LP Review: ‘Love Is For Losers’ From The Longshot, Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong’s New Side Project

MI0004409076

“I think everyone should spread as many rumors and lies about the Longshot as possible…” – Billie Joe Armstrong

I’ve been reading a lot lately about the ’90s music scene. The easiest and perhaps the laziest way to describe the ’90s is to describe it as the Grunge Era. And while Grunge was a powerful force in music, Kurt Cobain and crew certainly destroyed everything that came before them, there was a lot more going on in music at the time. There was a ton of what was described as “alternative rock” back then, which was basically anything that wasn’t “classic rock.” Or basically, alternative rock was anything that wasn’t say, Foghat. It’s easy to look at the ’90s as the last Golden Age of Rock. Guitar driven bands are few and far between nowadays… Thank heaven for Greta Van Fleet!

When I read about that era now, I notice a lot of bands get sort of lumped together. I see Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden all lumped together with Green Day, who were another ’90s powerhouse. And while Green Day got big with Dookie in 1994, I’ve always viewed them as being apart from the Grunge thing. Green Day were punk rockers, plain and simple. I’m not suggesting they were derivative, they were just clearly punk. While all the Grunge guys and especially Nirvana were influenced by punk, they were something different. Pearl Jam was more influenced by classic rock than they’d probably be willing to admit. Soundgarden, to me at the time, were Black Sabbath with a better vocalist (I’m talking about Ozzy here, not Dio, I love those Sabbath LPs with RJD…). I will also say, in terms of differentiating Green Day from the other bands of the era, I think that Green Day had a better rhythm section in Tre Cool (drums) and Mike Dirnt (bass) than the other bands… with all due respect to Nirvana’s Grohl/Novoselic, Soundgarden’s Cameron/Shepherd, or Pearl Jam’s Ament/plug-in-drummer-name here. Pearl Jam went through more drummers than Spinal Tap. None of those rhythm sections were bad, I’m just saying Tre Cool is a kick ass drummer. And I do like Grohl as a drummer more than I do as a front man…but I’m off on a tangent here.

If you listen to Green Day’s Dookie, their major label debut, or any of their earlier albums, they were very punk. There was a rawness to the music and a certain amount of menace. They’ve always had a good sense of humor, but it came with a great “fuck you” attitude. You could hear a definite influence of the Clash or the Sex Pistols in early Green Day. As the years passed, their sound evolved and expanded, I think, for the better. Listening to Green Day now, they sound more like the power-pop/rock of say, Big Star with admittedly more powerful guitar, arena-rock size choruses and stronger hooks. My favorite album from Green Day remains their most diverse musically, Warning, which at the time was their least selling album. After that they went heavily into the Rock Opera genre, with American Idiot and 21st Century Breakdown. Over their career Green Day has lost a bit of that menace in their sound but I’ve remained a big fan. I liked their last album, Revolution Radio (LP Review: Green Day “Revolution Radio,” They retrench and relaunch).

The mastermind behind Green Day is, of course, Billie Joe Armstrong. As those of you who regularly read B&V know, I’ve always subscribed to the “Great Man” (or woman, I’m using the generic term “man,” because its sounds better than Great Person) theory of rock. I cribbed the theory from a history class. It basically means that at certain points in history or in this case rock and roll, certain great men, er I mean people, came forward to have a significant impact on things. I consider, along with guys like Jack White or Eddie Vedder, Billie Joe Armstrong to be one of these “great” people. He’s now stepped out of Green Day and formed a new band or as they like to call it, a new side-project.

It’s not the first time Armstrong has done this. With the other members of Green Day, they put out an album of 60s style rock tunes under the moniker the Foxboro Hot Tubs. There are rumors a band named the Network was also actually Green Day out there, but it’s never been proved to the point I take that as gospel. Those projects (if the Network really was Green Day) were something more akin to the Beatles pretending to be Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band, just a fun way to take some of the pressure off being Green Day. I loved that Foxboro album, it’s a lot of fun. I also followed Armstrong on his truly first “solo” album outside of Green Day, Foreverly, which was a cover album of an old Everly Brothers’ album (Songs My Father Taught Me), literally song for song, only in a different order. I loved that album, but that could be because in a stroke of genius Armstrong invited Norah Jones to harmonize with him. It’s a quiet little album in the vein of Plant/Krauss’ Raising Sand. 

So now we have the Longshot. So, in order “spread as many rumors” as I can, I’ll tell you what I know and what I think. Armstrong wrote all the tunes on Love Is For Losers, except for a curious cover of Ozzy Osbourne’s “Goodbye to Romance.” I suspect that he plays all the instruments on this album, although his son is credited as drumming on one song. They’ve done a few live gigs, and the Longshot, at least live, consists of long time Green Day touring guitarist Jeff Matika on bass, Kevin Preston on guitar and David Field on drums. Obviously Armstrong is on vocals and guitar as well.

