Review: Motley Crue’s ‘The Dirt’ – Movie and Thankfully, A Soundtrack

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There was a lot of anticipation here at B&V for the new Netflix biopic/movie about 80s hard rock heroes Motley Crue, entitled ‘The Dirt.’ I watched the movie last night and all I can say about the experience is that it was two hours of my life that I will never get back. While I loved ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ despite its flaws (Movie: ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ – The Story of Freddy Mercury and Queen), ‘The Dirt’ makes the Freddy Mercury movie look like ‘Lawrence of Arabia.’ Thank God there’s some new Crue music on the soundtrack, which I’ll get to later.

I know every generation thinks they invented sex, drugs and rock and roll but the 80s was an era where everything got blown up to a level that we’ll hopefully never see again. Everything was bigger – enormous teased hair, copious drugs and booze, bad behavior bordering on nihilism and luckily, loud heavy metal. The 80s had to be the best-selling decade for hairspray, bar none. And I’m not just talking about the chicks here, I’m talking about the heavy metal musician’s hair. The 70s was known as “the Me Generation.” The 80s should have been the “More Generation,” as in give me more, more, more. Greed was, apparently, good. At least that’s what people seemed to think in those days.

No one epitomizes that excess to me more than Motley Crue. These guys drank everything, snorted everything, fucked everyone they could get their hands on and was seemingly one endless rolling wreck of a party. They did it all. There were car wrecks involving vehicular manslaughter, overdoses and even Pamela Anderson (the Sex Goddess of the 80s). Tragically Vince Neil lost his daughter Skylar to cancer. That’s a pretty interesting resume. In 2001, the boys in Motley Crue, Tommy Lee (drums), Vince Neil (singer), Mick Mars (guitar) and Nikki Sixx (bass, songwriter and mastermind) sat down with writer Neil Strauss and put their “confessions” down on paper which resulted in the book, ‘The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band.’ It was basically a transcription of Strauss’ interviews with the band members. The book revived interest in Motley Crue and their music. Notoriety sells, baby.

Personally I always felt the best thing about that book was that it got the band back together for a series of concert tours and eventually a great comeback album Saints Of Los Angeles. Every Crue fan should own that record. Not content with all of that success, Motley mastermind Nikki Sixx decided to follow in Queen’s footsteps and bring ‘The Dirt’ to the big screen. After watching the movie last night with the Rock Chick, who really expanded my love of the Crue, I couldn’t help but say (paraphrasing Bill Murray in ‘Tootsie’), “I saw the Motley Crue movie just now, what happened?” Even the Rock Chick, who saw the Crue on the Theater of Pain tour and whose love of Motley predates mine said, “What the fuck? That was just terrible.”

I guess they wanted to capture the vibe of the book, so many of the scenes get “narration” from the different characters in the band. In one particularly garish scene, the guy playing Mick Mars breaks the fourth wall (he speaks directly into the camera at the audience, for all you non-theater people out there) and says, “Yeah, basically none of this shit actually happened.” That was probably the greatest “WTF” moment for me. The Crue had a great story to begin with but for reasons unclear they decided to change a lot of known facts about their history. None of the changes added any dramatic effect for me. Frankly the real story is far more compelling than what they came up with for the movie. How do you do a movie about the 80s and Motley Crue and not even mention Pamela Anderson? The section covering John Corabi, Vince’s replacement after he quit, doesn’t feature any of that music. The guy playing Corabi doesn’t even speak. Clearly Vince must not be over that… They would have been better served by replacing the “actors” chosen to play the band members (who were chosen apparently for merely resembling the band) with mannequins. I’m no thespian but to describe these actors as “stiff” is an insult to concrete.

Fortunately, the movie comes with a soundtrack. My recommendation is to skip the damn movie and move straight to the music.

As I’ve often mentioned, I missed out on a lot of the better 80s music during that decade because I was still building my back catalog of vinyl. I was more interested in the music of the late 60s and early 70s than I was in the music actually playing on the radio. There was a lot of metal on MTV and all the bands and videos sort of looked alike. Eventually though, Motley Crue quickly jumped to the top of the heap and actually punctured the backward looking musical fog I was in. I never owned any Crue until I bought their first greatest hits package, Decade of Decadence. It was novel merely for containing “Primal Scream” and a Sex Pistols’ cover “Anarchy In the U.K.” which was the first appearance of those tracks. When I met the Rock Chick she only had 1998’s Greate$t Hit$. On one of our first dates, we went to the record store and she picked up a couple of Crue albums, Dr. Feelgood and Girls, Girls, Girls. After that I was hooked. We quickly snapped up and devoured all of their first five albums. It’s one of the most impressive blocks of work in any catalog.

When I heard they were making a movie, I assumed the soundtrack would be another “greatest hits” package, something akin to Red, White and Crue, which for me, is the definitive greatest hits package for the band. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that Sixx had written some new stuff and the band had gotten back together and recorded some new music for the first time in a long time. Now that I’ve listened to the soundtrack I must say I’m extremely impressed. Instead of the standard idea of using just the big hits, the soundtrack is chalk full of deeper album tracks. Sure, “Dr Feelgood,” “Home Sweet Home,” and “Same Ol’ Situation (S.O.S.)” are all here, but there are deeper tracks too. Alongside the hits you get early tracks, “Red Hot,” “Merry-Go-Round” and “On With the Show.” These are all great tracks and highlight their story as much as the hits do. Hell, “On With the Show” and “Take Me To the Top” are on this soundtrack. I’m surprised they didn’t put “Bastard” on here. So rather than the standard hits soundtrack, if you’re a casual Crue fan, this would be a nice primer in some of their more raw, earlier tracks.

For those of us who own all the older tracks already, we have the pleasure of four new Crue songs, one of which is a cover. I have to say, the guy that never gets enough credit on “best of” lists is Mick Mars. Nikki Sixx may be the principal songwriter and mastermind behind the Crue, but Mick Mars’ guitar playing is as nasty and forceful as ever. He’s a true riff meister with big nasty rhythm guitar and screaming, tortuous leads that just melt my face off. His guitar playing is what first drew me to the band. The next important ingredient to these guys’ success was the amazing drumming of Tommy Lee. He and Mars drive the music and always have. I must say even Vince Neil is in strong voice here, which is something I never thought I’d say again.

