April 23 – Harry’s Tales From The Stage

Billy Joel’s a great story-teller singer. So is Bruce Springsteen. But one guy both tip their caps to is the late Harry Chapin. The talkative New York bard put out some great records, but to many was best experienced playing live, so this day in 1976 was a treat for his fans. That’s when he put out his first live album, Greatest Stories Live. As the name suggests, it was largely a collection of his previous best loved songs, recorded live over a three night span the previous winter in California. The original double-LP did have three new, studio tracks on it, “She’s Always Seventeen”, “Love Is Just Another Word” and “The Shortest Story,” though the first two of those are omitted from the CD release (presumably for length, as the CD still clocks in over 70 minutes).

The record showcases him at his chatty, hyper best, with his usual backing band (including Tim Scott on cello, one of the primary reasons Elektra Records’ boss Jac Holtzman had been so determined to sign him; he felt that cello was the perfect accompaniment to sad rock music) plus his musical brothers, Tom, on piano and banjo plus Steve on piano. Steve also co-produced the record.

The album included his best-loved songs to that point, including his hits “Taxi” and “Cats in the Cradle.” As well there was “WOLD”, about a radio DJ, and “I Wanna Learn A Love Song,” like many of his tunes, semi-autobiographical in nature. That one describes, more or less, how he met his wife Sandy who was originally just a student taking guitar lessons from him. (He got to be a bit more ribald live, changing “crazy” in the lyrics to “horny.”) The album’s centerpiece however, was the black humor of “30 000 pounds of Bananas.” Unusual title for an unusual song, about an out of control truck hauling bananas, faster and faster, down a hill in Scranton, Pennsylvania. This too was based largely on real life, though not Harry’s. There was a crash in 1965 in Scranton, with a tractor-trailer, a 35-foot trailer loaded with bananas, that lost its brakes driving down a steep hill. It ran into a house at the bottom, and sadly the driver was killed, but witnesses say he did a brilliant job of avoiding pedestrians and a gas station along the way down. The 11-minute live version lets him try out alternate endings, like a take on the Chiquita banana jingle because his brothers had told him his original one “sucks.”

the album barely made it into the top 50, but sold steadily, indicative of his almost under-the-radar popularity. Eventually it went double platinum, his second-best seller behind 1974’s Verities and Balderdash.

People with Amazon Prime might want to check out the new movie Harry Chapin – When in Doubt, Do Something on their service. The movie highlights his music, energy and his remarkable dedication to helping put an end to hunger and poverty – he was doing over a hundred benefit shows a year for some time and got himself named to be an advisor to President Carter on the matter. Among his vocal fans who show up in the movie are the aforementioned Joel and Springsteen, as well as Pat Benatar, Harry Bellafonte, some U.S. senators, Bob Geldof (who more or less suggests Live Aid came out of ideas Harry had for alleviating world starvation), movie maker Michael Moore (whom Harry helped out when he was an unknown Flint journalist and novice film-maker) and perhaps most surprisingly, rappers from Run DMC. Sadly, the spoiler alert most already know, Harry was killed in a car crash driving to one of his many charity events in 1981.

March 23 – Songs To Seagulls And With Eagles

A few days back we looked at Bob Dylan’s first album and noted while it was the debut of a great artist, it wasn’t necessarily a great debut. Today, the same could be said about the first one from an artist Pitchfork call “Mary Magdalene to Dylan’s folk rock messiah” – Joni Mitchell. Her debut, Song To A Seagull, came out this day in 1968.

By this time, Joni was 24 and had become something of a star in her native Canada, with her spending time in Toronto’s hot Yorkville folk scene, then relocated to the U.S., living briefly in Detroit then “found” and relocated to L.A.’s artsy Laurel Canyon by David Crosby . She’d already established herself as a decent songwriter, with several artist recording her work, including Judy Collins’ who had a hit with her “Both Sides Now” right around the time this album was hitting the stores.

