Category Archives: The Rolling Stones

#169 – 25 or 6 to 4

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#169 – 25 or 6 to 4 by Chicago

 – Sometimes there’s nothing like a solid horn section to punch up a great rock ‘n’ roll song. For me that feeling goes back to the early days of Little Richard (though I was too young to actually experience it at the time) when a dirty-sounding saxophone raged over his pounding piano. And even today since a young Little Richard is never too old for the digital age of listening, the volume is worthy of being turned up whenever The Upsetters – his backing horn section – kick it in with him.

The same can be said for Bobby Keys and The Rolling Stones. Brown Sugar would not be the same song without his sax, even if Keith Richards and Mick Taylor had practiced what Keef refers to as “the ancient art of guitar weaving” for the instrumental break.

Saxophone was one of the founding instruments in rock ‘n’ roll. But as also a big fan of rhythm & blues, soul and Motown, a horn section with brass trumpets and trombones are also requirements. I have a feeling any promoter suggesting James Brown, Otis Redding or Marvin Gaye could have cut costs by leaving the horns at home would have found himself with nothing but an empty stage to promote.

But when I was finally old enough to experience what was happening in the world of pop music, it was the beginning of The British Invasion. Other than The Dave Clark Five with Denis Payton on sax, groups featured guitar players. Even when American groups counterpunched with The Byrds and The Lovin’ Spoonful, no one was blowing into anything other than an occasional harmonica – and that includes Bob Dylan.

With a horn section!

In May 1966 The Outsiders caught my attention with Time Won’t Let Me and a great backing horn section. Then later that summer The Beatles released Revolver with the Motown influenced Got To Get You Into My Life. But it wasn’t so much that horns were changing the pop music we were listening to. It was more like pop was borrowing from the other styles to give us a lesson in what a big segment of the youngest baby boomers was missing by only listening to our local Top 40 AM radio stations.

What does that have to do with 25 or 6 to 4? I’ll tell you…

I remember a slight bit of personal confusion when Chicago hit big in 1970. Pop had morphed into rock and the main engine driver was a high-powered electric guitar. Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Pete Townshend and Eric Clapton were making that notion very clear. Horns could be a great background enhancement, but none of our radio favored bands seemed to have these jazzy players as permanent members.

So with embarrassed hindsight, my perception of Chicago predated the lyrics Dire Straits sang a few years later in Sultans of Swing:

They don’t give a damn about any trumpet playin’ band. It ain’t what they call rock and roll.

But then Chicago changed that.

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Their innovative style as a band in the pop-rock world wasn’t really new. Al Kooper’s original Blood, Sweat & Tears made the scene in the late 1960’s and was the first group I took notice of that had a permanent horn section. But just like the subsequent version led by David Clayton-Thomas, they were too jazzy for my tastes.

It ain’t what they call rock and roll.

Chicago’s first LP under the name Chicago Transit Authority went unnoticed by me. But the opening riff of 25 or 6 to 4 when it was released in June 1970 definitely caught my attention. It rocked. And I don’t think I’m saying anything dedicated classic rock fans will object to, but it struck a rock chord by sounding a lot like Babe I’m Gonna Leave You by Led Zeppelin. And then the horn section came in over the grungy guitar and…

That’s what they call rock and roll.

This sound was coming in through my grungy brain on the morning of September 4th. It rocks its way into the recent memory category because I had just heard it. In fact, this song has occasionally crept into my Top 25 list of Most Played Songs that iTunes so conveniently keeps track of. And by the way, in case you can’t tell from the countdown aspect of these Classic Rocker ramblings, I enjoy that feature immensely.

I should have been more welcoming to the brassy horn sounds of Chicago. But as mentioned, The Guitar Gods had taken hold of the rock scene. I say this because at the time I was a player that could have fit into either section.

My guitar fumbling (for lack of a better term) started soon after The British Invasion – like many other baby boomers. But my skills have never been anything to write home about. I tend to blame that on never having the best guitars. I went more for “looks” (does it look cool?) rather than ease of playing. But trumpet was the opposite. I had access to two very cool horns and a practiced ability to play them.