The first new track, which kicks off the soundtrack is “The Dirt, (Est. 1981)” which I wrote about a few weeks ago, Motley Crue: “The Dirt (Est. 1981),” The New Single From the Upcoming Movie). While the song is slightly marred by a couple of raps from Machine Gun Kelly, the track is really growing on me. Mick Mars’ guitar solo just shreds. “Ride With The Devil” is a slightly slower paced heavy track. I like it, but the better track, and perhaps my favorite is “Crash And Burn.” Its got Mars’ nasty riffs but Vince’s vocals are more of that 80s soaring, arena sing along style. Hey, it worked in the 80s, why fuck up a good thing. The words “the dirt” are repeated in all three of the new tracks, so they were certainly careful to stay on brand. The final new track, which was perhaps the most surprising thing about this whole project was a cover of another 80s icon, Madonna. Yes, that Madonna. When I heard Motley Crue was covering her song “Like A Virgin” I just groaned. I hated it before hearing it. I hated the very idea of it. Then I heard it and I have to admit, I was wrong. For some reason, it just works. They perform it with just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek, smirking, winking irony. Another tip of the hat to Vince on that one. For the record, the Rock Chick does not share my amusement.

While the movie is nothing short of a disaster, it’s nice to hear the lads in the Crue this energized and playing great music together again. I know they were inspired by making the movie, but hopefully they can bury the old animosities and see their way forward to recording some more new stuff. I know they’ve retired from the road but that doesn’t mean they can’t go into the studio. Motley Crue is an important chapter in rock and roll. Sadly, they failed to tell the story in a compelling fashion cinematically but perhaps we were all better served by putting Shout At The Devil on the turntable anyway.

Devil Horns to all of you!

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Digging In Deeper: B&V Artists/Albums To Expand Your Music Collection – Don’t Be Afraid!

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I have always held the opinion that we’re all a product of where we grew up. My dad was born in Los Angeles, California. However, shortly after his brother was born, his parents moved him back to Kansas. While I was born in Chicago, (like the Paul Butterfield Blues Band song) my parents chose to move back to… well, Kansas. I’ve never said my family had good taste in geography. Not that there’s anything wrong with Kansas, per se. I always wonder what I would have been like if my grandparents had stayed in Los Angeles? Obviously, I wouldn’t be the same person as my dad would have never met my mom, but holy shit! Growing up as an LA native? I probably would have been in the Red Hot Chili Peppers. With my addictive personality, I can only hope I wouldn’t have gone down like Hillel Slovak, RIP. I might have at least gone to high school with them. “Hello, Anthony, hello, Flea…Go Lions!” What if my parents had stayed in Chicago? My whole adolescence would have been jumping on trains to the city to see Springsteen or Lou Reed. Or maybe I’d have hung around blues bars and now I’d be a world renown harmonica player, if there is such a thing anymore. Michael Bloomfield and I would have totally hung out, I can tell.

But as it happens, I grew up in the suburbs in the small midwestern hamlet of Kansas City. It’s big enough that you can stir up some trouble, but not so big as to be actually cool. It lacks a certain menace that most big cities toss off casually. As much as I deny it, I am a product of a midwest, small city upbringing. If I’d grown up in LA, Chicago or Boston, I’d be a totally different person with totally different influences. If I wanted a Coke, and I grew up in Boston, I’d ask for a tonic, which is something I never understood.

Growing up in Kansas City, my exposure to rock and roll was pretty meat and potatoes. We had our local rock station, KY/102. We got a steady diet of mainstream rock and roll. When I finally had my rock and roll awakening, I listened to KY every day. It was all Led Zeppelin, the Stones, the Who, and of course, Bob Seger. It was the midwest after all, you grew up thinking Seger was President. Springsteen was considered exotic and only occasionally played on the radio.  I remember Boston, Styx and REO Speedwagon being in high rotation. You never heard anything from the outer fringes. Local radio never dug that deep.

With that as a musical backdrop, you can imagine the terror brought on from seeing the Sex Pistols on ’60 Minutes.’ Naturally they had live shots of the band at a concert hall, with the music highly distorted – it sounded like someone had tossed a gerbil in the blender – with the fans in the audience slam dancing and pogo’ing. Bug eyed Johnny Rotten looked like an escaped lunatic. They presented punk as the Barbarians at the Gates. It was the end of civilization. I was in my early teens and even I was scared. Usually, that sort of subversive rebelliousness was as intoxicating to me as catnip. I’m surprised dad didn’t turn the channel, such was his fear I’d suddenly shave my hair into a Mohawk and pierce something on my face. Dad was easily unsettled in those days and I was, well, eccentric. Alas, as a midwesterner, I never heard the Sex Pistols or the Clash on the radio, so I stayed the same, feathered hair-Nike Cortez-faded jeans and flannel shirt guy I always was. I was Pearl Jam grunge, before there was such a thing, at least from a fashion standpoint.

Things got a little better when I got to college. I had the pleasure of meeting people who helped expand my musical footprint. But even then it wasn’t that far from the middle of the road. I started listening to the guys that always got criticized about their vocals, like Bob Dylan and Neil Young. I really dug into the 60s. I became a Beatles fan, something I had resisted up to then. Credence (like the Dude), Cream, CSNY all made it into my record collection. I heard New Wave and Elvis Costello. I discovered the majesty of Van Morrison. I slowly moved away from my head banger roots. But, while my journey of musical spelunking had begun, I wasn’t digging very deep.

