Documenting Popular Music

By Robert Neil

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Description

Documenting Popular Music is a radio-documentary series that examines the artists and music from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Through research and interviews by veteran journalist Robert Neil, the series provides an inside look into the unforgettable music from that period. Additionally, some episodes feature reviews of new albums from artist connected to the 60s, 70s and 80s. Additionally, the program occasionally spotlights artists from outside those decades, including new and/or unknown artists that merit attention. The shows are produced at the O&F Studios (www.OandFStudios.com).

Episode Date
An Historic Writing Partnership – Legendary Songwriters Neil Diamond and Gilbert Bécaud Come Together to Write Songs for The Jazz Singer Movie
22:54

In the late 1970s, when Neil Diamond was asked to star in the movie the Jazz Singer, his career was at the peak of popularity, and he had not only established himself as an elite performer, but also an accomplished songwriter.  Similarly, Gilbert Bécaud, who had reached stardom more than a decade before Diamond, was also revered as a top performer and songwriter in France and other European countries.

These two men came together in the late 1970s for a writing partnership that would ultimately produce about a dozen songs, including the first single from the Jazz Singer soundtrack – a song that would become one of the biggest recordings in Diamond’s career.

On this episode of Documenting Popular Music, veteran journalist Robert Neil spotlights the remarkable songwriting collaboration and offers details about the Diamond/Bécaud partnership that have not been highlighted before.

May 19, 2018
TBT – Album Review: James Taylor’s ‘Before this World’ from 2015
17:56

For this ‘Throwback Thursday’ (TBT) episode of Documenting Popular Music, we are replaying our 2015 review of James Taylor’s ‘Before this World' album.  To date, it is the last studio album Taylor has released, and he has been performing songs from the album on his current concert tour.

Before this World’ was produced by one of Taylor’s long-time collaborators, Dave O’Donnell, and the core musicians who perform on the album have also been part of Taylor's inner circle for a long time.  Additionally, guests Sting and Yo-Yo Ma appear on the album, which debuted at #1 on Billboard’s album chart when it was released.

Included on the album is the now classic “Angels of Fenway,” a tribute to the Boston Red Sox World Series championship season in 2004.

Musicians on the Album:

Luis Conte: Percussion

Walt Fowler: Handclaps

Steve Gadd: Drums

Larry Goldings: Piano, Wurlitzer, Fender Rhodes, Organ, Accordion, Harmonium

Jimmy Johnson: Bass

Michael Landau: Electric and Nylon-String Guitars

David Lasley: Vocals

Yo-Yo Ma: Cello

Kate Markowitz: Vocals

Arnold McCuller: Vocals

Rajendra Prasanna: Shehnai

Caroline Taylor: Vocals

Henry Taylor: Vocals

James Taylor: Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Harmonica, Hi-Strung Guitar, Synth Guitar

Sting: Vocals

Andrea Zonn: Fiddle and Vocals

 

The O&F Studios is currently working on an elaborate edition of Documenting Popular Music, which will take a look at the year in music from 1977, a significant year that helped shape the latter half of the 70s.

Additional episodes currently being produced include an interview with the author of a new biography about Gordon Lightfoot and an in-depth interview with Merilee Rush (“Angel of the Morning”).

Feb 22, 2018
Hey, Hey It’s the Monkees, Part II – A Look at the Individual Careers of the Monkees in the 70s and 80s
18:04

The Monkees TV show debuted in September of 1966 and ran until March of 1968.  During that time, the band saturated the music charts and radio stations with songs such as “I’m a Believer,” “Daydream Believer,” “Last Train to Clarksville,” “Valleri,” “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You,” “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” “I’m Not Your Stepping Stone” and many others.

The group consisted for Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, Michael Nesmith, and Peter Tork, and the four had been assembled by producers at Screen Gems for the television show.  In the beginning, the members of the group didn’t have much say in the music they recorded, and their vocals were their main contributions.  However, the Monkees were eventually able to wrestle away more control of the recordings, and their musical careers continued after the television show ended.

