Aretha Franklin and Dr. John, 1971, via Dr. John’s Facebook page.
The Doctor guested on a couple of Aretha’s 1971 singles, notably playing percussion on “Rock Steady” (released in February; I wrote about that here), and playing keyboards on Aretha’s cover of “Spanish Harlem”, a July 1971 single that became the opening track of Aretha’s Greatest Hits, released that September. It
spent three weeks at #1 on the US soul charts and two weeks at #2 on the Pop chart on the way to selling over 1 million copies.
(btw, the b-side referenced here, “Lean On Me”, isn’t a cover of the song that Bill Withers hadn’t written yet, of course, but rather the 1970 Vivian Reed original, a fantastic track, one of Aretha’s most powerful performances – but no Dr. John means that I’ll save it for another day.)
Freddie Mercury and Jane Seymour at Fashion Aid, 1985
So a while back, I posted some pics of Freddie Mercury, Jane Seymour, and Boy George at Fashion Aid, November 5, 1985 at The Royal Albert Hall. Organized by Bob Geldof following Live Aid, the guest list was just as impressive in its own way – Grace Jones, Jerry Hall, Kate Bush, Michael Caine, Ringo, George Michael, Zandra Rhodes, and many more.
Which made me wonder, were there more pics of Freddie and Jane in particular out there that I hadn’t found yet? OH YES THERE WERE!
AND THEN I FOUND THE VIDEO!!!
It turns out that the climax of the event was a faux wedding between Fred and Jane! In it, you can see that Freddie is not only shirtless but BAREFOOT as he sweeps Jane off her feet, into his arms!
You’ll see other celebs, as well as the full orchestra and choir who are dressed no less spectactularly.
This really is some pretty wild stuff. Sources for all this here, here, here, and here, all of which I did some additional editing on. Almost none had credits, but I’m thinking that most of if not all photos are by Dave Hogan.
Note that some of the sources I linked to just above had a LOT more photos in case you want to build a Freddie Mercury-Jane Seymour wedding album of your own!
(The picture sleeve released in Yugoslavia in case you were wondering.)
John Deacon. That fluffy fella third from the left, seen at Ridge Farm in 1975, where the band was working on A Night At The Opera.
Here’s another of him, via discodeaky(whose outstounding blog, these days known as @doktordyper, you should definitely get to know if you don’t).
He didn’t just play bass, though. When he happened upon a Wurlitzer electric piano (the Wurlitzer EP-200, NOT a Fender Rhodes as if often misidentified; they actually sound nothing alike), he asked Fred about it, who scoffed. “I refuse to play the damn thing. It’s tinny and horrible and I don’t like them. Why play those things when you’ve got a lovely superb grand piano?”
John’s response? “I took it home and I started to learn on the electric piano and basically that’s the song that came out, you know, when I was learning to play piano.“
The song we’re talking about is “You’re My Best Friend.” The first song he wrote when he was teaching himself to play the electric piano.
And since Freddie refused to play the Wurlitzer, JOHN played the piano on the record that we know and love.
He also layed down a righteous bassline (not at the same time, mind you), and the fact is, as often as we talk about John writing this really terrific song (the second single from the album), I almost never hear anyone talking about how well he PLAYED on it, too.
Not bad for a first try!
So, from the 40th anniversary re-release of A Night At The Opera, here’s the backing track for “You’re My Best Friend”. It includes some lovely vocals and some of Brian May’s sweetest guitar work (5 layers of rhythm, plus the lead, running through the legendary Deacy Amp, designed and built by John in 1972 and finally released commercially in 2010 – you can buy it online, at deacyamp.com!), but this stripped down version allows you to really hear what John was doing on piano and bass.
TURN IT UP.
Freddie conceded that John was able to get a distinctive sound out of the Wurlitzer, but he was still having none of it. Not only did he ONLY play it on a grand piano in concert, in the official video release, we do indeed see Deacy at the piano, but it’s a GRAND PIANO, and NOT a Wurlitzer!!! Seriously, Fred was having NONE of it.
Whatever, man. It’s a heckuva track. Maximum Deacy, and don’t you forget it.
And in fairness to Fred’s dislike for the Wurlitzer, he slays this song vocally. The 1975 black nail polish look is also killer.
By the way, John played keyboards on other tracks (notably “Another One Bites The Dust”), as well as guitar now and again (especially on his own songs for Hot Space), and really, that’s his story in Queen. Doing what he has to, and doin’ just fine, thanks for asking.
Joni Mitchell, “Coyote”, accompanied by Bob Dylan and Roger McGuinn at Gordon Lightfoot’s house, December 1, 1975
It was a wild night, even by Rolling Thunder Revue standards. The show topped four hours that night, as Gordon Lightfoot was featured in a prime spot just before Dylan’s own set, bringing the house down with his hit “Sundown”. Caught up in the spirit of things, Gord invited some friends back to his house, and it wound up being over 70 of ‘em blocking up the cul-de-sac. “We were told we had quite a lot of fun,” Ramblin’ Jack Elliot recalls, although not many folks can recall exactly what transpired.
