Songbird by Fleetwood Mac…Song #19/250: Reader’s Choice Tribute

Christine McVie

As many of you might know, singer/songwriter/musician Christine McVie passed away this week. McVie was best known for her role in one of the world’s most successful rock bands of all time, Fleetwood Mac. In that band, Christine McVie was the keyboardist and co-lead singer along with Stevie Nicks. She was also the songwriter behind many of the band’s biggest hits, such as “Don’t Stop”, “You Make Loving Fun” *(which was written about an affair she was having with the band’s lighting director at the time of the Rumours tour), “Little Lies”, “Songbird” and many others. As a member of Fleetwood Mac, McVie has won several Grammy Awards; she has been inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame and was presented with the Ivor Novello Lifetime Achievement Award for her songwriting.

From an early age, Christine McVie was drawn to The Arts. Her mother was a medium who told fortunes and conducted astrology sessions for money. Her grandfather was an organist at Westminster Abbey. McVie played piano and received training in its classical form. As a child, she attended the Moseley School of Art in Birmingham to study sculpture, with the thought that she would become an art teacher. While still a young teen, McVie was introduced to the music of Fats Domino by her older brother, John. This was McVie’s introduction to The Blues, which became a form of music that was integrated into everything she wrote and/or played throughout her career to come. While at the Moseley School, McVie joined several local bands, including one fronted by her friend, Spencer Davis. With Davis, she gained experience at singing in front of an audience, but more importantly, he encouraged her to write and perform her own songs. Once this seed was planted, Christine McVie grew into a young woman who possessed confidence in her own abilities and who believed that her material had every bit as much right to be heard as anything by the young men she surrounded herself with.

Christine McVie prior to joining Fleetwood Mac.

Upon graduating, she moved to London and worked for a while as a window dresser, alongside fellow Moseley School alumnus Colin Birch, who was designer Karl Lagerfeld’s official window dresser. While in London, she joined a new band called Chicken Shack. This band had a few minor hits in the UK. As part of a burgeoning Blues/Rock scene at the time, Chicken Shack toured with another up and coming band called Fleetwood Mac. At the time, Fleetwood Mac was fronted by Mick Fleetwood and John McVie, along with several others. Eventually, Christine McVie (known as Christine Perfect back then) met and fell in love with John McVie. When Fleetwood Mac’s keyboardist quit the band, she was asked to join as back up singer and keyboard player. She agreed, partly because she liked being a musician and playing live, but more because it gave her the best opportunity to spend time with John McVie. Eventually, the band moved from London to Los Angeles. Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham were recruited to join the band, and Fleetwood Mac became the band that we all came to know and love.

Fleetwood Mac during the recording of the Rumours album. From the left: Lindsey Buckingham, Christine McVie, Mick Fleetwood, Stevie Nicks and John McVie.

Unbeknownst to most fans at the time, there was a lot of internal friction present all throughout the making of the Rumours album and tour. Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham, who had been a couple, split up in a very acrimonious and public manner. In a more quiet and private way, Christine separated from her husband, John. Yet the band carried on and made some of Rock’s greatest music. Despite all of the bitter feelings that existed between members of the band, they always maintained their professionalism when it came to the music. Even though many of the songs they performed were written about each other, the band as a whole always came together and played the music for all it was worth and gave audiences everything they had. Through it all, Christine McVie was always viewed as a steadying influence. Her understated performing style contrasted well with Stevie Nicks’ flamboyance. Her calm centre contrasted with the volatility inherent within Lindsey Buckingham who, when angered, channeled his emotions through a violent style of guitar playing. Despite all of the ups and downs experienced by Fleetwood Mac, McVie stayed with the band until1998 when she announced her retirement. This life change coincided with the death of her father, whom she dearly loved and admired. In the time since she retired, Christine McVie had played with the band at a few reunion concerts. She also had released a couple of solo albums and had embarked on a tour with former bandmate Lindsey Buckingham as a musical duo. With her recent death, fans, peers and music critics alike have all been reassessing her career and have been kind in their evaluations. It takes a special type of person to possess the strength of character and the personal belief in oneself to willingly accept the role as the “glue” person in any group situation, but that’s who Christine McVie became during her time in Fleetwood Mac. Many have compared her to George Harrison, in that her talent was integral to the success of her band, but more often than not, recognition was given to other, more showy bandmates. Her calm demeanor and rock-solid countenance are being compared favourably to Harrison as well. Whatever the case, Christine McVie lived a long and productive life and has left a legacy of success that puts her in the same class with the best of those who have followed The Arts with their hearts. It is likely that it will take her death for many to realize what we have all lost.

Christine McVie at her piano.

I will close this post with a few words about today’s song, “Songbird”. This song was written by McVie during the recording sessions for the Rumours album in Los Angeles. The song was written near midnight one night when the rest of the band had finished recording and had left the studio. McVie has stated that she wrote the lyrics in less than an hour and wanted to lay down some tracks immediately so as to not lose any aspect of the song by waiting until morning. Unfortunately, the engineers had gone home, too. So Christine McVie stayed awake all night, playing the song over and over again until someone showed up in the morning to help with recording. When the rest of the band heard “Songbird” for the first time the next day, it was immediately decided that it was a song that Christine McVie was meant to sing alone and not with the rest of the band. So, going forward, “Songbird” became the song that often closed Fleetwood Mac concerts. When playing it, Christine McVie would sit at a piano at centre stage. Lindsey Buckingham would sit in the shadows and strum his guitar softly while McVie sat in the spotlight and sang. It was her song and her moment.

