Category Archives: rock music

#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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#180 – Sloop John B

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#180 – Sloop John B by The Beach Boys

 – Here’s something I’ve mulled over in my Classic Rocker mind the past few decades. I’ve been to four Beach Boys concerts and have seen a different lineup of the core five members each time.

Let me explain that better…

The Beach Boys were the three Wilson brothers, Brian, Dennis and Carl, their cousin Mike Love and Brian’s high school football buddy Al Jardine. And yeah, I know Wilson neighbor David Marks is considered an original member and played on their early albums, but by the time the band was releasing hit singles competing with The Beatles and other British Invasion groups on the pop charts, Marks had left. Also Bruce Johnston came on in 1965 to take Brian’s place in live performances and has been with the band longer than Ronnie Wood has been with The Rolling Stones.

But the first-mentioned five are the only Beach Boys inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. So we’ll use them as the core lineup.

Now after that brief diversion, let me get back to my explanation…

On the really big “shew”!

The Beach Boys are one of the few major U.S. hit-makers outside of Motown that I remember paying attention to during The British Invasion that started with The Beatles first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. Because of finances as a preteen making only a few bucks every week working in the family business and mowing lawns, I had to be selective in my record purchases. Any new release by The Beatles was worth the bike ride to my local record store. Otherwise a song would need to really grab me to dig into my reserves and make a purchase.

The Beach Boys scored more than a few of those. I don’t need to list the classics since I’m assuming you’ll know them all anyway. But I’m proud to say I pretty much wore down my 45 rpm vinyl singles of I Get Around and California Girls, just to name two.

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But somewhere after the release of their classic album Pet Sounds and The Summer of Love in 1967 when Sgt. Pepper and the psychedelic music craze changed everything from pop to rock, The Beach Boys seemed to disappear. I don’t remember them making the transformation – for lack of a better term. It may have had something to do with their follow-up LP Smile not being released, but I’ll go ahead and take the blame for not paying closer attention. We were getting more into albums, so when the singles Heroes And Villains came out in 1967 and Friends the next year, I didn’t discover them until the early 1970’s.

And speaking of the ’70s…

Central Park 1971

I had a personal transformation during the summer of 1971 when I watched a television special called Good Vibrations From Central Park that featured The Beach Boys. Honestly, I didn’t even know they were still together. But the real shock was how they looked. They had somehow morphed into the Woodstock Generation by ditching the surf band striped shirts and white slacks for hippie bellbottoms, long hair and beards.

They played hits including Good Vibrations, but also a completely unexpected version of Okie From Muskogee. It was a cornball country novelty song as far as I was concerned (sorry Merle Haggard), but somehow The Beach Boys sounded and looked cool doing it. They also had a crowd of New York City hippies in Central Park singing along.

Their comeback became official later that year when they were on the cover of Rolling Stone and released the LP Surf’s Up, which I consider a classic and one of my favorites. I was back to being a fan.

So what about the core lineups? Okay…

I grew up outside of Cleveland, Ohio and can only guess I was home from college for Thanksgiving Break when I took my girlfriend to see the reinvented Beach Boys at Cleveland Music Hall on November 20, 1971. It was a smaller venue with great acoustics compared to the larger Public Auditorium next door and the band, with a horn section sounded great.

Of course Surf’s Up was featured, along with the hits.

In the smaller venue there was more interplay between the band and audience. I remember some guy yelled out, “Where’s Dennis?!” Carl answered back, saying Dennis had hurt his hand and not with them. And since Brian had stopped performing, that concert only included core members Carl, Mike and Al.

A memory from that show includes Al Jardine’s guitar strap breaking and his acoustic guitar dropping onto the stage. As the exasperated father yelled on Meat Loaf’s Bat Out Of Hell LP:

“That’s no way to treat an expensive instrument!”

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Five months later on April 28th The Boys were back in the Cleveland area at John Carroll University. I can only guess I was on spring break from college and my girlfriend had dumped me, because I was there with two of my best friends. Dennis made it to this one and joined the core lineup with Carl, Mike and Al.

Since this was a college show it was a younger and more rambunctious crowd and there was a rush to get closer to the stage. Of course we were part of this music madness. Our pal Tim must have had some open running room in front of him and picked up enough speed that by the time he reached the stage the security guys grabbed him and kept his momentum continuing through the exit door. Locked out, he spent the end of the concert in the parking lot waiting for us.

