MarsEarth

Old world wisdom, new world insight – poems, poetry, philosophy, dreams, commentary, ideas


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The Saddest Songs of Rock and Roll – #22

by Lawrence J. J. Leonard

Years of experience have taught our old time farmers what to expect in a given situation. Pleasant weather turning bad. What is a good tool and what is a better tool to use for a job. How to not let your eyes fool you – so use a measuring stick.  And, what it really takes to get from point A to point B.  There is always that outlier, that one freak possibility which can cause everything to go wrong. We are instructed to be prepared for that outcome and especially a loss in any case.

In 1968 Michael Martin Murphey was a student at UCLA, working on a concept album for Kenny Rogers. The work meant long hours and little sleep. In his fatigue Michael is said to have dreamed of a song.  He woke up and by the next morning wrote it down. He told an interviewer that the song reminded him of a story his grandfather told him when he was a little boy. It detailed a Native American legend about a ghost horse.

Michael was teamed up with Boomer Castleman in 1967 as part of a duo known as the Lewis & Clark Expedition (which had a brief stint on TV).   After Michael began his solo career later in 1968 he co-wrote his song with Larry Cansler. They were struggling in southern California at the time.

By 1971 Michael came back to Texas and joined the “Outlaw Country” movement. He was working along side Willie Nelson and Jerry Jeff Walker. Michael created a unique blend of country, rock, and folk music. This caught the ear of Epic Records managers who produced four albums for him, including “Blue Sky – Night Thunder” which peaked at #18 on the Billboard 200 Album chart in 1975. This was the seminal work of Michael’s career. The lead track of the album still brings young girls and old men to tears. It is the tale of a man facing devastating weather, a runaway prized pony, and a lost love.

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The Saddest Songs of Rock and Roll – #25

by Lawrence J. J. Leonard

Sometimes we ask a question and hope anyone listening will give the answer. Other times we ask a rhetorical question because we know the answer, but a friend will answer it anyway. We tell them to ‘shut up’ and to go away, but we hope they really don’t.  We just cannot win at pushing away people who care about us. How ironic it is that we do that to them when someone we loved just pushed us away.

The Brothers Gibb: Barry, Robin (1949-2012) and Maurice (1949-2003) Gibb, AKA the Bee Gees music group, pose a question for the ages and put it to music. In the start of the new year in 1971 they were in London, England,  recording their seventh international album, “Trafalgar“. The Battle of Trafalgar was a British naval victory against the French and Spanish fleets in 1805. You would think the song themes of the album would be about glory and fame. Not so – many of the tracks deal with heartbreak and loneliness.

At the time, Maurice was going through some personal trials with heavy drinking and   accusations of extramarital affairs. He had been married to the highly popular Scottish singer Lulu. Since they both abused alcohol and partied too much their young marriage ended after only four years. Barry and Robin could see the decline happening to their brother. They expressed his pain and their helplessness in song. How bad does it have to get before we ask for help? Continue reading


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The Saddest Songs of Rock and Roll – #26

by Lawrence J. J. Leonard

We are often asked “How did it happen?” but rarely “Why did you let it happen?” We have easy answers for how a relationship fails: ‘they gave up,’ or ‘they didn’t want me any more,‘ and the tried and true ‘it was her/ him, not me.’ The problem is when it comes to ‘why’ because then we don’t always speak plainly. We are either brutally honest (truth!) or radically sarcastic (No – I hate my one and only). Sarcasm says a lot about who we really are inside, doesn’t it? Psychologists say that when we tease in this way, we reveal what is truly fascinating us.

For the long experienced British rock band 10cc a change in their future was because of the band’s name. It had been changed previously more than seven times with some varied recording success in the UK and the US as the band morphed from rock and roll to pop to bubblegum dance music. Their Strawberry Studios production facility was making hits for Top 40 artists such as Silver Fleet, Freddie and the Dreamers, Ohio Express and Neil Sedaka.

But, it was when they signed on with Jonathan King, an English singer-songwriter, record producer and music entrepreneur, that they admitted how they felt about themselves as rock and roll songwriters and musicians. Eric Stewart, Graham Gouldman, Kevin Godley, and Lol Crème used the “male sex drive” moniker to lead them to five Top 10 singles and a #1 hit all from their first five releases.

On their way to success in America the quirky “Life is a Minestrone” was the first single from their third studio album, “The Original Soundtrack.” For some this parody was too Frank Zappa-esque and a confusing surprise.  It seems their sharp wit put off quite a few music lovers, despite reaching #7 in the UK. That is the slippery part about sarcasm, it sometimes makes people laugh when we are expressing how sad we really are about something.

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The Saddest Songs of Rock and Roll – #29

by Lawrence J. J, Leonard

Fear of the unknown comes in many forms while confidence means facing the unknown with faith in our own skills. Most of us would like to have all the answers before we know what questions will be asked. Life just does not give us instant anything. We have to make an effort to get out of life everything we put in it. Sometimes what we need to succeed appears to happen by chance.

