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Closet Singles: The Outfield “New York City”

“New York City” is a gorgeous textural track off album Replay from The Outfield released through CD Baby in 2011. The album featured all 3 original members reunited after recording three albums together back in the 1980’s—back when MTV actually played music videos all day and had VJs (Video Jockeys) like Adam Curry and Martha Quinn (remember them?). Replay was also the final studio album from The Outfield as guitarist/songwriter John Spinks died of liver cancer in 2014. And not because of any “Jagger Level Lifestyle.” Spinks always made a point to separate The Outfield from the decadence and excess that plagued numerous bands stating in interviews they weren’t into smoking and drugs. Definitely a minority in a business that caters to extended adolescence with hall passes for juvenile behavior, and absolution of responsibility necessitating the periodic ass wiping for adults to keep the money train going. A business filled with SWAT teams (Special Wipeup Ass Team) of legal “Clean Up” specialists kinda like the Harvey Keitel character “The Wolf” in Pulp Fiction. As a band The Outfield were more emotionally and psychologically mature and this can be “heard” and perceived in their music. “New York City” is no exception even though the lyrics in the last verse are about one of the most tragic moments in pop music history.


The Outfield were a band out of Manchester England, the prototype lineup of John Spinks, Tony Lewis, and Alan Jackman played together in an earlier band in the 70’s. Punk rock was on the rise in popularity in England at the time and the band called it a day. Guitarist John Spinks continued recording demos by himself and put a deliberately dumb sounding band name on them called “Baseball Boys.” He got the idea from a then recent film called The Warrior (like the Scandal song) which had a gang in it called The Baseball Furies. People he took the demos to liked what they heard and wanted to see the band live. Small problem—there wasn’t a band or other “boys” besides John. Spinks then regrouped (a true ‘Get the band back together’ Blues Brothers moment) with bassist/vocalist Tony Lewis and drummer Alan Jackman. After signing with Columbia Records, their manager suggested they pick a different (and less lame sounding) band name so they went with The Outfield.


If you’re a fan, you know The Outfield has a trademark signature sound that’s saturated with positivity. It’s a quality they have in common with bands like Toto, Boston, .38 Special, Journey, Mr. Mister (of whom Spinks was a fan), and Night Ranger. This holds still regardless of the subject matter of the song or lyrics which goes to show that intention does indeed come through in music. The Outfield toured with bands like Journey, Starship & Night Ranger so there’s also some truth to pairing bands by their vibe and the intention they put out. On the other hand, their positive vibe was why they wouldn’t have succeeded with a Punk audience in their early days and why they took a decade off in the 90’s when Grunge came crawling out of the woods near Seattle wearing OSHA approved lumberjack work shirts. While some of their British contemporaries The Fixx and Duran Duran were big in England and America, the irony of The Outfield was they were never really successful in their native England. But they were huge in the United States and have a decent fanbase in other countries like South America. Sometimes you really can’t control where your fans are or even if they speak the language your songs are recorded in, but fans are fans and music is the Universal language.


“New York City” evokes the sense of wonder and an aura of awe being inside a manmade canyon creates. I shuffle through memories looking out on balconies in several boroughs at the forest of skysrapers. I grew up a few hours from New York City and almost moved there—to Queens actually. I have friends from there: one who opened for Duran Duran and one who was an earlier drummer for The Beastie Boys when they were more of a Punk band. They played in bands that took the stage at places of the Ghost of Music Past like CBGB’s.

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Certain songs are more “visual” in nature and it’s interesting to see what file cabinets of your life they’ll open. A lot of impressions come to mind when I listen to “New York City”, a song which I often listen to coincidentally on replay. A mixed montage of memories surfaces: Visiting my cousin when he lived in Brooklyn Heights watching the conga line of aircraft landing and taking off from his apartment that seemed hanging from some unseen ceiling in the sky. I remember being in Times Square and how it seems “smaller looking” in person. The slideshow in my head forwards itself further through cellular celluloid: Going to trade shows at the Javits Center, meeting a friend and hanging out in Park Slope, taking the commuter rail to attend Brazil Day in Manhattan; Visiting Little India in Jackson Heights and thinking of Adam Curry for some reason; Being in Grand Central Station as a kid for the first time; Navigating the NYC subway system which isn’t as clean or easy to navigate as the Paris (Metro), Berlin or London underground; Video taping a show at The Bitter End in Greenwich Village, the same venue people like Bob Dylan, Woody Allen and Simon & Garfunkel performed early on in their careers; Walking on Lexington Avenue where Marilyn Monroe famously demonstrated her new anti–gravity dress (actually it was over a subway vent); Making the Punk pilgrimage to Queens, the home turf of The Ramones (there’s also a Ramones Museum in Berlin I found accidentally while doing photography around the city). I even toured MTV studios—but all I found were the chalk outlines of Adam Curry and Martha Quinn. Yes, video killed the radio star, and reality TV killed the Video Jockey. I do hope Adam Curry found a fortuitous post–MTV career as Daryl Hall’s stunt double.


