My Life 45 by Phil Ochs

May 31, 2011

Phil Ochs is an unknown name among most of the current generation of music fans. During the mid-1960s, he was second only to Bob Dylan as a folk artist.

His music may be somewhat stuck in the sixties but it still deserves a listen today. He was an angry, take no prisoners protest singer who railed agains the U.S. government, war, and a number of other subjects that crossed his path.

His album releases were commercialyt successful but he never had a song reach the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart. It was not for a lack of trying. “My Life” is representative of his music and while it may not have been suited for AM radio play, it deserved to make the charts. Many of his albums are worth seeking out.

The Definitive Pop Collection by The Four Seasons

May 31, 2011

The Four Seasons trace their history back to the mid-‘50s with The Four Lovers, who had a minor hit in 1956 with “You’re The Apple Of My Eye.” By 1960, they had changed their name and the four members, who would be inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, Frankie Valli, Bob Gaudio, Tommy DeVito, and Nick Massi, were in place. They would place 48 songs on The United States singles charts, with 31 making the top forty and five becoming number one hits. There greatest success occurred during the 1960’s when they were a constant presence on AM radio in the United States.

Their songs may have been lightweight pop, but they were memorable lightweight pop. Their trademark was catchy music and tight harmonies with Frankie Valli’s falsetto vocals floating over the top. Songs such as “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Walk Like A Man,” “Dawn (Go Away),” “Rag Doll,” “Let’s Hang On,” “Working My Way Back To You,” and dozens of others have ingrained themselves into the American musical consciousness.

The Four Seasons catalogue has been reissued as vinyl records, cassettes, CD’s, DVD’s, and probably 8-tracks as well. Any of the well-produced compilation CDs that use the original masters are worth a listen. A word of warning, however: stay away from their studio albums, as they were a singles band and their regular issue albums were basically filler centered around their hit singles of the day.

The Definitive Pop Collection: Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons, issued in 2006 by Rhino/Wea, has a good sound and covers the basics. All of their top hits are present on this two-disc compilation. It even delves a little deeper and presents some of their lesser known hits such as “Opus 17,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” “Tell It To The Rain,” and C’mon Marianne,” which are welcome additions. I could have done without Frankie Valli’s solo hits such as “My Eyes Adored You” and Swearing To God,” but his number one hit “Grease” is a nice addition.

Songs by The Four Seasons are two to three minutes of pop musical bliss. They remain an essential part of the American ’60s music scene and still a fine listen over four decades later.

Little Girl 45 by the Syndicate Of Sound

May 31, 2011

The Syndicate Of Sound formed in San Jose, California. They can best be described as a garage band consisting of vocalist Don Baskin, guitarist Jim Sawyers, bassist Bob Gonzalez, guitarist John Sharkey, and drummer John Duckworth.

They released the song, “Little Girl” on the small Hush Label during early 1966. It became a big regional hit in the San Jose area. The Bell Label picked up the song and released it nationally, June 4, 1966. It quickly became a huge hit reaching number 8 on the United States singles charts.

The Syndicate Of Sound would have several more small hits but would disband during 1970. “Little Girl” may have been quirky with an odd beat, but it was memorable.

The band regrouped during 1990 and are still touring down to the present day. “Little Girl” is still the highlight of their concerts.

Brown Eyed Girl 45 by Van Morrison

May 30, 2011

Van Morrison began his career as a gritty and raw vocalist with Them. So it was a surprise when “Brown Eyes Girl” was released during the summer of 1967. It was a bright and catchy pop/rock song with one of the smoothest vocals of his career. It would quickly become the second bigest single hit of his career, reaching number ten on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart.

Van Morrison would go on to produce some of the most creative music in rock history. His expolrations of the myths and legends of his home country sold millions of albums and would enable him to be elected to The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame during 1993.

“Brown Eyed Girl” remains one of the more pleasant stops during his career.

Greatest Hits (Remasters) by The Band

May 30, 2011

If you are not familiar with the music of The Band or, for some incomprehensible reason, you do not own any of their music, this 2011 remastered Greatest Hits album is a good place to start. The 18 tracks were taken from their seven studio albums issued between 1968 and 1977. While one can argue that certain other tracks should have been included, what is here forms a fine representative retrospective of their career.