Love Is For Losers is probably the “punk-iest” thing I’ve heard Armstrong do since Insomniac. The rock songs on this album don’t reach the punk menace of “Geek Stink Breath” but what songs do? This album is a blast of punk-y guitar-rock full of big time riffs. I will say Armstrong has not lost his ability to write hook-filled songs. My first listen through, I got an almost 50s vintage vibe running through the music, but I think that may be because I’ve been listening to a lot of Elvis lately… But when you think about it, the original punk rockers were really stripping away a lot of the artifice that had grown up in rock and roll and took it back to it’s simpler, less complicated roots, albeit with more attitude and well, menace.

I will say, a lot of this music, at least through the first few listens does seem, for lack of a better word, “monochromatic.” Rockers like “The Last Time,” the title track, “Cult Hero” and “Taxi Driver” all sound alike on first listen. The more I listen, the more I like these tracks, and I start to hear the different riffs emerge. There are a few stylistic breaks with that core sound, “Chasing The Ghost” still has guitars but Armstrong uses some vocal effects with interesting results. And, the aforementioned cover of the ballad “Goodbye To Romance,” which sent my wife running from the room, at least made me smile. I mean, who covers Ozzy?

Armstrong seems extremely energized by this creative outlet outside of Green Day. And while I’m not sure I’d say this is a 100% return to punk, it’s certainly got a lot of that swagger and energy. A lot of times side projects are half-assed, narcissistic projects, but you certainly can’t say that about the Longshot. It feels like Armstrong is really into this and is having a great time doing it. While Love Is For Losers isn’t going to change the course of music, it’s nice to hear Armstrong unleash the less polished guitar sound. God knows, we need more guitar driven rock out there. This album certainly deserves a listen.

Cheers!

 

Advertisements

HBO’s Documentary, ‘Elvis Presley: The Searcher.’ The Artist Behind the Myth

cq5dam.web.1200.675

*Image from the Internet and is likely copyrighted. Also, it upsets the Rock Chick because the King had blue eyes…

“Everybody get ready, lift up your glasses and sing, I’m standing on the table, I’m proposing a drink to the King.” Bob Dylan, “Summer Nights”

No matter who you are, no matter where you live – North or South, no matter what your politics – right or left, no matter what your party – Republican or Democrat, no matter who you think the President should be, I think there is one thing that all Americans, nay, all humans on the planet can agree on. There is only one King… Elvis Aaron Presley. There was no one who came before him like him and there will never be another Elvis again. I spent my Sunday watching the new exceptional HBO documentary, ‘Elvis Presley: The Searcher’ and I must say, I was extremely moved at this intimate look at the King. I won’t lie, after watching both Part 1 and Part 2, I felt very sorry for Elvis Presley. I will say, without reservation, this is the definitive documentary on the King.

The documentary is narrated by a number of Elvis’ friends, fellow musicians, associates, producers and collaborators. The narration was done by famous folks and not so famous folks. Amongst my favorites were Robbie Robertson (from the Band) and Bruce Springsteen. Although I must say, Springsteen’s comments were so overly intellectual at times they seem almost academic. He’s clearly thought a lot about Elvis. Better yet, Priscilla Presley, Elvis’ ex-wife narrated a lot of the documentary and her narration allowed a more intimate view into what Elvis was thinking and feeling at different stages in his career, heartbreakingly so. I must say, my favorite of everyone involved was Tom Petty. Petty actually met Elvis on one of his movie sets in Florida when Petty was a kid and he was clearly a fan. Petty’s innate, for lack of a better word, Southern-ness provides unique insight into Elvis and how people thought about him. I love when Petty breaks down some of Elvis’s early vocals from a musician’s viewpoint and you can hear the awe in his voice as he describes Elvis sliding “up and down the scale vocally and having a blast while doing so.”

I fear it’s too easy, all these years down the road, to allow the myth of Elvis and the decline of his latter years with the drugs, the weight gain, the sequined jump suits to fog over what a enormous force Elvis was in rock and roll. It’s easy to forget what a true artist the man was. Sometimes that sad ending we all watched with our own eyes blocks out what we should be listening to with our ears. This documentary helps restore that picture, as Elvis as a singer and live performer. It’s divided into two parts.

The first part starts with Elvis’ birth and upbringing. Elvis’ rise was so seemingly meteoric, that a lot of people feel like he just appeared, fully formed. Nothing could be further from the truth. All during Elvis’ childhood, growing up poor, he was allowed to roam Memphis where he would seek out music – even in places white kids normally didn’t go, like black churches, black blues clubs on Beale Street. Memphis was a place where you could hear blues, R&B, soul music, but also country and bluegrass. Elvis spent all his time growing up acting as a musical sponge, but not only absorbing all those disparate sounds, but melding them together into something brand new. When he walked into Sun Studios, after driving by day after day, it was Elvis who was “looking for Sam Phillips, not Sam Phillips who was looking for Elvis.” Elvis had a musical vision, and Phillips helped him realize it.

