February 6 – 50 Years On, Politicians Still Love Those Tin Soldiers

One of the great anti-war anthems of the Vietnam era made itself known to American protestors, a few months after it had been a hit in Canada. “One Tin Soldier” by the Original Caste debuted on Billboard‘s top 40 this day in 1970. It eventually rose to #34 there (after being a #6 hit in Canada and #1 on that country’s then-most popular radio station, CHUM Toronto) . A similar cover of the song by the also gone-and-forgotten band Coven would scrape up to #27 a year later; that was recorded for the Billy Jack movie, but quickly pulled from circulation by that band’s label due to legal wranglings.

Technically, The Original Caste isn’t gone and forgotten; a version of the band, featuring original singer/keyboardist Bruce Innes is still working in their native Canada, but they’ve had little commercial impact since this one, which went gold in the Great White North.

One Tin Soldier” was the first hit song written by Brian Potter and Dennis Lambert, a California duo who did quite well in the ’70s writing other hits including “Ain’t No Woman LIke The One I Got” for the Four Tops and “Don’t Pull Your Love” by Hamilton, Joe, Frank and Reynolds before moving on to work in the studio and producing Glen Campbell’s Rhinestone Cowboy and Player’s hit “Baby Come Back.” This one didn’t quite sound like those others but was a perfect fit for the times, with its folksy sound, Joan Baez-like vocals and of course, the heavy and timeless moral theme. the song tells of the aggressive valley people who attack the mountain people in order to take their “treasure”… to find after the battle all the “treasure” was a rock saying “Peace on earth.” The title is referenced in another great anti-war anthem of a few months later, “Ohio” by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young


January 30 – U2 Won New Fans & Taught A Little History

Today’s music history lesson is a real history lesson, and not a very happy one at that. This was the day of the “Bogside Massacre” in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, aka “Bloody Sunday” which inspired the U2 song “Sunday, Bloody Sunday.”

Most of the island of Ireland, including Dublin (from whence U2 and Guinness beer arose) is a separate country, largely Catholic in nature. However, the island was partitioned in 1921, and Northern Ireland is considered part of Great Britain and is largely Protestant. These differences have caused decades of discontent with tension between the religions and between those who are allied to “Eire” vs. those loyal to the Crown in London. By the late ’60s, a movement had arisen in the north to cut the cord to the UK and join the rest of the island in a united Ireland and violent conflicts had become common. In August, 1971 Britain began a law called “internment without trial” for Northern Ireland, which allowed their police or troops to arrest people simply suspected of being violent or subversive, without charging them. Obviously, this didn’t sit well with the locals and between the time the law was passed and the end of the year, over 30 British troops were killed in street violence there, seven of them in Londonderry (or just “Derry” as the locals know it), the district’s second-largest city. Catholics tended to despise Protestants and vice versa; the British Army were present and essentially at war with the upstart IRA.

All this led to the Civil Rights March planned for this day. The Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association wanted to protest “internment without trial” and parade from the Catholic “Bogside” area of town to the city’s main public area, Guild Hall Square. The British government was willing to allow the march through the Catholic area of the city but ordered the Army in to prevent the protestors from getting close to the civic square. The day began reasonably well enough, thousands of protestors (estimates vary from 3000 to 30 000) started out calmly enough until they encountered a barricade of Army paratroopers and vehicles blocking their path. the majority of them turned and headed in the direction the government wanted them to, but some confronted the troops… and the bedlam and bloodshed began.

The marchers hurled insults and possibly a few rocks at the armed forces who in turn turned water cannons on and fired tear gas at the “rebels.” Knowing when they were beaten, the protestors turned around and ran away, presumably to rejoin the rest of the marchers. That should have been the end of it, but alas it wasn’t. The Army gave chase, shooting at the retreating mob, in the end hitting 26 of them, 14 fatally. Another pair were run down by the armored vehicles. Later studies showed at least 100 shots were fired by them after Army HQ issued a “ceasefire” order.

