Gordon Lightfoot’s “Beautiful” song from ’72

On May 27, 1972, Gordon Lightfoot’s “Beautiful” debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart at #96.

“Beautiful” is simply that—a gorgeous love song wrapped in the simplicity of an acoustic arrangement and accented by the lush timbre of Lightfoot’s poetic resonance. This has always been a personal favorite.

Gordon Meredith Lightfoot, Jr. was born in Ontario, Canada, in 1938. Valerie Magee writes on Lightfoot’s website: “His parents recognized and encouraged his interest in music; his first appearance at Massey Hall in Toronto … was just before he turned 13, as the winner of a competition for boys with unchanged voices. After a background in barbershop quartets, and as a member of a duo, Lightfoot struck out on his own in the early 60s.”

Lightfoot signed with Albert Grossman, who managed folk performers like Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs and Peter, Paul & Mary. He recorded five albums in the 1960’s before forming his own company and taking control of his career. In 1970, Lightfoot signed with Reprise Records.

“Beautiful” is from Lightfoot’s third album on the Reprise label, Don Quixote, and the single peaked on the US singles chart (after 10 weeks) at #58. In Canada, “Beautiful” would go to #13.

Lightfoot’s first hit with Reprise, “If You Could Read My Mind,” had topped out at #5 on the US singles chart. “Beautiful” was his second song to crack the Top 100 and, in two years, Lightfoot would release three subsequent singles that would each go to #1 (“Sundown” and “Carefree Highway” in 1974, and “Rainy Day People” in 1975).

The singer-songwriter’s distinct poetry and melodies appealed to folk artists and country musicians. Over the years, Lightfoot’s songs have been recorded by Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul & Mary, Johnny Cash, Judy Collins, Elvis Presley, Glen Campbell, Petula Clark, Barbra Streisand—and recently by Sarah McLachlan and Paul Weller.

In 2012, Lightfoot was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

https://youtu.be/xNleC6-9jyI

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It’s Alive! The Edgar Winter Group’s “Frankenstein”

On May 26, 1973, the #1 single on the Billboard Hot 100 was “Frankenstein” by the Edgar Winter Group.

Edgar Holland Winter was born in Beaumont, Texas, in 1946. His older brother is the legendary blues guitarist, Johnny Winter. Playing musical instruments was encouraged and nurtured by their parents, and Edgar is as proficient on saxophone and percussion as he is on keyboards (during “Frankenstein,” Winter showcases his skill on all three).

By the time they were teens, the Winter brothers were regularly performing locally. An early gig for the brothers, when they were 10 and 8, was at a local TV station, where they performed Everly Brothers songs (with Johnny on ukulele).

Edgar played on brother Johnny’s The Progressive Blues Experiment album in 1968, became a member of the band, and performed at rock festivals across the country, including Woodstock (Edgar once claimed that a pre-synthesizer version of “Frankenstein” was played at the “3 Days of Peace & Music” festival).

By 1970, Edgar had a recording contract and assembled his own backup band, White Trash.  Edgar Winter’s White Trash recorded two albums and had a minor hit with “Keep Playin’ that Rock ‘n’ Roll.” In 1972, the Edgar Winter Group was formed with Dan Hartman on bass, Chuck Ruff on drums and Ronnie Montrose on guitar and mandolin (Montrose had played on Van Morrison’s Tupelo Honey LP). The group began work on what would become the album They Only Come Out at Night. Rick Derringer, a member of White Trash, acted as the record’s producer, but also played bass and guitar on some of the tracks.

The song “Frankenstein” was never intended to appear on the album. Winter saw it as a live song because its improvisational nature. He merely referred to it as “the instrumental” and the band used the riff as a jam session to warm up before recording, but Derringer always had tape rolling. After accumulating four different jam sessions (of 20-30 minutes in length), Derringer suggested that there was enough material on the reels of tape to edit down into a song. Winter agreed to sift through the multiple jams and mix a final piece. The working title for the track was “The Double Drum Song” because of the dual solos with Ruff on drums and Winter on timbales. As Winter and Derringer cut sections of recording tape, draped them about the studio and pieced segments together with splicing tape, Ruff made the comment, ” … it’s like Frankenstein.” The allusion stuck and became the song’s title.

