June 21- Beach Girl & Her Captain Hit It Off In A Big Way

Well, it did for nearly 40 years – keep ’em together that is. Talk about your beginner’s luck…Captain and Tennille hit it big with their first hit single, “Love Will Keep Us Together” which hit #1 on Billboard on this day in 1975. It would stay atop the chart for a month, chart in an alternate, Spanish-language version they also did, and be a #1 in Canada and Australia as well. It was the biggest-selling single of the year in the U.S. and Canada, and so, perhaps appropriately it won the Grammy for Record of the Year in 1976.

The song was written by Neil Sedaka, who also recorded it (to little acclaim) two years prior; if you listen carefully you hear her exclaim “Sedaka’s back” near the end of the song as a tip of the cap to Neil. The married couple who met when Daryl (“Captain”) was the touring keyboard player for the Beach Boys and he got Toni (Tennille) a gig as a backing singer, earning her the nickname of the “only Beach Girl.” It was also the start of a briefly-stellar career for the two keyboardists. By the end of the decade they’d racked up seven more top 20 hits including the… memorable… “Muskrat Love”, and briefly (in the tradition of that other singing couple, Sonny and Cher) their own TV variety show. That ran for the 1976-77 season on ABC, the story is they grew tired of the show before the network brass did and asked to be let out of the contract. They also got to play for President Ford who was entertaining Queen Elizabeth at the White House; Ford liked them but the Queen was said to have fallen asleep! The song helped Sedaka, as the lyrics say, come back too. Although he was an early pop star, with six top 10 hits by 1963 including “Calendar Girl,” the Beatles era hadn’t been kind to him, with him virtually disappearing from the public eye for a decade until a bit of a surprise hit in 1974, “Laughter in the Rain.” After this one though, Elton John was soon calling him and they collaborated on the #1 hit “Bad Blood.”

Unfortunately the Captain and Tennille divorced in 2014, but remained close until Daryl passed away in 2019, apparently with Toni still by his side.

February 28 – Third Time Was The Charm For U2

With a title that seems eerily relevant still today, U2 found “third time’s the charm” on this day with the release of their third album, War this day in 1983. It quickly became their most-successful to date and helped them announce their presence in a big way on this side of the Atlantic.  It may not be too much of a stretch to say it not only turned around their career, it may have saved it.

After a promising start with 1980’s Boy, they followed up with a flat-out disappointing and problem-ridden (things like Bono losing the whole lyric script around when they were going into the studio) sophomore effort, October, that few seemed to like that much. October. That album had charted lower in their homeland than the debut, failed to even crack the charts in Canada after getting to #4 with Boy and outside of Ireland had failed to generate what could be considered a “hit” single. So forgettable was it that the NME , while panning this record, failed to even consider October when comparing it to their past efforts while Rolling Stone just called it “glib” in their upbeat review of this third album.

War was recorded in their hometown of Dublin in late-’82, the year of, among other things the Falkland Islands War. Bono describes the mindset of putting the album together : “everywhere you looked, from the Falklands to the Middle East to South Africa, there was war.” Not to mention the ongoing civil war (no matter what it might have been officially dubbed as) between the Protestant north and Catholic south in their Ireland.

The central theme and focus helped make War powerful, so too did the improving musicianship of the quartet. And a wee bit of expanding their reach. For instance, The Edge (who said he was channeling anger and self-loathing because of a rocky period with his girlfriend into the rockers) pulled out a slide guitar in places, played bass on their soon-to-be concert staple “40” and sang the opening to “Red Light”. That one, inspired by Bono’s unhappiness with prostitution, brought to the forefront when they visited Amsterdam, was unusual and catchy with some horns added in and background voices of Kid Creole’s “Coconuts”. Those ladies just happened to be in Ireland at the same time and producer Steve Lillywhite knew them so figured “why not?”

The standouts on the record however, were appropriately enough the trio of singles: “New Year’s Day”, “Two Hearts Beat As One” and “Sunday, Bloody Sunday” (which technically wasn’t released as a single in many countries but was played as one on radio.) The cumulative effect was to give them their biggest commercial and critical success to that point. The album was their first to hit #1 in the UK, knocking Michael Jackson’s Thriller out of the way in doing so, and getting to #4 in Canada and #12 in the U.S., where it’s currently 4X platinum. Overall, sales were better than triple what October had done. Of course, it was only a hint of the heights they’d soar to later in the decade.

