Linda Ronstadt: The Sound Of My Voice (Review)

The Linda Ronstadt movie has an audience approval rating of 99%.  After seeing the movie, I can only imagine the other 1% must have thought the problem with the movie was that it was too short.  It’s so good!

The 2013 documentary History Of The Eagles includes a scene that has some historic footage of Linda Ronstadt.  The wonder was why we hardly ever saw classic film of Ronstadt.  The new documentary Linda Ronstadt: The Sound Of My Voice finally fixes the situation, but wife and I could have watched a lot more classic video than was included in the 95-minute movie.

The documentary shows Ronstadt from childhood, with all the musical influences she experienced in Tucson, Arizona.  Her father sang and arranged Mexican music for public performances, and her mother sang American Standards for the pure enjoyment of it.  Linda also listened to a wide variety of music on the radio…Rock & Roll, Country & Western, and even Opera.  In the mid-sixties, she and her two brothers formed a local Folk Music trio.  It all became the foundation for one of the most diverse careers in music history.

The film includes old family photos and rare videos of her early performances.

One important moment came very early in her career when Ronstadt was appearing at The Troubadour in L.A.  It showed another beautiful brown-haired young woman performing at the same venue.  It was Emmylou Harris.  Instead of Ronstadt being jealous or looking at her as a competitor, Linda decided they should be friends.

That friendship became lifelong, and the two helped each other throughout what became stellar careers.  Similar friendships were formed with Bonnie Raitt, Dolly Parton, and Karla Bonoff.

As her career progresses, we see so many of the top musicians she worked with, and there are enlightening interviews throughout the documentary.

Linda Ronstadt became far and away the best-selling female artist popular music had ever known.  She sold out arenas, and had 8 platinum albums in the 70’s and into the 80’s.  Then she abruptly stopped her Pop/Rock career.  Instead, she moved on to musical projects that those around her said were doomed to fail, but Ronstadt chose to follow her own instincts.

In 1983 she decided to perform in an operetta ,The Pirates Of Penzance, on Broadway.  She was nominated for a Tony Award as lead actress in a musical, and her show won Best Musical!

She recorded albums of the American Standards her mother loved, and the Mexican music her father loved.  Despite all the naysayers, the albums were multi-platinum successes!  Linda Ronstadt said she had felt compelled to record the musical influences from her childhood.

She eventually returned to mainstream music and continued winning Grammys and selling albums (11 total Grammys and 13 platinum albums during her career).  You’ll find much more career details in the article Linda Ronstadt…Queen Of Rock & Roll that’s also on this website.

By now, everyone knows that Linda Ronstadt’s singing career ended (in 2009), because she has Parkinson’s disease.  The film revealed early on that her Grandmother suffered from the same affliction.

Near the end of the movie, Linda Ronstadt (age 73 in 2019) courageously tries to sing with her brother and her nephew.  It’s sad to hear the sound of her voice has been almost completely silenced.

For all but that one scene, the movie captures Linda’s voice as it ranges from subtle beauty to amazing power.   There are hardly any studio recordings in the film, instead it’s mostly the audio of her live performances.  She successfully conveyed any musical style she chose to perform.

If you like Linda Ronstadt, the movie is a wonderful must see.  It’s playing in independent theaters now, and because CNN is one of the producers, the documentary will be airing on the network in 2020.  We couldn’t wait.

Country Rock

Country Rock was developed during the ‘60’s, and flourished in the ‘70’s.

Many early rock artists were heavily exposed to country music, and began their careers by perfoming it.  Some of the songs by artists like Buddy Holly, The Everly Brothers, Ricky Nelson, and Carl Perkins were big hits on both the popular music charts and the country charts.  Back then, the label applied to the music was usually “Rockabilly”.

American country music was also popular in England.  John Lennon said that even before he played guitar, he imitated songs by Hank Williams.  The Beatles played country songs as part of their early performances.  There’s a 1962 recording of them performing the Carl Perkins’ country ballad “Sure To Fall” for BBC Radio.  The Beatles also covered country songs, such as “Act Naturally”, “Matchbox”, and “Honey Don’t” on their early albums.

The change to “Country Rock” started when The Beatles began using country elements in their own original songs.

In late 1964, The Beatles For Sale album (called Beatles ‘65 in the U.S.) had their first original song with a very country arrangement, ”I Don’t Want To Spoil The Party”.  Twenty-five years later, the song went to #1 on the country chart for Roseanne Cash.  Also on Beatles For Sale was another original song done as a country waltz, “Baby’s In Black”, plus “Honey Don’t”, and the Buddy Holly song “Words Of Love”.

According to Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman of The Byrds, The Beatles doing country music influenced them to do the same.  First, Chris Hillman convinced The Byrds to cover the country song “Satisfied Mind” in 1965.  Then, he wrote three songs for their 1967 album Younger Than Yesterday.

Those songs…”Time Between”, “Have You Seen Her Face” and “The Girl With No Name”…are great examples of Country Rock.  The Byrds continued using country arrangements in 1967 and 1968 with popular songs like “Wasn’t Born To Follow” (country and psychedelic) and “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” (which featured pedal steel guitar).  That one was on the highly influential album Sweetheart Of The Rodeo in 1968.

The Byrds had added Gram Parsons to their group, and one of the album’s best tracks is Parsons’ classic “Hickory Wind”.

Another pioneering ’60’s band to do multiple country-oriented songs was The Lovin’ Spoonful.  They had the Top 10 hit “Nashville Cats” in 1966, plus Johnny Cash & June Carter covered two of the group’s songs, “Darlin’ Companion” and “Lovin’ You”.

