Pockets of Bliss Vol. 2

The summer you were 19, you took a road trip in your beat-up 1963 Comet. One scorching afternoon, you pulled off the side of the highway for a break. You found a copse of trees and laid down in the shade, leaving your car radio on. You eventually made it to your destination where your real life began. You experienced many magical moments there but the one that sticks out in your memory is the half-hour you spent in the shade of that roadside tree. And you can clearly recall the song the DJ played in that moment. Years later, as a middle-aged man who’s survived the vagaries of adulthood, marriage, child-rearing, you drive back to that spot – not in a cool classic car but in a minivan. You were thrilled to find the same tree. You heard the song again in your head as your hands ran over the rough bark and touched the place you had carved your initials…

Onward through the magical world of memory. The second installment of Pockets of Bliss highlights tracks 75 to 51 and – speaking of memories – most are from my youth and indeed that is one of the main criterium for me of a “favourite song”; for how long has it traveled with me? There are a couple here though that I came to as an adult and these are indicative to me of the changes of life. This confirms for me that, yet again, music has walked with me through those changes and there are songs that serve as landmarks. I more recently in life discovered “Sinatra and Friends” and bossa nova and so this list has songs that represent new epiphanies brought about in the wake of the release of the movie Swingers in 1996 and of my moving away from my hometown. Here then is another line-up of songs that have long rode shotgun with me. The cushions of life, to borrow a phrase.

75“Apache Rose Peacock” by Red Hot Chili Peppers (1991) // Stone. Funk. Groove. The Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magik was released in September of ’91 and I always say that I turned away from the current music scene about this time. This album was huge and as I was beginning to look elsewhere for music I wasn’t at first interested in this record, all the rage at the time. But I couldn’t help it. For this album, these crazy L.A. boys added the funk and nowhere was this more prevalent than in this outstanding and bonkers tune. In an excellent record filled with hits and notable tunes, this song – which celebrates New Orleans, containing many lyrical allusions to the city and its style – flies under the radar. But, dang! “Chicken strut your butt let’s rock. Gettin’ it on under your frock. Flowing like a flame all through the night, my girl’s insane but it’s alright”

74“Boardwalk Angel” by John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band (1982) // From Eddie and the Cruisers, one of my Top 25 favourite movies. The Beaver Brown Band may be a poor man’s E Street Band but John Cafferty has forged a career writing and performing songs for movies. Tough to make contemporary – for 1982 – music that sounds like it could’ve come from a band in 1962 but Cafferty does well with this soundtrack. “On the Dark Side” was a Top 10 hit but the hidden gem is “Boardwalk Angel”. The Jersey/Springsteen influence is heard in the title, the lyric and in the smooth sax courtesy Michael “Tunes” Antunes, who also played saxophonist Wendell Newton in the film. Dig the marimba and the way the piano answers Cafferty after his first two lines. And it was an inspired move getting the legendary Ben E. King to sing some harmony here; I only wish you could hear him more. “So, come on, girl, tonight I wanna be with you…so, meet me out on the boardwalk tonight. Meet me down by the sea.”

73“Peace Frog” by the Doors (1970) // My older brother turned me on to a lot of Sixties blues/rock. When he tried to sell me the Doors, I at first wasn’t sure; there seems to be no bottom end to the band, I said, no bass. Pretty savvy, that statement, as the LA legends never really used a bassist. When they did – as they did on “Peace Frog” and the Morrison Hotel album, they went big. Presley’s guy Jerry Scheff lends his immense talent to this groovy work-out and joins with Ray Manzarek’s organ punctuations to make this tune roll. Dig Robbie Kreiger’s guitar intro and drummer John Densmore, who adds much to the proceedings. Love it when everything drops out and Jim comes back in. “Blood in the streets in the town of New Haven…”

Outtake from the photo shoot by Harry Diltz.

