Saturday Night’s Alright for Rocking

 

As long as there’s been rock and roll, there have been rock and roll idols.

From Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley and Little Richard, to the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, to the Eagles, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Jackson, Madonna, U2 and more, there have been certain stars who have shone brighter than all the rest.

You bought all their albums, you put their poster on your wall and, if you were lucky, you got to go see them perform in person. And you shared the experience with a whole host of other fanatics.

The brightest star for yours truly has always been, and always will be, Elton John. Sir Elton John, that is.

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This past Saturday, I went to see him in concert. For the fourth time.

And he was absolutely awesome!!

He was energetic, engaging and in peak form. At seventy-one, no less. Just incredible.

 

Elton claims this tour is his last, even calling it his Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour, a twist on the title of his popular album, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. 

Yeah, right; how many other performers have made that same claim, only to turn around and say, “Ehh, maybe not.” And I get it; performing must be awfully tough for a performer to give up. All that adoration is like oxygen to him.

So, we’ll see if, at the end of this three year worldwide tour, Elton sticks to his word.

But, if this was really my last time to see him in person, he definitely made it memorable.

 

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The show began with all the lights off, and snippets of several songs throughout Elton’s long and illustrious career playing over the speakers, getting us all into an appropriate frenzy.

Suddenly, on came the spotlight, and there he was, seated at his piano, where he announced his presence by emphatically striking the opening chord of Bennie and the Jets.

And, so began two and a half solid hours of spectacular entertainment. He was totally on top of his game all night.

 

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Among the Elton John classics we heard that night were:

Tiny Dancer, Rocket Man, Philadelphia Freedom, Don’t Let the Sun Go Down On Me, Candle in the Wind, Your Song, Someone Saved My Life Tonight, The Bitch Is Back, I’m Still Standing, I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues, Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting, Burn Down the Mission, Daniel and oh, so many more.

I’ve also got to single out three standout performances. There was Indian Sunset, an obscure, but brilliantly written tune by Elton, for an equally brilliant vignette by his longtime lyricist, Bernie Taupin.

There was an extended version of Levon, featuring some of Elton’s best piano playing of the night. It even featured the familiar Elton pose, head back, eyes shut, mouth wide open as he pounded the keys with abandon. I mean, he and his band absolutely rocked the house.

And there was the crowd favorite, Crocodile Rock, which greatly pleased, among others, my wife to hear. The fun part was when Elton and the band stopped playing to hear the audience’s full-throated rendition of “Laaaa, la-la-la-la laaa…” in the chorus. We sounded great, if you ask me.

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He closed the show with Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, in keeping with the theme of this tour. As he sang, a video montage played onscreen of all his different looks, and a few of his more memorably outrageous outfits (Donald Duck? Really?) over his career.

As I watched, I thought, I don’t think anyone has had quite the journey that Elton John has had. This dude has had an amazing life, not just as an entertainer, but as a human being. The places he’s been. The people he’s met. The things he’s seen and done. His triumph over addictions. His significant contribution in the fight against AIDS.A456E868-1E53-4E1B-9BC8-71BFAF6FC56F

He has to just look back over his life sometimes and just think, Wow.

Early in the show, Elton lauded the singular talent of the late Aretha Franklin, reminding us we would never see the likes of her again.

Well, I say the same thing for Sir Elton John.

If this could actually be your last chance to see his show, I highly recommend you go. Performers like him come along once in a lifetime, and that’s the truth.

Sir Elton, thanks for all the good times. You are my once and forever rock and roll idol.

 

More Requests for Your Carolers

 

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So, about this time a year ago, I shared a list of some of my favorite renditions of Christmas tunes; some familiar, others, less so.

Well, here’s a few more of my favorites for you to check out. Enjoy:

Don’t Save It All for Christmas Day, Christmas Eve, Céline Dion. The first one, a reminder to keep the Christmas spirit alive year round; the second, an uptempo love song about spending a special night with your special someone.