My interest in the trumpet didn’t start when my parents “told me” that’s the instrument I’d play in the junior high and eventually high school band. It was a tradition on my dad’s side that started with his father and continued with him. And believe me, they were both good players. Especially my dad who played bugle in the U.S. Navy and made trumpet his creative outlet by performing with numerous bands around where we lived. He could play anything from jazz, big band to marching band. I have memories as a very little kid going with my mom to watch his shows. He had invested in a very good (let’s call it expensive) trumpet in the 1950’s and yeah, he looked and sounded cool.

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My grandfather was a lot older than my friends’ grandfathers. He was 46 when my dad was born. I don’t know how young he was when he started playing, but know he had purchased a silver cornet in 1905 and was a member of the town’s concert and marching band. Not only do I still have my dad’s trumpet, but also my grandpa’s silver cornet – and the 1905 proof of purchase receipt.

Yeah, you could say I’ve always been good at hanging on to important stuff.

Herb Alpert & TJ Brass

I alternated between the trumpet and cornet when I joined the school band, but again – I didn’t have much interest. I thought the guitar was cooler. But in April 1967 I watched a television special by Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass and beginning at that exact moment – by the end of the show – trumpet looked pretty cool. I’m positive that I immediately went to my room and started practicing on grandpa’s cornet. My dad – most likely shocked but overjoyed at the same time – got out his trumpet and started teaching me. Before long we were playing duets and it became a father-son bonding I’ll always have with him.

Another totally shocked victim of my new-found love for brass was our junior high band director. For close to three years I had been languishing in the lower reaches of the trumpet section, barely able to make any type of recognizable musical noise. A few weeks after the Herb Albert TV special we had tryouts for “chair placement” and I aced it.

I still remember him staring at me – smiling – and wondering out loud why this happened “to him” when I’d be moving on to the high school band and a different director in just a few months. My band friends were also flabbergasted (again – lack of a better term) when I propelled past about 30 other trumpeters from the back end of the section to third chair. I never looked – or went – back after that.

Beatles Horn Section

But would I have wanted to be in a rock band like Chicago? Honestly, not in the horn section. As Paul McCartney once pointed out, his first instrument had also been the trumpet – also a gift from his dad – but you can’t play and sing at the same time.

Since that’s what I had in mind when I auditioned for the high school musical – and aced it – my trumpet playin’ band days came to an end. When I took off for college and later New York City, a couple guitars were in the back of my station wagon and the brass horns were left behind.

But they didn’t go unused, since I’ve always been good at hanging on to important stuff. More than a century after my grandpa bought his cornet and half a century after my dad bought his trumpet, my son Paul was playing both in the high school band. But now that he’s a professional singer, they’re both on the shelf waiting for the next generation.

And as for Chicago, they’ve also lasted for a few generations. Sometimes there’s nothing like a solid horn section to punch up a great rock ‘n’ roll song. And since there are still plenty of rock ‘n’ rollers from first generation baby boomers on down, I don’t hear that sound fading out any time soon.

Have a comment?

Please use the form below – and keep rockin’!

To watch the original Chicago lineup performing 25 or 6 to 4, check out this video…

 

 

To purchase Chicago’s Greatest Hits with 25 or 6 to 4 visit Amazon.com

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing

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Halloween Bonus Tracks: Top 3 Scariest Songs in Classic Rock

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Can’t you hear me knockin’?

– Somebody put the fear factor into what was once the classic holiday celebration line-up. Here’s how it used to go…

July 4th was an excuse to play pyromaniac and scare the heck out of our friends by making them dodge small explosives and sparklers for our enjoyment. There’s nothing like setting off a screaming missile during a crowded and fenced-in backyard barbeque for a few yucks.

Next was Labor Day when no one needed a doctor’s note to miss work. Scaring someone isn’t mandatory, but if you’ve got a few mini explosives left over from The 4th — then why not? The element of surprise is always a fun way to scare the heck out of someone.

After Labor Day it was a countdown to see how early the TV networks would start showing Christmas commercials. Usually the ads with Santa frolicking through plastic snow with shapely female elves were in regular rotation by mid-September. These ads would scare the heck out of us procrastinators, since each viewing would serve as a reminder of our bleak future as last-minute shoppers in crowded and fenced-in discount stores.

But those days have passed-away to the other side. Now the holiday celebration is all about scaring the heck out of someone and Halloween has engulfed the entire month of October. Oh the horror…

Too hot to handle!