72“Must of Got Lost” by The J. Geils Band (1974) // As a kid, I worked overnight sweeping up at McDonald’s. My buddy, Chris and I would crank the local classic rock station and I learned about many songs I still love to this day. Chris, who was older, knew many of these tunes but I didn’t. That bugged me. When the announcer would say “up next, the J, Geils Band!” I was pumped and got ready for some “Freeze Frame” or Centrefold”, as that was all I knew of the group. But one night I heard the band’s 1974 single, “Must Have Got Lost”. I’ve always had a weakness for emotional, mid-tempo songs and if a heartfelt melody adds the glory and majesty of the piano, all the better. This song’s theme of regret resonated with me in my youth as well. The guy in the song is broken. He’s made a terrible mistake, one he can’t explain. The guitar strums while Peter Wolf sings the verses. This song contains one of the most sublime yet devastating choruses in rock history. The sorrow in the simple lyrics, combine with Seth Justman’s piano and this hurts. Listen to Wolf when he restarts the chorus after the a cappella break. “I just can’t understand. I just can’t understand it. I just don’t understand it. And I musta got lost…”

71“Daytime Night-Time” by Keith Hampshire (1974) // Ahhh, Apartment Zero Days. As a young man, living in my bachelor apartment, I had the local oldies station on just about 24/7. Up here in the Great White North, radio favours Canadian artists; the CRTC demands it. But because of these laws I’ve been blessed with Keith Hampshire. Keith was born in England but moved to Canada when he was 6. Hampshire recorded the first hit version of “The First Cut is the Deepest” (#1 Canada, #70 US Pop, 1973) and ten years later he would record the legendary anthem of 2-time World Series champs, the Toronto Blue Jays, “OK Blue Jays”. But in ’74, he recorded “Daytime Night-time”. Written by Mike Hugg of Manfred Mann, here is another emotion-packed song driven by the piano. Great chord changes and the brass adds to the drama. Keith’s big voice blasts this song, perfect for singing with your arms outstretched on top of a hill. Resplendent. “Got a feelin’ goin’ for each other, yeah. I could never leave you for another girl. Always miles away, we’re in another world. And I love her, yes, I looove her! Daytime, night-time…”

Courtesy Northern Tassel/YouTube

70“Big John is My Name” by Rare Earth (1973) // Get the funk out. Rare Earth is my second-favourite band. I love the group even though I wanted to be Motown’s first white act. Berry Gordy had such faith in these Detroit boys that he gave them their own eponymous imprint to record on. The group was nearing the end of its run when it released Ma in 1973 but the record – written and produced for the group by Norman Whitfield – is a stone cold work-out. “Big John is My Name” starts off at a bit of a run (listen to the keys) before a harmonica sounds the arrival of the funk and the fellas break it down. Stone. Groove. Big-voiced lead singer Pete Rivera sings about being a dude in his big bold voice and – as the group’s drummer, as well – adds some great hissing hi-hat. Pete sings of bein’ just folks, man. Bein’ real, bein’ of the soil, of the earth. What a joy to sing along. “I might not ever make the big time, yeah, yeah, yeah. But honky tonk joints, that’s my style…Big John is my name. Playin’ funky music is mah claim to fame. From the big city, lookee here, me and my band specialize in the nitty gritty”

69“This Old Heart of Mine (is Weak for You)” by the Isley Brothers (1966) // Three of my favourite songs were introduced to me by the TV show Moonlighting that had me enraptured when I was fifteen. Thanks to that well-crafted show and to Berry Gordy’s eternal savvy, I have this gem from the Isley Brothers. The real love must go to Motown’s house band the Funk Brothers. This song could end after 30 seconds and still be great due to drummer Benny Benjamin (likely) and his signature Motown drum fill that starts this song and (perhaps) Earl Van Dyke’s piano work. These emotive chord changes are part of the wonderful songwriting of legendary team Holland-Dozier-Holland. Something about songs of a man’s weakness really hit home for me as a young guy and the idea expressed in the title was heavy for me. Such passion and sorrow in Ronald Isley’s voice. And dig the background vocal arrangement; “Dahlin’ I’m – weak for you – dahlin’ I’m – mad aboutcha” This song was featured in a November, 1985 episode of Moonlighting with guest star Dana Delany. “But if you leave me a hundred times, a hundred times I’ll take you back. I’m yours whenever you want me, I’m not too proud to shout it, tell the world about it, cause I, I love you. This old heart, dahlin’, is weak for you”

