Apple HomePod…HomeTest

Here’s my experience giving the Apple HomePod a home test.

When the HomePod was announced in June of 2017, I was immediately interested.  It was to be released in November, so I told my wife it was my Christmas wish.  Instead, Apple delayed the release until February 2018, and my Christmas gift was just this photo:

On the first day it was available to order, I did.  On February 9th, the UPS man handed me the box.  It was much heavier than I expected.  I took out the nicely packed white HomePod and plugged it in.

With my iPad next to it, the setup was just a few taps on the screen, and the HomePod was activated.  From that point, no Apple device is needed.  The HomePod gets the music directly from iCloud through our wi-fi.  I asked Siri to play a particular song, and it sounded great.  There is amazing clarity throughout the frequency range.  The bass is extremely impressive, especially for the HomePod’s size, which is only about 7-inches high and 5 1/2-inches wide.

Now the reason I wanted the HomePod was for playing songs using my iTunes playlists.  Playlists are the way I’ve organized my music over the last 14 years or so.  Most of each playlist’s songs are placed in chronological order by years, and programmed with tempos, styles and meanings in mind.  Anyway, I didn’t want to just use Apple Music’s streaming service after spending so much time getting songs in order.  Plus, I have some rare versions of songs that aren’t readily available.  Here’s how the HomePod looks in our home:

And then there was a problem.  When I’d ask Siri to play certain playlists, it often couldn’t access the ones I requested.  I knew Siri was seeing the playlists, because when I asked for “Beatles 3”, she read the entire title, which is “Beatles 3 Rubber/Revolver”.  And although Siri said it was now playing, it wasn’t.  I estimated that only about a third of my playlists were actually working through the HomePod.  Big sigh of disappointment.

So, on Monday I called Apple Service, but the woman who answered said the HomePod only worked with Apple Music.  I knew better, so she passed me on to an “expert”.  Antonio was very helpful, and confirmed that my HomePod should be working, because all of my playlists were in iCloud through my Apple Match account.

We tried a few things.  The one that helped was simply starting all over with the setup.  When we were done, the HomePod was handling most of the playlists, but still having some trouble.  Antonio gave me the information for directly contacting him at Apple Service, and said he would report the situation to the Apple tech department.

On Tuesday, after unplugging the HomePod for a while, and plugging it back in again, everything worked.  It would play any playlist.  Since the HomePod automatically updates software, there may have been an improvement that had loaded.

(When Siri is voice-activated, the top has modulating colored lights.)

Before:  To play music on our large stereo system, it took:  1. Turning on the Mac in the office.  2. Going to the family room and using a remote to turn on the TV.  3. Using another remote to turn on the Apple TV.  4. Using yet another remote to turn on the Stereo Amplifier.  5. Choosing the Apple TV computer/music function, and then scrolling to the playlist I wanted.

Now:  I just walk into the living room and ask Siri to play whatever list or song I want.

Siri is also good at giving weather information, or the store hours for local businesses.  We haven’t tried many other questions.  If the HomePod only worked for music, it would be all we need.  By the way, my wife can use the system the same way, it isn’t set for just one voice.  The six internal microphones will pick up commands when spoken at a normal tone of voice, even when the music is fairly loud.  Until you activate the unit by saying “Hey Siri”, the HomePod is not monitoring what is said in your home, and then does so for just the command.  The audio is encrypted, not recorded, and never used to give advertising information to businesses.

The sound of the HomePod is very impressive.  Even though the audio is coming from a single source (with 8 internal speakers, as shown above), the instruments and voices seem separate and clear.  The bass is surprisingly full, and yet never muddy.  The volume goes higher than we’ll ever need, and it doesn’t distort at any setting.  Volume is adjusted by asking Siri, or by tapping the + and – lights on the top of the unit when it’s playing.   Basically, all stopping, pausing, resuming, and other needs can be accomplished by telling Siri.

The HomePod uses “beaming technology” to automatically adjust its audio pattern to fit any room in which it’s placed.  The circular array of the internal speakers is much better than any front-facing speaker at giving you good sound no matter where you sit in the room.  The circular array might become a common speaker design in the future, so there isn’t just one “sweet spot” for listening.

