Pure and Easy

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ELVIS COSTELLO: “Miracle Man” Play this track

My Aim is True is in the rarefied group of strongest debut recordings. The songwriting, lyrics and performance are all top notch. I was listening to my iPod in shuffle mode and this song popped up. Headphones bring out the funky Motown-like rhythm guitar part that pushes the song along. It should be no surprise that the guitar part is an equal among the great hooks. —John Stix

ORLEANS: “Reach” Play this track

Orleans, along with Little Feat and Tower of Power, are among my “What the hell happened here?” groups. Meaning I always thought they should have been more popular than they were. In the case of Orleans I was taken in by their Eagles-like vocal harmonies, Stax/Volt inspired sophisticated songwriting, and off-the-charts guitar parts. They had worthy hits like “Dance with Me” and “Still the One” (with one of the best guitar solos ever in a hit song). But they never rose above the middle act in a three-act bill. The gospel tinged “Reach” has everything I love in an Orleans song, great vocal harmonies, sophisticated songwriting, and off the charts rhythm guitar parts. Am I repeating myself? — JS

THE JACKSON 5: “I Want You Back (Z-Trip Remix)” Play this track

I often hear music in segues. I knew that after “Reach” I wanted to share this cool re-mix of the J5 classic. Is this not one of the killer rhythm guitar parts of all time? —JS

THE JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE: “Wait Until Tomorrow” Play this track

When I go into a music store, this is what I want to hear from young players trying out the six-strings. Please join me as we go back to Curtis Mayfield’s funky rhythm guitar playing courtesy of James Marshall Hendrix. He did everything so well, so in the pocket, so musically. People often talk about the great songwriters as knowing what to leave out as much as what to put in. There is a lot left out in this tune, so you can hear everything that’s there. This song never makes the best-of compilations, but it belongs on ’em. —JS

THE ROLLING STONES: “Melody (Inspiration by Billy Preston)” Play this track

This is an odd one. Black & Blue was an all-in, genre-hopping vessel wherein the Stones auditioned potential guitarists to replace the departed Mick Taylor while simultaneously recording a new album. Some of the participants got an “Inspired By” credit but no one except Jagger & Richards received songwriting acknowledgements. This jazzy, gospel-ish blues is a Billy Preston/Mick Jagger special complete with muffled vocals and blurry sound. But then Keith’s itchy jazz guitar starts, quickly followed by the highbrow (and very tight ’n bright) horn section and the sultry vibe amps up. A spontaneous (?) beauty. —Rock Stamberg

I feel music before I hear it. And this so subtle, so greasy feel is a prime example of that. It got my shoulders bouncing long before I tried figuring out the lyric. I don’t know if I even care. This platform is perfect for one of the best sing-speak vocals from Mick Jagger. When the song ends nothing stays with me, but while it’s on I’m all in. —JS

FLEETWOOD MAC: “Albatross” Play this track

This lazy-day-at-the-beach instrumental is so floaty the atmosphere belies the musically precise arrangement and instrumentation. Peter Green delights again. —RS

Over the years I’ve developed a method to tell me if a song is good. I start the music and go about my business. If the song calls me back and away from what I was doing, it’s a keeper. “Albatross” stops me dead in my tracks every time. While all the great rock guitarists are known for letting it rip, Peter Green also knows how to let it flow. His relaxed, less-is-much-more and gentle way with a melody has created an instrumental that is unparalleled in his field. This song is Peter Green’s marker for all the blues rock guitar instrumental ballads that will follow. —JS

THE BEATLES: “Sun King” Play this track

Is this the perfect foil to “Albatross” or what? The Beatles. The Beatles. —RS

There was once a band called Rat Race Choir. They did fantastic covers by Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and, of course, The Beatles. Mark Hitt, a Westchester/Long Island guitar hero (who’d influenced Joe Satriani and Steve Stevens) began a gig in New Rochelle, NY by securing his guitar strap and leisurely going into the opening chords of “Sun King.” What a great way to start a show — with a whisper. This from the songwriters (Lennon & McCartney) that went from “Yesterday” to “Helter Skelter.” The Beatles could do it all, especially on “Sun King” with its lava lamp movement and Lennon’s gibberish lyrics. —JS

