Billy Jonas: Late
Susan Werner: Born a Little Late
Todd Snider: Age Like Wine
As soon as this week's theme was announced, I knew I wanted to present the Billy Jonas song of the same name, which illustrates a very good reason for being late - then when Anne submitted her post, it made me think of Susan Werner's Ode to the baby boomer. BWR's offering sparked my remembrance of Todd's tune - then it just made me smile that we are truly a collaborative blog, in every sense of the word... :-)
Saturday, September 11, 2010
Steve Forbert: Born Too Late
Steve Forbert is one of those artists whose early career is a case study in major label mismanagement. His debut album in 1978 was Alive on Arrival. The album revealed a young man full of optimism who had hooks galore and played a sunny brand of folk-pop. He was also a talented songwriter who had a gift for evoking a sense of place, and whose songs radiated warmth and good humor. Jackrabbit Slim, the follow-up, showed production that was somewhat more heavyhanded, but the same essential qualities shone through, and Frobert had a hit with Romeo’s Tune. But there was trouble brewing even then. I saw Forbert during the Jackrabbit Slim tour. He was playing with an all-out rock band, and many of the best qualities of his songs were buried under a wall of volume. Forbert’s third album, Little Stevie Orbit, came out in 1980, and it failed to yield another hit. In fact, the album did not sell in anything like the numbers the label wanted. And then, nothing was heard from Forbert for 12 years.
Eventually, it came out that Forbert had spent that time fighting to get out of his contract. I believe it was the usual litany of problems. Forbert was upset at the total lack of support from the label. They wanted him to take his music in a direction he didn’t want to go. Finally, Forbert reemerged in 1992 with the album The American in Me on a new label. The sunny optimism was gone. Some of the songs showed lingering bitterness. Born Too Late reflects some of the old sound, but the song reflects on missed opportunities. Forbert had been away so long that the efforts to market him had to start over. And he would never again reach the level of popularity he had so briefly known. But he remains a talented songwriter with an unmistakable voice. These days, he controls his career and makes the music he wants to make. It is well worth seeking out.
The Small Faces: It's Too Late
Derek And The Dominos: It's Too Late
The Streets: It's Too Late
Nope, not Carole King covers. Geoviki has already taken care of that.
These are three completely unrelated songs that just happen to share a title.
Friday, September 10, 2010
Isaac Hayes: It's Too Late
One of the saddest songs of the 70's is Carole King's ode to lost love, It's Too Late. It was the first of three #1 hits from her enormously popular album Tapestry (I Feel the Earth Move and You've Got a Friend were the other two), and was Grammy's 1972 Record of the Year.
There'll be good times again for me and you
But we just can't stay together
Don't you feel it too
Still I'm glad for what we had
And how I once loved you.
A song so popular must have a bushel of covers, right? Right! Here's one by soul/R&B singer Isaac Hayes, recorded in 1973 at the Sahara Tahoe. Isaac knew about breakups, apparently: he married four times.
Harry Nilsson: Gotta Get Up
I was a latecomer to the work of Harry Nilsson, mostly because I'm not as old as I look, and because my house was totally bereft of his albums when I was growing up. But songs like Gotta Get Up prove the man's undersung status as both songwriter and arranger.
The rich melodic cacophony of sound that builds to a peak in just a few lines - the piano, the guitar riffs, the heartbeat drum, the horn section, the Lennonesque "la la la la la" voices - aptly paints the frantic urgency of middle age, the late night desperation that sours the party lifestyle when daybreak is imminent and the responsibility of workaday life looms large. The cartoonish accelerated endcap captures the same rush of panic-fueled urgency I remember from my own fading youth when the subway hit the sunrise and I knew I wasn't going to make it in on time. And that loose, lascivious sailor's accordion when the nostalgia kicks in? Pure genius.
Thursday, September 9, 2010
The Poni-Tails: Born Too Late
When I thought of songs about being late, this was the first that came to mind. When I was younger I loved to listen to oldies from the 50's and 60's with my parents. We used to have the oldies station on in the car and often in the house, so I knew those songs as well, if not better, than I knew the hits of the day. I liked them so well that my mom teased me that, like the girl in this song, I was also born too late, since I seemed to love the music from this era so much. But in the song the girl is lamenting her love for an older boy who won't even give her the time of day. Most of us have been there before.
