That One Time Neil Young Played In A Band With Rick James


When you think of Rick James, you probably think of “Super Freak”, MC Hammer, and Dave Chappelle. However, for all the self-parody excess that would define him later in life, James had an incredible music career that produced many hits and collaborations, including the Temptations, Smokey Robinson, and…Neil Young?

That’s right, the funk man (back when he was known as Ricky James Matthews) and the Canadian troubadour once played in a Toronto R&B group called The Mynah Birds. The band started in the early 60s when James, in hiding in Canada after going AWOL from the Navy, formed a band with some local musicians to earn some money and to get his music career up and running. In 1966 the band ran into a young and struggling folk singer named Neil Young who was roaming around Toronto looking for a band to play in, and James invited Young to play with the Mynah Birds. The rest is forgotten history.

As you can hear from this song, this band sounded good. This was classic 60s soul-influenced garage rock that was perfected by the Rolling Stones, whom James was a big fan. According to historian Nick Warburton, the Mynah Birds was also noticeable for being the first mostly white band to sign a deal with Motown Records. And what’s even more (super) freaky is that other band members included Bruce Palmer, who would later join Buffalo Springfield, and Nick St. Nicholas, who would help start Steppenwolf.

The band ended as quickly as it began when James was caught and served a year in prison, after which he moved to California to work on his music. Who knows what could have happened if James was never arrested, but the current bootlegs scattered across YouTube are worth checking out, even just to hear a strange collaboration that somehow sounded great.

Neil Young’s “Ditch Trilogy” And The One Song He Borrowed From The Rolling Stones


I’ve been listening to a lot of Neil Young lately, specifically to his “Ditch Trilogy” and its dark masterpiece ‘Tonight’s The Night’.

For all you NY newbies, the Ditch Trilogy were the three albums that Young released after his 1972 breakthrough ‘Harvest’. That album was such a runaway hit (it would become the best-selling album of 1972) that Young, jaded by the mainstream success of the album and of its signature song “Hart of Gold”, withdrew from the spotlight and for the next couple of decades, with a few exceptions, intentionally avoided the AM-folksinger persona that everyone wanted him to uphold by releasing, among others, grunge, synth-pop, and really bad rockability albums.

In the liner notes of the 1977 compilation album ‘Decade’, Young writes: “‘Heart of Gold’ put me in the middle of the road, traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch,” and thus the term “Ditch” is born to describe the moody and complex albums released between ‘Harvest’ and his 1975 radio-friendly collaboration with Crazy Horse ‘Zuma’.

The trilogy is made up of ‘Time Fades Away’ (1973), ‘On The Beach’ (1974), and ‘Tonight’s The Night’ (1975), though ‘Time Fades Away’ has long been out of print and has not been rereleased, which is strange considering how giving Young is with his unreleased material. However, the two Ditch albums that we do have access to are considered by many critics and fans to be his best albums. This was the time when the notoriously inconsistent Young was finally able to channel his many songwriting styles, which ranged from soft folk to distorted guitar rock, into making engaging albums that married his ability to write simple yet emotionally compelling songs with his desire to let his electric guitar do most of the talking. None of these albums produced any hits, but they’re his best albums because you can listen to them from start to finish in one setting, which for a Neil Young record is quite the achievement.

The Ditch Trilogy albums are also infamous for being Young’s darkest works. A lot of this had to do with his tremulous state of mind at the time. Along with the sudden fame and fortune, Young was grieving over the loss of Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten and roadie Bruce Berry, both of whom died of heroin overdoses (to make matters worse, Whitten was found dead the night when, earlier that day, Young had fired him from Crazy Horse). Young, consumed by guilt and grief, was able to pour his frustration and anger across a whole series of albums all confronting how fragile and twisted life is when you see it end right before your eyes and what you try and make of it when you’re left standing, alive yet alone.

My favorite Neil Young album is ‘On The Beach’ (to me it’s his most essential album and it has my favorite NY song, “Ambulance Blues”), but I’ve been listening to ‘Tonight’s The Night’ a lot more since I’ve moved to New York City. It’s not an easy album to listen to, but sometimes it’s a welcoming soundtrack to a lonely late-night subway ride. Young had never been an overly confessional or personal songwriter, yet ‘Tonight’s The Night’ finds Young at his most naked and vulnerable, singing about specific people and places and, without relying too much on metaphors, sings of his pain and sorry that, in the brilliant way that only great musicians can do, feels familiar and relatable.

