Artist Profiles, Music

Jen Lilley: Music with a Cause

Recently I read on social media “that nothing good ever comes out of Roanoke.” Obviously the folks that propagate such myths have never educated themselves about Jen Lilley. The Roanoke, Virginia native is already a successful actress and is now embarking on a new music career in addition to her work on TV and film projects.

I had the opportunity to chat with Jen in a phone interview last week as she discussed growing up in Roanoke and influences on her music career during childhood and teen years. We also talked about her new brand single, “King of Hearts” and Lilley’s upcoming ten-song album that will be released in February 2019.

Before I share Jen’s story, here is the bio taken from her official website: “A star on both the silver and small screens, including the Academy Award-winning film THE ARTIST, NBC’s iconic daytime series “Days of Our Lives,” ABC’s “General Hospital,” and a regular leading lady on the Hallmark Channel, actress/singer/philanthropist Jen Lilley has tackled countless roles throughout her illustrious career.”

Lilley was born and raised in my hometown of Roanoke, Virginia. Jen is one of four siblings raised by her parents Vincent and Ellen. I first came to know the Lilley family through Jen’s sister Katherine. My daughter Stephanie and Katherine are friends, with both graduating together at two schools: Hidden Valley High School in 2010 and James Madison University in 2014.

Although much can be written on Jen’s career as an actress, I will be focusing mostly on her music career for the remaining part of this message.

During the beginning of our phone conversation, I asked Jen to describe her early musical memories and influences while she was growing up in Roanoke. Lilley’s first memory is priceless.

When Lilley was 4 years old, her parents said she could be anything she wanted to be when she grew up. Jen answered, “Anything?” Her parents then confirmed their statement was true. Jen responded to her mom and dad with, “Then I am going to be a bird so I can sing all day!”

Other fond memories for Jen were weekly shopping trips to Kroger with her father. During these trips, Jen’s dad would turn on the car radio to an oldies radio station and they would sing together Motown classics such as “My Girl” by the Temptations, British Invasion songs from the 60’s and classic rock tunes from the 70’s. These father-daughter moments are still cherished memories for Jen.

The other significant event in Jen’s childhood was her parents’ decision to attend Church of the Holy Spirit, an Anglican parish. Jen began attending a Sunday school class on a regular basis and started understanding the teachings of the Bible. It was at that time that she became a Christian. Her decision has continued to guide her path even to this day.

Music played a large part in Jen’s teen years, as she was a member of the worship team at the church her family attended during her high school career. Lilley also performed multiple concerts down in Guatemala when she was 16 and the group that she toured with received the National Educators Award of Guatemala during that trip.

Jen graduated from Cave Spring High School and then attended the University of Virginia in Charlottesville for undergraduate studies.

By the time that Jen started her freshman year at University of Virginia, she gave up her dream of singing and started thinking about alternative career options. Lilley wanted to select a career that she could use as a platform to do good. She considered becoming a lawyer, doctor, geologist or teacher but eventually Lilley “got bit by the acting bug.”

It was at the University of Virginia that Jen started her acting career in a film called, “The Loss of Life.” Because of her new love for acting, Lilley completed her education early with a bachelor’s degree and graduated with magna cum laude honors.

Just out of college, Jen taught kindergarten during the daytime and waited on tables at a restaurant during nights. Then in 2007, two important events happened: She moved to Los Angeles, California and married her husband Jason Wayne. During the wedding reception, Jen danced with her father to the sounds of “My Girl” by the Temptations.

The first time that Lilley pursued any type of music as an adult was in 2014 when she recorded a Christmas single, “Baby It’s Cold Outside” with her “TV husband” Eric Martsolf, from the soap opera “Days of Our Lives.” The single became a top downloaded Christmas song on Apple iTunes during the 2014 holiday season.

With the success of “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” Lilley recorded an entire album of Christmas music entitled “Tinsel Time” the following year. According to Lilley, “Tinsel Time” was the number 1 Christmas album on the Amazon Swing Chart during December 2015 and out-sold albums by Frank Sinatra (Jen’s favorite artist of all time), Dean Martin, Ella Fitzgerald and Harry Connick, Jr.

Although both the “Baby It’s Cold Outside” single and the “Tinsel Time” Christmas album were both successful, Lilley had no intention of pursuing any more recording opportunities as a singer. In fact, Jen totally rejected the idea that she would ever record another album.

However, Jen’s plans changed. Through a series of events, Lilley’s childhood dream of being a singer with a music career started becoming reality. When Jen was describing to me the timeline of how the recording of her new album came about, I was totally amazed at how the pieces of the puzzle came together for the Roanoke native. “It was like various scenes from one of my Hallmark movies,” Jen stated to me on how she came to meet producer Adrian Gurvitz.

Born in Britain, Adrian Gurvitz is a singer, songwriter, musician and record producer. At age 20, his band Gun had a Top 10 hit in the U.K. with “Race With the Devil.” In 1982, Gurvitz had a solo top ten British hit with the song “Classic” and he wrote “The Love in Your Eyes” which was a number 1 rock song for Eddie Money in 1988. Gurvitz also co-wrote “Even If My Heart Would Break,” performed by Kenny G and Aaron Neville, which was on the legendary 1992, “The Bodyguard” soundtrack.

