Now Hear This: Episode 7

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Note: The “Play this track” cues below may be off by several seconds on mobile devices.

Song Notes:

FLEETWOOD MAC: “Second Hand News” Play this track

What a great album opener. Rumours was *the big one* for Fleetwood Mac and it’s fitting they led it off with this amazing Lindsey Buckingham song. Deceptively bouncy and even fun, performance-wise, its stealth personal lyrics foreshadowed Buckingham’s increasing position in the Mac and subsequent reputation as a musical eccentric to be reckoned with. —Rock Stamberg

I’ve never been a Fleetwood Mac record buyer. I was slow to recognize the emotional intensity and melodic beauty of founder/guitarist Peter Green. Though now I’m a big fan and “Albatross” is among my all time top favorite instrumentals. When the Buckingham, Nicks, Fleetwood, and McVie(s) band emerged, they were never on my radar. Over time I was happy to discover many of their radio hits and I agree they belonged at the top of the pops. The toppist of the poppist for me is “Second Hand News.” I bob my head to the melody and chug along to that train-like rhythm. I’m a sucker for nonsense lyrics, and there they are. It’s a sad song played with a smile and I’m always happy to bump into it. —John Stix

TODD RUNDGREN: “The Want Of A Nail” (Featuring Bobby Womack) Play this track

It had been four long years without any new original Todd Rundgren material when Nearly Human emerged in the fall of 1989. “The Want Of A Nail” was the first track to appear and it foretold how great the album would be. And it is. “The Want Of A Nail” is at once hot ’n’ hooky plus it shows off all of Rundgren’s skills — writer, singer, player, record producer — and it also contains just enough off-the-wall-ness to satisfy hardcore Rundgrenites. —RS

I’m not a lyrics-first guy. The music that immediately attracts me easily has a solid groove, an earworm melody, and some kind of surprise instrumental element. Lyrics usually come second. But as an all-out Todd Rundgren fan (I think he has everything I love in an artist) I find his lyrics to be incredibly insightful and to the point. In this song he explains the butterfly effect where one slight variation in a sequence of events will entirely change that event’s outcome. For “The Want Of A Nail” the shoe was lost, so there was no horse, so no rider, no message, so the battle and the war were lost. And what have we forgotten? Not the nail, but love. Yikes, now that’s saying something. —JS

LOU REED: “Intro/Sweet Jane” Play this track

This is the one that turned my attention to Lou Reed when it was played on New York’s WNEW-FM upon the great live Rock N Roll Animal album’s debut back in 1974. Ooh, I just revealed my vintage. Anyway, this is so crunchin’, catchy and undeniably hot I had to have the LP immediately, which set me on my hot/cold course listening to Reed’s output right up to the end. This is essential for any rock fan. Like, seriously. —RS

What a great opening to a live album. Guitar heaven unfolds with Steve Hunter and Dick Wagner‘s counterpoint jamming. And this is why guitar was king in the mid-70s. Their intro leads into Reed’s classic “Sweet Jane.” I worked with Lou Reed on a songbook in the 2000s. I was uncomfortable with the thought of meeting him. I had this vision he would be dark and unfriendly. I was wrong. He was more like a very bright, thoughtful, and interested grandfather. Over the course of working on the book I discovered him to be a detailed composer and nuanced arranger. By the way, that was my discovery; his fans knew that long ago. I was, however, surprised at how important it was to him that everyone know “Sweet Jane” has four chords and not three. —JS

SQUEEZE: “Melody Motel” Play this track

Every Squeeze album has fantastic material, even the ones you’ve probably never heard of. This way overlooked gem is from 1989’s Frank album (the one with the turtle on the cover) and it’s as good as any of Squeeze’s best. —RS

I didn’t know this song before Rock picked it. But if you have Squeeze’s 45’s and Under hits collection just know this song would fit in perfectly. Another melodic winner that’s been overlooked. —JS

STEVE WINWOOD: “Vacant Chair” Play this track

From his 1977 solo debut, the hypnotic groove’ll getcha. You’ll see. —RS

The first two CDs I bought were Jimi Hendrix at Winterland and Steve Winwood’s eponymously titled debut solo album. I love the whole Steve Winwood album, but this song just sucked me in. It is so spacious and hypnotic, yet every time I tried to add guitar licks to it, I couldn’t come up with anything that enhanced the song. While it’s true I’m not much of a player, I think it has more to do with the perfection of the song itself. You know that minimal groove Van Morrison sets up where you would follow him wherever he leads? “Vacant Chair” occupies that same space. —JS

FOGHAT: “Jenny Don’t Mind” Play this track

Foghat? Yes, Foghat. More than that, latter-day Foghat. Would you have known? The last studio album to feature the band’s late, great guitarist/songwriter/frontman “Lonesome” Dave Peverett, 1983’s Zig-Zag Walk marked the band’s twelfth and final album for their longtime record label Bearsville Records, which ceased operations soon thereafter. The record demonstrates how musically diverse the blues-rockers had become and this track is good evidence. By the way, Erik Cartwright’s slide guitar parts on this track really do things for me. —RS

