Classic Songs to Be Discovered, Influenced, Music, My Stories, Unsung Heroes

1976 – Part 4.5: The Mahavishnu Orchestra – Inner Worlds

The Mahavishnu Orchestra were a jazz fusion band formed in New York City in 1971, led by English guitarist John McLaughlin.

The group underwent several line-up changes throughout its history across two stints from 1971 to 1976 and 1984 to 1987.

The first line-up which consisted of musicians Billy Cobham, Jan Hammer, Jerry Goodman, and Rick Laird, the band received its initial acclaim for its complex, intense music consisting of a blend of Indian classical music, jazz and psychedelic rock, and its dynamic live performances between 1971 and 1973.

After the original group dissolved, it reformed in 1974 with a new cast of musicians behind McLaughlin:

“Inner Worlds” came out in 1976. It’s the group’s sixth album release and it would be the last album by them for nearly ten years, when leader and guitarist John McLaughlin re-formed the group in 1984.

All in the Family

The song is written by John McLaughlin who also plays guitar and guitar synth. Stu Goldberg is on all things keys related.

Ralphe Armstrong is on bass and the star of the song is Narada Michael Walden on Drums, congas, bass marimba and shaker.

And the reason why Walden is the star is because the song opens with a drum solo before it moves into a fast jazz like beat. Its chaotic as all the instruments come in and somehow it all makes sense. Progressive rock is the best way to describe it.

There is this section between 3.25 and 3.45 in which McLaughlin and Goldberg play this fast unison lead line and I like it.

Miles Out

It’s written by John McLaughlin who plays all things guitar and a special instrument called the “360” systems frequency shifter. It’s actually not an instrument, but an effect. These days, it would be in a stomp box, but back then it was a pretty large unit.

You hear it in action in the Intro and throughout the song. Stu Goldberg is on the Mini-Moog and Steiner-Parker synthesizers, Ralphe Armstrong is on bass and Narada Michael Walden on drums.

I like the bass intro from Goldberg, it’s creepy like, and funky. McLaughlin plays a staccato like guitar riff, which is more funk and reggae like. When he activates the frequency shifter, it sounds chaotic but the drumming of Walden is super-fast, technical and on point. Somehow it makes sense.

In My Life

Written by John McLaughlin and Narada Michael Walden.

John McLaughlin is on 12-string acoustic guitar, Stu Goldberg is on backing vocals, Ralphe Armstrong is on bass and Narada Michael Walden is on the piano and drums, along with the lead vocals.

It’s a poor song and the lyrics are very childish, like seriously, they sing “thank you for the fish in the sea”. A skip for me.

Gita

Written by John McLaughlin and it’s another song with vocals that doesn’t connect with me.

Morning Calls

A short one minute piece, written by John McLaughlin who plays guitar synthesizer and Narada Michael Walden who plays organ.

It sounds Oriental and Celtic like but it’s another skip for me.

The Way of the Pilgrim

Written by Narada Michael Walden and it’s got some intricate instrument sections, but this far in, these kind of passages are starting to sound same same.

River of My Heart

Written by Kanchan Cynthia Anderson and Narada Michael Walden.

There is no guitar on this, with Ralphe Armstrong on double bass and Narada Michael Walden on Piano, Lead Vocals and Percussion.

But it’s a skip for me.

Planetary Citizen

Written by Ralphe Armstrong, this song could have been on a Stevie Wonder album. It’s got that blues, jazz funk fusion happening.

And are you ready to be a planetary citizen?

Lotus Feet

Written by John McLaughlin. I like this instrumental.

There is a guitar that plays arpeggios and a MiniMoog playing a lead break with percussion as the foundation.I

It sort of reminds me of “Albatross” from Fleetwood Mac, the Peter Green version of the band.

Inner Worlds

The title track. Part 1 is written by John McLaughlin and Part 2 by Stu Goldberg. But it’s a bit of mess and that Frequency shifter gadget is just noise to me, however it would have been cool to have that whooshing effect back in the day.

In the end, there are better Mahavishnu Orchestra albums, which we will get to as I work my way back through history.

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Music, My Stories

1976 – Part 4.2: David Bowie – Station To Station

I’m not the biggest Bowie fan, but his music got a second life in the late 90’s and onwards and I kept checking his albums out. I go in with an open mind with the hope to find something that I could use in my song writing.

Now, “Station to Station” is album number 10 for Bowie, released in 1976. It has been regarded as one of his most significant works, so it was on a list of album’s to check out for me.

