Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Almost Hits: Blood, Sweat & Tears - Go Down Gamblin' (1971)

The problem with Blood, Sweat & Tears was that many rock fans didn’t consider them to be a real rock band. Their guitarist, Steve Katz, never reeled off the flaming, red hot, twelve-minute, guitar jams that were so popular at the time. Eric Clapton, he was not. Jazz purists didn’t believe the band was the genuine article either. The rest of us, the people who actually bought their records, didn’t much care either way.

Nevertheless, most listeners were surprised when singer David Clayton-Thomas picked up his electric guitar for "Go Down Gamblin,'" way back in 1971. The Clayton-Thomas/Fred Lipsius (alto sax and piano) composition was definitely the loudest rock track the group ever put on vinyl. With their singer rocking out at full throttle, and playing some heavy guitar riffs, the song sounded more like something from Chicago Transit Authority than anything Blood Sweat & Tears ever recorded.

The song is about a gambler who never wins at any game he plays, yet he doesn’t feel like a loser because even though the "cards are 'bound to break me I've been called a natural lover by that lady over there." So, in the protagonist's world, all is well.

Unfortunately, "Go Down Gamblin" didn’t do a thing for the band's reputation. It still wasn’t hard enough for the rockers and it was an additional excuse for the jazzers to write them off completely.

The LP version (4:14) of the tune was the lead track on Blood Sweat & Tears 4. The shorter, single version (2:45) climbed to No. 32 on the pop chart.

The hitmaking lineup of the group began disintegrating right after this record was released and Blood Sweat & Tears, despite hanging around for years, was never a viable commercial force again.

Almost Hits is an occasional exploration into songs that failed to reach the top #20 on the American Billboard Hot 100. Many have become classics despite what their chart position would indicate.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Iz - Somewhere Over The Rainbow / It's A Wonderful World (1993)

Today is a word for word rerun of an old post from May 26, 2011. I was reminded of Israel Kamakawiwo'ole (better known as Iz) by Google who is paying homage to him on their homepage today to celebrate what would have been his 61st birthday. The original post, with comments, is here.

You've probably only heard Israel (a. k. a. Iz) Kamakawiwo'ole's most famous song, "Somewhere over the Rainbow," on TV commercials or in a handful of movies. The tune features Iz's gorgeous vocal accompanied only by his solo ukulele. My love of his version of the classic song is second only to Judy Garland’s original from The Wizard of Oz.

Iz recorded the song twice. The longer version combines Garland's classic with Louis Armstrong’s "It's a Wonderful World" and it's the one I prefer. The shorter track features just "Rainbow" without Armstrong’s hit. Recently, the song rode to the top of the charts in Germany even though it was first recorded for his 1993 CD, Facing Future. By selling 1,000,000 copies it is the first album in history by a Hawaiian artist to achieve platinum status.

I became fascinated with Hawaiian music during my vacation there two years ago and I listened to more than a little bit of Iz on CDs I found in souvenir shops. He possessed a beautiful tenor voice but unfortunately the thing that prevented me from purchasing one of his discs is the fact that he rarely sung in English. Most of his songs were recorded in his native tongue so I waited until I got home and downloaded "Rainbow" from iTunes.

Iz was an important figure beloved by Hawaiians. He was very active politically and was prominent in the movement that continues to push for independence for the former island nation that was annexed by The United States in the 19th century. (We're not talking politics here so if you are interested in this chapter of American history there is plenty on the web for you to read.)

Sadly, Iz was a very huge man and he died in 1997 at age 38 due to severe health problems brought on by his extreme obesity. At his peak he weighed over 757 pounds. The singer was so loved that his body laid in state in the Hawaiian State Capitol building in Honolulu. Only two other people have ever been given that honor and he was the first person to receive it who wasn't a politician. The state flag was flown at half mast. Reportedly, 10,000 mourners attended his funeral.

Iz's musical legacy was his voice, and while the sight of this Everest sized human strumming a very tiny, guitar-like instrument is almost incongruous, there is no denying the special gift belonging to one of the tropical paradise's most revered artists.