Rest in peace, Songbird.

The link to the video for the song “Songbird” by Fleetwood Mac, as sung by Christine McVie, can be found here. ***The lyrics version is here.

The link to the official obituary for Christine McVie can be found here.

The link to the official website for Fleetwood Mac can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this blog post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 http://www.tommacinneswriter.com

Good Vibrations by Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch…Song #18/250: Reader’s Choice

One of the most successful and heavily promoted music groups of the 1980s was a boy band known as New Kids on the Block. They had a string of hits such as “Hanging Tough”, “You Got It (The Right Stuff)”, “I’ll Be Loving You Forever”, “Cover Girl” and many more. The five original members of NKOTB all hailed from the Boston area (which will become important as this story rolls along). One of those original guys in the band was named Donnie Wahlberg. He had a younger brother named Mark. This is where the story of today’s post begins.

The Wahlberg brothers grew up in Dorchester, Massachusetts, which is a suburb of Boston. Dorchester used to be a city unto itself but was incorporated into the municipality of Boston proper. Initially, Dorchester was a mainly white community founded by Puritans who arrived from England and Ireland centuries ago. However, after amalgamation, Dorchester saw an influx of immigrants arrive, making it one of the most diverse cities along America’s eastern seaboard today. Like many in the Boston area, the Wahlbergs identified with Irish heritage (which at the time for a teenage boy like Mark Wahlberg meant white culture). You don’t have to look very hard in Boston to find indicators of Irish culture. (The Boston Celtic basketball team, bands such as The Dropkick Murphys…my favourite faux Irish band, etc…, are everywhere you go.) So, when Donnie Wahlberg suddenly became a huge music star with New Kids on the Block, it gave his little brother, Mark, a larger sense of self-importance than most boys his age have earned the right to have. With his ego large, young Mark Wahlberg turned to crime. Specifically, he was charged with several violent, racially-motivated crimes against Black and Asian families who had recently moved into the Dorchester area. In fact, one assault was so serious that Mark Wahlberg was charged with attempted murder (which ended up being plea-bargained down to felony assault, for which Wahlberg served time in jail as a young man).

Mary Mark and the Funky Bunch. Note the “Irish” green.

After having completed his sentence, Mark Wahlberg faced an uncertain future. The one thing he had going for him was that he was handsome and strong…and he had a brother who was a music star. Mark worked with Donnie and with his brother’s management team to see if he had the talent to follow in his brother’s footsteps. As it turned out, Mark Wahlberg wanted to try rapping (after seeing the success of Vanilla Ice). With the help of Donnie and some DJs who were skilled in the emerging art of sampling, Mark Wahlberg organized them all into a band that went by the name Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch. Their first album was called Music for the People. The first single was called “Good Vibrations”. This song went all the way to #1 on the charts and stayed in the Top 40 for almost a full year! The highlight of the song for many was the combination of some stellar piano playing, Mark Wahlberg’s rapping and the soaring vocal sample taken from a lady named Loleatta Holloway (who was given a co-songwriting credit because of the sample, even though she never recorded a single note for the song). Despite the fact that this song reached the top of the charts, Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch were never able to replicate its success, and so “Good Vibrations” can really be considered their only true hit.

Mark Wahlberg’s iconic Calvin Klein ad. He is 21 years old in this photo.

While the song certainly possesses a funked up groove, it was really the accompanying music video that took Mark Wahlberg straight to the top. In the video for “Good Vibrations”, Wahlberg appears shirtless for most of it. At the time, Mark Wahlberg possessed a physique that was toned and chiseled. His body and his tough guy image that he projected set many hearts a flutter. Sex appeal has long been known to sell merchandise and this was certainly the case with Marky Mark. As a result of the overwhelmingly positive reception his six pack abs received as a result of this video, Wahlberg was signed to be a Calvin Klein underwear model. In the end, he became as famous for appearing in his underwear on billboards (alone or with model Kate Moss) as he ever did as a singer. Many others wondered how they could get themselves into the same physical shape that he managed to do and so he was approached to put together exercise videos. The story of his fitness regimes is more important than many casual fans realize and impacted his career for years thereafter.

Mark Wahlberg and “Irish” Micky Ward at the premiere of the movie, The Fighter.

When Mark and Donnie Wahlberg were putting together the music for “Good Vibrations”, there existed a famous boxer from nearby Lowell, Massachusetts, called “Irish” Micky Ward. Ward fought several times for the Lightweight title and is most known for a trilogy of matches against Montreal’s own Arturo “Thunder” Gatti. Ward won the initial match against Gatti while losing the rematch and tie breaker. However, many who watch boxing will tell you that those three matches were among the best boxing matches of all time, and that both boxers earned their sterling reputations in the ring during those bouts against the other. In fact, two of those three matches ended up being ranked as “The Fight of the Year” by Ring Magazine. So, when the Irish-influenced kid, Mark Wahlberg, decided that he needed training in the art of boxing for his video for “Good Vibrations”, he turned to “Irish” Micky Ward. It was because of Ward’s training that Wahlberg developed his chiseled physique and authentic boxing moves. But there is more to the story than that. As many of you know, Mark Wahlberg left the music business and went into acting after his modeling days came to an end. He gained fame in movies such as Boogie Nights, The Perfect Storm and Planet of the Apes. My daughters know him best from a series of movies called Daddy’s Home (with Will Ferrell). But the movie that Wahlberg is most closely associated with was a movie that earned him many awards and nominations called The Fighter. This movie is the biopic based on the life of boxer “Irish” Micky Ward. In fact, there are many Irish connections at play here…Canada’s favourite faux-Irish band, The Mahones *(who were profiled last week in a post that you can read here) contributed a song to the soundtrack of The Fighter called “Paint the Town Red”. It is the band’s biggest hit. As well, Boston’s own The Dropkick Murphys’ most successful album was called The Warrior’s Code. The title track was a song dedicated to “Irish” Micky Ward, who also graces the album’s front cover. *(You can watch that video here).

