Category Archives: rock music

#156 – Smoke on the Water

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#156 – Smoke on the Water by Deep Purple

Deep Purple

– Two decades after this song came out Nirvana was grunge-ing about Smells Like Teen Spirit. But for boomers that frequented college parties and dance clubs when Smoke on the Water was released as a single in May 1973, after first appearing on the Deep Purple album Machine Head in early 1972, your sense memories should be drenched in teenage sweat at just the thought of one of the best known guitar riffs in rock, heavy metal and now, classic rock.

And like all great rock guitar riffs, you know exactly what song is playing after only the first couple notes. Chances are good you’ll also remember immediately jumping out of your seat and bouncing onto a dance floor whenever every local rock band cranked this one up to the max volume.

How am I so sure of that? Because that’s how I remember it.

I really don’t know what Nirvana was shouting about in the classic grunge-rocker from the 1990’s, but their song title fits what my sense memories recall from the pre-disco music scene in the 1970’s. I doubt there was any local rock band that didn’t have Smoke on the Water included in their repertoire – along with Roundabout by Yes.

And though I won’t earn any new classic rock fans and will probably lose a few by saying this, I remember both being way overplayed.

Did I just say that – really? Yeah, I did.

Blurred by 3.2% beer?

For a couple of years anyway, Smoke on the Water and Roundabout were guaranteed party-starters. The first notes of either song would cause a stampede of late teens and early twenty-somethings to abandon their “legal at age eighteen” 3.2 percent (alcohol) beers and jump around on a dance floor until the sweat of teen spirit was added to the already thick aroma of brew and smoke (as in cigarettes, which any twelve year old could buy at the time). These songs were such a sure thing to get everyone up and rocking we heard them so often I seriously can’t remember ever wanting to hear either again after we were done with the 1970’s.

That’s why Smoke on the Water joins this Dream Song list as a subliminal member. I hadn’t heard it in a long time, I’ve never owned a copy – and have no desire to change that. When the opening notes jolted me awake on October 15th I must have been unconsciously dancing under the covers since I was breaking into a sweat. I can only assume I was having a dream influenced by long ago teen spirit memories and was back on a dance floor jumping around like a college student powered by watered down beer on the last day of final exams.

Now, if you’ve followed these Classic Rocker ramblings you know I can’t leave you with just a general vague description of hearing Smoke on the Water at every music club we went to. There is one specific memory that jumps into my mind when hearing the opening notes…

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A few weeks after a bad breakup with a long time girlfriend (is there such a thing as a good breakup?) I escorted a new girlfriend to one of our local live music clubs. It was big place and typically crowded for a Saturday night. So of course, the first person I spotted was my “ex” hanging out with her pack of loyal girlfriends. With experienced knowledge you can’t learn in a college classroom, I immediately steered the new girlfriend to the opposite side of the club and found an empty table.

After ordering a couple 3.2% beers we suddenly had company.

To take the suspense out of this sense memory, it wasn’t the “ex” dropping by to say hello or put her cigarette out on my arm. Instead it was two of her friends that had obviously been given an assignment in espionage. Their mission (and they chose to accept it) was to scope out what the heck I was doing with this new girl and to gather any information and perhaps incriminating evidence that I may have been seeing her before the bad breakup with their friend.

Yeah, real teen spirit stuff.

They were on a mission!

Of course I hadn’t talked with the “ex” friends in what seemed like forever, but suddenly they acted like we were all new friends. Over whatever loud early 70’s rock the band was playing, we verbally danced over the obvious, “How are you?” “What have you been up to?” and more specifically, “Who’s your friend?” interrogation that was both awkward and annoying. But the new girlfriend and I handled situation like a team from Mission Impossible (the television series, since we were still decades away from the movies) with fake smiles, polite answers and another round of 3.2% beer.

Then Smoke on the Water came to the rescue.

