Recording JT's version of the Motown hit
One of the most interesting and engaging groups to burst onto the pop music scene in the early 1970s was a San Francisco Bay Area outfit known as Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks, who fashioned an eclectic amalgam of retro music styles into something quite fresh and original.
Every once in a while a song comes totally out of left field, far away from the mainstream, and for some inexplicable reason becomes a huge hit. One such tune was the 1985 Top 10 smash “Life in a Northern Town,” by an unknown new English band called Dream Academy.
Success is measured in all kinds of ways, but it’s probably fair to say that when “sidemen” take the spotlight, the results are mixed; not every great musician has that intangible quality that draws crowds. But the Atlanta Rhythm Section came out of the shadows to score huge hits in the mid-’70s, and gave hope to session guys everywhere.
Chicago was a pretty happenin’ rock town in the late ’80s and early ’90s, with a thriving club scene and a whole bunch of recording studios that catered to the many post-punk, alternative and industrial groups that sprang up in the area. One of the most popular studios to emerge in that era was Idful Music, in the affordable and ethnically diverse Wicker Park neighborhood (home to many a struggling musician).
Australian rock ’n’ roll band Midnight Oil broke into the U.S. charts with an explosive single from their album Diesel and Dust. “Beds Are Burning” was powerful on every level: musically, politically, sonically, even visually. In fact, anyone who had an ear to the modern rock radio format in 1988 can almost certainly name this song in three notes: Those effected horn-and-drum blasts make an unforgettable intro.
After psychedelic music had its heyday in the late 1960s, many musicians decided to take a trip sideways down country roads. The Flying Burrito Brothers and Poco both put out their excellent first albums in 1969, and that was also the year that Dylan cut Nashville Skyline and The Band released their roots-y “Brown Album.”
Few songwriters have captured the spirit of New York City better than the late, truly great Lou Reed. Okay, it wasn’t always the most flattering portrait of the city—no carriage rides in Central Park—but it was always honest and true; the dark underbelly rendered in frank minimalist poetry.
“It was all because of fishing,” says engineer/producer Howard Albert about the genesis of the legendary alliance between Atlantic Records and Criteria Studios. It seems that two of the production powerhouses behind Ahmet Ertegun’s Atlantic label—Jerry Wexler and Tom Dowd—loved fishing off the coast of South Florida so much that they sought a creative home in Miami.
By 1977, Billy Joel’s career was finally getting off the ground. The Long Island native had been toiling in the trenches for years and put out four albums, none of which was a exactly a hit, but did get Joel on the radio with songs such as “Piano Man,” “The Entertainer” (which cracked the Top 40), “Say Goodbye to Hollywood” and “New York State of Mind”—all now considered classics. His famously energetic live performances added to his growing reputation, but there was still a lingering sense that Joel’s albums weren’t all that they could be.
In the wake of Bob Marley’s death from cancer at age 36 in May 1981, there was no obvious charismatic and uniting figure in the reggae world to build on Marley’s momentum, no acts that crossed over onto U.S. rock radio the way he had on occasion. That is, until Ziggy Marley came along.
Onstage at the Hollywood Palladium last winter, Dave Grohl and his Sound City Players performed with a handful of the artists who appear on the soundtrack to Grohl’s Sound City documentary. Rick Springfield had barely started his last number when the crowd began to roar and Grohl interrupted the proceedings to make a point: “Three f—king chords, and you already know! Congratulations, Rick Springfield for writing a song that they only need to hear one f—king second of to know what it is! How do the other four minutes go?” Cue the sing-along: “Jessie is a friend…”
It’s hard to remember back to a time when Nashville’s vaunted Music Row was really just a couple of studios and music publishing houses dotting tree-shaded 16th Avenue. This month’s Classic Track, Roger Miller’s “King of the Road,” takes us back to the fall of 1964, an era when the top dog on the Row, studio-wise, was CBS’s Quonset Hut, a utilitarian structure that had been one of many thousands of identical small, prefabricated corrugated galvanized steel buildings with semicircular roofs made during World War II.
Not too many people these days know about the Chamber Brothers, but when their first Columbia album, The Time Has Come, was released in late 1967, it was a very big deal.