Classic Rock Album Sales from 2020

How did the old Classic Rock Albums perform in the Top 200 album sales in 2020?  I wasn’t positive there’d be any Classic albums on the list.  Don’t most fans already have them?  Rolling Stone magazine released the sales figures for the year, which is a combination of actual sales and equivalent sales by streaming.  It turns out Classic albums made the list…starting at #46.

What Classic Rock album did the best?  If you knew it was an album by the Eagles, you might guess Eagles Greatest Hits (the biggest selling album of all time), or Hotel California (the 3rd best selling album of all time).  The surprise is that it’s Eagles, their very first album!

The album features “Take It Easy”, “Witchy Woman”, and “Peaceful Easy Feeling”, but those are on on the hits album too, so people must want to hear the other tracks on that first album (unless Rolling Stone listed the wrong album).  The number to the right side of the ranking is the number of equivalent sales from a combination of actual sales and streaming.

The second highest Classic album is a little more predictable, because Queen has had a big surge in popularity since their big biographic movie.

A Beatles album made the list, and it’s the one that younger Beatles fans seem to favor.  The 50th Anniversary remix of Abbey Road was released in the fall of 2019.

If I would have guessed which Classic album did best, it would have been Rumours by Fleetwood Mac.  That’s because of the “Dreams” viral skateboard video.  Fleetwood Mac didn’t get the top Classic album, but they were one of only two Classic Rock acts to place two albums on the list.

And here are the rest of the Classic albums in the Top 200 list of equivalent album sales in 2020.

The top album of 2020 was by the only artist whose album actually sold over one-million hard & digital units, Taylor Swift.  The next highest album sold less than half as much.  Add in the streaming, and it’s still Taylor Swift’s folklore at #1.

Taylor Swift had a total of five albums in the Top 200 for 2020.  Extra trivia:  Of her first 8 albums, 5 of them have been the biggest selling albums in the year they were released (a record).  Swift’s 9th album, evermore, was released very late in 2020, so it could at least have a slight chance to be the biggest seller in 2021.  However, the smart money would be on a new release by Adele.  Her last two albums led sales for a total of two years each.

It’s right that new albums in 2020 are the biggest sellers, but it’s impressive that some Classic albums are still selling and streaming as much as 50 years after they were released!

So, after I wrote the above article…

I checked how Billboard  ranked the top selling albums of 2020.  The only real agreement between Rolling Stone and Billboard is that Taylor Swift’s folklore is the top album.

Here’s the ranking of the Classic albums and three new albums by Classic artists (James Taylor, Bruce Springsteen & Bob Dylan) in the Billboard 2020 sales chart. This ranking of the Top 100 albums is based on real sales, and do not include streaming (that’s the big difference).

It looks like the Billboard chart makes a little more sense, or at least it shows which albums people were actually willing to buy.  By the way, 2020 was the first year since 1986 that vinyl records outsold CD’s, and the most vinyl albums sold since 1991.  Pretty amazing popularity for a technology (vinyl albums & turntable cartridges) introduced in 1948.

What both lists show is that some great Classic Rock albums are still being purchased and streamed, with one of them, Abbey Road, being the 12th best-selling album 51 years after it was released!

Gerry & The Pacemakers

The first rivals for The Beatles were Gerry & The Pacemakers.

Both groups were from Liverpool, and were regular performers at The Cavern Club.  The two bands also played in the clubs of Hamburg, Germany, and both had Brian Epstein for a manager & George Martin as their producer.

You can see that Gerry Marsden performed with his guitar held unusually high.  At times, John Lennon used a similar style.

Gerry & The Pacemakers won the race to #1 on the English charts in 1963 with the song “How Do You Do It?”.  George Martin first presented the song to The Beatles, and they recorded it, but they convinced Martin to release their own song, “Love Me Do”, instead.  It made it to #2.  Gerry & The Pacemakers’ “How Do You Do It?” went all the way to the top.  They followed that with two more #1 songs, “I Like It” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, also in 1963.  That last one is a ballad from the 1950’s musical/movie Carousel.