Under the guidance of producer Gurvitz, Lilley has recorded 10 tracks for an album that is due to be released in February 2019. All songs on the upcoming album deal with love, loss and relationships. One of the songs that will be on the album is “King of Hearts.”

Released less than two weeks ago, “King of Hearts” is the first single from Lilley’s new album. The music on Jen’s song features Rosie Danvers and her 50-piece orchestra. Lilley’s strong vocals have a 60’s Motown vibe, similar to the legendary girl groups from that era of pop music.

The best description that I can write about “King of Hearts” is to quote a portion of an email that I sent to Jen after I heard her song for the very first time:

“So this morning I am listening to the “King of Hearts” track and this is a perfect song for a single to kick off your new album.

Things I love about the song: It is catchy and has a 60’s Motown kind of groove. I love your voice on this tune and it reminds me of an old school R&B singer. I am calling it blue-eyed soul (even though your eyes may be brown or green).

The best comparison of your voice to me is with 60’s and 70’s British singer Dusty Springfield.   Another aspect I like about the song is the use of strings. So much of the music released here in 2018 is Electronic Dance Music (EDM) that uses auto-tune for voices and fake instruments. You song is refreshingly different than all of those types of songs.”

 

 

 

As you just read from my message to Jen, the “King of Hearts” single is excellent. Lilley’s upcoming album also promises to have more superb songs just like her current single. “King of Hearts” is now available for purchase and you can also pre order Lilley’s new album at www.jenlilleymusic.com 

The most refreshing thing I see about Lilley and her new music endeavor is simple: Instead of trying to achieve fame, fortune and a chance to enrich her own pockets with wealth, she is following Biblical principles and giving her money away! I am encouraged that Jen is following the teachings of Jesus in the area of money stewardship.

100% of the money that Jen will be receiving from the purchase of the “King of Hearts” single, the pre order sales of her new album and any Jen Lilley gear (t-shirts, hoodies) bought, will be going to help children. Here is where money will be going:

  1. The first 6,500 dollars will be given to help save the life of an 11 year-old boy from Uganda that needs heart surgery.
  2. The next money raised will be going to Project Orphans, an organization in Uganda that helps foster children and empowers women with relief work and spiritual mentorship. Money sent will be used for monthly operating expenses for that organization.
  3. The final area where money would go is for the creation of an orphan village in California. It has been Jen’s dream to create a safe environment for foster children that fall through the cracks in her home state of California.

Here is a quote from Jen on Project Orphans and her dream to create an orphan village in California:

“The whole point of the album for me, and I don’t know that I would ever be able to do it, but my God-sized dream is that I want to build a village for children who have been orphaned by the foster system; where they can come and be adopted. Or young teen moms can get support. Or if they age out of the system, give them a place to come so they have somewhere to stay – especially during the holidays because they don’t have any family. That’s my long-term goal.”

For now, though, her focus remains on Project Orphans, and all of the good that she and her fans can achieve with “King of Hearts” and upcoming album sales.

As I spoke with Jen during our phone chat, I realized the passion she has for foster children and the plight that many of these boys and girls face with uncertain futures. I applaud Lilley for her compassion and advocacy for boys and girls that struggle to find a safe environment once leaving foster care. Thanks to Jen for her role communicating this issue: This is excellent!

Jen Lilley’s story as a singer is not yet complete. Who knows where the “King of Hearts” single and her new album will lead? While no one knows the future, I am confident that she will continue to use her platform as an actress and singer for the advancement of positive change.

Links to Jen’s various online sites:

www.jenlilley.com 

www.jenlilleymusic.com

Instagram

Twitter

Facebook.com/JenLilleyOfficial

 

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Dave and Steve Delaney: Beatles Pilgrimage to England

Dave & Steve Delaney: Penny Lane Sign Liverpool

“Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes, there beneath the blue suburban skies” is the chorus to my 2nd favorite Beatles song of all time, “Penny Lane.” During August 2018, brothers Dave and Steve Delaney had the opportunity to visit Penny Lane in Liverpool and to tour the Abbey Road Studios in London as part of their Beatles pilgrimage to England. I will be chronicling Dave & Steve’s journey to various Fab Four sites during their Beatles excursion.

Recently I had the opportunity to interview the Delaney brothers to hear their stories as they reminisced about their Beatles trip. It was a wonderful time viewing their photos as they shared various experiences while visiting Beatles sites in England.

I first met Steve while we were both students at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia during the late 70’s. Steve and I also worked together at public radio station WMRA 90.7 FM during that time period. Dave and I first met at Roanoke College during my daughter Amy’s graduation in May 2011.

Over the course of the past few years, I came to discover the love that Dave and Steve have for the Beatles. I actually saw them at the end of a Paul McCartney concert that all three of us attended in Greensboro, North Carolina back during October 2014.

