Neil Young…Solo History (Updates)

A great songwriter, but not a great voice.  Bob Dylan? Kris Kristofferson?  Neil Young?  It could apply to a lot of singer-songwriters.

Neil Young knows he’s not a great singer.  When he was with Buffalo Springfield he even let Richie Furay take the lead vocals on some of his songs.

                   (Neil in 1967 photo by Linda Eastman [McCartney])

People who don’t like Neil Young because of his voice are missing so much great music!   Neil has a way of conveying songs that make them uniquely excellent.

Neil Young is one of the most prolific songwriters ever.  He’s done over 40 albums of original material, and that doesn’t include live albums or collections.

His first solo album is Neil Young (might as well get your name known).  The January 1969 release featured “The Loner” (among other good songs).  Just four months later (prolific!), Young released Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere with his band Crazy Horse.  It has the classic rock tracks “Cinnamon Girl”, “Down By The River”, and “Cowgirl In The Sand”.  Then in August (still 1969), he joined Crosby, Stills, & Nash, with former Buffalo Springfield bandmate Stephen Stills.  Deja Vu.

Looking back, Neil Young wasn’t really a member of the group, he was much more like a guest star.  Since 1969, Young has only contributed 10 songs to three studio albums that were many years apart.  That’s why they’re called CSN & sometimes Y.  Of course he performed live with CSN on many tours, and there is that one truly classic 1970 single… “Ohio”…about the killing of 4 Kent State students by National Guardsmen.

Joining CSN made him famous.  He used that notoriety very well with a high-quality solo album in 1970, the same year as Deja Vu.  The title was, appropriately, After The Gold Rush.  It’s filled with good songs, including “Tell Me Why”, “Only Love Can Break Your Heart”, “I Believe In You”, “Birds (It’s Over)”, and “Southern Man”.  CS&N probably wondered where those songs were when they put together Deja Vu.

Young then released what is generally considered his best album, 1972’s Harvest.  It has his only big hit, “Heart Of Gold” (#1), which featured Linda Ronstadt and James Taylor on vocals, and “Old Man” on which JT played the banjo part.  Other cuts include “A Man Needs A Maid”, “The Needle And The Damage Done”, and “Alabama”.  That last song, along with “Southern Man” from his previous album, really ticked off Lynyrd Skynyrd.  “Sweet Home Alabama” became a huge hit for them as they bashed Neil Young in the lyrics.  Afterwards, they became friends.  Fun fact:  “Heart Of Gold” was knocked out of the #1 position by a song that sounded like Neil Young…”A Horse With No Name” by America.

Neil Young turned away from the success of his #1 album, Harvest, by releasing some of his least commercial albums…Time Fades Away (a live album of new material, only recently made available again)…On The Beach …and… Tonight’s The Night (a stark album partially about the drug deaths of friends).  A famous quote from Neil:  ” ‘Heart of Gold’ put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore, so I headed for the ditch.”  Those three albums are known by fans as “The Ditch Trilogy”.

Critics and core fans now look back favorably on these albums.  I bought the albums as they were released, and like some songs from all of them.   My personal favorite cut is “See The Sky About To Rain” from On The Beach.

It would take lots of articles (or books) to cover Neil Young, so here are some selected musical moments.

Besides the singles “Long May You Run” with Stephen Stills, and “Like A Hurricane”, the next commercial popularity for Neil Young was the album Comes A Time in 1978.

It was a return to the country-rock sound, with lots of great songs and vocal help from Nicolette Larson, who had a hit with the song “Lotta Love”.

Neil Young ended the 1970’s with some of his best work…Rust Never Sleeps.  It includes both his acoustic and electric sides.  Two versions of the same song, with slightly different lyrics, bookend the album.  “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)” and “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black).  The first is acoustic, and the second is an electric all-out Rock song.  A career-spanning live album followed…Live Rust.   Good stuff.

Apparently success makes Neil Young turn the other way. His albums in the ’80’s were so non-commercial that his new label, Geffen, sued him for not recording “typical Neil Young albums”.

There were 9 albums between 1980 and 1989.  They varied a lot in musical styles and quality.  I like some of the songs, even from Trans (1982), which apparently some fans hate.

They just couldn’t handle the Synth Rock sound of Neil’s voice electronically altered through a “Vocoder”.  I like “Transformer Man”, the reworking of “Mr. Soul”, and especially “Sample And Hold” (the original vinyl version is best, and unfortunately, the CD has a different mix).  1988’s This Note’s For You album got noticed for the popular video with Young saying he’s “not singing for Pepsi, not singing for Coke”…instead…”this note’s for you”.  I love the bluesy song “One Thing” from the same album.

Neil returned to Reprise Records in 1989, and what do you know…he made a “typical Neil Young album”…Freedom.  It has acoustic and electric versions of “Rockin’ In The Free World”.  When he did a radio concert for the album, he performed a great version of “Someday” with just piano, voice, and harmonica.  It’s way better than the album version, which is burdened with sound effects and odd background voices.  Here’s a 60-second sample of the recording:

Another solid Neil Young album followed…Ragged Glory (1990).  Harvest Moon in 1992 pleased even more of his fans.  For some reason, Neil must have wanted back into the middle of the road.  Harvest Moon and Comes A Time are the most Harvest-like of his albums.

And then he recorded another 18 albums!  Can’t get into details about them all, but here’s my “Neil Young’s Best Vol. 4” playlist (1992-2014):

  1. Harvest Moon
  2. Unknown Legend
  3. From Hank To Hendrix
  4. This Old House (Live 1995 Farm Aid) [Fixed Mix]
  5. Interstate (Band Version ’96)
  6. Looking Forward (with CSN)
  7. Slowpoke (with CSN)
  8. Buffalo Springfield Again
  9. Good To See You
  10. Silver & Gold
  11. The Painter
  12. Far From Home
  13. Light A Candle
  14. This Land Is Your Land
  15. Wayfarin’ Stranger
  16. Travel On
  17. I Want To Drive My Car
  18. Who’s Gonna Stand Up (Acoustic/Orchestra version)

Neil Young has musically gone wherever his mood and muse have taken him…rock, country, electronic, grunge, folk, jazz/blues, and experimental.  No one is going to appreciate everything he’s done.  Music is subjective.  We listen to what we like, and Neil Young has given us a lot to like.

