Ringo Starr…It Don’t Come Easy

Which ex-Beatle had the most Top-10 hits in a row?  Yes, good old one-song-per-Beatles-album Ringo Starr had seven of them.  For comparison, the most the other Beatles had were…Harrison two, Lennon four, and McCartney six.

When The Beatles split, Ringo was at a loss about what he should do as a solo artist.  In 1970 he tried an album of standards, Sentimental Journey, and a country album, Beaucoups Of Blues.  Those proved that he needed to stick to Rock & Roll.  In 1971, George Harrison helped kick-start Ringo’s solo career by co-writing, producing, and playing on the single “It Don’t Come Easy”.  It was a big hit (#4) that is still a fan favorite.

George also helped with 1972’s “Back Off Boogaloo” which made it to #9.  Those singles were followed by the album that is the height of Ringo Starr’s solo career.

Ringo, was released in November of 1973.  Richard Starkey’s album was produced by another Richard…Richard Perry.  He was the hot producer of the time, and was behind top albums by Carly Simon, Rod Stewart, Barbra Streisand, Art Garfunkel, and many more.

Richard Perry and Ringo’s greatest accomplishment was getting all three of the other Beatles to make solid contributions.  George Harrison played guitar on four songs, and wrote or co-wrote three.  John Lennon wrote “I’m The Greatest” and provided piano and backing vocals on it.  Paul McCartney wrote “Six O’Clock”, played keyboards and sang backup on it , plus he added rock kazoo to “You’re Sixteen”.

There were three hit singles “Photograph” (#1), “You’re Sixteen” (#1), and “Oh My My” (#5).  Plus, there were three more potential singles…Randy Newman’s “Have You Seen My Baby (Hold On)”, Lennon’s “I’m The Greatest” and McCartney’s “Six O’Clock”.  Basically, the whole album is good, and the re-release is even better, with the bonus cuts “It Don’t Come Easy” and it’s flip-side, “Early 1970” (a song about how The Beatles were that year.).  Ringo made #1 on two of the three American album charts, and was a platinum seller.

Ringo Starr continued his chart success with an early rock & roll classic, “Only You” (#5) and Hoyt Axton’s “No No Song” (#3).  They were both from the 1974 album Goodnight Vienna.  It was a decent album, hit #8 and earned “Gold” certification.

Ringo’s next album, 1976’s Rotogravure, had some good songs…”A Dose Of Rock “N’ Roll”, a remake of “Hey Baby”, and McCartney’s “Pure Gold”, but it only made it to #28, and had weak sales.  The hot streak was over.

From that point, “It Don’t Come Easy” was the story of Ringo’s recording career.  Although he continued to make albums (The album he just released, Give More Love, sounds quite good.), Ringo never repeated the sales success he had in the 1970’s.  But, there was a brilliant solution that kept him musically active and successful.

Ringo Starr & His All-Starr Band started in 1989 with musicians like you see above.  The format features Ringo playing his hits from The Beatles and solo career, backed by some of the world’s best musicians.  Those artists also play their biggest hits during the concert.  The All-Starr Band line-up changes as each new period of touring starts.  There have been twelve variations.

We were able to see one of these shows in 2010, when they made their way to Eugene, Oregon.  By then, Ringo was 70-years old, and frankly, we didn’t know what to expect.  Ringo was energetic, looked good, and sounded great!  Amazingly, his voice still sounds the same as when he was younger.  Ringo at times took center stage as the lead singer, sometimes he drummed and sang, and he backed-up all of the other performers with his drumming.  Here’s the line-up of musicians we saw:  Wally Palmer of The Romantics, Rick Derringer of The McCoys, Gary Wright of “Dream Weaver” fame, Richard Page of Mr. Mister, keyboardist Edgar Winter, and drummer Greg Bissonette.  It was a thoroughly entertaining night of “Greatest Hits” music!

It’s so good that the two remaining Beatles rekindled their friendship in the 1970’s, have performed together on albums (like Ringo’s new one), and have teamed up on major post-Beatles projects.  Both artists are still touring, Paul at 75 and Ringo at 77.

Before he joined The Beatles, Ringo was already an established drummer, and The Beatles were lucky to get him.  His personality meshed perfectly with John, Paul, and George, and his innovative drumming added just the right touches to The Beatles’ songs.

With his solo career, Ringo Starr provided fans with some quality recordings and memorable songs.  They hold up well when placed on playlists with the solo work of the other members of The Fab Four.  Playlists allow us to assemble their solo songs into fantasy Beatles albums, and in this case, Ringo certainly gets more than one song per album.

(This is the 4th in a series of articles on The Beatles as solo artists.  Please check out the individual articles on John, Paul & George.)

George Harrison…Solo / Traveling Wilburys

George Harrison kept growing as a songwriter.  On the last album The Beatles recorded, Abbey Road, Harrison had two of the best songs, “Something” and “Here Comes The Sun”.  Then when The Beatles broke up, his first album was bursting with good songs.

Of the first albums the individual Beatles released after the breakup, All Things Must Pass is the best.  It’s not even close.  Making it a 3-record set was excessive, and there are extra tracks that aren’t very good, but the good stuff is plentiful.  I have eleven songs from this album on my “Best Of George Harrison” CD-length playlist.

Critics would say John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band is the best of the first solo albums because of its raw emotional lyrics, but it doesn’t have close to the number of Beatles-ready songs as Harrison’s.  Highlights include:  “My Sweet Lord” (#1), “What Is Life” (#10), “Beware Of Darkness”, “If Not For You”, “Isn’t It A Pity”, “All Things Must Pass”, “Behind That Locked Door” and more.  If George had issued the best songs on a single record, All Things Must Pass would probably be even more recognized as the great album it is…the crown jewel of George Harrison’s solo career.

The public certainly liked it.  The album topped the Billboard chart for 7 weeks in 1971 (released in November of 1970).  Sales figures are hard to nail down, because of U.S. Sales, World Sales, Multi-Disc Sales, or just plain wrong information, but All Things Must Pass and Band On The Run are the two top-selling solo Beatles albums.

