You need a “new” song

Here we go again. Everything new.

New Year’s resolutions. Turning over a new leaf. New beginnings. New goals.

When it comes to music, I’ve become a firm advocate of the practice of listening to new artists with new albums full of new songs. But seeing as this is a blog about rock music of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, I only rarely write about new artists here. The closest I get, I suppose, is when a vintage artist like Robert Plant or Paul McCartney releases something new that I want to spotlight.

In this post, just for fun, I draw attention to rock songs with “new” in the title. Some of these will be new to you, no doubt, while others are probably old familiar friends. As is customary, I have included a Spotify playlist at the end. I hope you enjoy these tunes as you dive into another new year!

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“New,” Paul McCartney, 2013

The diversity of styles and sounds on McCartney’s 2013 LP “New” is due in part to him using four different producers. Mark Hanson, who has worked with artists like Adele, Lady Gaga, Miley Cyrus and Bruno Mars, oversaw production of the horn-rich title track, which has what The Daily Telegraph referred to as a “jaunty, Beatlesque stomp.” Said McCartney about the song’s lyrics: “It’s a love song but it’s saying, ‘Don’t look at me, I haven’t got any answers.’ It says, ‘I don’t know what’s happening, I don’t know how it’s all happening, but it’s good and I love you.'” A sampling: “You came along and made my life a song, one lucky day, you came along, /Just in time, while I was searching for a rhyme, you came along, then we were new…”

“New Train,” John Prine, 1995

The late great Prine may be getting increased attention posthumously since his passing in 2020, but upon its release in 1995, “Lost Dogs and Mixed Blessings” was just another in a string of hugely underrated and neglected gems in his wonderful catalog. Heartbreakers bassist Howie Epstein produced this LP, and some say he over-produced it, as evidenced by the sound on the leadoff track, “New Train,” with its upfront drums-bass-keyboards mix, but to me, it sounds right for the optimism expressed in the lyrics: “I’ll be leaving on a new train, far away from this world of pain, /The friends that greet me will be simple and plain when I step down from that new train…”

“New Frontier,” Donald Fagen, 1982

When Steely Dan went on hiatus in 1981 to give Walter Becker a chance to recover from health issues, Fagen went ahead with “The Nightfly,” a solo project that presented a cycle of songs about the late ’50s/early ’60s when he was growing up in New Jersey. The tracks include “The Nightfly,” about a DJ on a late-night jazz station; “I.G.Y.,” about the “International Geophysical Year” of 1957; and “New Frontier,” the Kennedy campaign slogan of hope in a time of Cold War realities in 1960: “Let’s pretend that it’s the real thing and stay together all night long, /And when I really get to know you, we’ll open up the doors and climb into the dawn, /Confess your passion, your secret fear, prepare to meet the challenge of the new frontier…”

“I’m New,” Stevie Wonder, 1995

From 1972 to 1987, Wonder released a series of acclaimed masterpieces that routinely reached the Top Five on US album charts. He seemed to take a break in the early ’90s, but it turned out he had written nearly four dozen songs and was merely taking his time developing and recording them. The resultant LP, “Conversation Peace,” arrived in 1995, full of typically melodious, effervescent music that didn’t bend to the times as much as reinvent his patented style. Take “I’m New,” a gorgeous tune that explores the idea of a person whose life had been devoid of love until fate intervened: “I’m new, new like the fresh morning dew, new like a work of art that’s finally through, /I’m new, new like a first flight of a dove, so safe and secure with your love, I’m new…”

“You Make Me Feel Brand New,” The Stylistics, 1974

Thom Bell is the multi-talented writer/arranger/producer who played a key role in the success of the Philadelphia soul vocal groups like the Spinners, the Delfonics, the O’Jays and the Stylistics. Bell and lyricist Linda Creed collaborated on numerous top R&B hits, both ballads and uptempo numbers. The Stylistics, led by tenor Airrion Love and falsetto king Russell Thompkins, scored a half-dozen Top 20 hits with Bell/Creed tunes in the early ’70s, none bigger than their #2 smash “You Make Me Feel Brand New,” a heartfelt song of devotion: “Only you cared when I needed a friend, believed in me through thick and thin, /This song is for you, filled with gratitude and love, /God bless you, you make me feel brand new…”

