January 2 – A Smooth Start To The 21st Century

We had gotten through the Y2K scare unscathed, so by this day in 2000, we could all relax a little and take a deep breath…and chill while enjoying some tunes. And the tune many of us were enjoying that day was from an icon of the Hippie era. Topping the Billboard charts to both end the 1900s and kick off the 2000s was Santana, and the tune was indeed “Smooth.”

Of course, he had a little help on this astounding career revival. The voice you heard, or couldn’t avoid in fact for months on end, was Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20 who sang the tune with Santana’s distinctive guitar stylings behind him.

The smash single, from the smash Supernatural album (which would become the biggest of Carlos Santana’s career, selling 15X platinum in the U.S. and topping an incredible 30 million worldwide) came about from a meeting almost three years earlier. Clive Davis had been the head of Columbia back in Santana’s heyday in the Woodstock era. Over the years, Davis had left and done various things, by the late-’90s running the Arista Records label. Santana, meanwhile, had fallen out of fashion, with (as Davis describes it) music that “swung unpredictably” from spiritual new age stuff to “less than successful attempts” to sound modern and relevant. He invited Davis to a show he was playing, and chatted with him afterwards. Davis said “he had lost none of his energy and passion” and he “still had his magical touch” on the six-string. And he wanted to be relevant again. “He had three children and it was hurtful to him they had never heard him on the radio.” He asked Davis for a contract, and a comeback.

Davis, and Arista were willing…with reservations. While they knew Carlos’ remarkable capabilities playing guitar and improvising, they questioned his ability to write material that sounded radio-friendly. Davis asked him if he would take advice and work with current, pop radio hit-making artists. Santana said yes.

Smooth” was actually one of the last tracks to be done for Supernatural. It began with writer/producer Itaal Shur. He visited the studio and heard several of the recorded tracks, including ones with Dave Matthews and Wyclef Jean. He said “there wasn’t one with a standard Santana groove like ‘Black Magic Woman’, ‘Oye Como Va’ … I went home and wrote this track on guitar.” He also penned lyrics about a couple getting back together after years for a tryst in a motel, and called it “Room One Seven,” and presented it. Arista loved the tune, but not the lyrics. They felt they were too overtly sexual for Carlos or for radio, and brought in Rob Thomas to fix it. Thomas was at the time a hot commodity, being the singer for Matchbox 20, whose debut album was only just starting to drop down the charts after being a #1 for them with radio smashes like “Push” and “3AM.”

Thomas wrote the lyrics for “Smooth” thinking about his wife Marisol, a Puerto rican lady (which explains the latin references) as well as songs of his youth that he loved like Elton John’s “Mona Lisa and Mad Hatters.” He wrote the lyrics thinking George Michael should sing them, but Arista figured he was perfect himself, but “if you listen to the melody and the cadence, it’s an attempt to emulate (Michael) in many ways,” Thomas says.

Whoever he was thinking about or singing like, it worked. The song hit #1 in the U.S. for a remarkable 12-straight weeks (and also topped Canadian charts) the first top 10 single he’ d had since “Black Magic Woman” nearly three decades earlier. It managed to end up among the 50 biggest-sellers of both the 1990s and the 2000s. Santana was clearly back. “Smooth” went on to win the Record of the Year Grammy, and the album, the Album of the Year one.

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November 19 – George Got Back Upto Speed In ’76

They say when life gives you a bunch of lemons, make lemonade. Well, life had indeed dealt George Harrison a few sour fruits in the mid-’70s, but he spun them into something tasty with Thirty Three & 1/3 , his fifth post- Beatles album. It came out this day in 1976.