Big yellow taxi’s
Driving over the fifty–nine bridge
Into a jungle
Where reality don’t exist


The lyric here refers to the Queensboro Bridge. Simon & Garfunkel also wrote about this NYC landmark in “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” which is better known by it’s chorus “Feelin’ Groovy” since they never mention the bridge directly in the song. Fellow New Yorker Billy Joel also filmed the video for his 1985 single “You’re Only Human (Second Wind)” on the 59th Street Bridge. Superhero the Piano Man saves the day by preventing a teen from jumping off the 59 bridge or maybe he just wasn’t paying attention while playing Pokémon GO:

“New York City” starts off with a technique similar to the Genesis song “Follow You, Follow Me” then opens up into a kind of fusion Reggae groove. The intro also reminds me of a slower tempo cousin of Eric Clapton’s “Lay Down Sally.” Spinks was a skilled and underrated songwriter—writes great hooks, big catchy choruses and doesn’t overplay as a guitar player. Leaving space in a song allows it to breathe and engages the listener to a deeper introspective intimacy. The layered melody has elements of ambient music and the “echo” in the guitar line gives it a trailing off into the distance Doppler effect feel. This part of the guitar riff reminds me of an old school 1960’s British police siren responding to a shaken martini at the Bond residence or being called for backup for some Beatles stuck in a TARDIS after a hard day’s night.

“New York City” is an impressionistic pop song that turns multi–dimensional when inside your ears. There’s a brief solo and Spinks has the sensibilities of U2’s The Edge as he floats notes over the songs canvas with minimalist precision. The Outfield released the singles “California Sun” and “A Long, Long Time Ago” off of Replay but “New York City” is more than worthy to bounce off the ionosphere as well (that’s Shakespearean techie talk for being played on radio stations):

Spinks uses guitar textures to paint a spectacular laid back landscape piece. It nicely contrasts the *actual* pace of New York (land of the infamous New York Minute) as it’s more of a dreamy, almost aerial view of the city as the chorus lyric is “New York City, New York City, New York City, looks pretty at night.” The quiet beauty of a city seen from above, seen from a distance. I pair this lyric with images of taking off and landing at JFK, points of view from skyscrapers, walking at street level soaking up the skyline, the “solitude” of being on a rooftop with friends at night.


The final verse in “New York City” alludes to John Lennon—specifically his murder in the city he loved and hoped to become a citizen of:

No double fantasy
Someone just waved you goodbye
On a street corner
Your stairway that led to the sky


Spinks was very influenced by The Beatles and some production work on Replay was done at Abbey Road Studios. Double Fantasy was John Lennon’s last completed studio album. I remember hearing songs from this album as a kid as my brother really liked “Just Like Starting Over” so I heard it before I knew who John Lennon or The Beatles were. I always dug how John kinda morphs into Elvis in the beginning of each verse. Years later, I played the track “Woman” in a classic rock band, another single from the Double Fantasy album. Other notable singles from Double Fantasy were “Watching The Wheels” and “Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)”, a song Lennon wrote about his son Sean which also happens to be one of Paul McCartney’s favorite songs written by his former bandmate.


As John and Yoko were returning from the Record Plant Studio on December 8th, 1980, Lennon was shot in the archway of his residence The Dakota by a deranged fan who got an autograph from him earlier that day. Assassin Mark David Chapman actually flew to New York earlier that year in October to kill Lennon but for some reason decided against it.


The title of the song also merges with the last verse with one of the most famous pictures of John Lennon: Bob Gruen’s iconic photo from 1974 with John Lennon wearing a wife beater that said “NEW YORK CITY.” Gruen bought the shirt for 5 bucks from a street vendor and they tore off the sleeves. The photo was taken on the roof of Lennon’s 52nd Street penthouse. The irony being a simple cheap “homemade” shirt became way cooler than more expensive clothing with brand names and logos strewn and flaunted across them.  It also showed how a famous person in a cheap T-shirt can itself become a T-shirt. The “New York City” photo was taken after Lennon returned from his “Lost Weekend” which refers to his separation from wife Yoko Ono. The “Lost Weekend” was in actuality a year and a half of partying with singer/songwriter Harry Nilsson (famous for the Grammy winning single “Everybody’s Talkin'” featured on the soundtrack of Midnight Cowboy) in southern California. Lennon came back to New York City to patch things up with Yoko and return to the city he came to love and embrace as his new home. It was this “New York City” photograph that Yoko chose to be the centerpiece at the vigil in Central Park following his death.


