Displaying items by tag: Today's Song You Should Know
One the heartbreaking things about loving music is that at some point you realize that there are so many great musicians, so many incredible bands who will never get that big break. The history of rock & roll is filled with dreams, but also with even more stories of talented people who were unable to build a commercially successful career.
The same thing is also true for local music scenes. For every success like the Bay Area "Summer of Love" scene in the 60s or Seattle's 90s grunge scene, there are lots of vibrant music scenes that never make it past local fame. Maybe the timing is wrong or there's just too much going on in other hipper parts of the country. But the world of rock music is littered with amazing bands that should have been your next obsession.
Chicago in the late 1970s and 1980s was lousy with great pop rock and roots rock bands. Cheap Trick led the first wave of late 1970s groups to reach national success and while others like Off Broadway and Shoes managed only modest chart success, there was a sense that a real important music scene was building. By the early/mid 1980s, Chicago was lousy with great rock bands. Every club seemed to have another potential star band in the making and the consensus was that once one band broke big, Chicago would have its musical moment in the sun.
And that never quite happened. A lot of bands were signed to major labels, from the staggeringly great root rocks band Insiders (who had a modest hit with "Ghost On The Beach"), to The Elvis Brothers and The Bad Examples. There were at least a dozen bands that were signed to major labels and by the time the 90s rolled around, most of them had lost their deals and none of them had broken big.
But for all of that energy, there were also some great bands that never inexplicably got as far as a major label release. I was living in Chicago back then and The Wildroots were a band you'd always see playing around the local clubs. With incredible hook-filled original tunes and a charismatic lead singer, The Wildroots always felt like they were one break away from making it big.
They didn't. I left Chicago towards the end of the decade and I'm not sure what happened to the band. The only official recording they left is a single track on a local 1987 compilation album entitled "Live From Jay's Garage." Lead singer JD Dragus seems to have worked with local Chicago rocker Hugh Hart on a couple of projects after the Wildroots broke up. But I can't find out much more online. I seem to remember they had recorded some demos for Island Records at one point, but I could be mistaken.
"Summer Days" is a great rocker and when I ran it across it on YouTube while back I was thrilled. It reminded me how great The WildRoots were back then and hearing the song again is more than a little bittersweet. The Wildroots deserve to be remembered and for right now, this is just about all that's left of the band.
The Wildroots were:
JD Dragus: lead vocals & lead guitar
Tom Gerlach: vocals & guitar
Kerry Kelekovich: bass
Dan Massey: drums
In 1968, Wendy Carlos had a Top 40 hit with a synth-pop instrumental song called "Switched-On Bach" and that success inspired a bunch of other attempts from Moog synthesizer-based bands. But the most of the successful of the bunch was an anonymous band who called themselves Hot Butter.
"Popcorn" was first recorded by Gershon Kingsley in 1969 and he later re-recorded it with his First Moog Quartet in 1971. But the following year, Stan Free (who was a member of the FMQ) recorded it once again with his cover band Hot Butter and that version became a worldwide hit. It hit #1 in places ranging from Australia to the Netherlands and it hit #9 on the U.S. Billboard Top 40 charts. The single sold more than two million copies worldwide and even though Hot Butter only released two albums and a handful of other singles, "Popcorn" is notable for being only of the most insane instrumentals to ever become a hit single.
Even by 1970s standards, "Popcorn" is simplistic and listening to it in 2019, it sounds like something a kid would create randomly pounding synth track buttons on a $5 keyboard. But it was an actual worldwide hit and as you can see in the video below, people really danced to it. Although whomever was the director of this TV segment was likely yelling "quick, another shot of breasts" to the camera crew during the performance.
The Sweet have always been a guilty pleasure of mine. These British glam-rockers had a string of hook-filled hits in the 1970s, after teaming up with songwriters Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman. But they eventually began writing their own music and the band's last hit single was 1978's "Love Is Like Oxygen." Longtime vocalist Brian Connolly left the band following an increasingly drunken tour opening for Bob Seger the same year and the band has limped along ever since.
While often competing versions of the band have toured regularly over the ensuing years, The Sweet had only released a couple of albums with various lineups before 2012's "New York Connection." That album featured only one original member of the band and was essentially a collection of cover versions, with a few snippets of Sweet hits included for flavor. The album included covers of "You Spin Me Round" and "Join Together," along with this cover of The Ramones song "Blitzkreig Bop." It's a surprisingly lively version of the song and while I'm not sure I can recommend it, it doesn't suck. Which is pretty much the gold standard for any band's attempt to cover The Ramones.
When New Found Glory released their album Makes Me Sick in 2017, I immediately fell in love with the track "Call Me Anti-Social," which I spent a lot of time arguing was the hidden "song of the summer." Despite my one-man promotional campaign, the song (and album) never seemed to get the attention it deserved, so I'm glad for an excuse to highlight this song again.
