I guess I’m guilty of the crime

Music, like any art form, is a very subjective thing.  It appeals to us, or it doesn’t.  It plays on our emotions, or it doesn’t.

When a piece of music appeals to us, we might play it loudly in our car or on our home sound system.  We might even sing it in the shower.

But sometimes we have felt the need to hide the fact that we like certain songs or artists who might be considered “unhip.”  We keep it a secret that we are fans.

This is what is known as a guilty pleasure.  We feel guilty, for whatever reason, that we get pleasure from listening to this song or artist, and we are reluctant to let the world know it.

Me, I’ve been a lifelong fan of the records by The Carpenters.  This brother-and-sister act the-carpentersfrom the early 1970s were considered by some to be the gold standard of square, saccharine-sweet, gooey music.  It was well known in my social circle that I was a huge fan of hard rock, progressive rock, hipster songwriter rock, blues rock and others, and I certainly wasn’t going to be caught dead admitting that, deep down inside, I really liked many of the songs in The Carpenters’ repertoire.  So that was a big secret.  A guilty pleasure.

Everyone has guilty pleasures.  It’s a phrase that’s apparently been around since the 1700s, back when it had a more shameful connotation and was pretty heavy on the guilty aspect.  It might have referred to one of the seven deadly sins — kinky sexual activity, or pigging out on food, or lazing around all day reading or binge-watching TV or playing video games.  These are all guilty pleasures, because we don’t want to admit that we indulge in them.

In the early 2000s, the Canadian band Nickelback achieved considerable commercial success with several multi-platinum international hit albums and singles.  But it wasn’t long before public acclaim inexplicably turned to widespread derision, to the point where the group’s fans felt they needed to deny their fandom and hide their Nickelback CDs.  For those people, enjoying Nickelback’s music had become a guilty pleasure.

It’s all a bit silly, really.  We’re too concerned with what others may think about us if they knew about these guilty pleasures.  But ultimately, who cares what others think?  If I like to listen to “Rainy Days and Mondays” or “We’ve Only Just Begun,” what business is it of yours, and why should it matter to me?

It’s because we are too proud, too concerned with maintaining our reputation, too worried that people will think less of us.  Certain things we may be justified in keeping private, but musical preferences?  Good grief, how shallow, and how absurd.

My friend Chris likes certain songs by Barry Manilow, but he was hesitant to tell me that.  Why?  Because Manilow is largely considered unhip.

And yet, my sister Carrie is a big Manilow fan, and is more than happy to shout that fact from the rooftops.  She feels absolutely no guilt about it.

Most of the music that some of us have considered a guilty pleasure is frothy, lightweight pop music — usually from the ’60s, or ’70s, or ’80s, although it could be from more recent years.  Maybe it’s a song like “Sugar Sugar” by The Archies, or “Jessie’s Girl” by Rick Springfield, or “Think of Laura” by Christopher Cross.  Or maybe it’s something by The Spice Girls or The Backstreet Boys.

If I happen to like a song like “Diary” by Bread, I may have a very good reason for it.  It happens to remind me of a girl I dated in high school, and although the lyrics are sad, the melody brings back fond memories.  When I listened to the song the other day, I was struck by the superb production values and the professional arrangement of voices and instruments, which are both solid reasons for liking it.

There are dozens of songs I like that some people would be amazed to hear me admit to liking.  Neil Diamond’s “Heartlight.”  Dan Fogelberg’s “Longer.”  Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again (Naturally).”  Neil Sedaka’s “Laughter in the Rain.”  Why do I like these brazenly cheesy songs?  I don’t know, I just do.  So sue me.

A recent online article in the British music publication NME (New Musical Express) culled comments from a variety of musical artists and writers about their guilty pleasures, and their remarks were fascinating.

Dave Grohl of Nirvana and The Foo Fighters said, “I couldn’t get The Spice Girls’ song ‘Two Become One’ out of my head, and it’s not even a dance song.  It’s just this slow love shit.  Lord, I love it, and I don’t know what to do!  In Nirvana, Krist Novoselic joked that he was going to call his autobiography ‘What The Hell Was I Thinking?’ Now I know what he means.  Do I need a shrink?”

Gary Jarman, multi-instrumentalist of the popular British group The Cribs, made this admission:  “I think The Bee Gees’ album ‘Size Isn’t Everything’ is phenomenal.  In fact, it’s one of my favorite albums.  It’s from the much-maligned late era of The Bee Gees, but I think the pop songs are fantastic, and that’s really all that mattered to me.  It was a big record for me when I was a kid.”

An NME writer named Rebecca Schiller wrote, “Does anyone really know what Chumbawumba’s ‘Tubthumping’ means?  Probably not.  Does it matter?  Not really.  I remember buying it when I was 10.  I brought it to a sleepover that night, and we had a massive singalong to it.  That’s all that matters.  It brings back memories, and it makes me smile.  I don’t care if anyone else likes it or not.”

Kele Okereke, lead singer of the British indie rock band Bloic Party, admitted, “I heard Britney Spears’ “I Wanna Go” in a club a few weeks ago.  I’d never heard it before, but I was quite surprised that I quite liked it.  I think she’s probably someone I should feel guilty about liking, because she’s just a machine now.”

Alan Woodhouse, an NME editor, said, “I personally don’t feel guilty about anything I like, but I suppose people would be surprised if I admitted that I love quite a lot of cheesy songs from my childhood.  Remember David Soul, that actor from ‘Starsky and Hutch’?  Remember his huge hit ‘Don’t Give Up On Us’?  LOVE that song!”

Punk/metal artist Henry Rollins noted, “I used to despise the arena-rock stuff like Boston and Kansas, but when the remasters came out, I bought ’em and found they were just so rockin’!  Sometimes it’s these records that hit the spot like no other, which, it seems to me, is one of the great things about music in the first place.”

91metYR5+hL._SX355_The older I get, I have come to realize that I don’t need to justify my listening preferences to anybody.  If I genuinely like almost everything Bread ever recorded, and someone somewhere thinks I should be mercilessly teased for liking them, well, that’s just too damn bad.  Call me guilty, your honor, of getting pleasure from something as subjective as music.

If I’m guilty of anything, it’s that I often make fun of others who listen to music I find unhip or unworthy.  I teased my friend Fiji when I learned he owned CDs by John Tesh and Yanni.  I roll my eyes when he says he like Celine Dion’s theme song from “Titanic.”

Let’s say you’ve always liked the ’60s novelty “I’m Henry the Eighth, I Am” by Herman’s Hermits.  Maybe you’re partial to Glen Campbell’s “Rhinestone Cowboy.”  Perhaps your guilty pleasure is Barbra Streisand’s duet with Barry Gibbs called (wait for it) “Guilty.”

Well, who am I to say what’s hip or worthy?  You like what you like, and you needn’t defend yourself to me, or anyone else.

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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.