The result was inevitable. Violence escalated across Northern Ireland and the violent, terrorist to some, IRA grew immensely in popularity. The British government ordered an inquiry, The Widgery Tribunal, which did find soldiers acted in a way “bordering on the reckless” but essentially exonerated them. However, another investigation they launched in 1998, The Seville Inquiry, took a dozen years to complete but in the end slammed the Army.

It said they “lost control” and “concocted lies in their attempts to hide their acts”, discrediting soldiers’ stories about being fired at first (something no witnesses, including journalists present ever corroborated and was not backed by any physical evidence.) It concluded that those shot weren’t posing “a threat of causing death or serious injury” to the soldiers and said the incident was unjustified. The Londonderry coroner of the day also concurred, saying “it was quite unnecessary… it strikes me the Army ran amok that day and shot people without thinking.”

As a result of the inquiry, Prime Minister David Cameron apologized for the British actions.

Not surprisingly, the slaughter enraged many artists too. A number of plays and books have been written about it and only two days after it happened, Paul McCartney had written and recorded a song about it , “Give Ireland back to the Irish.” The BBC promptly banned it.

Also not surprisingly, it had a major impact on the members of U2, who were school kids at the time. The politically-outspoken band wrote “Sunday Bloody Sunday” in summer 1982 for their third album, War. The album came out in early 1983 to critical accolades. Rolling Stone suggested “the songs here stand up against anything on The Clash’s London Calling” and gave it a 4 star out of 5 rating and it enhanced their reputation and profile in North America. War went on to be their biggest album to that point, being certified multi-platinum in the US and Canada as well as in the UK. “Sunday Bloody Sunday” was released as a single in March of that year and while not as big a hit as “New Year’s Day”, it became one of their signature songs. The Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame picked it as one of the “500 Songs that Shaped Rock’n’Roll” and Time listed it as one of the top ten protest songs of all-time. U2 play it at almost every concert, typically with Bono opening the song by shouting “this is not a rebel song.” Bono apparently re-wrote the original lyrics The Edge had written to make it less specific to the events of the one day. Drummer Larry Mullen explained why in a 1983 interview: “We’re into politics of people, we’re not into politics. People are dying every single day through bitterness and hate, and we’re saying ‘why? what’s the point?’… let’s forget the politics, let’s stop shouting at each other and sit around the table and talk about it.”

That day hasn’t come to fruition yet, but at least Northern Ireland is a calmer place of late. The Good Friday Agreement of 1998 acknowledged the differing concepts of what Northern Ireland could be and gave it some level of autonomy as well as the right to secede entirely from Britain if it chose to. The violence of the IRA has largely subsided and been evolved into political discussions so there’s hope there’ll never be a repeat of the events of Bloody Sunday. And perhaps, in a small way, we have U2 to thank for that.

Sometimes rock is more than just music.

January 16 – Turntable Talk 10 : Two Guys, Triple-barelled Names, Four Star Writing

Welcome back to Turntable Talk! Thanks to all the regular readers and welcome to any new ones. Briefly, on Turntable Talk we have a number of guest columns from other music fans and writers, sounding off on one particular topic. To kick it off in 2023, our topic is They’re a Poet Don’t You Know It... we look at a song that made a great impact on our contributors for its lyrics.

Today we have Colin from Once Upon a Time In the 70s . He’s one of the co-operators of the British site that as its name suggests, looks primarily at ’70s music! Will that influence his pick…

Thanks, Dave, for again asking Once Upon a Time in The ‘70s to join the Turntable Talk discussion.

Dave asked us ‘to pick one song that you think has fantastic lyrics, or one you like because of the lyrics, and say a bit about why you love it.

As I’ve said before on this and other blogs, I’m not so much a ‘lyrics man.’ I’m a bit of a philistine in that regard, I guess. What hooks me into a song is the music; the beat and harmonies; the pace.

When I read the remit, though, one artist immediately sprung to mind. Then two. Three.

All three are poets. Simple. That’s it – poets in their own right. Not musicians with a clever turn of phrase; not an artist that had some weird LSD trip resulting in a profound, life affirming psychedelic vision that inspired them to write in romantic, flowery terms.

Nope. Just poets.