This episode of Documenting Popular Music, takes a look at the individual members of the Monkees and what they did after the break up – in the 1970s and 1980s.  Insight into their careers is provided by Monkees expert Fred Velez, who writes a blog for the website Monkees.net, and he authored the book A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You: The Monkees From A Fan's Perspective.

Velez, who has a wealth of knowledge about the group, also offers some behind the scenes history, including how the Monkees and the Beatles hung out together, and how Dolenz ended up using a Beatles song in an episode of the Monkees TV show.

Part I of this feature takes a look at Nesmith and Dolenz.

Part II spotlights Jones and Tork.

Jan 21, 2018
Hey, Hey It’s the Monkees, Part I – A Look at the Individual Careers of the Monkees in the 70s and 80s
20:22

The Monkees TV show debuted in September of 1966 and ran until March of 1968.  During that time, the band saturated the music charts and radio stations with songs such as “I’m a Believer,” “Daydream Believer,” “Last Train to Clarksville,” “Valleri,” “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You,” “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” “I’m Not Your Stepping Stone” and many others.

The group consisted for Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork, and the four had been assembled by producers at Screen Gems for the television show.  In the beginning, the members of the group didn’t have much say in the music they recorded, and their vocals were their main contributions.  However, the Monkees were eventually able to wrestle away more control of the recordings, and their musical careers continued after the television show ended.

This episode of Documenting Popular Music takes a look at the individual members of the Monkees and what they did after the break up – in the 1970s and 1980s.  Insight into their careers is provided by Monkees expert Fred Velez, who writes a blog for the website Monkees.net, and he authored the book A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You: The Monkees From A Fan's Perspective.

Velez, who has a wealth of knowledge about the group, also offers some behind the scenes history, including how the Monkees and the Beatles hung out together, and how Dolenz ended up using a Beatles song in an episode of the Monkees TV show.

Part I of this feature takes a look at Nesmith and Dolenz.

Part II spotlights Jones and Tork.

Jan 20, 2018
Album Review -- The Eagles, Donna Summer, Garth Brooks, Vince Gill, Randy Owen and Many Others Pay Tribute to Dan Fogelberg
14:28

Dan Fogelberg passed away 10 years ago this month.  His memory has been kept alive this year by a number of events, including the release of two new albums, ‘Live At Carnegie Hall’ (a previously unheard performance from 1979) and a tribute album that features a long list of musicians that loved Fogelberg’s music.

 

This episode of Documenting Popular Music takes a look at the tribute album and artist such as Garth Brooks, who performs “Phoenix” with Trisha Yearwood providing background vocals; the late Donna Summer, who sings an inspiring version of “Nether Lands” using the same backing track that Fogelberg used for the 1977 classic; Amy Grant and Vince Gill, who provide a duet on “Longer” that gives new life to Fogelberg’s biggest hit; Randy Owen, the legendary voice of the group Alabama – the best-selling country group of all time – sings “Sutter’s Mill,” originally from Fogelberg’s progressive bluegrass album ‘High Country Snows;’ Zac Brown and his band deliver a live version of “Leader of the Band;” and Fogelberg’s good friend Joe Walsh of the Eagles sings “Part of the Plan,” a song he originally produced for Fogelberg for the 1974 album Souvenirs. Fellow Eagles Don Henley and Timothy B. Schmit sing backing harmonies for the new version of the song.

 

Other artists on the album include Michael McDonald, Jimmy Buffett, Boz Scaggs, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band with Richie Furay, the late Dobie Gray, Train, Fool’s Gold (originally Fogelberg’s backing band) and Casey James.