When the local band hit the first few notes the current girlfriend grabbed my hand and gave me a look as if we’d been granted parole. I called out a (polite) “See’ya later!” and made a beeline onto the dance floor.

End of conversation.

After a lengthy version of Smoke on the Water that was most likely followed by the band’s cover of Roundabout, I suggested we go to another (probably hyped by me as better) club and we split the scene. I’m tempted to add I could feel a few sets of teen spirited eyes trying to burn a hole in the back of my head as we made for the exit, but that would only be speculation on my part. Where there’s no smoke (on or off the water) there’s no fire.

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Eventually the “new” became an “ex” and the first “ex” became a friend. Yeah, I know. It’s complicated. But in the teen spirit of the 1970’s, we all kept dancing – just with different partners in different places. But if I can assume at least one thing stayed the same after going our separate ways, it would be wherever we were and whatever local band was playing, we’d join the stampede onto a dance floor as soon as we heard the opening notes to Smoke on the Water.

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Thanks for reading – and keep rockin’!

Here’s a 1972 video of Deep Purple performing Smoke on the Water

To purchase The Very Best of Deep Purple with Smoke on the Water 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 2019 – North Shore Publishing

 

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#158 – Stay With Me

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#158 – Stay With Me by Faces

Faces

– Summer heat and a packed stadium of wannabe boomer hippies morphing into mod rockers. Okay, maybe you won’t think it was as game-changing as I’m making it out to be, but let’s put it this way:

You had to be there.

Since The Classic Rocker is all (well, mostly) about memories this song brings back more than a few – including the scene mentioned above. Rod “The Mod” Stewart, future Rolling Stones guitarist Ron Wood, future Stones keyboard sideman Ian McLagan, future Keith Moon replacement in The Who, Kenney Jones, and original Small Faces bassist Ronnie Lane were throwing a booze-fueled rock and roll party on stage and everyone was invited.

And it was a needed party. At least that’s how I remember it.

This was happening in July 1972 following my first year in college and the country was going through a very heavy scene. We were hearing a lot of message songs on FM and campus radio not only about protesting the Vietnam War, but also serious odes to peace and love and coming together as a community. These were important topics for our generation and had been growing stronger since the late 1960’s.

In the Navy!

It especially hit home when my age of U.S. males became eligible for the military draft. With the end of student deferments and low draft lottery numbers (mine was #52 which was way too low for comfort), some of my college friends had no choice about their futures. You either went in or went on the run.

It was pretty serious stuff.

We still had rockers like The Who and Led Zeppelin blasted out future classics with attitude, but a lot of music was meant to be listened to. Acoustic guitar playing troubadours with flannel shirts and denim bellbottoms dragging on the floor were a popular sound and style. But as teenagers in the early 1970s some of us could only sit cross-legged around a stereo digging the heavy vibe for so long until feeling the need to cut loose.

The Rolling Stones’ Brown Sugar had kicked off the summer of 1971 and offered us an alternate vibe. The message was sex and being wild – and if that’s not rock and roll someone needs to come up with a better definition. It had crunchy electric guitars, a heavy beat, a screaming saxophone from Bobby Keys and major attitude. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards weren’t going to waste their time or ours by standing around with acoustic guitars looking introspective and thoughtful.

As soon as the stereo needle hit the vinyl we were in a better place.

Faces also sang about rock’s main topics, backed by electric guitars, keyboards and a drum beat that made sitting cross-legged on the floor virtually impossible. And it was a heck of a lot of fun.

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Legendary as the ultimate ode to backstage groupies, Stay With Me by Faces – as opposed to “The” Faces, which would be like saying “The” Led Zeppelin – was a definite party-starter. The song closed the first side of their late 1971 album A Nod Is As Good As A Wink To A Blind Horse and opened my eyes on September 26th as a recent memory. It’s one of my all-time favorite rock songs (along with Brown Sugar) and rarely off my digital playlists for any great length of time. In other words, I had just heard it.

