Stephen Stills…Hey, What’s That Sound?

He doesn’t seem to get the credit he deserves.

If it weren’t for Stephen Stills writing the 1967 #7 hit “For What It’s Worth (Stop, Hey What’s That Sound)”, most people wouldn’t have heard Buffalo Springfield.

The group’s other star-to-be was Neil Young, but “For What It’s Worth” was their only hit.  Some other Buffalo Springfield songs were later played on Album Oriented Rock FM stations, including Stills’ “Rock & Roll Woman” and “Bluebird”.

Next came Crosby, Stills & Nash in 1969.  Stills was a dominant force on the album, with “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”, “Helplessly Hoping”, “You Don’t Have To Cry”, “49 Bye Byes” and “Wooden Ships” (which he had written prior to CSN).  But it wasn’t just songwriting and singing, Stills played most of the instruments (not drums) on all but two tracks.  This takes nothing away from the great songs and contributions by David Crosby and Graham Nash…it was just how the first album was done.

The follow up album was CSN&Y’s Deja Vu in 1970.  Besides lots of lead guitar and other instrumental work, Stills’ main contributions included “Carry On/Questions”, “4 + 20”, and a great lead vocal on Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock”.

Then it was solo time.

The albums Stephen Stills and Stephen Stills 2 were released in 1970 and 1971.  Among the tracks were “Love The One You’re With”, “Do For The Others”, “Change Partners”, “Nothin’ To Do But Today”, “Sugar Babe”, and “Know You Got To Run”.  Stills was not really a singles artist, but the albums did well, reaching #3 and #8 respectively.  Next came one of the best albums of his career.

Manassas was a group of top musicians, as assembled by Stephen Stills.  It was Stephen Stills (lead guitar & keyboards), Chris Hillman (of the Byrds) [guitar & mandolin], Dallas Taylor (Drums), Paul Harris (keyboards),  Fuzzy Samuels (bass), Al Perkins (pedal steel & guitar), and Joe Lala (percussion).  This is a great 2-record album filled with solid songs, including “It Doesn’t Matter”, “So Begins The Task”, “Johnny’s Garden”, “Don’t Look At My Shadow”, “Blues Man”…and many more.  It’s a wonderful mix of Rock and Country Rock.  Critics praised the album.

In fact, I remember reading the glowing review in Rolling Stone, and right next to it was the review of the Graham Nash David Crosby album.  It too got a great review, and is probably the best album by Crosby & Nash.  It includes “Southbound Train”, “Games”, “Immigration Man”, “Page 43” and “The Wall Song”.

But wait, there’s more.  Neil Young also released his Harvest album.  The three albums were all in the Top-10 at the same time in June of 1972.  Manassas (a more expensive double album) hit #4, Graham Nash David Crosby also peaked at #4, and of course Harvest hit #1.  It was amazing that the members of CSN&Y could all have so much simultaneous success.

Stills “solo” studio projects included another Manassas album Down The Road (1972), Stills (1975), Illegal Stills (1976), Thoroughfare Gap (1978), Right By You (1984), Stills Alone (1991), Man Alive! (2005), a collection of 1968 demos Just Roll Tape (2007), some 1972 Manassas outtakes Pieces (2009), and an album with Judy Collins Everybody Knows (2017).

Of course sprinkled in were CSN& sometimes Y albums: CSN (1977), Daylight Again (1982), American Dream (1988), Live It Up (1990), After The Storm (1994), and Looking Forward (1999).

One thing that’s never been released is a really good collection of the best music of Stephen Stills’ career.  There is a box set, Carry On, but some of the choices and versions are suspect.  It’s also too sprawling and expensive.  Only the most hardcore fans will have purchased it.

Here’s a suggested career retrospective that would be considered a double album, would fit on one CD, and might attract more music fans.  (click to enlarge the list.)

This gives a pretty good look at some of the main contributions Stephen Stills has made to the world of music.  Only 6 of the 23 songs are on the CSN Greatest Hits album.  His impressive songwriting, excellent guitar playing, and distinctive vocals demonstrate he deserves to be included in the discussion of the best singers, songwriters, and musicians.  Stephen Stills is much more than one-third of a great group.

(Coming soon is a companion article on David Crosby & Graham Nash.)

Bonus Story:  Newer Stephen Stills fans will find one of his songs is hard to acquire.  I first heard “Treetop Flyer” when he recorded it live for a 1976 radio concert.  That version is fantastic, and has been in my music collection ever since, but is not available to the public (except on bootlegs).

Finally, in 1991, Stills did a studio version for his album Stills Alone, so I bought the CD.  However, it was on a small label, and not very many copies were made.  Slowly, people found out about the cool song, but couldn’t find a copy.  If you did find one, it was very expensive.

Then in 2007, Stills released the album Just Roll Tape.  It was from a studio session in 1968 when Stills, with just his acoustic guitar, recorded songs he’d been writing.  On the tape is a demo of “Treetop Flyer”.  It became the best selling cut of all of Stills’ songs on iTunes.  There’s a problem though, because if Stephen wasn’t happy with a verse, he immediately re-sang it.  Basically, this rough (though good sounding) demo needs the poorer quality duplicate verses edited out of it (which can be done with Apple’s Garage Band).

Next, the 1991 studio version of “Treetop Flyer” was included on 2013’s Carry On box set…only trouble was, you had to buy it…the whole box set!  The song is not sold as an individual cut.  So if that’s the only song you need, it’s still $40.  Evil marketers!

The Beatles…Singles Left Off Albums

The Beatles were different than other groups.  They didn’t include many of their singles on their albums, even when they came from the same recording sessions.  Plus, there were major differences between British and American albums.  Despite all the criticism Capitol Records has received over how they put the albums together, sometimes their choices were good.

The British version of America’s first Capitol album, Meet The Beatles, is called With The Beatles.  The American version is far superior, because it has three excellent songs that were not on the British album…”I Want To Hold Your Hand”, “I Saw Her Standing There”, and “This Boy”.  Those three important songs lead off the American album (The Beatles’ introduction to most Americans), and make the album much better than the British version.  Good move Capitol.