Update:  Neil Young finally released his collection Neil Young Archives Vol. II.  It was available for $250 on his NYA website, and had a release date of November 20th, 2020.  According to the website, all 3,000 copies of the box set sold out, but the same set was sold again, starting on March 5th, 2021.

The set is also being sold at regular retail outlets.  It lists for $160, has smaller packaging, and omits the hard-cover book.   Archives II is now available on streaming services.

Here’s my article about Neil Young Archives II:

Extra:  If you want to hear everything by Neil Young, you can subscribe to the Neil Young Archives website for $2.99 a month, or $24.99 a year (as of June 2023).

Crosby, Stills & Nash (The Album)

Their previous groups were so good.  The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, and The Hollies.  By 1968, David Crosby was out of The Byrds, and Stephen Stills’ group, Buffalo Springfield, had broken up.  The Hollies played L.A., and Graham Nash (who met Crosby in 1966) was hanging out with friends.  He heard David and Stephen singing a new song, “You Don’t Have To Cry”.  Eventually, Graham added a high harmony to their vocals…and Crosby, Stills & Nash was born.  Of course Nash had to leave the Hollies, and there were legal aspects to clear up, but we know it happened.

Crosby, Stills & Nash featured three guys who could all write songs, sing lead, sing harmony, and play multiple instruments.  The album was presented to the world on May 29th, 1969.

Each songwriter was introduced right away.  It starts with “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” by Stephen Stills, “Marrakesh Express” by Graham Nash, and “Guinevere” by David Crosby.  That’s the “snapshot” of the group.  Stills is a rocker with a folk/country edge, Nash has more of a pop sound, and Crosby the free-spirited hippie.  All three are far more musically complex than that, but these songs do give you a feel for them.

                                                     Stephen Stills & Sweet Judy (Collins) Blue Eyes.

Stills turned his love and breakup with his girlfriend into a classic recording… “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”.  The suite of melodies displays all of CSN’s strengths in about seven-and-a-half-minutes.

(We bought this jukebox single in the ‘80’s.)

If you look closely, you can see this is an edited version (4:35) like was heard on AM stations.  1969 was a time when only FM stations played the “long” album versions.  Stills played all the instruments on “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”, and handled the majority of the instrumentation for the rest of the album.  By the way, it would seem that Stills’ excellent Buffalo Springfield songs “Bluebird” and “Rock and Roll Woman” were also inspired by Judy Collins.  They’re still friends, and in recent years, the two have done an album and a series of concerts together.

“Marrakesh Express” was the first single.  This was Graham Nash starting a trend of coming up with solid commercial songs for the group.  He says he presented the song to The Hollies, and they recorded it, but never released it.  Nash’s writing kept developing, and he contributed some of the group’s most popular songs.  Another of his songs that stands out on CSN’s first album is the gently beautiful “Lady Of The Island”.

David Crosby was never a “commercial” songwriter, but he gave the trio a distinctive sound with beautifully atmospheric songs like “Guinevere”, and a social conscience with songs like “Long Time Gone”.  Crosby and Nash are both great harmony singers, and “Guinevere” represents the first time we heard the delicate blending of their voices.  Actually, the first time I listened to the album I only had time to hear those first three songs, and “Guinevere” confirmed I’d made a special purchase.

Recent releases of old recordings, like the Just Roll Tape album of Stephen Stills demos from 1968,  and the CS&N Demos  collection from ’68 & ’69 have revealed more about what was musically happening as they put together their first album.

The Stills release is a revelation.  It’s just him and his acoustic guitar running through a bunch of new songs as the tape runs in a studio.  This was in April of 1968 before Crosby, Stills & Nash had formed.  Already, he had “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”, “Helplessly Hoping” and “Wooden Ships”.  David Crosby is listed as a co-writer of “Wooden Ships”, so he was writing with Stills prior to the start of CSN.  The demo had everything except the introduction section with two people on the opposite sides of a war.

The stunning thing is how many more songs he already had that would appear on future albums.  “So Begins he Task”, “Do For The Others”, “Know You Got To Run”, “Change Partners”, “Black Queen” and “Treetop Flyer”.  How in the world could he have waited so long to officially record and release some of these?  A studio version of “Treetop Flyer” didn’t come out until 23 years later, 1991!

The best cut on CS&N’s Demos is an early version of “Long Time Gone”.  It has standout bass and percussion by Stills and a great vocal by Crosby, with no harmony vocals.  This was in 1968, and it reminds me of a song from 1969… “Come Together” by The Beatles.  That prominent bass part would have made “Long Time Gone” so unique if they had released it that way.  Here it is:

The first time one listens to Crosby, Stills & Nash, the quality of the songs and the beautiful harmonies are the easy takeaways.  This album led me into buying nearly everything else these three and Neil Young have recorded.

(Special edition remastered CD)

With one of the best debut albums ever, Crosby, Stills & Nash were ahead of the curve with acoustic-based music.  They helped usher in the 1970’s golden age of singer-songwriters and the west coast sound.  The Grammy Awards didn’t miss this significant release.  CS&N won the “Best New Artist” award.  Good call.

Tape Recording to Digital Recording

You hear it all the time.   People still refer to recording as “taping”.  Did you “tape” that show?  Are there “tapes” of that conversation?  Using tape for audio and video recording has been around for decades, but it’s all digital now.

My dad led me into a lifelong interest in recording.  He always owned tape recorders and microphones.  He was an excellent singer who recorded 40 square dance records (45’s) based on popular songs, such as “Those Were The Days”.   They were recorded in professional studios, but to record live performances, he used a portable recorder like this one.

Dad let me use the recorders too, and taught me how to edit tape. That meant physically cutting the recording tape at an angle to delete something or splice-in another piece of tape.  The splices were held together by special adhesive tape.  This same basic editing technique was used by professionals.