 

Included in this presentation is inside, background information from Fogelberg’s former record producer, Norbert Putnam, one of the tribute album’s co-producers.  Putnam explains how Brooks and Summer got involved in the project, which is a true labor of love from Fogelberg’s widow, Jean Fogelberg, also a producer on the album.  She has worked hard to create a celebrated year for her late husband, and the tribute album is the final, very satisfying piece to an eventful year.

 

You can hear more from Putnam about his relationship with Dan Fogelberg in the Documenting Popular Music episode ‘Leader of the Band -- Remembering Dan Fogelberg with Stories and Insights from His Record Producer’ released earlier this year.

Read the Show Notes at

http://oandfstudios.com/documenting-popular-music/

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Coming soon from Documenting Popular Music, a look at Gordon Lightfoot’s career with author Nicholas Jennings; a conversation with Merrilee Rush (“Angle of the Morning”), a look at TV theme songs from the 1970s that became Top 40 hits; and a biographical sketch of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s Class of 2018.

Dec 15, 2017
The Making of a Classic – The Story of How One of Barry Manilow’s Most Beloved Songs Finally Became a Hit
12:48

It was 1971, and a 25-year-old Barry Manilow was still a struggling musician and commercial jingles writer when he came up with a melody he felt was very special. That melody would become the song “Could It Be Magic,” which featured a chorus based on the chord changes in Chopin’s Prelude in C Minor.

 

“Could It Be Magic” had several early incarnations, including a version produced by a well-intending Tony Orlando that Manilow says thankfully didn’t become a hit. The behind the scenes story of how the song eventually became a Top 10 single – as well as Manilow’s unwavering belief that the song was something special – are detailed in this episode of Documenting Popular Music.

Nov 21, 2017
Janis Ian Gets a Jazz Treatment – Sarah Partridge Talks about Her Tribute Album to the Folk Singer
24:44

About two years ago, Sarah Partridge began working on a project to bring new life to Janis Ian’s songs by presenting them with fresh jazz interpretations.  Ian, who debuted during the folk scene of the 1960s, rose to fame with her hits “Society’s Child” (1967) and “At Seventeen” (1975), and she’s written numerous songs – some of which were previously unrecorded – that deal with social, political and relationship issues.

Partridge and her arrangers – Allen Farnham and Tim Horner – have mined Ian’s rich catalog of music for the tribute album Bright Lights and Promises: Redefining Janis Ian (Origin Records).  The selection of songs and new arrangements work so well, it’s a wonder no one has attempted this before.

Making the project even more special is Ian’s involvement. She co-wrote two new songs with Partridge, and Ian and Partridge perform a duet on one of those new songs, “A Quarter Past Heartache.”

On this episode of Documenting Popular Music, Partridge tells us how the album came together and how she was able to get Ian involved in the project.

You can find more about Sarah Partridge, who, before becoming a jazz singer, had an acting career that featured a role in the 1983 movie Risky Business, at the website, www.SarahPartridge.com, and you can find more about Janis Ian at the website www.JanisIan.com.

Upcoming episodes of Documenting Popular Music will feature a look at Gordon Lightfoot’s career with author Nicholas Jennings, a conversation with Merrilee Rush (“Angel of the Morning”) and a look at the story behind one of Barry Manilow’s most beloved hits.

Oct 28, 2017
From the Heart of Alabama (Part II) - Former 'Split the Dark' Member Scott McDavid Talks about His Journey as a Musician
25:12

Documenting Popular Music puts a spotlight on the thriving musical scene in Alabama and the city of Birmingham, where musician Scott McDavid was born and raised.  McDavid’s journey is representative of numerous other musicians who work under some anonymity, but who have been vital to the creation, maintenance and spread of popular music in America.

 

McDavid’s career began in his hometown, where he played with a number of local bands, including KD Ryzer, a very popular regional group.  He later joined former members of the group Hotel (“You’ll Love Again” 1978) as part of 1980s band Split the Dark (“Always a Chance” 1986).