It was around that time that I started reading Rolling Stone magazine. That was a real help in the beginning of my musical journey of discovery. I would read about new albums or they’d have a feature article about an artist I hadn’t heard about. I’d usually go down the record store to check those artists out. Suddenly I’m listening to David and David. Rolling Stone was always very fond of lists and rankings. Late in my college career, they published an issue with a ranking of the top 500 albums of all time. Holy shit, I thought, this is the Rosetta Stone, the guide to rock n roll enlightenment. I still have that magazine somewhere in a box that I tried to find recently. They updated the list in 2003 online. But that list from Rolling Stone, from way back in the 80s always had these exotic sounding bands that I’d never heard of, ever. As the years passed I’d see other, similar lists and those same strange bands would be on there. I once famously told a friend, “If I see one more fucking list of greatest albums with Television’s Marquee Moon on it, I’m going to vomit.” I just couldn’t get out of my comfort zone. Punk and alternative were just a bridge too far.

Eventually, and I can’t explain why, I overcame my fear. Hearing the Clash’s London Calling was a real eye-opener. This wasn’t the angry noise I’d expected, this was just fantastic music. Of course after “Rock the Casbah” the Clash were popular in middle America. Suddenly I was buying albums by the Velvet Underground and the Ramones, stuff that I would have never entertained before. I was expanding my musical palette and it was a great thing. Although I still had my blind spots… I was in a bar with my pal Doug who was schmoozing his now wife and she was with a friend of hers, a chubby little guy who thought it wise to kick off his shoes and socks and dance around the filthy, dive bar barefoot. He slowed down long enough for us to get into a discussion of rock bands, and who was the greatest. When he said Roxy Music, I exploded in an expletive laden diatribe about what rock really was… not my finest moment. We all have room to grow folks.

So for the adventurous and the curious, I thought I’d put a list together of bands or albums that are always on these “best ever” lists that you might be a little afraid of. These bands or these albums might be stuff you’ve heard of or heard about but never listened to. Many of these albums sold terribly but then became hugely influential anyway. But as was said of the first Velvet Underground album, “not many people bought that record, but everyone who did, started a band.” I finally bit the bullet and started listening to these and I like a lot of it. I still stayed relatively conservative on this list – I’m not suggesting anybody jump into the MC5 or Pavement, although you should – and this list is not meant to be definitive, it’s just a starting place. Most of these acts/albums are critically lauded and cited by the very musicians you might be listening to as huge influences. Hearing it led me to understand that yes, there is rock and roll a little more exotic than say, “Night Moves.” Enjoy.

  1. Big Star, #1 Record – I don’t know why I feared this record. Somehow I was under the impression it was a disco band and I’ve always been in the “death before disco” crowd. It’s simply one of the greatest pop/rock albums ever. It’s been claimed as an influence by bands from Cheap Trick to R.E.M. I was going to simply recommend all of their music as Third/Sister Lovers is a tragic masterpiece, but Radio City has always left me cold. The Music of Cinemax’s Quarry Led Me To Big Star’s “#1 Record”
  2. David Bowie, The Berlin Triology (Low, “Heroes”, Lodger) – This entry probably surprises most folks as we at B&V love our Bowie. When I heard that the second side of both Low and “Heroes” were instrumental, synth driven, ambient music I hung back on buying them. Apparently androgyny and bisexuality were ok with me but Brian Eno synth, no way, man. Terrible mistake. Low is still my favorite. The ambient track “Warszawa” is simply mesmerizing. Lodger was supposedly the most accessible since it has traditional song structures, but the other two are where the genius lies. All three are essential listening for Bowie fans.
  3. Leonard Cohen – There are too many great albums in his discography to name just one or a few. I’d probably start with Songs Of Love And Hate or his debut album. Personally, I loved his last three albums LP Review: Leonard Cohen, “You Want It Darker” His Farewell Note, RIP. Sadly Cohen gets lumped into that Dylan, Neil Young bad vocals category. How to describe Leonard? Poet, mystic, ladies man… His songs could go from touching on the divine to more earthly delight. His razor sharp wit always makes me laugh. He’s simply put, a genius.
  4. The Flying Burrito Brothers, Gilded Palace of Sin And Burrito Deluxe – Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman fled the Byrds to form the Burrito Brothers and helped solidify and create what we call “country rock.” The Eagles wish they’d been this cool. On Burrito Deluxe you’ll find their cover of the Stones’ “Wild Horses” that was released a full year prior to Mick and Keith’s version.
  5. Modern Lovers, Modern Lovers – Any band with future Cars drummer David Robinson and future keyboardist for the Talking Heads Jerry Harrison can’t go wrong can it? This is a lo-fi rock and roll at its best. Guitarist/lead vocalists/songwriter Jonathon Richman was obsessed with girls, sex and love.
  6. Randy Newman – I’ve always felt bad that so many people are put off by Randy Newman’s novelty single, “Short People.” It was a song that was meant to champion anti-bigotry by complaining about something completely absurd. Naturally it became a huge hit. While I love his early albums like Sail Away, I’d also recommend some of his latter works like Harps And Angels, or Dark Matter. LP Review: Randy Newman’s ‘Dark Matter’
  7. Harry Nilsson, Nilsson Schmilsson and Nilsson Sings Newman – Speaking of Randy Newman, brilliant singer Harry Nilsson did a whole album of his songs, so enamored was he of Newman’s songwriting. Nilsson was a singer who never got his due… maybe because it seems he never gave a fuck. But what a voice. He was drinking buddies with John Lennon for extra cool factor. Schmilsson is his masterwork.
  8. Iggy Pop, The Idiot, and Lust For Life – Don’t fear Iggy, he rocks like your teenage id on a sugar rush. These two albums were produced by David Bowie. Start here and then pick carefully through his uneven catalog, there are plenty of gems.
  9. The Ramones, The Ramones – The sensational punk rock milestone that is their debut. “Gabba gabba hey.” They play fast and hard. From “Blitzkrieg Bop” to “Now I Want to Sniff Some Glue” this album is perfect.
  10. The Runaways – Cherie Currie only stuck around for the first album, but hearing her sing “Cherry Bomb” is a revelation. Joan Jett sang and played rhythm guitar, Lita Ford, yes the 80s heavy metal star, was the lead guitarist. Talented and under respected, all three of their studio albums are great, but the first two are my favs. And, to add to their legend, they were huge in Japan.
  11. Sex Pistols, Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols – I have no idea why these guys scared me. This is kick ass, stripped down, in your face rock n roll. I guess the old adage is true, be careful what you make fun of, you’ll become it.
  12. Patti Smith, Horses – Patti Smith is a poet, force of nature with an unbridled spirit and the dirty heart of a punk rocker. Her take on Van Morrison’s “Gloria” which she turns on its head like a tornado tearing through a trailer park is must listening. The poetic, nine-minute epic “Birdland” is a song I’ll never get over. She’s a rock Goddess and this album should be taught in high school music classes.
  13. The Stooges/Iggy & The Stooges – The Stooges, Fun House, and Raw Power – Not to double dip here, but Iggy and his fellow Stooges, the Asheton Brothers (and various bass players) are visceral, primal rock n’ roll. Get your hands on any of their albums and turn it up to 11. I will say, of the three, side two of Fun House does meander a bit, like a jazz musician on too much speed. But the Stooges three original albums are essential listening.
  14. Television, Marquee Moon – They rehearsed this album for years before finally committing it to type. I don’t know why I was so down on even trying this album. The lyrics are ethereal and the music hypnotic. I don’t vomit when I hear this album, I rock.
  15. The Velvet Underground – Their first album, recorded with singer Nico, who left thereafter is the album you hear about, but I would recommend everything they did, including their live album. Lou Reed on vocals/guitar, Moe Tucker on drums, John Cale on bass and Sterling Morrison on guitar – the original line up – were criminally overlooked in their short career. The only scary album is the second one, White Light/White Heat and yet I still love listening to that album. Considering the rest of the world was dressed in dayglo and tossing flowers around, the dark subjects the Velvets covered – drug addiction, S&M, sex – are all the more striking.
  16. Tom Waits – I love his first three albums, but there is so much to love from this drunken, singing Bukowski. As he aged his voice got more gravelly, but you can’t beat his lyrics. “I want beautiful melodies telling me terrible things.” I think that sums it up. His debut album, Closing Time is the place to start and work your way forward through his brilliant catalog.
  17. X, Los Angeles and Wild Gift – We don’t always associated Los Angeles as a hub for punk rock but X was one of the seminal LA punk bands on the scene. These two albums are a great start to that early West Coast punk scene.
  18. Frank Zappa & The Mothers of Invention, Freak Out! – I always thought Zappa was about satire and making noise. Complicated, classical music influenced stuff. Not on this album. “Hungry Freaks, Daddy” kicks off a double album worth of crazy good rock and roll. Warning, if you start here, you’ll end up collecting more Frank Zappa.

