There are lovely soundscapes to discover

I’m a big fan of “lost classics” here at Hack’s Back Pages.  These are songs that are generally buried deep on an album somewhere, rarely get airplay but bring back great memories upon rediscovery.

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For many readers, they are discovering a song here for the very first time.  For me personally, I sometimes find that when I look up a song by an artist I know, I learn of another album the artist released a few years later (or earlier) that I’d been unfamiliar with.  I give it a listen, and maybe I find it’s full of not-very-good songs.  But sure enough, there’s one hiding in there that really tickles my fancy.  That’s not a “lost classic,” exactly; it’s more of a “diamond in the rough.”

This week’s collection of tracks, my 15th, is a cross section of both — songs I believe are worthy of your attention.  You might have heard these somewhere before, or you may be hearing them here for the first time.  When its comes to rock/pop music, it really doesn’t matter.  I enjoy this opportunity to open up my readers’ ears to great songs.  It’s a challenge, because tunes that appeal to me may not always appeal to you, but I’m predicting you’ll be giving most of them a grade of B or better.

And here we go:

“Let’s Get the Show on the Road,” Michael Stanley, 1974

jqnxx8st.j31My Cleveland friends are intimately familiar with this fabulous tune, but those from other parts of the country are probably in for a real treat.  Stanley is a homegrown Cleveland guy who should have hit it big with his Michael Stanley Band (1975-1988) but for reasons unknown, the stars just weren’t aligned in their favor.  I could recommend a dozen, two dozen great songs by MSB, and maybe someday I’ll do a piece focusing on just them.  But here, I’m going to focus on his signature track from his 1974 solo LP, “Friends and Legends,” recorded with Joe Walsh, Joe Vitale, Kenny Passerelli, Paul Harris and Joe Lala providing the backing music, and sax legend David Sanborn virtually carrying the tune with his amazing tenor sax work.  Sadly, it never made any impact on the charts, chiefly because this all-star band couldn’t tour behind it (which led Stanley to form his own band the following year).  SUCH an amazing song!

“Brooklyn Kids,” Pete Townshend, 1987

41BKR2421PL._SL500_Like Springsteen, Van Morrison and other prolific songwriters, Townshend often wrote, demo’ed and recorded twice as many songs as he needed for The Who albums he was working on over the years.  Some of them became tracks on his official solo LPs while others sat on a shelf in his home studio collecting dust.  Truly incredible, I’d say, that a song as dramatic and beautiful as “Brooklyn Kids,” written around the time of the “Quadrophenia” sessions, languished for 15 years before it finally saw the light of day.  In 1983, Townshend finally satisfied fans who had long requested these forgotten gems when he released the double album “Scoop,” which also included a few alternate versions of Who songs.  A second collection in 1987, appropriately titled “Another Scoop,” finally served up “Brooklyn Kids,” and we’re all the better for it.

“Mystic Traveler,” Dave Mason, 1977

Dave-Mason-Let-It-Flow-album-cover-on-BoomerSwag-DL-800x800Mason was a founding member of Traffic who couldn’t seem to coexist with fellow songwriter Steve Winwood, causing him to depart from and return to the lineup several times.  He embarked on a solo career in 1970 with the brilliant album “Alone Together,” which is overflowing with classic British rock songs but didn’t sell all that well.  Once he landed on the Columbia label a few years later, he got more recognition and flirted a few times with chart success, especially on the #12 hit “We Just Disagree” from 1977’s solid LP “Let It Flow.”  Hiding on that great album is the soaring, beautiful “Mystic Traveler,” a fine addition to any “diamond in the rough” playlist.

“Bootleg,” Creedence Clearwater Revival, 1969

B000000XCA.01._SCLZZZZZZZ_John Fogerty honestly admits that he alienated the other members of Creedence early in the band’s career by insisting that he write, arrange and produce all their albums.  “The others wanted to contribute their own songs and have more say, but I firmly believed I knew what was best,” Fogerty has said.  “I had these songs that would tie together this whole feel and image of what was later called “swamp rock,” beginning with ‘Born on the Bayou’ and ‘Proud Mary.’  So that’s what happened.”  Indeed, 1969’s “Bayou Country” set the mold for the Creedence sound on its five consecutive million-selling LPs, released in rapid fire in the next three years.  I’ve always been fond of the short (2:58) but sweet “Bootleg” with Fogerty’s unmistakable vocals, guitar and hook.

