Born under a bad sign

“Capricorn, Scorpio, /Taurus, Gemini, Virgo, Cancer, /Pisces, Leo, Libra, Aries, /Aquarius, Sagittarius… /No matter what sign you are, /You’re gonna be mine, /Can’t let astrology chart our destiny…”

These lyrics to a 1969 tune by Diana Ross and The Supremes called “No Matter What Sign You Are” reinforce my basic viewpoint about astrology: It’s interesting to contemplate, but it isn’t science.

My natural skepticism has kept my interest in astrology at arm’s length since I first encountered it as a teen. Initially, I was fascinated by the notion that everybody born in the same 30-day period — say, mid-March to mid-April, like I was — essentially share the same personality traits, strengths and weaknesses. Eventually, I found it all just too far-fetched, too generalized. The belief that there are only a dozen different types of personalities for billions of people just doesn’t make sense to me.

Historically, astrology claimed the ability to predict human behavior and earthly events based on the position of celestial objects during a given calendar year. By the 19th Century, researchers exposed it as pseudoscience with no scientific validity. Still, there are areas of the world today where astrology is enthusiastically embraced, including the U.S., where thousands of books have been published on the subject.

Among those who do so are the world’s artists — poets, painters, novelists, musicians. Astrology has inspired so much literature, fine art, and music, and I figured I’d find plenty of examples of popular songs about astrological signs in the annals of classic rock of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. Curiously, this was not the case. I had to broaden my search to include material from more recent decades and from other musical genres just to find enough suitable tracks to represent each of the 12 signs of the zodiac for the Spotify playlist that you’ll find at the end of this blog entry.


“Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In,” The 5th Dimension, 1969

Any discussion of songs about the zodiac signs pretty much has to begin with this enormous hit that dominated the airwaves in the spring of 1969. The two songs that form the medley were written in 1967 for the groundbreaking Broadway play “Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical,” which made daring observations about the hippie counterculture and sexual revolution of the Sixties. A key message was based on the notion that the universe was about to enter the next astrological age — the age of Aquarius, marked by group consciousness and humanitarianism: “When the moon is in the Seventh House, and Jupiter aligns with Mars, /Then peace will guide the planets, and love will steer the stars, /This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius…” Upon seeing the show, Billy Davis of The 5th Dimension insisted that the band should record “Aquarius,” but producer Bones Howe felt it was only a song fragment and got the idea to create a medley with a few bars from another song in the show (“The Flesh Failures”) that repeated the words “let the sunshine in.” Although the two song fragments are in different keys and tempos, Howe “jammed them together like two trains,” and the result was a dramatic track that sat at #1 on US pop charts for six weeks.

“Scorpios,” Adam and The Ants, 1981

Stuart Goddard, known professionally as Adam Ant, had a very successful run on the British pop charts between 1980-1983, earning 10 Top Ten hit singles both as lead singer of the New Wave band Adam and The Ants and as a solo artist. In the US, his chart appearances were far more limited, reaching the Top 20 just twice, in 1982 and 1990. Goddard, born in early November as a Scorpio, had been a hot-tempered child who twice threw bricks through his teacher’s office window, but another teacher helped him channel his anger into creative expression. After seeing the Sex Pistols in 1975, he said, “I wanted to do something different, be someone else. I decided I wanted to be Adam, because he was the first man, and I chose Ant because, if there’s a nuclear explosion, the ants will survive.” There’s a deep track on the 1981 “Prince Charming” album called “Scorpios,” which reflects on the aggressive nature of the scorpion: “Listen here from one who knows, be fearless just like the Scorpios, /Pretty, look young, be fearless like the scorpion…”

“Goodbye Pisces,” Tori Amos, 2005

Amos was something of a child prodigy, earning a scholarship to the music conservatory at Johns Hopkins University at a young age. Her piano and vocal skills were unquestioned but her rebelliousness didn’t sit well with authorities, and she struck out on her own as a solo artist in the 1990s, scoring multiple Top Ten albums including “Boys For Pele,” “From the Choirgirl Hotel,” “Strange Little Girls” and “Scarlet’s Walk.” Her 2005 LP “The Beekeeper,” a double concept album that focused on the themes of femininity and female empowerment, included a poignant breakup tune called “Goodbye Pisces,” in which she says farewell to a man who used to offer tender-loving care but has grown cold and insensitive: “In your boys life, you become like a bull in a china shop, /Smash it up into smithereens, /There you go again, breaking porcelain, /Is that all I am, just a doll you got used to? /We’ve done this before, /As Mars sauntered through his door, /Don’t say it’s time to say goodbye to Pisces…”