While not every British critic was blown away by it, most American ones were and now, almost all see it as one of the high-water marks of new wave/post-punk. Rolling Stone, for example at the time rated it 4-stars, saying “their songs hustle along with the sort of brusque purposefulness more frequently associated with punk” (all the more resonant when considering the rather upbeat, lightweight pop on much of The Clash’s Combat Rock out around the same time). Later on, the magazine would rank it among the 500 greatest albums of all-time and as the fourth best U2 album, noting “impressive listening but more impressive, it deals with a difficult subject matter in a sensible way.” Words that would come to be a hallmark of the band over the following three decades, as it turns out.

February 20 – Boys Single Certainly Not Too Dusty

It’s not often you get a chance to not only work with a personal idol, but to boost their career at the same time. But that’s what happened to the Pet Shop Boys, who got to #2 in the U.S. on this day in 1988, singing with Dusty Springfield on “What Have I Done To Deserve This?” It was the second single off their second album, Actually after “It’s A Sin.”

The Boys – Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe – typically wrote their own material, but for this one they’d collaborated with Allee Willis, an American songwriter who’d co-written Earth, Wind and Fire’s “September” and would later go on to be the main writer of the Friends theme, “I’ll Be There For You.” She says “it’s this dysfunctional relationship and they don’t have the strength to get out.” The group had the song itself ready by the time they were making their debut album in 1984. But they sensed it would be much better as a male/female duet. They suggested that to their label (Parlophone/EMI, a company which put out records for a certain other famous British band before them) and while EMI agreed, they wanted Tina Turner to do it. Or at least Barbra Streisand – someone very well-known and whose career was hot enough to bring added interest to the new-ish new wave band. They thought differently.

Neil Tennant, who’d been a music writer before starting the band, had said previously his all-time favorite album was Dusty in Memphis by Springfield. Lowe agreed that Dusty was the one, so they offered her the “part”. She was by then living in California and far from a hot commodity in the music world. And initially, she turned them down. Only after the Please album came out and she heard what they were all about did she agree to do it. She flew back to London just to do the song.

Tennant says she arrived “clutching the lyric sheet of the song, annotated and underlined…she was very nice, surprisingly a little lacking in self-confidence.” But she was a perfectionist, wanting to get every word just right and get it all in one complete take. Which took at least 20 takes to accomplish. Studio engineer Julian Mendehlson admits saying “Christ! This is going to take forever!” as she kept stalling midway through her part to try again. But when she got the “good” take, he said “well that’s why she took so long!”

Actually came out and while very danceable and pop, it had an underlying theme of hostility towards the right-wing policies of the Thatcher government, so even if the song was about a personal relationship, the title could be seen as having a bit of a double meaning, with them perhaps also asking what Britain had done to deserve the Iron Lady. Even at its most basic, straight-forward level, it was to quote the Daily Telegraph, “a deceptively bouncy song of lovelorn misery.” Which also could be read as “good!”. The NME, never one for under-statement, called it “possibly the greatest pop song in history.” That might be a stretch, but their assessment that it “just has that thing – before it’s even finished, you already want to play it again” wasn’t.

The song became a global hit. It narrowly missed becoming their third #1 hit at home and likewise stalled at #2 in the U.S., thanks to Expose’s “Seasons Change” which topped Billboard at the time. It was a top 5 in Canada, Australia and most of Europe…and it put Dusty back on the musical map. It was the first significant hit she’d sung on since her “Son Of A Preacher Man” in 1968 and helped her return to being a live draw and feel motivated to record again. Her album Reputation, recorded about a year later, became her first gold one in the UK since Dusty in Memphis two decades prior. Not coincidentally, the Pet Shop Boys helped produce and write the album with her.

The Pet Shop Boys have gotten to perform “What Have I Done To Deserve This?” at the Brit Awards twice. The first time was in ’88, with Dusty and the second time in 2009, with Lady Gaga filling in.

