One Man Band – Leo Sayer – 1974

April 29, 2011

Leo Sayer One Man BandFrom clown to disco Leo Sayer became amazingly popular for a man whose voice often sounded more like Mickey Mouse than a singing superstar.

 leo sayer – the bane of my life

There I am 17 or 18.  My brother and I have got fro’s.  Big ones.  We were the coolest kids in the neighbourhood – the only white kids who could grow them.  And then, along comes Leo Sayer and everyone keeps asking, “You know who you look like…?”

It wouldn’t have been so bad except, well, even I recognised that it was true!  I often wondered if anyone ever told him he looked like me.

leo sayer – the lyricist

Leo’s musical career began as a writer.  He wrote most the lyrics for Roger Daltry’s (The Who) first album including the hit song, Giving It All Away.

Even today, in the music world, he’s renowned for being an accomplished writer of music and lyrics, and has written the soundtracks to a number of movies.

leo the clown

Leo’s singing career began in a clown costume.  To be totally precise it was a pierrot costume = a clown-like character from French pantomime.  He dressed this way on stage for a couple of years simply because he believed the look suited his songs.

leo the star

Leo’s voice meant that some people found it difficult to take him seriously.  The reality is, he had/has a phenomenal career.  His first seven singles reached the UK top 10.  Since 1973 he has had a hit in the top ten at least once every five years.

Disco was good to Leo – his first number one was a song called, You Make Me Feel Like Dancing.  He then returned to slower songs like, When I Need You and More Than I Can Say.

Love him or not – he’s a star!

and he’s still going!

On a recent trip to Melbourne, Australia I was amazed to see posters all over town for a Leo Sayer concert. Turns out he now lives in Australia – in fact, he’s become an Australian citizen.

one man band

I must confess, despite the fact that we once looked alike, I’m not sure I could stomach an entire Leo Sayer album.  I’m sure he’s a lovely fellow, but there is only so much high pitched warbling my ears can take.

But I do love his song – One Man Band.  It’s the story of Leo’s early musical life when he and his harmonica used to busk in London.  A quick read of the lyrics and you’ll see how they fit with the image of a sad clown trying to make it in the world.

One Man Band was Leo’s second UK and first US hit song.

a few leo fax

  • Leo was discovered by a musician named David Courtney who introduced him to Adam Faith, the musician turned manager.  There were thoughts back then that Leo the lyricist, Courtney the music writer, and Faith the manager/producer could produce a team to rival Elton John, Bernie Taupin and Gus Dudgeon.
  • In 2009 Leo became an Australian citizen.
  • Leo’s real first name is Gerry.  He was given the stage name Leo by his music writing partner who thought his head of curls made him look like a lion.
  • Leo Sayer’s name is also used in Cockney rhyming slang, meaning “all-dayer”, as in an all-day drinking session.
  • Like many musicians, Leo made very little money from his early music.  Adam Faith, his manager, however, made a whole heap of cash!  The two men settled the matter “out of court” in 1992.
  • One Man Band lyrics.

Stage Fright – The Band – 1970

April 22, 2011

Stage Fright - The Band Album CoverThe Band’s Stage Fright is a song many people will have never heard of but it is – my opinion – one of, if not the, most passionately sung ongs of all time.

 stage fright

Some time ago a friend of mine asked me to prepare a list of my ten all time favourite songs.  Where I’m concerned, such a list varies from one day to the next but one song is constant – Stage Fright by The Band.

It’s the way Rick Danko sings it… it’s like he’s feeling the angst of every single word in that song.  And it’s Robbie Robertson’s staccato guitar.  And it’s Garth Hudson’s Lowrey organ – I guess it’s that every part of this song is sublime!  (to quote the movie The Castle, “it’s the whole vibe!”).

goin’ to the movies

So, it’s 1978 and Martin Scorsese is a 36 year old film director.  He’s had a massive hit with Taxi Driver starring Robert de Niro and Jodie Foster.  But his next movie, New York, New York bombs.