George also helped out Ringo Starr.  He co-wrote “It Don’t Come Easy”, and produced the recording.  It was Ringo’s first big hit (#4) in 1971.

George Harrison was approached by teacher and friend Ravi Shankar to help the war refugees of Bangladesh (East Pakistan).  George asked friends in the music community to join him in what was the first major charity concert, film, and album…The Concert For Bangladesh.

Musicians who participated included…Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Leon Russell, Billy Preston, Ringo Starr, and Badfinger.  The concert was August 1st, 1971, with two sold out shows.  It was a huge success, musically and financially.  Although it took some time to sort through the finances, the total sent to Bangladesh has been 12-million-dollars, and most importantly, the plight of the area was made known to the world.

George Harrison’s next studio album, Living In The Material World, was released in May of 1973.  It was a #1 album, with a #1 single “Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth)”.  That peace probably included being past all The Beatles’ legal battles he highlighted in the song “Sue Me, Sue You Blues”.  Despite it’s rapid rise to the top of the charts, the album didn’t sustain the good sales like his first post-Beatles album.

For the remainder of the 1970’s, George Harrison had no more Top-10 singles, and just four singles that made the Top 20.  He released four more albums, and only Dark Horse made the Top-10.

It wasn’t until mid 1981 that George Harrison had another hit single.  He had been working on the song “All Those Years Ago” (originally for Ringo).  Then after John Lennon’s tragic death, George updated the lyrics as a tribute to John.  Ringo Starr played drums, and Paul & Linda McCartney added background vocals.  The song was #2 on the Billboard singles chart, and #1 on Billboard’s Adult Contemporary chart.  The album, Somewhere In England, also did fairly well, just missing the Top-10 at #11.

The low point for George Harrison’s albums was 1982’s Gone Troppo.  It failed to even make the top 100 albums.  At this point, George was doing better with financing Monty Python movies than with music.

But George wasn’t done making good music.

Enter unabashed Beatles’ fan Jeff Lynne of The Electric Light Orchestra.  George asked Jeff to co-produce his 1987 album Cloud Nine.  It was successful.  The album had a #1 single, “Got My Mind Set On You”, which was originally a 1962 recording by James Ray.  Other tracks did well on the Mainstream Rock chart (Multiple charts and formats had become the norm.) “When We Was Fab” (#2), “Cloud 9” (#9), and “Devil’s Radio” (#4).  Cloud Nine hit #8, and also went platinum.  It was the last solo album George would release, but he was about to have some musical fun with his friends.

Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, George Harrison, & Roy Orbison

The Traveling Wilburys kind of happened by accident, but it was mostly Jeff Lynne’s fault, because he was producing albums for George, Roy Orbison, and Tom Petty.  In a Wilburys documentary, George Harrison says the group wasn’t planned.  He was having lunch with Jeff and Roy, and wanted to use them on a B-side single.  He says he called Bob Dylan to use his studio, and had to pick up a guitar he left at Tom’s house.  They all joined in the writing and recording of “Handle With Care”, and presto, The Traveling Wilburys!

They decided to make an album, and Traveling Wilburys Vol. 1 was a major success…triple platinum.   Most of the tracks got airplay on FM stations, “Handle With Care”, “End Of The Line”, “Tweeter And The Monkey Man”, and “Last Night”.  Plus, “Not Alone Anymore” and “Heading For The Light” were showcases for Roy Orbison and George Harrison respectively.  The album won a Grammy Award for Best Rock Performance.

If you get a chance, watch the 25-minute documentary that was included with the deluxe edition of the Traveling Wilburys Collection.  You can see it free on YouTube.  They had so much fun together!  George said: “It was a bunch of friends that just happened to be really good at making music.”

Sadly, Roy Orbison died of a sudden heart attack at the age of 52, on December 6th, 1988.  Tom Petty said he was glad Roy had been able to enjoy The Wilburys and the success of the album.  All of the band’s members were in awe of Orbison’s voice.

Two years later, October of 1990, the group released their second and last album, humorously called Traveling Wilburys Vol. 3.   Though not as popular, it still went platinum, and included the tracks “She’s My Baby”, “Inside Out”, Wilbury Twist”, and “Cool Dry Place”.

These were the last albums George Harrison would release in his lifetime, except for his participation with The Beatles Anthology project in the 1990’s.  He died of cancer on November 29th, 2001 at the age of 58.

George Harrison’s son, Dhani, and Jeff Lynne put together an album of songs George had been working on during the previous ten years.  Brainwashed was released in November of 2002.  Two of the best songs from the album are “Any Road” and “Run So Far”.

It’s so great George Harrison and Roy Orbison had such fulfilling and happy experiences with The Traveling Wilburys.  Despite all the star power involved, Tom Petty said, “It was George’s band”.

Well, his second band.

(This is the 3rd article in the series of The Beatles as solo artists.  Ringo is next.)

Paul McCartney…Man On The Run

Paul McCartney’s been entertaing people for 60 years!

Paul had just turned 15 years old when he joined John Lennon in The Quarrymen in 1957.  In the ’60’s, John, Paul, George & Ringo turned The Beatles into the most popular and influential music group in history.  All those great songs, and yet Paul was only 27 when he made public the group’s breakup in April of 1970 (no space to go into that story!).  The last time the four of them recorded together was in 1969.

Now what?  Paul had a tough time with the split, but he had already recorded his first solo album by the time of the announced breakup.

The April, 1970 album, McCartney, was certainly a commercial success…#1 for three weeks…but was not loved by critics.  Paul did the entire album himself… playing bass, all guitars, multiple keyboards, drums, and vocals (with a little bit of help from wife Linda).  The showcase of Paul’s skills is “Maybe I’m Amazed”, which sounds like it could have been on Let It Be or Abbey Road, and we would have just figured it was The Beatles.  Not far behind are “Every Night” and “Junk”.  What hurt the album was that some of the songs, especially the instrumentals, sounded like they were ideas for songs, and not really complete.  For some reason, McCartney didn’t release any singles from it.

In early 1971, McCartney released His first single, “Another Day”.  It hit #5 in the U.S., and #1 in several other countries.  Even though it’s about a lonely woman (like Eleanor Rigby), it’s always an enjoyable listen.

