The journey through life is made better by music. I suppose you have to come equipped with a particular chip. Something wired into you that allows you to connect on a certain level with songs. For some people I know, music is something they can take or leave. Or maybe its just something they enjoy at a wedding reception or a birthday party but the pursuit of it is not something that concerns them. But for those of us to whom it really matters, music is essential. It touches, compliments and augments parts of us and I feel like these “parts” are related somehow to searching. When we are happy, we long to have that feeling accentuated by an energetic song. When we are sad, we find true companionship in a melancholy tale of woe. Almost subconsciously, at many points in our days, we desire that sound that goes with our feeling. Perhaps the same way that lysergic acid is said to expand your mind, for many of us music is that which expands our feelings and our emotions. Music then, is a companion, an accoutrement, something that goes with us. Added to this is my imagination. I always say that I listen with it. Here is why I can appreciate almost all kinds of music even that which gets me rolling my eyes in the full knowledge that what I’m hearing is poor from a critical standpoint or is simply lame by my own reasoning. The limpest, most insipid ballad from the 1970’s seems to go great with an early morning drive to work in the darkness. Maybe it triggers memories. Easy listening instrumental music (I’m talking about what most would call “elevator music”) can get me chuckling at its utter futility but it can also get me feeling extremely relaxed late at night. These things happen to me because of where music can “take me”. I can’t help but conjure up some mental image of a time and/or a place when I hear certain types of music and this always adds a lustre. Different sounds for different moments.
“The romance and the beauty of stuff that has been played in the past…sparks something which is very powerful and very reminiscent. People get in touch with where they were or what they were doing or who their friends were. All of our lives get taken back to that point in time.”– Eric Clapton
And memory. How can you possibly describe that feeling we’ve all felt. A particular song’s power to transport you right back… Back to the house you grew up in, back to your old neighbourhood, back to the pizza joint you used to hang out in, back to the buddy you’ve lost contact with, back to your first car or your first apartment. Back to high school. Back to Saturday night. And relationships. Songs that remind you of those special people can be the most potent. The most painful and the most cherished. Bittersweet memories. Such a joy to remember such things; such a shame that they cannot be recovered. Those moments…
What follows here is the story of 100 such moments, moments I’ve been able to relive many times over just by dusting off a 45 or a music file. Moments I treasure with joy and perhaps with something less than that. With sadness. Frustration, regret. But they all are moments just the same. Life. These aren’t your favourite songs, I understand that. But likely you can relate and have a similar list yourself. And in a less dramatic vein, this elongated playlist is for kicks. It’s a chance for me to share some great music with you. Some songs you’ve missed and some titles that may make you smile and remember along with me.
And those of you who know me personally or follow me on social media may be expecting a list full of Presley, Sinatra and other artists I regularly dish on. But I’ve called on other tracks from my past, often songs by lesser-known artists. This is more about the power of the song itself than it is about the weight of the artist behind it; without all the mighty things that go with the greatness and the historical significance of that artist. After all, it is the fact that it is FRANK SINATRA who sings “That’s Life” that adds much to that song’s gravitas. The slightest tune can benefit from a treatment by a voice you love and know well; as the bulk of Elvis Presley’s movie music can attest. But these songs are just 3 minutes of joy, pockets of bliss – the happy or the sad variety – provided by random artists that may have only put it all together correctly once or twice. Most of these artists may have only one song I like. REO Speedwagon may have done it perfectly – to my ear – just once. Looking back on these songs, I can see that this is a big part of what informs this list. The flyers; the gems that came out of nowhere. The unheralded, obscure group that nailed it and their song represents all that we love about music; the serendipity, the glee, the surprise when we find that diamond in the rough.