Crosby helped Mitchell get a good contract with Reprise Records, with an unusual amount of control over her own music. The downside was he also got to produce Song to a Seagull, a rather simple, 10-song, 38-minute effort of her own songs with limited outside help. Mitchell played guitar and piano, even painted the cover as she usually did with her records, and Stephen Stills added bass in places. (To top it off, at the time she was living with the other member of CSN, Graham Nash, which prompted him to write the song “Our House (Is A Very, Very Fine House.)” The problem was Crosby didn’t seem to have the knack of producing at that point. He placed mics oddly in the studio and ended up with a lot of ambient noise and hiss on the masters. He sought to eliminate that, mainly by wiping out the high end treble… resulting in what Joni would say made it “sound like it was recorded under a jello bowl”. Wikipedia term it sound with a “flat feel.” (In case you’re wondering, Mitchell eventually re-mixed and mastered it herself, and the better result came out last year on Rhino Records.)

She dedicated the record to “Mr. Kratzmann,” her grade 7 teacher, “who taught me to love words.” And while the album, seemingly her first impressions of L.A., didn’t have any hit songs or ones which live on widely – unlike the one she wrote for Collins – it got her noticed as a fine singer/songwriter, with songs like “Night In the City”, “Pirate of Penance” and the title track for the seabird. Although it barely even nicked the top 200 album chart and was one of only a few of her early records not to go gold anywhere, it got her on her way and by her next album, Clouds, with the single “Chelsea Morning” she began to become a significant artist on the charts and radio.

Perhaps Joni felt a bit sentimental about March 23, because 20 years to the day after Song To A Seagull, she put out her 13th studio album, Chalk Mark in a Rainstorm. The 1988 album was quite a departure from the first (and many of Joni’s albums), because it had some glossy production, courtesy Larry Klein who co-produced it and co-wrote several of the songs with her . For it she called on a number of her famous friends… Tom Petty, members of Prince’s backing band, Benjamin Orr of the Cars and more. Particularly of note were Willie Nelson, who sang with her on “Cool Water”, Billy Idol and his guitarist Steve Stevens, who appeared on “Dancing Fool” (“it was for the contrast he provided,” she said about having Idol on the record. “He brings real life to the part”) , Don Henley, who sang on “Snakes and Ladders” and Peter Gabriel. Gabriel joined her on the single “My Secret Place”, a song she recorded in Gabriel’s studio in England. The album mixed straight-forward love songs like that one with more socially-aware ones like “Lakota”, about disappearing American Indian culture, and “Beat of Black Wings”, a lament of Vietnam vets with PTSD.

This one got middling reviews. Both Rolling Stone and allmusic rate it 3-stars.The former noted that somehow “as Mitchell has grown older…the assumed priority of words over music has reversed,” suggesting the music was largely for the tunes and beats more than her poetry. Allmusic note “Mitchell uses vocal firepower over spare tracks, heavy on percussion” which now “already begins to sound dated.”

That notwithstanding, the public took to it better than some of her releases. It got to #23 in Canada and #26 in the UK, with “My Secret Place” being a minor hit single in Canada, where the album did go gold, no doubt to the relief of Geffen Records. That made her first gold record anywhere since she’d joined that label at the start of the decade.

Alas, Joni didn’t keep the trend going and release an album on this day in 2008. In fact, her last album of new material came out in 2007 and she’s said she’s retired from music, lately splitting her time between L.A. and Canada and spending much of her spare time painting or drawing.

February 9 – A Tip Of The (Cowboy) Hat To Tom, Eh

It’s easy, and appropriate, to consider acts like The Beatles or Elvis Presley as “legendary”. It’s more of a stretch to call an artist who’s barely known outside his homeland and who measured his record sales in thousands rather than millions as one. Nevertheless, today we remember a Canadian music legend, Stompin’ Tom Connors who was born this day in 1936. Despite having only one charting single, by the time he died at age 77, the Prime Minister would eulogize him and Britain’s BBC noted his passing, calling him “one of Canada’s biggest cultural figures.” Not too shabby for a man who was jumping boxcars at 13 and playing his guitar for beer soon after!

Connors was born in New Brunswick, but to a rather dysfunctional family and ended up being passed around various family members across eastern Canada as a lad. By 13 he ran away from home, hitch-hiking or jumping freight trains to get from place to place. Within a year he’d gotten an old guitar and learned to play a little while moving around, picking crops here and working in a mine for a few weeks there. While still a teen, he went for a few beers to a bar in Timmins – an Ontario mining town – but found himself a few cents short. The bartender told him he’d give him his beer if he’d sing a song. So he did that, making up songs about the country he’d seen as he went along. He spent over a year at the hotel, performing nightly and getting a spot on the local radio station. He apparently stayed friends with that barkeep for the rest of his life.

