Welcome back – John Sebastian

On Friday, my wife and I had a real treat as we watched John Sebastian perform in a wonderful venue. If his name is not top of mind, he was the lead singer and songwriter for Lovin’ Spoonful. And, one of his hits following the band’s break-up was called “Welcome back.” More on that later.

What made Sebastian’s performance so wonderful extended beyond his many great songs. He told us the backstory behind each song, at times revealing the musical influences, referring to his use of other styles as his “kleptomania.”

And, while his 75 year-old voice was not as velvety as before, his guitar playing was surprisingly superb. He exhibited various styles ranging from Mississippi John Hurt to several folk musicians to a Martha and the Vandellas song and a specific guitar riff called the St. Louis shuffle.

Sebastian performed many of his hits, as well as some of those artists who influenced him. Of his hits, he played (a little vignette he shared is in parentheses) the following:

– Do you believe in magic? (he sped up the notes in Dancin’ in the Street”)

– Daydream (this is one of my favorites and he invited the audience to accentuate it)

– You didn’t have to be so nice (Steve Boone wrote the bass line and Sebastian took it from there saying it took 15 minutes to complete it as Boone did far more than a bass line)

– Summer in the City (he said they played the drum part in the stairwell for a unique sound)

– Darling be home soon (this is a classic love song which was terrific in the small venue)

– Did you ever have to make up your mind? (he wrote the lyrics on a Lucky Strike wrapper in a taxi on the way to record it)

– You’re a big boy now (theme song for a Frances Ford Coppola movie)

– Amy’s Theme (an instrumental he thought up in a Grand Central Station restroom, then forgot it and went back to recall the tune)

– She’s a lady (not the Tom Jones’ one)

– Welcome back (he wrote it overnight to the surprise of the “Welcome back Kotter” TV producers, saying he was one of those students portrayed on the show)

Here is a taste of two song lyrics with the title of each in the first line:

“My darling be home soon
I couldn’t bear to wait an extra minute if you dawdled
My darling be home soon
It’s not just these few hours but I’ve been waiting since I toddled
For the great relief of having you to talk to”

“Welcome back, your dreams were your ticket out
Welcome back, to that same old place that you laughed about”

Please do visit or revisit his many songs. Whether they are along with his Spoonful mates – Boone, Zal Yanovsky, Joe Butler and Jerry Yester – or on his own, they are a treat.

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Two brother Seals, two different duos

Two very good singing groups that are likely not top of mind have a connection. The 1970s duo Seals and Crofts has the greater notoriety, but England Dan and John Ford Coley had some hit records later in the decade as well. The connection is Jimmy Seals and (England) Dan Seals are brothers.

If you listen carefully, you can hear the vocal resemblance. Seals and Croft hit it big with “Summer Breeze,” but also had several other hits “Get Closer,” “We may never pass this way again,” and “You’re the love,” to name a few. The following lyric is from the chorus of “Summer Breeze.”

“Summer breeze, makes me feel fine, blowing through the jasmine in my mind”

From “Get Closer,” here is the straightforward chorus:

“Darlin’ if you want me to be closer to you, get closer to me
Darlin’ if you want me to be closer to you, get closer to me
Darlin’ if you want me to love, love only you, then love only me
Darlin’ if you want me to see, see only you, then see only me”

While “Summer Breeze” is more whimsical, “Get Closer” is more direct – the singers are not looking for unrequited love. I am committed to you, but I need you to be committed to me,

England Dan and John Ford Coley are remembered for a couple of big hits “I’d really love to see you tonight,” “Nights are forever without you,” and “Love is the answer.” The last song makes you question which of the two duos is singing it. Here are a few of its lyrics:

“Name your price
A ticket to paradise
I can’t stay here any more
And I’ve looked high and low
I’ve been from shore to shore to shore
If there’s a short cut I’d have found it
But there’s no easy way around it

Light of the world, shine on me
Love is the answer
Shine on us all, set us free
Love is the answer”

The latter duo was arguably more pop oriented than Seals and Crofts, but it does not mean their songs were not good. I encourage you to visit or revisit their songs. And, I wish a nice summer breeze for all of us.

Rocketman and Yesterday

Yesterday, my son and I saw the movie “Yesterday” about a young singer who is in an accident caused by a blackout leaving him injured, but also the only person on the planet who remembers The Beatles. The movie stars Himesh Patel as the singer and Lily James as his manager and largest fan among very few. Yet, it is abetted by the role Ed Sheeran plays as himself recognizing the genius songwriting and Kate McKinnon as both performers greedy manager.

Last month, my wife and I saw “Rocketman,” a biopic about Elton John and his songwriting partnership with Bernie Taupin. While it differs from “Yesterday,” both feature the musical genius of the songwriters and performers. “Rocketman” stars Taron Egerton as John with Jamie Bell playing Taupin. “Rocketman” also stars Bryce Dallas Howard and Steven Mackintosh as John’s unsupportive parents, whose best adult support came from his Nan played by Gemma Jones

In both movies, the stars sing the songs. Egerton does a highly credible job of singing like Elton. Patel does not sing as well, but that is a key part of the story. He is an unsuccessful singer who starts singing great music, while Egerton is playing the singer. “Yesterday” is directed by Danny Boyle with the story and screenplay written by Richard Curtis and Jack Barth. “Rocketman” was directed by Dexter Fletcher with the story and screenplay written by Lee Hall.

