March 18 – Bad Back But Heart Of Gold

Having a bad back isn’t fun, but they say every cloud has a silver lining. For Neil Young, it turned out to be a “gold” lining, in more ways than one!

Neil hurt his back sometime early in 1971, and that made it difficult to stand up for long periods of time, and limited his ability to play his electric guitar. So he decided to sit down and take it easy, literally and musically. He began writing and playing some acoustic material on his old acoustic six-string. And that turned out to become Harvest, his fourth album. Which in turn was his only #1 album (in both Canada and the U.S) and at 4X platinum, with about six million or more copies sold, his biggest-seller. Although it contained the controversial song “Alabama”,( which piled upon “Southern Man” led Lynyrd Skynyrd to rebuff him with “Sweet Home Alabama”) and “The Needle and the Damage Done”, much of the album’s success was due to its first single. “Heart of Gold” hit #1 in the U.S. this day in 1972. As with the album, it remains his only chart-topping single in both countries. And it made the top 10 in Britain and New Zealand as well, even charting in Japan.

The weary, country-ish song was written for his then-love, actress Carrie Snodgress, with whom he had a five year relationship and a son. Neil had being playing a slightly different version of it, on piano, at some concerts before he recorded it in Nashville, but seems like the Tennessee session got it right. He played harmonica and acoustic guitar on it but added in some top-flight Nashville session players on it like Ben Keith on steel guitar and Kenny Buttery on drums. And, the cherry on the top, he happened to run into James Taylor and Linda Ronstadt, who happened to be in town taping a Johnny Cash TV show, and they went back to Neil’s place and sang backing vocals.

The song was obviously right for the times, and has endured what’s more. CBC Radio in Canada ranked it as the third best Canadian song of all-time back in 2005 and Rolling Stone has consistently listed it among their 500 greatest songs of all-time, noting it “signaled the arrival of a new countrified prettiness that would come to define the laid-back Seventies.” But one person who wasn’t thrilled with it was Neil himself. He said “the song put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore, so I headed for the ditch.”

Another was Bob Dylan, who says in general he likes Neil and his music but he felt it was a rip-off of his style. He’s said “the only time it bothered me that someone sounded like me was when I was living in Phoenix, Arizona in about ’72 and the big song at the time was ‘Heart of Gold’…(I thought) s*** that’s me. If it sounds like me, it should as well be me!” That considered, it’s perhaps ironic that “Heart of Gold” was replaced at #1 by America’s “Horse With No Name”… a song many people complained was a total rip-off of Neil Young’s sound!


March 16 – Remembered By Dolphins & Dylan Alike

Sometimes in music, it seems like “Everybody’s Talkin’” about Bob Dylan. Or maybe ’60s greats like the Jefferson Airplane or Crosby, Stills & Nash. Very few however, are talking about a man they all considered a friend and even mentor, so today we will remember Fred Neil. He was born in Cleveland this day in 1936 and might be the closest thing to a “one hit wonder” writer. However, as with many so called “one hit wonders”, there’s much more to his story.

Neil was born in Ohio, but soon moved to Florida as a child. Both moving around and Florida seemed to quickly be in his blood. So too, playing guitar, which he began as a young child.

By the end of the ’50s, he’d begun a two-fold career in music, as a writer and performer. He worked at the Brill Building writing for awhile, there co-writing a song called “Candy Man” (not the Sammy Davis Jr one) which was recorded by Roy Orbison. Although in the U.S. it was a b-side to “Crying”, in some lands it was a hit in its own right, actually being a #1 in Australia. Around that time, he began singing in cafes and became one of Greenwich Village’s most popular – and influential – performers. As Anthony DeCurtis would later write, “why is Neil a hero for David Crosby? Because back when Crosby was an aspiring folkie who just arrived in New York, Neil bothered to take an interest in him just as he did for Bob Dylan, who backed Neil on harmonica.” Joni Mitchell, Richie Havens and Stephen Stills were among his many other fans in that time period. In time, he’d move to Woodstock and have a house just down the road from The Band’s Big Pink.

He kept writing songs through the ’60s, with a few minor successes like “Other Side of this Life” for Jefferson Airplane, whom he hung out with when he went West apparently. Paul Kantner of that group wrote their tune “The Ballad of You and Me and Pooneil” about him.

