Song of the Day, November 26: Romance by Any Trouble

AnyTroubleRomanceToday’s song is Romance from Any Trouble’s amazing debut Where Are All the Nice Girls? Clive Gregson and company created one of the finest post-punk dissections of emotional gambits, and this is one of the highlights. Over a propulsive beat, Gregson looks at the rituals of romance questioning both their effectiveness and sincerity. With all the effort to be cool and present the perfect facade, where is the honest needed to make a real go of things? He implicates himself with bracing honesty:

Love’s the only promise I could never keep.

It’s a smart package, saved from sheer bitterness by the real sense of humanity that holds the song together. Enjoy this smart bit of cynicism today.

Song of the Day, November 25: Did You Hear the Rain? by George Ezra

EzraRainToday’s song gave us the first glimpse of a promising new talent. George Ezra made a strong early impression with his smart songwriting and rich, resonant voice. He landed a coveted spot on the “BBC Introducing” stage at Glastonbury in 2013, and parlayed that into a record deal. He took his time crafting his first release, the EP Did You Hear the Rain?

The title track — later included on his first full-length release, Wanted On Voyage — is an impressive start. It opens with an almost industrial feel, a driving beat that keeps the song moving. Once his vocals kick in, however, things take on a gospel feel. The blend of musical textures creates a powerful little epic. Ezra doesn’t use his baritone as a crutch, exploring his full musical range to good effect as the storm swells around him.

Enjoy this marvelous song today.

Song of the Day, November 24: Field of Mars by the Church

ChurchBlurredToday’s song is Field of Mars from the Church’s powerful second album, The Blurred Crusade. Written and sung by guitarist Marty Willson-Piper, it’s a dark epic. Willson-Piper makes references to fields of many types and casts his eyes to the night sky, leaving it unclear whether this Field is terrestrial or otherwise. Its bare expanse mirrors his sense of emptiness, however, and he captures that feeling with a restrained delivery. His trademark guitar swirls around that of Peter Koppes, a chiming echo of loneliness. The Church made a quantum leap in musical quality on this disc, and The Field of Mars is one of its finest moments.

Enjoy this powerful song today.

Song of the Day, November 23: ’39 by Queen

Queen39On their finest album, each member of Queen had one truly magical moment. A Night At the Opera was the moment when the Queen sound fully emerged, a clever blend of camp, drama, bombast, emotion, and musical diversity. Guitarist Brian May crafted ’39, one of the best songs the group ever recorded.

It’s a mostly acoustic sci-fi ballad about the perils of time dilation. And it works. Really. May’s protagonists go on a journey into space, seeking out new worlds for the human race as their old world slowly dies. Because of the vagaries of near-light-speed travel, they return home younger than their grandchildren to a world farther gone. It could be a hokey conceit or a cosmic mess, but May and company invest it with such humanity that it becomes a gorgeous parable. The minimalist delivery helps. May famously asked John Deacon to play double bass on the song, intending it as a joke. The next day, Deacon hand learned his part on the instrument, one of several delightful touches. Freddie Mercury and Roger Taylor provide sparkling harmonies on the chorus, rounding out the sense of a folk fable delivered with passion.

Enjoy this beautiful song today.

Album of the Week, November 22: Solid Air by John Martyn

MartynSolidIn late 1971, John Martyn released a masterpiece. After four solid albums of contemporary folk — often tinged with blues or jazz elements — Bless the Weather was a revelation. With stronger songwriting, more experimental vocals, and a much broader musical palette, Martyn created his own jazz-folk sound. After several months of touring with the material, he entered the studio and recorded the single May You Never. Dissatisfied with the result, he regrouped, adding another eight songs  and entering Basing Street Studios in December 1972. Somehow he managed to nearly match the brilliant power of Bless the Weather, creating another landmark album that has inspired generations of  musicians.

Album Solid Air
Act John Martyn
Label Island Release Date February 1973
Producer John Martyn and John Wood
U.S. Chart  n/c U.K. Chart  n/c
  1. Solid Air
  2. Over the Hill
  3. Don’t Want to Know
  4. I’d Rather Be the Devil
  5. Go Down Easy
  6. Dreams By the Sea
  7. May You Never
  8. The Man In the Station
  9. The Esy Blues

The kickoff is a stunner. Dedicated to Martyn’s friend Nick Drake, it’s a jazzy meditation on isolation. With a delicate vibraphone line from Tristan Fry, the song doesn’t sound like anything else in the Martyn catalog. Somehow it also fits perfectly, announcing another burst of creativity and growth.

Over the Hill is a bright kiss-off song, with Martyn declaring his independence from the forces that try to hold him back. It’s the most traditional of the set, with an almost Appalachian feel propelled by mandolin (Richard Thompson), autoharp (Simon Nicol), and fiddle (Sue Draheim). Energetic and engaging, it harkens back to Martyn’s roots without losing any of the creative energy. Don’t Want to Know is a more rock oriented number with a smart piano line. An urgent call for love in a dark world, it keeps the energy crackling. This trio is one of the strongest sequences in Martyn’s catalog, a nice exploration of determination.

The lone cover on the disc is a gripping version of Skip James’ I’d Rather Be the Devil. A surging blues backdrop moves the song along, breaking down into a spacey guitar solo. The musical landscape evokes an underworld journey, then the drums kick back in and Martyn rocks his way out of the song. Go Down Easy is an acoustic number featuring a vocal in Martyn’s highest register. It’s a quiet ramble into a peaceful glade, a romantic idyll that provides a nice antidote to the Devil.

