MarsEarth

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


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The Saddest Songs of Rock and Roll – #23

by Lawrence J. J. Leonard

The more things change, the more they seem to stay the same. We don’t intend to be just like our parents or guardians. Something happens as we grow older and begin to use good habits to protect ourselves or personal interests. We also try out bad habits that supposedly help us to ‘get through it’ or ‘to forget’ painful trials. This is how we evolve into who we are. Some of us are strong and motivated to develop good things and to make life better. The rest of us have weaknesses. We are preoccupied with not fainting from the pain, or struggling to see the light of a new day. We all confront roadblocks and hassles and really stupid humans along the way. If any of us get a chance to be a role model, we often struggle with doing the right thing.

For singer and songwriter Harry Chapin (1942 – 1981) our world was in was in constant need of somebody doing the right thing. Some of his friends such as Bruce Springsteen would say he was more than an activist and a little overbearing besides. Harry was versatile and his work as a guitar teacher brought him together with a student, Sandy Gaston, whom he asked to marry two years into their relationship. The new Mrs. Sandy Chapin inspired one of Harry’s songs “I wanna learn a love song“. The two would later collaborate on one of the most impactful hits which is still very recognizable today.

The new song’s lyrics began as a poem written by Sandy. It was inspired by the awkward relationship between her first husband James Cashmore and his father.  Apparently fathers and sons have issues when the dad is too busy with work or another relationship to maintain a connection. it is rumored that Harry told an audience that the song scared him just thinking about its implications. Is it really that hard for a father to spend time and nurture a relationship with a growing son (or daughter)?

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The Saddest Songs of Rock and Roll – #24

by Lawrence J. J. Leonard

What is a haunting memory? It does not always mean that the thing remembered is scary or threatening. It more often means that the particular recollection just shows up when least expected. It could be something traumatic, but that is more along the lines of PTSD. A haunting memory is usually like a regret of some kind. More often it is a type of separation felt by a couple or a family.

In the early 1970s David Pack, Burleigh Drummond, Christopher North, and Joe Puerta  began working together in southern California as the unique and memorable band Ambrosia. The group initially auditioned for Herb Alpert and A&M Records but got signed by Warner Brothers Records which would release five of the group’s albums.

Their first album was self titled and was released in February 1975. It produced their first legitimate hit “Holdin’ On To Yesterday” which peaked at #17 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. The album was nominated for a Grammy in the ‘Best Engineered Recording’ category. They had some help from Alan Parsons who engineered the album. Then he produced their second “Somewhere I’ve Never Travelled.” The band returned the favor and played on Alan Parsons’ first Project album.

David was the songwriting influence for the band having written music solo and also in partnership with other band members. Many of the band’s tunes involved some sort of memory about relationships good and bad. While the members were honing their signature sound, they recorded their breakthough hit in 1978. It hammered home the painful recollections of a man whose love declared him unfaithful. How do we defend ourselves when this accusation is untrue? Continue reading


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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 – #27

by Lawrence J. J. Leonard

When we hear someone say, “it is what it is,” are we admitting that we are accepting things the way they are or accepting people for the way they act? Not necessarily.  It may be more along the lines of “facts are facts.” Some things we just cannot deny. There will be people in our lives who are as flawed as characters in a play. At times, those people can be us. Doing what is best can break our own hearts.

Consequently, a reputation can open a door that would rarely be approachable on our life journey. Such was the opportunity for singers Michael McDonald and Patti LaBelle.  Michael had been four years separated from the Doobie Brothers rock band when he got a call from Patti. It was an invitation to turn a song into a duet for her upcoming “Winner In You” LP. She had just released the #1 Dance chart single “New Attitude” out of the film soundtrack for “Beverly Hills Cop.” It had also cracked the Top 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts.

Rock fans never stopped adoring Michael’s full-bodied melancholy tone. But, his solo work was moving deeper into the beats of 1980’s rhythms. So were Patti’s when she cut a new song track. Decidedly, she told her recording engineer that the vibe was not on point. She wanted to redo it as a duet. When asked who she would like to sing with, Patti immediately suggested Michael. Rock fans could not have been prouder.

Despite the two of them being on different coasts, a team of producers worked out the audio and the video separation elements. This brought them together for radio and MTV audiences. And yet, the song was wholeheartedly about being apart, alone, and torn up over a difficult break-up. No matter how we try to make a relationship work there will be circumstances where staying together is not in our best interest.

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The Saddest Songs of Rock and Roll – #28

by Lawrence J. J. Leonard

Life is wonderful and every day is a diamond in the rough. Except when it is not. Since 1960 America has been videotaping and broadcasting war and violence and abuse and assaults for TV and film. The visual message does influence everyone who sees it. Ask any corpporation that has paid for and shown a Super Bowl commercial. Of course moving images and sounds can alter people’s consciousness in good and bad ways.

There was a time when rock bands would design acoustic albums to express the intensity of life’s ups and downs. In 1970 the English rock band Led Zeppelin went unplugged  on their third album “Led Zeppelin III”  Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Bonham (1948-1980) and John Paul Jones were on a retreat at Bron-Yr-Aur cottage in the country of Wales. Jimmy and Robert went for a hike and brought along a guitar.

They composed the beginnings of a song with Robert’s lyrics that highlighted the stressful issues of the day. They sang about pollution and even all the anti-Zeppelin sentiment experienced on their earlier American tour: being spat on and having guns drawn on the band. The 1970s decade saw the first generation  growing up with color TV and mobile phones. There was also a constant barrage of Vietnam War news and anti-war protests on TV. The newspapers even took sides cajoling subscribers and readers who to love and who to hate.

Sad news has made this particular generation weary. The youngest among us now are numb to violence. It is the saddest kind of mind control: witnessing crime on video while news media continue to incite viewers to hate. How do we stop exposing ourselves to negativity? Continue reading


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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 – #32

by Lawrence J. J. Leonard

It is not always easy to show our feelings, especially if it is a forbidden type of love. Adult relationships involving sexual interactions cause pain for everyone. Knowing that we might be the one who is stealing someone away is often a bad arrangement, even if it brings pleasure in the very short term. Being in a love triangle for whatever reason complicates our lives.

This seems to describe singer and songwriter Robert John and his relationship with his many record labels. As a young performer at the age of 12 years, Robert’s talent as a singer was recognizable. His early fame made him attractive to several companies: Diamond Records, MGM Records, and Columbia, but also Herb Albert’s A&M Records. This last partnership produced the famous cover version of The Tokens’ 1961 song “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” It was a solid gold hit and reached #3 in 1972 with one million copies sold. Still, his relationship with A&M was a brief one.

Six years later Robert was still in search of a record label when he got the call from EMI Records.  It was a British label founded to replace Columbia and Parlophone. Robert’s music did not mimic the dance stylings found in pop songs of the 1970s. He wrote a song at the height of disco’s influence that was slow and emotional. It cut right to the separation of two lovers who seemed to agree on a short lived affair. Loving someone, especially when it’s the wrong person, hurts just as much when we have to stop being with them.

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