Now that we’ve had the HomePod for almost a week, we feel very good about it, even though we’ve had a few playlists missed when we’ve asked for them.  I’m guessing a software update or two will take care of any small problems.  I haven’t heard of any troubles for those simply using Apple Music streaming…which I may add later.

The HomePod is so enjoyable to listen to, we may even decide to add another one when the stereo option becomes available.  (“Hey Siri, my birthday is at the end of April.”)  If we add another HomePod, it would probably replace our large, much more expensive stereo system.  The sound of the HomePod is that good.

Chicago…& Horn Rock

Sure horns were a part of Rock & Roll in the ’50’s and ’60’s, but those horns were mostly played by session musicians and backing bands, not by actual members of rock bands…at least not by bands that were making it on the national stage.  That would change in the late ’60’s.

Chicago was the home of some bands that featured horns on their recordings.  According to Billboard Magazine, the most listened to American Band of 1967 was The Buckinghams.  This Chicago group had five major hits that year…”Kind Of A Drag” (#1), “Don’t You Care” (#6), “Mercy Mercy Mercy” (#5), “Hey Baby, They’re Playing Our Song” (#12), and “Susan” (#11).  Although their popular songs and albums heavily featured horns, there weren’t any brass players in The Buckinghams; however, one of the producers on “Kind Of A Drag” was a big band leader and ballroom owner.

After “Kind Of A Drag”, The Buckinghams signed with Columbia Records and a major figure in the future of “Horn Rock”, James William Guercio.

Guercio was a session bassist in the 1960’s, toured with Chad & Jeremy, and wrote their single “Distant Shores”.  When he became the Producer/Arranger for The Buckinghams he used innovative brass arrangements on the last four of the above hits, and on their two most popular albums…Time & Charges and Portraits.  The Buckinghams split with Guercio…and had no more Top 40 hits.

James William Guercio took on two bands that did have excellent horn players as members…Blood Sweat & Tears and Chicago Transit Authority.  Both were on the Columbia label, and they both had important releases in 1969.

The self titled BS&T album was huge, with the hits “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy”, “Spinning Wheel”, and “And When I Die”…all three of which made it to #2 on the Billboard singles chart.  All of a sudden, the term “Jazz Rock” was  born.  Blood, Sweat & Tears won the Grammy for Album Of The Year.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Transit Authority album was fairly successful in 1969, reaching #17, but there were no hit singles at that time.  Even though the two groups were often lumped into the Jazz Rock category, the CTA album arrangements were much more Rock than Jazz.   Plus, the album featured some fierce rock guitar played by Terry Kath.

Here’s the original line-up for Chicago:

Chicago’s second album, in early 1970, was the big breakthrough.  It was simply called Chicago, because the real Chicago Transit Authority mass-transit company didn’t want their name used.

The Chicago album, which would later be designated Chicago II, had the hits “Make Me Smile” (#9) and “25 or 6 to 4” (#4), plus popular album cut “Colour My World”.  It also featured what I believe is their defining moment, the 13-minute seven-song medley “Ballet For A Girl In Buchannon”:

  1. Make Me Smile” (3:32) [Lead Vocal Terry Kath]
  2. “So Much to Say, So Much to Give” (1:04) [Lead Vocal Robert Lamm]
  3. “Anxiety’s Moment” (1:00) [Instrumental]
  4. “West Virginia Fantasies” (1:34) [Instrumental]
  5. Colour My World” (2:58) [Lead Vocal Terry Kath]
  6. “To Be Free” (1:21) [Instrumental]
  7. “Now More Than Ever” (1:27) [Lead Vocal Terry Kath]

Most of Chicago’s early hits were written by Robert Lamm, but this medley was written by trombonist James Pankow.  My original memory of the medley was hearing it played in it’s entirety on an FM station in Memphis, Tennessee in early 1970.  We were outside on a break from electronics school, and someone had a transistor radio.  The medley played for nearly the whole break.  I love those horn instrumentals as much as the two hits in the medley.