The sessions for 1971’s Ram album produced “Another Day”, “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey”(#1 hit), “Heart Of The Country”, “Back Seat Of My Car”, and “Too Many People”.  The album, billed as Paul & Linda McCartney, was much more fully produced, hit #2 on the album charts, and went platinum.  Critics still weren’t on board, but retrospectively, Ram is looked upon mostly favorably.

And then came Wings.  Paul McCartney added drummer Denny Seiwell and guitarist Denny Lane (from the early Moody Blues) to form the group Wings.  They quickly recorded the album Wildlife.  It has it’s fans (made it to #10), but it’s generally not well thought of, except for a remake of “Love Is Strange”, and the appeal to John Lennon, “Dear Friend”.  There was some success with follow up singles in 1972, including “Hi Hi Hi” at #10.  1973 would be better.

Paul McCartney (with Wings until 1980) had his second #1 single with “My Love”, and another #1 album, Red Rose Speedway in April of 1973.  Then came James Bond theme “Live And Let Die” (#2).

Finally, in late 1973, Paul released an album that fans and critics agreed on, Band On The Run.  The album contained three hit singles…”Band On The Run”(#1), “Jet” (#7), and “Helen Wheels” (#10) [on the U.S. album only].  It’s a solid album.  Rolling Stone reviewer John Landau said with the possible exception of the John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band album, Band On The Run is “the finest record yet” from the ex-Beatles.  Among the other stand out cuts are “Bluebird” and “Let Me Roll It”.  Interestingly, Wings was down to just Paul, Linda, and Denny Lane.  Similar to his solo McCartney album, Paul played most of the instruments.  Later, he had overdubs of horns and percussion added.

From this point on, Paul McCartney settled into becoming far and away the most commercially successful Beatle.  His Top-40 popularity was second only to Elton John in the 1970’s.  More big hits included “Junior’s Farm” (#3), “Listen To What The Man Said” (#1), “Silly Love Songs” (#1), “Let ‘Em In” (#3), “Maybe I’m Amazed (Live) [#10],”With A Little Luck” (#1), “Goodnight Tonight” (#5), and “Coming Up (Live)” [#1].

His follow-up album in 1975, Venus And Mars, was also #1.  Wings At The Speed Of Sound (1976) was #1, and Wings Over America was McCartney’s 6th #1 album out of 8 releases, not bad.

The London Town album hit #2, and Back To The Egg #8.  In 1980, it was goodbye Wings, hello solo (again).

The 1980’s were a real mixed bag for Paul McCartney.  They started with his McCartney II album, which was generally panned, but is now seen by some as a milestone in techno-pop.  My favorite track from it is “Summer’s Day Song”.

The Tug Of War album in 1982 brought back producer George Martin, and it was another #1 album.  Besides the song about his friendship with John Lennon, “Here Today”, the album had the #10 single “Take It Away” and #1 hit “Ebony And Ivory” with Stevie Wonder.  McCartney also had a #1 in 1982, “Say Say Say”, with Michael Jackson.

The remainder of the 1980’s saw the albums Pipes Of Peace, Give My Regards to Broad Street, Press To Play, and Flowers In The Dirt.

From the  Broad Street album came “No More Lonely Nights”, the medley of “Yesterday/Here There & Everywhere/Wanderlust”, and “Eleanor Rigby” with an extended instrumental piece, “Eleanor’s Dream”.  It was interesting that McCartney chose to include four songs from one Beatle’s album, Revolver.  Besides the two mentioned above (“Here” and “Eleanor”), he did “For No One” and “Good Day Sunshine”.  Flowers In The Dirt was also a pretty strong album, and featured “My Brave Face” co-written by Elvis Costello.

In 1991 the U.S. finally got his Russian release of old rock & roll songs CHOBA B CCCP from 1988.  Off The Ground with “Hope Of Deliverance” was released in 1993.  That was also the year we saw Paul McCartney at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City.  It was a fantastic concert that mixed his solo and Beatles songs.  The surprise for us, was that he played the two Beatles songs that were performed at our wedding…”And I Love Her” and “Here There And Everywhere”.  It was unusual that we’d get to hear both, because he would normally select just one of them for a concert.  We tell people he knew we were there.

Twenty-four years after Band On The Run, Paul McCartney released what I believe is his next-best album, Flaming Pie, in 1997.  The album received the best critical praise and fan support (#2) since Tug Of War fifteen years earlier (no surprise that Paul was working with George Martin again).  Songs include “The World Tonight”, “Young Boy”, “Little Willow”, “Beautiful Night”, and the two best songs, “Somedays” (very Beatles-like) and “Calico Skies” (which McCartney felt was among his best).  It’s my wife’s favorite McCartney solo song.  There’s a little anti-war verse at the end, but most of “Calico Skies” appears to be a love song for his wife.  The Chorus is:  “I will hold you for as long as you like.  I will hold you for the rest of my life.”  Linda McCartney had been battling breast cancer, and she succumbed to it a year later.

From this point on, Paul McCartney released these albums:  Run Devil Run (old rock & roll), Driving Rain, Chaos And Creation In The Back Yard (a success at #6, with 4 Grammy nominations, “Jenny Wren” won for Best Pop Vocal Performance), Memory Almost Full (#3, and a multi-million seller), Kisses On The Bottom (#5, a collection of old American standards, and includes original song “My Valentine”.  McCartney won a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album.), and finally in 2013, New (#3, and over a million sold in U.S.). The last album was fairly successful at updating McCartney’s sound by using young producers, including George Martin’s son, Giles.

It’s impossible to cover Paul McCartney’s career (and include all his projects) now that it’s 60 years on.  But, what we do know is that McCartney is an amazing entertainer, who at age 75 is still doing 2-and-a-half hour concerts to sell-out crowds.  Paul McCartney will go down in history as one of the world’s great musicians!

(This is the second of four articles on The Beatles as solo artists.  George is next, and then Ringo).

John Lennon…Imagine Peace

The first Beatles solo single was released about a year before the official break-up of the band.