Above is a photo of my CD’s (with cardboard sleeves) of the American releases by Capitol records.  These 1964 & 1965 albums were made available in this form in 2004 & 2006.  It didn’t simply give American fans a chance to enjoy the albums as we knew them, but for the first time it gave us remastered STEREO versions of many songs that had previously only been available in mono.  That was the real draw.

British albums normally had 14 songs, and U.S. albums usually only had 11 or 12.  Capitol used this as an opportunity to “save” some songs, and then make new albums by combining them with singles that hadn’t been placed on previous albums.  That’s how we got American albums that didn’t even exist in England, especially…Something New and Beatles VI.

Then in 1966 came “Yesterday”…and Today.  Above is my 1995 promo CD that actually features the infamous “butcher” cover, which was the original cover for the album.  Negative reaction to it from radio stations and reviewers caused Capitol to recall the album and change the cover to a harmless photo of The Beatles and a steamer trunk.  Musically, the album has a lot of good songs, but it’s a real Frankenstein’s monster, pieced together from many parts.  It has the singles “We Can Work It Out” & “Day Tripper”.  Three songs from the yet-to-be-released Revolver…”I’m Only Sleeping”, “Doctor Robert”, & “And Your Bird Can Sing”.  Two songs from Help…”Yesterday” & “Act Naturally”.   Plus, there are four songs from Rubber Soul…”Drive My Car”, “Nowhere Man”, “If I Needed Someone”, and “What Goes On”.

It’s generally thought that by taking those songs off Rubber Soul, Capitol made the album fit in better with the popular Folk Rock trend of 1965.  Instead of starting the album with a rocker, “Drive My Car”, Capitol started the album with the acoustic-based “I’ve Just Seen A Face” (on Help in Britain).

The Beatles decided that beginning with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, British and American albums would contain exactly the same songs.  But, let’s take a look at some of the albums that were missing singles, before and after Sgt. Pepper.  These were songs intentionally left off…by The Beatles.

The Rubber Soul recording sessions included “We Can Work It Out” and “Day Tripper”, which were released as a two-sided single on the same day as the album.  The Revolver sessions included “Paperback Writer” and “Rain”.  The Sgt. Pepper sessions included “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields Forever”.  The White Album sessions included “Hey Jude” and “Revolver”.  And, the Let It Be sessions included “Don’t Let Me Down”.

As great as those five albums are, wouldn’t they have been even more amazing if those singles could have been included?  Of course we can include them with our playlists.

For Rubber Soul, Revolver, and Sgt. Pepper, I drop the missing singles between the original sides of the albums.  Rubber Soul gets “We Can Work It Out” & “Day Tripper”.  “Paperback Writer” and “Rain” sound like they belong in Revolver, and that even places “Rain” just before “Good Day Sunshine”.  In Sgt. Pepper, “Penny Lane” sounds great after “Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite”, and the “Strawberry Fields Forever” ending transitions nicely into “Within You Without You”.  Producer George Martin would be pleased to finally have those two songs on the album.

Although all the albums were the same starting in 1967, The Beatles still released singles, plus a six song EP (extended play) collection in England to go with their film “Magical Mystery Tour”.  Capitol had a better idea.  Take those non-album singles…”Strawberry Fields Forever”, “Penny Lane”, “Hello Goodbye”, “Baby You’re A Rich Man”, and “All You Need Is Love”, combine them with the six songs from the film, and you’ve got a really good album, Magical Mystery Tour.  This was such a good idea by Capitol, that when the other Beatles albums were released on CD, the American version of Magical Mystery Tour also became the official British version.

The most “lost” single by The Beatles is probably “Lady Madonna”.  It was released in early 1968, after Magical Mystery Tour, but well before The White Album.  It was a song without a home.  “Lady Madonna” is on my Magical Mystery Tour playlist.

So, which is the best Beatles album when you add in the appropriate singles?  No matter which one you choose, you’re right, because there is no one “correct” answer.

For me, Rubber Soul, Revolver, and Sgt. Pepper represent three of the best albums ever recorded.  With the addition of “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields Forever”, Sgt. Pepper is really strong.

And here’s another thought.  Imagine how good The White Album would be if it started off with “Revolution” and “Hey Jude”, and then you could choose the best 10 or 12 songs off it to make a single album instead of a double album.  That leaves Abbey Road (no hits added) for our consideration, and some people already think it’s the best.

Choosing the best Beatles album?  I should have known better, you can’t do that.  But, it’s fun trying…especially if you listen to all the albums again.

The Doors…”Light My Fire” & FM Radio

“Light My Fire”…the difference between AM & FM radio.

Jim Morrison (lead vocals), Ray Manzarek (keyboards), Robby Krieger (guitar), & John Densmore (drums)

FM Radio was developed in the 1930’s.  I collect old radios, and had a Sonora table radio from 1948 that was AM/FM and could receive today’s FM stations.  But in reality, it wasn’t until the mid to late 1960’s that FM radio started becoming popular.  FM stands for Frequency Modulation, and AM is Amplitude Modulation.  By modulating the frequency of a radio wave instead of it’s size, FM allows for greater fidelity, stereo, and as Steely Dan said “no static at all”.

In January of 1967 The Doors released their first album.

The album was not an instant hit, and the first single “Break On Through”… didn’t.  It stiffed at #126.  What to do?  There was this great song on the album, “Light My Fire”, but it was 7-minutes long.  The radio stations with the most listeners were AM, and they mainly played singles that were about 3-minutes long.  No new group was going to get a 7-minute single on the charts.  So, an extremely smart decision was made.  Elektra edited the long instrumental section out of “Light My Fire” to make a single that was under 3-minutes.  It’s one of the great singles…exciting and dramatic.  It went to #1, stayed there for three weeks in July & August of 1967, and sold nearly a million copies.  By September, The Doors album went to # 2, pulled to that position by the power of “Light My Fire”, and only held out of #1 By Sgt. Pepper.

