Greatest Albums List…Big Fail!

It was a good try in 2003, but now it’s a farce.

Rolling Stone magazine just released its updated “500 Greatest Albums” list. They originally published the list in 2003, and had slightly updated it in 2012.  This time, they blew it up.

(Some of my remaining CD’s)

The wild movement of albums proved there is no such thing as a definitive list of the best albums.  Let’s look at the Top 10 of 2003/2012 compared with the new Top 10.

2003/2012:  (New rank in parenthesis)

  1. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band…The Beatles (#24, dropped 23!)
  2. Pet Sounds…The Beach Boys (#2)
  3. Revolver…The Beatles (#11)
  4. Highway 61 Revisited…Bob Dylan (#16)
  5. Rubber Soul…The Beatles (#35, dropped 30!)
  6. What’s Going On…Marvin Gaye (#1)
  7. Exile On Main St….The Rolling Stones (#14)
  8. London Calling…The Clash (#16)
  9. Blonde On Blonde…Bob Dylan (#38, dropped 29!)
  10. The Beatles (White Album)…The Beatles (#29, dropped 19!)

2020:  (Former rank in parenthesis)

  1. What’s Going On…Marvin Gaye (#6)
  2. Pet Sounds…The Beach Boys (#2)
  3. Blue…Joni Mitchell (#30, up 27!)
  4. Songs In The Key Of Life…Stevie Wonder (#56, up 52!)
  5. Abbey Road…The Beatles (#14)
  6. Nevermind…Nirvana (#17)
  7. Rumours…Fleetwood Mac (#25)
  8. Purple Rain…Prince (#72, up 64!)
  9. Blood On The Tracks…Bob Dylan (#16)
  10. The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill…Lauryn Hill (#312, up 302!)

The original 2003 ranking at least seemed to reflect the thinking over the decades, because The Beatles’ albums, along with the Pet Sounds album, were so highly regarded.  I could go along with ranking Sgt. Pepper #1, Revolver #3, and Rubber Soul #5,  in that order, even though I sometimes change my mind about which is best.  I disagreed with some of the order of rankings for albums I knew in the old Top 500, and of course there were some genres and albums I knew nothing about.

The original 2003 list was sometimes criticized for being dominated by white artists.  Of the Top 50 then, 24% of the albums were by black artists (blacks make up 13% of the population).  The real slight was women.  There were only 3 women in the Top 50 (women make up 51% of the population).  The new 2020 Top 50 has about 50% black artists, but still only 7 women are ranked (14%).  Okay, so using percentages will never work out.

What about common sense?  I love Pet Sounds, which I bought when it was released in 1966.  It’s well known that Brian Wilson was inspired to make Pet Sounds when he heard the quality of Rubber Soul.  In turn, The Beatles loved Pet Sounds and were inspired to get even more creative with Sgt. Pepper.  Brian had been working on his follow-up album, Smile, but when he heard Sgt. Pepper, he knew it had passed Pet Sounds, and exceeded what he thought he could do with Smile, so he backed away from music at that time.  The world had already lived with Sgt. Pepper and Pet Sounds for decades when they were ranked #1 & #2 in 2003/2012, but now, we’re expected to believe that a mere 8 years later,  Pet Sounds is still #2, but Sgt. Pepper is only the 24th best album.  It makes no sense!

It’s impossible to understand how in the world an album previously at 312 could now magically be better than 302 other albums and be ranked 10th.  What they’re really saying is that the album by Lauryn Hill is better than Sgt. Pepper, Revolver, Rubber Soul, and better than all of the albums by Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Eagles, James Taylor, Carole King, Tom Petty, The Rolling Stones, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, Bruce Springsteen, U2, Elton John, CCR, Billy Joel, R.E.M. and so many more!

There are other similar big jumps and big drops that defy logic.  Over half of the albums were moved by 50 places or more.  Of those, 90 albums moved over 200 places, and 22 of those moved over 300 places!  The list has no continuity and no credibility.

It was good to see Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours move into the Top 10.  It may have been moved up 18 spots, because it was a way to get another two females there, but it deserves the ranking.  The Eagles’ Hotel California should have been right next to it, but it was dropped 81 places to 118th.  These two albums both came out in 1977.  Rumours edged out Hotel California for the Album Of The Year Grammy, but The Eagles’ album edged out Fleetwood Mac with the public.  It became the 3rd best-selling album of all time.  The point is, historically, these two albums should be ranked very close to each other.  Any list that puts them 111 places apart has failed history.  By the way, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon was only at #55.  That’s a Top 10 album.

Looking at the full list of 500 albums, it’s obvious no one could be intimately familiar with all of them.  Also, it’s hard to compare art that is so wide-ranging in styles.  There’s no real comparison between a 2015 Hip-Hop (Rap) album, and a 1967 Rock album.  Someone who’s a Rock expert or a Rock artist should not be ranking Hip-Hop, and vice versa.  Trying to find even one expert in all forms and decades of music is like looking for a unicorn.

Here’s a solution.  Rolling Stone could still call it the 500 Greatest Albums, but divide the 500 into multiple lists based on genres of music, or maybe by decades.

Each of us can make our own “Best Albums” list, based on the albums we know and love.  It’s the only album list that really counts.

Vinyl Album Sales Pass CD’s

It was 1986 when Compact Discs first outsold vinyl record albums.  Now, 34-years later, the sale of vinyl albums has passed the money spent on CD’s.

(Our son, Paul, has collected some classic albums recently.)

The Record Industry Association of America reports that during the first half of 2020, vinyl record sales were about $232-million, and sales of CD’s totaled about $130-million.

