Regina Spektor made the list!

In December 2015, The Telegraph U. K. compiled a list of The 60 Greatest Female Singer-Songwriters of All Time.  Some of the names on it won’t surprise you.  But some, you think about for a moment…and then say, “Of course!”

Joni Mitchell.  Well, she’s a given.

And if we’re going to think traditional singer-songwriters from the early origins of rock, we’ll need to talk about Joan Baez and Odetta.

And even earlier.  Peggy Lee found fame at a time when it was rare for a singers to write their own material.  

And what about Dolly Parton…with 3,000 songs to her credit spanning more than 50 years in the music business.

Janis Joplin was on the list, too, shaking things up in the male-dominated world of rock.  If it weren’t for Janis, would we have had Bonnie Raitt?  Or Stevie Nicks?  Or Chrissie Hynde?  

And of course, there’s Carole King.  Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis made the piano a rock and roll instrument.  Carole took it somewhere new and made it the vehicle for more personal songs, more introspective insights.  (And so did Laura Nyro…whose name was inexplicably left out.)  

I’d trace a line from those two women to other piano playing singer-songwriters such as Rickie Lee Jones and Tori Amos.

And what about women who’ve made their names with the power of their words.  Poets who also sing.  Patti Smith leaps to mind.  And P. J. Harvey.

Some singer-songwriters on this list are there with an emphasis on the singer portion of that job description.  Women who are blessed with glorious voices and use them so powerfully in their music.  k. d. lang.  Emmylou Harris.  Aretha Franklin.  Barbra Streisand.  

And then there are those female singer-songwriters whose musical visions take them into unexplored sonic territory.  Ralph Waldo Emerson put it perfectly when he said, “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”  Kate Bush, I’m looking at you.  And you, Björk.  And you, Cyndi Lauper.  

So when you look at The Telegraph’s list of The 60 Greatest Female Singer-Songwriters of All Time, you're not at all surprised to see Regina Spektor’s name listed.  She’s got a way with a melody.  A feel for rhythm.  The ability to create some stellar wordplay.  Great storytelling.  And enough quirkiness to keep us all on our toes.  What a treat it is for Great Moments in Vinyl to be playing the music of one of the greatest!

 

Who needs hit songs when Hollywood will promote your music for you?

Just some of the Regina Spektor songs featured in movies and television shows according to TuneFind.com.

“All the Rowboats”
2012   Ringer (episode: “What We Have Is Worth the Pain”)

“Better”
2007   The Hills (episode: “The Best Night Ever”)
2008   How I Met Your Mother (episode: “Happily Ever After”)
2016   The Good Wife (episode: “End”)

“Don’t Leave Me (Ne me quitte pas)”
2012   Weeds (episode: “Five Miles from Yetzer Hara”)
2013   Girls (episode: “It’s a Shame about Ray”)

“Eet”
2010   90210 (episode: “Another Another Chance”)
2010   90210 (episode: “Multiple Choices”)

“Fidelity”
2006   Veronica Mars (episode: “Friday Night Sleights”)
2007   Grey’s Anatomy (episode: “Six Days (Part 2)”)
2008   27 Dresses
2010   Love & Other Drugs (closing credits)

“Field Below”
2006   Criminal Minds (episode: “The Last Word”)
2007   Brothers and Sisters (episode: “Two Places”)

“Ghost of Corporate Future”
2006   Weeds (episode: “Mile Deep and a Foot Wide”)
2006   Weeds (episode: “Bash”)

“Hero”
2009   (500) Days of Summer

“Human of the Year”
2011   Enlightened (pilot episode)

“Laughing With”
2015   The Leftovers (episode: “No Room at the Inn”)

“My Man”
2011   Boardwalk Empire (episode: “A Dangerous Mind”)

“On the Radio”
2006   Grey’s Anatomy (episode: “Damage Case”)
2011   Beastly

“Samson”
2006   CSI: NY (episode: “All Access”)    
2006   CSI: NY (episode: “Charge of This Post”)

“Somedays”
2005   CSI: NY (episode: “On the Job”)    

“The Calculation”
2009   Castle (episode: “Castle Makes Lunch”)    
2010   Life Unexpected (episode:  “Home Inspected”)

“The Call”
2008   The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian

“You’ve Got Time”
2013—present   Orange Is the New Black (theme song)

 

Van Morrison: Astral Weeks Remembered by the People Who Helped Create It

In 2015, Uncut magazine connected with a number of the people who helped create Van Morrison’s most memorable recordings.  Astral Weeks producer Lewis Merenstein and guitarist Jay Berliner recounted the magic of those particular sessions.  Just three dates in the studio was all it took.  And of those dates, one of them only yielded one song.  Considering how revered the album Astral Weeks has become, it’s amazing that it was put together in just 12 or 13 hours.  