The band for the album is stellar and on fire. Guitarist Carlos Alomar, bassist George Murray and drummer Dennis Davis all bring it, and guitarist Earl Slick contributes along with pianist Roy Bittan.

Bowie was too drugged out during this time and his memory of the album is vague. And with all the drugs artists do, they always find a way to create and the people around them, always find a way to get them to create. As their livelihoods depend on Bowie.

Station To Station

A 10 plus minute opening track which starts off with train noises created by the guitar. And somehow when it was released as a single, the song was creatively edited down to 3 minutes.

It’s typical of the era, blues rock and with arrangements that didn’t stick to a radio formula, because the artists ruled and the label execs didn’t really have a say, until they became more powerful than the artists in the 80’s because of MTV.

In keeping with the Blues Rock theme, Bowie was loaded up with cocaine and he kept asking Earl Slick to keep repeating a Chuck Berry lead over and over again.

Golden Years

This could have ended up on a Steely Dan album as it has this jazz rock fusion vibe.

Word On A Wing

It’s like a mid-tempo rock ballad, with a vocal delivery that reminds me of Joy Division.

TVC15

Bowie wrote this while he was filming “The Man Who Fell To Earth”. But it’s a skip for me.

Stay

I like the riff, it’s almost Santana like with a bit of Doobie Brothers thrown in and you should definitely press play to hear the bass groove.

But man, Bowie’s vocals are really not connecting with me at all on this album and in this song in particular, because musically, this song is gold.

Wild Is The Wind

Musically, the song is great. It’s like a rock ballad. Like all the previous songs, the vocals and melodies from Bowie just don’t connect with me on any level.

And while this album is held in high regard amongst Bowie’s fans, there isn’t enough there to make me a fan. Although there are a lot of lyrics to digest.

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Classic Songs to Be Discovered, Influenced, Music, My Stories

1976 – Part 3.5: Doobie Brothers – Takin It To The Streets

It’s a great album title but people hated the cover, thinking it was lazy.

“Takin’ It to the Streets” came out in 1976 and it’s the first to feature Michael McDonald on lead vocals. If you own the “1984” album by Van Halen, you will see Michael McDonald listed as a co-writer to “I’ll Wait”.

Tom Johnston was the leader and main songwriter in The Doobie Brothers. But in 1974 while touring, he fell ill and he had to reduce his involvement with the band. This got the label nervous as they didn’t want the band to continue without Johnston and the other members considered calling it quits.

But newbie guitarist Jeff Baxter suggested calling up a friend and fellow Steely Dan graduate Michael McDonald to finish the tour. McDonald thought that once the tour was over, he would be on his way, but was then asked to come into the studio to work on their next album.

Producer Ted Templeman (another familiar name for Van Halen fans) started going over the songs the band had available, but he knew they needed more and McDonald was asked to contribute his own songs. Which were very different sounding to what the Doobies played and if the band recorded em, would take the band in a different direction.

And that is what happened. So let’s see how the bridge between the Johnston and McDonald era sounded.

The musicians for the album are Tom Johnston who was still around to contribute and he played electric guitar, lead and backing vocals on the track “Turn It Loose” and vocals on “Wheels of Fortune”.

Patrick Simmons played electric guitars and lead vocals on a few songs,

Jeff “Skunk” Baxter is on electric guitars.

Michael McDonald played all the piano and synths as well as lead and backing vocals.

Tiran Porter on bass, backing vocals and lead vocal on “For Someone Special”. Drums were provided by John Hartman and Keith Knudsen.

The album had a The Memphis Horns section and various other musicians playing congas and violas and what not. Even Templeman chimed in with some percussion.

Speaking of the Production team Donn Landee (another familiar name for Van Halen fans) was there as Engineer.

Wheels of Fortune

The clean tone riff to start the song rocks and grooves. Almost funk rock like. Dare I say it, Steely Dan like.

Written by Patrick Simmons, Jeff Baxter and John Hartman, it’s still the old Doobies sound.

Vocals are provided by Tom Johnston.

Changin’ wheels of fortune
Drivin’ us on and on
Winnin’, sometimes losin’
As soon as it’s here it’s gone

Living from payday to payday is the only way for a lot of people.

Takin’ It to the Streets

The Michael McDonald era begins. The title tracks is solely written by McDonald. Its piano driven, and it funks and sort of rocks.

I also like the bass playing from Tiran Porter. Check it out.

And the solo is driven by The Memphis Horn Section. Yep horns and not guitar.

I ain’t blind and I don’t like what I think I see
Takin’ it to the streets

People have taken to the streets to protest a lot these last 15 years, but it’s still the same rubbish.

