On Monday Sept. 25th, 1999, less than 24 hours after blowing the proverbial roof off the hallowed hall known as the Spectrum, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band wrapped a six-night stand in the City of Brotherly Love with a concert for the ages at the oversized barn known at the time as the First Union Center – aka the F.U. Center. (It’s since been re-named the Wells Fargo Center.)

After the Sunday extravaganza, which opened with “Growin’ Up” and closed with “Blinded by the Light,” Diane developed some health issues that briefly caused us to consider canceling this night’s foray to South Philly. I say “briefly” because, of course, seeing Bruce and band is an elixir for just about anything that ails you. (in that sense, it’s a far more potent tonic than the so-called “miracle water” pushed by snake-oil preachers the world over.) Which is to say, as planned, we met up with friends in the parking lot prior to the show…and, thanks to someone’s relative who worked in the building, the lot of us were soon ushered inside so that we could eavesdrop on the soundcheck from the concourse. 

As we entered the building, “Incident on 57th Street” – Diane’s longtime holy grail, which she only saw once in the ‘70s – echoed throughout the cavernous arena. She all but swooned into my arms, ecstatic. According to Brucebase, the pre-show set in full was “If I Should Fall Behind,” “Incident on 57th Street” (times four), “Crush on You,” “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” and “New York City Serenade.” Given the passage of time, however, I can’t confirm anything beyond “Incident” and “Crush on You” – and that Diane, to borrow a lyric from Van Morrison, was “higher than a cloud and living in the sound.”

A song performed at soundcheck doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll make the same night’s concert, of course, so we crossed our fingers. Once the doors officially opened, we parted ways with our friends and made a long trek to the worst seats we’ve ever had for a concert: Directly opposite the stage in the second level. My memory has us in the last row of the section; Diane, however, remembers us being in the second or third row. Whichever it was, this we agree on: When Bruce and band filed onto the stage, they looked like ants scrambling across a sidewalk. 

But no matter. The first notes of “Incident” swept through the sold-out arena and ushered Diane to heaven yet again…

…and the set that followed was filled with moments that, for me, were just plain nirvana (though others, I’m sure, would find them perfunctory). Nils Lofgren’s guitar histrionics on “Youngstown,” for instance, take me places no matter how often I hear them, just as the anthemic “Badlands” lifts me toward the sky. And with “Murder Incorporated” sandwiched between them? It doesn’t get much better for me, save for the 1975 trifecta of “Jungleland,” “Born to Run” and “Thunder Road.” Those songs stop time, just about.

I won’t lie and say that the lousy seats didn’t cause a disconnect on occasion, yet it was an incredible sight when the house lights came on to reveal the 20,000+ fans raising their arms and singing along as one. In that sense, this night was more than just an opera off I-95; it was a revival meeting that provided sustenance for all who sought it, be they saints or sinners, losers or winners, whores or gamblers, or lost souls…

These past few days, I’ve been re-living the concert again (and again and again) thanks to its release via the Live Bruce Springsteen/nugs.net store. Whether or not one was at the show, it’s well worth the download: The sound quality is excellent and performance beyond reproach. And let’s hope that the other five Philly shows eventually see the “Light of Day,” as well…

The set:

 

 

Looking forward. Looking back. Embracing the new. Celebrating the old. Since his start with the Jam, Paul Weller’s contradictory impulses have introduced a slew of sonic delights – as well as the occasional dud – to this thing we call rock ’n’ soul. On Sunset, his 15th solo studio set, finds him weaving avant-garde accents into an oft-compelling tapestry of sound, while lyrically indulging in the self-reflection that comes with growing old(er). 

It’s Weller being Weller, in other words. He’s always mused about life, love and the meanings therein, after all, and occasionally looked askance at the wider world. He’s also been adept at integrating seemingly discordant chords into a coherent whole. 

The first track, “Mirror Ball,” is actually a holdover from the True Meanings sessions; Weller originally heard it as a b-side or bonus track, but realized it deserved a wider audience. A suite of sorts, the music rolls toward shore in a succession of waves for almost seven-and-a-half minutes, threatening to inundate everything but stopping just short.