There was so much more I could have listed. But for now, I’ll stop with those 18 acts/LPs. There is so much great music that’s been recorded over the years that just never made it to the radio, at least not in Kansas. If you find something you like here, my job is done. If you’re already a fan, and perhaps like a different album by one of these artists, surface it in the comments.

Thanks for reading and Happy St Patrick’s Day this weekend!

 

 

 

 

The Black Keys: Fabulous, Dirty Rock New Single, “Lo/Hi”

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Just when I thought rock and roll was going to be in trouble in 2019, the Black Keys pop up with a brand new, mind blowing single, “Lo/Hi.” Thank God.

I’ve always had an odd relationship with the Black Keys. Not the Jack White, “they ripped me off” kind of relationship. I get it Jack, White Stripes/Black Keys. I could see where that would make Mr. White a little uncomfortable. It’s all a little too close. Anyway, like the Stripes, the Keys are just two folks, Dan Auerbach on guitar/vocals/bass/keyboards and Patrick Carney on drums. They are the same ilk of bluesy, garage rock that the White Stripes play and that I absolutely love. For some reason, however, I seem to bounce in and out of their orbit.

I pulled up their discography on Allmusic.com the other day and it hit me. I literally like every other album they put out. I loved the debut, The Big Come Up. Who else would have the balls to cover the Beatles, “She Said, She Said?” Thickfreakness, the follow up, left me cold. The album that really pulled me and the Rock Chick in was the third record, Rubber Factory from 2004. For us here at B&V, it’s the gold standard by which we judge all other Black Keys’ records… and by “us” here at B&V, I mean the Rock Chick and me. To illustrate this point, I have to share, when she walked into the music lab yesterday and I played “Lo/Hi” for her, the first words out of the Rock Chick’s mouth were, and I quote, “Awesome, they’re getting back to that Rubber Factory sound.” You can take the girl out of the Rubber Factory, but you can’t take the Rubber Factory out of the girl, I suppose.

Since that album, the Rock Chick and I have purchased every other album they’ve put out. We skipped Magic Potion, only to get back on the bandwagon for Attack & Release. While there were some great tracks on Brothers, specifically “Howlin’ For You,” “Everlasting Light,” and the oft overlooked “Sinister Kid,” the rest of the album didn’t grab me. El Camino for me, was another career highlight. It almost edges out Rubber Factory, but please, for my own safety, don’t tell the Rock Chick I said that. Rock and Roll blasphemy carries a heavy penalty around this place, especially during winter. I was so used to this pattern of one album on, one album off that I didn’t even check out their 2014 effort Turn Blue until recently. It’s like when I was a kid. My brother and I were polar opposites. If he liked a dish my mom made, I’d skip it… Sadly, I used that same logic for Turn Blue. It’s a solid album, and they’re certainly opening up their sound pallet. It might be the album this breaks the cycle for me… I also dug Dan Auerbach’s second album, Waiting On A Song, reviewed on these very pages, LP Review: Dan Auerbach (of the Black Keys) Solo, Poppy ‘Waiting On A Song’.

