Tommy 45 by Reparata and The Delrons

July 31, 2011

“Tommy” was one of my favorite girl songs of the 1960s. It was a fairly big hit in New England but only reached number 92 on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart, which means it received little airplay in most parts of the country.

Reparata and The Delrons was a female pop trio from Brooklyn consisting of Mary Alese (Reparata), Sheila Reillie, and Carol Drobnicki.

“Tommy” was a catchy, mid-tempo song with some tight harmonies in support. It is one of those lost songs that deserved more commercial success than it achieved.

Fulfillingness First Finale by Stevie Wonder

July 30, 2011

Stevie Wonder was at his artistic peak during the 1970s, which resulted in a series of albums that has rarely been equaled in the history of American music.

He released Fulfillingness’ First Finale, July 22, 1974, and it quickly became his second number one album and first to receive a platinum award for sales. While it may not have been as consistently strong as its predecessor, Innervisions, that may be splitting hairs as songs such as “Boogie On Reggae Woman” and “You Haven’t Done Nothin’” are among the strongest of his songs.

He was now in full control of his career. He continued his recent tradition of writing all the tracks, except for one with co-writer Yvonne Wright, and playing most of the instruments. The biggest change was using backing vocalists more than in the past.

It was another group of eclectic songs that had no real unifying theme. There were gentle love songs, funky classics, and lyrics with biting political commentary. Still, it was another album of songs that stood on their own and ultimately formed a release united by their quality.

“You Haven’t Done Nothin’” occupies a place near the top of the Stevie Wonder pantheon of songs. The explosive and funky keyboards, one of the first uses of a drum machine, the Jackson 5 providing background vocals, and the biting anti-Nixon lyrics, added up to one of the most creative political statements of the early 1970s.

I have always been amused that “Boogie On Reggae Woman” was really a funk song and had little to do with reggae music. What it did have was a synthesizer bass line that combined with his harmonica playing to create a unique sound.

There are a number of other tracks that have withstood the test of time well. “They Won’t Go When I Go” was one of those spiritual songs that he was producing at the time. It was a stark tune about belief vs. non-belief. It was also one of the songs he performed at Michael Jackson’s memorial service. “Bird Of Beauty” contained anti-drug lyrics with some of the quirkiest music of his career. “Too Shy To Say” was a haunting ballad. “Creepin’” was another stark song with Minnie Ripperton’s wonderful backing vocal.

Fulfillingness’ First Finale was another stunning release from the fertile mind of Stevie Wonder. It remains one of his career defining albums.

Article first published as Music Review: Stevie Wonder – Fulfillingness’ First Finale on Blogcritics.

Marauder by Mickey Thomas

July 30, 2011

Mickey Thomas has one of those unforgettable and instantly recognizable voices. His career has now spanned four decades, from his early group The Jets, to his time with Elvin Bishop, his tenure with the Jefferson Starshipand then just the Starship, to a long and creative solo career. He is best remembered as the lead singer on such Starship number one hit singles as “We’ve Built This City,” “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now,” and “Sara,” the first two with Grace Slick.

Marauder is his first new solo studio album in seven years. Unlike his past releases, this new album has a fuller sound with horns, keyboards, backing singers, and even a choir in support. Still, it is a rock album and has a harder edge than much of his past work.

It is an album of cover songs. They include the well-known and the obscure. The unifying theme is they represent artists who have influenced his career or songs that are personal favorites. It may add up to an eclectic group of material, but they also coalesce into a satisfying listen.

The first two tracks set the tone for what will follow. The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” is the perfect vehicle to strut his vocal chops. He is supported by the Unity Community Choir and some interesting and unusual slide Dobro work by Mark McGee. He is able to give a creative interpretation while maintaining the menace of the original. He transitions into Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer,” complete with brass and a little funky-style Memphis soul just to be different.

He has always cited seeing the Beatles in concert during their 1965 American tour as one of the seminal musical events in his life. That influence comes home to roost on Marauder as the album is dotted with several group and individual covers. His choice of the rarely covered “Rain” was inspired as he extends and expands the vocal melody and makes use of tight background harmonies. “Oh Darling” and “Across The Universe” are songs for singers and his voice soars above the mix. He gives Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed” a rougher edge than the original, but it is his cover of George Harrison’s “Wah-Wah” that is the most interesting. He strips the song to its basics which allows his vocal to present the lyrics clearly.

The album’s material meanders in a number of directions. There is the raucous rock of Bob Seger’s “Hollywood Nights.” The Leon Russell composition, “Delta Lady,” contains one of the album’s passionate vocals plus some acoustic and electric slide guitar. AC/DC’s “Moneytalks,” Tom Cochrane’s “Life Is A Highway,” and the Oasis power ballad “Champagne Supernova” all provide vehicles for his inspired vocals.

Mickey Thomas remains a singer’s singer and continues to age well. Marauder clearly shows that he can still sing and rock with the best.

Article first published as Music Review: Mickey Thomas – Marauder on Blogcritics.

Ahab The Arab 45 by Ray Stevens

July 30, 2011

Ray Stevens placed 27 singles on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Charts during the 1960s and 1970s, most of which were of the comedy variety. The biggest exception was his 1970 number one hit, “Everything Is Beautiful.”

His first big hit, and one of the most memorable singles from the early 1960s pre-Beatles era was “Ahab The Arab.” Released June 30, 1962, it reached number five on the National singles charts.

It was one of the more amusing singles of its era featuring a shiek named Ahab, Fatima the harem girl, and Clyde the camel. Clyde would appear in a number of Ray Stevens songs and become a symbol on many of his records.