68“I Wish I Were Blind” by Bruce Springsteen (1992) // More incredibly raw emotion. This song is heartbreaking. Springsteen has effected me deeply often and for years. He could – and did, at first – have a dozen songs on this list. I think he is infinitely listenable while at the same time he has many poignant things to say and relates them simply. In this tune from the excellent Human Touch album, he writes and sings like a man devastated; though he was a happily and newly married husband and father at the time. And what incredible savvy he shows bringing in Bobby Hatfield to sing with him one of the saddest songs I’ve ever heard. Soak in Bobby’s fragile and mournful harmony at the end. The singer acknowledges God’s beautiful work in nature and lists all the things that are a wonder to see, but wishes he could no longer see anything just to avoid seeing her with her man. On his solo, Bruce’s guitar makes an injured wail. The last “Oh, I wish I were blind…” and the guitar solo on the outro with a nice bass line from Randy Jackson – gut-wrenching. “These eyes that once filled me with your beauty now fill me with pain. And the light that once entered here is banished from me. And this darkness is all, baby, that my heart sees. And though this world is filled with the grace and beauty of God’s hand, oh, I wish I were I were blind when I see you with your man”

Official Bruce Springsteen/VEVO

67“The Girl I Knew Somewhere” by the Monkees (1967) // First cassette I ever bought, first (with the Beach Boys) band I ever took to my bosom. The Monkees have been with me since the beginning. They mean freedom, joy and springtime to me. And while there has been much debate about their status as a “band”, what cannot be denied is their ability – once given the chance – to create perfect pop music. A lot of that came from the team of Michael Nesmith and Micky Dolenz. In the case of the band’s first recording as a self-contained unit, “The Girl I Knew Somewhere”, we’re gifted with a common combination; Nesmith’s canny songcraft and Dolenz’ perfect pop voice. Mike’s ringing guitar kicks off this gem and Micky provides appropriate stuttering snare fills. As much as I love Davy Jones, I have to say the very best music the Monkees ever made came from the Nesmith/Dolenz pairing. The payoff of this song comes with the melancholy final verse, when Micky’s lead is echoed by Mike’s plaintive cry. “Well, goodbye, dear, I just can’t take this chance again…” By far the finest contribution Peter Tork made to the group’s music is heard in his gorgeous, whimsical harpsichord solo. This is another song that is sunshine, warmth, the moment in April you realize that winter is over… “And if your love was not a game, I only have myself to blame…”

66“O Morro Não Tem Vez” by Stan Getz & Luiz Bonfá (1963) // “When I was a child, I understood as a child; but when I became a man, I put off childish things” (1 Cor. 13:11). I’ve often said that, as a teenager, the Beach Boys and surf music represented The Escape; the perfect sunshine idyll. As I “matured”, bossa nova did for me what surf music did for my younger self; indeed, for me, bossa nova has been something of a natural progression from surf music. Antônio Carlos Jobim has emerged as a giant for me. His music stands apart from everything I’ve ever heard and loved. It is sweet, swaying perfection, the celebration of the female and of nature. My favourite white jazz man, Stan Getz, did much to introduce bossa nova to North America. His records with João Gilberto and Luiz Bonfá are seminal in the genre and this tune here – a Jobim composition – is a wonderful example of the power of this music to transport you. Listen as Getz pops out notes, coming back in after Bonfá’s solo, around the 4:20 mark. Sublime.

65“Let It Shine” by Brian Wilson (1988) // I love Brian Wilson like I love no other artist. But I’ve had to be honest with myself about his first solo record. The excessive synthesizers tether it to 1988 making it increasingly difficult to appreciate as the years roll. But that doesn’t change what the album has meant to me. I’ve spoken before of Jeff Lynne and here he makes his contribution to Brian’s oeuvre. I like the drop to the chorus which is marked by Jeff’s trademark drum sound and a descending guitar riff. “Let it shine, oh, let it shine… here comes a burning fire. It fills me with desire…”