He also kept singing and playing guitar, but didn’t ever find a national audience, unlike his “students”. But luckily for all, he wrote the song “Everybody’s Talkin’” and put it out in 1966. Few noticed, but somehow it was brought to the attention of Harry Nilsson, who of course did it for the Midnight Cowboy movie and made it a smash hit, worldwide.

About that time though, Neil was getting tired of the music business and more and more interested in Florida and in particular, dolphins whose cause he championed. In 1970, he helped establish The Dolphin Research Project, designed to help protect them, and spent more and more time with that and on his personal relationships (he was married several times and had four children) and less and less in music. Sadly he died at age 65 from complications of skin cancer.

So there you have it – another anonymous “behind the scenes” music man who helped kickstart the careers of several who are far from “anonymous.”

March 12 – Taylor Sounds Sweet, But No Baby At 75

Happy birthday to the man Time declared “the face of new rock” nearly half a century ago. Musical “handyman” James Taylor turns 75 today. It’s rather a big deal for him, as the man who essentially defined “easy listening” in the ’70s has had anything but an easy path in his life.

He was born in Boston (and still is a fan of those Beantown sporting clubs like the Red Sox and Bruins) but moved with his family to North Carolina when young, where he learned to play cello, then guitar as a child and his four siblings all developed a love of music as well. His family still had some ties in Massachusetts though, and took many a summer vacation up to Martha’s Vineyard, which was fortunate for him as that is where, as a teen, he met another musical teen, Danny Kortchmar. Danny was a bit more of a guitarist than James, James more of a singer. Kortchmar said early on it was apparent Taylor’s “singing had a natural sense of phrasing, every syllable beautifully in time.” The pair started performing folk music in cafes around the northeast as “Jamie and Kootch” while still high school age, but Taylor began a long-term fascination with heroin – something conjoined with his depression and other mental issues, although the cause and effect isn’t clear. He soon was in a mental hospital.

When he got out, he moved to London, and once again Danny K. helped him out, getting him an audition with none other than the Beatles’ own Apple Records. Paul McCartney lent an ear and says “I just heard his voice and guitar and thought he was great.” Taylor became the first non-British act on their label, but his self-titled debut didn’t quite take the world by storm. However, he went back to the States and jumped to Warner Bros. and the rest is history. His first album with them, Sweet Baby James went triple-platinum in the U.S. and gave him his first major hit, “Fire And Rain”. which established him as a certified star.

Since then, he’s put out 18 more studio albums, had 13 top 10 albums and his 1976 Greatest Hits package is 11X platinum. He scored a #1 single with the Carole King-penned “You’ve Got A Friend” (interestingly, she recorded it too and both artists used Kortchmar for guitar on their versions) and other top 10s like “How Sweet It Is”, “Handyman” and “Mockingbird”, his duet with his then wife Carly Simon. As well as he’s done on the singles chart and hit radio, his performance on the easy-listening ones has been greater, with 17 top 10s on that format including another duet, 1981’s “Her Town Too” with J.D. Souther..

Things have settled down this century for Taylor. He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2000, with McCartney inducting him and the Hall suggesting he was “often called a singer/songwriter (but that) fails to recognize that he’s also incorporated all kinds of Blues…pop, Motown soul and country influences into one of the most unmistakable musical signatures.” The next year he re-married the marketing director of the Boston Orchestra and he and her had twin boys.

Not long ago, he was featured in Time once again, with them noting he is “still lanky and imposing at 71” and sounds fine on his newest album, American Standard which is his take on old standards like “Moon River” and “Pennies From Heaven”. He may have slowed down a little, but hasn’t quit the business by any means. His website lists a few upcoming shows in the Pacific Northwest and just debuted a live, 1979 concert film

It has been a very interesting trip,” Taylor says summing up his life. One that’s had him face fire and rain, and come out stronger for it… and with a few miles ahead we hope.

March 4 – To Brits At Least, Chris Is The Rea-l Deal

Happy birthday to one of Britain’s most successful musicians of the ’80s and ’90s. A man who loves American blues and is a great guitarist but made a name for himself with an easy-listening hit on which he doesn’t pick up a 6-string. Chris Rea was born on this day in 1951.

Rea was born in Yorkshire, England, in a Catholic household with an Italian dad and Irish mother. His upbringing was far from the typical rock star one. He was happy enough as a kid, it seems, spent his summers in Italy and worked in his dad’s successful ice cream company. He said he wanted to be a journalist. And while most of his classmates were likely swooning over the Beatles, Chris liked listening to American blues – Muddy Waters, Blind Willie Johnson and the like. He didn’t even get a guitar until he was getting into his 20s… but it was instant love. He taught himself blues guitar and slide guitar, while working in his dad’s ice cream offices. “I spent all my time in the stockroom playing slide guitar,” he remembers.