“Old Father Tyme” and “Village” wouldn’t have been out of place on True Meanings. The former finds him staring age in the face: “Time will become you/You’ll become time/All hail the love/It’s the love divine.” The latter, meanwhile, finds the 62-year-old Weller measuring his life and realizing that, with heaven now in sight, he’s content: “I never knew what a world this was/Till I looked in my heart/And saw myself for what I am/Found a whole world in my hand…” 

(As Todd Rundgren might say, “love is the answer.”)

On the surface, “More” is about consumerism – but, upon deeper inspection, it’s – ahem – more than that: “The more we get, the more we lose/when all is ‘more,’ it’s more we choose/There’s always something else in store/That keeps me running down the road/Keeps me running/To an unknown place I think is more.” In essence, the quest for more distracts from what we have, i.e. the present. I should add that, aside from the philosophizing, the almost seven-minute opus features a way-cool vocal cameo from French singer Julie Gros (of the band Le Superhomard) as well as incendiary guitar runs from Weller and Steve Craddock.

In addition to Gros, contributors to the album include former Style Council mate Mick Talbot, the Staves, Col3trane, Madness saxophonist Lee Thompson, Slade violinist Jim Lea, the Paraorchestra and Irish composer Hannah Peel. Weller plays Captain Many Hands on many tracks, while drummer Ben Gordelier keeps the beat throughout; Andy Crofts plays on most of the songs and Craddock lends his talents to four. 

In many respects, the lead single “Earth Beat” is the culmination of Weller’s intent with the album, as it features synths, blips and beats as well as Col3trane and the Staves on backing vocals. As he explained on Instagram, it ”comes from a track that Jim Jupp had done as Belbury Poly on his label GhostBox. I’m a big fan of that label. I think the track was called ‘The Willows.’ I started singing this song over the top of it, and came up with the bass riff as well and the guitar riff – just singing over the top of Jim’s original track. Then I got in touch, asked if I could try and develop the track and it rolled on from that.” 

The album proper closes with “Rockets,” which is guaranteed to blast most listeners into deep space, a la “Space Oddity” or “Ashes to Ashes.” It’s an intense, fanciful tribute to David Bowie. 

The deluxe version of the album features five additional tracks, including an “orchestral mix” of the bittersweet title track, which finds Weller seeking out the clubs he played in L.A. with the Jam. “And the world I knew/Has all gone by/All the places we used to go/Belong to a time/Someone else’s life/Another time…”

As a whole, to my ears, the album finds Weller at the top of his game, offering a bit of the old with a bit of the new. It’s one of the year’s best, thus far (albeit with one of the year’s worst covers).

Singer-songwriter Jackie DeShannon, whose credits include writing “When You Walk Into a Room,” singing “What the World Needs Now Is Love” and inspiring this blog’s tagline, released a lyric video for “Vanished in Time” on Friday; the song itself was released in 2000 on her You Know Me album, the video was first shared last year (sans lyrics) – while the single, which doesn’t sound like a re-recording to my ears, was issued on Friday. Why now? Who knows?

Those questions aside, it’s an interesting song for a few reasons, but chief among them: It’s a paean to a way of life that’s long since passed. As she sings in the first verse, “The flag is still waving/As the box cars roll by/Don’t look for the heartland/It’s vanished in time…”

The world we remember is rarely the world, writ large, that was, a difference that can cause dissonance and defensiveness when and/or if long-held beliefs are challenged. That’s grist for another post somewhere down the line, however. To get back on point, I’ll say that – musically and thematically – “Vanished in Time” is akin to a letter mailed from pre-9/11 America to the present. 

That doesn’t make it any less relevant, mind you. For good and ill, yearning for years long ago, romanticizing the good and glossing over the bad, has been part and parcel of this thing called life from the very start. Every generation is the last of a dying breed, just as every succeeding generation faces the same basic quandaries and questions as their forebears. “Vanished in Time” conveys a wistfulness for the past – and it’s that very wistfulness that makes it worth a listen.