Provided to YouTube by Rhino/Warner Records

64“Anytime (I’ll Be There)” by Frank Sinatra (1975) // I’ve had moments with many of these songs and that’s why they’re on this list. What Sinatra fan can say this obscure single is their favourite of his recordings? While it’s not my favourite, it is one of his later songs that seems to call to mind a time and a place for me. I may not have been present in either the time or the place but I can see it and feel it in my spirit. There is something so “1975” about this track. And I see early morning, sunrise. A busy street just coming to life. I dunno, you’ll think I’m nuts but I see a fruit market opening, the grocer spraying the lettuce down with a hose. Maybe what I hear in this tune – another of the one’s Canada’s Paul Anka wrote for the Chairman – is life. How many millions walked with Sinatra from their youth through to the time when their kids left home? This is the older Frank – “Later That Day…”, I always call his late-60s/70s stuff – mellower Frank and maybe – like the produce dripping on the sidewalk, glistening in the morning sun – I think the song is organic, fresh and honest. Unadorned and pure. Simple. Not a hit, not spectacular, just a pleasant 45 from the Seventies. “Anytime you need me, babe, just call. I’ll be there”

My folks once owned a bar and – somehow – this single was on the juke box. Kills me that I never claimed it when they sold.

63“Promised Land” by Elvis Presley (1975) // I feel like I regularly make excuses to write about this song in just about every post. I can’t help it, though. It is a full-on juggernaut. While it may not be Presley at his “best”, it may be King at his most powerful. For power like this, it has to be the 1970’s. The clavinet is marvellous and this song is an absolute joy to sing along to. May be the single best recording of Elvis Presley’s incandescent career. “Los Angeles, give me Norfolk, Virginia. TIdewater 4-10-09. Tell the folks back home this is the promised land callin’ and the po’ boy’s on the line”

62“Someday Man” by the Monkees (1969) // “Life can be a sweet holiday” Another song I’ve had “a moment” with. And I do so love to go deep. When everyone is talking Monkees and it’s “Last Train to Clarksville”, etc, I like to trot out a hidden gem like this. The TV show was over and Peter Tork had left the group. Instant Replay, then, was a patchwork of sorts that sounded a bit like what it was; an album made by three different and for the most part separate performers. “Someday Man” was not even on this album, only recorded at the sessions. It was later the B side of “Listen to the Band”. It was co-written by Paul Williams and was the title track of his debut album released a year later. Just delightful, this song. “As for me, I have all the time in the world…” and the tempo changes as they shuffle into the wonderful chorus; “I was born a someday man of a maybe child…tomorrow’s a new day, baby. Anything can happen, anything can happen at all”

61“Not Enough Love in the World” by Don Henley (1984) // Don Henley, Daryl Hall and Huey Lewis are three of my favourite voices of the Eighties. Henley’s second solo album, Building the Perfect Beast, I owned on cassette. I loved the album and would play it to death every springtime, driving around in my 1983 Escort. Don must understand gospel because this wonderful tune has a certain groove that is ably enhanced by Benmont Tench on keys. Lovely guitar picking gives way to Don’s entrance and it sounds to me like he’s singing in a somewhat higher key than normal. This audible strain only enhances the emotion of this sad song. The sound Henley achieves singing harmony with himself here can bring a person to tears. Delightful chorus. “I’m not easy to live with, I know that it’s true. You’re no picnic either, baby, that’s one of the things I loved about you”

As I said in Vol. 1, this list of favourites may not be what people who know me would expect from me. Presley, Sinatra, and the Beach Boys are the best things that ever happened to me and they are what I focus on here at Your Home for Vintage Leisure. But there is just too much else out there that speaks to me to confine myself to those three artists. I sometimes wish I didn’t love so many things; it would be easier to focus if I was an Elvis Only guy, for example.

Al Green

Many songs, bands and singers have profoundly affected me through my life and when thinking of favourites, they each get held to certain criteria if I’m going to bother to start ranking things. That being said, Al Green is my absolute favourite singer. Listening to his voice – no matter the words – fills me with joy. I love the soul/R&B genre he has always worked in and have much respect for his having followed his calling by pastoring his church the last 30-plus years. His connections to Memphis certainly appeal to me, too. I also love other resonant, black voices like his and count Lou Rawls and Dennis Edwards, formally of the Temptations, among favourites.