LEWIS MERENSTEIN: Van’s manager Bob Schwaid and I were friends. Van had signed to Warners but no producer wanted to touch him, so I went to Boston at Bob’s request to hear him. He sat on a stool in Ace studios and played “Astral Weeks”, and it took me 30 seconds to know. I understood. The lyric went straight to my soul, it was immediately clear to me that he was being born again.

. . .

I don’t know what transpired between Bang Records and Van coming to Boston, but he had obviously gone through a rebirth. I knew I needed people who could pick up that feeling. Richard Davis was a highly renowned bass player, Connie Kay drummed with the Modern Jazz Quartet, and Jay Berliner was a fine guitarist. They were all super pros, but also open souls who played from the heart.
We went into Century Sound. It was a union date. There was nothing sacred about it, but right away it was magical. It was so beautiful, it was hard to take. They would run through the first few minutes of a song, never the whole thing, and then do it. Everybody got the sense of what was being said musically, even if they didn’t get what was being sung by Van. Everybody was into it. I remember Richard bent over his bass with his eyes closed, tuning into Van. It’s hard to give the feeling a voice. It was beyond amazing.

JAY BERLINER: This little guy comes in and goes straight into the vocal booth. He doesn’t have any contact with anyone. We could hardly see him. He must have been smoking something, because all you could see was white smoke in there! He sang and played in the booth, we followed, and these things just… happened.

The first session was 7:00 to 11:00 PM on September 25, 1968. We cut “Cyprus Avenue”, “Madame George”, “Beside You” and “Astral Weeks” in four hours. It was totally off the cuff. We couldn’t make eye contact, but we were hearing each other through headphones and playing off of each other. Van said nothing. Lew did all the communicating, and he seemed to be very happy. “Keep going, it sounds great!”

. . .

There was another session the following week, but I wasn’t available. They brought in Barry Kornfeld, but that didn’t work out. He didn’t have a jazz background. [Only “The Way Young Lovers Do” was recorded at this session].

The final date was October 15, from 7:00 to 11:45 PM. We did “Sweet Thing”, “Ballerina”, “Slim Slow Slider” and a song called “Royalty” that didn’t make the final cut. And that was it. It was special, but back in those days you were running from day to day. I did a soap commercial the next day!

LEWIS MERENSTEIN: You know, I don’t think Van had a clue how special it was. He was given the gift, as we all were. The album was like an ending.  From there he was flying away, and out of that came a happier person, which was [Morrison’s next album] Moondance.

 

Van Morrison: On the Origin of "Astral Weeks"


In 1967, Van Morrison relocated from Ireland to the U. S. to devote himself to a career as a solo artist. But his relationship with his first record company quickly soured. Morrison discovered he had unwittingly signed away ownership of his music. He was unhappy with how his career was being packaged. And he found himself penniless, living in a fleabag hotel in New York City as his first solo single, “Brown Eyed Girl,” was reaching the top of the charts. It was situation that Morrison began to challenge quite heatedly.

But before he could attempt to work out a solution with his employer, the man died of a heart attack, and Morrison found himself in the clutches of the owner’s wise guy business partners, men who were even less skilled at dealing with an artistic temperament. Infamously, one of them responded to an angry, drunken tirade from Morrison by threatening to kill him and breaking his guitar over his head.

Morrison took the threat seriously, and immediately relocated to Boston where he and his girlfriend crashed for a time in the apartment of WBCN DJ Peter Wolf. Yes, that Peter Wolf.

Morrison used the time away to rethink his musical direction. He lined up gigs in the Boston area playing stripped down versions of the new songs he was writing, just himself on guitar and vocals accompanied by an upright bass and another guitarist and sometimes a flutist for added color.

Lin Brehmer of WXRT tells a story he heard Peter Wolf tell on the air when he was guest on the station. Back in the day, Wolf and Morrison used to like to hang out. “And by hang out,” Brehmer explains, “I mean they used to go out and drink to excess every single night. And after one of these incredible drinking bouts where they stumbled home at 4:00 or 5:00 in the morning, Peter Wolf went home to bed and woke up early in the afternoon to meet Van Morrison for a cup of coffee or something. And Van Morrison said, (affects northern Irish accent) ‘Hey. I wrote a song last night.’

“Peter Wolf said, ‘You wrote a song last night? You could barely stand last night. You didn’t write a song last night!’

“Van Morrison says, ‘No! I wrote a song last night!’

“Wolf said, ‘You barely could find the keys in your pocket to open the door to get into your apartment. What do you mean you wrote a song last night?’