I’ve seen front yards pimped-out with pumpkins, ghosts, skeletons and ghouls since Labor Day. The Christmas lights our dads used to hang outside while the weather was still warm enough to avoid doing a Clark Griswold on a slippery roof have been relegated to the attic for another month. The only outdoor lights I’ve seen draped over bushes and evergreens so far have been orange and black.

As usual, I blame the explosion of Halloween holiday extravaganzas on rock’n roll. After all, it’s a lot more fun dressing up as Kiss and Lady Gaga, than Santa and Mrs. Claus. But putting the Halloween scare in pop music is old school and didn’t just start when Michael Jackson moon walked with a bunch of Hollywood zombies, or Marilyn Manson watched Nazi Week on The History Channel and decided he had an act.

The influences can be traced back to 1958 when little kids in plastic masks and one size fits all costumes sweated out the image of a one-eyed, one-horned, flying purple people eater. The hit song Purple People Eater from part time cowboy actor Sheb Wooley (he was on Rawhide, my little cretins) hit number one on the music charts and inspired everyone from high school cheerleaders to your weird uncle to dress up like Prince and claim to be a people eater.

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Believe me this was scarier for kids of the 1950’s than it was watching Ozzy Osbourne cheer for another one of his kids on Dancing with the Stars.

Doin’ The Mash!

Then in 1962 Bobby “Boris” Pickett channeled his inner Karloff for Monster Mash. Thanks to Halloween locking this song onto every classic rock radio’s playlist, it’s a lock to say it probably earns more royalties per year than White Christmas.

But these songs were more fun(ny) than scary. They were novelty records and didn’t invoke lasting nightmares that stay with you whether the disk is on a turntable or buried in a shallow grave with your uncle’s Prince Costume in the backyard.

There are three album tracks by classic rockers that still give me the creeps in broad daylight and make a quick look under the bed a mandatory nighttime exercise. They have nothing to do with Halloween, but combine the spirits of Steven King and George Romero into a musical feast of electric guitars and deadly vocals that can cut through the darkness of any night.

When it’s done by the right band, it’s scarier than retro-disco night at the local PTA fundraiser.

So to honor the spirit of Halloween for what its become – a needed delay until my kids hand deliver their Christmas gift lists – here are…

The Top Three Scariest Classic Rock Songs:

#3. Dead Babies – Alice Cooper

I have the entire Killer album loaded into my digital playlist except for this song. That’s how much it creeps me out – big time. In his defense, Alice said it was supposed to be a statement against child abuse, but for teenagers in 1971, the year this album was unleashed, it was a musical play on a series of sick jokes going around junior high lunchrooms:

How do you make a dead baby walk? 200 dead babies and a sack of cement.

How do you make a dead baby float? Root beer, two scoops of ice cream and a dead baby.

Since I’m no longer eating lunch from a tray in a junior high cafeteria, I’m probably going to hell just for writing that. If nothing else, it creeps me out – big time.

As Alice would say, “Welcome to my nightmare.

This song was recorded by the Alice Cooper Band and not a solo from Vincent Furnier, who somewhere between releasing this disk and Billion Dollar Babies legally changed his name to Alice Cooper. For the other guys, it was worse than a sick joke. When the band eventually broke up, the lead singer owned their name. That would be like Paul McCartney changing his name to Beatles. For some reason, The Plastic Cooper Band wouldn’t carry the same image.

And image is what the Alice Cooper band was all about. When the group toured behind this album in 1972 we witnessed a makeup smeared transvestite in torn fishnets raging, threatening, and finally slashing away at plastic baby dolls on stage. Combined into a deadly medley with the LP’s final track Killer, he’s put on trial by his robe-wearing band-aides and lead to the gallows. The death dirge accompanying this dead man walking ended with Alice swinging from a noose, and then magically reappearing for an encore in white top hat and tails to sing Under My Wheels.

And it wasn’t even Halloween. If that ain’t creepy, I don’t know what is.

I’ll tell’ya what else is creepy – the video of Dead Babies from a 1971 live performance by Alice Cooper.

 

#2. Dazed and Confused – Led Zeppelin

I already know there’s gonna be some flack over this choice, but I’m going for feeling with this one. I actually did a crowd survey… okay, as much as I could standing in line at a convenience store behind some scary looking dudes who represent the new breed of metal rockers. I previewed two of my choices and here’s how they polled:

Dead Babies… uh, don’t know it.