The vinyl album was developed in 1948, and soon became the standard of the industry.  Thirty-eight years later, 1986, CD’s passed vinyl in sales, and held that position for thirty-four years, until 2020.

Of course, the new figures just represent physical sales.  Digital downloads of music accounted for $351-million, although it’s declining fast.  The real power of music sales is now subscription streaming, such as Apple Music, Spotify, and Amazon Music.  Streaming accounts for 85% of all money spent on recorded music ($4.8-billion in first 6 months of 2020), and it’s growing fast.

(Today we just ask for a song or playlist.)

Even though overall physical sales are declining, Vinyl fans are enjoying the resurgence of their beloved records.  So what are they buying?  The biggest sellers are The Beatles, followed by other classic artists like Fleetwood Mac and Pink Floyd.  Every once in a while, a current artist like Billie Eilish or Taylor Swift will make a splash on vinyl.  Interestingly, Taylor Swift sold her latest album, Folklore, on Vinyl, CD, and Cassette.

(Listening to Crosby & Nash in 1972.)

So, physically owning a music collection is mostly a thing of the past, but at least a segment of music lovers are still “dropping the needle” on records of their favorite artists.

Roy Orbison…Only The Lonely

Roy Orbison almost gave away the song that started his successful career.

Roy Orbison was born in Texas in 1936.  He made his way to Sun Records in Memphis in the mid ‘50’s to join other Rockabilly singers like Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and Carl Perkins.  Orbison saw very little success at that time (his recording of “Ooby Dooby” only made it to #59 in ‘56), but in 1958 he wrote a song about his wife, “Claudette”, and The Everly Brothers took it into the Top 30 as the flip side to “All I Have To Do Is Dream”.

So, when Roy wrote “Only The Lonely” (with Joe Melson), he offered it to The Everly Brothers and Elvis Presley.  They both turned it down, which was really fortunate, because the song kick-started Roy Orbison’s career.  Roy had moved to Monument Records, and began recording with Nashville musicians.  The magic was there, and “Only The Lonely” became Orbison’s first hit.  It went to #2 in 1960, sold over half-a-million copies in the U.S., and was an international success.

From 1960 to 1963, Roy had 15 Top 40 hits, including “Running Scared” (#1), “Crying” (#2), “Dream Baby” (#4), “In Dreams” (#7), “Mean Woman Blues” (#5), and “Blue Bayou” (#29).

In 1963, Roy Orbison went to England to co-headline a tour with some English bands.

(Roy Orbison with The Beatles and Gerry & The Pacemakers)

The Beatles hadn’t broken in the U.S. yet, but when Roy realized how popular the group was over there, he decided to let The Beatles close the shows.  However, his performances were so strong, he would get multiple encores, even though The Beatles would be on when he finished.  Roy became friends with all four of The Beatles.  His friendship with George would be especially important for him later.

That trip to England also provided Roy Orbison with his signature look.  He had accidentally left behind his regular glasses, so when he got off the airplane in London, he wore his prescription sunglasses.  The photographers took shots of him like that, and he decided to wear the sunglasses for performances in England, and then for his entire career.

The next year, 1964, would be the peak of popularity for Roy Orbison.  In April he hit #9 on the charts with “It’s Over” (#1 in England), and then in September, Roy was #1 all over the world with his signature hit “Oh, Pretty Woman”.

(My 1964 copy of “Oh, Pretty Woman”)

I was in high school back then, and bought Roy Orbison’s singles of “Crying”, “It’s Over”, and “Oh, Pretty Woman” (Nearly everyone just called the song “Pretty Woman”).  In my room, I loved singing along with the records.  I could hit the notes back then, but I knew I wasn’t sounding anything at all like that amazing voice coming through the speakers.

Interesting trivia:  There is a one word difference between the single and the album version of “Pretty Woman”.  The single says…”Come to me baby, be mine tonight.”, but the album version has…”Come with  me baby, be mine tonight.”  Why the difference?   My guess is that Monument Records (or maybe Roy) thought that changing the “with” to “to” would make it sound a little more innocent.  That way, no one could possibly read anything salacious into it.  (“Why does she have to go with him, and what does he mean by ‘be mine tonight’?”)  Remember, in 1963 some radio stations banned “Louie Louie”, because they thought it might have “dirty” lyrics.  Roy sang “to” when he performed the song live.

Professional musicians were awed by Orbison’s voice.  He got the nickname “The Big O”, because of his vocal power, and the almost operatic style of his songs.  He wrote efficient 3-minute stories that sometimes defied the verse-chorus-verse style of most songs.  Instead, his recordings often built to dramatic crescendos.  Elvis Presley called Roy Orbison “The greatest singer in the world”.  Bruce Springsteen said  that when he went into the studio to record “Born To Run”…“I wanted to sing like Roy Orbison.  Now, everybody knows that nobody sings like Roy Orbison.”

Orbison’s songwriting  showed emotions more openly than many other performers.  He wasn’t afraid to express loneliness (“Only The Lonely“), fear (“Running Scared”), or physical sadness (“Crying”), hardly the persona of some rock singers.

Roy Orbison seemed to have it made, but that whole British Invasion thing of 1964 knocked down all of the male vocalists (like Roy, Ricky, and even Elvis) to the lower part of the charts.  Although he continued to release albums (for MGM), his career languished for years.

(Roy with his wife Claudette)

There were also two major personal tragedies in the mid-sixties.  Roy lost his wife Claudette in 1966, when her motorcycle struck the side of a truck that had pulled out in front of her.  Then in 1968, while Roy was on tour in England, his home in Nashville burned, and two of his three sons died.

Roy later remarried, and he and his wife, Barbara, had two sons.

