The harmony and melody remain

I’ve been feeling mellow and deep in thought in recent weeks. For me, that’s the perfect time to turn to quieter musical vibes with wistful lyrics that tug at the heartstrings.

Typically, my “lost classics” entries on this blog are uptempo rockers, but this time around, I’m presenting “The harmony and melody remain,” a dozen meditative tracks that offer delicate song melodies to go with more intimate, more personal lyrics.

As always, there’s a Spotify playlist at the end which allows you to listen as you read.


“The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress,” Judy Collins, 1975

Jimmy Webb is widely recognized as one of the more sublime songwriters of the ’60s and ’70s, whose tunes won scads of awards and became some of the most popular tunes of his era: “Up, Up and Away,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” “Wichita Lineman,” “MacArthur Park,” “Galveston,” “All I Know,” “Scissors Cut,” “Mr. Shuck ‘n Jive.” Artists like Glen Campbell, Art Garfunkel, The 5th Dimension and others loved singing Webb’s lovely melodies and emotional lyrics. A personal favorite is Judy Collins’ stunning rendition of “The Moon’s a Harsh Mistress,” Webb’s heartbreaking metaphor to lost love.

“Give Me Some Time,” Dan Fogelberg, 1977

I was a big fan of Fogelberg’s 1974 LP “Souvenirs,” which featured Joe Walsh as producer and lead guitarist, turning Fogelberg’s thoughtful folk rock songs like “Part of the Plan,” “Illinois” and “There’s a Place in the World For a Gambler” into shimmering tracks. 1975’s “Captured Angel” was a bit of a misfire, but Fogelberg came back in 1977 with “Nether Lands,” a strong collection of songs that deftly alternated between ballads and rockers. Among the prettiest is “Give Me Some Time,” in which the narrator implores his new romantic interest to slow down and allow him sufficient room to get over his previous relationship, “to talk myself into believing that she and I are through, then maybe I’ll fall for you…”

“Games of Magic,” Bread, 1972

Every one of Bread’s hit singles was written and sung by David Gates, a fact that grated on the group’s other singer-songwriter, James Griffin. Typically, Griffin’s tunes had more muscular arrangements, particularly when juxtaposed with the wispy ballads Gates wrote. The record label was happy to let Griffin fill out album sides with his songs, but they insisted on sticking with the winning formula of Gates’s songs and vocals for the singles. Too bad; some of Griffin’s tunes would have made fine singles, especially “Games of Magic,” an engaging track from the band’s biggest LP, 1972’s “Baby I’m-A Want You.”

“Here Today,” Paul McCartney, 1982

Six months after John Lennon was murdered in New York City, McCartney took on the challenge of writing a tribute to his fallen comrade for his 1982 LP “Tug of War,” made problematic because of the estrangement they had gone through following The Beatles’ breakup. The lyrics take the form of a hypothetical conversation between the two, in which they confess that, despite a fruitful songwriting partnership, maybe they didn’t really know each other all that well. It’s deeply moving, and McCartney has said he usually gets emotional when he sings it in concert. “John was a great mate and a very important man in my life, and I miss him, y’know?”

“And So It Goes,” Billy Joel, 1989

Most of Joel’s songs are well-crafted pop-rock tunes with catchy hooks and clever lyrics that had him appearing regularly in the Top Ten over his 20-plus year career as a recording artist. If I had to pick Joel’s most exquisite melody, it would be this magnificent ballad from his 1989 LP “Storm Front.” With a hymn-like structure carried by Joel’s piano and tender vocal treatment, Joel tells the story of his doomed relationship with model Elle MacPherson from six years earlier. He wrote it and made a demo in 1983 but never committed it to an official release until 1989. It was released as a single but peaked at #37, perhaps because it didn’t have the good-natured vitality people had come to expect from his hits.

“Martha,” Tom Waits, 1973

With his muttered vocals and boozy vignettes, Waits established himself immediately with his 1973 debut LP “Closing Time,” a riveting cycle of melancholy songs that redefine wee-hours loneliness. “Ol’ 55” became a hit when The Eagles sugar-coated it with harmonies and pedal steel, but the real gems here are the ones that Waits delivers alone on piano or guitar — “I Hope That I Don’t Fall in Love With You,” “Grapefruit Moon,” “Lonely” and the title track. Most impressive is “Martha,” an achingly sad song about reaching out in a long-distance call to a long-ago love. You’ll need a hug after hearing this one.

“Pink Moon,” Nick Drake, 1972

Drake was a gifted, tortured soul who suffered periodically from a depression that eventually consumed him at only 26. He wrote introspective songs and delivered them in a painfully shy manner. Drake released three LPs in his short life, none of which sold well until decades later. His final one was “Pink Moon” in 1972, highlighted by his smoky voice that recalls a jazzier Donovan. The title track became a surprise hit in 1999 when it was used in an artful Volkswagen commercial, piquing the interest of art/folk music fans in the UK and the US alike.

