Glenn Frey…Solo Eagles Part 2

Glenn Frey was described by the other members of the Eagles as the leader of the band…but when they broke up in 1980…how did he do as a solo artist?

Glenn Frey had success as a recording artist for radio, TV, and movies.  His first album sounds mostly like an Eagles album, but with more saxophone and less variety.

The word play in his 1982 album title, No Fun Aloud, might have referred to how he felt about the Eagles at the time of their tense break up.  The album produced two Top 40 hits…”I Found Somebody” (#31), & “The One You Love” (#15, and #2 on the Adult Contemporary chart).  The song I thought could have dropped right into an Eagles album is “All Those Lies”.  Another good album cut is “That Girl” co-written by Bob Seger.

In 1984, Frey released his second album The Allnighter.  It had “Sexy Girl” (#20), cool album cut “Lover’s Moon”, and “Smuggler’s Blues” (#12)…which was about to become a television episode.  But just before that, Glenn Frey recorded a big hit for the Eddie Murphy movie, Beverly Hills Cop.  “The Heat Is On”, went to #2 on the Billboard singles chart.

1985 was a good year for Frey.  Besides the big movie hit, one of the hottest shows on television, Miami Vice, decided to make an episode based on the lyrics of “Smuggler’s Blues”, they even had Frey guest star.  That led to more acting parts, including a small role as the football team General Manager in the Tom Cruise hit “Jerry MaGuire”.  Miami Vice used the Glenn Frey song, “You Belong To The City” in another episode.  The single was another #2 hit for Frey, and the Miami Vice Soundtrack, (featuring both of Frey’s TV hits), was the #1 album for eleven weeks.

The hot streak cooled down for Glenn Frey by the 1988 release of his third solo album, Soul Searchin’.  The album only went to #36, but he did have two more hit singles (now on the Adult Contemporary chart), “True Love” #2 and “Soul Searchin'” #5.  It should be noted that Jack Tempchin, who wrote “Peaceful Easy Feeling” for the first Eagles album, co-wrote eleven of the twelve songs Glenn Frey charted as a solo artist.

Frey released album four in 1991, Strange Weather.  It has some quality music, but only had two songs do fairly well on the Adult Contemporary chart…”Part Of Me, Part Of You” (#7″) and “I’ve Got Mine” (#12).

Then…The Eagles got back together.

(You can check out the article about it:  Eagles…Hell Freezes Over.)

Glenn Frey and Don Henley handled the majority of the lead vocals for the Eagles, so Glenn’s strong and soulful voice is on some of the most popular songs in music history.  His solo career was successful, even though it was not as stellar as his friend and Eagles co-founder, Don Henley.  Like Don Henley, Glenn Frey was a multi-instrumentalist…playing guitar, bass, keyboards, and drums.

The reunited Eagles were a touring force until Frey passed away from health complications in January of 2016.  While John Lennon’s tragic death in 1980 was an extreme shock, Glenn Frey’s death really hit home.  Some of our greatest musicians are leaving us, and our generation is turning the world over to our children…just as Glenn wrote in his last song, “It’s Your World Now”.  Glenn Frey would be proud that his son, Deacon, is helping the Eagles continue to tour with great success.

(This is Part 2 about the solo Eagles.  Don Henley was featured in Part 1, and Joe Walsh is featured in Part 3.)

Don Henley…Solo Eagles Part 1

The Eagles are the most popular American band of all time.  But, how good were their solo careers after the band broke up in 1980?  This is the first of a three-part series on the Eagles as solo artists, and we start with the most successful…Don Henley.

“Going solo” doesn’t work out for a lot of ex-band-members, but Don Henley’s solo work makes an impressive career all by itself.

His first album was I Can’t Stand Still, released in August of 1982.  The album sold well, but of course nothing like an Eagle’s album.  “Dirty Laundry” was a #3 hit single, and the album achieved Gold status while going to #24.  Bob Seger co-wrote one of my favorite cuts “Nobody’s Business”.  A couple of ex-Eagles and one almost-Eagle appeared in minor capacities…Joe Walsh, Timothy B. Schmit, and J.D. Souther.  Frankly, the musical credits on Henley’s albums look like a who’s who in the music business.

Two years later, in 1984, Henley really solidified his solo career with his Building The Perfect Beast album.  It had four hit singles…”The Boys Of Summer”,  “All She Wants To Do Is Dance”, “Not Enough Love In The World”, and “Sunset Grill”.  By this time in the 1980’s there were lots of charts.  “Boys” and “Dance” were both Top 10 hits, and both hit #1 on the Mainstream Rock chart.  Henley was even on the Dance and R&B charts with “All She Wants To Do Is Dance”.  “The Boys Of Summer” won a Grammy Award for Best Male Rock Vocal.  Mike Campbell of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers co-wrote & produced the song.  The album itself sold over 3-million copies in the U.S. alone.

And the hits just kept on coming.

The End Of The Innocence was Don Henley’s biggest album.  It was released in 1989, and sold over 6-million copies.  It also produced another four hits…”The End Of The Innocence” (co-written with Bruce Hornsby), “The Last Worthless Evening”, “Heart Of The Matter”, and “New York Minute”.  On the Mainstream Rock chart, “Innocence” hit #1, “Evening #4, and “Heart” #2.  “New York Minute” was a hit on the Adult Contemporary chart at #5.  Henley scored another Grammy for Male Rock Vocalist for “The End Of The Innocence”.

Then…The Eagles Got Back Together.

(You can read about it in the article:  Eagles…Hell Freezes Over.)

