Right now all I got’s this lonesome day

On September 14, 2001, three days after the 9/11 attacks, Bruce Springsteen was walking down the street in New Jersey, just across the river from Manhattan.  A man driving by slowed down next to him, opened his window, stared at Springsteen and said, “Man, we really need you now.”

Springsteen had been out of the limelight for several years at that point.  His last album of new music had been 1995’s “The Ghost of Tom Joad,” a critical favorite but a relative c121852__bruce_lommercial dud.  He and the E Street Band had parted ways in the late ’80s, and The Boss and his wife had turned their attentions to raising a family.

“That guy really stopped me in my tracks,” Springsteen recalled.  “The events of 9/11 had affected me profoundly, as it had so many others, but I’d been caught in a daze, wandering around those first couple of days, worried for my kids, worried for my country, not sure what to think.  When he said ‘We need you now,’ it snapped me back into focus.  I thought, ‘It’s time to get busy doing what I can do.'”

One of rock’s most prolific songwriters got busy, all right.  Over the next few weeks, he wrote nearly 50 songs in a burst of creativity, determined to come up with music that might help in the healing process.  He made a call to the boys in the E Street Band and said, “Guys, it’s time.  Let’s get back together and make a record.”  They eagerly agreed, and the result was “The Rising,” a triumphant rejuvenation of Springsteen’s career and a 220px-Springsteen_The_Risingmuch-needed shot in the arm for his legions of fans, many of whom were still grieving huge personal loss.

This week, as we marked another anniversary of that dark day in the nation’s history, I revisited “The Rising,” and also did some research to look for other noteworthy songs that were written in the aftermath of 9/11.  I found it challenging to immerse myself in these difficult emotions and painful memories, but ultimately, I came out the other end feeling stronger, as we often do when we face our fears.

Critics were nearly unanimous in their praise for “The Rising.”  Thom Jurek of AllMusic called the album “one of the very best examples in recent history of how popular art can evoke a time period and all of its confusing and often contradictory notions, feelings and impulses.” The British magazine Uncut called the LP “a brave and beautiful album of humanity, hurt and hope from the songwriter best qualified to speak to and for his country … A towering achievement.”

In particular, the lyrics to seven tracks dealt with the emotions felt in the aftermath:  the sadness for the loss of life, the gratitude for the first responders, the dark desire for revenge, the despair for the loss of innocence, the craving for closeness and community, the need to keep hope alive.

Some of these songs specifically address the events of 9/11.  “Into the Fire,” for instance, pays tribute to the firemen who headed into the towers as everyone else was evacuating:   “It was dark, too dark to see, you held me in the light you gave, you lay your hand on me, then walked into the darkness of your smoky grave, somewhere up the stairs into the fire, somewhere up the stairs into the fire, I need your kiss, but love and duty called MV5BMzY1ZThmYmUtZjZhYi00MTA1LTg3YTktMjk1Nzg4MzdjYWFlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyOTc5MDI5NjE@._V1_you someplace higher, somewhere up the stairs into the fire…”

The leadoff track, “Lonesome Day,” ranks among Springsteen’s finest efforts, a musically robust rocker that also warns about how a demand for justice needs to be tempered by a sense of collective calm that doesn’t escalate matters:  “Hell’s brewin’, dark sun’s on the rise, this storm’ll blow through by and by, house is on fire, viper’s in the grass, a little revenge and this too shall pass, this too shall pass, I’m gonna pray, right now all I got’s this lonesome day…”

Other album tracks demonstrate Springsteen’s deft ability at writing words that deal with emotions in a more general, universal way that could apply to other kinds of loss.  “You’re Missing” delicately speaks to the void that families felt when their loved ones didn’t return home that day, but it could just as easily refer to soldiers who died on the battlefield, or victims of mass shootings:  “Pictures on the nightstand, TV’s on in the den, your house is waiting for you to walk in, but you’re missing, when I shut out the lights, you’re missing, when I close my eyes, you’re missing, when I see the sun rise, you’re missing…”

The title song, “The Rising,” is a magnificent song of resolve and hope, with lyrics that apply in any situation when the chips are down and all seems lost:  “I make my way through this darkness, I can’t feel nothing but this chain that binds me, lost track of how far I’ve gone, how high I’ve climbed… a dream of life comes to me like a catfish dancing on the end of my line, come on up for the rising, come on up, lay your hands in mine, come on up for the rising, come on up for the rising tonight…”

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In the wake of 9/11, several dozen songs surfaced, written and released by a wide range of artists.  I’ve selected a dozen that I found sufficiently moving to share with you on my blog this week.  I hope you absorb them in the spirit in which they were proffered to us.

