TOP TEN LIST – THE THREE CHORD WONDER – (Pop Music’s oldest parlor trick)

Three Chord Wonders – Rock and Roll’s Top Ten

Authored by: Dale Nickey

For any wedding band or top forty group, the three chord song is a gift from god. Easy to remember, easy to jam on; they bulk up your set list and appeal to the masses. However, there is an art to writing a great three chord song. Melody, lyrics and creative arrangements can all be artfully applied to make a three chord song seem like more than its component parts. A three chord song can be good, dumb fun or the slab foundation on which an epic lyric can be constructed.

Ground rules: The three chord song must adhere to a repetitive pattern that does not deviate. No B part or bridge allowed. “Gimme Shelter” by The Rolling Stones, just misses the mark because it hangs on the tonic chord for the verse, and then begins its classic descending progression for the choruses. Lynard Skynard’s, “Sweet Home Alabama” is a classic example of the form. Oh, yeah…..they’re disqualified too. They’re song is a classic three chord wonder, but the band displays a confederate flag onstage and their music annoys me. Don’t like it? Go start your own blog!


# 10 – “Teenage Waitress”  Artist: Ggreg Snyder

I almost recused this song from the list due to my involvement in its recording. However, why punish the song or the writer (Snyder) on an empty ethical question. Taken from his eponymous (1989) cassette EP,  Snyder employs a simple E-D-A progression to tell the story of a fleeting pit- stop encounter with a pretty young Hojo’s waitress on a long night ride to nowhere. Snyder manages to weave alternating vocal parts over the static chord progression while guitar, mandolin and accordion (aw shucks, it was nothin’) add a folksy gravitas to this charming Outsider-Folk/Rock classic.

# 9 – “Mother Of Pearl” Artist: Roxy Music

Singer/Songwriter Bryan Ferry channels his inner Dylan on this; one of Roxy’s most thought provoking tunes. This is example of the three chord progression being used as the superstructure for an epic, lyric odyssey. Ferry never wrote a better lyric before or since and the band holds up their end with some spicy syncopation and atmospherics. “Mother of Pearl” clocks in at 6:00 minutes but feels shorter.

# 8 – “That’s All Right” Artist: Elvis Presley

The first commercial single ever recorded by Presley. Originally composed by Arthur Crudup, It was released in summer 1954 and lays credible claim to being one of the first Rock and Roll songs ever released. The song employs a repetitive three chord pattern all the way through that supports the verse, chorus and guitar break. Remarkably, the track was cut with no drums, just  guitar and voice and Bill Black’s bass.

# 7 – “Save It For Later” Artist: The English Beat

This was a big hit on both sides of the Atlantic. A graceful, relaxing three chord cruise that employs a string section artfully to disguise what is one of the simplest harmonic structures ever to grace a pop crossover hit.

# 6 –  “Free Falling”  Artist: Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers

Tom Petty is probably one of the top practitioners of minimalist pop song-craft. Most of his compositions would find a Burt Bacharach or Jimmy Webb doubled over in laughter; however he cranks them out in abundance and visits the Billboard charts with regularity. “Free Falling” is his most potent three chord wonder. Petty does “stupid” with more intelligence and panache’ than any songwriter out there today.

#5 – “Werewolves of London” Artist: Warren Zevon

Big hit in the late 70’s for the vodka swilling pop-composer. Basic chords D C G and a ahh-oooo! to top off the chorus. Great feel, clever lyrics and a killer slide guitar solo makes you forget the song is built on thinnest of harmonic contrivances. I played this song into oblivion in the biker-bars of Northern California during the 70’s, and it never failed to turn the crowd our way in the clutch.

# 4 –  “Wicked Game”  Artist: Chris Isaak

Hypnotic. Sexy, atmospheric and haunting. All this with only three chords and Isaak’s smooth as glass vocals to light the way. Legend has it that Wicked Game stopped director David Lynch dead in his tracks during a late night drive. He called the local radio station to find out who did the track and subsequently used it in his movie, Wild at Heart. The video became an MTV mainstay and rescued Isaak’s faltering career. Truth is stranger than fiction.

#3 –  “La Bamba” Artist: Richie Valens

You don’t have to be Latino to enjoy or exploit this epic three chord wonder. Nerdy white wedding bands play this with as much brio as any Latino band. Valens himself was a crossover pioneer, being the first Hispanic Rock Star in white America. Also snuck some Spanish lyrics into the hit version. Another first.

#2 –  “Louie Louie”  Artist: The Kingsmen

This is the song that defined Garage Rock. Louie Louie introduced the (then rare) electric piano as a rock instrument. This is the song you point to when you’re engaged in the age old ‘feel’ vs. ‘perfection’ debate. The vocalist screws up one verse. The drummer is playing everything except the beat, and the whole track seems ready to fly apart at any second. Monster hit that topped the pre-Beatles billboard charts for weeks. The tune gained a second life as the theme song to the blockbuster hit movie Animal House.

