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‘Flint Hill Special,’ Sleepy Man Banjo Boys

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“This is not like the Jonas Brothers, is it?” asked David Letterman, rhetorically, when the Sleepy Man Banjo Boys appeared on “Late Show” in 2011. Well, they are three brothers from New Jersey. But that’s where the similarities end. The Banjo Boys, who are from Lebanon Township, play bluegrass, and they do it amazingly well. Continue Reading →

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‘Good Lovin’,’ The Young Rascals

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In 1965, a California doo-wop group called the Olympics had a minor hit with an urgent plea of a song titled “Good Lovin’.” The next year, The Young Rascals, formed in Garfield, had their first major hit with it, not by radically reworking it, but just by upping the mood from urgent to practically frantic. Check out the band’s performance of it on the television show “Hullabaloo,” below. Many more hits were to follow for The Young Rascals (who later changed their name to The Rascals), including “Groovin’,” “People Got to Be Free,” “How Can I Be Sure” and “A Beautiful Morning.” They broke up in 1972, but 40 years later, singer-organist Felix Cavaliere, singer Eddie Brigati, guitarist Gene Cornish and drummer Dino Danelli reunited for a combined concert/theatrical show called “The Rascals: Once Upon a Dream.” Continue Reading →

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‘Tweeter and the Monkey Man,’ The Traveling Wilburys

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Bruce Springsteen was so hugely popular in the 1980s that when Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne released an album in 1988 as the Traveling Wilburys — The Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 1 — they included one song that’s an obvious homage to him. Or maybe it’s a parody — it’s hard to say. But “Tweeter and the Monkey Man,” sung mainly by Dylan, is studded with Jersey references (“The Jersey line,” “Rahway Prison,” “In Jersey anything’s legal as long as you don’t get caught”) as well as actual Springsteen song titles (“Thunder Road,” “State Trooper,” “Mansion on the Hill”). The cops-and-robbers storyline seems very Springsteenesque as well, and a line such as “I guess I’ll go to Florida to get myself some sun/There ain’t no more opportunity here, everything’s been done,” would have fit right in on many songs on the Springsteen albums “The River” and “Born in the USA.” Continue Reading →

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‘Say Something,’ A Great Big World and Christina Aguilera

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Nov. 5, 2013 was the day it all changed for A Great Big World. In September 2013, the duo had released “Say Something” — a heartbreaking ballad about making one last attempt to save a relationship that’s probably doomed to end — as the lead single from its “Is There Anybody Out There?” album, and it hadn’t done much. But Christina Aguilera had heard it, and offered to sing on a new version of it. Continue Reading →

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‘Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker),’ Parliament-Funkadelic

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In October, I included, in 350 Jersey Songs, “(I Wanna) Testify,” by Plainfield’s Parliaments — a gospel- and Motown-influenced hit single from 1967 that gave little indication about where the Parliaments were headed, under George Clinton’s direction, in the ’80s and beyond. The Parliaments, of course, evolved into the wild funk band Parliament, which had various eccentric spinoff bands of its own, including Funkadelic. The peak of it all, both commercially and artistically, was the futuristic 1975 Parliament concept album, “Mothership Connection,” and the subsequent P-Funk Earth tour, for which a mothership was built, so it could land onstage. Below is a long, triumphant Halloween-1976 jam on the quintessential P-Funk party song (and the highest-charting Parliament single ever, rising to No. 15 on Billboard’s pop chart), “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker),” with a guest appearance by Sly Stone, who opened some shows on the tour. Continue Reading →

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‘Away,’ The Feelies

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Jonathan Demme directed the classic 1984 Talking Heads concert film “Stop Making Sense” and, more recently, three Neil Young documentaries. But he is also a big fan of the Jersey rock group The Feelies. He hired them to play a high school reunion band in his 1986 film “Something Wild,” and featured them on the soundtrack of 1988’s “Married Them to the Mob.” And the way his video for their song “Away,” below, captures the kinetic energy of the band in concert may remind viewers of “Stop Making Sense.” The group formed in Haledon in 1976 and frequently performed at Maxwell’s in Hoboken; they are one of the bands most responsible for building a vibrant rock scene in Hoboken in the ’80s. Continue Reading →

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‘Wide Open Wide,’ From Good Homes