“Son of Sagittarius,” Eddie Kendricks, 1974

In 1960, Kendricks teamed up with Paul Williams, David Ruffin, Melvin Franklin and Otis Williams to become a vocal group first known as The Primes, and then The Temptations. Kendricks was the group’s first tenor but often sang in falsetto, carrying the high melody on many of their hits, including “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” “Get Ready,” “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” and “Just My Imagination.” He found himself at odds with the band and its managers by 1971 and decided to strike out on his own, eventually enjoying a #1 solo hit with 1973’s “Keep On Truckin’.” The title song of his second solo LP “Boogie Down” reached #2 in 1974, and a second single from that album, “Son of Sagittarius,” reached #28 on pop charts. Kendricks and his father were both born under the Sagittarius sign (mid-November to mid-December), hence the lyrics: “People, I am the fire, number nine Zodiac sign, /Jupiter brings me the power, Saturn brings me peace of mind, /I must be clear there’s no use in trying to change me, in Lady Luck I put my trust, /I’m the one, I’m the one, I’m the son of a Sagittarius…”

“Aries,” Freddie Hubbard, 1964

Hubbard was a master of jazz trumpet, specializing in bebop, hard bop and post-bebop, broadening the perspectives of modern jazz from the early 1960s well into the 1990s. Even in his 20s, he performed and recorded with some of the biggest names in jazz, including Wes Montgomery, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, McCoy Tyner and Quincy Jones. He released more than 60 albums on Blue Note and other labels, almost exclusively instrumental explorations, and participated as a sideman on upwards of 120 other LPs by a broad range of jazz artists. On his 1964 release “The Body & The Soul,” there’s a concise little track called “Aries,” titled, I assume, because Hubbard was an Aries himself, born in early April.

“Gift From Virgo,” BeyoncĂ©, 2003

The superstar pop icon whose unparalleled success earned her the nickname Queen Bey got her start as a member of the R&B female vocal group Destiny’s Child in the 1990s, and then went on to score seven consecutive Number One albums as a solo artist. Her first, “Dangerously in Love,” came in 2003 and included the international hits “Crazy in Love,” “Baby Boy,” “Me, Myself and I” and “Naughty Boy.” Born in early September, BeyoncĂ© is a Virgo, who tend to be detail-oriented perfectionists but with a practical and logical side, which might explain why her music has been meticulous and well thought out. In her song “Gift From Virgo” from that same album, the lyrics touch on the innocence of first love, and they hint that the narrator’s virginity might be the gift in question: “Do you remember our first kiss? It wasn’t long enough, /Remember the first time we spent those weeks together? They were not long enough, /One day we’ll make love, finally I’ll be yours, /Only you, only you, I could love you, /But it’s too late, I already love you…”

“Taurus,” Spirit, 1969

One of the better rock bands to come out of Los Angeles in the late ’60s, Spirit was underrated, although they had modest success with a few singles (“Fresh Garbage,” “I Got a Line on You,” “Mr. Skin,” “Nature’s Way”) and albums (“The Family That Plays Together” and “The Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus”). They had a strong cult following in California especially, touring often during their initial five years of existence. Singer Jay Ferguson wrote the bulk of their repertoire, although guitarist Randy Wolfe (who went by Randy California) also composed a few tracks. One that later generated considerable controversy was a short instrumental piece entitled “Taurus.” Since it has no lyrics, it’s hard to gauge the relevance of its title, except that it’s a quiet, reflective track, in keeping with the preference of Taurus folks for “serene environments, soft sounds, soothing aromas and succulent flavors.” It offers a prominent guitar passage that later bore a striking resemblance to the introductory section of Led Zeppelin’s 1971 tour de force, “Stairway to Heaven.” Wolfe’s estate ended up filing a copyright infringement lawsuit in 2014 which proved unsuccessful, but it brought attention to both the band and that particular tune.