Soon he was in a band with David Coverdale, who’d soon join Deep Purple. Rea was a songwriter and, at times (if the singer didn’t show up), their vocalist, with his husky, gravel truck voice so well suited to the blues. It didn’t take him that long to get a contract on his own, with Magnet Records. they brought in Elton John’s great producer, Gus Dudgeon ( as well as session musicians like Rod Argent) to work on his 1978 debut, Whatever Happened To Benny Sandini? The title itself points to how Rea typically was swimming upstream in the music business. In the same time that John Mellencamp was labeled “John Cougar” by his record company, Rea’s wanted him to go by “Benny Sandini”, thinking it a more marketable name. Rea refused, and both parties had the last laugh – he used his own name, and Magnet soon had their biggest star. …Benny Sandini was a hit in North America, going gold in the U.S. (his one and only gold disc here) and yielding what most of us over on this side of the Atlantic consider his signature tune, “Fool If You Think It’s Over.” The song was written for his sister, going through a breakup with a boyfriend, and in his head was a Delta blues song, something Al Green might have done. The single hit #12 in the U.S. and was a smash on easy-listening stations. However, it didn’t do much in his homeland and he didn’t like it much. He felt that Dudgeon had smoothed it out far too much and that he should’ve played guitar on it! Ten years later, he’d record a new version of it that he felt was somewhat truer to his idea for it.

While his career fumbled and almost disappeared in the U.S., it soon took off in the UK. He’d go on to have 10 gold or platinum albums there, including back-to-back #1s in the late-’80s, including the 1989 #1 hit Road to Hell which went 6X platinum there. While more of an albums-artist than singles’ one, he’s put 12 songs into the British top 30, including “On the Beach” and the Christmas staple “Driving Home for Christmas”, which made the charts there three different years, peaking at #10.

While successful in commerce and love (he married his high school sweetheart, Joan and has been with her for some 50 years), he’s not done so well in health. He’s had ulcers since the ’90s, diabetes and in the early-2000s he battled pancreatic cancer. After getting through that, he decided to devote himself more to his loves, including painting, racing – he has a collection of old Ferraris and Lotus’… (we don’t know if he knew J. Geils but he would’ve gotten on well with him, it would appear), and blues. He

While successful in commerce and love (he married his high school sweetheart, Joan and has been with her for over 50 years), he’s not done so well in health. He’s had ulcers since the ’90s, diabetes and in the early-2000s he battled pancreatic cancer. After getting through that, he decided to devote himself more to his loves, including painting, racing – he has a collection of old Ferraris and Lotus’… (we don’t know if he knew J. Geils but he would’ve gotten on well with him, it would appear), and blues. He started his own label, Jazzee Blue and began putting out more bluesy albums. Not a great move to boost sales, but he is no doubt happier and his first album on his own label, Dancing Down the Stony Road still earned him a gold record in the UK. His latest one, One Fine Day, was his 25th studio album. Here, we love his ’78 single, but we’re glad you’re not Benny Sandini, Chris!

February 9 – New York’s Other Famous Singing Simon

Yesterday we looked at Phoebe Snow, the New York City singer/songwriter who came to prominence in the mid-’70s with her hit “Poetry Man.” Today we look back at one of the ladies who paved the way for her 50 or so years back, another Big Apple singer/songwriter. Carly Simon‘s first, and self-titled, album came out on this day in 1971. And no, she’s not related to Paul Simon so far as anyone can tell.

Carly had an early love for music, and the funds to follow up on that. Her dad was the “Simon” in Simon & Schuster, the famous publisher. He had his little girl trained in classical piano when she was young. But she stuttered, and because of that she turned to writing and singing songs. “I could sing without stammering, as all stammerers can,” she suggests.

A brief and fairly unnoticed recording career with her sister Lucy got her signed by herself to Elektra Records at the start of the ’70s. Her debut was recorded at the Electric Lady studios made famous by Jimi Hendrix… little surprise since the producer was Eddie Kramer, who’d worked as a studio engineer on four of Jmi’s albums. Of course, Eddie wisely knew that he was dealing with quite a different musician here, and didn’t try to make her the femme Jimi.