So, ever the rebel, I’m going ignore Dave’s instruction.

OK what I’ll do then, in an effort to keep this concise as possible (that’s a laugh!) is concentrate on the two artists who were around in The ‘70s. That makes sense, right?

I’m going to pass on the wonderful Kae Tempest, simply because I live in the past and Kae is very much ‘present.’ I don’t actually know any songs particularly well, but every one I’ve heard just drips lyrical genius. Not so much in the words that are used, but more the manner in which they are delivered.

Right, here we go, proper: Linton Kwesi Johnson was born in Jamaica but came to UK (Brixton, London) in 1963 at the age of eleven. The late Sixties, Seventies and early Eighties saw considerable racial tension in England, and Linton grew up facing prejudice and persecution from all angles – especially so, the police.

I grew up in Scotland. We didn’t witness anything like the discrimination that was so prevalent down south. So when Linton’s work began to gain airplay on the John Peel radio show, I was engrossed- shocked at the content and that such injustices could be happening only a couple hundred miles away, but also entranced by the delivery of such powerful patois poetry.

Linton Kwesi Johnson’s recitals had me listening hard. They made me focus; concentrate on what he was saying in this ‘foreign tongue’ and so his message became even more stronger.

An added attraction for me is Linton’s use of Dub / reggae music for backing. On many recordings, he would hire Denis Bovell for the mixing desk, percussion, keys. (Dennis is one of my favourite Dub artists , with several of his albums in my collection.)

This particular track, ‘Sonny’s Lettah,’ released in 1978 encapsulates pathos, indignation, retribution, regret and pride in under four minutes. Musically, it combines traditional blues with reggae / dub.

(The song relates a letter being sent to a mother back home in Jamaica, explaining why her son – the writer- and his brother are locked up in jail, having been arrested under the ‘Sus Law.’ This was a ‘stop & search’ law that allowed police to stop, search and potentially arrest people on suspicion of them being in breach of section 4 of the Vagrancy Act 1824. The police, it was established, unfairly targeted Black and ethnic minority groups and led in part to the riots in Bristol, London, Liverpool and Birmingham in 1980 & 1981. The law was eventually repealed in August ’81)

Altogether, it’s pretty damned powerful, I’d say – as indeed are all the works of LKJ. I could have picked any number of tracks, but this one conveniently displays the lyrics.

John Cooper Clarke is a spoken word performer from Salford, by Manchester. He’s often referred to as “The People’s Poet”, and more simply as a Punk Poet. As does Linton Kwesi Johnson, John deals with social issues but though he can be downbeat and hard-hitting, like with ‘Beasley Street’ below he more often resorts to humour to make his point – as in the second example, ‘Kung Fu International.’ (I know the latter is not technically a ‘song’ in that it has no accompanying music, but I think Cooper Clarke’s voice ‘sings,’ in a deadpan, Mancunian way.)

Though he now performs solo, and purely in spoken word format, his initial work in the ‘70s was put to music by producer Martin Hannett and a band of Manchester ‘all stars’ including Pete Shelly from The Buzzcocks and Vini Reilly of The Durutti Column, playing under the name The Invisible Girls.

And in keeping with his ‘punk poet’ tag, John Cooper Clarke has been special guest of such luminaries as Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Buzzcocks, while up and coming young whippersnappers like Joy Division, Duran Duran and New Order snapped up the chance to open for him.

People would say in 1981 that The Specials portrayed an image of desolate, urban decay here in UK. From the year previous, try this for size … my favourite verse comes in @ 2’ 40”:

Hot beneath the collar
An inspector calls
Where the perishing stink of squalor
Impregnates the walls
The rats have all got rickets
They spit through broken teeth
The name of the game is not cricket
Caught out on Beasley Street

And finally, if there’s anyone can make being beaten up and having their head kicked in sound funny, Johnny’s yer man!

Linton Kwesi Johnson and John Cooper Clarke. Two socially conscious men with more than just triple-barrel names in common and a fascination for unprovoked beatings!