Scorsese goes into deep depression and struggles with cocaine addiction.  Somehow he finds the energy to create The Last Waltz, a documentary chronicling the final concert by Canadian rock icons, The Band.

in the middle of the movie, the lights go on

Okay, this is so long ago (1978) that they still paused the movie halfway through for an intermission.  Of course, everything is made so much better now, especially bladders, so that they don’t need to do that anymore.  (and they don’t sing the National Anthem at the beginning either!).

I’m sitting there with my ice cream and the most amazing song begins.  First Richard Manuel plays four bars on the piano, then four bars of Garth Hudson’s organ with a little bit of horn thrown in, then the bands cranks up and Rick Danko sings – and you can feel the goosebumps popping out on your arms.

philosophising – a commentary on life?

I’ve always felt Stage Fright is more than a simple commentary on band life.  It’s a commentary on all of life in general;

[The doctor said],

“You can make it in your disguise,

Just never show the fear that’s in your eyes.”

On one level Stage Fright is about a simple farming kid who obviously has talent.  He’s plucked from small town life and is given stardom.  He suddenly finds himself in the spotlight and it terrifies him but, “when we get to the end, he wants to start all over again.”

On another level Stage Fright is about the fears we all have in life and the way we often work so hard to make things work but, underneath the exterior that fools most, we feel scared and frail.

If you’ve never heard this song, make sure you watch the clip at the end of this entry.

a note on the band

The BandIt seems sad to me that The Band was often made to look like Robbie Robertson’s back-up band.  In actual fact, the five Band members were all amazingly accomplished and talented musicians in their own right.  And Robbie, as talented as he was, was arguably, not the most musical of them.

Sadly, Richard Manuel died after committing suicide while on tour with The Band in 1986 and Rick Danko died of drug-induced heart failure in 1999.

stage fright fax

  • Stage Fright is the title track of the Band’s third album.
  • In his book, Across the Great Divide, Levon Helm (drummer for The Band) denies this song is about an occurrence of Stage Fright that immobilized guitarist Robbie Robertson.  There was even a rumour that Robbie at times suffered so badly from stage fright that he travelled with a hypnotist – it seems there is little truth to this.
  • The Band’s members were multi-instrumentalists.  On the album Stage Fright, all five play at least two instruments(but not at the same time!).
  • Stage Fright was engineered by up and coming musician, Todd Rundgren.
  • The Band were originally known as The Hawks and backed Ronnie Hawkins.  They then became Bob Dylan’s backing band for a while.
  • The Band were inducted into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 1989 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.  In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked them #50 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, and in 2008, they received the Grammy’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
  • Stage Fright lyrics

today’s question:

What was the first music movie you went to – please, let’s NOT count The Sound of Music!

 the video:

This version is not from the movie The Last Waltz.  Tracks from the movie are copyright and can’t be embedded on sites like this.  So, if you want to see the fabulous movie version, use this link –

otherwise, here’s a later live version:

Space Oddity – David Bowie – 1973

April 17, 2011

One of many covers for David Bowie's Space OddityThere was a time when space songs were in vogue. Space Oddity is one of the better known. 

i go where no music lover has gone before

So, in 1973 I make an amazing discovery.  You see, we don’t have iPods or even MP3 players.  The lucky ones amongst us have little transistors.  And, at night, we listen to these marvels of 70s communication with an ear plug – note, “plug” not “plugs.”  It plugged into the transistor but only had one ear piece.  And that’s when I make my discovery.

As you lie in bed at night, if you put the ear plug in one ear, and only push the connection halfway into the transistor, you get sound coming out of both the radio AND the ear plug.  And so, if you lie with your head on your radio, and your ear piece in, you get to listen to the radio in a sort of simulated stereo.

In 1973 that was sheer magic!

neil armstrong goes somewhere new too

I made my discovery just four years after Neil Armstrong took a small step for man but a giant step for mankind.  Yes, 1969, man landed on the moon.  I remember it.