“Brand New Day,” Van Morrison, 1970

As he was composing the songs for his brilliant “Moondance” LP, Morrison said he was inspired to write “Brand New Day” after hearing The Band’s “The Weight” on the radio. “I looked up at the sky and the sun started to shine,” he said, “and all of a sudden the song just came through my head. It’s the song on the ‘Moondance’ album that worked best to my ear, and the one which I felt most in touch with.” Critic John Tobler said the song had “a celebratory air, bordering on spiritual joy.”: “Well it shines so bright and it gives so much light, and it comes from the sky above, /Makes me feel so free, makes me feel like me, and lights my life with love, /And it seems like, and it feels like, and it seems like, yes it feels like a brand new day…”

“New Tune,” James Taylor, 1972

One of Taylor’s most overlooked albums, and a favorite of mine, is “One Man Dog,” coming on the heels of his hugely successful “Sweet Baby James” and “Mud Slide Slim” LPs. It offers 18 tracks, some of them less than a minute long, in a sort of suite that holds together as a charming entity rather than as individual songs. There are exceptions, however — “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight” is a jazzy stand-alone that did well as a single, and “One Man Parade” is a great album opener. I’ve always been fond of “New Tune,” a brief, wistful piece of unfinished business that marries Taylor’s guitar and voice with Carole King’s delicate piano and some gentle bongos.

“New Morning,” Bob Dylan, 1970

Beginning in 1968, Dylan had begun to chafe against the “leader of a generation” moniker that critics had saddled him with, and he withdrew to a simpler, more rural lifestyle with family in upstate New York. His 1970 LP “New Morning” is full of songs reflecting Dylan’s more relaxed approach. The Guardian‘s Geoffrey Cannon described the title track as “a marvelous song, pointing to all our best hopes” in its celebration of the simple pleasures of nature and the senses: “Can’t you feel that sun a-shining, groundhog running by the country stream, /This must be the day when all of my dreams come true, /So happy just to be alive underneath the sky of blue on this new morning, new morning, on this new morning with you…”

“Skating Away on the Thin Ice of the New Day,” Jethro Tull, 1974

Following two dense, complicated albums each comprised of 45-minute compositions (“Thick as a Brick” and “A Passion Play”), Tull leader Ian Anderson opted to write “War Child,” an album of more upbeat, radio-friendly tunes that retained the key elements of the band’s sound: wailing flute, crunching electric guitar, sprightly acoustic guitar and Anderson’s spirited vocals and clever lyrics. “Skating Away” speaks with optimism about facing a new world where, in the early ’70s, it was predicted cooler climates would prevail. Although later proven incorrect, it nonetheless reinforces our need to adapt to new challenges: “And as you cross the wilderness, spinning in your emptiness, you feel you have to pray, /Looking for a sign that the Universal Mind has written you into the Passion Play, /Skating away on the thin ice of the New Day…”

“New Kid in Town,” John David Souther, 2011

J.D. Souther, an occasional collaborator with Glenn Frey and Don Henley in the ’70s, had written the chorus to “New Kid in Town” in 1974 but didn’t know what to do with it. When Frey and Henley were working on material for the “Hotel California” sessions in 1976, Souther brought them the unfinished tune and they completed it together, making it about “the fleeing, fickle nature of romance, and of fame,” said Henley: “There’s talk on the street, it’s there to remind you… /They will never forget you ’til somebody new comes along, /Where you’ve been lately? There’s a new kid in town, /Everybody loves him, don’t they? Now he’s holding her, and you’re still around…” It was another #1 hit for The Eagles, and 35 years later, Souther recorded his own pretty rendition that I’ve featured here instead of the familiar Eagles version.