He soon became a popular local musician, known for his cowboy hat and boots. He had a habit of pounding his left boot on the floor to keep time, which led to his “Stomping” nickname. After awhile, some clubs complained he was damaging their floor with all that stomping, he in turn began carrying his own piece of lumber to stand on as part of his gear! His sound was all his own, basically a rollicking form of country music where the words were always king. With the Americana music movement to the south, some have dubbed him the father of “Canadiana” music.

By the 1960s he was recording and becoming familiar on Canadian country stations. In time he’d write over 300 songs, many quite humorous and almost all reflecting Canada and its people. As the National Post put it, “he sang of a nation without politics, (but) of its proud history, reminding us that we’ve built something amazing here and must not take it for granted.” If Gordon Lightfoot could periodically tell stories about the country and its history, like the “Canadian Railroad Trilogy”, Connors made a career of it. “Fire in the Mine”, was aptly enough about a fire in a Timmins mine that killed 39. “Algoma Central 69” about the Algoma Central railway, a northern lumber and iron ore route. “Big Joe Mufferaw” was about a legendary lumberjack… something most Canucks probably didn’t know existed! And there were his best-known ones. “Bud the Spud”, the title track of his first album to go gold in Canada about the potatoes he grew up surrounded by; “Sudbury Saturday Night” about another Ontario mining city; “Tillsonburg” a humorous look back at a summer he spent picking tobacco in Canada’s most-southerly reaches and “The Hockey Song.” What would a Canadian story-teller be without one about hockey? The song was adopted by the Toronto Maple Leafs and played at every home game; after his death it actually hit the Canadian top 30.

All the while, he gradually became a household name in his country. The CBC network had him do the theme song for a public affairs show, which led to him also getting a 26-episode travelogue, Stompin’ Tom’s Canada. When he married , the TV network broadcast the wedding, one of the few times anyone saw him without his Stetson. And he was passionate about Canadian music.

This country is the most under-written country in the world as far as songs,” he once said and he did his part to rectify that. He started a trio of record labels including Canada’s first classical one. He didn’t like classical music but lamented that Canadian orchestras lacked a good outlet for their recorded music. He once returned six Juno Awards “I once felt honored to have received” because he was mad at the “border jumpers” who won the majority of the Canadian awards, artists who were born in Canada but lived and worked in the States (or occasionally Britain.) He did accept a lifetime achievement award from SOCAN in 2009 however, that being the legal arm representing Canadian musicians.

After he passed away from kidney disease, network hockey showed a tribute to him and flags in Tillsonburg were flown at half-mast, Sudbury commissioned a statue of him playing his guitar for use in the city square.  Prime Minister Harper called him “a true Canadian original…RIP Stompin’ Tom, you played the best game that could be played.” Two members of parliament, including ’80s alt rock artist-turned-politician Andrew Cash sang “Bud the Spud” in his memory in Parliament. An amazing life from humble beginnings. And if he didn’t do everything he’d wanted, well that would be alright by him. “I think that people should die without their dreams being fulfilled,” he’d said. “So maybe they can have an excuse for coming around again.”

February 7 – Johns Song Was Aspirational To Groovy ’70s Van Fans

Oh those happy-go-lucky 1970s; days of one night stands, vans with far out murals and easy-listening rock and all those other good things that preceded Reaganism, AIDS and Generation X. Today we look at a guy who put the three together iconicly in 1975 Sammy Johns. Johns was born 76 years ago today, in North Carolina.

Not a whole lot is on record about Sammy, but we know he learned to play guitar as soon as he was given one at nine years of age, and he was in a band in high school. He moved to Atlanta in his early 20s and got a record contract with a small label, GRC. Although the label was a minor one, they brought in some fine help to make his first record, the self-titled debut album. L.A.’s Larry Knetchel, one of the key members of the Wrecking Crew in its latter days, co-produced the album and played bass and guitars on it; Jim Gordon from Derek and the Dominoes drummed.