I’m sitting in my Standard Four (Year 6) class at Maungawhau Primary School.  Mrs G. is in charge.  The class listens in complete awe.  Over the classroom intercom comes the commentary of Apollo 11 landing on the moon.  In my memory it was being broadcast live.  I’ve since realised it must have been a pre-recorded programme.

It’s one of those days where we are at school but the moon is still visible in the blue sky outside.

Mrs G. looks outside and says words I’ll never forget, “Well, children,” and she gazes up at the moon, “man has landed on the moon.  I only wish the Russians could have got there first.”

Yep, you guess it.  Mrs G. was a dyed in the wool, fully paid up, card carrying Communist.  Of course she’d be fired for saying something like that these days.  Not that she’ll worry about that.  She was about 105 years old when she taught me.  She must have long since left this mortal coil.

musical space obsessions

Around this time space and landing on the moon became something of a musical obsession.  It began with a UK band named The Tornados who released an instrumental called Telstar.  It was named after an American telecommunications satellite of the same name.

TRIVIA TIME – what was the first song by a UK band to reach #1 on the US charts?  Yep, you guessed it; Telstar by The Tornadoes.

It continued with songs like Rocket Man and Dark Side of the Moon.

 getting to the point of convergence

Anyway, getting to the point, another space song was David Bowie’s Space Oddity.  And, it was this song that I vividly recall listening to back in 1973 in simulated ear-plug stereo while lying in bed.

Space Oddity was actually released in 1969 to coincide with the lunar landing.  In an interesting piece of weirdness the BBC used it as the background music to their Apollo 11 launch and landing reports.  That’s strange…

…it’s strange because the song is about an astronaut named Major Tom who cuts off communication with Earth and just floats off into space where he is stranded, “and there’s nothing I can do.”

David Bowie himself comment that the song’s theme was such that he was pleased but highly amazed that the BBC chose to link it with the Apollo 11 project.  He quipped that there would be some embarrassed faces at the inappropriate nature of the lyric if something went wrong with Apollo 11.

space oddity fax

  • The song had nothing to do with Apollo 11.  David Bowie wrote it after seeing 2001:A Space Odyssey, a movie he described as amazing.  Major Tom is mentioned in two other Bowie songs.  The first Ashes To Ashes where Major Tom makes contact with Earth.  He says he is happy in space, but Ground Control comes to the conclusion that he is a junkie.  The second is Hallo Spaceboy released in 1995.
  • Other artists have released songs featuring Bowie’s Major Tom character.  These include; Peter Schilling’s 1983 release, Major Tom (I’m Coming Home) which tells the story of Major Tom in space.  And K.I.A.’s 2003 release Mrs. Major Tom, which tells the Space Oddity story from the point of view of Major Tom’s wife.
  • The keyboard player on Space Oddity is the famous Rick Wakeman – he was paid nine pounds.
  • Space Oddity lyrics.

On The Radio – Donna Summer – 1979.

April 13, 2011

Donna Summer - On The Radio cover.On the Radio from the album Bad Girls was released by Donna Summer in 1979.

forgive me for I have sinned

Yes, it’s true, I cannot deny it.  I once bought a disco record and for that reason alone I’m willing to concede I may spend forever in some eternal disco inferno.

Although I do have an explanation.

how it happened

There is something to love in all musical genres and I appreciate every one in some way or another.  However, from the time I began to listen to music, I’ve loved soul.  Stevie Wonder was my first Motown love and I don’t think I’ve heard one since that I haven’t enjoyed to one degree or another.

So, here I am, twenty something.  My record collection contains an eclectic mix that ranges from Wilson Pickett to Deep Purple; Natalie Cole to Dr Feelgood.

I’ve sat through Saturday Night Fever and endured a million (I’ve told you a thousand times not to exaggerate) parties where the highlight is spelling YMCA in the air with our arms.  And I’ve decided I’m not sure I like disco.

But then it puts me in a dilemma.  What should I do with those artists who are sometimes classified as disco but actually have true soul?  I’m thinking of people like; Marvin Gaye, Gloria Gaynor, Barry White, and the fabulous Gladys Knight.  They are all soul singers, forced to, sometimes reluctantly, wear a disco badge simply because their songs were released in the 70s and are a little bit funky.

