Songs You May Have Missed #481

strawbs

Strawbs: “Benedictus” (1972)

This one’s pretty personal for me. Strawbs, who combined British folk with progressive rock then layered it with spiritual ponderings, are one of the most unjustly overlooked bands of the 1970’s and one of my handful of favorite bands of all time.

I was exposed to them at an impressionable age, and make an impression they certainly did. Songwriter Dave Cousins was never one to follow a prevailing trend or musical style. And his stuff is built on sturdy prose–a la Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull–that gives it a more timeless feel than much of his contemporaries’ work. Some classic rock just sounds…more classic.

The wanderer has far to go
Humble must he constant be
Where the paths of wisdom lead
Distant is the shadow of the setting sun

Bless the daytime
Bless the night
Bless the sun which gives us light
Bless the thunder
Bless the rain
Bless all those who cause us pain

Yellow stars may guide the way
All diversions lead astray
While his resolution holds
Fortune and good will will surely follow him

Bless the free man
Bless the slave
Bless the hero in his grave
Bless the soldier
Bless the saint
Bless all those whose hearts grow faint

See also: https://edcyphers.com/2012/05/11/songs-you-may-have-missed-100/

See also: https://edcyphers.com/2013/02/11/recommended-albums-38/

Songs You May Have Missed #480

lulu

Lulu James: “The Sweetest Thing” (2013)

lulu

Tanzanian-born UK-based singer Lulu James combines obvious vocal talents with dark, electronic arrangements for a mesmerizing sound. With only a few singles released so far, she has fans clamoring for a full-length debut. No word yet. But the future looks bright and she’s just getting started.

llulu 2

Songs You May Have Missed #479

new politics

New Politics: “Harlem” (2013)

This punk pop-influenced Danish trio might bring to mind the Vines or the Fratellis. Their second album tones down the anger some from the debut and polishes up the sound and the hooks–possibly disappointing some of their more punk-leaning fans, but hey–a band’s got to survive to be relevant, right?

One thing is clear: the album’s first single, “Harlem”–about a fling singer David Boyd had with a girl from Spanish Harlem–is a rousing, contagious bit of fun. And so is the video.

Songs You May Have Missed #478

raitt

Bonnie Raitt: “Fearless Love” (1998)

Funnily enough, I was just recently thinking (and feeling a little guilty for) how little use I have for Bonnie Raitt’s particular brand of roots rock. I always feel a twinge of guilt when I’m not partial to a critical favorite–like there must be something I’m missing or am too uncouth to appreciate. But no, I’m pretty comfortable with the idea of not loving “Love Sneakin’ Up on You”, and can live quite happily without Raitt’s slide guitar-infused covers of “Right Down the Line”, “You Got It” and “Thing Called Love”–I prefer the original in each case.

However…

I’ve been exposed to a most non-Raitt sounding Raitt song continually over a period of months via the loop of easy listening pop that plays where I work. And one day it finally hit me what a beautiful song I was listening to. To be honest, I was pretty sure it wasn’t Bonnie Raitt but k.d. lang I was listening to. To me at least, “Fearless Love” sounds exactly like something from lang’s excellent Ingenue album. The quietly affecting melody, the unusual chorus harmonies, most definitely the arrangement–even Raitt’s singing all mimic lang on this song. It’s uncanny actually.

It’s nice to be wrong once in a while. Doesn’t make me love the rest of Bonnie’s catalogue any more than I already don’t. But for these four minutes, the lady has surprised and delighted me.

Come my love
Come bravely to me
Let your heart be still

For our time
Has come my tender one
To be free of will

And fly
Blind on fearless love
Let them wild winds blow

We’ll shine
On all we’re fearful of
Then we’ll let it go

Skippin’ stones
Across the great unknown
Safe at water’s edge

Don’t look down, baby
We’re gonna leave this losin’ town
Leap out from the ledge

And fly
Blind on fearless love
Let them wild winds blow

We’ll shine
On all we’re fearful of
Then we’ll let it  go

Fly
Blind on fearless love
Let them wild winds blow

We’ll shine
On all we’re fearful of
Then we’ll let it go
Let it go 

Who Were the Beatles’ Most Worthy Successors in the 70’s?

beatles

No sane person disputes the fact that in the 1960’s the Beatles ruled supreme in the world of pop music. And in the decade that followed their break-up no single act really dominated the landscape in the same way–or has to this day, for that matter.

But a topic of some fascination to me is this: who came closest? Which 70’s artists’ work showed that type of originality, musical genius and popular appeal in the greatest measure? I’d love to hear your comments on this subject. I originally intended to list a top three, or even a top five. But I feel it’s a sharp drop off after these two.

Let the argument begin!

stevie

1. Stevie Wonder

If you write “Tik Tok”, “Gangnam Style”, “Rockin’ in the Free World” or “The Safety Dance”, you might have a hit. So much can depend on factors such as marketing, an artist’s charisma in the performance of the song, a viral video, the prevailing political climate, or…the inexplicable. (Hence every Dave Matthews hit song)

If, on the other hand, you write “My Cherie Amour”, it depends on no such ephemera, and there’s nowhere for it to hide.

To illustrate the point: this blog features a series of posts called “Songs You May Have Missed”. As part of the criteria for a song to be included here, it (generally) has to have missed the top 40. As much a point of pride as it is for me to seek out and give exposure to great, relatively unknown songs, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a “Song You May Have Missed” of the caliber of “You Are the Sunshine of my Life”. Classics don’t miss. And you don’t miss them.

