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.


Rockers from the vault

Sometimes you open up a safe, and there’s nothing in it but dust. In the vaults of classic rock from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, though, you’ll find a treasure trove of delectable goodies just waiting to be exposed to the light.

Here at Hack’s Back Pages, that’s what I do every couple of months: I explore the albums of that rich period of musical development and select a dozen tracks that we’ve forgotten about or never got to know the first time around.

This batch is all over the map — acoustic, electric, jam groove, sunny pop and more. I think you’ll find the playlist at the end to be a great soundtrack to any party. Meantime, I hope you enjoy reading the backstories behind these fine tunes.


“Room Full of Mirrors,” Jimi Hendrix, 1971

Hendrix’s premature death in 1970 at age 27 took everyone by surprise, including his record company, but they wasted little time in gathering several of the tracks he’d recorded in 1969 and 1970 and releasing them on two posthumous 1971 LPs, “The Cry of Love” and “Rainbow Bridge.” Critics noted that while the former showcased Hendrix’s abilities as a songwriter, the latter highlighted his unparalleled guitar playing. “Room Full of Mirrors” combines both of these talents, featuring Jimi in full-blown virtuosity, exploring new territory as he sings about his need to smash the ego (and the mirrors that reinforce them) so the world around us can be better explored and appreciated.

“Lunatic Fringe,” Red Rider, 1981

Tom Cochrane, lead guitarist for the Canadian rock band Red Rider, was inspired to write this song in 1980 after becoming aware of a resurgence of anti-Semitism in the late 1970s. Coincidentally, he recorded the first demo of the track on the same evening John Lennon was murdered by a “lunatic fringe” loner. The tragic event galvanized Cochrane’s intention to have Red Rider release the song as a single, despite the protests of Capitol Records, who felt it wasn’t commercial enough. While it didn’t have Top 40 chart success, it reached #11 on Billboard’s “Mainstream Rock Tracks” charts, and VH-1 included it among the finest “One-Hit Wonders of the ’80s.”

“Heavy Water,” Jethro Tull, 1989

While Tull’s best work came during the ’70s, frontman Ian Anderson (with loyal guitarist Martin Barre still a pivotal part of the lineup) continued to write and record some substantial material on 1980s albums like “Broadsword and the Beast” (1981), “Crest of a Knave” (1987) and “Rock Island”(1989). The latter LP emphasized hard rock arrangements and lyrics that offered typically articulate commentary on weighty social issues. “Heavy Water,” buoyed by Barre’s biting guitar and Anderson’s ever-present flute, rocks along with driving force as it tackles the scourge of acid rain, which had become a problem in England at that time due to unchecked industrial pollution.

“However Much I Booze,” The Who, 1975

The Who in general, and Pete Townshend in particular, were going through some stormy times in 1974-75. They had just completed a triumphant but exhausting tour promoting their amazing “Quadrophenia” LP, and Townshend was feeling depressed about reaching 30 and whether he and the band would still be relevant in the years ahead. He was also drinking way too much, suffering from a writer’s block and feuding with the other band members. All this eventually came out in the downbeat songs that appeared on 1975’s “The Who By Numbers,” most notably “However Much I Booze,” which Roger Daltrey refused to sing (so Townshend sang it). The uptempo arrangement and cheery melody stood in dramatic contrast to the grim subject matter.

“Blaze of Glory,” Joe Jackson, 1989

Jackson emerged from London around 1977 as part of the punk/New Wave movement and brought forth an extraordinary breadth of great music on a half-dozen LPs, touring incessantly in support of them. In 1989, he came up with his richest, most diverse album, “Blaze of Glory,” which he described as “an examination of my generation as the 1980s were ending,” commenting on the optimism of their 1950s childhood (“Tomorrow’s World”), the politics of terrorism and the Cold War (“Rant and Rave” and “Evil Empire”), yuppies and materialism (“Discipline”) and rockers who wear out their welcome (“Nineteen Forever”). Best of all was the title track about tortured hero Johnny, sparked by a vibrant, majestic horn section.

