Song of the Day, March 27: Easy For You To Say by Linda Ronstadt

ronstadtclosereasyToday’s song is a smart moment by a master interpreter. By the time she recorded her 11th solo album, Linda Ronstadt was a superstar with a proven approach. Each disc included songs written by longtime friends and regular collaborators, a couple of classic covers, and a few songs by emerging songwriters. Get Closer is a solid effort that follows this pattern to good effect. The standout track was written by veteran composer Jimmy Webb.

Unlike the lush, intricate songs for which he is best known, Easy For You To Say is a simple track. It explores the frustration of a woman whose lover has abandoned her, offering shallow excuses. Ronstadt is in fine voice, mining the subtle ache of the lyrics nicely. She saves up her dismay for the chorus, smoldering as she sings the title line. With a crack band and smart production from long-time partner Peter Asher, she offers one of her finest moments on record.

Enjoy this beautiful song today.

Song of the Day, March 24: The Everthere by Elbow

elbowleadersfreeToday’s song is a touching quest for lasting love. Elbow are known for their smart lyrics, diverse musical approaches, refined musicianship, and darkly quirky worldview. On the finest track from their third album, Leaders of the Free World, however, they put a more hopeful lens on that view.

The Everthere opens in classic Elbow style: “All my saints have taken bribes, singing going, going gone…” As singer Guy Garvey intones a series of setbacks and harsher realities, he asks his romantic partner if he can count on her to be his Everthere. It’s a sweet sentiment, nicely set in a worried framework. The band blend beautiful restraint with just the right soaring touches, underscoring the yearning and hope in the lyrics.

Enjoy this beautiful song today.

Song of the Day, March 20: I Want to Be Here by case/lang/veirs

clvwanthereToday’s song is a magical celebration. When k.d. lang, Laura Veirs, and Neko Case combined forces as case/lang/veirs, they brough three compatible but distinct approaches to music into a lovely whole. Most of the songs are led by one of the trio, but the moments of full collaboration are even more special.

I Want to Be Here is a sort of quirky lullaby, a charming acoustic number with resonant background sounds. The three singers fuse their voices into a single instrument. It’s an amazing accomplishment, reminiscent of the finer moments of the Roches. Promising to live in the moment rather than be distracted by what might come, they offer a wonderful celebration of hope.

Enjoy this lovely song today.

Song of the Day, March 17: (Everytime I Turn Around) Back In Love Again by L.T.D.

ltdturnaroundToday’s song is the biggest hit of a successful 70s R&B group. In 1968, members of Sam & Dave’s backing band formed Love Men Ltd. in Greensboro, NC. They added a couple of members and relocated to Harlem. Jeffrey Osborne joined the band on drums and occasional vocals when they met him during a gig in Providence, RI. By 1974, they changed their name to L.T.D. (for Love, Togetherness & Devotion) and moved Osborne to lead vocals, signing with A&M. Their third album — 1976’s Love to the World — included the Top 20 hit Love Ballad, which also became their first R&B #1. The following year saw the group’s fortunes expand even further.

The lead single from Something to Love shot to #1 on the R&B chart and went to #4 on the Hot 100. (Every Time I Turn Around) Back In Love Again was written by Len Ron Hanks and Zane Grey, but L.T.D. made it their own. By this point, Osborne’s confidence as a vocalist was matched by his distinctive phrasing and smooth style. With the band providing a funky, soulful groove, he delivers an urgent but elegant story of a man overwhelmed by romance. It’s fun and energetic, a wonderful tune that fit into the disco mood of the country at the time while maintaining its own distinct flavor.

Enjoy this great song today.

Song of the Day, March 13: MacArthur Park by Richard Harris

rharrismacarthurToday’s song was a surprise chart smash — twice. The first version of MacArthur Park came about through a serious of interactions. Producer Bones Howe challenged Jimmy Webb to write a radio-friendly song with a classical structure in multiple movements. Webb rose to the challenge, crafting a four-part suite about the end of a romantic relationship. Howe offered it to the Association, but they passed. Not long after that, Webb was playing piano at a fundraiser and was approached by Richard Harris. The actor had just finished a successful run in Camelot and enjoyed singing, so he wanted to put together an album. Webb was skeptical, but the pair hit it off, and he wound up composing and producing A Tramp Shining for Harris. The centerpiece was MacArthur Park.

Famously complicated and filled with rich imagery, the song has been the object of admiration and scorn for nearly five decades. Webb was inspired to write it after breaking up with a long-time girlfriend whom he often met in the titular park. Although the song was released in 1968, he maintains that there were no psychedelic influences. The musical structure was a response to Howe’s challenge, and the images were adapted but literal.

Everything in the song was visible. There’s nothing in it that’s fabricated. The old men playing checkers by the trees, the cake that was left out in the rain, all of the things that are talked about in the song are things I actually saw. And so it’s a kind of musical collage of this whole love affair that kind of went down in MacArthur Park.

Despite its multiple movements and seven-and-a-half minute running time, the song was a smash, reaching #2 on the Hot 100 and #10 on the Easy Listening chart.

