Liverpool & Motown

After miraculously finding a vehicle with a working cassette player in the year 2019, I grabbed some cassettes from two massive boxes I have stored in a closet, and drove off to listen. You might think these 80s styled items would have 80s styled music on them, but you’d be dead wrong. In addition to Chuck Berry and The Kinks, I found myself listening to “With The Beatles” — the Fab Four’s second album released in the U.K. — not to be confused with Capitol Records U.S. release entitled “The Beatles Second Album.” (What A & R marketing genius came up with that one?)

I tend to think of “With The Beatles” as “The Beatles’ Motown Album.” My favorite cut on it is their version of Smokey Robinson’s “You Really Got a Hold on Me.”

Fantastic harmony and a tight arrangement. You can tell John Lennon was a Smokey fan listening to this one. Even the Lennon-McCartney composition, “All I’ve Got to Do” on WTB has a big Smokey Robinson/Motown influence. It’s not the greatest thing Lennon ever wrote or recorded, but it’s worth a listen. You can hear the same soulful style vocals on “Not a Second Time.”

Lennon also handles lead vocals on two other Motown tracks: The Marvelettes’ “Please Mr. Postman” and Barrett Strong’s “Money (That’s What I Want).” I wasn’t crazy about either one of these at first, but they’ve grown on me. Both songs took on new lives for me when I learned how to play them on guitar. There are some interesting live versions of Mr. Postman out there, too.

I don’t think The Beatles’ version of “Money” eclipses the original, but the guitar riff is inspiring to me. So what about the rest of the album?

It’s an interesting mix. “Don’t Bother Me” was the first George Harrison solo songwriting composition to date. It’s got a different sound (minor key for one thing), but it also has Harrison’s independent stamp on it. (Nothing else on the album sounds like this song.) Harrison also handles lead vocals on two covers: Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” and “Devil in Her Heart” by Detroit-area girl group The Donays.

A friend of mine thinks their version of “Beethoven” actually eclipses Chuck Berry’s original recording. While that’s close to blasphemy, Harrison’s guitar does sound pretty great. What about McCartney’s contributions to the record? His Little Richard-inspired whoops can be heard through out it, but the one song most familiar to casual music fans is McCartney’s “All My Loving.” If nothing else, McCartney delivers on this one. It also features a country-western guitar solo from Harrison. There are other songs on WTB including a Ringo vocal, a ballad from “The Music Man”, an interesting “yeah-yeah” song called “It Won’t Be Long” and a would-be single entitled “Hold Me Tight.”

Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon!

Chip Away The Stone

Aerosmith is a band that has enjoyed many lives. Lead singer Steven Tyler and lead guitarist Joe Perry were affectionately known as “The Toxic Twins” at one point during their careers due to their rock star drug habits and lifestyle. I wonder who actually gave them that nickname? In any event, I’ve never been a die hard fan, but can definitely appreciate certain songs in their extensive catalog. One of those hidden gems, ironically, appeared on the 1988 release “Gems” and is called “Chip Away The Stone.”

For me, the harmony in the chorus is what really grabbed me the first time I heard it — and it still does when I listen to it today. The beat and feel of this song may be too “basic” for some listeners, but it works for me. The first verse of “Chip Away The Stone” is a poetic description of someone who’s just “too cool for school.”

You act like a prima donna
Playing so hard to get
Sittin’ so cool and nonchalant
Draggin’ on a cigarette

I can’t remember too many songs with the word “nonchalant” in them. I also like the pronunciation of promenade (prom n NOD) in the second verse. The song is basically a metaphor for trying to reach someone “cooler than thou” in the same way a sculptor chips the block of stone away to create a sculpture.

Originally the song was released in support of their 1978 album “Live! Bootleg.” Give credit to Aerosmith for bringing the words to life, but they were actually written by a guy named Richie Supa. He collaborated with the band and also wrote some other songs for them including “Amazing,” which is also worth a listen. Nowadays, Supa partners with an organization called Recovery Unplugged, which is involved with alcohol and drug addiction treatment. Give the guy some credit. I think Steven Tyler is trying to become a country singer — and I’m not kidding about that. Yikes!

Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon!

p.s. As a completely random footnote, I always thought it would be funny to write a comedy skit about the quiz show Jeopardy! One character would win Final Jeopardy by guessing “What is Aerosmith?” (the band) instead of “What is Arrowsmith?” (the completely unrelated novel by Sinclair Lewis). Spelling doesn’t count against you in Final Jeopardy.