Volume 1 of Pockets of Bliss comprises the first 25 tunes, songs 100 to 76. The songs could almost be filed by category; those with the rhythm, the beat, the utter excitement. Those that are devastating, terribly sad, the tunes drenched in emotion and soul and then there’s the monumental performances that just take your breath away, the songs that you only listen to alone. At night. With headphones. This list – presented in five parts – has a bit of it all and represents everything I’ve ever felt. Feelings I’m sure you’re all familiar with, too. So let’s swim to the moon, baby. Let’s climb through the tide. Take a little trip, take a little trip, take a little trip with me…
“We learned more from a three-minute record than we ever learned in school.”– The quote I used in my high school yearbook. “No Surrender”, Bruce Springsteen (1984)
100 – “Crazy Arms” by Jerry Lee Lewis & Dennis Quaid (1989) // From the film I went to the theatre three times to see, Great Balls of Fire! (1989). 53-year-old Lewis was a decade removed from releasing any notable music but perhaps it was the feeling that he was finally getting what he thought was his due that rallied him to put in some stellar performances on this soundtrack. Quaid – a singer and musician in his own right – adds much to the sheer sparkling joy of this tune that is an absolute thrill to sing along to. As I do well. “And now Killer’s gettin’ lonesome all the time”
99 – “In the Still of the Night” by the Five Satins (1956) // Nothing less than one of the pillars of the golden era of popular music. Few songs are more indicative of the 1950’s than this doo-wop classic. A misty, dream-like aura permeates this most romantic of songs. The blending of the voices with the ethereal saxophone solo is a highlight of this tune that conjures so many emotions. “So, before the light hold me again with all of your might in the still of the night”
98 – “Islands in the Stream” by Kenny Rogers & Dolly Parton (1983) // One from my own youth courtesy of the Brothers Gibb. Barry, Maurice and Robin penned this pure pop gem and set Kenny and Dolly up with a chart-topper. Great work from the horn section, the chord changes of the chorus are delightful and this recording is simply joyous. There’s something about the way they sing “that is what we are” that I love. “We start and end as one, in love forever”
97 – “Vehicle” by the Ides of March (1970) // The fastest-selling single in Warner’s history blasts out the gate with robust horns playing a great arrangement. Features a stellar guitar solo (and strumming) and a groovy lyric sung well. Technically a one-hit wonder – this song hit #2 but the band had no other Top 40 hits – the Ides of March featured Jim Peterik who would go on to form Survivor and write “Eye of the Tiger”. “If you want t’be a movie stah, I’m gonna take y’to-a Hollywood…”
96 – “Feel a Whole Lot Better” by Tom Petty (1989) // Pure pop. All boxes checked. Petty covers the Byrds and employs a ringing 12-string electric that sounds like an orchestra but the bass line almost steals the show. Wonderful backing vocals probably all by Tom and my man, Jeff Lynne and Heartbreaker Mike Campbell chips in some fine mandolin. Music to grin contentedly by. “After what you did (after what you did) I can’t stay on (ahhhhhhh)…”
95 – “Everything That Touches You” by the Association (1968) // Prime example of the late-Sixties pop/rock/sunshine pop sound I love. Sounds like springtime. The Association doesn’t get enough love for their pristine voices and the vocal arrangement on this track – the last hit for the group – is absolutely sublime. This is Beach Boys level. Listen to lead singer Terry Kirkman (I think) as he sings “comes close TO the feeling of you” at the 2:09 mark. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. “Love…love…love…love…everything is love”
94 – “I Can’t Get Next to You” by the Temptations (1969) // Feel the funk, ya’ll. Hardwired into my very being is classic R&B and soul. Few did it better than Motown’s the Temptations in the late 1960’s and few songs encapsulate all that is cool about this genre than this #1 tune. The cracking brass intro. The bold “I…” that starts every line. Every cool grunt and inflection; “I can make a ship sail – huh! – on dry land”. The drum/piano breakdown, the guitar work, the loose tambourine… This is what we call a stone groove. Features one of my all-time favourite voices, that of Dennis Edwards. “CAN’T GET NEXT TO YOU! Girl, you’re blowin’ mah mind cuz ah can’t get – next to you…”