After Elvis’ first few singles, which were almost instant hits regionally in the South, Elvis hit the road with his backing band from Sun, the amazing Scotty Moore on guitar, Bill Black slapping the stand-up bass, and DJ Fontana on drums. His backing band was so intuitive to what Elvis wanted… and Elvis seemed to funnel the music through his body and vocals… the band just sort of watched him and tried to follow along, both live and in the studio. They really had a great chemistry. It was those years on the road, in the south, that Elvis learned how to manipulate and control an audience. Watching the film of him in those early days is just spectacular.

Like all epic tragedies, be they Greek or Shakespeare, you need the hero and you need a villain. For every Othello there’s an Iago. In this story, that villain to Elvis’ hero is clearly Colonel Tom Parker, the Evil Dutchman. Colonel Tom knew how to merchandise stuff and sadly he ended up treating Elvis like “the merch.” We follow Elvis through leaving Sun Records and moving to RCA and making it big. He was always thankful to Colonel Tom for breaking him big, but the rest of the documentary, to me, really centers around the conflict of Elvis the artist vs Colonel Tom the money-guy. Elvis wanted to branch out musically, but Parker owned the publishing and made huge royalties off of Elvis. He rode Elvis up until the time Presley joined the army. John Lennon once said of Elvis, “He was done when he went into the Army.” I always wondered if the US Government drafted Elvis as an attempt to control him…Parker didn’t have Elvis tour or record while he was away, which dumbfounds me. When Elvis got out of the army, he wanted to be an actor, something akin to Marlon Brando. Colonel Parker pushed him toward lighter roles and continued to sign contracts for those fluffy, musical movies Elvis did. They made money, but as Petty says, “those movies were harmful to Elvis.” He was no longer the dangerous rebel, he was just that cheesy movie guy. While he was off in Hollywood from ’60 to ’69 music and the world itself changed. There’s a striking image of Coretta Scott King, marching after MLK’s assassination, passing a theater showing Elvis’ awful movie, ‘Go Away Joe.’ You can’t symbolize how out of touch culturally he was at that point…

As an aside, I did notice how, like Dylan with folk music and Hendrix with blues, when faced with tumultuous times, professional or personal, Elvis always returned to his “home,” and by that I mean Gospel music. Elvis doing “Peace In The Valley” brought back his memories of his mother and his childhood, singing in the church. It was the music that centered him… and nobody does it better. Even I, the biggest heathen you’re going to come across, was moved by the King doing Gospel, but I digress.

As the movies petered out, Elvis, in a rare show of independence lined up the 1968 Come Back Special. If you’ve never seen that show, you need to get the BluRay. Seeing the King shed his movie image, put on black leather and retake his crown is like watching Ali beat Frazier. The Comeback Special is really a lynchpin in the telling of this story. Afterwards, Elvis went into the studio and recorded one of his best albums, From Elvis In Memphis,. Instead of continuing to make music in that vein, Colonel Parker sent him off to Vegas for a residency. Elvis finally grew tired of that so Colonel Parker sent him out on a grueling, seemingly never ending tour because it made money. Elvis wanted to tour in Europe, but Parker, who wasn’t actually a US citizen couldn’t leave the States. So instead he put the insane pressure on Elvis of doing a world-wide, live by satellite broadcast of a concert from Hawaii. I still remember seeing that as a kid.

After that, Elvis just sort of surrendered or more appropriately, gave up. The central question of ‘Elvis Presley – The Searcher’ for me, is what Tom Petty asks early in the 2nd half of the documentary – “Why would Elvis continue to humiliate himself (in the movies) for this man (Colonel Parker)? What was this control Parker had on Elvis?” I get that Elvis was grateful for Parker “breaking him” world wide and making him the biggest star on the planet. My question is why would he allow Parker to snuff out almost every creative instinct Presley had afterward. Why continue doing the movies? Why continue to fuel the kitschy merchandise machine. Presley was a true pioneer, he was plowing in uncharted territory… I just wish he’d been able to break free of such horrid management.

In the end, as I said, Elvis just gave up. He was taking pills to get up for the show and then downers to sleep afterwards. His marriage to Priscilla crumbled. He became more and more isolated… which is what the Colonel wanted… it’s like Presley was an abused spouse. His weight ballooned. The Memphis Mafia was only too happy to enable Presley… The dead look in Presley’s eyes from his latter days will always haunt me. The fire, the joy was all gone. It’s easy to blame Parker, and let’s face it, I’m passionate about Elvis, but even I realize that the King had some culpability here. He could have stopped the merry-go-round at any time. But he didn’t… and we’ll never know why. I hate to think of Elvis as the “Porcelain Monkey” of Warren Zevon’s song.