“And Van goes, ‘Yeah. No, I got home. I wrote a song last night.’

“And the song he wrote when he was apparently insensible,” a song that Brehmer summed up as “one of the most amazing, mystical, spiritual songs of all time…was called ‘Astral Weeks.’”

Van Morrison: In the Days Before Rock and Roll

“Fats did not come in
Without those wireless knobs.
Elvis did not come in
Without those wireless knobs.

“Nor Fats, nor Elvis.
Nor Sonny, nor Lightning,
Nor Muddy, nor John Lee.”

Back in the days before Pandora and Spotify, back before YouTube channels and internet streaming, back before iPods and mp3s, before CDs and MTV, before cassettes and 8 tracks, before FM album formats and Top 40 stations, back in the primordial soup of post World War II pop culture, a child growing up in northern Ireland didn’t have a lot of places to turn to discover music.  Van Morrison sings so often about tuning in the tunes from Europe on his AM radio that you get the idea that that’s how he found his musical way “in the days before rock and roll.”  And while he certainly must have listened to Radio Luxembourg or the American Forces Network to hear what he could hear, in actual fact, the wavelength young Morrison was zeroing in on was right in his own home.  

Van’s father was an avid record collector, and the story goes that he started buying LPs and singles during his time in America and eventually built up the biggest collection of vinyl in Ulster.  And not just any vinyl.  The elder Morrison acquired an astounding range of music, from ragtime pianist Jelly Roll Morton to bluesmen Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee to R’n’B greats Solomon Burke and Ray Charles.

Van once told Rolling Stone, “If it weren't for guys like Ray and Solomon, I wouldn't be where I am today. Those guys were the inspiration that got me going. If it wasn't for that kind of music, I couldn't do what I'm doing now.”

The young Irishman was well and truly inspired.  He picked up the guitar when he was 11, formed his first band at age 12, started playing gigs when he was 13, and dropped out of school at 15 to pursue music with all his energy and passion.  

“Turn it up, turn it up, little bit higher, radio.
Turn it up, that's enough, so you know it's got soul.”

 

Led Zeppelin: In the Beginning, part 4

When Robert Plant joined forces with Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, he brought with him three essential ingredients to the success of the band: a powerful voice, a passion for blues and folk, and an amazing drummer.

At the time that Page was auditioning Plant, he was already thinking of offering the drummer’s chair to session player Aynsley Dunbar or to Procol Harum’s drummer B. J. Wilson. Ginger Baker was also rumored to be on his short list.

But Plant told the guitarist about a talented drummer he’d worked with in other Midlands bands named John Bonham. Bonham had power. He could be versatile.  And he knew how to groove. All Page needed was to hear him perform to know that he’d found the right man for the job.

Bonham, on the other hand, took some convincing. He already had offers to join the bands of both British singer Chris Farlowe and Joe Cocker. Yet Jimmy Page was adamant. He sent no less than eight telegrams to the drummer encouraging him to say yes, and band manager Peter Grant sent an additional forty.  

John Bonham eventually agreed, later explaining that he liked the new band’s music better than that of the other groups that were courting him.

And so it was that in the summer of 1968, the these four musicians assembled in London to begin making music together. John Paul Jones once told an interviewer, "As soon as I heard John Bonham play, I knew this was going to be great.”

But perhaps the award for the most prescient observation should go to John Bonham’s former headmaster who once wrote in an evaluation of his student, “He will either end up a dustman or a millionaire.”

 

Led Zeppelin: In the Beginning, part 3

Jimmy Page had his sights set high.  He wanted this new band he was assembling to make a major impact.  And for that he needed a vocalist who could keep pace with his own prodigious talents on guitar as well as John Paul Jones’ masterful skills as a multi-instrumentalist and arranger.  The band Page envisioned would both roar and whisper, its blisteringly powerful moments contrasting with quieter, more introspective passages.  And to pull that off, he needed a singer who could carry the band through those changes.

At the time, a British vocalist by the name of Terry Reid had caught Page’s ear.  But Reid was committed to tour America opening for Cream so he recommended someone else for Page to check out, a young musician from the Midlands who had an upcoming date at a college in Birmingham.  Page and Jones made the journey to check him out, and Page recalls, “When I…heard him sing, I immediately thought there must be something wrong with him personality-wise or that he had to be impossible to work with, because I just could not understand why, after he told me he'd been singing for a few years already, he hadn't become a big name yet.  So I had him down to my place for a little while, just to sort of check him out, and we got along great.  No problems.”

The vocalist was, of course, named Robert Plant.