This is the third time this particular album has seen the light of day. Also if you own their original albums or either of their box sets, 1994’s Across The Great Divide or 2005’s A Musical History, then this latest issue may not be necessary. Originally released during 2000, the songs have now been digitally enhanced and come across as crystal clear. The important addition is the original liner notes and accompanying booklet, which contains a 15 page essay about the history of the group and the included music.

The Band was composed of four Canadians: Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel, and Garth Hudson, plus American Levon Helm. They formed as the banking band for the famous rockabilly singer, Ronnie Hawkins. They rose to prominence when Bob Dylan invited them to back him on his first electric tour. 1967 found them with Dylan, in the basement of a house called Big Pink. They recorded dozens of tracks with Dylan, but more importantly, began to develop their own unique sound, that can be best described as American rock and roots music. They released Music From Big Pink during 1968, which marked the beginning of one of rock’s legendary and critically acclaimed careers.

Music From Big Pink is an album I have visited many times during the past four decades. It is represented here by four tunes. There is the languid Bob Dylan/Richard Manuel ballad, “Tears Of Rage,” the positive vibes of “Chest Fever,” the harmonies of Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released,” and the soaring, “The Weight.”

Four songs also appear from their self-titled second album. The rustic “Up On Cripple Creek,” the fun vocal by Levon Helm on “Rag Mama Rag,” the poignant Civil War epic, “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” and the incisive lyrics of “King Harvest (Has Surely Come).”

Three tracks are taken from Stage Fright. The title track is propelled by Rick Danko’s vocal. “The Shape I’m In” is just an infectious romp from beginning to end. “Time To Kill” is another singers song as Danko and Manuel share the lead honors this time.

The last seven tracks come from four different studio albums. “Lie Is A Carnival” is one of those songs that grabs you and stays with you and features some funky brass, courtesy of Allen Toussaint. “Ain’t Got No Home” was a hit for Clarence “Frogman” Henry during early 1957 and they remains true to its goofy appeal. “Acadian Driftwood” was another Robbie Robertson lyrical masterpiece.

Today The Band is a part of music history. Rick Danko and Richard Manuel have both died, and it is doubtful if the three remaining members will ever reunite. They have left behind a wonderful legacy and catalogue of material. Greatest Hits is a sampling of their best.

Article first published as Music Review: The Band – Greatest Hits (Remasters) on Blogcritics.

35 Years Of Stony Plain by Various Artists

May 30, 2011

Thirty-five years have passed since Holger Peterson and Alvin Jahns sat down at a kitchen table in Edmonton, Canada and formed Stony Plain Records. Now 400 or so albums later, it is recognized as one of the leading independent music labels in the world. The label has decided to celebrate its birthday this year in style, by releasing the three-CD set, 35 Years Of Stony Plain.

It is a fine introduction to its artist roster and musical approach. It is a 41-track, 10-video extravaganza that presents its brand of rock, folk, country, blues, and roots music. You even get a tour of their new offices, which is still in a house in Edmonton; also the home of a huge record collection.

The label has been the home for the well-known and obscure. Artists such as Maria Muldaur, Jeff Healey, Ian Tyson, Rodney Crowell, Rory Block, and Long John Baldry have recorded for the label. Even a few Americans such as Steve Earle, Duke Robillard, Asleep At The Wheel, and Emmylou Harris appear on the album.

As with many albums of this type, it only provides a taste of the label’s music. The tracks flow and meander, yet ultimately combine into an excellent listening experience.

Like many compilation albums by various artists, you take what you get. Long John Baldry was a legendary British blues artist who passed away during 2005. He lived in Canada the last few decades of his life and his take on the venerable “Gallows Pole” is modern blues at his best. Better yet, there is a 1991 DVD track of him performing “Shake That Thing.”

Likewise, Jeff Healey passed way several years ago. He is represented here by a live performance of “I’m Torn Down,” which demonstrates why he was considered one his generation’s better guitarists.

Ian Tyson is now 77 years old. He was a part of the early 1960s folk revival in the United States and Canada, solo and as a part of the duo Ian & Sylvia. He has been with Stony Plain for 25 years. Here, he is represented by his “Blaino’s Song “and “Springtime In Alberta.” His weathered voice is the perfect vehicle for Canadian folk music.

