Some of the most beautiful songs ever written are about pain. These are the kind of songs that can speak directly to your heart, and maybe a bit of your soul. This collection has selections widely ranging in style over a roughly fifty year time span. It also builds up gradually from the quietly restrained to the loudly aggressive. All tracks are from the original albums, and as such could contain longer lengths free of editing of the artist’s full musical vision.
A You Tube playlist of this collection is available here :
1. Julie London “Cry Me a River”
The introductory notes by bassist Ray Leatherwood answered by guitarist Barney Kessel introduce this 1955 classic. This is the opening track to her debut album “Julie is Her Name”. All the songs on the album feature only Kessel’s arrangements, with only bass and guitar accompanying London’s voice. This is her signature tune and biggest hit, though the album is filled with great songs.
2. Starsailor “Tie My Hands Up”
This band was named as a tribute to Tim Buckley, as their name (and font) are from one of his albums. This album “Love is Here” is filled with songs that could go on this collection, but this one stands out as a song about the pain of being unwillingly denied love.
3. Steely Dan “Dirty Work”
This album “Can’t Buy a Thrill” stands alone having as the only Steely Dan songs with vocalist David Palmer. This is also one of the group’s most restrained, compact arrangements.
4. Les Paul & Mary Ford “I’m a Fool to Care”
This classic has become too obscure over the years. It features the sparse, yet complex Les Paul guitar arrangement providing the illusion that other instruments (like bass and drums) are playing as well. Ford’s close-miked vocal was a technique that Les Paul pioneered, and is still used widely used in contemporary music.
5. The Peanut Butter Conspiracy “Too Many Do”
This L.A. band from the sixties never had a bit hit despite extensive touring, and well-received live shows. This is from their second album “The Great Conspiracy”, and shows the band really coming into their own with lead guitarist Bill Wolff. Their first album had studio guitar ace’s Glen Campbell and James Burton, and with Wolff joining the band, they were self-contained. This tune features a unique section where a “falling” effect is created with the bass and guitars. The middle break features some nice exploratory soloing from Wolff.
6. Arthur Lee (Love) “Sad Song”
This song is one of many Arthur Lee was working on during a very fruitful period of creativity with an incarnation of the band Love that he was happy with. Unfortunately, the label wasn’t interested in the material, and the majority of the songs were re-recorded on future albums, particularly a solo Lee album called “Vindicator”. This demo (from the 2006 release “Love Lost”) with only Lee accompanying himself on the guitar is a great performance that has an intensity not matched by the later “fully-produced” version.
7. Al Green “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?”
Producer Willie Mitchell starting working with Al Green, and transformed him away from a rough Wilson Pickett/Otis Redding vocal style to the more restrained, sensual sound that is his distinctive signature. The arrangement of this Barry Gibb (BeeGees) tune is brilliant in that strings and backing vocals are added to the guitar/bass/organ/drums, but it is never overdone. In the second verse, “I can still feel the breeze” (followed by a quick flourish of strings), “...that rustles through the trees”, (a quick fill from the organ), then Green takes over “...and misty memories of days gone by-y-y-y-y-y”. At this point, the hypnotic groove has taken over, and Green has dug into the core of the song and made it all his own. This is from the classic album “Let’s Stay Together”, and curiously was removed from current CD and vinyl (reissues) of “Al Green’s Greatest Hits”.
8. The Temptations “I Wish it Would Rain”
This song was released in 1967 near the end of The Temptations heavy-soul period featuring lead vocalist David Ruffin. This tune is a bit of a throwback to their earlier sweet ballads, though with the subject of heartbreak. Producer writer Norman Whitfield teamed up again with Barrett Strong to write this, but the lyrics were by Roger Penzabene who was unfortunately inspired by a recent breakup that led to a suicide soon after. The middle instrumental section seems to reference their early hit “My Girl”, which seems to be a reflection of how things used to be before the breakup. Penzabene also penned the lyrics to "I Could Never Love Another (After Loving You)".
9. Moody Blues “Nights in White Satin”
This melancholy album-closer to the masterpiece “Days of Future Passed” remains the most-popular song among fans and members of The Moody Blues. The poem at the end of the song seems to sum up all of what the song (and album) are about.
10. The Youngbloods “Darkness, Darkness”
This song opens up The Youngblood’s masterpiece album “Elephant Mountain”. The violin in the intro almost tricks you into thinking this is just standard American Folk music, but with the passionate vocal by Jesse Young, and the fuzz guitar solo by Banana, this is soulful rock n’roll.
11. Spirit “Nature’s Way”
The strange ,fascinating album “Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus” takes a calm, beautiful, yet still dark detour on this often-forgotten classic tune.
12. Gomez “Rosalita”
The second album from Gomez “Liquid Skin” (1999) was a great, cohesive trip of an album with a lot of great tunes. Unfortunately, the band failed to score a hit, and has since struggled to keep the band going by frequent touring. This is a quiet little ballad with melodic bass, low-key percussion, and some sweet clean electric guitar accompaniment.
13. Vanilla Fudge “Illusions of my Childhood / You Keep Me Hanging On”
This is the full album version with the extended free-form intro, the verses not hacked up, and all the great instrumental interplay in all it’s glory starting with “Illusions of my Childhood”. The edited version was a big hit single for the band, but this intricate version really shows off the band’s skills instrumentally and vocally. This technique of playing cover songs at half-speed was something Vanilla Fudge built a reputation for, and subsequently influenced many other musicians.
14. Blood, Sweat & Tears “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know”
The first BS&T album (“Child is Father to the Man”) features Al Kooper on organ and lead vocals. Kooper, originally a guitarist, by default ended up playing organ on Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”. Dylan liked the part, and wanted it higher in the mix despite protests that Kooper wasn’t a keyboardist. This blues tune features some tasty guitar by Steve Katz and saxophone by Mike Lipscius. Kooper (the band's founder) was dismissed from the band after this album.
15. Led Zeppelin “Since I’ve Been Loving You”
John Paul Jones at organ is laying down a comfortable bluesy bed of chords. John Bonham’s dynamic drumming is heavy and hypnotic. Jimmy Page’s guitar sings and screams over the top and in between Robert Plant’s vocal lines which range from low crooning to soulful screaming. Some of the lyrics and the basic groove are similar to “Never” by Moby Grape. However, Zeppelin were masters of making a jam which may be derivative, but always had a sound that was original, and an incredible band chemistry and vision for composition which placed every note in just the right place.