“18th Avenue,” Cat Stevens, 1972

By the time he released his 1972 chart-topping album “Catch Bull at Four,” Stevens had broadened his approach to involve orchestration and more diverse instruments and arrangements. These songs are more keyboard-oriented than the delicate guitar songs that dominated “Tea For The Tillerman” and “Teaser and the Firecat.” In particular, the striking piano and synthesizer he used in “18th Avenue” brings drama and tension to the fraught lyrics (note the parenthetical title “Kansas City Nightmare”). The narrator seems anxious to evade “the path dark and borderless” and grab a plane out of town “just in time.”

“Finally Found a Friend,” Grayson Hugh, 1988

Possessed of one of the most soulful voices I’ve ever heard, Hugh came to our attention in 1988 with his remarkable “Blind to Reason” LP and its sly hit “Talk It Over.” I could’ve sworn Hugh was black, based on the way he wraps his voice around his R&B melodies. This album and its well-regarded follow-up “Road to Freedom” (1992) should’ve made Hugh a star, but it never happened. I implore you to check out his music, especially tracks like “Romantic Heart,” “Tears of Love,” “Empty as the Wind” and the gratitude-soaked “Finally Found a Friend.” You won’t be disappointed.

“And I Go,” Steve Winwood, 1982

Beginning at age 15 in The Spencer Davis Group, then in Traffic and Blind Faith, and a lucrative solo career in the ’80s and beyond, Winwood has been one of the most talented singers England ever produced. He also wrote dozens of iconic songs like “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” “Can’t Find My Way Home” and “Back in the High Life Again.” Curiously, his 1982 album “Talking Back to the Night” remains one of his most underrated works, with contagious numbers like “Big Girls Walk Away” and the title song screaming for more airplay. On the quieter side, “And I Go” shows Winwood’s abilities at crafting a slower tempo track.

“Pieces of April,” Three Dog Night, 1972

Three Dog Night was known for selecting great songs by then-unknown songwriters and giving them the exposure they needed. “Pieces of April,” written by Dave Loggins of “Please Come to Boston” fame, became the vocal group’s 14th Top 20 single in less than four years. It appeared on their highest-charting LP, 1972’s “Seven Separate Fools,” and was the only single the group released that featured just one of the three singers (in this case, Chuck Negron) without their trademark harmonies and sharing of lead vocals. Loggins (Kenny’s second cousin) later recorded his own rendition, but it’s tough to top this lovely version.

“Blessed,” Lazarus, 1971

Thanks to Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary, this trio from West Texas secured a record contract on the strength of Bill Hughes’ gorgeous melodies and spiritual lyrics. My guitar compatriot Ben and I together learned a few of the songs, most notably “Blessed,” which became something of a signature song at our occasional performances. The upbeat tempo and hopeful lyrics remind listeners that when things seem difficult or desperate, that’s the time to “turn it over” to a Higher Power. Lazarus lasted long enough for a second LP (“A Fool’s Paradise”) in 1973 before Hughes went his own way and began a solo career that included writing for TV and film.


Movin’ on from town to town

Moving — whether it’s across the street or across the country — can be a pretty big change. It can be stressful, exciting, cathartic, overwhelming, cleansing, heartbreaking.

We all do it at some point, for all kinds of reasons. We move out of our parents’ house to stretch our wings. We move to a new city to start a new job or career. We move out on toxic roommates or a bad marriage. We move in with a new lover. We move to a bigger (or smaller) house. We move to be closer to family.

I know a few people who have moved only once or twice in their entire lives. I know other folks who have had more than 50 different addresses.

I lived in four different places in Cleveland over 40 years. I moved to Atlanta for 17 years. I lived in three different places in Los Angeles over 11 years. Now I’ve recently moved from LA to a new home in Nashville.

I don’t like change. I resist it. I’ve been dragged kicking and screaming into every big change in my life. But I adapt. I eventually embrace my new surroundings. I come to see it as a new chapter in my life’s story. I not only survive but thrive.

All of this talk of relocating got me thinking of songs about moving — new beginnings, fresh starts, something different. There are many dozens of choices, so I’ve whittled the list down to a diverse group of 12 tunes that deserve attention, plus an “honorable mentions” list.

Let’s get moving!