 

Led Zeppelin: In the Beginning, part 2

Meantime, down the hall in those recording studios Jimmy Page frequented you were likely to find another young musician hard at work, a bass player, pianist, organist, and arranger named John Baldwin.  Like Page, he found himself booked on so many dates that he can’t recall many of them today.  But you might be familiar with some of his handiwork: the string arrangement on “She’s a Rainbow” by The Rolling Stones and the full band arrangement that saved Donovan’s first attempt at recording “Sunshine Superman” from the outtakes reel.  Along the way, rock and roll impresario Andrew Loog Oldham encouraged him to record and release a single of his own.  And simultaneously rechristened Baldwin with the more memorable moniker John Paul Jones.  Jeff Beck, Cat Stevens, Tom Jones, Dusty Springfield, and countless others benefited from Jones’ musical input.  But he claims that by 1968 he was arranging fifty or sixty songs a month, “and it was starting to kill me.”

It was at this point that Jimmy Page had need of a bass player.  And during the sessions he was book on for Donovan’s album, The Hurdy Gurdy Man, Jones approached the guitarist and asked if he would consider him for the position.  Looking back, Page says he found it an easy decision.  “He had a proper music training, and he had quite brilliant ideas.  I jumped at the chance of getting him.”

And for his part, Jones expected the gig to provide nothing more than a needed break from the studio grind.  “When I first joined the band, I didn't think it would go on for that long, two or three years perhaps, and then I'd carry on with my career as a musician and doing movie music.”

But as you know, sometimes life has other plans.

Led Zeppelin: In the Beginning, part one

In the beginning, there was Jimmy Page.  He was only 8 when his family moved into a home in Surrey just south of London.  And he recalls that’s where he stumbled across his first guitar.  Almost literally.  Looking back, Page can’t recall whether a friend of the family brought it over or the previous tenants left it there.  Fortunately for all of us, it gave young Jimmy a chance to get acquainted with the instrument and decide to dedicate himself to it.

A self-taught guitarist, Jimmy Page found his youthful perspective on the instrument was just what British record producers were looking for to create their hit singles in the early ‘60s.  It must have been a rush finding himself booked for three sessions a day, five days a week.  And his talents helped craft some memorable music.  That’s Jimmy on Marianne Faithfull’s “As Tears Go By.”  And again on Petula Clark’s “Downtown.”  And again on Van Morrison and Them’s “Here Comes the Night.”  

Page was clearly at ground zero for the music explosion that was taking place in the U. K.  And he has claimed that the discipline required in the studio was a valuable experience.  “They’d just count the song off and you couldn’t make any mistakes.”  

But Page’s hot streak as a session player began to wane.  He wasn’t idle for long, though.  A week after he’d made the decision to quit studio work, The Yardbirds recruited him to fill an opening in their line up, and Page found himself touring Europe as a guitarist alongside Jeff Beck.  Page’s time in The Yardbirds gave him the opportunity to explore some ideas that had been brewing.  Performing live, the band gave Page the opportunity to improvise at length.  He had also been eager to blend some acoustic textures into the music.  The ongoing lack of commercial success convinced the remaining original Yardbirds that it was time to call it a day.  But the band had committed to a series of dates in Scandinavia, and Page felt obligated to see them through.  So the guitarist put together a line up consisting of fellow former session musician John Paul Jones on bass, a new vocalist he’d just discovered named Robert Plant, and a friend of Plant’s on drums, John Bonham.  They did the tour as The New Yardbirds, but when it was clear they were going to carry on performing together, the old Yardbirds insisted that they change their name.  

 

Tom Petty...in a nutshell

You couldn’t make up a life that’s more perfect for a rock star.  

Elvis showed him how his world could be different.  The Beatles showed him how to get there.  

He started collecting records.  He got an electric guitar and learned how to play.  

His mother encouraged his creativity and nourished his passion while his father despised how different his son was and beat him so hard that it drove him to succeed.  

He showed up in Hollywood with a box full of demos and landed a record deal almost immediately.  When it became clear two albums later that the contract he’d signed was a bad one, he fought the record company…and won.  

Then, when the record company wanted to debut a higher selling price for their albums with one of his releases, he fought them again…and won again.  

He became a video star without the critical accusations of being just a hairstyle band that dogged so many other video stars.  

He became friends with a Beatle.  And toured with Bob Dylan.  And recorded with Johnny Cash.  And became a close friend of Stevie Nicks.  And worked with Roy Orbison and Jeff Lynne and Jimmy Iovine and Rick Rubin and Dave Stewart and performed with Prince and Eddie Vedder and Dave Grohl.  

He wrote some of the most memorable, most enduring songs of the past 40 years.  And so far in his career he’s sold 80 million albums and counting.  

You have to agree that’s a pretty good run.  And he isn’t done yet!