Just as the Beatles wrote songs that were among their era’s closest thing to the Cole Porter/Jerome Kern/George and Ira Gershwin standards, Stevie Wonder wrote at least a handful that stand inarguably as classics. And like the Fab Four, Stevie created several albums (Fulfillingness’ First Finale, Innervisions, Songs in the Key of Life) that made relevant statements on topical social issues of the day, all while producing multiple hit singles and never sacrificing beautiful melody or the funk factor.

“My Cherie Amour”

“You Are the Sunshine of My Live”

Carole King deserves mention by this criteria and would perhaps merit inclusion on this list had she sustained the singular creative burst that was the incomparable Tapestry album. There’s no questioning the classic status of songs like “It’s Too Late” and “You’ve Got a Friend”.

elton

2. Elton John

Read the following lyrics, which were presumably handed to Elton on a piece of paper by his lyricist Bernie Taupin:

When are you gonna come down?
When are you going to land?
I should have  stayed on the farm
I should have listened to my old man

You know you can’t hold me forever
I didn’t sign up with you
I’m not a present for your friends to open
This boy’s too young to be singing the blues

Now, listen to them:

The magic of Elton John–at least in his heyday–was that he was the only man who could have coaxed that melody out of those eight fairly linear lyric lines, and sent it sailing into the stratosphere on the last word. Had any of the rest of us been given the job of setting those words to music, we could never have come up with something so gorgeous, imaginative and original.

Elton’s best songs didn’t feel like classic tin pan alley the way that Stevie Wonder’s (and Carole King’s) did. They felt like something fresh, modern and a little exotic, though by now most of us have heard them so many times it’s difficult to re-create the moment when they first blew our minds.

“Rocket Man”

3. Um, no one.

The rest of the top ten singles artists of the 70’s (Elton John is number one and Stevie Wonder number eight) include:

  • Paul McCartney
  • Bee Gees
  • Carpenters
  • Chicago
  • The Jackson 5
  • James Brown
  • Neil Diamond
  • Elvis Presley

It seems to me all can be disqualified for lacking one or more important trait the Beatles possessed–either “cultural” relevance, a diverse audience, or diversity of music. (And I disqualified Paul for being a former Beatle–seems like cheating).

My conclusion, obviously, is that no 70’s pop singer or band made nearly the impact–artistically, commercially or culturally–that the Beatles made in the 60’s. Even their seemingly short 8-year existence as recording artists (compared to the Beach Boys or the Rolling Stones’ run of 50 years or so) is actually much longer than the heyday of Elton John, whose years of true greatness extend, in my humble opinion, only from about 1971 through ’73. Stevie Wonder’s period of sustained excellence was about equal to the Beatles strictly in terms of years, though he can’t match them in terms of sheer number of songs that rate as “classic”, “beloved”, “influential” or whatever word you use to describe greatness.

Have I overlooked or snubbed anyone? What do you think?

Songs You May Have Missed #477

elo

Electric Light Orchestra: “Fire on High” (1975)

Sometimes it just works out that one of an artist’s best works never follows one of the paths through to legacy status. People who either actually owned Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album on vinyl or are big enough fans to have purchased it in a more recent format probably agree that the album-opening “Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding” medley is among Sir Elton’s finest moments.

Similarly, “Fire on High”, the instrumental curtain-raiser on ELO’s fine 1975 release Face the Music, is a definitive Jeff Lynne/ELO song.

But the two major threads a pop song can follow to a timeless popular status (think “Bohemian Rhapsody” or “Hotel California”) are continued radio airplay and inclusion on Best-of compilations. And although “Fire on High” got FM airplay in its day (as opposed to actual top 40 radio airplay, which was on the AM dial in 1975) you don’t really hear it on the oldies formats today. And as for being included on greatest hits collections, well, since it was never a single in the first place, the people who compile such collections don’t seem to think it merits inclusion.

In other words, ELO fans from back in the day most likely remember it. But to the younger generation fans–those who came to the band via a greatest hits collection or digital downloads of such perennials as “Mr. Blue Sky” and “Don’t Bring Me Down”–this is probably unfamiliar. If so, enjoy! And do check out the catalog further. Face the Music, A New World Record and Out of the Blue represent the band’s peak. And all three contain great album tracks to be explored.

Electric Light Orchestra were much more than their hit singles.

Songs You May Have Missed #476

dan

Dan Fogelberg: “Morning Sky” (1974)

In his early days, before he became associated with the “greeting card pop” of “Leader of the Band”, “Longer”, and “Same Auld Lang Syne” Dan Fogelberg was a credible album artist with a musical kinship to the Eagles, America and Jackson Browne.

Guest artists his first few albums included Don Henley, Joe Walsh, Glenn Frey, Randy Meisner, Graham Nash and Chris Hillman. Fogelberg opened concerts for Van Morrison.

Like John Denver, with whom he shared an appeal that never carried overseas to the European market, Fogelberg’s seemed to create his own inimitable genre of folk-infused California rock (even though he wasn’t from California). Once in a while a banjo even came to the fore, just as on early Eagles albums. “Morning Sky” might be a side of Dan you either haven’t heard or had forgotten about.

See also: https://edcyphers.com/2012/05/31/songs-you-may-have-missed-115/

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