(Roy and Barbara Orbison)

The music side of things very slowly began to return Roy Orbison into the public consciousness.  In 1977, Linda Ronstadt released what would be the definitive version of Orbison’s “Blue Bayou”.  It went to #3 and sold over a million copies, just in the U.S.  Then in 1986, Director David Lynch featured Roy Orbison’s recording “In Dreams” in his movie Blue Velvet.  Although the way the song was used was kind of creepy, Roy was again getting public attention.

In 1987, Roy Orbison was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame by long-time admirer Bruce Springsteen.  Later that year, Roy began work on a new album with Producer Jeff Lynne.  Jeff was also producing albums for George Harrison and Tom Petty.  When George asked Roy, Tom, and Bob Dylan to help him with a track, it resulted in “Handle With Care” and formation of The Traveling Wilburys.

This “Super Group” fully returned Roy Orbison to the spotlight, and the songs showed off his strong voice.  His vocal soars in “Handle With Care” as he sings a section written specifically for him: ”I’m so tired of being lonely, I still have some love to give.  Won’t you show me that you really care?”  He also has an appropriate solo song, “Not Alone Anymore”.  He sounds great.

(Roy Orbison in 1987)

The album, Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 1 and “Handle With Care” put Roy back on the charts after nearly 20 years.  Then two months after the success of The Wilburys, Roy Orbison died of a heart attack.  It was December 6th, 1988, and Roy was just 52 years old.

The Jeff Lynne produced solo album, Mystery Girl, was released in January of 1989.   The album and the single “You Got It” (written by Roy, Tom Petty & Jeff Lynne), made the Top 10 on the Billboard charts.

Fortunately for his fans, Roy Orbison had also recorded a live concert with some A-list musicians, including Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, J.D. Souther, Elvis Costello and many more.  This is not some “take turns singing Roy’s songs” album.  No, all of these stars are paying tribute to Roy by backing him.

Naturally, the concert starts with Roy’s first big hit, “Only The Lonely”.  The Black & White Night album/video has most of Roy Orbison’s best songs, and these versions are very good.  Some are even better than the original hits.  The only song that didn’t quite reach the impact of the original is “Oh, Pretty Woman”.  It’s still good, but they tried too hard to make it an “event” with extended guitar solos.

It was wonderful that Roy Orbison made the return to his rightful place as one of the best artists of the Rock era.  Based on his excellent passionate vocals on his last three albums (Wilburys, solo, and live) it’s obvious he still had “some love to give”.

Instrumentals Of The ‘60’s

The #1 most popular song from the 1960’s is “Hey Jude”.  I would never have guessed the second most popular song of the decade, but maybe you can.


(My two-disc set featuring classic instrumentals.)

My guess would have been another Rock song, but it was an Easy Listening instrumental from 1960, ”Theme From A Summer Place”.

“A Summer Place” was arranged and recorded by orchestra leader Percy Faith, and was from a popular movie of the same name.  After the instrumental was #1, the song was also released with lyrics…”There’s a summer place, where it may rain or storm, but I’m safe and warm…”  Adding lyrics to popular instrumentals was a common practice.

The ‘60’s was a huge decade for instrumental hits, and the CD collection Instrumental Gems of the ‘60s put together 40 of them.  (Click to enlarge and make clearer.)

If you lived through the sixties, you may recognize quite a few of the songs, although since there are no lyrics, it’s sometimes tough to remember which melody belongs to which title.  Despite the British Invasion re-energizing Rock & Roll in 1964, instrumentals didn’t fade away.  Another big #1 hit, and the 12th most popular song of the decade was from 1968…”Love Is Blue” by Paul Mauriat, an orchestra leader from France.

Some other notable songs from the above collection include:  Mason Williams’ virtuoso guitar work on “Classical Gas” (#2, 1968).  Jazz trumpeter Al Hirt’s “Java” (#4, 1963).  “Meditation” by guitar legend Charlie Byrd, is one of those melodies I have  trouble remembering from the title, but it’s a sublime listen.  A couple of songs were originally recorded for commercials…”Music To Watch Girl’s By” (#15, 1966) for Pepsi, and “No Matter What Shape (Your Stomach’s In) [#3, 1965] for Alka-Seltzer.  There are a couple TV themes, “Bonanza” and “Batman”.  And, a couple of major movie songs that are still used in films half-a-century later, the themes for “James Bond” and “Mission Impossible”.

Big sixties instrumentals not on the discs include “Stranger On The Shore” by Acker Bilk, “Peter Gun” and “Pink Panther Theme” by Henry Mancini, “Soulful Strut” by Young-Holt Unlimited, “Grazing In The Grass” by Hugh Masakela, and “Time Is Tight” by Booker T & The MG’s.

A true instrumental phenomenon of the ‘60’s was the unbelievable popularity of Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.  Herb Alpert (who played trumpet from the age of eight) attended a bullfight in Mexico in the early sixties.  The sound of a mariachi band and the trumpets at the bullfight inspired his first hit, “The Lonely Bull” in 1962.  His real breakthrough came in 1965, with the above album containing “A Taste Of Honey” (#7 Pop, #1 AC).  Quickly following were “Zorba The Greek”, “Tijuana Taxi”, “What Now My Love”, and “Spanish Flea”, all Top 10 on the Adult Contemporary chart, and Top 40 on the Pop chart.

Herb Alpert’s albums were even bigger.  Whipped Cream sold over 6-million copies.  The title song was used on the TV show The Dating Game.  In 1966, Alpert set a chart record with five of his albums in the Top 20 at the same time!  It’s still the record.  Eventually, Herb Alpert had 14 platinum albums.  By the way, Alpert is an American-born son of Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe.  Our next amazingly successful instrumentalist is from Germany.