Gerry Marsden’s vocal on “You’ll Never Walk Alone” was so popular that the recording was played at the games of the Liverpool Football Club, and the song has remained their official anthem ever since.

Gerry & The Pacemakers and The Beatles were friends, and toured together in 1963 with Roy Orbison.  Here’s a posed photo from the tour, as the groups pretend to be fighting over singer Louise Cordet.

After The Beatles broke big in America, the “British Invasion” began, and bands like Gerry & The Pacemakers became popular here too.  Their first American hit was “Don’t Let The Sun Catch You Crying”, which was also the band’s first self-written hit.  It went to #4 in 1964, and was followed successfully by their previous English releases…”How Do You Do It?” #9, and “I Like It” #17.

I bought all the singles by Gerry & The Pacemakers.  They were on the Laurie label, because Capitol Records in the U.S. had turned them down, just like they did the early recordings by The Beatles.

Gerry & The Pacemakers had three hits in 1965…”I’ll Be There” #14, “Ferry Cross The Mersey” #6, and “It’s Gonna Be Alright” #23.  They also made a movie named after their second biggest hit.

Unfortunately, like most of the British Invasion bands, Gerry & The Pacemakers hit-making only lasted a short time.  Their final hit was “Girl On A Swing” #28 in 1966.  I even bought that one.  After that, it was just the release of multiple “Best Of” albums.

The band officially split up in 1969, and Gerry Marsden had a short, but successful acting career.  He later did some touring with various musicians in the role of “Pacemakers”.  After that, I would see him from time to time being interviewed for a number of documentaries about The Beatles.  He was always upbeat, interesting, and very likable.  He obviously had enjoyed his time as a part of the British revival of Rock & Roll in the sixties.

In an interview, Marsden said…”The main thing is to enjoy what you’re doing.  All the pressure crap you hear, people bring that on themselves.”

On January 3rd, 2021 it was announced that Gerry Marsden had died after a short illness from a heart infection.  He was 78.  Among the many musicians paying tribute was Paul McCartney.

McCartney is right about remembering Gerry Marsden with a smile.  Gerry wrote and recorded uplifting songs that are still fun to hear.

Paul McCartney…McCartney III

Paul McCartney is an amazing musician.  He seems to be a musical savant who can play guitar, bass, keyboards, drums, and nearly any instrument he picks up.  McCartney III is the third album in his 50 year solo career that he made with almost no help from anyone else…writing all the songs, playing all the instruments, and singing all the vocal parts.

The above album cover and the photos used in this article were taken by Mary McCartney.  The photos are really good, and you can click to enlarge them.  You may remember Mary from this photo her mom, Linda, took for the first McCartney album in 1970:

That’s Mary peeking out from Paul’s coat.

That first album featured the songs “Maybe I’m Amazed”, “Junk”, and “Every Night”, which were the tracks worthy of being on a Beatles album.  McCartney II came out in 1980, and featured “Coming Up” (#1), “Waterfalls”, “Summer’s Day Song”, and the some-like-it-some-don’t “Temporary Secretary”.  Now 30-years later, at the age of 78, Paul McCartney has done it again.

Paul says the pandemic forced him away from live performances and into his own studio.  The result was released yesterday, December 18th, 2020.  McCartney III has received almost all positive reviews.

I love so many of Paul McCartney’s songs that I own nearly everything he’s released.  My collecting began when The Beatles first broke in America.  So, the next sentence is hard to write.  I have to be honest and say that on McCartney III his voice shows it’s age, and I don’t hear any songs that compare with the best tracks on his previous albums.  “When Winter Comes” and “Seize The Day” probably come closest.   But if you’re a fan, you’ll still want to stream the new album, and decide for yourself, maybe you’ll agree with all those positive reviews.

