Is Marc Cohn a one-hit wonder? The answer, in a word, is “yes.” That being said, Walking in Memphis is a noteworthy accomplishment for a man who has spent most of his career steadfastly under the radar.
To his credit, Marc won a Golden Globe Award in 1991 for Best New Artist. Now, well into his fifties, Cohn is still touring with an ambitious schedule ahead in 2023.
Working on this song made me wonder: What made Elvis Presley so popular? In case you may be wondering too, here’s an article that helps to explain it.
“Song for a Winter’s Night” is one of Gordon Lightfoot’s earliest love songs. It is also one of his biggest hits.
As folk music became commercially viable in the late sixties, clubs blossomed featuring promising folk musicians. Gordon Lightfoot landed a job in one of them in downtown Toronto. He stood apart from the crowd because he performed many of his own songs in a characteristically pure voice. After he developed a following, a club owner invited Lightfoot to perform at his club across the street at twice the salary. Lightfoot gratefully accepted the invitation to perform at the Riverboat, Toronto’s premier folk music club.
With his beautiful voice and prolific outpouring of quality music, it was only a matter of time before Warner/Reprise records rewarded Lightfoot with a one million dollar recording contract, an unheard-of number for a Canadian singer.
Lightfoot recorded “Song for a Winter’s Night in 1967 on his album, “The Way I feel.” Many recording artists covered it, including Sarah McLachlan in the soundtrack for the film “Miracle on 34th Street.”
Gordon wrote the song on a hot summer night while performing in Cleveland. He missed his wife at the time, Brita Ingegerd Olaisson, and his thoughts turned to winter. Here’s my cover.
In a ten-year career tragically cut short by Leukemia, Kate Wolf wrote and performed over 200 songs. Her music is poignant, straightforward, honest, and beautiful. She performed at venues throughout her native state of California. Since her passing in 1986 at the age of 44, Kate’s audience has grown steadily as people like me discover her music. “September Song” (recorded on Kate’s 1979 album “Safe at Anchor”) is one of my favorites.
The song is replete with images. I particularly like the image conjured in the second verse illustrated below:
“The ghost of a frontier lady walks through the tall rooms/Of an old Ontario farmhouse under the full moon.”
Cat Stevens rose to prominence as a folk and pop artist in the 1970’s. I’ve always enjoyed the thread of childlike innocence and spontaneity that runs through his music. After a near-death experience, Stevens began a serious search for a deeper meaning in life. In 1977, he left his rock and roll lifestyle and converted to Islam adopting the name Yusuf Islam.
Stevens wrote “The Wind” five years before his conversion. The song has always been one of my favorites. It’s a simple song that speaks volumes. In a 2022 Rolling Stone interview, Stevens (Yusuf) shared these thoughts about The Wind:
“I’m talking to somebody; I think it’s the divine, but I’m not quite sure, and because I’m not sure, it’s universal. My goal was to be able to detach myself from my physical surroundings and material things. I was very earnestly searching. I would visit esoteric bookshops whenever I could, and pick up whatever new pathway to the truth I could find.”
Here’s my cover of the song played in Yusuf Islam’s unique guitar style.
Hi everyone. The voice I’m referring to here is not mine. It belongs to Kate Wolf (1942-1986). She wrote and performed (mostly in her native California) over 200 songs. Her music comes directly from the heart and tends to be bittersweet. In 1980, Kate released her fourth album on her own label, Owl Records. The album is titled “Close to You.” Many of the songs on the album have become fan favorites, including some I have posted on this blog: Across the Great Divide, An Unfinished Life, Here in California, and Stone in the Water.
A recording of Kate playing a song by Tom Paxon called “Hold On to Me Babe” drew me to Wolf’s music again. Her voice is transcendent as it is in most of her recordings. I haven’t been listening to Kate’s music lately, and her version of Paxon’s song reminded me of the beautiful realms she takes me to.
Another song on the album reminded me of the precious few people I have been close to in this life. Here is my cover of “Friend of Mine” with an original accompaniment.
Gordon Lightfoot is one of those rare individuals who resides in the top echelon of his profession. It takes a huge deposit of raw talent, hard work, intestinal fortitude, and luck to reach the level of success Lightfoot has achieved in the music business. Amidst all of this recognition, Gordon remains a simple and straightforward man. He is a survivor with no plans to retire. At 83 years young, Lightfoot once dodged death when his manager found him lying on the floor of his dressing room with a burst aorta. Lightfoot has navigated numerous romantic relationships, spawned six children and five grandchildren, remained close with his offspring, and outlasted most of his contemporaries, not without some regrets.
When he comes on stage these days, Lightfoot often uses a misquote inaccurately attributed to Mark Twain: “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.” In November of 2021, Lightfoot had the honor of re-opening the newly renovated Massey Hall in Toronto in a live performance. He has played the historic concert venue more than 160 times.
Lightfoot released his fifteenth original album in 1982 on Warner records. The songs on the album are slower and more contemplative than many of the songs he released in the prior decade. As is his custom, Lightfoot compiled the album’s songs from scraps of notes he collected in his briefcase and tapes he recorded at home.