The album was pure early-’70s. “That was the era of hippies,” Johns recalls, “free love and all that. I was sort of a hippie – a conservative hippie.” Some of his song titles suggest just as much – Sammy Johns included tracks called “Way Out, Jesus” and “Early Morning Love.” However, it got lost in the shuffle of other soundalike soft rock albums for the first year or more after it hit the shelves. Then suddenly, somehow, the dusty single from it “Chevy Van” began to take off. It zipped up the charts to #5 in the States in early 1975, and eventually sold better than three million copies. He was awarded a gold single for it, seemingly the only one GRC Records ever received.

The song had a distinctive guitar sound with wah-wah pedal played by Knetchel who used the same tool to great effect on Bread’s “Guitar Man” a year or two before. “Chevy Van” was pretty much every young guy’s fantasy back then; a guy with a cool van picks up a sexy hitchhiker who then seduces him in the back of his ride before walking off down the street in a town he doesn’t plan to ever return to. Rhino Records (who included the song on a ’70s compilation album years later) point out that the line “let’s get some sleep and dream of rock’n’roll” “must have seemed ridiculous even to the most blissed-out hippie spreading good vibes, good Columbian and VD across America.” Ridiculous perhaps, but a fantasy to many and an irresistible hit record. For the record, Johns said the song was a product of his imagination. “It never happened,” he explained to Classic Bands, “I thought it might be a neat idea. I never was that lucky.”

Maybe not in fast love, but lucky he was on the record shelves. The multi-million seller made him a fair bit of cash and had GM calling. “Chevrolet did want to do a commercial, but some kind of problem did crop up with the record company,” he says. Nonetheless, the song – and custom vans themselves – were popular enough that it inspired a 1977 movie, The Van which Johns did much of the soundtrack for. The movie would be forgettable if not for one thing – it was one of the first starring roles for Danny Devito.

As luck would have it, GRC Records went bankrupt not long after and before they could get Sammy’s next album done. Thus it essentially consigned him to the category of “one hit wonder”, something he takes in stride. “I’m just thankful for that one,” he said pointing out that he really was a bit more than that. He wrote songs for a number of country artists in the ’80s, including Conway Twitty, Waylon Jennings and John Conlee who took his song “Common Man” to #1 on country charts. “That’s given me a lot of gratification. That’s what I really wanted to be – a writer,” he said not long before he passed away at age 66 in 2013.

February 3 – Farrah Was An Angel For Jim’s – And Gladys’ – Career

People often call George Martin the “Fifth Beatle.” Then again, some refer to Billy Preston as that. But there’d be no arguing who the “Fifth Pip” was, if that was something people pondered. That would be Jim Weatherly, who we remember a year after he passed away near Nashville. Weatherly might not be a household name…but some of his music is and he helped Gladys Knight become one as well. And, indirectly, numerous other musical types will benefit through the path he forged.

Weatherly was born and grew up in Mississippi. As a teen he loved music, and football. He actually played quarterback for the Ole Miss college team in two championship seasons and was named an “All American” in 1964. However, he decided to focus on music for a career instead, and moved out to L.A. There, he got a recording contract with Verve Records, but seemed to excel more in writing songs than recording them.

However, he kept playing football recreationally, which happened to indirectly “make” his career in music! He played with actor Lee Majors in an adult league and they became friends. Major was dating none other than Farrah Fawcett at the time, but she was far from a star then. Weatherly called them up one night and talked to future Charlie’s Angel star Farrah, who said she was taking “the midnight plane to Houston” that night, to go back and spend time with her family. Weatherly loved the phrase and wrote a song around it (ironically then, “a superstar but (she) didn’t get far” was thus written about Farrah Fawcett, who in fact did go far …and onto millions of teen boys walls …a few years later) . It was originally good, and kind of country-ish. But Cissy Houston wanted to record it, and someone at the record company decided a train would be more evocative than a plane and Georgia trumped Houston. Smart moves! Although Cissy’s version flopped, it did get noticed by Gladys Knight. The rest, as they say, is history. She and the Pips recorded it and made it a Grammy-winning smash, ranked as the 29th best song of the 20th Century by the RIAA. She must have wondered if the song was a fluke, and met up with Weatherly to find out.