“Cancer,” Joe Jackson, 1982

A product of the post-punk New Wave movement in London in the late ’70s, Jackson established a reputation as an “angry young man” with biting, sarcastic lyrics and a sneering vocal delivery. By 1982, he showed a remarkably sophisticated musical approach on his brilliant 1982 LP “Night and Day,” a cycle of songs inspired by his first lengthy visit to New York City. The sprightly arrangement of “Steppin’ Out” and tender melody of “Breaking Us in Two” put him on the US pop charts that year, but just as compelling were deeper piano-driven tracks like “Target” and “Cancer.” The latter was Jackson’s commentary on the fitness craze of the ’80s, and how, no matter how much we tried to take better care of ourselves, “Everything that’s enjoyable is bad for your health. It seems like everything gives you cancer.” Again, this is all about the incurable disease, not the astrological sign, which includes such personality traits as keen emotional intelligence, an almost supernatural sensitivity, and the ability to compassionately meet the needs of others.

“Leo,” Grace Kinstler, 2023

Kinstler is a phenomenal 21-year-old singer from Chicago who moved to Los Angeles and gained fame as a finalist on the 2021 season of the “American Idol” TV talent program. She performed in the Rose Bowl Parade in January 2023, introducing her new single “Leo” at the event. The artist and her music are so new that there’s little information about this song that I could find, but I was intrigued by it when I came across it on Spotify. Is Leo the guy’s name, the astrological sign, or maybe both? Leos are confident, drama-loving, fiercely protective and comfortable with being the center of attention. You decide: “Shuffling down memory lane, doesn’t feel quite the same without you, how can my mind get away when he smiles on my face, I miss you, heading way down, I’m missing all your signs, when I see you around, got me feeling so inspired, so many words, I don’t know what to write, but you know I’m gonna try… I’ll do it over and over again, I’ll be a Leo…”

“Gemini Dream,” The Moody Blues, 1981

Guitarist Justin Hayward and bassist John Lodge, who had individually written many of the songs in The Moody Blues catalog, collaborated for the first time on this engaging rocker from the group’s strong 1981 LP, “Long Distance Voyager.” Lodge wrote about the band getting back on tour and in the studio after several years while Hayward came up with verses referring to two people sharing the same dream, and they combined the two lyrical topics into one melodic structure which ended up reaching #12 on US pop charts. Is it coincidental that the two musicians worked together on a song with twin topics and be titled “Gemini Dream”? Perhaps not. Like the astrological sign, the song has two sides — an intelligent pursuit of creative ideas but with a short attention span driven by restlessness: “Long time, no see, short time for you and me, /So fine, so good, we’re on the road like you knew we would… There’s a place, a Gemini dream, /There’s no escaping from the love we have seen, /So come with me, turn night to day, /You know you’re gonna wake up in a Gemini dream…”

“Libra,” Max Roach, 1968

Roach was another major player in the modern jazz arena as a drummer and occasional composer, who worked with the likes of Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus and Thelonius Monk. From his debut LP in 1953 into the 1990s, Roach put together an enviable catalog of vintage jazz recordings including several as the Max Roach Quartet. One of his favorite sidemen was noted saxophonist Gary Bartz, who wrote the busy instrumental track “Libra” for the 1968 LP “Members, Don’t Git Weary”on Atlantic. Again, I must presume Bartz used the title because he was a Libra, born in late September…

“Jesus Was a Capricorn,” Kris Kristofferson, 1972

“Honest, loyal, sensitive and confident” are four of the dominant personality traits of those born in the sign of Capricorn (Dec 21-Jan. 19), which includes Christmas, the supposed birthdate of Jesus. Kristofferson wrote “Jesus Was a Capricorn” as a tribute of sorts to John Prine, whose songwriting he greatly admired, with lyrics that were at once whimsical and irreverent: “Jesus was a Capricorn, he ate organic food, /He believed in love and peace, and never wore no shoes, /Long hair, beard and sandals, and a funky bunch of friends, /Reckon we’d just nail him up if he came down again…” Kristofferson had bristled at some of the criticism written about his earlier work, which sparked the line in the chorus, “Everybody’s gotta have somebody to look down on… /If you can’t find nobody else, then help yourself to me…” It became the title song to his third LP in 1972. The album didn’t do well at first but, a year later, it reached #1 on country charts on the strength of its third single, “Why Me.”