“Music fills my soul now. I’ve lost all control now. I’m not half, I’m whole now…”– from “Happy Heart”, lyrics by Canadian Jackie Rae
93 – “Happy Heart” by Andy Williams (1969) // Here we are at the polar opposite. One of my favourite people, Howard Andrew had to be represented here. But what song? Most that he is known for have also been sung well by others but the delightful “Happy Heart” is all his. Written by James Last and Canadian Jackie Rae, it is music for a sunny hillside, a fragrant meadow; you know what I mean. Lovely piano beginning, something we return to after the first chorus. And Andy – singing in a high key – sounds as good as he ever did. Perfect example of “adult contemporary” of the time; big orchestra but with “rock” drumming. “It’s…my…happy heart you hear…la, la, la, la-la, la, la…”
92 – “Tom Sawyer” by Rush (1981) // And we’re off in yet another direction. A perfectly realized song from Canada’s greatest export. It cannot be overstated what this song has meant to a generation in this country. Neil Peart’s drumming is crisp and flawless; it is striking in its clarity. His snare work alone. Geddy Lee may be the single most underrated rock musician in history. He shines both on bass and the synthesizer that gives the song its character. Alex Lifeson’s guitar solo is spot on. 4-and-a-half perfect minutes of rock music. “Exit the warrior. Today’s Tom Sawyer he gets high on you…”
91 – “Shameless” by Billy Joel (1989) // Blue-eyed soul may be my favourite type of music because it is the music I can most relate to; white singers with an affinity for soul music wanting to sound like the best black singers of this idiom. Billy Joel – one of my favourite artists – didn’t always sing blue-eyed soul but he nails it here. Passion. Liberty DeVitto may be the most inventive drummer in pop music history. I saw Billy sing this live – utilizing vocalist Crystal Taliefero – and it blew me out of the back of the room. Billy is submitting. I’m letting go, he says. Everything I’ve done before you is for naught. “I’ve never been in love like this. It’s outta mah hands. I’m shameless. I don’t have the power now…”
90 – “Dragon Attack” by Queen (1980) // Balls. Out. The Game gets dismissed as Queen’s “disco album” but it is one of my favourite records by any artist. Call me crazy but there are times I think that Queen comes awfully close to Rush territory in terms of each member presenting the absolute pinnacle of achievement with their instrument. Their virtuosity is on display here. Pick one of them and focus on him. Freddie Mercury’s brazen vocals, composer Brian May’s searing guitar and the rhythm section is equally incandescent with bassist John Deacon and drummer Roger Taylor each given spotlights. And a vibraslap! Interesting to note that this is the first Queen album to use a synthesizer and its an Oberheim OB-X; the same one heard on “Tom Sawyer”. “And from what I’ve seen it’s a-hot, it’s a-mean”
89 – “Outa-Space” by Billy Preston (1971) // So, one day you’re driving down the highway and your starving. You roll up on a BBQ stand and there before you is all the grilled meat you love. You dig in and eat to your heart’s content. Thats’s me with this song. It’s got so many things that I love and it’s got them in spades. Energy, joy, soul, groove and lots of keys including my favourite instrument of all-time, the clavinet, this time played through a wah wah pedal. Billy Preston felt positive about it but A&M hedged and put it on the B side of “I Wrote a Simple Song”. DJ’s spun the flip, though, and Billy was proven right; “Outa-Space” hit #2 and the A side stalled at #77. This song is life goals.
88 – “Sorry Charlie” by the Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band (1970) // One day, I was born. Next day, I looked around our apartment and saw some 45s. One of them was “Sorry Charlie”. I exaggerate slightly but I remember this single being in our house always although I know not how it got there. No matter. This is a big outfit gelling; dig the smooth trumpet, crisp guitar and hi-hat and the piano that ties it all together. This strikingly-named band is best known for “Express Yourself” but this B side – and it’s flip, “Love Land” – have a poignancy I can’t deny. Something about the melody, the chord changes of “Sorry Charlie” that has stayed with me.
