They were a super group before anyone ever knew it. 10cc consisted of two sets of songwriters. Graham Gouldman wrote the classic hits “For Your Love,” “Heart Full Of Soul,” and “Evil Hearted You” for The Yardbirds, “Bus Stop” and “Look Through Any Window” for the Hollies and “No Milk Today” for Herman’s Hermits. His partner, Eric Stewart, was a member of Wayne Fontana and The Mindbenders scoring hits with “Groovy Kind Of Love” and “The Game Of Love.” Kevin Godley and Lol Creme (with Eric Stewart) were members of the group Hotlegs scoring the hit “Neanderthal Man.” After 10cc, they went on to record hits under the name Godley and Crème (“Cry”) and produce music videos for the likes of U2, Paul McCartney, Sting, The Beatles (“Real Love”), Phil Collins, Rod Stewart and others. This song was originally from the band’s second (and best) album “Sheet Music” from 1974. Today, most of us remember them from their indelible hits “I’m Not In Love,” “The Things We Do For Love,” “Dreadlock Holiday,” “The Wall Street Shuffle,” “Donna” and “Art For Art’s Sake.” Graham Gouldman currently tours around the world with a version of 10cc today.
There is no rhyme or reason as to how I come up with the songs I choose to write about every day. They usually spring out of something I’ve been listening to or something I’ve read. So, if you regularly follow this column, you’ll get a pretty good idea of some of the stuff I listen to on a daily basis.
For instance, today’s Song Of The Day came about after reading a review of the first of three Rolling Stones concerts in Chicago this week. Now, I’m not planning on attending any of their shows here in town as I believe they’ve not only totally priced themselves out of the concert market, but have also priced themselves out of this world. And besides, I’ve seen them several times in the past when they were much younger and probably much better.
But the astronomical price of their tickets hasn’t diffused my interest in what their set list looks like and how people say they sounded. Each show on the tour so far has had Mick Taylor as a special guest coming out to play “Midnight Rambler,” but there’s usually a “surprise” guest at every show as well. While some markets have lucked out by getting guests like Tom Waits to take a star turn with the Stones, others have seen the likes of Katy Perry and Gwen Stefani “grace” the stage.
So far, Chicago is one of the luckier markets on the tour because blues legend, Taj Mahal was the Stones’ guest for their show the other night, and together they played “Six Days On The Road.” The song was one that Mahal originally cut for his 1969 double album Giant Step/De Ole Folks At Home.
This led me to pull out my copy of the record which I haven’t listened to in many years. The title track of the album is a radically revised version of the Carole King/Gerry Goffin classic “Take A Giant Step,” which most people know by The Monkees’ recording of the song from their 1966 debut album.
Henry Saint Clair Fredericks took the name Taj Mahal, which came to him in a dream, while in college studying agriculture and animal husbandry in 1959. As a child, he was as passionate about farming as he was about music, and there was a time when he considered following his interests in farming over music. Fortunately, he chose music but his love of farming has led him to perform at numerous Farm Aid concerts over the years.
Mahal relocated to the West Coast in the early 1960s and established a name for himself playing solo blues in clubs. He soon met Ry Cooder, and along with Jesse Lee Kinkaid formed the group, The Rising Sons. The Rising Sons recorded for Columbia in 1964 resulting in the release of a single. The group cut an album’s worth of material for the label, but Columbia didn’t know what to do with an interracial group in the early 1960s, so the record languished in the vaults unreleased until 1993.
Between the Rising Sons debacle and Mahal’s self-titled first studio album for Columbia in 1968, he worked with the likes of Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Guy, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and Muddy Waters. He also played on sessions (along with Ry Cooder) for the Rolling Stones and even appeared in The Rolling Stones’ Rock and Roll Circus. (Hence, the reason he was the special guest at their show the other night.)
Giant Step/De Ole Folks At Home is Taj Mahal’s third Columbia release from 1969. The double album is half electric and half acoustic and it features a freewheelin’ and eclectic selection of originals, traditional blues tunes and pop covers.