Do you like good music? That sweet soul music

Ahhhh, soul music!

Gospel-style music with secular lyrics emerged in the late ’50s as an amalgam of rhythm-and-blues and gospel. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame defines soul music as “music that arose out of the black experience in America through the transmutation of gospel and rhythm & blues into a form of funky, secular testifying.” The best soul music offered impassioned vocals, handclaps, call-and-response arrangements, heartfelt lyrics and, most of all, irresistible rhythms that compelled people to get up and dance. 

As a white kid growing up in suburbia, I knew almost nothing of “the black experience,” but I was certainly moved by the music I was hearing on Top 40 radio that co-mingled with The Beatles and The Beach Boys beginning around 1964. I heard a lot of soul music thanks to an older sister who exposed me to many of the songs coming from the artists on Motown, Stax and Atlantic Records. It was all such fun, so joyous and energetic, despite voices that sometimes sounded deeply anguished if you took the time to listen to the pain of unrequited love and injustice in the lyrics.

The biggest soul music hits are still played endlessly, from The O’Jays’ “Backstabbers” and Stevie Wonder’s “I Was Made to Love Her” to Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” and The Four Tops’ “Reach Out I’ll Be There.”

In this special edition of my periodic “Lost Classics” feature, I am focusing on 16 “lost soul classics” — tasty R&B-based tracks that likely went under your radar because they were B-sides or deep album tracks that got almost no radio play, plus a few minor hits that have been long forgotten…until now.

These songs all have a wonderful ’60s energy to them. I invite you to dance around your living room as you listen to the Spotify playlist at the end!


“Let Yourself Go,” James Brown, 1967

Brown recorded “Let Yourself Go” and several other great tracks after hours in a Philadelphia nightclub where he had a 10-day engagement in 1967. The Fabulous Flames, Brown’s longtime backing vocalists and dancers, were near the tale end of their relationship with the volatile star, but they’re still heard on this recording. It was released as a single, which charted at #5 on R&B charts and #46 on pop charts, so mainstream audiences never heard it much compared to Brown’s signature hits. The track adopts the signature early funk that Brown favored throughout his uptempo catalog.

“I’m Doin’ Fine Now,” New York City, 1972

Originally known as The Tri-boro Exchange, this vocally talented R&B group changed their name to New York City in 1972 and recorded for the Chelsea label with the great Thom Bell. This collaboration resulted in one of my favorite soul tracks, the underappreciated 1973 minor hit, “I’m Doin’ Fine Now,” written by Bell. Peaking at #17 that spring, the tune’s joyous tempo and arrangement are underscored by lyrics in which the narrator mourns the day of his romantic breakup but is proud of his ability to eventually adopt a positive attitude about it all. New York City continued recording and touring for another three years but failed to match the success of their first single.

“Two Lovers,” Mary Wells, 1964

Just about everyone knows Wells as the girl who sang “My Guy,” the song Smokey Robinson wrote for her in 1964 that became an enormous #1 hit here and in the UK. Wells had in fact been recording hit singles since 1962 and earned the nickname “The Queen of Motown” for her role in bringing R&B music and black artists to mainstream America. Among her accomplishments was the #7 hit “Two Lovers,” which at first seems to about two men (one who treats her well and the other who treats her badly) but is actually the same guy whose mood swings determine how he behaves toward her. Wells had a falling out with Motown and bounced around between several labels throughout the ’60s and early ’70s as she struggled in vain to duplicate her early glory.

“A Change,” Aretha Franklin, 1968

“The Queen of Soul” had so many familiar hits that sometimes her deeper album tracks got overlooked. I’ve always dug this song from her 1968 LP, “Aretha Now,” written by the prolific songwriter/producer Clyde Otis, who collaborated with many dozens of artists, most often with Brook Benton. “Aretha Now” reached #3 on the US album chart on the strength of three hits — the irrepressible “Think” (#7), her cover of “I Say a Little Prayer for You” (#10) and “See-Saw” (#14) — but there are seven other tracks you might have missed or forgotten about, like “A Change.”

