‘Cause you got to have friends

Valentine’s Day is generally considered a holiday to celebrate romantic love.  But this year, I’m making the suggestion that we also regard it as a day to celebrate the love of a good friend.

Friendships occur throughout our lives, sometimes waxing and waning as we age.  But some friendships last for decades, or even our entire lives.

 

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This weekend my wife invited several of her best friends from high school days in Cleveland, most of whom are turning 60 this year, to celebrate their milestone together here in Malibu and Santa Barbara.  A few of their daughters, who have been friends since they were toddlers, are attending as well.  I anticipate much hilarity, good-natured teasing, embarrassing old photos, plenty of wine and many sincere hugs of gratitude for the blessings of deep friendships.

My contribution to the celebration is this week’s post on “Hack’s Back Pages,” which singles out a dozen great classic songs about friends, and another ten songs designated as “honorable mention.”  I encourage the ladies, and all my readers, to use this Spotify playlist as a soundtrack for your weekend.

There’s nothing like friends, old and new!

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“You’re a Friend of Mine,” Clarence Clemons & Jackson Browne, 1985

Unknown-148As the sax player in Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, Clemons was pretty well known when he decided to do a solo project in 1985.  Songwriter/producer Michael Walden wrote this joyous song and gave it to Clemons to record on his “Hero” album.  Clemons invited Jackson Browne to sing it with him as a duet, and it reached #18 on the pop charts that year.  The lyrics underscore the importance of unconditional reliability among close friends:  “Oh, you can depend on me, over and over, over and over, know that I intend to be the one who always makes you laugh until you cry, and you can call on me until the day you die, years may come and go, here’s one thing I know, all my life, you’re a friend of mine…”

“You’ve Got a Friend,” James Taylor and Carole King, 1971

4b80a6e11ccb0309c04bc45047e467b7--photo-tapestry-carole-kingProbably the song about friends that tugs at most people’s emotional heartstrings is this heartwarming Carole King tune, which appears on her monumental 1971 album, “Tapestry.”  James Taylor was recording his “Mud Slide Slim” LP next door in the same L.A. studio, and they both played on each other’s recording sessions.  Once Taylor heard this song, he pleaded images-89with King to allow him to record his own version, and she agreed.  (Quite the friendly gesture, no?)  It went on to become Taylor’s only #1 single and one of his signature tunes.  The two friends reunited in 2010 to record and perform this song and many others from these fondly loved albums:  “You just call out my name, and you know wherever I am, I’ll come running to see you again, winter, spring, summer or fall, all you’ve got to do is call, and I’ll be there, hey ain’t it good to know that you’ve got a friend…”

“Friends,” Bette Midler, 1972

Unknown-149Actor/musician Buzzy Linhart was part of the Greenwich Village scene in the late ’60s and early ’70s as an instrumentalist and producer, working with everyone from Richie Havens and Phil Ochs to John Sebastian and Jimi Hendrix.  Bette Midler was also part of that scene, performing periodically in the Continental Baths.  Linhart and Mark “Moogy” Klingman came up with the loose, fun tune “(You Got to Have) Friends,” which Midler heard and immediately recorded in a campy arrangement that ended up entitled just “Friends” on her debut LP “The Divine Miss M.”  It was one of three singles released from the album, and became her unofficial theme song:  “Standing at the edge of the world, boys, waiting for my new friends to come, I don’t care if I’m hungry or poor, I’m gonna get some of them, ’cause you got to have friends, ’cause you got to have friends…”

“See My Friends,” The Kinks, 1965

Unknown-155Ray Davies has said this song is about the death of his older sister, Renée, who lived for a time in Ontario.  Upon her return to England, she gave Davies his first guitar for his 13th birthday.  She then fell ill, owing to an undiagnosed hole in her heart, and died while dancing at a night club.  The lyrics to “See My Friends” deal with mourning the loss of a loved one, and the need to have friends to lean on.  Released in July 1965, this Kinks single reached #10 in Britain but not at all in the US, which severely disappointed Davies:  “See my friends layin’ across the river, she is gone and now there’s no one else to take her place, she is gone and now there’s no one else to love, ‘cept my friends…”