1# –  “All Along the Watch Tower”  Artist: Jimi Hendrix

“All Along the Watch Tower” is not the greatest song Dylan ever wrote. Hell, it wasn’t even the best song on “John Wesley Harding”. With wheezier than usual harmonica and a scratchy, minimal acoustic arrangement, “…..Tower” was a make-weight track at best, easily swamped by at least a dozen or two Dylan masterpieces throughout the years. Of course, that was before Jimi Hendrix sank is teeth into it. It made sense that the world’s greatest lyric/poet should be interpreted by the world’s greatest Rock musician. Hendrix took Dylan’s sepia toned sketch of the rapture and gave it the full Cecile B. De Mille treatment. Hendrix’s reading of “All Along The Watch Tower” stands as the greatest Dylan cover ever; quite a feat, considering the august list of artists who have covered The Billboard Bard’s tunes.





Top 10 List – Mental Musical Masterpieces # 7 (Sly And The Family Stone)

Authored by Dale Nickey:

More masterpieces click >> 10 9  8  7 6 5 4 3 2 1

The same character defect that causes people to stop and gawk at train wrecks, causes others to listen to albums by messed-up guys. We’re not talking about the Malibu Ken’s and Barbies that frequent Club-Head. We’re talking real-deal mentally ill artists who went too far out and often didn’t make it back.  Along the way some of them made it into the studio to chronicle their fine madness. Here are some of the best…..


Sly And The Family Stone  – “There’s a Riot Goin’ On” (1971)

Ostensibly a band product, “..Riot…” is a Sly Stone solo album in all but name. With the increasing success of the band, Sly started to carry more of the vocal and instrumental burden in the studio. The sixties had just ended and everybody was in a pissy, disappointed mood.  Sly’s record label (Epic) wanted more commercial output. Additionally, The Black Panthers were in full buttinsky mode;  insisting that black artists such and Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone fire their white band members and create music more reflective of  the urban black struggle.

Ironically, Sly Stone,  the purveyor of  good time, mixed race vibrations went kooky and paranoid behind a devil’s brew of cocaine and angel dust.  Sly’s trademarks became a violin case full of pharmaceuticals and a tendency to miss engagements.  Finally, in 1971, “There’s A Riot Goin’ On” issued forth. The album title is meant to answer Marvin Gaye’s artistic question, “What’s Goin’ On?”  The album’s hit single  “It’s A Family Affair” abandons the positive,  life affirming themes of earlier offerings (“Stand”, “Hot Fun In The Summertime”) and suggests a grittier urban landscape.  A stagnant, gassy  shadow hangs over the entire album. And if it sounds muddy and dirty, it’s probably because Sly almost wore the oxide off the master tapes ‘auditioning’ nubile back-up singers in the studio with the promise of stardom.  Sly followed up with the LP “Fresh”, his last gasp of genius before madness claimed him in perpetuity.

Peter Banks Original Yes Guitarist (Remembered)

Peter Banks was an eclectic and acrobatic guitarist who holds the distinction of being a founding member of the Progressive Rock band Yes.  Banks appeared on the first two albums before he was replaced by virtuoso Rock guitarist Steve Howe. The band achieved world renown while Banks continued to work in various bands and as a solo artist until his death.  Peter Banks was haunted by the success of Yes after his departure. He was proud of his legacy, but at the same time harbored feelings of being cheated from the rewards of the band’s success. A success that was built largely on the template he helped design. The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame has been tardy and negligent in failing to induct Yes into The Hall. A timely induction would have given Peter Banks the recognition and closure he deserved as a founding member of (arguably) the greatest Progressive Rock band in history.