“Love Man,” Otis Redding, 1969

The death of Redding at age 26 in a plane crash in late 1967 was a huge loss for the R&B community and the mainstream pop world as well. He had just begun to be more widely appreciated following his riveting performance at the Monterey Pop Festival and, fortunately for us, he recorded several dozen tracks in the latter half of 1967 that Atco Records released on a few posthumous albums in 1968 and 1969. “Love Man” was one of these LPs, reaching #46 on the album chart in 1969. The title song, written by Redding, has a funky groove, courtesy of Booker T and the MGs’ accompaniment, and although it stalled at #72 on the pop charts, it reached #17 on the R&B chart.

“Baby, Call on Me,” Wilson Pickett, 1963

Solomon Burke, one of the founding fathers of soul music in the late ’50s, was a friend and supporter of a young Wilson Pickett, urging his signing at Atlantic Records, but label head Jerry Wexler was hesitant at first. Pickett had written and recorded “If You Need Me” and was on track to score his first big hit with it, but Wexler had recorded a reluctant Burke doing it and rush-released his version. Because he was an established star, Burke’s version got the attention, peaking at #2 on R&B charts while Pickett’s stalled at #30 (and only #64 on pop charts). The B-side of Pickett’s single, “Baby, Call On Me,” is arguably as great as the intended hit, but it was ignored. Check it out!

“When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes,” The Supremes, 196?

Preceding their big breakthrough in 1964 with “Where Did Our Love Go,” “Baby Love” and three other #1 smash hits, The Supremes had been recording for Motown Records since 1961. The brilliant songwriting/producing team of Holland-Dozier-Holland, responsible for most of The Supremes’ biggest hits, first worked with them on “When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes,” the group’s first entry in the Top 40 (at #23) in late 1963. Brian Holland said the record was modeled after, and in response to, producer Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” recording technique in vogue at the time. Some say Motown songs were too polished and not gritty enough to be considered “soul,” but that’s not the way millions of listeners (like me) saw it.

“Soul Finger,” The Bar-Kays, 1967

Formed in 1964 in Memphis as a band of session musicians at Stax Records, The Bar-Kays were selected to become Otis Redding’s backup band, participating in several recordings and on tour. Sadly, four of their members were on the same plane with Redding when it crashed in 1967, but the surviving members regrouped and ended up putting together a long and successful career on the R&B charts throughout the ’70s and ’80s. In the mainstream, their most famous moment came early when the original lineup recorded the festive “Soul Finger” in 1967. Neighborhood kids were called in to intermittently shout “soul finger!” and join in the studio merriment. It was a #17 hit on pop charts.

“Tainted Love,” Gloria Jones, 1964

It’s a safe bet that most of the US record-buying public had no idea that British synth-pop duo Soft Cell’s international #1 hit “Tainted Love” was originally a soul record recorded by American singer Gloria Jones in 1964. Written by Ed Cobb, the song was released by Jones as the B-side of “My Bad Boy’s Coming Home,” a commercial flop on the small Champion label. In the late ’60s, a dance movement known as “Northern Soul” took root in towns in Northern England, where obscure American soul records were promoted and became hugely popular. Soft Cell’s Marc Almond heard Love’s record of “Tainted Love” and chose to give it the New Wave treatment and found spectacular success with it. I find it fascinating listening to Love’s version now.

“Ain’t No Sun Since You’ve Been Gone,” The Temptations, 1967

The songwriting team of Norman Whitfield, Cornelius Grant and Sylvia Moy came up with this uptempo beauty in 1966 and worked with Gladys Knight and The Pips to record it, but nothing came of it. Whitfield and Grant had collaborated with Eddie Holland to write “(I Know) I’m Losing You” for The Temptations, and when that song became a huge hit, the songwriters modified “Ain’t No Sun Since You’ve Been Gone” to mimic it and put it on The Tempts’ next LP. It may be a copycat track, but I think it stands up on its own merit as a quality record in The Temptations’ catalog. The following year, Dusty Springfield took a stab at it for her Dusty…Definitely” album.