Before I start describing the brothers’ Beatles trip, here is a little bit about each brother:

Steve provided the following bio: “Steve Delaney has worked for Virginia Beach Public Schools for 23 years, and is currently serving as an Instructional Technology Specialist. He graduated from James Madison University in 1982 with a degree in Communications. While at JMU, he fostered his love of music of many genres by working at public radio station WMRA. He lives in Virginia Beach with his wife and daughter, who both share his love of the Beatles.”

Bio for Rev. and Dr. David Delaney: Since 2001, Dave has been as Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries for Lutheran churches in Virginia (Virginia Synod ELCA). He also teaches part time in the religion and philosophy department at Roanoke College. Dave also was the pastor for several Lutheran congregations in Virginia prior to 2001. He holds an undergraduate degree from Wittenberg University, a degree from Trinity Lutheran Seminary and received his PH.D. in Early Christianity and Judaism at University of Virginia. Dave married his wife Nancy in 1980 and they have two daughters.

Dave & Steve at Strawberry Fields Gate Liverpool

The first vivid memory that Dave has of the Beatles came during 1964 when the Delaney family was at a fast food restaurant in Beckley, West Virginia. Dave was 6-1/2 years old at the time and all the tables had a jukebox. While at the restaurant, someone selected “I Want To Hold Your Hand” on the jukebox and Dave then described to me what happened next:

“I was immediately smitten and started dancing in my seat. I remember my parents looking at me with resigned concern as if to say, “Oh no – he likes it.” Steve, 3 years younger, was next to me and I seem to remember him reacting the same way, although I don’t know if it was the music or my twitching around that was bringing it on.   Anyway, the rest, as they say, is history.”

The catalyst for Dave and Steve traveling to England and checking out all Beatles locations was the opportunity to tour Abbey Road Studios (formally known as EMI). This recording studio is where the Beatles recorded most of their music from 1962 until the group split up in 1970.

Sound board inside Abbey Road Studios

So how did Steve and Dave get to tour the legendary Abbey Road Studios (ARS), since that facility is not open for regular tours? Dave read about a lecture series that ARS was conducting in August and obtained tickets for the event. As part of the lecture, attendees were given a full tour of the ARS facility at the end of the lecture. This was a dream come true for the Delaney brothers.

“The Studio That Became A Legend” was the name of the lecture that Steve and Dave attended at ARS.  Here is what Steve had to say about his experience at this site:

“After being inside Abbey Road Studios, seeing the pianos and vintage equipment, and spending the day in Liverpool, I hear Beatles music with a new set of ears. I’m working my way through listening to the Beatles’ body of work again, and have a new, fresh perspective. It’s wonderful.”

Being inside ARS was also meaningful for Dave. Here is what he had to say:

“Visiting Abbey Road Studios and walking across “the crossing” is something I had always hoped to do, but I never dreamed I would have the chance to go INSIDE and be in the very same room where the Beatles recorded some of the most famous music of all time! To spend time in Studio 2, where the magic happened, and so many landmark conversations took place, was beyond all expectations.”

Later on that day, the Delaney brothers walked the famous Abbey Road crosswalk, just like the Beatles did in the summer of 1969 and thousands of other Fab Four fans do on a monthly basis.

One other place of interest that Dave and Steve visited was the house that Paul McCartney bought in 1965 located on 7 Cavendish Ave. in St John’s Wood, London. The brothers Delaney then finished up day one touring regular tourist attractions like Big Ben, the London Eye and Buckingham Palace.

Day two of the Beatles pilgrimage for the Delaney brothers started with a four-hour train ride from London to Liverpool. The tour of the birthplace of the Beatles started with a stop at “The Beatles Museum” located on the UNESCO World Heritage site at Albert Dock along the Mersey River.

Dave & Steve at Philharmonic Pub Liverpool

After checking out that museum, the brothers went to the Philharmonic Pub, which was the site of Paul McCartney’s small intimate “concert” that was featured on James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke segment in June 2018. Unfortunately, Sir Paul wasn’t performing at the pub the day Dave and Steve were at this establishment.

After lunch, Steve and Dave hailed a taxi and took a personalized two-hour tour of Liverpool for only 50 pounds.   During this time, the cab driver played Beatles music in the cab while driving and when stopped, he acted as a tour guide for the various Beatles-related places of interest.

One of the stops on the taxi tour was “beneath the blue suburban skies” of Penny Lane. This famous street is a main thoroughfare in Liverpool and the brothers visited several of the locations mentioned in the song “Penny Lane” including the barber shop and the roundabout. The bank building is now home to another business and the fire station is longer found on the corner.

Strawberry Fields Gate Liverpool

Another site brothers Delaney visited on the taxi tour were the gates at Strawberry Field. The building associated with that area was a children’s home but it is now being renovated. Plans are to open up the grounds for visitors and to have an exhibition center dedicated to the place and song of “Strawberry Fields Forever” in the future.

The final stop for Dave and Steve was St Peter’s Church. It was at the church’s yard that Paul McCartney met John Lennon for the first time. Here is Dave’s communication on why this site was important for him to view:

“My number one goal in Liverpool was to go and stand at the place where the Quarrymen had performed on July 6, 1957, the day that Paul came and saw them and later on met John. I finally have a 3-D visual on St. Peter’s churchyard and the Parish Hall for the day that is often called the “Big Bang” of the Beatles. I did manage to get a nice photo of myself there and put it side by side with the famous photo of John performing with the Quarrymen in roughly the same spot.”