That amazing edit George Martin and engineer Geoff Emerick used to link two different versions of “Strawberry Fields Forever” (at about one minute into the song) was done the same way.  It’s so important to transfer classic tape recordings to digital, because those splices are eventually going to fail.

My first broadcast journalism class at college required me to record an interview on reel-to-reel tape, and then physically edit the tape into a concise news feature, including adding music or sound effects.   When I got a job in radio news, I still edited tape, but mostly  by dubbing the comments we wanted from a portable cassette recorder onto a broadcast tape cartridge to use during the live news reports.

Today it’s all digital recording.  It looks like most reporters are using phones or other small digital devices.  The quality is better than tape.

For music editing, I use Apple’s GarageBand.  But for what?

Some live recordings posted online have noise or applause at the beginning that needs to be trimmed off.  Or, maybe the applause at the end needs fading.  Even purchased live recordings often need such editing.

        (Neil Young performing “This Old House” at Farm Aid.)

Neil Young is one of my favorite artists.  When he first played “This Old House” at Farm Aid, the TV network started to go to a break during the second chorus, but then decided to stay with the song.  That left a hole and some announcer’s talk in the middle of the song.  I had recorded the performance, and I used GarageBand to place a copy of the first chorus seamlessly into the spot of the second chorus.  The song is complete, and now my favorite version of his song is in one of my Neil Young Live playlists. The multi-channels feature of GarageBand makes such editing possible.  Here it is:

When The Beatles’ Anthology series was released, it contained a take of “Good Morning, Good Morning” without those words in it.  I really liked it.  The lyrics took on a more serious tone, and Ringo’s drum part was accented.  The problem was it sounded sparse, because the horns and lead guitar weren’t included.  GarageBand let me sync the original version with this take, and put in the missing horns and guitar.  This new version doesn’t take the place of the original, but it sounds cool.  Here it is:

When Brian Wilson shelved the Smile album by The Beach Boys in 1967, the songs and pieces of recordings found their way to bootlegs.  Fans had no idea how to assemble those fragments into an album.  Finally, Brian released a solo version of Smile in 2004.  Then we could assemble The Beach Boys version (which is better) using GarageBand or other editing tools.  Here is a 29-minute “Best Of Smile”, with the songs segued together:

One more sample.  On Matchbox Twenty’s Mad Season album there was an unlisted orchestral reprise of the song “You Won’t Be Mine”.  It’s excellent, but it makes an even better introduction to the song.  Editing allowed me to place the dramatic orchestral piece first, and then over the final fading chord, start “You Won’t Be Mine” with that soft piano opening.  It’s magic.  Here it is:

Those are just some of the ways being able to record and edit makes the music even more satisfying.

Of course that just barely scratches the surface of what Garage Band type apps can do.  Musicians are recording entire albums.  Everyone can own a recording studio!

Oh, and a friend recently told me how much she enjoyed the music I had given her by saying “Thank you for the tapes.”  They were CD’s.


Somehow, the “West Coast Sound” was led by 4 guys from the midsection of the United States.  Glenn Frey was from Michigan, Randy Meisner from Nebraksa, Bernie Leadon from Minnesota, and Don Henley from Texas.  They were all drawn to Los Angeles, California.  At the Troubadour club they became friends with other artists, including John David Souther, Jackson Browne, and Linda Ronstadt.  All four of the future Eagles had experience playing in country rock bands that weren’t very successful.

Eventually, they were all hired at various times to back Linda Ronstadt, with Glenn Frey and Don Henley playing on her 1971 “Silk Purse” tour.  There are a couple excellent live cuts they performed with Linda…”Birds” (by Neil Young) and “I Fall To Pieces” (by Patsy Cline).  Those two cuts were on her 1972 self-titled album, and are available online.  By the way, Ronstadt didn’t really make it big until 1974.  After the tour, the guys formed the band “Eagles”.

Don Henley, Bernie Leadon, Randy Meisner & Glenn Frey

Their first album, Eagles, was released in June of 1972, and despite the quality of the album, it wasn’t a major hit.  I loved the Eagles instantly, and didn’t realize their album only reached #22 on the Billboard chart, and that their singles were not rated especially high…”Take It Easy” #12, “Witchy Woman #9, and “Peaceful Easy Feeling” #22.

Their second album, Desperado, released in 1973, used the concept of musicians as outlaws.   It contained the now classic songs “Tequila Sunrise” and “Desperado”, but neither of those singles hit the Top 40, and the album only reached #41.  What did the Eagles have to do to really break through?

For their next album On The Border they added a lead guitarist, Don Felder (a Californian), and changed producers, from Glyn Johns to Bill Szymczyk (he couldn’t buy a vowel).  The album had more of the rock feel that Frey & Henley wanted, and they released “Already Gone” as a single.  It charted, but only to #32.  Next they tried “James Dean”.  It only went to #77.  Then in late 1974, they finally released the song that would break things wide open for the Eagles.   “Best Of My Love” hit #1 on both the Top 40 and Adult Contemporary charts.  Ironically, it was one of two songs Glyn Johns had produced before the change, and it has a country rock sound.  You might remember that the single had a bit of an unusual edit and was shorter than the album version.  That was to get the song played on AM radio stations that were still important to popularize music in the 1970’s.

The Eagles were finally soaring.  On The Border went double Platinum (2-million albums sold), and eventually Eagles and Desperado went Platinum too.  “Best Of My Love” was the start of five straight Top 5 singles, 3 hitting #1.

In 1975, the Eagles released One Of These Nights.  The main hits were the title track (which mixes rock & disco), “Take It To The Limit” (Randy Meisner’s only lead vocal on one of their hits) and Grammy winner “Lyin’ Eyes”, which features one of the Eagles’ best arrangements.  If you’ve never listened really closely to it, give it a try, and notice how the accompaniment varies beautifully with the changing verses.  The album was a huge success, topping the charts and going quadruple Platinum.  The writing team of Frey and Henley was working at a high level, and while they were recording their next and best studio album, their label made a smart move.