McCartney has made the album available on vinyl, and it comes in various colors, including red, green, and yellow.

It’s mostly just McCartney’s three one-man albums that cause people to talk about his multi-instrument musicianship, but his best album, Band On The Run, is nearly the same.  Paul had basically lost his band, Wings, prior to the album.  Only Linda McCartney and guitarist Denny Lane remained.  Except for some of the guitar parts, Paul played all the instruments on the basic album.  Later, orchestral overdubs were added.  McCartney sometimes played multiple instruments on Beatles recordings too.

Paul McCartney long ago secured his position as one of the greatest songwriters, singers, and musicians of all time.  Many of us have been fortunate to enjoy his music for six decades.

Update:  The first week sales of McCartney III placed it at #1 on the Album Sales chart, and #2 on Billboard’s Top 200 albums.  Paul McCartney is the only artist to place albums in the top two for six straight decades!

Neil Young Archives Vol. II (Review)

After many years of promising, Neil Young finally released his Archives Vol. II. That’s eleven years after Archives Vol. I was released in 2009.  This second volume covers 1972 through 1976.  Neil will have to speed things up if he wants to release archives from the other 44 years of his career.

It’s great to get some unreleased songs and alternate versions of songs we’d only heard about, or maybe found on bootlegs.  Of the 131 songs on Archives Vol. 2, there are 12 that were not previously released, 51 songs that are unreleased alternate versions (many of them live), and 68 tracks that were previously released on Neil’s albums.

The songs are mostly from Time Fades Away, On The Beach, Tonight’s The Night, and Zuma.  The original recordings from those albums are almost all included.  There are also versions of songs from Comes A Time, American Stars ‘n BarsRust Never Sleeps, and Hawks & Doves.  If you have those eight albums, you already own over half of the recordings in the box set.

I started collecting Neil Young songs in 1969 with Retrospective: The Best Of Buffalo Springfield.  Then I bought all of his studio albums (and many of his live albums) from 1969 to 2005.  After that, I’ve purchased individual tracks from many of his albums.  I bought the recently released album  Homegrown, which was actually recorded in ‘74-‘75 and is in this box set.

The $250 Deluxe box set sold out (3000 units) as soon as it went on sale.  More will be available March 5th, 2021.  There will also be a $160 set with exactly the same 10 CD’s, but without a hard-cover book.  That set will be sold in stores and online retail sites.  Meanwhile, all of the tracks can be streamed on the Neil Young Archives website.  Membership is just $1.99 a month, and you have access to all of Neil Young’s releases.

So, how is Archives Vol. II?  There are some gems.  The 1976 Crosby Stills Nash & Young version of “Human Highway” sounds great (the 1973 version is here too, but the harmonies are not as good).  It was going to be the title song of their group follow-up to Deja Vu and their solo work of the early ’70’s.  This version of the song was recorded during the Long May You Run sessions.  The other really good recording from that session is “Midnight On The Bay”.  If you want to know more about the lost Human Highway album, here’s the link to the article on this site:

Homegrown, which is on it’s own disc, had been another “lost album” that was originally supposed to be released in 1975.  It includes seven good songs that weren’t already available.

There are three recordings of “Love/Art Blues”, a song which was worked on during the Homegrown sessions. A solo version, and a trio version (on Disc-6 of the box set) are both very good.  The third version has a poor ending.  An impressive recording of the song can be found on the CSNY 1974 live album.  You can’t beat CSN&Y harmonies.  Proof of that is a solo version of “Through My Sails” which screams out for the harmonies of CSN (if you’re used to the Zuma version).

Other previously unreleased standouts include the first studio version of “The Bridge”, “Homefires” & “Daughters” (both from the Homegrown sessions), and “Come Along And Say You Will” (from 1972, the same year as Harvest).  Plus, there are nice live versions of “Stringman” and “Midnight On The Bay”.  These two are on a disc separate from the three concert discs.