(A rare disc I found in the ‘90’s)

Bert Kaempfert was an orchestra leader, a composer, a multi-instrumentalist, arranger, and producer.  His first big American hit was “Wonderland By Night”, #1 in 1960.  The list of instrumental hits he wrote and recorded include: “Strangers In The Night”, “Danke Schoen”, “Afrikaan beat”, Bye Bye Blues”, “Spanish Eyes (Moon Over Naples)”, “L-O-V-E”, “Magic Trumpet”, and “Red Roses For A Blue Lady”.  Other composers added lyrics to many of his songs.

Here’s some trivia to help you win a bet at parties.  What was the first song written by The Beatles that was professionally produced & released…and…who produced it?  Answer:  The instrumental “Cry For A Shadow” by John Lennon and George Harrison, produced by Bert Kaempfert.  It was in 1961.  The Beatles were playing in Germany and backed Tony Sheridan on an album.  They got two tracks of their own, the other being “Ain’t She Sweet”.

(The front & back of my “Surf Rock” CD.)

The final major trend being covered here is Surf Guitar instrumentals.  While rock guitar songs like “Rebel Rouser” by Duane Eddy and “Rumble” by Link Wray led the way in 1958, it was the surf sound of the early ‘60’s that became the golden era of guitar instrumentals.

The above collection starts with what may be the best of the surf instrumentals, “Pipeline” (#4, 1963) by The Chantays.

The Surfaris’ “Wipe Out” (#2, 1963) was a garage band staple.  Other major tracks include “Miserlou”, “Baja”, and “Penetration”.

The Ventures are the best-selling instrumental band of all time, with over 100 million records sold.  It started for them in 1960 with “Walk Don’t Run” (#2) and “Perfidia” (#15).  They did more of a surf arrangement and hit #8 with “Walk Don’t Run ’64” (which I wore out on the jukebox at Flossie’s Cafe), and their final Top 40 hit was their theme from the TV show “Hawaii Five-O”, #4 in 1969.  But what really sold, were their albums.  The Ventures charted 38 LP’s!

Update:  Hey, I found my old very-used copy of “Walk Don’t Run ‘64”.  I think it’s the actual record that was in the jukebox, and I bought it for a quarter.  The guy would change out the records, and then leave a box of the old records at 25-cents each.

(My favorite Ventures album is “Ventures In Space”.)

The 1960’s contained so many great instrumentals, but it seems the songs are seldom highlighted in reviews of the decade.  Maybe if we could just match up the melodies with their titles…

Tom Petty…Wildflowers (Box Set)

The long-awaited Wildflowers box set will be released on October 16th this year.

Wildflowers & All The Rest completes Tom Petty’s desire to release his original vision of Wildflowers as a 25 song double album.  His plan to release it was stopped by his untimely death (at the age of 66) on October 2nd, 2017.  Now, Tom Petty’s daughters, Adria & Annakim, his wife Dana, and Heartbreakers Mike Campbell & Benmont Tench, have put together various sets of the 1994 recordings.

Tom Petty considered Wildflowers a personal peak.  It was a solo project that he undertook with producer Rick Rubin.  Tom said working by himself gave him more freedom to write whatever he wanted, without thinking about how the songs would work for the band.  Of course, when he started recording the album, he included Heartbreakers Mike Campbell, Benmont Tench, and Steve Ferrone among the numerous musicians.  Drummer Ferrone was actually invited to become a Heartbreaker, after his work on this album.

The basic 2 CD set includes the songs Tom originally planned for the album.  Had it been released as a double album in 1994, it probably would have had a different running order, with the songs more evenly divided between the two discs. The Deluxe version has 4 discs, and the Super Deluxe version has 5.  Here are the songs:

Wildflowers (Disc 1)

  1. Wildflowers
  2. You Don’t Know How It Feels
  3. Time To Move On
  4. You Wreck Me
  5. It’s Good To Be King
  6. Only A Broken Heart
  7. Honey Bee
  8. Don’t Fade On Me
  9. Hard On Me
  10. Cabin Down Below
  11. To Find A Friend
  12. A Higher Place
  13. House In the Woods
  14. Crawling Back To You
  15. Wake Up Time

All The Rest (Disc 2)

  1. Something Could Happen
  2. Leaving Virginia Alone
  3. Climb That Hill Blues
  4. Confusion Wheel
  5. California (released on She’s The One soundtrack)
  6. Harry Green
  7. Hope You Never (on She’s The One soundtrack)
  8. Somewhere Under Heaven
  9. Climb That Hill
  10. Hung Up And Overdue (on She’s The One soundtrack)

Home Recordings (Disc 3)

  1. There Goes Angela (Dream Away)
  2. You Don’t Know How It Feels
  3. California
  4. A Feeling Of Peace
  5. Leave Virginia Alone
  6. Crawling Back To You
  7. Don’t Fade On Me
  8. Confusion Wheel
  9. A Higher Place
  10. There’s A Break In The Rain (Have Love Will Travel)
  11. To Find A Friend
  12. Only A Broken Heart
  13. Wake Up Time
  14. Hung Up And Overdue
  15. Wildflowers

Wildflowers Live (Disc 4) [From 1995-2017]

  1. You Don’t Know How It Feels
  2. Honey Bee
  3. To Find A Friend
  4. Walls
  5. Crawling Back To You
  6. Cabin Down Below
  7. Driving Down To Georgia
  8. House In The Woods
  9. Girls On LSD
  10. Time To Move On
  11. Wake Up Time
  12. It’s Good To Be King
  13. You Wreck Me
  14. Wildflowers