Mark Wahlberg, like so many of us, is certainly a product of his environment. He grew up Irish-proud and immigrant-phobic but, over time, he has become able to embrace the positive side of his cultural roots without doing so by downgrading the right to cultural pride by groups who differ from himself. Not knowing the man personally, I cannot say for sure whether that is truly the person he has become or whether it is because of his understanding of how to project an image in the public spotlight. But what I can say for sure is that he has managed to create several onscreen characters that the people in my family like, and in particular, he has created one funky song that really appeals to my wife. So, I dedicate this post to my beautiful wife, Keri. I hope that it brings a smile to your face and a skip to your step. Thanks for being the driving force in our home for bringing the music of boy bands to the forefront. I know that you had New Kids on the Block posters on your bedroom walls growing up so this is something that makes you a product of your environment as well. As boy band songs go, “Good Vibrations” is one that even I can listen to and appreciate. Thanks for being you, dear.

***As a reminder, I take requests. Any genre. Any era. Send me your song/artist/band suggestions and I will do whatever I can to bring those stories to life in a post just like this one. Feel free to leave your requests in the comment box below. Thanks.

The link to the video for the song “Good Vibrations” by Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch can be found here. ***The lyrics version is here.

The official website for Mark Wahlberg can be found here.

The trailer for the movie, The Fighter, starring Mark Wahlberg can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 http://www.tommacinneswriter.com

Morning Has Broken by Cat Stevens/Yusuf…Song #17/250: Reader’s Choice

There are two stories to tell today with regard to the song “Morning Has Broken” by Cat Stevens/Yusuf. The first is a short history of this song which, as it turns out, was first written as instrumental music for a church hymn over a century ago. The second story concerns our singer and his life, which has taken several twists and turns along the way making him one of the most interesting and enigmatic entertainment figures of all time.

Alfriston, East Sussex

The song “Morning Has Broken” has a long and storied history. It is believed to have been created as an instrumental piece of music by Irish monks on the Isle of Iona several hundred years ago. From there, the song (which was known as a hymn tune) made its way into Scotland. Once there, a gaelic speaking woman named Mary MacDoanld turned the hymn tune into a Christian hymn and named it Bunessan (which is the name of a village near Ardtun where Mary lived). In 1927, the Bunessan tune was written down in a hymn book called Songs of Praise. Once included in the book, the editors approached an author named Eleanor Farjeon to compose lyrics for the Bunessan. The poem that she wrote was inspired by the beauty of the village of Alfriston in Scotland. Together, Farjoen’s poem and the hymn tune, Bunessan, combined to form a new song that was entitled “Morning Has Broken”. It remained a church hymn up until 1972 when a singer who went by the stage name of Cat Stevens recorded it on an album called Teaser and Firecat. This album also contained the hit songs, “Moonshadow” and “Peace Train”, which cemented Stevens’ reputation as one of the great Folk-rock singers in music history.

Cat Stevens

Cat Stevens was born as Steven Georgiou in 1948. By the time he finished high school, he was dabbling in both art and music. Like many young, aspiring musicians, Georgiou began his songwriting career by peddling his songs to other musicians. One of the very first songs he ever sold turned out to be a classic rock n’ roll tune for Rod Stewart and many others. It was called “The First Cut Is The Deepest”. As his career began, Georgiou was packaged as a rock singer. He even changed his name to something that was thought to be easier for the general public to understand…Cat Stevens! However, he did not feel that the person being promoted by his record label was a true representation of himself. That feeling was further entrenched within his mind shortly after the release of his first album when he was struck down by tuberculosis. During the year it took to recover in hospital and then several convalescent homes, Stevens watched the doctors and nurses and how hard they worked to save his life. He, also, watched others less fortunate than him pass away. As he lay in his recovery bed, he began to realize that there was much more to life than the rock star lifestyle that awaited him once he returned to health. So, as part of his recovery process, Stevens began practicing yoga, he became a vegetarian, and, most importantly of all, he began examining the religions of the world.

The album that spawned “Moonshadow”, “Peace Train” and “Morning Has Broken”. Cat Stevens did the art for the front cover as well.