They Only Come Out at Night was released in November 1972. Its opening track, “Hangin’ Around,” was selected as the first single with “Frankenstein” designated for the B-side. But, as so often happens in pop music history, the B-side was the song that radio listeners in the US and Canada requested DJ’s to play again and again. The label quickly reversed the song order on future pressings, and “Frankenstein” became the official single from the album.


http://youtu.be/RSLP1FCREBA:  Edgar Winter Group – Frankenstein Live 1973

After 12 weeks on Billboard‘s singles chart, the song hit #1 and became a rarity in pop music — an instrumental at the top of the charts. Throughout the ’50s and ’60s, it was uncommon for an instrumental to reach #1 and, when they did, it was typically from an orchestra or a movie theme. However, The Champs had deviated from the norm with “Tequila” in 1958 and The Tornadoes did it with “Telestar” in 1962.

It’s not as if pop instrumentals never made it into the Top 40. In the year preceding the success of “Frankenstein,” Hot Butter’s “Popcorn” and Focus’ “Hocus Pocus” both reached #9, Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll (Part 2)” topped out at #7, and Billy Preston’s “Outa-Space” got to #2. In the year following “Frankenstein,” instrumental #1 hits were more common, with songs from The Love Unlimited Orchestra, MFSB, The Average White Band and Van McCoy all reaching the top spot.

Edgar Winter is credited as being the first person to hook a guitar strap to a keyboard and perform with it on stage. Winter played the ARP 2600, which featured a keyboard that was not built into the synthesizer’s control mechanism. Instead, the relatively light keyboard connected to the synthesizer controls with a cable. Winter explained years later, “I thought, ‘Wow, looks like you could just pick this thing up, put a strap on it and play it like a guitar!’ I was the first person to have the idea of playing the keyboard in that fashion. I was like, ‘Wow, I’m free! I’m not stuck behind this bank of keyboards, where I can’t move and people can’t see what I’m doing.'”

“Frankenstein” would remain at #1 for only one week and get knocked to #3 by Paul McCartney & Wing’s “My Love” (Elton John’s “Daniel” jumped from #3 to #2). The Edgar Winter Group also released “Free Ride” as a single from the album and it would peak at #14.

A new generation of music fans are discovering “Frankenstein” after the Foo Fighter’s Dave Grohl mentioned in his 2013 SXSW keynote address that “Frankenstein” was the inspiration for him to pick up an instrument and pursue a career in music.

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Remembering Joe Light, a KOIL Good Guy

Normally I post about specific songs and the details that led to production, distribution and popularity, but today I want to write about my upbringing—specifically, the influence of a certain AM radio station on my understanding, awareness and love for music.

I received a transistor radio for one of my early birthdays. It was smaller than today’s smart phone, but about three times thicker—mandarin red, with a single 2.5-inch speaker, earphones and a tiny tuning wheel that picked up every AM radio station, near and far, with the best fidelity the era’s technology allowed. I carried it with me, day and night, and replaced many a 9-volt battery.

This is when I discovered “The Mighty 12-90, K-O-I-L.” I was fortunate to grow up in a market where the AM radio station for kids was playing the popular singles as well as the obscure 45-rpm releases from lesser-known artists (some soon to become well-known superstars) and B-sides.

KOIL had a diversity in music (as the weekly “surveys” displayed below reveal) that crossed genres and tastes. The jingles, bumpers and stingers were also a part of the playlist. And there were always contests to keep the audience engaged with the station.

But what made the station fun were the disc jockeys, the KOIL Good Guys. They were smart and clever, and they would spar with one another on the air, setting up conflicts and referencing each other throughout the day, which generated an urgency to tune-in later to find out what was said in response. It was brilliant marketing by Don Burden’s Star Stations.

One of the great KOIL DJ’s was Joe Light. He was irreverent (in a safe way, there was still a strict FCC he had to contend with) and quick-witted. He had running gags (as I type, his Hamburger Winner award for that day’s stupid person in the news comes to mind) intermingled with insipid jingles that mocked radio promotion (the young female chorus singing a cappella: “Joe Light’s best, Joe Light’s best, Joe Light’s good and Joe Light’s best”), but most important he talked with you—he made you feel like you were in on the joke. I spent many days after school laughing amid the soundtrack of my childhood.