“Oh Atlanta,” Little Feat, 1974

Little_Feat_-_Feats_Don't_Fail_Me_NowThe story goes that Little Feat was formed because Frank Zappa, after hearing band member Lowell George play his song “Willin’,” kicked him out, saying he was too talented not to have his own band.  George teamed up with keyboard talent Billy Payne and founded Little Feat in 1970 as a wildly eclectic Southern California group offering strains of country, blues and R&B.  When their first two LPs didn’t sell, half the lineup left and were replaced by Kenny Gradney and Paul Barrére, who brought a New Orleans-style funk to the mix.  Beginning with 1973’s “Dixie Chicken,” Little Feat established a solid reputation as a Southern-fried blues boogie band.  A fine examples of their oeuvre was “Oh Atlanta,” from the 1974 album “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now.”

“Sookie, Sookie,” Steppenwolf, 1968

220px-SteppenwolfAlbumSinger John Kay hailed from Ontario, Canada, and from the ashes of his band Sparrow came the mighty Steppenwolf, one of the late ’60s more successful rock bands.  Everyone knows them for their ubiquitous biker anthem “Born to Be Wild” and the psychedelic rock classic “Magic Carpet Ride,” but I urge you to look a little deeper on their albums.  You’ll find many other memorable tracks like “The Pusher” (memorialized in the 1969 counterculture film “Easy Rider”), “Desperation,” “Don’t Step on the Grass, Sam” and an irresistible guitar/organ song called “Sookie, Sookie,” written by Don “Chain of Fools” Covay and legendary Stax Records guitar hero Steve Cropper.

“Lifetime Piling Up,” Talking Heads, 1987/1992

1163553-1I admit the stark New Wave sound that New Yorker David Byrne came up with on his early Talking Heads records wasn’t really my cup of tea when they first arrived in 1977.  But I warmed to them by the early ’80s when I saw and heard the extraordinary “Stop Making Sense” concert film, directed by the great Jonathan Demme.  I’ve since become a Talking Heads devotee, and I often listen to the excellent 2-CD package “Sand in the Vaseline,” a 1992 collection of hits and outtakes from throughout their 15-year career.  One hidden track on it is “Lifetime Piling Up,” a discarded tune from the 1988 “Naked” album sessions that Byrne tweaked, cleaned up and re-recorded for the ’92 collection.  Great song!

“Later,” Cat Stevens, 1973

619dN3eR65L._SL1200_Following his phenomenal success on 1970’s “Tea for the Tillerman,” 1971’s “Teaser and the Firecat” and 1972’s “Catch Bull at Four,” Cat Stevens moved to Brazil in 1973 as a tax exile.  During that period, he came up with “Foreigner,” a departure from those LPs in several respects.  He incorporated a more R&B feel to the new compositions, using new backing musicians and producing the album himself.  Half the album was devoted to a complex, piano-oriented opus called “Foreigner Suite,” which was performed and broadcast on ABC that year in an unusual quadrophonic simulcast.  The album’s single, “The Hurt,” stalled at #31, a commercial disappointment after his previous Top Ten hits.   Tucked into this challenging album is another piano-driven gem called “Later,” which features black female vocalists and a soulful rhythm.

“Where Are You,” Burton Cummings, 1980

7577657fcdcc40149ebe27a421542595Cummings was the driving force behind much of the success of The Guess Who, Canada’s most commercially successful rock band on the US charts.  He and Randy Bachman shared songwriting duties as the band rose to fame in 1969-70, but then Bachman left to form Brave Belt and Bachman-Turner Overdrive.  Cumming’s superb, distinctive vocals kept The Guess Who’s hits coming for another five years, ending when he chose to try a solo career.  After initial success — “Stand Tall,” a #10 hit — his popularity dissipated, despite a string of seven albums from 1976-1990.  Buried on his mostly forgettable 1980 LP “Woman Love” (with a truly awful album cover), Cummings came up with a soulful beauty called “Where Are You.”  Why this wasn’t released as a single is a mystery to me.