November 2 – Fab Four Fans Felt Sunny On Cloud Nine

The title may have described his mindset! George Harrison released his 11th solo studio album, Cloud Nine this day in 1987, and it was quite a remarkable comeback. After spending much of the decade to that point more interested in making movies than music, Harrison felt inspired and brought together quite an all-star set of his friends to record it in his home studio. Chief among them were Eric Clapton, Elton John, Gary Wright and even, yes, Ringo Starr. Plus ELO frontman Jeff Lynne, who co-wrote much of the album as well as produced it.

The results were positive. It hit the top 10 in the UK, U.S. and Canada, gave him his first platinum album in the U.S. since 1970’s All Things Must Pass , in Britain it was his first top 10 since that one. As well, it delivered two solid hit singles: “Got My Mind Set On You” and “When We Was Fab.” The former, a cover of an obscure tune by Rudy Clark topped the U.S. charts (his first #1 in 15 years) and the latter was a top 30 hit in most markets. It was a homage to the Beatles and Harrison said a deliberate attempt to create something that sounded like it was from that era. To add authenticity, Ringo even drummed on the track and showed up in the video.

Most reviews were positive as well. The New York Times called it “pleasantly tuneful…evokes the Beatles more romantic, psychedelic music” and Rolling Stone graded it 4-stars. They said of it, “If Cloud Nine was simply a decent record, it would still mark a major comeback,” but felt that rather it was “in fact an expertly-crafted, endlessly infectious record that constitutes Harrison’s best work since 1970’s inspired All things Must Pass.” Later, Uncut and Mojo would each also give it 4-stars.

The album had additional significance as he brought in Tom Petty, Roy Orbison and Bob Dylan to record a b-side for a single. That song was “Handle With Care.” They all liked working together so much that it they decided to carry on and do more…which ended up being the Traveling Wilburys.

November 1 – Suspicions Confirmed … The King Was Back

Long live the king might’ve been the call of the day 52 years ago, because after a seven year drought, Elvis Presley was back on top with an American #1 single. It would be one of his best – and his last as well. “Suspicious Minds” topped the charts this day in 1969.

Elvis had of course, been the hottest star on the planet for awhile before The Beatles showed up. But changing market tastes coupled with some so-so career choices (often made for him by his manager, “Colonel Tom”) had left his career in a downturn during the peak of “Beatlemania.” Things finally started to turn around for him in late-1968. As Jim Harrington put it, “following a lengthy slide toward commercial oblivion, Elvis reclaimed the title of ‘The King of Rock and Roll’ doing the show … the ’68 ‘Comeback Special’”. That show was the NBC TV special simply entitled Elvis which as Rolling Stone would put it, “proved that the then 33-year old still had swagger.” Suddenly Elvis was cool again.

He had played out his contract with Paramount and decided to step away from the movies and went back to Memphis to concentrate on making some great music again. His Elvis From Memphis album was a hit both with record-buyers and critics, and launched the hit single “In the Ghetto.” But it was this single, from the same sessions that let the “King” rule once more.

Suspicious Minds” was actually written by a Texan songwriter, Mark James, who’d recorded it himself the year before. James was a talented songwriter (he’d soon after write “Always on My Mind”, the Willie Nelson hit) but his vocals skills were perhaps not so great, nor his reach. He was signed to the small Scepter Records label, which put out his version as a single with no real promotional budget. No surprise that it flopped. However, someone in Elvis’ camp heard it and figured it great for Presley. Elvis himself agreed, although Colonel Tom almost put the kibosh on it by trying to demand writing royalties for Presley. Happily for all involved, they worked it out and Presley went into the American Sound Studios in Memphis at 4 AM one day early in ’69 and put down the vocals in three hours.

James said he wrote the song while playing around on an organ and thinking about his life. He said he was married, but still had some feelings for his old high school sweetheart, which his wife picked up on. She was “suspicious” of him and he felt “caught in a trap.” Rolling Stone suggested Elvis felt caught in a trap as well, though it was more “being used as a cash cow being milked dry by his label and hangers-on.” Whatever his mind set, he nailed the feeling of the song perfectly.