Both movies are worth seeing. “Rocketman” reveals the musical genius of Elton John who could play songs after hearing them for the first time, even as a young boy. He was classically trained after his Nan helped him, but he could only go as he benefitted from a scholarship. Billy Joel, who toured with John later in their careers, noted John wrote backwards from most songwriters, writing the music to the words of Taupin.

“Yesterday” introduces the breadth of music by The Beatles to a younger audience featuring the songs of John Lennon and Paul McCartney with a few of George Harrison’s thrown in. The movie includes songs from early in The Beatles’ career as well as songs off The White Album. Please stay around for the credits as well, as you will fade out with a well-known song.

It is hard to pick which movie is better. Since, I am a huge Beatles’ fan, I would have to give the nod to the latter, although the critics liked “Rocketman” a little better. It should be noted, I also liked the movie of a few years ago “Across the Universe,” which had young actors singing The Beatles’ songs as part of the plot, not unlike “Mamma Mia,” which uses ABBA’s music. I think both movies are just shy of the success of “Bohemian Rhapsody” about Queen which won some Academy Awards last year, but they are still highly entertaining.

Since my wife could not join us, I am likely to go see “Yesterday” again. I think it is worth another go. It should be noted Lily James also played in the sequel to “Mamma Mia” which came out last year. In “Yesterday,” her singing is relegated to playing a chorus in early recording sessions, but she adds greatly to the movie.

Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters

I have always appreciated when excellent word smithing matches up with equally marvelous music. And, the pairing need not come from one person, as Elton John and Bernie Taupin demonstrated time and again.

One of their clever songs came off John’s 1972 “Honky Cat” album. “Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” is John’s matching Taupin’s direct lyrics about a time in New York City, when it was less safe than it is today. The story is Taupin heard a gun shot outside his hotel room and penned a song to reflect his angst. John wrote sad, but reminiscent music which he sings so well.

Here is the middle portion of the song including its famous chorus.

“This Broadway’s got
It’s got a lot of songs to sing
If I knew the tunes I might join in
I’ll go my way alone
Grow my own, my own seeds shall be sown, in New York City

Subway’s no way for a good man to go down
Rich man can ride and the hobo he can drown
And I thank the Lord for the people I have found
I thank the Lord for the people I have found

While Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters
Sons of bankers, sons of lawyers
Turn around and say good morning to the night
For unless they see the sky
But they can’t and that is why
They know not if it’s dark outside or light”

Several references stand out. The commuters of all persuasions not knowing if it is dark or light. While they may have Mona Lisa painted smiles or the hypertension of a Mad Hatter, they do feel safety in numbers or in a cadre of friends who serve as a port in the storm.

The other reference is to Broadway which offers a glitzier image of New York, a polished apple, so to speak. New York has been reborn, but there was a time when the city needed its underbelly to match the hype. It took a lot of effort through leadership and consistency but is once again quite the destination. I am reminded of the story of a paint crew who would paint over graffiti overnight, then do it again. The consistent effort was symbolic revealing more than an attention to detail,

Maybe we should update the song to reflect our Mona Lisa smiles and Mad Hatter hypertension on social media.

Memorable concert moments

My wife and I have enjoyed many concerts throughtout our almost 35 years together as a couple. I wrote recently about our joy in seeing Joan Osborne in a small venue. Here are a few more memorable moments.

– Tina Turner is high up on a short list of performers. Before ending one of her famous songs, she asked the men in the audience to sing the chorus. She chided, “You’ve been saying this most of your lives.” The song was “What’s love got to do with it?”

– Billy Joel has so many hits, on three occasions during his performsnce, he asked the audience to vote on one of two songs to sing.

– Elvis Costello had this huge spinning wheel on the stage which had his song titles listed. He would ask someone from the audience to spin the wheel to pick the next song.

– Eric Clapton was joined on tour by Derek Trucks and Buddy Guy. Now, that was a treat.

– Bob Seger is one of my favorites. Near the end of his great show, he introduced the band. Don Brewer, the drummer, was a foundjng member of Grand Funk Railroad, a great 1960-70s band.

– Sarah Brightman, the London theatre actress who was once marriied to Andrew Lloyd Webber, can flat out sing. Her version of “The Theme to Titanic” was sung in French. Bravo.

– Elton John has a multi-generational following. It was so cool to see grandmothers, mothers and daughters sing each song word for word.

– Paul McCartney is a treat, anytime, anywhere. From The Beatles to Wings to his solo career, he has a significant body of work. The stories behind some songs were an added treat.

– Heart puts on an amazing concert. Ann Wilson was introduced by her sister Nancy as having one of the greatest Rock-n-Roll voices. No argument here.