“Be Free,” Loggins and Messina, 1974

logginsmotherlodeJim Messina had intended to be Kenny Loggins’ producer, offering guidance and maybe a few guitar parts for Loggins’ 1971 debut album.  Instead, Messina’s contributions — half the songs, most of the arrangements and multiple guitar, bass, and vocals — were so substantial that the album was entitled “Kenny Loggins with Jim Messina Sittin’ In,” and they then decided to make a go of it as a working duo for the next five years.  Much of the engaging music they recorded together featured a pair of outstanding backing musicians (Al Garth and Jon Clarke on saxes, woodwinds, strings and percussion, and backing vocals), and the evidence of their value to the musical mix is never clearer than on the tour de force “Be Free,” a Messina song from L&M’s superb 1974 LP, “Mother Lode.”

“Alabama Rain,” Jim Croce, 1973

6ed186873ff352a28335a47cfb63d34bWhen I hear the music of Croce, I hear only sadness and “what could have been.”  He was only 30 when he died in a plane crash in 1973 enroute to his next tour date.  Ironically, three days earlier, just as his hard-won fame was materializing, he released a new album and single called, agonizingly enough, “I Got a Name.”  What a punch in the gut for his fans.  On the previous LP, 1972’s “Life and Times,” you’ll find one of Croce’s finest hidden moments, a perfect little song called “Alabama Rain” that has its own romantic “what used to be” story.

“Skyline Pigeon,” Elton John, 1969/1973

Elton John - Empty Sky-FrontIn the formative days of the songwriting partnership of Elton John and Bernie Taupin, the duo’s hit-or-miss ratio was more erratic.  Their first official album, 1969’s “Empty Sky,” has only a few songs that stand the rest of time.  One of them, “Skyline Pigeon,” was written on harpischord almost as a hymn, with lyrics that reveal a longing for the freedom to pursue truer dreams and ambitions.  In 1972, John re-recorded the song with his band (bassist Dee Murray, drummer Nigel Olsson and guitarist Davey Johnstone) during the sessions for “Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player,” and the result is far more satisfying, and as good as anything on that LP.  It was relegated to the B-side of the “Daniel” single in 1973, and didn’t appear on an album until a career anthology in the ’90s.

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I’m only waiting ’til the morning comes

Over my five-plus decades of collecting music, I have taken great pleasure in compiling mixed tapes, mixed CDs and Spotify playlists that address different subject matters and moods.

38-morning-has-brokenOne of my favorite themes, first assembled in 1980 or so, was an assortment of songs about morning.  I recently revisited the topic by diving into the archives, and I came up a list of available songs from the ’50s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s that focus on morning time.  There are well over 100, and probably many more, from which to choose, and I’ve narrowed that down to 20 I want to share with you here, plus another 25 that earned an “honorable mention.”  The playlist begins with mellow selections (as you’re just waking up) and then adds more vibrant tracks later on (after your second cup of coffee).

Wherever you find yourself in the morning, one or more of these tunes should suit your day.  Enjoy!

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“Morning Morgantown,” Joni Mitchell, 1970

41qOdrVToqLThere are several small cities in the U.S. named Morgantown, most notably in West Viriginia, and I have no idea if Mitchell was referring to any of them in particular or just a town she imagined when she wrote this delightful piece that opens her 1970 LP “Ladies of the Canyon.” The point is, she finds a way to create a warm portrait of a village where everyone greets the day with love and kindness:  “When morning comes to Morgantown, the merchants roll their awnings down, the milk trucks make their morning rounds in Morning Morgantown…”

“To the Morning,” Dan Fogelberg, 1972

dan_fogelberg_1974At the beginning of Fogelberg’s career, he moved from his native Illinois to Nashville to record his first album with producer Norbert Putnam, who added nice touches of cellos and strings to some of the tracks.  Although mostly ignored at first, the “Home Free” album eventually sold a million copies after his career took off in the late ’70s.  This gorgeous song was the album’s memorable opening track:  “Watching the sun, watching it come, watching it come up over the rooftops, cloudy and warm, maybe a storm, you can never quite tell from the morning, and it’s going to be a day, there is really no way to say ‘no’ to the morning…”