AM radio stations played the 3-minute single of “Light My Fire”, and FM stations played the 7-minute album track.  This was the first time there was such an obvious difference in the versions of the same song being played on AM & FM.  It was a big draw for FM, because Doors fans felt FM stations were playing the “real” version of the song.  It was about this time I bought a Kenwood Receiver/Amplifier that only had the FM band.

    (My late 1960’s Kenwood FM Receiver/Amplifier in about 1971.)

Basically, I listened to FM at home (KFMQ), and AM in my car (KLMS & KOMA), because like most cars, mine only had an AM radio.  AOR (Album Oriented Rock) FM stations began to grow in popularity, FM tuners became more plentiful, and album sales increased.  Originally, FM stations could feature more music and longer songs because they didn’t have as many advertisers as the more popular AM stations.  They also featured less news and information.  Listeners liked the “more music” of FM, as well as the stereo and superior sound quality.  By 1978, FM Radio surpassed AM Radio in the number of listeners, and by the end of the 1980’s most AM stations had shifted from music to the News/Talk format.

It’s interesting that The Doors broke into the mainstream because of the single version of “Light My Fire”, and yet The Doors didn’t include that single on any of their many “Hits” albums.  Fifty years after it was #1, It finally found the light of day in The Doors’ The Singles collection this September.  It’s great we have both versions of the song, but if I could only have one version, I’d choose the single.  Sure the album cut is innovative, but the instrumental kind of meanders for a little too long, and it simply doesn’t pack the power of the single.  The only problem with the single is that it’s mono.  Almost everyone prefers stereo over mono, but they’ve only officially released the mono version, even on the new collection.  There is one rare exception.

When I bought some “jukebox singles” for our vintage 1964 jukebox (in the late ’80’s), I came across this stereo single!  The mix is perfect, and of course I have a digital copy of it on our computer.  Since this great stereo mix exists, why not make it readily available and let fans choose it if they wish?

Besides “Light My Fire”, some other famous songs that had shorter edited versions for AM radio include:  Bob Dylan’s (6:00) “Like A Rolling Stone” in 1965, Iron Butterfly’s (17-minute) “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida in 1968, and Crosby, Stills & Nash’s (7:23) “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” in 1969.  Even today, there are still “radio versions” that include edits or special mixes in order for artists to get their songs on the air.

The most classic “Light My Fire” story comes from The Doors’ appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.  That show provided the greatest exposure a musical act could get at the time.  Ed Sullivan and the producers decided “Girl, we couldn’t get much higher” must be a drug reference, so they said the lyrics needed to be changed.  After all, they got The Rolling Stones to sing “Let’s spend some time together” instead of “Let’s spend the night together”.  So The Doors agreed to sing “Girl, we couldn’t get much better“.  However, when The Doors performed, Jim Morrison defiantly sang the original “higher”.  The group was told they’d never do the Sullivan show again.  Jim Morrison responded “We just ‘did’ Sullivan”, and that was all they needed.

Once “Light My Fire” ignited their career, The Doors had five years of recording success, with 8 Top-40 hits, and six studio albums.  Their career shockingly ended with the death of Jim Morrison at the age of 27 in 1971.  The group officially disbanded in 1973.  The fact that The Doors are still so highly regarded, speaks to the originality and quality of their songs and recordings.

The Byrds…Folk Rock

The term “Folk Rock” didn’t exist, until the American music press came up with it to describe The Byrds’ album Mr. Tambourine Man in June of 1965.

“Mr. Tambourine Man” was an unreleased song by Bob Dylan when the members of the Byrds…Jim McGuinn (lead guitar & vocals), David Crosby (guitar & vocals), Gene Clark (guitar & vocals), Chris Hillman (bass & vocals) and Mike Clarke (drums) first heard it.  It was an acoustic folk song in 2/4 time.  The members of The Byrds came from a folk background, but had been experimenting with adding a “Beatles sound” to folk songs.  Jim McGuinn (later he changed his name to Roger McGuinn, which will be used for the remainder of the article), said The Beatles had already incorporated some folk minor-chord changes into their music as far back as 1963.  In 1964, McGuinn also saw George Harrison play a Rickenbacker 12-string guitar in the film “A Hard Days Night”, and bought his own.

The Byrds had been struggling to become successful in the music business, and McGuinn thought “Mr. Tambourine Man” was their last chance to get it right.  The Byrds changed the time signature to a 4/4 rock beat.  They also selected what they felt were the best verses, in order to keep the song under 3-minutes, so radio stations would play it.  Roger McGuinn’s bright 12-string guitar playing was featured to give it a “jangly” sound.  McGuinn, Crosby, and Clark sang in beautiful three-part harmony.

Because of the importance of the make-or-break recording, session players were used for the remaining instruments of the single.  They also played on the flip side, but that was it.  From that point on, the playing and singing was by the members of The Byrds.  The single was released in April of 1965.

The song “Mr. Tambourine Man” went to #1, and the album rose to #6.  Other notable songs on Mr. Tambourine Man are the excellent “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better” written by Gene Clark, “The Bells Of Rhymney” by Pete Seeger & Idris Davies, and two more Bob Dylan songs “Chimes Of Freedom” and “All I Really Want To Do”.  That last one was also covered by Cher.  She was just coming off the first Sonny & Cher hit “I Got You Babe”.  The duo had heard The Byrds perform the Dylan song at a club in Los Angeles, and rushed to put it out.

The Byrds were the major players in the move to Folk Rock, but they certainly weren’t alone.  The Beau Brummels had released “Laugh Laugh” (#15) and “Just A LIttle” (#8) in early 1965 prior to the success by The Byrds.  Also, The Searchers had used the same jangly 12-string guitar work on “Needles & Pins” (#13) and “When You Walk In The Room” (#35) in 1964.  However, “Mr. Tambourine Man” was the first recording to mix that rock sound with true folk lyrics as written by Bob Dylan.  That’s why the term Folk Rock was so appropriate.