I do have to admit though, I’m like the Rock Chick when it comes to the Black Keys, I like them with a little less polish, a little more raw, if you will. I will admit, it was with a slight bit of apprehension that I hit “play” on the new track, “Lo/Hi.” Was I going to hear a polished attempt at pop or was I going to hear some garage-rock Black Keys? You just never know. My fears were eliminated immediately! “Lo/Hi” comes chugging out of the speakers from the jump. The guitar riff is a giant, greasy slab of rock. It bores into your brain. Carney’s drumming drives the track forward like a galloping thoroughbred whose escaped his trainers. “Run Forrest, run!” I love the first couplet, “Out on a limb in the wind of a hurricane/Down at the bar like a star in the howling rain.” Fuck yes, it’s like “Gimme Shelter.” There’s some nice female back up vocals on the chorus which contributes to the “River Deep – Mountain High” vibe of the song. The guitar solo at the end should come with a warning, “Could Melt Your Face Off.”

The Keys haven’t indicated if they’re putting out an album or if this is a one-off single. It seems all we do these days down at B&V is spread the word on new singles, whilst we wait for new albums to drop. All I can say, a new Black Keys album would be a great addition to a rocking spring… if spring ever comes. This is a must hear, must have single. I love that the Black Keys are keeping the rock and roll flame alive!

On The Mellow End: Norah Jones’ Three New Songs From Upcoming EP, ‘Begin Again’

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*Above image taken from the internet and likely copyrighted

It’s no secret that all of us down here at B&V are into our screaming, loud rock and roll. Hell, the first concert I ever took the Rock Chick to, before I made an honest woman out of her, was AC/DC on the Stiff Upper Lip tour. I can still remember the topless woman who popped out of the roof of the limo in front of us after the show. The exuberance of rock and roll had sort of… overcome that woman, but I digress. Even last night, after a wicked cocktail the Rock Chick cooked up with tequila and prosecco, I quickly put on some Tom Petty, Playlist: The B&V Best Tom Petty Album/Deep Tracks from our Spotify playlists.

But as with all things, screaming loud rock and roll has it’s time and place. On occasion, the mood or the situation calls for something a tad more mellow. When I’m putting my smooth moves on the Rock Chick, for example, sometimes it requires more subtle music than Motley Crue. Typing that sentence makes me immediately realize two things: a) I am not smooth and b) I have no moves. Another good example of a time that require music that’s a little mellower is my physical feeling today, after a night of drinking tequila, prosecco cocktails… I believe the medical profession would describe my condition as a “hangover.” No risk in life, no reward as the saying goes.

When I’m in need of some music that’s a tad more cerebral, if I don’t put on Van’s Saint Dominic’s Preview, I find myself turning to Norah Jones. As I am prone to repeating myself sometimes in these pages, the woman has the voice of an angel. She could literally record herself singing passages from a newspaper and I’d probably listen to it, despite how depressing the news is these days. I’ve never had the privilege of seeing her in concert, she tends to shun Kansas City but I remain hopeful she’ll come my way.

I don’t know if it’s that voice, but something about Norah’s music is evocative for me. I spent most of my 20s and 30s a wandering, emotional gypsy. I had a series of emotionally damaging relationships. I tended to pick my girlfriends from the FBI’s Most Wanted List… However, by 2002, when Jones’ debut Come Away With Me came out, I had found love and with it a family. I was living in house (that was mine) for the first time in my life, instead of a suitcase or the back of a car. I tended to keep moving in the old days… I was living with the Rock Chick in 2002 and we were engaged. Her daughter, who I now describe as “our” daughter was living with us. I had been traveling for work and my plane landed right around sunset on warm, late-summer day. The sky was turning to purple, but the sun still shone it’s golden hue on the taller trees. As I was driving home from the airport that night surrounded by magnificent colors with my sunroof open, on the public radio station I heard “Come Away With Me” for the first time. We were looking for a song for our first dance at our wedding and I was instantly convinced in that magical moment I’d found the track (I got overridden on that, alas). As I drove that night, for the first time headed to a home and not just the place where I kept my stuff, I felt a level of contentment I never thought I’d know… Norah Jones’ song had completely captured and immortalized that moment for me.

Over the years I have remained a Norah Jones fan. I loved her last album, Day Break LP Review: Norah Jones’ “Day Breaks,” The Piano Strikes Back!. I recently heard she was releasing random singles. I made a mental note to go out and find them and gather them together on a playlist. Luckily it seems that Ms. Jones is handling that for me. She’s gathered together seven tracks that she’ll be releasing in April as an EP, Begin Again. For those of you keeping score, an album is called a “long player” or an LP. An EP is an “extended player.” An EP is longer and has more music than just a single (which used to get released with 1 song on each side), but isn’t quite as long as an album or LP.

From the new EP, Norah has pre-released three new songs. I’ve heard her new music described as “experimental” which may be why she’s releasing just an EP. If there’s nothing thematic or musically similar holding a group of songs together an EP release makes more sense. I like the immediacy of what I’m hearing in these three new tracks. And yes, it’s not hard to predict, I liked all three of the new songs. I like that Norah is willing to take chances. An artist who had so much success early on in her career could be tempted to rest on her laurels. Not Norah, she really pushes herself.

For me, the stand out track of the three is “Just A Little Bit.” It’s a jazzy, syncopated little number. If I close my eyes while I listen, it feels like I’ve just wandered into a basement jazz club, the sound bouncing off the brick walls. I feel the murmur of hushed conversations and smell cocktails and perfume as patrons huddle in the dark and groove on the tune. I can feel the horns as much as hear them. It’s jazzy in all the right ways. When she emphasizes the words, “I’m on fire…” I can feel the heat.

“It Was You” is a more straight up Norah Jones. A sultry, chanteuse style track driven by her beautiful piano and a sax. Norah’s voice drops down in the register and is at it’s very sexiest. “And I knew, and I knew and I knew it was you…” It’s more an invocation to love than chorus. Put this song on late at night and you won’t need my patented smooth moves…

The final track of the three prereleases is a collaboration with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, “Wintertime.” I love it when Norah collaborates. She’s got a great track with disgraced singer Ryan Adams, “Dear John” which is one of her career highlights. I loved the album of Everly Brothers covers she did with Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong, Foreverly. Tweedy doesn’t sing on “Wintertime.” It’s a laid back piano tune and Tweedy plays a rather subdued guitar… at least I think that’s him. The track has a slightly country feel, but that may just be my take on the guitar work. It’s a very solid track.