Throw in a catchy melody and you have the makings of a hit song.

Let’s Live For Today 45 The Grass Roots

July 29, 2011

Steve Barri and P.F. Sloan were studio musicians who produced all sorts and types of music. They formed The Grass Roots and during 1966 produced the top 30 hit, “Where Were You When I Needed You.”

They then went out and recruited an entire goup, which would take over the name and produce 21 singles that made the BILLBOARD mAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart.

The key was lead singer Rob Grill, who passed away a few weeks ago. His voice would blast out over the radio airwaves on a series of hit singles for years and he would tour with the Grass Roots for decades.

Their first big hit featuring his vocals was released May 13, 1967. “Let’s Live For Today” reached number eight on the National charts.

It was typical of their sound as it was catchy pop/rock. The Grass Roots may not have changed the face of rock ‘n’ roll, but they made it more pleasurable for several years.

String Of Pearls 78 by Glenn Miller and His Orchestra

July 29, 2011

1942 began with a bang for Glenn Miller as he three of his releases occupied the top spot on the singles chart 17 of the first 18 weeks.

“String Of Pearls” was his second number one single of the year, reaching the top February 7, was replaced on the 14th by Woody Herman, and then returned to the top on the 21st for one more week.

The title comes from how the notes of the melody look on the music page. It was an instrumental with a piano solo in the middle that was just right.

“String Of Pearls” may have been another smash for Glenn Miller, but his big hits of the year were still to come.

Guitar Man 45 by Elvis Presley

July 28, 2011

The mid-1960s found Elvis Presley making commercially successful, if critically panned films.

His musical output was mostly limited to soundtrack work and for the most part was forgettable. Every once in awhile, however, a song would be pulled from one of the films and issued as a single that was actually very good.

“Guitar Man” was taken from the CLAMBAKE soundtrack and released as a single January 27, 1968. While it would only reach number 43 on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart, it marked the beginning of better quality single, which would push him back into the commercial mainstream over the nest several years.

“Guitar Man” was the 99th single of his career to make the charts.

Plays More Blues, Ballads, and Favorites by Jimmie Vaughan

July 28, 2011

Jimmie Vaughan, for better or worse, will always be compared with his younger brother, Stevie Ray. Not only was Stevie Ray one of the better guitarists of his generation but his untimely death in a helicopter crash at the age of 35 has elevated him to almost mythological status.

Jimmie Vaughan may not have received the accolades his brother has, but with The Fabulous Thunderbirds, his collaborations with Stevie Ray, and as a solo artist, he has carved out his own exemplary career and proved he belongs in the forefront of his generation’s most talented blues guitarists.

Vaughan has just released the follow-up to his acclaimed 2010 album Blues, Ballads & Favorites. He has recorded 16 more cover songs and aptly named the album

More Blues, Ballads & Favorites. He even brings along old Stevie Ray sidekick Lou Ann Barton to provide assistance on some of the vocals.

When Jimmie Vaughan picks up his guitar, it is a return to the smoky blues bars of the past where the music was energetic, loose, gritty, raw and passionate. He is a guitar technician; his notes have an individual clarity that can be heard and digested before disappearing into the whole.

The album begins with the frenetic rocker “I Ain’t Never.” It reminds me of Jerry Lee Lewis at his rocking best with Vaughan’s guitar replacing Lewis’ pumping piano. Throw in a sax solo and you have a high-powered opener. The album ends with a live version of the old Faye Adams rhythm & blues classic “Shake A Hand,” with Barton assuming lead vocal duties with her pure blues voice.

Between the two aforementioned tracks are an eclectic group of 14 blues classics. “No Use Knocking” is a slow blues tune which includes a duet with Barton. Throw in some signature guitar solos with some brass in support and you have a memorable track. “Teardrop Blues” is slower tune right out of the delta with a sultry sax in support. The most intriguing track is a blues interpretation of the old Neil Sedaka pop hit, “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do.”

The song choices and music meander along, but all of the material is rooted in the American Blues. Two tracks made famous by Bobby Charles join “Rains Came,” which was a Doug Sahm re-working of the original by Big Sambo and The House Wreckers. Vaughan also reaches back into New Orleans R&B history for covers of two Annie Laurie tunes, “It’s Been A Long Time” and “I’m In The Mood For You.” Throw in Hank Williams’ “I Hang My Head And Cry” and Ray Charles’ “Greenbacks” and you have the makings of a superior blues album.

Jimmie Vaughan has produced a joyful album of blues songs. He once again proves that while he may not be the best-known guitarist working today, he is one of music’s most adept.

Baby It’s You 45 by Smith

July 28, 2011

Smith was a big sprawling rock group from Los Angeles consisting of Gayle McCormick, James Cliburn, Jerry Carter, Larry Moss, Alan Parker, Judd Huss, and Bob Evans.

The key to the group was McCormick, who had one of the great voices of the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was a bluesy voice with alot of power behind it. Why she was never a huge star is beyond me.

“Baby It’s You” was their biggest hit. Released September 6, 1969, it reached number five of the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart.

Any release that contains McCormick’s lead vocal is still worth a listen today.

True Love Ways 45 by Peter and Gordon

July 27, 2011

Peter Asher and Gordon Waller charted 14 singles in The United States, 1964-1967. Their first five releases all cracked the top 20, including their number one hit “A World Without Love.”

“True Love Ways” was an old Buddy Holly composition. They added their tight harmonies to the mix and turned it into a memorable ballad. Released April 17, 1965, it reached sumber 14 on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart.

Peter and Gordon reunited during 2005 after 30 apart and performed together until Waller’s death during 2009.