So, what did I mean earlier about morphing from wannabe hippies to mod rockers? It all started on July 3, 1972…

As a nineteen year old U.S. male home from college with the second year riding on the results of an upcoming U.S. military draft physical, I was doing my best to emulate the Woodstock culture of the boomers a few years earlier. The style included hair to my shoulders, a faded t-shirt and faded denim bellbottoms long and wide enough to drag on the floor. My three best pals were also clones of the look as we took off in a beater car for a major rock concert experience at the Akron (Ohio) Rubber Bowl featuring Cactus, Badfinger and the main attraction, Faces.

When we arrived, the stadium was already packed with like-minded hippie wannabes. But for some reason we felt brave enough (stupid enough?) to wade our way through the crowd sitting cross-legged close to the stage. When we reached a space that gave us a great view, we sat. Seriously – we just sat down, practically on top of the fans who were already there. I remember some teenage girls and guys giving us the evil eye and saying something about our arrogance (stupidity?) but it worked out. We were basically good guys and actually funny enough to resemble a hippie comedy team.

It didn’t take very long before we were making friends and they let us settle in for the show.

Come to think of it, we probably made these fast friends because one of my pals had hid a bottle under his shirt and was free in passing it around. Combined with the 3.2 percent beer we were allowed to buy from venders at the legal age of eighteen, everyone seemed pretty friendly and the atmosphere could be described as party central.

Badfinger

Except for being a hot, humid day in July with more dirt and dust than grass covering the stadium’s pre-Astroturf college football field, I don’t have any highlights of the opening acts to share. I don’t remember any of us being into Cactus. They might have been part of the country-rock scene out of California, which we weren’t into at the time. I was psyched about seeing Badfinger since they were a Beatles-related Apple band, but they were a bit of a disappointment. I have a memory of one or two of them sitting on stools while playing the hits we wanted to hear. Not exactly the rock and roll energy we expected.

Faces fronted by Rod Stewart were the complete opposite.

They rock and rolled, pranced and posed and made no secret they had a party central happening on stage. We were close enough to see bottles of booze on the amplifiers and they took healthy swigs before, during and after songs. I’m not sure if Stay With Me was the closing number, but I like to think it was. As a dedicated soccer fan, Rod kicked soccer balls into the crowd and at one point either he – or it might have been Ron Wood – landed on his butt after an especially energetic and booze-fueled kick.

We roared our approval.

But what did I mean about a change from wannabe hippies into mod rockers?

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Faces were far from being flannel shirt and denim rockers. They were decked out in brightly colored slim-fitting, wide lapel jackets, flashy shirts, bellbottoms and high-heeled shoes. There’s no way these guys would’ve felt comfortable walking through the mud at Woodstock or showing up for a military draft physical.

They were traveling in style. Which is something I started to do within a few weeks of the concert.

My goal was to fashion myself like Rod and the band with what I can only call a “rock and roll jacket.” It had to be slim fitting with wide lapels, which turned out not to be as easy to find in northern Ohio as it must have been in London.

Not as cool as this!!

After hours of driving with my concert-going buddy Gary to every clothes store we could find near and far from Cleveland, we finally wound up back in Akron at a then-known but now-gone 1970’s fashion trendsetter clothes store called Chess King (as opposed to “The” Chess King). A mod-rocker sales dude pulled out a jacket in my (tight) size and I reached for my wallet.

And even though muddy brown sugar would never be called a flashy color by Faces or London fashionistas, I proudly wore it to add mod to my rocker status.

To end this Classic Rocker rambling in a way I feel is even more dramatic than landing on my butt after an energetic and booze-filled soccer ball kick into a standing room only stadium crowd of boomer, mod-rockers, the military draft fizzled out only months before my lottery number was scheduled to be inducted. That meant the rock and roll jacket would be my main uniform during a second year of college.

That also signaled another needed party – and I’m sure I wore my jacket. And even though it didn’t inspire the Rod Stewart solo-hit, in my teenaged mind I probably thought it: You wear it well.