I’m also including The Prayer, by Céline Dion and Andrea Bocelli. Even though it’s technically not a Christmas song, it’s included on Céline’s holiday CD, These Are Special Times. But, everybody deserves to hear these two sing together. Andrea is, for my money, the greatest vocalist in the world, and the note he holds at the end of this piece is absolutely breathtaking.

Run Rudolph Run (live), Bryan Adams. Bryan does this Chuck Berry classic justice.

Jingle Bell Rock, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. Everybody knows the Bobby Helms rendition, but this instrumental take is a lot more fun.

‘Zat You, Santa Claus?, Louis Armstrong and the Commanders. Louis gets an unexpected visitor one night. Who might it be? Hmmm…

Someday at Christmas, Stevie Wonder. This song was originally released in 1967, but its message is as timely as ever, which means, unfortunately, Someday hasn’t arrived yet.

Louisiana Christmas Day, Aaron Neville. A little zydeco music for Christmas. It’ll get your feet movin’.

The Twelve Days of Christmas (live), The Christmas Can-Can, Straight No Chaser. Two hilarious tunes by this men’s à capella group.

Christmas is Just Around the Corner, Barry Manillow. Barry knows how to deliver a happy tune, and this one about anticipation of the Big Day is yet another example.

Silver Bells, Kenny G. Jazzy instrumental version, with Kenny G.’s smooth sax out front.

Please Come Home for Christmas, Eagles. Fellow Texan Don Henley gives this one the proper blues treatment.

All I Want for Christmas Is You, Vince Vance and the Valiants. Country Christmas ballad featuring terrific lead vocals by Lisa Layne.

All I Want for Christmas Is You, Mariah Carey. Yeah, this is the one we all know. Mariah rocks it.

Little Saint Nick, The Beach Boys. Because, after all, it just ain’t Christmas without The Beach Boys, am I right?

O Holy Night, anybody. Best sacred Christmas number of them all.

 

There you are. Enjoy the music you love with the people you love this holiday season. Season’s Eatings, um, Greetings. Peace and love to you all.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some Requests for Your Carolers

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You know, in reality, there are only about four Christmas songs, but approximately 8,463.75 renditions of them. 🎶🎵

Everybody records them. In fact, Izzy and Lizzy, my cats, have a new album coming out later this week: “We Need a Little Christmas Meow.” Look for it. 🐱

Anyway, we all have our favorite songs, and our favorite performances, that we simply must hear every year, don’t we? For example, I’ll take Elvis Presley’s covers of “Blue Christmas” and “Here Comes Santa Claus” over anyone’s.

Of course, that applies to least favorites, as well. I’m a lifelong Johnny Cash fan, but if I ever hear his version of “The Little Drummer Boy” again, I will not be responsible for my reaction. 🥁 😡

With that in mind, I’d like to tell you some of my favorite performances of my favorite Christmas tunes, and then take you a little off the beaten path and introduce you to some songs/renditions I enjoy, but you may not be familiar with.

But I’ll start with a classic, and my all-time favorite:

The Christmas Song, Nat King Cole. If I could only listen to one Christmas tune, by one person, for the rest of my life, this would be my choice, without hesitation.

White Christmas, The Drifters. Yeah, Bing Crosby’s version is the prototype, but once you hear the Drifters do it, you won’t want to hear it any other way.

Santa Baby, Madonna. Eartha Kitt’s version is so slow, I could have a nap before she finishes. 🎅🏻💍💋

I’ll Be Home For Christmas, Glen Campbell. You can just hear the longing to be home in his voice.

Rudolph, the Red Nosed Reindeer, The Blenders. A lively a capella version, like the doo-wop boys on the corner would do it.

The Little Drummer Boy, Silent Night, O Come, All Ye Faithful, The Vocal Majority, a Dallas-based, 100-voice men’s chorus. Google ‘em, they’re outstanding.

Christmas Island, Leon Redbone. 🏝 A perfect song for a performer so laid back, his pulse rate must be about 10.