This is a rich, detailed, fascinating look at Elvis the man and Elvis the artist. It gets beyond the myth and the legend and really focuses on the music. They should be showing this movie in high school music classes as required curriculum.

And while Elvis’ life ended tragically, (I can remember hearing the news in the backseat of my football coach’s car, driving to football practice with my three teammates), tonight, I’ll be standing on a table and “raising a glass to the King.”

 

 

 

 

Playlist: U.S. Tax Day Blues?

IMG_1192

“With my mind on my money and my money on my mind” – Snoop Dogg, “Gin And Juice”

I can’t believe the Ides of April are already upon us. I guess it beats the Ides of March, not to get all Julius Caesar and Shakespeare on you… It’s mid-April and here in the American midwest, it’s snowed twice this month. This schizophrenic weather is killing me. This isn’t how April is supposed to go down. Two days ago it was 80 degrees. Today it’s in the 30s. I don’t know whether to put on shorts with my favorite concert t-shirt and head to my favorite patio bar for a margarita or whether to bundle up…. Where did I put my scarf? Usually by mid-April I’ve started work on my tan, which usually ends up with me turning a slightly rusty color all summer…what can I say, I’m fair-skinned. But even I have to admit, the world just looks better with a tan.

We’re almost a full third into the year and the music scene this year has really sucked. Jack White’s Boarding House Reach disappointed me (LP Review: Creativity And The Curious Case of Jack White & ‘Boarding House Reach’) as much as Beck’s Colors did last year and the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ The Getaway did the year before that. It’s painful when artists of that caliber miss the mark so widely… they only put out albums every three or four years so I’m stuck waiting. Maybe I’m not spelunking deep enough? Thank God Jimi Hendrix’s vault continues to release such great music… LP Review: Jimi Hendrix, ‘Both Sides of the Sky,’ The Vaults Runneth Over…. And to top it all, Lindsey Buckingham was fired from Fleetwood Mac and I read in the Washington Post, Lindsey may be a bigger asshole than we all realized.

My friend, drummer Blake informed that Coachella is happening this weekend. When I asked the Rock Chick what Coachella is, she said, “It’s Woodstock for rich, white, pretty kids.” It sounds awful. Blake says it’s an arts and music festival but the music is Hip Hop and EDM… with maybe a rock act thrown in just for fun. I’m sorry, there’s not enough Ecstasy in the world to make that music tolerable. Every picture I’ve seen of the fans at Coachella are the same… tall, willowy, emaciated chicks with vacuous, dehydrated eyes and dirty feet. Hydrate, ladies, hydrate…and buy some rock and roll. Greta Van Fleet are the only band worth seeing at Coachella this year… Pearl Jam are out there on the road somewhere… maybe they’ll come back to the States. Thank God I’ve got Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul tickets next month with my friends Doug and Drew. Depeche Mode is returning and everybody should try and see them.

I think the thing that has me in this early Spring, or perhaps more accurately, Second Winter funk these days is that Tax Day in the United States is this weekend. Every year in the United States income taxes are due on April 15th. Well, this year it’s April 17th but same difference. I can remember when I was a kid, working summer jobs doing light construction, tax day was good news. It usually meant a refund. Now every year, I’m writing a check. It wouldn’t bother me except I’m guessing the check I’m writing is probably bigger than Warren Buffett’s or the Koch Brothers’ and those guys could buy and sell me with plenty of cash left over… The rich get richer.

Income taxes in the U.S. actually started in 1861 as a way to pay for the Civil War. It was codified by the Sixteenth Amendment in 1913. By the time Eisenhower was President in the 1950’s the top tax bracket in the U.S. for the richest 10% was 90%, which seems high but lets remember, Eisenhower built the Interstate Highways. We don’t build anything here any more… One of the older guys who were doing some construction here last summer said to me, “I can still remember Colonel Tom Parker (Elvis Presley’s evil manager), saying that it was his job to keep Elvis in the 90% tax bracket…”

So every year as I move money around to cover the tax burden, in an almost comical three-card monty game, it always takes me to the same place that Snoop Dogg was in on “Gin And Juice.” I walk around all day with “My mind on money and my money on my mind.” The only thing I could think of to take my mind off that was, of course, rock and roll. Well, bourbon doesn’t hurt either but I do have to hold down a job. Moderation people… With all that said, I came up with this Tax Day Playlist. I tried to keep it rocking and upbeat. It certainly helps sooth my Tax Day Blues. I hope it helps yours!