Don Henley’s career also included many duets.  He had a #6 hit with Stevie Nicks on “Leather And Lace”.  He reached #2 with Patty Smyth on “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough”.  He recorded two country hits with Trisha Yearwood…”Walkaway Joe” & “Hearts In Armor”, and he sang with Linda Ronstadt on “Hasten Down The Wind”.

It wasn’t until after years of Eagles’ touring that Don Henley released another album…Inside Job, in 2000.  The album hit #7 on the Billboard album chart.  By now his music was classified as “Adult”, in that the single “For My Wedding” was #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart, and “Taking You Home” was #12 on the Adult Top 40 chart.  It would be 15 years and more Eagles touring before Henley released another album.

This time it was a country album, although there are still songs that fit the Eagles’ sound.  I realize most people haven’t heard Cass County.  I bought the 16-song deluxe version from iTunes when it came out in 2015, and my review is that it’s one of his best albums.  There are quite a few duets, and lots of country artists…Alison Krauss, Vince Gill, Dolly Parton, Martina McBride, Merle Haggard, Miranda Lambert, Trisha Yearwood, and more.  Although there are a few traditional country songs, the majority of the tracks are new original songs written by Don Henley and Stan Lynch, formerly of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers.

The Cass County album reached #3 on Billboard’s album chart, and #1 on the Country chart.  Despite the somewhat grumpy looking cover photo, Henley says it’s the most he’s ever enjoyed recording an album, because of all the artists who performed with him.  At this point in his career there’s also much less pressure.

Don Henley is the last original member still in the Eagles.  It would be hard to find many artists who had a career that included so much great music…as part of a group, and as a solo artist.  In his song “The Boys Of Summer” he says “Don’t look back, you can never look back.”, but if he ever does look back at his career…he deserves to be very proud of the music he created.

(Please check out:  Glenn Frey….Solo Eagles Part 2 and Joe Walsh…Solo Eagles Part 3.)

Mamas & Papas…California Dreamin’

Few groups represented the sound of California better than The Mamas And The Papas in the mid 1960’s.  In fact, it was their first hit “California Dreamin'” that introduced them to the world in early 1966.

(John Phillips,  Michelle Philips,  Cass Elliot  &  Denny Doherty)

The Mamas And The Papas were not really a California group.  John Phillips was from South Carolina, Cass Elliot was from Maryland, and Denny Doherty was from Nova Scotia, Canada.  The only native Californian…Michelle Phillips.

John Phillips met Michelle Gilliam when she was pursuing a modeling career in San Francisco.  Phillips was touring with his folk group, The Journeymen.  The couple married in 1962 when Michelle was only 18 (John was 27), and they moved to New York.  It was there they met Denny Doherty and Cass Elliot who were in the folk group The Mugwumps.  The four eventually formed The Mamas And The Papas (their name based on counter-culture slang sometimes used by couples to refer to each other), and they moved to Los Angeles in 1965 to try to make it in the music business.

They had a friend, Barry McGuire (“The Eve Of Destruction”), who had signed with Dunhill Records, co-owned by Lou Adler.  The group auditioned and got a multi-album contract.  Folk Rock was the big sound of 1965, and the group’s folk background was perfect for a move into electric Folk Rock.  Lou Adler was very impressed.  He personally produced their albums, and used some of L.A.’s best studio musicians.

The distinctive looking and sounding two-man/two-woman group appropriately named their first album If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears.  You can see above that the record company decided to cover up the toilet that was in their album photo by posting a list of their featured songs.

In early 1966, “California Dreamin'” went to #4 on the singles chart.

”All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray.  I’ve been for a walk on a Winter’s day.  I’d be safe and warm if I was in L.A.  California Dreamin’ on such a Winter’s day.”  

Here’s John Phillips’ memory of how the song came about…from a 1995 interview at Paramont Studios:

‘It’s my recollection that we were at the Earle Hotel in New York and Michelle was asleep.  I was playing the guitar.  We’d been out for a walk that day and she’d just come from California and all she had was California clothing.  It snowed overnight, and in the morning she didn’t know what the white stuff coming out of the sky was, because it never snowed in Southern California.  So we went for a walk and the song is mostly a narrative of what happened that day, stopped into a church to get her warm, and so on and so on.  And so as I was thinking about it later that night, I was playing and singing and I thought “California Dreamin'” was what we were doing that day.  So I tried to wake Michelle up to write the lyrics down that I was doing.  She said, “Leave me alone. I want to sleep. I want to sleep.” “Wake up.  Write this down.  You’ll never regret it.  I promise you, Michelle.” “Okay.” Then she wrote it down and went back to sleep. (Laughs)  And she told me she’s never regretted getting up and writing it down, since she gets half of (the royalties for) the writing of the song.’

Their next single, “Monday Monday”, made it all the way to #1.   It’s a really good song, and won a Grammy, but it also benefited from having the ice broken by “California Dreamin’”, and having the group become well known.  That’s why artist’s follow-up singles and albums are often bigger than their first.  Both of those singles were million sellers.

The third song listed on the cover was a very original arrangement of a Beatles’ song…”I Call Your Name”.  Cass had a crush on John Lennon, and you can even hear her whisper his name during the song.  One of John Phillips’ specialties was finding new ways to cover songs, so something refreshing was brought to each one.  The album also contained their original song “Go Where You Wanna Go”.

The Mamas And The Papas made a huge impact on radio and television.  Many of their TV appearances were lip-synced…one, because a lot of TV shows were done that way, and two, because they were a vocal group and not a band that could replicate the instrumental portions of their recordings.  Unlike some of today’s artists, they never hid the fact that they were miming to their recordings.  They’d do things like play an “air flute” during the break in “California Dreamin'”.  For other appearances they did perform live with other musicians, and of course they used a band for concerts.