Once the taxi tour was finished, it was time to head back to London for the Delaney brothers. After spending the night in London, the Beatles pilgrimage was at its end. Steve and Dave then headed back to Virginia, via a short visit to Iceland. It was an extremely satisfying trip for the Delaney Brothers.

Dave summed up the trip with these words: “It’s hard to believe that we were in England for just two days – we packed so much into that brief time that it felt like weeks. I suppose it would take weeks to actually see everything related to the Beatles in both London and Liverpool. Where next, then, Hamburg?”

Being huge Beatles fans, this was a trip of a lifetime for Steve and Dave. After I listened to their stories and viewed the photos of their trip, I am ready to sign up for the next lecture series held at Abbey Road Studios. One day I hope to experience London and Liverpool Beatlemania for myself.

Thanks to Dave and Steve for allowing me to share the story of their Beatles pilgrimage to London and Liverpool, England. Rock on!

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Hey Jude: Best Single of 1968?

 

 

“Hey Jude, don’t make it bad

Take a sad song and make it better

Remember to let her into your heart

Then you can start to make it better”

If you asked music historians what they felt was the greatest single record from 1968, many would select “Hey Jude” by the Beatles as being the best individual song from 50 years ago.

“Hey Jude” has the distinction of being not only the top selling single from 1968 but also the biggest song for the entire decade of the 60’s according to Billboard magazine. The tune was also the first number one song to be over seven minutes long.

So I wonder: Is “Hey Jude” the best single of 1968? Although I have great respect for the Beatles and their mega hit, I feel there are some other songs that I place higher than the Fab Four’s biggest song during their career. Side note: If the Beatles had released “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” as a single in 1968, that song would be my choice as greatest song for that year.

Besides “Hey Jude”, here are some of the other top selling songs of 1968 according to Billboard:   “Love is Blue” Paul Mauriat, “Honey” Bobby Goldsboro, “(Sittin’ On) The Dock on the Bay” Otis Redding, “Mrs. Robinson” Simon and Garfunkel and “Tighten Up” Archie Bell and the Drells. However, none of those songs are on my top ten listing of best singles from 1968.

Here is the criterion am I using to determine the best single songs of 1968:

  1. Are the lyrics meaningful and have substance?
  2. Does the song have historical significance?
  3. Is the song still relevant in 2018?
  4. Has the song received honors and awards from music Hall of Fames?
  5. Does the song still sound good in the 21st Century?
  6. Did the song reach number 20 or higher on either Billboard or Cashbox?

From reading my list above, you may guess that that there are some excellent songs from 1968 that don’t make my listing as they were not hits in America. Example: “The Weight” by The Band. This song ranks number 41 on the Rolling Stone “500 Greatest Songs of all Time” listing and is in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame but only reached number 62 on the Billboard Hot 100 during 1968. It’s a great song, but not a hit in the U.S.

Here are the songs that I consider to be the best 10 singles from 1968. There are no rankings with my listing and the songs are placed in a random order. I deem the 10 songs to be culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.

  1. Born To Be Wild—Steppenwolf

“I like smoke and lightning, heavy metal thunder, racin’ with the wind and the feelin’ that I’m under. Like a true nature’s child, we were born, born to be wild, we can climb so high, I never wanna die.”

“Born To Be Wild” musically and lyrically has become a motorcycle rock anthem and is associated with the 1969 classic cult motorcycle movie, “Easy Rider.” The lyrics of “heavy metal thunder” are credited with the naming of “heavy metal” as a genre of rock music and the song was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Fame earlier this year. Steppenwolf’s signature song is “Born To Be Wild.”

“Born To Be Wild” peaked at number 2 on Billboard Hot 100 August 1968.

  1. Scarborough Fair—Simon and Garfunkel

“Are you going to Scarborough Fair? Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, remember me to one who lives there, she once was a true love of mine.”

Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel took an old traditional English folk ballad, “Scarborough Fair” and combined the song with Simon’s song “Canticle” which came from rewriting a 1963 Simon song, “The Side of a Hill.”   The beauty of this tune is that “Scarborough Fair” and “Canticle” are actually two songs that are sung simultaneously with alternately verses from both songs interweaved together.

This melodic anti-war song was featured in, “The Graduate” movie and is absolutely brilliant.

“Scarborough Fair” peaked at number 11 on Billboard Hot 100 April 1968.

  1. Hurdy Gurdy Man—Donavan

“Histories of ages past, unenlightened shadows cast, down through all eternity, the crying of humanity. It is then when the Hurdy Gurdy Man, comes singing songs of love, then when the Hurdy Gurdy Man, comes singing songs of love.”

Donovan wrote “Hurdy Gurdy Man” when he was with the Beatles in India while studying Transcendental Meditation during early 1968. The music on this tune is considered psychedelic rock and features three session musicians who became famous just after recording this song. Those musicians: Jimmy Page on electric guitar, John Bonham on drums and John Paul Jones on bass. These three guys, along with vocalist Robert Plant formed Led Zeppelin right after laying down the track for “Hurdy Gurdy Man.”