I finished the concert close enough to be part of a small group that Mike Love allowed on stage to help sing the chorus of Barbara Ann. And yeah, it was very cool.

Brian & Carl Central Park 1977

My third concert included the entire core when Brian performed with the group in New York’s Central Park on September 1, 1977. I had only moved to the city a few months before and have an almost positive memory of going to the concert alone.

Well… okay, there were about a million other people there so it was far from a lonely experience.

As a Beach Boys fan, it was a real thrill to see the reclusive Brian Wilson on stage. And according to what I just found searching the internet to confirm this date, he sang lead on Sloop John B that hot, dry afternoon. And yeah, hot is a key word in that last sentence since we were in a late summer heat wave. I still have photos somewhere showing the band as small figures on a distant stage with clouds of dust  (from the softball fields?) hanging in the air.

Then I took a break for 22 years…

By the next time I saw The Beach Boys I was doing what a lot of boomers were doing when I was rocking out to the entire core lineup in Central Park. I was more mature and settling down with a family.

Making a return to northern Ohio I was writing concert reviews for a local newspaper. I was doing a feature on The Beach Boys at The Sandusky State Theater (near Cedar Point Amusement Park for all you roller coaster enthusiasts) and decided to make it a family outing. The date was October 22, 1999 and along with my wife Debutant Deb, sons 11-year old Chaos Kevin and 4-year old Dangerous Paul, we raided my once extensive collection of Hawaiian shirts so we could all dress surf-worthy for the show.

The Beach Boys

This version only included core member Mike Love and long-time member Bruce Johnston with their backing band. They were still billed as “The Beach Boys” since Love had legally secured the name from the surviving members, Brian and Al. Dennis had been gone since 1983 and Carl since only 1998.

The two cores and replacements reproduced the hits and we had the kids up and dancing for most of the show. And I have to admit it was great for a mature Beach Boys fan, though the other core members were very missed. It wasn’t the group picture I still have in my mind.

Sloop John B joined this Dream Songs list on August 9th. Brian Wilson rightfully deserves the title genius when it comes to his contributions and innovations to the 1960’s as a composer and producer, but he didn’t write this one.

It’s an older folk song that folkie Al Jardine suggested for the group. Brian did an updated arrangement and included it on Pet Sounds.

It’s one of my favorite tracks by The Beach Boys and even though Brian and Mike took turns singing lead on the recording, it turned into one (of many) that featured Carl during their live performances. Of course I own a copy and had just heard it, so we’ll surf this one into the recent memory category.

Have a comment? Please use the form below.

Here’s the 1966 promotional film for Sloop John B. If you haven’t seen it, it’s not what you might expect…

To purchase The Very Best of The Beach Boys: Sounds Of Summer with Sloop John B 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

#184 – Livin’ Thing

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#184 – Livin’ Thing by Electric Light Orchestra (ELO)

 – The album was called New World Record and when it came out in October 1976 ELO was pushed into the big time. Yeah I know, they’d had hits before and were far from unknown. In fact I’d already owned a copy of their greatest hits LP Ole ELO released earlier that summer, and had rocked loudly to Roll Over Beethoven and Showdown in college. But this was an entire album that had to be played like a single – from beginning to end. There was no dead space.

If my memory is correct, A New World Record is what launched the group that combined rock and classical music (they had a string section) into the huge stadium and sports arena touring circuit. It doesn’t get much more big time than that.

It was also a welcome relief for rock fans that were dealing with the early stages of disco music. I don’t mean to sound too critical because in retrospect, after a few decades to think about it, some of the memory-making disco hits of the 1970’s have been added to my digital playlist. I was never a member of the “disco sucks” regime, but I wasn’t a fan. We only danced to it because the girls did. And if you wanted to meet girls… well, you danced.

But I’d never spent my money buying disco records even when one of my favorite groups, The Bee Gees, became the poster boys for the genre. I still listened to Massachusetts and To Love Somebody and did my best to ignore the Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack – unless there were girls dancing to it, of course.

Played like a single

Livin’ Thing hit this big time Dream Song list on July 28th. Of course I own a digital copy of the album, but hadn’t played it in awhile. That places it into the big time subliminal category of songs I’ve woken up to with no discernible reason why.

It was just there.

October 1976 is also when I made a move for the big time, though I really didn’t know how big it would be at the time.

After graduating college that spring I still hadn’t decided what I wanted to be when I grew up (which is something I’m still trying to figure out). I just knew what I didn’t want to be – and that was living in Ohio working in the family business.