Most Beautiful Song Ever

It might surprise some people to learn the guy who wrote and rocked out to “Purple Haze” also wrote, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful combinations of lyrics and music ever recorded. “Little Wing” is a fantastic, ethereal song which soars both musically and lyrically. There are some great covers of the song out there, but the original Jimi Hendrix-penned version is my favorite. One of the distinctive sounds on the original track is the use of the glockenspiel — pretty atypical for a power trio like The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Unfortunately, copyright issues seem to make the original version unavailable on YouTube. Booo! I’ll share a recent cover recorded by Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood.

One of the most unique covers of the ballad was released by Irish band The Corrs on their Unplugged album.

I never thought I’d have a conversation about Jimi Hendrix with my father, but someone turned him on to this Celtic version and we did discuss it. Another popular version of the ballad was released by Hendrix aficionado Stevie Ray Vaughan. You could think of this version as one “guitar god” paying tribute to another.

I’m sure the SRV version is a favorite for many, but I miss hearing the lyrics and, of course, the glockenspiel.

There are easily over 100 versions of “Little Wing” out there. From what I’ve read, the original Hendrix version was inspired by the “vibe” of the Monterey Pop Festival. The song is an interesting combo of fairy tale and Native American imagery along with astonishingly good guitar.

Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon!

White Bike-Psych

The Sixties — more specifically the Summer of Love (1967) — produced some interesting art and music. To me, there’s something appealing about the whole psychedelic thing. Spirals, kaleidoscopes, vivid colors, and Indian-influenced music. Apparently the origin of psychedelic is supposed to mean “soul revealing” or “mind manifesting.” Whoa, man, that’s heavy. (For the record, the only acid I’ve ever “dropped” was the saclicylic kind — commonly known as Compound W — you know, plantar wart removal.)

In any event, I find it hard to separate the music and the imagery — maybe that’s because I enjoy them both. I thought about doing a list of my favorite or all-time best songs in this category, but decided to start with a hidden gem called “My White Bicycle” by a British band called Tomorrow.

The song has a definite trippy, Indian feel to it — thanks in part to the backwards instrumentation on it and the whispered echoes of “My White Bicycle.” (More about the origin of the song in a moment.) When you hear the words “white bicycle” you automatically get an image of one. Maybe that’s part of the appeal of the psychedelic thing, too — putting a trippy spin on something ordinary.

The first time I heard this song was riding in the car with my cousins at Lake of the Ozarks. It was on an 8-track tape with Nazareth’s harder rock version.

It’s a different interpretation from the original, but I’m living proof that Nazareth kept this song alive and spread it to the masses. Osage Beach, Missouri is a long way from Abbey Road (where Tomorrow originally recorded the song. Tomorrow featured a pre-Yes Steve Howe on guitar.)

Apparently the song was inspired by an Amsterdam anarchist outfit called The Provos. They wanted to alleviate traffic by leaving free, white bicycles at the disposal of their countrymen among other things.

If you don’t like the song or the psychedelic thing, hopefully, you’ll get a chuckle out of this novelty version featuring Neil the Hippie (Nigel Planer) from 1980s British TV comedy The Young Ones.

If you enjoy parody and/or psychedelia, you must seek out “Neil’s Heavy Concept Album.” Great title. “My White Bicycle” was written by Tomorrow band members Keith Hopkins and Ken Burgess. To put it into perspective, I even found pics of John and Yoko with a Provo White Bike.

Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon.

Cars, Chicks, and Bo Diddley

I was dying to put something different on my car’s CD player this morning and I found a gem on on unlabeled disc. I had a bunch of great songs on this random disc I burned from iTunes, but I pretty much kept the first cut on repeat all day. That song was a cover of Bo Diddley’s “Ride on Josephine” by George Thorogood and The Destroyers.

This version could be both my favorite Bo Diddley cover and my favorite Thorogood recording. Thorogood’s version is a loose rocker that oozes rhythm from the intro on the song. Listening to it, you can tell he is a big Bo Diddley fan. (The video for his signature song “Bad to the Bone” featured Bo as a pool shark back in the day.) Thorogood not only keeps the rhythm going, but also throws in some guitar licks from Diddley’s “Who Do You Love” as well. “Josephine” was on the 1977 album “George Thorogood and the Destroyers”. If you’re into roots rock or slide guitar, I highly recommend it.

There are some differences between Thorogood’s version and the original early Sixties release by the songwriter Bo Diddley. The biggest one to my ears is the gospel-style chorus on Bo’s. There’s also a cool guitar lick.

I think both versions are great. Bo Diddley’s sense of humor in the spoken word bit adds even more fun to this romp and Thorogood has a great time with it, too.