Above is my single of “Give Peace A Chance”.   It was recorded live in June of 1969 at a “Bed In” during John & Yoko’s honeymoon in Montreal, Canada.  A month later, it was released under the name Plastic Ono Band, rather than John Lennon.  It was credited as a Lennon-McCartney song, even though Paul wasn’t involved.  McCartney had also included Lennon’s name on songs he’d written by himself, because that had been their policy with all their songs.

The verses of “Give Peace A Chance” are nothing special, but man did John Lennon nail the chorus!  It’s such an important idea that’s laid out in a single sentence with a great easy to remember melody.  That chorus helped focus the opposition to the Vietnam war.  In turn, those large demonstrations helped end the war.  Even President Richard Nixon admitted that looking out on the demonstrations helped change his position on the war.

John Lennon’s second solo single also came in 1969, “Cold Turkey”.  The song was released under the Plastic Ono Band name, but this time the writing was credited only to Lennon.

The Beatles were still officially together when John Lennon released the first single under his own name (although he added Ono as a middle name).

My February, 1970 single of “Instant Karma!”, with “Play Loud” on the label.

“Instant Karma! (We All Shine On)” was written, recorded, and released in the U.K. within 10 days.  It includes one other Beatle, George Harrison, on guitar.  I remember being surprised as we heard the song for the first time on our clock radio one morning.  It was the first we knew John had an official solo single.  We liked it instantly, and it went on to become one of his most popular hits at #3 and certified gold.  “Give Peace A Chance” had peaked at #14, and “Cold Turkey” at #30.

John Lennon’s first solo album after the breakup of The Beatles, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, was released in December of 1970.  Critics love it, and it’s listed at #23 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 albums of all time (2012).  The album was recorded after John & Yoko underwent months of Primal Therapy.  The resulting emotion is exhibited in the music.  Anger and frustration are apparent in “Mother” and “God”,  two cuts which received FM airplay.  I gravitated to the more Beatles-like “Look At Me” and “Love”.  A great version of “Love” with just John on acoustic guitar was included with his John Lennon Anthology box set.  The album reached #6 on the U.S. Billboard chart, no singles made the Top 40 chart.

John Lennon added another political anthem in April of 1971.  “Power To The People” reached #11 on the singles chart.

His best solo album and song came in September of 1971…Imagine.

This plaque, from a local craft fair, is at the front entrance of our home.

Lennon asked people to imagine peace…“nothing to kill or die for”…no countries, no religion.  Extreme nationalism and warping of religious beliefs are two of the leading causes of war throughout history.  It’s a visionary song with hope that the world…”will live as one”.  It will probably never happen, but just imagine.

The Imagine album was #1 in the U.S. and many other countries, and the “Imagine” single went to #3.  Other favorite cuts on the album are “Oh My Love”, “Crippled Inside”, “Jealous Guy” and “How Do You Sleep?”.  That last one was a nasty jab at Paul McCartney.  John felt Paul had made fun of him on McCartney’s Ram album with the song “Too Many People”.   It may be finding something that isn’t there, but I got the feeling the song “Jealous Guy” might have been John admitting another reason he slammed Paul so hard with “How Do You Sleep?”.  Later, on his Wildlife album, Paul reached out to John with “Dear Friend”.  Anyway, the two of them eventually made up.

The next two albums by John Lennon, Some Time In New York City and Mind Games from 1972 and 1973, were critical and commercial disappointments.

Lennon rebounded in 1974 with Walls And Bridges.  The album went to #1, and so did the single “Whatever Gets You Through The Night”.  The album was made during an 18-month separation from Yoko Ono, or as Lennon called it…”my lost weekend”.  Despite it’s popularity, the album received mixed reviews.  It contained “Nobody Loves You When You’re Down And Out” and the hit “#9 Dream” which peaked at (what else?) #9 on Billboard’s singles chart.

1975 brought a collection of rock & roll oldies as covered by John Lennon.

The best part of the album was the cover.  It’s a shot of Lennon taken during The Beatles time in Hamburg, Germany in the early 1960’s.  The 3 blurs walking past were identified as George Harrison, Stuart Sutcliffe, and Paul McCartney.  John Lennon had one of the best rock & roll voices ever, as heard on “Twist And Shout”, “Rock And Roll Music”, and other covers The Beatles recorded with George Martin.  Unfortunately, John Lennon and Phil Spector produced this album with John’s voice being altered.  It sounds thin and distant.  What should have been great, is underwhelming at best.  To hear how it should have sounded, two cuts “Be-Bop-A-Lula” and the medley of “Rip It Up/Ready Teddy” were on the John Lennon Anthology box set with Lennon’s voice sounding full and normal…way better!

Which brings us to Yoko Ono.

About 30-years after The Beatles broke up, good friends (Al & Mary Kay Koontz) gave me the above magnet as a joke.  It’s funny, but no, I’m not still mad at Yoko.  In fact, she has made some good choices.  One of which was to release some of John’s recordings without having his voice so processed.   These include the John Lennon Anthology box set, and the “Stripped Down” version of Double Fantasy.

John Lennon didn’t record from 1975 until his Double Fantasy album in 1980.  Instead, he decided to become a “house husband” to help raise the newly born Sean Lennon.

Double Fantasy has some excellent songs by John Lennon… “(Just Like) Starting Over”, “Woman”, “I’m Losing You”, “Watching The Wheels”, and “Beautiful Boy”.  John Lennon was excited about finally recording again, and he certainly delivered.  John turned 40 on October 9th, 1980, the album was released on November 17th, and John Lennon, an advocate for peace, was gunned down on the streets of New York City on December 8th.  Fans were stunned, and the thought of the tragedy still affects us.

John’s death impacted sales and radio airplay of his music.  The album went to #1, and there were three Top 10 singles.

Extra songs had been recorded at the time of Double Fantasy, and they were released as part of the Milk And Honey album in 1984.  Songs included… “I’m Stepping Out”, “Nobody Told Me”, “Borrowed Time”, and a demo of “Grow Old With Me”.