Once Chicago became a smash, the singles from the Chicago Transit Authority album were re-released as hits…”Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” (#7), “Beginnings” (#7) and “Questions 67 & 68” (#24).

Chicago III came out in 1971.  It included modest hits “Free” (#25) and “Lowdown” (#35).  Easily my favorite cut is the one that sounds like CSN&Y doing “Teach Your Children”…”Flight 602”.  No horns in this one, but lots of vocal harmony, and even a steel guitar.  James William Guercio had used the same style with the little known group Illinois Speed Press for the song “Bad Weather”.  The singer and songwriter, Paul Cotton, went on to success with Poco.

Unlike Blood, Sweat & Tears, Chicago continued their success in the the 1970’s and through the 1980’s with hit albums and thirty-five Top 40 hits.  The hits included “Saturday In The Park” (#3), “Just You ‘N’ Me” (#4), (I’ve Been) Searchin’ So Long” (#9), “Call On Me” (#6), “Old Days” (#5), “If You Leave Me Now” (#1), “Hard To Say I’m Sorry” (#1),  “Hard Habit To Break (#3), “You’re The Inspiration” (#3), and many more.

In the middle of their recording success, in 1978, two important events happened that greatly affected Chicago.  Lead guitarist and sometimes lead vocalist Terry Kath died from an accidental gunshot from a gun he thought wasn’t loaded.  The band also parted ways with producer James William Guercio who they felt was taking too large a percentage of their earnings.

The loss of an excellent rock guitarist & vocalist, along with the change in production made a huge difference in the sound of the band.  Peter Cetera also became a more prominent songwriter, and he had an affection for ballads.  Throw in Pop producer David Foster, and Chicago became more of an Adult Contemporary band, rather than a Rock band.  The public didn’t seem to mind, because some of those big 1980’s ballads were very popular.  But, their softer sound was probably why it took Chicago until 2016 to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Despite the success of Chicago, “Horn Rock” never developed into a major category of Rock & Roll.  We have to enjoy what they gave us, and be happy when we get a saxophone now and then, or maybe the rare horn section for a live concert.  I guess “rock trumpet” doesn’t have the same ring as “rock guitar”.

That Thing You Do!

Remember that band?  The one that had one hit in 1964?

Their lead singer wrote a song, and it was recorded onto a reel-to-reel recorder by the drummer’s uncle.  A local promoter got the song played on the radio.  Then, a major label released it nationally…and the song made it to number 2 on the charts!

                      (Our 1996 CD of the That Thing You Do! album)

The Wonders were a band from the mind of Tom Hanks.  He wrote the script and directed the 1996 movie, “That Thing You Do!”, about a one-hit-wonder band in 1964.  Hanks loves the music of that era, and it shows.  The movie includes the joy of first hearing your song on the radio, and attaining minor stardom.

Besides being a fun movie…it was Tom Hanks’ first script and directing experience…the movie captures that time in the ’60’s perfectly.  “That Thing You Do!” is the only movie set in that era that has original music that sounds like it actually came from the 1960’s.

The title track is a slice of infectious pop-rock similar to what The Beatles and other groups were putting out in 1964.  The Wonders also do some other good songs “Dance With Me Tonight”, “All My Only Dreams” and “Little Wild One” in their concert scenes…such as being on the “Galaxy Of Stars” tour on the state fair circuit, like Dick Clark’s “Caravan of Stars” in the ’60’s.

         (The Wonders on tour…T.B. Player, Lenny, Jimmy, and Guy)

One of the cool parts of the movie was the whole music history that went with this tour.  It included other acts with their own hits.  The character Diane Dane is a singer who probably is already toward the end of her career, but her song “My World Is Over” sounds like a Dusty Springfield hit, right down to the horn part similar to “Wishin’ and Hopin'”.  The Chantrellines sing “Hold My Hand, Hold My Heart” and sound like the Crystals or Ronettes.  These are so accurate to the time, that they can be dropped into the appropriate sixties playlists, and they sound right at home.  The same is true for two instrumentals.   “Voyage Around The Moon” sounds like it came from The Ventures album Ventures In Space, and “Shrimp Shack” could be by Junior Walker & The All Stars.

