins, Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker benefited from their association with Brown. Lesser musicians enjoyed the luxury of a long time gig with a legendary performer. He was clearly a tyrant, but it’s a double edge sword.

Great music was made because a desperate young man let nothing stand in his way for attention and fame. A tornado of energy, bravado and emotion, it was James Brown’s desire for perfection that created this music, and the music is what I focus on.

James Brown Songs:

It’s A Man’s World, James Brown ★★★★
I’ll Go Crazy, James Brown ★★★★
I’ll Go Crazy (Live), James Brown ★★★★
I Got You, James Brown ★★★★
Night Train, James Brown ★★★★
Let Yourself Go (Live) James Brown ★★★★
That’s Life (Live), James Brown ★★★★
Get Up (I Feel Like Being A) Sex Machine, James Brown ★★★★

I Don’t Mind (Live), James Brown ★★★
Bring It Up (Live), James Brown ★★★
Get On The Good Foot, James Brown ★★★
I Got You (I Feel Good), James Brown ★★★
Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag, James Brown ★★★
There Was A Time (Live), James Brown ★★★
It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World, James Brown ★★★

Papa Don’t Take No Mess, James Brown ★★
Opening Fanfare (Live), James Brown ★★
Try Me (Live), James Brown ★★
Kansas City (Live), James Brown ★★
It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World/Lost Someone (Live), James Brown ★★
Cold Sweat (Live), James Brown ★★
Please, Please, Please, James Brown ★★
Try Me, James Brown ★★
Think, James Brown ★★
Think (Alt Mix), James Brown ★★
Devil’s Den, James Brown ★★
Out Of Sight, James Brown ★★
Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag (Parts 1, 2 and 3), James Brown ★★
Bring It Up (Hipster’s Avenue), James Brown ★★
Let Yourself Go, James Brown ★★
Give It Up Or Turnit A Loose, James Brown ★★
Soul Power, James Brown ★★
Make It Funky, James Brown ★★
I Don’t Want Nobody To Give Me Nothing (Open Up The Door I’ll Get It Myself), James Brown ★★
Doing It To Death, James Brown ★★

The Boss, James Brown
Go Power At Christmas Time, James Brown
Merry Christmas Baby, James Brown
Think (Live), James Brown
Night Train/Closing (Live), James Brown
I Feel Alright (Live), James Brown
Like It Is, Like It Was (The Blues, Continued), James Brown
The Payback, James Brown
Living In America, James Brown
Make It Funky, Pt. 2, James Brown
Bewildered, James Brown
Prisoner Of Love, James Brown
Grits, James Brown
Super Bad, James Brown
Hot Pants, James Brown
King Heroin, James Brown
There It Is, James Brown
Say It Loud, I”m Black And I’m Proud (Pt. 1), James Brown

Funky Drummer (Bonus Beat Reprise), James Brown
Instrumental Bridge, James Brown
Instrumental Bridge 2, James Brown
James Brown (Thanks) (Live), James Brown
Money Won’t Change You/Out of Sight (Live), James Brown

Related Songs:

I Know You Got Soul, Bobby Byrd

Think, The “5” Royales ★★★

Night Train, Jimmy Forrest ★★

Merry Christmas Baby, Charles Brown ★★★
Merry Christmas Baby, Chuck Berry ★★

I’ll Go Crazy (Live), Chris Isaak ★★★

Kansas City, Wilbert Harrison ★★★★
Kansas City, Albert King ★★★
Kansas City/Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!, Little Richard ★★
Kansas City (Alt), Little Richard ★★
Kansas City/Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!, The Beatles
Kansas City/Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey! (Alt), The Beatles

That’s Life, Frank Sinatra ★★
That’s Life (Live), Van Morrison

My Lovin’ (You’re Never Gonna Get It), En Vogue ★★

I’ll Take Care Of You/It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World (Live), Van Morrison ★★★