Besides singing harmony, some lead vocals, and co-writing some songs, Michelle brought the look considered the classic “California Girl”…blonde, blue-eyed, and model pretty.  Cass not only had an outstanding voice, her singing style and warm personality resonated with fans.  Denny was the major male vocalist around which many of their hits were built, and John was the leader of the group who was a good guitarist, and an outstanding vocal arranger & songwriter.

By August of 1966, The Mamas & The Papas released their second album.  It was self-titled, with “&” officially replacing “And” in their name for the rest of their recordings.  The album had two big hits.   “I Saw Her Again” (#5) which had a little false start in the middle of the song…”I saw her (pause) I saw her again last night”.  That was actually a tape operator error that Lou Adler decided was a nice touch, so they polished it and left it in the song.   “Words Of Love” with a strong vocal from Cass also went to #5.

Their third album in less than a year was released in February of 1967…The Mamas & The Papas Deliver.  “Look Through Any Window” was a modest hit at #24, and had actually been released in 1966.  The group’s second biggest hit “Dedicated To The One I Love” was #2 for three weeks, and featured Michelle on the lead vocal.  The history of the group was amazingly capsulized in “Creeque Alley” (#5).  That’s the name of a boarding house in the Virgin Islands where they were rehearsing prior to signing with Dunhill.  The song even manages to name-drop some of their friends like John Sebastian of The Lovin’ Spoonful, Roger McGuinn of The Byrds, and Barry McGuire.  By the way, Creeque was actually pronounced as Creaky in the Virgin Islands, but the song is always called Creek Alley.

Speaking of friends, John Phillips wrote the Summer of Love hit “San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Flowers In Your Hair)” for his friend Scott McKenzie.  The Mamas & The Papas also inspired similar groups to start…like Spanky & Our Gang and The 5th Dimension, whose first hit was a cover of “Go Where You Wanna Go”.

Later in 1967, songs by The Mamas & The Papas failed to climb into the Top 10.  Their last three hits were “Twelve Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming To The Canyon)” (#20), “Glad To Be Unhappy” (#26), and in 1968, “Dream A Little Dream Of Me” (#12).  That was pretty much their whole career as a group…early 1966 to mid 1968…not much more than two-and-a-half years.  They did get back together for one unsuccessful album in 1971.

Michelle went on to an acting career in some major movies and television shows.  Denny eventually returned to Canada, doing stage and television acting.  John did some solo musical work, and also put together various musicians to tour using The Mamas & The Papas’ name.  Cass started a promising solo career.  Then after completing a successful two-week engagement at The Palladium in London, she died of a heart attack on July 29th, 1974 at the age of 32.

The Mamas & The Papas career may have been short, but their music has remained popular for decades.  There have been more collections of their hits than the number of albums the group ever released.  They were inducted into The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame in 1998.

Badfinger…Day After Day

Badfinger was the first band to be signed by Apple Records, but back then they were called The Iveys.  Their first album, Maybe Tomorrow, was not considered a success, and the title song stalled at #67 on the singles chart in March of 1969.  Enter Paul McCartney.

(Joey  Molland [guitar], Mike Gibbins [drums], Pete Ham [guitar/keyboards] Tom Evans [bass]  Pete, Tom & Joey did most of the lead vocals and songwriting.)  [Do Joey & Pete look a bit like McCartney & Lennon to you?]

Paul McCartney knew Apple’s new band wasn’t happy with their progress…so he wrote a song for them…”Come And Get It”.  He also made a complete demo of the song with him playing all the instruments.  The band heard the song and liked it, but thought they might do it their own way.  Paul told them that if they wanted a hit, they should perform it exactly like the demo.  They did.  “Come And Get It” was a #7 hit in Billboard’s Top Ten in early 1970, and broke the band internationally.

Before the release, there was one other piece of business.  They needed a new name that sounded less lame.  The Beatles had recorded a track at a time when John Lennon hurt his hand, and he was playing the piano with just one finger.  They called the track “Bad Finger Boogie”.  Long-time Beatles assistant Neil Aspinall suggested the band be named Badfinger, and it stuck.

“Come And Get It” was included in the movie The Magic Christian, which starred Peter Sellers and Ringo Starr.  Another movie song “Carry On Till Tomorrow” (written by Pete Ham & Tom Evans) was produced by Paul McCartney and featured an arrangement by George Martin.  Badfinger included those songs on their own album which they called Magic Christian Music to take advantage of the publicity generated by the movie.

Notable cuts included a couple of their Iveys’ recordings remixed…”Maybe Tomorrow” and “Dear Angie”, along with a cool rock track “Midnight Sun”.

Badfinger was able to follow up their success with another catchy Top 10 song, “No Matter What” (#8), from the album No Dice in late 1970.  Other standout tracks included “Midnight Caller”, “We’re For The Dark” and “Without You”…with the line…”Can’t live, if living is without you”.  The first time I heard “Without You” wasn’t by Badfinger (I was late buying the album), but by Harry Nilsson who had a #1 hit with his amazing cover version.  It was only later I found out it was written by Badfinger’s Pete Ham and Tom Evans.

Badfinger went back into Abbey Road Studios in January of 1971.  Pete Ham and Tom Evans were producing a new album with the help of Beatles’ engineer Geoff Emerick.  After they thought it was complete, Apple management rejected it as not being good enough.  Enter George Harrison.

George had already worked with Badfinger when they helped him on his epic All Things Must Pass album.  He produced four songs for Badfinger’s new album, Straight Up, including their biggest hit “Day After Day” (#4) on which Harrison plays a slide guitar duet with Pete Ham.

