The BourbonAndVinyl List of Rock’s Best “Side Projects”

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In the early days of rock and roll, listeners weren’t very sophisticated. As a musician it was easy to get pigeon-holed… you were either in a band or you were a solo artist. You were either Bob Dylan, all alone or The Beatles, four lads from Liverpool. If an artist in a band put out a solo album the general consensus was that the band was breaking up. You were either on the bus or the bus was coming after you…

The first artist I can remember who defied that paradigm was Rod Stewart. After he left the Jeff Beck Group to go solo, quickly followed by Ronnie Wood, he didn’t stay solo very long. He joined The Faces with Ronnie. But then he did something audacious that no one had never done before… he continued his solo career. He’d release a solo album and then a Faces album every year. Back and forth, back and forth. Fans, in the early 70s were clearly confused. Some concert venues went so far as to bill the Faces as “Rod Stewart and The Faces,” like the Faces were Stewart’s version of Wings… his back up band. That probably got a little awkward in the dressing room. There were always accusations from the band that Rod was keeping his best material for his solo albums. I think  we all know where that led. And likely, dividing his time between projects diluted the finished product on one end…

These days doing solo stuff outside the setting of your established band is pretty much expected. It’s not the death knell of a band when the lead singer or the guitar player branch out and do something solo. Well, unless we’re talking about Aerosmith and Steven Tyler who suddenly turns into the village idiot and decides to promote “his own brand” vs the band, but again that ain’t normal. All of this is well and good with me, artists should express themselves as they wish. But it occurred to me the other day, there is a third category outside of band projects and solo projects… the infamous “side project.” Many times, instead of going full-on solo, a band member will do a one-off project with other musicians. Maybe it’s the artist’s attempt to stick his toe into the solo realm. Or maybe it’s just a musical vacation away from the usual mates in the band to work with some other friends or just some new, different musicians to test the creative boundaries. Think of it as a vacation only with instruments. I’m not talking about a guest shot on someone else’s album, I’m talking about a full on diversion from one’s career to do something else. I don’t think anybody has really celebrated the best of these, so after some bourbon and a lot of thought.. here are the best Rock N Roll Side Projects…