“Be My Friend,” Free, 1970

Unknown-151Vocalist Paul Rodgers and bassist Andy Fraser co-wrote this somewhat serious track from Free’s third LP “Highway.”  It was written with vocalist Paul Kossoff in mind, who struggled with emotional insecurity made worse by the fame the band got from their huge 1970 single “All Right Now.”  Kossoff said he loved the song, but he nonetheless suffered a breakdown that led to the premature dissolution of the band.  The lyrics speak of how crucial it is to have a friend to help us through our struggles:  “All I need is a friend, someone to give a helping hand when I’m afraid in the night, someone to squeeze me and tell me it’s all right, you know I worry such a lot, and I would give all I’ve got just to have someone believe in me, just to do that and put me back on evenly, baby baby, be my friend…”

“Good Friends,” Joni Mitchell and Michael McDonald, 1985

Unknown-152By the mid-’80s, Mitchell had developed a bitterness about the music business as well as conservative government policies, and it showed up in her work, especially on her 1985 LP “Dog Eat Dog.”  But there were exceptions, especially the leadoff track “Good Friends,” a marvelous duet with singer Michael McDonald.  The adjacent photo is from a compelling music video of the song that’s worth watching.  The lyrics describes her complicated relationship with her then-husband Larry Klein, who she said was more a friend and fellow musician than a spouse:   “I have to come and see you maybe once or twice a year, I think nothing would suit me better (right now) than some downtown atmosphere in the dance halls and the galleries, or betting in the OTB, synchronized, like magic, good friends, you and me…”

“Friends,” Elton John, 1971

elton-john-and-songwriter-bernie-taupin-attend-a-private-party-at-universal-studios-on-july-10-1973-in-universal-city-california-photo-by-ed-caraeffgetty-imagesEarly in their career, Elton John and lyricist Bernie Taupin were eager to get their songs exposed to audiences in as many ways as possible, so they accepted an invitation to write songs for the soundtrack of a quiet little French film called “Friends.”  It was released in early 1971 to little or no fanfare, but the accompanying “Friends” LP got attention because John had already scored his big hit “Your Song” by then, as well as his acclaimed “Tumbleweed Connection” album.  I have always had a soft spot for the John-Taupin songs on this neglected LP, particularly the title track, which I have adopted almost as a mantra for my life:  “Making friends for the world to see, let the people know that you got what you need, with a friend at hand, you will, see the light, if your friends are there, then everything’s all right…”

“You’re My Best Friend,” Queen, 1975

queen-youre-my-best-friend-1976-36While most of Queen’s voluminous song catalog was written by either vocalist Freddie Mercury or guitarist Brian May, a few were composed by bassist John Deacon.  One of his best efforts was “You’re My Best Friend,” a love song to his wife that appeared on Queen’s breakthrough LP “A Night at the Opera” in 1975.  As we all know by now, it was “Bohemian Rhapsody” that stole the show on that album, but “You’re My Best Friend” was no slouch, reaching #7 on the UK singles chart and #16 in the US:  “Oh, you’re the best friend that I ever had, I’ve been with you such a long time, you’re my sunshine and I want you to know that my feelings are true, I really love you, oh, you’re my best friend…”

“Old Friends/Bookends,” Simon and Garfunkel, 1968

Unknown-154How extraordinary that Simon wrote such worldly-wise songs as this one when he was only 27.  The first side of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bookends” album was an impressive song cycle that looks at several stages of life, including teenage angst, young married travelers, midlife divorce, and the declining years.  “Old Friends” and its followup track “Bookends” offer a sophisticated, poetic look at old age and the value of lifelong friendships and cherished memories:  “Can you imagine us years from today, sharing a park bench quietly, how terribly strange to be 70, old friends, melody brushes the same years, silently sharing the same fears…”

“Hello Old Friend,” James Taylor, 1974

Unknown-153A friend doesn’t always have to be a person.  It could be a pet, or even a favorite place that one continually returns to.  For Taylor, that place is Martha’s Vineyard, where he had spent many summers as a boy, and it’s where he built a home for himself and then-wife Carly Simon to start a family.  He wrote about it in “Hello Old Friend,” a track from his reflective 1974 LP “Walking Man.”  His constant touring during this phase of his life took its toll, and he was always very happy to return to his island home in the woods:  “Hello, old friend, welcome me home again, well, I’ve been away but that’s all over now, say I can stay for October now, stay a while and play, hello, old friend, isn’t it nice to be home again…”