September 23 – Billy’s Experiment In Nylon

The two of them might not love it, but many of us seem to lump today’s birthday boy, Bruce Springsteen (wishing him a happy 73 today!)  and Billy Joel together in the same sort of musical box. Here we like both so it doesn’t seem to be much of an insult to me, but I digress. Anyway, both singer/songwriters came to prominence in the mid-’70s, emerged from the greater New York area and were quintessential blue collar musical heroes, singing about the ordinary people they knew and respected. And by 1982 we thought we had them both pegged when they both took a hard left turn and came out with surprisingly downbeat and different-sounding records. On this day, Joel released his eighth studio album, The Nylon Curtain. A week later, Springsteen gave us his acoustic Nebraska.

Anyway, Joel’s The Nylon Curtain was something of a polarizing album. After delivering his most rock & roll-oriented, fun-loving Glass Houses in 1980, this one was a deeper but more challenging release. The short story – critics loved it, fans more or less panned it. But there’s more to it than that.

Joel was looking around America and wasn’t optimistic about what he was seeing. It was, after all, an era of inflation, unemployment, a growing chasm between the Wall Street rich and the ordinary workers in the companies they owned, fear about the Cold War… “It was during the Reagan years and… all of a sudden, you weren’t going to be able to inherit the (lifestyle) your old man had,” Joel remembers. Curiously, he was also listening to mid-era Beatles a lot at the time. Thus The Nylon Curtain came to be, an album Rolling Stone considered his most ambitious.

The album is a loosely thematic look at the U.S. in decline through the eyes of a blue collar Baby Boomer. Although the first single was the jarring “Pressure” and it contained a few missteps, like the “venomous” (in the words of Rolling Stone again) “Laura” about a guy who hates his girlfriend but realizes “living alone isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be” either, and perhaps the experimental “Scandinavian Skies” which he says was directly influenced by the sound of Beatles singles like “I Am the Walrus”, it contains some very good material and two of his best – and most under-rated – tunes: “Allentown” and “Goodnight Saigon”.

The former was actually inspired by a trip he paid tt Bethlehem, PA but that name didn’t fit the song structure as well. Regardless, it described any number of “Rust Belt” cities and the unfortunate workers caught in the changing times and closing factories. Rolling Stone applauded the “tune, language and singing are all brazenly direct” and felt it “could be a scene from The Deer Hunter set to music.” The mayor of Allentown, PA was impressed enough to give Joel the keys to the city next time he played there.

Goodnight Saigon” is a haunting, 7-minute epic complete with helicopter and cricket sounds (the Beatles experimentation rubbing off) that Rolling Stone called “the ultimate pop music epitaph to the Vietnam war”… “a stunner”. The piece about the band of brothers trained on Parris Island shipped out to the horrors of the Asian war with only their Doors tapes and Playboy who’d “All go down together” indeed is one of the most compelling musical takes on the reality of war and one of Billy’s best achievements.

People magazine approved, saying “Joel jackknifes (sic) into adulthood (with) a striking cycle of nine songs about the current plight of boomed babies” which are “vintage Joel with clever hooks.”

For all that, the public wasn’t nearly as enthusiastic. While by no means a flop, it was his least-successful release since 1976, selling less than even 1981’s compilation of live tunes and outtakes, Songs in the Attic. At home in the U.S. it charted to #7 and went double platinum; it topped out at #12 in Canada and only #27 across the sea in the UK. Somehow though, it did hit #1 in the Netherlands. The singles “Pressure” and “Allentown” both it the top 20 in the States, his 10th and 11th such hits, and “Allentown” although it never got higher than #17 on the weekly charts, had such enduring popularity that it was among the 50 biggest records of the year. “Goodnight Saigon” was released as a third single, but being 7 minutes, lacking a normal kind of verse/chorus structure and being about the horrors of war, was a tough sell in a time of happy synthesizers, safety dances and Duran Duran playing with bikini-clad models on yachts.

For it all, Joel says the album is “the recording I’m most proud of.” And he rebounded very nicely the next year with his more upbeat An Innocent Man which catapulted him back to the top. (Springsteen’s fate with his Nebraska similar and he too bounced back with the multi-million selling Born in the USA less than two years down the road.)