The pair hit if off, and Buddah Records (whom Knight was signed to then) gave Weatherly a contract of his own. He had some minor success. “The Need To Be” was a top 20 hit in North America in ’74, a year after the “Midnight Train to Georgia”, and he had another country hit with “I’ll Still Love You.” But mainly, his success came through his writing, particularly for Knight. “He’d start playing his guitar, and I’d start humming, and was magic,” the singer said. He wrote their hits “Neither One Of Us” and “The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me” as well, and moved to Nashville. There, a number of artists recorded his songs including Garth Brooks, Lynn Anderson, Neil Diamond and Glen Campbell who got to #4 on country charts with his “A Lady Like You.”

Although he’d be named to the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Mississippi Music Hall of Fame, his career slowed in this century. Nevertheless, he made an impact for musicians everywhere when he successfully sued Universal Music for royalties he was due. He argued they had badly underpaid him royalties for “Midnight Train to Georgia,” they countered not so much by disputing it as saying they had put a one year limitation on the contract and he’d passed the Statute of Limitations. The courts disagreed and ruled writers or musicians could sue for unpaid royalties any amount of time after the fact.

Weatherly passed away this day in 2021, from natural causes at his suburban Nashville home. B.J. Thomas said of him “One of the great ones, (he) wrote a lot of beauties.” Knight said the day after his passing “I’m missing Jim Weatherly already. He was about life, and love…we were just made for each other. We grew our lives together.”

Of course, Weatherly is far from the most famous musician to have died on Feb. 3 because this day in 1959 was “the day the music died” with Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper dying in a plane crash.

January 24 – Diamond A National Gem

Happy birthday to a performer who really is a “living legend.” Billboard‘s 25th most-successful artist of all-time, an inductee into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame plus a lifetime award winner from the Grammys and a career that spanned almost 60 years – Neil Diamond is musical gem, and he’s 81 today.

Granted, he’s not a singer now considered edgy or ground-breaking, although he might have been that when young. Nonetheless, not only has he put out 32 studio albums of his own, plus two film soundtracks and had 25 top 20 singles in “America” – to name-check one of his trademark songs – but he’s penned songs made into hits from acts as diverse as Elvis Presley to UB40. Not many resumes in music equal that.

Diamond was born and mainly raised in New York City, being a classmate of Barbra Streisand no less. He began writing poetry as a youth and found it helped him impress girls, always a winning incentive to young artists! When he turned 16, he was given a guitar, learned to play it a bit and happened to see Pete Seeger in concert. It planted the seeds in his head that grew into an unquenchable desire for a career in music. So much so that he quite university (where he was studying medicine but attending on a fencing scholarship!) to write songs for a living. Initially, he did OK, in terms of popularity, selling a song a week often in the early-’60s. But in the Big Apple, and as an unknown, that barely paid his bills. He signed briefly to Columbia Records, and recorded a few well-reviewed but flop singles with his school buddy Jack Packer. They quickly dropped him, and he went back to writing full-time in the famous Brill Building, with increasing success. One thing that made him unusual was that he mostly wrote entire songs by himself. Many of the best writers of the day worked in pairs (like Carole King and Gerry Goffin) with one doing mostly lyrics and the other the composing. Before long The Monkees did his “I’m a Believer” and “A Little Bit You, A Little Bit Me” and he was off and running.

Lulu and Deep Purple were soon covering his tunes and he was recording himself again, this time with a division of MCA. Although good as a songwriter, obviously, he says “I have a love-hate relationship with songwriting. I love it because it’s so satisfying when it works. I hate it because it forces you to dig inside yourself.” “Solitary Man” was the first one he recorded himself that charted at all (although surprisingly, it peaked at #21 in the U.S. in its best, second run up the charts) so he says it’s always been a personal favorite. Another is 1980’s “America,” from the Jazz Singer, a soundtrack to a movie he starred in. “It’s the story of my grandparents. It’s my gift to them,” he explains, “it’s very real to me.” It gained import through the years when it was used in the 100th Anniversary celebration of the Statue of Liberty, played at Vietnam veteran’s assemblies and taken on as an unofficial “anthem” for New York after the 9-11 attacks. And of course, we can’t forget “Sweet Caroline,” a song Boston and its Red Sox have made their own. As the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame put it, “his ability to put words to the human experience explains his commercial success, his fans of all stripes and his timelessness.”