“Can We Still Be Friends?” Todd Rundgren, 1978

Unknown-156Both as the leader of Utopia and as a solo artist, Rundgren has always been more about artistic statements than commercial concerns.  Consequently, his albums and singles have performed respectably but have never been huge hits, except perhaps his 1972 single “Hello It’s Me.”  In 1978, Rundgren enjoyed his third-biggest single “Can We Still Be Friends?” from his “Hermit at Mink Hollow” album.  He has said the song is autobiographical, with lyrics that describe how, despite numerous attempts to fix his relationship with longtime companion Bebe Buell, it wasn’t going to work…but he wanted things to remain amicable:  “Let’s admit we made a mistake, but can we still be friends?  Heartbreak’s never easy to take, but can we still be friends?  Can we still get together sometime?…”

“That’s What Friends Are For,” Dionne Warwick & Friends, 1985

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(Clockwise from upper left): Gladys Knight, Carole Bayer Sager, Burt Bacharach, Dionne Warwick, Stevie Wonder, Elton John

Written by the great Burt Bacharach and his sometime writing partner Carole Bayer Sager, this hugely popular song was first recorded by Rod Stewart in 1982 for the soundtrack to the comedy film “Night Shift.”  Three years later, it was recorded by Dionne Warwick with help from Stevie Wonder, Elton John and Gladys Knight and released as a charity single for AIDS research and prevention, earning more than $3 million.  It not only spent four weeks at #1 in early 1986, it went on to win the Grammy for Song of the Year for the songwriters, and Best Pop Performance By a Duo or Group with Vocal for the performers.  It reminds those who are going through challenging times that their friends are always there to support them:  “Keep smiling, keep shining, knowing you can always count on me, for sure, that’s what friends are for, for good times and bad times, I’ll be on your side forever more, that’s what friends are for…” 

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Honorable Mention:

Friends,” The Beach Boys, 1968;  “Thank You for Being a Friend,” Andrew Gold, 1978;  “Friend of the Devil,” The Grateful Dead, 1970; “Waiting on a Friend,” The Rolling Stones, 1981;  “Snowblind Friend,” Steppenwolf, 1970;  “How Many Friends,” The Who, 1975;  “Good Friends,” Livingston Taylor, 1970;  “Thank You Friends,” Big Star, 1978;  “Hello Old Friend,” Eric Clapton, 1976;  “My Best Friend,” Jefferson Airplane, 1967.

I’m gonna wait ’til the midnight hour

Last year, I put together a playlist of great songs with titles and/or lyrics about the morning time.  A friend whose profession as a tax accountant occasionally requires him to work the late shift suggested that I come up with a playlist of songs about midnight to Unknown-71help him endure the many hours burning the midnight oil, so I’ve done just that.

It’s a diverse group of 15 songs here, reaching back into the late ’40s and (among the honorable mentions) ahead into the late 1980s.  There are always more candidates to choose from in the 1990s and beyond, but as usual, I specialize in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s here at Hack’s Back Pages.

I hope you enjoy these tunes and their back stories.

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“Midnight Special,” Johnny Rivers, 1965

hqdefault-18This traditional folk song about a passenger train called the Midnight Special is more than a century old, when prisoners in the American South would refer fondly to the Illinois Central train and “its ever-lovin’ light” that might someday take them to freedom.  Blues legend Lead Belly recorded a version in 1934, and early rockabilly singer Paul Evans achieved the song’s highest chart success in 1960.  Many rock fans may know Johnny Rivers’ 1965 rendition, which peaked at #20, and others may be more familiar with Creedence Clearwater Revival’s cover from 1971, which was used as the theme to the Midnight Special TV music showcase in the ’70s.

“Midnight Rambler,” The Rolling Stones, 1969

41B95VAQ5BLThis violent track from the Stones’ 1969 LP “Let It Bleed” refers to the grisly deeds of Albert DeSalvo, the ’60s serial killer better known as The Boston Strangler.  Curiously, Mick Jagger and Richards wrote the song while on vacation in a picturesque town in Italy earlier that year.  “Why we should write such a dark song while in a beautiful, sunny place, I don’t know,” Jagger said.  The original studio version is plenty great, but the in-concert rendition from the 1970 live album “Get Yer Ya-Yas Out!” is considered the definitive one, so that’s the one you’ll hear on the Spotify playlist.

“Midnight at the Oasis,” Maria Muldaur, 1973

413C1RCP90LThe Puerto Rican girl born Maria Grazia Rosa Domenica D’Amato grew up in New York City and became a part of the Sixties music scene in Greenwich Village, singing behind Bob Dylan, John Sebastian and others.  She joined the Jim Kweskin Jug Band and later was an integral part of the Jerry Garcia Band, a side project of the Grateful Dead’s guitarist.  Muldaur had her one and only hit with songwriter David Nichtern’s “Midnight at the Oasis,” which reached #6 in the spring of 1974 and was nominated for a Record of the Year Grammy.  At 76, she still performs occasionally.

