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

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The Saddest Songs of Rock and Roll – #20

by Lawrence J. J. Leonard

Holidays used to be about family and friends.  Every business except a few gas stations would close down so that we could be contemplative. This was the time for focusing on faith and the less fortunate. Most holidays are still big travel intervals. Years ago it was because relatives would go back home to visit their parents. These days we are encouraged to stay at home instead of going away to see family. To have a ‘stay-cation’ and populate the malls. To make money. To get into debt. There is no real cheer on this present path.

Christmas and Chanukkah usually occur about the same time each year. Mostly in December.  The stress of getting ready for this season is particularly intensified when our hopes run high in the event we can visit with a special person in the family.  All those anxieties can be relieved when that travelling person finally graces our door. That can be the most appreciated gift of all. Just having someone who wants to be with you is a treasure. American blues singer and pianist Charles Brown understood this when he was inspired to write a song about this holiday season. He even put out an entire album called “Charles Brown Sings Christmas Songs” in 1960. This particular song he co-wrote with Gene Redd.

The song’s popularity got only as far as #76 on the Billboard Hot 100 and only in its second year, 1961. But radio fans new a hit when they heard it and the song reappeared on the Top 40 Singles charts every December for nine years in a row. It finally hit the #1 spot in 1972. The lyrics beg the question of how long it might take for that loved one to appear.

But not until 1978 when the rock band Eagles covered the track, did the song regain its popularity. The band released it as an A side  holiday single. This rendition was the first Christmas song since Roy Orbison’sPretty Paper” in 1963 to have made it into the Top 20.  When Don Henley (drums/vocals), Glenn Frey (piano, backing vocals), Don Felder (lead guitar) and Joe Walsh (guitar, backing vocals) released the song, they had Timothy B. Schmit on bass (who replaced founding member Randy Meisner).  Their version made it to the #18 spot in the U.S.  It also was a Top 40 hit in the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden and New Zealand.

Why is it so important to reconnect with family? Is it primal or something we have learned to do? Why do we feel the need to connect with others, even when it is not a holiday or special occasion?

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The Saddest Songs of Rock and Roll – #21

by Lawrence J. J. Leonard

Ever been in a situation where the person you are speaking with does not understand what is being said? We repeat ourselves sometimes to the point where we speak louder until that person finally says, “Oh. I get it.”  But then they don’t? When a loved one tells us that they are out of love and the relationship is ended, do we / can we  just shut it off?

One of the most controversial rock and roll bands ever to get radio air play was The Doors. Band members: keyboardist Ray Manzarek (1939-2013), guitarist Robby Krieger, drummer John Densmore, and vocalist Jim Morrison (1943-1971).  Their formation began in July, 1965, when Jim and Ray were schoolmates at UCLA. Ray was a songwriter and laid the groundwork for many of the group’s tunes. After some earlier musicians left the ensemble they got a gig at a Los Angeles club, The London Fog, in 1966. A low attendance rate at that location meant the band could work out song kinks and in some cases, lengthen their works with leads and improved lyrics without the crowd requesting cover songs.

They eventually got hired to perform at The Whiskey A Go Go nightclub in West Hollywood.  There Elektra Records producers signed them to a contract by mid-August and three days later The Doors self-titled album was in the works.  Iconic songs on this first effort included: “Break On Through (To the Other Side),” “Soul Kitchen,” “Light My Fire” and “The End” and as planned, it was released in January, 1967.

There was also one song in particular, written by Jim, which detailed despair. It included a keyboard solo that echoed the sadness of the theme. Some insist that it was a poem about a love affair that Jim ended. Some interpret the lyrics as double entendre for drug use. Many others believe the lyrics discuss suicide.  No matter how we feel about the song, it is separation from the familiar at any point that can cause heartache for all involved.

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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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