John Lennon turned 30 in 1970 after The Beatles broke up, and with the time he took off for his son Sean, John really only had about 6 years as a solo recording artist.  It was the world’s loss.

(This is the first of 4 articles on The Beatles as solo artists…in the classic order…John, Paul, George, & Ringo.)

Joni Mitchell…The Folk/Pop Years ’68-’74

We started hearing about Joni Mitchell through her songwriting.

Judy Collins had her first and biggest hit with Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” in 1968.  That same year, a folk singer from New England, Tom Rush, released an album called The Circle Game.  That’s a Joni Mitchell song she hadn’t even recorded yet.  The album also included Mitchell’s “Urge For Going”.  This album is where we first heard Joni’s two excellent songs, plus it had songs by then little-known songwriters James Taylor and Jackson Browne.  For good measure, the cover photo was by Linda Eastman (McCartney to be).

It was time for Joni Mitchell to become appreciated for her performing, as well as her songwriting.  Enter David Crosby.

Mitchell was mostly known in her native Canada, and she’d been working the folk circuit on the East Coast.  David Crosby heard her, was impressed, and convinced her to move to Los Angeles.  Crosby then introduced her to manager Elliot Roberts, and her recording career began.  From 1968 to 1970, she released three albums Songs To A Seagull (1968), Clouds (1969) and Ladies Of The Canyon (1970).  The third album was the charm, as it contained her first song to get significant airplay, “Big Yellow Taxi” with the famous line “They paved paradise, put up a parking lot”.  The album also finally gave us Mitchell’s recording of “The Circle Game”.  The song was a response to fellow Canadian Neil Young’s “Sugar Mountain”.

Then in 1971 came one of the most critically acclaimed albums ever…Blue.  Joni Mitchell had just come off two of the strongest relationships in her life, with Graham Nash, and then James Taylor.  The result is a very personal and raw set of songs many critics hail as a landmark for singer-songwriters.  Songs that got the most attention include “Carey”, “California”, “River” and “A Case Of You”.

Far be it from me to swim against the tide of critical praise, but I actually prefer her next two albums…For The Roses and Court And Spark.  The difference is that while she continued writing great lyrics, she wrote even better melodies (overall), and added more sophisticated arrangements and vocals.

For The Roses, from 1972, includes Joni’s first Top 40 hit “You Turn Me On, I’m A Radio”.  She was having fun with the idea that she needed to write a song that would get radio play.  Other standout tracks include “For The Roses”, “Barangrill”, “See You Sometime”, “Blonde In The Bleachers”, and “Electricity”.  The arrangements include more rock, with Stephen Stills on guitar, and some touches of Jazz.   Quoting the New York Times: “Each of Mitchell’s songs on For the Roses is a gem glistening with her elegant way with language, her pointed splashes of irony and her perfect shaping of images.  She’s a songwriter and singer of genius who can’t help but make us feel we are not alone.”  It’s her only album that has been chosen by The Library Of Congress to be in the National Recording Registry.

Court And Spark, from 1974, is her most popular and best selling album.  It includes her biggest hit “Help Me” (#7), as well as “Free Man In Paris” (#22), “Raised On Robbery”, “Court And Spark”, and Grammy winner “Down To You” (Best Arrangement).  The influences of rock, pop, and jazz are strong.  Critics liked it too, and it’s listed at number 111 on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Albums.  Blue is number 30 on that list…the highest ranking album by a female.

It was at this point that Joni Mitchell decided to exit the mainstream.  Maybe she had proven all she wanted in folk and pop music, because she moved away from commercially popular music and turned to the niche of Jazz.  She still produced some critically praised albums, and at times returned to pop, but had no major sellers.  In 1996 she released Hits, a well chosen collection of her most popular recordings.  If you don’t have her other albums, this is the one to get.

She also continued her drawing and painting.  She’s considered an excellent artist.  She did the cover art on many of her albums, and one of my favorites, the cover for Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s So Far album.

Like John Lennon’s style, she can capture so much with seemingly simple line drawings.  And like Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell has had a major influence on songwriters.

Paul Simon…Solo Artist

If we hadn’t known about Simon & Garfunkel when we first heard the solo Paul Simon album in 1972, I think we’d still have been pretty impressed.

It had “Me And Julio Down By The School Yard”, “Mother And Child Reunion” (with a not yet common Reggae rhythm),  “Peace Like A River”, and 8 more solid songs.  Since we did know about the famous duo, if you were like me, you missed the harmony of Simon & Garfunkel.  But, it was still a really great start to his solo career.

Paul Simon continued to prove himself an American treasure as a songwriter.  His second solo album, There Goes Rhymin’ Simon in 1973, included the classic “American Tune”, and the hits “Kodachrome” (#2), “Loves Me Like A Rock” (#2), and the ballad “Something So Right”.  Then, his third album, Still Crazy After All These Years in 1975, returned him to the top of the charts with “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover”, and won the Grammy Award for Album Of The Year.

Paul Simon performed with George Harrison on Saturday Night Live in 1976.  They sang “Here Comes The Sun” and “Homeward Bound”. That SNL Thanksgiving episode is famous for Simon opening the show by singing “Still Crazy After All These Years” while wearing a turkey costume.  Who said he was too serious?  Simon has made over a dozen appearances on SNL through the years.

Paul Simon only had one more hit in the 1970’s, with “Slip Slidin’ Away”, at #5 in 1977.  He finally released his fourth album One-Trick Pony in 1980, and although it had  another top ten hit, “Late In The Evening” (#6), it wasn’t a success by his standards, nor was the accompanying film a hit in theaters.  What to do?

He put on a live concert in Central Park with old pal Art Garfunkel.  At the time, it was one of the largest concerts ever.  The crowd was estimated at half-a-million people.  The event and the live album transported Simon back to more successful times, but that didn’t last long.  In 1983, he released Hearts And Bones, which turned out to be a commercial low point in his career.  He was even quoted as wondering if he was still a commercially viable artist.