  1. The Traveling Wilbury’s – George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Jeff Lynne, Bob Dylan and Tom Petty all between albums convene at Lynne’s house and end up striking pay dirt with Vol. 1. After Orbison’s death they actually did a second album, but the second side project record is usually not as good as the first one.
  2. The Notting Hillbillies – Mark Knopfler from Dire Straits gets together with some old mates and does the underrated, mellow strummer, “Missing…and Presumed Having a Good Time.” “Your Own Sweet Way” was the stand out, but don’t under-estimate the charm of the other guys in the band’s turns on lead vocal.
  3. Mad Season, ‘Above’ – Mike McCready, the guitarist from Pearl Jam, says he got together with Layne Staley (among others) to show Layne that you could create music while sober. This record is murky but “River of Deceit” is one of Staley’s greatest vocals.
  4. Chickenfoot – Sammy Hagar, Michael Anthony, Joe Satriani, & Chad Smith got together for not just one LP, but 2, much like the Traveling Wilbury’s. I actually thought both of these records were great, but the second record, named Vol 3, just never caught on…
  5. Power Station – Robert Palmer took a break from his solo career to get together with a couple members of Duran Duran and the incredible Tony Thompson on drums as a lark to record the old T Rex song, “Bang A Gong.” Things got rolling in the studio and they knocked out an entire LP. I love, love “Some Like It Hot,” with the immortal line, “She wants to multiply, are you gonna do it?” Unfortunately this led the lead singer of Duran Duran, Simon Le Bon, to do the misguided Arcadia project… Oh, well. Palmer refused to tour behind the smash hit and went back to his solo career. That’s why it’s called a side-project, people.
  6. The Hindu Love Gods – Warren Zevon backed by REM. REM had been tapped as Warren’s backing band on the superb ‘Sentimental Hygiene.’ I’m not sure why but the band (sans Michael Stipe) went back into the studio with Zevon and punched out this LP of covers as diverse as Hank Williams, Muddy Waters and of all things, “Raspberry Beret” by Prince. They sure sound like they’re having a great time. It’s relaxed and awesome. Highly recommend this LP.
  7. Tin Machine – David Bowie decides to chuck the solo career for the anonymity of a band project. They actually did two albums, but the first one is the gem. “Under the God” is a great song, but check out their electrified cover of Lennon’s “Working Class Hero.” Pretty amazing stuff.
  8. Stills/Young Band, ‘Long May You Run’ – Originally an attempted CSNY reunion, early in the sessions Crosby and Nash exited. Since the CN part of the equation had done well with their collaboration LPs, it only seemed natural that the SY part would follow suit. Critics decried this album for a lack of songwriting, but my college roomie Drew turned me onto this superb LP and I love it. The title track is great but so is Stills’ ode to scuba diving “Black Coral.” Recorded in Miami, this is like a much, much cooler Buffet album. Young split early in the tour for this album to get back to solo records… too bad. I love these two collaborating.
  9. The Little Willies – Norah Jones doing country covers and originals with a bunch of New York buddies of hers. They’ve done two full LPs, and contrary to the rule, they both kick ass. But as usual, I have to say, Norah could sing the phone book and I’d listen in… But be aware, the other guy sing selected tracks too. I have to admit I love the humorous song “Lou Reed.”
  10. The Foxboro Hottubs – Green Day in disguise. On this superb LP, they’re doing punky, surf-rock tunes while taking a break from doing rock operas. This is a great gem of a record.
  11. Temple of the Dog – Chris Cornell of Soundgarden uniting with most of Pearl Jam for a tribute LP for the former lead singer of Mother Lovebone, Andrew Wood. I love this record. These guys actually just reunited for a short series of concerts on the coasts. I’m hoping for a live LP document of those shows.
  12. Mudcrutch – Tom Petty and several Heartbreakers reunite with other original members of Mudcrutch as Petty explores his first pre-Heartbreakers band. They’ve done two full LPs, and again, unlike the normal rule, both kick ass. Petty is more laid back and jammy with Mudcrutch. These are must have LPs for any fans of Petty’s.
  13. The Raconteurs – Jack White’s first side project outside of The White Stripes, followed shortly by the Dead Weather project. I prefer the Raconteurs. It doesn’t matter what Jack White does, it’s typically brilliant. I actually like the second LP they did better than the first. Check out the epic “Carolina Drama.”
  14. The Firemen – Paul McCartney’s fabulous side project with electronica producer Youth. They’d done a full-electronica album prior to “Electric Arguments” but “Arguments” is the record to buy. Youth told McCartney, “I want chords and vocals this time” and McCartney delivered. Paul always seems to come alive when alleviated from the pressure of the McCartney name… This album brings out the best of McCartney’s experimental side. Weird, quirky – yes. Excellent, yes.
  15. The New Barbarians – Ronnie Wood needed a backing band after his wonderful solo LP, “I’ve Got My Own Album To Do,” and Keith Richards volunteered to go out on the road with him. I think they actually did two tours, but I’m not positive. There’s a limit to even my knowledge… They never actually released anything, but how much fun would this have been to see? Lots of white powder consumed on this tour… I think they finally did a live LP years later…

This list isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list but these are some of the greatest “side-projects” done by some of the greatest musicians of all time. You’ve got a couple of Beatles and a couple of Stones on the list, so it can’t be half bad! Do a little spelunking and chances are if you like a band their members have done something creative on the side! Look outside the box and you may just be rewarded!

Cheers!

 

 

 

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Dan Auerbach (of The Black Keys): “Shine On Me,” The First Single From His New Solo LP

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Last week while I was checking out the new single from the upcoming Lindsay Buckingham/Christine McVie album, I happened to notice that Dan Auerbach has a new solo album coming out, his second one. I also noticed the first single, “Shine On Me” had been released. I couldn’t help but think, as the bourbon drinking cynic in me popped out, “just what the world needs, another Dan Auerbach solo album….” Despite my initial reservations, as your intrepid musical spelunker, I felt compelled to check this new tune out.

I’ve always run a little hot and cold on the Black Keys. I really dug ‘Rubber Factory,’ but then ‘Magic Potion’ left me cold. ‘Attack and Release’ grabbed me, and I probably like that record more than ‘Rubber Factory.’ Early on I would have said the Rock Chick was more into ‘Attack and Release’ but now I think the tide has turned and she’s more into ‘Rubber Factory.’ I will admit, I would probably say ‘El Camino’ was my favorite Black Keys’ album. But yet again, the follow up, ‘Turn Blue’ did absolutely nothing for me. At the end of the day, I guess I just have to admit I’m more of a White Stripes guy than a Black Keys guy. Not that I’m trying to get in on that feud. This doesn’t have to be a Stones vs Beatles thing… you can dig both. There’s no Superman vs Batman thing going down here at BourbonAndVinyl… we’re lovers not fighters.