So, I do what anyone who loves soul would do – I embrace them, purchase their records regardless, and endure the taunts of my less enlightened musical friends.

the best song

I know that as soon as I write this I will think of a dozen songs that contradict what I’m about to say – there is one soul song, labelled (with some justification) as disco that I think is just fabulous.  So much so that in 1983 I finally succumb and go out and buy not one, but three albums.

on the radio

I first heard On The Radio in 1979 and, at first find it difficult to believe that it’s Donna Summer.  Every other song I’ve heard from her sounds like someone lying broken and bloodied in the middle of the road having just been sideswiped by a truck (although, as I understand it, that is not the impression she was aiming for).

I thought, and still do, that this song is just divinely written and sung.  It starts off with a cool slow groove and by the time it up-tempos and clicks into that disco groove it’s too late, you’re hooked.  And, like it or not – Donna Summer’s voice is magical.

Disco may be dead – but Donna was and still is superb.

What a lot of people don’t realise is that Donna (we’re on first name terms, she calls me Greg Who?) wrote the lyrics for most her songs including this one.

for the record

The three Donna albums I bought were the disco based Bad Girls, The Wanderer, and She Works Hard For The Money.  The latter two were a purposeful move away from disco as she tried (successfully) to break into the mainstream pop market.

love on the radio fax

  • Love on the Radio was released three times in 1970.  As a single, and as a track on both Bad Girls and Greatest Hits Volumes 1 & 2 Album.
  • It was written as part of the soundtrack to the movie Foxes.  The movie’s tag line is “The city had it coming.”  I’m not sure what that refers to.  I don’t think it’s disco music but it could well be.
  • It was Donna’s tenth Top Ten hit.
  • In 1983 Country singer Emmylou Harris released a ballad version.
  • BTW – Donna was discovered while singing backup vocals for the 70s band Three Dog Night – everyone sing along now, “Jeremiah was a bullfrog…”
  • Donna has won five Grammy awards.
  • On The Radio lyrics.

Brown Sugar – The Rolling Stones – 1971

April 11, 2011

The Rolling Stones - Sticky Fingers album coverfree stuff

My Dad worked on the waterfront.  He was always coming home with free stuff – some good, some useless. 

For instance, one time he turns up with a couple of large cartons of pineapple juice.  Having never tasted anything so exotic we proceed to drink pineapple juice at every available moment until even our sweat smells fruity.  Eventually the inevitable – we glance at each other and realise, if we even look at another pineapple juice can there’s going to be some serious regurgitation!

Anyway, that’s all irrelevant.  The point is, sometimes the stuff my Dad brings home is pure gold.  Like the day he turns up with a copy of The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers album. 

how my dad got sticky fingers

Having been a seaman himself, Dad had a number of sailor friends.  He would catch up with them when they were in port. 

On this particular occasion one of these mates produces the aforementioned album and says, “Maybe one of your boys would like this.” 

Turns out it belonged to one of his sons.  Back home, the kid had had it on high rotation.  The family contracted a serious case of Stones’ aversion.  So, when his ship set sail, my Dad’s mate takes the album with him just to give the rest of the family a break!

my dad’s assessment

The Rolling StonesThere are two things my Dad wasn’t.  He wasn’t a great lover of music.  Neither, quite obviously, was he a prophet.  I recall vividly his reaction when he hears the album.  He stands at the door to our bedroom and declares, “This jungle music will never last.  You wait, give it a year and these guys will be forgotten.”

That was 1971.

our assessment

My brother and I decided the album contained the most exciting, punchy, music we’d ever heard.  And Brown Sugar is typical of that high-energy rock ‘n’ roll.

brown sugar – how come you taste so good

Brown Sugar is the first track on the album.  It’s not necessarily the best track (Wild Horses) but stands out because it’s typical of so many Stones hit songs.  Like (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Paint It Black, Start Me Up, and so many others, there is a guitar intro. that is both uniquely distinctive and yet, immediately recognisable. 