Despite the Hawaiian legend's recent, posthumous success in Europe and his god-like status in the fiftieth state it's unfortunate that, while we may be somewhat familiar with his most famous song, most American Mainlanders do not know the man's name.

Iz's official website.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Chris Pellnat - Rain (2020)

I know I've said it before but it never ceases to amaze me how many talented musicians there are in the world that few people will ever hear. If you're willing to dig deep into the trenches of the Internet you'll be amazed at the number of worthy artists you'll find. One of these is Chris Pellnat from Hudson, NY.

The singer-songwriter's third album, Rain, is soft rock with a twist. On his new, ten song set he is a one man band who plays every instrument well.

At times Pellnat employs only bare bones arrangements. "It's a Cruel, Cruel World" is just his voice, acoustic guitar, and harmonica. Then, on the title track, he kicks it up a notch by plugging in without raising the volume. In other words, he keeps things tasteful.

Pellnat also tosses a little retro-synthesizer, dulcimer, and vibraphone into his songs proving that while he is not at an avant garde artist his quirkiness is what sets him apart from so many other people making music today.

Chris Pellnat
I'll let Pellnat tell you more about the album himself. "Rain is both a continuation of and a departure from my past efforts. I use more synthesized sounds for sure, but the core elements of the music remain actual real instruments played in front of microphones. I think in terms of subject matter and tone, the album seems "happier" and "poppier" - which strikes me as odd considering the state of the world, but that's just how it came out. I feel that on this album, more so than in the past, I was free to do off-kilter indie rock/pop songs that don't fit into today's sounds necessarily."

Pellnat's last statement is quite true. Unfortunately, the singer-songwriter's "sounds" are not what is played on the radio today even though his lyrics include modern touches that young people, popular music's most important consumers, can relate to such as the emoji references in "Hold Me Now."

Even the album cover is gorgeous. The well dressed man in the derby is staring at "Black-eyed Susans and Queen Anne's Lace," a nod to one of the album's songs. The painting is by Gray Lee who runs Houdini Mansions, the record label where Rain is available in several formats.

Read more at at Pellnat's Soundcloud page.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Car Tunes Radio - Best Oldies On The Internet

Occasionally, Bloggerhythms writes about Internet radio stations that readers may find enjoyable. Here is one that is purely for oldies fans.

Car Tunes Radio (CRT) is a different kind of oldies station. "It's all music, all the time," as the 60s jocks used to say because there are no commercials, jingles, or fast talking DJs. So, if you're trying to relive the memories of a favorite top 40 station of your youth you may be disappointed. Instead, CRT's defining asset is its broad musical eclecticism.

For the last eight years the Birmingham, Alabama station has played the hits from the 60s and 70s, as well as a smattering of long forgotten records from the 50s interspersed with important album tracks and flipsides of big hits you may not have heard in years. As proof, take a look at the playlist below that CRT aired one morning not long ago.

When was the last time you heard Jerry Jeff Walker, Mac McAnally, Sanford-Townsend Band, Billy Joel's "Miami 2017", or Bruce Springsteen's nine-plus minute opus, "Jungleland," on your local oldies station? I would venture to say probably never for the first three while the last two are album tracks played almost exclusively on classic rock radio.

Among the "b" sides station owner, manager, and program director Steve Gilbert adds to the mix are Carly Simon's "No Secrets" (the flipside of "The Right Thing To Do") and Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Born on the Bayou" (the other side of "Proud Mary"). They were not hits but they're good songs that many people are still familiar with today.

Chicago's "25 or 6 to 4" is the album version, not the single, so you get to hear Terry Kath's rocking solo in all of its glory.

The most unusual song played on this particular morning was "Sixty Minute Man." This crossover, R&B, novelty hit was released by the Dominoes way back in 1951 before there was even a Billboard Hot 100.

Check out CRT's website after you read Bloggerhythms' interview by email with Mr. Gilbert that begins immediately following the playlist.

