Music, Retro Rock

The Beatles White Album: They Say It’s Your Birthday—50 Years

50 Years of The Beatles White Album

“They say it’s your birthday, we’re gonna have a good time, I’m glad it’s your birthday, happy birthday to you” are the opening lyrics to the song “Birthday” off of The Beatles’ legendary White Album.

The White Album, officially named “The Beatles,” turns 50 on November 22nd. Originally released in 1968, the double album has a plain white sleeve with no graphics or text other than the band’s name embossed on the front cover of the album.

The White Album contains 30 tracks and is diverse with many musical styles. Rock, pop, blues, country, reggae, avant-garde, folk, psychedelic and Indian music are all featured on this landmark album. It was a groundbreaking eclectic mix of musical styles for the year 1968.

While there were no singles released from the White Album, the songs “Hey Jude” and “Revolution” were both recorded during the same recording sessions but left off the album. This was the same pattern that was used when “Penny Lane” and Strawberry Fields Forever” were left off the Beatles, “Sgt. Pepper” album in 1967.

By no means will this article attempt to rank songs, claim to be a definitive source or declare that any tune from the White Album is the “greatest or best” from the album. If you are looking for that type of analysis, I would encourage you to check out other Internet sources for that kind of information.

According to The Beatles Bible, most of the songs from the White Album were written during a “transcendental meditation course with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Rishikesh, India, between February and April 1968.”

During the time the band was in India, Beatle fans were clamoring for more music. The “Lady Madonna” single became a number 1 song during that time period but that was the only music released by the band.

After the Sgt. Pepper’s album was released in May 1967, The Beatles did not put out any more full-length studio albums for a year and a half. The six-track “Magical Mystery Tour” EP and the four new songs for the “Yellow Submarine” LP were the only new Beatles music being produced. Some wondered if the band were all washed up.

Once back in England, the Beatles started recording the White Album in May 1968 and didn’t complete the process until October of that year. It was an extremely long and arduous undertaking that many music historians link to the beginning of the end for the most popular band of the 60’s.

Along with the recording of the White Album, the band also formed the Apple Record Company, which brought many new challenges to the Beatles’ empire.

Most of the tracks of the White Album were recorded at the Abbey Road Studios in London. But as my friend Steve Delaney of Virginia Beach shared with me, a few of the tracks on the album were also recorded at London’s Trident Studios. Delaney learned of that information when he and his brother Dave Delaney visited the legendary Abbey Road Studio during August 2018.

Beatles record producer George Martin decided to take two tracks from the White Album recording sessions, Hey Jude and Revolution, and release those songs as a double A sided single during August 1968. “Hey Jude” was not only was the biggest song of 1968 but also was the best selling single for the entire 60’s decade.

One of the most interesting quotes that I read researching the history of the White Album is from writer Jann S. Wenner that was published in Rolling Stone Magazine on December 21st, 1968:

“There is almost no attempt in this new set to be anything but what the Beatles actually are: John, Paul, George and Ringo. Four different people, each with songs and styles and abilities. They are no longer Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and it is possible that they are no longer The Beatles.

Wenner’s review is almost seems prophetic as the demise of The Beatles became reality when John Lennon privately told his band mates that he was leaving the band ten months later during September 1969. (Public announcement of the Beatles break-up came in April 1970 when Paul McCartney announced that he was also leaving the band).

For this 50th anniversary of the White Album, I have asked some of the biggest Beatle fans that I know for their thoughts on the album released exactly 5 years after the assassination of U.S. President John F Kennedy on 11/22/63.

But before I share my friends’ thoughts on various songs from the White Album, I want to express what are my favorite songs from the album turning 50 years old this month. “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is my absolute favorite Beatles song of all time and “Back in the USSR” is my third favorite song ever by the band.

You can listen to a countdown of my favorite Beatles songs of all time when I was a guest DJ for a My Fab Four segment with The Beatles Channel on SiriusXM. This SoundCloud audio file is from August 2017.

Besides “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and “Back in the USSR”, rounding out my top 5 songs on the White Album are “Blackbird,” “Helter Skelter” and “Revolution 1.”