  1. The Beatles, “Taxman” – Well, I think we all knew this would be here. One of George Harrison’s best riffs. Tom Petty did a nice cover of this one too…
  2. The Who, “Man With Money” – I wish I was the titular character here…
  3. Ozzy Osbourne, “The Almighty Dollar” – Ozzy gets heavy both musically and lyrically about the evils of capitalism. Ozzy’s deeper than you realize.
  4. Robert Plant, “All The Money In the World” – From the sublime album, The Mighty Rearranger. 
  5. The Beatles, “Money (That’s What I Want)” – I could certainly use some right now.
  6. Montrose, “Paper Money” – Sammy Hagar’s first band. These guys rock.
  7. Scorpions, “Money And Fame” – From another great Scorp’s album, Crazy World. 
  8. Steve Miller Band, “Take the Money And Run” – Great song from the Gangster of Love.
  9. Bruce Springsteen, “Easy Money” – Great, late period Springsteen.
  10. Paul Butterfield Blues Band, “Shake Your Money Maker” – The Butterfield Band doing Elmore James. Yes!
  11. Van Morrison, “Blue Money” – “Say, when this is over,  you’ll be in clover, We’ll go out and spend all a your money (blue money).”
  12. The Black Keys, “Money Maker” – Great Keys tune…
  13. AC/DC, “Down Payment Blues” – One of Bon Scott’s more menacing tunes. “I’ve got holes in my shoes…”
  14. Bulletboys, “Money, Money, Money” – A Rock Chick favorite from the 80s.
  15. Bob Seger, “Ain’t Got No Money” – A fairly accurate description of my current financial situation.
  16. Dire Straits, “Money For Nothing” – Congrats to Dire Straits on this weekend’s Hall of Fame induction.
  17. AC/DC, “Money Made” – I considered “Money Talks” but I like this one better.
  18. Pink Floyd, “Money” – “I notice they’re giving none away, away…away.”
  19. Rush, “The Big Money” – “Goes around the world…”
  20. Motley Crue, “Keep Your Eye On The Money” – Sage advice.
  21. B.B. King (with The Rolling Stones), “Paying The Cost To Be the Boss” – A great old B.B. song, I just love this version with the Stones as Mick really gives his all on vocals.
  22. David Crosby and Graham Nash (Crosby, Nash), “Take The Money And Run” – Superb song from these guys working as a duo. I may do a post on the best CSNY solo/duo records.
  23. Don Henley, “If Dirt Were Dollars” – “If dirt were dollars, I wouldn’t worry any more.” I can only wish this were true, that I wouldn’t worry anymore.
  24. Bob Dylan, “Pay In Blood” – I love this dark, menacing track from Dylan’s last album featuring stuff he wrote, Tempest. 
  25. Cheap Trick, “Taxman, Mr. Thief” – Basically Cheap Trick re-doing the Beatles song with some extra spiteful lyrics added in for good measure.
  26. Billy Joel, “Easy Money” – I didn’t like An Innocent Man but I like this track which was on the soundtrack of the Rodney Dangerfield movie of the same name.
  27. Patti Smith, “Free Money” – From her landmark masterpiece, Horses. 
  28. Fitz And The Tantrums, “Moneygrabber” – Another Rock Chick favorite, written about a manager who screwed them.

As usual, I’ve probably missed a track or two about the green master, the cash, the dough, the cheese, the scratch, the m-o-n-e-y. If you have a track that you feel would fit, please add it in the comments section.

Cheers!

 

Bummer News: Fleetwood Mac Tells Lindsey Buckingham To Go His Own Way

51OJvuZLFOL

*Picture taken from the Rumors record sleeve and is probably copyrighted

I know there’s nothing to say, someone’s taken my place…” Fleetwood Mac, “Second Hand News” composed by Lindsey Buckingham

“I heard the news today, oh boy,” that Lindsey Buckingham, lead guitarist, songwriter, producer and vocalist for Fleetwood Mac was fired by the band in early April. He’s apparently being replaced by guitarist and former Heartbreaker Mike Campbell who played on some of Stevie Nicks’ solo albums and has a connection with her, which is nice I guess. I’m glad Mike has found a job, he’s too talented to sit at home. Also named as a replacement for Buckingham was Neil Finn of Crowded House fame. He sings and plays a little guitar. This isn’t the first time Buckingham has left Fleetwood Mac. He quit in 1987 right before the tour in support of Tango In The Night. At that time he was replaced by Rick Vito (guitarist) and Billy Burnette (vocals/guitar). When he quit in ’87 I remember my friend Stormin’, who was as dejected by the news as I was, saying, “Not only did the fucker quit, the band made him look good by replacing him with not one guy but two.” It appears they’ve done the same thing again… Stormin’s wisdom rings true today.