Even more surprising was its next incarnation. Producer Giorgio Moroder was looking for a classic 60s song to adapt to disco for Donna Summer. He ran across the Harris recording of MacArthur Park and knew he had the right one. He thought the range and dynamics of the song were a good fit for her powerful voice. The song was included in an 18-minute suite on her double live album. A radio edit became an even bigger hit than the Harris version, spending three weeks at #1 on the Hot 100 while the full suite topped the Dance chart for five weeks.

Enjoy the amazing original recording of this song and its fun disco successor today.

Song of the Day, March 10: Sometimes A Fantasy by Billy Joel

joelfantasyToday’s song finds a well-known balladeer make a different approach pay off. By the time he released his finest album, 1980’s Glass Houses, Billy Joel was a bona fide star. A string of Top 20 hits from Top 5 albums established him as an accomplished singer of story songs and romantic ballads. His pop smarts and subtle rock edge were a perfect blend, but didn’t always result in critical acclaim.

Glass Houses responded to that situation brilliantly, with Joel exploring a range of styles from poppy punk to edgy new wave to urgent new takes on his pop traditions. One of the finest surprises was a Top 40 hit about phone sex. Sometimes A Fantasy is a charming wink-and-nod look at romantic frustration. Joel turns in a great vocal, keeping what could be a smarmy rant into something simmering. The result, expertly supported by his long-time band, is an unexpected moment in a strong catalog.

Enjoy this fun song today.

Song of the Day, March 6: An Audience With the Pope by Elbow

elbowseldompopeToday’s song is a bit of whimsy with serious consequences. By the time Elbow recorded their fourth album — the Mercury Prize winning The Seldom Seen Kid — they had refined a distinctive sound drawing on many traditions. A finely tuned unit, the quintet blended all their sounds in a smart variety of ways. Singer Guy Garvey famously observed that guitar rock often neglected dynamic range, whereas Elbow wanted each album to be a journey.

An Audience With the Pope is a wry bit of obsession. Garvey sings of a series of obligations, including the titular meeting and “saving the world at eight.” In each case, however, he’ll drop everything “if she says she needs me.” So powerful is the grip of the woman who keeps him waiting that her summons trumps everything. It’s clever, urgent, and nicely delivered.

Enjoy this fun song today.

Song of the Day, March 2: Highs & Lows by Emeli Sandé

sandehighslowsToday’s song is a celebration of life. Emeli Sandé’s magnificent second album explores the challenges of life and live in a diverse musical setting. The penultimate track is one of the finest. Highs & Lows is a joyous song, with a choir supporting Sandé’s amazing vocals. It’s a smart exploration of the tribulations of everyday life and the value of having a partner on the journey.

HappyCouple5x7This is the perfect song to celebrate the 15th anniversary of my wedding to my wonderful husband, Michael. We’ve seen a lot of highs and lows together, and it’s all been better having him by my side.

Enjoy this wonderful song today.

BONUS: This live version filmed for Later… With Jools Holland shows off Sandé’s real vocal power.

Song of the Day, February 27: You’re No Good by Linda Ronstadt

ronstadtnogoodToday’s song launched Linda Ronstadt’s career as the queen of the chart cover hit. After a solid start with the Stone Poneys, Ronstadt released a string of country-pop albums with moderate success. Her breakthrough album, Heart Like A Wheel, featured a broader mix of sounds tied together by the smart production work of Peter Asher.

As they were wrapping up the disc, Asher suggested that Ronstadt include a song that regularly closed her live shows. You’re No Good was written by Clint Ballard, Jr. in 1963, a soulful takedown of a no-good lover, with the singer recognizing the error of her ways taking up with such a cad. It was originally recorded by Dee Dee Warwick; Betty Everett had a Top 5 R&B hit with the song, and the Swinging Blue Jeans went Top 3 in the UK with their interpretation.

Asher and Ronstadt struggled to find the right sound for the song, scrapping the original recording in favor of a dark, haunting rendition. Regular collaborator Andrew Gold layered in moody guitar and keyboard work, and engineer Val Garay made the most of brooding strings arranged by Gregory Rose. Ronstadt turned in a much grittier vocal than usual, nicely suited to the lyrical content. The combined effort resulted in the finest version of the song and Ronstadt’s first Top 10 hit.

It went all the way to #1, setting the stage for a series of well-chosen covers released as Ronstadt singles over the years. In fact, 14 of her 21 Top 40 hits were chart singles for other artists first, although her versions often out-performed the originals.

Enjoy the magnificent moment of classic pop today.

Song of the Day, Febrary 24: Quite Ugly One Morning by Warren Zevon

zevonbaduglyToday’s song is a delightfully charming look at life on the day after nuclear Armageddon. Warren Zevon’s 1991 album Mr. Bad Example is classic Zevon, blending dark tales, wry wit, odd characters, and sinister dealings. The finest moment is Quite Ugly One Morning.

Opening with the ominous “Don’t the sky look funny? Don’t it look kinda chewed-on like?”, Zevon offers a make-the-best-of-it pitch for dealing with the day after. He’s in great voice, with the desperate wink behind the lyric shining through his vocals. While the “flash of light” mentioned in the chorus makes the subject clear, the elliptical nature of the song lets the devastation apply to many kinds of tragedy, a nice Zevon twist. The singer’s regular collaborators provide stellar backing with multi-instrumentalist David Lindley contributing exotic elements on the saz and the cümbüş. The result is wonderfully engaging.

Enjoy this delightful song today.

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