 

In Part I of this feature, McDavid talks about some of the highlights of his Birmingham career, including winning the MTV Basement Tapes Contest with Split the Dark.  He also discusses his work with jazz guitarist Eric Essix and his band.

 

In Part II of this feature, McDavid reveals why his respect and admiration for the legendary Chuck Berry didn’t match the difficult task of actually working for the rock and roll great.  McDavid also discusses his award winning work in scoring documentaries and independent films.  Additionally, he talks about the process of making his newest single, “The Lady in Black (Just Let Me Dance),” which features singer Stephanie Love.  The show concludes with his recollections of Birmingham’s music scene.

 

You can learn more about McDavid at his website, www.ScottMcDavid.com and you can watch the music video for his new song at his YouTube page.

Oct 22, 2017
From the Heart of Alabama (Part I) - Former 'Split the Dark' Member Scott McDavid Talks about His Journey as a Musician
25:08

Documenting Popular Music puts a spotlight on the thriving musical scene in Alabama and the city of Birmingham, where musician Scott McDavid was born and raised.  McDavid’s journey is representative of numerous other musicians who work under some anonymity, but who have been vital to the creation, maintenance and spread of popular music in America.

 

McDavid’s career began in his hometown, where he played with a number of local bands, including KD Ryzer, a very popular regional group.  He later joined former members of the group Hotel (“You’ll Love Again” 1978) as part of 1980s band Split the Dark (“Always a Chance” 1986).

 

In Part I of this feature, McDavid talks about some of the highlights of his Birmingham career, including winning the MTV Basement Tapes Contest with Split the Dark.  He also discusses his work with jazz guitarist Eric Essix and his band.

 

In Part II of this feature, McDavid reveals why his respect and admiration for the legendary Chuck Berry didn’t match the difficult task of actually working for the rock and roll great.  McDavid also discusses his award winning work in scoring documentaries and independent films.  Additionally, he talks about the process of making his newest single, “The Lady in Black (Just Let Me Dance),” which features singer Stephanie Love.  The show concludes with McDavid's recollections of Birmingham’s music scene.

 

You can learn more about McDavid at his website, www.ScottMcDavid.com and you can watch the music video for his new song at his YouTube page.

Oct 22, 2017
TBT - Neil Diamond's Melody Road Album Review from 2014
19:59

For this ‘Throwback Thursday’ (TBT) episode of Documenting Popular Music, we are replaying our 2014 review of Neil Diamond’s Melody Road album.  To date, it is the last studio album of all new songs Diamond has delivered, and he is currently out of the country with his concert tour, celebrating 50 years in music.  The TBT replay of the album review is a small way to satisfy Diamond’s legion of fans during his absence.

The episode also offers some Neil Diamond history and takes a close-up look at the ‘A-list’ of musicians who performed on the album under the guidance of rock producers Don Was and Jacknife Lee.

The album was ultimately another Top 5 success for Diamond and featured several standout songs such as “Nothing But a Heartache,” “In Better Days” and “Something Blue.” Melody Road also continued the success Diamond is having late in a career that first saw him hit the charts in 1966.

Future episodes of Documenting Popular Music will feature a look at the making of one of Barry Manilow’s most beloved hits, an interview with the author of a new biography about Gordon Lightfoot, an in-depth interview with Merilee Rush (“Angel of the Morning”) and a conversation with a well-traveled musician from the 1980s who will be debuting a new jazz song.

Sep 29, 2017
Rusty Young - The Leader of Poco Talks in-depth about His First Solo Album and Joyfully Reminisces about the Past
25:28

After more than 50 years in music, Rusty Young, the leader of the group Poco, has recorded his first solo album.  The new set is entitled ‘Waitin’ for the Sun,’ (Blue Élan Records) and it features 10 songs that not only give you a peek into Young’s life, but also into his emotions, as the “Crazy Love” singer/songwriter is unabashedly sentimental.