(George Harrison at the mixing board with Pete Ham in 1971)

Harrison was called away for business in L.A., leading to the Bangladesh benefit concert at which Badfinger performed with Harrison.  The remainder of the album was produced by Todd Rundgren.  Among the cuts he produced was another hit “Baby Blue” (#14).  The hits “Day After Day” and “Baby Blue” were key to the album’s success, so the decision to work more on the album before releasing it was proven right.

Above is the full lineup of songs on my 1993 CD re-release of Straight Up, including bonus tracks of the original Geoff Emerick versions.  One of my favorite Badfinger songs since the original album’s release in late 1971 has been “Name Of The Game” which George Harrison produced.  Then in 1993 I heard the version that had been produced by Geoff Emerick, and liked it even better!  That version is a little more uptempo and has horns arranged by George Martin.  The Emerick versions of “Money” and “Flying” also include George Martin arrangements, and are better than the Todd Rundgren versions.  Rundgren had sped up the recordings of those two songs, and the vocals sound thin (and a little like The Chipmunks).  Special thanks to Dirt Cheap Records in Lincoln, Nebraska whose owner (also a Badfinger fan) sold the CD to me before it officially went on sale.

Straight Up is considered Badfinger’s best album, and is referred to as a Power Pop classic.  Just want to note that Pete Ham’s songwriting was at it’s peak.  He wrote and sang the three best cuts…”Day After Day”, “Baby Blue” and “Name Of The Game”.

Badfinger’s career sputtered from there.  They released three more albums with the four-man lineup, but the financial problems at Apple, a switch to Warner Brothers, and bad management (by Stan Polley) brought an end to the band’s success, and left them without the money they had earned.

(Apple released a collection of Badfinger’s best tracks.)

The most tragic part of the Badfinger story is that Pete Ham became depressed and took his own life in 1975 at the age of 27…and that was followed by Tom Evans also taking his own life in 1993.

Badfinger fans are still saddened by what happened, but try to focus on all the great music the band created.  Badfinger member Joey Molland was quoted as saying Pete and Tom would probably be surprised and happy about how their songs have stood the test of time.

Herman’s Hermits

In 1965 they sold more records than The Beatles…

 …but in three years they were done.

The British Invasion gave us all kinds of music, including a fun pop band from Manchester, Herman’s Hermits.  Their first success in the United States was with a Gerry Goffin and Carole King song, “I’m Into Something Good”.  It hit #13 on the Billboard singles chart as 1965 was arriving.  Then came a string of 9 straight Top 10 hits from the beginning of 1965 to mid 1966.  Many of you will be able to hear the melodies just by reading the titles:

  1. “Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat” (#2)
  2. “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter” (#1)
  3. “Silhouettes” (#5) (cover of The Rays’ hit)
  4. “Wonderful World” (#4) (written by Sam Cooke)
  5. “I’m Henry The VIII, I Am” (#1) (a song from 1911)
  6. “Just A Little Bit Better” (#7)
  7. “A Must To Avoid” (#8) (written by P.F. Sloan)
  8. “Listen People” (#3)
  9. “Leaning On A Lamp Post” (#9)

By comparison, The Rolling Stones were on the hottest streak of their career during that same time frame, and they had 6 Top 10 hits.

Lead singer Peter Noone (aka Herman), had just turned 17 when they first made the charts in the U.S.  The other members were Derek Leckenby (lead guitar), Karl Green (bass), Barry Whitwam (drums), and Keith Hopwood (rhythm guitar).

A successful string of singles doesn’t just happen.  Herman’s Hermits was led by well-known ’60’s producer/arranger Mickie Most, who also worked with The Animals.  Most of their hits were written by professional songwriters from outside the group.  And, some of England’s best session players worked on their singles, including Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones who also played with The Yardbirds, and would later form Led Zeppelin.

Peter Noone was cute, charming, and an accomplished vocalist.  He and the band played-up their British accents on songs like “Henry The VIII” and “Mrs. Brown”, because American audiences were loving all things British at that time.

Herman’s Hermits’ flame burned brightly, but quickly.  They had only two more Top 10 hits…”Dandy” (#5) [written by Ray Davies of The Kinks] and “There’s A Kind Of Hush” (#4).  “Hush” was their last major U.S. hit, in early 1967.  In all, the group had 18 Top 40 hits, are credited with selling over 80-million records, and were even in three movies thanks to their label, MGM.  Fun Fact:  Their movie “Hold On!” was originally titled “A Must To Avoid”, but MGM decided that was simply handing critics too much ammunition for a bad review.  Fun Fact 2:  In 1967, The Who opened concerts for Herman’s Hermits.  That had to be interesting.

By 1967, Rock & Roll was moving away from the Pop style of Herman’s Hermits.  Song lyrics often contained deeper meanings, and musical genres such as Psychedelic Rock, Country Rock, Blues Rock, Hard Rock, and Singer-Songwriters were taking over.

Herman’s Hermits continued to have some hits in England, but Peter Noone left the group in 1971.  You may have seen him pitching music collections of The British Invasion on TV, or seen him at a nostalgia show performing as Herman’s Hermits starring Peter Noone.  There’s also another version of the band that just includes drummer Barry Whitwam, so Baby Boomers beware.

Herman’s Hermits’ career may have been short, but they packed a lot of great recordings into that time.  They’re still fun to hear.  So…”Listen People”.

CSN&Y…Deja Vu

Deja Vu was a pivitol time in the career of Crosby, Stills & Nash.  In 1969, they had released their self-titled first album.  It was a huge success with critics and the public alike, but they felt they needed another guitarist for live performances.  Eventually, they decided to add Neil Young…the same musician Stephen Stills fought with when they were in Buffalo Springfield.  Stephen thought it would be different this time.