When Cat Stevens had fully recovered, he made the professional decision to eschew rock music in favour of a style of music that better reflected the man he felt he was becoming. Consequently, Cat Stevens opted for Folk-rock. His next two albums, Tea for the Tillerman and Teaser and the Firecat, were big hits and established him as one of the world’s rising music stars. As the 1970s progressed, Stevens continued to embrace and explore various religions and philosophies. Once, while in Marrakesh, he heard the adhan being broadcast over speakers. When he asked about what was going on, it was explained to him that the adhan was the call to prayer for those who followed Islam and that its playing was “music for God”. The phrase “music for God” appealed to his burgeoning sense of spirituality. Not long after, he was given a copy of the Qur’an as a gift. Reading it, Stevens discovered that much of it spoke directly to his heart. Seeking greater wisdom, he approached an Islamic cleric and asked to know more. The cleric was happy to oblige. At the end of their discussions, which lasted for several days, Stevens was told that if he wished to truly immerse himself in Islamic culture, then he should convert and give himself over fully to Islam. He did so in 1977. To the surprise of his fans and his record label, Cat Stevens changed his name to Yusuf Islam and walked away from the music business for what was to be over a quarter century.

Presenting….Yusuf Islam!

Once he had fully converted to Islam and had been accepted into the Faith by those in authority, he was advised not to continue his career in music because western music often spoke of themes that would be deemed offensive to Islamic culture. So instead of music, Yusuf, as he now preferred to be called, threw himself into philanthropy. He used the royalty money that came pouring in from the sales of his previous two albums to fund the building of Muslim-oriented schools in England and around the world. Yusuf also funded organizations whose purpose was the spread of peace. He married and raised his children in the Islamic faith as well. Despite having several well-documented moments of controversy (such as when he was quoted as supporting the death sentence imposed on author Salman Rushdie for his book, The Satanic Verses), Yusuf settled into life as a Muslim man and was at peace with the decisions he had made.

But then, one day, several decades later, his teenage son brought home an acoustic guitar and asked his father to teach him how to play. Those lessons were the first time Yusuf had picked up any musical instrument in over twenty-five years. The urge to create new music returned. But, being as immersed in Islam as he had become, Yusuf knew that creating western music was not the way forward for him. Instead, he created albums for children that celebrated Islam. However, as significant anniversary milestones approached for his albums, Tea For The Tillerman and Teaser and the Firecat, Yusuf was approached to sing selected songs in public again. With approval from his local clerics, Yusuf re-appeared in the secular world and gave several public performances of songs such as “Morning Has Broken”. Yusuf stated that a song such as “Morning Has Broken” spoke to the beauty inherent in our world, and that, in turn, reflected the philosophy of Islam that he found so compelling all those years ago and throughout his adult life. From Steven Georgiou to Cat Stevens and finally, to Yusuf…from rock star to folk singer to Islamic philanthropist…from bachelor to husband to father…the journey through his life has been a rich and fulfilling one, indeed.

A special thanks goes out to my dear friend, Jan Fluke, for nominating “Morning Has Broken” as today’s Reader’s Choice song. Like me, Jan is a retired teacher. We worked together for many years which allows me to say with great confidence that Jan is a champion for children in all aspects of their development. In her retirement years, Jan and a friend have co-written several books for children and have launched their own literary-based company called The Story Snuggery. Thanks again, Jan. Keep those song requests coming. Your taste in music is awesome!

The link to the video for the song “Morning Has Broken” by Cat Stevens can be found here. ***Lyrics version is here.

The link to the video for the playing of the hymn tune “Bunessan” can be found here.

The link to the official website for Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Story Snuggery can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post should be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 http://www.tommacinneswriter.com

Get Together by The Youngbloods…Song #15/250: Reader’s Choice.

Come on, people now

Smile on your brother

Everybody get together

Try to love one another right now

  • Get Together by Chet Powers

The history of music often goes hand in hand with the history of the times in which it is played. When the drums of war beat, our music often takes a patriotic turn. When the doves of peace begin to fly more freely, the songs we sing tend to reflect our feelings of optimism and hope. Today’s song is one that has come to symbolize the mood of a nation during that most hopeful of times that has been dubbed The Summer of Love in the late 1960s. The song is “Get Together” by The Youngbloods. However, the story of this song is such a complex and contradictory affair that letting it be simply known as an anthem for peace seems somewhat lacking in scope. So, thanks to my online pal, rawgod, here is the story of one of the 1960s most iconic songs which, if a song could possess a Facebook status, would list itself as “ it’s complicated ”.

Chet Powers aka Dino Valenti.

There is nothing simple at all about the story of today’s song. For starters, even the name is a muddle. The song was written by a man whose legal name was Chet Powers. However, Powers had visions of becoming a music star so he changed his name to Dino Valenti. As Valenti, he moved in with actress Edie Sedgwick (who you may remember was Andy Warhol’s “It Girl” for a while). One of the reasons that Powers changed his name was because he had a criminal record. Seeking a fresh start in a new business, he became Valenti. One of the first songs he wrote was titled “Get Together”. Like many aspiring songwriters, his initial hope was merely to peddle his song and realize as much profit from selling it as he could. The Kingston Trio was the first group to buy his song. They renamed it “Let’s Get Together”. It charted but not very well. Powers sold the song several more times. Each time he did, the purchaser would tweak the name slightly. In the end, this same song has been called “Let’s Get Together”, “Get Together”, “Let’s Come Together”, “Everybody Get Together” and so on. Regardless of who was singing the song, it never really caught on and never even became a Top 40 hit for anyone. So, in the end, a man with two names wrote a song with as many as a half-dozen names, with no combination of names or song titles achieving much success….and we are just getting started telling the story of this song.