Based in Northwestern New Jersey, From Good Homes was a standout New Jersey roots-rock band of the ’90s. They did a lot of touring and made it to a major label, RCA, but never quite broke through nationally, and broke up in 1999. Still, they’ve retained a strong bond with their fans, and have done a lot of reunion shows over the years, usually in New Jersey, and usually around this time of the year. This year’s show takes place Friday at the State Theatre in New Brunswick, and they’ll play their 1994 RCA debut, Open Up the Sky, in its entirety, in honor of its 20th anniversary. Listen to one of the album’s best tracks, “Wide Open Wide,” below. Continue Reading →

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‘Stand by Me,’ U2 (with Bruce Springsteen)

There has always been a strong bond between U2 and Bruce Springsteen. There are obvious similarities in their musical philosophies and, if you have any doubt, keep in mind that U2’s Bono inducted Springsteen into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999, and Springsteen did the honors for U2 in 2005. While Springsteen will share the stage with U2, minus Bono, tonight, he has occasionally performed with the entire band over the years. The first time he did it was in 1987, when he sang and played guitar on “Stand by Me” at a U2 concert at John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia. “I guess you guys know him,” said Bono when Springsteen took the stage. Continue Reading →

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‘I’ve Got the World on a String,’ Sarah Vaughan

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Few if any New Jersey jazz artists have had the impact of Sarah Vaughan, widely recognized as one of the greatest jazz singers ever. Mel Tormé once said Vaughan, who had both awe-inspiring technical command and the ability to sing with great emotion, had “the single best vocal instrument of any singer working in the popular field”; Frank Sinatra once said she was so good that “when I listen to her I want to cut my wrists with a dull razor.” The main concert room at Newark Symphony Hall is named after Vaughan, who grew up in Newark, and was nicknamed “The Divine One.” So is the New Jersey Performing Arts Center’s Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition. Vaughan broke through in the mid 1940s, and remained active into the 1980s. Continue Reading →

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‘Sabre Dance,’ Eric Plutz

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I realize that the 350 Jersey Songs series has been dominated by pop and rock songs, but, really, any type of music can qualify, as long as it has some connection to New Jersey, or is being performed at a New Jersey venue. Today, we turn to Soviet composer Aram Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance,” from his 1942 ballet, “Gayane,” as gloriously played by Eric Plutz, solo, on the Princeton University Chapel’s organ. Of course, “Sabre Dance” has a place in popular culture, as its frantic quality has made it a favorite of film and TV music supervisors: It’s been in everything from “The Twilight Zone” and “The Hudsucker Proxy” to “The Big Bang Theory.” Dave Edmunds’ 1960s band, Love Sculpture, recorded a great version of it as well. Plutz is the University Organist at Princeton University, and recorded this version of “Sabre Dance” for his 2008 CD, “Carnival.” Continue Reading →

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‘Black Friday,’ Steely Dan

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I know the song doesn’t have anything to do with the national day of shopping known as Black Friday — it’s actually about the original Black Friday, an 1869 financial disaster. But still, in recognition of Steely Dan frontman Donald Fagen’s Jersey roots (he grew up in Passaic, Fair Lawn and Kendall Park), we’re making today’s installment of the 350 Jersey Songs series Steely Dan’s “Black Friday.” A rhythmically propulsive track from the band’s 1975 album “Katy Lied,” as well as a minor hit single in its own right, “Black Friday” is a natural crowd-pleaser at Steely Dan concerts, as the 2000 clip below shows. Steely Dan co-founders Fagen and Walter Becker met while attending Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y. Becker is not a New Jerseyan, though another original band member, singer David Palmer, was, having grown up in Warren Township (Palmer was no longer involved in the band by the time of “Black Friday”). New Jersey celebrated its 350th birthday from Sept. Continue Reading →

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‘Caravan,’ Remember Jones (Anthony D’Amato)

As I recently wrote, I like the association that seems to be developing between Thanksgiving and The Band’s “The Last Waltz.” So, for today’s 350 Jersey Songs entry, I look back all the way to last week, when an all-star group of New Jersey musicians played songs from “The Last Waltz” at the Pollak Theatre at Monmouth University in West Long Branch. Anthony D’Amato, appearing under the name Remember Jones, had the guts to try his hand at Van Morrison’s show-stopping version of “Caravan,” and pulled it off, going even more over the top than Morrison did. Check out his wildly theatrical performance below. Supporting musicians include Glen Burtnik (yesterday’s 350 Jersey Songs pick) on bass, and Bob Burger on guitar. Continue Reading →

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