One unique thing about the single is how it fades out near the end, then after about 15 seconds comes back to full volume for a bit more of the chorus. Distinctive indeed, but not something everyone liked. Some DJs were confused by it and cut the single short; It was a call made by Elvis’ producer, Felton Jarvis, over the wishes of the studio’s in-house producer, Chips Momon who felt “I have no idea why he did it. He messed it up!”

Whether it marred the song or not isn’t of great consequence. All in all it was an undeniably great record and the public loved it. Although Elvis had scored 17 prior #1 singles in the States, a dozen of those had been in the ’50s and his last one before this was “Good Luck Charm” in 1962. “Suspicious Minds” rose quickly to #1 not only at home but in Canada, Australia, Belgium and elsewhere. Surprisingly, it stopped at #2 in Britain, but there it made #11 once more in 2007! And there TV talent show contestant Gareth Gates had a #1 song with it in 2002.

Although the great tune’s been covered well, by artists including Gates, Dwight Yoakam and Fine Young Cannibals (whose version was a Brit top 10) , Elvis’ remains the definitive. Rolling Stone rank it among the 100 greatest songs of all-time and call it “Elvis’ masterpiece.” Few would disagree that this was indeed a song fit for a “king.”

September 3 – Now & Then Combined : The Return Of Abba

Way back on this week in 1974, Abba‘s first hit, “Waterloo” was sitting at #34 in the U.S. in its 12th and final week on the top 40. The four Swedes had vaulted themselves into the international spotlight with that one, which won the Eurovision Song Contest with (and which that contest itself has named the “best song in Eurovision history”) and had quite a nice run in the ’70s, with smash hits like “Dancing Queen,” “Knowing Me, Knowing You” and “Fernando.” By 1981, when they released their eighth and it seemed final album, The Visitors, they’d become not only among the best-known pop musicians in the world, but among the best-selling. They split with some animosity after that, but their popularity continued unabated, with the Broadway show-movie Mama Mia introducing them to a new generation and pushing their Gold best-of album past 30 million in sales. In fact, in the UK, it’s the second-biggest seller of all-time, at 19X platinum.

Which brings us to now, and the long-awaited yet still surprising return of Abba. The four had tentatively gotten back together in 2016 and by early-’18 had reported they had recorded a couple of new songs. Fans waited…and waited, and in many cases began to think it was some sort of hoax. But yesterday, Benny, Bjorn, Anna-Frid and Agnetha proved they are back in a big – and unusual – way, with an online news conference. They released a new single – that is to say two new songs – plans for a new album this fall and a live show. Sorta. We’ll get to that in a bit.

The album is due in November and entitled Voyage. On Universal Music, it’s the type of attention-grabber that seldom occurs in the music world these days. There’s already an advertising campaign for it underway in Europe and they plan to release it to all digital media (streaming services and for download) as well as on CD, LP and even cassette tape! Unfortunately if you have an 8-track deck in your 1974 Volvo, you might be out of luck.

As for the two new songs, they were both written, as usual, by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, and sung primarily by Anna-Frid Lyngstad, aka “Frida”, the only one of the four to have had international success as a solo artist in the years between the band’s runs. The “single” is “I Still Have Faith In You”, a rather slow-building power ballad The Guardian calls “stately”. The BBC add “if it feels like a victory lap, that’s only fair.” Seemingly some of their fanbase still have faith in them; the video’s already racked up over five million views in less than a full day.

The apparent b-side, “Don’t Shut Me Down” seems a little more like typical “vintage” Abba, and reads like both a plea to an ex-lover and an open letter to fans they hope haven’t forgotten about them in the nearly 40 years since they were last on the scene. The song starts slowly with somewhat awkward prose which does the unusual – pointing out that these folks first language isn’t English despite their proficiency singing in it – but quickly develops into an upbeat, danceable ditty with a chorus noting “I’m not the one you knew, I’m now and then combined.” We’ll have to see if their legion of fans will in fact shut them down or welcome them in.

Fans in England will have a chance to see for themselves next year. Sorta. In the oddest part of the whole deal, Abba announced they will have some sort of residency in London in 2022, in a brand new venue, dubbed Abba Arena, for concerts. But here’s the twist. There’ll be a ten-piece band playing music…but no Benny, Bjorn, Frida or Agnetha. Instead there will be digital representations (the band stress they are not holograms, though the difference seems unclear) of them circa 1979 dancing and singing to the real music. I guess they are “now and then combined.”

