January 20: Elvis Presley recorded In The Ghetto in 1969

In the Ghetto” (originally titled “The Vicious Circle“) is a song written by Mac Davis and made famous by Elvis Presley, who had a major comeback hit with it in 1969. It was recorded January 20th 1969 and released in April the same year as a 45 rpm single with “Any Day Now” as the flip side.

It is a narrative of generational poverty: a boy is born to a mother who already has more children than she can feed in the ghetto of Chicago. The boy grows up hungry, steals and fights, purchases a gun and steals a car, attempts to run, but is shot and killed just as his own child is born. The song implies that the newborn will meet the same fate, continuing the cycle of poverty and violence. The feeling of an inescapable circle is created by the structure of the song, with its simple, stark phrasing; by the repetition of the phrase “in the ghetto” as the close of every fourth line; and finally by the repetition of the first verse’s “and his mama cries” just before the beginning and as the close of the last verse. Continue reading “January 20: Elvis Presley recorded In The Ghetto in 1969”

The Best Songs: Jerusalem Tomorrow by David Olney – R.I.P. Mr. Olney

I woke up this morning to the sad news about David Olney’s death. He died after a massive heart attack on stage during this years 30A songwriters festival.

8 years ago we published this post about his song, Jerusalem Tomorrow. Mr. Olney wrote to me after that to say how grateful he was that we loved the song and we talked a bit about songwriting and the life of being a songwriter. He was a lovely person and we will miss him and will honor his legacy by playing his music. Rest in peace, Mr. David Olney.

Jerusalem Tomorrow was first released on Olney’s album Deeper Well in 1989, but it was with Emmylou Harris’ magnificent interpretation in 1993 that it became well known, and it was then I discovered it.

Townes Van Zandt’s short list of favorite music writers included Mozart, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Bob Dylan, and David Olney.  Obviously Olney keeps pretty good company, and deservedly so.  Jerusalem Tomorrow sounds like a song Townes would have been proud of.

2012 version, video directed by Jack Irwin:

Continue reading “The Best Songs: Jerusalem Tomorrow by David Olney – R.I.P. Mr. Olney”

The Best Songs: 1952 Vincent Black Lightning by Richard Thompson

A simple boy meets girl story, somewhat complicated by the presence of a motorcycle
– Richard Thompson

1952 Vincent Black Lightning is a song by guitarist Richard Thompson from his 1991 album Rumor and Sigh. It tells the story of a thief named James and the girl Red Molly whom he charms with a ride on his 1952 Vincent Black Lightning motorcycle. Despite not being issued as a single, became a fan favourite and is one of Thompson’s most highly acclaimed solo compositions.

Some months ago me and some friends had a “music night”. Music Nights are gatherings where we pick a theme and each of us bring a playlist with 5 songs (and a few back up choices), we play our songs in turn, say why we picked the song and what it means to us. I’ve discovered many great songs and artists on these nights. This particular night the theme was “Story Songs” and one of my songs was 1952 Vincent Black Lightning by the great Richard Thompson. This made me listen, and “go into” the song even harder than I’d done before. What a great story song it is, a masterpiece.

“’Vincent’ started with the frustration of coming from Britain and wanting to reflect British culture. It’s hard to find mythological elements from my lifetime to build a song around, because American culture has been so dominant. The mythical places are Laramie and Cheyenne. ‘Going Back to Lancaster’ doesn’t have the same ring to it. It’s important to make music that incorporates elements from where you come from, so you’re contributing something of yourself into the music. If you’re from England and you’re writing about the Mississippi Delta, there’s something missing. You can be a good imitator, but what are you bringing to the process?”
– Richard Thompson, 2001

“When I was a kid, that was always the exotic bike, that was always the one, the one that you went ‘ooh, wow’. I’d always been looking for English ideas that didn’t sound corny, that had some romance to them, and around which you could pin a song. And this song started with a motorcycle, it started with the Vincent. It was a good lodestone around which the song could revolve”
– Richard Thompson to BBC radio

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Classic concert: Van Morrison The Wonderland Tapes June 22, 1977, NL (video and audio)

For years the best known set of Van’s brief collaboration with Dr. John in 1977 has widely circulated only in incomplete form and mediocre sound on a bootleg known as Amsterdam’s Tapes. Now, thanks to the persistence, dedication and collaboration of VLS (vanlose stairway) members and friends, this rare show has finally been assembled from the best sources available to us, complete as broadcast on Dutch FM radio. After 20+ years, we are sure fans will agree that it is about time!

Musicians:
Van Morrison: Lead vocals, piano
Dr. John: Piano, organ, back-up vocals
Mick Ronson: Lead guitar, back-up vocals
Mo Foster: Bass
Peter van Hooke: Drums

Continue reading “Classic concert: Van Morrison The Wonderland Tapes June 22, 1977, NL (video and audio)”

September 26: Abbey Road by The Beatles is 50 years old today!

beatles abbey road

Released 26 September 1969
Recorded 22 February – 20 August 1969,EMI, Olympic and Trident Studios,London
Genre Rock
Length 47:23
Label Apple
Producer George Martin


Abbey Road
 is the 11th studio album released by the English rock band The Beatles. It is their last recorded album, although Let It Be was the last album released before the band’s dissolution in 1970. Work on Abbey Road began in April 1969, and the album was released on 26 September 1969 in the United Kingdom, and 1 October 1969 in the United States.

Abbey Road is widely regarded as one of The Beatles’ most tightly constructed albums, although the band was barely operating as a functioning unit at the time. Despite the tensions within the band, Abbey Road was released to near universal acclaim and is considered to be one of the greatest albums of all time. In 2012, Abbey Road was voted 14th on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time”. In 2009, readers of the magazine also named Abbey Road the greatest Beatles album.

Continue reading “September 26: Abbey Road by The Beatles is 50 years old today!”

BBC documentary: Elvis the Rebirth of the King (2017)

The widely accepted Elvis narrative is that the Vegas period was the nadir of his career, but this film argues that Elvis reached his peak both as a singer and performer in the first few years of his Vegas period. He became, in those short years, the greatest performer on earth. The film tracks this five-year renaissance with some of his key musical and artistic collaborators of the period, including the creator of his most memorable jumpsuits, to celebrate the greatest pop reinvention of all time. (BBC) Continue reading “BBC documentary: Elvis the Rebirth of the King (2017)”