And so I was saddened to learn that Joe Light died in Sacramento on March 28, 2013, four days before his 80th birthday. He had worked in Indianapolis, Denver, Portland (Ore.), Los Angeles and many other cities. But I fondly recall my memories when he was at KOIL in Omaha, Nebr.

Before social media, before today’s talk of having “friends” who aren’t physically present in our lives, there were radio disc jockeys. I followed Joe Light. I Liked him. “Light’s out, everybody.” Rest in peace.

KOIL radio Omaha music survey with Joe Light May 14 thru 20, 1970

KOIL radio Omaha music survey with Joe Light and Roger W. Morgan August 11 thru 19, 1970

KOIL radio Omaha music survey with Joe Light August 20 thru 26, 1971

KOIL radio Omaha music survey with Joe Light May 13 thru 19, 1972

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How does it feel to be one of the beautiful people? (The Beatles in ’67)

On May 11, 1967, The Beatles recorded “Baby, You’re a Rich Man” in 12 takes at Olympic Sound Studios in London. It was the group’s first song that was not recorded and mixed at Abbey Road. The song was added as the B-Side to “All You Need Is Love” and released in July that summer. The single became a #1 hit worldwide and “Baby, You’re a Rich Man” even charted to #34 on the US Billboard Hot 100.

“Baby, You’re a Rich Man” is a combination of two separate Lennon and McCartney song snippets: Lennon’s working-title song “One of the Beautiful People” and a chorus McCartney was working on, “Baby, you’re a rich man.” The duo had done a mash-up of their melodies previously on “A Day in the Life” (from the Sgt. Pepper LP).

It’s believed Mick Jagger was present in the studio during the Beatles recording and may have sang on the final mix’s chorus.

The song was intended for the Yellow Submarine soundtrack, but Capitol Records added it to its version of the Magical Mystery Tour album for release in the US.

In the UK, Magical Mystery Tour was a four-sided EP (extended play) recording with “Magical Mystery Tour,” “Your Mother Should Know,” “I Am the Walrus,” “The Fool on the Hill,” “Flying” and “Blue Jay Way.”

Capitol in the US packaged the additional Beatles singles that had not appeared on any albums, including the “Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane” pairing (which were actually recorded at the start of the Sgt. Pepper sessions).

“Baby, You’re a Rich Man” gained a new audience with its inclusion in the closing credits of David Fincher’s 2010 film, The Social Network.

http://youtu.be/EdDVgJWXMCI

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Now would I say something that wasn’t true? (Eurythmics hit again in 1985)

On April 27, 1985, “Would I Lie to You” by Eurythmics debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 at #62. It would spend a total of 19 weeks on the US singles chart, peaking at #5 on July 13. The song reached #2 in Canada, #17 in the UK and was the band’s first (and only) #1 single in Australia.

Eurythmics was the band led by Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart. Stewart met Lennox in London in the mid-70s while she was attending the Royal Academy of Music. Lore has it that Stewart’s first words to the Scottish lass were, “Will you marry me?” Lennox and Stewart formed a trio called The Catch with guitarist Peet Coombes. After releasing a single, they recruited bassist Eddie Chin and drummer Jim Toomey and in 1977 became The Tourists.

The Tourists combined folk and New Wave sensibilities with hints of ’60s pop. The band opened for Roxy Music on the UK dates for the Manifesto Tour. When The Tourists split up in 1980, so did Lennox and Stewart’s romantic relationship. But they decided to continue working and recording together.

In 1981, the pair formed Eurythmics. The band’s name is based on the musical teaching theory of Swiss educator and composer Émile Jaques-Dalcroze. Jaques-Dalcroze taught eurythmics as a communication between one’s inner and outer forces, connecting the mind with harmonious bodily movements (rhythms) to awaken musicality and develop musicianship in students. The name is derived from the Greek word eurythmy, meaning “rhythmical order of movement.”

“Would I Lie to You” was the first of three singles released from Be Yourself Tonight — which is either the duo’s fourth or fifth album, depending on whether you count the 1984 (For the Love of Big Brother) soundtrack as an official Eurythmics recording. Be Yourself Tonight added a soulful R&B to the synth-pop sounds of previous Eurythmics records.