September 11 – Daniels Defiant Anthem For The Day

There’s no real need to remind people, Americans especially, what this day is the anniversary of. One of the very few slivers of a silver lining that might have come from 9/11 though was that for a little time it certainly seemed to unite Americans, regardless of color or political affiliation. Curiously, a song all about that was in its 11th and final week on the top 40 this day 21 years earlier, in 1980. With its lyrical theme, perhaps then there’s little surprise that “In America” by the Charlie Daniels Band had a renewed popularity after the 2001 attacks. Daniels even put out a new video for the song at the time. The defiant, in-yer-face approach and lines like “we’ll all stick together, and you can take that to the bank – that’s the cowboys and the hippies, the rebels and the Yanks” suddenly seemed relevant. Necessary even.

Daniels was by then a big-time country star, albeit one who flew a ways from the mainstream of country, building his music around his bluegrass fiddle skills and Southern redneck themes. He’d had a surprise, major crossover into mainstream pop/rock territory a couple of years earlier with his rollicking “Devil Went Down To Georgia.” “In America”, from his 11th album, Full Moon, likewise crossed over to conventional hit radio, eventually reaching #8 and pushing the album to platinum status.

That might not have been entirely unpredictable. Even though the six-man band came across as backwoods hicks, they had real musical talent…and backing. The album was produced by John Boylan. Boylan was not only a vice president of Epic Records, he’d worked with Linda Ronstadt and Little River Band before and co-produced Boston’s multi-million selling debut. So he knew a thing or two about making a record the masses to hear!

Daniels said he wrote the song as a sort of antidote to the country’s malaise of the time. Iran had American hostages, people were still shaken by Watergate, and unemployment and inflation were both high. Morale was low. Daniels felt “the strength of America isn’t in Washington DC, it’s in our people. It’s in our farms, in the factories, it’s the people out here that make the country work.” He picked the Pittsburgh Steelers fans as a lyrical example in the song because , even though he was from North Carolina, he figured Pittsburgh people were “the salt of the Earth. The finest, just the greatest people on Earth.” He particularly enjoyed going to watch the Steelers play in their hometown.

Daniels passed away at 83 in 2020. And whether we like his redneck stance or not, the idea “you never did think that we’d ever get together again, but we damn sure could” seems all the more relevant than ever in 2022. We can only hope it won’t take another 9/11 to get people to realize it.

August 29 – The Statement Song That Made Starr A Star

Today we look at another angry anthem inspired by the Vietnam War, from 52 years ago. “War” by Edwin Starr hit #1 in the U.S. this day in 1970.

The song succinctly summed up the sentiments of many then, and to this day with it’s question asked and answered, “War. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing.” The song was put out by Motown, but had a decidedly un-Motown-like vibe to it. That thanks to the writing duo of Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, who also wrote “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” and “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.” As British journalist David Hutter noted, Whitfield was probably the one person in the Motown organization who wanted to change their direction (away from happy, brief pop love songs) and had both the clout and nerve to take on Berry Gordy over it.

The Temptations originally recorded the song on their Psychedelic Shack album. But not only did it not really have the edge and vitriol it really deserved, the band itself weren’t crazy about it and no one wanted to release it as a single, fearing the effect it would have on the band’s career, since they had been to that point fairly typical Motown artists building a nice career on harmonic love songs. So he recruited Starr for the job of re-recording it.

Edwin Starr was a relatively low-profile artist on their roster who’d begun his career singing doo-wop in Tennessee in the ’50s and had a minor hit or two of his own in the ’60s, as well as writing the song “Oh So Happy” for the Shades of Blue. He didn’t have a big reputation to risk, and as Robert Christgau notes, “Starr is more naturally strident than any of the Temptations.” Turns out that’s just what was called for. Whitfield brought in session rock artists to do the music and The Undisputed Truth (“Smiling Faces Sometimes”) to add background vocals and the song packed a wallop.