When it comes to voices from my own youth, I can count as my favourites three from the 1980’s; Hall, Henley and Huey. I actually would like to be Daryl Hall. His blue-eyed soul voice makes Hall & Oates one of my favourite acts. Don Henley’s pristine, gospel-influenced chops have not only graced many an Eagles record but also his own; his first two solo LPs are near and dear to me. And when it comes to celebrating Friday night, no one’s voice has the warmth and character of the working-class tones of my man, Huey Lewis.

Having said all this, I have come to realize that my absolute favourite artist must be Brian Setzer. When I consider what it is I love about an artist, I believe it is Setzer that checks the most boxes. I love the songs from the past that Canadian Michael Bublé chooses to cover; I always say, by way of compliment, that Mike “owns the same records I do”. The same can be said for Setzer, in spades. His seminal act Stray Cats celebrated rockabilly music and culture – hotrods, tattoos, etc. – during the new wave 80s. The whole Fifties vibe of that trio suited me down to the ground. Then when I began to explore jazz and swing, I came upon his Brian Setzer Orchestra. Their celebration of all that Louis Prima stood for perfectly aligned with my changing tastes. The BSO covered Prima’s “Jump, Jive an’ Wail” just at a time when I was understanding that song’s significance and when they recorded Nat Cole’s “Route 66” they included some strains from Nelson Riddle’s theme from the television show; again, right at a time when I was discovering lounge music.

On the Orchestra’s 2009 release, Songs from Lonely Avenue, Brian revealed that he shared my fascination with the gritty sounds of film noir soundtracks and surf music. And don’t get me started on his Christmas music. I’ve already written an article celebrating just the fact that he – again, like me – loves Christmas music and that he covers many of my favourites as well as putting his own swingin’ spin on classics. Throw in his reverent “O Holy Night” and stirring “Angels We Have Heard on High” and Brian is a Yuletide essential. Add to all this his having recorded with Brian Wilson, performed with the Honeydrippers, his hair, his love of old cars and his clear understanding of what has come before him – from Bob Wills to Walter Mitty – and Brian Setzer checks every box for me. And now, back to the music…

60“Baby Blue” by the Beach Boys (1979) // The story of Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys is filled with paradoxes. Case in point, 1979’s L.A. (Light Album), the ridiculously-titled bust of a record that is maligned for being the home of “the 11-minute disco version”. And yet it also contains a clutch of songs that are breathtaking in their fragility and beauty. Dennis Wilson’s “Baby Blue” I can barely listen to and I do sparingly and only in the proper setting. An absolutely stunning and atmospheric recording. I can’t describe it any better than I did in a previous Beach Boys article. Click here. “Baby, baby blue. Baby blue eyes, I’m loving you…I’ll hold you in my dreams tonight. Hold you ’til morning light”

59“Walking on a Thin Line” by Huey Lewis and the News (1983) // Huey and his boys are some of my very best friends in the world. When the land opens up again in late April and May, I long to hear the buoyant sounds of this Bay Area institution long known for their good-time vibe. I could have chosen any number of their pure pop tunes but I’ve got a soft spot for this one from the multi-platinum Sports, a record that spawned 4 Top Ten US hits. Why “Walking on a Thin Line”? Sometimes the lesser-known songs are the ones that really resonate; partly out of my contrariness and partly because they are “unencumbered by greatness”. They don’t carry the weight of being iconic and I can simply love them for who they are. Despite a more serious lyric, this tune still carries the wonderful lightness of Huey and Co.’s best work. I have never once missed shooting a finger gun after Lewis sings “taught me how to shoot to kill…”. “See what it’s done to me!”