If you ask 100 individuals what are the top five songs on the White Album, most likely you would end up with 100 different answers. With this in mind, I have asked friends of mine who are huge Beatles fans, to share some of their thoughts on this legendary album.

David Hollandsworth: Roanoke, Virginia:

“I was only 11 when the While album came out so it wasn’t until a
couple years later that I first heard it at a friend’s house. I was
intrigued by it because it was a double LP release in a plain white
jacket.

Favorite songs would include “Back in the USSR”, “Birthday,” “Ob-La-Di,
Ob-La-Da,” “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Blackbird,” “Happiness Is a Warm
Gun” and “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey”.
Probably my favorite is “Dear Prudence”; I’ve just always liked the
melancholy chord progression and mood.

I used to think this was kind of a hodge-podge album but it’s grown on me over the decades and next to Abbey Road and Sgt. Pepper’s, I would say this is my third favorite Beatles album. Hard to believe it’s turning 50 years old! Happy birthday to ya!”

Sherry Hicks Richardson: Roanoke, Virginia:

“The Beatles White Album is one of my all-time favorites. I remember getting this album for Christmas and listening to it non-stop for weeks. It’s iconic. Wow! Favorite song off the album? I really like “Glass Onion” for the historical references (although Paul was not the walrus — John was) and I still remember photos of Paul with his sheepdog Martha, so “Martha My Dear” is a big fave too. I’ve always liked “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” by George — it’s one of his best Beatles songs. It is just too hard to pick just one favorite.”

Gayle Deel: Roanoke, Virginia:

“The White Album – 50 years ago – I was 14.  I had been what I call myself an ‘original Beatlemaniac’ since 9 years old. This album helped to continue the hunger for more music, more Beatles, more growth in their societal involvement.
The album was an eclectic contribution by all four of my favorite musicians and idols.

What I know factually is that they recorded for many weeks and for many 24-hour marathons and it was during this period that they first recorded on an eight-track tape machine.

From the hard driving “Back in the U.S.S.R.” to the ironic “Happiness is a Warm Gun” to the moving “Julia” or the most beautiful of the album  – George’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” – I loved them all. I can’t choose. It is impossible.

Love you John, Paul, George and Ringo – thank you for all the creativity, the dedication, the genius that has personally helped me through many times and provided me with a lifetime of memories.” 

Dave Delaney: Roanoke, Virginia:

“I have definitely gone through phases with the White Album. I remember my brother Steve and I hearing this for the first time in late 1968, visiting our grandparents for Thanksgiving. The next-door neighbor had a teenager who had gotten it and played it for us.

Even at 11 years old I could tell that these were no longer songs meant to blow up the pop charts. This was music that older kids would sit down and listen to, even more so than Sgt. Pepper’s had been. Later I remember thinking that the whole album was a bit of a sloppy attempt at self-indulgence (“yeah we’re the Beatles – it doesn’t matter what we play – people will listen to it”). Only later did I really come to appreciate that this was indeed additional ground-breaking work. I grew to love this album so much that I named my car after it! And the Beatles song people most ask me to play when I’m sitting around holding a guitar is ‘Blackbird.’”

Steve Delaney: Virginia Beach, Virginia:

“I think perhaps more than any album, the White Album highlighted the amazing range of musical styles they were able to pull off. Contrast “Julia” with “Helter Skelter” or “Yer Blues” with “Mother Nature’s Son.” Then add in unusual tracks like “Ob-La-Di” or “Piggies” and you have a smorgasbord of styles and sounds.

It also might be interesting to point out that the White Album wasn’t entirely recorded at Abbey Road. A few tracks were recorded at Trident Studios in London. They had 8 track equipment as opposed to EMI’s 4 track machines.”

Here are the 30 tracks on the White Album:

  • Side 1

Back In The USSR

Dear Prudence

Glass Onion

Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da

Wild Honey Pie

The Continuing Story Of Bungalow Bill

While My Guitar Gently Weeps

Happiness Is A Warm Gu

  • Side 2

Martha My Dear

I’m So Tired

Blackbird

Piggies

Rocky Raccoon

Don’t Pass Me By

Why Don’t We Do It In The Road?