Like many things in life, a thing is just a thing unless someone decides it is more than that and assigns it a value. For example, a diamond is just a glass-like crystal that really should merit no greater attention than any other crystal that populates the earth the world over. Yet, somewhere along the way throughout history, someone decided that a diamond was more than just being a crystal-like piece of glass. Someone declared that it had great value and, just like that, this piece of glass became very special. The same principle applies to being a songwriter. There is only monetary value in having a songwriting credit if, in fact, the song is generating income because it is selling well. So, as the 1960s rolled along, Chet Powers found himself holding the songwriting credit to a song that wasn’t worth that much because it wasn’t charting. No one who bought the song and released it made money from “Get Together” or whatever else they happened to call it at the time. There are many songs written each year that collect more dust than they do pennies in accounting ledgers. “Get Together” by Chet Powers was beginning to look like it was going to be one of those songs, too. But, then a funny thing happened that is a complete contradiction. Charity, religion and capitalism combined to make “Get Together” the hit song that it became.

The Youngbloods circa 1967, when they released “Get Together” for the first time. It reached #65 on the charts. Two years later, the re-release would reach #5.

Back in the 1960s, as a condition of their broadcasting licenses, television stations had to designate a certain block of time each week as being free of charge to be used by local service groups and national charities to create public service announcements. So, our story takes a twist in 1969, just as the Summer of Love was officially ceasing to be a thing anymore. An organization of Christian ministries was given television time to promote something called, “Brotherhood” week. As part of their public service announcement, those in charge of “Brotherhood” week used the song, “Get Together” (as recorded by The Youngbloods) as background music. I am not sure what it was about that advertisement but it struck a chord with audiences who happened to be watching it on TV. Suddenly, the Christian ministries were flooded with calls about the song. They, in turn, directed the calls to radio stations and to the record label of The Youngbloods band. Now, two years prior, The Youngbloods had recorded and released “Get Together” and had no success of note with it. The band had moved on to newer material by the time that executives at their record label called with the news that the song was on the rise and that the band needed to get back out there and promote it while it was hot. So, The Youngbloods re-released “Get Together”. This time out, the song became a Top Five hit and became the anthem of the anti-war, peace and love Hippie movement that we all know today.

Chet Powers/Dino Valenti (on left) with Quick Silver Messenger Service.

Getting back to Chet Powers, as he discovered the hard way, holding the songwriting credit on a song that isn’t selling makes that credit relatively worthless. So, Powers focussed on performing and for a while was a member of a fairly important band called QuickSilver Messenger Service. But even then, luck was not to be his. Powers ended the decade of the 1960s by being arrested three separate times for drug-related offenses. He was sentenced to a ten-year term in a Folsom Prison. It was while he was in prison that his song, “Get Together” was getting its boost from the Christian ministries TV spot. Suddenly, Chet Powers was a money-making commodity in the eyes of record executives. The record label got their legal team involved and soon a deal was struck that would see Powers’ sentence reduced to merely being on parole. The price for his release was that he had to sign away his songwriting credits to the company. So, Powers signed away his song and walked away from prison. He saw none of the profits that came from “Get Together” now that it had become a hit song. Later in his life, he was asked if he harboured any regrets about relinquishing the rights to the song. He replied that his freedom was more important at the time and that he always believed he could write another hit song and then he would reap the rewards that were meant to be his.

***(As an aside, while in Folsom Prison, Powers met a member of Johnny Cash’s band, when the Man in Black appeared there to play and record Live At Folsom Prison. As part of Powers’ plea agreement to have his sentence commuted to being merely on parole, he had to prove he was still “a working musician”. So, Powers asked Johnny Cash’s crew if they had any songs they could sign over to him so he could show the parole board that he was actively writing. He was given one song. That song was called, “Hey Joe”. Once released from prison, Powers sold the only song he now owned the rights to an aspiring guitarist and singer named Jimi Hendrix. “Hey Joe” became the first hit single for Hendrix and helped launch his illustrious career.

One of the reasons that “Get Together” was chosen as the soundtrack to the “Brotherhood” week PSA was that the lyrics had a zen-like religious air about them. That those same lyrics came from the pen of a man with multiple criminal convictions should give us all pause to reflect on the nature of how we race to judgment to pigeon-hole them as being good people or bad people. At the core of our essence, we are all multi-hued and complex creatures. We possess our own unique strengths and weaknesses. We inspire and we disappoint ourselves and others by our actions or lack thereof. And yet, we are still human and, as such, are we not deserving of love and peace and happiness, too? I am just speaking for myself here but I don’t buy into the notion that “Get Together” is a Hippie song or that its true worth is as an anthem for that moment in history known as The Summer of Love. For me, being accepted for who I am….flaws and all….is an essential part of me being able to live. Period. The message of “Get Together” is universal in scope. So when I listen to the words of a song that encourages people to smile at one another and to come together in a state of harmony well, that sounds like a philosophy of life that I endorse. It also sounds like a tonic for what ails our world right now.

Here is a link to an article that lists all 165 banned songs. The band in the photo are Rage Against the Machine who had their entire discography banned because they were deemed to sing un-American songs. Anyway, to see the complete list, click here.