Along the way, he was highly successful through the ’70s, and he re-signed to Columbia for a then-record million dollars an album, minimum. The label boss Clive Davis said “he was handsome, he moved well on stage and a real sense of drama. It was all there – real star quality.” Apparently so, as he quickly scored over a dozen hits including #1 singles “Song Sung Blue” and “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” a duet with his old schoolmate Barbra, following his first “Cracklin’ Rosie”). Although sales dipped some in the ’80s after his 5X platinum The Jazz Singer, he had established himself as one of the top stage draws, both in Las Vegas and on the road. In 1986, for example, Billboard listed him as the top solo concert draw, despite not having a major hit since 1982.

Sadly, Diamond essentially retired in 2018 because of worsening Parkinson’s Disease. The same year the Grammys awarded him the Lifetime Achievement Award.

January 5 – That Bottle Would Be Worth More Than Champagne

A great song was sitting at #1 this week in 1974… after a strange and rather sad two-year journey to the top. Jim Croce was on top 47 years back, with “Time in a Bottle.” Or as many probably said back then, “the late Jim Croce.”

Croce was of course, one of the best, and most-promising singer/songwriters of the early-’70s, but his life was cut short when he and his band died in a plane crash leaving a show in September 1973. Which made “Time in a Bottle” only the third posthumous #1 hit in Billboard history, after Otis Redding’s “Dock of the Bay” and Janis Joplin’s “Me and Bobby McGee.” But the story gets weirder.

Croce had just finished off an album, I Got A Name, before his plane crash. It was released a couple of months later, and was a hit. But, “Time in a Bottle” came from You Don’t Mess Around With Jim, Croce’s breakthrough record and first on ABC Records. It had come out a full year and a half earlier and had him become a star with its title track and “Operator.” “Time in a Bottle” was surprisingly a rather over-looked album cut. Croce had written it back in 1970, when his wife Ingrid told him she was pregnant (with A.J. as it turned out, a respected artist himself.) Jim was filled with emotions and already seemingly wondering about his career choice. He’d disappointed his parents by going into music, and while he loved singing and writing apparently, he never seemed comfortable with the “business” and touring, necessitating being away from home so often. It’s said he actually had written Ingrid a day before his death saying he was going to quit the road after finishing the ’73 tour so he could stay home with her and the child.

The lyrics about wondering about what is important in life and wanting to spend time with those who are important to you took on added resonance with the news of his death. So perhaps it was predictable it would be rushed out as a single, current or not. But there’s more to it than that. Remarkably, ABC had already pressed copies of it as a 7” single (with his prior hit “Bad Bad Leroy Brown” on the b-side just to make it more enticing to new fans) before the plane crash… because their TV division had used it in a sappy made-for-TV movie called She Lives! and the song had been more popular than the film. Morbidly, his death likely only hastened its run up the charts; its use on TV as well as ABC’s marketing would have probably seen it be a major hit no matter what. Not only did the single sell, it pushed the album You Don’t Mess Around With Jim back up, to #1, actually overtaking the last album he recorded in the process!

A couple of notes about the song. While like most of his songs there are dual guitars (Croce himself and his friend Maury Meuhleisen) , this one features a harpsichord too, played by producer Tommy West. West said there just happened to be one sitting in the New York studio and he told the moving crew to hold up a bit and let him play around on it a bit before they took it out. What he did was used on this song, and he says thanks to compression used to make it AM-radio ready, it blended perfectly with the six-strings. And its appearance in a dubious TV movie wasn’t its only use in ways that … perhaps didn’t fully equal the song’s quality. It’s appeared in TV shows like The Muppets and American Horror Story, movies like Dirty Grandpa, and in ads for wine and Apple phones.