Meanwhile, Buffalo Springfield used country arrangements for some of their Rock songs from 1966 to 1968.  From the ashes of the band’s breakup came Country Rock band Poco with Jim Messina and Richie Furay.  Stephen Stills helped form CSN, and they recorded the now classic Country Rock song by Graham Nash, “Teach Your Children”, in 1970.  It featured a pedal steel guitar played by Jerry Garcia of The Grateful Dead.

One of the most popular bands in the late ’60’s and early 70’s was Creedence Clearwater Revival.  They really fit in with the Country Rock sound, even though their style of music is most often called “Swamp Rock”.

Also in the late ‘60’s, other Country Rock bands formed.  They included…The Flying Burrito Brothers, Rick Nelson & The Stone Canyon Band, and Pure Prairie League.

The singer-songwriter movement of the early 1970’s featured the more laid back side of Country Rock.

James Taylor certainly added to the appeal of country in popular music with such songs as “Sweet Baby James” and “Country Road” in 1970.  Many other singer-songwriters like Bob Dylan (recorded in Nashville in the late ‘60’s), Dan Fogelberg, Jackson Browne, and J.D. Souther also contributed to the Country Rock sound.

The biggest breakout for Country Rock happened in 1972.

That was the year of the Eagles’ first album, which included “Take It Easy” and “Peaceful Easy Feeling”.  Neil Young had a #1 single with “Heart Of Gold” and the country-leaning #1 album Harvest.  1972 was the year of the band America’s first album featuring “A Horse With No Name”, another #1 hit.  That year also gave us the The Doobie Brothers’ “Listen To The Music”, and one of the favorite Country Rock songs of all time, “Amie” from the Pure Prairie League album Bustin’ Out.

A little later came the reign of Country Rock leader Linda Ronstadt, who had been recording country-influenced albums and songs since 1967 (“Different Drum”, “Long Long Time”), and finally broke through big time in late 1974.

Country Rock artists successful in the ’70’s included Firefall (“You Are The Woman”, “Just Remember I Love You”), Little Feat (“Willin'”), Loggins & Messina (“Your Mama Don’t Dance”), The Band (“The Weight”, “Up On Cripple Creek”), and Poco (“Crazy Love”).  Sometimes placed on Country Rock collections are songs by bands that fall under the label “Southern Rock”…Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Marshall Tucker Band, etc.

The most popular (best selling) album of all time is Eagles Greatest Hits (1971-1975).  A testament to the power of Country Rock!

The Beatles…Singles Ranked

What are the best singles by The Beatles?  They’ll be ranked two different ways.

(Some of my old Beatles singles.  Click to enlarge, then zoom.)

Albums by The Beatles are often ranked, but let’s consider their singles.  First, we’ll look at them as 2-sided collections.  Which 45’s gave us two great songs?  Only singles released by The Beatles in the U.S. during their active years, 1962-1970 will be considered (all songs were recorded in the ‘60’s).

10.  And I Love Her / If I Fell  This one might normally be overlooked, but it gives us two great ballads.  Paul McCartney’s “And I Love Her” backed with John Lennon’s “If I Fell”.  These two songs from the film A Hard Day’s Night have only grown in stature.  In fact, “And I Love Her” is one of the top 10 most recorded songs of all time.  It’s a tender straight-forward love song with one of McCartney’s great melodies.  He credits George Harrison with adding the famous acoustic guitar riff.   “If I Fell” has Lennon writing as if he’s unsure of himself, hoping his new love won’t treat him the way his ex-love did.  He sings “Don’t hurt my pride like her”.  Leave it to John Lennon to write a love ballad from a slightly skewed point of view.  Both songs were included on United Artist’s A Hard Day’s Night album, and Capitol’s Something New album.

9.  Can’t Buy Me Love / You Can’t Do That  “Can’t Buy Me Love” was the big #1 single released in 1964 prior to the movie A Hard Day’s Night.  Paul McCartney’s song packed so much energy it was used multiple times during the movie.  The flip side is an underrated rocker by John Lennon…”You Can’t Do That”.  It gave The Beatles another solid rock song for their live shows.

8.  Paperback Writer / Rain  As The Beatles moved into more adventurous recordings during their Revolver sessions, they created this great single.  “Paperback Writer” is another #1 from Paul McCartney, with an unusual topic and excellent sweeping harmonies.  John Lennon’s “Rain” is a psychedelic song.  It fit in with similar pioneering recordings by other groups in 1966.  It features variable speed tape effects, a backwards vocal at the end, and some creative drumming by Ringo Starr.

7. Yesterday / Act Naturally  It’s hard to know where to place this one, because the A-side is so strong.  “Yesterday” not only was #1, but it’s the most recorded song of all time (cover versions).  “Act Naturally” is not nearly as good as the other B-sides, but it’s a fun Buck Owens tune that let’s Ringo’s love of country music shine through.

6.  We Can Work It Out / Day Tripper  These two A-sides are both extremely strong.  “We Can Work It out was another #1 with Paul McCartney as the main songwriter.  John Lennon’s “Day Tripper” was not far behind at #5.  It’s a great rocker, and it might have hit the top of the chart if it had been the only A-side, with a weaker song as a B-side.

5.  Something / Come Together  Another double A-sided single.  “Something” was George Harrison’s first A-side on a single, and in 1969 it went to #1 in both the U.K. and the U.S.  John Lennon also had a #1 with “Come Together”.  This collection is kind of like Beauty and the Beast.  A truly beautiful ballad, and a nonsense lyrics rocker, but with a cool groove and great chorus.

