Marvin Gaye – What’s Going On

Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

It took me some time to appreciate the genius of Marvin Gaye. Of course, like most people growing up in the 80’s, I had been inundated with various Marvin Gaye duets and songs on the oldies stations my parents would play. It was only after listening to a cover of I Heard It Through The Grapevine by The Slits in my late teens that I decided to seek out the originals. And what a treat that was. What’s Going On marked the dawn of the 70’s for Marvin Gaye. In fact, the song was deemed too political and was almost not released. Fortunately, Marvin stuck to his guns and refused to record or release anything else unless this song was released as a single. January 20, 1971 saw the official release of the song – it had been recorded 6 months earlier. The song is directly inspired by – and addresses – police brutality as witnessed by Obie Benson of the Four Tops. Vocally, it is one of the best performances of Gaye’s career. His voice pulls off the trick of sounding relaxed, emotional, and pained – sometimes within the same sentence. Musically, this is classic soul – infectious beats and a strong, strong melody. Lyrically, it is timeless – and modern. Unfortunately so. “Don’t punish me with brutality / Talk to me / So you can see / What’s going on”. On the full album, the song segues into What’s Happening Brother – the songs tied together lyrically with the beat acting as a segue between the tunes. Embedded below is a live performance of both masterful songs.

Michael Nesmith – Propinquity (I’ve Just Begun to Care)

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Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

Most people, when they think of the intersection of country and rock, think of Gram Parsons. I do too, but I also think of Michael Nesmith. Yes, the very same Michael Nesmith from The Monkees. The latter-day records from The Monkees featured a handful of original Nesmith tunes that hinted at country music; freed from the chains of The Monkees, Nesmith embraced cosmic country rock in a groundbreaking and brilliant way. Nesmith’s 3rd solo record, 1971’s Nevada Fighter, was one of his strongest offerings. Propinquity (I’ve Just Begun to Care) is arguably the strongest track on the record and happens to be my favorite solo offering from the erstwhile Monkee. Lyrically, the song concerns something that happens to just about everyone in life – not realizing what they have right in front of them. Musically, the song is breezy – a light country vibe with strong melodies. The song was originally demoed as a tune for The Monkees in 1968 – it is my belief that it would have been a late era hit for the band. It also might be the finest vocals recorded by Nesmith, conveying emotion with ease. The steel guitar from OJ “Red” Rhodes is simply exquisite. Oh, and the word propinquity? It means “the state of being close to someone or something; proximity”. It also doesn’t appear in the song at all. Oh, Michael. “Oh, it’s taken me a while / But I have finally found / what you are to me / And that’s what really counts / And what you are to me / Is something we can share”

Led Zeppelin – All My Love

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Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

The late 70’s saw Led Zeppelin changing up their sound, stretching out from the blues inspired Rock ‘n” Roll that had made them stars at the tail end of the 60’s and into the early 70’s. Their swan song – 1979’s In Through the Out Door – is an album that touches on a few musical styles. The die-hard Zep fans might be slowly warming up to it after 35 years, but I’ve always loved its mix of hard rock, groove inspired jams, and the greatest ballad the band ever composed, All My Love. I might have just lost half of the hardcore Led Zeppelin fans with that statement, but what can I say? Singer Robert Plant had the experience that every parent fears – losing his 5-year-old son Karac to an infection. Plant turned inward and thought about quitting the band, but was persuaded by drummer John Bonham to continue (Bonham would pass away just a few years later). All My Love tries to put Plant’s thoughts about losing his son into verse and succeeds on every level. It is one of the only Led Zeppelin tracks to not have any input from guitarist Jimmy Page. The keyboard solo from John Paul Jones exists on a plane outside of what was happening in the 70’s – not prog, not new wave – it is a beautiful piece of melancholy that enhances the emotions of the tune. Bonham holds a steady beat whilst Plant poetically conjures up visions of life, the afterlife, love, and loss.

For many hours and days that pass ever soon
the tides have caused the flame to dim
At last the arm is straight, the hand to the loom
Is this to end or just begin?

All of my love, all of my love,
All of my love to you.

Shuggie Otis – Strawberry Letter 23

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Attack of the Killer Track! is a series that explores tracks from artists from a variety of genres. Some of the tracks were singles, some of them were obscure b-sides or long forgotten album tracks. One thing is certain – all of them are killer tracks.

Sad to say, but I first became aware of Shuggie Otis with the 2001 David Byrne assisted reissue of 1974’s Inspiration Information. The CD cover hinted at some hip world of unheard acid jazz soul power and the music followed through on that promise (though the 2001 reissue cover wasn’t the original sleeve). As much as I loved the entire record, the track that I had instantly had to play over (and over) again was “Strawberry Letter 23”. The song was originally a part of Shuggie’s 1971 record, Freedom Flightbut was tacked onto the reissue as a “bonus track”. The song effortlessly encapsulates exhilaration, melancholy, and longing all within the span of its 4 minute run-time. The music breezes along on a ridiculously catchy groove making the moment when everything fades away with Shuggie singing “If you arrive and don’t see me / I’m going to be with my baby / I am free, flying in her arms / Over the sea” resonate all the more deeply. The track has been covered by quite a few acts (notably, The Brothers Johnson version hit #5 and is the version most people have heard). It was also featured in the Quentin Tarantino film Jackie Brown as well as the hit TV show Six Feet Under. This is one of those songs that gets under your skin the 1st time you hear it and never wears out its welcome. The lyrics quoted just above hint at the way the words effortlessly flow in poetic fashion. Truly, a masterpiece in words & music.