The track is the perfect balance of pop and punk and it has a guitar break that just screams "throw your hands up and dance!" Did I mention I love this song? I do and if I couldn't make this ear candy the summer song for 2017, then maybe I'll be more successful in 2021.
There aren't many bands that have been around since the late 1990s who can still claim to be performing at the top of their game, but New Found Glory is one of them. Their brand of pop-flavored punk can often seem stale in 2021, but these guys are as vital and inventive as they've ever been. Their moist recent album is 2020's Forever + Ever x Infinity, but I would also recommend the 2019 album From The Screen To Your Stereo 3, where they tackle fun covers of songs ranging from "The Power Of Love" and "Eye Of The Tiger" to "Let It Go" and "Cups."
So why am I featuring this song on the July 4th weekend? Well, it goes out to all of the people out there who struggle to socialize on a day that's all about hanging out and having fun with friends and family.
I've always had a soft spot for old-school country songs that tell a story and on the 4th Of July I'd like to highlight the really distinctive 2001 hit "Riding With Private Malone" by country singer David Ball. Written by Wood Newton and Thom Shepherd, the song tells the story of a man just out of the military who buys an old Corvette and discovers it was previously owned by a "Private Malone," who was killed in Vietnam. Of course there's a twist, but what makes the song special is that unlike a lot of songs about veterans, it's up-tempo with a memorable hook.
The song went to #2 on the Billboard Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart, and #36 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was Ball's biggest hit since 1994's "Thinkin' Problem" and it was last big single. Ball continues to tour although his last album was 2010's "Sparkle City."
There were a lot of impressive soul and R&B singers in the 1960s and 1970s, but few of them were as talented as the late David Ruffin. Known for his unique raspy and anguished tenor vocals, you're likely to recognize his singing from his 1964-1968 stint with The Temptations. That period was known as "Classic Five" period of the group and Ruffin sang lead vocals on unforgettable hits like "Ain't Too Proud To Beg" and "My Girl."
Ruffin had always been an impressive performer. As a teenager, he toured with several nationally known gospel groups like The Dixie Hummingbirds and the Soul Stirrers. At age 16 he moved to Detroit to pursue a secular singing career and soon meet Berry Gordy Jr., a local songwriter who wanted to become a music producer. Ruffin was soon working at Gordy's Anna Records and in 1964, he joined the Temptations after one of the original members was fired. While Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams were the group's lead singers, after the success of "My Girl," Ruffin sang lead on hits like "(I Know) I'm Losing You" and "I Wish It Would Rain."
By 1967, Ruffin had become addicted to cocaine and was eventually fired by the group. Motown kept on Ruffin as a solo act and his first single in 1969 - "My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me)" - became a Top Ten hit. After the release of two solo albums, there was a three-year gap before Motown released the album "David Ruffin" in 1973. But in that period, the troubled singer recorded a number of songs, many of which remained unreleased until they came out on a 2004 compilation 14 years after Ruffin's death.
That 2004 album included a 1970 version of "Rainy Night In Georgia," which singer Brook Benton had a hit with later the same year. As well as a version of "I Want You Back, which was recorded before the Jackson 5 later made it a hit.
Both the Ruffin and Jackson 5 versions of the song were produced by Motown's in-house production group The Corporation and musically they are very similar. And as much I love the Jackson 5 version, Ruffin's has an adult longing and incessant pleading to it that is really special. Hearing Ruffin's version may ruin the Jackson 5 version for you forever.
As for Ruffin, he had a string of modest solo hits in the mid-1970s, most notably the Van McCoy-produced Top Ten hit "Gonna Walk Away From Love." But Ruffin's addiction problems continued. He changed labels in the late 1970s and at one point was hired and then refired by The Temptations after recording the 1982 album "Reunion." In 1985 Ruffin and fellow former Temptation singer Eddie Kendrick teamed up with Hall & Oates to perform and record an album at the re-opening of the Apollo Theatre. The album was successful, but Ruffin's severe addiction problems led to a falling out with Hall & Oates.
Ruffin died in 1991 due to "an adverse reaction to drugs." The death was officially ruled an accident, but some friends and family suspected foul play, since a money belt containing $300,000 from his recent tour was missing when he was dropped off at a Philadelphia hospital.
But what we're left with are some amazing performances, and of "I Want You Back" is one of my favorites.
By the time REO Speedwagon released its seventh studio album, 1978's You Can Tune A Piano, But You Can't Tuna Fish, it was beginning to look like the band was destined to be another Midwestern group with a great live show but not much in the way of radio success. The band had signed with Epic Records in 1971 and had changed lead vocalists three times for their first three albums and the band's albums never managed to capture the strength of the band's performances.