“(Just Like) Starting Over,” John Lennon, 1980

Lennon and his wife had shunned the public arena for nearly five years after the birth of their son Sean in 1975, choosing instead to stay squirreled away in their New York City apartment for the boy’s first five years. In 1980, Lennon felt the urge to write and record music once again, beginning a new chapter in his professional life, and the result was “Double Fantasy,” a collaborative John-Yoko album that alternated songs by each of them. They embraced the project enthusiastically, and the opening track and first single underscored how Lennon felt about this career move: “It’s time to spread our wings and fly, /Don’t let another day go by, my love, /It’ll be just like starting over…” Tragically, it would be his final chapter, his life cut short by a deranged assassin’s bullet only three weeks after the album was released.

“Moving,” Supergrass, 1999

From 1995-2005, Supergrass was one of England’s most successful rock bands, with five albums in the Top Ten, and seven Top Ten singles, including this compelling song from their third LP in 1999. Curiously, they made no impact in the US. Although its lyrics focus on the tedium a rock band experiences with non-stop touring, it can also be interpreted to bemoan the unpleasant aspects of continual relocation. Either way, the exhaustion and constant shifts inherent in moving is the point, shown in the numerous tempo shifts in the song’s arrangement: “Moving, just keep moving, /Well, I don’t know why to stay, /No ties to bind me, no reasons to remain, /So I’ll keep moving, just keep moving, /Well, I don’t know who I am, /No need to follow, there’s no way back again…”

“New Beginning,” Tracy Chapman, 1997

Many moves are sparked by the need to wipe the slate clean and start anew. The lyrics to Chapman’s 1997 album and title song “New Beginning” center on her belief that our society is broken, rife with inequality and injustice, and the only move is to “start all over.” It might be a radical, even revolutionary notion to tear the system down, but she’s hardly the first person to suggest it, and the idea of making a new beginning, whether it’s a new government or just a move to a new house, is full of optimism and promise: “Too many stand alone, there’s too much separation, /We can resolve to come together in the new beginning, /Start all over, start all over…”

“Movin’ Out,” Billy Joel, 1977

Born in The Bronx and raised in Hicksville on Long Island, Joel is proud of his working-class roots, and found himself growing frustrated by his peers who seemed ashamed of their ethnic authenticity by embracing upwardly mobile bourgeois aspirations. “It seemed as if the families in my old neighborhood were obsessed with materialistic displays of having ‘made it,’ and it made me both angry and sad,” Joel said in 1978. “I thought it was ultimately kind of futile.” The song he wrote about it, which reached #17 on the pop charts, takes aim at those who forget where they came from by moving too far away: “Who needs a house out in Hackensack? Is that all you get for your money? /And it seems such a waste of time if that’s what it’s all about, /Mama, if that’s movin’ up, then I’m movin’ out…”

“Here I Go Again,” Country Joe and The Fish, 1969

Joe McDonald and Barry “The Fish” Melton formed a duo that became a psychedelic folk and rock band in Berkeley in 1965, moving to San Francisco to become regulars on the circuit at the Avalon and Fillmore ballrooms there. While much of their recorded catalog focused on counterculture issues like antiwar protests and the free speech movement, including the infamous “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag” made famous in the 1970 “Woodstock” film, the group had a few relationship-breakup songs in their repertoire as well: “I know once again that there is nothing we can save, /So I’ll pack up my things, I’ll be on my way, /Yes, here I go again, off down the road again, /Thinking thoughts of days gone by…”

“I’m Movin’ On,” Elvis Presley, 1969

First recorded and written by country star Hank Snow in 1950, Presley recorded “I’m Movin’ On” for his celebrated “From Elvis in Memphis” album that came in the wake of his 1968 TV comeback special. He was enamored by American Sound, a Memphis studio that specialized in a “country soul” genre popularized by their house band, The Memphis Boys, and these sessions produced “In the Ghetto” and “Suspicious Minds,” two of Presley’s biggest hits in years. The lyrics of “I’m Movin’ On” center on a man’s need to leave a relationship when his woman is ignoring or disrespecting him: “Well, I told you, baby, from time to time, /But you just wouldn’t listen or pay me no mind, /And now I’m movin’ on, I’m rollin’ on, /I’m through with you, too bad you’re blue, but I’m movin’ on…”

“Changes,” Loggins and Messina, 1974

David Bowie’s iconic song “Changes” was an early milestone for him in 1971, and Yes issued a track called “Changes” in 1984, but for this list, I have chosen to feature Jim Messina’s effervescent song “Changes,” which appeared on the Loggins and Messina LP “Mother Lode” in 1974. His song focuses on the changes needed for an artist to go from a struggling dreamer to a hardworking touring musician “with your name in lights.” Said Messina in 2016, “The one thing I’ve learned about the music business is that it seems to change constantly. We’re always on the move.” Here’s a sample lyric: “Maybe some change is all that we need, /Change is coming to help us succeed, /Change happens every day…”