Harrison had been working on the record for most of the year and was still smarting some from the failure of his marriage to Patti Boyd a couple of years earlier. As well he suffered hepatitis, and last but certainly not least, was diverted quite a bit of the time by an ongoing lawsuit against him for plagiarism. He eventually lost that one, with publishers Bright Music succeeding in saying he’d copied the music of “He’s So Fine” for his “My Sweet Lord.” As a result of those things one would imagine, one might be a bit bitter, and for a time Harrison did indeed get rather negative and start over-indulging in drinks and drugs. But there were patches of blue in his sky at the same time. He’d got a new girlfriend, whom he’d later marry, Olivia Arias. He had fun hanging out with the Monty Python comedy troupe, was becoming a serious fan of car racing and was being nudged back towards spirituality and meditation by Olivia. Thankfully, it was the new, upbeat version of George which came through on Thirty Three & 1/3. “”I think generally the album’s nice because it’s happy” he told interviewers at the time.

The result was a ten song effort which indeed sounded reasonably upbeat. He got help from a good group of his musical friends including Billy Preston, Gary Wright and even future star producer David Foster on keyboards. There were nine originals plus a cover of the old Cole Porter song “True Love”.
He wrote “Beautiful Girl” for Olivia, while the four singles off it generally were agreed by critics to be the stars of the record – “This Song”, “Crackerbox Palace”, “It’s What You Value” and the Porter song. “This Song” especially stood out, for two big reasons. First, the jaunty little tune poked fun at his lawsuit and the whole process of being in court for such things (“this song ain’t black or white and as far as I know, don’t infringe on anyone’s copyright” he sings) Secondly, long before the MTV age, he made a comic video for it, directed by Eric Idle of Monty Python. It parodied the court case, being shot in an actual California court, and had Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones among the people making cameos in it. He debuted the video on Saturday Night Live a day after the album dropped, and did “Here Comes the Sun” and “Homeward Bound” with Paul Simon on the same show.

Reviews at the time were quite decent. Billboard called it “a sunny, upbeat album of love songs and cheery jokes that is his happiest and most commercial package” to that point. The Village Voice felt it was his “best album since All Things Must Pass, and on a par with say (Bob Dylan’s current album at the time) Blood on the Tracks.” Rolling Stone though disagreed. Although they liked “Crackerbox Palace” and “This Song” well-enough they felt the rest of the record had “the feeling and sincerity of cellophane.”

The public’s reaction depended on where they were. In Britain, as one commentator put it “punk rock rendered Harrison obsolete.” And indeed, the album didn’t do much there, missing the top 30 and having none of the four singles make the chart. North America was either a bit behind the times or a bit more open-minded, and both “Crackerbox Palace” and “This Song” hit the top 30 singles charts and the album went to #11 in the states, where it sold to gold levels, and #10 in Canada.

Most retrospective reviews give it decent scores, like Mojo which graded it 3-stars calling it “confident if not classic.” Uncut gave it half a star more but summed it up nicely: “a pivotal album…the document of a man in the art of discovering exactly where he belonged.” And that’s some pretty good lemonade.

November 1 – The Reunion Many Had ‘Dream’ed Of

Some artists get accused of living in the past too much. Occasionally though, some might be well advised to stick to doing just that. We’re not saying that was true of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, but there were some who felt that way in 1988. On this day in that year, the famous quartet put out their fifth studio album (actually only the second one with Neil Young along; the other three were just Crosby, Stills and Nash), American Dream.

It seemed like a dream come true for fans, and for Atlantic Records. It was the group’s first in six years and the first time Neil had joined them in close to two decades. David Crosby was out of jail and apparently clean from drug addiction, which was one stipulation Young had when talking of re-joining. The trio (without Young) had performed earlier in the year at the Atlantic Records 40th Birthday Concert, to reasonably good reviews...better than Led Zep’s anyway. They had a lot of material to work with and took their time – it was recorded in several sessions over the course of just over a year. And they brought in talented Niko Bolas to help produce the record. Bolas had worked with Young earlier in the decade, would soon work on other solo Neil material and Melissa Etheridge records before going into software in a big way. He in fact patented the first internet radio receiver.

But for all that, the overall reaction was more yawns than yippees. The album covered quite a bit of terrain, with all of them taking part in the writing, although Neil wrote considerably more (six songs, four all by himself) than Crosby, who worked on just two. There were some rockers, some lighter, romantic tunes (the four dedicated the album to their wives) and some with tinkling keyboards. Steve Perry and Graham Nash’s wife Susan joined a full-blown choir backing the harmonies on “Soldiers of Peace”. The lyrics ran the gamut from angry to loving to hopeful. But few were standouts, something stated matter-of-factly by Crosby. “We did not have, really, the best group of songs…not enough good songs. We ended up putting 14 of them on the album (which curiously enough was released at the time only on CD or cassette, not LP) . I think that was stupid.”