 Finding Wildflowers (Disc 5) [Alternate Versions]

  1. A Higher Place
  2. Hard On Me
  3. Cabin Down Below
  4. Crawling Back To You
  5. Only A Broken Heart
  6. Drivin’ Down To Georgia
  7. You Wreck Me
  8. It’s Good To Be King
  9. House In The Woods
  10. Honey Bee
  11. Girl On LSD
  12. Cabin Down Below (Acoustic)
  13. Wildflowers
  14. Don’t Fade On Me
  15. Wake Up Time
  16. You Saw Me Comin’

For Tom Petty fans, the main parts of this project are the 7 unreleased tracks on Disc 2, and all of Tom’s Home Recordings on Disc 3.  Tom was an excellent musician.  He played all of the instruments on these demos, using an 8-track studio recorder in his music room.  You can find three of those home recordings on YouTube…”You Don’t Know How It Feels”, “Wildflowers”, and “There Goes Angela”.  They’re all nicely-realized high-quality recordings.

Fans of vinyl will be happy that all of these will be available in multi-record sets.  If you have an extra half-a-grand lying around, you could get the limited “Ultra Deluxe Edition”.  The actual price is $499.98.  (Seriously, some marketing genius said “Let’s take all the package prices down 2-cents to make the prices seem lower.”)  Here are the various versions as shown on the Tom Petty website.  Images can be enlarged.

There will be only 475 copies of the 9-record $500 set available on the Tom Petty website, so “Hurry while supplies last!”.  It’s a long way from when Tom Petty fought to keep his record company from charging one-dollar more for his albums.

Even though my wife and I have an extensive music collection, Tom Petty earns an “unfair share” of our listening time.  We miss him, and will welcome having some previously unreleased recordings to enjoy.

Taylor Swift…Best Album, “Folklore”

It’s been an amazing journey for singer-songwriter Taylor Swift.  She was just 16 when her first album was released in 2006.  That self-titled album was Country, and a huge success.  Two years later, her Fearless album was an even bigger breakthrough with songs crossing over to the Pop charts.  Swift won four Grammys, including album of the year.  Her impressive string of successes and awards continued into 2019 with the albums Speak Now,  Red,  1989,  Reputation, and Lover.  That’s seven multi-platinum albums, with six-in-a-row debuting at #1 on Billboard’s album chart.

Over those 13 years, Taylor Swift became the most consistently successful Pop Star in the world, and had some of the highest-grossing tours.  Then in early 2020 the pandemic hit.  Swift and other artists were forced to cancel major tours, costing them millions of dollars.  What was Taylor Swift to do?

On July 23rd, Taylor surprised the world by announcing she had completed a new album in less than three months, and was releasing it the next day!

As surprising as the announcement was, the album itself was even more surprising.  Folklore was not a highly produced Pop album, rather it was a much more minimalistic recording with an Indie vibe.  Critics are calling it Taylor Swift’s best album.

You might also wonder why an old Classic Rock guy like me is even paying attention to music by Taylor Swift.  My wife and I only had four of Swift’s songs in our collection, but during this pandemic, we decided to watch a Taylor Swift concert from her  Reputation tour that was available on Netflix.

We were pretty well blown away.  Those adoring Taylor Swift fans got a huge production that took hundreds of people to pull off.  Swift could sing while doing group dance numbers, and then intimately sing by herself while playing acoustic guitar or piano.  It was obvious she is extremely talented, and gave the fans their money’s worth.  Then we watched a Netflix documentary on Taylor Swift, Miss Americana, that was also very impressive.

With any popular artist, there will always be people who react negatively to them.  So, there are some people who don’t like Taylor Swift.  I remember one Rolling Stone magazine reader survey in the 1970’s when Elton John topped both the “Favorite Artist” and “Least Favorite Artist” categories.

(Click or zoom to enlarge)

Having been convinced of Taylor Swift‘s musicianship and songwriting ability, I decided to get Folklore.  Swift is now 30 years old.  Most artists deliver their best work in the first 5 years of their popularity, and then trail off from there.  Taylor Swift has given fans her best album after 14 years of staggering success.  Folklore is her 7th straight album to debut at #1.  In just one week, it became the most popular album of 2020, with the biggest first week since her own Lover album came out less than a year earlier.

Billboard’s album ranking combines actual sales with streaming, but if you look at sales alone, Folklore sold more that week than the other top 50 albums combined!

Update:  Folklore spent 6 weeks at #1 on Billboard’s Top 200 album chart.  That’s the longest at #1 for an album in four years.

Simultaneously, Swift’s first single “Cardigan” debuted at #1 on the Hot 100.  All 16 of her album tracks also made the Hot 100.

Credit for the album’s success also goes to Aaron Dessner of the Indie Rock band The National.  Dessner co-wrote eleven of the songs, and assisted with production.  He started working with Taylor Swift at the end of April.  That’s when he sent her several instrumental tracks as song starters.  He says a few hours later, about 3 A.M., Swift sent back the completed song “Cardigan”.  They spent almost three months working remotely back-and-forth to finish the project.

Another Indie favorite, Justin Vernon of the band Bon Iver, contributed vocals and songwriting to the track “Exile”.

On Folklore, Taylor Swift sings many of the songs in third-person as a storyteller, rather than the autobiographical style she has often used.  For example, three songs introduce characters that form a love triangle.  “Betty” tells the story from the perspective of 17-year-old James.  He lost Betty by impulsively cheating on her with another girl.  “Cardigan” tells the same story from the perspective of a grown up Betty looking back on her early lost love.  Usually the “other woman” is ignored, but here she gets her own song, “August”, as she relates the feelings she experienced in the love triangle.  The album is filled with quality songs like these with good melodies and very clever and insightful lyrics.  If you take the time to get to know the album’s songs, you’ll be rewarded.