“New Faces,” The Rolling Stones, 1994

It wasn’t all that unusual for the Stones to throw in an acoustic ballad when recording a new album, but it was a surprise when we heard a harpsichord dominate the arrangement of “New Faces” on their 1994 LP “Voodoo Lounge.” It had been nearly 30 years since songs like 1966’s “Lady Jane” and 1967’s “Dandelion” had featured Brian Jones on harpsichord giving the tracks an almost regal flavor. This tune’s lyrics focus on a woman who is falling for a new guy who is not who he seems: “There’s a new guy in town, he’s been dragging around, /He’s the figure of youth and his eyes are so blue… /And his skin is so fair and it shines like his hair as he stands so aloof with an indolent air, and an insolent stare that just shutters the truth…”

“New World,” Robert Plant, 2017

I really admire Plant’s perseverance as a recording artist in the 40+ years since the demise of Led Zeppelin. He may have resisted calls to reunite and tour with his former bandmates except for a couple of isolated instances, but he has moved forward admirably with more than a dozen albums, trying new sounds and new collaborations (Alison Krauss?!). On his 2017 LP “Carry Fire,” Plant again teamed up with the Sensational Space Shifters as his backing band, and “New World” is one of the better tracks: “With songs, we praise a happy landing on yet another virgin shore, /Escape the old world, embrace the new world, /Out here, the immigrant takes all…”

“New Horizons,” The Moody Blues, 1972

During The Moodies’ 1967-1973 period of mind-bending albums and songs, they developed a reputation among fans for almost guru-like wisdom, which began to feel like an albatross at times. On the band’s “Seventh Sojourn” album in 1972, John Lodge responded with a song that admonished his fans, “I’m just a singer in a rock and roll band.” Still, this was always an egalitarian group, with each member contributing songs, and guitarist/singer Justin Hayward’s “New Horizons” continued his penchant for philosophical lyrics: “Well, I’ve had dreams enough for one, and I got love enough for three, /I have my hopes to comfort me, I got my new horizons out to sea…”

“New Killer Star,” David Bowie, 2003

On this 2003 LP, Bowie had said he remained typically obtuse in his lyrics, but noted, “I think there are times when I’m stretched to at least implicate what’s happening politically in the songs that I’m writing, and there was some nod, in a very abstract way, toward the wrongs that are being made at the moment.” On the opening track, “New Killer Star” (a poke at the way the President pronounced “nuclear”), he was referring to the U.S. military presence in the Middle East in response to 9/11: “See the great white scar over Battery Park, then a flare glides over, but I won’t look at that scar, /Oh, my nuclear baby, we’ll discover a star, /Oh, my idiot trance, all my idiot questions, /Like the stars in your eyes, let’s face the music and dance…”

“Brand New Day,” Sting, 1999

Since leaving The Police in 1984, Sting churned out one consistently strong album after another for 20 years, with each LP demonstrating maturity and an increasing degree of sophistication in songwriting. He has also chosen some of the world’s greatest musicians to appear on various tracks, including Brandford Marsalis, Annie Lennox, Mark Knopfler, David Sancious, Wayne Jackson, Cheb Mami and, on the title track of his “Brand New Day” album, the great Stevie Wonder on harmonica. “Why don’t we turn the clock to zero, honey, I’ll sell the stock, we’ll spend all the money, /We’re starting up a brand new day, /Turn the clock to zero, boss, the river’s wide, we’ll swim across, /We started up a brand new day…”

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Play me one more song that I’ll always remember

Back in 2002, Graham Nash released an underappreciated album called “Songs For Survivors,” a sort of companion LP to his 1971 solo debut, “Songs For Beginners.” Its highlight was a wistful tune called “Lost Another One,” with lyrics that bemoan the passing of a fellow musical traveler:

Just another morning cup of tea, I turn my radio on
And in between the static and the headlines, I heard that you were gone
We lost another one

There was a time we thought we were invincible, that we’d go on and on and on
And all along we’d thought we’d do another show and write another song
But I guess we’ve lost another one
…”

If Nash wrote it about a particular person, he never talked about it, which was probably wise, because now it can apply more generally to anyone’s (and everyone’s) death.

In 2021, we lost at least two dozen notable artists in the rock music pantheon, and Hack’s Back Pages is paying tribute to them in this post, the final one of this very strange year. I’ve included a Spotify playlist with a couple samplings from each of those being honored.

Rest in peace, rockers. In 1974, the Righteous Brothers song said, “If there’s a rock and roll heaven, well, you know they’ve got a hell of a band.” Imagine how phenomenal that band must be 50 years later!