Bob Dylan liked the new arrangements by Roger McGuinn and the rest of The Byrds.  He too had been experimenting with adding a band sound to his music, and he completed the move in 1965 with the classics “Like A Rolling Stone” and “Positively 4th Street”.

Meanwhile, The Byrds recorded their second album of 1965, Turn! Turn! Turn!  The title track (written by Pete Seeger) charted as a single in November, and was another #1 hit.  Other tracks include Dylan’s “Lay Down Your Weary Tune”, and a McGuinn song about the JFK assassination, “He Was A Friend Of Mine”.

Folk Rock grew with artists like The Turtles (“It Ain’t Me Babe” by Dylan), The Beatles (“You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” & George’s homage to The Byrds “If I Needed Someone”), Barry McGuire (“Eve Of Destruction”), The Grass Roots (“Where Were You When I Needed You”),  The Lovin’ Spoonful, The Mamas & The Papas, Simon & Garfunkel, and more.

Music styles progressed quickly in the ’60’s.  Just 6-months after The Byrds released “Mr. Tambourine Man”, the unofficial start of Folk Rock, Gene Clark, Roger McGuinn, and David Crosby wrote the song “Eight Miles High” (November 1965).

              (My 1966 picture sleeve for the single “Eight Miles High”)

The song was recorded at the beginning of 1966, and released in March.  Released just weeks earlier was “Shapes Of Things” by The Yardbirds.  Both songs hit the Top-40 in April.  These two are considered the first full-blown examples of Psychedelic Rock.  Other recordings had included elements used in Psychedelic Rock, but these two songs were the culmination of those experiments.

For their third album, Fifth Dimension (July, 1966) The Byrds recorded without Gene Clark, who left after “Eight Miles High”.  He reportedly left because of tensions in the band, as well as a fear of flying.  The quality of the album was not up to the first two albums.  It still had some Folk Rock (no Dylan songs though).  It also had Psychedelic Rock (“Eight Miles” and “5D”), and Country Rock (“Mr. Spaceman”).  It showed The Byrds were willing to expand their sound.

The Byrd’s 1967 album would have more of the same, but at a higher quality level.

Younger Than Yesterday is arguably The Byrds’ best album…right there with Mr. Tambourine Man.  Like Pet Sounds, it wasn’t extremely popular at the time of release, but has grown in stature.  “So You Want To Be A Rock & Roll Star” (with a horn part by Hugh Masekela), and “My Back Pages” (written by Bob Dylan) were the hit singles.  Chris Hillman who’s an accomplished guitarist and mandolin player, as well as bassist, really came through with his songwriting.  He contributed the Country Rock songs “Have You Seen Her Face”, “Time Between”, and “The Girl With No Name”.  David Crosby also impressed with “Everybody’s Been Burned” and “Renaissance Fair” (with McGuinn).

The Notorious Byrd Brothers was released in January of 1968.  It didn’t sell as well as previous albums, but had positive reviews.  The album includes a couple of strong songs by Carole King & Gerry Goffin, “Goin’ Back” and “Wasn’t Born To Follow”.  The Byrds blended the elements of Folk Rock, Psychedelic Rock, and Country Rock into their songs, instead of displaying them in separate songs.  It may have been the first album with a pedal steel guitar and a Moog synthesizer.

This was the last album to feature David Crosby.  He left/was fired mainly due to creative differences.  He felt more of his songs should have been included on their albums…in particular his threesome song “Triad”.  Drummer Michael Clarke was also dismissed from the band.

From this point, The Byrds would no longer have hit singles, but would still release influential albums, especially for Country Rock.  The years of many personnel changes (1968-1971), resulted in a real mixed-bag of albums, Sweetheart Of The Rodeo, Dr. Byrds & Mr. Hyde, Ballad Of Easy Rider, (Untitled), Byrdmaniax, and Farther Along.  They did include some good songs… “Hickory Wind” (by Gram Parsons), “You Ain’t Going Nowhere”, “Ballad Of Easy Rider”, “Jesus Is Just Alright”, “Just A Season” “I Wanna Grow Up To Be A Politician” and “Chestnut Mare”.

The original line-up of The Byrds had a reunion in 1973 for one last album, Byrds.  It was a commercial success (#20), and the highest charting Byrds’ album since their first.  However, it was not popular with critics who thought the band had not really jelled.  Good tracks include “Full Circle”, two Neil Young songs “See The Sky About To Rain” & “Cowgirl In The Sand”, and David Crosby’s vocal on the Joni Mitchell song “For Free”.

The Byrds Box Set was released in 1990…I couldn’t pass it up.  It’s a great history of the band, has some never before released songs, and four new studio tracks.  These include “From A Distance” (later recorded by Bette Midler), “Love That Never Dies” and a re-recording of “He Was A Friend Of Mine”, adding a third harmony part.  These tracks were recorded by Roger McGuinn, David Crosby, and Chris Hillman.  Highly recommended is a single disc collection of their best songs, 20 Essential Songs From The Box Set.

Roger McGuinn, David Crosby, Chris Hillman and Gene Clark all continued to make more good music.  David Crosby became the most famous, with a little help from his friends Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young.

The Byrds were not “America’s answer to The Beatles” as they were once mislabeled; however, they gave us many classic recordings, and were very influential pioneers in the evolution of Folk Rock, Psychedelic Rock, and Country Rock.

(End of Article)

Bonus Trivia:

Tom Petty was a major fan of The Byrds.  He recorded a faithful version of “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better” on his Full Moon Fever solo album, and The Heartbreakers did live versions of more Byrd’s songs.  In turn, Roger McGuinn recorded Petty’s “American Girl”.  The two become friends and did some live performances together.  Also, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers performed on McGuinn’s Back From Rio solo album.  Tom & Roger co-wrote and co-sang “King Of The Hill”.  Oh, and they both played Rickenbackers.