4.  Eleanor Rigby / Yellow Submarine   “Yellow Submarine” was Ringo’s first & only vocal effort to hit #1 (for four weeks in the U.K., #2 in U.S.).  It’s a highly imaginative song that McCartney says was meant to be a fun sing-along for children.  The just-over-2-minutes story of Eleanor Rigby and Father McKenzie is generally considered a masterpiece, and is one of the top 5 most recorded songs of all time.  Paul McCartney was the main songwriter, with some lyric input from John Lennon and George Harrison.  The striking string octet arranged by producer George Martin was the only instrumental accompaniment…something totally new to Rock.

3. I Want To Hold Your Hand / I Saw Her Standing There  This might be the most exciting and important single for The Beatles.  Both songs are bundles of energy that made The Beatles explode into America!  When these songs came on the radio near the end of 1963, they sounded like nothing else.  If you bought this single, you played both sides over and over.  “I Want To Hold Your Hand” was #1 for 7 weeks, and was only moved out of that position by “She Loves You”, which was then replaced at the top by “Can’t Buy Me Love”.  At that time, in April of 1964, The Beatles had the top 5 positions on the singles chart.  “I Saw Her Standing There” started with an excited count-in by Paul McCartney, and then rocked right on through to the end.  Some credit should go to Capitol Records.  Although they badly failed by  letting other labels release some of the earliest singles by The Beatles, choosing “I Saw Her Standing There” instead of the ballad “This Boy” (which was on the British single) added to the initial excitement of The Beatles’ arrival on the American airwaves.

2. Hey Jude / Revolution  When The Beatles launched Apple Records at the time of The White Album in 1968, they chose these two songs as the first Apple single.  Paul McCartney originally wrote “Hey Jude” with Jules in the title, because he was reaching out to Julian Lennon after his parents, John and Cynthia, divorced.  “Hey Jude” remained at #1 for 9 weeks in 1968.  That’s the longest a Beatles song held the top spot.  The song remains extremely popular, and has often been chosen by Paul McCartney to close arena and stadium concerts.  Before “Revolution” became the choice for the single, it was reworked.  The Beatles decided the original version (“Revolution 1”) was too slow.  The song was turned into one of John Lennon’s best rockers!  This combination of songs certainly could be the #1 single, but the next one is also very special.

1. Penny Lane / Strawberry Fields Forever  Of all The Beatles singles, this may be the one that’s hardest to decide which song is the best.  Yes, McCartney’s “Penny Lane” was #1 and Lennon’s “Strawberry Fields Forever” was #8, but that’s probably due to “Strawberry Fields” being so original and experimental.

Some years later, Lennon looked back on his time with The Beatles and said it seemed like when he introduced songs to the group, they decided it was time to try new things.  By most accounts, it was Lennon himself who requested innovative techniques and experimentation.  In preparation for this article, I found  there are 32 recordings of “Strawberry Fields Forever” by The Beatles in my digital music collection.  They include demos, alternate takes, various stages of layering instruments, remasters, and remixes.  It’s amazing how The Beatles and George Martin created such an original final recording.

“Penny Lane” also went through many stages, and in its own way is as innovative as Lennon’s song.  The complex arrangement includes four keyboards…3 pianos and a harmonium…all used for different textures.  The song has brass, woodwinds, key changes, unusual melody choices, and some surreal lyrics.  One of the most unique touches is a piccolo trumpet.  It’s high clear classical sound was completely new to Rock.

The original mix of “Penny Lane” sent to radio stations included a final seven-note piccolo trumpet flourish at the start of the song’s long last note.  However, the released single didn’t include that trumpet ending.  You can hear it on the alternate version on the Anthologies.   The early “radio version” was on The Beatles Rarities album, which I bought in 1980.  Once I heard it, my mind added that trumpet flourish every time I listened to the regular version of “Penny Lane”.  When the 2015 remix came out, I placed a digital copy in Garage Band and added the trumpet ending.  It’s the version I listen to the most.

(Some colored vinyl jukebox singles from 1987, plus a picture disc.)

Now…what are the best singles if we look at the songs individually?

  1. Yesterday
  2. Eleanor Rigby
  3. Hey Jude
  4. Let It Be
  5. Penny Lane
  6. Strawberry Fields Forever
  7. Can’t Buy Me Love
  8. I Want To Hold Your Hand
  9. And I Love Her
  10. Nowhere Man

Okay, that’s impossible.  There are so many Beatles singles that could be put on that list.  There’ll never be a definitive top 10.  The Beatles had 21 #1 singles, and a total of 46 Top 40 singles during their active years.

In America, Rubber Soul, Sgt. Pepper, and The White Album had no singles released from them.  Plus, other Beatles albums contain so many more quality tracks.

Imagine how many hit singles there could have been!

Bonus List:  Here’s my “No Singles” playlist.  It contains some songs (chronologically) The Beatles did not release on singles in America (1962-1970).

  1.  All My Loving
  2. This Boy
  3. Things We Said Today
  4. I’ll Follow The Sun
  5. I’ll Be Back
  6. You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away
  7. Drive My Car
  8. Norwegian Wood
  9. Michelle
  10.  In My Life
  11.  For No One
  12.  Here, There And Everywhere
  13.  Good Day Sunshine
  14.  Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
  15.  With A Little Help From My Friends
  16.  Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
  17.  When I’m Sixty-Four
  18.  A Day In The Life
  19.  Magical Mystery Tour
  20.  The Fool On The Hill
  21.  Back In The U.S.S.R.
  22.  Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da
  23.  While My Guitar Gently Weeps
  24.  Blackbird
  25.  I Will
  26.  Two Of Us
  27.  Here Comes The Sun

For more, check out the article:  The Beatles…Singles Left Off Albums.

Sgt. Pepper…Best Album Ever?