All of us at B&V are looking forward to hearing the rest of this EP. I love that Norah is continuing to experiment and push herself. This will be very interesting, evocative music from an important artist. Enjoy this one to keep warm in this punishing wintertime!

Cheers!

 

 

Motley Crue: “The Dirt (Est. 1981),” The New Single From the Upcoming Movie

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*Image above taken from the internet and likely subject to copyright

During the 90s, when Grunge was king, I used to go up to Chicago for drunken weekends with my pals Doug and RK. It was during one of those trips, sitting at the corner of the bar at Pippins, our favorite Chicago pub, that Doug and I began to debate the merits of each musical decade. Looking back I think trying to categorize music by decade (ie, the 60s, 70s or 80s) was a bit of a misnomer. Music tends to change but not just because the calendar flips from ’79 to ’80. Big shifts in music don’t adhere to a decade calendar… Regardless of that, both Doug and I had staked out our positions and we’d both dug in. It was Doug’s proposition that the 70s were the worst decade in music while I argued it was the 80s. Over empty beer cans and spent shot glasses, we both put forward our passionate arguments.

I think Doug’s main problem with the 70s was disco. And yes, disco sucked, but there was a lot of great music recorded in the 70s including the great punk and post punk/new wave movements. Metal was pretty kick ass in the 70s with Black Sabbath and Judas Priest leading the British Metal Invasion. Even prog rock had Yes and Rush. I argued against the 80s because of all the slick production, drum machines and synthesizers. The acoustic guitar all but vanished. In the 80s, hard rock finally broke its longstanding connection with the blues, which had been the foundation of all the great music of the previous two decades. Many of the bands I loved in the 70s, whom I followed into the 80s struggled to adjust to all the synthesizer. Springsteen and Van Halen seemed to best incorporate the 80s sound. Well, at least they did it better than Bob Seger or say, Eric Clapton. Not everybody can be AC/DC who have always sounded the same no matter the decade. And let’s face it, all the hard rock bands in the 80s looked like chicks. That was hard to take… all the make up and hair spray. You didn’t see Robert Plant laying out his banshee wail in mascara.

The 80s were a very formative decade for me in a lot of ways. I was in early high school when the decade began and by the time it ended I was living in what I consider my “exile years” in a lonely and awful place known as “Arkansas.” Napoleon’s St Helena was paradise vs Ft Smith, Arkansas… I entered the decade as a shiny, clean virgin and left the decade, well, let’s just say those records are sealed until 25 years after my death. While I sat in that Chicago bar back in the 90s arguing with Doug about how the 80s sucked, it was really based on gut instinct versus an actual knowledge of a lot of 80s music. I had, oddly, ignored a lot of the music of that pivotal decade.

As I came of age in the early 80s, I was just beginning the musical journey that has brought me here to B&V. I was a blank page. I knew I liked rock and roll, and I was starting to realize much of what I liked was based on the blues. With the limited playlists of local radio stations (sorry KY/102) I only knew a fraction of the music that had been put out over the years. I also fell victim to living in places that didn’t have rock radio. In college, Manhattan, Kansas didn’t have a rock station. It was all pop. Yes, I heard a lot of Michael Jackson, Madonna and (yikes) Paula Abdul, but I never heard a ton of hard rock. After college, I entered self imposed exile in Fort Smith and later Fayetteville, Arkansas. It wasn’t until I got to Fayetteville that I got to a town with a rock n roll radio station. In Ft Smith George Michael’s Faith was in such high rotation I can recite the record from memory and that ain’t something I’m proud of, believe me. And while I may “Want Your Sex” I certainly don’t wanna hear that song ever again.

In the absence of rock radio catching my attention with new stuff, I turned my focus towards the past. I was filling in my record collection by buying old Stones and Zeppelin albums. I had a lot of catching up to do. Luckily I had a roommate in college, Drew, who was a Yoda of Rock and Roll (and remains so today, his record collection is cool on a level I can only aspire to). He and I would go to the record store and shop for hours. He’d lead me towards stuff like The Who, Neil Young and Bob Dylan. In 1986 I was more in tune with the music of 1971 such was my isolation and addictive rock and roll spelunking. I was deep into older and what I considered better music. The thing that finally broke me into the decade I was living in was, and I’m embarrassed to admit this, MTV.

When MTV began, and this may be hard for the kids to understand, they played music videos 24/7 like a radio station. They’d play all sorts of shit, mashed together. In between the Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet I’d hear bands like Def Leppard, the Scorpions, Poison and yes, Motley Crue (sorry no umlauts on my keyboard). I have to say I was always aware of Motley Crue but I never really focused on them. They looked like everybody else. I don’t think they actually punctured my 60s/70s music consciousness until the video for “Home Sweet Home” went into high rotation. There’s a scene in that video, shot at a Crue concert, where a woman I found absolutely gorgeous was sitting on her boyfriend’s shoulders. Her boyfriends slides his thumbs under her top and slow-motion lifts it over her breasts. Some gentlemen he was… chivalry is truly dead. Anyway, my friends and I sat staring at that video with the lewd and lascivious desire to see just a hint of nipple. Yes, it speaks to our desperation. As we sat there, slack jawed and horny, eventually I think we kind of realized it was kind of a kick ass song. “Smokin’ In The Boys Room” was another single from Theater of Pain that we all liked, even though it was a Brownsville Station cover song. It’s amazing that it took until their third album for Motley Crue to worm their way into my mind.

By Girls, Girls, Girls, I had come to think of Motley Crue as one of the foremost hard rock bands around. They’d wiped off the make up and taken the hairspray out of their hair. In the video for that title track they were riding around L.A. on motorcycles. I was like, ok, this I can relate to. The stories of their debauchery began to get out and they only served to burnish their legend. Nikki Sixx having to be brought back to life from an overdose was pretty harrowing. Vince Neil, who to this day I suspect of being an asshole, committed vehicular manslaughter for drunk driving. These were truly bad men doing bad things. And the music was nasty and hard. I could dig it… well, not the vehicular manslaughter, don’t drink and drive, people. Still it wasn’t until their first greatest hits CD came out that I made the plunge and purchased some Motley Crue music. “Primal Scream”  is still a favorite from that disc.

