MarsEarth

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


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The Saddest Songs of Rock and Roll – #19

by Lawrence J. J. Leonard

Ever heard some teacher say, “In a perfect world, we would all help each other” ? It sounds noble. Except that people in a perfect world don’t need any help. Every situation would be . . . perfect. The society we live in now is not perfect by any means. We all should help each other if and where we can. Often some helpful person gets praise and we declare her/ him to be a type of  ‘hero.’ So what happens to our heroes as they become old? We also grow older and then move away only to forget them. Then, new people come to power who have never heard of our so-called hero. It happened in Egypt after the death of Joseph (and his coat of many colors). What if Earth’s ancient heroes were giant robots? What happens when these hulking contraptions re-activate themselves and are frustrated with our ridicule and lack of praise? It is a painful experience, especially when our heroes are 100% Human, too.

Consider the awkward situation that the English Rock band Black Sabbath were in.  They formed in 1968 in the county of Warwickshire, city of Birmingham, England. Drummer Bill Ward, bassist Geezer Butler, guitarist  Tony Iommi, and singer Ozzy Osbourne, and are considered pioneers of Metal Rock. More precisely Heavy Metal.  They had just released their self-titled album in 1970 when inspired to produce and release a second album that very same year. The band name came from the film, “Black Sabbath,” a 1963 effort starring Boris Karloff, and this is where the group derived their horror themed songs.

They debuted with a Certified Solid Gold album in the UK and Canada, and Platinum in the US. Their second work entitled “Paranoid” included eight innovative tracks that metal rock music fans were growing an appreciation for.  The songs were not guitar feedback and relentless drums, but styled songs with thematic lyrics.  One song in particular which Geezer penned was about a man’s journey into the future. He sees the apocalypse and quickly returns to the present to warn his society. Strangely, the trip home magnetically transforms him into a giant man of iron who is not able to speak

It is one thing to react to someone who cannot speak. It is quite another to make fun of someone when they are trying to communicate with us. There are always consequences. How do we treat people who want to be heard? What does it say about us when we ignore those who are not quite as “normal” as we are?

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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 – #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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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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Saddest Songs of Rock and Roll – #37

by Lawrence J. J, Leonard

What do we want? What do we want out of life? It is easy to ask for material things. It is hopeful to ask for lofty goals such as peace and an end to hunger. In our personal lives each of was wants to be appreciated, especially by those closest to us.  It is hard to be apart from a loved one who really “gets” us. And even harder if we are in military service and that person is far away. What if that person is suddenly no longer with us?

In 1953 the United States had just brokered a peace to end the Korean Conflict and establish a permanent military presence there, then send many servicewomen and servicemen home. Just four years later the Congress revved up its political nerve and industrial production to fight communism in Vietnam. During this time, Elvis Aaron Presley (1935-1977) AKA Elvis, was conscripted in the US Army. He served honorably as a regular soldier from training in  Fort Hood, Texas, until his final deployment in the 3rd Armored Division in Friedberg, Germany.

His managers carefully released previous recordings during his two-year service tour. All went as planned until his mother Gladys died from hepatitis before his discharge. Elvis spent his first holiday season without his closest ally and best friend. It took him a few years to grieve. He re-released his version of a song that represented a difficult memory. Sometimes we just need to wrap our heads around the issue.

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