The Eagles Greatest Hits (1971-1975) is one of the best Greatest Hits albums ever assembled, and the biggest seller.  That’s not only because the songs and performances are exceptional, but since the previous studio albums had not sold as well as they should have, “come lately” fans could catch up in one great collection.  It was the best selling American album of the 20th Century…over 29-times Platinum in the U.S., with a worldwide total of 42-million.  Update:  (August of 2018) The album is now certified as the #1 best-selling album in history, with sales in the U.S. over 38-million, and the worldwide total well over 50-million.

Bernie Leadon had left the Eagles after One Of These Nights, mostly because he didn’t like the band moving away from country rock.  His replacement was guitarist and singer-songwriter Joe Walsh.  Walsh had success with The James Gang, and his solo albums.  He also had an off-beat sense of humor and drug problems (he cleaned up), so it was a bit of a surprise when he joined the Eagles.  Glenn Frey,  Don Henley, and Randy Meisner had recorded with Walsh for his terrific solo album So What , released at the end of 1974.  Henley and Walsh co-wrote the song “Falling Down”, and it has the line “Burning the candle at both ends, twice the light in half the time.”  Too often that’s the rock star life, and the line would have fit in with the tone of their next album.

One of the most iconic albums ever…Hotel California.

The December, 1976 album opens with three killer cuts…”Hotel California”, “New Kid In Town”, and “Life In The Fast Lane”.  On the singles chart the three reached #1, #1, and #11 respectively.  Probably the only reason “Life In The Fast Lane” didn’t reach the top is because of the unprecedented use of swearing at one point in the lyrics.  Joe Walsh had played that great guitar lick during an Eagles rehearsal, and Don Henley and Glenn Frey took the songwriting from there.  Henley swears the phrase “life in the fast lane” had never been used before, and now it’s part of our language.  Among the highlights of Hotel California are the rousing duo guitar leads by Don Felder & Joe Walsh.

Of course Hotel California was a number-one album, and (as of August 2018) has sold 26-million copies in the U.S., with a total of over 40-million worldwide.  It’s the #3 selling album in history.  Don Henley says “Hotel California” is “about excess in America, which is something we knew a lot about.”  The song won the Grammy for Record Of The Year.

Imagine the pressure to follow up that level of quality.  That’s why The Long Run wasn’t released until  two years later.   It’s a highly successful album, 7-times Platinum, with the hits “Heartache Tonight” (another #1 and Grammy winner), “The Long Run” and “I Can’t Tell You Why”.  The latter was sung by bassist Timothy B. Schmit.  He had replaced Randy Meisner, who said he left because of exhaustion and disagreements with the other band members.  He was not alone.  The Eagles broke up in July of 1980.

Their label, Elektra, released the Eagles Live album, recorded mostly during their last tour.  It included the exquisite vocal performance of “Seven Bridges Road”.  Unfortunately, that was the only harmony the band felt at that time.  They split up saying they’d only get back together when “hell freezes over”…but that’s a story for another article.

The Eagles…Hell Freezes Over article is posted.  Here’s the link:

Who Wrote The Songs? (Lawsuits)[updates]

Lately, there have been lawsuits over…Who wrote the songs?

Did Randy California of the band Spirit write “Stairway To Heaven”?

Did Robin Thicke and Pharrell Williams rip off Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up” with their song “Blurred Lines”?

Does the organist for Procol Harum deserve credit for writing “A Whiter Shade Of Pale”, because he came up with the organ introduction and solo?

All of these would be easily answered if the decision was based solely on the melody and lyrics of the song itself, not on a chord progression or instrumental accompaniment.

For instance, most people know the Temptations’ song “My Girl” (written by Smokey Robinson).  When we hear the record, we recognize what song it is by the opening bass part of just three notes repeating.  The first note is longer and higher than the next two…kind of like:  dumm dum-dum, dumm dum-dum,  dumm dum-dum, dumm dum-dum.  Then the guitar comes in dahh dah dah dah dah dah, dahh dah dah dah dah dah.  Finally the vocalist…”I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day.”

The point is this.  Those bass and guitar parts were developed by the amazing session players at Motown.  They were paid to be excellent, and to add to the recordings, and they were great.  But…they are part of the arrangement of the song.  They didn’t write the song.  Sure we know what the song is going to be by hearing those first bass and guitar parts, but we’re recognizing the recording, not the song.

The song could be (and has been) sung  a cappella by the Temptations.  That melody and those words can stand alone, without the bass and guitar, and it’s the same song.  Therefore, no, the session players did not write the song, anymore than the organist wrote “A Whiter Shade Of Pale”.  The recordings of “My Girl” and “A Whiter Shade Of Pale” would not have been the same (and probably not as good) without those arrangements, but the songs remain the same.

With “Stairway To Heaven”, the disputed part is the famous long guitar introduction.  Yes, it sounds very similar to the introduction to Spirit’s “Taurus” (the song itself sounds nothing like “Stairway”), but as great as the intro is, that’s all it is.  The song starts with the melody and the words “There’s a lady who’s sure…”, and it was written by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant.  The lawsuit was settled in their favor, but you never know about future appeals.

Update 10/5/2020:  The Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal, so Led Zeppelin retains the sole rights to “Stairway To Heaven”.

The “Blurred Lines” case is even scarier, because it seems the jury decided to make the award over “Blurred Lines” having a similar sound and vibe to the Marvin Gaye song.  We could have lawsuits all day long over songs that gave off similar “vibes” to other songs.  Hopefully the judgement in favor of Marvin Gaye’s estate will be overturned.

Update 3/21/18:  A three judge panel upheld the ruling against “Blurred Lines” on a 2 to 1 vote.  The dissenting judge said the two songs aren’t similar in melody, harmony, or rhythm, and that the decision is too broadly allowing the copyright of a style of music.  (Later a settlement agreement was reached for $5-million.)

The organist for “A Whiter Shade Of Pale”, Mathew Fisher,  won his suit to be credited as one of the writers.  He’ll receive a portion of future royalties for the 1967 song.  To be fair, his organ part is brilliant and set the mood of the recording.  George Martin’s string arrangement for Eleanor Rigby is also brilliant and set the mood.  George Martin didn’t write Eleanor Rigby either.