“Midnight Confessions,” The Grassroots, 1968

61sQNoHEN9LWith bassist Rob Grill on lead vocals, The Grassroots first took hold in 1967 with the psychedelic folk hit single “Let’s Live for Today.” When follow-ups failed, Dunhill Records mogul Lou Adler resumed the reins and steered the band in a more horns-oriented direction, a year or two before Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago popularized horns-dominant rock.  The first attempt was the million-selling “Midnight Confessions,” written by Lou Josie and first recorded by the Ever-Green Blues.  Its lyrics are about a man who has a secret crush on a married woman, so he keeps his midnight confessions to himself.

“Midnight Wind,” John Stewart, 1979

c9643030e27d5baf42e1b2a436e67a98A veteran singer-songwriter from his folkie days with The Kingston Trio, Stewart also wrote The Monkees’ 1967 #1 hit “Daydream Believer.”  In 1979, he collaborated with Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks, who took a break from their recording sessions for Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” double album.  Buckingham produced and played guitar and Nicks added vocals to several tracks on Stewart’s “Bombs Away Dream Babies” LP, most notably the #5 hit “Gold” and the fantastic tune “Midnight Wind.”  The album doesn’t seem to be available on Spotify, but a later re-recording by Stewart offers a satisfying alternative to the original.

“In the Midnight Hour,” Wilson Pickett, 1965

51SwOoG2ZGL._SX355_Pickett was one of the gritty soul singers signed to Stax/Volt Records, Memphis’s answer to Detroit’s Motown label.  “In the Midnight Hour,” the tune that became Pickett’s signature song, was written in 1964 by Pickett and Stax session guitarist Steve Cropper during a session in the infamous Lorraine Motel, where Martin Luther King was assassinated four years later.  The tune reached #1 on the R&B charts and peaked at #21 on the pop charts, and was later covered by such artists such as The Young Rascals, Mitch Ryder, Archie Bell & The Drells, Tom Jones and Bryan Ferry.

“Midnight Rider,” The Allman Brothers Band, 1970

Allman-Brothers-Band-Idlewild-SouthOrganist-vocalist Gregg Allman wrote many of the band’s finest early songs, most notably “Whipping Post” and “It’s Not My Cross to Bear” from their debut LP, and the haunting “Midnight Rider,” which appears on the group’s 1970 second album “Idlewild South.”  The tune became a popular favorite and a regular of the Allman Brothers in-concert repertoire, and later, when Gregg Allman went out on a solo tour in 1973, he performed a rearranged version that ended up on his “Laid Back” solo debut LP and even charted as a #19 hit single that year.

“Midnight Train to Georgia,” Gladys Knight and The Pips, 1973

midnight-trainSongwriter Jim Weatherly, a friend of actor Lee Majors, called him one evening to hear that his wife, Farrah Fawcett-Majors, was “leaving on a midnight plane to Houston.”  Weatherly liked the sound of that phrase and used it as the title for his soon-to-be-famous song.  By the time it was presented to Gladys Knight as a great choice for her next single, the plane had been replaced by a train, and the destination had changed from Houston to Georgia.  The song went on to reach #1 on both the pop charts and R&B charts in the fall of 1973, won a Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance.

“Midnight Cowboy,” John Barry, 1969

R-1097409-1443930393-7930.jpegBarry is one of the more accomplished film score composers of the 20th Century, responsible for the first dozen James Bond movies as well as Oscar nominees like “Born Free,” “Out of Africa” and “Dances With Wolves,” among many others.  The languid, melancholy melody he came up with for 1969’s Best Picture winner “Midnight Cowboy” is especially effective, thanks in no small part to the warm harmonica solo by the legendary Toots Thielemans.  A rendition by piano duo Ferrante and Teicher did better on the charts, but I think the original is far superior.

“South City Midnight Lady,” The Doobie Brothers, 1973

The-Captain-and-Me-2In its original incarnation, The Doobies were a rough-and-tumble biker bar band from San Jose, churning out serious boogie tunes by Tom Johnston like “China Grove,” “Long Train Runnin’,” “Listen to the Music” and “Jesus is Just Alright.”  The more melodious, understated songs in the group’s repertoire were provided by second guitarist/vocalist Pat Simmons, gems like “Toulouse Street,” “Clear as the Driven Snow” and the shimmering “South City Midnight Lady.”  This track from 1973’s “The Captain and Me” includes some sweet pedal-steel work by eventual full-time Doobie Jeff “Skunk” Baxter.