“That Thing You Do” was the first movie for Tom Everett Scott (Guy “Shades” Patterson, the drummer), and one of the first movies for Liv Tyler (Faye, the lead female character), and Charlize Theron (Tina, Guy’s girlfriend).

The other band members included Steve Zahn (Lenny the lead guitarist), Jonathan Schaech (Jimmy the lead singer), and Ethan Embry (T.B. Player,  the bass player).  And of course Tom Hanks played Mr. (Andy) White who managed the band for Play Tone Records.  Hanks obviously patterned the character after Beatles Manager Brian Epstein.  There were some nice little touches from Beatlemania throughout the movie.

(As we entered the theater to see the movie in 1996, we were handed the above 3-inch pin as a souvenir.)

Although the actors were taught to play their instruments and perform the songs for the movie, the actual recordings were written and played by professionals.  Adam Schlesinger, the bassist for Fountains of Wayne wrote “That Thing You Do”, and  Mike Viola of Candy Butchers provided the lead vocals for the songs by The Wonders.  Tom Hanks also co-wrote some of the songs for the movie, and obviously made sure the songs accurately represented the era.

The That Thing You Do! soundtrack made it to #21 on the Billboard album chart, and the single hit #18 on the Adult Top 40 chart.  The song also got an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song.  Critics give the film a very positive 93% on Rotten Tomatoes.

If you like this type of 1960’s music…”That Thing You Do!”, is a make-you-smile look into that era.  Enjoy!

Cat Stevens…”Tea” & “Teaser”

“Oh baby baby it’s a wild world.  It’s hard to get by just upon a smile.”

Most of us first heard of Cat Stevens with his break-through single “Wild World”.  It was the first hit from his album Tea For The Tillerman.

The album was released in November of 1970, and “Wild World” hit #11 in 1971.  Cat Stevens (who was born Steven Georgiou in London in 1948) actually started his career in 1967.  His debut album Matthew and Son did well in England, and the title track hit #2 there.  He also wrote the hit by The Tremeloes, “Here Comes My Baby”, and “The First Cut Is The Deepest”, which many artists have recorded.  He didn’t think his Greek name Georgiou would be very memorable, so he chose the stage name Cat Stevens…partly because a girlfriend said he had cat-like eyes.

In 1969, prior to his success in America, Stevens contracted Tuberculosis.  This was a life-changing event.  Not only did he nearly die, but the months of recovery in a hospital made him reflect on his life, and what type of music he wanted to write and perform.  By the time he recorded Tea for the Tillerman in mid 1970, he had a less-produced, more acoustic style that fit in well with the singer-songwriter movement that had just emerged.

Tea for the Tillerman went on to sell over 3-million copies in the United States.  Many of its songs have become well-known over the years.

His 1971 follow-up album Teaser and the Firecat was another high quality album, and gave him a back-to-back albums that few careers could match.  It also sold over 3-million copies in the U.S.

Teaser and the Firecat (with another album cover featuring a drawing by Cat Stevens) gave us “Moonshadow”, “Morning Has Broken”, “The Wind” and “Peace Train”.   I also bought most of his other albums in the 1970’s, but these two albums represent the best of his career.

Cat Stevens developed a unique style, sometimes punctuating his songs with staccato singing, and dramatic dynamics.  But the main aspect of his songs is that they were well written, and hold up after all these years.  In fact, 47 years later, his songs have been used in dozens of television shows like “This Is Us” and in dozens of movies like “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”.  “This Is Us” featured “Where Do The Children Play”, “The Wind” and “Moonshadow”.  “Galaxy” featured “Father And Son”.

Cat Stevens sings “Father and Son” using a low calm voice for the father, and a higher more excited voice for the son.  The father is trying to convince his son to live by the dreams of the father’s generation, and the son knows he must live life in his own way.

Father: Take your time, think a lot, why, think of everything you’ve got…
For you will still be here tomorrow, but your dreams may not.

The son sees thing differently than his father’s generation.

Son:  If they were right, I’d agree, but it’s them they know not me.
Now there’s a way, and I know that I have to go away, I know I have to go.