Merry Christmas, Darling, Carpenters. Karen Carpenter was graced with one of the most beautiful voices ever, and she left us way, way too soon. But she did leave us this holiday gem. That last line, “I wish I were with you,” always chokes me up; I wish she was with us, too.

Grown Up Christmas List, Amy Grant. Great lyrics, great melody, great vocals.

Christmas Wrapping, The Waitresses. More rapping than wrapping, a peppy little tune that tells a story beginning with, “Bah! Humbug!”, but working its way to a “very happy ending.”

Mary’s Little Boy Child, Jose Feliciano. Beautiful. I also love his Feliz Navidad, but a store nearly ruined that song for me once, by playing it ten times in a row! Nearly went berserk.

Gift of Love, The Boones. My wife loves this one. Angelic female harmony, featuring Debbie Boone. (Ask your parents. Or maybe grandparents.)

Christmas Macarena. JUST KIDDING!!!

The Restroom Door Said “Gentlemen”, Didn’t I Get This Last Year?, Bob Rivers and Twisted Radio. If you want some laughs this Christmas, check out these hilarious send ups of traditional favorites. Oh, and also, The Chimney Song. Hysterical! 🤣

Sleigh Ride, the instrumental version, by any orchestra you choose. Love it.

Silent Night, Mannheim Steamroller. Absolutely breathtaking instrumental piece.

The Chipmunk Song (Christmas, Don’t Be Late), The Chipmunks. Can’t go a single Christmas without hearing, “AL-VIIIIIIIIIIN!!!!” Can you?

Step Into Christmas, Elton John. Just cuz it’s Elton, and I’m a lifelong fan.

Happy Holiday/The Holiday Season, Some Children See Him, Andy Williams. Both are classics.

I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas, Gayla Peevey. Admit it, just reading the title put a big grin on your face, didn’t it?

Mary, Did You Know?, Pentatonix. Unbelievable harmonies from this talented a capella group from right here in Texas.

That’s probably enough for now, but there may be a Part 2 forthcoming. Because, really, there’s a lot more than just four Christmas songs.

Thank goodness. 🎄⛄️🔑🎁

Now, you tell me: what are some of your favorites?

 

 

 

 

 

They Listen

 

Interesting thing happened to me recently. I know, go figure, right?

Well, I got a text from a guy named Will, who was a client of mine last year, when I was still a chauffeur. Turned out, Will was a musician, in town for some huge, weekend-long wrestling event. He loves music, and he loves wrestling, and we joked about him maybe making a career combining the two, like being a musical wrestler. Or a wrestling musician.

Anyway, we talked some about the kinds of music we like, and he said he likes stuff with a jazzy vibe to it, so I asked him if he’d ever heard of Steely Dan, whose specialty is just that. He said he hadn’t, which was understandable; Steely Dan was a little before his time. So I suggested he check ’em out; he might like them.

Hadn’t had any correspondence with the guy since.

Until this text he sent me. He said, when he heard recently of the death of Steely Dan co-founder, co-songwriter and guitarist Walter Becker, I was the first person he thought of.

(!!!!!)

Mind you, I drove this guy once.

Over a year ago.

He still remembered me, and our conversation. He said in his text, he couldn’t believe it. I texted back, “Neither can I!”

 

This was a story about how you never know what you’re gonna say to someone that stays in his mind long after you said it. Good thing for us all to keep in mind.

Will, thanks for the reminder. Great to hear from you, even if it did freak me out just a bit. Hope you’re a successful musical wrestler, now.

By the Time He Gets to Heaven

 

Before my musical taste shifted to rock, in my teen years, I listened to country and western music as a kid. Johnny Cash was my absolute, all-time favorite, but I also enjoyed hearing folks like Ray Price, Loretta Lynn, Porter Wagoner and Dolly Parton, Buck Owens, Roger Miller and Tom T. Hall.

And Glen Campbell.