My wife and I were newlyweds living in Memphis, TN while I attended electronics school.  The day Deja Vu was released (March 11th, 1970), we went to the record store…but it had closed for the day.  We looked in to see a huge display at the front of the store with lots of copies of the album…only a locked door away.  We may have wanted to break in, but we came back when the store was open.  Deja Vu had the leather-looking cover with the gold embossed letters, and an actual photograph glued to the front.

Memphis FM radio stations started playing the album right away.  “Carry On” by Stephen Stills was the first song I heard.  It was the perfect album opener, with excellent harmony and a driving rhythm…a worthy follow-up to “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” which had opened their first album.  The hit singles from Deja Vu were Graham Nash’s “Teach Your Children” (with Jerry Garcia on steel guitar), Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock”, and Nash’s “Our House”.  The Stills solo song “4 + 20” got a lot of airplay, and so did David Crosby’s “Deja Vu” (with John Sebastian on harmonica).

Looking back, we know that Neil Young only played on his two tracks “Helpless” & “Country Girl”, plus three more songs “Almost Cut My Hair”, “Woodstock” and “Everybody I Love You”.

It could certainly be debated whether Neil Young’s addition was good or bad for Crosby, Stills & Nash.  Drummer Dallas Taylor, Bassist Greg Reeves, and Engineer Bill Halverson have said the first album was made with great cooperation and enthusiasm, but Deja Vu had the musicians butting heads.  We’ll never know if CSN would have had smoother sailing if they hadn’t added the Y.  What we do know is that even though Neil Young had two very good solo albums prior to joining CSN, they were not very successful.  His solo success came after Deja Vu gave him a much higher profile.  He clearly showcased his talent with After The Gold Rush and Harvest…which were his next two releases.  Those were filled with songs CSN would have loved to record.

Deja Vu hit #1,  and eventually went 7-times Platinum in the U.S. alone.  It’s also one of the best titles ever for a second album.  The album’s popularity not only helped Neil Young’s solo efforts, but the other members of the group had major success with their individual releases.

As originally expected, Neil Young was a great asset to the group’s live shows.  His lead guitar duets with Stills added energy to their electric sets, and his solo songs were a welcome part of their concerts as the years went on.

Neil Young’s greatest contribution to the group’s recordings came in 1970, shortly after the release of Deja Vu…the single “Ohio”.  That song about the Kent State shootings by the National Guard, fit right in with the band’s political awareness.  It was similar to what Stephen Stills did with “For What It’s Worth (Stop, Hey What’s That Sound)” after the Sunset Strip demonstrations in 1967.

It’s hard to believe we’re approaching 50 years years since the release of Deja Vu.  It’s songs reflected the times, and yet they still hold up today.  Although Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young had a rocky relationship, maybe their combustible passion helped produce such great music.

Bonus story:  If you’re wondering why I didn’t include a photo of my original first-printing copy of Deja Vu, it’s because someone stole it.  When I was a Broadcast Journalism student at the University of Nebraska in the mid ’70’s, we could use our own albums for our DJ shifts on the campus radio station.  One time I forgot my albums there, and when I returned for them, the only one missing was Deja Vu.  I had to buy Deja Vu all over again.

Most Popular Music? Nobody Knows!

We used to know what music was the most popular.  It was easy.  The most popular singles and albums were simply the ones that sold the most copies.  That’s not the way it is anymore.

The time of selling albums and singles is fading fast.  In fact, for years Billboard Magazine, and other companies that measure the popularity of music, have been messing with the formula to figure out what music is most popular.  They’ve used various percentages of physical sales, downloads, radio airplay, and streaming, but in reality, it’s impossible…and has been for decades.

Album sales (both physical and downloads) have dwindled drastically since their peak in the ’70’s and ’80’s.  It used to be a #1 debut album would sell a million copies the first week.  These days an album can be #1 by selling 75,000 or fewer.  It looks like albums are mostly going away.

Sheryl Crow announced yesterday that she has recorded her final album (to be released in 2019), and will only be recording singles from time to time.  Most other artists are releasing singles or EP’s, (Extended Play singles) which normally contain about 4 songs.

There was a news story recently that Apple would stop selling albums.  That’s not true.  In reality, they are going to stop selling the “iTunes Albums” that included extra content provided by the labels.  They plan to continue selling whatever albums, EP’s, and singles artists release.  But…the overriding aspect of today’s music consumption is that people are switching to streaming services, rather than buying songs.  It makes sense.  You can have access to 45-million songs for $10 a month or so.  Of course you can only listen to one song at a time, and you might only like a relatively small portion of what’s available.  Still, for most people, it’s more practical to stream than to buy.

So, why don’t we just count the number of times a song is streamed to determine what’s most popular?

First of all, a huge portion of consumers have not yet subscribed to streaming services.  Secondly, just because a song is streamed doesn’t mean someone actually requested it.  Listeners often simply ask their service to play a certain style of music, or they listen to playlists that are made by algorithms or by programmers.  If it’s decided to include a certain song on playlists, that song is going to get more streams.  When a major artist does release an album, It might be that all of the album’s cuts lead streaming as if they had released 17 singles.  That certainly doesn’t mean anyone would have bought all 17 if they really were singles.  It just means that people want to check them out “free” as part of their streaming charge.  The truth is, they might not even like most of the songs.

Just yesterday there was a report that Spotify came up with a big push to help Drake set a new 3-day streaming record, and hoped to force his new album to the top of the Billboard chart.  The ploy included putting Drake on playlists that would not normally include his type of music.  That shows how popularity can be faked.

