Blonde on Blonde – Bob Dylan
What if you had been able to tell your 13-year old self that Bob Dylan would one day win the Nobel Prize for Literature? Do you think then your English teacher would have let you do your book report on Dylan’s latest album?
Maybe not. But there’s no question that Dylan was on an incredible hot streak in the mid-sixties, one that saw him release 3 albums that cemented his transition from folk to rock and put him in the very forefront of the contemporary music scene.
That trio of albums began with Bringing It All Back Home, continued with Highway 61 Revisited, and reached the pinnacle with the 1966 release of one of the first double albums in rock history, Blonde on Blonde.
In 1965, Michael Brown was a 16-year old classically trained musician who had formed a rock band (like many classically trained young men and women of the day). He also had become infatuated with a young girl. His problem was the young girl was dating the bass player in his band.
So Michael Brown did what many young men facing hopeless romantic prospects did. He wrote a song about her (with help from co-authors Bob Calilli and Tony Sansone). Here’s where Michael and the rest of those lovesick boys part company.
Brown’s band was the Left Banke, the girl was named Renée Fladen and the song he wrote about her was “Walk Away Renée.”
Most of us know the situation in Northern Ireland has been tense for decades. That tension bubbled over into tragedy on January 30, 1972, when a group of unarmed civil rights activist, protesting Britain’s practice of imprisoning suspected Irish radicals without trial.
British troops opened fire on the crowd, killing 13. As you might expect, British investigators bought the soldiers’ claims of “self-defense” and exonerated them.
A little over 10 years later, the Irish rock band U2 wrote a song about it for their album War.
U2’s front man, Bono, claims the song is not meant to be partisan, just a simple plea for peace and calm.
BTW – In 2010, the British government finally accepted responsibility for the massacre, calling it “unjustifiable.”
A singer who landed 16 songs in the Top 40 and 4 in the Top 10… 22 songs in the British Top 40… a songwriter who penned Top 10 hits for 3 other artists… an inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame… yet he is almost forgotten today.
He is Gene Pitney.
Pitney was born in 1940 in Hartford, Connecticut. By high school he was singing with a local doo-wop group called the Embers. By 1959, he was recording with a young woman named Ginny Arnell under the name Jamie & Jane.
Pitney also started working as a songwriter and actually had his first success there, writing “He’s a Rebel” for Darlene Love & the Blossoms (recording as the Crystals), “Rubber Ball” for Bobby Vee and “Hello, Mary Lou” for Ricky Nelson.
Tommy James’ “Mony Mony” is one of those great little rock songs from the 60s that has aged very well. Thanks to a cover from Billy Idol in the 1980s, the song was reintroduced to a whole new generation of listeners. But what, exactly, is the song about?
Not much, as it turns out. Tommy James says he and songwriting partner, Ritchie Cordell, were just trying to come with a frat/party rock song in the vein of “California Sun” or “Money (That’s What I Want)”… something that cut against the grain of all the “serious” rock that was then dominating the music scene.
So, who the heck is “Mony?”
Ah, there is the real story. James and Cordell had most of the song together. They had even created the music tracks in the studio. But they were stuck on a girl’s name. They wanted it to be unusual (like “Sloopy”) and it had to be two syllables to fit the track they had already created.
The pair were sitting in James’ apartment in New York City trying to complete the song. As James tells it: “…finally we get disgusted, we throw our guitars down, we go out on the terrace, we light up a cigarette, and we look up into the sky. And the first thing our eyes fall on is the Mutual of New York Insurance Company. M-O-N-Y. True story.”
And for the first and probably last time in rock history, an insurance company inspired a classic song!
And Decca passed on the chance to sign the Beatles - let that sink in...
More than anything, the Who craved success in America. Despite overwhelming success in their native England, the band had trouble selling records in the States. They had reached the American Top 10 with their singles “I Can See for Miles” and “Magic Bus,” but their album sales were abysmal with many of their early releases languishing in the cutout bins for a buck or two.
Concept albums had been all the rage since the release of the Beatles Sgt. Pepper LP. Yet the Who’s own concept album The Who Sell Out could get no higher than #48 on the Billboard LP chart. Clearly, the Who needed something more.
Then Pete Townsend had the brilliant idea to write a “rock opera.”
The Doors (1967)
Was there ever a debut album as brilliant as the Doors?
Recorded in the summer of 1966, released in January of 1967 and on almost every rock radio station and Baby Boomer’s turntable during the “Summer of Love,” the album spawned the monster hit “Light My Fire” and helped reshape the parameters of rock radio, killing the 45 single and paving the way for longer album cuts to finally start getting airplay.
There is not one wasted track on the album. Side 1 open with “Break on Through,” establishing the album’s goal. The energy continues unabated through the appropriately-titled last track, “The End.”
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