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Glen passed away Tuesday, at the age of 81, after living the last six years with, in my view, the most cruel, insidious affliction to ever befall a person: Alzheimer’s disease.

The thought of my mind slowly and deliberately eroding, eventually leaving me unable to dress myself, feed myself, or remember anyone I’ve ever known and loved, while those loved ones helplessly watch…

Rest in Peace, Glen. Your suffering is over.

Peace and comfort to you, Campbell family. You don’t have to witness it anymore.

 

Glen had the good looks, the mellifluous voice, and the instrumental skills, and he was an immensely popular recording artist, especially in the late 1960’s and ’70’s. He had tremendous crossover success, earning Grammy awards in 1968 in country and pop music. He sold an estimated 45 million records over his career.

(I’m not going to get into the toll his success took on him, personally, because really, there’s no need to do that here. Suffice it to say, he came out the other side of it.)

Above all that, though, was just the joy, the love of performing, that made him a star. You could see it every week in the late 1960’s and early 70’s on his variety TV show, “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour.” He put his heart into everything he sang; from the bouncy, infectious “Southern Nights”, to the resolutely optimistic “Rhinestone Cowboy”, to the wistful, apprehensive “Galveston”, to the sunny and upbeat “Try a Little Kindness.”

Then, there are my two personal favorites, both written by Jimmy Webb, one of the best songwriters ever, without a doubt: “Wichita Lineman” (beautifully orchestrated, like most of his hits), and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”, still one of the most sublimely heartbreaking tunes I’ve ever heard.

Even in the face of that merciless monster he battled in his later years, Glen kept on performing, enlisting the help of his sympathetic audience for the words he could no longer remember. He even allowed a camera crew to travel with him on his farewell tour, resulting in the award-winning documentary, “I’ll Be Me.” He was not afraid to make his struggle public, which earned him high praise from former President Bill Clinton, a fellow Arkansas native.

So, if it’s been awhile since you heard you some Glen Campbell, reacquaint yourself with an old friend, and celebrate his life and career. If you’ve never heard of him, take this opportunity to listen to a truly great artist. Even if you’re not into country music, you’ll discover a good song and a good singer transcend all genres.

Adios, Rhinestone Cowboy. Thanks for all the good times, and all the great music.

 

 

Treadmills

 

These are the days of the open hand
They will not be the last
Look around now
These are the days of the beggars and the choosers

This is the year of the hungry man
Whose place is in the past
Hand in hand with ignorance
And legitimate excuses

The rich declare themselves poor
And most of us are not sure
If we have too much
But we’ll take our chances
‘Cause God’s stopped keeping score
I guess somewhere along the way
He must have let us all out to play
Turned his back and all God’s children
Crept out the back door

And it’s hard to love, there’s so much to hate
Hanging on to hope
When there is no hope to speak of
And the wounded skies above say it’s much, much too late
Well maybe we should all be praying for time

These are the days of the empty hand
Oh you hold on to what you can
And charity is a coat you wear twice a year

This is the year of the guilty man
Your television takes a stand
And you find that what was over there is over here

So you scream from behind your door
Say what’s mine is mine and not yours
I may have too much but I’ll take my chances
‘Cause God’s stopped keeping score
And you cling to the things they sold you
Did you cover your eyes when they told you
That he can’t come back
‘Cause he has no children to come back for

It’s hard to love there’s so much to hate
Hanging on to hope when there is no hope to speak of
And the wounded skies above say it’s much too late
So maybe we should all be praying for time

“Praying for Time,” George Michael

 

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The late, great George Michael sang those words in 1990. Scary, how relevant they sound now.

Since the 80’s pop superstar’s untimely death at 53, on Christmas Day, this song, from his superb album, Listen Without Prejudice, has been playing endlessly in my head.  I highly recommend listening to it, if you never have. It’s a powerful piece.

I won’t pretend I understand everything he said in it, but a good part of it is pretty hard to misinterpret. Especially, in light of our current circumstance.