Dazed and Confused… Are you high? What about SabbathMarilyn? Megadeath? Metallica

And you know what? Yeah, they’re all pretty scary, but they ain’t Jimmy Page. So shut the hello up and figure out who gave those guys the incentive to bring a dose of Black Magic and Goth into the realm of rock in the first place.

Maybe this is a selfish choice because of how I got introduced to the song. This is from Led Zeppelin… well, we call it “I” now, but it was their first album and back then nobody knew if there would be a “II.” My best friend had the disk and told me it was the scariest song he’d ever heard. It was night, we’re sitting in a dark room and he put the needle down (this was vinyl, you gremlins) on this last song from side one.

We sat there in silence and listened.

I’ve been dazed and confused for so long it’s not true…

Name a teenager who can’t relate to that and I’ll show you a Rhodes Scholar. And the deal is, once we figured out who these guys were, it just got scarier. The sound waves coming out of the speakers were blacker than the circles under Keith Richards‘ eyes at the crack of noon. It wasn’t the kind of rock where you jumped out of your seat and danced. Instead you sat there wondering if anyone was gonna get out of there alive.

The meaning of the song has been interpreted as either a girl stringing along a guy making him dazed and confused, or describing an acid trip that makes a guy dazed and confused. Either way it doesn’t matter. It’s the music and the emotion. Jimmy Page conjuring up Aleister Crowley by slashing a violin bow against his electric guitar is scarier than me calling the metal dudes at the convenience store punks without getting a ten minute head start.

Turn out the lights, slap on a videotape of the original Night of the Living Dead and put the needle down on Dazed and Confused. Trick or treat – punks.

For a pre-punk 1968 black & white rock’n roll video of Led Zeppelin conjuring up Dazed and Confused, check this out…

 

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#1. Sympathy for the Devil – The Rolling Stones

If Paint It Black was… well, black– then this one is as red as Keith Richard’s eyes at the crack of noon. The Satanic Majesties of rock had ditched the flower power facade they threw out in rainbow colors a full six months after Sgt. Pepper had already dosed everyone for a Summer of Love and traded in their flowers for a walk on the dark side.

The transition started with the 1968 video for Jumpin’ Jack Flash when the Stones wore enough rouge and eyeliner to make Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley sit up straight and think about a career move. But that was only a warning for the devilish dance Mick Jagger and his clan of deviants conjured up later that year for the opening track on Beggars Banquet.

This song launched a new era of bad behavior that even Flip Wilson couldn’t excuse with, “The devil made me do it.

The Stones were already on the Children’s Services black list for sex, drugs, drug busts and more sex by giving Mars Candy Bars a bad image. But when it was hinted they were into devil worship, the earth opened up and all hell broke loose.

Parents were horrified. Kids were mesmerized. The Stones were revitalized.

Sympathy for the Devil started as an acoustic folk song with Mick playing the part of Lucifer. Then Keith, the bluesman voted most likely to make a crossroads pact with the devil, added a tribal rhythm infectious enough to cause everyone in the recording studio to howl “Woo Woo!” at the moon.

Okay, maybe it wasn’t really the moon and only a microphone hanging from a boom stand. But if you’ve seen the movie One Plus One by Jean-Luc Godard who interspersed clips of the Stones developing this song with scenes of zombied-out models searching for something – anything – to rebel against, the microphone hanging over the group of stoned Stones and friends imitating a street corner doo-wop group could be a spaced-out metaphor for the moon.

Within a year Brian Jones, the once upon a time leader of this cult of musical personalities, was found at the bottom of his swimming pool. Five months later, after performing this song at Altamont, Jagger was quoted as saying, “We’re always having something very funny happen when we start that number.” In that case it was the stabbing death of a fan that got too close to a Hell’s Angels’ bike.

In a six minute percussion groove with piercing shrieks of electric guitar, Lucifer… ah, I mean Jagger, covers enough evil history to earn a Masters in the subject. Since Ed Sullivan had him change the lyrics to Let’s Spend The Night Together only a year earlier, Sympathy For The Devil would’ve put him over the edge and left him spinning in his prime time crypt.