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Charles “Charlie” Watts, widely respected drummer of The Rolling Stones from their inception in 1963 until his death on August 24th, died at 80. He regarded himself as more of a jazz drummer, and occasionally played side gigs in small jazz clubs, but his presence on The Stones’ recordings and at concerts for nearly 60 years was, as Keith Richards put it, “the secret essence of the whole thing.” For an in-depth reflection on Watts and his seismic impact on rock music, please check out my earlier blog post, “A line of cars and they’re all painted black.” https://hackbackpages.com/2021/09/03/a-line-of-cars-and-theyre-all-painted-black/

 

Keith Allison, guitarist and vocalist for ’60s pop favorites Paul Revere and The Raiders, died November 17 at age 79. Allison joined Revere and The Raiders after their initial heyday in 1968 and remained through 1975. Beyond that tenure, Allison also contributed to recording sessions for a host of rock’s elite, including Ringo Starr, Harry Nilsson, Sonny and Cher, Johnny Rivers, Rick Nelson, The Monkees and Alice Cooper.

David “Jay Black” Blatt (far right)

David Blatt, known professionally as Jay Black as the lead singer of ’60s pop group Jay and The Americans, died October 22 at age 82. He was not the group’s original lead singer, but when he replaced Jay Traynor, the group enjoyed their greatest successes, first in 1964-65 with “Come a Little Bit Closer” (#3) and “Cara Mia” (#4) and later in 1969 with their cover version of the Drifters’ “This Magic Moment” (#6). Black left in 1973 and continued to tour as Jay and the Americans using different backing musicians, which generated contentious legal disputes.

Tim Bogert (left) with Jeff Beck

John “Tim” Bogert III, innovative bass player and vocalist for ’60s hard rock band Vanilla Fudge and blues rock group the Jeff Beck Group, died of cancer January 13 at age 76. He helped found Vanilla Fudge, known for extended heavy rock versions of popular hits (“You Keep Me Hanging On”), then left in 1970 to form the short-lived band Cactus with drummer Carmine Appice. In 1973, they both teamed up with Beck on tour and then recorded the “Beck Bogert & Appice” LP as a power trio, which included a fabulous cover of “Superstition.” Bogert was a pioneer of using distortion with his bass to help it cut through the mix with the low-powered amps of his time.

Neville O’Riley Livingston, founding member of the pioneering Jamaican reggae group The Wailers, died March 2 at age 73. Livingston was known professionally as Bunny Wailer, one of two singer-songwriters in the group along with Bob Marley, and also its percussionist. As Marley became the more dominant figure when the group began seeking international fame, Wailer chose to embark own a solo career, generally staying in Jamaica. His Solo album “Blackheart Man” and several compilation LPs won Grammy awards in the ’80s and ’90s.

Ron Bushy, drummer for ’60s hard rock band Iron Butterfly, died August 29 at age 79. Bushy is best known for the widely familiar drum solo he performed (in one take!) in the middle of the group’s 17-minute iconic psychedelic piece, “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” He was a founder of the Los Angeles-based band in 1967 and stayed in the lineup for all of the group’s six albums, through 1975. He recalled how Iron Butterfly’s pi├Ęce de resistance was originally just a two-minute ditty, “a love song from Adam to Eve,” until they went into the studio in 1968 and expanded it into one of the true classics of that era.

Armando Anthony “Chick” Corea, considered one of the foremost jazz pianists of the post-John Coltrane era, died of a rare form of cancer February 9 at age 79. He was an accomplished composer, keyboardist, bandleader, and occasional percussionist, playing with the great Miles Davis in the late ’60s at the birth of the jazz fusion genre. His own ’70s jazz ensemble Return to Forever influenced a generation of jazz fusion artists, and Corea’s compositions like “Spain,” “500 Miles High,” “La Fiesta” and “Windows” are considered jazz standards. Corea won 25 Grammys and was nominated 60 times.

George “Commander Cody” Frayne IV, leader, pianist and vocalist of the ’70s country rock band Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen, died September 26 at age 77. The band came up with a unique, compelling brew of music that melded country and rock with older styles like Western swing, jump blues and boogie-woogie. Their 1971 album “Lost in the Ozone” is regarded as a must-have LP of that period, partly because of their one hit single, a cover of the 1955 speed-talking, fast-picking “Hot Rod Lincoln.”