I Will

Julia

  • Side 3

Birthday

Yer Blues

Mother Nature’s Son

Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey

Sexy Sadie

Helter Skelter

Long, Long, Long

  • Side 4

Revolution 1

Honey Pie

Savoy Truffle

Cry Baby Cry

Revolution 9

Good Night

Fifty years after the White Album was released, it remains one of the greatest rock albums of the 20th Century. In 2003, the White Album was ranked number 10 on the Rolling Stone “Greatest Albums of All Time” listing.

Critics all rank the White Album as one of the top three Beatles albums of all time. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder but one thing is sure: The Beatles’ White Album is a beautiful collection of songs and is now celebrating 50 years of wonderful music.

They say it’s your birthday: I am sure glad that John, Paul, George and Ringo recorded the White Album, “All Those Years Ago.” Rock on!

 

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Music, Retro Rock

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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Music, Retro Rock

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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Retro Rock

This Is It: Yacht Rock

Camden Harbor, Maine (June 2018)

“This is it, make no mistake where you are, this is it, the waiting is over”: These lyrics are to the chorus of the song “This Is It” by Kenny Loggins and is one of the biggest Yacht Rock songs of all time. Make no mistake, the waiting is over: You are now reading a blog message about Yacht Rock.

The term Yacht Rock might seem innocuous but for much of the music world, just the mention of this musical genre sometimes brings ridicule and mockery to those willing to admit they actually like Yacht Rock.

The most famous line in the Coasters song “Charlie Brown” is, “Why’s everybody always pickin’ on me.” That statement could also be applied about Yacht Rock: Why’s everybody always pickin’ on the genre of music known as Yacht Rock? Publicly frowned upon and scorned by many, Yacht rock is like Rodney Dangerfield: It gets no respect.

So what is Yacht Rock? This genre of music is loosely defined as “soft rock” that incorporates music influenced by smooth jazz, R&B, soul, pop and funk and regularly features instruments such as saxophones, acoustic guitars and electric pianos.

Most songs range from slow to mid tempos but some tunes have fast tempos and are not “soft rock” at all. Two examples of this type of Yacht Rock song: “Hold the Line” from Toto and “Footloose” by Kenny Loggins. Most all Yacht Rock songs feature high quality studio productions, clean vocals and catchy melodies.

The years from 1975 through 1985 are considered the main era of Yacht Rock popularity. However songs from early 70’s (Known as the California Sound) are also included in the umbrella of Yacht Rock genre. Although the Beach Boys might be considered a part of this genre, most of their hits were outside of the Yacht Rock time period and they are not considered a core group within Yacht Rock.

Although many of the songs in the Yacht Rock category have to do with sailing, yachts, ships, bodies of water or other things associated with nautical activities, the subject matters of Yacht Rock are wide open and may touch on a variety of topics with their lyrics.

The term Yacht Rock was created by J.D. Ryznar as he made an online ten-part video series in 2005 called “Yacht Rock.” In this series, yacht owners off the coast of California set sail listening to smooth soft rock music with artists like Michael McDonald, Pablo Cruise, Kenny Loggins, Steely Dan, Toto and Christopher Cross.

During the past 3 years, Yacht Rock radio has been a staple during the summer months on SiriusXM. In addition to the artists I mentioned above, here are some of the other core artists associated with Yacht Rock: Ambrosia, America, Chicago, Doobie Brothers, Eagles, Hall and Oates, Fleetwood Mac, Little River Band, Gerry Rafferty, Al Stewart, Boz Scaggs and 10CC.

Matt Colier from the online music guide AllMusic says there are three defining rules of Yacht Rock:

  1. “Keep it smooth, even when it grooves, with more emphasis on the melody than on the beat”
  2. “Keep the emotions light, even when the sentiment turns sad (as is so often the case in the world of the sensitive yacht-rocksman)”
  3. “Always keep it catchy, no matter how modest or deeply buried in the tracklist the tune happens to be.”

