In Defense of Van Hagar, No Really… Complete With a B&V Van Hagar Playlist

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*Image of happier times taken from the internet and likely copyrighted (*not pictured, the hideous Alex Van Halen, for reasons that are obvious)

Early in our marriage, my wife and I got into the habit of going down to the basement, cranking up tunes and having what we called a drunken, rock and roll, dance party. Well she danced, I more lurched. She would usually DJ, but I always got some input. It was during one of those festive evenings, after I’d just dropped the needle on a Van Halen tune, sung by Sammy Hagar,  that the Rock Chick put her hand up in the universal “stop” gesture. It was then that she unburdened herself of a deep, dark secret she’d been keeping since we’d met… something I had never suspected. “I hate Van Hagar,” was all she said as she shook her head “no” to the tune I’d selected. We’d been randomly listening to Van Halen, both the Roth version and the Hagar version for years. I’d never suspected she didn’t like the Sammy incarnation of the band. I mean, no one likes the Gary Cherone version, but Sammy? It seems she liked Van Halen, she liked Sammy Hagar, just not together.

I’m not naive, I realize there is a divide between the Roth camp and the Hagar camp. It’s just that there was never any question for me when it came to Van Halen, the Roth albums are the best, period. I think when Roth left and Hagar came into the fold, the band fundamentally changed. It’s not fair to compare the early VH albums to the latter, Van Hagar (if you will) albums – they were, in my mind, different bands like Rage Against the Machine versus Audioslave. Same musicians, different singer, completely different bands. I was always disappointed that Eddie didn’t change the name of the band once Roth took off (or was fired, depending on who you listen to) but Ed’s name is on the side of the truck, I get it. It was Eddie’s world we all just lived in it.

People tend to view music in chronological decades. The sixties brought us the Beatles and the Stones, the seventies brought us Led Zeppelin and Bruce Springsteen etc. I’ve never looked it at it that way. The music of the early 70s was a lot different than the music of the latter half of that decade. I came of age, musically anyway, in the late-70s. Van Halen was one of the foremost rock bands that came out of that era. It’s hard to understate how huge they were as an influence. Before VH most of us in the late 70s were listening to what our older siblings listened to. VH was ours! When they appeared with their seminal first album, (Album Lookback: Van Halen – The Smirking Menace of Their Debut at 40) it was like nothing we’d ever heard. Eddie’s guitar sound, the way he played up the neck, hammering strings with his finger tips was all revolutionary stuff. But as important as all that was, David Lee Roth was equally as critical to the success. Roth had a swagger and menace combined with a crazy sense of humor, a mix I haven’t seen since. Roth was, to put it simply, just fucking cool. He was in his 20s but his lyrics were like that of a high school kid, “have you seen junior’s grades?” Roth was the guy we all wanted to be.

I suppose such a lightning-hot band couldn’t hold together for long. The personalities were bound to implode the group. After the success of Fair Warning they were supposed to take a much needed break, but somehow ended up recording Diver Down and immediately touring. I’m sure nerves were frayed and everybody was tired. After that there was a lot of conflict about Eddie wanting to play keyboards. Roth kept saying, “you’re a guitar god, nobody wants to hear you play keyboards.” I blame Michael Jackson for a lot of that. Once Eddie showed up on a purely pop song, “Beat It” and his guitar solo fueled it to number 1, globally, I think Eddie thought that it didn’t matter who was singing or what type of song it was, as long as that magic guitar solo played. I think that is what ultimately made Eddie decide he could live without Roth. And of course Roth had to go out and do an EP, Crazy From the Heat. I’m sure that didn’t help.