I picked up this Dan Auerbach song, “Shine On Me,” and damn if it’s not catchy. This is nothing like the sludgy, bluesy stuff I’ve come to expect from the Black Keys, his day job. This song is as close as you can get to capturing sunshine in a recording studio. It immediately hit me on the lower brain stem. With its ringing acoustic guitars and insistent electric guitar counterpoint, I have to admit, it sounded more like “Go Your Own Way” era Fleetwood Mac than Lindsay Buckingham’s new song. I know one thing for sure, it’ll get your foot tapping and possibly get you up out of your chair, moving around. If this isn’t the rock song of the summer, I don’t know what a summer rock song sounds like any  more.

I think Auerbach is a very talented guitar player, but his vocals in the Black Keys are usually a little obscured or blurred. Not so on “Shine On Me,” he’s full out singing and it sounds like he’s overdubbed himself on the vocals. He sounds better on this song than almost anything I’ve heard him do in the band. The chorus is enormous. It explodes from the speakers. This song may be a little saccharine for the usual BourbonAndVinyl musical tastes, but when I hear a great song, I just have to tell somebody about it.

Uncover the pool, sweep out the leaves, crack some Mexican beer and turn this one up loud. I have no idea how the rest of the album is going to be and I’m not even sure I’ll check it out but everybody should have this single on their summer playlist. Well everybody except those Goth folks… they don’t like to get in the sun anyway.

“Shine On Me” definite purchase! Cheers!

The First Single From Lindsay Buckingham & Christine McVie: “In My World”

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I always dug Fleetwood Mac, we all did. My heavy metal college roommate had all metal music and oddly, two Fleetwood Mac albums. I was a little young for ‘Fleetwood Mac,’ the first LP to feature the dynamic duo of Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. I remember  hearing practically every song on ‘Rumors’ at the swimming pool over the loud speakers when I was kid. Those songs were everywhere. I always felt like Christine McVie was the unsung hero in that group. Who hasn’t sat up late at night, after a break up, weeping to the song “Songbird”?

In the 80s, Lindsay Buckingham called it quits to pursue his curious solo career. The “classic” line up reunited for the live LP, ‘The Dance’ twenty years after Lindsay’s departure. That reunion was short-lived as Christine McVie developed an intense fear of flying and “retired” to her country English manor home to putter in her garden. A few years ago she got over it and rejoined Fleetwood Mac, and was welcomed with open arms, I might add, for an extended tour.

Having been on the sidelines for so long, she was raring to go. Apparently she was sitting on a stack of songs, a backlog like George Harrison had after being stuck behind Lennon and McCartney. After the tour it was time to head to the studio. Christine had the songs and Lindsay always has songs. The problem it seems was coaxing Stevie Nicks back into the studio. Stevie is under the mistaken impression she’s going to recapture the solo glory of her ‘Bella Donna’ days. Ah, Stevie… I like to think of her as the Mistress of a Generation.

Lindsay, Christine along with Mick Fleetwood on drums and John McVie on bass went into the studio without Nicks. They have apparently had the songs that make up this record in the can for quite some time. Tired of waiting for Stevie, somebody just said “fuck it” and they released the LP under Buckingham and McVie’s name. I guess they didn’t want Stevie to think they’d moved on without her and it’s always nice to leave the door open.

Yesterday, the first single from this new album came out, “In My World.” I have to admit I’m scratching my head a little bit. It’s not a bad song, it’s just not a first single. Its a mid tempo, understated thing. Coincidentally I listened to Dan Auerbach’s new solo single, “Shine Me On,” and with its bold acoustic guitars bumping up against his vocals and a nice electric guitar riff, he sounds more like “Go Your Own Way” than “In My World” does.

I expected this album to be like the 1997 Fleetwood Mac LP helmed by Buckingham and Nicks, “Say You Will,” in that each singer/songwriter would take the lead vocal/songwriting duties. I didn’t expect it to be a duets album. I did expect perhaps some harmonizing between Lindsay and Christine, as they done within Fleetwood Mac on songs like “World Turning.” I guess I was thinking Robert Plant and Alison Krauss type harmonies. Lindsay and Christine have a great vocal chemistry and I would have liked them to explore that a bit more, and who knows, maybe they do on other tunes. You won’t however, find those harmonies on this song. It’s all Lindsay. If Christine plays on this song, I don’t hear her. Not even keyboards.

