Merry Clayton never had a big hit, but her voice can be heard in dozens of songs you know (we’ve listened to one of them here before– see episode #42). One of the legendary background singers profiled in the documentary 20 Feet From Stardom, most of her solo work is largely unknown– which is a shame, because there’s some great music on those albums. Take this example from her first album, Gimme Shelter. Merry takes this James Taylor classic to a whole new place, one of my favorite cover songs of all time.

“Country Road” (James Taylor) Copyright 1970 Blackwood Music Inc./Country Road Music Inc. (BMI)

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Some songs call for you to speak out & demand action. Some songs explore the deepest depths of your soul. Some songs are timeless expressions of love. This song… it just kicks ass. Humble Pie was a guitar riff machine, and Steve Marriott was 5′ 5″ of vocal dynamite. Add a trio of the finest backing singers– Venetta Fields, Clydie King and Sherlie Matthews– and you’ve got a party.

“Thunderbox” (Clemson/Marriott) Copyright 1974 Almo Music Corp/Rule One Music (ASCAP)

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It’s been 40 years since the death of John Lennon, a senseless loss that still stings. Here’s one of my personal favorite Lennon tracks. We’ll follow it from its early stages through to the final album version.

“Nobody Loves You (When You’re Down And Out)” (John Lennon) Copyright 1974 Lenono Music (BMI) All rights controlled and administered by EMI Blackwood Music Inc

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There’s never been any shortage of drama with Fleetwood Mac… long before the soap opera of Rumours, there was the psychodrama of Peter Green (and Jeremy Spencer, and Danny Kirwan…). The saga of how Peter Green– one of the brightest guitarists to come out of ’60’s Britain, right up there with Clapton/Beck/Page– was lost to a drug-fueled spiritual black hole is one of the great “if only…” tales in Rock History. When he passed away in July 2020, I knew it was time to tackle a Green-era Mac classic… I just had to gin up the courage to revisit the nightmare that awaits in “The Green Manalishi (with the Two-Prong Crown)”

“The Green Manalishi (with the Two-Prong Crown)” (Peter Green) Copyright 1970 Palan Music Publishing Ltd.

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Rare Earth’s sound was equal parts funky soul and straight-up rock. For decades, when there’s cause for celebration, folks have been crankin’ up this chunk of funk rock. Let’s take a closer look at how Rare Earth carved their place in history with this track.

“I Just Want To Celebrate” (Nick Zesses, Dino Fekaris) Copyright 1971 Jobette Music Co., Inc (BMI)

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When Alice Cooper recorded “Elected” in 1972, it was a satire about a rich, grandstanding, self-obsessed celebrity running for president. He’s a “yankee doodle dandy in a gold Rolls Royce”. We all laughed. That kind of thing could never happen in real life, right…?

“Elected” (Alice Cooper, Michael Bruce, Dennis Dunaway, Neal Smith & Glen Buxton) Copyright 1973 Ezra Music Corporation, administered by Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

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Some bands take time to develop a unique sound, but Queen sounded like Queen right from the beginning. “Keep Yourself Alive” was the opening track on their first album, and it contains all the requisite Queen elements: the heavy riffs & orchestrated guitars, the vocal harmonies, dramatic musical shifts and Freddie’s powerful voice. The band would go on to scale bigger heights, but the magic was there from the start. Let’s have a listen.

“Keep Yourself Alive” (Brian May) Copyright 1972 Queen Music Ltd

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Picture this: You’re a successful chart-topping band, but your managers are writing all your hits and ignoring the songs you’re writing. You wrote a track on your latest album that has potential, but the record company thinks you can improve it. So, without your managers knowing about it, you re-record it & release it as a single– and it’s a hit. That’s the story of Sweet and “Fox On The Run”.

“Fox on The Run” (Andy Scott, Steve Priest and Brian Connolly) Copyright 1975 (Renewed) Sweet Publishing Ltd. All rights in the US and Canada Administered by WB Music Corp. 

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It Came From Boston (Vol. 3): MIT graduate/Polaroid employee Tom Scholz recorded an album’s worth of songs in his basement in Watertown, MA after work, and somehow the record eventually sold 25 million copies worldwide. Along with Brad Delp, Sib Hashian and some other guys (maybe?), were they the inventors of Corporate Rock or the most successful DIY debut of all time? You decide.

“Hitch A Ride” (Tom Scholz) Copyright 1976 Pure Songs – All Rights Administered  by WB Music Corp.

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Pink Floyd released “Us & Them” in 1973, but it feels like it could’ve been written yesterday. Can we ever get past our compulsion to separate “us” from “them”? This is a song for the ages, with some brilliant performances across the board from everyone involved– band members, guest artists, backing singers and recording engineers alike. Let’s try to listen to this song afresh and rediscover what makes this classic track great.

“Us & Them” (Roger Waters, Richard Wright) Copyright 1973 Pink Floyd Music Publishers and Warner/Chappell Artemis Music Limited

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