“Try to Touch Just One,” John Kongos, 1972

Of all the great artists and records I’ve heard over the years that were criminally ignored in the U.S., I’d put John Kongos’s 1972 album “Kongos” near the top of that list.  Hailing from South Africa, Kongos moved to England in the late ’60s and worked with various bands and musicians before finally recording his solo debut, using many of the musicians Elton John used on his early records (guitarist Caleb Quaye, percussionist Ray Cooper, bassist Dave Glover, even producer Gus Dudgeon).  One song, “He’s Gonna Step on You Again,” got moderate airplay here, but the standout song for me is “Try to Touch Just One,” a quasi-suite that takes the listener through an entrancing mix of different tempos and instrumentations.

“Bad,” U2, 1984

They hadn’t yet released their breakthrough LP “The Joshua Tree,” but U2 were well on their way beyond the clubs of Dublin when they released the remarkable album “The Unforgettable Fire” in 1984, beautifully produced by Daniel Lanois. The standout track for me among many fine songs is “Bad,” developed from a riff The Edge came up with that the band built up in intensity as layers of sounds were added. Bono sang gently at first, then agonizingly, about the horrors of addiction that had claimed several people he knew. “I wrote the song for a friend of mine,” he said. “I also wrote it for myself, because you can be addicted to anything. And, you know, that song’s not just about heroin: it’s about a lot of things. None of our songs are about just one thing.”

“Keep On Growing,” Derek and the Dominos, 1970

The sessions for Eric Clapton’s classic double LP “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs” were legendary for the serendipitous inclusion of Duane Allman on many of the tracks, but one I’ve always enjoyed, “Keep On Growing,” was just Clapton and the Dominos jamming on what was originally an instrumental. It almost was excluded from the record until keyboardist Bobby Whitlock came up with lyrics and a melody line. “They loved the song and what I’d done to it, so I told Eric, ‘Why don’t we do this like you sing a line, I sing a line, we’ll sing a line together.’ We did it like that and it worked out. That song was fresh picked, straight off the vine. What you hear on the album was the first take.”

“Take Me With You,” Santana, 1976

After Santana’s initial explosive success with their first three albums (especially 1970’s “Abraxas”), Carlos Santana felt the need to work with other musicians and try his hand at jazzier songs and arrangements. My interest waned during this period, but in 1976, the group reappeared with an entirely new lineup on “Amigos,” highlighted by an astounding instrumental called “Europa,” which reached the Top Ten in several European countries and got plenty of FM airplay in the US. Often overlooked was the two-part piece “Take It With You,” which begins as a ferocious Latin rocker and then morphs into a much mellower groove. Great stuff.

“Tickets to Waterfalls,” Jack Bruce, 1969

I’ve mentioned Bruce’s 1969 LP “Songs For a Tailor” several times before in this blog because it’s not well known and I’d like to change that. It was the bassist/vocalist’s first LP after the demise of the supergroup trio Cream, and it’s jam-packed with compelling songs by Bruce and lyrics partner Pete Brown. Side A is damn near perfect, with five superb tracks that mesmerized me upon first hearing and still do today. Here, I single out “Tickets to Waterfalls,” with Bruce’s inventive bass lines and powerful vocals captured beautifully in Cream producer Felix Pappalardi’s crisp production.

“She’s Changing Me,” Fleetwood Mac, 1974

In the 1971-1974 period, Fleetwood Mac was largely in the hands of guitarist Bob Welch, who wrote about half of the band’s material, with Christine McVie and Danny Kirwan pitching in on the rest. Welch wrote and sang some excellent tracks that hold up quite well all these years later — “Future Games,” “Sentimental Lady,” “Emerald Eyes,” “Bermuda Triangle” and the superb “Hypnotized.” On his last LP with the band, “Heroes Are Hard to Find,” he came up with the Beatlesque pop tune “She’s Changing Me,” which I always thought would’ve been a successful single for them. Welch left the band in late 1974, which cleared the decks for Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, who changed the band’s sound and fortunes dramatically.

“What About Me,” Quicksilver Messenger Service, 1970

Everyone mentions the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane as the flag bearers of the San Francisco scene of the late 1960s, but knowledgeable fans of that period wisely include Quicksilver Messenger Service in the discussion. In 1969 and 1970, the group released four LPs that made the Top 30 on US album charts, two with charismatic lead singer Dino Valenti taking control of the microphone. Valenti was a stage name for singer-songwriter Chet “Get Together” Powers, who, under the pseudonym Jesse Farrow, wrote FM radio classics like “Fresh Air” and “What About Me,” both giving off a strong counterculture vibe.