 

In an interview with veteran journalist Robert Neil, Young tells the stories behind the songs, and when he gets to the track “My Friend,” already rising in popularity, it becomes an historic, musical trip down memory lane about the musicians he’s known and the friendships that have endured.

 

While some artists promoting a new album might not want to talk about the past, Young embraces it and happily talks about former Poco bandmates Randy Meisner, Richie Furay, Jim Messina and Timothy B. Schmit, as well as others such as Gregg Allman (who once auditioned to be a member of Poco), Gram Parsons, JD Souther, Don Henley and Glenn Frey.

 

A few of the members of Poco – past and present – are featured on the new album.

 

‘Waitin’ for the Sun’ also features songs about Young’s family, and in the interview he provides the backstories to songs about his daughter (“Sara’s Song”) and his grandparents (“Honey Bee”).

 

Young says life has been good to him, and the album is a reflection of his appreciation. Poco fans will easily be drawn to the album as will fans of the southern rock genre that emerged in the early 1970s.  The most satisfying news about the album may be that Young had such a good time making it, he’s interested in a follow up, and more stories from this natural storyteller would be welcome.

Sep 13, 2017
Leader of the Band: Remembering Dan Fogelberg with Stories and Insights from His Record Producer
47:52

Dan Fogelberg’s talent was apparent from an early age, and by the time he was 19, he had a recording contract with a major record label.  The man who would produce this young talent was Norbert Putnam, who was only about nine years Fogelberg’s senior.  Together, these two worked on three of Fogelberg’s albums, which would turn out to be some of the most important records in his career.

 

In an exclusive interview for this radio documentary, veteran journalist Robert Neil speaks with Putnam about creating the albums Home Free, Nether Lands and Phoenix. Included are stories about recording some of Fogelberg’s most famous songs, including “Longer,” “Dancing Shoes,” Netherlands,” “Wishing on the Moon” and others.

 

In this presentation you’ll also learn how the man who wrote musical scores for The Outer Limits, a sci-fi television show, was instrumental in one of Fogelberg’s albums. Just as important – if not more – was a 14-year-old girl, who let her important father know Fogelberg was a rising star.

 

The late Fogelberg, who died in 2007, was one of the most talented musicians Putnam says he’d ever recorded, and he is currently working to produce a new tribute album that will feature numerous stars singing Fogelberg’s songs.

 

The tribute album is just one of several projects focusing on Fogelberg this year, and his widow Jean Fogelberg is hoping those efforts, along with a petition of nearly 50,000 signatures, will help get Dan into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  (More info on that project can be found on the Facebook page @Induct Dan Fogelberg into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.)

 

Our thanks to Norbert Putnam for the hours and stories he shared, and to the very busy Jean Fogelberg, who put us in touch with Putnam.

Aug 19, 2017
New Music – A Review of Herb Alpert’s New Album, Music Vol. 1
14:10

A living legend is back with his sixth album in the past seven years. Herb Alpert, the famed trumpeter and former record company executive, works with producer Jochem van der Saag on the new album Music Vol. 1.  The combination of these two talents is masterful and satisfying, and it produces a collection that will please several generations of fans.

The album features primarily cover songs with new treatments that emphasize rhythms and backbeats, and this review not only takes a look at the new album, but also offers a peek at Alpert’s phenomenal success in the music industry. It was 55 years ago this year, for example, that Alpert and his Tijuana Brass began conquering the charts with his first hit album and single, The Lonely Bull.

Music Vol. 1 features unique renditions on some familiar classics such as the Beatles “Michelle,” John Lennon’s “Imagine,” and Nate King Cole’s “Unforgettable” as well as new version of Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours.” Alpert also brings back one the TJB’s early hits, “Flamingo,” the album’s first single.

Alpert received a Grammy nomination for the Best Contemporary Instrumental Album for his 2016 work, Human Nature.  In many ways, Music Vol. 1 is a superior collection, and should not only receive a 2017 nomination, which would be his 25th, but he can be considered a strong early favorite.