Taylor Swift is named after James Taylor, and was thrilled when she performed with him.  She says her biggest musical idol is Paul McCartney.  Plus, she cites Kris Kristofferson for his excellent lyrics, and expresses admiration for the careers of Bruce Springsteen and Emmylou Harris.

With Folklore and her career, Taylor Swift reflects many of her influences, but in her own unique ways.

Maybe the pandemic was a great excuse for Swift to do an album with much less production.  By getting away from the pressure of putting out another album with big arena-ready Pop songs, she has freed herself to do Indie/Alternative or whatever style works for the “adult” portion of her career.  It may or may not have been a calculated move, but it was brilliant.

Extra:  Taylor Swift returned to her Country roots at the ACM awards in Nashville in September, 2020.

She had an excellent acoustic performance of “Betty”, a Top 10 hit on the Country chart.

Tom Petty & George Harrison

Conversations With Tom Petty…what a great read!


Author Paul Zollo did extensive interviews with Tom Petty, including discussing almost all of his songs, and the results are fascinating.  I strongly recommend the recently updated book to all Tom Petty fans.  There is so much revealed, and it was particularly interesting to hear about Tom’s relationship with George Harrison.

Tom said he originally saw George Harrison and Ringo Starr in 1974, when they visited Leon Russell’s studio.  It was right after Tom and his band began practicing there for their first album.  It wasn’t until the next decade, when Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers were in England with Bob Dylan in 1987, that Tom actually met George Harrison.

This was a really big deal for Tom.  He said seeing The Beatles during their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 was when he wanted to form a band.  But by the time he actually met George Harrison, his own experience with fans informed him to not act like one with George.

Here’s an excerpt from the book, with Tom describing how it was to meet George Harrison:

“The Hindus think that when you meet someone and you feel really close to them immediately, that maybe you knew them in a past life.  And that was how it was with George.  We instantly became very close.  And I remember him saying to me, ‘You know I’m not going to let you out of my life now’.  We really got along well.  And shared a sense of humor.  And we became very close friends.”

Petty said The Heartbreakers and Bob Dylan played several more nights in London.  After one of the shows, they hung out with George, Ringo, former Beatles publicist Derek Taylor, and their wives.  It was a day later, on Tom Petty’s birthday (October 20th), that George gave Tom a cassette with his just completed album, Cloud Nine, and asked him to “Let me know if you like it.”

The album was produced by The Electric Light Orchestra’s Jeff Lynne, and of course Tom loved it.  When it was released later in 1987 (November), it went Platinum and had two hit singles, “Got My Mind Set On You” (#1 on the Hot 100) and “When We Was Fab” (#2 on the Rock chart).

Tom Petty’s meeting with George Harrison also led him to a friendship with Jeff Lynne.  In fact, Tom happened to  spot Jeff while they were both driving in L.A. traffic one day.  As it turns out, Jeff Lynne had moved into a house not far from where Tom lived.  The two got together and eventually Jeff Lynne produced Tom’s most successful album, Full Moon Fever.  Jeff even co-wrote “Free Fallin’”, “I Won’t Back Down”, and “Runnin’ Down A Dream”.

Shortly after that (still in 1987), there was another chance meeting.  This time, Tom and his daughter, Adria, we’re out Christmas shopping and decided to stop at a restaurant.  After they we’re seated, the waiter told Tom that someone in the restaurant had asked to see him.  Tom and Adria were escorted to a room and found George Harrison and Jeff Lynne.  George had just been asking Jeff for Tom’s number, because he wanted to visit with him.  George followed Tom to his house.  They hung out all afternoon, laughing and playing guitars.

The next day was Christmas Eve, and George returned with his wife Olivia and son Dhani.  After that, the two families made it a tradition to spend Christmas together whenever possible.

All of these friendships…Tom Petty, George Harrison, Bob Dylan, and Jeff Lynne led to The Traveling Wilburys in 1988.

Of course Roy Orbison was added because Jeff Lynne was producing an album for him at that time, and also because all of them were Roy Orbison fans.  Tom and Jeff even wrote two songs with Roy…”You Got It” and “California Blue”…the two best songs on Roy’s album.

Tom Petty says George Harrison’s reputation as “The Quiet Beatle” wasn’t how he really was.  Petty said…”He was so funny.  It’s hard to explain.  He was the funniest guy I ever met.”

“Such a keen sense of humor, a lot of fun!  He was a wise person, and really wanted to know the meaning of it all, but he was light-hearted.”

That’s just an extremely small sample of Paul Zollo’s book.  It’s filled with Tom’s very forthcoming comments.  The above picture of Tom was taken by the author as Tom exited the stage at his last concert, September 25th, 2017…exactly one week before he died.

We miss both Tom Petty and George Harrison, two great friends who enriched our lives with timeless music.

Paul McCartney…Flaming Pie (Remaster)

Flaming Pie was originally released in 1997, and is now remastered with extra tracks in 2020.

Here’s the original 1997 CD along side the new Remaster, which has a cardboard cover like the vinyl album I also bought in 1997.  Over the years, I’ve purchased nearly all of McCartney’s albums, and Flaming Pie is my second favorite after Band On The Run.  There are two main reasons I like Flaming Pie so much…”Calico Skies” and “Somedays”.

McCartney says in the liner notes that this album was recorded after he, George, and Ringo had worked on The Beatles Anthology albums and videos.  He allowed himself to incorporate some of The Beatles’ style into Flaming Pie.  “Calico Skies” & “Somedays” would have sounded good on Beatles albums.  “Beautiful Night” (with Ringo), “The World Tonight”, and a few other cuts, would probably have fit in too.