How valuable Archives II is to you is probably based on how many of the songs you already own.  Or, you can obviously stream the whole thing very cheaply.  As of this writing, the set is not available on other streaming services, just NYA.

Now…we wait for Neil Young Archives III.  Neil says it won’t be long this time.  We’ve heard that before, but maybe at age 75 he feels a greater urgency.  We look forward to more treasures.

Extra:  This playlist helps point out (in chronological order) some of the best studio recordings of previously unreleased songs and alternate versions.  Only four of these songs/versions were *previously available.

  1. The Bridge (11/15/72)
  2. Come Along And Say You Will (12/15/72)
  3. Homefires (6/16/74)
  4. Love Is A Rose* (6/16/74)
  5. White Line (Acoustic) [9/12/74]
  6. Frozen Man (11/4/74)
  7. Changing Highways (12/4/74)
  8. Love/Art Blues (Trio Version) [12/10/74]
  9. Try (12/11/74)
  10. Daughters (12/11/74)
  11. Deep Forbidden Lake* (12/13/74)
  12. Star Of Bethlehem* (12/13/74)
  13. Homegrown (12/13/74)
  14. We Don’t Smoke It (12/31/74)
  15. Vacancy (1/4/75)
  16. Little Wing* (1/21/75)
  17. Kansas (1/21/75)
  18. Lookin’ For Love (8/29/75)
  19. No One Seems To Know (9/11/75)
  20. Midnight On The Bay (w/CSN) [4/14/76]
  21. Human Highway (w/CSN) [4/15/76]

Fifteen of these songs…#3 though #17…were recorded during the Homegrown album sessions from mid 1974 to early 1975.  Neil Young could easily have put together another album similar in quality to After The Gold Rush, Harvest, or Comes A Time.  Instead, he released Tonight’s The Night (which he had recorded in 1973).  When he recently released Homegrown, he didn’t include some really good songs… “Homefires”, “Frozen Man”, “Love/Art Blues”, “Daughters”, and “Deep Forbidden Lake”…even though some were recorded on the same days as other songs on the album.

Neil Young waited about 45 years to release most of these recordings.  It’s so enjoyable getting to know his  “new” old songs.

Tom Petty…Wildflowers & All The Rest (Review)

Wildflowers is Tom Petty’s best album…and that’s according to Tom Petty.  After he said that, he qualified it a bit by saying Full Moon Fever & Damn The Torpedoes were right there too.  Tom had wanted Wildflowers to be a 25-song double album in 1994, but his record company convinced him to make it a 15-song single album.

In 2017, Tom was looking forward to releasing the full double album, or at least the All The Rest album he had originally planned.  He also hoped to do a special tour to promote the release.  Sadly, on October 2nd, 2017, Tom Petty passed away from an accidental overdose of pain killers he was taking for a broken hip.

(The 4 CD Deluxe edition includes a built-in 48 page book with background info on each recording, plus photos & artwork.)

Three years later, we have an extensive box set that includes the original 25 Wildflowers songs as well as demos, live versions, and alternate takes.  So, is Wildflowers & All The Rest as good as fans hoped?  We’ll look at the discs, beginning with the original album.

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

Like most great albums, it starts extremely strong.  The first six songs are of such high quality, they would be considered a “perfect album side” for a regular 12-song album.  Besides the title song, there are three singles:  “You Don’t Know How It Feels”, “You Wreck Me” and “It’s Good To Be King”, one of Tom Petty’s favorites.  The song’s lyrics are meaningful, while still being humorous, and the arrangement with orchestration is perfection.

The song quality is high on the rest of the album too.  “Honey Bee”, “Cabin Down Below”, and “A Higher Place” are rocking single-sounding songs The Heartbreakers often played in concerts.  “Don’t Fade On Me” and “Crawling Back To You” showcase Petty’s more sensitive side.