For decades, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band has topped most lists of the best albums.  Should it?

Some fans don’t even think it’s the best Beatles album, with Revolver and Rubber Soul mentioned the most (articles on those two are also on this site).  But, let’s take a close look at why Sgt. Pepper has been so highly thought of through the years.

The Sgt. Pepper recording sessions started on November 24th, 1966.  By then, The Beatles had stopped touring, and they’d barely seen each other for about two months.  John Lennon said that after acting in a film, How I Won The War, he was especially happy to get back with his friends.  Earlier that year, The Beatles had recorded the extremely innovative Revolver album in which they had cleverly utilized the recording studio in many new ways.  So, what was the next step?

The first song to be recorded was John Lennon’s  “Strawberry Fields Forever”.  It’s now considered one of his best songs, but at the time, it seemed strange.  The song started with a Mellotron (an early synthesizer) , which was a new sound.  It had a varied-speed vocal that sounded a bit weird, and psychedelic elements (backwards cymbals, a swarmandal [Indian harp]) that were definitely foreign to listeners.  “Strawberry Fields Forever” deserves a full article, but we’ll move on to the next major song, “Penny Lane”.

With John referencing a place he played during his childhood (the garden of a Salvation Army children’s home), it triggered memories for Paul McCartney about another place they knew, Penny Lane.  The song turned into an energetic description of the sights and sounds in that area of Liverpool.  “Penny Lane” has a great feel, and an excellent arrangement using a wide variety of instruments, including a piccolo trumpet in a classical music style.

The Beatles kept recording more songs, but EMI and Capitol thought it had been too long since The Beatles had released anything, so they pushed the band for a single.  The Beatles agreed to release “Penny Lane” and “Strawberry Fields Forever” as a double A-side single (February, 1967).  It’s one of the best 45-rpm releases by The Beatles (along with “Hey Jude”/“Revolution”).  “Penny Lane” hit #1 in Billboard, with “Strawberry Fields” #8.  Producer George Martin said one of his biggest disappointments was that they didn’t hold the two songs for the Sgt. Pepper album.  Today, most people probably add the songs to their Sgt. Pepper playlists.

The title for the album came from Paul’s idea that calling themselves Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band would allow them to approach music from a different perspective.  Paul wrote the title song that rocks the opening of the  album, and then introduces us to Billy Shears (played by Ringo Starr).  He sings “With A Little Help From My Friends”, which is probably Starr’s best vocal performance.

Although Sgt. Pepper could be thought of as a concept album, it really was more of a theme.  Some of the songs obviously fit…”Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!”, “When I’m Sixty-Four”…but it was mainly that The Beatles really did open their minds (with a little help from their LSD) to extremely inventive musical arrangements with thoughtful lyrics…”She’s Leaving Home”, “Within You Without You”, “A Day In The Life”…and psychedelic visions…”Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”, “Fixing A Hole”.

(Even the inner record sleeve was a psychedelic vision.)

The album was released on June 1st of 1967.  Dropping the needle on it was a memorable experience!  If you were musically aware at that time, you knew that nothing like Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band had ever been made.  It also seems impossible that an album with such complicated and intricate arrangements could have been created using a 4-track recording console!

The most complex song on the album is “A Day In The Life”.  The main part is John Lennon’s “I read the news today, oh boy” lyrics that creatively lay out stories as they were found in a newspaper.  Then there’s Paul McCartney’s middle-eight with the “Woke up, fell out of bed, dragged a comb across my head” part of an everyday life.  Although John normally gets most of the credit for the song, it’s actually a great example of The Beatles and George Martin working together.

Paul came up with the line “I’d love to turn you on”, as well as the sweeping orchestral crescendo that connects the song’s pieces and provides the big ending.  Of course George Martin turned the orchestral idea into reality, with a 40-piece orchestra overdubbed to sound like 160.  Ringo developed his own creative drumming and percussion that add so much to the underlying feel of the piece.  Some critics think “A Day In The Life” is The Beatles’ finest work.

(All photos can be enlarged with click or zoom)

Capitol Records certainly thought Sgt. Pepper was “The Greatest Ever!”…as you can see in the above promotional ad.  Let’s take another look at the song list:

  1. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
  2. A Little Help From My Friends
  3. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
  4. Getting Better
  5. Fixing A Hole
  6. She’s Leaving Home
  7. Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite!
  8. Within You Without You
  9. When I’m Sixty-Four
  10. Lovely Rita
  11. Good Morning Good Morning
  12. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)
  13. A Day In The Life

There can’t be any other album that contains no singles, yet has so many songs that are well known.  The imagination of the songs and the complicated arrangements stunned other musicians, because there had been nothing like it.  Many artists said it opened the door to greater musical possibilities and the full use of the recording studio.

Let’s imagine The Beatles did release singles from the album.

If the combination track “Sgt. Pepper/With A Little Help From My Friends” had been released on the same day as the album it wouldn’t have been a question of whether it would hit #1, the question would be for how many weeks.  The flip side could have been “Being For The Benefit Of Mr. Kite”.  The next single might have been “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds” backed with “When I’m Sixty-Four”.  The final fantasy single would be “A Day In The Life” backed with “She’s Leaving Home”.

Stranger Things:  After this article was complete, I discovered I actually have a couple of singles with songs from Sgt. Pepper.  They were among some colored vinyl records we bought in 1987 that were meant for use in jukeboxes.  We had a jukebox, but never actually played these…they were just collectibles.

The “Sgt. Pepper/With A Little Help” single has “A Day In The Life” on the flip side.  The other one is just like the second single I proposed…”Lucy In The Sky” backed with “When I’m 64”.  They’d have been big hits in 1967!