After hearing a cassette of some South African music in late 1984, Paul Simon was inspired.  He began writing new songs, and enlisted the help of musicians from South Africa.  This was a risk, because there was a  boycott against the South African government over Apartheid, and some accused Simon of breaking that boycott.  Paul Simon said he was simply working with fellow musicians, and they shouldn’t be limited because they were living under an unfair government.   Despite the controversy, the result was his most popular solo album ever…Graceland…in 1986.

The album was a hit with fans and critics.  Popular cuts included “You Can Call Me Al” (with a funny video featuring Chevy Chase), “Under African Skies” (with Linda Ronstadt), “Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes”, and the title track.  Graceland went on to win Grammy Awards for Album Of The Year, and Record Of The Year, and it sold an estimated 16-million copies.

Paul Simon was once again among the most popular musicians in the world, and he embarked on very successful tours.  His follow-up album came in 1990, Rhythm Of The Saints.  This time, Simon used Brazilian style music on “Born At The Right Time”, “The Obvious Child” and “She Moves On”.  The album was well received by most critics, but it didn’t have the commercial impact of Graceland.

In 1991, he did another “Concert In The Park”, only this time it was a solo effort, backed by African and South American musicians.  The crowd was reported as being 750,000…50% larger than his previous park concert with Art Garfunkel.  Over the years, he has received almost every song-writing and musical honor that could be applied to his long stellar career.

Paul Simon has continued performing, sometimes doing concerts with Art Garfunkel (when they’ve gotten along), and releasing albums that have had reasonable popularity.  His latest, 2016’s Stranger To Stranger includes the popular song “Wristband”.  The song features Italian electric dance beats provided by the artist Clap! (yes, with an exclamation point).  It’s a cool song that tells the story of Simon being locked out of the stage door of his own concert, and then not being able to get back in the front doors, because he doesn’t have a wristband for admission.  Of course it has a deeper meaning of disadvantaged people not being allowed into society.

That’s Paul Simon, still relevant after all these years.

Peter & Gordon / Chad & Jeremy Twins?

One with glasses & one taller…One with glasses & one taller.

Peter & Gordon (top) and Chad & Jeremy were often mistaken for each other.  The two duos were both part of the British Invasion, and they both had hits from 1964 to 1966.  P&G’s first hit was in May 1964, C&J’s in June 1964.

Peter Asher and Gordon Waller had a secret weapon…Paul McCartney.  Paul was dating Peter’s sister, Jane, and for a time was even living with the Asher family.  Paul wrote songs there, and sometimes he’d give an original song to Peter (who became a good friend) for Peter & Gordon to record.  Their #1 hit “A World Without Love”, plus hits “Nobody I Know” (#12) and “Woman” (#14) were all written by Paul McCartney.  My copy of “Woman” had the songwriter listed as A. Smith, because McCartney didn’t want the song to become popular just because the Lennon/McCartney writing-team name was on it.

My 1965 picture sleeve of “I Go To Pieces”.

My favorite Peter & Gordon song was written by an artist they toured with, Del Shannon of “Runaway” fame.  “I Go To Pieces” was a #9 hit in early 1965.  The late great Buddy Holly furnished “True Love Ways” (#14), and their other significant singles were two novelty songs…”Lady Godiva” (#6) and “Knight In Rusty Armour” #15).  The last of these was released in late 1966.

 

Chad Stuart and Jeremy Clyde started as a folk duo called “The Jerks”, but wisely changed their name.  Their music is more Folk influenced than that of their rivals.   “Yesterday’s Gone” (#21) was their first hit, and their biggest hit was “A Summer Song” at #7.  Their first album, shown above, also included a #15 hit “Willow Weep For Me”.  They did a show tune “If I Loved You” (#23), and their last significant singles were “Before And After” (#17) and “Distant Shores” (#30).

Two of their album cuts are of particular note:  The Lennon/McCartney song “From A Window” (which had been given to Billy J. Kramer, but is better by Chad & Jeremy), and the folk song “Four Strong Winds”.  It was originally by Canadian couple Ian & Silvia (Tyson), and was also done very well by Neil Young on his Comes A Time album.

Peter & Gordon won the competition on the charts, but it was Chad & Jeremy who got on American Television shows.  The British Invasion was a cultural phenomenon, and TV shows wanted to join in.  Chad & Jeremy appeared as characters on “The Dick Van Dyke Show” & “The Patty Duke Show”, and as themselves on “Batman”.

By 1967, music became less folk & pop, and more rock & psychedelic.  Neither Peter & Gordon nor Chad & Jeremy fit in.

The Beatles hired Peter Asher as the head of A&R at Apple Records, where he produced the first album by James Taylor.  He moved to the U.S., and produced many extremely successful albums for James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt, and other artists.  Asher also reunited at times with Gordon Waller for special performances, but in 2009 Waller passed away of a heart attack at the age of 64.

Chad & Jeremy continued sporadically releasing albums and songs into the 2000’s, but did not have chart success beyond their period of popularity in the 1960’s.

I’m a major fan of the British Invasion, and still enjoy both of these duos.  The reality is, not very many British Invasion artists continued successful recording careers past the 1960’s.

I found the above photo of Peter & Gordon online, and it was labeled…Chad & Jeremy.

Eagles…Hell Freezes Over

In 1994, Glenn Frey said the Eagles never broke up, they just took a 14 year vacation.  The truth is, they did break up in 1980, and Don Henley was quoted as saying they’d only get back together when hell freezes over.  In 1993, there was an Eagles tribute album with the track “Take It Easy” sung by Travis Tritt. The members of the Eagles agreed to appear in the song’s video.  Shortly after that, the band reunited.

It was in April of 1994 that the group recorded a live concert using the title Hell Freezes Over.

Timothy B. Schmidt,  Don Henley,  Glenn Frey,  Joe Walsh,  Don Felder

The album of the concert was released in November of 1994, and included four new studio recordings.  Getting the most radio airplay were “Get Over It” and “Love Will Keep Us Alive” (#1 on the Adult Contemporary chart).  The live recording that received a lot of attention was an acoustic rendition of “Hotel California”.  It featured a new Spanish-style guitar intro, and gave fans another way to enjoy one of the Eagles best songs.  The album was #1 and sold over 9-million copies.