The ten song, 38” album consisted of seven songs written (at least in part) by Carly, including her first hit, “That’s The Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be.” The song, questioning the wisdom of marriage, was as allmusic note, “a guy sentiment, but sung by a girl it came across as a feminist statement.” As did the suggestive titles of some of the other tracks like “Dan, My Fling” (the other”standout track” per allmusic) and “Just A Sinner.Rolling Stone at the time were fond of her. They suggested that “Carly’s voice perfectly matches her material” and that was “perfectly complemented by deft arrangements.” the Grammys thought so too, it would seem, as she was nominated for the Best New Artist.

The public liked it, but weren’t blown away by it like they were by that year’s other NYC singer/songwriter lass, Carole King. Carly Simon hit #36 at home, and #17 in Canada. europe failed to take notice. Her first hit, “That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It should Be” became the first of five top 10 hits in the decade. Fans didn’t have to wait in “Anticipation” of new music for long… her second album (of that name) came out later in ’71. The pair of records made her one of the biggest-selling artists of the year.

It also seemingly grabbed the attention of the likes of men like Mick Jagger, Warren Beatty and James Taylor who could put up with an occasional stutter to have a pretty and successful female singer on their arm… which of course led to her iconic smash hit of the following year, “You’re So Vain.”

February 8 – Songbird Chirped About Poetry Man

Beginner’s luck perhaps, but Phoebe Snow entered the music world in a pretty big way. Her debut single, “Poetry Man” hit the U.S. top 40 on this day in 1975. It helped the then-24 year old New York singer/songwriter’s self-titled debut album go gold and earn her a nomination for Best New Artist Grammy.

Like many other female singers of the era, Phoebe began her career playing her own music with an acoustic guitar around the cafes of New York. Her songwriting abilities and four-octave voice stood out and Shelter Records – Leon Russell’s label – signed her quickly in the early-’70s. They brought in a range of talent to help her out with the first album, including Phil Ramone who co-produced.

Poetry Man” was only the second song she’d ever written. She was of mixed emotions about it later on, saying “I was trying so hard to be this hip and groovy person. I was so stupid,” adding “I was having a relationship with somebody. From the words you can probably deduce the guy was married. It was a bad thing to do.” Many thought the married guy was Jackson Browne, a friend whom she opened for on tour but she’s always denied it. “It’s somebody you wouldn’t know.” She also thought the record (which usually grumpy Robert Christgau described as a “striking” and “langourous” ) was “more jazz-oriented” than she wanted. A bad relationship perhaps but “I got a lovely romantic sonnet out of it.” And a big hit record.

The single topped North American adult contemporary/easy listening charts and went all the way to #5 on the Billboard sales chart. Unfortunately it would be by far the biggest hit of her career. Although many consider her a “one hit wonder”, she did make the charts again in 1975 with “Gone At Last”, a duet with Paul Simon.

Things went downhill for her quickly after that. She and Shelter didn’t get along well and went to court over her contract, and it took two years for it to be resolved and her to move on to Columbia. Soon after she had a daughter who was disabled, and Phoebe put her music on the backburner through most of the ’80s to look after her. She did do quite well writing commercial jingles in that decade though. More sadly she had a stroke in 2010 and after a year spent mostly in a coma, passed away in 2011 at age 60.

January 15 – Was A Time Everybody Was Talkin’ About Harry

One of several men sometimes referred to as the “fifth Beatle” died this day in 1994. Harry Nilsson passed away at age 52 after succumbing to his second major heart attack in a year.

Nilsson had an outstanding, expressive voice that spanned over three octaves and was a solid song-writer, writing hits for the likes of Three Dog Night (their hit “One”) and the Monkees besides himself but is best-remembered for a couple of hits he sang covers of : “Without You” (a Badfinger song) and “Everybody’s Talking”, a Fred Neil song Nilsson made popular when it made it onto The Graduate soundtrack. Both songs won Harry Grammys and were top 10 hits in the U.S., but  oddly enough the New Yorker had his greatest success in Canada where he managed ten top 10s and “Without You” hit #1. John Lennon and Paul McCartney both named him as their favorite American artist, but an attempted collaboration with Lennon in ’75 resulted in much partying but little music.