58“Since I Fell for You” by Bob James & David Sanborn feat. Al Jarreau (1986) // Once again I have the canny Music Supervisors from television’s Moonlighting to thank for another of my favourite songs. During the compelling David-Maddie-Sam story arc of 1987, Bruce Willis’ David is left out in the rain and this song plays. It is actually from an instrumental smooth jazz album by Bob James and David Sanborn but Al Jarreau – who also sang and co-wrote the show’s theme – provides vocals on this Lenny Welch cover. An emotional recording that I delight in singing along to; and do quite well, thank you. Yes, I hear what you hear; that 80s keyboard sound that hasn’t aged well. But there’s emotion in Al’s vocal and Sanborn is the greatest smooth jazz/pop/session sax player who ever lived. He and James and Jarreau all combine to ride this song out on a groovy note. “I prayed you’d put no one above me. And now I’m black and blue…”

57“Promise Me Anything” by Annette (1963) // I’ve long loved American-International’s beach party movies and have watched them at key moments for many years now. I’ve enjoyed them in the heat of summer but just as importantly as a respite from winter’s chill. The first installment, Beach Party, features a record that is played on a turntable while hilarity ensues on-screen. Dorothy Malone sings along a bit to “Promise Me Anything”, a song I fell in love with a spent quite a while tracking down. I perhaps should’ve started looking at Annette’s releases and sure enough she included a version on Annette’s Beach Party. The song employs a feathery shuffle and Annette echoes her own voice well. A surprisingly erudite record from the supposedly lightweight Ms. Funicello. “The moon (what would the moon mean?), I don’t want the moon (who needs a moonbeam?)”

56“She” by Harry Connick, Jr. (1994) // I own all of Harry Connick’s albums on CD; he’s the only artist I can say that about. His discography spans genres, including his three albums of New Orleans funk. Knowing him as a jazz pianist and sometime-crooner, I was gobsmacked by his album She from 1994. A record on which he plays many instruments himself, it’s an album full of stellar, groove-based music. The title track is a perfect example – and then some. The bulk of the song is driven by a stellar bass line and the fine drumming that threads through the entire record. But midway, Connick rides the keys heavenward and at the breakdown when he introduces his Hammond B-3, I go to another place. “…is as the wind to Mercury….”

55“Bobby Jean” by Bruce Springsteen (1984) // Longing. There are a few songs – like this one from Born in the U.S.A. – that express to me a sense of longing. Not exactly sadness and certainly not joy, but…longing. A wishing and a hoping. And perhaps not for a specific outcome of events but a hope of arriving at a place in one’s heart and mind where acceptance occurs. Melancholy is more accurate, maybe. And this longing need not come from lyrics; I can often hear it in the chord changes (“Christmas [Baby, Please Come Home]”). In this case, the lyrics do echo the tenor of the composition. At the outset, pianist “Professor” Roy Bittan probes the keys with sensitive fingers, dishing those chord changes I spoke of and bassist Garry Tallent plays melodically, as he does throughout. Bruce sings of a girl who has gone away unexpectedly and this gives rise to a bitter regret at his not having been given a chance to say goodbye. In his unique way, Springsteen recalls the special time spent with this running mate. Listen to Bittan’s piano when Bruce sings “now, maybe you’ll be out there on that road somewhere…”. Devastating. The clincher comes with the singer’s unselfish send-off – “I’m just callin’ one last time not to change your mind but just to say I’ll miss you, baby. Good luck, goodbye, Bobby Jean”. And if that wasn’t enough, we ride out on the majestic horn of the late Clarence Clemons.

54“Breakdown” by Guns N’ Roses (1991) // Sometimes you have to give credit where it’s due. G N’ R’s debut, Appetite for Destruction, is a low-brow, hard-rockin’ classic but the Hollywood bad boys took their game up a notch with their two Use Your Illusion albums. Say what you will about the group and I’ll likely accept it; because I get it. But there are songs on the second Illusion album that are staggering in their ambition and execution. But, it’s Guns ‘N Roses, you say. That’s what makes this music so striking, I say. Well, that ain’t all that makes it striking. Slash needs love as one of the most technically proficient but also one of the most emotive guitarists in rock and heavy metal’s history. His solo on “Breakdown”? No words. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is W. Axl Rose on piano. No matter the lyrics, it sounds to me like the singer is searching for some kind of acceptance and a desire to be understood. There’s regret here and a lamentation of the betrayal in the world but that is tempered by a determination. And many, many years before I ever saw the movie, I knew of Vanishing Point through the recitation here. “I’ve come to know the cold, I think of it as home. When there ain’t enough of me to go around I’d rather be left alone. But if I call you out of habit, I’m out of love and I gotta have it, would you give it to me if I fit your need like when we both knew we had it?”