We won’t go that far, but some critics did. The Village Voice graded it just “C+”, better perhaps than Rolling Stone which gave it just 2-stars. That publication, usually fond of the four members, said “the re-grouping has done none of them much good,” complained about Neil Young’s writing (“sappiness, sentimentality and mean-spiritidness”) and called it a “snoozefest.” That essentially was mirrored years later by allmusic which graded it likewise and thought there were a couple of fine tunes – “This Old House” and Crosby’s ‘Compass’” – but it was largely forgettable. They added not incorrectly “expectations were so high that the album seemed much worse than it really was.”

The fans regarded it like early-November weather. Not icily but rather chilly. The record hit just #16 in the U.S., failed to chart in the UK and wasn’t a smash in Canada (where inexplicably several months of charts for that time are lost from the national archives).

It did sell enough to get them a platinum record at home, but the worldwide sales of less than two million was well below their previous releases. Nonetheless, the song “Got it Made” did get to #1 on rock charts while the song this site considered the standout, the scathing title track (which would have seemed quite at home on Neil Young’s Freedom which came out months later) got to #4 on the same list and at least dented the UK singles chart, their first song since the ’60s to do so.

The trio of CS&N put out three more albums in the ’90s, but based on public and critical reaction, they weren’t considered interesting enough to even be “snoozefests.” Crosby, Stills and Nash have also put out solo records in the past couple of decades, but they’ve paled next to Neil’s works in the same period when it comes to sales or airplay.

September 29 – Stevie Hadn’t Cooled Off Quite Yet

Elton John couldn’t do it, nor could the Bee Gees. Carry over the incredible success they had in the 1970s into the ’80s, that is. Though both had some hits and maintained some popularity in the decade, neither ruled the world – or at least the record charts – like they had in the ’70s. Add to that list Stevie Wonder, though he might have come a little closer to replicating the ’70s success, sales-wise at least if not in critical acclaim. His high-point in the decade might have come 42 years ago, with the release of his 19th studio album, Hotter than July on this day in 1980.

The album was correctly pegged by Rolling Stone as a “return to form”, even if not quite his highest accomplishments, after The Secret Life of Plants. That 1979 album was a soundtrack to an obscure movie, and ended up being a double album stacked with a number of instrumentals and only one somewhat-memorable track in “Send One Your Love.” The record had essentially flopped, something Stevie wasn’t used to, and he blamed Motown for poor publicity but perhaps inside did question if that project hadn’t been a little second-rate. He decided to go back to what he’d done best in the ’70s, a mix of love songs (like “Did I Hear You Say You Love Me?”) with socially-conscious ones like “Happy Birthday” and “Cash in Your Face.” And as was the norm for him by then, he did most of the work. He produced the streamlined 10-song album himself after recording it in his own L.A. studio, and he played most of the instruments (including keyboards, drums, bass and harmonica) but this time out did bring in a few session musicians for help on guitars, drums on some tracks and string sections, plus lots of backing vocals to fill out the sound.

The album’s two standout tracks were both singles – “Master blaster” and “Happy Birthday.” The former was a rollicking reggae track inspired by Bob Marley, whose music Stevie had really gotten into at the time. The latter, not to be confused with that ages-old staple of birthday parties, was written as a tribute to Martin Luther King, and an anthem for the movement to make his birthday a national holiday. It was something of the central theme to the album in fact, with Wonder putting a statement on the inside sleeve of the LP advocating for that and noting “…Martin Luther King was a man who had the strength. He showed us non-violently a better way of life, a way of mutual respect, helping us to avoid much bitter confrontation…” . President Reagan paid heed and declared it an official holiday three years later, and in 1986, on the first national MLK Day holiday, Wonder headlined a concert in its honor.