January 1 – Carole Delivered Good ‘Music’ Follow-up…That Disappointed Many

The 1960s and early-’70s were a different time musically, and not just because there was not yet Auto-tuning of voices or computerized effects. Yesterday we looked at Def Leppard who ended up spending close to four years following up their huge Pyromania album in the ’80s; waits of over two years between records are commonplace. Not so back then. Case in point, Carole King, who put out her third album, Music, about nine months after her previous one, the huge hit Tapestry. Music got to #1 in the U.S. exactly 50 years ago, on this day in 1972, while Tapestry was still in the top 10.

As Rolling Stone at the time put it, “anyone who failed to follow up an album that sold four million copies with a very similar album is either a fool or Bob Dylan. Carole King is neither.” So she didn’t veer far from what worked on Tapestry for the follow-up. Lou Adler was brought back to produce it, some of the same studio musicians returned, like Danny Kortchmar on guitars, Russ Kunkel on some of the drums and James Taylor adding some backing vocals. And the set of dozen songs were all written, at least in part, by King and emphasized her love of melody and piano-work. Even the cover photo was reminiscent, a moody, slightly soft-focus picture of Carole, this time at her piano rather than holding a cat. Among the notable songs were “Sweet Seasons,” which she wrote with Toni Stern, “It’s Going To Take Some Time” (which soon was made a hit by the Carpenters), “Some Kind of Wonderful” (not the same song that was a hit for Grand Funk) and “Carry Your Load.”

The album took only a month to hit the top of the charts, and less than that to be certified gold in the States. Eventually it went platinum. But it always seemed to pale in comparison to the predecessor; it even dropped off the charts before Tapestry which went on to stay on Billboard for over 300-consecutive weeks, a number that still ranks among the five most-enduring runs on the chart of all-time. Perhaps it was a little too much like the biggie. Allmusic rates it 4-stars, but notes “coming on the heels of Tapestry, it’s hard not to feel like this album is a bit of a letdown.” They do appreciate “the songwriting is still in peak form…melodies are very strong” but that while there are good songs, classic ones were few and political messages like “Carry Your Load” don’t “convey enough emotion to prevent them …from sounding a bit hollow and preachy.”

Sweet Seasons” was a lively and likable tune that got to #9 in the U.S. and #12 in Canada, but that was as far as it went for radio-play. The album itself spent three weeks atop American charts and landed at #2 in Canada, #5 in Australia but had limited appeal elsewhere, unlike the one before it. In the end it somewhat reminds us of Brent Gretzky. Gretzky was a pretty decent pro hockey player. Unfortunately for him, his brother was Wayne, nicknamed “The Great One”, owner of seemingly most hockey scoring records. Out of context, Brent was good. But in the context most saw, he was a failure. Music was the Brent Gretzky of Carole King’s discography.

December 24 – Christmas Eve Convenience Store Classic

Christmas Eve is a comparatively slow day in music. No one releases a new record on the day and few concerts take place. So we’ll look again at one of the staples of the holiday music set that was inspired by a real December 24th. Today marks the 46th anniversary of the inspiration of one of the more unusual “Christmas” classics – “Same Old Lang Syne” by Dan Fogelberg. The single made it up to #9 in the U.S. after it’s late 1980 release and helped his double album, The Innocent Age become his sixth-straight to go platinum.

The song is unusual for Christmas fare for a couple of reasons. First, the title references “Auld Lang Syne”, typically a New Year’s Eve ritual, not Christmas. Secondly, the song is rather sad and downbeat! But entirely listenable nonetheless.

Fogelberg was a familiar voice on easy-listening radio through the late-’70s and had come close to having a Billboard chart topper the year before with “Longer”. He’d made quite a few friends in music along the way, and this album actually had help from Don Henley, Glenn Frey and Joni Mitchell on backing vocals on some tracks, Russ Kunkel (Nicolette Larson’s husband) on drums and on this particular track, a noteworthy sax solo by Michael Brecker – brother of Blood, Sweat & Tears’ Randy and himself a session player who’d been used by Miles Davis and Pat Metheny. The melody itself was loosely based upon Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture.

