Tuesday Tunes 24: Strength

I’ve seen much recently in the news, in social media, and in tv shows about how people’s strength is supporting them and others in these pandemic days. It gave me the idea that this might be a good theme for one of these posts: I had been pondering ‘empowerment’ as a theme but thought that might become overtly political, which isn’t my aim. I just want these to be fun, but I may come back to that one at some point.

There are a great many songs I could have chosen, both those that talk of being strong for oneself or for someone else. I’ve managed to keep the selection to what is becoming my usual four tunes, which probably means that I’ve left out some you might have chosen. But that’s the beauty of music: it would be very boring if we all liked the same things! My selection features two songs that speak of staying strong in oneself, and two about being strong for someone else – that’s my attempt at balance!

This week’s first tune is very much of the ‘I’ve survived because I’m strong’ type:

That song was on Reg’s seventeenth album, Too Low For Zero, released in 1983. The album reached #7 in the UK and #25 in the US. I’m Still Standing was released as a single, peaking at #4 in the UK and #12 in the US. It was, he said at the time, his response to feeling that he had become less relevant after the rise of disco, punk and the New Romantics. The video was filmed in Cannes and has been viewed more than 92m times – it did much to garner airplay and contribute to both the single and the album being successful. For him that was a real statement of personal strength, which he needed after a poor run of performance in the singles chart.

My second choice this week is of the ‘I’m here for you’ type. I featured the Boss a few weeks ago, but make no apology for doing so again – he has, after all, made many great records in a career going back to 1973. This is one of his gentler ones:

The song was on Bruce’s eighth studio album, Tunnel Of Love, released in 1987. This was the follow up to Born In The USA so it tends to pale by comparison. I bought it at the time – it was actually the last vinyl album I bought – and I have always loved it. In my view it has been underrated, though it has sold well over 5m copies, which most acts would die for! This was the fourth of five singles released from the album. It didn’t chart in the US but reached #13 here: I guess most who wanted it had bought the album by then, as that was #1 on both sides of the Atlantic.

There have been several covers of Tougher Than The Rest, one of my favourites being that by Shawn Colvin on her 2015 album Uncovered. That leads me neatly into my next selection for this week which is by, you guessed it, Shawn Colvin. It’s almost as if I plan this, isn’t it? One of her cover versions appeared in my previous post, but this is one of her own. It is another of those ‘use my strength’ songs:

Apologies for the static video but with a song as good as that, who needs pictures anyway? The song featured on Shawn’s second album, Fat City, from 1992. She has never been one to make huge dents in the charts: that album got as far as #142 in the States and didn’t chart here at all. In fact, her best chart performances have only been a #39 in the US and a #67 here – and not with the same album. Her singles haven’t fared much better, either. This one didn’t chart anywhere, as far as I can tell, and she has only ever hit the top 100 once in the US, with Sunny Came Home in 1997. That reached #7 there and #29 here, but at least we’ve got six of her other singles into our top 100 too! I’ve heard it said that some music is too good for the charts: if that is true, Shawn is a case in point, as her output has been uniformly excellent.

For this week’s final choice I’m returning to one of my favourite artists, ever. Somehow I’ve reached the 24th in this series without him, and it’s long overdue that I fixed that. I’ve written about his music before, in particular when I marked his passing with my tribute. This song didn’t feature in that tribute – I had so many to choose from! – but it is still one of my favourites, of his or anyone else’s:

That is just so good! Not a bad backing band, either. The song was on what was officially Tom’s debut solo album, Full Moon Fever, released in 1989, though members of the Heartbreakers played on several tracks, particularly Mike Campbell, who you saw playing guitar in the video. The album was #3 in the US and #8 here, and has sold over 6m copies. Three of its tracks, including this one, were released as singles – this one peaked at #12 in the US and #28 here. Its message of strength and defiance against the odds is a perfect fit for my theme this week. It has also been used by a number of US politicians as music at their campaign rallies, most notably in June this year by the orange moron, who received a ‘cease and desist’ letter from Tom’s family, saying that Tom had always wanted his music to bring people together, not divide them. And so say all of us – well, apart from the aforementioned moron, that is.