Tom Petty believed Wildflowers represents when he was at the height of his songwriting powers.  He said in an interview that the song “Wildflowers” flowed through him in its completed form.  Unlike most artists whose careers start strong and fade, Petty’s personal peak came mid-career.  The rest of his 40-year career shows his talent never faded, and his songwriting remained strong.

Producer Rick Rubin says that despite spending nearly two years recording Wildflowers, it still has an organic feel.

All The Rest (Disc 2)

  1. Something Could Happen
  2. Leave 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 (on She’s The One soundtrack)
  10. Hung Up And Overdue (on She’s The One soundtrack)

Tom Petty had previously selected these songs and put them in this order.  The thought was to possibly release the songs as a single album.

Three songs on the All The Rest disc were available for streaming prior to the album release.  Both “Leave Virginia Alone” and “Confusion Wheel” were released recently, and are very welcome additions to the Tom Petty catalog. “Somewhere Under Heaven” was put out five years ago near the 20th anniversary of Wildflowers.  It has a “jangly” guitar like the Byrds, but with a harder edge.  “Something Could Happen” has a classic Tom Petty sound that would have been welcome on the original album.

“Climb That Hill Blues” is an acoustic blues arrangement of “Climb That Hill”.  It’s actually one of Tom’s home recordings, and I prefer it to the more produced rock version.  “Harry Green” is believed to be about a real friend Tom knew in High School.  This one is also a home recording (with just a bit of overdubbing), and the sparse arrangement is the right touch for such a personal song.

“California”, “Hope You Never”, “Climb That Hill”, and “Hung Up And Overdue” were on the She’s The One movie soundtrack in 1996.  The tracks here are alternate versions that are very similar to the ones on the soundtrack.  These songs plus “Walls” and “Angel Dream” were the best songs on the 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

The third disc has Tom Petty’s home-recorded demos for Wildflowers.  It’s a real treat.  Mostly it sounds like a Tom Petty Folk album, in a good way.  It starts with a really nice new song, “There Goes Angela (Dream Away)”.  Once fans get to know this cool little song, I think we’ll all be able to agree that Tom would have changed the name to “Have A Dream On Me”, before he put it on an album.  The song was not taken to the main Wildflowers sessions, but was recorded by Tom Petty in his home eight-track studio, as were all the other songs on this disc.

Other highlight tracks:  ”California” is probably the best version of the song, and even has an extra verse.  “To Find A Friend” seems better in this simpler version.  “Confusion Wheel” also sounds good in a stripped-down version.  “Don’t Fade On Me” and “Only A Broken Heart” have interesting vocal/melody choices that are different from the versions we know, and “Crawling Back To You” is “Comin’ Back To You”.

Tom’s demos show how much thought he put into arrangements before he took the songs to other musicians for the final album versions.  He played multiple instruments, and added vocal harmonies.  If you ever wished you could spend a little time with him in the studio, this is as close as it gets.  This disc has quickly become one of my favorite Tom Petty albums.

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. Girl On LSD
  10. Time To Move On
  11. Wake Up Time
  12. It’s Good To Be King
  13. You Wreck Me
  14. Wildflowers

Everyone knows Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers were one of the world’s best live bands, so naturally these tracks are high quality.  Eleven of the fourteen songs are from the Wildflowers album, and the other three are from around that same time.  It’s a solid disc, but the unreleased studio & home recordings are the real reason for the box set.

 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’                                                                                            
    I passed on spending another $100 to get the 5th disc, because even though alternate versions are interesting, the versions chosen for an album are almost invariably the best.

Summary:  Tom Petty fans will enjoy the expanded view of this time in his life.  Disc 1 is a killer album.  Disc 2 adds some songs we wouldn’t want to be without.  Disc 3 is an intimate look at a great songwriter & musician.  And Disc 4 is a solid live album.  Fans should be happy with the collection Tom’s family put together with the help of Heartbreakers Mike Campbell and Benmont Tench.