Can you imagine how many keyboardists, guitarists, or other instrumentalists could claim their solos or intros mean they deserve a writing credit?  There has not been a rash of other band members suing their songwriters…yet.

If such lawsuits become more common, it might be best if the decisions were made by panels of people with musical backgrounds, or specialized judges, instead of easily swayed juries or judges without expertise in such matters.  Otherwise, decisions could be made on the “vibe” or “Yeah, that sounds similar.”

Update:  Now the owners of Marvin Gaye’s song rights are attempting to get money from Ed Sheeran.  They say his “Thinking Out Loud” infringes on Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On”.  Sheeran says the songs are not similar, and is hoping to get the case dismissed.  In 2022, Ed Sheeran won a court case over his song “Shape Of You”.  He expressed exasperation over songwriters having to face so many baseless lawsuits.  He says there are only 12 notes and a limited number of chords, so there are bound to be some similarities among the millions of songs.  He now video records all of his songwriting sessions, to have clear evidence for any future disputes.

Update:  In 2019, Katy Perry had a copyright decision go against her for over 2-million dollars.  The decision was surprising, because the case seemed weak.  Katy Perry won an appeal in 2020.  The judge said the lawsuit had no merit.  An appeals court in 2022 also found in favor of Katy Perry.  The suit was over Perry’s song “Dark Horse”.

Update:  Maybe some people will be less likely to bring a frivolous suit thanks to a 2022 decision.  Ed Sheeran won a case, and the judge ordered the artists who sued him to pay over a million dollars for Sheeran’s legal fees, which only seems fair.

Update:  Some feedback I received suggested that even though session musicians didn’t actually write the songs, they should be compensated fairly if they played a significant part in creating a recording.  Hopefully, most of the musicians have been appropriately paid, but there is no system set up to guarantee they would be paid more than “scale”.  Non-songwriting members of successful groups should earn very good money through live performances and sales.

Buckingham Nicks

Going through the record store “cut out” bins around 1974, I remember seeing the cover.  You couldn’t miss it.  A good-looking girl and a long haired rocker guy seemingly without clothes.  There was no real nudity, but it was attention getting.  I didn’t buy it, but should have.  It’s the album by Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks…Buckingham Nicks.

Lindsey and Stevie found the only major airplay for their 1973 album was in Alabama, because a radio programmer there liked it.  The Buckingham Nicks band flew from Los Angeles to Birmingham and Tuscaloosa a couple of times to play clubs.  The interesting part is that live recordings exist of “Monday Morning” and “Rhiannon” (new songs that were not on the album).  That was before the duo had actually merged with Fleetwood Mac.  The songs are essentially the same as they would appear on the Fleetwood Mac album later that year (1975).  It’s hard to say whether Buckingham Nicks would have survived much longer, but what might have happened if they had done a second album featuring those two songs?  Plus, Stevie had also written “Landslide” by that time.

(Stevie & Lindsey performing as Buckingham Nicks.)

The Buckingham Nicks album is important in music history, because if it hadn’t been for this album, there would not have been Fleetwood Mac as we know it.  Most fans are aware that Mick Fleetwood heard a Buckingham Nicks track being used to demonstrate the quality of the Sound City studio in L.A.  Fleetwood Mac needed a guitarist, so they offered the job to Lindsey, who told Mick that he and Stevie were a package deal…the best deal Mick ever made.

Fleetwood Mac had been a successful English blues band in the late 1960’s, and after lots of personnel problems and changes, they had some modest success in Pop/Rock in the early 1970’s.  They were an unstable band, but they still had some clout and a record contract, just what Lindsey and Stevie needed.

(Fleetwood Mac….articles on their history & analysis are on this site.)

It was only decades later, after Fleetwood Mac became one of the biggest bands of all time, that I got my hands on the Buckingham Nicks record, and transferred it to CD and into my iTunes.

The album sounds a lot like Fleetwood Mac, and is good (though not as good as Fleetwood Mac’s top albums).  It helps us understand how much Lindsey and Stevie meant to the sound of the new band.   The 1973 album is still not commercially available, but there are bootlegs.

“Crying In The Night” was the single.  “Stephanie” and “Django” (a salute to guitarist Django Reinhardt) are good guitar instrumentals.  I lean to “Without A Leg To Stand On” and “Races Are Run”. “Crystal” was remade for the Fleetwood Mac album, and “Frozen Love” is the rocker that Mick Fleetwood heard at the Sound City studios.

I did recently find the album online as a free download, along with some never-released demos, and those live recordings of “Monday Morning” and “Rhiannon”.  They were on a Buckingham Nicks site.

After hearing the Buckingham Nicks album and the other cuts, it was obvious the new sound of Fleetwood Mac was much closer to the Buckingham Nicks style than the old Fleetwood Mac style.  Lindsey and Stevie are both songwriters, both lead singers, and Lindsey is the producer who shaped the songs, including those of Christine McVie.  It was more like Fleetwood Mac joined Buckingham Nicks than the other way around.

Jackson Browne…Best Albums (Updated)

The first time I heard about Jackson Browne was from David Crosby.  It was in an interview Crosby did with Rolling Stone magazine.  He talked about this young songwriter he met who was overwhelming other musicians with the quality of his songs.  So, when Jackson Browne’s Saturate Before Using album came out, I bought it right away.  Of course the album was supposed to simply be called Jackson Browne, but the photo of the desert water bag gave it a new title.  Even Jackson Browne refers to it as:

Released in January of 1972, it’s an excellent singer-songwriter album.  The hit was “Doctor My Eyes”, and it included “Rock Me On The Water” and  “Something Fine”, with sublime harmonies by David Crosby.

The song that is probably his best know composition wasn’t included.  Instead, Browne gave it to the songwriter who helped him finish it…Glenn Frey.  The Eagles album premiered a little later that same year with “Take It Easy”.  The ever humble Browne says it was the extended “Eeeeeasy” and other aspects of the Eagles’ arrangement that turned his song into a hit.

Jackson Browne was never a “singles artist”.  It’s always been about his Albums.  For Everyman was next in 1973.  The album included “These Days” (Gregg Allman recorded a popular version of it), ”For Everyman”, and “Take It Easy”.