“Midwest Midnight,” Michael Stanley Band, 1977

0001265787Cleveland’s own Michael Stanley Band is perhaps the best example of an excellent rock band that should’ve made it big but didn’t.  Between 1974 and 1984, they bounced from Epic to Arista to EMI America, writing and recording so many great songs and touring relentlessly, but MSB never achieved the well-deserved chart success their fans think they should have.  On their 1977 live LP “Stagepass,” you can find the only version of the great rocker “Midwest Midnight,” which tells Stanley’s tale of listening to music late at night as a teen and dreaming about a career as a rock musician.

“Midnite Cruiser,” Steely Dan, 1972

220px-Cant_buy_a_tcant_buy_a_thrillFrom the pop craftwork of “Pretzel Logic” and “Katy Lied” to the jazzier arrangements on “Aja” and “Gaucho,” Steely Dan’s seven superlative albums were essentially a soundtrack to the styles and moods of the ’70s.  Their later work sold better, but when I’m asked which album is my favorite, I keep coming back to their remarkable debut, “Can’t Buy a Thrill.”  Beyond the radio hits “Do It Again” and “Reelin’ in the Years” are irresistible tracks like “Kings,” “Dirty Work,” “Only a Fool Would Say That,” “Brooklyn” and the quirky “Midnite Cruiser,” the only Dan tune featuring original drummer Jim Hodder on vocals.

“‘Round Midnight,” Thelonious Monk, 1947

s-l300-7Monk, one of the two or three finest jazz pianists in music history, wrote this marvelous song in 1944, performing it in clubs for years before finally recording it in 1947.  It went on to become the most recorded jazz standard composed by a jazz musician; many covers exist but Miles Davis’s rendition in 1955 is worth seeking out.  Later on, torch singers like Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Linda Ronstadt let the world know the song came with a great set of sad lyrics as well (also by Monk):  “It begins to tell ’round midnight, midnight, I do pretty well till after sundown, supper time I’m feelin’ sad, but it really gets bad ’round midnight…”

“Midnight Moodies,” Joe Walsh, 1973

walsh02-2Walsh got his start as guitarist, singer and songwriter for Cleveland’s The James Gang, then embarked on a solo career in 1972.  Perhaps my favorite track from Walsh’s masterpiece album “The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get” is this mesmerizing instrumental piece.  Piano, guitar, bass, drums and flute combine to create a compelling piece that features multiple moods and styles in only 3:39.  Walsh’s LP was a big seller thanks to the huge hit single “Rocky Mountain Way,” but I urge you to listen to the rest of the album, starting with this track, “Dreams,” “Meadows” and “Wolf.”

 “After Midnight,” Eric Clapton, 1970

Eric_Clapton_Album_CoverIn the wake of Cream’s breakup and then the short-lived Blind Faith, Clapton chose to finally stick his toe in solo waters with the self-titled debut LP in the summer of 1970.  He recruited friends like Stephen Stills, Leon Russell, Delaney & Bonnie Bramlett and his bandmates from Derek and the Dominos to work on blues, soul and rock tunes like “Let It Rain,” “Blues Power,” “Easy Now” and “Bottle of Red Wine.” The album’s best known track was J. J. Cale’s blues shuffle “After Midnight,” which Eric and company cut in an uptempo arrangement.  For the Spotify playlist, I chose to feature an alternate take that prominently features a horn section.

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Honorable mention:

Burning of the Midnight Lamp,” Jimi Hendrix Experience, 1968;  “Midnight Man,” The James Gang, 1971;  “It’s Midnight,” Elvis Presley, 1975;  “Minutes to Midnight,” Midnight Oil, 1984;  “Saturday at Midnight,” Cheap Trick, 1982;  “Midnight Flyer,” The Eagles, 1974;  “Moanin’ at Midnight,” Howlin’ Wolf, 1958;  “Midnight Blue,” Lou Gramm, 1987;  “Rockin’ at Midnight,” The Honeydrippers, 1984;  “Isn’t It Midnight,” Fleetwood Mac, 1987;   “Rockin’ After Midnight,” Marvin Gaye, 1982;  “Midnight Wind,” Charlie Daniels Band, 1977;  “Fire at Midnight,” Jethro Tull, 1977.

The playlist on Spotify includes the 15 featured selection, a couple of alternate versions and the 13 honorable mention tracks.