As I said, it’s a good song. I had to listen to it a number of times (thank God for the patience of the Rock Chick, as I hit “repeat” again and again) and it’s definitely catchy and it definitely grows on you. It’s a grower not a show-er. This song could have easily been lifted off Lindsay’s solo album, “Gift of Screws.” That record is his only solo album recently that has instrumentation outside an acoustic guitar and percussion from him slapping the body of his guitar. Lindsay’s into that cascading acoustic guitar thing. This is a straight forward, mid tempo song. It has a very Fleetwood Mac vibe set to a more modern feel. The lyrics are mostly upbeat with Lindsay singing about all the bad things that won’t happen “In My (his) World.” And lets face it, to him, it’s Lindsay’s world, we all just live in it.

The actual LP, creatively titled “Lindsay Buckingham & Christine McVie” will come out in June. I’ll have more thoughts on the album then. For now, kick back and enjoy the single. It’s as close as we’re going to get to a full fledged Fleetwood Mac album for a long time…

A Brief Word On The Passing of J. Geils, RIP

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As is my lot in life, I was traveling the first half of the week, in the service of my Corporate Overlords. A grueling planes, trains and automobiles odyssey through America’s homeland, well without the trains. Cheap motels, bad food and long car rides where it all starts to blur together. Luckily I was with some good people and they made it a lot more enjoyable. However, as seems to happen lately, whenever I take a trip for work, a rock star seems to die. I’m starting to feel some Catholic guilt about my travels. I may need to look for a job that keeps me home more…

Most people, when they think of the J. Geils Band, think of “Freeze Frame,” or “Centerfold,” the late period, more pop oriented music they broke through with. Some may remember their first big “hit” if you will, “Love Stinks.” Personally, I became aware of the J. Geils Band when I heard the song “Must Of Got Lost” for the first time. The J. Geils Band was so much more than their latter day pop hits.

The J. Geils Band was an old fashion, touring, bar band. They celebrated rock and roll every night, night after night, on stage, sweating in small halls and bars. They spent the entire decade of the 70s toiling on the road but never found great success until the dawn of the 80s and then they couldn’t hold themselves together when they got the success they so richly deserve. Peter Wolf ended up leaving the band after “Freeze Frame.” In a lot of ways, the J Geils Band was like the American version of The Faces, well, maybe without the booze. Loose on stage with an oddball sense of humor, they never could recreate that live sound in the studio. And like the Faces, J. Geils Band had their lead singer leave for a more lucrative solo career.

All of this is much more bittersweet as the J. Geils Band missed out on being inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame this year. I was sorry to see Yes inducted merely a year after original bass player Chris Squire passed away. Looks like the J. Geils Band will suffer the same fate… which could have been avoided. I read somewhere this week that J. Geils Band should be considered the Rock Hall of Fame’s official bar band. Anybody who doubts J. Geils Band should be in the Hall or that J. Geils isn’t a great guitar player needs to put on “Give It To Me” one of their earlier great, great tunes. It starts as almost a lilting reggae thing, but the band jams to the fade for the last 3 or 4 minutes… J. plays a mean guitar on that jam. Very impressive. His legacy as a guitar player could stand on that one tune, but there’s so much more to his guitar playing legacy…

I would urge any of you unfamiliar with the J. Geils Band’s early 70s work to seek out one of their two monster live LPs, “Live: Full House” from ’72 or “Blow Your Face Out” from ’76 (the same year as “Live Bullet” and “Frampton Comes Alive”) and you’ll get one of the greatest educations in rock and roll, soul, R&B, funky blues that you’ll find anywhere.

RIP J. Geils. Rock n’ Roll with the angels, baby.

It’s a long dark ride, enjoy it while you can.

Artist Lookback: Black Sabbath, 1980-1981, The Superb Dio Era

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A few weeks ago I wrote a piece about Ozzy Osbourne’s albums with Randy Rhoads. It was one of Ozzy’s greatest eras. I think, in the interest of “equal time,” that it’s only fair to take a look at what his old band mates were up to while Ozzy was launching his solo career. Fed up with Ozzy’s erratic addict behavior and diminishing album sales, Tony Iommi and the gang decided it was time to make a change. Ozzy was sacked. The choice for replacement was none other than former Elf and Rainbow lead singer Ronnie James Dio. It was an inspired choice.