For a visual trip to the other side, check out this video from a 1968 David Frost Show appearance by The Rolling Stones singing Sympathy For The Devil– with Brian Jones on the piano. It’s in glorious black & white, like the glorious original Night of the Living Dead… BOO!!!

 

Have a comment?

Please use the form below – and keep rocking’!

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing

#173 – Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey

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#173 – Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey by Paul and Linda McCartney

Paul & Linda

– There’s a short section of road along the south shore of Lake Erie that I drive almost every day. It’s about seven or eight miles from where I’m currently holed-up and for some reason, more often than not, I’m reminded of Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey.

This is a bit of a mind game for me because that doesn’t happen anywhere else. Yeah, certain places might remind me of certain songs, but this is a constant. I make a slight curve, glance up a short hill of mowed grass and regardless of whatever one of the thousands of songs on my playlist is coming through the car speakers, the title of this hit from the 1971 album Ram will flash through my brain.

I know… strange.

Smile Away 4 the camera!

In trying to put my memories together I know the album was released that May, less than a month before I graduated high school. I’ve never owned a vinyl copy, but had an 8-track that I played so often the cover photo of Paul holding the horns of a ram showed serious signs of wear and tear by the time I graduated college four years later. By that time, 8-tracks were relegated to either ancient history or collector’s items. It’s now on my digital playlist – which is a current technology that fools me into thinking I’m not that ancient – but I hadn’t heard it in awhile.

So when I woke up with the song playing through my mind on August 25 it immediately went into the subliminal category of Dream Songs. And I guess that makes it a double-whammy when it comes to mind games (and yeah, I was thinking of the John Lennon album as I wrote that) because I also know I’ll drive past that mowed hill of grass within the next day or two and whammy! Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey will be subliminally traveling with me again.

Since the song wasn’t released as a single until later that summer I can only guess it was already receiving radio airplay in advance, or I had propped my state-of-the-art portable 8-track player on the passenger seat of my mother’s car (since I didn’t have my own), using the cigarette lighter as a power source. If Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey was playing all those decades ago while – by chance – I was cruising along this piece of road, it must have made quite the mental impression.

I have no other explanation why that happens. But there is another memory…

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There was bit of a red flag feeling that went up with this song. The Beatles had been the most consistent hit-making band since I was a preteen in 1964. The Rolling Stones had been around almost as long, but were only just moving into their Golden Era off the LP Let It Bleed and released the month before Ram, Sticky Fingers. Led Zeppelin had also become a favorite, but both groups were still in the rear view mirror when it came to The Beatles.

Two thirds of writers

With three major songwriters competing for spots on their albums, you knew there wouldn’t be a dud in the bunch. John Lennon and Paul McCartney regularly supplied number one hits and George Harrison had come into his own as a writer. The winter before he seemed to pass the other two as a solo artist with the classic LP All Things Must Pass.

John had become the Working Class Hero and Paul once again demonstrated his talent with his first self-titled album and the single Maybe I’m Amazed.

And though boomers continued to hold out hope for a Fab Four reunion after Abbey Road and Let It Be, Paul’s second LP Ram (with his new writing and performing partner, wife Linda) really made it clear there was a major separation between him and his former mates as songwriters.

But we should have seen it coming…

When you listen to Abbey Road, the actual final Beatles record (Let It Be was recorded earlier and released later) it was obvious then. Harrison’s Something and Here Comes The Sun, and Lennon’s Come Together are mainstays in Beatles Best Of collections, near the top in Beatles song rankings and highlights in the decades later LOVE show in Las Vegas and the CD.

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McCartney’s main contributions to the album (other than song snippets with Lennon’s on the side two Medley) were Maxwell’s Silver Hammer and Oh, Darling! Don’t get me wrong – I love both. But they’re more light-weight pop songs and when compared to the before-mentioned Lennon and Harrison classics they never seemed to rank as high on the Beatles Hit Parade.

There’s no doubt McCartney deserves every award and accolade he’s received. But when the hard rockers were taking over in the early 1970’s he seemed to be moving a few steps back into the pop category. Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey has always been a favorite, but releasing it as a single during Spring 1971 didn’t help raise his cool factor.

Rock and rollers

To put it into perspective, as mentioned I was graduating high school. At our graduation parties where dancing and 3.2% beer were legal and common for 18-year olds in Ohio at that time – do you think we were rocking out to Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey or Brown Sugar, Gimme Shelter and Whole Lotta Love?