In addition to the two albums he recorded with Yes, he also appeared on several Yes compilations and anthologies after his departure. His post-Yes band, Flash recorded three albums  during the early 70’s. He also recorded several fine solo albums that showcased his evolution and invention as a guitar player. He also authored a fascinating auto-biography titled “Beyond And Before”. I reviewed the book several years ago for the international Yes fanzine, “Notes From The Edge”. I am republishing this review as a tribute to a musician who greatly influenced my approach to guitar early on in my musical career. Reviewed by:   Dale Nickey lbanks 5 A long search for this book guaranteed this review would be Yesterday’s (sic) news. Peter Banks was a founding member of Yes. He was a hell of a guitar player. He certainly influenced Steve Howe’s approach as a guitar stylist. Banks didn’t miss the boat of rock super-stardom so much as he was pushed overboard from the vessel of his own construct. He was then handed an anchor on the way down. His “Bestian” misfortune insures this book’s edge and gives a unique angle that other Yestomes sorely lack. The first two chapters of his auto-bio “tell most” are standard rock auto-bio fare. Banks describes the youthful blush of radio magic; the cheap, difficult first guitar and the long march from undistinguished cover bands to psychedelic tomfoolery. Then, on to the fool’s gold of Yes’ first recording contract. Mr. Banks’ role as Greek chorus in the Yes saga ultimately gives the group’s mythology much needed ballast and counterpoint. As much as we love Jon Anderson and his Hippy, New Age philosophies, the palate craves the acidic PH balance of Banks’ memoirs. banks300 The early years of YES are described in vivid and grimy detail. The book reveals Yes (Mark I) to be a fairly typical concern of hard-drinking, loud, untidy, entry-level rock stars looking for that first break. However, their work ethic, ambition (and talent) was any thing but typical of the times and reveals the beating heart of a group that would not fold its cards. We are privy to Chris Squire’s plainly obnoxious penchant for tardiness, Jon Anderson’s dictatorial tendencies and the general messiness in the communal squalor of the first Yes crash pad.   Mr. Banks obvious love and devotion to Yes and its music beyond and before thankfully tempers his grievances. This reviewer is old enough to remember the rancor evident in early interviews with Banks regarding the break up. Now, with the passage of time, Mr. Banks observations ring of hard won credibility. Indeed, much of the dramatic arc of this book comes from Peter Banks covert obsession with the brilliance of his replacement Steve Howe and his performance on the “The Yes Album” (strongly argued to be the group’s best album). This part of the book has Banks playing Salieri to Howe’s Mozart and is, by far, the most engrossing part of the book. The evidence of record strongly suggests that Bank’s was a chief architect of the Yes template and moreover, did quite a bit of writing that should have been credited. Banks claims credit for coming up with the name of the group “Yes“. Banks was a Who fan and lobbied for a name with the same simplicity and impact.  He also claims credit for writing the signature riff for “Roundabout”. Clearly the first two Yes albums bare his stamp. Similar accusations of riff pilfering were lodged by Patric Moraz some years later and lend credibility to Mr. Banks claims. tumblr_lzwwffstdU1r68xguo1_500 The tragedy and conflict of the story stems from Banks unwillingness to bend with the winds of change and ride out the “artistic differences” gracefully. He candidly portrays himself as an obstinate handful who over-estimated his value to the group.  His behavior during the “Time and A Word” sessions insured his dismissal. Hindsight tells us he should have made his contributions to “Time and A Word” and kept his yap shut. Later he grudgingly agreed with the mix of the record anyway. However, life “Post Yes” started promisingly for Banks. An enjoyable lost weekend with Bloodwin Pig and the initial success and professionalism of Flash must have given Peter Banks a feeling of place in the rock firmament. After all, Pete Townsend was a fan of his playing. Robert Fripp was a flat mate and he got a thumbs up from guitar’s chairman of the board Jimi Hendrix. For a fleeting time in the summer of his life, he was one of “the cats”. banksflash The chapters devoted to Flash are a fascinating peek into the margins of the progressive rock world shortly before the nuclear winter of punk; A B-list Prog group, Flash was doomed to repeat history rather than create it. The later chapters are gloomy and essential to the tale though difficult to read. There is no happy ending and closure is still pending. “Beyond and Before” is a single evening of ravenous reading for the YESophile and a necessary hole plugger for the slightly less committed. The sad irony is that this book has already fallen off the radar screen and will ultimately be as undervalued as Banks’ contributions to Yes music in particular and Progressive rock in general. He deserved better. peter-banks

R&R Hall Of Shame (Spotlight) – Rory Gallagher

Rory Gallagher:

30 million albums sold

The greatest white bluesman to walk the planet. God himself,  (Eric Clapton) runs a pale and distant second.  Don’t believe me?  Ask, the patron saint of cool, Slash (a Rory disciple) who has initiated a petition to get Rory into the hall.  It has been widely reported that when Rock Guitar’s chairman of the board, Jimi Hendrix was asked by a Rolling Stone journalist what it was like to be the greatest guitar player in the world,  he is quoted as responding, “I don’t know, go ask Rory Gallagher”  Still not convinced?  Gallagher was approached by the Rolling  Stones to fill their vacant guitar slot…..twice!  He was on the short list when Brian Jones passed as well as when Mick Taylor quit.  In the case of Taylor’s departure, Rory’s brother Donal has gone on record as saying Rory got the first call.  However, Gallagher had a world tour to do and The Stones were in mid-life crisis. A successful solo artist who also recorded with Muddy WatersAlbert King and Jerry Lee Lewis;  Gallagher respectfully recorded with the Stones a couple of days then excused himself to return to his day job.  Many believe that the uncredited ghost of Rory Gallagher haunts the backround mix of The Stones album “Black And Blue” to this day.

When researching Gallagher’s bio, it seems his life path was pre-ordained. He was born March 2, 1948 in Rock Hospital and baptized in The Rock Church in Donegal County, Ireland.

Gallagher was a shy, saintly, hard-drinkin’ Bluesman of the first order.  He repeatedly vowed never to compromise himself in the pursuit of celebrity and he stayed that course for his entire life.  Major labels waved the brass ring of super-stardom in his face several times in his fabled career and Rory walked away from every soul-selling pact offered. He also earns Rock and Roll mythology points for refusing to  release  singles,  dumping an entire unreleased album master in the trash bin on a whim, and dying (too young at age 47) of liver failure.

The following video is Rory live  ripping through one of his best originals, “Shin Kicker”.  Rory was a live animal whose power was seldom  accurately chronicled in the studio.  Did Eric or Jimi ever burn this bright? Just askin’