St. Pepper was the first Beatles album to be released in exactly the same form in Britain and America.  Revolver and Rubber Soul were both missing songs in the U.S.  Now that they’re viewed in their complete forms, they’ve grown in stature.

So, is Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band the best album ever?  If you look at the impact it had on the culture and the advancement it made in the recording industry, the answer is…yes.  Beatles fans have their personal favorites.  Solid arguments can certainly be made for Revolver and Rubber Soul, and it seems the later generations of Beatle fans often choose Abbey Road.  Of course people who are not Beatles fans will make other choices for best album.

(All photos can be enlarged with a click or zoom)

Still, the quote at the very bottom of the back cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band probably sums up most people’s reaction to the album…”A splendid time is guaranteed for all”.

America…70’s Band Is Back

Something has made America great again.  It’s probably a combination of touring and a recent rash of interviews that’s returning them to popularity.

After their appearance on the CBS program Sunday Morning, I found America had the numbers 3 and 4 positions on the iTunes sales chart with their two greatest hits albums.  That’s pretty impressive for a band that had most of their hits from 1972 to 1976, and their last big hit in 1982.

Americans Dewey Bunnell, Gerry Beckley, and Dan Peek (l-r above) were in London because their fathers were stationed at an Air Force base there.  After high school, the trio of singers, songwriters, and guitarists formed a band.  They called themselves America, so people wouldn’t think they were a British band trying to sound American.

In 1971, they recorded their self-titled first album at Trident studios in London.  America has ringing acoustic guitars and beautiful harmonies, but the album didn’t take off until they added one more song to it…”A Horse With No Name”.  The song is by Dewey Bunnell, and it went all the way to #1 on the Billboard singles chart in March of 1972.  It sounded amazingly similar to the song it replaced at the top…”Heart Of Gold”.  Honestly, it sounds like Dewey is channeling Neil Young.  America fit in perfectly with the music scene of CSN&Y and singer-songwriters, and the album went to #1 on the Billboard chart.

The second single from the album was “I Need You” (#9) by Gerry Beckley.

America then came back to the United States to record their appropriately titled second album, Homecoming, in Los Angeles.

It was still 1972.  Homecoming featured the singles “Ventura Highway” (#8) by Dewey Bunnell, and “Don’t Cross The River” (#35) by Dan Peek.  America won the “Best New Artist” Grammy at the 1973 awards ceremony.

Unfortunately, the third album Hat Trick produced no hits in 1973.

So, America went to London in 1974 to have The Beatles’ producer George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick help them with their fourth album, Holiday.

George Martin added the right touches, and America returned to the Top 10 singles chart with “Tin Man” (#4)  by Dewey Bunnell, and “Lonely People” (#5) by Dan Peek & his wife Catherine.  It was the only Top 10 single with Dan Peek as the songwriter and lead singer.  Both singles hit the top of the Adult Contemporary chart.  The album was also successful…#3 in Billboard.

Their hits continued in 1975 with two songs from Gerry Beckley…”Sister Golden Hair” (#1) and “Daisy Jane” (#20).  The album, Hearts, went to #4 in Billboard.  Also in 1975, America released their greatest hits album, History (they were naming all their albums so they started with an “H”).

The album was #3 and a multi-platinum success.

And then things started going downward.  Their 1976 album Hideaway did okay (#11), but didn’t produce any big hits.  The 1977 follow-up, Harbor, did worse (#21), and had no singles chart.  Dan Peek decided to leave the group to forge a solo career in the Christian Music genre.

America’s last real commercial success came 5 years later with the release of “You Can Do Magic”, a song written and produced by ex-Argent guitarist Russ Ballard.  “Magic” went up to #8 in 1982, and was the last big hit for America.

Fast forward 37 years to 2019.  After all those years of on-and-off touring and less than successful studio and live albums, America (with Dewey Bunnell & Gerry Beckley) is popular again.

I recently read a glowing review of one of their concerts (by a professional critic), and saw a very positive interview and profile on the CBS TV show Sunday Morning.  Their efforts have produced a nice bump in sales for their greatest hits albums.

America: The Complete Greatest Hits is the best collection available.  The song list has all 17 of their charting singles, including seven Top 10 hits, four more that made the Top 40, and some popular album cuts like “Sandman”.

(Click or zoom to enlarge the song list.)

If you haven’t listened to the music of America lately, you might want to stream or maybe download this album.  You may also want to go back and enjoy their breakthrough 1st album.  Of course if they’re in concert nearby, you could check them out, because apparently America is great…still.

Echo In The Canyon…Movie Review

The development of “The California Sound” started in the 1960’s in Laurel Canyon, a part of Los Angeles.  On the left side of the below  movie poster, you can see the artists who were interviewed, and on the right side are more current musicians who performed many of the era’s classic songs in a concert that was woven into the documentary.

Laurel Canyon was a neighborhood that was home to some of the most important music artists of the ‘60’s.  They included members of The Beach Boys, The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, The Mamas & The Papas, and more.

The movie starts out with an interview with Tom Petty, who was one of the artists most influenced by the Laurel Canyon musicians and songwriters.  He explained and demonstrated how important the 12-string Rickenbacker guitar was to the sound of The Byrds and The Beatles.  It’s so great that they interviewed Petty before we lost him. This film includes a lot of other important artists whose interviews will also be considered priceless someday.

Above is a performance by Jakob Dylan, Beck, and other musicians in front of a large screen showing The Byrds.  The song was “Goin’ Back” a Byrds track that was written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King.  It was the best performance of the film.  Even though I would have enjoyed more archival footage of the original bands playing their songs, it was good to see another generation adding their own touches to the classic songs.