The song tells of a singer running into an old girlfriend on Christmas Eve – the Christmas tie-in – in a store, and the pair drinking a six-pack in the car, reliving old times before going their own way again in the snow. Turns out the song was a real-life story. Fogelberg says it happened more or less exactly how he sings it, on Dec. 24, 1975 when he was back in his old hometown of Peoria. After his untimely death due to cancer in 2007, the gal came forward and told the story to the Peoria Journal Star. Jill Greulich, nee Jill Anderson, was Dan’s girlfriend in high school. He “wrote a lot of poetry and shared ideas” with her, but predictably, they went their separate ways when they left for different colleges. Fast forward a few years to ’75, and she and Dan met unexpectedly at a convenience store at 1302 East Frye Ave. in the city (see photo above). They did indeed recognize each other and bought a six-pack of beer which they drank over several hours in his car. She says most of the song is accurate although her eyes are actually green not blue and her husband was a teacher, not an architect. Asked about the line Dan sings about “she would have said she loved the man, but she didn’t like to lie”, she had no comment, but it was noted she and the man were divorced by the time the song came out.

Downbeat indeed, but touching and melodic. It seemed to be one of both Dan and Jill’s lasting memories of Christmas, and the song has become what most of us remember most about Dan.

December 16 – Fogelberg Led Quite A Band

December 16th hasn’t always been a cheery day in the pop music world. Today we already looked at Big Country’s Stuart Adamson , who killed himself this day 20 years back. This day in 1997, we lost Nicolette Larson, and sadly, we also remember an easy-listening superstar who died 14 years back. Dan Fogelberg died of cancer on this day in 2007, at the age of 56.

Fogelberg was probably always destined for a career in music, given that his parents both excelled at it. His mother was a classically trained pianist, his dad was a music teacher at school in Peoria, where he led various school bands (which gave rise to Dan’s hit “Leader of the Band” years later.) By the time he was a teen, he’d learned to play guitar and piano and in high school and joined a rock band that played Beatles cover tunes. From there he went to the University of Illinois to study art, and joined a folk band in the meantime, occasionally playing solo sets in cafes…which is where he got “discovered” and signed to Columbia Records. They sent him to Nashville to work as a session musician and work on his first record, Home Free. All the while he was opening shows for Van Morrison and fellow Illinois rockers REO Speedwagon. They note that even though they were a real rock act at the time and Fogelberg was a quiet guy singing with an acoustic guitar he was good enough for the fans to watch his whole set without any complaints.

Home Free wasn’t an instant success, but his second album changed that. 1974’s Souvenir got a big show of confidence from the record company, who had Joe Walsh produce it and brought in people like Don Henley to drum and Glenn Frey and Graham Nash to add backing vocals. By then Fogelberg was writing quality tunes, often drawn from his life, and played a range of instruments including synthesizers and vibraphones besides his normal ones. The record hit #17 in the States and went platinum; in time his first six albums would all be certified platinum or better. His biggest was The Innocent Age, a 1981 double-album which had a couple of his biggest hits, “Leader of the Band” about his father, and “Same Old Lange Syne”, an autobiographical reminiscence of running into an old girlfriend on Christmas Eve which became one of the holiday season’s most bittersweet standards. In all he’d record 16 studio albums and score 11 top 40 songs, including “Longer”, which topped adult contemporary charts in 1979.

Arguably he was never comfortable being a star however; he once said something about liking “life in the off-ramp” (doubtless a reference to Joe Walsh and the Eagles and their wild “Life in the Fast Lane” lifestyles back then) and he canceled a show opening for Elton John at Dodger Stadium once. He said he had tonsil problems, MTV suggested he suffered from stage fright. After the success of The Innocent Age, he followed up by switching gears and putting out a bluegrass album, High Country Snows. A different sound but once again one helped out by big-name talent, like Vince Gill and Chris Hillman.

After he passed away, his widow Jean put out an album of 11 previously-unreleased tracks with proceeds going towards Prostate Cancer research, and organized a tribute album. That one showed his impact on the music world clearly. Among the artists who contributed to the record were the Eagles, Vince Gill, Donna Summer, Jimmy Buffett and more, including Garth Brooks. Brooks says Fogelberg “was an artist who changed my life, who made me change where I wanted to go in music and what I wanted to play.” The city of Peoria named a street after him. Fittingly, Dan Fogelberg Parkway goes by the old school he attended and his dad led the band at, and the convenience store where his Christmas Eve, “Same Auld Lange Syne” meeting occurred.