I am bummed to hear this news. In the immortal words of Rodney King, “Can’t we all get along?” Joe Strummer always said, “never underestimate the chemistry of those particular (five) people in a room…” Lindsey was so much more than a guitarist/vocalist in the Mac. He did more to shape the sound of Fleetwood Mac than anybody else. Like any great player he seemed to elevate the folks around him. I remember when he left the first time. He said after breaking up with Stevie Nicks, his job was to come in and produce her songs, to make them better, and it wasn’t something he was particularly inclined to do after their acrimonious split. Oh, well. Tom Petty once said that only Buckingham can get Nicks’ songs to sound the way she wants them to. Many people think of Fleetwood Mac as being “mellow.” I prefer to think of them the way Buckingham does… that they were more melodic than most bands, but they still rocked. Hell, even my college roommate Matthew, whose entire record collection at the time consisted solely of heavy metal records (I’d never seen that much Kiss) had a few Fleetwood Mac albums.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised by the news. Even in the photos above, from the Rumours record sleeve, he’s standing apart from the band in half the pics. Of course, the same could be said for Mick Fleetwood, who as drummer has been one of the few constants in the band, so I might be reading into this. Lindsey always comes across in interviews as somewhat arrogant (which is probably earned) and pissy (probably not earned). I have to keep reminding myself, that this is a band who have had as many line-up changes as Yes. In the mid 70’s there was even a “fake” Fleetwood Mac out on tour. Lawsuits were filed. If you think about it, this has been a band whose music is largely about love, heartbreak and breaking up… and they’re a band that has kind of been perpetually breaking up their entire career.

The band was originally formed in the late 1960s by former John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers’ guitarist Peter Green. I’m kind of hopeful that the inclusion of Mike Campbell in the new line-up means they might actually return to some of those older blues tracks on the upcoming tour. It’d be a great way to spotlight Campbell’s virtuoso guitar work. Green only lasted in the band around three years before he left due to mental illness. It’s said he has schizophrenia. Later, one of the other guitarists in the band, Jeremy Spencer left to go out and get a magazine and never came back which sounds like an uncle of mine. They found out a few days later he’d joined a religious cult. You can’t make this shit up. They had to fire another guitarist, Danny Kirwan because of alcoholism. If you’re in a band with John McVie and you drink so much you get fired, you’re drinking too much. And this is a site half-named for Kentucky whiskey. Bob Welch, who’d help steer them into some small bit of mainstream popularity with songs like “Sentimental Lady” and “Hypnotized” left to pursue a solo career. Keyboardist Christine Perfect had to marry John McVie just to get into the band…

It was after all that turmoil, while the band was looking for a new producer, a new studio to record in and a new guitarist that producer Keith Olsen played them the Buckingham Nicks album. They immediately tried to hire Buckingham as their new guitarist/vocalist and he agreed on the condition they include his then girlfriend Stevie Nicks in the band. The rest, as they say, is history. The Fleetwood Mac album from 1975 was the Mac’s biggest seller to date. The follow up, 1977’s Rumours, their masterpiece, is one of the biggest selling albums of all time. It was so amazing they relegated one of the best tracks, “Silver Springs” to a b-side. The chemistry of Buckingham, Nicks, John and Christine McVie, with Mick Fleetwood was undeniable, lightning-in-a-bottle. Along with the Eagles they defined the late-70s California sound.

During those heady days, the two romantic relationships in the band, the McVie’s and Buckingham/Nicks broke up. Drummer Mick Fleetwood ended up getting divorced from his wife and had an affair with Nicks. Ah, the ’70s. I’ve heard Fleetwood Mac’s music described as the recording of an orgy, but I’ve never been to an orgy and can’t really say. Surprisingly, all of that romantic turmoil didn’t break up the band. What almost broke up the band was the pressure to repeat the success of Rumours. 

Heavily influenced by what was happening in punk rock, and perhaps as a way to confound the expectations, Buckingham took control of the recording of the follow-up, the double LP Tusk. He recorded some of the tracks at home in his bathroom, he liked the echo. It was a sprawling experimental mess and I love it. It sold four million copies, which is pretty good for a double-LP, but when compared to their previous success it was considered a failure. Mick Fleetwood drove out to Buckingham’s house and said, “Well, I guess you blew it.” I know the 70’s were a crazy, druggy time, but how many bands had the brass balls to release a lead single featuring a marching band (“Tusk”). Nicks’ and Christine McVie’s songs were more traditionally “Mac-ish” but I love all the left turns Buckingham took with his songs on Tusk.

After that everybody, including Fleetwood, decamped to do solo albums. Lindsey’s first solo album, Law And Order continued the experimental side he showed on Tusk and was recorded in a matter of days. Stevie Nicks’ solo work had the most success. They finally reconvened in 1982 for the more pedestrian Mirage. That album was seen as a “play-it-safe” move for them but it was a huge success, selling three million copies (which was less than Tusk, but expectations had finally come down). After that everybody went back to their solo careers. I thought that was it for the Mac at the time. They were victims of their own success. Buckingham was particularly unhappy with Mirage, he felt they’d played it too safe. He didn’t want that to be the last statement of that incarnation of the band. He pulled everybody back together for 1987’s Tango In The Night but bailed before the tour, as mentioned above.