Graeme Charles Edge, drummer and lyrical poet for The Moody Blues from the group’s beginnings in the early ’60s, died November 11 at age 80. He saw the band through its first phase with singer Denny Laine, followed by the triumphant years as trailblazers of the British progressive rock era (1967-1973), and eventually into a new period of chart success in the 1980s. Edge was a consistent contributor, not only on the drum kit but by providing spoken-word poetry as an element of The Moodies’ sound. For more about the lasting legacy of The Moody Blues, and Edge’s contributions, see my earlier blog post, “The music to the story in your eyes.” https://hackbackpages.com/2021/11/19/the-music-to-the-story-in-your-eyes/

The Everly Brothers, Don at right

Isaac Donald “Don” Everly, one half of the ’50s-’60s vocal duo The Everly Brothers, died August 21 at age 84. Together with younger brother Phil, who died in 2014, The Everly Brothers rode high on the charts from 1957 to 1965 with their sweet harmonizing on such classics as “Wake Up, Little Susie,” “All I Have to Do is Dream,” “Bye Bye Love” and “Cathy’s Clown.” The brothers endured a rocky period but eventually reunited and also appeared in concert and on record with Simon and Garfunkel in the early 2000s. For more about Don and Phil Everly and their impact on early rock vocals, please see my earlier blog post, “Bye bye, my love, goodbye.” https://hackbackpages.com/2021/08/27/bye-bye-my-love-goodbye/

Michael Kelly Finnigan, an extraordinarily in-demand keyboard player in recording sessions and on tour, died from cancer on August 11 at age 76. A master of the Hammond organ and a vocal contributor as well, Finnigan toured with and played on sessions for some of the biggest names in rock, including Jimi Hendrix, Crosby Stills and Nash, Dave Mason, Michael McDonald, Joe Cocker, Buddy Guy, Etta James, Peter Frampton, Ringo Starr, Cher, Bonnie Raitt, Tracy Chapman and Rod Stewart. In the playlist at the end of this piece I’ve included three tracks on which he made a significant contribution: “Rainy Day, Dream Away” by Hendrix; “Bring It On Home to Me” by Mason; and “Southern Cross” by Crosby Stills & Nash.

Joe Michael “Dusty” Hill, longtime bass player and singer for ZZ Top, died July 28 at age 72. Hill, guitarist Billy Gibbons and drummer Frank Beard hold rock music’s longevity record for longest lifespan of a band without a personnel change (51 years). Founded in 1969, ZZ Top was a Texas blues/boogie band in its first iteration with tunes like “Lagrange” and “Tush” but later morphed into MTV favorites with synthesizer-laced hits like “Legs,” “Give Me All Your Lovin'” and “Sleeping Bag.” For more about Hill and his part in the story of ZZ Top, I direct you to my earlier blog post, “I said, lord, take me downtown.” https://hackbackpages.com/2021/08/06/i-said-lord-take-me-downtown/

Gerard “Gerry” Marsden, leader and singer of the British Merseybeat group Gerry and The Pacemakers, died from a blood infection January 3 at age 78. Marsden and his group were signed to EMI Records by George Martin, who had also signed The Beatles around the same time. The Pacemakers’ first hit, in fact, was “How Do You Do It,” which The Beatles also recorded but rejected in favor of their original, “Love Me Do.” The Pacemakers took their version to #1 in the UK (it reached #9 in the US later on). Marsden and company also scored hits in the US with “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying” and “Ferry Cross the Mersey.”

Robert Michael Nesmith, guitarist, singer and songwriter as a member of the The Monkees, died December 10 at age 78. He pushed for and won greater control of The Monkees’ recorded output, which included such successes as “I’m a Believer,””Plesasant Valley Sunday” and “Daydream Believer,” as well as lesser-known tracks penned and sung by Nesmith. He was also an unsung pioneer of the country rock genre, releasing several country-flavored albums with The First National Band and under his own name. He was involved behind the scenes in early iterations of the music video revolution that came in the 1980s. For more on Nesmith, please refer to my earlier blog post, “Disappointed haunted all my dreams.” https://hackbackpages.com/2021/12/17/disappointment-haunted-all-my-dreams/