Other than a brief flirtation with the ‘Sabbath Bloody Sabbath’ album when my mom’s friend brought her children’s records over for me to tape on cassette, I really didn’t know anything about pre-Dio Sabbath. That LP frankly, scared me at the time. I had to wonder what was going on at my mom’s friend’s house. Sure, I knew the song “Paranoid” but I’m not even sure I connected that with Ozzy. I was into bluesier rock like The Stones, ZZTop, Foghat, not heavy metal. Looking back, one has to wonder why Dio would quit Rainbow, who seemed to be on the upswing, and join Sabbath who were sinking under the weight of their own addictions and commercial failures. Coming off two absolute clunkers, “Technical Ecstasy” and “Never Say Die,” Sabbath was in need of a shot in the arm. “Never Say Die” seems like a joke now, considering they blew up the band by firing Ozzy right after that LP.

I remember the first time I heard the first “single” if you an call it that, from ‘H&H,’ “Neon Nights” on KY102, the local radio station in Kansas City. With it’s galloping pace and heavy guitar, and that voice, who was that singing I wondered, it was the type of tune you’d put on before riding into battle. Perhaps I’d been wrong and there were non-blues-based music out there I needed to check out. This was my inauguration into heavy metal. Oh, and I was hooked!

The two 80’s albums Sabbath did with Ronnie James Dio are absolutely essential to not only heavy metal fans, but fans of rock and roll of any stripe. While it was only a brief period lasting a little over 2 years and only two albums, it was one of Sabbath’s most fruitful periods. Let’s look at both LPs.

‘Heaven And Hell’ (1980)

When I saw the album cover of ‘Heaven and Hell’, with the group of angels smoking cigarettes and gambling, I thought, “Oh, yes, I’m in the right place.” This was going to be a special listening event. I went downstairs to use my parents considerably better and more powerful stereo. I put the headphones in the jack and dropped the needle. Unfortunately, my parents stereo had a knob that had to be turned to “auxiliary output” before it would divert the music to the headphones, so while I thought I was privately enjoying “Neon Nights” it was actually blasting out of the speakers overhead sending my mother into a gasping, screaming fit of rage as she ran from the kitchen all the way to the living room to throw her body on the stereo. In her defense, I had it turned up to “11.” Sorry, mom.

Side one of the original vinyl LP of ‘Heaven And Hell’ is as good as any in the Sabbath pantheon. Not only does it kick off with “Neon Nights,” but side one had “Lady Evil,” just a great, spooky tune with a furious bass line and the title track, “Heaven And Hell.” “Heaven And Hell” ranks amongst the greatest tracks of all time. “Children of the Sea” rounds out side one and is another stand-out tune. For me the key track on side two is “Die Young” a hard rocking basher that could be argued was the template for Dio’s whole career. There’s a quiet bridge in the middle of “Die Young” with an acoustic guitar and Dio singing that’ll stop your heart. “Wishing Well” is another great, heavy track on side 2. They end with two very strong tracks, “Walk Away” swings and “Lonely Is The Word” is an epic Sabbath tune. This album is a must have. There isn’t a bad note from start to finish. This album equals anything Ozzy was doing on ‘Blizzard of Oz’ at the time. This was a lot heavier than anything Ozzy was doing, certainly. Bringing in Dio completely rejuvenated the creative process in Sabbath. In short, this tour de force is a triumph.

‘Mob Rules’ (1981)

The follow up to ‘Heaven And Hell,’ ‘Mob Rules’ came out so quickly afterward I didn’t even realize it had come out. Actually the follow up to ‘Heaven’ was a quick and dirty live LP where Dio sang a number of Ozzy-Sabbath tunes. They probably did that to piss Ozzy off, which I’m sure it did. My future college roommate Matthew and I were driving up to Kansas State to check out the campus one weekend when he slid a cassette tape of ‘Mob Rules’ into his super-powered, Subaru stereo. Sabbath was back with another great album. I went to the vinyl store Sunday afternoon right after we got back home to buy the album, post haste. Once again, the album art was terrific. When my mom saw this album, for the first time ever, she started to question what I was doing up in my room with the headphones on. I could see it in her eyes, “was my son in a Satanic cult?” No mom, I’m just a metal fan.

‘Mob Rules’ kicks off with “Turn Up The Night” which almost feels funky. Is there such a thing as disco metal? Geezer Butler’s bass almost makes you want to dance. The epic “Sign Of The Southern Cross” is the centerpiece of side one of this album. It leads into an atmospheric instrumental “E5150” that bleeds into the fast and hard title track, “Mob Rules.” “When you listen to fools, the mob rules…” was something I would quote to my parents when they’d take me to church, which may have been the proof my mother needed that I was indeed in a Satanic cult. Side two starts with “Country Girl” which is an OK tune, but not my favorite. I’ll admit I like they were branching out on subject matter. Side 2 immediately picks up with “Slipping Away,” the fantastic “Falling Off The Edge Of the World,” (which has my all time favorite Sabbath quote, “I’ve seen some visions of Hell that are horribly strange”) and finally the dramatic “Over And Over” to end things. This is top shelf heavy metal and while perhaps not as mind altering as ‘Heaven And Hell’ it’s certainly still a stunning album. I would label ‘Mob Rules’ as another must-have, essential LP for any rock and roll fan.