(Photos of Mike, Benmont & Tom from the 1994 CD booklet)

Update:  Wildflowers & All The Rest went to #1 on the Rock Album chart, and #5 in the overall Top 200 chart.  That beats the original album’s ranking of #8.  Of course that’s with only 44,000 equivalent sales (38,000 actual).  It’s a good total for these days of streaming services, but very low compared with the 3-million+ sales of Wildflowers when it was first released in 1994.

Bonus Story:  The single “You Don’t Know How It Feels” was Tom’s last Top 20 hit single, but that wouldn’t have happened without a one word change to get it played on CHR (Contemporary Hit Radio) stations.  I had been working at KFRX-FM in Lincoln, which was a popular Top 40 station that reported for the national charts.  Most people don’t realize that Radio stations have to follow FCC rules about drug references on stations that have large teens-and-younger audiences, like CHR stations always do.  Program Director Sonny Valentine had previously approved “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” for airplay, but this time she was concerned about the line “Let’s roll another joint.”.

Fortunately, Tom Petty recorded a special “radio edit” of the song for CHR stations.  It changed the word “roll” to “hit”.  By singing “Let’s hit another joint”, the interpretation could be they were going to another bar, instead of rolling a joint.  The song would not have reached #13, and been heard by millions more music fans, without that change.

I have that “radio edit” recording, and the funny thing is, it sounds really good.  “Let’s get to the point.  Let’s hit another joint” makes a nice rhythmic rhyme scheme.  After this, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers had songs that made the Mainstream Rock chart, but because of the changes in radio formats (Rock gave way to Hip-Hop & Pop), they had no more big hits on the major singles chart, the Hot 100.

John Lennon Sounds Better Than Ever

We all know John Lennon’s songs from his solo career, but we’ve never heard them sounding this good.  In honor of what would have been his 80th Birthday (October 9th, 2020), 36 of his songs have been completely remixed from the master tapes.  The collection is called Gimme Some Truth.

The result is that we hear John Lennon’s voice more fully.  John tended to have producers process his voice with effects.  The new collection remixes the songs to better reflect John Lennon’s natural voice.  The instrumentation also benefits from the new mixes.  The recordings simply sound warmer and clearer.  Even though I’ve purchased these songs in multiple ways before, the improvement is worth the expense to me (though it might not be to casual listeners).  The main presentation is the deluxe 2-disc set.  There is also a one-disc 19-song version with selected songs from both discs (which are shown below).

(Click lists separately or zoom to enlarge.)

The collection was curated by Yoko Ono and Sean Lennon.  One could quibble with some of the song selections, and wish that the title wasn’t Gimme Some Truth, which had already been used for a John Lennon collection.  They could have just gone with the collection’s subtitle:  The Ultimate Remixes.

(My CD’s)

It’s always interesting to see what songs are most popular as they sell on iTunes.  “Instant Karma”, “Imagine” and “Watching The Wheels” are the top three.  “Instant Karma”, “Stand By Me”, and “Mind Games” were especially improved by the remixes, and really, all the songs are better.

The change in the quality of the audio will help John Lennon’s  songs be better received by future listeners.

It All Begins With A Song (Film Review)

Songwriting is an amazing process.  It creates some of the greatest art in the world, seemingly out of thin air.  The new documentary It All Begins With A Song lets us hear directly from some of the world’s most successful songwriters who work in Nashville, and it’s fascinating.

The accent is on country songs, but Nashville songwriters have written some of the biggest Rock and Pop hits too, like “Don’t Stop Believin’”.  The basics of songwriting are universal, even though individuals may incorporate various approaches.  Some start with an idea for a title or a topic.  Others start with various chord changes or riffs.  And sometimes, songwriters just wake up with a song in their heads.

That’s what happened to songwriter Michael Busbee, who wrote the song “Try” for Pink.  Busbee said the song was 95-percent from his “dream”, and then he worked with Ben West on developing it into a hit.  “Try” sold over 2-million copies.  It was a common theme in the film that songwriters often feel like they are able to “tap into something” that delivers a song through them.