“Let’s Roll,” Neil Young, 2001

Pegi-YoungYoung chose to focus on the amazing, harrowing story of the brave souls on United Flight 93 who stormed their hijacked cockpit and prevented the plane from reaching its intended target in Washington, D.C.:  “I know I said I love you, I know you know it’s true, I’ve got to put the phone down and do what we got to do, one’s standing in the aisle way, two more at the door, we’ve got to get inside there, before they kill some more, time is runnin’ out, let’s roll…”

“Tuesday Morning,” Melissa Etheridge, 2004

hqdefault-17Etheridge also addressed those on United Flight 93, with an added edge.  One of the heroes on board was a gay man who had faced injustices that prevented his ability to marry or be a school teacher.  Etheridge defiantly asked us to consider the freedoms and rights that are still denied to some of our citizens:  “He stood up on a Tuesday morning, in the terror, he was brave, and he made his choice and without a doubt, a hundred lives he must have saved, and the things you might take for granted, your inalienable rights, some might choose to deny him, even though he gave his life, stand up, America, wake up, America…”

“Prayer,” Disturbed, 2002

maxresdefault-28This Chicago-based heavy metal band found controversy when they filmed a riveting video for this song that appeared to be a re-creation of the Ground Zero area (view it on YouTube at your own risk).  The lyrics take Evil’s point of view:  “Another nightmare about to come true will manifest tomorrow, another love that I’ve taken from you, lost in time, on the edge of suffering, another taste of the evil I breed will level you completely, bring to life everything that you fear, live in the dark, and the world is threatening, let me enlighten you, this is the way I pray…”

“Hole in the World,” The Eagles, 2003

61cXDyMwScL._SY355_As part of the 2003 release of the 2-CD package “The Very Best of The Eagles,” Don Henley and Glenn Frey wrote this new track to weigh in with their thoughts on 9/11: “They say that anger is just love disappointed, they say that love is just a state of mind, but all this fighting over who will be anointed, oh, how can people be so blind?, there’s a hole in the world tonight, there’s a cloud of fear and sorrow, there’s a hole in the world tonight, don’t let there be a hole in the world tomorrow…”

“Sacrificed Sons,” Dream Theater, 2005

maxresdefault-26Influenced by British prog rock bands like Yes and Pink Floyd, the Boston-based Neo-progressive group Dream Theater turned a few heads with its 2005 release “Octavarium.”  Of particular interest was the 10-minute opus “Sacrificed Sons,” with lyrics by vocalist James LaBrie that recalled the 9/11 attacks:  “Heads all turning towards the sky, towers crumble, heroes die, who would wish this on our people and proclaim that His will be done, scriptures they heed have misled them, all praise their sacrificed sons…”

“Illume (9-11),” Fleetwood Mac, 2003 

500bf53780eead0482a1671f086520d5.800x800x1Stevie Nicks wrote this poignant piece less than two weeks after 9/11, but it didn’t see the light of day until Fleetwood Mac reconvened to record the 2003 LP “Say You Will.”  Nicks reflected on how difficult it can be to overcome deep heartbreak:  “What I saw on this journey, I saw history go down, I cannot pretend that the heartache falls away, it’s just like a river, ooh, it’s never ending, I cannot pretend that the heartache falls away, because it’s just like a river, it’s never ending…”

“Hey Ma,” James, 2008

HeyMaAlbumArtThe British band James offered another perspective, looking at 9/11 as a fork in the road where unfortunate choices with long-lasting global consequences were made:  “Now, the towers have fallen, so much dust in the air, it affected your vision, couldn’t see yourself clear, from the fall came such choices even worse than the fall, there’s this chain of consequences, within, without, action, cause and reaction never follows to plan… Please don’t preach me forgiveness, you’re hardwired for revenge, war is just about business, within, without…”