Since we were young at that time, it was easy to identify with the son, and now we know that the father wasn’t all wrong.

In 1977 Cat Stevens converted from his Catholic faith to the Islamic faith, and changed his name to Yusuf Islam.  Then in 1978 he quit music completely, and for approximately 30-years simply lived life with his wife and son, rarely singing and playing music.

Slowly, about 10 years ago, Yusuf began recording and performing again, sometimes using the name Yusuf Stevens.  In 2014 he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame.  The songs he selected to perform at the ceremony were…”Father and Son”, “Wild World” and “Peace Train”.  He still sounded great.  It was good to hear him sing again.

Local ’60’s Band…The Rock & Soul Society

After The Beatles arrived in 1964, everyone who was musically inclined wanted to start a band.  What was it like for those who did?

I was 15 at the time, and involved in vocal & band (trumpet) music in my small high school in Leigh, Nebraska.  It was in college in 1967 that I was fortunate to meet other budding musicians…and we formed a band.   The name we came up with was “The New Faction”.

We learned enough songs to start playing at fraternity parties and other small venues.  The first songs for any band starting at the time were easy ones like “Twist And Shout”, “Louie Louie”, or the early songs by The Kinks.  We weren’t very good at first, but I distinctly remember a change when we came back to school after the summer break in 1967.   We played for free in “The Pub” at the dorms, and were playing the latest songs, like “Light My Fire”.  My roommate, Eric Pierson, heard us, and said (in a surprised voice) “You got good!”.  Now, this same young man became a brain surgeon, so you can trust him!

There were a couple of personnel changes, and we wanted a fresh start, so we changed our name to The Rock & Soul Society.

(The two sides of our business card.)

The name reflected the type of music we played…mostly the top hits of the day, plus some rock and soul favorites.  About 75% of what we covered were Rock/Pop artists like The Beatles, The Grass Roots, The Buckinghams, and Creedence Clearwater Revival.  The rest were Soul songs from artists like The Temptations, Sam & Dave, and Wilson Pickett.  Unfortunately, none of us were songwriters, so it was all cover songs, like almost all local bands.

(Tom Rappl (bass), Steve Vannoy (lead guitar), Greg Nicklas (drums), Dale Murdoch (guitar & trumpet), Flip Bausch (lead vocals & trumpet), and Bob Roose (organ & lead vocals on most of the soul songs).  The photo was taken at “The Columns” near the University of Nebraska football stadium.)

Like other local bands, we had to load our amplifiers and other gear (in my case, the P.A. system) into our cars to get to wherever we were playing.  Then we’d drive in a line to a ballroom, prom dance, or other venue within about 100 miles of Lincoln, Nebraska.  We’d unload it all, set it up, play a dance doing three sets of music…then…tear it down, pack it up, and do it all over again.  That was on weekends.  During weekdays, we’d practice and learn new songs.

We were paid decently for the time (typically $250…that would be $1,780 today), but it obviously wasn’t enough to make a living…it was really just because we loved performing the music.

(Singing to my girlfriend…as she posed for a photo.)

(Bob, Greg & me) (Photos are from old slides.)

(Bob, Greg, Dale & Steve)

(“Magical Mystery Tour” or another song with horn parts.)

(Bassist Dean Everitt joined the band, and did a great job.)

It always felt good when people responded enthusiastically to our playing.  I remember when The Beatles White Album came out in 1968.  The single released at that time was “Hey Jude”, and we got great feedback on that one.  But, the album itself had no singles on it, so local bands had to just choose songs we thought would be popular with audiences.  One of the cuts we chose was “Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da”.  When it was brand new, we got applause for just announcing we were going to play it.  I also remember getting positive comments about our Grass Roots songs.  They were favorites of mine, because I could sing the lead, and then Dale & I could play trumpets during the instrumental portions, like the original recordings.  It was the same thing with some of the songs by The Buckinghams.

