Released this month in 1968! Creedence Clearwater Revival ~ Creedence Clearwater Revival

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Released in the summer of 1968 — a year after the summer of love, but still in the thick of the Age of Aquarius – Creedence Clearwater Revival’s self-titled debut album was gloriously out-of-step with the times, teeming with John Fogerty’s Americana fascinations. While many of Fogerty’s obsessions and CCR’s signatures are in place — weird blues (“I Put a Spell on You”), Stax R&B (Wilson Pickett’s “Ninety-Nine and a Half”), rockabilly (“Susie Q”), winding instrumental interplay, the swamp sound, and songs for “The Working Man” — the band was still finding their way. Out of all their records (discounting Mardi Gras), this is the one that sounds the most like its era, thanks to the wordless vocal harmonies toward the end of “Susie Q,” the backward guitars on “Gloomy,” and the directionless, awkward jamming that concludes “Walking on the Water.” Still, the band’s sound is vibrant, with gutsy arrangements that borrow equally from Sun, Stax, and the swamp. Fogerty’s songwriting is a little tentative. Not for nothing were two of the three singles pulled from the album covers (Dale Hawkins’ “Susie Q,” Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You”) — he wasn’t an accomplished tunesmith yet. Though “The Working Man” isn’t bad, the true exception is that third single, “Porterville,” an exceptional song with great hooks, an underlying sense of menace, and the first inkling of the working-class rage that fueled such landmarks as “Fortunate Son.” It’s the song that points the way to the breakthrough of Bayou Country, but the rest of the album shouldn’t be dismissed, because judged simply against the rock & roll of its time, it rises above its peers.

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Happy Birthday Van Morrison!

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Van Morrison, OBE (born George Ivan Morrison; 31 August 1945) is a Northern Irish singer-songwriter and musician. His live performances at their best are described as mystical and transcendental, while some of his recordings, such as the studio albums Astral Weeks and Moondance and the live album It’s Too Late to Stop Now, are critically acclaimed and appear at the top of many greatest album lists.

Known as “Van the Man” to his fans, Morrison started his professional career when, as a teenager in the late 1950s, he played a variety of instruments including guitar, harmonica, keyboards and saxophone for various Irish showbands covering the popular hits of the day. He rose to prominence in the mid-1960s as the lead singer of the Northern Irish R&B band Them, with whom he recorded the garage band classic “Gloria”. His solo career began under the pop-hit oriented guidance of Bert Berns with the release of the hit single “Brown Eyed Girl” in 1967. After Berns’ death, Warner Bros. Records bought out his contract and allowed him three sessions to record Astral Weeks in 1968.[3] Even though this album would gradually garner high praise, it was initially poorly received; however, the next one, Moondance, established Morrison as a major artist, and throughout the 1970s he built on his reputation with a series of critically acclaimed albums and live performances. Morrison continues to record and tour, producing albums and live performances that sell well and are generally warmly received, sometimes collaborating with other artists, such as Georgie Fame and The Chieftains. In 2008 he performed Astral Weeks live for the first time since 1968.

Much of Morrison’s music is structured around the conventions of soul music and R&B, such as the popular singles “Brown Eyed Girl”, “Jackie Wilson Said (I’m in Heaven When You Smile)”, “Domino” and “Wild Night”. An equal part of his catalogue consists of lengthy, loosely connected, spiritually inspired musical journeys that show the influence of Celtic tradition, jazz, and stream-of-consciousness narrative, such as Astral Weeks and lesser-known works such as Veedon Fleece and Common One. The two strains together are sometimes referred to as “Celtic Soul”.

Morrison has received considerable acclaim, including six Grammy Awards, the Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music, being inducted into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and appearing on several “Greatest Artists” lists.

Happy Birthday John Peel!

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1939, Born on this day, John Peel, BBC radio DJ. journalist and TV presenter, born John Robert Parker Ravenscroft. He was the longest running BBC Radio 1 and the most influential British DJ ever. He was one of the first broadcasters to play psychedelic rock and progressive rock records on British radio, and is widely acknowledged for promoting artists working in various genres, including pop, reggae, indie rock, alternative rock, punk, hardcore punk, breakcore, grindcore, death metal, British hip hop, and dance music. Peel died in Cuzco, Peru of a heart attack on 25th October 2004 aged 65.