“When New York Had Her Heart Broke,” John Hiatt, 2011

john-hiattVeteran songwriter Hiatt came up with this tearjerker on his 2011 LP “Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns,” on which he ruefully recalled the mood of New Yorkers when their city became the focal point of the 9/11 attacks:  “And the daylight fell dark, F-16s over Central Park, when New York had her heart broke, we were dazed in the streets, from the blood and dust and heat, when New York had her heart broke…”

“Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning),” Alan Jackson, 2001

dam_asset_image-26864920180714-21667-10qsscyJackson found it hard to write a song about how he felt in the wake of 9/11, but he forged ahead and came up with this moving track.  After debuting it at the Country Music Awards less than eight weeks after 9/11, it was released as a single, topping the country charts for five weeks and reaching #28 on the pop charts.  The lyrics present a series of thought-provoking questions:  “Did you stand there in shock at the sight of that black smoke risin’ against that blue sky?  Did you shout out in anger, in fear for your neighbor, or did you just sit down and cry?  Did you weep for the children who lost their dear loved ones, and pray for the ones who don’t know?  Did you rejoice for the people who walked from the rubble, and sob for the ones left below?…”

“Courtesy of the Red White and Blue (The Angry American),” Toby Keith, 2002

Angry_American_Single_CD_CoverAlways a political conservative, Keith came up with this inflamed diatribe that stoked the rage amongst his audience and soared to #1 on the country charts upon its release in May 2002.  He has said it was written in support of the U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, but it was interpreted to reflect his generally hawkish views:   “Now this nation that I love has fallen under attack, a mighty sucker punch came flyin’ in from somewhere in the back, soon as we could see it clearly through our big black eye, man, we lit up your world like the 4th of July… Oh, justice will be served and the battle will rage, this big dog will fight when you rattle his cage, and you’ll be sorry that you messed with the U.S. of A, ’cause we’ll put a boot in your ass, it’s the American way…”

Skylines and Turnstiles,” My Chemical Romance, 2002

GettyImages-85033606-1560026014-1500x1000Gerard Way was so saddened and outraged by the events of 9/11 that he was inspired to form the emo/post-hardcore punk group My Chemical Romance.  The debut LP “I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love” includes “Skylines and Turnstiles” with its brutally graphic lyrics:  “Steel corpses stretch out towards an ending sun, scorched and black, it reaches in and tears your flesh apart as ice cold hands rip into your heart, that’s if you’ve still got one that’s left inside that cave you call a chest, after seeing what we saw, can we still reclaim our innocence?…”

“Exodus Damage,” John Vanderslice, 2005

71KAl4fX77L._SX355_Indie rock singer/songwriter Vanderslice produced ten albums out of his San Francisco-based studio/record company.  His 2005 album “Pixel Revolts” had a decidedly political bent, with several tracks about 9/11 and the Iraq War, especially “Exodus Damage” with its highly provocative lyrics:  “So the second plane hit at 9:02, I saw it live on a hotel TV, talking on my cell with you, you said this would happen, and just like that, it did, wrong about the feeling, wrong about the sound, but right to say we would stand down, an hour went by without a fighter in the sky, you said there’’s a reason why, so tell me now, I must confess, I’’m not sick enough to guess…”

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Our good memories seem like yesterday

People of my generation are always talking about how the music “back in our day” was so much better than today’s music.  I remember my father telling me the same thing, how the tunes of the ’30s and ’40s were infinitely better than anything on the radio in the ’60s and ’70s.

The-Playlist-e1484852844413To some extent, we are all creatures of our own times.  The people we knew, the experiences we had, and definitely the music we listened to when we were in our teens and ’20s made permanent impressions on us.

I’m not going to make value judgments about which era had the best music.  I wouldn’t dare.  Hey, EVERY era had unmitigated crap amongst superb classics, so it depends which songs, albums and artists we’re talking about in any given year.

But I know this:  My era was packed with tunes that are viewed as “lost classics” — really great songs that weren’t exactly chart toppers but are well worthy of your time to discover, or re-discover.  I have assembled another dozen songs from 1970 or thereabouts that have been lost between the cracks in the years since.  If you like what you hear here, and I’m betting that you will, well, you’re welcome!