“Early Morning Rain,” Peter, Paul & Mary, 1965

220px-Peter_paul_and_mary_publicity_photoCanadian legend Gordon Lightfoot made his mark in the U.S. as a songwriter before emerging later as a successful singer as well.  One of his first songs to make the charts here was “Early Morning Rain,” in a gorgeous rendition by Peter, Paul & Mary.  Lightfoot deftly conveys the loneliness of being broke and homesick:  “In the early morning rain with a dollar in my hand, with an aching in my heart and my pockets full of sand, now I’m a long way from home, and I miss my loved ones so, in the early morning rain with no place to go…”

“Morning Has Broken,” Yusef/Cat Stevens, 1971

220px-Teaser_&_the_firecatIn 1931, English poet Eleanor Farjeon was asked to compose lyrics to the traditional Scottish tune “Bunessan” to create a hymn that gives thanks to the new day.  By 1971, Cat Stevens decided to record the gentle piece as “Morning Has Broken,” with piano accompaniment by Rick Wakeman.  It became a #6 hit in early 1972, and it’s still included in church services worldwide:  “Morning has broken like the first morning, blackbird has spoken like the first bird, praise for the singing, praise for the morning, praise for them springing fresh from the world…”  

“Good Morning, Heartache,” Billie Holiday, 1946

61hhRYGE7sL._SY355_Songwriter Irene Higginbotham and lyricist Ervin Drake teamed up to write this jazz standard in 1946, and the late great Billie Holliday recorded it that same year.  More than 50 other artists have covered the song, from Sam Cooke and Etta James to Natalie Cole and Tony Bennett, and Diana Ross’s version in the 1972 biopic “Lady Sings the Blues” is the best known, but I’ll take Holiday’s original any day.  What a fine lyric about waking up with the blues:  “Good morning, heartache, here we go again, good morning, heartache, you’re the one that knew me when, might as well get used to you hanging around, good morning, heartache, sit down…”

“Til the Morning Comes,” Neil Young, 1970

R-428725-1271190446.jpeg“I’m gonna give you ’til the morning comes, ’til the morning comes, I’m only waiting ’til the morning comes, ’til the morning comes…”  More a tune fragment than a bonafide song, this track lasts only 1:17 and finishes side one of Young’s wonderful 1970 LP “After the Gold Rush.”  The album was recorded in Young’s Topanga Canyon house with help from musicians from his periodic backing band Crazy Horse, plus Stephen Stills on vocals and an 18-year-old Nils Lofgren handling piano duties.

“Sunday Morning Coming Down,” Johnny Cash, 1970

JohnnyCashJCShowIn 1969 Kris Kristofferson wrote this classic hangover song for country artist Ray Stevens, but it’s Johnny Cash who recorded the definitive version in 1970 for his live album from “The Johnny Cash Show.”  It’s a lonely piece that explores how we all search for some sort of self-fulfillment but sometimes end up alone trying to cope with the effects of the night before:  “Well, I woke up Sunday morning with no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt, and the beer I had for breakfast wasn’t bad, so I had one for dessert, then I fumbled in my closet and found my cleanest dirty shirt, and stumbled down the stairs to face the day…”

“Lazy Mornin’,” Gordon Lightfoot, 1972

51y7wAs1SkL._SY355_Lightfoot reigns as perhaps Canada’s best-ever songwriter, with well over 250 songs to his credit.  His lyrics paint vivid pictures of life and love, work and play, tough times and carefree moments.  From his 1972 LP “Old Dan’s Records” is a favorite of mine called “Lazy Mornin’,” which captures the gentle feeling that often strikes us upon awakening:  “Another lazy mornin’, no need to get down on anyone, my son, coffee’s in the kitchen, woman on the run, no need to get bothered, I’ll think about Monday when Monday comes…”

“A Beautiful Morning,” The Rascals, 1968

81Jts1d1ZaL._SS500_Continuing the theme of sunny optimism that marked their previous #1 hit “Groovin,” songwriters Felix Cavaliere and Eddie Brigati of The Young Rascals came up with the joyous “A Beautiful Morning,”  which became a big hit in April 1968, perhaps the happiest hippie anthem in a tumultuous year that needed all the good vibes it could get:  “It’s a beautiful morning, I think I’ll go outside for a while, and just smile, just take in some clean fresh air, boy, no sense in staying inside if the weather’s fine…”