The girl group The Poni-Tails had a few other singles, but none did as well as "Born Too Late", which wasn't even originally a single, but a b-side that the DJs took a liking to instead of the A-side. I'm glad they did, because this song is a little gem and always been a favorite oldie of mine.
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
James Taylor: Traffic Jam
Damn this traffic jam
How I hate to be late
It hurts my motor to go so slow
Damn this traffic jam
Time I get home my supper'll be cold
Damn this traffic jam
In a bit under 2 minutes, James Taylor's syncopated vocal and percussive instrumentation explore the sacrifices (punctuality, warm food, auto performance, health and fuel efficiency) incurred by gridlock - little did he know in 1977 how much worse it would get!
And, thanks to boyhowdy, here's an amazing cover from one of my favorite a cappella groups:
Da Vinci's Notebook: Traffic Jam
Steve Earle and The Del McCoury Band: Yours Forever Blue
Talk about late! Here’s a guy who loses the woman he loves, and that’s when he decides to be faithful to her. It doesn’t sound like she’s coming back.
The song is by Steve Earle. Usually, Earle is not afraid to speak his mind. But his album The Mountain showed a different kind of fearlessness. The entire album is a collaboration between Earle and the Del McCoury Band. McCoury was and is one of the big names in bluegrass music. My first reaction, and many other people’s I’m sure, when I heard of this project was, “huh?” Earle does not have a typical bluegrass voice, to put it mildly. But he set his mind to doing this album, and doing it right. I remember reading how Earle had to basically relearn how to sing for this. The results? Earle still doesn’t have a typical bluegrass voice, but somehow it works. He does have an unmistakable talent for writing in this style. The Mountain was an album I knew I would either love or hate. It has become a favorite.
Grateful Dead: Wake Up Little Susie
Here's a song about suddenly having to contemplate the consequences of being late. It may seem a bit out of character to hear the Grateful Dead covering it, but their influences were always larger than the general public gave them credit for.
This particular recording comes from a performance at the Filmore East on February 13, 1970, and features just two members of the Dead--Jerry Garcia and Bob Weir--in an acoustic setting. It was released three years later on the album History of the Grateful Dead, Vol. 1: Bear's Choice.
The song was written by Felice and Boudleaux Bryant, and of course the Everly Brothers had a big hit with it in 1957. Thirteen years later, when the Dead covered it, it was already an "oldie", and that was forty years ago! But the song is as fun to sing along to today as it was then.
Monday, September 6, 2010
Squeeze: Is It Too Late
Our narrator has burned bridges galore, stealing money out "her" purse, getting drunk and stupid, and only then realizing that he was in love. Is it too late to "unload that gun" and get into her favor? Unless our unnamed foil is a complete idiot, the answer is probably "yes", but honestly, with such gleeful delivery, such cheerfulness, such breakneck uptempo presentation, it hardly seems like he cares.
You've never heard Squeeze like this, in full-blown barrelhouse rockabilly mode. But then, hardly anyone has heard Frank, in part because the piano-led album was overall such a diverse departure from their signature sound, in part because a label change at the wrong time buried sales despite critical celebration, and in part because by the tail end of the eighties, their greatest hits were already an essential part of the classic rock canon, so boldly that very little of what happened afterwards made a difference to the world. Still, there's joy here, if you're up for the risk.
Jackson Browne: Late For the Sky
This week is for songs about being late. For much of the week, I suspect that that will mean late for an appointment or late for work. I have some songs I’m considering that would fit that way. But being late doesn’t have to mean that. For Jackson Browne in Late For the Sky, being late isn’t about arriving behind schedule; it’s about staying too long. Not all relationships are meant to be, and there can be a time when neither partner can bring themselves to break it off, but the relationship has been over for a while. I could go on, but Browne puts it far more eloquently than I could.
Sunday, September 5, 2010
Sting: Come Down In Time
1991 Elton John/Bernie Taupin tribute album Two Rooms is a popstar throw-away, for the most part, though it has a few high points if you like Jon Bon Jovi, Kate Bush, Wilson Phillips and/or Sinead O'Connor. But I have a soft spot for Sting's smooth jazz period, and his short, bluesy pianobar take on Come Down In Time is well worth sharing. And the sparse ambiguity of the original lyrics here has always captivated me: is our narrator at fault for waiting to long, or did he come down in time after all, only to find that his planned rendezvous was never in the cards to begin with?
Oh, and if possible, I'd like to ask for a bonus point for posting a song that fits in all three of our most recent themes: Late, 1991, and Torch Songs.