Of the album’s title song, “Shadows,” Lightfoot has made a few somewhat vague comments. He says it was the best song he had at the time, and that it is about a particular problem he was going through in his life involving a man and a woman and nature.
I feel the song is quite beautiful. I’ve learned it the way Lightfoot plays it. Here is my cover of “Shadows.”
Jim Brickman collaborated with Tom Douglas to write “The Gift.” Jim wrote the melody and Tom wrote the lyrics. Listening to many of Jim’s love songs, I can’t help but think that the man has a heart the size of Kansas.
I found an entertaining video on YouTube describing the story behind the making of The Gift. In the video, Jim reveals a healthy sense of humor about himself, and Tom tells the story with a healthy dose of humor. Here’s an edited version of the story’s opening. For the full version, click here.
Jim: “The Gift is the first song I wrote with Tom. It just felt right from the beginning. I have a recollection of our first meeting, but it’s not very clear. I’d like Tom to give his version of the story.”
Tom: “Mine’s not gonna be very flattering.”
Jim: “That’s alright. They know me.”
Tom: “So, I get a call from my agent saying I have America’s foremost Romantic songwriter and pianist who wants you to do a song with him. Needless to say, I was more than a little intimidated. I’d just moved to Nashville with my family, and I was nervous about everything. So, I walk in to meet Jim for the first time, and he’s matter-of-fact. ‘Hi. Good to meet you.’ That sort of thing. Then he starts in with, ‘I have this song with a title, The Gift. Here’s the goal: I want it to be spiritual, but not religious, seasonal, but not Christmas, and, I want it to be a love song.’
Tom (continued): “So, I’m thinking to myself, I made a terrible mistake leaving my hometown of Dallas. I was kinda like stunned, and Jim goes, ‘Here’s the melody. I’d like the syllables of the words to match the music.’ “And I’m thinking, really? Anything else? So, he goes ahead and plays the melody and I record it. Then he says, ‘Oh. One last thing: I need it by tomorrow.’
And so on. Let’s get to the music. Here’s my version.
Time After Time is a Cyndi Lauper song. I’ve never been a big fan of her music, but that only means it doesn’t resonate with me in general. She has a big enough audience without me. This song caught my attention when I heard Eva Cassidy sing it in her beautiful, unique style. It has taken me a few weeks to learn because the fingering is complicated. Eva Cassidy is known for her divine vocals, but trust me, she can play the damn guitar.
The meaning behind a lyric can create a strong connection to a song. It can help you to form a bond with a singer-songwriter. It lets you know the artist has gone through some of the same things you have. Cyndi Lauper’s hit Time After Time is one of those songs for many people. The song was the second single for her debut album, She’s So Unusual. It was actually the last song written for the album, but it made a lasting impact on the album and Lauper’s career.
A TV Guide advertisement for a science fiction movie sparked the idea for the song. Using a simple set of piano chords, Lauper co-wrote the song with Rob Hyman. As the song evolved, for Lauper it became a response to an ex-lover who was “lost” and in need of help. She can’t move forward without him by her side.
Over a two-week period, Time After Time was written, recorded, and mastered straight to the album. There wasn’t time for a demo. The song went on to become a number one hit in the United States. Here’s my version of Time After Time “Eva Style.”
Breaking a big project down into little steps makes it possible to achieve the final result.
“Crossroads” is another great song by Don McLean. It first appeared on his hit album, “American Pie.” Although the song is not as well-known as the title song and some of the other songs on the album (“Vincent”“And I Love You So” and “Empty Chairs“) Crossroads is nonetheless moving and beautiful.
On the surface, the song is about a man remembering a long-lost love with a sense of regret and a desire to turn back time. I believe the subtext of the song has a larger and more universal meaning: hope and happiness can be found with anything that joins us on the inevitable journey of life. It doesn’t have to be a lover or anyone in particular. It can be an idea, a thought, an emotion, or even an absence of something or someone. An absence can be as strong a motivator as a presence.
On the album, McLean performs the song on Piano. Fortunately, my good friend and tutor, Jerry’s Guitar Bar, has transposed the song for guitar. Here’s my version.
BELIEVE IN YOURSELF. BELIEVE IN A POSITIVE OUTCOME. AND, IT WILL BE SO.
Like many of us, Don McLean suffered through difficult passages in his life, many of which are reflected in his music. He wrote and recorded “Empty Chairs” when his marriage was failing. Despite the subject of lost love, I feel there is incredible beauty in the lyrics and the melody, and Mclean’s unique guitar style. If you are tired of lost love songs, I recommend listening only to the melody and the guitar.
Although the title is mentioned just once in the song, McLean chose the symbol to sum up his feelings and state of mind at the time. The title is inspired by Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings of empty chairs. Mclean sympathized with Van Gogh and admired his paintings as revealed in his song “Vincent” recorded on the same album: “American Pie.”
The tutorial and the song are best played in the key of G. There are a few high notes I’ve done my best with. Please enjoy my version.
Be positive and stay faithful. Love will bloom anew.