Released this month in 2006! American V ~ Johnny Cash

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American V: A Hundred Highways is the long-awaited album of Johnny Cash’s final recordings, the basic tracks for which (i.e., Cash’s vocals) were recorded in 2002-2003, with overdubs added by producer Rick Rubin after his death on September 12, 2003, at age 71. Between 1994 and 2002, Cash and Rubin had succeeded in fashioning a third act for the veteran country singer’s career, following his acclaimed 1950s work for Sun Records and his popular recordings for Columbia in the 1960s and ’70s. In the ’80s, Cash’s star had faded, but Rubin reinvented him as a hip country-folk-rock elder at 62 with American Recordings (1994), his first new studio album to reach the pop charts in 18 years. Unchained (1996) and American III: Solitary Man (2000) continued the comeback, at least as far as the critics were concerned, though none of the albums was actually a big seller. But American IV: The Man Comes Around (2002), propelled by Cash’s cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” and a powerful video, stayed in the pop charts longer than any Cash album since 1969’s Johnny Cash at San Quentin. By 2002, however, Cash was in failing health, homebound and in a wheelchair, and he suffered a personal blow when his wife, June Carter Cash, died on May 15, 2003. The American series, which posited Cash as an aged sage and the repository for a bottomless American songbook, had already shown a predilection for gloom in the name of gravity; it’s no surprise that the fifth and final volume would be even more concerned with, as three earlier Cash compilations had put it, God, Love, and Murder. The ailing septuagenarian certainly sounds like he’s near the end of his life, but that said, he doesn’t sound bad. Cash was never a great singer in a technical sense: he hadn’t much range, his pitch often wobbled, and his lack of breath control sometimes found him grasping for sound at the end of lines. But he was a great singer in the sense of projecting a persona through his voice; his emotional range, which went from a Sinatra-like swagger to an almost embarrassingly intimate vulnerability, was as wide as the spread of notes he could hit confidently was narrow. Such a singer doesn’t really lose that much with age; in fact, he gains even more interpretive depth. Listening to this album, one can’t get around the knowledge that it is a posthumous collection made in Cash’s last days, but even without that context, it would have much the same impact.
The album begins with two religious songs, Larry Gatlin’s “Help Me,” a plea to God, and the traditional “God’s Gonna Cut You Down,” which, in a sense, answers that plea. The finality of death thus established, Cash launches into what is billed as the last song he ever wrote, “Like the 309,” which is about a train taking his casket away. The same image is used later in the cover of Hank Williams’ “On the Evening Train,” in which a man and his child put the coffin of a wife and mother on another train. Cash sings these songs in a restrained manner, and even has a sense of humor in “Like the 309,” in which he complains about his asthma: “It should be awhile/Before I see Doctor Death/So it would sure be nice/If I could get my breath.” In between the two train songs come songs that may not have been about death when their authors wrote them, but sure sound like they are here. As written, Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind” seems to concern a romantic breakup expressed in literary and cinematic terms, but in Cash’s voice, lines like “You know that ghost is me” and “But stories always end” become inescapably elegiac. Bruce Springsteen’s “Further On (Up the Road)” is even easier to interpret as a call to the hereafter, with lines like “Got on my dead man’s suit and my smilin’ skull ring/My lucky graveyard boots and song to sing.” These two songs make a pair with the album’s two closing songs. Ian Tyson’s “Four Strong Winds” is, like the Lightfoot selection, a folk standard by a Canadian songwriter, also nominally about romantic dissolution, although here the singer who is “bound for moving on” doesn’t seem likely to come back. And the closing song, “I’m Free from the Chain Gang Now,” may have lyrics implying that the unjustly imprisoned narrator has been set free, but in Cash’s voice it sounds like he’s been executed instead and is singing from beyond the grave. The four songs in between “On the Evening Train” and “Four Strong Winds,” dealing with faith and love (the former expressed in a previously recorded 1984 Cash copyright, “I Came to Believe”), are weaker than what surrounds them, but they serve to complete the picture. And it’s worth noting that Cash at death’s door still outsings croaking Rod McKuen on the songwriter’s ever-cloying “Love’s Been Good to Me.” Cash may never have heard Rubin’s overdubs, but they are restrained and tasteful, never doing anything more than to support the singer and the song. If the entire series of American recordings makes for a fitting finale to a great career, American V: A Hundred Highways is a more than respectable coda.

Happy Birthday Michael Jackson!

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Michael Joseph Jackson (August 29, 1958 – June 25, 2009) was an American singer, songwriter, actor, and dancer. Called the King of Pop, his contributions to music, dance, and fashion, along with his publicized personal life, made him a global figure in popular culture for over four decades.

The eighth child of the Jackson family, he debuted on the professional music scene along with his brothers as a member of The Jackson 5 in 1964, and began his solo career in 1971. In the early 1980s, Jackson became a dominant figure in popular music. The music videos for his songs, including those of “Beat It”, “Billie Jean”, and “Thriller”, were credited with breaking down racial barriers and with transforming the medium into an art form and promotional tool. The popularity of these videos helped to bring the then-relatively-new television channel MTV to fame. With videos such as “Black or White” and “Scream”, he continued to innovate the medium throughout the 1990s, as well as forging a reputation as a touring solo artist. Through stage and video performances, Jackson popularized a number of complicated dance techniques, such as the robot and the moonwalk, to which he gave the name. His distinctive sound and style has influenced numerous hip hop, post-disco, contemporary R&B, pop, and rock artists.