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Here’s a live video of Faces performing Stay With Me looking like 1972 rock and rollers!

 

 

To purchase A Nod Is As Good As A Wink To A Blind Horse 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 2019 – North Shore Publishing

#163 – It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me

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#163 – It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me by Billy Joel

 – When this song came out in 1980 boomers were still controlling the music scene, but something strange was starting to happen. Our rebellious nature had been focused on the older generation, but now we were feeling the push of a generation coming up behind us. They were tagged as Generation X and many of us considered them too young to be of any real notice as we continued to groove through our late twenties. It was noticeable when the punks and new wave bands of the late 1970s (with members born in the boomer generation) started calling our favs like The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Eagles and The Who “dinosaurs.”

I’ll go ahead and lay the blame on the newer and younger record-buying age group for pushing the latest vinyl 45 rpm singles to the top of the music charts during the late 1970s. My age demographic had been album-oriented since the late 1960s and the current singles really didn’t interest us.

If a new group didn’t have an album worth buying, we didn’t notice.

But teenagers were buying the singles, making them hits and influencing the latest styles. Since sales equals profit for record companies hoping to stay in the black (vs. going into the red and out of business) they focused on their new audience. And like boomers during our era, the latest look was influenced by new artists, which meant both the music and fashion trends were shifting away from us.

We had to adjust or join the pack of dinosaurs that risked going out of style and being labeled old.

Here’s what I mean:

In the late 1970s you could still be psyched about the latest album from your favorite band that had formed in the 1960s. Fashion-wise you could still maintain some type of cool looking like one of The Eagles from Hotel California, a disco freak from Studio 54, a punk rocker or Keith Richards. As a side note, the Keith Richards look always allowed for admittance into the other groups.

By the time we hit 1980 there was a major shift in music and fashion sense.

I was already three years into my New York City residency when I realized this new trend was taking over. Hippies were past tense, the Woodstock era no more than a memory, disco was dying, and punk was… well, for punks.

The music consisted of more electronics than guitars and the beat came from drum machines. To be fashionable and anti-prehistoric, the guys had ditched bellbottoms for skinny legs and shirts with skinny ties topped with loose jackets. Hair on girls would continue to get higher throughout the decade while the guys went shorter.

But again, the fault didn’t lie with my demographic of baby boomers. The younger crowd was coming into spending money and the music and fashion industries were catering to their newest and profitable big market.

It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me was a protest song about this.

A hit during the summer of 1980, Billy Joel defended our taste in music while still succumbing to a fashion statement in the song’s video that wouldn’t make him seem like a dinosaur. His shorter hair and skinny tie made that perfectly clear.

The song rocked enough to make adulthood challenged boomers still feel relevant while also signaling the end of our musical dominance. The 1980s would’ve only gotten worse for us if we hadn’t been saved by the advent of Classic Rock Radio. At least our hits would still be on the airwaves while it would be decades before our fashion sense became retro.

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It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me hit this Dream Song list on September 18th. I own a copy and it’s not an unfamiliar addition to my weekly playlists. But it hadn’t been recently. For that skinniest of reason, it goes into the subliminal category.

As a musician I was still playing what I felt was rock and roll at the time, even though it was a far cry from the rock and roll I lived for as a teenager. Over the previous decade bands like Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, The Who and yeah… even KISS had given it more volume, power and flash.

If you wanted to be in a rock band in 1980 you had to adjust.

I strummed here a few times!

After a couple years strumming an acoustic guitar and going nowhere fast in Greenwich Village folk clubs, I bought a bass and decided it was time to turn up the volume. Along with my pals Tim on guitar and Bobby on drums we formed a hard rock, high volume trio that we called Rox. I found out years later another band had used the same name and released an album, so in the end I guess they own it. But I also maintain we were first.

It’s just that no one outside of our NYC neighborhood ever heard of us.