I used to joke that The Rolling Stones had just one song which they kept re-releasing with different lyrics.  And, it’s true, there are similarities between so many of their songs, but they are compelling, draw-you-in, high octane rock ‘n’ roll – that cannot be denied.  Brown Sugar is classic Stones magic.

Of course, what we didn’t know was the explicit undertones lying behind the lyrics – nor did our Mum or I’m sure it would have been confiscated. 

my one sticky finger disappointment

Our album cover didn’t have a working zipper.  The original covers, designed by Andy Warhol, had a zip that could be pulled down to reveal a pair of white cotton underwear.  Our album was obviously a later edition and featured a photograph only.

brown sugar fax

  • On Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time, Brown Sugar is listed at #490.
  • The song was sung as part of the Stones’ set at the infamous Altamont concert in 1969 although it was not released on vinyl until April 1971.
  • While Jagger and Richards are credited with writing Brown Sugar, it was essentially a Mick Jagger solo composition.
  • In 2003 The Rolling Stones were planning to play a gig in China.  This was one of four songs they had to agree not to play because of the lyric content.
  • Brown sugar lyrics.

a  note for guitar players

Many guitar players struggle to work out how to play songs by The Rolling Stones.  This is because many songs, such as Brown Sugar, are played in Open G tuning.  That is, instead of the strings being tuned EADGBE, they are tuned DGDGBG.  Then, to complicate matters, Keith Richards often removed the bottom string from his Telecaster when he played – strange but true.

Tracy – The Cufflinks – 1969

April 8, 2011

The Cufflinks Album - Tracydisclaimer

Yes, I know… bubblegum music…. hardly what you expected after a post featuring Led Zeppelin.

bubblegum defined

For the uninitiated, Bubblegum music was a real music genre, just like disco, punk, heavy metal and that cowboy stuff that granddad listens to.

More than a style, however, Bubblegum music really a clever marketing ploy.  It was;

  • a big part of the musical landscape from 1965 – 1975.
  • aimed to appeal to teens and preteens.
  • based on the sales of singles, not albums.
  • created more its monetary value more than its musical value.
  • repetitive and easy to sing along to with simple chords and words.
  • usually about romance but often with a double entendre.
  • devoid of any musical solos – especially guitar solos!

but here’s the thing

Most bubblegum music was contrived by producers and marketers using session musicians and not real bands.  For this reason, many of the songs were destined to become one hit wonders by bands that no one ever saw. e.g. 1910 Fruitgum Company, The Banana Splits, and The Archies.  The latter being a cartoon group whose hit Sugar, Sugar, was Billboard Magazine’s #1 single for 1969 and the most successful of all bubblegum songs.

Many of the ‘bands’ spawned huge merchandising empires.  Their marketing included Television shows, comic books and a plethora of merchandise.  Such bands included The Monkees, Josie and the Pussycats and H.R.Pufnstuf.

how I met tracy

Tracy is the first record I ever bought.  Sad but true – but remember, I redeemed myself by buying Whole Lotta Love pretty soon after.

And why did I buy Tracy?  Because I liked it, okay!  It was fun and soft and sugary, just like all of life was back in 1970.

20c it cost me.  I wandered down to Edwards Sounds one Friday night expressly for the reason of buying it.  Then I did what we all do when we get a new record – I went home and played it over and over.  It must have driven my parents crazy but then, when a guy’s only got one disc what’s he supposed to do.  I’ve still got it.  That’s a bargain, work it out 20c worth of entertainment spread out over 41 years.

Life is so much simple when you’re a kid.  You must have noticed that.  No commitments, no responsibility.  And bubblegum music reflected that.  It was light and breezy.  If bubblegum was a season it would be summer for sure.

The other thing to remember is that way back then – in the olden days – bubblegum music wasn’t as “soft-pop” as it seems today.  It was middle of the road stuff.  It was cool to like this sort of stuff (or is that just wishful thinking?)

