Tuesday Tunes 30: Sixties USA

 

For the past couple of weeks I’ve promised to do a set of songs from the US, and that time has come. American pop and rock music has undoubtedly had a massive influence on music here, and I thought it only right that I should focus this week on artists and bands who were important to many here, not just to me. Whilst making my choices I was struck by how much my musical tastes were ‘growing up’ in the sixties, from simple pop music to what I know as rock music, which is my staple diet for listening. It is no coincidence that from about 1969 onwards I rarely bought singles, preferring to go for the longer listening experience offered by albums, and my seventies choices will reflect that. For now, though, I thought I’d begin with a couple which I think show how my tastes were subtly changing, starting with this one:

I did find a live version of that from the Ed Sullivan Show but the owner has banned it from being shared: spoilsport! This was the opening – and title – track on the Byrds’ debut album, which was released in 1965, a month or so after the single. The album reached #6 in the US and #7 in the UK, and the single was #1 in both countries. To us, they were a little bit different, exotic almost, and I instantly fell in love with that jangly guitar sound. That has been a big feature of music I’ve enjoyed over the years: I’ve written here before about how big a Tom Petty fan I am, and he is one among many who have carried on that tradition.

My next choice this week is from a band who had a couple of years’ head start on the Byrds, having released their first album in 1962. They were very prolific: a month after Mr Tambourine Man was issued, they released their ninth album in a little over three years. Their early days had a number of classic surf music singles, and I’ve had real difficulty in making a choice of just one of their songs. For no other reason other than that I loved it at the time and bought the single, I’m going with this one:

I’ll happily accept that this isn’t the most obvious choice, but hey – I’m making the decisions here! The song was written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love, and was a conscious revisiting of their original surf sound, which they hadn’t used since 1964. By 1968 the band were beginning to decline in popularity in the US but still sold loads of records here: this one only reached #20 in the US but was a massive hit here in the UK, where it spent a week at #1 before being replaced by a bit of schmaltzy tat by the Bee Gees – you’ve never been able to trust the British public, have you!

Next up is a choice from a man who has sold over 100m records, so he clearly has something that people like! He has written many songs that have been recorded by other artists, of which this is one:

I always think it a mark of a songwriter to see who has covered their songs. In this case, the most notable cover for me is Johnny Cash’s, which was the title track of his album American Recordings III: Solitary Man. Whilst I’ve always loved Neil’s version I have to say that Johnny’s gravelly voice adds a whole new dimension to it: check it out if you haven’t heard it, I can highly recommend it. Which is more than I can say for Cliff Richard’s version but, to be fair, it doesn’t appear to have ever been released as a single or on one of his albums, so at least we’ve been spared that! The song was from Neil’s early career days, before things really took off for him, and it only reached #55 in the US. It was re-released in 1970, when it did better, peaking at #21. It didn’t make the UK charts on either occasion (see earlier comment about the British public!).

Neil Diamond wrote some songs that were hits for The Monkees. The most famous is probably I’m A Believer, but I prefer this one:

That was released as a non-album single in March 1967, and reached #2 in the US and #3 in the UK, driven by the success of their TV show. The show ran for just two series, from September 1966 to March 1968, but they managed to pack in 58 episodes in that time. It was shown here at Saturday tea time, and was enjoyed by the whole family: it made my parents laugh a lot and they even accepted that the music wasn’t bad! I think my mum had a crush on Davy Jones, if I’m honest. Incidentally, that was the first Monkees single on which Davy took lead vocal: I think they missed a trick by waiting so long, but their sales were still pretty good anyway!

I mentioned earlier that it was around the end of the Sixties that I converted to buying mostly albums, and this next choice, although released as a single, is very much an album track:

That was the second track on CS&N’s eponymous debut album, which I bought and just about wore out! To this day I still think they are one of the best ever folk-rock bands, and their music has been a big part of my listening down the years. I would have thought the song ideally suited to be a single, but it only reached #28 in the US and didn’t chart here. Graham Nash wrote it while he was still a member of The Hollies, who rejected it as not being sufficiently commercial. Given that it is a live show favourite, which they have played over 450 times, I think he may have had the last laugh there despite its lack of success as a single!