It amazes me how many songs speak, not only to their times, but to ours. They serve as sobering reminders of how little progress we human beings have really made in how we treat each other.

We just stay on our treadmill, walking endlessly and getting absolutely nowhere.

What will it take to get us off that treadmill, and actually moving forward?

What will it take for you?

Leonard and Leon

 

I did my best, it wasn’t much
I couldn’t feel, so I tried to touch
I’ve told the truth, I didn’t come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

“Hallelujah”, Leonard Cohen

 

I love you in a place where there’s no space or time
I love you for in my life you are a friend of mine
And when my life is over
Remember when we were together
We were alone and I was singing this song for you

“A Song for You”, Leon Russell

 

Now, I ask you: Have there ever been any lyrics written to surpass the two examples I just presented?

Two songwriting giants no longer roam the earth.

We lost Leonard Cohen and Leon Russell in quick succession, recently. Each lived a life long and full – Cohen died at the age of 82, Russell at 74 – yet it still feels like they both departed too soon. But, boy, were we lucky to have ’em with us for awhile.

This has been a tough year for music fans.

It started with the one-two gut punch of David Bowie and Glenn Frey’s passing, followed by Maurice White of Earth, Wind and Fire, the loss of country music legend Merle Haggard, the tragic, untimely death of Prince, along with several more of their brilliantly talented fellowship.

And now, these two legendary figures.

If you’re not familiar with the works of Leonard Cohen and Leon Russell, do yourself a big favor, and get acquainted. If you want to learn about songwriting, these gentlemen are the Master Class. You might discover you know more of their songs than you thought; you just never knew these guys wrote them.

Vocally, each of them is, putting it kindly, an acquired taste. Just warning you, in case you’ve never heard them before. But don’t listen to their voices; listen to their words.

And appreciate the two peerless craftsmen who graced us with them.

Rest in peace, gentlemen. Thanks for what you shared with us.

 

P.S. – Russell’s “Tightrope” features one of my all-time favorite lines:

Like a rubbernecked giraffe, you look into my past.

Gotta love it.

 

 

The Movie Music Man

Watch out, here comes a shark!

Oh, no, and a T-Rex!

And, OMG, Darth Vader!!

Someone please help us!!!

Wait, look! It’s…Indiana Jones! And Luke Skywalker! And Superman!!

We’re SAVED!!!!

Okay, quick, how many movie theme songs just played in your head?

You’ve got one person to thank for that: John Williams.

 

Recently, I had the pleasure of watching the annual American Film Institute (AFI) Lifetime Achievement Award presentation, given to someone in recognition of his or her outstanding contribution to the movie industry. (As a movie lover, I dig this kinda stuff.)

Usually, this award goes to an actor or director but, this year, for the first time ever, it was given to a composer.

And for John Williams, it’s about freakin’ time.

Here’s but a small sample of the movies for which Mr. Williams composed the soundtracks:

Star Wars. Jaws. Raiders of the Lost Ark. E.T. Born on the Fourth of July. Schindler’s List. Jurassic Park. Superman. Harry Potter. Home Alone. Saving Private Ryan. Hook. Far and Away. JFK. Seven Years in Tibet. Lincoln. Empire of the Sun. Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The Witches of Eastwick. Amistad. Presumed Innocent.

And that’s just a VERY small sample!

Some of the best known, best loved films of our generation. And a major reason for that is the inspired music that graces them all. We attach that music to our memories of those movies, and they assimilate into our regular lives.

Example: Have you ever been in a pool or a lake and pretended to be a shark, about to put the big chomp on some poor, unsuspecting victim? I dare you to tell me you didn’t start singing, “Da-dum…da-dum…da-dum…dum-dum, dum-dum, dum-dum, dum-dum…” Yeah, I knew it. You couldn’t resist.

Have you attended or watched a Major League Baseball game, and heard one of the batters stride up to home plate to the tune of “The Imperial March (Darth Vader’s Theme)?” When pro basketball star Kobe Bryant came back for his first game after an Achilles injury, in 2013, he was introduced to the crowd with “The Imperial March” playing in the background, as he requested.