The Byrds’ “Renaissance Fair” features the line “I think that maybe I’m dreaming”.  The Animals played the Monterey Pop Festival with The Byrds, and for the Animal’s tribute song “Monterey” they included the line “I think that maybe I’m dreaming”.

Bob Seger…Rock & Roll Never Forgets

Bob Seger showed amazing perseverance.  He had his first top-twenty hit in early 1969 with “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” (#17) under the name the Bob Seger System.  It would be eight years (and 9 albums) until his next hit single, “Night Moves” (#4) in 1977.  Many music careers don’t even last eight years.

Actually, it was the year before, 1976, when Bob Seger made a great decision.  He and his backing group, The Silver Bullet Band, hadn’t been capturing their live rocking sound in the studio, so they released a 2-record concert album, Live Bullet.  It’s one of the best live Rock albums of all time.  In front of his hometown fans in Detroit, Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band rocked “Travelin’ Man”, “Beautiful Loser”, “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man”, “Katmandu”, and the soulful road song “Turn The Page”.

That album got Seger a lot of FM airplay, but it was the one-two punch of also releasing an excellent studio album, Night Moves, later that same year (1976) that brought Bob Seger to national attention.

Night Moves has the hits “Mainstreet” and the title track, plus album cuts that got played like singles…”Rock & Roll Never Forgets” and “The Fire Down Below”.

The songs from those two 1976 albums kept Bob Seger on radio stations throughout 1977, and the public was primed for Bob Seger’s next album, 1978’s Stranger In Town.

If you’re familiar with Stranger In Town, you know it’s one of the rare albums that’s good all the way through.  It has four hit singles “Still The Same” (#4), “Hollywood Nights” (#12), “We’ve Got Tonite” (#13), and “Old Time Rock & Roll” (#28).  That last one became popular again later, when it was featured in the 1983 Tom Cruise movie “Risky Business”.  Stranger In Town went platinum almost immediately, went on to go 6x platinum in the U.S., and broke Seger internationally.

Bob Seger then had a #1 album, Against The Wind in 1980.  It topped the Billboard album chart for six weeks, and had three hit singles, “Fire Lake” (#6), “Against The Wind” (#5), and “You’ll Accompany Me” (#14).  It was another huge seller, with over 5-million copies sold in the U.S.

Bob Seger continued his success with Top-10 albums from 1982 to 2014, including The Distance (#5), Like A Rock (#3), The Fire Inside (#7), Face The Promise (#4), and Ride Out (#3).  That means Bob Seger has had recordings on the charts in six straight decades! 

Even with all those decades in the music business, Bob Seger made one miscalculation…he was late to music streaming.  He held out from having his music for sale online, such as on iTunes, and having it on the various music streaming services, like Spotify or Pandora.  He missed out on a lot of digital sales, and his rightful place in Classic Rock type formats and playlists.

Bob Seger started correcting that with the 2011 release of Ultimate Hits: Rock & Roll Never Forgets.  It’s basically a two-disc length collection of his career, and is a steal at $12.99 for 26 songs on iTunes.  You may also want to cherry pick some more of his songs from other albums.

His next album, I Knew You When, is coming out November 17th.  It includes a song for his friend, the late Glenn Frey, simply called “Glenn Song”.

Bob and Glenn were both from Detroit, and were good friends.  Glenn played guitar and sang backup on Seger’s first hit “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man”, and then performed (like most of the other Eagles) on various Bob Seger albums.

We watched the television broadcast of the Kennedy Center Honors for the Eagles in December of 2016.  Of course this was after the death of Glenn Frey (January, 2016).  The band Kings Of Leon performed a faithful rendition of “Take It Easy”, and I thought they had done a pretty good job.  But then, Bob Seger took the stage to perform “Heartache Tonight”, a song he co-wrote with Glenn Frey, Don Henley & J.D. Souther.  Man did he take everyone to school on how to sing Rock & Roll!  He didn’t overdo it, or sing too hard, he sang it with just the right amount of emotion and grit.  It was satisfying to read articles after the show that talked about how amazingly Bob Seger had performed a song originally sung by his friend, Glenn.

As you can see from the photos, Bob Seger has gone from a young long-haired rock star, to a silver-haired rock star.  He’s 72 now…and never forgets how to Rock & Roll.

Bruce Springsteen…Born In The U.S.A. (album)

Sometimes successful musicians have that one amazing peak to their careers, for Bruce Springsteen it was Born In The U.S.A.

The album was recorded in the first quarter of 1984, and released in June.  Prior to the release of the album, Columbia Records released the first single “Dancing In The Dark”.  It turned out to be Springsteen’s biggest single ever, peaking at #2, and going platinum (over a million copies sold).  A couple of things helped the single.  One, was the flip side…”Pink Cadillac”…which could have been a great single on it’s own.  The other thing was the video.  It featured a young Courtney Cox (future “Friends” actress) as a fan who was pulled up on the stage to dance with The Boss.

MTV played the heck out of the video, and it introduced Bruce Springsteen to a lot more music fans.  Other popular videos followed as more singles were released.

I was not very aware of Bruce Springsteen early in his career, but started purchasing his albums when he broke into the mainstream with his Born To Run album in 1975.  I bought the Born In The U.S.A. album right away in 1984, based on the “Dancing In The Dark” single.  So I dropped the needle and listened closely to the entire album.  Later, I listened to the whole thing again and decided I pretty well liked it all…except the first song.

It’s probably because Bruce uses a guttural scream sound in his voice throughout, and because I have a tendency to not like choruses that are essentially one line , such as “Born In The U.S.A.”.  I’m certainly in the minority, because it’s very popular with fans.  By the way, “Born In The U.S.A.” is still widely misinterpreted as a patriotic song with the singer boasting about being born in the U.S.A.  Actually, it’s mainly about being forced to fight in Vietnam, and the poor treatment faced by returning veterans.  And no, Springsteen says the cover photo is not meant to give the impression he’s urinating on the flag.