I really struggled to get the selection down to manageable numbers this week, and then realised that I hadn’t made room for my all time favourite song. I couldn’t possibly leave it out, so you’re getting six tunes this week. This is still, to me, a musical masterpiece:

The song was written by Bryan MacLean, who took lead vocal – until Arthur Lee persuaded their record company that his was the stronger voice, so they added him into the mix. I bought it as a single, but didn’t get around to the album for a few years. The song peaked at #123 in the US but didn’t chart here, though the album – Forever Changes – fared rather better here, reaching #24, compared with #154 in the US. Maybe the British record-buying public weren’t so bad after all: we were  into our psychedelic rock in those days! The album has since become a seminal work, and is often cited in those ‘best ever albums’ polls that newspapers and magazines are so keen on making up. I think it deserves all the kudos it has received.

Thats it for this week. I hope there is at least one here that you enjoyed: preferably six, but that may be a touch optimistic. We’re in the process of being put back into lockdown, in a tacit admission by the government that things aren’t any better than they were in March. All part of life’s rich tapestry, I guess. Stay safe and well, take care of yourself and those you love.

See you next time.

#SaturdaySongs No.13 – Teach Your Children

Just when you thought I might never do another #SaturdaySongs post – it is only seven months since the last one, after all – here’s a brand new one for you. Following on from my previous post, I Hope You Dance, this is also on the theme of families and how they develop through the generations.

If, like me, you watch a lot of music videos on YouTube, you’ve probably followed links to some of their recommendations for you. This one was in mine the other day, from a band I’ve loved ever since their first album all the way back in 1969. This song was actually on their second album, Dejà Vu, by which time they had morphed from being CS&N to CSN&Y, though Neil doesn’t feature much on the original version – it is very much a Graham Nash song:

If you Google the song and follow the various links to sites on which people share their interpretations of songs you will find some weird and wonderful stuff. For me, though, this has always been about how our experiences shape us, how we pass that on as we bring up our children, and how they in turn teach us some lessons about life. In other words, it is about the cyclical nature of life’s experience and how it is interwoven into us, and between us and the ones we love. Given that I became a grandfather just over a fortnight ago, you can probably see why this song says so much to me right now – although, to be fair, it has always seemed to me to be much more profound than it might at first appear. The version I shared is a simple acoustic one, just the three guys with guitars and their amazing harmonies. You may have spotted that the signature sound of the original recording – the pedal steel guitar played by the late, great Jerry Garcia (of a little band called the Grateful Dead) – wasn’t part of that live show. I missed hearing it the first time I played the video – it was, after all, part of the reason for the song being a huge hit single – but I think this stripped-down version really brings home the beauty and the meaning of the song.

One of the hallmarks of a good song is the number of cover versions it inspires, and in particular how closely those covers adhere to the original. Fellow musicians know a good tune when they hear one, although there have been many amazing covers which have completely changed the feel of a song: Joe Cocker’s With A Little Help From My Friends comes to mind – but not Disturbed’s total massacre of The Sound Of Silence! Most of the many cover versions of Teach Your Children are faithful to the original, including the use of the pedal steel. As it is, at heart, a country song, it isn’t surprising that many in that field have covered it. Here’s a lovely version from three of my favourite country musicians:

I think the female harmonies really do the song justice, and it kind of becomes their song while they play it. And on a side note, it’s good to see a former American President singing along – I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t happen now, as the clown in chief doesn’t even know the words to God Bless America, yet claims to be the biggest, most beautiful patriot! Maybe I should exclude him from any analysis of this song, though, as his children aren’t exactly role models, and he himself has been quoted as saying ‘Growing up, I hardly ever saw my father and it hasn’t done me any harm.’ Yeah, right. Never was the inherent truth of Graham Nash’s song so perfectly demonstrated!

There is also this performance, which links the two previous ones. It’s not often that you get to sing a song with the guy who wrote it, and this is another great version, and a lovely video too:

To bring this full circle (before I share every YouTube video I can find!) I’m closing with one more, perhaps the most appropriate of all. Think about the meaning of the song as you watch this video – my guess is that you may have a tear in your eye by the end:

Who needs a pedal steel guitar anyway? The beauty lies in the simplicity, as it does in the acoustic CS&N performance above. I hope those kids are encouraged to learn what the song is about, as they represent our future and will be the ones who put its values into place in their own lives and those of future generations. As Graham Nash has said: ‘I wrote ‘Teach Your Children’ and we have a lot to learn from our kids. We have a lot to teach them, but we do have a lot to learn from our children.’

Teach your children well….and know they love you.