8th Avenue Shuffle

Guitarist Patrick Simmons wrote this one. It’s a blues soul funk tune, with some wonderful bass playing. Hell, it could appear on an Eagles album and not be out of place.

Losin’ End

Another track written by McDonald. It does nothing for me.

Next.

Rio

A track written by guitarists Simmons and Baxter, with vocals provided by Simmons and McDonald.

A Charlie Watts style drum beat starts the song, and when the Latin percussion comes in, I felt like I was listening to an Al Di Meola cut.

This track is the definition of “Yacht Rock”.

For Someone Special

Written by bass player Tiran Porter and the vocals are delivered by Porter himself.

The 70’s acts all had capable musicians who could play and sing.

The bass plays the main riff here, while the guitars and keys decorate. It’s trippy and I feel like he’s venting his feelings about Tom Johnston.

To reach down inside
And push that nightmare away
Now I’m glad that it’s over, it’s over
Now I can play

It’s always difficult for a band when a person who is like a band leader steps away. And the label does it’s best to make the other members feel worthless.

It Keeps You Runnin’

Another cut written by McDonald by himself, the lone wolf.

Not a favourite.

Turn It Loose

Johnston definitely gave the band a rocking edge. So even though he was done with the band, he did deliver this excellent cut.

People all around me
Everywhere I go
I thought I had a grip on things
Now I just don’t know

I’m not a big enough fan to know everything about The Doobie Brothers, but Johnston was seen as the driving force of the band and one of the main writers by the press and the label.

So when he disappeared, no one knew what was going to happen.

Carry Me Away

Written by Simmons, Baxter and McDonald. It’s just too much like a 70’s TV intro theme song.

In the end the album has more of a jazz, urban, soulful, funk than rock tunes and a new era started.

Michael McDonald and The Doobies.

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A to Z of Making It, Music, My Stories

The old rock star is dead. Its time to create a new rock star that is a product of the times

Influences/Inspiration

Nobody exists in a vacuum. Inspiration comes from what you read, watch and experience.  Inspiration is the merging of these experiences and influences into something new. When Metallica came on the scene they were inspired and influenced by the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. They were influenced by Punk. They were inspired and influenced by Classic Rock. They were excited and this made them nervous. Nerves made them play faster.

When Black Sabbath came on the scene they were originally influenced by the Blues. Just another blues band among the many blues bands doing the rounds at that time. Then they applied their gloomy industrial upbringing and the rest is history.

Experience

Inspiration doesn’t take place in a vacuum. All day long you are experiencing.

Could Nikki Sixx have written Kick Start My Heart if he didn’t experience death and life? Could James Hetfield have written The Unforgiven if he was brought up in a wealthy household that didn’t have Christian Science beliefs? Could Richie Sambora and Jon Bon Jovi have written Wanted Dead Or Alive if they never toured? Could Dee Snider have written We’re Not Gonna Take It, if he was rich?

If you think you can write a hit song with no prior experience, you’re dreaming.  Our whole life is information. Be ready to reference it.  Trust your first initial feeling.

Sign Of The Times

Don’t get caught up in doing things in the old way. Today’s medium is the Internet. No one wants to hear new music from their favourite artist every two years. We surf the net each day, looking for new music and information.  If there is a demand for your music, you should create and distribute constantly.

The days when we used to have very little music are over. The days of saving up to buy an album and the playing the same album over and over again are also gone.  Now, we’ve got the history of recorded music at our fingertips. YouTube has everything that you want, Spotify has almost everything that you could want and if all of that fails cyber lockers and The Pirate Bay fill the void.

Product Of The Times

The old rock star is dead. Its time to create a new rock star that is a product of the times. Keep innovating.  Embrace the new reality that is being born. Stop playing by the rules of the Classic Rock artists.

Look at the band Heartist. When they formed, they decided that they would not play by the old rules of playing as many gigs as possible just to get noticed.  They decided to not play by the old rules of guaranteeing promoters 50 presales for each gig (which more or less meant, the band either had to beg people to come to their show that didn’t want to be there or they basically paid to play).  They decided to write songs.  They decided to keep on writing. They started posting demos on YouTube. They started building a buzz. The songs had quality. People started to spread them, share them, talk about them. They played ONE gig and got signed by Roadrunner and management.

What Does Music and Success Mean These Days?

Music is for the fans. Music is for the people. Music is not for a record executive to make billions so that they can compete with the Forbes 100 Rich List.  If you want to be in the music business, you need to focus on what music means. Be inspired! Create!  You have to practice, be original and wait for your moment, when you have to deliver.