Although a more extensive box set is available, I bought the two-disc version.  The second disc contains 21 cuts that are mostly home demos and early run-throughs.  As interesting as it is to hear Paul’s early efforts, the home recordings seem like Paul was just trying to get the basic songs on tape, and he wasn’t singing like he expected anyone to ever hear them.  They sound like they were recorded with a portable tape recorder, and one of the songs even has a phone ringing loudly in the background.

The bottom line is:  The album itself is worth buying if you don’t have it, but the 1997 CD sounds just as good as the remastered album, and the extra disc has no cuts that are major additions.  I also didn’t find any “must have” tracks when I listened to the box set on Apple Music.

Let’s look at the quality of the original album itself.

Paul recruited some talented people to help him.  George Martin did some production and orchestral arranging.  Jeff Lynne helped produce some tracks and added vocals, guitar and more.  Steve Miller added some lead guitar & vocals, and co-wrote a song.  Ringo Starr provided some drumming and backing vocals.  Linda McCartney added harmony vocals, and their son James has a featured guitar part.

Album buyers know there are extremely few albums that are all good.  For many decades I’ve put onto tape, and then playlists, the good songs from each album.  Here’s my playlist for Flaming Pie:

  1.  Somedays
  2. Calico Skies
  3. The World Tonight
  4. Heaven On A Sunday
  5. Used To Be Bad (with Steve Miller)
  6. Little Willow
  7. Young Boy
  8. If You Wanna
  9. Beautiful Night (with Ringo Starr)
  10. Great Day

It’s rare that we ever get ten songs to enjoy from one album.  “Somedays” and “Beautiful Night” feature orchestrations by George Martin, and are very Beatle-sounding.  Upon release of the album, Paul McCartney mentioned in an interview that “Calico Skies” ranks with his best songs.  It’s mostly about his love for Linda, who was dying of cancer at the time.  “Little Willow” is a beautifully gentle song that Paul wrote in tribute to his friend (and Ringo’s ex-wife) Maureen, who was also a cancer victim.  “Used To Be Bad” is a solid blues duet with Steve Miller, who’s also on “If You Wanna”.  “Heaven On A Sunday” features Linda and James.  The two singles are “The World Tonight” and “Young Boy”.  The album and this playlist conclude with a slight but fun little tune, “Great Day”.

The original album was hurt by starting with one of the weakest tracks, “The Song We Were Singing”.  Sure it’s a song about John & Paul, and we want to like it, but it doesn’t quite work.  Unfortunately, it created a poor first impression for an album with a lot of good songs.

Flaming Pie
came out 23 years ago, and 27 years after The Beatles split.  The album is one of the highlights of Paul McCartney’s 50 years of solo work.

Laurel Canyon (Review)

This will be the definitive documentary about the music that came from the artists living in L.A.’s Laurel Canyon from 1965 to 1975.

The two-part documentary is available to stream on Epix, and includes all the artists listed on the above poster and more.  We see an amazing collection of old film and photos, plus we hear old and new interviews.  The key decision in the making of this film is that the artists are only seen as they were back in the sixties and seventies.  That’s because only the audio is used from the newer interviews.  This allows viewers to be taken back in time without thinking about how the stars have aged.

The director of the film is Alison Ellwood, shown above with the Eagles in 2013 when she did the acclaimed “History Of The Eagles” documentary.  Ellwood and her Laurel Canyon staff deserve  praise for finding all of the film and photos from about half-a-century ago, and then determining how to assemble them into a cohesive narrative.  The documentary is only semi-chronological, with artists interwoven throughout.  That way we don’t just get one artist followed by another.  In fact, it’s similar to the way these artists were interacting musically as they visited each other‘s houses in Laurel Canyon.

Here we see a group of musicians, including Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell and Cass Elliot (who was often the hostess for such gatherings).


Photographer Henry Diltz says (visitor from England) Eric Clapton was fascinated by the guitar tunings and style of chord playing by Joni Mitchell.

Diltz provided most of the historic photos, and was friends with nearly all of the artists.   He narrated portions of the film, and was shown at his current age.  Henry Diltz, who was at one time a folk musician, did the album cover photography for a lot of the Laurel Canyon artists, including The Doors, Crosby Stills & Nash, James Taylor, Jackson Browne, the Eagles, and many more.  Here’s a photo he took of Joni Mitchell.

It was from outside her home in the canyon, and was taken as Diltz and a friend had just approached the house.

Diltz also took this shot of Joni with Graham Nash.  Nash told the story of how he wrote “Our House” when the two lived together.  It was the same time Mitchell was writing her albums Ladies Of The Canyon and Blue.


Additional historic photos were by Nurit Wilde, who is shown here on the 1960’s set of The Monkees TV show.  Like Henry Diltz, she narrated parts of the film and was shown at her current age.  She mentioned that she ran the lights and sound for Buffalo Springfield at the Whisky A Go Go club.

At one time Stephen Stills and Peter Tork were roommates.  Stills had been considered for The Monkees, but when he was told his crooked teeth disqualified him, he suggested Peter audition.

Included in the film were the stories of Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” about demonstrations in the 1960’s, and CSN&Y’s “Ohio” about how four Kent State students were shot while protesting the Vietnam War in 1970.  The film doesn’t shy away from other bad news of the time, such as the Manson murders, but mostly the documentary concentrates on the artists.

Besides the more expected artists, Laurel Canyon provided significant coverage of other artists like The Doors (shown above), Love, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Little Feat, Alice Cooper, The Turtles, The Monkees, Bonnie Raitt, and Frank Zappa.  It didn’t matter what type of music you made, you were accepted by the Laurel Canyon family of musicians.