“Angel of the Morning,” The Pretenders, 1995

9780385540629_wide-565f21f0245d68397e8b9160683b3f765c81dafe-s800-c85If morning’s echo says we’ve sinned, it was what I wanted now, and if we’re victims of the night, I won’t be blinded by the light, just call me angel of the morning, angel, just touch my cheek before you leave me, baby…”  This dramatic song, written by Chip Taylor about a woman who felt betrayed but defiant after a one-night stand, was originally a #7 hit back in 1968 for Merilee Rush.  Then Judy “Juice” Newton had the biggest hit of her career with her remake of “Angel,” which peaked at #4 in 1981.  I happen to think the version recorded by The Pretenders for use in a 1995 episode of “Friends” was better than either of those, thanks to a stellar delivery by Chrissie Hynde.

“Touch Me in the Morning,” Diana Ross, 1973

51D6yNtLcEL._SY355_“If I’ve got to be strong, don’t you know I need to have tonight when you’re gone?, until you go, I need to lie here, and think about the last time that you’ll touch me in the morning…” This bonafide classic was the first success for songwriter Michael Masser, who collaborated with seasoned lyricist Ron Miller to score a #1 hit.  Ross, who had young children at the time, preferred recording in all-night sessions, and this track proved especially challenging for the Motown diva before she finally nailed the take she wanted at 5 a.m. as the sun rose.

“Chelsea Morning,” Joni Mitchell, 1969

MI0002527614This delightful acoustic ditty, which appears on Mitchell’s second LP “Clouds” in 1969, became one of the most beloved songs in her catalog (it was the reason Bill & Hillary Clinton named their daughter Chelsea, they say).  Mitchell wrote it while she was living in an apartment in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City:  “Woke up, it was a Chelsea morning, and the first thing that I knew, there was milk and toast and honey, and a bowl of oranges too, and the sun poured in like butterscotch and stuck to all my senses…”

“Good Morning Little Schoolgirl,” Muddy Waters, 1964

folk-singer-51bc6b42121ebWritten by Sonny Boy Williamson back in 1937, this blues standard has been recorded by dozens of artists in the years since, from The Yardbirds to Van Morrison, from Johnny Winter to Widespread Panic, from Paul Butterfield to Huey Lewis.  I really like the version the late blues titan Muddy Waters recorded in 1964 on his only all-acoustic album, “Muddy Waters, Folk Singer.”  I love the tune, but frankly, the lyrics sound more than a little unsavory today:  “Good morning little schoolgirl, can I go home with you, I’ll tell your mother and your father that I’m a little schoolboy too…”

“Meet Me in the Morning,” Bob Dylan, 1975

Bob-Dylan-Blood-On-the-Tracks-1974-frontThis simple blues tune in five verses is one of 10 superb tracks that made up Dylan’s 1975 masterpiece album “Blood on the Tracks.”  They say that misery and heartbreak are excellent muses for songwriters, and this album is proof of that.  At the time, Dylan was bemoaning the breakup of his marriage to Sara Lownes, and the lyrics to “Meet Me in the Morning” reflect that loss:  “They say the darkest hour is right before the dawn, but you wouldn’t know it by me, every day’s been darkness since you’ve been gone…”    

“When the Morning Comes,” Daryl Hall and John Oates, 1973

1973 Abandoned LuncheonetteThe Philadelphia duo became superstars in the early 1980s, but first Hall and Oates were struggling artists producing soft rock and blue-eyed soul in 1971-72.  Their second LP, 1973’s “Abandoned Luncheonette,” included the gem “She’s Gone” (a hit upon re-release in 1976), and also a few other beauties like “Las Vegas Turnaround” and “When the Morning Comes:  “Now I’m out in the cold, and I’m getting old, standing here waiting on you, but it’ll be all right when the morning comes…”