“Woman’s Gotta Have It,” Bobby Womack, 1972

The multi-talented Womack served as Sam Cooke’s guitarist, contributed to records byAretha Franklin and Sly and The Family Stone and wrote songs for other artists (including “It’s All Over Now” for The Rolling Stones and “Breezin'” for George Benson) during his 60-year career. Beginning in 1969, Womack debuted as a solo artist and, in 1972, he made his first Top 40 appearance with “That’s the Way I Feel About Cha,” reaching #27 (and peaking at #2 on the R&B chart). Next up was “Woman’s Gotta Have It,” a #1 single on the R&B chart that inexplicably stalled at #60 on the pop chart. I was first introduced to the song when James Taylor covered it on his 1976 LP “In the Pocket,” but I really enjoy Womack’s original as well.

“You Don’t Know What You Mean to Me,” Sam & Dave, 1968

Steve “The Colonel” Cropper, guitarist and producer for the Stax Records house session band Booker T and the MGs, became involved with several of the Stax artists’ records, most notably Sam & Dave. You can hear Cropper’s name called out in the middle of their biggest hit “Soul Man” when Sam Moore says “Play it, Steve!” The exciting hits of Moore and Dave Prater (“Soul Man,” “Hold On I’m Comin’,” “I Thank You”) overshadowed many other terrific tracks hiding on their albums, and the one that sticks out for me is “You Don’t Know What You Mean to Me,” a song Cropper wrote.

“Somebody Have Mercy,” Sam Cooke, 1962

Virtually every soul singer who followed in his wake mentions Cooke as one of their most important influences, and it’s easy to see why. Although rooted firmly in the gospel tradition, Cooke began singing blues, traditional and R&B music in 1958, beginning with his biggest hit, “You Send Me.” Between 1960 and 1964, he scored a dozen Top 20 hits (“Cupid,” “Chain Gang,” “Twistin’ the Night Away,” “Let the Good Times Roll”), some of which had B-sides that were arguably as good as the A-side. Case in point: “Somebody Have Mercy,” the flip side of the #12 hit “Nothing Can Change This Love” in 1962.

“Sugar,” Stevie Wonder, 1970

Watching “Little Stevie” Wonder mature from a child prodigy with a #1 hit (“Fingertips”) at age 12 to a phenomenal young man with three Album of the Year Grammy awards in the 1970s was truly a sight to behold. Before he came up with titanic LPs like “Innervisions” and “Songs in the Key of Life,” he still had some work to do. His 1970 LP “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” included four pop chart hits that kept his impressive streak going, including “Heaven Help Us All” and the title track. One of Wonder’s most soulful tracks, “Sugar,” can be found deep on this album, showcasing his vocals and the clavinet. It’s rarely if ever heard on the radio, and he has curiously never played it in concert.

“Love Feels Like Fire,” The Four Tops, 1965

The spectacular voice of lead singer Levi Stubbs is the primary reason The Four Tops emerged from the Motown stable as one of their premier acts, emboldened by the wondrous songs and production values of the Holland-Dozier-Holland triumvirate. We all know the hits: “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch),” “Standing in the Shadows of Love,” “Bernadette,” “Baby I Need Your Loving.” But wow, check out the other tunes on LPs like “Four Tops Second Album.” It’s hard not to like “Love Feels Like Fire,” which I’d never heard until this week when I started digging through the group’s catalog.

“Talkin’ ‘Bout You,” Ray Charles, 1958

When you consider the pioneers of soul music, Ray Charles is at the top of the list. His earliest records in the late ’40s and early ’50s offered a combination of blues, jazz, rhythm-and-blues and swing that, by the late ’50s had spawned this new musical genre eventually known as soul. On his second LP for Atlantic, “Yes Indeed!,” I’ve always been partial to “Talkin’ ‘Bout You,” one of seven tracks Charles wrote that showcases his expressive voice. A word to the wise: Look beyond “Lonely Avenue” and his other signature songs (“What’d I Say,” “Georgia On My Mind”) and revel in the countless deep tracks that provide ample evidence where soul originated.