The documentary had some excellent rare film footage of Linda Ronstadt.  She told the story of how boyfriend J.D. Souther wrote “Faithless Love”.  Linda quipped that she and J.D. would have a fight, he’d go write a song about it, and she’d record it.

Most people know that the Eagles formed after Don Henley and Glenn Frey had backed Ronstadt on tour.  They added former Flying Burrito guitarist Bernie Leadon, shown on the left in the above photo, and Poco bassist Randy Meisner, who is next to Bernie.  Both had played in Ronstadt’s band earlier, and she recommended them to complete the original Eagles.


(Couldn’t leave out this cool shot of Glenn Frey & old Chevy.)

Last year’s enjoyable documentary Echo In The Canyon covered 1965 through 1968.  The even better Laurel Canyon: A Place In Time covers an extra seven years.  Director Alison Ellwood says she had wanted to make the film for twenty years, and the project was started before Echo.  She made it a point not to see that film, so it wouldn’t affect her work on Laurel Canyon.

The documentary starts in 1965 with the music of The Byrds and The Turtles, and goes through 1975 when the Eagles really take off prior to their peak of Hotel California.  It’s impressive how much information is included about all the artists, and yet the just over two-and-a-half-hour film never lags or seems too long.

Laurel Canyon  is not just a cool film for Baby Boomers.  It’s a great historic record of an almost mythical place and time.

Extra:  For even greater depth, you can also seek out individual documentaries, such as CSNY: Fifty by Four, Linda Ronstadt: The Sound Of My Voice, The Doors: When You’re Strange, Jackson Browne: Going Home, History Of The Eagles, etc.  Most streaming services have a music documentary category, and some are on YouTube.

Singer-Songwriters of the 70’s

Everyone knows the 1970’s were great years for singer-songwriters, but until I put together some playlists from that decade, I didn’t realize how massive the list of artists actually is.  This is not so much an article, as it is a large list to take us back to that golden time.  For each name listed, there are a couple of their 70’s song titles for reference.  You’ll probably remember most of these songs, and be reminded of more great songs by many of these artists.

James Taylor…Fire And Rain, Shower The People

Jackson Browne…Doctor My Eyes, Running On Empty

Bob Dylan…Tangled Up In Blue, If Not For You

Cat Stevens…Wild World, Father & Son

John Denver…Rocky Mountain High, Annie’s Song

Bill Withers…Lean On Me, Ain’t No Sunshine

Karla Bonoff…Someone To Lay Down Beside Me, Lose Again

Elton John…Your Song, Rocket Man

Harry Nilsson…Coconut, Without Her

Carly Simon…You’re So Vain, Anticipation

Carole King…It’s Too Late, You’ve Got A Friend

Randy Newman…Sail Away, Mama Told Me Not To Come

John Lennon…Imagine, Oh My Love

Stephen Stills…Love The One You’re With, Change Partners

Paul Simon…American Tune, Kodachrome

Dan Fogelberg…Longer, Leader Of The Band

Leon Russell…Tight Rope, A Song For You

Gordon Lightfoot…Sundown, Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald

Joni Mitchell…Big Yellow Taxi, Help Me

Billy Joel…Piano Man, Just The Way You Are

Neil Young…Heart Of Gold, After The Gold Rush

Rod Stewart…Maggie May, You Wear It Well

Van Morrison…Domino, Moondance

Jim Croce…You Don’t Mess Around With Jim, Time In A Bottle

Gerry Rafferty…Baker Street, Right Down The Line

Neil Diamond…Sweet Caroline, Song Sung Blue

Kris Kristofferson…Me & Bobby McGee, Loving Her Was Easier

Harry Chapin…Taxi, Cats In The Cradle

Dave Mason…We Just Disagree, Feelin’ Alright?

John Sebastian…Welcome Back, Stories We Could Tell

Jimmy Buffett…Margaritaville, Come Monday

J.D. Souther…You’re Only Lonely, Faithless Love

Paul McCartney…Maybe I’m Amazed, Band On The Run

J.J. Cale…After Midnight, Cocaine

Eric Clapton…Wonderful Tonight, Layla

George Harrison…My Sweet Lord, What Is Life

John Fogerty…Centerfield, The Old Man Down The Road

Jonathan Edwards…Sunshine (Go Away Today), Sometimes

Ringo Starr…It Don’t Come Easy, Photograph

Joan Baez…Diamonds & Rust, Winds Of The Old Days

John Prine…Angel From Montgomery, Hello In There

Graham Nash…(Won’t You Please Come To) Chicago, Simple Man

The above three are really singer-songwriters who just happened to have their own backing bands.

Tom Petty…Breakdown, Refugee

Bob Seger…Night Moves, Turn The Page

Bruce Springsteen…Born To Run, Thunder Road

It’s not a complete list of artists (the names are only from my collection), but it gives an idea of the abundance of singer-songwriters in the 1970’s.

Bonus:  To round out the information on the decade, here are some of the 70’s bands that included more great songwriters.

Led Zeppelin, Eagles, The Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, Queen, Van Halen, Pink Floyd, The Who, Lynyrd Skynyrd, AC/DC, The Allman Brothers Band, Emerson Lake & Palmer, The Doobie Brothers, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Chicago, Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, America, Loggins & Messina, Supertramp, Steely Dan, Boston, Steve Miller Band, Foreigner, The Moody Blues, Heart, The Guess Who, Kiss, Deep Purple, Dire Straits, Yes, and more.

Those were the days, my friend.  We thought they’d never end.