We also can’t turn to radio airplay to find out which songs and artists are most popular.  There was a news story yesterday that Taylor Swift (the one artist who this year actually sold over a million albums the first week with Reputation) has topped the Adult Pop chart with her song “Delicate”.  The important part of the story is just how small the sample was to make that determination.  The report said Nielsen Music had surveyed 87 Adult Top-40 radio stations to get that result.  Even their regular Pop Chart only surveys 169 stations (to represent the entire U.S.).  The impact of radio airplay is still strong for artists, but it’s dwindling while streaming grows.  It’s also splintered into so many formats, no one really knows which songs are the most popular.  Is an Adult Pop hit more popular than a Country hit, an Adult Contemporary hit, a Mainstream hit, a Pop hit, a Hot Rock hit, or songs on any of Billboard’s 42 American charts?  No one knows!   The measurement methods vary, so they can’t be compared.

The bottom line is that Billboard and other companies have to have something to report, or they go out of business.  So, they all just come up with some formula…hoping to reflect some measure of popularity.  There is simply no way to compare today’s charts with those of the ’50’s, ’60’s, ’70’s, or 80’s, but Billboard pretends they can.  By the ’90’s, we were already having major problems with too many charts and formats to accurately compare back to the era of a few charts and actual sales.  By the ’90’s, the majority of Americans couldn’t tell you what song was considered #1, and quite possibly they hadn’t even heard it.

(From the 1950’s to the 2010’s…so much changed in how we consume music.)

When you hear about some amazing number of streams, or that so-and-so is the most popular because he has the top 17 songs, or that an artist has almost as many #1’s as The Beatles…you can just smile…and know it’s kinda made up.

Update:  And now it’s happened.  Today (7/10/18) it was announced that Drake has broken The Beatles record of 5 songs in the top 10.  Drake had 7, although not the top 5 like The Beatles.  We smile and know Drake didn’t actually break the record, because there’s simply no way to measure the two feats equally.  In fact, if 7 of Drake’s songs are so popular, why is only 1 of those songs in the top 10 purchased songs on iTunes?  No one can say it’s because his fans don’t purchase his songs, because they do…in this case 1.  If streaming had existed in 1967, it’s possible the songs from Sgt. Pepper would have filled all top 10 positions…but, we can never know.

It’s okay for records to be broken, but to be legitimate, there has to be a consistent form of measurement…such as the distance in a track event.  USA Today says the Drake fiasco “shows how broken the music industry is.”

Maybe Billboard should just divide what used to be called sales records into two eras…pre-streaming and post-streaming…because there is no way to compare them fairly.  It’s foolish to think otherwise.

Girl Groups

When people talk about influential artists, too often the Girl Groups are forgotten.  They certainly helped shape the most influential band of all time…The Beatles.

By the early 1960’s, the explosion of Rock & Roll in the 1950’s was mostly over.  Instead, the bulk of the music business had returned to professional songwriters coming up with songs for performers.  The music itself was mainly Pop, with some light trappings of Rock & Roll.  Most of the hits were by teen idols.  Then in 1961 came the first #1 rock era song by what was called a “Girl Group”.

The first big Girl Group hit was “Will You (Still) Love Me Tomorrow” by the Shirelles, topping the charts in January of 1961.  The song was written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King.  The group followed up with “Dedicated To The One I Love” at #3, and also had two big hits in 1962 with “Baby It’s You (#8) and “Soldier Boy”(another #1).

The second #1 by a Girl Group was “Please Mr. Postman” by The Marvelettes in December of 1961.  It was the first #1 record for Motown.   By the way, I remember seeing a letter sent by one of my sisters (I think it was Janice) who co-opted a line from that song.  She wrote a very large D on the envelope, and after that D was a column of hyphenated words…-liver, -letter, -sooner, -better.  Hope the postman got a smile out of that.

And then there were more.  The Ronettes (above) and The Crystals were two Girl Groups produced by Phil Spector.  The Crystals hit #1 with “He’s A Rebel” in 1962.  The song was written by singer-songwriter Gene Pitney, who had sixteen of his own Top 40 hits in the ’60’s.  Two other big hits for The Crystals came in 1963…Da Doo Ron Ron (#3), and “Then He Kissed Me” (#6).  Both were written by the team of Jeff Berry & Ellie Greenwich, along with Phil Spector.  Those same three also wrote the #1 hit “Chapel Of Love” by The Dixie Cups.  Spector became know for his “Wall Of Sound” production technique, where he layered on multiple instruments (such as 3 pianos at once) and lots of backing vocals.

Phil Spector did the same thing for The Ronettes.  In 1963, their hits were “Be My Baby” (#2), and “Baby I Love You” (#24).  Again, both songs were written by Berry, Greenwich, and Spector.  “Walking In The Rain” made #23 in 1964, a song written by the team of Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil, along with Phil Spector.  The song was a Grammy Award winner.  The Ronettes were named for lead singer Veronica “Ronnie” Bennett, who became Ronnie Spector (Phil’s wife).  The Ronettes bring us back to The Beatles.  The Ronettes toured with The Beatles in England (January of 1964), and became friends with the band.  They also opened for The Beatles during the band’s final tour in 1966.

Let’s look at the influence of Girl Groups on Rock & Roll’s biggest band.  In the early ’60’s The Beatles had four songs by Girl Groups on their albums…”Please Mr. Postman”, “Boys” (it was on the flip-side of the Shirelles’ “Will You Love Me Tomorrow”), “Baby It’s You”, and “Chains” (#17), a song by The Cookies (and written by Goffin & King).  The influence was multifaceted.  The vocal harmonies of these Girl Group songs were great training for The Beatles’ own harmony singing, and the flowing melodies, written by some of the top songwriters of the day, influenced them too.