“Hurdy Gurdy Man” peaked at number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 August 1968.

  1. Jumpin’ Jack Flash—Rolling Stones

“I was born in a crossfire hurricane and I howled at the maw in the drivin’ rain. But it’s all right now, in fact, it’s a gas, but it’s all right, I’m Jumpin’ Jack Flash, It’s a gas, gas, gas.”

After going through a psychedelic pop phase during 1967, the Rolling Stones returned to a more blues-rock sound and this song is known for its signature guitar riffs by Keith Richards. The distinctive guitar sound on the tune places it in the top ten of the “greatest guitar tracks” in rock music history. The Rolling Stones have also played “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” during every concert the band has performed since the song was released 50 years ago.

“Jumpin’ Jack Flash” peaked at number 1 on the Cashbox Top 100 July 1968.

  1. Do It Again—Beach Boys

“It’s automatic when I talk with old friends, the conversation turns to girls we knew, when their hair was soft and long and the beach was the place to go. Suntanned bodies and waves of sunshine the California girls and a beautiful coastline, warmed up weather, let’s get together and do it again.”

After Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys recorded the landmark “Pet Sounds” album in 1966, Wilson had health issues and the group quit having hits on Top 40 radio. The band then recorded and released, “Do It Again” during July 1968 with much success. The highlight of this tune is the five-part harmony that is sung throughout the song. Once again the Beach Boys had created the magic of the “Pet Sounds” album with this summer of 1968 hit.

“Do It Again” peaked at number 8 on the Cashbox Top 100 September 1968.

  1. Sunshine of Your Love—Cream

“It’s getting near dawn and lights close their tired eyes, I’ll soon be with you, my love, to give you my dawn surprise, I’ll be with you, darling, soon, I’ll be with you when the stars start falling. I’ve been waiting so long, to be where I’m going, in the sunshine of your love.”

The hard driving drums of Ginger Baker, the guitar playing of Eric Clapton and the excellent bass riffs and vocals on “Sunshine of Your Love” make this tune the signature song by the trio Cream. The song continues to rank as one of the greatest rock songs of all time, was voted as one of the best rock guitar riffs of all time and has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

“Sunshine of Your Love” peaked at number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 August 1968.

  1. Wichita Lineman—Glen Campbell

“I am a lineman for the county and I drive the main road, searchin’ in the sun for another overload. I hear you singing in the wire, I can hear you thru the whine and the Wichita lineman, is still on the line.”

Glen Campbell soared to great heights with the Jimmy Webb-written song “Wichita Lineman” on both country and Top 40 radio during 1968. Campbell employed members of “The Wrecking Crew” to play on this tune that some have called “one of the greatest pop songs ever composed.” Carol Kaye’s guitar playing on this tune is outstanding. A truly quintessential crossover hit almost 50 years ago.

“Wichita Lineman” peaked at number 3 on Billboard Hot 100 December 1968/January 1969.

  1. Pictures of Matchstick Men—Status Quo

“When I look up to the sky, I see your eyes a funny kind of yellow, I rush home to bed, I soak my head, I see your face underneath my pillow, I wake next morning, tired, still yawning, see your face come peeping through my window. Pictures of matchstick men and you, mirages of matchstick men and you, all I ever see is them and you.”

Status Quo’s only hit in America was inspired by matchstick men paintings of L.S. Lowry that depicted industrial areas of England during the 20th century. This tune features a phasing audio effect with wah-wah guitars. The record is said to be one of the first to use this technique. The distinctive four-note guitar riff throughout the song makes this a memorable song from the summer of 1968.

“Pictures of Matchstick Men” peaked at number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 July 1968.

  1. All Along the Watchtower—Jimi Hendrix

“All along the watchtower, princes kept the view, while all the women came and went, barefoot servants too, outside in the cold distance, a wildcat did growl, two riders were approaching and the wind began to howl.” 

Bob Dylan wrote the lyrics to “All Along the Watchtower” in 1967 but it was Jimi Hendrix’s cover version of the song that put this tune on music map. Obviously with Hendrix being one of the greatest guitar players of his generation, he does an outstanding job laying the riffs down on this masterpiece. Rolling Stone magazine ranks Hendrix’s cover at number 47 on their “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list.

“All Along the Watchtower” peaked at number 18 on the Cashbox Top 100 October 1968.

  1. People Got To Be Free—Rascals

“All the world over, so easy to see, people everywhere just wanna be free, listen, please listen, that’s the way it should be, peace in the valley, people got to be free.” 

50 years ago this week, the Rascals had the number 1 song in America with “People Got To Be Free.” The song spent five weeks at the number one position and was a popular song of healing for our country after the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy earlier in 1968. The Rascals message of freedom was much needed for all the turmoil that America witnessed during that time period.

“People Got To Be Free” peaked at number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 August 1968.

There you have my top ten songs from 1968. I do not proclaim that my selections are the absolute ten best tunes from 50 years ago. Now that you know my top ten songs, I would love for you to post your thoughts. What songs do you consider to be the best songs from 1968? I value your opinion on this topic. Rock on!