As a band we spent more time rehearsing and recording than we did playing live shows. I thought it was mistake then and still do. Playing live really was the only way to be seen and hopefully discovered, but the others disagreed. Their logic was to record an album worth of original songs and sell it to a record company.

Rather than debate the merits of that decision let’s just say it didn’t work out.

But thanks to a good friend who worked as a producer of radio jingles and had been a fan of my earlier music in the Village clubs, we scored quality time in a state-of-the-art recording studio in Midtown Manhattan. She basically “piggybacked” us onto scheduled jingle recording sessions. If she had booked four hours for a jingle and it only took three to complete, we inherited the remaining hour. The result is that I own about three-quarters of a finished LP by Rox that no one outside the three of us and a few family and friends have ever heard. And to be honest, it’s pretty good.

Someday I should do something with it. But in the meantime…

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The few live shows we did were more concerts than club gigs. When the mood struck us, we’d rent a large loft near Gramercy Park, rely on friends to help build a stage (and I have no idea who donated the lumber for these “raves”), use a photographer friend’s lights, and borrow a sound system from another band. We’d schedule an opening act, print up flyers and end up packing the place.

These were hot, sweaty, energetic and LOUD performances. The crowd reaction was always great and called for encores until we ran out of songs. But instead of keeping the momentum going, my two band mates were content to spend weeks in rehearsal studios and hours recording our “breakout” album.

Again, it didn’t happen.

Fighting for Rock ‘n’ Roll

It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me was on the charts and video airwaves while all this was going on with Rox. And it reminds me of one live performance that was far from a concert since it was an audition for some type of talent show that was supposed to help us be seen by record people.

It was a Saturday morning (not the best time for rock and rollers) during the summer of 1980 when we carted our equipment via a NYC taxi to a studio in The Village. We set up in a room to play in front of a panel of about six people who would decide if we’d be part of this industry showcase.

Billy Joel’s video comes to mind because we played rock and roll but bowed to the current fashion trend. I remember wearing tight pants, white Capezio dance shoes, shirt with skinny tie and a white cloth jacket with the sleeves pushed up. I’m not sure what the other guys wore, but guessing it wasn’t too far removed from my look. The only real difference from Mr. Joel was our long hair.

The 80’s hadn’t changed us that much – at least not yet.

We were a loud and heavy band, but for some reason Tim and I had written the first – and only – slower, ballad type song we would ever do. It was called Forever and I played a very melodic bass line while Tim floated a flanged guitar effect sound over the top. Bobby kept a simple time on the drums, and I sang lead. By the end of the song it built into a heavier sound that I thought then – and still do – was very cool and more classic rock than ’80s hip.

When we finished the song, we were very pleased with how it went. However, one of the judges came over and asked if we could “turn down the volume” for our second song.

Say what?!

Turn it up to eleven!!

That definitely wasn’t what we were about as a band. We also realized, based on the judges looks (80’s hip) and attitudes (turn it down?) that this showcase wouldn’t be right for us anyway. The three of us came to a quick decision, scratched the idea of doing a more pop song we had planned and turned the volume on our amplifiers up to eleven.

We played one of the hardest rocking songs we’d ever written and recorded called Love On Wheels. I maintain we sounded like Guns ‘n’ Roses at least six years before any of us had even heard of Guns ‘n’ Roses. We also extended the ending lead guitar jam into what we called a Wall Of Sound and pretty much shook the building down to its foundation.

I remember a few of the judges walked out during our performance. I have a feeling their 80’s hipster ears were bleeding to the sound of Rox.

After finishing, we didn’t even wait for the “don’t call us, we’ll call you” decision. Laughing and giving each other high-fives, we dragged our equipment out onto the street, hailed a taxi and made it to our local neighborhood hangout for lunch and beers. A crowd of our friends turned the afternoon into a party and we never thought again about auditioning for a showcase.