It’s odd the way the mind’s turntable works. 

Earlier this week, singer-songwriter Courtney Marie Andrews posted to her Instagram account that she “can’t wait to sing with humans in a room, that’s what I miss most.” For reasons only a mystic may know, that simple admission caused my inner turntable to queue up the “Someday We’ll Be Together” 45 by Diana Ross & the Supremes.

The song was written by Johnny Bristol, Jackey Beavers and Harvey Fuqua in 1961, and was first recorded and released that same year by Bristol and Beavers (as Johnny and Jackey) on the Tri-Phi label. That version, however, features little of the magic heard in Diana’s rendition…

… which, though billed as a “Diana Ross & the Supremes” song, was recorded with Merry Clayton, Patrice Holloway, Maxine Waters and Julia Waters on backing vocals, not Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong. Johnny Bristol, who joined the Motown fold in the mid-1960s, had worked up the track for Jr. Walker and the All-Stars, but Berry Gordy decided it was better suited for Diana; at that stage, he earmarked it as her solo debut. He changed his mind after it was completed, however, and issued it instead as the final single from Diana Ross & the Supremes in order to help promote Diana’s departure from the group. Bristol’s vocal contributions, by the way, came about by accident: In an early take, the engineer accidentally recorded him while he was positioned off-mic singing along and offering words of encouragement to Diana. They liked the result, so kept it.

Released on October 14, 1969, it peaked at No. 1 on the pop charts for the week of December 27th, so is technically both the final No. 1 of the 1960s and first No. 1 of the 1970s. 

What’s wild about the song: Although written 59 years ago about love and regret (“Long time ago my, my sweet thing, I made a big mistake, honey/I say, I said goodbye”), it remains as relevant as ever – no more so than today, given that the pandemic is keeping loved ones apart: “I wanna say, I wanna say, I wanna say some day we’ll be together/Yes we will, yes we will say some day we’ll be together/Some day, some sweet day, we will be together…” 

The first song released under the Diana Ross & the Supremes moniker, “Reflections,” is a Holland-Dozier-Holland gem that, though about love, is also applicable to these times: “Through the mirror of my mind/Time after time/I see reflections of you and me/Reflections of/The way life used to be…”

Released on July 24th, 1967 (aka the Summer of Love), it rose to No. 2 on the charts by September 9th – and sports a soft (and somewhat dated) psychedelic sound due to the use of a test oscillator as part of its sonic makeup. Yet, it remains a great song – one of my favorites by Diana & Company.

(Both have been added to my list of songs Courtney Marie should cover – though I doubt she ever will.)

A year later, Diana and the Supremes released the Diana Ross & the Supremes Sing and Perform “Funny Girl,” a sales misstep – it peaked at No. 150 – that, yet, is eminently enjoyable. One highlight – and another song that could have been written about life during the COVID-19 pandemic – is “People.”

If you listened, you heard Diana’s heartfelt plea, which could well be spoken today: “People, God’s children, were born to be free, to love/All the people have a dream/for peace, for security/let the world fall in love again/please, please, let our lives not be in vain…”

Another H-D-H classic, “My World Is Empty Without You,” released by the Supremes at the tail end of 1965, echoes modern life, as well:

Incidentally, its album home – I Hear a Symphony, which was released in early 1966 – is well worth many spins. The title cut is a classic, of course…

…and there’s also a touching cover of the Beatles’ “Yesterday.” Another highlight is their rendition of “Unchained Melody,” which had been a hit for the Righteous Brothers the year before:

Too often, songs of yesteryear are dismissed as relics from a bygone age – as if love, heartache and regret are modern conceits. Yeah, sure, the albums by the Supremes often include covers of then-popular hits, as well as Broadway favorites, but – to me, at least – that’s part of their charm. At their best, which is often, Diana Ross and the Supremes (both pre- and post-ampersand) simultaneously reflect and transcend their times, and remain as relevant and wonderful as ever.