“Time to Move On,” Tom Petty, 1994

This fine tune has been described as “a lesser known masterpiece” in Petty’s solo repertoire. Originally released on his celebrated “Wildflowers” LP in the mid-’90s, it has since become one of the most popular Petty tracks on streaming services. Although it’s credited to Petty alone rather than with The Heartbreakers, band members nevertheless participated in the album’s recording sessions and performed the song in concert. Petty’s songwriting deftly addressed the theme of facing challenges and uncertainty on life’s road, especially the yearning we feel to not stay in one place for too long: “It’s time to move on, time to get going, /What lies ahead, I have no way of knowing, /But under my feet, baby, grass is growing, /It’s time to move on, it’s time to get going…”

“Leaving on a Jet Plane,” Peter, Paul & Mary, 1967

Originally titled “Babe, I Hate to Go,” this poignant 1966 song by John Denver was interpreted by some to be about a young man who’s heading off to serve in Vietnam. Or is it merely a guy who’s breaking up with his lover and moving to a new town? “To me,” said Denver years later, “it’s simply a sad song about separating, about the regret of leaving someone you care for a great deal.” Because it was Peter, Paul and Mary who recorded the song in 1967 and took it to the top of US pop charts at the end of 1969, many people don’t know Denver wrote it, and also released it himself: “All my bags are packed, I’m ready to go, /I’m standing here outside your door, /I hate to wake you up to say goodbye, /But the dawn is breakin’, it’s early morn, /Taxi’s waiting, he’s blowin’ his horn, /Already I’m so lonesome I could cry… /I’m leavin’ on a jet plane, I don’t know when I’ll be back again, /Oh babe, I hate to go…”

“I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town,” Ray Charles, 1961

Casey Bill Weldon was a country blues musician from Arkansas who was one of the earliest practitioners of the laptop slide guitar. He wrote and recorded upwards of 60 songs on small labels in the 1930s, most notably the often-covered “I’m Gonna Move to the Outskirts of Town.” Count Basie and His Orchestra recorded the latter in 1942, and Quincy Jones arranged it for Ray Charles on the 1961 LP “Genius + Soul = Jazz.” Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy and B.B. King included their versions on various live albums, as did The Allman Brothers Band in 1970. Weldon’s lyrics talk about moving out of the city to the far reaches of town to keep other men from coming around: “Well let me tell you, baby, I don’t need nobody always hanging around, /We’re gonna have a dozen children, and they all better look like me, /Lord, when we move, yeah, way back down on the outskirts of town…”

“Starting Over Again,” Dolly Parton, 1980

Bruce Sudano, who had just married Donna Summer in 1980, collaborated with her that year on a song he was writing about his parents’ divorce. “My parents had been married for 30 years when they decided to call it quits,” he recalls, “and the best way for me to work through that was to write about it.” The result was “Starting Over Again,” which Summer recorded, but when she offered it to Dolly Parton, the country star released it as the lead single from her “Dolly, Dolly, Dolly” LP, and it reached #1 on the country charts and even made the pop charts at a modest #36: “Starting over again, where should they begin? /’Cause they’ve never been out on their own, /Starting over again, /Where do you begin when your dreams are all shattered, and the kids are all grown, /And the whole world cries?…”

“On the Road to Find Out,” Cat Stevens, 1970

Stevens had begun his career as a songwriter and recording artist when he contracted tuberculosis at age 21 and almost died from it. “That gave me an entirely new perspective,” he recalled, “and I thought about where I was headed.” He took up meditation and yoga, learned about other religions and pursued a more spiritual path, which was reflected in the songs he would write for his breakthrough LP, “Tea For the Tillerman.” Perhaps the most reflective was “On the Road to Find Out,” which described the soul searching he was doing: “Well I left my happy home to see what I could find out, /I left my folk and friends with the aim to clear my mind out, /Well I hit the rowdy road, and many kinds I met there, /Many stories told me of the way to get there, /So on and on I go, the seconds tick the time out, /There’s so much left to know, and I’m on the road to find out…”


Honorable mentions:

“I Gotta Move Out of This Neighborhood,” B. B. King, 1993; “Movin’ On,” Bad Company, 1974; “Gotta Move,” Barbra Streisand, 1963; “Starting Over,” Chris Stapleton, 2020; “People Gotta Move,” Gino Vannelli, 1974; “Moving On,” The Zombies, 2015; “Gonna Move,” Susan Tedeschi, 2002; “Moving On and Getting Over,” John Mayer, 2017; “You Gotta Move,” Aerosmith, 2004; “That’s It, I Quit, I’m Movin On,” Sam Cooke, 1962.