“Morning Dew,” Duane & Gregg Allman, 1968

74aeca4c-b539-11e4-8898-d0ee5b2c0751A Canadian folk musician named Bonnie Dobson wrote this thought-provoking song in 1961 about a man and woman who survive a nuclear apocalypse:  “Walk me out in the morning dew, no, there is no more morning dew, because what they’ve been sayin’ all these years has come true, it had to happen, you know, now there is no more morning dew…”  The Grateful Dead included it on their first record in 1967, and probably the best known version is on Jeff Beck’s 1968 debut LP “Truth,” with vocals by a young Rod Stewart.  But I’m partial to the version laid down by Duane and Gregg Allman for a shelved album that never saw release until 1972 after The Allman Brothers Band had become stars.

“Blue Morning, Blue Day,” Foreigner, 1978

51NyVwsfhSLLou Gramm and Mick Jones collaborated many tunes in the Foreigner repertoire.  One of their darker songs is this one about a musician who is troubled by a broken relationship and finds himself depressed and unable to reconcile:  “Out in the street, it’s six a.m., another sleepless night, three cups of coffee, but I can’t clear my head from what went down last night…”  The song reached #15 on the charts in March 1979 as the third single from Foreigner’s second LP, “Double Vision.”

“Good Morning Good Morning,” The Beatles, 1967

SgtPepper-1John Lennon claims he wrote this song one morning while eating corn flakes for breakfast and watching TV.  “It was just another typical morning in 1967, and I was writing about how some days are just a drudgery — ‘going to work, don’t wanna go, feeling low down’ — and then by evening, you’re feeling better — ‘go to a show, you hope she goes.’  I wrote it very quickly.  It’s a throwaway song, but I kind of like it.”  It’s one of the 12 songs that comprise The Beatles’ most celebrated work, the landmark 1967 LP “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

“Monday Morning,” Fleetwood Mac, 1975

081227940638This great Lindsey Buckingham pop song kicked off the 1975 “Fleetwood Mac” album that rebooted the band’s career just as they were about to break up.  Buckingham’s pop sensibility and distinctive guitar playing and vocals, combined with harmonies from Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie, gave this track the spark that turned heads from the moment you dropped the needle on that classic LP.  The lyrics use days of the week to show the fleeting nature of relationships:  “Monday morning you sure look fine, Friday I’ve got traveling on my mind, first you love me, then you fade away, I can’t go on believing this way…”

“One Fine Morning,” Lighthouse, 1970

lighthouse_one-fine-morning_8While Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago were paving the way in the late ’60s and early ’70s with their use of jazz horn instruments in a rock band, a group called Lighthouse had considerable success in Canada with the same genre.  Their only US hit was “One Fine Morning,” which offered a sizzling arrangement with guitar, horns and a rollicking jazz piano solo, and songwriter Skip Prokop’s sunny lyrics about a couple hoping to make their dreams come true:  “One fine morning, girl, I’ll wake up, wipe the sleep from my eyes, go outside and feel the sunshine, then I know I’ll realize that as long as you love me, girl, we’ll fly…”

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Honorable mention:

Good Morning Starshine,” Oliver, 1969;  “Hour That the Morning Comes,” James Taylor, 1981;  “Sometime in the Morning,” The Monkees, 1967;  “Good Morning Judge,” 10CC, 1977;  “Sunday Morning,” Spanky and Our Gang, 1968;  “If I Don’t Be There By Morning,” Eric Clapton, 1980;  “Happier Than the Morning Sun,” Stevie Wonder, 1971;  “As I Went Out One Morning,” Bob Dylan, 1967;  “Tears in the Morning,” Beach Boys, 1970;  “Good Morning, Dear,” Roy Orbison, 1969;   “Early in the Morning,” Ray Charles, 1961;  “New Morning,” Bob Dylan, 1970;  Good Morning Girl,” Journey, 1980;  “Morning Glow,” Michael Jackson, 1973;  “Cold Morning Light,” Todd Rundgren, 1972;  “Woke Up This Morning,” B.B. King, 1957;  “Morning Glory,” Mary Travers, 1972;  “Your Love is Like the Morning Sun,” Al Green, 1973;  “July Morning,” Uriah Heep, 1971;  “I Woke Up in Love This Morning,” The Partridge Family, 1970..