When Matthew Sweet, Shawn Mullins & Pete Droge (aka The Thorns) recorded “No Blue Sky” almost in 2002, they had no idea that the skies over the Western US would be thick with smoke, or that a global pandemic would isolate us in our homes. “It ain’t right, it feels like forever…” pretty much sums up the year 2020. I’m fascinated in how songs can find new relevance years later. Let’s listen to this gorgeous song and watch the sun go down together.

“No Blue Sky” (S. Mullins, P. Droge, M. Altman, G. Phillips) Copyright 2003

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A Todd Rundgren album can vary between pure pop to bossa nova, guitar rock to wild experimentation; like the proverbial box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get with the next Rundgren album. Released in 1989, the Nearly Human album is Todd at his best, a pop masterpiece of well-crafted songs performed impeccably, live-in-the-studio. “Parallel Lines” is one of the strongest cuts, initially written for an off-Broadway musical based on the script for a never-produced 3rd Beatles movie.

“Parallel Lines” (Todd Rundgren) Copyright 1989 Fiction Music, Inc./Todd Rundgren BMI

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“Rain” was the first glimpse of The Beatles exploration of psychedelia. Perhaps more than any other Beatles track, this song highlights the rhythm section with brilliant performances by Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney. Add Lennon’s lyrics and great vocals, and you’ve got one of the best songs to come out of the trippy, mind-expanding ’60’s. On this episode, we take a closer look at the individual performances and studio trickery– backwards, forwards, sped up & slowed down– that went into this classic track. 

“Rain” (John Lennon/Paul McCartney) Copyright 1966 Northern Songs

The Temptations’ first #1 Hit on the Billboard “Hot 100” chart was “My Girl” in 1965. 4 years later, they had their 2nd #1 with “I Can’t Get Next To You”, and the difference between these 2 songs tells you a lot about the 1960’s. “I Can’t Get Next To You” features a different lead vocalist, a more aggressive, funky beat and a trippy vibe courtesy of producer & songwriter Norman Whitfield. The early Temptations songs are great, but for my money, they were never better than when they teamed up with Whitfield and created “psychedelic soul”. Let’s listen to each piece of the puzzle that created this masterpiece.

“I Can’t Get Next To You” (Barret Strong & Norman Whitfield) Copyright 1969 Jobette Music Co., Inc. All rights controlled and administered by EMI Blackwood Music Inc. on behalf of Stone Agate Music (A division of Jobette Music Co., Inc.)

Stevie Wonder was on an unrivaled creative streak starting in 1972, releasing 5 brilliant albums in a row, culminating with Songs In The Key Of Life in 1976. That album spawned 2 hit singles, including “I Wish”, the subject of this episode.  A masterpiece blending funk with pop sensibilities, it’s a celebration of youthful innocence and simpler times.  How does this song make *you* feel?  Let me know on Facebook, write a review on iTunes or wherever you listen to this show.  And share it with your friends!

“I Wish” (Stevie Wonder) Copyright 1976 Jobette Music Co. Inc, and Black Bull Music c/o EMI April Music Inc.

Few bands have changed their sound as drastically as Yes did on their 90125 album, a radical departure from their previous progressive rock style.  But it ended up giving them their one & only #1 hit, “Owner Of A Lonely Heart”.  In this episode, we follow the song’s evolution from Trevor Rabin’s solo demo to the final production, including its innovative production techniques (such as being one of the first rock songs to use samples).  This was the most challenging episode I’ve done yet, but I think it was worth it.  If you enjoyed it, share it with your friends!

“Owner Of A Lonely Heart” (Trevor Rabin, Jon Anderson, Trevor Horn & Chris Squire) Copyright 1983 Carlin Music Corp, Unforgettable Songs And Affirmative Music

50 years ago today — July 16, 1969 — Apollo 11 was launched and human beings first stepped on the moon.  Let’s celebrate that occasion with the most famous song about space travel: David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”, a song that exploits our fear and wonder of the final frontier. 

In lesser hands, this track could’ve been nothing more than a goofy, one-joke song for the Dr. Demento crowd, but the clever songwriting, brilliant production and a vocal performance that captures Bowie’s innate other-worldly, alienated style makes this track so much more than a novelty song.

“Space Oddity” (David Bowie) Copyright 1969 Onward Music Limited

When Brian Wilson heard The Beatles Rubber Soul album, it inspired and challenged him to create an album of his own that would stand as an equal.  And he pulled it off.  Universally considered one of the greatest albums of all time, Pet Sounds is a testament to Brian’s genius as a songwriter, arranger & producer.  

The album includes some all-time classics like “God Only Knows” and “Wouldn’t it Be Nice”, but on this episode, I’d like to focus on one of my favorites on the record– “You Still Believe in Me”.  

Like most of the songs on Pet Sounds, this is a very personal song, a confession of a young man who knows he’s failing as a husband, but can’t help himself.  Brian’s vocal is pure, honest, and perfect.  And when those harmonies come in… I melt.  Let’s listen together.

“You Still Believe In Me” (Brian Wilson & Tony Asher) Copyright 1966 Sea Of Tunes Publishing Company/Irving Music Incorporates, USA, Rondor Music International

This is the episode where I try to explain why I think Todd Rundgren’s “Cliché” is the most beautiful song ever written.  Of course it’s all subjective, but I don’t know how anyone could deny the beauty and emotional resonance of this song.  I probably can’t do it justice, but here’s my attempt anyway.

“Cliché” (Todd Rundgren) Copyright 1976 Warner Publishing Corp.

Writing a hit song about writing a hit song?  Genius!  This song has everything a great pop-rock song needs– a memorable melody, great chorus, smart lyrics and killer vocals.  This song always makes me smile.  Don’t forget to share & leave comments!

“Overnight Sensation (Hit Record)” (Eric Carmen) Copyright 1974 C.A.M. USA Inc.