DOOBIE BROTHERS: “Takin’ It To The Streets” Play this track

Full disclosure: I disliked “Takin’ It To The Streets” when it first came out in 1976. I love it now, of course. The clinchers for me are Tiran Porter’s bass playing and not-of-this-world sound, the notes he chooses and the spaces he leaves for the song to breathe. Oh, then there’s this guy Michael McDonald … —RS

I love this gospel rock song at face value. Hello Michael McDonald. What great way for him to introduce himself to The Doobie Brothers and to the charts. Then there is the extra kick when I step back and realize it’s not a typical rock song form. It’s more like an A, B, C form that keeps repeating. —JS

10cc: “Clockwork Creep” Play this track

Cartoon music played by musicians’ musicians. Yes, we are listening to the voice of a bomb in a plane that is going to explode, followed by the voice of the plane itself. A merry melody indeed. —JS

I just love 10cc. —RS

DAVE BRUBECK: “Unsquare Dance” Play this track

My buddy Dave Dince and I used to get turned on to music by his dad, Paul. I believe this was one of the tunes he had us listen to in their living room. Certainly the song he turned us onto that had the most impact was “Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue” from The Duke Ellington Orchestra’s 1956 Ellington at Newport live recording. “Unsquare Dance” is in 7/4 time and had a clapping element that makes it fun and interactive. I could never get it right all the way through. I still flub the ending. But it was a blues in 7/4, which still makes it pretty rare. —JS

GRATEFUL DEAD: “Cumberland Blues” Play this track

The opening track to 1972’s triple-album magnum opus Europe ’72, “Cumberland Blues” delivers the best of what the Grateful Dead could do. This comes from my favorite Dead era and my favorite Dead lineup (then new and crazily gifted keyboardist Keith Godchaux was really hitting his stride at this juncture). It’s all there: the song, the singing (harmonies!), the concisely percolating playing, the arrangement (yes, the Dead’s songs usually had structure), and the performance’s purposeful jamming (no lie — you’ll see … uh, hear). Good stuff for converting haters. Go for it. —RS

I am not a Deadhead but when the band flows together their journey has vision. The vocals are sweet and Jerry Garcia’s guitar bounces above it all. That’s when I’m a fan … and I’m definitely a fan of this song. If you are not a Deadhead, you should still check out their Europe ’72 live album. I think performances like this one are what Deadheads are always in search of. —JS

CHICAGO: “Wake Up Sunshine” (Isolated Vocal/Bass/Trombone Version) Play this track

I love the first two Chicago albums and this Chicago II (or Chicago if you’re a purist) track of vocals, bass and a stray trombone line still makes me smile. Bassist Peter Cetera told me the band was always driven to perfection. I think they got it on this track. His bass playing is so good here! There’s not much to this stripped-down version, but it’s not missing a thing. —JS

I’m a big fan of the original Chicago lineup (1967 to 1978 — the Terry Kath era). John, however, is a *really* big fan of the original Chicago lineup. —RS

PAUL SIMON: “Was A Sunny Day” Play this track

‘Twas indeed. From 1973’s There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, the Muscle Shoals, Alabama influence is very pervasive, probably because that’s where the record was recorded with the classic Muscle Shoals sidemen. Sparky and unusually underproduced for a Paul Simon record, this oddly enticing ditty embraces Simon’s seemingly happy wordplay and tossed in references. Favorite “borrowed” lyric: “They called him Speedo, but his Christian name was Mr. Earl.” Sure was. —RS

THE BEACH BOYS: “Pitter Patter” Play this track

Let’s get this outta the way up front: I’m a confirmed devotee of The Beach Boys’ lesser-known work, mainly dating from the late ’60s through to the late ’70s and beyond. Here’s “Pitter Patter” from 1978’s M.I.U. Album (don’t ask) and it’s a favorite of mine. Brian’s pounding electric piano, Dennis’ pounding drums, and those great savant harmonies are all there. Who cares if the rain-themed lyrics are dopey when the rest of the song is so cool? Not me. Not you? Just play it. —RS

THE BEACH BOYS: Summer’s Gone” Play this track

Another Beach Boys song you ask? I’m on a roll here so don’t stop me now. From the surprisingly excellent “reunion” album, 2012’s That’s Why God Made the Radio, “Summer’s Gone” is Brian Wilson’s wistfully haunting rumination on aging and the circular nature of the seasons. Gorgeous and oddly comforting in its beauty. —RS

JIMI HENDRIX: “Drifting” Play this track

After hearing “Pitter Patter” and “Summer’s Gone” I knew this wonderful Hendrix tune had to follow them. I think the final four songs in this NHT podcast are just perfect together. —JS

Am I the only one who thinks Hendrix’s posthumous Cry of Love album is perfect? LMK. That’s what this blog is for. —RS

GEORGE HARRISON: “Your Love is Forever” Play this track

Easygoing and focused, the allure of this under-the-radar George Harrison track will pull you in with its exquisite charm and elegance. A love song for the ages, “Your Love is Forever” employs a loping grace, plus shimmering harmonics and, of course, enticing dollops of Harrison’s bejeweled slide guitar playing. One of my top 10 Harrison favorites. —RS