87 – “Young Americans” by David Bowie (1975) // Here we are again at blue-eyed soul. Bowie – like many other UK artists – had a distinct “American music” phase and this album was it. Recorded in Philly (as in “Philly soul”?), the title track features incredible sax work by my man David Sanborn and stellar backing vocals in an arrangement by one of the three singers, Luther Vandross. It is a crying shame that the rest of the album is, well, poor. The title track rolls, it flows, it sounds like a lava lamp looks. An aural feast. One of my many favourite songs with lyrics that are mostly unintelligible to me. “Ain’t there one damn song that can make me – break down and cry…”
86 – “Lift Me Up” by Jeff Lynne (1990) // The leader of Electric Light Orchestra has worked with almost everyone. He released this his first solo record at a time when his Traveling Wilburys bandmates were all releasing popular albums. George Harrison joins Jeff on this track and for much of this classy record that Lynne made otherwise almost by himself. He has a sound, Jeff Lynne. I call it “Wilbury music” and on this track in manifests itself in a gorgeous piece of music. A wonderful backing vocal arrangement aids the inspiring way Jeff sings the title. It makes this song sound hopeful. While he is asking to be lifted up, the buoyant music suggests that his spirit has already been elevated. That’s what happens to me when I hear this. It is optimistic and somehow encouraging. Listen for Harrison’s trademark slide and some wonderful piano from Lynne. “Cuz life gets tougher every – day if you can’t afford to – pay even so you got to carry on (carry on)”
85 – “Pet Sounds (live)” by Brian Wilson (2000) // It’s a long story. My life with Brian Wilson… I feel like if I say anything I’ll have to say everything so I’ll keep it simple. Recorded during a tour in support of perhaps his finest solo album, Imagination, Live at the Roxy Theatre finds Brian and his crack band at the venerable venue in West Hollywood. The group’s performance of the title track from the Beach Boys’ seminal album of 1966 drove home one thing for me when I first heard it. Brian Wilson may be getting old and – if we’re talking honestly – may not contribute much to the performance of his music on stage. The band he’s been using for years is outstanding and hearing them do “Pet Sounds” in this stunning fashion reminds me that Wilson need not do anything ever again. He doesn’t need to sing or play when he’s on stage. The music he has created in his life is special and this track is a good reminder of this. The embellishments made on this version of “Pet Sounds” are well-executed and this is an astounding performance. The drummer, ladies and gentlemen, is Mr. Jim Hines. There are no other kinds.
84 – “Playboy’s Theme” by Cy Coleman (1959) // My listening habits changed profoundly in the winter of 1996. I saw the movie Swingers and this lead to my exploration of the wonderful world of lounge music. Included on Capitol’s magnificent CD Bachelor Pad Royale from their Ultra-Lounge series, Cy Coleman’s theme from Playboy’s Penthouse epitomizes the swank style of this wonderful music. This tune has a great groove and features smooth piano work from Coleman, who is much better known as a composer of music for Broadway plays and songs like “The Best is Yet to Come” and “Witchcraft”.
83 – “If I Didn’t Care” by the Ink Spots (1939) // Another song you can File Under: Mood. I love the Ink Spots like I love no other vocal group. For instant transportation to another place and time, all one need do is listen to this quartet lead by the venerable Bill Kenny. “If I Didn’t Care” was one of the biggest hits of the early days of such things being quantified and it is a truly legendary recording. Strumming guitar, plinking piano and Kenny’s soaring tenor all take you back and provide the most silken, the most relaxing and the most truly satisfying feeling you could ever hope to ask for. “Would all this be true if I didn’t care for you?”