The electric half features Mahal backed by Jessie Ed Davis on guitar and keyboards, Gary Gilmore on bass and Chuck Blackwell on drums. Together they create a beautiful noise as they run through a selection of blues-flavored covers including today’s Song Of The Day, Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Good Morning Little School Girl,” Dave Dudley’s “Six Days On The Road,” Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “Farther On Up The Road,” Leadbelly’s “Keep Your Hands Off Her” and Blind Willie Johnson’s “You’re Gonna Need Somebody On Your Bond.” The album’s final track is “Bacon Fat” which is attributed to Garth Hudson and Robbie Robertson, but more likely stems from pen of Andre Williams’ who scored a #9 R&B chart hit with the song in 1956.
The stripped down rural acoustic blues of De Ole Folks At Home features solo performances by Mahal on vocals, guitar, harmonica and banjo performing a mix of his own songs like “Light Rain Blues,” “Blind Boy Rag,” “A Little Soulful Tune,” “Cajun Tune” and “Country Blues #1,” and covers of “Candy Man,” “Stagger Lee” and “Linin’ Track.”
All in all, Mahal recorded 12 albums for Columbia through 1976, and then moved on to Warner Bros. for three more. He also wrote the score for the films Sounder and Brothers.
Later years found him moving to Hawaii, forming the Hula Blues Band and recording numerous records for Gramavision and the Private Music record label that incorporated his love of West African and Caribbean music, Americana, Blues, Zydeco, Rock and R&B. He’s also recorded several popular children’s records. His album, Señor Blues won a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album in 1997, and he won another one in 2000 for his album Shoutin’ in Key.
The release of 1977’s “CSN” album signaled a comeback for the trio during a time when like-minded artists like Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles, Jackson Browne, James Taylor, America and many others of that ilk were seeing their biggest successes. The airwaves were chock full of mellow singer-songwriter rock, and the group’s now-matured hippie idealism put the trio right back on top. It didn’t hurt that they came up with a pretty strong collection of songs including Stills’ “Dark Star” and “See The Changes,” Crosby’s “Shadow Captain” and “In My Dreams,” and this gem by Nash, plus his classic “Cathedral.” Sadly, it would be the last time that Crosby, Stills & Nash would fashion a collection this solid.
The Four Freshman took this song to the top twenty back in 1956 and the Wilson brothers were listening. And while The Beach Boys certainly were influenced by the Freshmen, the Freshmen were in turn influenced by vocal groups of the Big Band Era like The Pied Pipers and The Modernaires, as well as the close harmonies employed by numerous Barbershop Quartets that came before them. The song celebrates a rite of passage that many are embarking upon as we speak. I was torn between choosing this vocal group gem, or to let the balls out and go with “School’s Out” by Alice Cooper.
This slice of easy listening splendor hit the number two slot on the Billboard charts in 1969. At the time Mercy consisted of artists signed to the small Sundi Record label from Florida, and centered around member Jack Sigler, Jr. Once the song began to take off on the charts, Sundi rush-released an album with this song as the title track credited to “The Mercy” that featured none of the original members of the group. Such was the stuff of record companies in the 1960s. The record was quickly withdrawn due to litigation and Mercy was signed to Warner Bros. Records where another group centered around Jack Sigler, Jr. was formed. The Warner Bros. album managed a respectable #38 chart placing on the Billboard Album Charts. Another Sigler-led group still tours today and released an EP back in 2009. On a side note, I’ve been single-handedly trying to bring the expression “Mercy” back into popularity. I have been using it to show exasperation and surprise since the beginning of the summer, but it doesn’t seem to want to gain traction amongst my circle of influence…mercy…
They were a band with two very distinct songwriters…Colin Moulding wrote some of their biggest early hits (“Making Plans For Nigel,” “Life Begins At The Hop”) that were typified by stop-start rhythms, big drums and infectious melodies, while Andy Partridge was the guy who was responsible for some of their prettiest, most pastoral recordings (“Summer’s Cauldron,” “Dear God,” “Love On A Farmboy’s Wages”). XTC’s sixth album, “Mummer,” where this song hails from, was the first album the band released after giving up touring for good. Andy Partridge began experiencing stage fright due to extreme anxiety attacks, and after the first date on their US tour behind “English Settlement,” he could no longer perform, forcing the band to cancel the rest of their performances. This was indeed a shame, since I saw them in 1980 on the “Black Sea” tour and they were a force to be reckoned with on stage. “Mummer” was also the last album with original drummer Terry Chambers, who left during its recording due to the band’s decision not to tour anymore. Fortunately, the anxiety attacks didn’t diminish Andy Partridge’s songwriting prowess as exemplified by this song.