REO's previous album, the live album You Get What You Play For, had produced a minor radio hit with its live version of "Ridin' The Storm Out" and the album sold well overall. But there was a growing sense that this was a band that might not be able to unlock the secret of radio play.
You Can Tune A Piano, But You Can't Tuna Fish began to change the band's radio fortunes, although it didn't produce a massive radio hit. But the rollicking guitar & keyboard-driven track "Roll With The Changes" became a staple on FM rock stations, although it only reached #58 on the Top 40 charts. The follow-up single off the album was the power ballad "Time For Me To Fly" only did marginally better (it topped out at #56), but it's the precursor for the sound the band rolled out two years later for the massively popular Hi Infidelity, which sold ten million copies and produced three Top 20 hits, including the #1 hit "Keep On Loving You."
If all you've ever heard from REO Speedwagon are the ballads, then you'll be surprised by "Roll With The Changes," which was one of the great air guitar songs of the late 1970s. This live video from the period highlights not just the band's live chops but their reputation for having some of the best hair in 70s rock music.
There are some musicians whose music is just impossible to accurately describe. Music that has to be heard to be believed and that is certainly the case with country hip-hop artist Cowboy Troy.
Born Troy Lee Coleman III in Victoria, Texas, the Cowboy Troy name apparently was given to him by friends in college, to differentiate him from the other guys they knew named Troy.
His first major label album was released in 2005 as part of the MuzikMafia wave in Nashville that included Big & Rich, Gretchen Wilson and James Otto. "I Play Chicken With The Train" was his most commercially successful single, reaching #48 on the Country Singles chart and #81 on the Pop Singles chart. The album hit #2 on the Country Album chart, #13 on the Rap Album chart and #15 on the Pop Album chart. While none of his other releases have done as well commercially, I think it's fair to say that he has carved out a unique sound for himself.
"I Play Chicken With The Train" is the distilled-down version of the style Cowboy Troy refers to as "hick-hop." Smooth-ish lyric runs, mashed together with plenty of traditional country music arrangements. It's catchy and a tad bit unsettling. But I've always enjoyed his music and wish it had broken through a bot more over the years.
Today, I'm highlighting one of my favorite Canadian bands: Lighthouse. While they only had one major hit in the United States, the band cranked out a series of really great albums that fused rock, jazz and pop in a way that has probably only been matched by the pre-Peter Cetera-era Chicago. But they were much more popular in their native Canada, where they won the Juno Award for best Canadian band in 1972, 1973 and 1974.
Lighthouse was formed in Toronto in 1968 by vocalist/drummer by Skip Prokop and keyboardist Paul Hoffert. The band had a rotating group of musicians and had some initial success with their first three albums. But the addition of lead singer Bob McBride in 1970 marked the band's biggest commercial success. Lighthouse released two albums the following year and the title track from the "One Fine Morning" album went to #2 in Canada and #24 in the United States. They continued to have success in Canada and their 1972 double-album "Lighthouse Live" became the first Canadian album to be certified platinum. By 1976, the band had fallen apart but some of the original members did reunite in 1992 for a tour and new album which produced a Top 20 Canadian hit with "Remember The Times." That marked the band's 7th Top 20 hit in Canada.
Members of Lighthouse continue to tour sporadically, but the best known Lighthouse alumi is likely original saxophonist Howard Shore. After leaving the band he became the musical director of "Saturday Night Live" and went on to win three Academy Awards for "The Lord of the Rings" film trilogy.
If you're a music fan, one of the saddest things about getting older is that songs that hold a touchstone for your life become essentially invisible to later generations.
"Colour My World" by Chicago is one of those tunes. Thanks to the demographic quirks of classic rock formats, it's rare to hear anything older than the early 1980s on the radio. And even on the few hard classic rock radio stations, a lot of bands that were integral rock bands in the 1960s and 1970s are pretty much ignored because they fall into that category of "classic but not hard rock."
While plenty of the Peter Cetera-era soft-rock hits from Chicago's 1980s and 1990s output are still receiving plenty of attention, the early songs of the band once known as the Chicago Transit Authority are sadly unknown to most music fans under the ago of 50. Which sucks, because the band put out a string of really impressive horn-based rock albums that reflected the jazz and classical roots of the original band members. A great jumping-in point for that era of Chicago is the band's Chicago At Carnegie Hall, a massive four-album live set that covered most of the important tracks from the band's first three releases. While the studio version of "Colour My World" (which was on the band's second album) was the hit, I much prefer the live version. It sounds a bit more relaxed and despite the size of the crowd, more intimate.
With vocals by the late, great Terry Kath and music/lyrics by James Pankow, "Colour My World" was originally released as the "B" side of the May 1970 single "Make Me Smile." It was released a year later as a single and went to #7. Despite only having one verse and a flute solo, the song was played at every high school dance and most of the backyard weddings throughout much of the 1970s.