This weekend marked the passing of a pioneer and a legend of the music world when Phil Ramone died of an aneurysm. The South African-born Ramone has been reported as anywhere between 72 and 82, depending on the source, but how old he was is of little consequence; what does matter is his body of work. If you aren’t familiar with the great artists, albums and singles that Phil had some hand in making excellent, I’m not going to attempt to list them all here (you can go to his website for that information.) What I will do is introduce you to three of the greatest songs that the prolific Ramone has been involved in releasing to the world. So the next time you find yourself on Spotify, or iTunes, or whatever means you use to listen to music, take 15 minutes to enjoy the fruits of the late, great, Phil Ramone’s labors.
3) If You Could Read My Mind, Gordon Lightfoot from Sit Down Young Stranger (1970)
One of the finest works ever proffered to us from Canadian singer/songwriter Gordon Lightfoot, 1970’s “If you could read my mind,” sat atop the Billboards Easy Listening charts and peaked at #5 on the Hot 100 Charts. Featuring a haunting combination of Lightfoot’s deep vocals and multiple string instruments (led by smooth acoustic guitar) backing him, Lightfoot delivers the timeless and deeply personal lyrics in such a manner that the song has become one of the classics of the singer/songwriter genre.
Positioned deep into one of Dylan’s greatest albums, the Ramone-engineered Blood on the Tracks, “Shelter from the Storm” emerges as one of the finest pieces of songwriting from perhaps the greatest lyricist of all time. In this track, Dylan weaves together a brilliant story using abstract and seemingly unrelated imagery in the way that only he can (as seen in Desolation Row), and the result is simply excellent. Consisting of a very simplistic arrangement involving bass and acoustic guitars and, of course, one of Dylan’s signature harmonica solos, this song stands out in time as one of Dylan’s best from the 1970’s.
Perhaps nowhere has Ramone’s influence been felt more heavily than on 1977’s The Stranger. With Ramone on board as the producer, Joel managed to craft an album comprised almost entirely of hits; among them the complex, genre-spanning “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant.” Beginning as a slow, melodic piano number in the first verse, the song transitions into an upbeat pop/jazz tune for the second verse, before shifting into the rock-ballad of newlywed (and soon to be divorced) couple Brenda and Eddie, and eventually returning to the musical style of the first verse for the final sequence in the song. One of Joel’s longer tracks, clocking in at 7:37, this track tragically is often lost in the depth of The Stranger, but it should most certainly be remembered as one of Joel’s most well written songs from the prime of his career.
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