I revisited the “Turnstiles” album by Billy Joel today. It was the first time I’ve given the record a spin in at least a decade and it fit me like a glove. I often marvel at how music has the power to bring you right back to what you were doing when you first experienced it. As I listened to the record, memories of my awkward 15 year old self came rushing back and instead of remembering the misery of being that age, it made me feel good. My friend, Gary Theroux, used to always say that “Nostalgia is the past with the pain removed” as we went about the business of putting together music collections for Reader’s Digest, and his words never rang truer. Listening to “Turnstiles” brought back memories of some of the other records I was listening to at the time: Bruce Springsteen “Born To Run,” David Bowie “STATIONTOSTATION,” Wings “Venus And Mars,” Patti Smith “Horses,” Stevie Wonder “Songs In The Key Of Life,” Bob Dylan “Desire,” Genesis “Trick Of The Tale,” Gentle Giant “Free Hand,” Joni Mitchell “Hejira,” Tom Waits “Small Change,” Led Zeppelin “Presence,” ELO “New World Record,” Steve Miller Band “Fly Like An Eagle,” Steely Dan “The Royal Scam,” Al Stewart “The Year Of The Cat,” Boz Scaggs “Silk Degrees,” 10cc “How Dare You,” Lou Reed “Coney Island Baby” – the list goes on and on. I still harbor a deep emotional connection with most of these records. What are your favorites from the class of 1975-76?
“Goats Head Soup” is one of the most maligned albums in the Rolling Stones’ catalog, and I’ve never really understood why. Certainly, its proximity as the follow up to the mighty “Exile On Main Street” has something to do with it, however “Exile” was not well received upon its release either. But while “Exile” has risen to the top of the Stones’ pops in critical acclaim, “Goats Head” still remains the black sheep of the family. I do believe my age has much to do with my affection for this album, since it was the first Stones album I purchased as a new release. Most folks older than I generally dismiss the record as pretty awful, however any album that includes this songs, “Dancing With Mr. D,” “Star Star,” “100 Years Ago,” “Coming Down Again,” “Heartbreaker,” “Winter” and “Angie” can’t be all bad. This song was also used as the B-side to the aforementioned single “Angie” and was originally worked up as a demo during the “Sticky Fingers” sessions in 1970. I have also provided the demo version here for your listening pleasure. I’m not sure where this clip comes from, but it looks like it was prepared for “The Midnight Special” TV show.
In 1976, the year that the album “Zoot Allures” was released, Frank Zappa was tied up in legal issues. His manager, Herb Cohen, began renting Zappa’s studio out while Zappa toured and allegedly pocketed the money for himself. This led to Cohen making off with tapes for a proposed Zappa three LP set called “Lather” and tapes from sessions for Captain Beefheart’s “Bat Chain Puller.” This, in turn, permanently mothballed Zappa and Cohen’s Diskreet record label. It was in this atmosphere that Zappa released his only record on Warner Bros. records. When Zappa took test pressings of the album to radio stations, it was originally a double album including tracks that would later turn up on “Sleep Dirt.” Somewhere in the interim, it was trimmed down to a single record. The album’s title is a pun on the French expression “Zut alors” which roughly translates to damn it. While tracks like “Black Napkins” and “The Torture Never Stops” became concert staples for the rest of his touring career, this crunchy little ditty was seldom, if ever, performed. It’s a shame, too, since it’s got some killer guitar work all over it.