The Kinks - Come Dancing
Dusty Springfield - Wishin' & Hopin'
Jerry Jeff Walker - LA Freeway
Joni Mitchell - Big Yellow Taxi
Tyrone Davis - Turn Back The Hands Of Time
Bruce Springsteen - Jungleland
Freddie & The Dreamers - I'm Telling You Now
Petula Clark - Don't Sleep In The Subway
Johnny Rivers - Seventh Son
Sanford Townsend Band - Smoke From A Distant Fire
Chicago - 25 Or 6 To 4 (album version)
Mac Mcanally - Barney
Simon & Garfunkel - My Little Town
Billy Joel - Miami 2017
Gerry & The Pacemakers - Ferry Across the Mersey
The Bellamy Brothers - Let Your Love Flow
Herman' Hermits - Can't You Hear My Heart Beat
CCR - Born On The Bayou
Billy Joe Royal - Cherry Hill Park
Tommy James - Draggin' The Line
Three Dog Night - Never Been To Spain
Stealers Wheel - Stuck In The Middle With You
Carly Simon - We Have No Secrets
Doobie Brothers - China Grove
The Dominoes - Sixty Minute Man
Marvin Gaye - Too Busy Thinking About My Baby
Moody Blues - Tuesday Afternoon
Chambers Brothers - Time Has Come Today
The Vogues - Five O'Clock World


CR: What is the inspiration behind Car Tunes Radio?

SG: The name came about as a result of my two passions, music and classic cars. I also spent a lot of time in my teenage years cruising around listening to the radio and 8 track tapes. 

CR: Do you have a radio background?  If so, what is it?

SG: Yes, I have Bachelors Degree in Communications. I spent several years on the air and have been a club DJ at various points throughout my career. I also have done hundreds of class reunions, private parties and car shows. 

CR: Lots of these small stations are financially tenuous. It appears that your only revenue streams are the ads on your website & your GoFundMe link. Are you a non-profit? Do you have any other sources to keep the station afloat?

SG: We do not have a non profit status, but you are correct. The funding sources come from GoFundMe and sponsor pages on our web site. We also have streaming support from a local internet company, Cahaba Internet. They help provide streaming (Shoutcast Server) services and hosting for our web site in exchange for promotion of their services. The other funds come from my pocket as a hobby expense.

CR: How big is your staff or are you a one man operation?

SG: The studio is in my home office. Staff: myself,  control room Kitty Carly (named after Carly Simon), my wife, aka the Coffee Fairy, provides coffee and other moral support.

CR: What are the recommended ways of listening to Car Tunes Radio?

SG: Via our web site at Cartunesradio.com. We are also listed on the Tunein Radio App as well as with RadioGuide.FM. You can also direct link us in Windows Media player or WinAmp Player at the URL's or
EDITOR'S NOTE: For listeners using Alexa and Amazon's Echo with TuneIn you should reverse the last two words in the station's name when giving the command. Say "Alexa, play Car Radio Tunes (not Car Tunes Radio) on Tune In" to get your party started. 
CR: Do you program the station yourself?

SG: Yes, I use a program called OTS AV DJ Classic. It controls the music library files and manages the playlists. It also encodes the music and streams to the Shoutcast server.

CR: It's possible that a listener who has a taste for Herman's Hermits and Freddie & The Dreamers may not be interested in Bruce Springsteen's "Jungleland." How do you determine what to play?

SG: You are correct, that is always the case with any station that has hard and fast rules about their playlist. I really have not spent a lot of time on audience research. I love all kinds of music, but being a child of the 60s and 70s that music is the main portion of our playlists. I also try to program special events such as Motown Mondays, Fifties Friday's or all 60s and 70s weekends. We also have a feature from time to time called London Calling featuring British Invasion music. East of Midnight airs after 12:00 PM Central time and features deeper album tracks. Sunday Morning Coffee is my weekly live show. It airs from 8:00 AM to 10:00 AM CST every Sunday. It is a themed show or a flashback to a year in music. I think those programs offer something for any listener.

CR: Do you take requests?

SG: Yes, we take requests via email at dj@cartunesradio.com. They could be delayed depending on when I check email but more in real time during live Sunday Mornings where we have a live chat feature via the website. Listeners can also message us via our Facebook Page: facebook.com/cartunesradio.