An almost Shaft-style guitar opens Dreams By the Sea, a driving, funky number. With a squalling sax and syncopated rhythm, it conjures up the nightmare images of the title. Martyn’s rapid-fire vocal is flawless and bold. Things calm down with a new version of May You Never, a song that became a staple of Martyn’s live shows for the rest of his life. A charming invocation of well wishes, it’s another nod to folk’s traditional roots. Acoustic but not demure, it features a very different vocal that’s just as effective.

The Man In the Station uses keyboards to create a dreamlike feel. Each verse ends with a smart burst of percussion as Martyn promises to catch “the next train home”. The rapid changes of pace capture the sense of waiting and impending travel, and the band pull the train into the station with enthusiasm. Things wrap up with The Easy Blues, a fine jaunt that would be a standout on most albums but serves more as a coda on this powerful journey.

With the one-two punch of Bless the Weather and Solid Air, John Martyn shattered genres and declared his stylistic independence. He would continue to chart his own course for another 35 years, blending more jazz, worldbeat, synth, and modern rock sounds into the mix. A pioneer and a unique talent, he never released an uninteresting album, but he never quite matched the fire that burned in 1971 – 73.

Billboard #1s for the Week Ending November 23, 1985

This week’s Time Capsule!

Chart Title Act Weeks
Hot 100 We Built This City Starship 2
R & B Part-Time Lover Stevie Wonder 6
Country I’ll Never Stop Loving You Gary Morris 1
Adult Contemporary Separate Lives Phil Collins & Marilyn Martin 2
Rock Tonight She Comes The Cars 1
Album Miami Vice Soundtrack / Jan Hammer 4

MikeMechSilentRunThis week sees another member of Genesis launch a successful side career. By this point the trio’s vocalist and drummer, Phil Collins, was a bona fide chart champ with a quartet of #1s to his credit; former Genesis vocalist Peter Gabriel notched a couple of minor hits and was about to be a chart-topper in his own right. Bassist and guitarist Mike Rutherford put together a stellar band of session stalwarts including vocalist Paul Young (of Sad Café, not the solo star), drummer /producer Peter van Hooke, and keyboardist Adrian Lee. Also on keyboards and vocals was stealth star Paul Carrack, who managed hits in more line-ups than almost anyone.

With a polished sound and a great array of talent, the group put out their first single, Silent Running, which sneaked onto the chart at #95 this week. With a passionate Carrack vocal and nice guitar work from Rutherford, the song eased up the chart, eventually peaking at #6 in an impressive 24-week run. Despite Rutherford’s continued work with Genesis and Carrack’s many obligations (and solo career), the group has continued to record somewhat regularly. They managed their own chart-topper in 1989 with The Living Years.

That feat makes Genesis an odd sort of chart monster, with #1s by the band itself (Invisible Touch, 1986), a former member (Gabriel, with Sledgehammer, which managed to dethrone Invisible Touch), and two current members (Collins and Rutherford).

Song of the Day, November 20: Walk Away by P!nk

PinkWalkBy her third album, P!nk was a chart force to be reckoned with. Although Try This was — relatively speaking — a commercial disappointment, it was a far more creative and mature work than its predecessors. P!nk collaborated on the disc with Rancid singer and guitarist Tim Armstrong, and their energy works well together.

Their finest moment is Walk Away, a song of disappointment, confusion, and determination. More restrained than most of the singer’s famous kiss-off songs, it has a quiet energy that builds as she details the disintegration of a relationship. She moderates her vocals nicely, allowing the lyrics to speak as loudly as the delivery. It’s a fine performance that hints at the angry grace she would refine over her next few discs.

Enjoy this great song today.

Song of the Day, November 19: You Don’t Know Me Anymore by John Tams

TamsDon'tKnowToday’s song is the glorious opener to John Tams’ finest album. By the time he recorded Home, Tams had a long career working with others and leading bands. He put together a sterling band for his first solo album, and they were a well-honed unit when he made the second. They provide a perfect musical setting for You Don’t Know Me Anymore, the first track on the disc. Tams is in fine voice, delivering a country-folk ache of a vocal as he looks at the end of a relationship. He simultaneously declares his independence and laments the loss of something fine. Straightforward but far from simple, it’s a wonderful musical statement and a standout in an impressive career.

Enjoy this powerful song today.

Song of the Day, November 18: Season Cycle by XTC

XTCSeasonToday’s song is a thematic centerpiece of XTC’s finest album. Skylarking has strong natural rhythms, and Season Cycle represents them well. A joyous celebration of all that nature has to offer, it finds Andy Partridge in especially fine voice. With his best naive wonder, he points out the seasonal changes on his ride through the year. The music conveys the feeling of a cycling tour, moving round and round as the lyrics whirl by. It’s a lovely conceit, beautifully exectuted.

Enjoy this fun song today.

Song of the Day, November 17: Black Wings by Tom Waits

WaitsBoneWingsToday’s song is the narrative of a mysterious stranger. Tom Waits is a master storyteller, building compelling tales that often contain menace or madness but always resonate with a palpable humanity. One of his finest albums is Bone Machine, a stark set of songs recorded in a room that Waits describes finding:

it’s just a cement floor and a hot water heater. Okay, we’ll do it here. It’s got some good echo.

The setting works nicely for the songs, especially the avant-folk of Black Wings. The song describes a powerful, dark figure lurking at the edges of an incomplete story. Waits uses his finest rasp to tell the tale and provides smart backing with his distinctive guitar work. In a career filled with odd glimpses and fragments, this is a standout.

Enjoy this story today.


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