Critics and the public alike generally agreed on the album. Robert Christgau back then said “’Master Blaster’ and perhaps ‘Happy Birthday’” are the only “great Stevie here” but the album was worth a listen due to his “free-floating melodicism and his rolling overdrive, his hope and his cynicism.” Years later, allmusic would grade it 4.5-stars, less than his ’76 Songs in the Key of Life, but much better than The Secret Life of Plants (and better than any of his records since, we might note.) They suggest “solid songwriting, musicianship and production are evident” but “a different musical climate than the one which savored his every move from 1972 to 1977” had taken over the

world.

Sales reflected that sentiment. The album did well, but not as well as his smashes from the mid-’70s. In the U.S. it got to #3, and #2 in the UK and sold to platinum levels in both countries plus Canada (where it only made #18 but still racked up long-term sales.) The song “Master blaster” was a #5 hit at home and his 14th song to top R&B charts while “Happy Birthday” hit #2 over in the UK.

September 1 – Public Finally Showed Tina The Love

It could be called a “comeback” but really it was taking her into previously uncharted territory and raising her to brand new heights. That’s Tina Turner who on this day in 1984 had her only #1 song in the U.S. – “What’s Love Got To Do With It.”

Tina was 44 years old and well-known at that point, but hadn’t been considered a relevant “star” for quite some time. She’d appeared on her first record way back in 1958, with husband-to-be Ike Turner. They’d hit their zenith with “Proud Mary” in 1971, getting to #4. Not long after that, things went from bad to worse with Ike and she set out on a solo career and single life. She put out four solo albums in the ’70s, but no matter what their merits, their primary function was collecting dust… none of them made it into the top 100.

Remarkably, Capitol Records took a chance on her and signed her and set to work on a comeback album. They wanted to give her a more mainstream rock and pop sound (compared to the rougher R&B she had been known for) and went all out for it. Private Dancer, her first album in over five years, enlisted eight producers and two top-notch British studios. They let Tina do what she did best, sing great and look good. For musicians they brought in a host of talent including Jeff Beck, Cy Curnin of The Fixx and Alan Clark of Dire Straits among others. Mark Knopfler wrote the title track and the album included covers of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” and in many lands (but not North America) the Beatles “Help.”

What’s Love Got To Do With It” was Terry Britten’s baby. He was a guitarist (he actually plays guitar on the track) who did better as a songwriter. He’d written Cliff Richard’s North American breakthrough, “Devil Woman”, and actually wrote this song with Cliff in mind. But Richard turned it down, as did Donna Summer, the next choice. Capitol scooped it up for Tina and brought Britten in to help, and to produce the track.

It was a clear standout, among several, on the album. The Daily Vault called it “three minutes and 45 seconds of pop perfection.” People glowed in their assessment, saying it had “the characteristic flair and energy that made tina the envy of every singer this side of Aretha!”.

Capitol put out “Let’s Stay Together” as the first single, a bit before the whole album arrived, and it was a hit. In fact by just reaching #26 at home in the States, it was her biggest hit since “Proud Mary”. But this one eclipsed that, being released in most places as the second single, released almost simultaneously with the LP. It bumped “Ghostbusters” off the top of the charts and spent three weeks at #1. In so doing, it made Turner the oldest female ever to have a #1 Billboard song , something that would remain true until Cher had one in 1999. The song also topped Canadian and Australian charts and got to #2 in South Africa. Eventually it earned her a gold single, and platinum ones in the UK and Canada. It ended up behind only Prince’s “When Doves Cry” on the year-end sellers chart and the next year brought in some hardware for her. It won the MTV Video Award for Best Female Video, and more impressively, three Grammys – Song of the Year, Record of the Year and Best Female Pop Performance. A decade later, it was used as the title to a Hollywood biopic of her life.

Private Dancer” and “Better Be Good To Me” were also hits from the album, and she was firmly entrenched as one of the most popular recording and touring females for the rest of the ’80s. However, despite hitting #2 with “We Don’t Need Another Hero” and “Typical Male,” “What’s Love Got To Do With It” remains her only #1 song.

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.”