Here is one final piece of trivia about “Get Together” that is completely on point with the contradictory nature of every aspect of this song and its history. It is generally agreed upon by all who listen to “Get Together” by The Youngbloods, that it is a lovely, peace-affirming composition. And yet, the very week after the Twin Towers were felled in New York, Clear Channel Communications Company (now called IHeartRadio) issued a list to all affiliates across America, of songs that it felt were inappropriate to be played in the wake of such a tragedy. The list contained 165 song suggestions. One of those 165 banned songs was “Get Together” by The Youngbloods. Some of the songs were banned because, like “Rock the Casbah” by The Clash, they spoke to events that closely resembled those that had transpired on that September morning in NYC so executives deemed the continued playing of them to be potentially triggering for listeners. But others, such as “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong, “Imagine” by John Lennon and “Get Together” by The Youngbloods were banned because it was believed that on September of 2001, it was the wrong time to be playing songs about happiness, peace and racial harmony. The war drums were beating once again and songs about the resiliency of America and of New York City, in particular, were the ones given official approval to be aired on repeat. At the time, the banned list was one of the biggest attempts at censorship by the broadcasting industry. I am sorry to say that that list of banned songs seems almost quaint compared to the book banning fervour that has gripped the US these days. On a separate but related note, I can recall reading stories about the Jewish Holocaust that tell of imprisoned poets and teachers and musicians working surreptitiously to continue to keep their culture alive by sharing stories and songs with their fellow prisoners, even as the conditions of life deteriorated all around them. When asked how anyone could sing in such conditions, the answer always given was that through songs and stories, Hope was kept alive and that under such dire circumstances, Hope was as essential for life as oxygen and food. To me, any song that speaks of brotherhood and love is a song worth singing; especially during the worst of times like those of 9/11.

Thank you, rawgod, for nominating this song. It is a timely reminder that our world should be, could be and needs to be a kinder, more caring and compassionate place for everyone. To everyone reading these words, have a wonderful day. Thank you for being here. Your presence warms my words and makes this space better. For that I am grateful.

The link to the video for the song, “Get Together” by The Youngbloods can be found here.

The link to the official website for The Youngbloods can be found here.

The link to the website for Chet Powers/Dino Valenti can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post shall be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 http://www.tommacinneswriter.com

As I Lay Me Down by Sophie B. Hawkins…Song #14/100: Reader’s Choice.

Damn! It’s Sophie B. Hawkins circa 1992!

When I first decided to write about the meanings and stories behind the songs we love, the music of Sophie B. Hawkins was what I had in mind. She is someone who a lot of people know from her song, “Damn! I Wish I Was Your Lover”. That song was a huge hit for her. It was the very first track on her very first album entitled, Tongues and Tails. I remember hearing this song for the first time as a young adult male and being blown away by it! What I took from the song was that a beautiful, earthy woman was singing about wanting to take care of me and be my lover. The video of her singing barefoot in a flannel shirt seemed sexy as all get out. Like many guys, I was smitten. However, a funny thing happened on the way to growing up and becoming a man…I discovered that “Damn! I Wish I Was Your Lover” wasn’t aimed at guys like me at all. In fact, I learned that Sophie B. Hawkins wrote this song from the perspective of a woman trying to help another woman who was trapped in an abusive relationship. In the song, Hawkins writes about how different this woman’s life would be “if I was your lover”. The lyrics were there all along for anyone who wanted to really listen. But at the time, in 1992, there weren’t many overtly sexual songs written by one woman for another (outside of Madonna). Regardless of how misunderstood “Damn! I Wish I Was Your Lover” was, it announced Sophie B. Hawkins’ arrival on the music scene in a big way. It also showed how fiercely independent she wished to be as an artist.

Sophie B. Hawkins was not the first artist or band to hit a musical home run right out of the gate and she won’t be the last, either. I am sure that if she cared to count, Sophie B. Hawkins would tell you that she performed “Damn! I Wish I Was Your Lover” over a hundred million times. As that first year unfolded, Hawkins gave many concerts. At these concerts she played all of the songs from her debut album and then some. But all that audiences really wanted to hear was that one hit. In every artist’s career, there comes a time when an audience’s excitement at hearing that one big hit starts to transition into a sense of anticipation for the next hit. Record executives feel that, too. So, a second album was bankrolled by her record label and excitement grew out in the music world. However, as many artists will tell you, coming up with the first hit is often easier than following it up with another chart-topper. This is because most artists/bands have been writing and playing their debut songs for years in bars and clubs as they work to gain experience. So, when the time comes to record their first album, they know which songs to go with, having workshopped them so much in front of live audiences. But then, suddenly having to recreate the magic again, along with touring to promote the debut album, conducting interviews with press across the land well, it all becomes a little bit too much for many. The first single from Hawkins’ second album was called, “Right Beside You”. It was a modest hit, cracking the Top 60 in the US. The second single, “Only Love” did not chart at all. Suddenly, the potential for Sophie B. Hawkins to fall into that dreaded category of “One-hit wonder” was beginning to seem very real.

