Friday Five: Clapton the Guest

I watched the 2017 documentary Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars on Showtime this week. I enjoy just about anything related to Clapton, and this was a mix of both interesting, sad, and even sadder aspects of his life and career. It’s mostly a story of addiction, really, and you’re left wondering what could have been if one of the world’s greatest guitarists wasn’t constantly at war with himself and his talent.

Anyway, there were some great stories related to Clapton playing guest guitar on amazing recordings by other people. Looking up a bit more of his history as a guest guitarist, I thought it would make an interesting Friday Five.

5. “Here in the Dark” (Taj Mahal, 1996)
Taj Mahal and Clapton–what’s not to like?

4. “That’s the Way God Planned It (Parts 1 & 2)” (Billy Preston, 1969)
Billy Preston was charmed. He doesn’t just have has Eric Clapton on guitar. He has George Harrison (guitar), Keith Richards (bass), Ginger Baker (drums), and Doris Troy (vocals) backing him, too.

3. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (The Beatles, 1968)
Undoubtedly, this is Clapton’s most famous guest appearance, on a song written and sung by his most famous friend for whom he played with and recorded for often. (I don’t know how long this video will be up.)

2. “Wang-Dang-Doodle” (Howlin’ Wolf, 1970)
This might be a bit of a cheat since Clapton was one big reason this album got made. Counted as a “super session” album, Clapton, Steve Winwood, Bill Wyman, and Charlie Watts (among others) brought the blues master into Olympic Studios in London and got to play blues with him. Here, Howlin’ Wolf sings a classic from the great Willie Dixon. It’s a treat from one of the best blues albums you can buy.

1. “Good to Me as I Am to You” (Aretha Franklin, 1968)
This recording is the inspiration for this list. It’s covered well, in context, in the documentary. What they don’t mention is that this is from the Lady Soul album, the giver of “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman,” “Chain of Fools,” and (Sweet, Sweet Baby) Since You’ve Been Gone.” It’s a masterful work–for both Aretha and Eric–on a masterful work of an album.

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Friday Five: After the Beatles

We’ve been listening to a lot of Beatles this week and my son and I got into a conversation about our favorite “post-Beatles” songs by the Fab Four. We discovered that we’re not as big fans of Paul as the others, and that we still gravitate to George more than most fans. Maybe not surprisingly, most of the standouts are in the immediate post-break-up period–probably the release of the “best” songs from the remaining three. But my boy’s favorite is the grand exception.

So with a little help from my son, here are our five top songs by the Beatles made after the band split up. The order is mine but the influence is ours together.

5. “It Don’t Come Easy” (Ringo Starr)
Our favorite Ringo song, this was an early part of our household because of the live performance of it from the Concert for Bangladesh, was one of my son’s favorite DVDs when he was only 2. I think it’s one of the finest percussion performances by the post-Beatles Ringo, and one of his catchiest tunes overall.

4. “My Sweet Lord” (George Harrison)
My boy used to sing this song, maybe one of the first non-kid songs he took to. His favorite version was from the tribute concert for George Harrison after his death, where Billy Preston leads a band that includes Ringo, Eric Clapton, Jeff Lynne, and Dhani Harrison, George’s son. The Concert for Bangladesh version was a close second. Harrison was sued for the song, a challenge he lost. Turns out he was ripping off the Chiffons’ “He’s So Fine,” at least inadvertently. It’s still a classic.

3. “Instant Karma!” (John Lennon, or Lennon/Ono with the Plastic Ono Band)
It’s my sentimental favorite. I love how this song brings together all of John’s strengths, the rougher rock ‘n roll traditions he loved, and some great work by Phil Spector. My vote for his best solo song…

2. “Imagine” (John Lennon)
It’s hard to not include this song on a list like this. John Lennon wrote a pop music hymn, straight from the church of the Sixties, that has become an anthem for peace and love. I’m sure it spoke to the time in which it was created and released (1971) but it’s also timeless (unfortunately). What impresses me most is that it’s some of the typical simple lyrics of Lennon but, as he is at his best, they are profoundly deep.

1. “End of the Line” (Traveling Wilburys)
This is a mostly George Harrison penned song by the late-80s super group featuring Harrison, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, and Bob Dylan (who doesn’t sing on this one song). It’s my son’s favorite George Harrison song after the Beatles, and I love it a lot, too.

Friday Five: 1988

I was a sophomore/junior in high school in 1988. I guess the obligatory middle-aged guy thing to say about that is that it feels like yesterday. To be honest, it really doesn’t. It mostly feels like a long time ago, although thinking about it as three decades is a kind of head trip.

It feels a little less old when I hear music from those times. Whether they were songs I loved or not, so many of them were so indelibly seared into my brain that they feel ever-present.

Here are five major “pop songs” from 1988. I won’t say these are the best. I will say that each is part of the soundtrack of those times for me, so much so that they fall into that “ever-present” camp described above.

5. “Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car” (Billy Ocean)
I honestly can’t remember what I thought of Billy Ocean back then. He wasn’t the style of music I was buying (that was more hard rock and heavy metal), but I listened to a lot of Top 40 stuff on the radio and on MTV. I most associate the song with the movie License to Drive, starring a young Heather Graham, which was kind of made for teenage boys, I guess.

4. “Close My Eyes Forever” (Lita Ford and Ozzy Osbourne)
I had no idea who Lita Ford was until “Kiss Me Deadly” (the lead single from her 1988 album Lita) was released. A former member of the “all-girl” hard rock band The Runaways, she was everywhere in the heavy metal/hard rock magazine world after that. This single–one of the best of the hard rock ballad genre–is a duet with the metal man himself, something of an intentional argument against the false representation of Ozzy (and other metal acts) as “pro-suicide.”

3. “Parents Just Don’t Understand” (DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince)
Talk about indelibly seared into my brain. There was a time when entertainment didn’t have Will Smith. This song is the start of the era when it did have him. Pre-TV show, pre-movies, he was just a rapper with a kind of clean, pop twist. This was big on MTV, maybe even bigger there than on the radio.

2. “My Prerogative” (Bobby Brown)
The former member of New Edition, an R&B-teenage-boy-band, Bobby Brown broke out on his own in the mid-80s to some minor success. He became huge with his 1988 album Don’t Be Cruel, also the name of the lead off single. This follow up was as big a hit, and a staple at dances in the late 80s.

1. “Sweet Child O’ Mine” (Guns N’ Roses)
It’s kind of hard for me not to put this song at the top. Not only was it a favorite of mine from the year, but it kind of solidified the place of GNR at the top of the hard rock heap, too. That says something about the place of metal-ish music at the time. The album came out the summer of 1987, and the first single released on heavy metal stations was “Mr. Brownstone.” Endless touring and “Welcome to the Jungle” took them to the mainstream Top 40. This song made them music legends.

Daddy Reads 1.18

My wife and I have been avid readers with our kids since birth. Our youngest (7) has recently started preferring chapter books to the straight story book. This has partly arisen from the fact that both her sister (10) and brother (12) don’t read much else. But it’s also due to the great Beverly Cleary (101). Last year we inherited a box of old books from my folks (ages redacted), mostly stuff my sisters grew up reading. Among them were several of the “Ramona” books. Needless to say, she fell in love with the fact that the stories were told from the perspective of a little girl like her. And, so, we’ve been on chapter books ever since.

Anyway, I (45) thought it’d be fun to keep track of what she and I have been reading this year. So here’s the first month of Daddy Reads:

Runaway Ralph (Beverly Cleary)
We read The Mouse and the Motorcycle late last year. She didn’t like it that much at first–after all, the protagonist is a preteen boy–but she warmed up to Ralph and Cleary’s writing style. This is the sequel. It’s not as good overall but there are lots more kids and animals, and several scenes of tense suspense, all making for a good first read of the year.

Coco
I’m not going to go searching for this to find the author, but this is one of the junior novelizations of the hit Disney movie. We loved the movie. These novelizations are never as good, but the kids tend to like them at a certain age if they loved the movie enough.

Mary Anne Saves the Day (The Baby-Sitters Club #3) Raina Telgemeier
These are graphic novel adaptations of Ann M. Martin’s famous book series. My older daughter got one of Telgemeier’s original graphic novels a year ago and then devoured everything else she wrote over last year. I can see why. The characters are real and empathetically developed. They deal with young girls’ lives in serious (and positive) ways. I enjoyed this one more than I expected.

The Hidden Stairs and the Magic Carpet; Journey to the Volcano Palace; The Mysterious Island (The Secrets of Droon #1-3) Tony Abbott
Some years ago, when we were still in our first house, one of our neighbors–a teenage boy–gifted us a bunch of his childhood books. Among them were the first dozen or so of this series. I had never heard of it but apparently it’s been successful. The first book came out in 1999 and the last–the 44th!!–came out in 2010. As you might imagine, when they’re written this quickly, there’s not much to appreciate for the grown ups. That said, the kids love them. They’re predictable, derivative, and poorly described, but the adventurous Eddie, Julie, and Neal discovering the mysteries of the land of Droon–including Princess Keah, the Wizard Galen Longbeard, and the evil Lord Sparr–are more than enough to entertain them. We’re on #4 right now.

Friday Five: Have a Drink

It’s Friday. Here’s five songs about bars and/or drinking:

5. “Hey Bartender” (Floyd Dixon, 1955)

4. “Warm Beer and Cold Women” (Tom Waits, 1975)

3. “Gin and Juice” (Snoop Dogg, 1993)

2. “Have a Drink on Me” (AC/DC. 1980)

1. “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” (John Lee Hooker, 1966)

Friday Five: Covering Otis

Who’s the man? Otis Redding is the man.

Proof of this truth lies in the fact that when other musicians listen to Otis they are so moved by what they hear that they become infected with his soul. The only thing they want to do is what Otis does. But most of them also know that they can’t do what Otis does. They’re simply not as good, or as soulful, and so they translate what they felt into something that is true to them.

Here are five great covers of great Otis Redding songs. Each one tries to harness something from the master, but most do so in ways unique to themselves.

5. “Hard to Handle” (Black Crowes)
Chris Robinson and the Black Crowes were young and stupid in 1990, when they released their debut album, Shake Your Money Maker. Lucky they were massively talented, too. The album’s first single “Hard to Handle” and, in some ways, Robinson tries to one-up Otis. Wrapped up in the bluesy, rock style of the band, what could have been a failed impersonation turns into something fantastic.

4. “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” (Ike & Tina Turner)
If there’s a duo who could give Otis a run for his money when it comes to soul it just might be Ike and Tina Turner. In this cover (and in many ways some of their greatest performances were covers), both Tina and Ike change it up to convert a sweet ballad into something gritty and pained.

3. “Security” (Mavis Staples)
Mavis Staples knows what she can do. Here she takes the original and turns it into something more. Part of that is the guitar lick that drives the cover (and gives us the feel of times) but the rest is Ms. Staples’ powerful vocals elevating us to new heights.

2. “Try A Little Tenderness” (Frank Sinatra)
There are many covers of this song–perhaps the greatest performance Otis ever gave us–but most try to do what Otis did and, in so doing, they fall short. Sinatra takes romantic lyrics and a sweet melody and makes it all his.

1. “Respect” (Aretha Franklin)
Let’s not beat around the bush–this is the greatest cover of all time and one of the greatest things ever recorded. Aretha is the exception to the rule in that she can do what Otis can do…and then some. Here she gives us some of that, converting a song about an upset man into a Muscle Shoals infused feminist and civil rights anthem. It’s nothing short of greatness!