Songs You May Have Missed #579


Rod Stewart: “The Best Days of My Life” (1978)

I find Rod Stewart infuriatingly chameleonic. The same guy who gave us some of rock’s most tender ballads (some self-penned, others well-chosen covers) has seemed content at other times to cover himself in schmutz like “Hot Legs” and “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” and the same artist who blended folk and rock in innovative ways has satisfied himself too often with recording superficial pap or simply lending his voice to American pop standards.

I stopped paying attention for the most part when his records went from sounding something like this:

to sounding more like this:

The same album that found him crossing into disco territory for the first time also brought us this gem of an album track.

“The Best Days of My Life” begins with one of those superfluous acoustic intros Rod used to be so fond of, similar to those that adorned the LP versions of “Maggie May” and “You Wear it Well”, before giving way to one of his trademark melodic and heartfelt love songs, a statement of devotion of the same cloth as “You’re in My Heart”.

Shel Silverstein, Songwriter

shel 1

Shel Silverstein may be best known, especially to parents, as the author of well-loved children’s books such as Where the Sidewalk Ends, The Giving Tree, and A Light in the Attic.

But though Uncle Shelby’s books have sold over 20 million copies, it’s often overlooked that he also enjoyed careers as a screenwriter, Playboy cartoonist, and singer-songwriter.

And while some of his songwriting output certainly deserves to be overlooked by anyone with even a hint of political correctness about them, a few of his songs are rightly embraced as classics.

Let’s take a rummage through the mixed bag:

“The Unicorn” by the Irish Rovers (#7 in 1968)


Many would be surprised to learn that their favorite St. Patty’s Day anthem didn’t originate from the Emerald Isle itself, but was in fact written by a Jewish guy from Chicago.

It was a career-making song for the Irish Rovers, and they parlayed its success into a TV show and long run as a recording and touring act. And it’s a tune that generations of kids have sung along to, right up to the present. “The Unicorn” may in fact be Shel Silverstein’s most enduring work.

“A Boy Named Sue” by Johnny Cash (#2 in 1969)

Country music icon Johnny Cash is regarded as one of the most successful and influential artists of the 20th century and has sold over 90 million records worldwide. But his highest-charting hit was this novelty record written by ole Uncle Shelby.

“Father of a Boy Named Sue”

Pop song sequels are almost always a bad idea but “Father of a Boy Named Sue” might have been the worst ever. Here’s Shel’s own take on his attempt to tell the same story from the other point of view. Yes, Uncle Shelby’s implication is that he sleeps with his son. But only “on the nights that he can’t score”.

I guess Cash wasn’t interested in recording this one for some crazy reason.

“Sylvia’s Mother” by Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show (#5 in 1972)

Quite a clever story song in that the story is pushed along solely by use of a telephone conversation, with the interruptions by the operator to ask for more coin only upping the dramatic ante.

While I can understand this song being categorized by some with 70’s melodrama such as “Daddy Don’t You Walk So Fast” and “Seasons in the Sun”, it’s actually an affecting song sensitively rendered and deserves recognition as a 70’s pop classic.

“The Cover of ‘Rolling Stone'” by Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show (#6 in 1973)


A cheeky look at early 70’s rock and roll excess and another smash hit for Dr. Hook–their last prior to reinventing themselves as the sappy balladeers of “A Little Bit More” and “Sharing the Night Together”.

According to members of the group, they really did buy five copies for their mothers.

What is impressive is the breadth the band showed in mustering what was called for here–an arrangement that feels loose enough to be a session outtake or rehearsal–just as they’d found the sensitive soul of “Sylvia’s Mother”.

“Put Another Log on the Fire” by Tompall Glaser

Country singer Tompall Glaser’s highest-charting country hit (#21 in 1975) was another bit of snark which happened to fit the “outlaw country” niche inhabited by David Allan Coe and Johnny Paycheck. Incidentally, in 2016 “Johnny Paycheck” sounds more like a rapper than a country singer.

“I Got Stoned and I Missed It” by Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show

Ok so Uncle Shelby really liked weed too. And his more adult material showed sensitivities that might have shocked some whose exposure was limited to “The Unicorn” and The Giving Tree.

“Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out”

Shel himself recorded some of the poems from his children’s books. And though he never cracked the top 100 as a performer of his own work, this one actually was released on a 45.