Bands like ours came and went.  We had a pretty good run of three years (’67-’69), but then I left, got married (to that pretty girl I was singing to 48 years ago), and did a stint as an Aviation Electronics Technician in the Navy.  However, I’ll never live down the fact that The Rock & Soul Society was playing at a prom in Iowa on the night I should have taken Jeannette to her senior prom in Plainview, Nebraska.

After I left, the band went on for a while longer, but Lincoln, Nebraska isn’t considered a stepping stone to musical fame.  The exception was one of the biggest one-hit-wonders of all time…Zager & Evans.  Their original song “In The Year 2525” was number one for six weeks in 1969.  It was their only recording to make the Hot 100.  One night we were playing in Lincoln before “2525” was released.  A guy came up to me during a break and told me he had just seen Zager & Evans.  He said “You guys should get yourselves a special song like they have”.  If only it were that easy!

I’m happy to report that all these years later, Bob Roose still performs with a band, “Blues Agent”, in Omaha.  Steve Vannoy still plays guitar, and his wife Barb plays keyboards.  When Steve & Barb visited Oregon recently, Steve picked up his guitar and played absolutely great.  He told me Dale Murdoch plays guitar with him from time to time.  Me, I still sing along with my music collection.

(Steve Vannoy, September 2017, on the Oregon coast.)

The story of The Rock & Soul Society is typical.  Few local bands get very far beyond the point we did.  It’s partly because we all had to earn a “real” living, and lead lives that included spouses and families.  It points to the fact that those who do “make it” are probably truly gifted songwriters, singers, and instrumentalists.  Also, they very likely made personal sacrifices to follow their musical dreams.

Crosby & Nash…Decades of Harmony

David Crosby & Graham Nash loved to blend their voices.

From 1965 into 1968, David Crosby sang harmony and sometimes lead with The Byrds.  During those same years, Graham Nash sang harmony and sometimes lead with The Hollies.  Together, their voices are magic.

When they formed Crosby, Stills & Nash with Stephen Stills in 1968, they took on different roles in the group.  Graham Nash could write memorable melodies.  He wrote five of CSN(&Y)’s nine Top-40 hits…”Marrakesh Express”, “Teach Your Children”, “Our House”, “Just A Song Before I Go”, and “Wasted On The Way”.  His writing was seriously important to the popularity of the group.

David Crosby didn’t write any of their hits.  Instead, he wrote songs of social conscience, or artistic love songs that didn’t fit on the pop music charts… “Guinevere”, “Long Time Gone”, “Deja Vu”, “In My Dreams”, and many more that added depth and beauty to their CSN albums.

After the initial rush of CSN&Y, Graham Nash released his 1971 solo album Songs For Beginners, with…”Chicago”, “Simple Man”, “Sleep Song” and “I Used To Be A King”.

David Crosby’s 1971 album is If I Could Only Remember My Name, with… “Laughing”, “Orleans”, and “Traction In The Rain”.

David Crosby and Graham Nash then worked together on three studio albums that made it into the top-30… Graham Nash David Crosby (1972, #4), Wind On The Water (1975 #6), and Whistling Down The Wire (1976 #26).  Some favorite songs from these albums include:  “Southbound Train”, “The Wall Song”, “Games”, “Immigration Man”, “Where Will I Be?”, “Page 43”, “Taken At All”, “Homeward Through The Haze”, and maybe their best collaboration, “Critical Mass/Wind On The Water”.

They continued to do other CSN(&Y) albums and solo albums.  As in the previous article for Stephen Stills, I’ve tried to summarize their careers with single playlists that are CD length.  It’s a way of better seeing their individual contributions to the group, as well as their solo work.   (clicking on lists enlarges them)

If you love songs with great melodies, harmonies, and thoughtful lyrics, Crosby & Nash deliver!

Although they’re no longer recording together, David Crosby and Graham Nash are still putting out solo albums.  Among their recent ones, Crosby’s Croz (2014) and Nash’s This Path Tonight (2016) are both solid.

David Crosby and Graham Nash have provided over 50 years of some of the best harmony anyone will ever hear.  We’ve been lucky to share in it.

(Please check out the previous article on Stephen Stills)

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.

(Please check out the companion article on Crosby & 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 in 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”.