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“Pure and Easy,” The Who, 1971

220px-The_who_odds_and_sodsPete Townshend struggled mightily to come up with a suitable followup to The Who’s monumental rock opera “Tommy.”  His concept, entitled “Lifehouse,” was to be a multi-media project focusing on the relationship between an artist and his audience, centered around the idea of one perfect, universal note symbolizing human unity.  Townshend damn near had a nervous breakdown over the frustrations encountered in bringing the thing to fruition, which caused him to abandon “Lifehouse” and instead release most of its music as a single album.  That album, “Who’s Next,” is often regarded as The Who’s finest, but curiously, it’s missing “Pure and Easy,” the excellent tune that best defined the project for which it was written.  That outstanding track didn’t appear until the 1974 compilation album “Odds & Sods.”

“Apeman,” The Kinks, 1970

The_kinks_lola_versus_powerman_albumComing during a transitional phase in The Kinks’ career arc, “Lola Versus Powerman and the Money-go-round, Part One” was described by one critic as “a wildly unfocused but nevertheless dazzling tour de force, featuring some of Ray Davies’ strongest songs.”  Certainly, “Lola” was an unqualified chart success for the band, even if Davies (and many others) grew to hate it over the years.  The better tune from the LP, in my view as well as Davies’, is “Apeman,” just as whimsical and sing-songy as “Lola” but far more musically engaging.  It reached #5 in the UK but stiffed at #45 in the US, qualifying it as a candidate for this “lost classics” playlist.

“I’ll Be Creepin’,” Free, 1969

Free_albumcoverThe smoldering, powerful voice of Paul Rodgers was the key element in making Bad Company such a hard rock sensation in the 1970s, but before that, Rodgers was the vocal foundation of the great, underappreciated British band Free, known foremost for the Top Five rock classic “All Right Now.”  Free assembled in 1968 and released their first LP when all four members were barely 18, cranking out a few blues rock standards and several originals by Rodgers and guitarist Andy Fraser.  The 1969 second album “Free” failed to make the US charts but was popular among cult fans, especially the mesmerizing opener “I’ll Be Creepin’,” which has all the elements that sold millions the next year on “All Right Now.”

“Then,” Yes, 1970

Unknown-57Years before they filled arenas and topped the charts, Yes was another struggling British progressive rock band, rehearsing daily and learning their chops while playing cover songs in small club gigs.  Atlantic Records took notice and signed them in 1969, and although their first LP (“Yes”) failed to chart anywhere, their follow-up, “Time and a Word,” did modestly well in England, reaching #45, even though they were still unknowns in the US.  The album consisted mostly of Jon Anderson originals, one of which, “Then,” has always appealed to me.  The track features organ and guitar work by Tony Kaye and Peter Banks, respectively, both of whom were replaced by the time of their 1971 breakthrough LP, “Fragile.”  Anderson’s tenor voice is, as on nearly every Yes song, front and center on the recording.

“Inside,” Jethro Tull, 1970

220px-JethroTull-albums-benefitAs the precursor to the legendary “Aqualung” album, “Benefit” is often neglected in discussions of Jethro Tull’s music, and when it is mentioned, talk centers on the hard rock tunes that dominate the proceedings (“To Cry You a Song,” “With You There to Help Me”).  One of Ian Anderson’s most delightful acoustic numbers is “Inside,” which features the ever-present flute, an irresistible uptempo beat, and some on-point lyrics about life and the need for a positive outlook (“I’m sitting on the corner feeling glad, got no money coming in, but I can’t be sad, that was the best cup of coffee I ever had, and I won’t worry ’bout a thing because we’ve got it made here on the inside, outside’s so far away…”)

“Sweet Jane,” Lou Reed/Velvet Underground, 1970

LoadedalbumReed’s preferred version of this classic tune came on The Velvet Underground’s fourth LP, “Loaded,” marked by a pretty 15-second melodic intro, and the uptempo arrangement later copied and made more famous in Mott the Hoople’s 1972 recording of it.  Reed continued performing “Sweet Jane” throughout his solo years, and there’s a fabulous eight-minute live version on the 1974 live LP “Rock ‘n Roll Animal.” In the late 1980s, the Canadian band Cowboy Junkies revived Reed’s slow-tempo version in their rendition  that was a popular single in Canada and on modern rock stations here.  But The Velvet Underground’s original is still a gas to hear.