The Cufflinks Greatest Hits And it was so easy to sing along to.  In true bubblegum style of the 210 words in the Tracey-lyric, 132 of them are “bah,” as in, bah-bah-bah-bah-bah-bah  (everyone now) bah-bah-bah-bah…. I think you get the idea.

The thing I can’t believe about the Cufflinks is that they actually released a greatest hits album – Tracy was the only song that ever charted with any real success.

 some tracy fax

  • When Tracy was released there was  no such group as The Cufflinks.  The voice is provided by Ron Dante a record producer and session musician.  He recorded the vocal track 15 times and over-layed it so that it sounded like a full band.
  • Ron Dante also sang the lead vocals on the song Sugar Sugar by The Archies – another band that never existed.
  • And, one more thing about Ron Dante – he was Barry Manilow’s record producer – man, this guys career just went from one dizzy height to another!
  • Unlike most bubblegum ‘bands’ The Cufflinks did put out an album.  It took Ron Dante a day and a half to record the entire thing!
  • Tracy became so popular (12 weeks in the American Top 40) that a band with real people was formed and, wait for it, it still tours.  Although the only remaining original member is the guitarist – kind of weird, if you ask me.
  • There is a Tracy by The Cufflinks Facebook page.  From the entire world’s population, 15 of us have hit the like button.  That makes me one in about 53 million!
  • Tracy lyrics.

what we’d all like to know

So, what’s your favourite Bubblegum song?  Click the comment button and tell us about it – everyone wants to know!

Whole Lotta Love – Led Zeppelin – 1970

April 3, 2011

Robert Plant and Jimmy Pagebeginnings

So, there I am.  6:30am at the gym.  Barely awake. Rowing with the coordination of a drunken elephant.  Ears assailed by the usual bombardment of hip-hop.  Pondering the blogoshpere’s first and foremost question – how on earth does a guy begin a blog?

And then, the music gods smile upon me. 

familiarity breeds contentment

The familiar opening riff to possibly the most un-gym like song ever written reverberates through the place.  Not just any song.  This is the perfect song because, for me, this is where it all began.  Led Zeppelin’s  Whole Lotta Love.

the day Led Zep came to town

1972 – February 24th to be precise, just 13 years old, I went to my first ever live rock ‘n’  roll show.  My ticket cost $2.99, a week and a half’s earnings from my newspaper round, and my father said I was crazy.

Led Zeppelin – the band Rolling Stone magazine called, the world’s heaviest rock band.

My recollection of the show is that it was a glorious musical sandwich.  Filled with Led Zep’s finest tunes sandwiched between my two favourites.  Opening to those plaintive cries that signal the start of Immigrant Song and finishing with the distinctive intro to  Whole Lotta Love.

whole lotta energy

Led Zeppelin II album coverWhole Lotta Love was one of the few singles Led Zep ever released.  You see, the band had a musical philosophy.  They believed each album needed to be seen as a single entity and so refused to allow individual tracks to be lifted from them.

Of special note is that Stairway to Heaven, often referred to as the greatest rock song of all time, was never released as a single.

In the United States, two versions of Whole Lotta Love were released as singles.  One featured the album version in its entirety, the other was considerably shorter having been exorcised of the freeflow guitar solo in the middle (they left out the best part!).

some Whole Lotta Love fax

  • Rolling Stone mag. listed this song as number #75 in the list of the 500 all time greatest songs.  (Stairway to Heaven was #31) and #11 in the list of 100 greatest guitar songs of all time.
  • The song was released as the first track on the album Led Zeppelin II in 1969 but was certified Gold in the US in early 1970 – that counts as a 70s song for me!
  • The band were sued by American Blues singer Willie Dixon who claimed the song bore a remarkable resemblance to his song, You Need Love.  The band settled out of court and Dixon’s name appears in the credits as a co-writer.
  • Whole Lotta Love is the only single the band released in the UK.
  • Whole Lotta Love lyrics.

 can you remember…

Can you recall the first live show you ever went to?  We’d all like to know what it was – leave a comment!