The Hell Freezes Over tour made it’s way to Lincoln, Nebraska on January 28th, 1995.  By then, the Eagles had been on the road for about three-quarters of a year.  The striking difference between the recorded concert that had been on MTV and this show was that the band appeared to be a lot looser…just as professional, but having more fun.  The concert included many solo hits from Don Henley (“The Boys Of Summer”, “Heart Of The Matter”, “Dirty Laundry” & “All She Wants To Do Is Dance”), and the best version of Glenn Frey’s “You Belong To The City” I’ve ever heard.  Adding so much to the concert were Joe Walsh’s non-Eagles songs…”Funk #49″, “Life’s Been Good”, and “Rocky Mountain Way”.  The songs gave the band chances to cut loose musically, and added some lyrical humor.  It was a great concert!

The Eagles did more touring.  Don Felder acrimoniously left the band in 2001.  The next release was a live DVD called Farwell 1 Tour in 2005.  They never released this one as an album, so I pulled all the audio from the DVD.

Then came what is likely the final studio album by the Eagles…Long Road Out Of Eden.  It’s a two-disc set that included 20 new songs.

The album was recorded over a period of six-years, and was released in 2007.  It hit #1, sold over 3.5 million copies (7 million discs), and won two Grammy Awards.   It wasn’t like their 1970’s albums with tremendous airplay, but if you take time to get to know the songs, you’ll be rewarded.  I have 12 of the 20 songs on my Best of Eagles 3 playlist.  My personal favorites:  Disc 1, cuts 1,2,3,4,7,8,10,11  Disc 2, cuts 1,2,8,9.

The Eagles toured in support of the album, then did another round of touring following the release of the “History Of The Eagles” documentary in 2013.

Glenn Frey had suffered from rheumatoid arthritis since 2000, and treatment led to intestinal surgery in 2015.  He never recovered from it, and passed away in January of 2016 at the age of 67.

“It’s Your World Now” is Glenn’s last song on the Eagles’ last album…

It’s your world now,
Use well the time,
Be part of something good,
Leave something good behind.
The curtain falls,
I take my bow,
That’s how it’s meant to be,
It’s your world now.

It was thought the Eagles might not tour again, but this past July, they co-headlined the Classic West & Classic East concerts.  Glenn’s son Deacon, and their friend, country singer Vince Gill, sang the lead vocal parts made famous by Glenn Frey.  They’re doing a fall “mini-tour” for now, but no one is sure what will happen to the Eagles in the long run.

The Beatles…Made It With Own Songs

In the 1990’s, I was talking with a younger man who was the Music Director of one of the radio stations where we worked.  He said he wasn’t sure he could like The Beatles, because they “used songs by black artists to become popular.”

That’s the kind of impression a younger person could get if they don’t know the real story.  Besides the fact some white artists were used to popularize songs by black artists in the ’50’s, this type of thinking might be attributed to the popularity of “Twist & Shout”.

                   My worn out copy of “Twist And Shout” from 1964.

The song was written by Phil Medley and Bert Russell, and was first recorded in 1961 by the Top Notes.  It was not a hit.  The Isley Brothers recorded it in 1962 in an R&B/Pop style and it hit #17 on the Billboard singles chart.

The Beatles were listening to all the U.S. records they could get their hands on.  Like all new bands, their live shows were filled with songs by their favorite artists like Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Buddy Holly, and American “Girl Group” songs like “Baby It’s You”, “Please Mister Postman” and “Boys”.

After having hits in England with songs they’d written, “Love Me Do” and “Please Please Me”, The Beatles recorded their first album, Please Please Me.  They had four songs completed, and then on February 11th, 1963 they recorded another ten songs they needed to fill out the album, and they did it in just 13-hours!  Six of the fourteen songs were ones they didn’t write (cover songs), including “Twist And Shout”.

The Beatles version of “Twist And Shout” is an all-out rocker that adds muscle and excitement to the song.  Some may prefer the R&B/Pop style of the Isley Brothers, and that’s okay.  In fact, like The Beatles and The Stones, you can like both of them.

The Beatles only released self-written songs as singles, and never intended to have “Twist And Shout” as a single.  However, the record company that had the rights to the Please Please Me album in the U.S., Tollie, saw how popular The Beatles became in 1964, and chose to release “Twist And Shout”.  It was a major hit (#2, held out of #1 by “Can’t Buy Me Love”).

So, I pointed out this kind of information to my friend and co-worker.  I showed him The Beatles rose to popularity on the strength of their own songs, and that they had written all 21 of their number one hits.  Their few scattered cover songs to hit the charts were released by U.S. record companies, and were not part of what The Beatles considered their official singles.  In England, The Beatles only had their own songs on both sides of every single.  My friend was surprised and satisfied to see how The Beatles became popular on their own merit.

Beyond that, The Beatles not only didn’t “use” black artists, they championed them.  When The Beatles came to New York for the first time, they were guest DJ’s at a radio station and could play anything they wanted.  Instead of choosing their own songs, they played songs by their favorite artists, like The Ronettes, who were friends from their early touring days.  Smokey Robinson (of The Miracles) was asked if it was okay that The Beatles recorded “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me”.  He replied that he was thrilled.

In a Rolling Stone interview with Smokey Robinson and Otis Williams (of The Temptations), Robinson said The Beatles were the first huge white act to admit they listened to black music, and love it.  Williams said…”I must give credit to The Beatles. . .It seemed like at that point in time white America said, ‘OK if the Beatles are checking them out, let us check them out.'”  The popularity of Motown acts and other black artists grew, and in the 1960’s Top 40 stations played a greater mix of music than ever before.

The Beatles always played a variety of styles.  They also deserve credit for helping make Country more acceptable to rock/pop fans…which in turn paved the way for Country Rock.

My 1965 sleeve for “Act Naturally”, their final cover song.   Neither “Yesterday” nor “Act Naturally” were singles in the U.K.