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Is Rock Music Dead?

The Who, “Long Live Rock” Single Record Cover.

Rock is dead, they say, Long live rock. Long live rock, I need it every night. Long live rock, come on and join the line. Long live rock, be it dead or alive.

-Pete Townshend, “Long Live Rock”

The notion that “Rock is dead” has been around for a long time. In fact, Pete Townshend wrote the song “Long Live Rock” 47 years ago as a rebuttal to those in the early 70’s who were proclaiming that rock music was dead.

The Who wasn’t the only artist to speak about the subject of rock being dead. Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll” proclaims, “Just take those old records off the shelf, I’ll sit and listen to them by myself, today’s music ain’t got the same soul, I like that old time Rock and Roll.”

The next year Neil Young’s “My My, Hey Hey (Out of the Blue)” had the following lyrics: “Rock and Roll is here to stay, it’s better to burn out than to fade away, Rock and Roll can never die, there’s more to the picture than meets the eye.”

During the 80’s, Huey Lewis and the News song “The Heart of Rock and Roll” states “They say the heart of Rock and Roll is still beating and from what I’ve seen I believe ‘em, now the old boy may be barely breathing but the heart of Rock and Roll is still beating.”

If you have been reading the New York Times, Billboard, Rolling Stone or the Los Angeles Times recently, you may have seen their headlines and concluded that rock music is dead and buried for good. Is this actually true?

Just last week while I was on vacation in Maine, I was reading Digital Music News and that publication posed the question, “So is Rock n’ Roll dead, dying, or something in-between?” So what is the state of Rock music?

According to Spotify, Hip Hop is the number one music genre followed by Pop, Latino and EDM. Nielsen Music reports that R&B/Hip Hop was the biggest genre of music during 2017 with “24.5% of all music consumed.” Billboard states that 7 of the top 10 selling albums last year were in the R&B/Hip Hop category. Rock music sales continue to spiral downward compared to the other top music genres here in 2018.

So you may ask yourself: If rock is dead or on life support, what about U2 selling out concert venues all across America this summer? Other classic Rock acts such as Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Journey, and Dave Matthews Band are also touring this summer and filling outdoor concert stadiums on a regular basis. Is Rock really dead?

I have a theory about all of the doomsday writers that place Rock music as either dead or on its last leg and never to return as a force in the music industry ever again: For the most part, writers in 2018 say “Rock music is dead” because their definition of the genre is actually based on a “Classic Rock” model.

In these writers’ eyes, the traditional classic rock group consists of four white males, two members playing guitars, one playing the bass and the final member being a drummer. Since there are few of these types of groups either forming and/or playing the “classic Rock” sound during this decade, these writers categorically proclaim that “Rock is dead” as their definition of Rock music does not exist in today’s music scene.

So I ask again: Is Rock music actually dead? When I view rock music in 2018, I see a different picture. Rock music today is broad, varied and has a wide range of different styles within the genre. Besides the traditional classic Rock sound, there are many other forms of Rock being played regularly here in America:

Blues rock, country rock, dance rock, electronic rock, folk rock, industrial rock, jazz fusion, heavy metal, alternative rock, modern rock, pop rock, power pop, rap rock, reggae rock, art rock, punk rock, new wave, progressive rock, indie rock, glam rock, psychedelic rock, grunge, etc.

The make up of Rock group members is also much different now than the old “classic Rock” model of the 60’s and 70’s. Instead of four white men model, I now see diversity with Rock bands. Women are now leaders of many Rock bands and minorities have also become important leaders with Rock groups that have been formed this century. Rock music is not dead, it is just different than the classic Rock model from the 60’s and 70’s.

Today’s Rock music is diverse and to get a feel for the most popular artists and bands trending, here are the number one songs so far during 2018 from the Billboard Triple A (Adult Album Alternative) Rock radio stations chart:

“No Roots” Alice Merton, “Pain” The War On Drugs, “Live in the Moment” Portugal. The Man, “You Worry Me” Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats, “Severed” The Decemberists, “Lottery” Jade Bird, “Bad Bad News” Leon Bridges and “Hunger” Florence and the Machine.

The Spectrum, channel 28 on SiriusXM, is a station that plays both classic Rock and today’s current Rock and is classified as a Triple A station. In addition to songs I listed above from the Billboard Triple A chart, The Spectrum is currently playing the following in their hot rotation:

“Such a Simple Thing” Ray LaMontagne, “Life To Fix” The Record Company, “Good Kisser” Lake Street Dive, “Lash Out” Alice Merton, “Bad Luck” Neko Case, “Beyond” Leon Bridges, “Samurai Cop (Oh Joy Begin)” Dave Matthews Band, “Saturday Sun” Vance Joy, “Colors” Beck, “High Horse” Kacey Musgraves, “Four Out of Five” Arctic Monkeys, “Wait By the River” Lord Huron and “Vertigo” U2 (Live from the Apollo).