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7 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Roadies


(via mental_floss)

by Suzanne Raga

Although the word roadie may conjure up images of non-stop partying with rock stars, the reality is that most work unglamorous, physically and emotionally demanding jobs. They lug the gear, set up the instruments, manage the stage, run the sound, sell the merch, drive the bus, and generally do whatever it takes to make concerts possible. We talked to a few roadies (who probably wish we’d stop calling them that—see below) to get the inside scoop.


Some roadies who worked in the 1960s through the 1980s later wrote books bragging about their sexual conquests, wild partying, and drug use while on the road. Although that lifestyle is not completely obsolete—genres such as metal, rap, and hip hop supposedly see more illegal activity than indie, pop, folk, and alternative—most roadies don’t refer to themselves as such.

Morgan Paros, a violinist and singer based in Los Angeles, says that the generic term roadie seems slightly derogatory now. Instead, it’s better to use terms that more specifically describe individual duties. “Anyone on a tour is generally working very hard to fulfill their role of tour manager, front of house (sound engineer), light tech, stage manager, instrument tech, or merchandise manager,” Paros says. “These individuals make everything possible for the performers every night.”

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Songs You May Have Missed #578

change our world

The Hollies: “Wings” (1969)

This rare track, one of the last the Hollies recorded with Graham Nash in the fold, never appeared on any of that band’s albums. It was included on a 1969 UK charity album to benefit the World Wildlife Fund. The album is perhaps best known for the first release of the Beatles’ “Across the Universe”; a line from that song gave compilation its name.

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Songs You May Have Missed #577


Hayley Westenra: “Never Say Goodbye” (2004)

The voice of then-16-year-old New Zealander Hayley Westenra was (and is) a wondrous instrument, with enviable range and immaculate diction. “Never Say Goodbye” is adapted from Ravel, in case the tune is familiar.

In addition to possessing an angelic voice, Westenra is also a dancer who has performed with the Royal New Zealand ballet company.

From 1 Million Copies to 460; the New Rules of Being a Million Seller


(Reprinted from The International Society of Music Snobs & Elitists)

The RIAA has announced its new qualification process for an album to achieve the coveted Gold, Platinum or Diamond status.  Basically now, to appease the laziness of the music buying public and the lack of talent of those assumed to be ‘artists’, your record can easily become gold or platinum by basically not having to sell a single album, as we just witnessed with Rihanna’s latest flop, ‘Anti’.  In fact, as the new rules were announced, 17 albums automatically achieved gold and platinum status for doing absolutely nothing!

The new rules were ushered in on Feb.1, in order to “…recognize the benchmarks of success in an evolving music marketplace”, says CEO Cary Sherman.  The benchmarks of success today, are something totally different to the standards issued 60 years ago.  The new qualifications allow albums to garner the awards from people simply listening to a song.  With the new rules in place, a band doesn’t have to sell a single unit.  1,500 streams of any said song or video by any band equals 1 album sold. 150 streams equal one single download.  Original guidelines were based on actual sales; 500,000 units =Gold, 1 million = Platinum, 2 million plus = multi-Platinum, 10 million = Diamond.

The rules have been changed for the industry and artists to be able to have bragging rights for lackluster achievements.   Now they’re hoping that nearly 40% of the Top 200 sellers will be able to qualify for at least a gold status.  This is the “cautious” route the RIAA has chosen in order to preserve the “integrity of the process”…

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Steely Dan’s “Aja”: Eight Minutes of Genius

(Reprinted from CultureSonar)

steely danSteely Dan is known for jazz-influenced arrangements, quirky lyrics, and pristine production.  Even non-fans recognize the brilliance of their 1977 album, Aja. For many music lovers, it’s their first choice for a late night listen accompanied by iced Manhattans. Audiophiles use it to audition high end stereo speakers. Jazz purists discuss its intricacies with classic rock veterans.

Donald Fagen and Walter Becker had formed Steely Dan as a band in the early seventies, serving as the group’s principal songwriters. They combined their love of rhythm and blues with their deep appreciation of jazz. They weren’t a rock band with horns or a jazz fusion band. Steely Dan was something different and unique — a rock band that used jazz harmonies.