Sadly, as quickly as it had begun, and as fruitful as it proved to be, the Dio Era in Sabbath ended. There was a sudden announcement that Dio had left for a solo career (which was great on its own) and that former Deep Purple lead singer Ian Gillan had joined Black Sabbath. In my mind Sabbath didn’t really do anything I liked again until ’13’ the Rick Rubin-produced reunion album with Ozzy. They even reunited with Dio briefly in 1992 for the lackluster LP ‘Dehumanizer.’ Alas, the magic was gone. When you find lightning in a bottle folks, hold on tight.

I recommend immediate purchase of both these records. If you can find them on vinyl, all the better. Turn that stereo up to 11 and Rawk! Oh, and make sure you have that “auxiliary output” thing taken care of… we wouldn’t want to scare mom again.

Humor: My In-Laws And My Wedding Reception

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As I’ve chronicled multiple times over the course of B&V, I was single until my late 30s. I’d share more of those stories but those records are sealed until 25 years after everyone I’ve ever known is dead. I was slowly getting my act together and turning away from my life as a “rounder” when I met the Rock Chick. She had a daughter and was cautious around me or any other newcomer at first, so things developed slowly. Eventually she realized I was harmless and things began to progress a little more quickly. Obviously, it’s more complicated than that, but that’s another story.

As I got to know her, I realized the Rock Chick had a much different childhood than I did. I was the product of a solid, Catholic marriage. My parents are together to this day and seem to like each other. I grew up in the suburbs of Kansas City in what I now refer to as “the bubble” of Johnson County, Kansas. While I would never describe my childhood as idyllic (the struggle is real, folks), from the outside looking in, it wasn’t exactly a difficult upbringing.

My wife grew up in the country, on a farm, in a very small town. I think describing her childhood home as a “town” is actually generous. It was more of a wide stretch in the road. She grew up in the shadow of Kansas City but was far enough away it must have seemed light years away from civilization. At least she could pick up the local radio stations and got a good grounding in rock and roll music. Her parents for many reasons, alas, didn’t stay together. She is, what is now called, a product of divorce.

After the split, as is common, the two warring parties never seemed to get along. The Rock Chick’s mother Rose rarely had anything nice to say about her father Bud and Bud rarely said anything at all about Rose. After the Rock Chick moved to Kansas City her parents never spoke again. Child support was the only thing they spoke about anyway. Soon Rose decided to move out West with her son, my wife’s half brother, to live amongst the Grand Tetons. We rarely see my mother-in-law. On one of her brief visits to Kansas City, for a family reunion, I found myself chatting with Rose. I was hitting the vodka lemonades pretty hard, but I still remember the conversation. We were looking at a wall of family photographs from the past, and she commented, out of nowhere, “I always wanted to be a movie star.” I smiled and responded, “That’s cool… were you in drama, were you interested in acting?” Her response was in my mind, telling, “Oh, no, I just wanted to be a movie star.” Hmmm… Rose was apparently Kim Kardashian before there was a Kim Kardashian.

As a side note, this was the last family reunion my wife subjected me to. I don’t even attend my own family’s reunions, thus is my disdain for the entire institution. At one point, I was talking to her uncle who it seems was trying to win a Wild Bill Hickok look alike contest. He had the hat, matted hair, big mustache and looked frankly, dirty. The Rock Chick, sensing I was miserable, ran up and asked if I’d like another drink, a curious strategy as I was already half in the bag. Her uncle said to me, “I wish I had a pretty woman bringing me drinks…” I smiled and said, in a low, serious tone, “If you really want that, may I suggest a shower, shaving off that mustache and perhaps a wardrobe re-do…” Needless to say, we haven’t been invited back but I digress.