Bruce was the first artist to have seven Top-10 singles from one album“Dancing In The Dark” (#2), “Cover Me” (#7), “Born In The USA” (#9), “I’m On Fire” (#6), “Glory Days” (#5), “I’m Goin’ Down” (#9), and “My Hometown” (#6).  He probably could have released an 8th Top-10 hit with “No Surrender”, a song which was played on Rock FM stations more than some of the singles.

Having so many great songs on the album is a demonstration of Bruce Springsteen’s strong songwriting.  He could have even added “Pink Cadillac”.  With that string of hit singles, Born In The U.S.A. was the top-selling album of 1985.  It has officially sold over 15-million copies in the U.S.A., and over 30-million worldwide.  Springsteen has had a lot of other successful albums, but none have come close in sales.  Born To Run is second, with an official 6-million copies in the U.S.

One aspect of overwhelming success is that some people will claim you “sold out” or “became too commercial”.  It’s understandable that early fans might feel that way.  After all, they discovered the artist and liked the way he sounded.  For Born In The U.S.A., there was a change to a more produced sound with synthesizers.  But in reality, it was mostly the same musicians he used for years, and the lyrics were consistent with his previous work.  He was simply at the peak of his Glory Days.

When Rock & Roll became “Rock”

Just like there is no one record or an exact date when Rock & Roll was “invented”, the same holds true for the transition from Rock & Roll to Rock music.  “Rock” isn’t just a shorter term for Rock & Roll, it’s actually a broader term that allowed all the experimentation and development in the 1960’s to be placed under that one umbrella.

At it’s breakthrough time in the mid 1950’s, Rock & Roll was mostly a feel good uptempo blues based sound.  Little Richard, Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and more gave us some great songs, with lyrics that were mainly aimed at teenagers.  Some variances in styles developed, like Doo-Wop and Surf Music.  But still, the songs were mostly about love and lost love.

That continued with the early songs by The Beatles.  Paul & John would use pronouns to personalize songs for teenage fans…”She Loves You”, “And I Love Her”.  Then about 1965, folk music in general, and Bob Dylan in particular (“The Times They Are A-Changin'”, “Like A Rolling Stone”),  helped artists realize that Rock & Roll could take on greater meanings, and broader subjects.  Popular music began to transform.  The Beatles and other artists started writing about a much wider variety of topics, from introspective to universal.  Musicians also expanded instrumentation and recording techniques, and began to draw from more influences.

Around 1965 and moving forward, Rock & Roll started being categorized as…Folk Rock, Country Rock, Blues Rock, Jazz Rock, Psychedelic Rock, Pop Rock, Hard Rock, Progressive Rock, etc.  When referred to overall, it was simply called Rock.

The term Rock & Roll is still popular to use, because that started it all, but If you say “the Rock & Roll era”…it’s the mid-fifties to the early sixties.  Rock, on the other hand, doesn’t refer to a specific era, and includes a wide variety of musical styles.  It’s up for debate whether Rock’s broad sweep should include Pop, Hip Hop, and Rap.

But let’s try to pinpoint the timeline a little more.  Almost without fail, programmers of Classic Rock formats on radio stations (and now streaming services) start with the year 1967.  It was the year of The Doors (“Light My Fire”), Jefferson Airplane (“White Rabbit”), Buffalo Springfield (“For What It’s Worth”), Jimi Hendrix (“Purple Haze”), The Who (“I Can See For Miles”), and of course, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.  Music wasn’t “I Want To Hold Your Hand” or “All Shook Up” anymore.

If you’re looking for the golden age of Rock, its the 1970’s.

Led Zeppelin,  Eagles,  Bruce Springsteen,  Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers,  Bob Seger,  The Rolling Stones,  Fleetwood Mac,  Queen,  Van Halen,  Pink Floyd,  The Who,  Linda Ronstadt,  Lynyrd Skynyrd,  Eric Clapton,  AC/DC,  The Allman Brothers Band,  Emerson Lake & Palmer,  The Doobie Brothers,  Creedence Clearwater Revival,  Chicago,  Aerosmith,  Black Sabbath,  Crosby Stills Nash & Young,  Supertramp,  Steely Dan,  ZZ Top,  Boston,  Steve Miller Band,  The Moody Blues,  Heart,  Santana,  Kiss,  Deep Purple,  Dire Straits,  Yes,  and the golden age of singer-songwriters too numerous to list.

The progression of Rock in the 1960’s, and the inspiration it gave young people to take up music, caused an explosion of Rock in the 1970’s.

Above is a list of songs that have some of the most memorable guitar riffs ever recorded!  (You can click to enlarge the list.)

There have been many outstanding Rock musicians and songs in all of the decades after the ’70’s, but whether it’s called Rock & Roll or Rock, it’s definitely taking a back seat to other types of music.  Maybe there are young musicians practicing on their guitars, keyboards and drums, ready to return Rock back into wide popularity.  We hope Neil Young is right…”Hey, Hey, My My, Rock & Roll Can Never Die”.

The Moody Blues…Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?

It was announced this week that The Moody Blues are candidates to be in the 2018 class of The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.  Think they should make it?

The first time The Moody Blues hit the charts, they were a Blues/Rock group.  It was 1965, “Go Now” was a top ten hit, and the lead singer was Denny Laine, who would later join Paul McCartney in Wings.  By 1967, the main lead vocalist and songwriter was Justin Hayward, and the sound of the band was completely transformed.

Mike Pinder (Keyboards), Justin Hayward (Guitars), Ray Thomas (Flute & Harmonica), Graham Edge (Drums),  & John Lodge (Bass).

1967 was a very key year for Rock.  It was the year of Sgt. Pepper, The Doors, Jim Hendrix’s Are You Experienced, Jefferson Airplane’s Surrealistic Pillow, The Byrds’ Younger Than Yesterday, Cream’s Disraeli Gears, and The Moody Blues’ Days Of Future Passed.