82 – “Tom Traubert’s Blues (Four Sheets to the Wind in Copenhagen)” by Tom Waits (1976) // From the smoothness of Bill Kenny to… How to talk of Tom Waits in only three or four lines? Waits is one of the few artists to really penetrate my soul. The characters he has created and the tales he has told have always resonated with me. He frequently added emotion to his songs – his “grand weepers” – and I often heard anguish in his growl. I could have chosen any number of his songs for this list – “Gun Street Girl” – but went with the magnificent “Tom Traubert’s Blues”. It is the compelling lyrical imagery and cinematic presentation; not to mention the sweetly sweeping strings at the beginning – a wonderful score by Jerry Yester – giving way to his croak. “And it’s a battered old suitcase to a hotel someplace and a wound that will never heal. No prima donna, the perfume is on an old shirt that is stained with blood and whiskey. And good night to the street-sweepers, the night watchmen flame-keepers and good night Matilda, too”
81 – “My Heart is a Liar” by Stray Cats (1992) // Another emotional track featuring the man who is technically my favourite artist, Brian Setzer. Stray Cats were almost ten years past their hit years when they released Choo Choo Hot Fish, what would be their last album of original material until their reunion record, 40, in 2019. “My Heart is a Liar” is a muscular but heartfelt song on which Setzer displays his excellent singing voice and his sterling guitar work. Not his usual full-bodied Gretsch sound here but some vibrant acoustic picking and strumming; listen to the work on the bridge. Gorgeous, gorgeous song. “But how was I to know I’d have to let you go? The only way to make it alright. Now you’ve lit the flame again”
80 – “You Make My Dreams” by Hall & Oates (1980) // Sheer bliss. One of my favourite acts and Daryl Hall is one of my favourite singers. This tune from my youth starts out with ten glorious seconds of what John Oates says was delta blues and Texas swing in origin played (by Hall) on the unique Yamaha CP30. Great beginning and then Daryl starts singing! File Under: Pure Joy. So fun to sing along to on a warm spring day. “Well, well, well, you, you make-a mah dreams come true”
79 – “Tighten Up” by Archie Bell & the Drells (1968) // “Hi, everybody. I’m Archie Bell with the Drells of Houston, Texas where we don’t only sing but we dance just as good as we want. In Houston, we just started a new dance called the Tighten Up” Few songs take me back to my youth like this one. But back to 1988, not 1968. 15 years old and I taped an hour’s worth of overnight oldies radio one night and this song was among those I captured. Like the Hall & Oates tune, this one is unbridled energy. I just adore some cat in the background in the middle of the song urging the boys to “tighten up, babe. Come on!”. My wife always marvels at how I can recite the spoken opening verbatim. Of course, I can.
78 – “Maybe I Will” by Buckwheat Zydeco (1990) // I’ve spent my adult life appreciating other cultures, other countries and cities and their ways of life. New Orleans has always had a special appeal for me, owing mostly to having seen The Big Easy as a young adult. Exploring the music of N’Awlins lead me to the late Stanley “Buckwheat” Dural and his great band Buckwheat Zydeco. Not just purveyors of le bons temps, his outfit had soul and a high level of musicianship. “Maybe I Will” is not really indicative of their sound as Dural is a virtuoso accordionist but he was also a master of the keys. The soulful instrumental builds from bass and drums until Buck adds Hammond. Stellar horns add their statement at about the minute mark. This is what I call a perfect “closing credits” song.
77 – “Dancing in the Moonlight” by Toploader (2000) // Another to File Under: Groove. I can’t remember where or when I stumbled on this cover from this lesser-known English band with the great name Toploader. Originally a 1972 hit for King Harvest, Toploader scored the biggest of their handful of hits with this spirited song that I don’t have much to say about except listen to it! It has a great beat and mood and it’s just a joy to sing along to. It gives me much pleasure. “Dancin’ in the moonlight. Everybody’s feelin’ warm and right. It’s just a fine and nat’rel sight. Everybody’s dancin’ in the moonlight”
76 – “That’s What They Say” by the Jeff Healy Band (1988) // In Canada in 1988, blind rock guitarist Jeff Healey (1966-2008) gained exposure for his ability to play outrageously searing guitar from a seated position with his instrument laying flat on his lap. His debut album, See the Light, was a worldwide hit owing much to the single “Angel Eyes”. But Healey’s own “That’s What They Say” contained that intangible element I’ve always loved. This is a good example of a type of song I’ve always been drawn to; a mid-tempo tune with emotion in the chord changes and melody. Not a sad, slow ballad but emotional, nonetheless. I love the way he sings the title in the fade. “So, tonight I’m gonna follow you ’round to all those places in town and see the things that you’re doing and the games that you play. ‘Cause I don’t believe them but that’s what they say…yeaaaaaah, that’s what they say…”
Next up, we’ll run into some movie music, some Canadian content, some bossa nova and a Beach Boys song so beautiful that I can’t even listen to it. There’s Guns N’ Roses and Annette. Check it out.