CR: How big is your audience and what are the demographics of your listeners? Are factors like age and sex even relevant for a venture like yours?

SG: That is a difficult question. The audience numbers vary widely throughout the day and there are so many choices for listeners. Our archived live shows get on average 40 to 50 plays per week outside of the live listeners. Our demographics are 35 plus male and female.

CR: Can someone outside of the United States listen to you?

SG: Yes, we have listeners from around the world.  I have received emails from England, Germany, South Korea, Russia, Canada and South America.

CR: Is there anything else you would like to tell us?

SG: I do this as a hobby and out of love of good music. This music was the soundtrack of my youth. It is my "music therapy" so to speak. Tune in. I think you will hear something you'll like, and let me know what you are listening to. I'd love to hear from you. dj@cartunesradio.com.

Monday, May 04, 2020

Four Dead In Ohio

Five years ago today, on the anniversary of the infamous Kent State shootings, Bloggerhythms posted an article titled Kent State & the Protest Song. However, the post wasn't about what happened on that university's campus on May 4, 1970. Instead, it discussed how protest songs appear to be missing from popular music's current landscape. As today is the 50th anniversary of that controversial tragedy it's time to update the original post with some additional content.

One of the things I miss about music today is the protest song.

Today's rap crap is frequently too full of violent, misogynistic lyrics (OK, you've made a good point, The Rolling Stones' songs were often full of that too).

The current crop of self-absorbed, singer-songwriters, as excellent as many of them are, can not be mistaken for real folk or protest singers even though folk is the genre where a lot of their musical influences were schooled.

It's not that there isn't anything left to say and nobody around to say it. Jackson Browne's latest, 2014's Standing In The Breach, is a very politically and socially aware album.

The dearly departed Celtic-rock band, Black 47, also frequently walked in Browne's territory over their twenty-five year existence. Their final CD, Last Call (also 2014), took on illegal immigration. In 2008 they recorded an entire disc about the war in Iraq and they were important in spreading the word about Ireland's often violent history.

Protest and political songs don't have to be depressing or preachy. Humor is a great way to make a point and gain attention. Arlo Guthrie's "Alice's Restaurant Masacree" is very long but it's also extremely funny while protesting war and the draft. Stevie Wonder recorded a song you could dance to with "Happy Birthday," the last track from Hotter Than July (1980), the last record from his golden era. It was his plea for Martin Luther King's birthday to become a national holiday that he was eventually happy to see become a reality. Both artists, though very different musically, proved lightheartedness can help promote serious goals.

There were more. The almost forgotten Al Stewart educated us about the "Road to Moscow" and George Harrison lead The Beatles on his tirade against the "Taxman."

Peter, Paul, and Mary are finished, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez have grown old, and U2 have abandoned their causes. Where are the new Pete Seegers and Woody Guthries? Some of these activist musicians actually recorded songs with a social conscience that became hits and, over time, popular standards. Seeger wrote the bulk of "Where Have All The Flowers Gone" and Guthrie is famous for "This Land Is Your Land."

The original post was inspired by the 45th anniversary of the tragic incident at Ohio's Kent State University and today's reboot by the 50th commemoration of the unfortunate campus protest that resulted in the deaths of four college students.

The news also prompted Neil Young to write "Ohio," one of rock's great politically charged records. Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young rode it to number 14 on Billboard's Hot 100 shortly after the event. The flip side of the famous single was a short, Stephen Stills song, "Find the Cost of Freedom," dedicated to those who died in the war in Viet Nam.

Even the Beach Boys, unlikely candidates for social commentary, responded with "Student Demonstration Time" from their 1971 Surf's Up LP. Mike Love updated the lyrics to an old Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller song, "Riot in Cell Block #9," originally recorded by The Robins in 1954. Love's version includes a reference to Kent State:
"America was stunned on May 4, 1970
When rally turned to riot up at Kent State University
They said the students scared the Guard
Though the troops were battle dressed
Four martyrs earned a new degree
The Bachelor of Bullets"
While there has always been a need for escapism in entertainment there was a time when pop music made people think. We need some of that thoughtfulness again.