Song 170, Thursday, 12/12/2013 -- Slim Slow Slider by Van Morrison, who also wrote the song. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. The YT video visual is just a still of the Astral Weeks cover, but there's a good chance this song might move you even if the visual part of the video doesn't. In the early '70s I often read references in Rolling Stone and other parts of the music press about Astral Weeks being a really remarkable record, and when I finally got around to hearing it, I could hear how good the record is, but I also felt like it was mainly an interesting side trip. It's not the kind of album I listen to very often, as good as it is, but when I'm in the mood to go there, then it's the best way to get to that mood and that place. However, this song, which closes Astral Weeks, is the one track from the album that I can listen to any time, any day, regardless of the mood I'm in. I like the way Van doesn't give you the details of the story, but instead paints a kind of impressionistic picture, with both the words and the music, that draws you into the scene but leaves the edges a bit unfocused.
Song 166, Sunday, 12/8/2013 -- Drivin' Wheel by Tom Rush, written by David Wiffen. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. The YT video visual is just a still of the Tom Rush cover, but this song moves along pretty well even if the visual part doesn't move. In 1970 Chicago-area radio was really good, and it introduced me to this song, from a current LP, pretty quickly convincing me that I wanted to get that record. The backing track almost sneaks in behind Tom's voice, but then really kicks in with the slide guitar, and keeps moving along for almost 5-and-a-half minutes, building to a point where the train sounds like it's leaving the station, whereupon it then fades into the distance, all in a song about feeling like some old engine that's lost its drivin' wheel.
Song 164, Friday, 12/6/2013 -- Flicker by Patti Rothberg, who also wrote the song. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. The YT video is a live performance of the song, which was the best I could find since she doesn't have a YT video of the album track, but I think she does a pretty good version of the song in the video, and you can hear it reasonably clearly, which is not always true of live video tracks. Friday being Friend's Day, today's song is by my friend Patti Rothberg. This song opens her first full-length CD, and pulls the listener into her musical world in a rocking but still understated way, with a sound that hints at a lot more to come. The music and the words of this song together paint a visual image of a distant flickering light, sparking interest and igniting a curiosity to get closer to that flicker and find out more about it.
Song 162, Wednesday, 12/4/2013 -- Small Change by Tom Waits, who also wrote the song. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. The YT video visual is just a still graphic of the Small Change cover, but even though the visual doesn't move, the song should keep your attention for the full 5-plus minutes of the video, plus there's a lot going on in that photo so you may want the whole time just to take it all in. While I do listen to some jazz, the form never interested me to the same degree as rock, folk, country and blues, but when I hear someone take that jazz influence in the direction of a track like this, it makes me like it a lot more. When I saw Tom on a TV special doing some stuff from the Small Change LP, I knew I had to get the record, and I did soon after. A couple of years later, I sold all of my LPs to lighten my load and get some change together for the hitch to CA. Later, living in Berkeley, when I began collecting LPs again, I got another copy of Small Change and noticed that a small change had indeed occurred to the title track. Apparently Revlon had threatened to sue if Tom didn't change a line, and in the process he also deleted a reference to whores looking like a certain actress, whose name rhymed with stilettos a bit better than the word prophylactics does.
Song 161, Tuesday, 12/3/2013 -- How Have You Been? by John Sebastian, who also wrote the song. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. The YT video visual is just a still graphic of the John B. Sebastian cover, but the video does give you a good song to listen to, even if it doesn't give you much to watch. A few people have compared my songs to John Sebastian, and I consider that a nice compliment. I've always really liked the positive quality of Sebastian's outlook, which comes through in both his music and his words, and I will admit that I have written a few songs mainly from the inspiration of a John Sebastian piece. I very well understand the story he tells in this song, as a musical hitch-hiker who's been traveling without much to carry, having been there more than a few times myself. A couple of further angles on the words of this tune -- to this day, I still wonder about that strange European guitar string that John mentions in verse 4, and I hope that the turtle from the L.I. Expressway is doing better these days in the back yard of the folks in the song.
Song 158, Saturday, 11/30/2013 -- Smokestack Lightning by Mike Harrison, written by Chester Burnett (Howlin' Wolf). You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. The YT video visual is just a still of the Smokestack Lightning cover, but if you play the video, you'll hear a really good song even if you won't see much. Radio in the Chicago area was very good to me, and to other listeners, in the early '70s, though it didn't stay that way for long, as industry consolidation took a toll on playlists and variety, but in 1972, when this record got released, you could hear it on Chicago radio. I only had to hear it a couple of times to know I wanted the LP. At the time I didn't know anything about the history of this song, the rocking Yardbirds cover from March of '64 with Eric Clapton on lead, or the cooking Howlin' Wolf original from '56, but I would soon find out about all that because this song really sparked my interest. The words perfectly evoke the sight of a steam locomotive moving down a railroad track in the dark with epic simplicity, riding on an equally simple basic song structure built on a single riff and only one chord, and this version rocks out for over 12 minutes through variations around that single riff and that one chord.
Song 157, Friday, 11/29/2013 -- Butt Dialed by Gregg Cagno, who also wrote the song. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. Friday being Friend's Day, I decided to post this gem by my friend Gregg Cagno. Until I heard this song, I didn't even know it was possible to butt dial someone, and now that I know about it, I think it might explain a couple of calls I've gotten over the past year or so. I'd also like to use this post to deny the rumor that Gregg, John Gorka (Nothing But a Butt) and I (But But But) are planning a CD compilation called You Bet Your Butt. One further note -- for those confused about geography, Buttzville is in New Jersey, which is a state that all three of us (Gorka, Cagno and myself) have called home at some time in our lives, although for what it's worth, there is also a Buttzville in North Dakota as well.
Song 156, Thursday, 11/28/2013 -- Restless by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, written by Tom Petty. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. The YT video visual is just a still of the You're Gonna Get It cover, but while the video visual doesn't move, the song sure does, as it should, considering what it's about. On Thanksgiving Day, I'm thankful for the music of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and I was even more so in the late '70s when I wasn't hearing a whole lot of new stuff that interested me. I followed yesterday's song by the Byrds with a song by TP because he and his crew obviously like the music of the Byrds as much as I do and it shows in their music, to the extent that one critic at the time of their first album release thought that one of the tracks from that LP (American Girl) was a Byrds cover, when it was actually an original song. From the first time I heard their second LP, I liked this song a lot, at least in part because I really relate to the message in the words. I opened the first song (Halfway Home) of my first album-length release (Going My Way) with the word restless. I understand exactly what Petty is saying in and between the lines of this song, and I know very well the feeling that he's expressing.
Song 155, Wednesday, 11/27/2013 -- Renaissance Fair by The Byrds, written by David Crosby and Jim McGuinn. You can find a YouTube video of this tune here. The YT video visual is just a still graphic of the Younger Than Yesterday cover, but while it might not show you much, this video will give you a lot to listen to in a very short time with a really tight rocking song. I knew The Byrds mostly from their hit singles, which I really liked, but in the early '70s as I had a chance to expand my LP collection, I made sure to get each and every Byrds album. I felt pretty good about each purchase, but Younger Than Yesterday sounded so much better than I had expected. I particularly like the interplay between the lead and rhythm guitars on this song, plus the way the words manage to evoke 3 of the 5 senses in only 3 lines, drawing you into a scene you can see, hear and smell.