A little footnote for you, too. As Wikipedia notes: ‘The song has become a tradition at Florida Gators football games at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Petty’s hometown. Petty died unexpectedly on October 3, 2017, and at the next home game the following Saturday, the song was played between the third and fourth quarters after the traditional university song “We Are The Boys From Old Florida.” It has been played at that time at every subsequent Florida home game, with fans singing along and holding aloft cell phones to fill the stadium with lights.’

Here is that first time:

That, for me, is a perfect example both of the strength and power of music, and of its ability to unite us. A suitable place to end this week’s tunes, I think. Take care, be safe and stay strong.

A Higher Place – Remembering Tom

Two years ago today we lost one of the great rock musicians – Tom Petty. He was 66, the same age I now am, and his death was sudden and surprising. I wrote about this at the time, in a #SaturdaySongs post, and as Tom’s music meant so much to me – and still does – I thought I’d share those words again, with a little updating. Those of you who follow my Facebook page will see a few videos there today – I’ll be doing more than one #SongOfTheDay!

Tom Petty started his band, the Heartbreakers, in 1976, and I was fortunate enough to be introduced to his music from the beginning – their first album was released at the end of that year. Since then, I’ve got every album he has made and play them often. In the mid-1990s I spent a lot of time driving to and from work around the dreaded North Circular Road in London, and Tom’s music was the ideal accompaniment for this. He carried on making albums throughout his career, and these add up to an amazing body of work. His style is described as ‘heartland rock,’ and is representative of the quintessential American rock style: consummate songwriting, brilliantly played with guitars that twang just like the Byrds (another favourite of mine). All being done in his own unique style: when a Tom Petty record comes on the radio you know instantly that it’s him. In style and subject matter he is often bracketed with Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp: I’m not a great believer in labelling music and musicians but I can see the justification for the comparison. It’s no coincidence that I have every album by both of those two gentlemen as well!

As I said, Tom was only 66 when he died, taken by a cardiac arrest exactly a week after the end of his 40th Anniversary tour. He had described this as his final tour, and said that he wanted to spend time with his family and grandchildren. He deserved more than a week of doing that, but it wasn’t to be. I guess it’s because my musical tastes were formed when I was in my teens, so the artists are now many years older, like me, but a number of my musical heroes have been taken in the past few years. I can’t explain why, but none of them seemed to affect me quite as much as Tom. I usually find myself revisiting the artists’ music when they pass, as part of the process of mourning their loss, and I tried to do this for him too. But at first I couldn’t: it was too painful. That, to me, is the measure of how much his music means to me. It seems that I wasn’t alone in this, either: there were many tributes by fellow musicians, both in words and by playing his songs at their own shows, and the front page of Tom’s website was turned into a huge tribute wall from fans.

I did manage to listen to his music again and, as I did two years ago, I’m posting a few of his songs in his memory and as my own small tribute. The difficulty was where to begin. He has so many well known songs to choose from, and a great many hits. But I’ve chosen as the title piece a track from his Wildflowers album. It is, to me, a typical Tom Petty song, and the title feels very appropriate. This is where he is now:

Possibly my favourite Tom Petty song, even after all these years, is the opening track from the band’s fourth album, Hard Promises, which was released in 1981:

That Mike Campbell guitar solo still gets me every time, and I just think that is one of the all-time great rock songs – by anyone.

My next choice isn’t actually a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers song, or even a Tom Petty song. For a couple of years Tom was a member of the most stellar supergroup ever when, with Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne he formed the Travelling Wilburys, and this is one of George Harrison’s songs. Sadly, Tom became the third member of that band to have reached the End of the Line:

If you look closely you’ll see their tribute to Roy Orbison, who died before this video was made. The photograph on the side, and the gently rocking chair and his guitar, are a poignant salute to their friend. I hope that Roy and George were waiting to get the beers in with Tom when they were reunited.

I was never fortunate enough to see Tom play live, but anyone who is a fan will know that he closed his shows with the song that was the closing track of their first album, all the way back in 1976. This footage, shot by a fan in the audience, is the final song from the band’s show at the Hollywood Bowl on 25th September 2017, which turned out to be their last show ever:

The sheer enjoyment and exuberance of the band is wonderful to see, and is how I will remember him. Those fans who got autographs at the end really do now have an especially poignant memento.