While actually growing up (before reverting to immaturity in college), both my parents had shown me there was more to the world (accidental reference to A New World Record?). We had never spent family vacations laying on a beach somewhere warm or just relaxing. Instead they took me to big time big cities where we exhausted ourselves running between shows, restaurants, shopping and sight seeing. I had experienced the hustle and bustle and loved it.

That’s where I wanted to be.

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So in October ’76 I made the decision to move to New York City. I didn’t know anyone there and really didn’t know what I would do, but there was a seed of an idea in my mind. Since I had just earned a degree in Business, I wanted to be in show business.

Something like this – only younger

While A New World Record was the vinyl of choice that month playing constantly on the portable stereo I had moved from college and into a small room behind my parents’ garage, I started making plans. And in case you want a dose of 1970’s decor, I had cleaned out the small room and made it habitable for a recent college grad with shag carpeting, dark blue walls, L-shaped cheap couches with a large white table and lamp over the “L” and a water bed.

In my opinion – cool pad.

I called a favorite high school teacher who was now superintendent of a school district near Cleveland. He had given me a lesson in show business by casting me in the lead role of our high school musical my senior year. He was someone that hadn’t been afraid to be creative and even a bit flamboyant (a favorite word of mine) in a sea of conservative teachers that quite frankly, bored me out of my mind in high school. This teacher had listened to The Beatles and Traffic with us during study halls, while the rest of the staff told us to cut our hair and quit wearing bellbottom pants that dragged on the school floors.

His wife answered the phone and when I told her I wanted to talk with both of them about careers in show business, she invited me to their house. When I arrived they had books on acting schools, talent agencies and talent managers. I talked about taking a chance and they encouraged me, which is a lot more than I can say for any other high school teacher I’d ever had.

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And yeah – that was another intentional dig at my former high school teachers. No credit deserved and none given. Period.

To me, taking a chance means going for the extreme. We only go around once, so make the most of it. As Elvis once said, we don’t come back for an encore. I didn’t think the members of ELO were much older than me and though I rarely watched television, I knew the young cast of Welcome Back Kotter and some of the other hit shows were also in my age group. So if I wanted to go from a Business Degree to the extreme of show business, I might as well try acting.

My NYC acting coach

While going through the books I landed on The Lee Strasberg Acting Studio. I’d heard of Lee from reading articles and interviews with famous actors. And by the way, that’s how I know I’m a genius (I’ve told my kids this theory and they’re like… well, I’ll continue anyway…). I still passed all my boring college business classes such as Accounting, Economics, Finance and others in which I had zero interest with minimal effort. But I would read Rolling Stone, People Magazine and the supermarket tabloids from cover to cover. My business interests have always included the word show.

I called the acting studio in New York and made an appointment for an audition at the end of October. But I’ll also make a confession here for anyone big time enough to continue reading these ramblings. As you can tell so far, Dream Songs isn’t only about the song, but also the memories it brings back.

I’d had a college girlfriend who broke up with me because I couldn’t make a commitment. To be honest the last thing I’d ever wanted to do was get married right out of college, settle down with a career job and raise a family. I could do that (and did do that) later. But I was at a crossroads with a big time move in my sights and wanted to make sure. So I called her to see if there was still anything between us.

The last time I’d seen her she had walked in my room, said she dropped out of school and her mother was waiting outside in a car to drive her home. It was a bit of a surprise and blame was thrown my way because of the commitment problem. But I didn’t stop her. In fact I partied like a frat boy for the next few months until graduating, but was suddenly feeling unsure.

ELO – Let’s hit the road and have some fun!

Believe me, the phone call made my decision. She was nice but obviously had moved on. I hung up, walked into the living room where my parents were sitting and announced, “I’m moving to New York.”

I’ve filled in some of the career blanks in past Classic Rocker posts and will share more that come to memory with upcoming songs. But A New World Record and Livin’ Thing provided the soundtrack in October 1976 when I drove to New York and successfully auditioned for The Lee Strasberg Acting Studio. Six months later found myself living among the hustle and bustle of Midtown Manhattan and embarking on a career no teacher could have ever prepared me for in high school or college. Goodbye small time and hello show business!

Have a comment? Please use the form below. Thanks for reading and keep rockin’!

Though I’m a fan of the entire album, here’s a video of Livin’ Thing from ELO.

To purchase A New World Record by ELO remastered in 2006 with extra 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