The Beach Boys also covered some Girl Group songs, and Brian Wilson was very taken with Phil Spector’s production techniques.

The Angels were studio backup singers, and had their own #1 hit in 1963 with “My Boyfriend’s Back”.  The lead singer warns a boy who’d been bothering her…”My boyfriend’s back and you’re gonna be in trouble.”

(Shangri-La’s lead singer Mary Weiss with twins Marge & Mary Ganser)

The Shangri-las were just high school teenagers in 1964 when they started becoming popular.  Although they look fairly happy in the above photos, their songs were not so chipper.  First came “Remember (Walking In The Sand”) a #5 hit about losing a boyfriend (“He found somebody new.”), followed by “Leader Of The Pack”, a #1 smash about losing a boyfriend…in a motorcycle accident.  They finally found happiness with “Give Him A Great Big Kiss” (#18) in 1965, but sadness returned later that same year with “I Can Never Go Home Anymore” (#6).  Their downbeat songs were even covered by punk bands and Aerosmith.

(The Supremes…Mary Wilson, Diana Ross and Florence Ballard.)

Far and away the most successful ‘60’s Girl Group was The Supremes.  Their first big hit was “Where Did Our Love Go” in mid 1964.  That started a string of 5-straight #1’s…”Baby Love”, “Come See About Me”, “Stop! In The Name Of Love”, and “Back In My Arms Again”.  In all, The Supremes had twelve #1 hits, and a total of 29 Top 40 hits.  Those songs included…”I Hear A Symphony” (#1), “My World Is Empty Without You” (#5), “You Can’t Hurry Love” (#1), and “You Keep Me Hanging On” (#1).

Some people have said the end of the Girl Groups came with The Beatles and the rest of the British Invasion.  But, The Supremes charted from 1964 to 1970, the same years as The Beatles.  Even as Rock grew, there was room on the charts for Pop.  Eventually though, the continuing trend for artists to write and perform their own songs is what pushed out the Girl Groups.  The positive effect was that more young women started playing instruments and fronting & forming bands…such as Heart in the ‘70’s, and The Bangles & The Go-Go’s in the ’80’s.

Although the golden age of Girl Groups was in the ‘60’s, they never completely disappeared.  The best-selling Girl Group ever, The Spice Girls, were a ‘90’s phenomenon.  They dressed a little differently too.

CSN&Y…Human Highway (The Lost Album)

The “lost” album by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young was supposed to be the follow-up to their amazingly successful 1970 album Deja Vu.  Of course, after that album and tour, the four members split to record successful solo albums.  Then in the late Spring of 1973, on the Hawaiian island of Maui, they started work on a new CSN&Y album to be called Human Highway.

(Mock-up album cover using the planned cover photo.)

“Human Highway” was a song written by Neil Young that the group recorded during sessions in May & June of 1973.  In all, the group recorded about half-an-album’s worth of songs, but those four strong personalities couldn’t stay together to finish what they started.  Instead, their label released the greatest hits collection, So Far.

In 1974, CSN&Y reunited for a major tour.

Although the tour was successful, the group still had many conflicts.  It took them 40 years to release the live recordings, CSNY 1974.

It’s a 3 CD and 1 DVD set, and has a 186 page book.  It also includes some songs that were part of their plans for Human Highway.  In fact, CSN&Y went back into the studio in 1974 and 1976 to try to finish the album.  Both times ended in conflict, and no album.

So, let’s track down the recordings that could have made up Human Highway. The first source is the 1991 CSN 4-CD box set.

This is my all-time favorite box set.  It not only includes most of the major recordings by the group, but many of their best solo songs, and also unreleased & alternate versions.  We find the following unreleased recordings played by all four members of CSN&Y… “Homeward Through The Haze”  & “The Lee Shore” (both by Crosby), “See The Changes” (by Stills),  and “Taken At All” (by Nash).  All of these, except “The Lee Shore” were specifically recorded for Human Highway.  I’m including “The Lee Shore” here, because this studio version was unreleased, they played it on their 1974 tour, and it would have fit nicely on the album.  It’s a full-band recording that’s more uptempo and rhythmic than the live versions.

The unreleased  group versions of “Human Highway” (by Young) and “Prison Song” (by Nash) were both downloaded from bootlegs fans posted on the internet.  “Prison Song” was horrendously bass heavy, but I ran it through an equalizer and it came out nicely for our recreated album.  I posted a copy of the song on YouTube under the user name radiospast.

“As I Come of Age” (by Stills), “Wind On The Water” & “And So It Goes” (both by Nash) and “Through My Sails” & “Long May You Run” (both by Young) were originally written for Human Highway.  The songs ended up on solo albums…but the recordings all include multiple members of the band, which are noted on the album tracks below.

The final track…”Hawaiian Sunrise” (by Young) is from the above mentioned CSNY 1974 set.  Even though the recordings are supposed to be live, “Hawaiian Sunrise” really sounds like it’s a studio recording.  I did an easy edit to eliminate the applause at the end, and it fits right in with the rest of the album.

There are many other songs from 1973-1976 that could be candidates to be included on Human Highway.  In the following version, 11 of the 12 songs were originally written and recorded for the album.  Plus, 9 of them have all four artists participating.  Here are the proposed sides of Human Highway.