Typical of the era’s contrasts, it knocked Bread’s “Make it with You” off the top of the charts, and spent three weeks at #1, eventually being the fifth-biggest single of the year in the States. It also went to #1 to the north in Canada, and #3 in the UK. The song would live on as a popular rally cry for the peace movement and be resurrected later in the Cold War era. Brits Frankie Goes to Hollywood recorded a version of it for the b-side to their own anti-war hit “Two Tribes” and Bruce Springsteen began playing a version of it on his Born in the USA tour. A 1985 performance of it in L.A. was recorded and put on his multi-disc Live 1975/85; becoming a top 10 hit as a single.

August 21 – Oil’s Delivered Crash Course In Aussie Sociology…And Rock

Besting the Clash at what they do is a tall order. But on a day that was Joe Strummer’s birthday, Midnight Oil might have done that. On this day in 1987. On that day they released their international breakthrough album, Diesel and Dust.

The political rockers from Australia had been around for over a decade and were well-loved at home by then. Their previous album, Red Sails in the Sunset was a #1 there and went multi-platinum. However, except for some residual popularity across the Tasman Sea in New Zealand, they were relatively unknown elsewhere. That would all change with Diesel and Dust, their sixth album and first one to be pushed heavily overseas by CBS Records.

The impetus for the record was largely set in motion in 1986, when the Oils toured Australia with a couple of Aboriginal bands, playing a number of small towns in the Outback besides the normal cities like Sydney and Melbourne. It was called the “Blackfella/Whitefella tour.” They were outraged at the poor conditions they saw in the Outback, particularly the indigenous/Aboroginal communities where health problems were common and housing conditions terrible compared to the wealthier coastal communities. The result was a set of songs about the Australian Outback and the plight of the Aborigines.

Which could have been overbearing and monotonously lecturous. But in the hands of Peter Garrett and his bandmates, it ended up being a lively, driving, almost hypnotic manifesto – no wonder a couple of years later when they played a protest show outside of Exxon headquarters they had signs saying “Midnight Oil makes you dance/Exxon Oil makes us sick!”.

The single “Beds are Burning” was flat out one of the best rock songs of the decade, let alone the most listenable of the protest ones. The follow-up “Dead Heart”, a view of their land being colonized through Aboriginal eyes, built to a boil and other tracks like “Dreamworld” and “Bullroarer” kept the momentum through and through. The song “Arctic World” oddly enough, was the only track not specifically about Australia; it was a protest of the rampant oil drilling in the arctic… a subject they’d revisit after the Exxon Valdez shipwreck.

Curiously, the protests about the record came from not the establishment, nor people who wanted to dance without being subject to a history lesson, but from some of the far-left political organizations. They felt that Garrett, a white, was being patronizing singing about Aborigines, and that the band was disrespectful for using a bullroarer (a traditional ceremonial instrument with the natives of the country) in the song of that name. Whatever.

The public didn’t care too much about that and loved it like they had the more whimsical act from Down Under, Men at Work, a few years prior. It soon hit #1 in their homeland and New Zealand, and while it took a while, became a massive success in the West”. It spent eight weeks at #1 in Canada and although it only got to #21 in the U.S., it still earned them a platinum record there. In Australia, it was 7X that.

Critics too adored Diesel and Dust. At the time, Rolling Stone would grade it 4-stars, calling it “the last word in rock and roll road songs. No candy-ass laments about dingy hotel rooms, lousy room service” just a record which “shakes and roars and throbs like the giant double-trailer trucks that chew up the asphalt across…the Australian desert heart.” It would later call it the best album of 1988. Years later, Pop Matters would grade it 9/10 calling it “punk-informed fire (with) a little R.E.M. jingle” and applaud their picking up the torch of guitar-driven socially conscious rock that U2 veered away from around then. Or, as allmusic would say, it sold well and was “an artistic success and a triumph for leftist politics. Even The Clash never managed that … this well!”

For those keeping track, Midnight Oil is rolling again after a long break while singer Peter Garrett successfully ventured into federal politics in his country.