Def Leppard’s Hysteria was out for over a year before it exploded on the back of the Love Bites single. A sleeper hit that no one saw coming. If the song is really damn good it will get people’s attention.

If you want success, you need to get people’s attention. If you want success you need to work hard and don’t plan for it. If you want success, practice and be ready to turn that inspiration into a product.  If you want success, you need to know that you have no control over what spreads and what doesn’t. Don’t judge the success of your project straight away. Success is always ten steps behind. It takes a while for it to happen.  Don’t just the success of your project in dollar terms. Success is about laying a solid foundation and building on it.

Your music has to be accessible. It needs to make an instant impact. Fans do not have the time to spend on letting an album sink into our brain like the old ways. These days there are so many options and people don’t endure that which is not pleasing to them, They move on. Repetition is not an artist’s friend in the current times. The life span of a song is different these days.

Most of the time you get one shot for each new fan. It is that one time when people will hear what you have created. One time where you need to satisfy them, so that they can respond and share.

Today, you need to have that one unbelievable cut, that makes the people need to hear it over and over again. That one cut that makes the people want to go and find out more about you.

Whether it be Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It”, Dio’s “Holy Diver”, Ozzy Osbourne “Crazy Train”, Kiss “Lick It Up”, Shinedown’s “Second Chance” or Metallica’s’ “One”. It works in every genre of music.

Connections

Artists can go straight to their audience, there are no restrictions. Artists by now should know that their career depends on building a loyal relationship with as many fans as possible. In order to build relationships, you need to get people’s attention. You need to find a way to be heard over all the noise.

Standing Out – Visuals and Music

You want to be remembered. You want to be talked about. How can you achieve that? Society is a visual culture. That is why we watch TV shows, movies, take pictures and film ourselves.

Why do you think, when you see a preview for a new movie coming out, the studio marketeers have music with it? Why do you think TV shows and movies have soundtracks? They are re-enforcing the visuals with music, as people take more notice when that happens. If people notice they will talk about.

Putting your music with visuals is a big step forward to getting people’s attention. How many times have you walked out of a movie, thinking, what a tough score. I just watched World War Z and I loved the track that Muse did for it.  Man Of Steel had an unbelievable score by Hans Zimmer, that captured the emotion in each scene. It was also inspiring and uplifting. I still remember the preview to the Captain America movie, where they had the music (46&2) from Tool playing and that was almost three years ago.

Standing Out – Opinions

No artist can please everyone. So don’t try. All artists stand for something. If you write a song that is anti-(insert topic here), you will alienate some, and connect more with others. When people get fired up (via positive or negative feelings) they pay attention.

Standing Out – Different = Success

If you look at all of your heroes, they are there for a reason. They are different. When they came on the scene, they were different. Twisted Sister was different to all the other bands in the Eighties in how they dressed and looked. Their style was a combination of AC/DC style rock, mixed with Judas Priest metal, with a dose of punk chucked in. Metallica was different to all the metal and rock bands when they came onto the scene. Motley Crue was different to all the new wave music that was popular at the time. Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden were all different to the Eighties Glam Rock movement. Black Sabbath was different to all the hippie folk music at the time.

Different also includes doing cover versions of popular songs. Take jazz songs and turn them into rock songs. Take pop songs and make them into rock songs.  The original artist’s fans will be curious to hear these versions.  Led Zeppelin did a lot of covers, Metallica the same. Van Halen had cover songs on their first five albums. Motley Crue did Smokin In The Boys Room and Helter Skelter.

What Does It Mean to be an Artist Today?

You don’t want to be an artist that becomes who others want them to be. You don’t want to be an artist that whores themselves out to make money. You don’t want to be an artist that does what they have to do to keep the status quo.

It’s okay to not be liked by everybody.

Real artists don’t believe in conforming. Real artists stay true to who they are. Real artists play to their fans and allow the fans to talk about them. Do not change for all the new people that could tag along to your success train, that’s death. You need to keep playing to the hard core fan base. A great artist is someone who leads us into the unknown who we can’t help but follow.

Dream Theater is one artist that comes to mind, that did it their way or the hard way. Signed as a progressive band, they released When Dream and Day Unite, which the label ignored and then went on a long search for a vocalist. When Pull Me Under got traction on MTV and Radio, the band was then a commercial prospect for the label. So the label now wants more crossover songs, and this lead to the issues with the label around the Falling Into Infinity project. After that the band stayed true to who they are and they have grown with each album and are more successful now than ever.

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