When I first met Bud, my father in law, I was a tad intimidated. He asked me two questions in order to determine whether I was ok or not. Did I like beer, which I passed with flying colors, yes of course. Secondly, was I a Republican? I think I failed that one. Regardless, he seemed to like me almost instantly. He was one of the most charismatic people I’ve ever met. We would sit around his cluttered kitchen table for hours, consuming more beer than I should have with an hour drive home ahead of me and talked about subjects grand and small. Eventually I got to the point where I’d go down to see him by myself. It was on one of those trips I asked him for his daughter’s hand in marriage. “Well now, she’s the apple of my eye. If you ever hurt her, I’m a marksman and I can kill you and you wouldn’t even hear the bullet coming…” With that he shook my hand and the deal was done.

A while later, I actually went through with it and married the Rock Chick. It was a destination wedding so we had a reception two weeks after that back home. It was a wonderful evening. I can still remember dancing with my new bride for the first time to Rod Stewart’s version of Van Morrison’s “Have I Told You Lately.” There were many people who believed I didn’t even want to be happy, so actually being happy was quite a surprise to everyone involved.

There was some tension at the reception however. Both of my wife’s parents were slated to be there. They hadn’t been in the same room in decades. We sat Rose and her half brother on one side of us, on the Rock Chick’s side. And, to be safe we sat Bud and his date (the man got the ladies) on my side. This may have been a tactical error as he had me running to the bar all night to refresh his beer… wait a minute whose wedding reception is this? The tension we’d felt at the beginning of the evening quickly dissipated as the Rock Chick’s parents never so much as spoke. As far as I could tell they didn’t even look at each other.

The next day, as is her usual pattern, Rose said, out loud, “Well, I’m not sure what happened to your father. He’s clearly daft. He looked right at me, and it was as if he didn’t even know who I was. It’s like he didn’t even recognize me, We were married for over ten years. I really think he’s losing it.” Well, obviously this didn’t set well with me. I am clearly on Team Bud. I cut her off in mid rant. “You can say whatever you want about me, but that’s ridiculous. He’s a good man, and he’s not daft.” I was angry and indignant. This pattern of her bad mouthing him was ending on my watch. I went full on Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington” mode in defense of Bud. I had hoped to put this feud to rest.

About a month later, I drove down on my own to see Bud and drink some beer. Soon the subject of the reception came up. I had been ready for him to bring it up and had promised myself if he maligned his ex-wife, I would defend her as well. It was only fair. He leaned over the cluttered kitchen table and got a serious look on his face. “I tell you what, man, at that reception of yours, I must be daft. I looked right at Rose and didn’t know who it was. I didn’t even recognize her. We were married a long time…but I didn’t figure out it was her until I was on my way home.”

Well, shit.

So much for my spirited defense of my father-in-law. What have we learned… sometimes people who have known each other a long time, know each other better than I think. Oh, and never jump in the middle of a feud, ever. And last but not least, maybe these two belonged together after all…

iPod Playlist – Springsteen’s ‘Human Touch’/’Lucky Town’ LPs at 25: The B&V Single LP Edit

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I saw over the weekend that Bruce Springteen’s two simultaneously released 1992 LPs had turned 25 years old. ‘Human Town’ and ‘Lucky Town’ were highly anticipated back in ’92. We hadn’t heard anything from Springsteen since 1987’s ‘Tunnel of Love’ and back then five years between albums was a luxury only afforded to those nut jobs in Boston. In the interim, since ‘Tunnel of Love,’ much had occurred in Springsteen’s life. He’d gotten divorced, married again and started a family (good for him). On the music end of the ledger he’d severed ties with his long time backing band, The E Street Band (bad for him). Bruce had decided it was time to go solo.

At the time, I remember hearing or reading an interview with Springsteen where he said his music and the story he was trying to tell had all been building from ‘Greetings From Asbury Park’ all the way through ‘Born In The USA.’ He felt that ‘Born In The USA’ was the culmination of that story and it was time to find a new direction. He’d attempted to do that very thing with ‘Tunnel of Love,’ although my thoughts on that LP were that it was a reaction to the unheard of fame that resulted from ‘Born In the USA’ and it was Springsteen’s attempt to slow that hysteria down a bit. Often when an artist gets bigger than they expected, they release a quiet, introspective or “arty” work so they can avoid the massive expectations they’ve set up for themselves.

At the time, I remember thinking, “new direction,” my ass. The fame has given him “the fear.” But all these years later, when I listen to the classic live shows he’s been releasing on his website, damn if I don’t hear the progression. The live LPs I’ve heard from 1975 through 1984 all do actually build upon each other. He had the skeleton of his live shows and with each succeeding LP he added certain pieces here, took away pieces there. ‘Born In the USA’ really was an end point for Springsteen. He’d gone from rhyming boardwalk poet on ‘Greetings From Asbury Park’ to working class hero for the universe on ‘Born In the USA.’ It now makes sense to me what he was trying to do. His work, more than almost any other artist I can think of is, as he describes it to be, a dialogue.