In retrospect, it was going to be impossible for anybody to fill the shoes of David Lee Roth. Hell, even in 2012, Roth couldn’t fill his own shoes when he got back together with the rest of Van Halen for the reunion album, A Different Kind of Truth. As my buddy, the accountant said years ago, “Roth did jujitsu on stage, Hagar does calisthenics.” They certainly lost that great sense of humor when Roth left as well. Roth was the party, Sammy was the guy who brings the tequila to the party. While Roth was no Steve Perry, Sammy was a shouter. And Roth’s lyrics, while not Elvis Costello or Tom Waits-like, are preferred to Hagar’s lyrics which are, and I’ll be the first to admit it, borderline stupid. For example, a line I’ve never gotten over, “Only time will tell if we stand the test of time.” Think about that line for a while. It’s like saying “only Fred will tell us if we stand the test of Fred.” Well, it’s Fred’s fucking test, of course he’s going to be the one who tells us if we “stand the test.” But I digress… I mention all this just to say, again, Hagar fundamentally changed the DNA of the band. No one was going to live up to the original VH so to compare them is unfair.

I will say Hagar brought a camaraderie to the band they hadn’t seen since the early days. At least through 5150 and OU812 it seemed like everybody in the band was enjoying making music again. I remember a friend of mine telling me that OU812 was the new Fair Warning… well, it was certainly a grim record (without the menace), but you can’t compare the two. However, if you put the original band aside, these guys made some solid, if not really good harder rock. I think the whole Monster’s of Rock tour thing was Sammy’s idea. Sammy always pushed Eddie to think outside the box like Zeppelin did (Sammy loved Zeppelin and wanted to push in that bluesy direction). The results really never materialized other than “Finish What You Started,” which started as an acoustic/Zeppelin III thing Sammy wanted to do.

I went back and listened to the four albums Sammy and the brothers Van Halen did – with Michael Anthony on bass and harmony vocals, let’s not forget him, he’s a key ingredient – and those records aren’t bad. In fact, those records are pretty damn good. There may not be a Fair Warning or Women And Children First but there’s some fine rock and roll. They even put out a few decent tracks on greatest hits records. I went ahead and put together a play list of Van Halen tracks, but only from the Van Hagar albums. I feel these are the “best of Van Hagar” if you will… I’ll let the music do the talking. The Rock Chick has a blistering VH playlist but the Sammy tunes are missing… she also has an AC/DC tunes with virtually no Bon Scott. What can I say, she likes what she likes. Purists… what are you gonna do? I think this playlist will show you, this was not a bad band, it was just different from the original. Listen with fresh ears!

  1. “Best of Both Worlds” – My favorite track from 5150.
  2. “Don’t Tell Me What Love Can Do” – Yes, Hagar shouts random stuff about shooting, heroin, and shooting heroin but this song RAWKS. They were clearly in a bad place on Balance.
  3. “Top of the World” – From F.U.C.K.
  4. “Poundcake” – Love the riff on this one.
  5. “Up For Breakfast” – Great riff with Sammy’s kinda ridiculous lyrics about having sex when you wake up.
  6. “Judgement Day” – A great deep track from F.U.C.K.
  7. “Dreams” – I mostly avoided the keyboard stuff, but I loved the video with the Blue Angels flying around.
  8. “Feels So Good” – The most positive song VH ever did.
  9. “Right Now” – You couldn’t escape this song.
  10. “Black and Blue” – The first single and my favorite track from OU812.
  11. “Can’t Stop Loving You” – A bit poppy for my taste, but catchy as hell.
  12. “5150” – The title track… It’s police code for “insane or unstable persons who might be a danger to themselves or others.” Great riff and Sammy’s lyrics rise to the occasion.
  13. “Humans Being” – A track from the movie, ‘Twister.’ It’s mostly Sammy shouting about something I can’t understand but man, this rocks.
  14. “Mine All Mine” – One of Hagar’s finest lyrics… For once he’s not singing about chicks and getting loaded.
  15. “Summer Nights” – The first track Sammy wrote with VH.
  16. “Why Can’t This Be Love” – “Only time will tell if we…” oh, fuck it.
  17. “Man On A Mission” – Another hard rocker.
  18. “Finish What Ya Started” – Began as an acoustic number…
  19. “Runaround” – Another hit from F.U.C.K.
  20. “A Apolitical Blues” – A Little Feat blues cover? On a VH album? This was a bonus track but I love it and it’s a perfect way to end the list… they’d never have done this without Hagar.