Although Replay was the final studio album from the original trio, The Outfield did write new material after 2011 which may be released in the future. Like any group, they probably have a backlog of “outtakes” and unreleased songs as well. John Spinks may have left the planet but the energy that was John Spinks still oscillates here in songs like “New York City” and thankfully we can still enjoy John and John both on Replay.

© Composer Yoga

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R&B Hive: Brothers Johnson “I’ll Be Good To You”

Being a video professional, I’ve been to more weddings than 99.9% of the population. I’ve worked on weddings in several states and of various ethnic and religious ceremonies; Church weddings, beach weddings, country club weddings, backyard & banquet hall weddings, lake weddings—even at an aquarium and on a yacht.


I’ve heard the songs (Barry Manilow writes them if I recall) numerous DJs play at these as well as the collective “Borg Booty Mix” of current Wedding Top 40 and Wedding’s Greatest Hits. Maybe Rhino Records will walk down that aisle in the future.


One wedding I had to reposition my camera during the ceremony then felt something dripping on me—my vest had to be dry cleaned afterwards as the back of it was covered with caked on candle wax. Candles were melting from the crossbeams of the historic rustic barn and I looked like I just arrived from a Dominatrix appointment for the rest of the evening.


“I’ll Be Good To You” is more than worthy of a couple’s first dance. It’s a tune deserving inclusion into matrimonial mixes and wedding video montages. It’s the kind of music that’s injection mold for memories.


Yet I’ve never heard this amazing song played at a wedding and think it’s a tragedy. “I’ll Be Good To You” is more than worthy of a couple’s first dance. It’s a tune deserving inclusion into matrimonial mixes and wedding video montages. It’s the kind of music that’s injection mold for memories.


“I’ll Be Good To You” is a track off the Brothers Johnson 1976 debut album Look Out For #1. The song reached #1 on the R&B charts and peaked at #3 on the singles charts. In 1989 “I’ll Be Good To You” reached #1 again on the R&B charts this time covered by Ray Charles along with Chaka Khan.


In both cases Quincy Jones (the other Q after James Bond’s) was at the “singles event.” He was producer to the Brothers Johnson for the original version and the Ray Charles & Chaka Khan cover was a track off his Back On The Block album. “I’ll Be Good To You” was also covered by Vanessa Williams with James “D–Train” Williams (no relation to her) on Vanessa’s 2005 album Everlasting Love.

George and Louis, The Brothers Johnson grew up in Los Angeles, played in area bands, backed The Supremes, became session musicians and Jedi Apprentices of Quincy Jones before going solo.


The biggest singles of their career were “Strawberry Letter 23” (originally recorded by Shuggie Otis), “I’ll Be Good to You”, and “Stomp!” which came out years before the theatrical show of the same name. The track “Get The Funk Out Ma Face” on Look Out For #1 was written with Quincy Jones and also released as a single reaching #30 on the Billboard charts.


Another track on their debut album, “Thunder Thumbs And Lightnin’ Licks” contains the nicknames of the Brothers Johnson. Codenames far less encrypted than “Mac Daddy” and “Daddy Mac” because they were actually in a band not the CIA like Kris Kross. Actually as far as my Intel is concerned, Steve Jobs was the Mac Daddy (well really Steve Wozniak & Jeff Raskin but it works better as a joke).


Guitarist George Johnson “coulda been a contender” in the Keith Jarrett look alike contest but his codename here is “Lightnin’ Licks” while his bass slapping brother Louis Johnson is “Thunder Thumbs.” From the sound of it, thumb wrestling a guy like Louis would’ve been a bad idea.


While not as well known as other legendary Funk/R&B bassists like Larry GrahamBootsy Collins, & Bernard Edwards, EVERYBODY knows Louis Johnson’s playing…


While not as well known as other legendary Funk/R&B bassists like Larry Graham, Bootsy Collins, & Bernard Edwards, EVERYBODY knows Louis Johnson’s playing…


There’s just a little tune called “Billie Jean” that he was the session player for. Okay, so now his Badass Musician Index (BMI) just went through the roof. Actually Louis played on 3 Michael Jackson albums: Off the Wall, Thriller, and Dangerous.


Other tracks Louis Johnson was session bassist on:

“Off The Wall” —Michael Jackson
“I Keep Forgettin’ (Every Time You’re Near) “—Michael McDonald
(Warren G’s 1994 hit “Regulate” featuring Nate Dogg samples “I Keep Forgettin'”)

“Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'” —Michael Jackson
“Give Me the Night” —George Benson
“P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” —Michael Jackson

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Larry Graham of Sly And The Family Stone and Louis Johnson were pioneers of slap bass playing, with Larry considered the first to bring the style into prominence. Louis showcases his technique on their 1980 hit “Stomp!” (off the album Light Up The Night) which features a bass solo breakdown you’d think he pulled out the Popeye forearms for.