There is a lot to like. Steve Earledeparts from his usual fare with the story song, “Ben McCulloch.” Maria Muldaur returns to her roots with the fun-filled Dan Hicks composition, “The Diplomat.” Emmylou Harris contributes a live version of the Gram Parsons/Chris Hillman song “Wheels,” which she first released as a studio track during 1975.

Canadian roots band Blue Rodeo introduces itself with Ian Tyson’s most famous song, “Four Strong Winds.” Duke Robillard, Joe Louis Walker, Jay McShann, Billy Boy Arnold, Ellen McIlwaine, and Rory Block all sing and play the blues on this release.

The most historic tracks are the four by Robert Nighthawk, who passed away November 5, 1967. He was a Delta blues artist who traveled the southern bar circuit during the 1930s and 1940s, before signing with the Chess label during the early 1950s. His recordings were few but grounded in the classic style and sound of the early Delta blues. He became an accomplished slide guitarist as his career progressed. “Nighthawk Boogie,” “I’m Gonna Murder My Baby,” “You Missed A Good Man,” and “Backwater Blues” were recorded in a small Toronto studio 45 years ago and are the last recordings of his life. Up until now, they have been unreleased. If you are interested in the history of American blues, these tracks are a treat.

Stony Plain is one of those labels that is important for music, as it takes chances and doesn’t make decisions just based on financial concerns. It has continually believed that good music always finds a market. 35 Years Of Stony Plain is a high-quality introduction to its approach and sound.

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Nights In White Satin 45 by The Moody Blues

May 30, 2011

The Moody Blues began as a raw blues band and had a hit during 1965 with “Go Now.” By 1968, Denny Laine and Clint Warwick had left the band and had been replaced by John Lodge and Justin Hayward. Their sound changed as they fused clasical and rock music together.

Their first single release was during early February of 1968, when they issued “Nights In White Satin.” It only reached number 103 on the American singles charts.

By the summer of 1972, they had sold millions of albums and had charted six more singles in The United States. They decided to reissue “Nights In White Satin.” It reached number two on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart and has become their signature song.

Sacramento 45 by Gary Usher

May 30, 2011

Gary Usher, 1938-1990, had one of the more interesting careers in rock music history. He was a songwriter, producer, and studio wizard. He was responsible for such studio bands as The Hondells, Superstocks, The Knights, and Sagitarious. He would produce albums by such artists as The Byrds, Dick Dale, The Firesign Theatre, and Chad & Jeremy.

He co-wrote ten songs for The Beach Boys with Brian Wilson, including “In My Room,” “409,” and “The Lonely Sea.”

“Sacramento/That’s Just The Way I Feel” was an attempt to have a hit under his own name. It was even produced and co-written by his old friend Brian Wilson. It did not have any luck and quickly disappeared without any chart action.

Night Surfin’ 45 by The Piltdown Men

May 30, 2011

The Piltdown Men were a band lead by vocalist Ed Cobb of The Four Preps and pianist Lincoln Mayorga. Also on hand were sax players Scott Gordon & Jackie Kelso, guitarist Bob Bain, bassist Tommy Tedesco, and drummer Alan Brenmanen.

They only had one chart single in The United States, when Brontosauras Stomp reached number 75 on the American singles chart during 1960. They would be more successful in England where they would have three top 20 singles.

“Night Surfin'” was released to cash in on the surf music movement in the United States. The Capital swirl label was right as it was the home of the Beach Boys. Despite a well produced effort, it received no chart action and quickly disappeared.

Talk Talk 45 by The Music Machine

May 29, 2011

The Music Machine were a garage band from Los Angeles, California. There career lasted from 1965-1969.

They were a typical raw garage band who are best remembered for their one big hit, “Talk Talk.” Released November 12, 1966, it would reach number 15 on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart.

The band members were guitarist/vocalist Sean Bonniwell, guitarist Mark Landon, organist Doug Rhodes, bassist Keith Olson, and drummer Ron Edgar.

Bonniwell had a gravely voice that worked well on this up-tempo rock song. It is the organ work of Rhodes that drives the song along musically.

Like many garage bands of the day, they would fill their albums with current hits, which were usually average at best, and so it was with The Music Machine.

While they quickly disappeared into music history, they would leave behind this outstanding garage hit, “Talk Talk.”