No one can agree on what was the first “Concept Album”.  The 1940’s & ’50’s had some albums that had similarly themed songs that flowed nicely from one cut to another, and maybe Beach Boys albums about cars and surfing were “concepts”.  Sgt. Pepper definitely started as a concept.  But, the first album to really be a complete concept in thought and execution may be 1967’s Days Of Future Passed by The Moody Blues.

The album takes you through the cycle of a complete day, from “Dawn Is A Feeling”, to “Tuesday Afternoon”, to “Nights In White Satin”.  This was two years before the “Rock Opera” Tommy by The Who.

It’s really an amazing work.  The Moody Blues wrote the songs for the album, then arranger and conductor Peter Knight skillfully used those melodies to create introductions, end pieces, and musical links to tie the whole album together.  It was the first successful combination of a rock band and an orchestra for an entire album.  The orchestra was made up of classical studio musicians using the name London Festival Orchestra for this album.

Besides the high concept and use of an orchestra, the album is generally considered an early Progressive Rock album because of it’s heavy use of a Mellotron, which was a new instrument at the time…an early synthesizer.  Mike Pinder used the Mellotron to match the songs the band played to the sound of the orchestra.  This made the whole sound of the album cohesive, even though the orchestra and band were recorded separately.

The Mellotron was actually invented as a quick playback method for sound effects recorded on tape loops.  Mike Pinder worked at the factory that built Mellotrons, and reworked some units, taking off the sound effects, and replacing them with musical instruments.  One of these was used on “Strawberry Fields Forever”.

So, how was Days of Future Passed received?  The single “Tuesday Afternoon” went to #24 in the Billboard Top-40 in 1968.  The album was so far ahead of its time, that it wasn’t until 1972 that it peaked at #3, and the single “Nights In White Satin” hit #2.

Above you can see the Moody Blues’ first seven albums, which I bought as each one was released.

Besides “Tuesday Afternoon” and “Nights In White Satin”, some of their other songs from 1968 through 1988 include:  “Voices In The Sky”, “Ride My See Saw”, “Question”, “The Story In Your Eyes”, “I’m Just A Singer In A Rock & Roll Band”, “The Voice”, “Your Wildest Dreams” and “I Know You’re Out There Somewhere”.  They had 13 Top-40 hits, plus many album cuts that also received airplay.

After more than 20 years of recording success, The Moody Blues continued their popular tours, including playing with orchestras across America.

So, the original question was…Should the Moody Blues be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?  The answer is…”Of course, it should have happened years ago”.

The Moody Blues in the 1970’s.

I’m sure some of the critics and industry people think The Moody Blues are too soft, or their lyrics don’t have enough bite, or whatever, but their body of work is far more convincing than many other artists who are already in the hall.

In fact, with all the pop and hip hop artists that are in the hall, the name should be changed to the Rock & Pop Hall of Fame.  That’s not meant as any kind of slam or joke.  It’s truly a more representative name that should be given consideration.  This would be a way to cover most forms of music, and country music has it’s own hall anyway.

The other Hall of Fame candidates this year include:  Dire Straits, Bon Jovi, The Cars, The Zombies, J. Geils Band, Depeche Mode, Eurythmics, Judas Priest, Kate Bush, The Meters, Radiohead, LL Cool J, MC5, Rage Against The Machine, Nina Simone, Rufus, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, and Link Wray.

It’s all individual taste, but I’d vote for The Moody Blues and the first four on the above list to fill the five slots.

Even if their career hadn’t lasted 50 years, and their only album had been Days Of Future Passed, it was such an innovative album that The Moody Blues should be in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Tom Petty…The Songs

The loss of a great music artist makes us turn to their songs…for comfort, to remember them, and to immerse ourselves in their art.

In looking at the iTunes sales chart the day after Tom Petty died, the top 4 albums, and 7 of the top 10, were his.  The top single was “Free Falling”, and four more of his songs were in the top 10…”I Won’t Back Down”, “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”, “You Don’t Know How It Feels”, and “American Girl”.

We bought almost everything Tom Petty released over the last 40 years, including all his albums, the Playback box set, and some of his videos.

People who liked Tom Petty, but hadn’t necessarily purchased his music are looking for some guidance on what to buy, or maybe listen to on streaming services.

Here are some recommendations.  You can start with Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers Greatest Hits.  It’s a very well-chosen selection of most of his earlier popular recordings.  However, that will only take you to 1993, so you’d be missing a lot.  Eventually, they’ll probably release a volume 2 of greatest hits, or a 2-disc set that covers his entire career.  There is an Anthology: Through The Years that goes a little deeper, but don’t be fooled into thinking it covers more years than the Greatest Hits, because it doesn’t.

Greatest Hits songs:  1. American Girl, 2. Breakdown, 3. Listen To Her Heart, 4. I Need To Know, 5. Refugee, 6. Don’t Do Me Like That, 7. Even The Losers, 8. Here Comes My Girl, 9. The Waiting, 10. You Got Lucky, 11. Don’t Come Around Here No More, 12. I Won’t Back Down, 13. Runnin’ Down A Dream, 14. Free Fallin’, 15. Learning To Fly, 16. Into The Great Wide Open, 17. Mary Jane’s Last Dance, 18. Something In The Air.

Once you have Greatest Hits, you might want to purchase or stream Wildflowers, because it’s his best album after 1993.  Or, you may want to select the best songs individually from the part of his career that was 1994 to 2016.  Here are my recommendations for songs (in chronological order):

  1. Wildflowers (first 4 songs from Wildflowers)
  2. You Don’t Know How It Feels
  3. You Wreck Me
  4. It’s Good To Be King
  5. Walls (#3) [from She’s The One]
  6. Angel Dream (#2) [from She’s The One]
  7. The Last DJ (from The Last DJ)
  8. Square One (from Highway Companion)
  9. Saving Grace (from Highway Companion)
  10. Crystal River (from Mudcrutch)
  11. American Dream Plan B (from Hypnotic Eye)
  12. Shadow People (from Hypnotic Eye)
  13. Trailer (from Mudcrutch 2)
  14. Dreams Of Flying (from Mudcrutch 2)
  15. I Forgive It All (from Mudcrutch 2)

Other songs you might want to add include “Waiting For Tonight” (It’s a good uptempo song with background vocals by The Bangles, from Anthology), and The Traveling Wilburys’ songs “End Of The Line” and “Last Night”.  These three are actually from the 1980’s.