In 1974 Jackson Browne released Late For The Sky.  It’s his best studio album.  There are only eight songs, because they’re fairly long.  Browne says he sometimes has trouble letting go of the writing process.  I remember the review in Rolling Stone that called three of the songs “masterpieces”… “Fountain Of Sorrow”, “For A Dancer”, and “Before The Deluge”.  Not far behind are “The Road And The Sky”, “The Late Show”, and “Late For The Sky”.

1977 was the year of The Pretender.  Besides the title song, it included the single “Here Come Those Tears Again”, and standout album tracks “The Fuse”, “Your Bright Baby Blues” and “Sleep’s Dark And Silent Gate”.

All of Jackson Browne’s first four albums are Platinum or multi-Platinum sellers, but his breakthrough to an even larger audience was Running On Empty.  It was an unusual concept.   The songs were new, but instead of using studio versions, they were all recorded live.  (Only Neil Young’s Time Fades Away had used that concept.).  Besides the songs being performed to audiences, one was recorded in a hotel room, “Cocaine (Running All ‘Round My Brain)”, and one even on the tour bus, “Nothing But Time”.   The songs that got the most radio play are “Running On Empty”, “You Love The Thunder”, and the killer ending medley, “The Load Out/Stay”  There’s a real freshness to the album.  It went 7-times Platinum.

Running On Empty was released in December of 1977, and Jackson Browne started the album tour in Omaha in January, 1978.  We were there…my all-time favorite concert.  (It might actually be a tie with Paul McCartney’s 1993 concert in Kansas City.)

This was the peak for Jackson Browne.  He had many of LA’s best studio musicians…Lee Sklar on bass, Craig Doerge on piano, Russ Kunkel on Drums, Doug Haywood on guitar, Danny Kortchmar on lead guitar, and David Lindley on lap steel guitar.  The sound at the concert was top notch.  We could hear each player so clearly that we could pick out the individual performances on the various instruments.  Jackson Browne was perfect!  Three encores.

The next album Hold Out (1980) was #1 and double-Platinum.  Lawyers In Love (1983) also went Platinum.  We saw Jackson Browne for the second time, during his Lives In The Balance (1986) tour, when we took our son Paul to his first concert.

World In Motion (1988) was not as popular as his previous albums, but he bounced back nicely with I’m Alive (1993), and we saw him again in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Five more studio albums followed.   Here’s the complete list of studio releases.   (He also did a couple of live albums, Solo Acoustic 1 & 2, that highlight his lyrics and musicianship.)


  1. Running On Empty
  2. Late For The Sky (tied for #1)
  3. Jackson Browne (Saturate Before Using)
  4. The Pretender
  5. For Everyman 
  6. Lives In The Balance
  7. Downhill From Everywhere

His double-disc set, The Very Best Of Jackson Browne, covers most of his career, and is a good choice for streaming or collecting.

In 2015 Jackson Browne came to us…Eugene, OR…for an outdoor concert.  Here are some photos.  (Click to enlarge.)   It was a perfect day…as early evening turned into night.

The time has passed when singer-songwriters ruled the music world and toured with the best musicians.  But, it was a packed show, and Jackson Browne still sounded great!

Update:  Jackson Browne’s new album Downhill From Everywhere was released July 23rd, 2021.  It’s his best album in decades.  A complete review of the album is on this site.  Here’s the link:

Also, you can check out the David Crosby…For Free (Review) to see what Jackson Browne recently said about David Crosby.

Records to Playlists…Audio Tech (updated)

  • What a long strange trip it’s been through all the ways to buy and play music.

For my dad, it started with 78 RPM (revolutions per minute) records. The reason we call a collection of songs an “album” is because the first collections were like large photo albums that contained multiple 78 records in the sleeves (pages) of the album.

I became familiar with 45 RPM records through my two older sisters, Veronica and Janice, who bought records by artists like Ricky Nelson and The Everly Brothers.  My sisters could harmonize like the Everly Brothers too!

It was about the time of the British Invasion (1964) when I started to buy records of my own.  We lived in Leigh, Nebraska, a small town with no record store, but I was able to buy old jukebox 45’s at “Flossie’s Café”.  The guy who stocked the jukebox would leave a box of singles that were either used, or new overstocked records. They were 25-cents each.  I remember getting “I Want To Hold Your Hand”.  Every once in awhile, my family would make a trip to one of the nearby towns that had record stores. The first new album (33 1/3 RPM) I ever bought was Little Deuce Coupe by The Beach Boys, and the first new single was “Because” by The Dave Clark Five.  I still have the record sleeve:

Thus began decades of buying records…thousands of them.  During high school, it was mostly 45’s, and of course The Beatles’ albums.  Dad provided an old record player for my room, and once in awhile I’d even play records on the console stereo in the living room.  Life was pretty good for a music-loving teenager.  My collection progressed so well that I was the designated player of records at our school dances.  It wasn’t really being a DJ, although there was a microphone for announcements, such as introducing the King & Queen at the Homecoming Dance.

Buying lots of records wasn’t always a given.  When my wife, Jeannette, and I were first married (so young!), spending a few dollars on an album was more of a big deal.  During a time in Memphis, we’d go to a record store that had open copies of popular albums and listening stations.  We’d listen to albums, and then eventually buy the one album we thought was best.

 (Newlyweds near Memphis in 1970 with our cool ‘63 Dodge Polaris coupe.)

The other thing that became part of our listening experience was a Sony stereo reel-to-reel recorder.

I was making tapes and saving the records from the repeated ravages of a diamond-tipped needle.  I could make my own “Greatest Hits” albums too!

For a time in the 70’s, there were 8-track tapes.  Never owned one.  They did make music portable.  Good idea.  If you’ve ever heard 8-tracks, you know some changed tracks in the middle of songs.  Bad idea.

At some point in the 70’s, Cassette tapes took the place of 8-tracks.  Cassettes were good, but not the lo-fi pre-recorded ones.  Instead I still bought records and transferred them to cassettes that had high-quality tape.  So at this point, we had shelves and boxes filled with records, and self-recorded cassettes (that had replaced all those reel-to-reel boxes).