Despite Springsteen’s best efforts to escape the expectations set by his past, with the long wait between records and firing the E Street Band, the expectations were still running very high in 1992 from his rabid fan base, yours truly included. Only Guns N Roses had released two albums on one day, although in their case I actually considered ‘Use Your Illusions’ to be a double album released separately to command a higher sales price. When the news that Springsteen was releasing two albums on one day leaked, we all went nuts. The first thought was, well this explains the long absence, he’s polished off two records. Then word came out that he’d been toiling over the first record, ‘Human Touch’ for years but had been hit with a burst of sudden inspiration and knocked out the second record, ‘Lucky Town’ in a matter of weeks, a rarity for Bruce.

When the two albums came out, I liked them. I have to admit in retrospect, I was carried away by sheer enthusiasm and momentum, I was young. It was obvious ‘Human Touch’ was labored over and ‘Lucky Town’ was pounded out by Bruce in a room with a guitar and only a drummer helping him. After repeated listens I began to realize these albums lacked the musicality of his previous LPs with the E Street Band. I soon realized that I was pretty disappointed. The critical reception to the album was tepid at best and savage at worst. Only Springsteen’s ‘The Ghost of Tom Joad’ (despite the excellent title track) has received a more savage critical response. It appeared that Springsteen had lost “it.” Maybe a life of happy domestic bliss had blunted his creative edge?

There’s an old adage in rock and roll, that in every double LP there is a great single LP lurking. Certainly there are exceptions to that rule where the double LP stands on it’s own. ‘Exile On Mainstreet,’ ‘The Beatles,’ ‘1999,’ ‘Songs In The Key of Life’ and ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’ all stand out as masterpiece double LPs, which I covered in a previous post. But on the whole, you can take many double LPs, edit them down to a single LP and you’d have a better, more cohesive work and likely a more commercial album. Not that anybody should care about the commerciality of the LP. Art is art, people, follow the muse. As someone who once tried to write a novel, believe me, editing is good, folks.

Over the weekend, one of my favorite websites, UltimateClassicRock.com had four different critics attempt to test the “in all double LPs there lurks a great single LP” rule. Each critic took a shot at taking ‘Human Touch’ and ‘Lucky Town’ and combining tracks from each to create a new, single LP. I usually don’t tailgate on anybody else’s idea but this was an exercise that I’d attempted several times over the years, since the advent of MP3’s made doing so easy. And frankly, all four of the critics got it wrong. They mostly limited the new single disc to 10 to 12 tracks. Clearly the critical disdain for these two LPs remains to this day… There are more than 10 good songs on these records.

Here is the official B&V version of ‘Human Touch’/’Lucky Town’ edited down to a single record. I have this on my iPod as a playlist as editing vinyl is a little difficult. I took the liberty of expanding my play list to 14 songs, (of a potential 24 songs on over both records, I didn’t include anything left out and released on ‘Tracks’). In returning to these discs I realized that there’s a lot more to like here than to loathe. Don’t get me wrong, these are some of Springsteen’s weaker efforts, but if he’d combined them and done his usual scrupulous editing I think this would have been a lot more acceptable to longtime fans, despite the missing musicality of the E Street Band…I did labor over the exact order of these tunes… to make it more cohesive… The original LP is denoted in parentheses, LT = ‘Lucky Town, HT = ‘Human Touch.’

Side One:

  1. Lucky Town (LT)
  2. Local Hero (LT)
  3. Human Touch (HT)
  4. Soul Driver (HT)
  5. Better Days (LT)
  6. Gloria’s Eyes (HT)
  7. If I Should Fall Behind (LT) – the beautiful, acoustic ballad to end side 1…
  8. Roll Of The Dice (HT) – a rocker to start side 2…
  9. 57 Channels (And Nothin’ On) (HT)
  10. Leap of Faith (LT)
  11. I Wish I Were Blind (HT)
  12. Living Proof (LT)
  13. All Or Nothing At All (HT)
  14. My Beautiful Reward (LT)

This would have represented, in my mind here at B&V a much tighter, more cohesive LP. Each side starts off with some up beat, rocking tunes and ends with a beautiful ballad. If I’ve left out a tune or you have an alternative version, I’m all ears. I think revisiting these LPs on their 25th Birthday with a tumbler of something strong is well worth the adventure and the time.

“I’m a thief in the house of love and I can’t be trusted….”