We ended up doing one more huge loft gig that year before we split up – staying friends – for other career paths. In my case, my microphone and small practice amplifier were the only equipment needed to start a popular comedy club in our same neighborhood hangout that ended up taking me places and providing experiences I would’ve never dreamed of while protesting the “new sound” by being a rock ‘n’ roller in 1980.

Have a comment?

Please use the form below – and keep rockin’!

And speaking of protesting and defending rock ‘n’ roll in 1980, here’s Billy Joel doing just that:

 

To purchase The Essential Billy Joel with It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me 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 2019 – North Shore Publishing

#165 – I Want You Back

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#165 – I Want You Back by The Jackson Five

 – There was a popular television show when I was a kid called, I’ve Got A Secret. The song I Want You Back by a preteen Michael Jackson and his brothers has really nothing do with that, except for bringing back how I felt – sort of – when I first heard it in 1969.

The show was hosted by popular television personality, Gary Moore – not to be confused with the guitar playing Gary Moore decades later. A supposedly unknown person would be introduced, chalk his or her name on a blackboard and sit behind a desk with the host. Moore would give a panel of four celebrities a brief hint of what secret the guest was hiding, while the viewing audience would be given the answer at the bottom of our black and white television screens.

The two guests I remember most were Brian Epstein and in a separate episode, Pete Best. Brian’s secret was that he managed The Beatles while Pete’s was being a former Beatle. Of course, to first generation Fab Four fans, there was nothing secret about either guest and we immediately knew when they walked out to sign their name on the chalk board. But it was fun watching the older generation (I also remember Groucho Marx as an occasional guesser) try to figure out who these guys were.

My secret in 1969 was that I really liked The Jackson Five. It may not seem like such a scandalous admission now, but this was around the time when another great musical divide was occurring within the generational gaps.

Anyone have a driver’s license?

As mentioned in previous Classic Rocker ramblings, my particular segment of the boomer generation was too young to experience firsthand the beginning of rock ‘n’ roll in the 1950’s. The dangerous element was toned down into being popular music in the early 1960’s, then burst into the fab stratosphere as pop in 1964. This morphed into more rebellious pop-rock, drifted into hazy psychedelic and eventually just all-out anarchy rock toward the end of the decade. By early 1969 The Beatles had just released The White Album, The Who were promoting Tommy by trashing instruments and acting like punks before anyone ever heard of punk music, and we were just getting into Led Zeppelin.

Woodstock was only a few months away and by the fall we were listening to Abbey Road.

But there was another form of music “bubbling” beneath the surface labeled as bubble gum. My teenaged “just getting our driver’s license” crowd had zero interest in this AM radio takeover, even though we were often forced to listen since that was the only bandwidth our parents’ cars came equipped with at the time. Without doing an internet search, my recollections go to Donny Osmond and his Osmond Brothers, The Archies and… well, that’s the extent of how deep I want to go into the memory bank on this topic.

Bubble gum seemed to be music made for my little sister’s demographic and she was seven years younger than me.

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Now, there’s no way I can ignore Motown in the above listings. I suppose the Top 40 deejays tried to fit it into the pop music category, but we knew it was more than that. Hitsville in Detroit gave us more rhythm and soul than most of the light weight pop acts. Motown could sound clean and smooth, or hot and sweaty. My favorites were The Temptations with David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks, and The Four Tops with the great Levi Stubbs. But in 1969 Stevie Wonder was still trying to distance himself from the Little adjective that had been stuck on him for his early records and label head Barry Gordy was grooming The Supremes as a lounge act and Diana Ross for solo superstardom.

Okay, now that I’ve set the stage for what a sixteen-year-old boomer was listening to and my thoughts about it all, in the winter of that year we were presented with The Jackson Five and their first hit record, I Want You Back.

Kings of soulful pop!

First thought: This is a kid singing.

Second thought: This is great!