July 14 – Echo Bounced Back To Our Ears

Resilient like a pine tree coming out of a drought, Echo and the Bunnymen came back on this day in 1997 to the delight of most music fans. After a several year split, they were out with a new album, Evergreen. The band had been split up for a few years and had lacked a spark since singer/songwriter Ian McCulloch had quit in 1988 and drummer Pete de Frietas died the next year, but the singer said “right from the first demo, we realized that we’d still got that chemistry.” .

It showed on their seventh album with the normal lineup, one of their better works to date. Not only was it a return to something of their classic form, it was a return to commercial success.  It also did quite well, being a top 10 hit in the UK where it gave them their first top 10 single since 1984’s “The Killing Moon” : “Nothing Last Forever”. The more guitar-driven “I Want to Be There When You Come” from it made the Canadian top 20 and American alternative radio station playlists while the third single, “Don’t Let It Get You Down” became a fan favorite as well.

Rolling Stone graded it 3.5 stars, thinking it a “triumph” for fans and a “stunning comeback.” Melody Maker also considered it a “triumph”, but noted it was singing to the choir, likely only to appeal to their existing fanbase. Entertainment Weekly wasn’t so sure. Despite McCulloch’s voiced interest in grunge at the time, they thought it sounded familiar “with Mac’s pouting vocals and the band’s brooding accompaniment” but found the songs a bit lacking, grading it a B-.

Although they’ve remained active and put out six more studio albums since, it remains the high-water mark for Echo’s second go-round. If you like the Liverpool band, it’s one to listen to. As Cryptic Rock would put it in words worthy of an Echo song, the album was “another piece de resistance” featuring all the best of the Bunnymen: “Mcculloch’s brooding yet self-assured drawl, (Will) Seargeant’s trademark jangly, melodic, psychedelic-tinged guitar… and (Lee) Pattinson’s basslines that galloped and danced like horses.” They’ll be galloping across British stages this summer and early next year with a number of concerts.

July 4 – Gary Needed ‘Dedication’ To Keep At It After 18 Years With No Hits

We wish all our American readers a very happy July 4th! And who (besides perhaps America) could it be more appropriate to feature today than a guy with the country’s name in his – Gary U.S. Bonds ? He had a huge comeback in 1981, hitting #11 this day 40 years ago with “This Little Girl.” It was his first foray onto hit radio in 19 years.

Bonds, born in Florida as Gary Anderson, was one of rock’s early teen idols. A producer came up with his new name, thinking it would be memorable and if seen in headlines, one that might get notice because people might think it was about government savings bonds! He quickly rolled out five top 10 hits between 1960-62, including a #1, “A Quarter to Three.” But as with many of his peers – think Dion, Neil Sedaka – his career quickly lost momentum in the ’60s as tastes changed and they didn’t. Or at least not enough. While Bonds put out a number of singles through the psychedelic-half of the decade, few paid any attention and by the ’70s, he was a second-string bar performer. He did have an important fan though in Bruce Springsteen.

Springsteen grew up listening to Bonds’ early hits and often played “Quarter to Three” in his own concerts. He met Bonds at an Atlantic City bar around the end of the ’70s, asked if he could sit in for a set, which Gary agreed to, not knowing who Springsteen was! But he noticed the crowd reaction when Bruce appeared beside him. The two became friends and Springsteen offered to help rejuvenate Bonds’ career. Which he did in a big way with the ’81 Dedication album. Bruce wrote three tracks on it, including this retro-sounding hit, which came out of a song he’d worked on but not finished for Darkness on the Edge of Town. The Boss also let his E Street Band, Max Weinberg, Clarence Clemons and all, perform on it. Springsteen, Steve Van Zandt and Rob Parissi, Wild Cherry’s one-time star performer, worked together to produce it.

The combination worked. The album sounded like a throwback but still modern and relevant. As allmusic pointed out, Bonds’ “elastic tenor” was heard “in much more clarity than it ever was” before. The album sold well and “This Little Girl” hit that #11 peak at home and #7 in Canada, and a respectable #26 in Australia. Springsteen continued being Bonds’ musical fairy godmother by writing his next (and last) big hit, “Out of Work” from his following album, On the Line.

