The 2016 Memorial Playlist

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Welcome to the first annual year-end Memorial Playlist, a concept I shamelessly cribbed from a trainer friend of mine who creates them each year for her spin class.  The concept is pretty straight-forward: make lemonade out of lemons by compiling a playlist of some of the artists who passed away during the year.  Sadly for the musical art form (but a boon for this first effort), 2016 was an unusually active year for untimely deaths.

This playlist is available on Spotify.

David Bowie – “Ziggy Stardust” (Live).  Of course we start with Bowie.  While I was never a huge fan, there is no denying the out-sized influence he had on music and pop culture generally.  I am personally indebted to him for his support of the Velvet Underground and his role in producing Lou Reed’s classic Transformer album.  I picked this version of “Ziggy Stardust” (a tune I have always liked) because the live album from which it comes, the soundtrack to the documentary concert film Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1973), was a revelation when my brother spun it for me a while back.  I felt I finally got Bowie.  Not saddled with the androgynous optics and just listening to the music, I heard it as a hard-charging rock album that clearly presages punk.  It didn’t hurt that the album includes a cover of the Velvet Underground’s “While Light/White Heat.”

Glenn Frey – “Take It Easy.”  I come down a little closer to the Don Henley side of the Eagles line, consider Joe Walsh a guitar god, and have Randy Meisner’s “Take It To the Limit” in my repertoire of bedtime songs I sing to my son, but there is no denying Glenn Frey’s contribution to the Eagles’ genre-bending SoCal sound.  And Frey’s songs do seem to work better than other Eagles’ tunes on long car rides, particularly through the desert. He will be missed. [A shout-out to my father-in-law who has been hounding me from the day I launched Fine Tuning to write something about the Eagles.  I feel bad it took Glenn Frey’s death to make it happen, but we can’t control when the muse strikes.]

Dale “Buffin” Griffin – “Sea Diver.”  Who is Dale Griffin?  The drummer for Mott The Hoople, of course.  Like many, I imagine, I have always been dismissive of Mott The Hoople if for no other reason than the band’s ridiculous name.  Until one day I heard Def Leppard’s lead singer going on and on about how great the band was.  Since there is no better rock authority than Joe Elliott, I gave them another listen.  “Sea Diver” immediately surfaced for me as a little chestnut of a song.  Not too heavy on the drums, so maybe not the best track for this exercise, but does anyone really need to hear “All The Young Dudes” again?

Leonard Cohen – “Suzanne.”  Again, I have never been a huge fan of Leonard Cohen’s music but recognize the depth and breadth of his influence.  And in a bizarre happenstance, the leading biography of Leonard Cohen, I’m Your Man (2012) by the acclaimed rock critic Sylvie Simmons, is the only musical biography I have ever read.  Come to think of it, it’s the only biography of any genre I have read.  Why Leonard’s Cohen’s?  Not sure.  But I’m very glad I did read it.  His life story is fascinating.  I recommend the book to anyone, even those who, like me, are not big fans.  Particularly if you are Jewish or Canadian, my guess is you will find it interesting.  (If you are both, you have probably already read it.) I chose “Suzanne” because it bridges Cohen’s career in literature and music, starting its life as a poem before morphing into one of his most famous songs (and one covered by Springsteen way, way back in the day before the E Street Band).

Leon Russell – “Delta Lady.”  A true unsung legend whose greatest successes were songs recorded by others.  “Delta Lady” is a prime example.  I was fortunate enough to see him perform a few times and it was thrilling.  What stage presence even from behind the piano.

Paul Kantner – “Volunteers.”  Co-founder, guitarist, singer and song-writer for the Jefferson Airplane.  Enough said.  This is a great track written by Kantner and Marty Balin.

Merle Haggard – “Sing Me Back Home.”  Man do I love this song.  The Grateful Dead’s version from Veneta, Oregon in 1972 is one of my favorite tracks all time.  This is the original by an original.

Prince Buster – “Madness.”  No this is not a typo – we will get to the mononymous Prince in a minute.  Prince Buster was a Jamaican singer-songwriter who blazed the trail for later reggae and ska artists.  The well-known British ‘80s band took their name from this track.

Mose Allison – “Young Man Blues” (performed by The Who).  Like Leon Russell, a singer-songwriter and jazz/blues pianist best known for songs performed by others, including the Who. This track is from the Live From Leeds album and includes an introduction about Allison by Pete Townshend.

Rob Wasserman – “Throwing Stones.” Wasserman was a bass player for the ages.  He played with so many of the greats, including Jerry Garcia, Elvis Costello, Lou Reed, Van Morrison, David Grisman, Brian Wilson, Neil Young and Jackson Browne.  But I am most familiar with Wasserman’s work with Ratdog, Bob Weir’s alt-Dead vehicle.  This is a beautifully spare version of the Dead’s song from their penultimate studio album In The Dark (1987), with just Wasserman on bass and Weir on acoustic guitar and vocals.

Lonnie Mack – “Memphis.”  Lonnie Mack is credited with pioneering both blues-rock and Southern rock. He is cited as a major influence by the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Keith Richards, Dickey Betts and Jeff Beck.  Mack’s guitar solos, in particular this track released in 1963 which is essentially one long solo, served as prototypes for later rock musicians.

Prince – “Raspberry Beret.”  On the same day Lonnie Mack died, April 21, 2016, we also lost Prince.  What can I add to what has been written about Prince?  Not much.  Except this personal reminiscence: “Raspberry Beret” was the lynchpin of a CD I put together shortly after my son was born to try and fend off what seemed like the inevitable onslaught of baby music in the car.  I need to find that CD because not only was it a great disc, but it worked precisely as designed – I should market that thing to young parents the world over.  I did not once have to listen to that horrific cacophony of the baby masses we are told is music.  And I have Prince to thank for it.

So there you have it. Fine Tuning’s fond farewell to 2016. Here’s wishing everyone a happy and healthy New Year filled with soul-affirming music.

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