Musicians being interviewed by Jakob Dylan, such as Roger McGuinn and David Crosby above, provided the best moments.  All of the artists opened up about insightful and often humorous events that humanized the time when magical music was coming from the canyon.

Eric Clapton told the story of hanging out at Stephen Stills’ house along with members of Buffalo Springfield (shown above).  Clapton says when neighbors complained about the music being too loud, police officers stopped by.  Because marijuana was being illegally used, Stills slipped out the back of the house.  Stephen Stills embarrassingly confirmed he had abandoned his friends.  Of course the most interesting part is that English musicians like Clapton, Ringo Starr, and George Harrison visited Laurel Canyon and were friends with many of the musicians there.  There was a lot of sharing of musical ideas between the Brits and the Americans.

Michelle Phillips Of The Mamas & The Papas was very candid.  While married to John Phillips, she had an affair with the group’s other male vocalist, Denny Doherty.  She says “Go Where You Wanna Go” (and do what you wanna do)  was written by John as a response to Michelle’s infidelity.  A decade later in Los Angeles, Lindsey Buckingham wrote “Go Your Own Way” after his breakup with Stevie Nicks.  It would also be appropriate to do Echo In The Canyon Volume 2 that focused on all of the 1970’s artists who lived in that same area…the Eagles, Jackson Browne, CSN&Y, Linda Ronstadt, J.D. Souther, and more.

If you have an interest in the music and artists represented in this film, it’s really “can’t miss”.  The 90-minute run-time seemed a little short, but there was a good sample of all that “California Dreamin’” that emanated from Laurel Canyon.

Yesterday Movie Review (no spoilers)

The trailer for the movie Yesterday came out in February, and the film finally arrived in theaters at the end of June.  (Note:  It’s now available for streaming.)

The main character, Jack (Himesh Patel), is a struggling musician.  After his bicycle is hit by a bus during a world-wide power outage, he wakes up to find out he’s the only one who even knows The Beatles existed.  He uses Beatles songs as if he had written them, and becomes famous (as shown in the trailer).  Besides that high concept, the main story is the relationship between him and his manager/girlfriend Ellie (Lily James).  Both actors are excellent in these roles.

(All photos by Universal)

So how was the movie?   My wife & I loved it.  (We went a second time 3 weeks later with our daughter-in-law and grandson [12]…who’s been listening to a lot of Beatles music lately.)

You can tell the makers of the movie have great affection for The Beatles, and even though this is a romantic comedy, the legacy of The Beatles is never tarnished in any way.  Paul McCartney said he and his wife Nancy snuck into a theatre to watch Yesterday, and “loved it”.

The excitement of The Beatles (”I Want To Hold Your Hand”, “She Loves You”) and the beauty of their songs (”Yesterday”, “In My Life”) are both there.  Of course Jack is not as good as The Beatles, but the songs still shine.

Helping Jack along the way are Ed Sheeran (as a version of himself), and Sheeran’s manager (played by Kate McKinnon).  Sheeran does a great job, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he gets more acting roles.  McKinnon is funny as the obviously greedy manager.

The movie also has it’s heart in the right place, and there are some very nicely surprising scenes I won’t spoil.  You’ll be glad you didn’t read any spoilers.

By the way, one of the scenes from the first trailer was eliminated from the movie.  You may have seen where Jack is asked to “write something” on James Corden’s Late Late Show.  Of course Jack writes George Harrison’s “Something” right there.  The scene was cut to eliminate the female character (actress Ana de Armas) Jack was singing to on the show.  The writer and director decided they didn’t want to add a romantic figure in Jack’s life who could interfere with his main relationship with Ellie.

There have been some reviewers who wanted the movie to dig into things such as…would The Beatles’ songs still be relevant to today’s young people?…but that’s another movie (maybe a documentary), and this is just a fun fantasy!  This weekend’s movie goers have rated the movie highly (90% approval), and it won the audience prize at the Montclair film festival.

So, if you love The Beatles and good romantic comedies, do yourself a favor, and see Yesterday…it’ll make all your troubles seem so far away.

Buffalo Springfield…Springboard To Fame

Buffalo Springfield was the key to multiple successful careers.

“For What It’s Worth (Stop, Hey What’s That Sound)” was the only hit by Buffalo Springfield, but the group turned out to be much more important to Rock & Roll.

The seed for the band was planted when Stephen Stills met Neil Young in Canada in 1965.  Both were in minor groups at the time.  In early 1966, Neil Young decided to drive to L.A. (in an old hearse) with fellow musician Bruce Palmer to look for Stills.  In those days, it would seem to be  an impossible task to somehow find one person in L.A.  After a week, they gave up and were heading out of town.  Stephen Stills and Richie Furay happened to be driving the opposite direction on the same street and spotted the old hearse with Young in it.  Stills turned the car around and flagged down Young and Palmer.  It was meant to be.

The four of them formed a band, along with drummer Dewey Martin.  They chose their name after seeing a sign for a steamroller company, Buffalo-Springfield.  Soon, they had a steady gig at The Troubadour and a contract with Atco Records.  Before the end of 1966, they had recorded their first album.

The album was released just as Stephen Stills wrote “For What It’s Worth” after seeing riots on the Sunset Strip.   As a single, the song made it to #7 in Billboard, and was added to a new pressing of the album in March of 1967.

Stephen Stills & Richie Furay sing “For What It’s Worth” on TV

Buffalo Springfield had two more albums and no more hits.  Neil Young was wanting to record on his own, and the group decided to disband in 1968.  I had only purchased the single “For What It’s Worth”, but then bought their album Retrospective in early 1969.