Fleetwood Mac petered out after that… It was’t until 1997’s live record, The Dance, that the five members from their heyday got back together. Alas, it was short-lived when Christine McVie bowed out due to an intense fear of flying. She retired to the English countryside to garden. The band continued as a foursome and released the strong, but overlooked and overly long Say You Will in 2003. Christine McVie rejoined the band in 2014 with a bag full of new songs to record but neither she or Lindsey could coax Stevie to come into the studio with them… She said being in a room for a year, arguing with these people didn’t sound like much fun. Stevie preferred to focus on her solo career. Finally, tired of waiting for her to come around, Buckingham and McVie released a new album as a duo but John McVie and Fleetwood were the rhythm section. (Reviewed here, LP Review: Lindsey Buckingham & Christine McVie; By Any Other Name, Still Fleetwood Mac).

And so now, this month, they’ve fired Buckingham. They got an award from MusiCares just a few months ago and he was with them. I guess that’s Fleetwood Mac for you… here today, fired tomorrow. Rumor has it they were disagreeing on the details of the new tour – Mick Fleetwood wanted to revisit some of their older stuff and some of the Buckingham Nicks tracks, versus doing a “greatest hits” tour. I’m sure the story will eventually emerge. I guess now they’re going to tour with these new guys. I’m excited to see how they utilize Mike Campbell but I’m a little thrown by the Neil Finn part of the equation. I don’t know much about Crowded House, they’re outside my musical experience. I can’t see them ever recording in this incarnation especially considering Stevie’s attitude toward recording. While I’m sad to be writing this mini-obit for this incarnation of the band, thank God it isn’t an actual obit for one of the members.

If we’ve learned anything from Fleetwood Mac’s long and tumultuous history, there’s a good chance we’ll see Buckingham patch things up with the band in a few years and return to the fold. At least I hope so…

Cheers!

 

 

 

Album Lookback: The Godfather’s ‘Birth, School, Work, Death’ – How’d I Miss This?

MI0001548701

“And I been high and I been low, and I don’t know where to go, birth, school, work, death…” -“Birth, School, Work, Death,” The Godfathers

The late 80s have always been a bit of a musical void for me. In 1987, much to family’s joy, I graduated from college and took employment with a multi-national corporation. When I interviewed with them in May, they agreed to hire me but they didn’t need me until September 1st… A summer off, perfect. Oh, and then they added rather quickly, you’ll be stationed in Ft. Smith, Arkansas. They told me if I wanted to go down to “check it out,” they’d pay for me to drive down and scout around. All I heard was “you’re hired” and “summer off.” I wasn’t thinking about the fact that I was taking a job at one of the most remote outposts this company had. It was a disaster.

In 1301 Dante Alighieri, mostly just known, like Prince, by his first name, was exiled from his beloved Florence, Italy. Dante was never to set foot in his home town again. Florence’s politics and his exile from there is one of the major themes in his beautiful, epic poem The Divine Comedy. Now, I’m not Dante and Kansas City is no Florence but I felt as badly about living in Fort Smith, which I unaffectionately called Fort Hell, as Dante did about living in Verona. Hell, Fort Smith wasn’t even Verona… I consider those years in Arkansas to be my years in exile. It was a grueling, awful three years.

One of the worst things about that town was that they had no rock and roll radio station. They had one, maybe two (if memory serves me) pop stations. MTV still played a few music videos but the ascendence of pop music had taken over their programming as well. So my memories of that era, 1987 to 1990 are a bit tilted toward pop. Madonna, Michael Jackson (especially Michael Jackson) and gads, Paula Abdul were the only kind of music I heard on the radio. Hip Hop was starting to conquer the world but I’ve just never developed a taste for that music outside of Jay-Z or Dr Dre who wouldn’t come along until years later. I have this vague memory that there were also a lot of hair bands around – Bon Jovi’s New Jersey or Poison’s Open Up and Say Ahh… seemed to get a lot of airplay. I also have a vague memory of synthesized, mopey alternative rock like say, Morrissey or the Pet Shop Boys. I remember a lot of drum machines. Needless to say, these memories make me feel like that was a really shitty time for music. I spent a lot of time making cassettes from my vinyl to play in the car so I wouldn’t be caught having to listen to the local radio. Yes, the dreaded “mix-tapes” got me through the barren years.