One song in particular that stood out to me on my first listen was “Borrowed Tune”, a quite piano ballad in which Young sings someone else’s song, because he’s “too wasted to write my own.”

It’s a beautiful song, but when I first heard it, all I could think of was how much it sounded like a certain Rolling Stones song:

Later in the song, Young confirms that his borrowed tune was taken from the Rolling Stones, and I recognized that it was “Lady Jane”, a somewhat obscure ballad from 1966’s ‘Aftermath’.

Why did Young pick this specific song? It’s hard to say. Neither Young nor any of the Stones have come forward to acknowledge each other’s involvement or history during this time and how it influenced this album. Maybe this was Young’s favorite Stones song at the time, or maybe it was Danny Whitten’s or Bruce Berry’s favorite song. Who knows. Even on his most personal album, Young is still a man shrouded in mystery.

Every Best Selling Album In The U.S., Organized By U.S. Presidents (Because ‘Murica)

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When I watched last week’s State Of The Union address, I had two thoughts: “Hey, those are a lot of great plans that Congress won’t pass,” and “Hey, I should organize every best selling album in the U.S. by who was President was at the time, our readers would love that!”

We’re starting with Eisenhower in 1956 because that was the first year album sales were tracked in the U.S., and all this data comes from this Wikipedia page, so take it for what it’s worth.

I also had to make some adjustments to what years went to which Presidents. For example, JFK has 1961 – 1963 since he officially began his term on January 20, 1961 and was assassinated November 22, 1963, so I’m just rounding up. Also, Nixon resigned office on August 1974 in the middle of the year, but I’m giving him all of 1974 just to make things easier for myself (sorry Gerald Ford). Reminder – all these album sales only include US sales.

Here are some interesting takeaways from doing all this research:

Albums that were bestsellers in back to back years:

-My Fair Lady soundtrack (1957-58)

-West Side Story soundtrack (1962-63)

-Michael Jackson’s Thriller (1983-84)

-Adele’s 21 (2011-12)

Artist with the most bestselling albums: Elton John (1974’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, 1975’s Elton John’s Greatest Hits, and 1994’s The Lion King soundtrack)

Other artists with multiple bestselling albums:

-Whitney Houston (1986’s Whitney Houston and 1993’s The Bodyguard soundtrack)

-Mariah Carey (1991’s Mariah Carey and 2005’s The Emancipation of Mimi)

-Eminem (2002’s The Eminem Show and 2010’s Recovery)

-Taylor Swift (2009’s Fearless and 2014’s 1989)

Artist I wasn’t expecting to have a bestselling album in the U.S.: Toto (though it is the album that has “Africa”)

Artist I was expecting to have a bestselling album in the U.S. but actually didn’t: The Eagles (they’re one of the bestselling bands of all time, but they never dominated a single year)

The most ironic album-President paring: Nixon and War’s The World Is a Ghetto

Alrighty, let’s begin:



Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953 – 1960)

1956: Harry Belafonte – Calypso

1957 and 1958: My Fair Lady (Broadway cast recording)

1959: Henry Mancini – Music from Peter Gunn

1960: The Sound of Music (Broadway cast recording)



John F. Kennedy (1961 – 1963)

1961: Camelot (Broadway cast recording)

1962 and 1963: West Side Story soundtrack



Lyndon B. Johnson (1964 – 1968)

1964: Hello, Dolly! (Broadway cast recording)

1965: Mary Poppins soundtrack

1966: Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass – Whipped Cream & Other Delights

1967: The Monkees – More of The Monkees

1968: The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Are You Experienced?



Richard Nixon (1969 – 1974)

1969: Iron Butterfly – In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida

1970: Simon and Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water

1971: Jesus Christ Superstar soundtrack

1972: Neil Young – Harvest

1973: War – The World Is a Ghetto

1974: Elton John – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road



Gerald Ford (1975 – 1976)

1975: Elton John – Elton John’s Greatest Hits

1976: Peter Frampton – Frampton Comes Alive



Jimmy Carter (1977 – 1980)

1977: Fleetwood Mac – Rumours

1978: Bee Gees – Saturday Night Fever soundtrack

1979: Billy Joel – 52nd Street

1980: AC/DC – Back in Black



Ronald Reagan (1981 – 1988)

1981: REO Speedwagon – Hi Infidelity

1982: Toto – Toto IV

1983 and 1984: Michael Jackson – Thriller

1985: Bruce Springsteen – Born in the U.S.A.