No need to answer. If you’re a first generation Classic Rocker, I’ll rest my case.

Ram was a huge hit in 1971, along with just about everything involving any of the Beatles during this era. Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey may have been too pop for much of the Woodstock Generation and too close on the heels of the bubble gum music fad that drove many of us away from AM radio, but McCartney was still writing great tunes and rocking out. One of them, and undoubtedly my favorite from the album, is Too Many People, which came in at #261 on this Dream Song list. It’s rare when an artist has two songs on this list – let alone two songs from the same album (other than a Greatest Hits Collection). It’s just another example of McCartney’s ability to write catchy tunes.

Oh, there’s one other lasting memory…

My dad had a favorite uncle. He was much older and lived in Michigan, but they were always close. And of course his name was Uncle Albert. The first time my dad heard this song coming from my transistor radio at our family bakery, he stopped working (for a brief moment), looked at me, smiled and said, “Uncle Albert?” Yeah, I’ll always have that memory.

Have a comment? Please use the form below – and keep rockin’!

Since I don’t know if the McCartney’s ever performed the song live or made an official video, here’s something I’ve found online. The song is heard over family home movies, which will give you an idea of what Paul and Linda were doing following the breakup of The Beatles and before the mega-success of their group Wings.

 

 

To purchase Ram with Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey (along with Too Many People and other great tracks) visit Amazon.com

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing

 

 

#178 – Sir Duke

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#178 – Sir Duke by Stevie Wonder

 – Motown was everywhere in the 1960’s. If your transistor radio could pick up a Top 40 station, regardless of where you were located, you heard the hits coming out of Detroit scoring big-time on the music charts. Even in the midst of The British Invasion deejays would spin new releases by The Supremes, Temptations and Four Tops as often as they did The Beatles and The Dave Clark Five.

My claim to being a pop music know-it-all and future Classic Rocker didn’t fully gel until Ed Sullivan introduced us to The Beatles on February 9, 1964. But the roots had already been digging in. When I was about nine or ten years old I had a friend who lived across the street. And he had something I didn’t:

A teenage brother.

Per tradition when it comes to teenagers dealing with younger siblings and their immature friends, we as little kids were not allowed to go in his room or touch any of his stuff.

And of course as little kids, that’s exactly what we would do when he wasn’t home.

The 12 year old genius

A magnet for us would be his record player and collection of 45 rpm disks, usually scattered around his bedroom floor. The ones I remember most were Big Bad John by Jimmy Dean (1961) and Fingertips Part 2 by Little Stevie Wonder, released on Motown’s Tamla label in 1963. He was billed as “The 12 Year Old Genius,” which told us he wasn’t a teenager either.

On the few occasions we were caught red-handed in his room and subject to firsthand demonstrations of Big Time Wrestling moves until we could break away and run out of the house screaming for parental intervention, I never thought of using this age gap as a self-defense weapon. Why the heck were little kids banned from this treasure trove of infectious music when the teenager himself was a fan of The 12 Year Old Genius?

I answered that for myself a few years later when as a teenager I ordered my little sister to stay out of my room and never touch my stuff. If these age gap rules weren’t followed, her punishment would be the same Big Time Wrestling moves I had learned the hard way while listening to Big Bad John and Fingertips Part 2.

And in case you’re wondering about the title, the live recording was too long to fit on one side of a 45 rpm vinyl. So like the classic Isley Brothers’ rocker Shout, Fingertips was edited into two sections. Part 1 was actually the A-side of the single. But thanks to Stevie’s hyper-excited close to the live performance and his “Goodbye, goodbye” ending chorus that we hoped would go on forever, deejays played the B-side and that’s the title that hit number one on the music charts.

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As time will do with all of us, we grew older over the years. But unlike with my circle of teenage friends during the mid to late 1960’s, Stevie Wonder was making hit records. He also dropped “Little” from his billing and by the end of the decade he was a mature artist blazing a trail through funk and soul music. I guess that also earned him enough rock ‘n’ roll cred that he flew directly into my realm of fandom via a rock concert. It was during my final year as a teenager when he opened for The Rolling Stones during the legendary Exile On Main Street Tour in July 1972.