FLEETWOOD MAC: “Miles Away” Play this track

More Fleetwood Mac, this time from their muscular Mystery To Me album from 1973. Guitarist/singer/songwriter Bob Welch really shines here. I picked this under-the-radar album track because it’s just too good to remain unearthed. What a band. Proof the band’s late so-called middle-period frontman was rife with verve. —RS

THE WHO: “Pure and Easy” Play this track

Pete Townshend’s one-man-band solo recording (demo?) came on prior to The Who’s version and thus informed my musical perception of it. That said, The Who’s version is sooo good. Such opinions rarely come from me. —RS

This is my favorite Who song that never appeared on a proper album (it was finally released on their Odds & Sods collection). Obviously written for the Who’s Next album, its opening chords and lyrics were used to end “The Song is Over.” If ever a segue was foreshadowed, this is it. But the song first turned up on Pete Townshend’s first solo album, Who Came First. The chord changes are easy to play and among my favorites in that regard. And there could be no better melody. The lyrics are perfect. So when I say a song is a masterpiece, that means I think it’s as amazing as “Pure and Easy” is —JS

FACES: “Ooh La La” Play this track

C’mon, you already know this recording … likely from hearing it played on dozens of movie soundtracks, in commercials and TV shows. Up ’til that happened the song languished in album-track hell. Oh, and the vocalist on this one isn’t Faces’ usual front man, Rod. It’s future Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood in his singing debut. Yeah, really. —RS

ZZ Top: “I Thank You” Play this track

I was never into ZZ Top until I heard their take on Sam & Dave’s “I Thank You” back in my college days. Right off the bat I had to have it. I bought the vinyl single, or 45 as we called it at the time. Its bustling, slinky undercurrent had me at “I.” —RS

PINK FLOYD: “On the Turning Away” Play this track

Dripping in the Celtic sound, this musical roundabout keeps building with every cycle. There is a momentary pause and then it comes back big with its lyric message of brotherhood and a guitar solo that stands with the best of Gilmour’s melodic melodramas. This is a mountain of a song that will stand tall with Pink Floyd fans for the ages. —JS

I love how this one builds … and builds … and builds again until it dives into a tempo change so sweet it features one of the most beautiful, lyrical guitar solos I’ve ever heard. —RS

SIMON & GARFUNKEL: “Keep the Customer Satisfied” Play this track

This ain’t folk music. —RS

SIMON & GARFUNKEL: “The Breakup” Play this track

No words for this. —RS

BETTY WRIGHT: “Clean Up Woman” Play this track

As I started writing the blog notes for this edition, I realized I’m on a rhythm guitar kick. Little Beaver’s guitar part on this hit is so simple, so funky and so perfect, especially where it’s placed against the bass line. All the parts fit together like big puzzle pieces. You can identify each bit separately and taken together they are perfect. It’s up there with the Staples Singers’ “Come Go with Me” and is among my favorite soul singles. In this case, the lyric is randy rather than holy. John Hall (Orleans) and I once talked about this song. Here is the meat of what he had to say: “It’s your basic primer on rhythm guitar,” he told me. “This song is a milestone in funk playing and arranging. This is a record I go back and listen to. Just the intro alone is classic. I want to know whether he (Little Beaver) played the bass on this as well as the guitar. Obviously, he and the bass player collaborated on the bottom line. Somebody was listening really close to somebody else. This is a classic song, classic arrangement, classic recording. The way the intro breaks down with him playing the high rhythm line first for a couple of bars and then coming in with the lower one is right out of the book on how to structure rhythm guitar parts. It’s got that laid-back southern feel not only to the guitar playing but the drumming also feels like a shuffle. Then the drummer plays a fill and it’s straight eighth notes. I love the structure of the song and the way everybody works together.” —JS

GLENN TILBROOK: “Peter” Play this track

Whatta song, what a performance, what a recording. The voice of Squeeze sings a tale of a child’s initiation to shoplifting gone awry. The exotic musical bed is driven by Tilbrook’s 12-string guitar paired with several unlikely acoustic instruments and a beautiful melody. Peter’s got a plan, alright. —RS

JORMA KAUKONEN: “Genesis” Play this track

Gorgeous, eh? Jefferson Airplane/Hot Tuna veteran shows off the absolute best of his direct and exacting acoustic side. Always enchanting. —RS