Category Archives: blues

#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.

Copyright 2018 – North Shore Publishing

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#188 – All The Young Dudes

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#188 – All The Young Dudes by Mott The Hoople

 – This song has carried more than a few heavy connotations since it was released in July 1972. It’s been called the anthem for glam rock and an anthem for gay rights. But according to the composer, David Bowie, it was neither of those. In later interviews he said All The Young Dudes carried the same meaning as the opening song on Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars. Titled Five Years, the character of Ziggy warned the earth only had five years left before it died.

In All The Young Dudes, the dudes “carried the news” predicting the planet’s final meltdown. In other words, it wasn’t written to be an uplifting song.

Bowie also claimed to have written it especially for Mott The Hoople who was on the verge of breaking up. He liked the band and thought a hit song would keep them together. But according to different versions of this story, the band’s recording and concert timelines during spring 1972, along with the existence of Bowie’s own version rumored to have been meant for his Ziggy Stardust album, the true origins of this song are still shrouded in mystery.

You can hear Bowie’s / Ziggy’s version on YouTube at this LINK.

As teenagers in 1972, we didn’t know any of that. It was simply a great song and worthy of turning up the volume whenever it came on the radio.

A Hoople fashion statement

With hindsight it’s possible to see how All The Young Dudes can be associated with glam rock and gay rights. The seeds for both were flowering in the 1960’s with rock stars already cross-dressing and baby boomers rejecting many of the strict morals handed down by older generations. If you’re not following me on this, check out the flower children from The Summer of Love that gradually morphed into the hippies of The Woodstock Generation.

In 1971 the Alice Cooper band hit the scene with I’m Eighteen. And when they made the scene in concerts and television appearances, their makeup and clothes made them look like poster boys for walk of shame partiers the morning after a wild night in a glam bar. A year later Bowie kicked the movement up notch releasing Ziggy Stardust and touring North America looking like… well, nothing we’d ever seen before.

It wasn’t long until a new wave of bands sported glitter makeup, silk flairs and platform shoes. And that wave included the dudes in Mott The Hoople.

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I definitely wasn’t wearing makeup in 1972, or anytime before, during or after the “glam period” of rock ‘n’ roll. So at least I have that going for me… ha! But the flairs on my trousers were pretty wide and would have picked up every speck of dust and glitter from dragging across floors if not for the high-heeled shoes a lot of us dudes were balancing on. Those long-gone fashion statements (thankfully) only exist now in old photos and memories, which is also how All The Young Dudes made it onto this Dream Song List.

Of course I own a copy on my current digital collection, but hadn’t included it on a recent playlist. So carry the news that this one has glammed its way into the subliminal category.

David Live

I’ve always loved the song, but by 1972 buying single (45 rpm vinyl) records had been replaced by album collections. And to reemphasize the constraints of being a college student on a budget during that era, Mott The Hoople lost out to LPs by Bowie, Alice Cooper and few others. So the first version of All The Young Dudes I owned was by the originator on his 1974 album, David Live.

So again, was it actually written for Mott The Hoople? Bowie seemed to like it an awful lot himself…

Though I don’t have any specific memories for this song, I have a slight one that involved the lead Hoople himself, Ian Hunter.

As mentioned in a few past Classic Rocker ramblings, during the mid 1980’s we’d occasionally hang out at a legendary NYC music club called Tramps. To add a little bit of specificity (an awkward, but fitting word) to this tale, our night of choice was usually a Monday. The weekend partiers were tucked away somewhere recovering from Fridays and Saturdays, so we never had to worry about an overcrowded scene. We’d have plenty of room at the bar or grab a table in the back to watch the night’s jam session.

The Monday night resident band – a loosely knit group of blues and rock musicians – was called The Bullies. One of my best pals was the semi-regular piano man and the main reason why Tramps became our semi-regular destination.

One Monday afternoon he called and said Ian Hunter was planning to come in and jam for a few songs. Since that would be a definite celebrity moment for any rock fan, our core group met up and headed for Tramps.

Ian Live

The band stomped out a few classic twelve bar blues and three chord rock ‘n’ roll classics and when they took a break, Ian Hunter walked into the room. And though he probably stopped wearing silk flairs and platform shoes a decade before, there was no mistaking who he was. But instead of plugging in a guitar, he sat down at the piano, which meant my best pal was relegated to sitting at the table with us during the next session.

I remember giving him a few digs about Hunter not wanting to jam with a commoner, but it didn’t faze him at all. We thought it was cool to hear some classic rock and blues from a great group of musicians that happened to feature Ian Hunter, which was the main reason we hung out on Monday nights while the real commoners were still recovering from weekend cover charges and drink minimums.

I don’t remember having a specific conversation with Hunter after they finished the set. My pal may have talked with him about keyboards, but that would have been it. But that’s the beauty of NYC. On a Monday off-night he was just another talented musician hanging out in a local music club with a group of music fans.

Except in the back of my mind I’m sure I was replaying the Mott The Hoople version of All The Young Dudes.

Comment? Please use the form below and as always… Keep Rockin’!!

Here’s a video with Ian Hunter and Mott The Hoople doing a glam lip sync of All The Young Dudes.

To purchase The Essential Mott The Hoople with All The Young Dudes visit Amazon

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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 2017 – North Shore Publishing

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Then visit Dave’s author page on Amazon.com