Another thing that jumps out at me about this song is its lyrics remind me of a Chuck Berry styled tune. Sure it’s a car and chick thing, but it’s also a pretty frantic set of lyrics. It makes me think of both Berry’s “Too Much Monkey Business” and “Maybellene”. There are other versions of “Ride on Josephine” out there, but the Thorogood version is hard to beat.

Till next time, keep your Mojo on the Horizon!

Shakin’ with Stevie Ray

I rummaged through a bunch of CDs this morning and found something interesting. It was a disc of random songs I burned at a Borders Books location years ago. (It must have been some time between Napster and iTunes. I don’t think the “Mix & Burn” trend lasted long. Thanks, ASCAP!) I found some interesting songs on there and a Stevie Ray Vaughan cut I repeatedly blasted on my car stereo today.

The song is called “Shake For Me”. Blues guitar phenom SRV didn’t write the song. (For my money, the song’s composer Willie Dixon is the single best blues songwriter of all time: “Hoochie Coochie Man”, “My Babe”, “Back Door Man”, and more, but I digress.) The Stevie Ray version was posthumously released on 1992’s live album “In The Beginning” .

This song grabbed me the first time I heard it on the radio. For me, it was like simultaneously hearing thunder and getting struck by lightning. KABOOM! One time a friend of mine said, “He’s tearing it up!” while we were watching a young guitar player at a blues jam. You could say the same thing about the SRV recording. According to Wikipedia, it was a 1980 show recorded at Steamboat 1874 in Austin, TX and broadcast on KLBJ-FM radio.

I couldn’t understand all of the lyrics in the SRV version outside of something about willow trees and Jell-o so I sought out the Howlin’ Wolf version featuring Hubert Sumlin on guitar.

The Howlin’ Wolf version seems tame in comparison, but give him credit for getting the ball rolling. By the way, did someone actually GET PAID for the album cover featuring the rocking chair and acoustic guitar? I mean, it’s roots music, I get it, but come on! The dude’s stage name was Howlin’ Wolf (aka Chester Burnett). You couldn’t do something a little more exciting with that?

I also discovered a version of “Shake for Me” by a Minneapolis band called The Underbeats.

Their version reminds of The Rolling Stones first album called “England’s Newest Hitmakers”. I wonder if Stevie Ray Vaughan was familiar with their take on it? The SRV version is on my bucket list of songs to learn on guitar among many others. Fantastic guitar tone! By the way, the bass player on the SRV version is Jackie Newhouse, not longtime Double Trouble member Tommy Shannon.

Till next time, Keep your Mojo on the Horizon!

Funniest True Crime Show EVER!

It’s been another week chocked full of shootings in America — and, no, that has nothing to do with the title. I wonder if actuaries have statistics on how likely an individual is to be killed during a mass shooting in America at any given time. I mean where AREN’T you in danger these days — You can rule out schools, movie theaters, colleges/universities, department stores. What have I left out?

Awhile ago I watched a couple of episodes of a show called True Crime on Netflix. It’s not some serial killer thing or anything like it. I don’t remember the first episode, but the second one was about some dude who grew marijuana in his house and also managed to stockpile an enormous amount of military grade weapons there, too. When the authorities came to take him down, there was quite a standoff – but I digress.

“True Crime: How to Murder Your Wife” is not only a truly unique black comedy, but it’s also one of the best comedic performances I’ve ever seen. Despite the grisly title, and the fact that it’s based on a true story, this show is GUARANTEED to crack you up. The biggest reason is the performance of Simon O’Connor. He plays an elderly, affable New Zealander named Alf Benning. O’Connor’s high pitched voice and freakish grin are the first thing you’ll notice when you start watching. His wife Betty Benning is portrayed as an overbearing, unreasonable, vindictive woman by actress Geraldine Brophy. The elderly Alf retires from his job as a gravedigger and starts volunteering at the SPCA where he saves his new dog friend Shep. He also befriends some prostitutes along the way and ruffles the feathers of his nosy neighbors. In addition, Alf does plenty of research on murder and conducts some odd experiments in his basement. After he’s had enough of Betty, he gets representation from a “swinging 70s” lawyer named Mike Bungay (played by Mark Mitchinson). In case you haven’t deduced it for yourself, this film is not a mainstream pick and is definitely a dark comedy. Were the real-life people anything like they seem in the film? Probably not, but it’s entertaining.

Simon O’Connor does a great job of portraying Alf Benning as someone who is likable on the surface, but unstable underneath. You really have to watch it to see his hilarious outbursts for yourself. The easiest way to find this program is to search Netflix for “True Crime”, then go to Episode 3: How to Murder Your Wife.

In the meantime, I should get some exercise. You never know when you’ll have to flee from the next trigger-happy gun nut and I’m not as fast as I used to be.

Till next time keep your Mojo on the Horizon!