“Art of Dying,” George Harrison, 1970

220px-All_Things_Must_Pass_1970_coverPeople were taken aback when Harrison’s solo debut was a double album (actual a triple, but the third was just a bunch of random jams), but it shouldn’t have been that surprising.  With two brilliant egomaniacs running the show in The Beatles, Harrison’s songs were often pushed aside, which meant he had a lot of material sitting on the shelf when “All Things Must Pass” was being assembled.  One was “Art of Dying,” whose lyrics date to 1966 when Harrison was first getting into Eastern teachings and spiritual enlightenment.  Phil Spector gave this track his trademark “wall of sound” production, with lots of reverb and layers of instruments, and Eric Clapton adding some dazzling guitar fills.  It should’ve been a big radio tune but is instead a lost classic.

“Every Night,” Paul McCartney, 1970

McCartney1970albumcoverMcCartney’s solo debut album was on the receiving end of a lot of bad vibes, arriving as it did at the time Paul made the official announcement of The Beatles’ breakup (although they’d technically split at least six months earlier).  McCartney played all the instruments, and wrote and recorded the whole album at home on a 4-track recorder, and to many people, that made it sound amateurish.  “Maybe I’m Amazed” got all the airplay because it was arranged to sound like it could’ve come from “Abbey Road.” But there are some really great nuggets to be found here as well, including “That Would Be Something,” “Man We Was Lonely,” and two songs rejected by The Beatles, “Junk” and “Teddy Boy.”  My favorite track is “Every Night,” with its great melody and potent lyrics about the depression McCartney was going through following the disintegration of The Beatles.

“Come Running,” Van Morrison, 1970

220px-VanMorrisonMoondanceOne of my favorite records of 1970 has to be “Moondance,” Morrison’s third album in a career that includes forty studio releases over 50 years.  It’s one of his most likable LPs, chock full of easygoing melodies and romantic lyrics.  I never understood why the title cut wasn’t released as a single — it has certainly become one of his best known tunes in the years since.  Instead, the choice for the single was “Come Running,” which barely made the US Top 40.  It’s a catchy little shuffle featuring piano and sax and Morrison’s immediately identifiable vocals, all the ingredients that turned up the following year on his Top Ten hit “Domino.”

“Sour Suite,” The Guess Who, 1971

220px-So_Long_Bannatyne_by_The_Guess_WhoFollowing Randy Bachman’s departure from The Guess Who in 1970, singer/keyboardist Burton Cummings assumed control of the band’s direction, and by the time of the 1971 LP “So Long Bannatyne,” we started hearing more piano-based tracks like “Sour Suite” that veered from the band’s straightforward hit-single formula.  This mellow, melancholy piece didn’t make it higher than #50 on the US singles chart, although it reached #12 in their native Canada, and many diehard fans pick it as one of their favorites in the group’s catalog.  The lyric “It’s just like 46201” refers to an Indianapolis zip code, where Cummings wrote the song while in a glum mood one morning after an off night performing there.

“Come Down in Time,” Elton John, 1970

71BalaeIjEL._SY355_Out of nearly 50 studio albums released in Sir Elton’s lengthy career, critics have often picked “Tumbleweed Connection” as the cream of the crop, and I’m inclined to agree with them.  Lyricist Bernie Taupin had become fascinated with tales of the American Wild West, and most of the tunes that appeared on “Tumbleweed” reflected that interest.  “Come Down in Time,” however, was more of a timeless ballad that might’ve appeared on other albums from that period.  With delicate use of harp, oboe and strings, producer Gus Dudgeon made it one of the LP’s most memorable songs, carried, of course, by John’s tender voice.

“Look at You, Look at Me,” Dave Mason, 1970

Alone-togetherIn my view, Mason never achieved the success he should have.  He’s a gifted songwriter, guitarist and singer, but he seemed to run into roadblocks along his path, some of them due to his own quirky stubbornness.  He could’ve been a key component of Traffic, but he kept leaving and coming back, feuding often with leader Steve Winwood.  Strangely, Mason’s solo albums were only half-heartedly promoted by the various labels who released them.  His 1970 debut “Alone Together” is one of the best LPs of that era, and it reached #22 on the album charts, but it coulda-shoulda been a chart topper.  You’ll find great songs throughout (“Only You Know and I Know,” “World in Changes,” “Sad and Deep as You”), but the real highlight is the 7-minute closer, “Look at You, Look at Me,” with Mason’s stellar guitar work, especially on the extended fadeout.

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