It was, and thank God, the Rock Chick who turned me onto Motley Crue. She’d seen them in their heyday, on the Theater of Pain tour when Tommy Lee’s drum kit first flew up in the air and did a flip. I looked through her old concert ticket stubs and couldn’t find the Crue ticket but she saw some kick ass stuff – Roth solo w/ Vai in ’86, Sam Kinison, Monsters of Rock… God, if I’d only known her back then. She took me to my first Crue concert on the ‘Carnival of Sins’ tour and they were awesome. They played a lot of stuff from their first two, raw, hard albums and that was it, I was hooked. The Rock Chick had their whole catalog and I devoured that music whole.

Needless to say, all of us here at B&V from the Rock Chick on down to me were excited to hear that the soundtrack from the impending movie “The Dirt,” based on the best selling autobiography of the same name, would include four new songs from the Crue. They may have signed contracts to never tour again, but at least they’re in the studio knocking out some new hard rock. I only recently heard one of the four songs will be a cover of Madonna’s “Like a Virgin.” Sigh… you can the boys out of the 80s, but you just can’t take the 80s out of the boys. I found this a disturbing bit of news, but Marilyn Manson once covered the Eurythmics and it turned out fine, so you never know.

The first new track from the Crue’s upcoming soundtrack The Dirt came out yesterday. It’s entitled, not surprisingly “The Dirt (Established 1981).” We’ve been doing nothing around here since yesterday except sitting around playing this song as we would all Crue tracks, at maximum volume. The Rock Chick’s first reaction to the song was, “it sounds kind of poppy.” And yes, it’s a little more slickly produced than I’d have liked, but you’re never going to hear a song like “Bastard” again. Overall I’d say I like this track. Tommy Lee’s drumming remains some of the best in rock and roll. He needs to shut up more and just pound the skins. I love Mick Mars guitar. Despite the production, his guitar still conjures up some nasty spirit. His solo’ing is, as always, on point. Its a great riff propelled by great drumming, which is pretty much the Motley Crue formula, a formula I think we all love. Even Vince Neil, whose vocals sound slightly auto-tuned, puts in a soaring vocal performance. My only problem with this song is the presence of this cat, Machine Gun Kelly. He pops up in the middle of the song to rap about the Crue’s excess and “big tits.” Now, as I’ve already confessed in this blog, I’m a huge fan of tits. But Machine Gun Kelly shows up like an unwanted party-crasher right in the middle of what was a great song. Then, as if to add insult to injury, he shows up again at the end. Once was too many appearances from Machine Gun, two is excessive. But, excess and overindulgence is kind of what Motley Crue is all about. It’s almost, like U2 does these days, in a grasping attempt at currency or relevancy, they let go of what they do well which is rawk!

I recommend this track, with the guarded warning, you’ll have to push through the two Machine Gun Kelly “raps,” which mar an otherwise great Crue song. I’m looking forward to hearing the other new tracks… we’ll, maybe not “Like A Virgin,” but the other two. Hopefully we’ll get more Crue and less Machine Gun Kelly… If this movie is anywhere near the “Bohemian Rhapsody” flick, this will be a fun thing to see.

Keep rocking out there… Devil Horns to all of you! Cheers!

 

Tom Petty: New Song From the Vaults, The Atmospheric “Real Love”

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I’ve always got my ear to the ground for rock’n’roll I might have missed out on. I was perusing the web and iTunes recently, because what else can you do when you’re snowed in, and saw that Tom Petty was putting out another Greatest Hits package. I fear he’s going to go the route of Elvis or Hendrix – artists who died too early whose heirs start repackaging their catalogs into multiple greatest hits packages. There’s a high likelihood if you’re interested in this greatest hits package, you’re not likely to be a reader of B&V… everybody who reads this blog probably owns most of this music.

I will say they took an interesting approach to this album. It’s two discs long and at 38 songs, its obviously fairly comprehensive. The approach to this album that would separate it from anything that came before it is the inclusion of tracks from Mudcrutch. For the first time ever you get Petty, Petty & the Heartbreakers and Mudcrutch in one two disc package. Petty’s solo career wasn’t quite like Springsteen’s, where Bruce would work without the E Street Band, typically in a stripped down, acoustic fashion. Petty’s “solo” work usually included at least Mike Campbell and usually Ben Tench. So the marketing angle on this is Petty solo, Mudcrutch, Heartbreakers, it’s all here. And if you haven’t purchased any Petty before, this looks like as good a place to start as any.

For me, when I see a Greatest Hits thing come out, I start sifting through the track list looking for anything I don’t recognize. They tell me OCD is treatable, but why spoil the fun? More often than not, one of the draws of a Greatest Hits package for those of us who have most of an artist’s catalog is the “previously unreleased” tracks from the vaults. This Petty “Career Spanning Hits Collection” is no exception. Included at the very end was a track that caused me to prick up my ears, “Real Love.” I scanned the memory banks and, no, this was not a track I was familiar with.

Apparently, rather than include this in last year’s box set, the brilliant American Treasure, LP Review: Tom Petty, ‘An American Treasure’ – A Different Path Through a Brilliant Career, the Petty camp decided to hold “Real Love” out to include in this year’s package. Why nobody will release the entire Wildflowers sessions, something Petty was working on and continually promising is anybody’s guess. I’m sure the record company wants to force us all to buy the original album again in order to get the bonus material and the Petty camp wants to make the bonus, unreleased stuff available separately. It appears we have reached an impasse. Which is too bad, because I’d love a pristine copy of “Girl On LSD,” my favorite outtake from the Wildflowers sessions. It’s actually an anti drug song… we don’t judge here at B&V. “I was in love with a girl on LSD, she’d see things I’d never see…”

“Real Love” starts off with just Petty’s voice and an acoustic guitar. Its a melancholy track, there’s no way around describing it as such. As I listened to American Treasure I could usually recognize which album the unreleased tracks came from. However, in this case I can’t quite put my finger on when this track was recorded, but if I was a betting man, I’d guess it was from The Last DJ sessions. He mentions a CEO, which makes me think of “Joe.” “Real Love” has a great Petty vocal, maybe he’s a little down but resolved and defiant. Petty sings over a jangling Mike Campbell guitar and Ben Tench’s piano. The narrative has Petty explaining his motive – he didn’t do it for anything or anybody except himself, his woman and real love. I can’t think of a better motive. It’s certain Petty wants everyone to understand that he never sold out.