Bonds just turned 82, and considers himself an “Honorary New Jerseyian.”

June 10 – Kinks Went Dancing Back Up Charts

Never quite as successful or legendary as their contemporaries fronted by Paul McCartney or Mick Jagger, The Kinks were still one of the most-respected and long-lasting bands from the first “British Invasion.” Formed back in 1964 by brothers Ray and Dave Davies, they had a string of hits in the ’60s like “Sunny Afternoon” and “All Day and All of the Night” but by 1983 they hadn’t been heard of much on radio or on charts since 1970’s “Lola.”

They had a comeback on this day in ’83, putting out the State of Confusion album. The album had some of the characteristic rockers the band were well-known for – the title track in particular – but also had a number of more mellow, nostalgic numbers which harkened back to their finer pop tunes of the past like “Sunny Afternoon.” Don’t Forget To Dance” , was one of those tracks and it made the top 30 in North America, but the standout of the record was “Come Dancing”. The lively and lovely homage to war-era dances at the Palais was written in honor or, and remembering Ray’s older sister Rene who did indeed love going out dancing on a Saturday night when Ray was young. Sadly Rene died of a heart attack, while out dancing on Ray’s 13th birthday. She’d given him a guitar as a birthday gift earlier in the day. Ray says of it, “I wanted to regain some of the warmth I thought we’d lost doing those arena tours.”

He succeeded. The single hit #6 in both the U.S. and Canada, their best showing in the latter since 1970’s “Lola” and in the States, it tied their best-ever showing on the singles chart. Remarkably, one person who wasn’t a fan of it was their label boss, Clive Davis who thought them unsuccessfully over releasing it as a single. He says he liked the song in its own right but felt it wasn’t a good choice for a single and wouldn’t fit radio formats. Allmusic were among many who disagreed with Clive, saying the album “Came to life on its quieter moments.” State of Confusion climbed to #12 in the U.S., a peak only one of their 20+ previous albums had matched, and won mostly great reviews for its witty, at times wistful lyrics and varied melodies.

The Kinks split up in 1997, but three years ago reported that Ray and Dave Davies, along with drummer Mick Avory, were working on a new record, however we’re still waiting in rather a “state of confusion” as to whether or not anything will come from that.

May 15 – Quite A Moody Voyage 40 Years Ago

Starting their voyage to the top again on this day in 1981, Moody Blues released perhaps their most successful album, Long Distance Voyager. It was their tenth studio album and it became their second #1 in the U.S. and Canada, spending 10 full weeks atop the charts in the latter where it went triple platinum. At home, although it did make #7, the reception was cooler and it was their lowest charting album in a full decade there in the UK.

The prog-rockers were by that point already “veteran cosmic rockers“; having been on the scene since 1965. However, there was a sense of renewal on this record, the first they were able to record in their own English studio (they also released it on their own Threshold Record label.) It was also noteworthy for being the first without the band’s legendary keyboardist Mike Pinder, who’d quit after the previous album; his place was filled quite well though by newcomer Patrick Moraz. The album contained two of their most enduring, and upbeat singles “Gemini Dream” and “The Voice”. The former became their second #1 hit in Canada and got to a respectable #12 in the U.S., “The Voice” also made the Canuck top 10 and American top 20 (a third single, “Talking Out of Turn” was a hit in Canada but nowhere else.) Strangely, they didn’t even make the British charts which at the time were beginning to be very dominated by new wave sounds, which makes the album’s quality and popularity surprising.

As allmusic note, “progressive rock bands stumbled into the ’80s” which made this 4-star record “impressive.” they particularly singled out “The Voice” as a “sweeping and majestic call to adventure.” Rolling Stone ranked it as one of the 20 best albums of the year, saying “no new twists, but this is exactly how it should be…dignified, eloquent and like a good sherry, should warm the hearts of…their fans and any others who choose to listen with fresh ears.” 

That it did, that it did. the Moodies are still around and in 2018 were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame which point out how their “new sound (in the ’60s) influenced an entire generation of musicians, including Yes and Genesis.”