July 3 – Doors Opened A Little More Expansively

The problem with being really good is people expect you to get still better! Such was the dilemma for The Doors who released their third album on this day in 1968, Waiting for the Sun. The record was their only #1 album at home and made #3 on Canadian charts (as well as hitting the UK top 20 for the first time) and went on to sell nine million copies. However, many felt it a let-down despite having the massive single “Hello, I Love You” on it. that song was their second chart-topper in both the U.S. and Canada. It was joined on the 45 racks by the challenging, anti-war anthem “The Unknown Soldier“, a song which perfectionist producer Paul Rothschild required 130 takes of to get right!

The Doors were nothing if not workaholics back then; it was their third album in just 18 months and they’d been touring fairly constantly through the time as well. And not only did they put together this album, Jim had another original concept for Side two – a 17” rambling piece called “Celebration of the Lizard”. They couldn’t get it quite right in the studio, so they dropped that and substituted five other songs but the Lizard would return, in a 1970 live album. Curiously the actual song “Waiting for the Sun” was not on the record; it came a couple of years later on Morrison Hotel. A massive hit single; a searing anti-War anthem and as Rolling Stone put it, “the group is, as always, tight.” Still, no one seemed all that happy with the release. Although Britain’s NME liked it, calling ”The Unknown Soldier” a standout and saying “all (songs) on side two are gems”, North American reviews weren’t as wildly enthusiastic . Rolling Stone at the time said while “it isn’t really terrible, it isn’t particularly exciting either” and suggested “Morrison could use some levity occasionally.” Years later, allmusic noted how high expectations were for it after their first two albums and think the “songwriting (was) no as impressive as it had been” although it was still “quite enjoyable” as an entity. They’d end up rebounding with their next trio of albums which led us to Jim Morrison’s death, also on this day, in 1971.

April 25 – Prince Was Positively Perturbed By The Times

It was the mid-’80s. A sign of that was that Prince had a major hit on the radio, as he seemed to for most of the middle few years of that decade. On this day in 1987, his “Sign O’ the Times” peaked at #3 in the U.S. It was the title track of his ninth album… in just 8 years. And it was no quickly-assembled throwaway effort either. Rather it was a 79 minute, double album to boot. Even those who weren’t big fans had to hand it to Prince for energy and ambition that seemed to outpace all his contemporaries.

Sign o’ the Times was recorded in L.A., which was a bit of a departure for the proud Minnesotan, but was issued on his own Paisley Park label, as were his previous two albums. What was a bit different was a return to his debut album in one way – Prince himself did the whole album, more or less bottom to top. While he’d had great success with his backing band The Revolution on some earlier albums including Purple Rain, on this album for the most part it was written, played, sung and produced by Prince with no outside help. Such was the case with the title track.

Sign o’ the Times” had Prince using a drum machine and a Fairlight synthesizer to make the music, and an “introspective” Sunday for him to pen the somewhat dark and blunt lyrics. The line “Sister killed her baby ‘cuz she couldn’t afford to feed it, yet we’re still sending people to the moon” points to the song’s beginnings.

It’s said that Prince was irritated, and confused after the Space Shuttle explosion in ’86 that the country planned to keep steaming ahead with NASA. He was “surprised that people would still be interested in space travel…especially when there were so many problems in the U.S.” As an aside, were Prince to be alive today, he’d get no argument at all here at A Sound Day about that. Among the problems he pointed to in the song were gang violence, urban poverty, and of course the big problem of the ’80s, AIDS, as in “skinny man died of a big disease with a little name.”

The bleakish single made #3 in the U.S., keeping his hot streak running. He’d had three #1 and two #2 hits in the previous three years, give or take. It topped the R&B charts and made it to #5 in Canada, #10 in the UK. The album itself got to #6 and went platinum in the States; it went 4X platinum in Canada making it one of only two of his records that did better elsewhere than his homeland. It was helped along by the next single, the more upbeat “U Got The Look,” a duet with Sheena Easton… a sign perhaps that no matter how dour the times, Prince was always up for a little bit of dancing and romancing!