Now, I wasn’t sure if this realization would seem cool to my fellow-teenaged friends that, along with me, were listening to The Beatles, Led Zeppelin or The Who (and The Rolling Stones). But it was impossible for me not to turn up the AM radio dial or even sit still when hearing I Want You Back.

These kids just… Okay, did it rock? Was it pop? Bubble gum? It didn’t sound like the Motown of The Temps, The Tops or Little Stevie, but it couldn’t be ignored. At least by me and the millions of other fans that sent this record screaming up the record charts. Maybe it was because my little sister and her age group were finding their own musical personalities at the time and jumping on the Jackson (and Osmond) bandwagons. There was no reason why I couldn’t also make room on my playlist for this rocking’ and soulful family band.

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But like the television show, I had a secret. There was no way I could ask my friends to turn off Led Zeppelin and listen to The Jackson Five if I wanted to remain hip enough to look cool. So, without Groucho and the other panelists outing me on national television, I kept it to myself. At least for a while.

But here’s another secret…

Ed’s ready to bust a move!

The first time I saw The Jackson Five was on The Ed Sullivan Show. And one of the most memorable parts was how Michael and his brothers danced. So yeah, I wanted to dance like The Jackson Five. Too bad my feet, arms and… well, everything else could never move like that. It’s also too bad I never realized that when I was on a dance floor. More on that in a moment, but first…

I Want You Back danced its way onto this Dream Song List on September 10th. And yeah, I own a copy, it’s on my digital playlist and I had just heard it. So, this one moonwalks into the recent memory category.

I won’t pull any punches here. Myself and my buddies were far from possessing any soulful or rhythmic moves. I might have imagined myself as Michael or even Jackie (or Tito?) at our high school and later college dances, but reality has a way of exposing our secrets. For a description, if you combine The Twist with leg jerks and flaying arms as if you were being attacked by a swarm of mosquitos – it would look better than what we were doing. The effort might have been there, but the talent was missing.

I recently had a chance to reconfirm this no-so-secret admission.

A couple days ago I was just about to leave the house when I Want You Back came on. At this moment, at least for the first verse or two, time and commitments are forgotten. There’s no way to prevent a dance attack and I was doing my best twisting, jerking and flaying moves when I looked up and into a mirror directly in front of me. It was far from being Michael, Jackie or even Tito staring back at me. Of course, I didn’t stop – but from now on I’ll keep these moments between you and me.

Can you keep a secret?

Have a comment?

Please use the contact form below – and keep rockin’!

Here’s a video of The Jackson Five with a very young Michael on lead vocals performing I Want You Back.

 

 

To purchase The Ultimate Collection: Jackson 5 on Motown Records with I Want You Back 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 2019 – North Shore Publishing

#168 – I Want To Take You Higher

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#168 – I Want To Take You Higher by Sly & The Family Stone

 – At the risk of sounding like I’m standing alone in the middle of a large field with no one else to support my opinion, I believe every teenage guy that played an electric guitar in 1970 learned the opening riff to this song. Okay, maybe that’s too much of a general assumption, but I’m basing it on personal experience.

I fit that demographic and pretty sure I wasn’t alone.

Sly & The Family Stone were definitely not alone in a field when they took the crowd higher with this blast of gospel rock ‘n’ roll at Woodstock in August 1969. For the 400,000 people camped out at Max Yasgur’s farm in Bethel, New York – which over the decades grew to millions that claimed to be there –  the band’s performance was a festival highlight and a super charged Sunday morning wake-up call when they hit the stage at 3:30 am.

If anyone in that particular large field surrounded by people slept through it, I’ll make a general assumption they were in one of the emergency medical tents after dropping the brown acid the stage announcers warned festival-goers not to take.

How do I know this? Was I one of the thousands – later millions – who claims to have been at Woodstock?

Nope. I saw the movie.

Millions were there?