While I’d hoped for some sort of revelation like “Gainesville,” or “Keep A Little Soul” I can’t quite say “Real Love” gets me to that same place. It’s a nice track to have, but it’s for those of us intense Petty fans and completists out here. I would recommend anybody who likes Petty to give it a spin but again, only True Fans Need Apply.

I hope everybody is staying warm and sane during what is turning out to be a horrible winter here in the US midwest. Pour yourself a toddy and keep the turntable working and we’ll all get through this. It’ll make Spring all the much sweeter. Cheers!

 

 

Review: Netflix “DocuSeries” ‘Remastered’ – Interesting But Uneven

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Winter has been a bear this year. Between snow and ice storms, I rarely leave the house. The Rock Chick and I joined a gym… no, it wasn’t a New Year’s Resolution, we moved and were forced to find  new place to work out. I can’t even get over to this new place due to inclement weather… well that and utter sloth, but I’ll blame the weather. I find myself with intense cabin fever these days so I end up watching a ton of TV. And with the football season ending recently, and badly, there’s really nothing that holds my interest.

Recently I flipped over to Netflix. Mind you, I only found out recently that the slang term “Netflix and chill” was a euphemism for hooking up, so I’m hopelessly non hip. I always thought Netflix and chill meant, well, watching Netflix and relaxing. A few months ago, I came across what I thought was a one-off documentary about Bob Marley, entitled ‘Who Shot The Sheriff? A Bob Marley Story.’ We’re huge Bob Marley fans here at the house (Humor: Bob Marley’s “Legend” and the Confessions of the Evil Stepdad). I already knew a lot about Bob Marley and had hoped this ReMastered would shed some new light on his story. The entire focus of the show was on the December 1976 assassination attempt on Marley. He was set to play a concert for Jamaican unity, ‘Smile Jamaica,’ and was caught between two different, warring political factions. The result was Marley relocating to London for a number of years. The focus of the documentary was that narrow – it was all about the assassination attempt. If you’re looking for a deep dive into Marley and his life/career, this is not the place to start. I thought the documentary was interesting if a little repetitive.

It wasn’t until this latest cold spell had me trapped inside that I realized the Marley ReMastered wasn’t a stand alone effort, it was one in a series of documentaries. They’ve come out with a number of them since I caught ‘Who Shot The Sheriff.’ Each of the documentaries is centered around one artist and like the Marley episode, something in that artist’s career that is tied to politics. It’s an interesting point of view. Many of the artists covered had strong ties to politics, Marley the “Soul Rebel” maybe most of all. The series has covered Sam Cooke, Johnny Cash, Grand Master Jay, and someone from Chile named Victor Jara who they describe as the Chilean Bob Dylan. In the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t watch the one on Jara, although I intend to, and I will probably never watch ‘Who Killed Jam Master Jay.’ I’m sure there’s reasons to care about Jam Master Jay, I just don’t know what they are.

I watched the Sam Cooke episode next, after the Marley episode. I love Sam Cooke. His singing has influenced everyone who came after him – Aretha, Otis Redding, Rod Stewart and the Rolling Stones. He was a towering talent. Like many soul singers of that era, he got his start singing in church. He went on to join a Gospel group, the Soul Stirrers and later went out on his own as a pop artist. A brilliant man, he quickly figured out the business end and formed his own record label and publishing company… unfortunately he got con artist to the stars Allen Klein involved but I’ll let you watch the show for that story. As most people know, Sam was killed under shady circumstances in a seedy hotel in the Watts area of Los Angeles. Sam had become involved in the Civil Rights movement and was friends with not only Muhammad Ali but Malcolm X. The subject of his episode, ‘The Two Killings of Sam Cooke’ centers around his murder. As became more independent from a business standpoint, which was unheard of for a black man in this times, it was feared he was a danger to the white establishment. He was inspired by Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ In the Wind” to write the Civil Rights staple, “A Change Is Gonna Come.” That also made him a threat. While I don’t think the FBI or the cops had anything to do with his murder – he got stuck in a shake down that went bad – I do think they didn’t investigate as thoroughly as they should have. This episode is the best one of the three I’ve watched. If you’re only going to spend 1 hour with this series, this is the one to see.

The third one I watched centered on Johnny Cash, the Man In Black. It’s entitled ‘Tricky Dick and the Man In Black.’ Obviously, the Tricky Dick in question is none other than Richard “Dick” Nixon. This was, I must admit, depressing television. Nixon’s “Southern Strategy” of wooing rural, and yes I’ll say it, red neck voters is kind of what we’re seeing repeated, writ large, in America today. He was basically lying to these people. In the interest of pulling those folks, who he thought loved country music, he invited Johnny Cash to perform at the White House. He wanted Johnny to sing some really right wing-y songs. “Welfare Cadillac” was particularly obnoxious. But Johnny being Johnny, he not only sang what he wanted to, he sang a new song, “What Is Truth,” which I was not familiar with. Again, that song rings true more now than it ever did. It was an interesting episode if a tad dull in spots. This highlights the sad fact that we really haven’t come that far in America…

If you’re like me, and you’ve got cabin fever and are pulling  your hair out with boredom, check out a few of these. Treat it like a smorgasbord and pick and choose carefully. This isn’t going to be revelatory to true fans of these artists, but it’s an interesting chapter in each of their lives.

Stay warm out there everybody.