Jackson’s 1982 album Thriller is the best-selling album of all time. His other albums, including Off the Wall (1979), Bad (1987), Dangerous (1991), and HIStory (1995), also rank among the world’s best-selling. Jackson is one of the few artists to have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice. He was also inducted into the Dance Hall of Fame as the first and only dancer from pop and rock music. Some of his other achievements include multiple Guinness World Records; 13 Grammy Awards as well as the Grammy Legend Award and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award; 26 American Music Awards, more than any other artist, including the “Artist of the Century” and “Artist of the 1980s”; 13 number-one singles in the United States in his solo career, more than any other male artist in the Hot 100 era; and the estimated sale of over 400 million records worldwide. Jackson has won hundreds of awards, making him the most-awarded recording artist in the history of popular music. In what would have been Jackson’s 52nd birthday on August 29, 2010, he became the most downloaded artist of all time in Nokia Music Store. Jackson became the first artist in history to have a top ten single in the Billboard Hot 100 in five different decades when “Love Never Felt So Good” reached number nine on May 21, 2014. Jackson traveled the world attending events honoring his humanitarianism and in 2000, the Guinness Book of Records recognized him for supporting 39 charities, more than any other artist or entertainer.

Aspects of Jackson’s personal life, including his changing appearance, personal relationships, and behavior, generated controversy. In the mid-1990s, he was accused of child sexual abuse, but the case was settled out of court for about $25 million and no formal charges were brought. In 2005, he was tried and acquitted of further child sexual abuse allegations and several other charges after the jury found him not guilty on all counts. While preparing for his comeback concert series titled This Is It, Jackson died of acute propofol and benzodiazepine intoxication on June 25, 2009, after suffering from cardiac arrest. The Los Angeles County Coroner ruled his death a homicide, and his personal physician Conrad Murray was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. Jackson’s death triggered a global outpouring of grief and a live broadcast of his public memorial service was viewed around the world.

Released this month in 1991! Into The Great Wide Open ~ Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

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Since Full Moon Fever was an unqualified commercial and critical success, perhaps it made sense that Tom Petty chose to follow its shiny formula when he reunited with the Heartbreakers for its follow-up, Into the Great Wide Open. Nevertheless, the familiarity of Into the Great Wide Open is something of a disappointment. the Heartbreakers’ sound has remained similar throughout their career, but they had never quite repeated themselves until here. Technically, it isn’t a repeat, since they weren’t credited on Full Moon, but Wide Open sounds exactly like Full Moon, thanks to Jeff Lynne’s overly stylized production. Again, it sounds like a cross between latter-day ELO and roots rock (much like the Traveling Wilburys, in that sense), but the production has become a touch too careful and precise, bordering on the sterile at times. And, unfortunately, the quality of the songwriting doesn’t match Full Moon or Let Me Up (I’ve Had Enough). That’s not to say that it rivals the uninspired Long After Dark, since Petty was a better craftsman in 1991 than he was in 1983. There are a number of minor gems — “Learning to Fly,” “Kings Highway,” “Into the Great Wide Open” — but there are no knockouts, either; it’s like Full Moon Fever if there were only “Apartment Song”s and no “Free Fallin'”s. In other words, enough for a pleasant listen, but not enough to resonate like his best work. (And considering this, perhaps it wasn’t surprising that Petty chose to change producers and styles on his next effort, the solo Wildflowers.)

Released this month in 1984! Ice Cream Castle ~ The Time

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The Time’s third and final album before the band splintered into three different camps, Ice Cream Castle is yet another six-song offering highlighted by a cache of fantastic songs (“Ice Cream Castle,” “Jungle Love,” “The Bird”) offset by some slight material (the Morris Day features “Chili Sauce” and “If the Kid Can’t Make You Come”) that essentially serves as filler. As was the case on The Time’s previous two albums, Prince reportedly performed all of the music except for Morris Day’s vocals and Jesse Johnson’s guitar, though there’s no evidence of that in the liner notes (at least not on the initial edition), as the only sign of Prince’s involvement is a production credit for Jamie Starr, one of his pseudonyms. On the other hand, Ice Cream Castle does explicitly state in the liners that “all jams [were] written” by Morris Day except “Jungle Love,” which was written in conjunction with Jesse Johnson. So, again, it’s unclear who did what — Prince, The Time, or some of both. (One thing’s for sure: Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis weren’t involved with the album, having been replaced by Mark Cardenez, St. Paul Peterson, and Jerry Hubbard, reportedly for missing a concert on account of a blizzard.) Regardless of who did what, there’s plenty to enjoy on Ice Cream Castle, which stylistically sounds akin to Prince’s Purple Rain. As it should — both albums were recorded around the same time, and Ice Cream Castle was released only a week after the film Purple Rain, which prominently featured Morris Day in the role of the antagonist and also featured The Time as his band (both “Jungle Love” and “The Bird” are heard in the film). Despite its half-greatness, Ice Cream Castle marked the end of The Time in its original incarnation, for the band acrimoniously splintered into three camps: Morris Day mounted a solo career, debuting with Color of Success (1985); Jesse Johnson mounted a solo career also, debuting with Jesse Johnson’s Revue (1985); and remaining Time members Jerome Benton, Jellybean Johnson, and St. Paul Peterson formed a group called the Family, debuting with a 1985 self-titled album. The original members of The Time would eventually reunite in 1990 for the Pandemonium album and the Graffiti Bridge soundtrack.