If you’re a liner notes junkie, you’ve seen Louis Johnson listed numerous times as he’s recorded or performed with over 60 artists including Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones, Paul McCartney, Aretha Franklin, Phil Collins, Stevie Nicks, Kenny Loggins, John Mellencamp & Sister Sledge among others.


“I’ll Be Good To You” is an all star feel good party song like Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration” just waiting to pollinate a positive vibe for all occasions. It can pack a dance floor and has a supremely infectious sing along chorus that mixes well with the leisurely waving of hands in the air in the simple act of celebrating life.


George Johnson’s vocals ooze sincerity, his inflections unwrapping layers of affectation. I’m usually good at deciphering lyrics but at first I thought George was singing “Stella” instead of “Said–A” in the first verse. Even though not the case, he demonstrated he can say “Stella” much more pleasantly than Marlon Brando in A Streetcar Named Desire and that’s important.


In “I’ll Be Good To You”, the clean tone rhythm guitar chords are contrasted with some medium roast distortion on the lead line like the Commodore’s single “Easy.” This gives the lead guitar a soft fuzziness that takes on a dreamy synthesizer quality.


“I’ll Be Good To You” truly earns it’s wings with it’s chorus of female backing vocalists. At this point in the song, the sky opens up and listeners get a Soul Shower of Ambrosia


“I’ll Be Good To You” truly earns it’s wings with it’s chorus of female backing vocalists. At this point in the song, the sky opens up and listeners get a Soul Shower of Ambrosia:

The Charles/Khan cover is a more uptempo 80’s synth pop version. It gave Ray Charles his first #1 R&B single in over two decades:

What a jam! It’s a top shelf Jam Anthem like Chic’s “Good Times”, a liquid honeymoon groove. The groove in The Brothers Johnson tune “I’ll Be Good To You” is so laid back, it’s a recliner with a chilled beverage buoying a miniature yellow umbrella.


This is music silk listens to when it needs to feel comforted. This is what it sounds like when butter melts slowly on imported china next to a bottle of Champagne on the French Riviera.


That being said, I’ll be the first to admit love songs are an already overcrowded and overdone subject matter. Songs get recycled from previous regurgitations. Compared to Punk and Metal where there aren’t rations in the topic department, love songs are often terminally stereotypic and predictable. Silly Love Songs Sir Paul called them in the 1970’s—several decades later we’re probably at Zombie Love Songs status.


Pop song somnambulists sing about love and relationships like pull string dolls and the depth of their experience reflected in lyrics is watered down and wafer thin. It’s not like there’s a few decades of perspective packed into their “life virgin” verses like say Supertramp lyrics.


And what vast life experience can young pop stars actually bring to the table a few years after getting a driver’s license? Forget about songs about history, political and social issues they’re not even on the map yet.


Part of the socio–economic skid into preteen pop culture purgatory was that several decades ago, the record buying public was comprised of 30 to 40 year olds. The mainstream music consumer has gotten younger and younger with each successive generation.


Now the consumer base includes preteens buying music written by artists just a few years older. Here, relationships are the most common subject matter because it’s the most relatable experience to the cell phone starring young consumer tranquilized in the Twilight Zone of eternal texting. Most are still a few hundred selfies away from getting a Passport photo and experiencing the world outside a 4 inch screen.


Young celebrity culture also demonstrates that for all the wealth and fame they have, they make the same mistakes as the rest of the population. The breakup and divorce rate isn’t any less frequent among celebrities. Truth is, there are very few Paul Newmans and Joanne Woodwards in the entertainment industry—people who lived the song “I’ll Be Good To You”, married or not.


For generations breast fed on Rap & Hip Hop, it’s ear opening to hear what regal and elegance sounds like. There is life beyond angst and anger and higher vibes than the hormonal surges of youth.


For generations breast fed on Rap & Hip Hop, it’s ear opening to hear what regal and elegance sounds like. There is life beyond angst and anger and higher vibes than the hormonal surges of youth. There aren’t many love & relationships songs that have deeper depth and perspective behind rhymes and catchy melodies— even monotonous ones. “I’ll Be Good To You” is that museum piece that’s still more alive and vibrant that what I hear coming from the current crop having their media days in the sun.


“I’ll Be Good To You” comes from a time when people chose to ride a more positive vibe with the top down and more importantly from the top down. Although Louis Johnson left the planet in 2015 at age 60, his bass grooves from beyond the grave and thankfully so.


It bounced off the wall and broke down walls of race and gender. So why not inaugurate your life together with the Brothers Johnson? If you’re single, Why not renew your vow to “Treat Me Right” like Pat Benatar demanded because sometimes if you want something done right, you gotta to do it yourself.


If there’s no wedding bells in your future, just grab a pair of wedding bell bottoms from the past. In either case, You May Kiss the Vibe.

© Composer Yoga

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