His heavy drinking and partying in the ’70s, his dislike of playing live shows caused his career to dive by the mid-’70s, and the death of Elvis Presley nearly destroyed what was left of it. That’s a confusing point, but in 1977, he’d recorded his 14th studio album, Knnillssonn, which he considered his personal best. He’d also damaged his vocal chords making him uncertain as to being able to sing much more in the future. RCA had high hopes for the LP, but through a bad coincidence of timing, it came out right about when Presley died. RCA also had the Elvis catalog and suddenly shifted most of its marketing money and record production capabilities to churning out vast quantities of the back catalog for “The King”. Nilsson’s album took a back seat and didn’t make the top 100; RCA dropped him after that. However, his legacy lives on. Rolling Stone ranked him as the 61st greatest songwriter of all-time and just after his death there was a tribute album. The 1995 For the Love of Harry had artists covering his work including Ringo Starr, Brian Wilson, Marc Cohn, Jimmy Webb and Fred Schneider of the B52s who did the suitably quirky 1972 hit “Coconut.” The 1998 Tom Hanks romcom You’ve Got Mail kept his name in the public’s mind, using several of his songs including the “Puppy Song. and a Sinead O’Connor cover of his “The Lord Must Be In New York City”, his first chart hit from 30 years prior.

Fifth Beatle? Probably not, if anyone should come close to really meriting that title it would be George Martin or Billy Preston. But First Harry? That’s not Schmilsson, Nilsson.

January 13 – Turntable Talk 10 : This River Wasn’t Exactly One Of Dreams

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 Max from Power Pop Blog. There he gives us a great song or two daily with a great writeup, and coming soon apparently an episode-by-episode look at Star Trek. Will he pick a great power pop song, or might he go where no man has gone before?

Dave stated, “I just want you 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.”

I went through many songs to get to this one. Dylan songs mostly before I realized this one hit home. This was the title track to Bruce Springsteen’s 1980 double album The River. I picked this song because it is so easy to relate to. I’ve known friends who have lived this song. This is not a party starter song by any stretch of the imagination. The lyrics are downright sad because they are so damn real. It contains one of my favorite Springsteen lines “And for my nineteenth birthday I got a union card and a wedding coat.

I grew up in a small town with a population of around a thousand or so at the time. The jobs there were dead end jobs and the pay was even worse. I saw a cycle even at an early age by seeing parents and their kids doing the same thing generation after generation. It was enough inspiration for me to explore and find new things…and to get out. Some of my friends never made it out. They are doing now what they swore they wouldn’t do before.

I saw my sister get into the same position as the Mary character in the song. It ended many years later in a divorce but at least she is happy now so there are good endings! Her son was the best thing that happened to her. The funny thing is I ended up moving back near that town but I’m doing what I want to be doing not in a job or rut that I hate. Some of my old friends are not in that position.

I came to realize…it wasn’t the location at all. It was and still is a nice small town. No that wasn’t it. It was the lack of expectations at the time set upon everyone that made it seem pre-ordained for bad choices to happen.

The wedding in the song relates to Springsteen’s sister, who got married when she was still a teenager. She knew it was about her and her husband the first time she heard it. It was also based on conversations Springsteen had with his brother-in-law. After losing his construction job, he worked hard to support his wife and young child but never complained.

The songs lyrics are outstanding. Even the opening lines are so close to how I grew up. I did grow up in a valley. I come from down in the valley,
Where mister when you’re young, They bring you up to do like your daddy done.

It’s so easy to relate to. I’m sure many people can relate to this song with completely different circumstances than me.

Bruce saves the best for last though. He is talking about the dreams we have when we are younger about what we are going to do in life until life wakes you up with a bang.

Now those memories come back to haunt me
They haunt me like a curse
Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true
Or is it something worse

The song didn’t chart in America or Canada but did make it to #35 in the UK. The album was #1 in the Billboard album charts, #1 in Canada, and #2 in the UK.