By the time of Aja, Fagen and Becker were the only permanent band members (although original guitarist Denny Dias often appeared as a guest). They supplemented their instruments with the best session players in New York and Los Angeles. Their jazz rock sound, with hardly a traditional major or minor chord in sight, was recorded with the utmost care thanks to the work of producer Gary Katz and engineer Roger Nichols

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(Reprinted from The International Society of Music Snobs & Elitists)

It is the most that a vinyl obsessed person can do;  die and have his remains pressed into vinyl.  It is, in fact, the obsession becoming complete, when the obsessee becomes the obsessed.

The company And Vinyly is offering this dream come true for vinyl enthusiasts.  They actually will take your ashes and press them into vinyl so you can actually become a record.  They offer a few different packages and, like an album, you get two sides to get your message across, albeit each side is only 12 minutes long…

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Songs You May Have Missed #576


Billy Joel: “Running on Ice” (1986)

Budding songwriters and fledgling lyricists, look on the work of William Martin Joel and despair.

The average Billy Joel composition is a compact master class in lyric writing. This guy just gets so many things right, most of which escape a typical listener as he hums “Just the Way You Are”, or rocks out to “Big Shot”, or sings along with any number of dozens of Joel’s classic entries in our collective cultural hymnal.

By the way, I’ve long held the opinion Billy Joel was the best pop lyricist of his era. And I’m pretty sure “Only the Good Die Young” is the best pop rock lyric of the past 40 years. But since everyone knows that song and dozens of other pop masterpieces in Joel’s oeuvre, the focus of this particular series of posts forces me to delve into what passes for “deep cut” territory to talk about the man’s talents.

A deep cut this may be, but certainly not of lesser quality than the singles chosen from 1986’s The Bridge album. “Modern Woman”, “This is the Time” and “A Matter of Trust” are fine songs–but the twitchy lyrical joyride that is “Running on Ice” would itself have made a great single.

One thing about Joel’s writing that has always stood out to me is that he never seems content to simply observe pop music norm in repeating a chorus; Joel raises his game by varying the lyric with each. Frequently you could even say he customizes each chorus to suit its accompanying verse.

The first chorus here begins with “Sometimes I feel as though I’m running on ice…” which not only sums up what came before in verse one, but makes a good introduction, so to speak, to the song’s hook line and concept.

When the second chorus rolls around, preceded as it is by the flood of multisyllabic elocution that it verse two, it almost serves as a punchline when he says “And all that means is that I’m running on ice…” Brilliant.

The song is lavishly littered with alliteration, assonance and internal rhyme. What’s more, since the same torrent of verbiage that makes this a great lyric also tends to make it a bit of a challenge to sing along to, Joel supplies a well-placed bridge (You’ve got to run…) to momentarily relieve the tension and give the listener something to belt out. Genius.

This is no typical song. It’s a great one. Though that makes it a typical Billy Joel song.

There’s a lot of tension in this town
I know it’s building up inside of me
I’ve got all the symptoms and the side effects
Of city life anxiety

I could never understand why the urban attitude
Is so superior
In a world of high rise ambition
Most people’s motives are ulterior

Sometimes I feel as though I’m running on ice
Paying the price too long
Kind of get the feeling that I’m running on ice
Where did my life go wrong

I’m a cosmopolitan sophisticate
Of culture and intelligence
The culmination of technology
And civilized experience

But I’m carrying the weight of all the useless junk
A modern man accumulates
I’m a statistic in a system
That a civil servant dominates

And all that means is that I’m running on ice
Caught in the vise so strong
I’m slipping and sliding, cause I’m running on ice
Where did my life go wrong

You’ve got to run
You’ve got to run

As fast as I can climb
A new disaster every time I turn around
As soon as I get one fire put out
There’s another building burning down

They say this highway’s going my way
But I don’t know where it’s taking me
It’s a bad waste, a sad case, a rat race
It’s breaking me

I get no traction cause I’m running on ice
It’s taking me twice as long
I get a bad reaction cause I’m running on ice
Where did my life go wrong

You’ve got to run
You’ve got to run

Running on ice
Running on ice
Running on ice
Running on ice

How Pop Was Born In West Africa

(Reprinted from Culture Sonar) by Ken Hymes

(Everything I am about to tell you is boiled down. Exceptions abound, I can’t tell the whole story in a few hundred words, and music is so big and complex that it wouldn’t be hard to find another angle on this. But I want to point out the way our ideas about music were deeply shaped by African culture, beyond rhythms and “blues scales.”)

If you love blues, classic rock, jazz, or modern pop, you owe a debt to West African stringed instruments. Here’s why…

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