Although, in retrospect, I’m not sure that’s really a fair assessment of that era, that it was all awful. I’m the first to admit the Ft Smith pop-music lens has distorted my view of things. Metallica came out with …And Justice For All in 1988, so there was good metal coming out. U2’s underrated Rattle And Hum came out that year as well. Many of the bands who would later find success in the 90s were putting out their early records in that time frame, like say Jane’s Addiction. And yet all I can seem to think about is Steve Winwood’s creative nadir Roll With It. In my defense, living out in the middle of nowhere, I just never heard the good stuff that was coming out. Even though I usually spent every weekend away from Arkansas, I still never kept current (in 1988, of 52 potential weekends I only spent 2 in Ft Smith, and 1 of those weekends I had my wisdom teeth out).

My muse, the Rock Chick, strolled into the B&V labs a couple of weeks ago and said, “I bought a new album, you’ll probably remember it…” The next thing I know, this fabulous punk anthem, “Birth, School, Work, Death” is blasting over the speakers. I wanted to throw a chair, in a good way! I was dumbfounded. I’d never heard this song. When it was over, I had to ask, “Honey, who was that and when did you get into punk music?” I’ve tried to turn her on to the Sex Pistols a few times to no avail… Lo and behold, it was a band I’d never heard of, The Godfathers. And to my greater astonishment, the album Birth, School, Work, Death had come out in 1988, over a decade after the zenith of punk rock. When I heard the album came out during my exile years, it all began to make sense to me… why I knew nothing about these guys. The more I poked around, the more I realized, I’m not sure anybody knew who these guys were.

The Godfathers were formed in London in 1985 by brothers Peter Coyne (vocals) and Chris Coyne (bass). Joining them were Mike Gibson and Kris Dollimore on guitars and George Mazur on drums. Apparently, to go with the “mobster” name, the band would dress like they were members of Al Capone’s Chicago crime gang on stage. I’ve seen the pics, they were all slicked back hair, double-breasted suits and ties. That must have been something to see on stage… That look, along with the sound of this music, must have been slightly out of place out in the real world in 1988. (How would I know, I was exiled to Arkansas).

Birth, School, Work, Death is just a kick ass album full of crunching guitars, urgent drumming and desperate singing. The lyrics are snarling and borderline nihilistic. The title track is my new anthem when I think about how my career has gone but thats another story. “If I Only Had Time,” “Obsession,” “Tell Me Why” are all great, punky, riff-y rock songs. While the songs have a punk vibe and some great guitar playing they also have big, sing-along choruses (which, yes I know, is not very punk) and hooks galore. I find myself humming these tracks to myself. I love the way “Tell Me Why” ends – the lead singer says, “I told her I love her more than myself… and that’s saying something…” followed by a ferocious guitar solo. What a great track. “Cause I Said So” captures the angry young man vibe in a quintessential manner. It’s one of the harder, rockier tracks here.

“When I Coming Down” is a harrowing, almost psychedelic song about a drug trip gone terribly wrong. When the singer breaks into a spoken word passage near the end, I almost want to call for an ambulance. It reminds me of a story I heard about some friends of mine in college who did shrooms for Thanksgiving. One of them said he just curled up in a ball, staring at his digital clock hoping the numbers would turn and it would all be over. Another just wandered around all night saying, “Phyllis knows…” Phyllis was the elderly landlady who lived in the basement flat. This song could be the soundtrack to that evening. Thank God I stick to dark, murky fluids. “The Strangest Boy” is another song that’s guitar fueled, with a psychedelic vibe, although I might be getting that feeling from the bizarre, high pitched backing vocals. It’s just another sonically nuanced track that shows these guys could do more than three-chords and a chorus.

The only hint I get this music was from the 80s is the keyboards on the mid-tempo “It’s So Hard.” It gives the track a slightly New Wave vibe. Don’t get me wrong, there are still guitars, more understated here, and it’s still a great song. The lone tune I would call a ballad also boats a New Wave feel, “Just Like You” which is a brilliant love song. “I want to spend the day with a girl who looks just like you…” I’m just stunned this album wasn’t an enormous seller back in the 80s. These guys show they can do almost anything… On “STB” they sound like the Stones doing Chuck Berry’s guitar sound… they even work in the line (from the Stones “Star Star”) “make you scream all night.” The guitar work on “STB” sounds like something Keith and Ronnie would have done on Some Girls. 

I did listen to their second album, 1989’s More Songs About Love And Hate and while it was good, it was a complete stylistic left-turn. Gone was the punk attitude and the crunching guitars. It’s not a bad album but it sort of sounds like a sophomore-slump. I just like the loud squall of the first record better. On the third album, 1991’s Unreal World they return to the sound of the debut album and I thought it was also worth a listen. After that third album, they went through a number of line up changes, break ups and reunions. I think they’re still out there touring… I hope I get a chance to see these guys. I just want to stand on a bar stool and yell, “Birth, school, work, death!” at the top of my lungs while I’m spilling beer all over myself!

I strongly recommend all you rock and rollers out there to check this one out!! It’s worth doing the musical spelunking! Cheers!