Fakewood Mac

I wrote an article for the Please Kill Me website on one of the oddest stories from pop music history – the fake Fleetwood Mac. You can read it here.

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After the Dark: Teddy Vann & Akim’s ‘Santa Claus Is A Black Man’

[originally appeared in Shindig! issue #86]

The late ‘60s and early ‘70s were a time of social unrest in the United States, and black Americans were a major part of the uprisings against systemic discrimination and inequality. While many black activists were challenging the societal norms that perpetuated racial oppression, they were also reclaiming pride in their own heritage – and producer and songwriter Teddy Vann was one of those activists. His ’73 single ‘Santa Claus Is A Black Man’, featuring his five-year-old daughter Akim, has been rightly described as “merging African-American empowerment with the spirit of the holiday”.

Vann was astoundingly prolific and multi-talented; although largely self-educated, he was Continue reading

Announcing My New Book

I’m very pleased to announce that my new book, Song Book: 21 Songs from 10 Years (1964-74), has been released by New Haven Publishing. You can order it from any of the sites listed here.

The book includes extended and updated versions of some of the Shindig! magazine articles posted on this site, along with previously unpublished material.

I’ll be posting updates and news about the book on Facebook and on the “Song Book – the book” page on this site. There’s also a YouTube channel for the book, featuring playlists of the songs that are discussed in the book, as well as a promotional video.

I hope you’ll check it out!

Procol Harum….in Canada: The Making of “Procol Harum Live: In Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra”

(originally appeared in Shindig! issue #77)

Ask a Canadian to describe the city of Edmonton, Alberta, and the two words you are likely to hear are “cold” and “boring”. Edmonton is the northernmost large city in North America, sitting on roughly the same latitude as Moscow – and, as your correspondent discovered while living there, Edmonton can indeed be cold. Very cold. Like “outdoor temperature of -35C and windchill” cold.

However, despite its nickname of “Deadmonton”, Edmonton is not boring. Its winters are long and dark, but many of its residents grew up in small Prairie towns where, if you were bored, you made your own fun. So when Edmontonians get an idea, instead of thinking of reasons why it won’t work, they figure out how to make it happen. That adventurous attitude of “hey, this could be fun” led to the ’72 album Procol Harum Live: In Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra – a significant milestone in Procol Harum’s career, and a huge influence on the city where it was recorded.

By the late ‘60s, the potential for crossovers between classical music and rock music had already been demonstrated by Continue reading

You Don’t Own Me: 1968 and Women in Music

(originally appeared in Shindig! issue 75)

To understand “women in music” in ’68 – and to understand why that’s even a thing worth talking about – we have to look at what was going on during that time with women in society. In ’68, women in music and women in society were second-class citizens, and they were angry. That anger laid the groundwork for change that would happen in subsequent years.

But before we go there: why “women in music”? Why not “everybody in music”? Men were, and are, the majority in the music business, so looking at women in music does have the effect of making them the outsiders, the oddities, the exceptions. But that separation is necessary to fully understand those women’s experiences, and to assess their impact on music then and now.

So roll back, Father Time, roll back, to the early ‘60s – when father knew best, when mother was at home, and when women only stayed in higher education or the workplace until they found a husband.  In ’63, Betty Friedan’s book The Feminine Mystique started turning all that on its head. For many women, the book was Continue reading

Reachin’ To Be Free: The Supremes and The Temptations’ ‘A Place in the Sun’

[This article has been updated and expanded in the book Song Book;  it originally appeared in Shindig! issue 75]

1968 was a time of upheaval and change at Motown Records. The company had moved its Detroit headquarters into a soulless commercial building, and founder and president Berry Gordy was spending much of his time in Los Angeles. Gordy was also being criticized for his relative silence on racial inequality – which was not an abstract issue for the company; among other things, many Motown artists were regularly subjected to racist threats or attacks while on tour. Other Motown acts were expressing frustration at the company’s focus on entertainment rather than on social commentary.

But amongst that uncertainty came ‘A Place in the Sun’, a song that spoke profoundly both of struggle and of hope for a better world. Although it was first recorded in ’66, more than a dozen artists –including, jointly, The Supremes and The Temptations – covered it in ’68, which indicates its relevance to those troubled times.

Ron Miller and Bryan Wells, the song’s co-authors, both came to Motown through quirks of serendipity. Miller, delivering pizzas to pay the bills, happened to bring Continue reading