Harvey Phillip “Phil” Spector, a titanic name in pop music history for his innovative recording techniques in the 1960s, died in prison on January 16 at age 82. Spector came up with what is known as the “Wall of Sound” approach, in which he used multiple pianos, guitars, strings, horns and voices in a “Wagnerian approach to rock and roll,” as he put it. His hits for The Ronettes (“Be My Baby”), the Crystals (“He’s a Rebel”) and The Righteous Brothers (“You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” and “Unchained Melody”) made effective use of this practice. Spector also produced The Beatles’ “Let It Be” LP and the first couple of solo albums by John Lennon (“John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band” and “Imagine”) and George Harrison (“All Things Must Pass” and “Concert For Bangla Desh”). In 2009, Spector was convicted of the 2003 murder of actress Lana Clarkson and sentenced to 19 years to life.

Michael Stanley Gee, leader, guitarist singer and songwriter of The Michael Stanley Band, died on March 5 at age 72. The pride of Cleveland, Ohio, Stanley began as an acoustic singer-songwriter in the early ’70s, collaborating with Joe Walsh, which inspired his move to form MSB in 1975 , beginning a string of 10 solid Midwest rock albums that should have become nationwide successes but caught on only fleetingly. Still, they set attendance records at venues throughout Ohio and other Midwest towns where they enjoyed a diehard following well into the 2000s. For a deeper look at Stanley and his band, please read my earlier blog post, “Here’s a song for a friend soon gone.” https://hackbackpages.com/2021/03/12/heres-a-song-for-a-friend-soon-gone/

Billy Joe “B.J.” Thomas, widely known as a singer of pop and country hits in the ’60s and ’70s, died May 29 at age 78. He charted six songs in the US Top 20 between 1966 and 1975, including two #1 hits — Burt Bacharach’s “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head,” which won a Best Song Oscar from the “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” film soundtrack, and the 1976 Best Country Song Grammy winner (and the longest song title of any #1 song ever), “(Hey Won’t You Play) Another Somebody Done Somebody Wrong Song.” Other notable hits by Thomas include the original version of “Hooked On a Feeling,” a cover of the Hank Williams chestnut “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” “I Just Can’t Help Believing” and”Rock and Roll Lullaby.”

Mary Wilson (center) with The Supremes

Mary Wilson, one of the three founding members of The Supremes, died February 8 at age 76. Along with Diana Ross and Florence Ballard, Wilson reached the pinnacle of success as The Supremes, Motown Records’ most successful act and the highest-charting female group in history. They compiled an astonishing 12 #1 hits between 1964 and 1970, including “Stop! In the Name of Love,” “Come See About Me,” “Baby Love,” “I Hear a Symphony,” “You Can’t Hurry Love,” “Love Child” and “Someday We’ll Be Together.” After Ballard and Ross left, Wilson remained as new members were brought to the lineup, and she stayed until the group’s dissolution in 1977. She later set sales records for her autobiography “Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme” in 1986.

Norman Russell “Rusty” Young, pedal steel guitarist and vocalist for the country rock band Poco, died April 14 at age 75. He was a founding member, having met Jim Messina and Richie Furay during sessions for Buffalo Springfield’s final LP. Young was known as a virtuoso and innovator on pedal steel, coaxing a Hammond organ sound out of it by playing it through a Leslie speaker cabinet. After Furay left in 1975, Young stepped up in both songwriting and singing, and ended up songs like “Rose of Cimarron” and Poco’s biggest hit, “Crazy Love.”

Norman Paul Cotton, guitarist and singer-songwriter for Poco, died July 31 at age 78. He joined Poco in 1970 following the departure of founding member Jim Messina and remained an integral member of the band until 2010. It was Cotton who wrote “Heart of the Night,” one of Poco’s two Top ten hits from the 1978 LP”Legend,” and he also wrote such gems as “Down in the Quarter,” “Indian Summer” and “Bad Weather.”

For a closer look at Poco, and Young’s and Cotton’s work, please see my earlier blog post, “We’re bringin’ you back down home.” https://hackbackpages.com/2021/04/23/were-bringin-you-back-down-home/

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For this playlist, I’ve selected two songs for each honoree, except Charlie Watts, who deserves three, and the two members of Poco, who deserve three between them.