Record executives began to get nervous. Then they began to get frustrated with Hawkins. In an attempt to boost sagging record sales, a plan was made by those at her label to craft an image for her as a sexy siren. There was already a huge market among male twenty-somethings who fantasized about having her for a girlfriend so, it wasn’t a big leap in the minds of record executives to have Hawkins seemingly morph into that fantasy figure. An advertising campaign was devised and photographers were hired to begin the transformation of Sophie the singer into Sophie the object of male fantasies. The only problem with that was that Sophie B. Hawkins balked. She objected to being objectified in that manner. She steadfastly refused to perpetuate the stereotype of females being served up as sexual fodder for men. One of the reasons for that was, at her core, Sophie B. Hawkins didn’t view sexuality in terms of gender. In her mind, that was unnecessarily limiting to all concerned. She came out in the press as being omnisexual. “Omni” comes from the Greek and means, all. To Sophie B. Hawkins, sexual attraction irrespective of gender is where her heart and mind lay. That was not the message that her record label wanted to hear because it played against type when it came to their marketing plan. So, based on the lack of hits from her second album and her growing reputation as being “difficult” to work with, her record label walked away from her. They told her to tour as she pleased and do what she felt was necessary to promote her music but that they would do nothing to help her. In fact, they told her that when her contract expired they were not going to renew it. In short, Sophie B. Hawkins was fired. But, as many new artists will tell you, being able to maintain your own creative vision in the face of the many business decisions that have to be made is one of the biggest challenges new musicians face. What happened to Sophie B. Hawkins is not something unique to her. Many artists come out swinging on their debut album only to find themselves without representation by album number two or three. The music business IS a business after all. The battle between Art and Commerce is real and on-going for many with Sophie B. Hawkins being just one example.

Sophie B. Hawkins and her piano.

However, many of those same new artists will also tell you that being cast out by the industry machine was the best thing that ever happened to them. Sophie B. Hawkins believed in the music on her second album and decided to tour on her own. Without any formal promotion to help her, she played in concert halls and smaller venues across North America using only a piano for instrumentation. Much like Tori Amos, Hawkins performed acoustically on a stage using only her voice and her skill as a pianist to sing her songs. In this environment, a third single began to emerge. It was a song called “As I Lay Me Down”. It was based upon the old familiar children’s prayer, “Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep”. That prayer is an ancient prayer created centuries ago when public hygiene wasn’t what it is today, diseases ran rampant and many children actually didn’t wake up after being put to bed by loving parents. In Sophie B. Hawkins’ capable hands, her song touched upon memories she had of her relationship with her father when she was a child and how fleeting and temporary a love can sometimes be. “As I Lay Me Down” sung acoustically, often by candlelight, struck a chord with audiences. In a very organic manner, the song rose through the charts and became a Top Ten hit. For Hawkins, having this hit happen on her own terms felt like a form of vindication.

After her contract with Sony Records expired, Hawkins formed her own record label and has released all subsequent music there since. In the time since “As I Lay Me Down” became a chart topper, Hawkins has appeared in the role of Janis Joplin in a play. She has, also, appeared in a documentary about her life in which she reaffirmed how close she was to her father when she was just a little girl. But mostly, Hawkins has chosen to lend her talents to a variety of causes that run the gamut from environmental issues, to animal rights, the promotion and support of female musicians, as well as a myriad of issues involving her support of the LGBTQ community. While Sophie B. Hawkins never went on to be that big music star that many predicted she would become after the success of “Damn! I Wish I Was Your Lover”, she feels very fulfilled by her career and how it has all turned out. And in the end, no other reflection exists in the mirror but our own so if you gaze there and feel satisfied with what you see then, you have lived a good life, in my opinion.

A big THANK YOU goes out to my online friend, Jordan for nominating this song. Jordan told me that “As I Lay Me Down” was a song that she uses whenever she finds herself singing karaoke. Just for the record, let it be known that I have never sang karaoke in my life so I have a certain level of admiration for those brave enough to do so. Jordan is also someone who has a broad view of sexuality and gender politics and, as such, is someone from whom I have learned a lot since we became pals on Twitter. Overall, I am thankful that we have come to know each other. I am better for it. Thanks Jordan for your support of my writing. I appreciate that, too.

As I always say at the end of these Reader’s Choice posts, if any of you have a special song that you would like me to write about, feel free to drop me a line in the comment box below. I am happy to write about any song from any era. All genres of music are welcome.

The link to the video for the song, “As I Lay Me Down” by Sophie B. Hawkins can be found here.

The link to the video for the song, “Damn! I Wish I Was Your Lover” by Sophie B. Hawkins can be found here.

The link to the official website for Sophie B. Hawkins can be found here.

***As always, all original content contained within this post remains the sole property of the author. No portion of this post can be reblogged, copied or shared in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022 http://www.tommacinneswriter.com

Reader’s Choice: the Stories Behind Your Favourite Songs…Song #1/250: Cruel To Be Kind by Nick Lowe.

In this series, I will be telling the stories behind some of your favourite songs. Today’s song comes to us from my pal, Linda Spoelstra. She nominated Nick Lowe’s Cruel To Be Kind.

In the annals of modern music, Nick Lowe is exactly the type of under-the-radar yet very influential and interesting character who is deserving of a spotlight such as this. He is best known for singing today’s song, Cruel To Be Kind, which was his biggest selling single and a Top Ten chart topper in many countries around the world in 1979. But nothing is ever straightforward with Nick Lowe. This one song was just one aspect of a career that is just as noteworthy for being a songwriter for others, for producing some of the most innovative music of its day and for his own personal life and the many family connections he has with some of the biggest names in the history of modern music. So, pull up a chair and make yourself at home because today we meet one of Rock’s most interesting figures…Mr. Nick Lowe. Here we go!