A miracle was about to happen…Compact Discs!  Sure there were some early CD’s that had less than fantastic equalization, but damn they were so cool!  I used to call myself a “record collector”, but the CD format made me realize the term should really have been “music collector”.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved the experience of getting record albums, reading all the information on the covers, etc.   I know there are die-hard “vinyl” fans who love the analog warmth of record albums…but there were problems.  It’s not that the format is inherently bad; it was mostly the manufacturing problems of the records themselves.  You would take off the plastic and remove the record, being careful to handle it by the edges, and gently place the needle at the beginning.  Too often, the record would be printed off center (like Jackson Browne’s Pretender album), or be filled with “clicks & pops” (like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s 4-Way Street).  Today’s vinyl is a lot better, but also costs about $25+ per album.

CD’s have no wow-and-flutter, no surface noise, no wear, and never a click or pop as the final chord of a song fades.  An average album might have four or five really good cuts, and even the best albums could have songs you wanted to skip.  That was not a problem with programmable CD players.  CD’s were first introduced to mainstream America in 1983.

I always needed a way to record, so sometime in the 1990’s, I bought one of the first CD recorders.  Blank CD’s were $6 each back then, and had to be special ordered.  When my first CD recorder developed problems, The Philips Company replaced it with a new model.  Even today, I can plug an audio source into it in a way I can’t do with my computer.

(Shown with my 1990’s CD recorder is a Bakelite radio from the 1940’s, and a wooden radio from the 1930’s.)

If you’re like me, you never imagined the next step.  Our son, Paul, showed us something new.  He said it was an iPod.  OMG!

 (Above is the first iPod model, like our son showed us.)

Record albums could hold about 45-minutes of music.  Tapes normally held an hour or so.  CD’s hold an hour and 20-minutes.  My 160-Gigabyte Classic iPod is the size of a cassette, has about 18-thousand songs on it, and it’s not full.   A giant leap for mankind!

That brings us to today.  Digital sales and CD sales have dropped dramatically as streaming services have taken over.  Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon Music and other services are the norm, and as of 2021 account for about 85% of music sales.  Yes, vinyl sales have grown again, but along with CD’s only make up about 10% of sales.

So where does all this leave an old guy like me?  I love the Playlist format. Using iTunes, I’ve loaded-in all my music, and have at least a thousand rare, alternate, and bootleg versions that no streaming service would have.  Everything is at the highest-quality audio available, which is similar to today’s CD’s.  I also subscribe to Amazon Music to explore albums I don’t own.  As of 2021, it’s in Ultra HD (Lossless).  I stayed away from Apple’s subscription service, so Siri didn’t have to decide whether to play my version of a song, or Apple’s version.

I made a choice at the beginning to make almost all of my playlists CD-length (80-minutes max).  Not only is that long enough to listen to an artist, but if a friend or family member likes the playlist, I can simply burn it to a CD (which costs about a quarter now).  They can then load it into their own computers if they wish.  Even though the CD format is fading, this still works for most people.

(Our stereo…two HomePods.  We just ask for our playlists.)

I absolutely love being able to organize all our music. Too often in the past, we would lose track of music we liked, because the album or CD was stuck on a low shelf, or we just forgot about it.  Now, we can simply scan the playlists to see our whole collection.

With technology, the musical road goes on forever, but it’s not bad at this roadside stop.


Melody / Paul McCartney

You can have a song…only if there is a melody.

You can have lyrics…but without a melody…it’s poetry.

You can have rhythm…but without a melody…it’s just a beat.

Of course lyrics and rhythm are important aspects in music, but the only essential ingredient is melody.  A song without lyrics is still a song…an instrumental…and you can vary the rhythm.

There’s an excellent book Songwriters On Songwriting by Paul Zollo.

He interviews over 60 songwriters.  One of the more fascinating revelations is that songwriters tell him some of their best songs come to them almost like the universe is presenting them with a gift.  Three famous examples of this are the songs “Yesterday”, “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “You’ve Got A Friend”.  Paul McCartney, Paul Simon,  and Carole King say the songs came to them in dreams.  Plus, so many times songwriters have said…”It practically wrote itself”.

So who is the best melody writer?  Paul Simon says it’s Paul McCartney.  Let’s check the evidence.  The most recorded song of all time is “Yesterday”.  For years, the second most recorded song was “Michelle”.  A recent search of the top ten most recorded songs found “Yesterday” still at #1 with “Eleanor Rigby” now at #2.  Also in the top ten are “And I Love Her” and “Blackbird”.  No other songwriter has more than one song in the top ten.  John Lennon has “Imagine”, and then there are older classics like “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” and “Summertime”.

Here’s a playlist of some of McCartney’s Beatles songs:

  1. I Saw Her Standing There
  2. All My Loving
  3. Can’t Buy Me Love
  4. And I Love Her
  5. Things We Said Today
  6. I’ll Follow The Sun
  7. Yesterday
  8. We Can Work It Out
  9. I’ve Just Seen A Face
  10. Michelle
  11. Paperback Writer
  12. Eleanor Rigby
  13. For No One
  14. Here There And Everywhere
  15. Penny Lane
  16. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
  17. She’s Leaving Home
  18. When I’m Sixty-Four
  19. The Fool On The Hill
  20. Lady Madonna
  21. Hey Jude
  22. Back In The U.S.S.R.
  23. Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da
  24. Blackbird
  25. I Will
  26. Get Back
  27. Two Of Us
  28. The Long And Winding Road
  29. Let It Be

While nearly everyone knows The Beatles were the top Billboard singles artists of the 1960’s, it might come as a surprise that Paul McCartney was the top singles artist of the 1970’s (he was mistakenly listed as #2 earlier).  Sir Paul has had 37 top 40 hits, 9 number one singles and 8 number one albums.  McCartney opens himself to criticism at times for less than poignant lyrics, but no one questions his melody writing.