Side One:

  1. See The Changes…Crosby Stills Nash & Young (box set)
  2. Human Highway…Crosby Stills Nash & Young (bootleg)
  3. Taken At All…Crosby Stills Nash & Young (box set)
  4. Long May You Run…Crosby Stills Nash & Young (“Decade”)
  5. And So It Goes…Crosby Nash & Young (“Wild Tales”)
  6. Critical Mass/Wind On The Water…Crosby & Nash (“Wind On The Water”)

Side Two:

  1. As I Come Of Age…Crosby Stills & Nash (“Stills”)
  2. Homeward Through The Haze…Crosby Stills Nash & Young (box set)
  3. Prison Song…Crosby Stills Nash & Young (bootleg)
  4. Through My Sails…Crosby Stills Nash & Young (“Zuma”)
  5. The Lee Shore…Crosby Stills Nash & Young (box set)
  6. Hawaiian Sunrise…Crosby Stills Nash & Young (“CSNY 1974”)

The album includes 4 songs by Neil Young, 4 by Graham Nash,  2 by David Crosby (plus the beautiful “Critical Mass” intro to “Wind On The Water”), and Stephen Stills gets the prime first cut on each side.  The songs were placed in an order based on musical flow, lyrical content, and the time allowed per vinyl side.  Three songs on Side 1…”Human Highway”, “Taken At All” & “Long May You Run” go especially well together, and the last three songs on Side 2 flow perfectly for an album that has a photo of Maui on the cover.  It’s a strong album, with all twelve songs being good.

The group would probably have wanted to include an up-tempo rocker or two, but they didn’t appear to have any ready for the album.  Still’s “First Things First” came closest.  The recording includes Crosby & Nash, and could possibly have been substituted for “And So It Goes”.  It also would have given Stills and Nash three songs each on the album.

If you’re a fan of CSN&Y’s solo work, you’ll see that all of these songs except “Hawaiian Sunrise” made it onto other albums.  So even if you don’t have the exact versions of the above songs, you could make this album’s playlist by using the cuts from their solo albums.  It’s worth it, even though (with the possible exception of “See The Changes”) these are the best versions of the songs.

Over the years, fans have speculated about which songs would have been on Human Highway.  Another possible version of the lost album is on the website Albums That Never Were.  Just Google the site name along with Human Highway to find the article.  That version has nine of the twelve songs I’ve chosen, so we’re getting close to “finding” the lost album.

David Crosby told Rolling Stone magazine he thought Human Highway could have been CSN&Y’s best album.

(Extra:  I was asked about the edit on “Hawaiian Sunrise”.  In GarageBand, I took a copy of the chorus with the middle guitar part, and put it in place of the ending chorus.  Then did a normal fade-out of the guitar part like many studio recordings.  Of course it would also be okay to have the final track on the album end with applause.)

Jonathan Edwards / Seals & Crofts

For most people, Jonathan Edwards is a one-hit-wonder, with the million-selling song “Sunshine (Go Away Today)”.  It entered the Top 40 in December of 1971, and peaked at #4 in 1972.

(Photos are from slides I took at a 1973 concert in Norfolk, VA)

The only reason we got to know more of Jonathan Edwards’ music, is because he opened for Seals & Crofts at a June 1973 concert in Virginia.  When we saw him, Edwards had released two albums…his eponymous album with “Sunshine”, and Honky-Tonk Stardust Cowboy from 1972.  We already had his single “Sunshine”, so we purchased the album Honky-Tonk Stardust Cowboy in order to get to know his music before we saw him.

Jonathan Edwards was so good during his portion of the concert.  He was playing one of our favorite styles of music, Country Rock.  It leaned a little to the Country side, and he was using an acoustic guitar instead of a solid body electric.  His preference for things a little more natural shows up in his song lyrics about being a musician.  In “That’s What Our Life Is” he sings…”They said I would shine like the light in a city, I hoped it would be like the moon on the sea.”

His performance was just so confident and enjoyable, we loved it all.  It turned out that he was the best part of the concert that night.  We ended up buying all of the albums he released in the 1970’s.

Above is our Jonathan Edwards playlist (click to enlarge)…which has our favorites from four of his albums…Jonathan Edwards (1971), Honky-Tonk Stardust Cowboy (1972), Have A Good Time For Me (1973), and Rockin’ Chair (1976).  In addition, there are six songs from the very hard to find Orphan album (1973).  Orphan was a country rock band with friends and colleagues of Jonathan Edwards, including songwriter Eric Lilljequist.  He wrote several songs recorded by Edwards, and also played lead guitar and provided vocals on some of Jonathan’s albums.  Orphan is a solid album with excellent vocal harmonies.

The playlist is included in case you aren’t familiar with this music, and would like some guidance getting to know Jonathan Edwards better.

Through the years, Jonathan Edwards has continued to perform, and has done some acting and film scoring.

(Jim Seals from that 1973 concert at the Scope Arena.)

(Dash Crofts was impressive on the mandolin.)

The main reason we went to the concert was to hear Seals & Crofts.  We had two of their albums…Summer Breeze and Diamond Girl.  The hits from those albums included…”Summer Breeze” (#6), “Hummingbird” (#20), “Diamond Girl” (#6), and “We May Never Pass This Way Again” (#23).

Seals & Crofts sounded great, their singing and playing were first rate.  However, there was something that night that really took away from their performances.  They had a lot of technical trouble.  It seemed during almost every song, they were seeking help with adjustment of the gear or the monitors, and it definitely kept them (and us) from getting deeply into their songs.

It may be unfair, because it was a bad night for them, but we knew if they ever passed our way again, we’d skip their concert.  The only other album we ever purchased by them was their Greatest Hits, that included “I’ll Play For You” (#18), and “Get Closer” (#6).

We left that 1973 concert knowing that Seals & Crofts were talented, but we were wishing they could have simply gotten up on stage and played (with less production) the way Jonathan Edwards had done so well.