I love this song. Great horns, a great guitar break, great vocals and an overall great arrangement. The official music video opens with “acting” — I guess to set up a reason for Annie’s angry lyrics and to provide conflict-resolution in the storyline. I’m certain the record label had several meetings over this one, including the dialogue which got bleeped in this clip (the music kicks in at the one minute mark).

http://youtu.be/Uhpu2N4rQZM

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The Chemical Brothers’ sophomore effort (1997)

On April 26, 1997, the highest ranked “new entry” on The Billboard 200 album chart belonged to The Chemical Brothers. Their LP, Dig Your Own Hole, debuted at #14, but would go no higher on the US charts (it would get to #4 in Canada).

The Chemical Brothers were DJs Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons from Manchester, England. They began working clubs in the late ’80s, weaving samples of jazz and funk with hip hop and big beats.

Rowlands and Simons originally called themselves the Dust Brothers in homage to the American producers who helped to sculpt the Beastie Boys Paul’s Boutique. After lawyers contacted them, the duo changed their name.

Dig Your Own Hole was The Chemical Brothers second album (Exit Planet Dust was released in 1995 — the title referencing their abandoned moniker).

The first single, “Setting Sun,” features Noel Gallagher from Oasis (a fan of The Chemical Brothers) on vocals. The single went to #1 in the UK, but only got to #80 in the US. Their second single, “Block Rockin’ Beats” also topped the UK singles charts, but did not make the Hot 100 in the US (peaking at #107).

But radio was not the medium for The Chemical Brothers, nor were music videos (although their visual concepts were always interesting and highly stylized) — the true power of their beats was in the clubs, keeping people on the dance floor.

http://youtu.be/iTxOKsyZ0Lw

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Blood, Sweat & Tears (BS&T) — a fusion first, an American classic

On April 12, 1969, after 11 weeks on the Billboard Top LP’s chart, Blood Sweat & Tears had the #1 album in the US. Their album knocked Glen Campbell’s Wichita Lineman to the #2 position. The band would hold on to the top spot for one additional week, spend subsequent weeks in the Top 5 (mostly at #2 or #3) and return to the #1 position in July.

Blood, Sweat & Tears (BS&T) was one of the first popular fusion bands in the US, incorporating a foundation of  R&B and jazz with rock, a bit of folk music and healthy portions of classical influences. Their sound could shift from a psychedelic riff one moment to a sizzling brass groove the next, and their arrangements were smart and sophisticated — even when they were going over-the-top with a simple pop tune like “Spinning Wheel.”

The self-titled recording, Blood, Sweat & Tears, was the group’s second release. Their debut, Child Is Father to the Man, peaked at #47 in the spring of 1968. Shortly after its release, lead vocalist, songwriter and keyboardist Al Kooper left the band, as did trumpet players Randy Brecker and Jerry Weiss.

Drummer Bobby Colomby and guitarist Steve Katz brought in Lew Soloff, Chuck Winfield and Jerry Hyman to fill out the horn section with Fred Lipsius and Dick Halligan, but still needed a lead singer. They were looking for someone to match the power of the band’s brass.

BS&T rehearsed with Laura Nyro and considered approaching Stephen Stills to join the group. Then Colomby and Katz were told about a Canadian singer performing at a rock club in NYC. The two checked out the band, the David Clayton-Thomas Combine, and were impressed by its leader. Clayton-Thomas was invited to audition and was soon part of the band.

In August of ’68, the now nine-member Blood, Sweat & Tears began rehearsing and performing in Greenwich Village. The band worked on new material (e.g., Katz’s “Sometimes in Winter” or the band’s progressive rock and R&B changes titled “Blues – Part II”) while crafting arrangements of others’ songs: “Smiling Phases” by Traffic, “And When I Die” by Laura Nyro, “God Bless the Child” by Billie Holiday, “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy” by Brenda Holloway, “More and More” by Little Milton, and French composer Erik Satie’s Gymnopédie #1 .

Blood, Sweat & Tears generated three hit singles. “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy” and “And When I Die” both went to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100. The third single, “Spinning Wheel” (written by Clayton-Thomas), went to #1.

At the next year’s Grammy Awards, Blood, Sweat & Tears bested the Beatles’ Abbey Road for Album of the Year. The band also received the Pop/Rock/Contemporary-Other award for its “Variations on a Theme by Erik Satie.”

“Spinning Wheel” (album version)  http://youtu.be/qi9sLkyhhlE

 

“And When I Die”

 

“Sometimes in Winter”

 

 

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