You may asking: What are some of the most popular songs in the Yacht Rock genre?

The absolutely number 1 and quintessential greatest Yacht Rock song ever made is “Sailing” by Christopher Cross.

Some of the other top Yacht Rock songs include:

  • Hey 19—Steely Dan
  • What a Fool Believes—Doobie Brothers
  • Kiss on my List—Hall and Oates
  • Rosanna—Toto
  • This is It—Kenny Loggins
  • Boys of Summer–Don Henley
  • Running on Empty–Jackson Browne

 

  • Biggest Part of Me—Ambrosia
  • I Keep Forgettin’—Michael McDonald
  • Key Largo—Bertie Higgins
  • Magic—Olivia Newton-John
  • Dance With Me—Orleans
  • Come Monday–Jimmy Buffett
  • Love is Alive–Gary Wright

 

  • Whatcha Gonna Do—Pablo Cruise
  • Baby Come Back—Player
  • Lotta Love—Nicolette Larson
  • Reminiscing—Little River Band
  • Human Nature—Michael Jackson
  • September–Earth Wind & Fire
  • Sweet Freedom–Michael McDonald

 

  • Call on Me—Chicago
  • Don’t Stop—Fleetwood Mac
  • True—Spandau Ballet
  • Thunder Island—Jay Ferguson
  • Moonlight Feels Right—Starbuck
  • Rock the Boat—Hues Corporation
  • Cool Change–Little River Band

Now that you know what Yacht Rock is all about, I will go back to my original opening thoughts on this genre of music: Why does Yacht Rock have a bad reputation? Are people really ashamed to admit that they enjoy Yacht Rock?

I am confident that the lack of respect for Yacht Rock is one of the main reasons that the band Chicago did not actually get inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame until 2016. The same can be said for Hall and Oates not becoming a member until 2015. And how long will it be before the Doobie Brothers get inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

A good example of prejudice against Yacht Rock songs is “Africa” by Toto. Even though the band won a Grammy for the song in 1983 and it has become the Internet’s most favorite song (with 250 million views on YouTube) during this decade, music gurus still continue to pan one of the most ironic Yacht Rock songs of all time.

The same can be said for Yacht Rock songs from Steely Dan, Doobie Brothers and Chicago.   According to those who dislike Yacht Rock, Steely Dan songs “Reelin’ in the Years” and “Do It Again” are far superior to “Peg”, “Hey Nineteen” or “Deacon Blues?” Is that right?

So why do music critics despise Yacht Rock anyway? Why do these individuals hate Yacht Rock music and continually down play its place in rock music history?

I personally think these so-called rock critics that loathe Yacht Rock are full of bologna. The musicianship on most Yacht Rock songs are excellent and have wonderful sound production associated with each record. How these “critics” do not respect the Yacht Rock genre is beyond me.

To be fair, there are some songs in the Yacht Rock genre that are just not very good. The most glaring example of this is Rupert Holmes’ tune, “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” which is ranked as one of the worst songs of 70’s by Rolling Stone magazine.

Another 70’s song that hurts my ears is the insipid “Muskrat Love” by Captain and Tennille (a horrid song in my humble opinion).

While there are some fairly wretched Yacht Rock songs, most of the music played in that genre has quality and is actually quite good. In fact, some songs of Yacht Rock are excellent. Let me share with you 20 of my favorite Yacht Rock songs without any ranking and in a totally random order.

As you will notice with my listing, I have 20 separate artists: That means that I believe there are 20 different musical groups and performers that have made superb Yacht Rock music over the years.