Provided to YouTube by Universal Music Group

53“Seven Spanish Angels” by Ray Charles & Willie Nelson (1984) // This one reminds me of my late grandfather. I would hear it in his home as a child and I was always moved by the lyric. There is an earnest reverence in the performance by these two legends and I’ve always found this song to be deadly serious. It’s as if the singers and the songwriter are mourning the deaths of two dearly loved heroic people. After all, it occurs to me that that is the point; the depth of feeling between the star-crossed lovers is so immense that it deserves such a momentous treatment. The lyrics tell an ethereal story – a sad, sad story – but they have such import that hearing them brings an emotional response. The idea that the woman can’t go on and wishes to die is expressed poignantly and the involvement of the angels and the response from the heavens adds gravitas. There is gospel and submission here. Powerful. “There were seven Spanish angels at the altar of the sun. They were praying for the lovers in the valley of the gun. When the battle stopped and the smoke cleared, there was thunder from the throne. And seven Spanish angels took another angel home”

This is a pretty good and faithful live version but also seek out the studio version. This vid Official Willie.

52“December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)” by the Four Seasons (1975) // We switch now to sheer joyous delight. And again we have the piano to thank. After some tight drumming opens things up, that piano is just a-poppin’. What a jubilant sound. Disco – the sound of the time – is heard in the hissing hi-hat and some spacey keyboards just before bassist Don Ciccone sings “I felt a rush like a rollin’ ball of thunder” in falsetto and then we have a little bass-and-wah-wah breakdown. The energy peaks just as the song ends with the “oh, what a night! Doo-doo-doo-do-do, doo-doo-doo, do-do…”. What else needs to be said?

51“Maybe” by the Chantels (1958) // My folks like to watch those PBS specials where Jerry “The Ice Man” Butler introduces singers and groups from the classic era. Original members of doo-wop groups – now in their 80s – come out on stage and sing their hit songs. The senior citizens in the crowd are beside themselves and cheer loudly even if some poor, old guys can barely make a croak. Some of these 70- and 80-year old performers, though, blow you away with how they have maintained their chops. One such performer is Arlene Smith, lead singer of the Chantels, who’s big hit, “Maybe”, has enchanted me since the beginning of my earliest memories of listening to music. A stirring piano intro leads to a torrent of background voices until Arlene comes in with her perfect plaintive wail. This song has that 50s/doo-wop aura to it with the added bonus of being a truly astonishing recording. There is such a sadness in the record, a hoping against hope, one that is expressed in the very title of this classic. Someone says to you “what makes the music of the Fifties so special?”. This would be one of a handful of songs you’d play for them. “Maybe if I cry every day you’ll come back to stay. Oh, maybe…”

Up next we’ll dig some more great oldies, we’ll enjoy nine minutes of staggering perfection and visit with the King, a fair Irish lass and the Purple One. Carry on, my wayward son.



  1. I went through a Guns n Roses phase myself (in my 30s, believe it or not) :). I haven’t heard the Illusions albums for a long time, nice to be reacquainted with Breakdown. It’s a bit complicated to like Guns n Roses I find – some of their lyrics haven’t aged particularly well (or probably weren’t great at the time either). I think I’m guilty of a double standard in what I might tolerate in a song lyric but perhaps nowhere else. Interesting you mention the Slash solo, for me his work in Estranged is probably my favourite – it was also fascinating to learn a little of the background to that song in GNR’s elegantly titled “Making F#*ing Videos” documentary series.

    This is an epic series, my compliments. It will take a while to really get to grips with it all. I’m looking forward to it.

    • I absolutely agree that “Estranged” contains maybe Slash’s best work ever. The song itself is somewhat more obstreperous and unwieldy and – while I’ve been staggered by it, especially considering who it’s by – I just love “Breakdown”. Thanks for your comment, buddy!

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