Atco did a great job of choosing the right songs.  Besides their hit single, the best songs by Stephen Stills include  “Rock And Roll Woman” and “Bluebird”.  Neil Young’s songs that later became part of his concerts include ”Mr. Soul”, “On The Way Home” and “I Am A Child”.  Richie Furay wrote and sang “Kind Woman”.  The band’s use of banjo and pedal steel guitar for some of the songs put them on the leading edge of country rock.  There was plenty of regular rock, along with some innovative arrangements.

On the back of the album was a paragraph from the head of Atlantic/Atco Records, Ahmet Ertegun:

“Of all the groups to have emerged in the middle sixties, Buffalo Springfield will be remembered as one of the most creative and exciting.  The very power of the individual writing and performing talents of the members was also the reason for the breakup of the group.  It was comprised of Stephen Stills, Neil Young, Richie Furay, Dewey Martin, and Bruce Palmer, later replaced by Jim Messina.  More will be heard from all of them.”

At the time, February of 1969, it seemed like hype for a group that hadn’t really made it.  Actually, it was very prophetic.

Dewey Martin (drums), Jim Messina (bass & production), Neil Young (guitar), Richie Furay (guitar), Stephen Stills (guitar & keyboards)

The end of Buffalo Springfield meant the beginning of several more bands.

Stephen Stills formed Crosby, Stills & Nash.

Neil Young recorded a solo album, and then added the band Crazy Horse.  Of course he soon joined Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

Richie Furay and Jim Messina started the Country Rock band Poco.

Later, Jim Messina joined Kenny Loggins to form Loggins & Messina.

Richie Furay got together with John David Souther and ex-Byrd Chris Hillman as The Souther-Hillman-Furay Band.

Manassas was a really great group of musicians brought together by Stephen Stills.  They released two albums in the seventies.

Of course, Stills and Young have had impressive solo careers, and have played on-and-off together for five decades.

All because Neil Young was driving an old hearse.

Lennon Or McCartney?

This used to be the question that was asked….”Who do you like better, Lennon or McCartney?”  I think it was meant to determine how cool you were.  Since Paul was considered the cute/commercial one, and John was thought of as the poet/cerebral one, the “John” answer was supposed to be cooler.  You might get even more points for answering “George” or “Ringo”.

That assessment has changed over the years.  We know they were both excellent musicians and vocalists, so let’s compare Lennon & McCartney as songwriters for The Beatles.

From the beginning of their fame (1963 in England, and 1964 in America), John and Paul were quickly recognized as a great songwriting team.  Often, they would sit across from each other with acoustic guitars and work out songs together.  McCartney said they never had a writing session that wasn’t successful.

As early as 1964, fans began to see that there were “Paul songs” and “John songs”.  Normally, the main songwriter would also sing the lead vocal.

Let’s look at the “Lennon or McCartney” question a bit differently.  Which one…Lennon or McCartney…wrote the biggest hits and best known songs for The Beatles?  Here’s a list of their #1 hits in the U.S., showing the main songwriter(s).

  1. I Want To Hold Your Hand…both
  2. She Loves You…both
  3. Can’t Buy Me Love…Paul
  4. Love Me Do…both
  5. A Hard Day’s Night…John
  6. I Feel Fine…John
  7. Eight Days A Week…both
  8. Ticket To Ride…John
  9. Help…John
  10. Yesterday…Paul
  11. We Can Work It Out…both
  12. Paperback Writer…Paul
  13. Penny Lane…Paul
  14. All You Need Is Love…John
  15. Hello Goodbye…Paul
  16. Hey Jude…Paul
  17. Get Back…Paul
  18. Come Together…John
  19. Let It Be…Paul
  20. The Long And Winding Road…Paul

For those keeping score, that’s 9 for Paul, 6 for John, and 5 together.

It also shows the progression.  John was stronger in the early years.  John had 4 of the first ten #1’s, Paul had 2 and together they wrote 4.   By 1966, things changed.   Paul had 7 of the last ten #1’s, John had 2, and they had 1 together.

Of course, even though John & Paul admitted they were competitive, such as trying to get the A-sides of singles, they also readily helped each other with lyrics and song structures in order to make each recording the best possible version.

To compare their output, here are two lists of songs that can mostly be attributed to the individual Beatles as the main songwriter.

Beatles songs by John:

  1. You Can’t Do That
  2. This Boy
  3. A Hard Day’s Night
  4. If I Fell
  5. I Feel Fine
  6. Yes It Is
  7. Help!
  8. You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away
  9. Ticket To Ride
  10. Girl
  11. Norwegian Wood
  12. Nowhere Man
  13. In My Life
  14. Rain
  15. Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds
  16. Strawberry Fields Forever
  17. A Day In The Life (John’s song, Paul’s “bridge”)
  18. I Am The Walrus
  19. All You Need Is Love
  20. Revolution
  21. Julia
  22. Don’t Let Me Down
  23. Across The Universe
  24. Come Together
  25. Because

Beatles songs by Paul:

  1. I Saw Her Standing There
  2. All My Loving
  3. Can’t Buy Me Love
  4. And I Love Her
  5. I’ll Follow The Sun
  6. Yesterday
  7. We Can Work It Out (Paul’s song, John’s “bridge”)
  8. Michelle
  9. Paperback Writer
  10. Eleanor Rigby
  11. For No One
  12. Here There And Everywhere
  13. Penny Lane
  14. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
  15. When I’m Sixty-Four
  16. The Fool On The Hill
  17. Lady Madonna
  18. Hey Jude
  19. Back In The U.S.S.R.
  20. Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da
  21. Blackbird
  22. I Will
  23. Get Back
  24. The Long And Winding Road
  25. Let It Be

If you spend a little time with the lists, you can determine which group of songs is stronger to you.  Of course Beatles fans like most of the songs from both lists.  I wouldn’t want to be without any of them.