The River

I come from down in the valley
Where mister when you’re young
They bring you up to do like your daddy done
Me and Mary we met in high school
When she was just seventeen
We’d ride out of that valley down to where the fields were green

We’d go down to the river
And into the river we’d dive
Oh down to the river we’d ride

Then I got Mary pregnant
And man that was all she wrote
And for my nineteenth birthday I got a union card and a wedding coat
We went down to the courthouse
And the judge put it all to rest
No wedding day smiles no walk down the aisle
No flowers no wedding dress

That night we went down to the river
And into the river we’d dive
Oh down to the river we did ride

I got a job working construction for the Johnstown Company
But lately there ain’t been much work on account of the economy
Now all them things that seemed so important
Well mister they vanished right into the air
Now I just act like I don’t remember
Mary acts like she don’t care

But I remember us riding in my brother’s car
Her body tan and wet down at the reservoir
At night on them banks I’d lie awake
And pull her close just to feel each breath she’d take
Now those memories come back to haunt me
They haunt me like a curse
Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true
Or is it something worse
That sends me down to the river
Though I know the river is dry
That sends me down to the river tonight
Down to the river
My baby and I
Oh down to the river we ride

January 12 – Turntable Talk 10 : NY Landmark Inspired Landmark Song

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 Christian from Christian’s Music Musings. There he keeps his ear to the ground for new music worth listening, reviews concerts and shares Spotify lists to keep you listening. With an international background, will his pick originate from offshore?

Thanks for having me back again to share my thoughts for Turntable Talk about yet another interesting topic.

When it comes to songs, typically, I focus on melody, rhythm and sound before paying any attention to lyrics. This still goes back to the very beginning of my music journey as a seven or eight-year-old growing up in my native country Germany, i.e., a time when I essentially did not understand or speak one word of English. While as such, writing about favorite song lyrics may seem to be a tricky proposition, surprisingly, I knew right away which tune I would cover.

Some songs with great lyrics that come to mind are related to my all-time favorite band and its members: The Beatles’ The Inner Light (I always loved George Harrison’s wisdom), John Lennon’s Mother (you can literally feel John’s pain in his words and screaming) and Paul McCartney’s Here Today (one of the best tributes to John, which can still make me well up). I also love songs with a cinematic feel like Kris Kristofferson’s Sunday Morning Coming Down – in fact, I almost would have picked that tune. Finally, a great protest song like Neil Young’s Ohio (first released in June 1970 as a single by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young) can get my attention as well.

Any of the aforementioned tunes would have been a good choice. Instead, I decided to go with a song that only became widely known with a remake that ended up topping the charts in various European countries. I’m happy to report I knew and came to dig the original long before that hit version came out. The song is Tom’s Diner by American folk singer-songwriter Suzanne Vega.

There are two versions of the tune that bookend Vega’s excellent sophomore album Solitude Standing, which came out in April 1987. Only the opener, an a cappella rendition, is relevant for the topic of this post. The closer, appropriately titled Tom’s Diner (Reprise), is an instrumental.

Tom’s Diner is like a mini movie, describing observations and memories by the narrator while having a cup of coffee at a diner. If you’ve ever been to a diner in New York City during the morning rush, you realize how brilliantly Vega captures the atmosphere. That’s why I love the lyrics of this tune.

Featuring Vega’s vocals only without any other singers also make Tom’s Diner an unusual a cappella song. While as such it’s very bare bones, I feel this approach works very well.

Initially, Tom’s Diner only appeared on Vega’s second album. Following the success of the record’s second single Luka, the tune was also released separately as a single in Europe. Perhaps not surprisingly, Tom’s Diner didn’t match the success of Luka, reaching no. 58 in the UK and no. 26 in Ireland – that is at first.

In 1990, British electronic outfit DNA created a dance remix. Initially, it was released unauthorized by Vega, her label A&M or her publisher on a limited basis for distribution to clubs as “Oh Suzanne” – a pretty gutsy move in the litigious music industry! After consulting with Vega who apparently liked the interpretation, A&M (her record company) decided to buy the song from DNA rather than taking them to court for copyright infringement.

It turned out to be a smart decision. The remix ended up topping the charts in Austria, Germany, Greece and Switzerland. It also climbed to no. 2 in the UK on the Official Singles Chart and no. 5 in the U.S. on the Billboard Hot 100. That said, I find it pretty atrocious!

Following are some additional tidbits from Songfacts:

Suzanne Vega wrote this song while eating breakfast at Tom’s Restaurant on the corner of Broadway and 112th Street in New York City. Tom’s has another famous place in pop culture as well: it was Jerry Seinfeld’s hangout in his hit sitcom Seinfeld. On the show, where it was called “Monk’s Cafe,” the “Tom’s” was cropped out so the exterior sign just said “Restaurant,” and the interior shots were done with TV magic on a sound stage.

The song has been sampled many times by other artists, including Tupac for his track “Dopefiend’s Diner,” Aaliyah on her single “Hot Like Fire”, Drake on a cut titled “Juice” and David Guetta on his tune “Let It Be Me.”