– Tony Bennett and kd lang toured together after the cut an album. Her admiration for him was obvious. She offerred a humorous story about a hit song of hers “Constant Craving.” An uninformed fan had referred to it as “Instant Gravy,” which tickled her.

– Two concerts where I took my boys stand out, as Mom did not want to go. ACDC was terrific as we sat above left of the band. Also, Rush was outstanding as three musicians could produce so much sound.

And, there are so many more – Tom Petty, James Taylor. Chicago, Rod Stewart, Steve Winwood, Bonnie Raitt, Janis Ian, Don McLean, etc. But, let me end on a personal note.

We attended an outdoor concert of Jimmy Buffett’s. My brother-in-law went with us and was feeling no pain. Someone from behind was shouting for Buffett to sing “God’s own drunk,” then I realized everyone was looking at us – it was my brother-in-law standing on the bleachers shouting.

Well, that is enough for now. What are some of your favorites? Any amusing memories?

Tryin’ to get to heaven before they close the door – Osborne’s tribute to Dylan

Joan Osborne is an under-appreciated singer, songwriter, who is best known for her song “If God was one of us.” Bob Dylan, of course, is a Nobel Laureate who can also write compelling music to go with his beautifully scripted words.

My wife and I traveled to Atlanta to see Osborne sing a host of Dylan’s songs in tribute. She also has produced a CD of such songs. Osborne has a sensual and sensuous style in her singing that adds seasoning to Dylan’s music. She also hand-picked songs that resonated with her, selecting some deeper cuts, a few of which we did not know.

Here are some of the highlights:

“Buckets of Rain” – She said Dylan wrote several love songs that do not get acclaim.   We were unfamiliar with this one, but it is a  treat live and as a recording,

“Tangled up in Blue” – This is my favorite Dylan song and she did more than justice to it. Her pacing and style revealed the saga portrayed by Dylan’s words.

“Highway 61 Revisited” – This is a great song, but an even better one live. She makes it more human, beginning with the example of Abraham.

“Quinn the Eskimo” – Many people do not know Dylan wrote this classic. She opened her show with this one, so we, had to think for a second.

“Tryin’ to get to Heaven” – This was my favorite version of a Dylan song. She accentuated with a strategic pause each time “before they close the door.”

“Gotta Serve Somebody” – She excelled on this classic Dylan song. It was much more sensual and bluesy than Dylan could offer with his singing.

“Masters of War” – This was another Dylan song which was unfamiliar to us, but it is classic Dylan in protest chastising those who say you can win a war without costs.

“Don’t think twice, it’s alright” – When I think of this one, I think of Peter, Paul and Mary paying homage to Dylan. She covered it well.

She did not sing these songs during the concert, but she includes them in her CD. “Dark Eyes”
“You’re gonna make me lonesome when you go”
“Rainy Day Women”

She probably dropped them as she sang a couple of songs she has yet to release. If you do not know Osborne, download or purchase her CDs. “Relish” is her second CD which won a Grammy. Our favorite is “Righteous Love,” which we saw her perform on Austin City Limits. Or, just buy her “Songs of Bob Dylan” CD.

Since it was a small venue, we got a chance to speak with her afterwards. She is very gracious and down-to-earth. And, definitely worth the listening.

 

What is that song again?

“You’ve gotta lot of nerve” sings Bob Dylan over and over again in one of the greatest put down songs ever written. But, that is not the name of the song, it is “Positively 4th Street.” Simon and Garfunkel sang of “feelin’ groovy,” but the name of the song is not that repetitive lyric, it is “The 59th Street Bridge Song.”

And, one of my favorite songs written by Kenny Loggins speaks to “Even though we ain’t got money, I’m so in love with you honey” in its chorus. But, the name of the song is “Danny’s Song.” It was written for his brother and covered well by Anne Murray, although I prefer the Loggins and Messina version.

Other song favorites where the title cannot be found in the lyrics include:

– “A Day in the Life” by The Beatles

– “After the Gold Rush” by Neil Young

– “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen

– “Baba O’Riley” by The Who

– “Annie’s Song” by John Denver

– “Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin

The list is actually not a short one. Yet, it does complicate things when the chorus or a clever song verse is how the song is remembered, not the title. Fortunately, Google understands this and will get you to the right place. If you Google “You fill up my senses,” you can find Denver’s “Annie Song.” If you Google “I read the news today,” you would be steered to “A Day in the Life.”

The one exception to my list might be “Bohemian Rhapsody,” even before the movie, given the memorable title. This may be due in part to the cult like status of the song or its length. Yet, you could find it with searching on several of its bizarre lyrics.

If you Google “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot, you can find Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi.” Now, technically Mitchell’s song does not belong on the list, as taxi does appear in the final stanza. Yet, I include it as throughout the song are environmental references. It is actually disappointing those references are metaphors for missing her “old man” after the big yellow taxi takes him away.

What are some of your favorites where the title cannot be found in the song? Feel free to take the same license as I did with Joni Mitchell’s song.