The Woodstock movie rolled through our area of northern Ohio during the summer of 1970. Most of us in my group of friends had listened to the three disc soundtrack LP, but the visuals proved to be an important part of the experience. I remember a carload of us (including my then current and future girlfriends – which is a different long story) heading to the theater decked out in our best hippie garb. In Ohio fashion sense, that just meant bellbottoms, a favorite t-shirt and probably blue-tinted round sunglasses. The girls enhanced their looks with southwestern style ponchos and yellow-tinted round sunglasses.

Yeah, we thought we looked cool.

For rockers the movie highlights included sets by The Who and Ten Years After. But the major impact for us came from Sly’s “Medley” performance of Dance To The Music, Music Lover and of course, I Want To Take You Higher. It was about 15 minutes of sheer energy and a main reason later to pick up the stereo needle on our soundtrack albums, place it back at the beginning of this song triad and listen to it again and again and again…

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It was also another reason to want to be in a band.

That was probably the biggest inspiration for my gang of friends to start planning our own outdoor music festival on the shores of Lake Erie. Now, that’s another long story that includes the transition between girlfriends at the same time, so I’ll save the results of this rock ‘n’ roll endeavor for another time. But basically it was just a group of high school friends looking for an excuse to have another party.

The preparation included forming a band that would headline this outdoor local extravaganza. Our first rehearsal was in a small room behind my parents’ garage. I had an electric guitar, but no amp. My best friend borrowed a bass guitar, but also had no amp. Our next move was to borrow an amp we could both use. We commandeered my dad’s drum set, which was vintage 1940’s big band style with a HUGE bass drum and only available because my dad had decided to focus his talent on playing the trumpet. We included another best buddy who didn’t have the talent to play anything, so we made him the singer.

And as another footnote, he really couldn’t sing. But it still gave us enough members to have a band.

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The final results didn’t improve much after this first rehearsal. We learned to play the riff from I Want To Take You Higher and… well, that was about it for that song. We’d play it, stop, look at each other, play it again, stop and repeat the process. We did the same with a couple Led Zeppelin riffs, The Rolling Stones’ Jumpin’ Jack Flash and then made plans for our next rehearsal.

Eventually we learned songs that were of the easier three-chord variety, like Blue Suede Shoes and Long Tall Sally, which in turn influenced the theme of our outdoor music festival. Instead of the hippie vibe of Woodstock, we renamed ours a “Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival” and now had a legitimate excuse not to play any song that had more than three chords.

Taking everyone higher!

But once again, I Want To Take You Higher and Sly’s performance in the Woodstock movie was the impetus to get our rock rolling. The song joined this Dream Song list on September 5th. The opening riff alone was a major jolt to my waking mind and no coffee was needed to kick start the day. But then again, I wasn’t going to skip my morning caffeine buzz just because my head was already buzzing. And since the song was currently in rotation on my digital playlist, it joins the recent memory category.

I don’t have any recent memories of Sly & The Family Stone, but they really made an impact all those decades ago. The more serious minded stoner hippie bands that stood on stage for too-long jam sessions were quite frankly mind numbingly boring for a group of 17 year old high schoolers looking for any excuse to throw a party, dance and laugh a lot. So when Sly appeared on the big screen and cut loose – it was like a rock ‘n’ roll magnet.

That’s what we were looking for – and that’s when we found it.

I Want To Take You Higher first came out in 1969 as the flip side of the band’s 45 rpm single, Stand. But I don’t remember anyone taking notice of it until Woodstock hit our local theater and the high-octane live version had us lifting up our blue and yellow round shades to get a better look.

I actually think I had the opening riff down on my electric guitar after only a few tries. It’s just too bad my borrowed amp wasn’t loud enough for anyone else to hear it.

Have a comment?

Please use the form below – and keep rockin’!

Here’s a video of Sly & The Family Stone performing a live version of I Want To Take You Higher (sometimes called Higher and Higher) from 1969. It’s not Woodstock but still brings the energy!

 

To purchase The Essential Sly & The Family Stone with I Want To Take You Higher 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

#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