I’ll SHOW you a little of what transpired. Joni, Roger, and Bob snuck away with Gordon for an intimate little hootenanny. Gord’s rendition of Bob’s “Ballad in D” has circulated in bootleg circles for years, but I never even heard a RUMOR about this little miracle. Scratch that – it’s almost inconceivable that this exists, and that it was recorded at all, much less to complete, off-the-cuff perfection by Howard Alk’s crew.
Look, there’s no doubt that Sam Shepard figures in as one of the titular coyotes, predators of a not unsexy sort, but predators nonetheless. This not-quite-finished version of the song doesn’t include Joni’s eventually perfectly crystalized description: “He’s got a woman at home/ He’s got another down the hall/ He seems to want me anyway”.
But here’s the thing. Parsing the men in Joni’s songs is a mug’s game. It’s sexist as shit, and will lead you down the wrong path every fucking time. These songs are about Joni, every god damned one of them. You want to talk about perfectly crystalized? Her description of herself: “a hitcher, a prisoner of the fine white lines of the free, free-way.”
(Don’t get ahead of yourself with the coke references, either. Not that she didn’t do plenty of it on this tour. One of my favorite Rolling Thunder stories is when a Buddhist monk passing through the madness asks Joni if she believes in God. She gives the perfect monk’s answer, too: “Yes, here is my god and here is my prayer” as she snorts a rail straight at him.
Listen to the whole album, though, and the ones before and after. She’s talking about the road. Her addiction is to leaving. The title track of the album where this song would land, Hejira, refers to The Prophet’s precipitous departure from Mecca to Medina. Likewise, Joni’s got many tales to tell of gettin’ while the gettin’s good.)
So here in not quite finished form, with Joni calling out the chord changes so Bob and Roger can try to keep up (HA!) while Gordo lurks behind them, Joni absolutely devastates with one of the best songs anyone has ever written or sung. Who says there’s no such things as miracles?
btw, you can find some of these stories here and here, but others I’ve been carrying with me for 40-odd years and have no idea where I picked ‘em up, which in the end seems just about right. You should also check out the Netflix Rolling Thunder Revue fantasia that gifted us with this clip. Enjoy the music, but don’t believe a word of it otherwise, and you’ll probably come out just fine.
You’ve heard the 1976 hit version from The Electric Light Orchestra, a pop classic by any measure – but this stripped-down 1971 version by The Move SLAMS! It’s obviously the same song of course, but it really sounds beamed in from another dimension as peeling back all the layers reveals the downright weirdness at its heart.
(Seriously, one of the weirdest songs ever to become a hit.)
Presumably you’ve already hit play and heard the biggest difference between this and the 1976 ELO version: that one had an orchestra and choir, and this one is just composer Jeff Lynne, Roy Wood, and drummer Bev Bevan BANGING. Although Jeff wrote it, the song’s original title was named for a spontaneous outburst of Roy Wood’s at the end of the song, “Look Out Baby There’s A Plane A-Comin’”. (Yes, that was the original title! I think “Do Ya” works better tho.)
(Tom Petty later told Jeff that he thought “Look out baby there’s a planet coming” was one of the coolest lyrics he’d ever heard, and was disappointed to learn the proper words.)
Although the song had been a staple in ELO’s live sets, they didn’t get around to recording it until 1976, after Todd Rundgren’s cover on Another Live became something of a hit itself in 1975 (with Todd repaying a favor to Jeff, who’d regularly been performing Todd’s early Nazz track “Open Your Eyes”).
In fact, it was this original version’s complete lack of orchestration that landed the song with The Move rather than ELO. (Both Message From The Country and ELO’s debut were recorded more or less simultaneously, with the more orchestral tracks naturally landing with ELO.)
Recorded December 19, 1971, and released as the B-side to “California Man”, it failed to chart in the UK, and in 1972, barely cracked the US Top 100, landing at #98. Its days as a chart-topper were yet to come.
I do love ELO’s 1976 version, and the 1975 version by Todd Rundgren’s Utopia (which I’ll discuss in full another day) might even be my favorite, but there’s something special and irreplaceable about the original “Do Ya” from 1971.
Turn this tf up, play it again, and let me know what you think!
James Taylor & Carly Simon, “You Can Close Your Eyes” (1977)
Originally released on James’ 1971 album Mud Slide Slim & The Blue Horizon, “You Can Close Your Eyes” has been covered dozens of times, most notably by Linda Ronstadt in 1974. James has also performed it with Carole King and Bonnie Raitt among others over the years, and one of his 3 live duets with Joni Mitchell (a 1970 John Peel session) has rightly become virtually canonical.