Happy Labor Day Weekend Folks… I’ll be making the annual transition from vodka to bourbon over the weekend. Stay safe and don’t drink and drive. I don’t want any of you to end up “face down in Cabo…”

 

 

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B&V News – BourbonAndVinyl Playlists: Now Posted on Spotify

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As many of you know, over the three-plus year life of B&V, I occasionally like to put together “themed” playlists of songs that address similar subject matter. Most recently I did a playlist around the theme of Telephones, Thoughts From The Traveling Salesman And A B&V Playlist: Hanging On The Telephone. I tend to think waaaay too much about music, especially when I’m traveling. While sitting in bars out on the road, mulling over a tumbler of something strong, my mind will often light upon a theme, and suddenly songs start to attach themselves to that theme… it’s a sickness, I know. Recently my friend Doug pointed out that I wasn’t putting those playlists out anywhere that people can go out and listen to them…

Well, that was only half true. I actually put about a third of my playlists out on Spotify. I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve been lazy about getting those posted. Over the last several weekends, I’ve culled through the archives of my B&V posts and wherever I put together a playlist, whether it be about Las Vegas/Gambling, Tax Day or my Eclectic Summer/Sun Playlist, I went ahead and posted those out on Spotify. If you subscribe to Spotify you can go out and search Spotify using the keywords “BourbonAndVinyl” or “BourbonAndVinyl.net” under Playlists, the B&V playlists should pop up. My naming convention is probably a little wacky, I start off each playlist name with “BourbonAndVinyl.net” Playlist of xyz (for example, one playlist is called “BourbonAndVinyl.net David Bowie 20 Best Deep Tracks” and another is named, “BourbonAndVinyl.net Drinking Songs (For Nancy).”

In addition, I realized that I can create a link from Spotify, that I went back and posted into the original blog post. My wife found out I wasn’t even doing that and the accusations of laziness, general sloth and drunkenness got out of hand. She’s right, I should have been doing that all along. So if there is an old playlist you were curious about, there is now a link in the post to the songs on Spotify. Being a bit of a caveman when it comes to all this technology, I think it all works, but I could be wrong. If I screwed that up, please tell me in the comments and I’ll try and get my technical support to help me… and by technical support I mean my daughter. These kids and their gadgets. It should look something like this:

And remember everyone – I am on record on this – The Rock Chick has always been better at putting together playlists than I have. Her songs always fit together seamlessly. I tend to get caught up in the theme of the playlist and I can go through wild tempo/style changes in one playlist and it doesn’t bother me. I can go from early acoustic Dylan to Metallica in one set. Yeah, I’m weird that way. My hope on these are that a) you enjoy the playlist, and b) even if the songs don’t always fit stylistically you’ll hear a song that might be so obscure you hadn’t heard it before. It’s all about expanding the palette.

And to that point, I consider these BourbonAndVinyl Playlists to be a communal thing. I’ve had recommendations on some of those playlists for songs I should add from various readers – I’ve tried to incorporate those into the playlists out on Spotify. As these are communal playlists, I consider them living documents. So even if someone suggests an update from something I did a couple of years ago, I’ll go out and add it. Just yesterday, after a long car ride, I went out and added Steely Dan’s “Show Biz Kids” to my Vegas/Gambling Playlist and Dire Straits’ “Twisting By the Pool” to my Eclectic Summer/Sun Playlist… both of those were egregious oversights on my part in the first place.

I hope I have overcome my hopeless laziness when it comes to tying all this technology together… I blame the bourbon. Enjoy the playlists and again, thanks to everybody for reading and making suggestions on additional songs to add. Cheers and Happy Labor Day!