Growing up in the 1950’s, The Beatles were fans of Country & Western, as it was called then.  John Lennon said that before he learned to play the guitar, he was already imitating Hank Williams songs .  While all of The Beatles liked Country, Ringo is the biggest fan.  Among his vocal performances are songs by Buck Owens (“Act Naturally”) and Carl Perkins (“Matchbox” & “Honey Don’t”).  The Beatles also did some of their own songs with a country touch, such as “What Goes On”, “I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party” and “I’ve Just Seen A Face”.  You can hear more of their country performances on the BBC radio collections.

With the immense popularity of The Beatles, if they played a type of music, it put their stamp of approval on it.

American Idol…Did It Find Enough Talent?

We pause from Classic Rock to look back on recent pop music history.

It was just a summer replacement show based on an old-fashioned talent show format.  I remember Sly & The Family Stone winning a summer TV talent show in the 1960’s, now Fox TV was trying it again with an American version of Britain’s “Pop Idol”.  “American Idol” turned out to be a juggernaut for about a decade, starting in the summer of 2002, and then slowly faded out through 2015…although the ratings were still better than many hit shows.

The luckiest thing to ever happen to American Idol was that Kelly Clarkson tried out the first season, and eventually won.  She could sing any style of music Idol threw at the contestants, and viewers loved her.  Finding a real talent validated the show’s very existence.

So let’s look back at the entire run of Idol, and determine how good the show was at finding talent, and which contestants were ultimately the most successful.

There are various ways of measuring success, so let’s start with the most practical way…who is now worth the most money?  It’s a surprising stat, because of the Top Ten contestants on the list, only 4 of them actually won the show.

  1. Carrie Underwood…$70-Million.  Singing, Endorsing, Acting, Hosting.
  2. Kelly Clarkson…$28-Million.  Singing, Endorsing, Writing.
  3. Jennifer Hudson…$20-Million.  Acting (won Oscar), Singing, Endorsing.
  4. Adam Lambert…$12-Million.  Singing solo & with rock group Queen.
  5. Jordon Sparks…$10-Million.  Singing, own Clothing & Fragrance lines.
  6. Chris Daughtry…$8.5-Million.  Rock group Daughtry.
  7. Clay Aiken…$6-Million.  Singing, Broadway.
  8. Katharine McPhee…$6-Million.  Acting (on TV’s “Scorpion”), Singing.
  9. David Cook…$5-Million.  Singing, Endorsing.
  10. Daivd Archuleta…$5-Million. Singing.

Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson, Jordon Sparks, and David Cook are the four who won the show.  The money figures are from “Business Insider”, 2016.

Carrie Underwood was the next big find, in season four.  The shy girl from Oklahoma had never even been on a plane before Idol, and now she’s had 24 #1 singles on the Billboard country chart, and has been the most successful female country star for over a decade.  Friend Miranda Lambert is close, and you might remember she got started on the “Nashville Star” talent show.

Another way we’re checking success is sales of recordings.  These are the official sales of albums in the United States as of 2016:

  1. Carrie Underwood, season 4 winner…16-million.
  2. Kelly Clarkson, season 1 winner…14-million
  3. Chris Daughtry, season 5, #4…7.3-million
  4. Clay Aiken, season 2, #2…5-million
  5. Fantasia Barrino, season 3 winner…3-million
  6. Ruben Studdard, season 2 winner…2.6-million
  7. Scotty McCreary, season 10 winner…2.2-million
  8. Kellie Pickler, season 5, #6…1.5-million
  9. David Cook, season 7 winner…1.5-million
  10. Phillip Phillips, season 11 winner…1.5-million

Others who have sold over a million albums, and their season ranking are…Jennifer Hudson (#7), Jordon Sparks (#1), Adam Lambert (#2), and David Archuleta (#2).

If you look at World sales of albums, Kelly Clarkson has sold the most, 61-million to Carrie Underwood’s 56-million.

By comparison, no winner or contestant of The Voice has sold anywhere near a million albums, and the most successful, Cassadee Pope, had an album reach #9, and a single reach #3 (on the country chart).  The Voice concentrates on the judges instead of the contestants, and is a ratings winner, but a talent finding bust.

By concentrating on the contestants more than the judges, especially in the early half of their run, American Idol discovered talented people.  It also gave the contestants enough exposure that the show served as a springboard.

On the acting front…Katharine McPhee has had supporting roles in movies, starred for two years on the TV show “Smash”, and is now starring in her 4th season of TV’s “Scorpion” series.  Another Katherine, Katie Stevens, was a top 10 finisher in 2010, and now has a starring role in new TV series “The Bold Type”.  Contestants who have appeared on Broadway include Diana DeGarmo, Constantine Maroulis, Clay Aiken, Katie Webber, Fantasia Barrino, Jordon Sparks, and of course Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson.   Do you remember “American Junior”?  It was a teens & younger spinoff of American Idol for one season.  One of the winners was Lucy Hale.  She became a very popular actress in the successful “Pretty Little Liars” series.

One last thing.  The most versatile performer after Kelly Clarkson was Haley Reinhart who finished third in 2011.  She and Casey Abrams (shown above) brought Jazz to American Idol.  Haley also sang Country, Pop, Rock, and anything else they asked her to sing.  Popular musicians took notice of her talent.  Lady Gaga gave permission for Haley to sing one of her unreleased songs, “You and I”.  Led Zeppelin let Idol know that they would allow Haley to sing their songs for the first time on Idol, and she rocked “What Is And What Should Never Be”.

Haley and Casey have had modest success, together and solo.  Haley had a #16 hit on the Adult Contemporary chart with “Can’t Help Falling In Love”, and an album, Listen Up!, that charted at #22.  They sang and played with the Jazz group “Postmodern Jukebox” and there are extremely popular videos of those performances.  A few years after her time on Idol, she still had eight of the top 10 “American Idol Performances” purchased on iTunes, and her performance of “House Of The Rising Sun” remains the #1 Idol Performance sold on iTunes.

Obviously, American Idol was a huge success at finding talent, and despite all their talent, I don’t think Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, and others could have had their impressive careers without exposure on Idol.

American Idol is returning in 2018 on ABC (instead of Fox).  It seems a little soon to bring it back, but all that really matters is that they find talented contestants, and then focus on them instead of the judges.