Acquiring the formula for success was a puzzle for keyboardist Dennis DeYoung. In 1960 he had formed the foundation for the band Styx working under the “Trade Winds” name. The group consisted of twin brothers Chuck Panozzo  and John Panozzo, Tom Nardini, John Curulewski when Tom departed, then James J.Y.” Young joined.

This Chicago rock band was an inconsistent group, even though they garnered national success with four album releases which included  “Lady” (#6), “Best Thing” (#82), and “Lorelie” (#27). The very popular “Suite Madame Blue” (no ranking) was not a hit single. Soon the band –  by blind luck it seems – had to replace Curulewski who suddenly confessed he needed more family time late in 1975.

This is when Tommy Shaw joined Styx as songwriter and lead vocals, quickly influencing the band’s trajectory and album themes. One of his songs would soon stand out as a mournful plea to a so-called “magical source” of insight. When we worry too much, we sometimes seek assistance from strange places.  Continue reading


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The Saddest Songs of Rock and Roll – #30

by Lawrence J. J, Leonard  (WARNING: adult content)

That’s it! I quit!

We hear you. We’ve all been there at some point hoping to get out of a bad situation. It really takes a lot of bad news to break off a relationship. When it is over, though, it is so over. Usually it is not because of one misunderstanding nor a string of them. The reasons to break up with somebody abruptly can be anything from not being appreciated to cheating and lying. The feeling of hurt mixed with anger is not an easy process to wade through.

One of America’s most eclectic musicians and songwriters who is able to articulate this feeling is David Bromberg. His musical tastes run the gamut. They are as varied as the many musicians he has played with.  These include:  Jerry Jeff Walker, Willie Nelson, Jorma Kaukonen, Jerry Garcia, Rusty Evans, Bob Dylan, The Eagles, Vince Gill, Linda Ronstadt, Los Lobos, John Hiatt, Ringo Starr and George Harrison. David’s virtuoso guitar style is featured on 18 solo albums. Although his roots are based in folk music, his songs reflect his life and times. So, what was it that made him so determined to separate from a girlfriend that inspired his iconic break-up song?

David got an idea for the 1976 album “How Late’ll Ya Play ‘Til?” and it involved a big split – but in a good way. The album is a two record / two CD collectors item. The first is a studio session collection of humorous songs. David shows off his guitar blues skill. The second includes his break-up rendition. David must have come face to face with a really unfaithful person. We can feel lost and betrayed when the one who loves us shares their affection with someone else.

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The Saddest Songs of Rock and Roll – #31

by Lawrence J. J, Leonard

Discovery is the best part of living. It can be surprising and enjoyable. It might also cause us to stumble upon someone’s secret. Most of us these days keep a record of our communications on a cell phone or on a social media page. Yet, there are still a few of us who journal thoughts down using pencil and paper. Remember cursive letters and correctly spelled words? Remember when the passed note in class was not meant for you?

This method of honestly pouring out feelings on a page involves a secret revealed for songwriter and leader singer David Gates. He formed the soft rock band Bread with Jimmy Griffin on guitar, Jim Gordon then later Mike Botts on drums, Robb Royer then later Larry Knechtel who replaced Royer in 1971 on bass guitar and keyboards. It seems David was inspired to write about his exploits of college life. His parents gave him the green light to put school on hold in 1965 and explore his musical tastes after only two years of classes. This freedom to write and sing inspired him to put down on paper his many relationship experiences.

For David reading someone’s private thoughts about love and mistaking those intentions as directed at you can be quite embarrassing.  But, it was just the predicament that he could craft into a song that many lovelorn people could sympathize with. Sometimes we see what we want to see when we fall in love.

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The Saddest Songs of Rock and Roll – #33

by Lawrence J. J. Leonard

How much fun is it to point at the TV and say, “There’s my boyfriend/  girlfriend.” We see people in the malls, driving by, and even in our schools and can instantly fall in love. Sometimes there are chance meetings at clubs and shows or concerts. What happens if we meet a rock star and they are nice enough to make us feel special?

If a girl or a boy ‘falls in love’ in this way we call them silly. If an adult does this, we call her/ him a groupie. Even if we fall in love with a famous musician who we meet by chance, it is usually not a long term thing, We might think less of that musician if they break someone’s heart. This seems to be the theme for a 1969 song written by Bonnie Bramlett, Leon Russell and Delaney Bramlett.


This was the same year that Karen Carpenter (1950-1983) formed The Carpenters soft rock band with her brother Richard Carpenter. She was the drummer and lead vocalist while he was a pianist and arranger. The band released hit songs that touched on all manner of hopeful relationships. Their star power generated five #2 singles and three #1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100.

The song, originally called the ‘Groupie song,‘ became one of the most famous melodies by The Carpenters and also an international sensation. The way Richard arranged the orchestra seemed to showcase sobbing horns, a broken beat, and a rainy piano accompaniment. Fans said it really felt as if you were someone who was “in love” with a popular itinerant musician. It is not always easy to accept that the one we love is ready to move on and not as invested as we are.

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