There are many other songs that could be on this list, but these along with the Greatest Hits album will give you a good overview of his career.  Some people may not be familiar with many of the above songs, but that’s because music trends changed and radio formats splintered so much that most people were not exposed to his later recordings.

I find that I listen to songs from the latter part of his career as much, and probably more, than the earlier songs.  Tom Petty maintained the ability to write great songs throughout his long career.  He never lost that elusive “muse” for writing.

Mike Campbell,  Benmont Tench,  & Tom Petty

One more thing.  While we remember Tom Petty, we should also appreciate how much Mike Campbell (lead guitar & sometimes co-songwriter) and Benmont Tench (keyboards) added to all those great songs.  Those two were on most of the recordings, even the albums that were considered Tom’s solo records.  They’re brilliant musicians who’ve also worked on many projects with other artists.

It’s sad to think we won’t be getting any new songs from Tom Petty, but his treasure of songs will be enjoyed for generations to come.

Tom Petty…Artist For The Decades (updated)

(Because of the sad news about Tom Petty’s passing, I wanted to update this article about his four decades of success.)

Are Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers considered ‘70’s artists? ‘80’s? ‘90’s?

All too often music careers only last a few years.  Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers had hit singles and hit albums since they released “Breakdown” in early 1978, and they still had hit albums and sold out arenas nearly 4 decades later.

Mike Campbell, Ron Blair, Tom Petty, Stan Lynch, & Benmont Tench

As Disco was fading in the 1970’s, the Punk and New Wave movements arose, and people tried to put one of those labels on the band. Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers didn’t fit into either one.  After all that Disco, maybe Rock & Roll was hard to recognize.  Petty’s band from Gainesville, Florida was mostly influenced by groups like The Byrds and the bands of the British Invasion.

Let’s just break it down by Decades.  In the late 70’s Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers charted three albums…Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, You’re Gonna Get It!, and Damn The Torpedoes.  Major songs included “Breakdown”, “American Girl”, “Don’t Do Me Like That”, and “Refugee”.

The ‘80’s were big, with six Tom Petty projects…four albums with the Heartbreakers, Hard Promises, Long After Dark, Southern Accents, and Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough), a huge solo album Full Moon Fever, and the superstar project The Travelng Wilburys (with George Harrison, Bob Dylan, Roy Orbison & Jeff Lynne).

The singles in the 1980’s featured “The Waiting”, “Stop Dragging My Heart Around” (with Stevie Nicks), “You Got Lucky”, “Change of Heart”, “Don’t Come Around Here No More”, “Jammin Me”, “I Won’t Back Down”, “Runnin’ Down A Dream”, “Free Fallin’ ”, “Handle With Care” and “End Of The Line” (and check out the Wilburys’ “Last Night” and “Cool Dry Place”).  It was the decade of MTV videos, and Tom Petty was featured prominently.

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers continued in the 1990’s with the albums Into the Great Wide Open, She’s The One (movie soundtrack), and Echo.  Hits included “Learning To Fly”, and “Mary Jane’s Last Dance”.  That last one is from their Greatest Hits album, which has sold over 12-million copies in the U.S.  Petty also released another Platinum-selling solo album Wildflowers.  “You Don’t Know How It Feels” was the main hit from the album, with “You Wreck Me”, “It’s Good To Be King”, and the title track among songs getting airplay.

The ‘90’s were a big time of change in the Radio industry.  Formats splintered into niches, and Billboard magazine did the same thing with their charts.  By the turn of the century, it was hard to know where to find rock & roll on the dial.

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers addressed the upheaval in Radio with their album and song The Last DJ from 2002.  It complained about the lack of the human element in selecting what was played, because of the tight playlists on many corporate stations.   “The Last DJ” is a really good and commercial-sounding single, but Petty didn’t endear himself to radio programmers, some of whom took it personally.

Next for Tom Petty was another solo album Highway Companion in 2006.  It was a Gold-selling album. This solid effort featured “Saving Grace” and “Square One”, but the national trend was a severe reduction in the representation of Rock anywhere.  Pop, Hip-Hop, and Country had taken over music.

In 2010, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers got their mojo back.  Well, at least they released an album named Mojo.  It was fairly well received by fans and critics, and went to #2 on the Billboard album chart.  In fact, their 2014 rock album Hypnotic Eye hit #1.  The only problem is…the charts don’t mean much anymore, because sales of albums are so small.  Proof is that one of the Heartbreakers lowest selling albums topped the charts.

Tom Petty seemed to fully understand the situation.  So he decided to re-form his original band from Florida “Mudcrutch”.   With charts and airplay not mattering anymore, why not?   Mudcrutch (still a crazy name) allowed Petty to do something that’s a mix of southern rock, country rock, Americana, and The Heartbreakers own sound.  The band included guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench, making it three-fifths of the band we loved for decades.

The first Mudcrutch album was released in 2008, and Mudcrutch 2 in 2016. I’m partial to the second album, which has quite a few high-quality Tom Petty originals.  But there’s at least one don’t miss song on the first album “Crystal River”.

Four decades on, and Tom Petty kept producing excellent songs no matter what the musical landscape threw at him.  He never did back down.

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers had just completed a summer tour that celebrated their 40th Anniversary…then…October 2nd, 2017…Tom Petty died from cardiac arrest at the age of 66.  A major loss, too sad for words.  He’ll be greatly missed.

(Please check out the companion article: Tom Petty…The Songs)