One other thing: how many marching bands, high school or college, have you heard playing the theme from Star Wars at halftime of a game or in a parade? Or, maybe, some other John Williams tune, instead?

And that music has infiltrated other movies, too. In The Big Chill, before Kevin Kline’s character races heroically to the attic to do battle with a pesky bat, what does he do for inspiration? Sings the theme song for Indiana Jones!

His music stays in our minds because it stirs our hearts. Who can listen to the plaintive theme from Schindler’s List and not get a little teary-eyed? Who hears “Hymn to the Fallen” from Saving Private Ryan and doesn’t feel pride and sadness in equal measure for our men and women who have sacrificed everything in war? Who hasn’t been carried back to the wonder and magic of childhood by the theme to E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, longing for the chance to ride a bicycle through the air?

All these unforgettable melodies, and so many more, blossomed from the sublimely brilliant mind of one man. Lucky us.

The AFI Life Achievement Award presentation to John Williams will be rebroadcast Monday, September 12, at 7:00 PM Central time, and on Tuesday, September 13, at 1:30 AM Central time, on the Turner Classic Movies network (TCM). Do yourself a big favor: Record this show, enjoy hearing from the actors and directors who had the pleasure of working with John Williams. Listen, also, to the man himself, and know just what a genuinely humble genius he is.

And sing or hum along to all those terrific movie themes. C’mon, you know them.

A Dan Good Time

Something you should know about me at this point.

I’m a man. Who’s a fan. Of the Dan.

Steely Dan, that is.

I just saw them in concert this week, and it reminded me of why I love those guys so much. Those guys being Donald Fagen and Walter Becker, the driving force behind Steely Dan.

Heck, let’s face it: those guys are Steely Dan.

My taste in music is pretty varied. I enjoy rock and roll, jazz, country, bluegrass, classical, gospel, blues, R&B, even some rap. Don’t go much for heavy metal, though. Sorry, all you headbangers; in my younger days, I did like me some Black Sabbath now and then, but now that I’m a geezer, it’s just a little too hard on the ears.

Anyway, back to those guys.

The brilliance of Steely Dan is that they arranged a perfect marriage of straight-up rock and cool, slick jazz, creating their own little niche, where no one else resides. Even if someone does, Becker and Fagen were there first, and do it best.

Listen to the breezy melodies over the complex chord structure, the musical performances buffed to an ultra-high gloss in the studio, with the help of some of the best jazz musicians in the business. Early on in their career, Becker and Fagen abandoned the idea of a band, forsaking live performances and focusing instead on bringing in outside session players to help them achieve the sophisticated sound they were looking for. Even without touring, they built up a fiercely dedicated fan base.

Pay close attention to the lyrics, though, and you realize there’s some sinister goings on under all that sheen and polish: stories about incest (“Cousin Dupree”), pedophilia (“Everyone’s Gone to the Movies”), drug manufacturing (“Kid Charlemagne”) and dealing (“Glamour Profession”) and consumption (“Time Out of Mind”), gang violence (“Josie”), psychotic breaks (“Third World Man”, “Don’t Take Me Alive”) and, especially, dirty old men (“Hey Nineteen”, “Janie Runaway”, “Babylon Sisters”). And all delivered by the wonderfully sardonic vocals of Donald Fagen. You can just see the arch of the eyebrow when you listen to him.

But they sound so good. Especially, in concert, when they have such a topnotch assemblage of musicians backing them up. A couple of particular standouts are drummer Keith Carlock and guitarist Jon Herington, but they all tear it up right good, believe me.

If Steely Dan has escaped your radar to this point, I highly recommend you check ’em out. Oh, and they can definitely rock when they want to; “Kid Charlemagne”and “Bodhisattva” are all the proof you need for that.

And if you really want a treat, look into where this duo got its name. That’s all I’m saying on that.