It All Begins With A Song introduces us to successful songwriters like Brett James, shown above.  James has earned songwriting credits on 25 #1 country hits, including “Jesus Take The Wheel”, which was a hit for Carrie Underwood.  James sang the song to great effect in the film.  You’ll see that all these successful songwriters are talented instrumentalists, as well as good singers.

Still, it was telling when the film went from Jon Randell, one of the songwriters of “Whiskey Lullaby”, to the hit’s performers, Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss.  There’s a whole other talent level with singers like that.  “Whiskey Lullaby” was another 2-million seller, and the Country Song of the Year in 2005.

The documentary is filled with stories that will draw you in.  It includes references to some of Nashville’s legendary writers, like Kris Kristofferson and Harlan Howard.  Although not as famous to the public, Howard wrote a long list of country hits, including “I Fall To Pieces” for Patsy Cline.  He’s an inspiration to other songwriters, and he famously said…”Country Music is three chords and the truth.”

And the truth is, you’re going to be very moved when you see the story of a song written by Jessi Alexander (shown above), Connie Harrington, and Jimmy Yeary.  It’s called “I Drive Your Truck”.  Despite what could be the title of a light country song, it packs an emotional wallop.  It won the Country Music Association and Academy of Country Music 2013 “Song Of the Year” awards.

Besides being an extremely interesting 90-minutes about all that goes into songwriting, It All Begins With A Song is also high quality in all aspects of production.  The film is now showing on Amazon Prime, and is available for rent or purchase.

Even though Nashville songwriters have to compete with each other to get their songs recorded, they’re willing to share their expertise and work together.  A lesson for the world.

500 Greatest Albums List…A Big Fail

It was a good try in 2003, but the new list is a failure.

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

(Some of my remaining CD’s)

The wild movement of albums up & down from the previous list proves 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.  For the rest of the old Top 500, I agreed with some of the order of rankings, and of course there were some genres and albums I knew nothing about.

The 2003 list was sometimes criticized for featuring “too many white guys”.  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 doubled the number of black artists to about 50%, but 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 admired 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.  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.  The shame is that this list will be referenced in articles, and it’s simply an inaccurate revision of history.

Here’s another example.  Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours was placed in 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 by becoming the 3rd best-selling album of all time.  The point is, from an historical/quality perspective, 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.  Rolling Stone had artists submit lists of their choices.  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.  Then use appropriate music historians and experts to rank the categories.  They should do it soon, and then forget they ever did a 2020 list.

Epilogue:  After writing the article, I continued to research how Rolling Stone approached this list.  They wanted to downplay the opinions of the writers who originally selected which albums were best in 2003/2012.  It was felt they had too much reverence for Classic Rock.  That meant adding more black artists and moving them up the list (often by giant leaps).  To make room, there was a downward trend of classic (older) albums by white artists.  That’s why there was a net loss of 5 of those from the Top 10.  They did their best to move female artists into more prominent positions.  That’s why Joni Mitchell was moved from 30 to 3, and why Lauryn Hill was moved from 312 to 10.  It also explains why the female-led Fleetwood Mac moved up to 7, while the white male rock band Eagles (who have the #1 & #3 best-selling albums of all time) was dropped to 118.  It’s a shame they couldn’t have updated the list while still keeping some semblance of reason for the moves.

One of the people selected to submit a list for the project admitted he didn’t even try to actually chose the best albums.  He said he wanted to improve the rankings of black artists and women, and didn’t include any Beatles albums, because others would do that.  People trying strategies to manipulate the list makes it inaccurate.

Rolling Stone accomplished their goal of “inclusion”, and in their opinion “made it more reflective of today”.   So, basically they’re saying it’s not the 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time, but rather it’s 500 albums placed in an order more pleasing to today’s younger people.   Old Classic Rock albums are mostly important to old Classic Rock fans.  They’re a dying breed, and no longer Rolling Stone’s target audience.

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”.