A playlist of some of McCartney’s best solo songs:

  1. Junk
  2. Every Night
  3. Maybe I’m Amazed
  4. Another Day
  5. Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey
  6. My Love
  7. Live And Let Die
  8. Band On The Run
  9. Jet
  10. Venus & Mars/Rockshow
  11. Listen To What The Man Said
  12. Silly Love Songs
  13. Mull Of Kintyre
  14. With A Little Luck
  15. Wanderlust
  16. No More Lonely Nights
  17. My Brave Face
  18. Hope Of Deliverance
  19. Calico Skies
  20. Somedays
  21. This Never Happened Before

Today, there’s a lot of criticism about the lack of great melodies, and of course Rap is often devoid of melody altogether.  The trend in Pop music is to have teams of writers manufacture the hits.  This results in some interesting arrangements that can have “hooks”, but most do not have the classic flow of great melodies.  Maybe there needs to be a little less teamwork and commercial intent, and a little more soul and inspiration.

The Beatles: You Had To Be There

To truly understand the impact and amazing musical development of The Beatles, you had to be there.

Sorry, but discovering them fully formed after they had made their progressions, after they had written all those songs, and after you’ve heard more recent recordings, just doesn’t cut it.  You can historically and intellectually appreciate what happened, but that’s not feeling it happening.

Nothing replaces first hearing The Beatles as they were hitting the American airwaves…that excitement for something so different from the Teen Idols and the smooth pop music of the early ‘60’s.  Not that there weren’t good singers and songs, but it was only slightly rock & roll at that time.  In early 1964 The Beatles broke bigger than any act ever.  Just the impact from their appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show was enough to encourage so many future music stars.

It all could have simply been an exclamation point in music history, except for two things.  One, The Beatles became amazing songwriters, and two, they were great musical innovators.  You needed to hear it as it happened. There is no replacement for being in your room, closing the door, and dropping the needle on Rubber Soul, then Revolver, then Sgt. Pepper, and through the remainder of their albums as they were released.

Rubber Soul wasn’t any kind of shock.  It was a maturing of their songwriting, and simply a high quality album.  The American version didn’t even have any singles. But we all know “Norwegian Wood”, “Michelle”, “In My Life”, “I’m Looking Through You”, etc.  Of course the British version included “Nowhere Man”.  Plus, on the same day the album was released, “We Can Work It Out” & “Day Tripper” were released as a two-sided single.  Those seven songs would make a nice side of a greatest hits collection.

The first “What are they doing?” release of The Beatles was Revolver.  Why does the album start with that odd count-in at the beginning of “Taxman”?  One interviewer even asked them if they meant to do that. Nothing previous could have prepared fans for “Tomorrow Never Knows”… the one with John’s voice through a Leslie organ speaker, and the lyrics “Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream”.  You couldn’t play that one for your parents. Instead, you played “Here, There, And Everywhere” to try to get them to understand the musical quality of The Beatles.

Revolver, along with two tracks that should have been on the album, “Paperback Writer” and “Rain”, were filled with studio innovations…backward guitars, backward vocals, tape loops, odd microphone placement, and so much more. Great melodies, lyrics and arrangements abound…”Eleanor Rigby”, “For No One”, “I’m Only Sleeping”, “Here There And Everywhere”, and basically the whole album.  It’s easy to see why many fans list this album as their favorite.

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band brought even more wonder.  Crowd noise, then The Beatles calling themselves another band, the title song introducing the singer of the next song, and then flowing right into it!  That was new. What, no silence between “With A Little Help From My Friends” and “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”?  And it turned out all of the cuts lacked the few seconds of separation that was normal on albums.

To understand the difference in popularity between The Beatles and any other artists, read the list of songs on the album.

Do you know them?  Most people of the era will recognize almost all of the song titles even though there weren’t any singles released from the album.  No other artists were so popular that the public knew so many of their album cuts. Not even close.

The White Album, released a year later, was another change.  It contained just about every style of music. It was probably named The Beatles, because it represented nearly all of the group’s musical influences, and showed how versatile they were…Rock & Roll, Blues, Country, Music Hall, Ballads, Pop, Hard Rock, Humorous, Experimental, Acoustic, Electric, Orchestral, etc.  When The White Album was released, a Lincoln, Nebraska FM station, KFMQ, played the whole thing.  As two DJ’s commented on the album, they said they didn’t know how The Beatles even came up with a running order, because the songs were so different from one another.

The next two albums, Let It Be and Abbey Road (which The Beatles recorded last), were released in the opposite order from which they were recorded.  Let It Be is often looked upon as a lesser album, but would an album with “The Long And Winding Road” (#1), “Two Of Us”, “Across The Universe”, “Get Back” (#1), and “Let It Be”(#1) be considered a “lesser” album for anyone else?

Abbey Road is a favorite of many fans, especially those who came later.  It has two of George Harrison’s best songs “Something” and “Here Comes The Sun”, plus Lennon’s “Come Together”, and the side two medley, which is mostly McCartney.  “Carry That Weight/The End” is a great way for The Beatles to finish…trading guitar licks, Ringo’s excellent drumming, and a final message about love.

The quality of their album cuts from their 7 years (1963-1969) of recording together would make a fantastic greatest hits double-album.  No other artist could possibly put together anything like it from their own non-singles.  Here’s a playlist of songs not released as singles during The Beatles era.  (Click or zoom to enlarge.)

Please look over the above list for any songs you think would have made good singles, or that you thought were singles.  

Oh, and The Beatles had 46 singles in the Billboard Top 40 chart during their active years.  If you watched that chart in the ‘60’s, you saw 21 of those hits make it all the way to number-one…a record.

It’s important to note that they did this when all of the rock and pop songs were competing on one chart, not the high number of charts today, when it’s much easier to have a number-one somewhere.  We can’t really measure popularity anymore, because sales are so slight, and the majority of people have never even heard the songs that reach the top of a chart.

It’s almost unbelievable that The Beatles recorded all of their singles and albums in just 7 years in the 1960’s (only “I, Me, Mine” was worked on in January of 1970 by Paul, George, & Ringo).  And, when they broke up, all four of The Beatles were still in their twenties!

Maybe today’s fans are feeling similar excitement about current artists.  It’s also fantastic that other generations keep discovering The Beatles and love their music.  But, they can never know the amazement the first Beatles fans experienced as each new album was released.