It’s generally agreed that John was the better lyricist, and Paul the better melody writer.  The above examples show just how strong they each were at both words & music.

Music critics tend to look to the lyrics of songs as they search for meanings upon which to write reviews.  John’s songs often had thought provoking lyrics and clever word play.  He was generally more popular with critics.

For the public, melodies come first, and the meanings of songs come later as the lyrics become familiar.   Paul was generally more popular with the public, because of his memorable melodies.  Even John knew that.  He said he never expected to be walking down the street and hear someone whistling “I Am The Walrus”.

As for their solo success from 1970 through 1980, Paul was the best-selling singles artist of the 1970’s.  He edged out Elton John.  He also had five #1 albums (7 platinum).  John Lennon wasn’t nearly as active (he took about 4 years off when Sean was born), but had three #1 (platinum) albums, and his best song did come from his solo career…”Imagine”.  Paul’s best song came from his time with The Beatles, but is it “Yesterday”, “Eleanor Rigby”, “Hey Jude”, or “Let It Be”?

The most important reason The Beatles were far and away the most popular group ever, is because John Lennon and Paul McCartney were in it together.

Lennon or McCartney?  The coolest answer is…both.

Sunshine Rock / Spanky & Our Gang

Sunshine Rock isn’t real.  No artists were making “Sunshine Rock”.  It’s not like Folk Rock, Country Rock, or Psychedelic Rock…which artists were consciously developing.  No one called any music Sunshine Rock in the ‘60’s.

This CD was released in 1988.  The name was invented as a way of looking back at the 1960’s and grouping various artists into a “Greatest Hits” album.  The artists and songs selected only loosely fit together.  I bought this disc, because back then it was the first time most of these songs were available digitally.

You can see the songs kind of go together, and kind of don’t.  “Bus Stop” is one of the best songs by The Hollies, but whose brilliant idea was it to start out a collection called “Sunshine Rock” with a song about meeting in a rainstorm?

The Hollies, The Monkees, The 5th Dimension, The Lovin’ Spoonful and Spanky & Our Gang could put out Greatest Hits albums themselves, but most of the other artists were limited to one or two hits.  This was a way for music companies to make money from those old hits.  They weren’t going to sell any more singles or albums by themselves.

Some of the cuts that fit the theme are “Happy” by The Sunshine Company, “Come On Down To My Boat” by Every Mother’s Son, “Hello Hello” by Sopwith Camel”, “More Today Than Yesterday” by Spiral Starecase, and “Red Rubber Ball” (a Paul Simon song) by The Cyrkle.  Of course mixing in some bigger hits provides value, and helps sell the lesser songs.

Spanky & Our Gang (shown above with lead singer Elaine “Spanky” McFarlane) might be the group most associated with Sunshine Rock, or as it has morphed into today, Sunshine Pop.  Their hits “Sunday Will Never Be The Same”, “Lazy Day”, “Sunday Mornin'”, and “Like To Get To Know You” fit perfectly on such lists, even though their intricate arrangements sometimes have elements of Psychedelic Rock and Jazz.

They also could do serious songs rooted in folk lyrics, such as “Give A Damn”, which is about visiting a ghetto.  They sing:  “And it might begin to teach you, how to give a damn about your fellow man”.  It’s a really good song, but might have been a bit harsh for Top 40 radio.

Spanky & Our Gang were only popular from 1966 to 1969.  Their crowning achievement is the album Anything You Choose/Without Rhyme Or Reason.

It’s brilliant.  Possibly the only reason I know the album, is because it was a commercial failure.  I spotted it in a dollar bin in the late ’60’s, and bought it.  When I looked at the two sides of the album they were labeled Side 1 and Side A.  Which one to play first?  Anyway, each side is complexly and cleverly arranged so the songs flow into one another.  This was not some simple cross-fading or other studio trick, but well thought-out musical transitions.  The songs are good too.  Besides “Give A Damn” (which just missed the Top 40), there are minor hits like “Yesterday’s Rain”, “And She’s Mine”, and “Anything You Choose”.  The album might be available to stream.  It takes some time to get to know the songs, and they might not fit everyone’s taste in pop; however, we have the whole album as part of our Spanky & Our Gang playlist.  Spanky & Our Gang was really a Jazz Vocal Group disguised as a Pop Group.

There are a lot of 1960’s Pop Rock songs that fit the Sunshine Pop theme.  Those include:  “Every Day With You Girl” by The Classics IV, “I Will Always Think About You” by The New Colony Six, “59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy”) by Harper’s Bizarre, “Groovin'” by The Rascals, “Daydream” by The Lovin Spoonful, “Sunshine Superman” by Donovan, “Happy Together” by The Turtles, “Windy” by The Association…and even songs by The Beach Boys and The Mamas & The Papas are sometimes placed in that category.

A lot of Soft Rock music from the 1970’s could also be called Sunshine Rock or Sunshine Pop.   In fact, there are so many songs, Rhino Records has released 25 volumes of it.  But, they came up with a uniquely 70’s way to describe the music…Have A Nice Day.

A few examples of the songs include…”It Never Rains In Southern California” by Albert Hammond, “I Can See Clearly Now” by Johnny Nash, “Hitchin’ A Ride” by Vanity Fare, “Brandy, You’re A Fine Girl” by Looking Glass, and “Nice To Be With You” by Gallery.

When you listen to this stuff, you know you’re going to be feelin’ groovy and have a nice day.