Giorgio Moroder covered the song for his 2015 Déjà Vu album. His version features vocals by Britney Spears. “The song doesn’t have a big range, and I added a bridge and some instrumental stuff,” the EDM godfather told Billboard magazine. “Britney sounds so good, you would hardly recognize her.”

When German engineers were developing the MP3 file format, they used this song to test their creation, checking for loss of fidelity. They picked an a cappella tune because they were particularly concerned about degrading the human voice.

Fall Out Boy sampled this song and used various elements from it on their 2014 hit “Centuries.”

The German rock groups AnnenMayKantereit and Giant Rooks recorded a cover of the song in 2019 that went viral on TikTok in March 2022 as people used the singing duo’s unique and expressive vocals to soundtrack videos on the platform. Their version peaked at #63 on the UK singles chart and #78 on the Hot 100.

November 28 – No Secrets Kept One Big Secret

The album was called No Secrets, but in fact there still is one…one that’s been much speculated on and debated for 50 years! Carly Simon‘s third album came out this day in 1972.

Carly had made herself known the previous year with her first couple of albums and a pair of minor hit singles, “That’s The Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be” and “Anticipation”. And she’d made herself quite popular in the music world, having relationships with artists including Mick Jagger, Cat Stevens and Kris Kristofferson and actor Warren Beatty in that time period, as well as James Taylor who she married just before this one came out.

Elektra Records sent her to London to record the album, with up-and-coming producer Richard Perry, who had come to some fame the previous year himself, producing Harry Nilsson’s Nilsson Schmilsson. While Carly herself played some acoustic guitar, piano and synthesizers on No Secrets, they brought in some extra star-power talent to fill it in. That included Nicky Hopkins on keyboards, Beatles friend Klaus Voortman on bass, future Roxy Music drummer Andy Newmark, as well as Jim Gordon who drummed on the album’s bit hit, and even Paul & Linda McCartney who added backing vocals to “Night Owl”, the one of ten tracks on the album not written by Simon, it being a James Taylor cover instead.

The resulting album wasn’t a huge stretch from her previous work or several other popular singer/songwriters of the time; largely confessional-sounding ballads about love and hate. Among the titles were “It Was So Easy”, “The Right Thing To Do” ( the second single and a North American top 20 hit) and “His Friends Are More Than Fond of Robin”. All pleasant enough listening that might have more or less fallen by the wayside were it not for one song – “You’re So Vain.”

The song had been pre-released to radio and was already becoming popular when the LP arrived in stores. But few likely anticipated just how popular the song would become, or how it would be Carly’s signature song five decades later. It hit #1 in the U.S., Canada, New Zealand and several other lands. In the UK, it topped out at #3 but won a platinum single for her. Later she’d ben nominated for three Grammys for it including Record of the Year and Song of the Year (losing in both cases to Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly.” To this day it remains one of Billboard‘s 100 biggest-selling singles ever…and a mystery. Just who was so vain?

Many rumors abounded then, and now. Carly has said ”it’s not just about one particular person” although she has admitted the second verse (“You had me several years ago…”) was about Beatty, and he was in fact so vain he “thinks the whole thing is about him.” Other rumors about who the other guys are, including the one rich enough to have his own Lear Jet which he flew to Nova Scotia to watch an eclipse in, include almost all the men she dated. She says it is not about Taylor however, but many things point towards Jagger. Who happens to sing backing vocals on the record!

Critics were mixed about it when it came out. Curmudgeonly Robert Christgau opined that “if a horse could sing in a monotone,that horse would sing like Carly Simon.” Rolling Stone however, thought “what finally makes No Secrets so refreshing is her singing.” With the benefit of hindsight, allmusic give it 4.5-stars, and say it’s clearly her “best album” with its “saucy tone with its air of sexually frank autobiography and reflections of the jet set lifestyle.” They also praise Perry’s “simple, elegant pop-rock production.” Something Carly should be thankful for too. Apparently she “played it mucch slower” but Perry raised the tempo and emotion in it.

Soon it was no secret that Simon was an emerging major star. The album became her first platinum one in the U.S. and her first #1 album there, as well as Canada and Australia.

By now, she might have forgotten exactly who “You’re So Vain” was about. But the public haven’t forgotten the song! Only this month, the reining “queen of pop”, Taylor Swift called it “the best song that’s ever been written. That is the best way anyone has addressed a breakup.”