Aug 01, 2017
Lessons in Rock and Roll and Jazz Music – Guitarist Doug Jackson of Ambrosia Talks about His Craft
20:20

Doug Jackson is the guitarist for the progressive rock group Ambrosia, which hit the singles and albums charts in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.  The bands biggest hits include “How Much I Feel” from the 1978 album Life Beyond L.A., and “Biggest Part of Me” and “You’re the Only Woman (You and I)” from the 1980 album One Eighty.  Jackson permanently joined the group in 2000 after founding member David Pack had left to work on other projects.

 

In this conversation, Jackson talks about his musical roots as well as how his training as a jazz musician has enabled him to play alongside some of the best classic rock artists in the industry. More about Jackson can be found at his website, www.dougjacksonguitar.com.

Jul 20, 2017
David Bowie -- Changes: Retrospective of a Rock Icon
34:23

On January 10, 2016, the music world was surprised and saddened to learn one of the biggest rock and roll icons of the last four decades had died. Due to his desire for privacy, the public was unaware that David Bowie had been diagnosed with liver cancer 18 months prior, and two days after his 69th birthday – and the release of his final studio album – he died of the disease at his New York home.

This special episode of the Documenting Popular Music, written and narrated by veteran journalist Robert Neil, takes a look at Bowie’s career, which began in the late 1960s, when his music wasn’t initially understood.  However, the British performer’s unique way of presenting songs eventually caught on and led to a long and successful career that garnered millions of fans around the globe.

Bowie was more than a rock singer and songwriter, and his theatrical nature helped him produce albums that were more than simply music. There were back stories and avant-garde characters, such as Ziggy Stardust and the Thin White Duke, which offered fans something they couldn’t find elsewhere.

And while he had a love for rock and roll, he was also drawn to blues, jazz, dance, grunge and a long list of other genres, which he incorporated into his music.

He also loved to put drama in his music, and that point was made clear on his last album, Blackstar, which deals with the subject of death, as Bowie seemed to write about his own ending in the same theatrical style he’d always loved.

Jul 15, 2017
Rock and Roll History - Jazz Musician Ron Aprea Talks about Recording with John Lennon
42:45

Having played with some of the greats on the big band scene, saxophonist Ron Aprea has carved out a long and successful career as a jazz musician. He has also been part of rock and roll history as one of a small group of horn players to record with John Lennon on the former Beatle’s 1974 Walls and Bridges album.

In this interview with Robert Neil, Aprea talks about his recent tribute album to Lennon and the Beatles as well as what it was like to record with Lennon (including a story about Lennon photocopying his face). Notably, Aprea’s album features a version of “Imagine,” where he is joined by trumpeter Steve Madaio, one of the other original musicians from the Walls and Bridges sessions. (More information about Aprea and his album can be found at RonAprea.com.)

(The interview was produced and recorded at the O&F Studios, www.OandFStudios.com)

Jul 05, 2017
Urban Country: The Country/Pop Music Phenomenon of the Early 1980s
39:58

In the late 70s, a music trend began to take shape as Top 40 radio stations started playing more and more songs by artists that had usually been proprietary to county stations. By the early 80s, a legitimate country/pop phenomenon was under way, and numerous country songs and performers were receiving mainstream acceptance.

Hosted by veteran journalist Robert Neil, this feature spotlights some of the prominent artists involved in the shift and examines the reasons behind the changes. Included in this presentation are thoughts from Professor Jocelyn Neal, from the University North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who has written several books on popular music, including Country Music: A Cultural and Stylistic History.

Artists covered in this feature include:

Kenny Rogers

Dolly Parton

Juice Newton

Willie Nelson

Ronnie Milsap

Eddie Rabbitt

Emmylou Harris

and the movie Urban Cowboy

 

(produced and recorded at the O&F Studios, www.OandFStudios.com)

Jun 26, 2017