But this is the one that’s been missing from your life. Recorded at James and Carly’s Martha’s Vineyard home in 1977, the best part of this performance may be the privilege of watching Carly Simon’s face light up when she sings. You’ve never seen anything quite like it. Even though they’ve invited us into their home to witness it, it still feels almost too intimate to bear.
There are no bad versions of this song by anyone, but this one is something special.
“Live and Let Die”: Paul McCartney at Desert Trip, his killer band, plus lasers, pyro, some of the biggest video screens you’ve ever seen, and fireworks out the wazoo make the case for Macca as one of the most epic acts on the road today.
(Edit: that headline is from 2016, when Desert Trip took place, and it’s still true.)
All the more amazing because this is about three hours into a show IN THE DESERT, around midnight, with a hot wind blowing sand everywhere. I could barely breathe, and here’s this guy jamming like a kid a third his age.
Remarkably, this was hardly the finale of the show. Paul followed this with “Hey Jude” to end the main set, followed by an encore of “Birthday”, “Helter Skelter”, and the Abbey Road medley of “Golden Slumbers – Carry That Weight – The End”. The whole night was absolutely stunning, and my hand-held camera work (Nikon P900 DSLR) from over a quarter mile away barely does it justice.
At the end, Paul covers his ears and laments, “Too loud!” He’s kidding! Crank it up! You’ll be glad you did.
(Lots more pics from this show, and other related, and non-related, stuff at my Instagram.)
(This was Weekend 2, btw, and he’d been up late the night before dancing in the crowd to The Rolling Stones, and played just a few days earlier at a show in a remote mountain bar that I wrote about here. He’s a force of nature!)
David Bowie, Ringo Starr and their hair, relaxing back stage.
Omg I’ve never seen this before
This is from a remarkable 1974 BBC documentary called Cracked Actor. They re-run it every so often, but it’s also available online if you poke around a bit. By far the best documentation (and really, darn near the ONLY documentation) we have of one of the artistically ambitious tours undertaken by anyone to date, very quickly stripped down soon after this as David turned the corner from glam to soul. He was clearly having a bit of trouble personally, and the interviews are difficult to watch, but my god, the performances are stunning.
There’s also a bit from Ziggy’s final show (D.A. Pennebaker’s famous footage), as well as a few other shows on this tour, and for my money, 1974 really is where all pieces started coming together, as David leaves the intentional fakery of Ziggy, and Ziggy’s musically conservative, retro vibe behind to become something truly new.
Here’s part 1 of Cracked Actor, noting again that if you can’t see this in your territory or if it gets taken down, just keep poking around (including beyond YouTube). It’s out there, I promise, in every sense of that phrase, and worth every bit of effort to track it down.
You really need to see this: Jimi Hendrix, December 1967, just turned 25 – and ever-so-slightly intimidated by a 12-string acoustic guitar! A delicate magic ensues.
Informed that they were almost out of film and needed to get this in one take, Jimi is unsure where to begin: the guitar belonged to director Peter Neal, and Jimi had never played one like it before.
He looks up after picking around for a few bars and is startled to see the camera rolling. Clearly flustered, he stops. “Don’t waste all that film there! Stop it for a second! ‘Cause I was scared to death. Can I do it just one more time though? Can I do it just one more time?”
This time, his exploration starts on a little firmer footing as he eases into his never-quite-finished original composition, “Hear My Train A Comin’”.
(For that matter, he never quite settled on a title. In virtually every live performance, Jimi introduced it as some variation of “Getting My Heart Back Together Again”.)
Finding his way along as he bends the strings to follow his voice, and vice versa, he ends three minutes later with a laugh. “Did you think I could do that?”
The answer seems obvious in retrospect, but Peter was honest later that he had no idea what to expect. “It was just one of those magic moments that happen sometimes.” More of Peter’s story behind the shoot here.
Her name is Mademoiselle Nobs, and she belonged to
Madonna Bouglione. This was recorded in Paris, December 13-20 during sessions for Live At Pompeii, and was a playful recreation of the song “Seamus” from Pink Floyd’s Meddle, released in October 1971.
Rather than a female Borzoi, Seamus was a male collie belonging to Steve Marriott, who’d gone off with Humble Pie on a US tour in May 1971, leaving Seamus in David Gilmour’s care. (Humble Pie recorded Performance Rockin’ The Fillmore on that trip, one of the year’s best and most overlooked live LPs – one of the best ever, imo.)
David discovered that Seamus enjoyed singing along to the blues, brought him into the studio during the Meddle sessions, and the rest is history.
btw, you’ll see lots of pictures on the web claiming to be of Seamus, but I haven’t been able to confirm any of them. (Most of them are of a German Shepherd, clearly not a collie, and a female at that.) Steve had at least 4 dogs, though, and 3 cats, so it’s easy to imagine that Seamus might have someone missed being photographed, or at least properly identified.