April 8 – Pink Floyd Rises Up To Red Bear

It was a big week for Pink Floyd 28 years back, with their 1994 album The Division Bell debuting on British charts at #1. It was a momentous moment for them and their fans too. It was only the second one for the band since their acrimonious split with Roger Waters and it came a full six-and-a-half years after their previous album, A Momentary Lapse of Reason. In the years between, Waters had put out two solo records and kept them all busy in court suing over the use of the name “Pink Floyd.”

Unlike some of the previous Floyd albums, this one was put together rather easily and convivially, with most of the recording being done on David Gilmour’s large houseboat. He, keyboardist Richard Wright and drummer Nick Mason, as well as Bob Ezrin (who co-produced it with Gilmour) recorded it at a leisurely pace while Gilmour’s girlfriend, journalist/novelist Polly Samson joined them and co-wrote a good chunk of the lyrics with her beau. The general, loose theme of it all was “communications,” or generally interpreted to be that, although Rolling Stone pointed to “lyrics so opaque and inert, one cannot hope to plumb their meaning.” Mason suggested the album was about “people making choices, yeas and nays” while Gilmour bristled at suggestions that seemingly prickly songs like “Poles Apart” were aimed at his former bandmate. “People can invent and relate reasons in their personal was,” he said but insisted he wasn’t “conjuring Roger up.”

The album had their trademark superb craftsmanship and playing, and the usual share of Pink Floyd quirks and flourishes, like using a sample of Stephen Hawking speaking on the song “Keep Talking.” Mason loved how it “feels more homemade (than the previous album)…a band playing together in one space.” The easy-going feel didn’t win over critics that well though. Entertainment Weekly gave it a “D” and Rolling Stone a so-so 2.5-stars. They cited it having an OK “quieter, more contemplative mood” than most of the band’s efforts but thought it “seems to cry out for someone with an over-riding zeal, a passion…in short, a nettlesome overbearing visionary like Roger Waters.”

Fans didn’t care much though. Apart from spending a month at #1 in the UK, it topped charts in the U.S., Canada, Australia and a good chunk of Europe, and sold seven million worldwide – not Dark Side of the Moon territory (and actually fewer than the predecessor despite doing better in the States) and far from a flop. It also landed them a rare British top 30 single, with “Take it Back”, one of two major rock radio hits off it in North America, “Keep Talking” being the other. They then toured in a big way… and more or less disappeared. Fans assumed that was the final cut for Pink Floyd, a sense heightened with the death of Wright in 2008. So imagine the surprise when yesterday we found out there was a new Pink Floyd single – “Hey, Hey Rise Up!.”

It would take a lot to get Gilmour to dust off the old “Pink Floyd” name, something important… something like the unprovoked attack of Ukraine by Russia and the subsequent war now unfolding. Gilmour was irate for general and personal reasons. It hits close to home, he says because “my daughter-in-law Janina is Ukrainian. Her grandmother was in Kharkiv until three weeks ago. She’s very old, disabled, in a wheelchair.” Thankfully, Janina and family were able to get grandma out and to Sweden, but it highlighted the human toll of the war to Gilmour.

As well, he saw Ukranian rock singer Andriy Khlyvnyuk in a video, dressed in military garb, holding a rifle, singing a traditional Ukrainian protest song (translated as “The Red Viburnum Of The Meadow”) in front of a Kiev cathedral. Gilmour knew Khlyvnyuk, having performed at a British benefit concert together in 2015. “I thought ‘that is pretty magical’…maybe I can do something. I’ve got a pretty big platform (the name Pink Floyd) …it’s a really difficult and frustrating thing to see this extraordinary, crazy attack by a major power on an independant, peaceful democratic nation.” So he called up Nick Mason and said “listen, I want to do this thing for the Ukraine. I’d be really happy if you played on it.” Mason didn’t hesitate. So they took the audio of the Ukrainian song and created music to back it, showing both that Roger Waters didn’t have the monopoly about caring about world affairs and that Gilmour can still play some pretty dazzling guitar when he feels like it. The video went out this week and the song is available for download on major platforms, with all proceeds going to Ukrainian humanitarian causes. A little thing, but a pretty good use of his “big platform,” we think.