Shortly after Tom’s passing, his local college football team had a game, and the fans paid their own tribute to him. This is incredible, and still moves me:

Thank you Tom: we’re still heartbroken, but we have your music to treasure for always. I hope that you’ve found your Higher Place.

#ChristmasSongADay – Part 2

Keeping to my plan, for once, here is the second part of my Advent Calendar of Christmas songs that I have been sharing with Twitter followers and Facebook friends. Should you feel an uncontrollable urge to join either of those select groupings, the necessary buttons can be found to the right – and that way, you could enjoy the songs as I publish them, rather than having to await the retrospectives. Just a thought!

This collection covers days 7 to 12 and is, as usual, a fairly mixed bunch. I’m hoping that many – if not all – will be new to you, and am keeping my fingers crossed that there is at least one that you like.

On the 7th, I posted a song by the American/Irish band, Dropkick Murphys. This is, to say the least, a piece of irreverent fun. They’re a bit of an acquired taste, and the singer’s voice probably wouldn’t count as ‘dulcet,’ but they do make some great songs and videos. This one is a hoot right the way through:

I slowed the pace a little for the next choice. Brynn Andre is one of those singers who has made some lovely music without ever getting the support and following that she deserves. Sadly, it is a number of years since she released an album. I looked at her website and it seems she is restricting her musical appearances nowadays to performing at weddings. Her voice and songs deserve a wider audience. She previously made just the two albums – this is her version of a very well known Christmas standard, which doesn’t actually appear on either of her records. I absolutely love her version and the accompanying video is very sweet:

You may recall that when I brought back my #SaturdaySongs series a couple of months ago the second new post was my tribute to the sad passing of Tom Petty. You can find it here if you missed it, or would like another look. So far, all of the Christmas songs I had featured had appeared at least once before in the two previous years that I’ve done this, but when I found this one it was an easy choice to make it my first new one for this year. Filmed at the White House as part of a tv special, back in the days when they had a proper President, it is a nice little piece of nostalgia:

For Sunday 10th I posted a suitably mellow song. This is another making its first appearance in my selection this year. Most people will probably only know of the band from the original line up and their two classic songs Free Bird and Sweet Home Alabama. This incarnation of the band broke up after Ronnie Van Zant and Steve Gaines were killed in a plane crash in October 1977, but the band reformed ten years later and this is actually the title track from their eleventh studio album, released in 2000. It is quintessentially Lynyrd Skynyrd, both in terms of pace and vocals, and if I do this again next year, I think this one is a keeper:

Yesterday’s choice was also a new one, for the simple reason that it has only just been released. You may not be aware of the English folk singer Kate Rusby, but I hope this enchants you enough to explore her music further. She comes from Yorkshire, as you can probably tell from her accent, and grew up with the strong local tradition of carol singing. Her latest album is the fourth she has released of seasonal songs – quite appropriate that she does this, as she has the voice of an angel. She created the character of Big Brave Bill, a kind of Yorkshire superhero, for a song on her most recent non-seasonal album, released in 2016, and here he is with his very own Christmas song. The animated video is charming, right the way through to Kate herself at the end:

I got a ‘like’ on Twitter from the lady herself for posting that, so I guess I’m doing something right! Kate will be making another appearance before Christmas – I’ll be bestowing on her the honour accorded to a select few of having two songs in my choices. With any luck, she’ll be reet chuffed!

For today’s song I’ve chosen the most serious of my selection. I’ve loved Jackson Browne’s music since his career started 45 years ago, I have all of his albums and have been lucky enough to see him play live. To my knowledge, this only appears on The Next Voice You Hear as a new, bonus track on that compilation album. That someone can add something like this as a one-off is, to me, astounding. This is a powerful song, haunting and beautiful, with a message we would all do well to heed:

So, that’s the second batch of six all done and dusted. As I said at the beginning, I’m hoping that there will be at least one among them that you enjoy, even if all six aren’t to your taste. Enjoy your Christmas preparations, and I’ll see you again for Part 3.