This was four years before the release of his mega hit double LP Songs in the Key of Life with the song Sir Duke, but his creativity had already been taking him in that direction. His latest album prior to The Stones’ tour was Music of My Mind and his next single would be Superstition.

We’ll get more into that concert experience in a moment, but first…

Songs in the Key of Life

Sir Duke joined this Dream Song list on August 12. I’ll call it Big Band Funk since it was a tribute to Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong (Satchmo) and others mentioned by name in the song and stands as one of the many highlights from Songs in the Key of Life. But since my vinyl copy is stored in the Classic Rocker Archives and I can’t recall hearing it since my son Paul’s junior high jazz band performed the song as an instrumental during a school program, it funks its way into the subliminal category.

Of course I had been a Stevie fan since Fingertips Part 2, but once he entered the Superstitious era I appreciated his genius even more. It had become a Christmas tradition that I would be gifted with an album. It started with Beatles ’65 in 1964 and Rubber Soul the next year (which I hijacked and started playing a couple weeks before). I remember The Stones’ Let It Bleed made the list, along with George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass and The Concert For Bangladesh.

In 1976 it was Songs in the Key of Life. The entire collection of songs, along with Sir Duke made both LP’s mandatory listening throughout the winter.

But now let’s return to the summer of 1972…

A new era

At the time Stevie Wonder seemed to be a strange choice to open shows for The Rolling Stones. With their roots in the blues, it was never a surprise when artists like B.B. King, Muddy Waters or The Ike and Tina Turner Review kicked off the concert experience. But Stevie Wonder didn’t seem that far removed from his 1960’s Motown hits and the once descriptive adjective “Little” before his name.

As I’ve mentioned in an earlier Classic Rocker, my pals and I saw the Exile On Main Street Tour at the Akron (Ohio) Rubber Bowl on July 11th. It was outdoor, festival seating – meaning you arrived early to find a good seat and stake claim to it. By the time we got to the outdoor stadium we were relegated to space halfway up in the stands and about a fifty-yard rush to the left side of the stage. Fortunately it was the first concert I had ever been to that had huge screens on both sides of the stage and we had close-up views of everything happening under the spotlights.

Also from our vantage point, we had no problem seeing a lot of what was happening below us on the football field that was jammed packed with fans.

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Keep in mind this was 1972 and things were different. The concert scene had been going through some recent changes…

The screaming teens that had turned Beatles and DC5 appearances into short pop music events had matured into The Woodstock Generation. If you didn’t at least try to look like a hippie with longer hair, bellbottoms and concert t-shirt, you probably looked out of place. Most Stones fans were also old enough to purchase alcohol, (3.2% beer if you were at least 18 in Ohio) and the smell of marijuana wafting through the air was as much a part of the scene as the music.

But that didn’t mean this entire scene was all that acceptable to the older generation.

One of my most vivid memories of this concert happened during Stevie Wonder’s opening set. We had all read about the violence and mayhem that followed The Stones on this tour. There were stories of violence and injury reports at almost every stop and there was no reason why Akron would be different.

Stevie and Mick Exiled on Main Street

Sometime during Stevie’s opening set a large contingent of policemen gathered at the end of the football field facing the stage. We all noticed – and all started watching. Then forming in a long line, they pushed and shoved their way through the crowd like they were zeroing in on a certain group. Again, we were all watching – only this time everyone started booing the cops.

About midfield they stopped and – apparently – tried to drag out a few hippies. We could only speculate it was a drug bust and it took everyone’s attention away from what was happening on stage. We could see it turning into a brawl and fans near the action were throwing bottles and whatever at the cops. I distinctly remember seeing blood on the top of one officer’s bald head.

Eventually the cops retreated. And as far as I remember, there were no arrests – at least on the field during the concert. The fans cheered as the cops withdrew and all eyes and ears went back to Stevie Wonder. And they stayed that way after the sun went down, the stage lights went up and the images of Mick and Keith kicking into Brown Sugar were projected onto the large screens at both sides of the stage.

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Here’s a video of Stevie Wonder performing Sir Duke.

 

To purchase Songs in the Key of Life with Sir Duke visit Amazon.com

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Dave Schwensen is The Classic Rocker and author of The Beatles At Shea Stadium and The Beatles In Cleveland. Visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com.

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