Those who say Rock is dead obviously haven’t listened to the music played on Triple A Rock stations or The Spectrum SiriusXM radio. With the wide range of Rock being played on radio stations across America this summer, I am going to list my top 4 Rock songs for the summer of 2018:

4. “Hunger” – Florence + the Machine

Currently the number 1 song on the Billboard Triple A Rock chart, here is a statement about the song’s lyrics from front woman Florence Welch published by Pitchfork.com: “This song is about the ways we look for love in things that are perhaps not love, and how attempts to feel less alone can sometimes isolate us more. I guess I made myself more vulnerable in this song to encourage connection, because perhaps a lot more of us feel this way than we are able to admit. Sometimes when you can’t say it, you can sing it.”

3. “No Roots” – Alice Merton

A former 2018 number one song on the Billboard Triple A Rock Chart, Merton is a new star on the rise. She recently explained to Rolling Stone how the lyrics to “No Roots” came to be: “The actual idea behind the song, for me, was very depressing,” says Merton, who now splits her time between Germany and England. “I was realizing that I didn’t have a home. I didn’t really feel at home in one place.” “I wanted the song to be very freeing and have this cool and fun rhythm,” she explains. “Solo, it’s very melancholic and emotional, but when I play it with my band it’s uplifting. It shows the two sides of having no roots.”

2. “Good Kisser” – Lake Street Dive

Lead singer Rachel Price conveys multiple emotions on this breakup song. On one hand she is forlorn and melancholic while at the same time being facetious with a tongue-in-cheek delivery as she tells her former lover, “If you’re gonna them everything, tell ‘em I’m a good kisser.” Bass player Bridget Kearney does an outstanding job and Price’s vocal range is excellent on the best breakup song during the summer of 2018.

1. “High Horse” – Kacey Musgraves

The country singer-songwriter and two-time Grammy Award winner has shifted gears on her newest album “Golden Hour” and recorded a pop-rock tune that actually has a Bee Gees type disco beat. The character in the “High Horse” lyrics is arrogant and has an exaggerated sense of their own importance. Musgraves uses imagery of cowboys and horses and declares in the bridge of the song, “Darling, you take the high horse and I’ll take the high road,

If you’re too good for us, you’ll be good riding solo.” As with her many other astutely written songs, the lyrics are sharp-witted and thoughtful on this latest Musgraves tune.

So there you have my current four favorite Rock songs for the summer of 2018. Obviously, your favorite Rock songs may be completely different from my tunes. I would love to read your thoughts in the comment section of my blog.

So I ask the question one last time: Is Rock music dead? My answer: Absolutely not!

Rock music has continuously changed since the genre was started in the 50’s. Change happened in 1964 during Beatlemania and the British Invasion. During the 70’s, Classic Rock was king and then gradually faded as other forms of Rock became prominent. Every decade brings constant changes with Rock music.

Will Rock music ever be the top selling genre of music again? Who knows what type of music will be popular five years from now. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus’ famous quote, “The only thing that is constant is change” applies to the subject of this blog: Everything changes and so will Rock music. Rock music isn’t dead, it is alive and well. Rock on!

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Music, Retro Rock

1978: The Greatest Year In Music?

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1978 albums I bought at Speakertree Record Shop in Lynchburg, VA.

When I first saw the title of an NPR article, “40 Years Later: Was 1978 The Greatest Year In Music?” I immediately thought that the writers of this commentary about music from 1978 were absolutely absurd. To even consider the possibility that 1978 was among the greatest years in modern music history sounded utterly ridiculous to this fellow.

As a student at James Madison University and having lived through the 1978 music scene, disco ruled as the most popular genre of music that year. Disco songs spent 30 out of the 52 weeks at the number 1 position of the Billboard Hot 100 during that year. Bees Gees, Andy Gibb, Bee Gees, Donna Summer (and did I mention Bee Gees?) all dominated popular music in America. Even the Rolling Stones hit number 1 with a disco record “Miss You” during 1978 for crying out loud!

For many music fans, the disco era was a low point in the recording industry and it was amazing that NPR (or anyone else) considered 1978 to be the greatest year in music. So I started thinking: Let me investigate the music released in 1978. Maybe I was missing something?

So I submit to you that there were actually some great albums and singles released during 1978. As the NPR article stated, “Kate Bush, The Cars, Devo, Dire Straits, The B-52’s, The Police, Buzzcocks and Van Halen released their debut albums” 40 years ago. Disco may have been king in 1978 but new rock artists emerged during this year.

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Speakertree Record Shop in Lynchburg, VA

So I have come up with a listing of worthy top albums and singles from 1978. There are no ranking with my lists and music is listed in a random order. Many of the singles I am listing were not big Top 40 hits but are significant songs by these artists (and much better than the all of the disco songs that were hits during 1978).

“This Year’s Model” album by Elvis Costello and the Attractions: One of the most critically acclaimed albums from 1978 features the single “Pump it Up” which has one of the best rhythm sections from the 70’s and helped to bring Costello into the forefront of the new wave genre of music.

“More Songs About Building and Foods” album by Talking Heads: Released during the fall of 1978, the band’s cover of Al Green’s “Take Me to the River” became the first Top 30 hit for the group. Also in early 1978, a song from the Talking Heads ‘77 debut album entitled “Psycho Killer” was released as a single. This signature debut hit has one of the best bass lines in rock history.