B&V’s Favorite Cover Albums: Singing Other People’s Songs

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“You took the words right out of my mouth…” – Meatloaf

I read on-line the other day that Paul Simon has an album, In The Blue Light, coming out in September. It’s yet another artist who is teeing up a new album for next month. It’s going to be a busy September down in the B&V Labs. I look forward to sipping a nice Buffalo Trace, enjoying the slow fade of summer and the sweet decay of autumn with all this new rock and roll. I’ll be watching football in my underwear, tumbler in hand, with the volume muted and cranking tunes all month. The Rock Chick will likely travel to points west to escape that torture… The fact that Paul Simon was putting out an album caught my eye. It’s only been two years since his last album, the wonderful Stranger To Stranger Review (Full LP): Paul Simon’s “Stranger To Stranger”. Simon typically takes half a decade between studio albums so this seemed awfully quick for him. A little further digging and I realized that Simon is revisiting some of his more obscure tracks from his back catalog and redoing them on the new LP. I saw he’s even re-cutting “One Man’s Ceiling Is Another Man’s Floor.”

I have to admit to being a tad surprised by all of this Paul Simon news. I have seen artists revisit songs before, but never an entire album of their past material. Artists typically want to move forward creatively. Sting likes to go back and redo Police tracks, like “Shadows In The Rain.” Phil Collins redid “Behind The Lines,” a Genesis track, on his debut album. Yes, Phil Collins… don’t give me any shit, everybody had that first album because of “In The Air Tonight.” Robert Plant went back to a Page-Plant track, “Please Read The Letter” and redid it with Alison Krauss and frankly, I liked that version better. Sometimes a song just isn’t done. There are different ways to approach a song and sometimes a reassessment, or if you will, a look back is worth taking and the results can be more satisfying. Keith Richards always says that Stones tunes are never really finished in the studio, and they always continue to evolve on the road.

All of this got me thinking about cover songs. A cover song is where an artist, usually an established artist, sings/performs a song written by another artist. Think of a cover song as a two-for-one…you get a taste of both the performer and the original artist. Often times the artist doing the cover finds something in the song that the writer/original performer might have missed. Think, “Hallelujah” by Jeff Buckley versus Leonard Cohen’s original version (although I prefer Cohen’s version, the rest of the planet dug the Buckley version). Or perhaps Aretha Franklin’s version of “Respect” which is definitive, instead of Otis Redding’s original. Most artists do prefer to write their own stuff. Typically every band/artist starts as a cover artist… every bar band I’ve ever seen typically does other people’s stuff until they can establish their own music. If an established artist chooses to do cover songs, they typically limit it to one or two tracks on an album. However, there are a number of cases where an artist does an entire album of cover songs, or as I like to call it, a “covers albums.” Unlike Paul Simon, these cover albums tend to cover other artists, not the artist’s own back catalog, but Paul Simon gonna Paul Simon.

Over the years I think the cover album has gotten a bad reputation. The reaction from fans usually runs along the lines of questioning whether the band has run out of ideas. Is the band getting lazy? Sometimes the cover album is considered a contract filler, much like some of the lesser live albums out there tend to be. Cut a covers album, hand it in to the record company to fulfill the specified number of albums in the contract and sign a new deal. And I’ll be the first to admit, there have been some really bad covers albums. The Band, who weren’t getting along, and couldn’t really function put out Moondog Matinee in an attempt to recapture their early, bar-band days. They missed the mark pretty widely… Although I dug their version of “Mystery Train.” Annie Lennox’s Medusa left me stone cold, and I love her voice. And, while most people would disagree with me, I loathed Springsteen’s album, We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Sessions. I can’t even listen to that record and I think everybody knows I’m a Springsteen fanatic.

All that aside, when the right artist is paired with the right material, a covers album can be something quite special. I think the following records are examples of those rare occasions where the artist chose material that was perfect for them. Whether it’s an artist returning to the roots music that originally turned them on or the artist’s take on some of their contemporaries tracks, there are plenty of examples of great covers albums. These are my favorites.

  1. Aerosmith, