June 30 – The Turntable Talk, Round 4 : Could This Titanic Stay Afloat?

Welcome back to The Turntable Talk. As before, we’ve invited some other interesting music writers to share their opinions on a single topic, and we’ll be running their replies this week. Previous times we’ve looked at the influence of The Beatles, pros and cons of live albums, and the impact of MTV and music videos. This time around, we’re looking at “out of the blue”… debuts that came out of nowhere and really took listeners by surprise. Albums, or singles, that made you turn your head and say “that’s great! Who is that!?” Let’s hear about the great entrances to the musical stage and why they so impressed you… and perhaps if the act would go on to live up to that early potential or not.

Today, we have Colin from Once Upon A Time In the 70s. Colin is proudly Scottish and writes about the music and other aspects of growing up in the UK during the 1970s, and he talks about a band that might be new to many of us over here on this side of the Atlantic:

I’ll happily confess to being a bit of a grumpy old cynic. Not just when it comes to music, but to Life in general. Hey! I’m from the West of Scotland, that’s just how we’re built round these parts.

It means though, that as I grow older, very little actually surprises me now. If not exactly ‘wise’ I am at least an old man. I’ve seen it all. I’ve heard it all before. Give or take.

So my nomination for a song (and it is just a song – well, two if you count the B-side) comes from my youth.

I would have just turned thirteen when this song was released in the UK. My parents weren’t into the Beatles or Rolling Stones or anything like that – they listened to the soundtracks of ‘My Fair Lady’ and ‘South Pacific, or the military marching band sounds of The Royal Marines. I suppose it could be argued then that any ‘modern’ music came ‘out of the blue,’ to me.

At that age, I was becoming musically aware, though deprived the sounds of psychedelia and emerging heavy rock, my taste was, let’s say, a little on the innocent side. If I tell you the first three singles I bought were:

  1. The Sweet: ‘Coco.’ (June 1971)

  2. The New Seekers: ‘Never Ending Song of Love.’ (July 1971)

  3. Ken Dodd: ‘When Love Comes Around Again.’ (July 1971)

then perhaps you’ll understand how this particular track hit me like a bolt from the blue.

The fourth single I bought was ‘Sultana’ by Titanic.

Titanic were formed in 1969, and as I recall were billed as being from Norway. In fact, vocalist and main lyricist, Roy Robinson was from England. Not that there was much in the way of lyrics on this particular track.

They presented themselves, it appeared, as very ramshackle and espoused a laid back, hippie attitude. And I loved it! This was a bit of a musical awakening for a fresh, new teenager. Here was an exotic sounding ‘foreign’ band, who didn’t conform to that clean-cut, wholesome image of the bands I was more familiar with. In fact, they looked downright skanky!

I was mesmerized by the tribal and rhythmic percussion. And that organ! It was all new to me back then, but I’d soon be searching out more music along these lines. Atomic Rooster would later become a firm favourite.

My copy of ‘Sultana’ shows it released as the ‘B-side’ to Sing Fool Sing’ on the flip, though I think from reading other articles and books, the two tracks were effectively ‘Double A.’

National radio chose ‘Sultana’ as being more favourable for daytime airplay, and it resultantly spent twelve weeks in UK charts, peaking at #5 on 24th October 1971.

There was nothing around as far I could hear, that was anything like this. It still passes the ‘originality’ test to this day. It was Titanic’s debut 7” release in UK, though curiously, both tracks were lifted from their second album ‘Sea Wolf,’ while the follow-up, ‘Santa Fé’ came from their eponymous debut LP of 1970.

Sadly, Titanicoh crap, I’m just gonna say it – sank without much trace after this early highlight in their career. In addition to those mentioned above, the band released a further four albums in the ‘70s and one in 1993 during a short-lived reunion.

These LPs don’t attract much attention by way of the second-hand market. They are not particularly sought after, which is great, because they are available to buy at vary reasonable rates. Personally, I love them – good, solid, early heavy rock with strong vocals, powerful drumming and of course that distinctive organ.

Several singles were lifted from those albums, none of which made any real impact either. So yes, Titanic were your archetypal ‘one hit wonders.’

The next 7” I bought as a thirteen year old was, ‘Tokoloshe Man’ by John Kongos, followed by releases from Slade / Alice Cooper / Free. My life-long journey into the love of Rock music had begun.

So yes, like the ocean liner Titanic had only one hit. But boy! What an impact!

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June 29 – When The Who Made A Royal Noise

One of the biggest concerts of the decade took place this day in 1996. Queen wasn’t there but it was still a “royally” good time for the 100 000 or more people that went to Hyde Park in London for the Prince’s Trust Concert. Although they were the middle of the schedule, most seemed to feel that The Who, playing the entirety of Quadrophenia stole the show.

The Prince’s Trust is a British charity begun by, appropriately enough, Prince Charles back in 1976. It aims to help out young people (under 30) who are struggling, either with school or employment, largely by providing tutoring and training. It has helped out over 800 000 people through the years and raised funds in a variety of ways, not the least of which being frequent big name concerts. The first was held in an arena in Birmingham in 1982. Charles no doubt had a little help from his Lady Di – a confirmed rock fan- to bring in Status Quo, Kate Bush, Phil Collins and others for that.

The ’96 gig was the first to be held in spacious Hyde Park and had on the bill Alanis Morissette, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and The Who among others. Morissette kicked it off with a six-song set of her hits, beginning with “Ironic”. One reviewer remembers her dancing so much that her sunglasses flew off her head into the crowd, giving one lucky concert-goer an unexpected souvenir! Unnoticed then, but of significance now, she was backed with a band that included the late Taylor Hawkins, who’d soon leave for the Foo Fighters. Clapton was on late, playing a 14-song, largely “unplugged” set beginning with “Layla” and including some of his hits such as Cream’s “White Room” and “Wonderful Tonight” as well as a few old covers, like Willie Dixon’s “Hoochie Coochie Man.”

In between, The Who (introduced on stage by Jools Holland) ran through their 1973 rock opera Quadrophenia – considered by many their high-water mark- for the first time in over a decade to the delight of the large crowd. They were joined by a number of guests during the performance, including Gary Glitter and David Gilmour, who played guitar on two numbers.

Prince’s Trust still holds concerts some years although there doesn’t appear to be one slated for this year; they seemed to run a Red Carpet fashion show (albeit one hosted by Lionel Richie) this year instead. The 1996 one was quickly released on home video although it seems only the Who’s performance is featured.

June 27 – All Aboard For The Transcontinental Party

If you can’t go to the festival, the festival will come to you.” Or so was the ambitious idea in 1970, when the Festival Express began a-rollin’. It wasn’t exactly the “Marrakhesh Express”, but it was according to Janis Joplin “the best party I’ve ever been to.” And it rolled into its first city, Toronto, 52 years ago today.

It was the tail-end of the era of the Great Outdoor Rock Festival. The previous three years had seen Monterrey Pop, the Isle of Wight Festival, and most famously Woodstock among other events. But the travesty of the poorly-planned Altamont near the end of 1969 had all but put an end to the concept.

But in Canada, a group of ambitious planners led by Toronto jewelery store owner Ken Walker, with financial backing from the likes of Eatons, Industrial Trade Shows Canada and Maclean-Hunter Publishing had the idea of a traveling music festival… a sort of musical circus train. So they rented out a CN passenger train (with five sleeper cars, a diner, two lounge cars, plus ones for staff and baggage) and brought in some of the big live music attractions of the era to take part. Walker had some experience in dealings like that, having been the one who arranged to bring John Lennon and Yoko Ono in to play the first Plastic Ono Band show in Toronto the year before.

So the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, The Band, Canadian folkies Ian and Sylvia, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Buddy Guy and a few others boarded the train in Montreal late in June. That was supposed to be the first show in the tour, but Walker outsmarted himself a little. He had it booked for June 24, which is a provincial holiday there. Montreal’s mayor, already reluctant to allow such a concert refused for that date, fearing there’d be too many celebrations and parades and police would be spread too thin to properly patrol the venue.

So the train rolled down the line to Toronto, where concerts were scheduled for two days. Traffic joined the entourage there, but apparently didn’t hop on board after the shows were done. The concerts were slated for the CNE Stadium on the city’s lakeshore, and tickets were selling well at $10 for a single day or $16 for the whole event; an equivalent to about $80 and $125 today. Not bad when judged by current prices, but many found that excessive. A group of anti-Vietnam protestors in particular started to protest and force their way in, but the calm (!) head of Jerry Garcia of the Dead prevailed. He offered to play a free concert outside the park on a truck back; they did that, both before and after the regular concert with about 6000 enjoying that til 4AM. Inside, 37 000 enjoyed what was said to be arguably Joplin’s greatest live show ever. It was the best stop on the trip, marketing wise at least.

They boarded the train again and headed west in what, not surprisingly has been referred to as “non-stop jam session and party.” Remarkably, Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead said “most of us had done LSD (but) this was our first introduction to alcohol, and it worked just fine!”. Legend has it Jerry Garcia got to play “Casey Jones” for real, getting taken to the engine to run the train for a bit while totally high. So wild was the train that they had to make an impromptu stop along the way to buy out much of a local liquor store to refurbish their supplies.

A show in Winnipeg July 1 (Canada Day) went well but drew only about 4600 people, so it was off again, with Vancouver, on the Pacific shores slated to finish it up. However, that city refused permits, so they made last minute arrangements to play two shows in Calgary on July4 and 5. They booked McMahon Stadium at the local university and played away for about 20 000 fans. Unlike Vancouver, Calgary was happy to get the event. Or at least its mayor, Rod Sykes was. He ignored warnings from his city’s Medical Officer who complained “these music love-in festivals are generally only attended by hippies and oddballs of society and create nothing but serious problems.” Sykes countered “in no way does this administration support the expression of negative, destructive, contemptuous or antagonistic attitudes towards any group of people” and warned police to behave accordingly. Sykes seemed to be a music fan himself, and perhaps more importantly, wanted to put Calgary on the map as something other than a “backwater cow town” which had rather been its reputation until then. Did that make him a favorite of the promoters? Well, not exactly. Sykes also suggested to Walker that it would be great if the shows were free; Walker responded by punching. In the haze of the event and years passed, depending on who is asked, he either hit Sykes square in the face, or Sykes ducked and Walker broke his hand on a garbage can! To which the Medical Officer probably responded “told you so!”

When all was said and done, the event lost money for the promoters, but left a lot of good memories with the Canadian fans, and with the musicians. Robert Hunter wrote “Might As Well” aboard the train, which was later recorded by Jerry Garcia. The Dead’s Mickey Hart put it thusly: “Woodstock was a treat for the audience, the train was a treat for us.”

Many of the shows, and time on the train as well, were filmed but much of the footage was lost for years. In time though, a 2003 documentary of it was made and Janis Joplin’s Toronto performance was released as a CD added to the re-release of Pearl. Sadly she died only a few months later. Also sad, the idea of a moving train festival seemed to go to the grave around the same time, although some might suggest the idea helped create the likes of Lollapallooza years later.

June 24 – Morrissey Was ‘People’s Kind Of People

People were paying attention to The Smiths 37 years back. Or, should we say People were paying attention to Morrissey of The Smiths 37 years ago. Because on this day in 1985, that supermarket checkout favorite publication ran a feature article on Morrissey… only one month after running an extensive cover story on Madonna. While Madonna was hot, sexy and controversial at that time, “the Moz”, as his friends call him, might not seemed like an obvious selling point for a mass market American magazine. After all, he was a surly guy who fronted a band only a select few college students seemed to know about in the U.S. at that point.

Nevertheless, the magazine introduced its readers – something in the general range of six million or so then – to the counter-culture darlings in an extensive write-up. They titled it “Roll Over, Bob Dylan and Tell Madonna the News – The Smiths Morrissey is Rock’s Latest Messiah!”. One might just suspect neither Jesus nor Morrissey would love that title, but it surely grabbed people’s attention. The story noted how hot they were already in the UK and that they were touring the States for their Meat is Murder album (which had been released three months prior and already topped the Brit charts.) they gave some background on the singer/songwriter including that “for three years he sat in his bedroom, filling notebooks with words… by day, he’d been a schoolboy track star, by night sought sustenance in the feminist writings of Susan Brownmiller and Molly Haskall.” Which they noted , fueled rumors of him being gay (a bigger deal back then) which he refused to confirm although he did say his childhood and teen memories were “totally morbid” and involved “uninteresting episodes with girls.” Other little bon mots thrown out by Morrissey included that he thought “Michael Jackson has outlived his usefulness,” but he liked Duran Duran and he thought “most records portray life as it isn’t lived.” that led People, the magazine, to suggest people, the crowds, to find him “unacceptably honest” and that songs of sexual rejection would lead them to bad memories of their own. Certainly songs like the great “How Soon Is Now?” or “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” weren’t exactly in line with much of the perky-’80s vibe pop radio favored at the time.  All in all, they deemed him “articulate and calculating” and the fitting “spokesman for a generation sagging under rampant unemployment.”

Did it all help? Well, it likely didn’t hurt sales for The Smiths, but they weren’t taking a run at Madonna at the cash register or ticket office despite it. Meat is Murder failed to crack the American top 100 (it did make the Canadian top 40 – likely a function of more alternative rock stations there than a wider readership of People) . However, it did show Morrissey to be more prophetic than he might’ve seemed then in one way. “The U.S. is not asleep,” he proclaimed. “It is a hotbed of radicalism.” Looking at the world of today, they might have been snoozing… but he might have been right. By the way, in a weird turn of events which could well have amused the Smiths frontman, while most People covers featured movie stars or pop ones like Madonna, this particular issue had a mostly black cover saying “I knew Josef Mengele!”.

June 23 – Brits Enjoy Show Three Years In The Making

It’s that time again! Lucky Brits with some time off and about 280pounds ($350) can enjoy one of the biggest showcases of live music, and other entertainment, in the world. After being canceled the past two years due to Covid, the Glastonbury Festival is taking place again in Somerset, England. It’s now the largest ongoing outdoor arts festival in the world, featuring comedy, cabaret, and of course lots of music!

It began rather humbly in 1970, when only 1500 or so showed up for the “Pilton Festival” and paid one pound (perhaps $6 in today’s funds) to see acts like T Rex and Al Stewart. The next year David Bowie headlined, it took the “Glastonbury Festival” name (actually that year it was “Glastonbury Free Festival”) and was in its second day on June 23. About 12 000 showed up, getting in free to see Traffic, Hawkwind, and others besides Bowie play the pyramid-shaped stage. Although there were also some poets and dancers performing, notably absent was Pink Floyd, who’d been scheduled but canceled.

Glastonbury grew in stature through the ’80s, and in 1990 it was this day 32 years ago, day two of three that a (then) record crowd of 70 000 had paid 38 pounds to see The Cure and Happy Mondays among others. Unfortunately that one was marred by looting and a small riot at the end, leading it to be canceled the next year and new policies put in place for security since then. Ten years later, in 2000, it was kicking off again. That year, the headliners for each of the three nights were David Bowie, Travis and the Chemical Brothers. For Bowie, it was a return 29 years in the making, while it was the first time for Travis. The Chemical Brothers, the premier EDM band at the time, had appeared twice before, but never as a headline act. Among the diverse range of acts on the lineup that year were the Pet Shop Boys, Ocean Colour Scene, Eagle Eye Cherry and even Burt Bachrach! It was the first for the new, famous 100′ high pyramid stage and it drew over 100 000 in paid attendance for the third year running. However, they had issues with gate-crashers coming on site, perhaps doubling the attendance, but also causing problems which led the regional council to refuse a permit for 2001 until the organizers got better perimeter security on board.

The event keeps growing though; attendance has hit as high as 175 000 in recent years. In 2017, Radiohead , the Foo Fighters and Ed Sheeran were among the highlights those who paid 238 pounds ($310) to enter and pitch their tents! This year’s opened yesterday but the real fun begins on Friday when live music – lots of it – begins. Among those of us in the typical A Sound Day reader generation, the big deal this year is going to be Paul McCartney, who’s headlining on Saturday night, with a two-hour plus set scheduled. It’ll be his first appearance at Glastonbury since 2004, although he had been slated to star in 2020’s lineup, it’s also the last appearance of his “Got Back” tour.  Younger fans perhaps will enjoy the other two nights, highlighted by Billie Eilish Friday and Kendrick Lamar on Sunday. Joining them at various times this weekend on the main, Pyramid Stage will be Crowded House, Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Noel Gallagher and Diana Ross. If the main lineup isn’t your cup of tea, there are at least 14 other stages and venues to peruse, with performers including First Aid Kit, and blasts from the past like Billy Bragg, First Aid Kit, the Jesus and Mary Chain, Glenn Tilbrook of Squeeze, Tom Robinson…and literally hundreds of new and upcoming acts. Or, if tired of music for a bit, campers can check out tents dedicated to charities including Oxfam and Greenpeace, or watch organized debates on topics like “defying the cost of living crisis” or “solidarity with Ukraine.” However, if you don’t have tickets, don’t bother booking a last minute flight to Jolly Ol’ England. The website advises the 142 000 tickets are sold out and it indicates they check carefully to make sure each one is used by the purchaser.

June 21 – One Way To Buy A Thrill Might Be To Become An Avocado Farmer

Readers of the New York Times this day in 1981 got a musical surprise. Probably an unwelcome one at that. They found that essentially Steely Dan had broken up. Donald Fagen let the news slip out casually in an interview with the paper about eight months after their seventh studio album, Gaucho, had come out. It became the sixth of the seven to go platinum in the States and added another hit to their eight previous American top 30 singles, “Hey Nineteen.”

In the interview, Fagen talked enthusiastically about doing a song(“True Companion”) for the Heavy Metal soundtrack and noted that he was ready to begin working on a solo album (which would be The Nightfly, his most successful solo work). “The fact that it’s not a Steely Dan album has freed me from a certain image, a preconceived idea of how it’ll sound,” he said. When asked whether or not Steely Dan would get back together he said “we just kind of left that in the air. We’ll see,” but noted Steely Dan – he and Walter Becker – decided “after writing and playing together for 14 years, we could use a ‘change mondaire’ as the French say. We wanted to do something fresh.”

For Becker, that meant a whole change of scenery. He moved to Hawaii to “become an avocado rancher and self-styled critic of the contemporary scene”…and clean up. After years of abuse he quit drugs, drinking and even smoking. The previous year had probably been a wake-up call for him. His girlfriend, the band’s manager Karen Stanley died of an overdose in his apartment. While he wasn’t directly responsible, her family slapped a multi-million dollar lawsuit on him for “wrongful death” asserting he had introduced her to both cocaine and heroin. They settled out of court for an undisclosed amount. Almost the same time, he was hit by a taxi in New York and had broken both legs, making the making of Gaucho “long, torturous and incredibly expensive.”

They’d had humble beginnings as staff writers at ABC Records and being in a band called Leather Canary, famous later only for having soon-to-be actor Chevy Chase playing drums. But that led to Steely Dan forming in 1971, and together they managed to put out some of the finest-engineered and critically acclaimed albums of the decade, such as Can’t Buy A Thrill and Aja. As Rickie Lee Jones said upon Becker’s death , “what ‘the Dan’ accomplished was this – they introduced a new idea into the musical conversation of the time…intelligent music was cool.”

Although they’d each keep moderately busy in the ’80s, Fagen doing solo work, Becker producing a few albums and briefly joining British band China Crisis (including on their career highlight, the Flaunt the Imperfection album) neither achieved much commercial success or attention after Fagen’s jazzy The Nightfly and its hit, “IGY.” So, having left it in the air, as it were, in 1993 they got back together and toured in 1994, something they were highly reluctant to do in their heyday. Eventually they’d record again, putting out Two Against Nature in 2000, an album that won more critical accolades than huge sales.

Becker passed away from cancer in 2017, but Fagen has kept the “band” going as a touring act, with a number of talented session players behind him.

June 17 – Jolly Rubbish Behavior Won Kinks No Yankee Fans, Wot?

1965. North America was in the grips of “Beatlemania”, and loving all things British. So, hot on the heels of the Fab Four and the Rolling Stones, the Kinks set out to conquer the “new world.” They set foot in the U.S. on this day 57 years back, preparing for a tour they figured would elevate them to the level of the other two bands.

It could have worked perhaps, it should have worked perhaps. While they didn’t have quite the writing or playing creativity of the Beatles, it could be argued they were as talented as the Stones and as talented as pretty much any American band of the day. At the time, they’d rolled off three-straight top 10 hits in the States, “You Really Got Me,” “All Day and All of the Night” and “Tired of Waiting For You.” As Far Out put it, “they should have had no problem…their music at the time captured the spirit of Britain which at the time…was of such intrigue to American audiences.” But as the saying goes, the best laid plans of mice and men…whether or not the Kinks should have been a giant hit in the States, fact is they weren’t. Certainly nowhere near the level of the Beatles or Stones, or even later acts like the Yardbirds. Turns out they were their own worst enemies.

The Kinks didn’t get along that well together. They did drink and party a lot together, and the combination wasn’t a winner. Earlier in ’65, at a show in Cardiff, Wales, only minutes into the show, guitarist Dave Davies said something to drummer Mick Avory that he took offence too; more words were exchanged then Davies kicked over Avory’s entire drum kit. The drummer retaliated by clubbing Davies with a hi-hat stand, knocking him unconscious. Avory fled, and later ended up in a Welsh jail, trying to convince the police it was all part of their stage show! And you thought the Sex Pistols were the original Brit punk bad boys…They had to cancel their next nine British shows after that, just as “Tired of Waiting For You’ was going to #1 there.

So fast-forward about six weeks or so and they land in New York, preparing for a TV appearance the following day; for reasons unclear their arrival was about a week later than expected and they’d had to cancel shows in places like New Hampshire and even New York City itself.

That TV show went alright, and over the next four weeks they’d play 11 concerts, sometimes opening for others (like a July 3 appearance at the Hollywood Bowl with the Byrds and Beach Boys), sometimes as a headliner, often with Dobie Gray opening for them. But they canceled four more shows, including the only Canadian date scheduled, in Vancouver. And not all of the shows went smoothly. In one show they cut their set to just 20 minutes after agreeing to play 40 because they only got paid half their fee in advance.

That was bad, but it got worse. One of , or maybe both of two appearances during the tour landed them in musical purgatory.

On June 28, they were slated to appear on a TV show called Shivaree, run by Dick Cavett. Singer Ray Davies remembers “some guy who said he works for the TV company walked up to me and accused us of being late. Then he started making anti-British comments, things like ‘just because the Beatles did it, every mop-topped, spotty-faced Limey juvenile thinks he can come over here and make a career for himself. You’re a bunch of commies!’” As he put it, “punches were thrown.” Someone from the TV crew complained.

Add in a San Francisco concert they blew off because the promoter wouldn’t pay them in full ahead of time and him complaining, and they had troubles. Turns out even musicians have to follow rules. In the U.S. and Canada, the American Federation of Musicians is a union which more or less governs live performances. They have the right to “withold work permits for British musicians if they misbehaved on stage, or refused to perform without a good reason.” With the Davies Brothers and co. checking off both those boxes, the AFM did just that – refused them work permits in North America for four years. As Ray Davies years later rued, “that ridiculous ban too away the best years of the Kinks career when the original band was performing at its peak.”

Eventually he negotiated a truce with the AFM, and they let the Kinks return midway through 1969. On October 17 that year, they performed at the famous Filmore East in New York, opening for Spirit, and would play 27 shows by December 8, including ones at the Whisky A Go-go in L.A. and their first Canadian appearances, in Toronto on Dec. 6. However, they were touring for Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire), an album that even their fans at home couldn’t warm up much too and the shows weren’t sell-outs nor especially well-reviewed. The “British Invasion” had pretty much departed by then, or at least left itself to the next generation of acts like Led Zeppelin and the Who. The Kinks would have some success in the ’70s and ’80s here, but never lived upto what many considered their potential was.

Was Ray Davies mad about that? Well, yes. But he also says being banned from the U.S. for four years “made me root myself more in Europe, the folk tradition of Britain,” which in the end might be the thing they’re most beloved for.

June 16 – Running Up That Worldwide Chart Hill

Stranger things” have happened in music…maybe. No, you’ve not somehow gotten into a time machine unknowingly and gone back to 1985! Yet, according to Billboard, the most popular song in the world right now is…(drum roll please) “Running Up That Hill” by Kate Bush. It doesn’t get much stranger than that. After all, the song is a very good one, no doubt, but wasn’t nearly that popular when it came out 37 years ago. It’s proof that sometimes a good tune is timeless…and of the universal power of popular TV shows.

Running Up That Hill” was the lead single off reclusive Kate’s fifth album, The Hounds of Love. She said the premise was rather simple: “a man and a woman can’t really understand each other because we are a man and a woman…if we could actually be in each other’s places for awhile, I think we’d both be very surprised!” She gave it her usual classy art-rock treatment and stunning multi-octave vocals, playing the keyboards herself and using session musicians including her brother Paddy, and her boyfriend Del Palmer to fill in the rest. Palmer played bass and arranged the drum machines, whil Paddy played balalaika on it, a Russian folk three-string guitar. Her original idea for the song was if the man or woman could make a deal with the Devil, they could fit into the other sex’s shoes, but she then thought “why not a deal with God instead?” She wanted to call the song that, “A Deal with God”, but the bosses at EMI put their foot down. They figured it wouldn’t be played at all in Catholic countries like Italy and even in “progressive” lands like Australia, it could get boycotted with that name, so it became “Running Up That Hill”. She did get her way though with them in releasing it; EMI wanted “Cloudbusting” to be the standout single from the record, she insisted on this one.

Smart move on her part, because it became a hit single…in 1985, back when singles actually were bought and on 7” vinyl discs to boot. It got to #3 in the UK, her biggest hit since her beautiful debut “Wuthering Heights” about eight years prior, and it made the North American charts as well, a first for her. It peaked at #30 in the States, and #16 in Canada. That, along with the title track, pushed The Hounds of Love to double-platinum at home for her (still her biggest, non-compilation album) and platinum in Canada, where it was a top 10. In the UK it was her second #1 album.

As years went by, Bush got more and more reclusive, and releases fewer and farther between, as well as perhaps more artsy and esoteric. The last hit she had was “King of the Mountain”, which reached the top 5 in UK and Canada in 2005.

The song had a resurgence at home in 2012, when a remix of it was used in British TV coverage of the Olympics. That in itself might have been a surprise, with it creeping back onto the UK singles chart. But ten years later…who would have expected its current success?

Not Kate, who wrote “it’s all so exciting! The track is being responded to in so many positive ways, I’ve never experienced anything quite like this before! I just want to say a really big thank you to everyone in the U.S. who has supported this song.” And support it they are; the brand new Billboard chart has it rising to #4, by far the best in her career. What’s more, it’s currently #1 in Australia and New Zealand, #2 in the UK and Canada, and a hit everywhere, it seems. In India, it’s #11 for example! It is in fact, #1 on their relatively newly-created Worldwide Hits chart.

The reason, Netflix series Stranger Things. The apparently globally wildly successful show set in the ’80s used it in a pivotal scene recently…and a whole new generation or two were asking “What is that song?” while their parents were no doubt saying, “oh yeah – I always liked that song.” The show’s supervisor, Nora Felder said “this season, and Kate Bush’s song really seem to touch on the experience of alienation and emotional struggle that a lot of teens have been and continue to be going through, albeit in different ways.” She told Mental floss she had a “hunch younger viewers would connect with ‘Running Up That Hill’ but is “blown away by the ‘lightning in a bottle’ ” response. “For me, that reflects the power of a meaningful, timeless song…and how its significance can be revived and re-conceived when it’s married to a remarkable story.”

It might be akin to lightning in a bottle, but one can bet it’s going to have a huge number of older artists running up that hill… to TV/Movie studios, pitching their oldie goldies to producers for use in the next smash series, hoping “Stranger Things” can happen indeed.

June 9 – The Boss Needs To Circle Day Twice On Calendar

It should be a big day on Bruce Springsteen‘s calendar, for it represents two big anniversaries for him. Fifty years ago to the day, he signed his first recording contract, with Columbia Records. And then 31 years back he married Patti Scialfa, his backup singer who’s proven herself to be much more than that.

Springsteen drew comparisons to Bob Dylan early on (more on that later) but it was really the even bigger icons of the ’60s who inspired him – The Beatles. “Four guys, playing and singing, writing their own material…rock’n’roll came to my house when there seemed to be no way out!”

His live sets around New Jersey drew a following early on, and eventually led him to Columbia Records in New York, where John Hammond (an exec and scout largely responsible for getting Bob Dylan to sign there) had an interest. However, Springsteen’s first manager Mike Appel, nearly blew it. Columbia boss Clive Davis recalls Appel “insisted that Bruce, who had not played a note yet, was ‘better than Dylan’”. This didn’t amuse Hammond nor Davis, but after listening to a demo of acoustic tracks and seeing a club performance by him, Clive said “I love Bruce Springsteen. He’s an original in every way.” They signed him to Columbia “immediately”; remarkably he’s still with that label five decades later.

Springsteen went to work right away, with his first album Greetings From Asbury Park coming out a mere six months later, to good reviews but poor sales. Davis notes “the ‘New Dylan’ curse descended on Bruce, often at the hands of his greatest admirers. In trying to compliment Bruce, they were limiting him, setting him up to fail.”

Eventually of course, he succeeded in ways Bob Dylan could only dream of. That was more true than ever in 1984, with Born in the U.S.A., his 20-million+ seller that elevated him to a stadium-selling superstar. He decided to add a few faces to the E Street Band for the lengthy tour for it, including Patti Scialfa as a backing singer and occasional keyboardist.

Scialfa was a struggling New Jersey singer/songwriter at the time, playing clubs she sometimes waitressed at, despite her songwriting talent and degree in music. She toured with Bruce and they got along OK, but it took awhile for sparks to fly it seems. She dated Tom Cruise briefly and he fell for model Julianne Phillips, who appeared on his “Glory Days” video. They soon married. However, their age difference (she being 11 years younger than him) and the amount of time he spent away from home wore on the relationship and in 1988 they filed for divorce because of “irreconcilable differences.” Scialfa had rejoined Bruce for some backing vocals on Tunnel of Love (heard most clearly on “One Step Up”) and again toured with him; this time they hit it off. She moved in with him as soon as the divorce to Phillips went through, and soon had their first child, son Evan. This caused some amount of criticism, to which Springsteen notes “it’s a strange society that assumes it has the right to tell people whom they should love and shouldn’t.”

The pair married in a small, private ceremony at his L.A. house. They’re still together and have had a couple more kids since. Patti still often works with his E Street Band (she’s played guitar and keyboards at various times besides singing) and has put out three solo records. They’ve been well-received, but commercial failures. Her debut, Rumble Doll in 1993, won kudos from critics like allmusic which said it proved “Patti Scialfa is more than just a beautiful redhead with good connections,” calling the record “low-key” but adding “there’s not a bad song in the bunch.” Despite that, and being co-produced by The Boss and Mike Campbell of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers (who brought in Belmont Trench of that band and John Mellencamp’s drummer Kenny Aronoff to work on it) it failed to catch on at all. Perhaps someone compared her to the ‘next Aretha!”

June 5 – Jones Made Us Look At The Sky Differently

Yippy-aye-ay, yippy-aye-o…it’s a big day for cowboys, especially musical ones. Because it has double significance in the history of what the Western Writers of America picked as the “greatest Western song ever” – “Ghost Riders in the Sky.” The song was written by Stan Jones, who was born this day in 1914, and then first released as a record also on this day by Jones, in 1948. The following year it would be the Billboard top song of the year, hitting #1 for Vaughn Monroe but also making the charts that year alone in versions by Burl Ives, Peggy Lee and Bing Crosby! Radio-listeners must have been getting a bit tired of hearing it by 1950, me thinks. Since then, countless other artists have recorded it including Johnny Cash, Lawrence Welk and most notably, The Outlaws.

The Outlaws were a Tampa-based Southern Rock band who were among the first signed to Arista by Clive Davis, based upon the urging of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Ronnie Van Zant. They were a bit more country-oriented than some of their contemporaries. Plus they used two co-lead guitarists, which was a tad out of the ordinary. Their version of “Ghost Riders” was the title track of their sixth album, released in 1980 and peaking at #25 in the U.S.; in 1981 the supercharged single made it to #31 – their biggest success – and #15 on the mainstream rock charts, as well as in Canada.

The story behind the song apparently dates back to the 1920s. When Jones was 12 years old, living in Arizona, he met a Native (likely a Comanche) who told him of his people’s belief that when someone died, their spirit went to live in the sky and that clouds could be “ghost riders.” It gave him the idea for a song of ghost cowboy’s chasing the “Devil’s herd”, “red-eyed cows…a-plowin’ through the ragged skies”. He worked for awhile as a park ranger and he’d sing the song to movie scouts who came looking for locations to film Westerns in. Eventually he became a musician and recorded it. Little did he know that although it didn’t do a great deal in his own version, it would become an “American standard” . Sadly, he became a “ghost rider” himself when he succumbed to cancer at age 49.