  • Saturday in the Park–Chicago
  • Ride Captain Ride—Blues Image
  • Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)—Looking Glass
  • Right Down the Line—Gerry Rafferty
  • Summer Breeze—Seals and Croft

 

  • Peg—Steely Dan
  • One of These Nights—Eagles
  • Ventura Highway—America
  • Lowdown—Boz Scaggs
  • So Into You—Atlanta Rhythm Section

 

  • Superstar—Carpenters
  • Couldn’t Get It Right—Climax Blues Band
  • Go Your Own Way—Fleetwood Mac
  • Steppin’ Out—Joe Jackson
  • Whenever I Call You Friend—Kenny Loggins & Stevie Nicks

 

  • Ride Like the Wind—Christopher Cross
  • South City Midnight Lady—Doobie Brothers
  • The Logical Song–Supertramp
  • Make It With You–Bread
  • Time Passages—Al Stewart

If you were compiling your 20 favorite Yacht rock songs, your listing would be different than mine. I maintain that much of the music that is in the Yacht Rock category is quality material and musically just as good as those who perform other sub categories in rock music. Maybe Yacht Rock musicians are even better musically than other rock genres of music?

Obviously I will never be able to change what some people think about Yacht Rock. However, I do believe that if anyone reads my blog message with an open mind, they would come to view the Yacht Rock genre of music in a different light. Those folks might actually admit that they enjoy certain Yacht Rock songs?

What are your thoughts about Yacht Rock? I would love to read your comments: the good, the bad or the ugly on your opinion of Yacht Rock and its place in modern music history. Please let your voice be heard on the subject of Yacht Rock. Rock on!

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Music, Retro Rock

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.

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Retro Rock

Retro Rock

Friday night provided an interesting event for me as I attended a retro rock concert featuring Styx, Foreigner and Don Felder.  It was a surreal happening as the mostly baby boomer crowd seemed to enjoy all aspects of this retrograde concert.  I would guess that 50 would be the medium age of those who attended this blast from the past.

First up for the night was Don Felder and his band.  Felder was a member of the Eagles, started his set with “Already Gone” and then played other Eagles’ classics such as “One of These Nights”, “Those Shoes” and “Witchy Woman.”  For his last song, Felder invited Styx member Tommy Shaw to sing and play guitar for “Hotel California.”  Shaw and Felder’s guitar playing for the instrumental ending of “Hotel California” was superb.  After the completion of Felder’s set, I wondered why the Eagles and Felder couldn’t patch up their differences and play as a unified band once again?  I guess I can always dream.

Next up was Styx.  Of the three groups, Styx put on the best show and provided good entertainment along with sounding tight with their music and vocals. My favorite song of the night was “Renegade.”  Tommy Shaw and James Young are the only 2 original members of Styx still with the band but the other newer members compliment Shaw and Young in a positive way.  The one thing that is missing from Styx is original member Dennis De Young.  Apparently Shaw and De Young had a “falling out” and De Young will not have anything to do with Styx. It is a shame because Styx did not play any of their biggest hits  (“Best of Times”, “Babe” or Mr. Roboto”) during the concert because they are Dennis De Young’s songs.  It sure would be nice if Shaw and De Young could “bury the hatchet” and unite together again in Styx.  I guess I can always dream.

Last to hit the stage was Foreigner.  I am going to say right up front that this band misses Lou Gramm, the former lead vocalist for Foreigner.  The current lead vocalist has a nice voice but is no Lou Gramm.  Mick Jones is the only original member still with the band and he only played on the last four songs at the end of their set.  It felt like I was watching a Foreigner “tribute” band.  The highlights of their set included “Juke Box Hero”, the saxophone playing in “Urgent” and “I Want To Know What Love Is”, which featured a local choir to sing the chorus.  I sure do wish that Gramm and Jones could get back together for a Foreigner reunion tour.  I guess I can always dream.

My final observations on the crowd:   At a 1980 Styx concert, the smell of pot would have been in the air.  In 2014, the crowd gets high drinking 9 dollar cans of beer and all smoking is banned.

At a 1980 Foreigner concert, girls sat on their boyfriend’s shoulders dancing to the music.  In 2014,  drunk women dance by themselves, with horrible form, oblivious to anyone around, how bad they look……..and they just keep on dancing.

At a Don Felder/Eagles concert in 1980, people would use bic lighters to try and entice an encore performance.  In 2014, people  use their smart phone light to encourage an encore.

Old rockers don’t die, just just fade away.

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