“Outlandos d’Amour” album by The Police: The debut album by the rock trio mixes reggae, punk and rock that many considered “new wave” and has the memorable single “Roxanne.” Also on the album are “Can’t Stand Losing You” and “So Lonely” that helped to define the music output by the English band.

“Easter” album by Patti Smith Group: One of the leaders of the punk rock movement, the “Easter” album became her most successful with religious imagery from the Christian faith. Smith’s song “Because the Night”, that was co-written by Bruce Springsteen, was the biggest hit single during her career.

“Darkness on the Edge of Town” album by Bruce Springsteen: Since I mentioned Springsteen above, this is the appropriate place to mention that the 1978 album was the follow up to the landmark signature album “Born To Run” from 1975. The Boss delivers three of his best songs ever on this album: “The Promised Land,” “Badlands” and “Prove It All Night.”

“The Last Waltz” album by The Band: Although The Band’s last concert was on Thanksgiving Day 1976, the soundtrack for “The Last Waltz” was not released until 1978. Joining The Band for this historic concert were Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Emmylou Harris, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, The Staple Singers and a few other artists. In my humble opinion, the best overall rock album released during 1978.

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Stardust by Wille Nelson, a record I purchased at Speakertree Record Shop in Lynchburg, VA

 “Stardust” album by Willie Nelson: The “Outlaw Country” music artist switched gears in 1978 and recorded an album of early 20th century American pop standards by famous composers such as Irving Berlin and George Gershwin. Nelson had lots of music variety with different genres on the album: jazz, pop, folk and country. Interpretations of “Georgia on My Mind”, “Blue Skies” and “Stardust” provided Nelson with new respect in the eyes of fans across multiple categories of music.

In the singles only category, there are 4 songs I want to highlight from 1978 that are memorable but were not hits in America: “I Wanna Be Sedated” by The Ramones, “Wuthering Heights” by Kate Bush, “Rock Lobster” by The B-52’s and “Surrender” by Cheap Trick. All four of those songs are more substantial than just about all of the top 10 disco hits that charted on the Billboard Hot 100 during 1978.

Although I do not agree with NPR and their hypothesis that 1978 was the greatest year for music, I also can’t totally dismiss the entire year as musically wasted. I do submit that 1978 had many albums and individual single songs that merit consideration as some of the best music to be released during the late 70’s. 1978 is not the greatest year in music history but it does have some excellent tunes that stand the test of time.

To subscribe to my blog via email, please click the “Follow” button in the menu above. I am looking forward reading your comments on the music from 1978. Rock on!

 

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Music

Gibson Guitars: End of an Era?

Gibson Guitars on display at Kelley’s Music in Roanoke, Virginia

Last Tuesday, Gibson guitars filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and announced that the company plans to continue guitar production in the foreseeable future while under bankruptcy protection. Gibson Guitars started in 1902 and continues to be one of the largest guitar makers in America.

According to an article by Jonathan Mattise of the Associated Press, “Gibson guitars have been such a fixture in music history that Chuck Berry was laid to rest with his, B.B. King affectionately named his “Lucille” and Eric Clapton borrowed one from George Harrison to play the solo on the Beatles’ ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps.’”

One of Gibson’s most famous guitars is the legendary “Les Paul” SG (Solid Guitar). Les Paul was one of the pioneers of the solid-body electric guitar and the guitar named after him became one of the most popular selling guitars during the 50’s and early 60’s.

According to the Gibson Guitars website, Les Paul withdrew the endorsement of his guitar in 1960 and the company renamed the “Les Paul SG” to “Gibson SG” in 1961.   Then in 1968, Les Paul partnered once again with Gibson and guitars with the Les Paul name are still being made here in 2018.

The Gibson SG remains the biggest selling guitar with the Gibson Guitar Company. The SG model has become a rock standard but it is also a favorite guitar of choice for other types of musical genres including jazz, blues, and country.

The list of rock musicians who have played Gibson guitars during their careers seems endless with many of the performers being members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Here are just a few of the many names that you may have heard of before: Chuck Berry, Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton, Sheryl Crow, Bob Dylan, The Edge, Dave Grohl, George Harrison, Joan Jett, BB King, John Lennon, Bob Marley, Paul McCartney, Jimmy Page, Keith Richards, Carlos Santana, Pete Townshend, Eddie Van Halen, Joe Walsh, and Neil Young.

More Gibson Guitars on display at Kelley’s Music in Roanoke, Virginia

Many famous musicians play Gibson guitars, but I’m most curious about my readers’ experiences with these guitars.

If you own a Gibson guitar, who kind do you own? Are you satisfied with the Gibson guitar you own and would you buy another Gibson in the future?

For those that own other brands of guitars like Fender, Takamine or any other kind of guitar other than Gibson? Would you buy another guitar of the brand you currently own?

My final question for any guitar players: Do you have any stories about your guitar and how it has special meaning to you?

To subscribe to my blog via email, please click the “Follow” button in the menu above. I am looking forward reading your thoughts and stories on guitars. As always, rock on!

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