the social distancing playlist 161-170

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day 151. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, “A One Story Town” (1982). Posted 8/12/2020 — In the storied career of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the “Long After Dark” album is something of a footnote with its leadoff track, “A One Story Town,” sitting as a forgotten classic. I’m not even sure how much mileage Petty got out the song after the initial tour behind the album was completed. But over the course of three rapid fire minutes, “A One Story Town” reminds us of everything that made Petty great – specifically, pop savvy singing with a touch of a sneer and an ensemble lyricism that bowed to the Heartbreakers’ most obvious influence, The Byrds. I’ll put this one up against any hit Petty took to the airwaves.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day 152. Van Morrison, “Gloria” (1964/1974). Posted 8/13/2020 — “Gloria” started on the road to becoming a rock/soul staple in 1964 when Van Morrison penned the tune as a single for his band Them. An entire generation of acts, from The Doors to AC/DC, would cover it in the years to come, but none more gallantly than Morrison himself. A full decade later, he rewired “Gloria” into a soul-funk carnival on the 1974 live album “It’s Too Late to Stop Now.” The entire record is a document of Morrison in his prime, but it was the reborn “Gloria,” complete with a wild, James Brown-savvy horn breakdown, that truly made Van the Man.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day 153. Yes, “Going for the One” (1976). Posted 8/14/2020 — By the summer of 1977, the clock was ticking on the behemoth known as prog rock. Having been kicked in the shins by punk, its stylistic opposite, the music’s vanguard bands began to fracture and fade. Yes countered the revolution by reconvening one its most acclaimed lineups (Jon Anderson, Steve Howe, Rick Wakeman, Chris Squire and Alan White), retreating to Switzerland and cutting a killer album, “Going for the One.” Its sound was surprisingly relaxed, whether through the light elegance of “Awaken” or the atypically loose title tune where Howe uncorks some of his finest playing.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day 154. Santana, “Soul Sacrifice” (1969/1970). Posted 8/15/2020 — Woodstock weekend. On Saturday afternoon, 51 years ago, Santana went from little-known Latin blues unit to international sensation. It took roughly 10 minutes for that to happen – the time span of the set-closing avalanche jam known as “Soul Sacrifice.” What occurs in the last half of this instrumental outburst, a performance made even more dramatic by its keenly-edited appearance in the Oscar-winning Woodstock film released the following year, should serve as basic training for any would-be jam band on how to build a groove with tension and dynamics. This music still astounds.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day 155. Sly and the Family Stone, “Higher” (1968/1970). Posted 8/16/2020 — Woodstock weekend. For me, sitting in the comfort of my couch watching the concert film of Woodstock 51 years after it happened, the highlight of the event remains Sly and the Family Stone and its wildly combustible blend of multi-cultural funk, soul and rock ‘n’ roll – a seemingly improbable blend of James Brown groove and Miles Davis (in his early ‘70s electric incarnation) musicality. Now consider what it was like when it happened – around 3:30 Sunday morning on a hill with 400,000 tripped out strangers. That’s likely more than even the boldest of imaginations can process.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day 156. Les McCann and Eddie Harris, “Compared to What?” (1969). Posted 8/17/2020. — The playlist spent the weekend honoring Woodstock’s 51st anniversary. Now let’s celebrate the two American jazz stylists – pianist, vocalist and Lexington native Les (not Less, at this clip asserts) McCann and Chicago-born saxophonist Eddie Harris –tearing things up across the Atlantic during the summer of Woodstock at the Montreux Jazz Festival. The resulting live album from their performance, 1969’s “Swiss Movement,” leads off with Gene McDaniels’ “Compared to What,” a fast talking, headline ripping chronicle of cool that became a jazz/soul standard.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day 157. Jimmy Cliff, “Many Rivers to Cross” (1969). Posted 8/18/2020 — “Many Rivers to Cross” is perhaps the greatest non-reggae song by a reggae artist. Written and originally recorded by the great Jimmy Cliff upon his move from Jamaica to England, the work was designed as a personal affirmation. In Cliff’s original version, it comes across as a hymn. Written by the singer at the age of 21 for his self-titled 1969 album and featured again on 1972’s “The Harder They Come” soundtrack, “Many Rivers to Cross” has been covered by such unlikely contemporaries as Cher, Joe Cocker and Linda Ronstadt. None, though match the soul and urgency of Cliff’s original take.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day 158. The Band, “Stage Fright” (1970). Posted 8/19/2020. — The Band’s third album, “Stage Fright,” was released 50 years ago this week. While not quite matching the gorgeously rustic authenticity (and antiquity) of the group’s first two records, there was much to savor here. The title tune, for instance, was a cornerstone work for keyboardist Garth Hudson, whose textural orchestrations drove the entire album, and bassist/vocalist Rick Danko. In contrast to the country/soul tenor of Levon Helm, Danko’s singing revealed a more disquieting vulnerability.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day 159. Derek and the Dominos, “Bell Bottom Blues” (1970). Posted 8/20/2020 — Was 1970’s “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs” Eric Clapton’s magnum opus? Probably. With two previous supergroups having crashed, the guitarist pulled the keyboardist (Bobby Whitlock) from Delaney & Bonnie & Friends, Joe Cocker’s rhythm section (Carl Radle and Jim Gordon) and a second guitarist whose blues/soul command equaled his own (Duane Allman) to form Derek and the Dominos. It cut “Layla,” briefly toured without Allman and dissolved. But what an astounding document of blues-saturated romantic torment it left. “Bell Bottom Blues” is indicative of the record’s scorched soulfulness.

The Social Distancing Playlist, Day 160. The Beatles, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (1968). Posted 8/21/2020. — Underestimating the songwriting abilities of George Harrison may have been one of the very few design flaws within the Beatles’ pop reign of the 1960s. But with 1968’s “The Beatles” (the double-disc work known as the White Album) revealing the band in disarray, Harrison went for broke. In recording one of his finest works, “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” he enlisted Eric Clapton to handle lead guitar duties – a bold move given Harrison’s own command of the instrument. The result: a majestic reflection on global fracture that echoed the Beatles’ own tattered state.



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