1986: Whitney Houston – Whitney Houston

1987: Bon Jovi – Slippery When Wet

1988: George Michael – Faith



George H. W. Bush (1989 – 1992)

1989: Bobby Brown – Don’t Be Cruel

1990: Janet Jackson – Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814

1991: Mariah Carey – Mariah Carey

1992: Billy Ray Cyrus – Some Gave All



Bill Clinton (1993 – 2000)

1993: Whitney Houston – The Bodyguard soundtrack

1994: Elton John – The Lion King soundtrack

1995: Hootie and the Blowfish – Cracked Rear View

1996: Alanis Morissette – Jagged Little Pill

1997: Spice Girls – Spice

1998: James Horner and Celine Dion – Titanic soundtrack

1999: Backstreet Boys – Millennium

2000: *NSYNC – No Strings Attached



George W. Bush (2001 – 2008)

2001: Linkin Park – Hybrid Theory

2002: Eminem – The Eminem Show

2003: 50 Cent – Get Rich or Die Tryin’

2004: Usher – Confessions

2005: Mariah Carey – The Emancipation of Mimi

2006: High School Musical soundtrack

2007: Josh Groban – Noel

2008: Lil Wayne – Tha Carter III



Barack Obama (2009 – current)

2009: Taylor Swift – Fearless

2010: Eminem – Recovery

2011 and 2012: Adele – 21

2013: Justin Timberlake – The 20/20 Experience

2014: Taylor Swift – 1989


Playlist: The 70s – Dazed And Confused


Just like I made a playlist for the 60s, the good old 1970s gets its own spotify playlist.

I’ve tried to cover as much ground as I could – from disco (Bee Gees, ABBA), Heavy Metal (Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin), R&B, funk, and soul (Al Green, Isaac Hayes, Marvin Gaye), lo-fi and punk (Buzzcocks, The Clash, New York Dolls), soft rock (Fleetwood Mac, Elton John), singer-songwriter (Cat Stevens, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor), to good old rock & roll (Bowie, Springsteen, Aerosmith). I also tried to throw in some deep tracks, including songs from Ann Peebles, Candi Staton, The Damned, David Essex, Dr. John, Fela Kuti, Freda Payne, Jorge Ben Jor, The Osmonds, Richard Hell, Rodriquez, The Slits, and more.

And yes, the Guardians of the Galaxy and Dazed and Confused soundtracks are on here too.



Playlist: 15 Songs For August 2012 (Via Spotify) – Special Folk Edition!

This month has a special edition of 15 Songs via Spotify. All of August I was on a folk kick that I’m still on. This playlist is a mix of all the great folk songs, both old and new, that I’ve been playing all month (Yes, there will be Bob Dylan).

Here are my 15 songs for August 2012.

Playlist: 15 Songs For March 2012 (Via Spotify)

This month’s playlist is all over the place.  Most of these songs are oldies, but there are a few new tracks here.  I have some Springsteen, Death Cab, Magnetic Fields, The Men, and everything else in between.

Here are my 15 songs for March 2012.

Rick Miller – Twenty-Five Ways To Sing “Bohemian Rhapsody”

Here is comedian/musician Rick Miller singing Queen’s classic “Bohemian Rhapsody” with twenty-five spot on impressions of twenty-five very distinct (a nice way of saying annoying) voices of rock & roll.  Some of the impressions he does include Bob Dylan, Jon Bon Jovi, Barney (yes, the dinosaur), Tom Petty, Ozzy Osbourne, and Axel Rose.  Miller is talented, hilarious, and he kind of looks like Prince, so I’m counting that as his twenty-sixth impression.

Jimmy Fallon Doing Jim Morrison…Doing “Reading Rainbow”

Jim Morrison lives!  Well sort of.  Jimmy Fallon is known for his hilarious yet spot-on impressions of famous musicians (did you know that Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen originally wrote “Whip My Hair”?).  My favorite is his take on The Doors’s famous singer Jim Morrison.  Fallon acting as Morrison alone is worth watching, but the fact that he’s singing “Reading Rainbow” as if it was done by The Doors makes this a must see.

Watch the video here.