In his younger days, Nick Lowe met a boy named Brinsley Schwarz. Together with some other friends, they formed a pop-rock band in the 1970s named Brinsley Schwarz. This band signed with a record company called Famepusher Records. Famepusher Records decided to help launch the band by concocting a publicity scheme on their behalf. The band was signed to open for Van Morrison in New York City. There was much publicity given to the band prior to their trip to America. In addition, the record label agreed to pay for UK music reporters to attend the concert in return for full and prominent reviews of the show. However, the band members ran into visa problems and were diverted to Canada. From there, they were secretly flown into the US in a small cargo plane. They arrived in New York City without their instruments (which were held up at US Customs). When it came time for the show, they had to borrow second hand equipment. The reporters who showed up were given access to an open bar and were thoroughly soused by the time Brinsley Schwarz took the stage. In the end, the concert was a bust, the reviews were vicious and Brinsley Schwarz were finished as a band almost before they ever began.

However, as part of the process of putting together their first album, Nick Lowe wrote a song for the band called Cruel To Be Kind. The song never made it on to a Brinsley Schwarz album so Lowe filed it away and forgot about it. To him, the song was not really the type of music he was into. It was too neat and tidy and pop oriented to suit his personal taste which was why he wrote it for his band, instead. It had been Lowe’s hope that a radio-friendly song such as Cruel To Be Kind would open the door for Brinsley Schwarz to the US and UK radio market. So, when the band dissolved, Lowe was left holding on to a song that he felt was not representative of who he was as a musician. As sometimes happens, a different record executive heard a recording that Lowe had done on his own and saw potential for the song to be a hit. He convinced Nick Lowe to release it in return for signing him as a solo artist. And, just like that, Nick Lowe the singer was born.

But, the story of Cruel To Be Kind doesn’t end there. As much as Nick Lowe may not have really liked the song himself, it entered into the fabric of his life in a very unique and personal way. Around this time, Lowe was dating a lady named Carlene Cash. She was the daughter of June Carter Cash of the famous American music family, The Carter Family Singers. Carlene Cash’s biological father was June Carter’s first husband, Carl Smith. However, after June Carter married Johnny Cash, he adopted Carlene as his own daughter and became her step-father. So, when Nick Lowe hung out with his in-laws, he was hanging out with Johnny and June Carter Cash. As a result, Lowe got the chance to record with both singers as the 1980s progressed. But, the real connection he has here with Cruel To Be Kind is that he shot the music video for this song on their wedding day. So, when you get a chance to watch this video, you will see the wedding of Nick Lowe and Carlene Cash unfold in all its glory before your very eyes.

But, if you were to ask Nick Lowe about music and about his proudest accomplishments, he would reply in terms of his producing and his songwriting. The influence of his singing career is dwarfed by the giant shadow cast by his work on behalf of others. First of all, let’s talk about songwriting. In the late 1970s, Nick Lowe became involved in a new record company called Stiff Records *(You can read an earlier post about Stiff Records here). At the time, Stiff Records was on the leading edge of a music trend that dealt with Punk, New Wave and Ska music. As such, artists and bands such as Elvis Costello and the Attractions, The Pretenders, The Pogues, The Damned and others like them, all found a home under the Stiff Records umbrella. In this environment, Lowe wrote many hit songs for others such as What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding for Elvis Costello, as well as, Stop Your Sobbing for Chrissy Hynde and The Pretenders. He also wrote I Knew The Bride (When She Used To Rock n’ Roll) with partner, Dave Edmunds, as part of a band they started together called Rockpile.

But, while Nick Lowe was singing and writing, he was working just as diligently behind the scenes on behalf of other Stiff Record label bands as a producer. He was behind the console for songs such as New Rose by The Damned…which many people consider to be the UK’s first true Punk song. Lowe produced all of Elvis Costello’s early albums, as well as some of Johnny Cash’s work during the 1980s, along with The Pretenders, Paul Carrack, The Fabulous Thunderbirds and one of my favourite bands, The Men They Couldn’t Hang…who are name-checked by The Tragically Hip in their hit song, Bobcaygeon. When it comes right down to it, Nick Lowe’s fingerprints are all over much of the music that came out of the UK in the late 1970s/early 1980s that formed the foundation of Punk and New Wave. Lowe’s work is considered to be essential and foundational when viewing all of the music that has evolved out of those times such as Grunge in the 1990s, Post Punk Revival in the early 2000s and much of the Trip Hop and Electronica that has been growing steadily in influence in the past decade or so.

However, if you were to ask most casual music lovers about Nick Lowe, they would start with a song called Cruel To Be Kind. So, why don’t we do the same and play the song for you all. Here is Nick Lowe’s biggest hit, Cruel To Be Kind. Enjoy.

PS: The Reader’s Choice series lives and breathes as a result of the music you request. So, please feel free to send me your requests in the comment box below and I will happily help share your favourite songs with the world via this blog series. Thanks.

The link to the video for the song Cruel To Be Kind by Nick Lowe can be found here.

The link to the official website for Nick Lowe can be found here.

The link to the official website for Stiff Records can be found here.

***Please note that the content of this post is the sole property of the author. It cannot be shared, re-posted or reproduced in any manner without the express written consent of the author. ©2022, TomMacInnesWriter.com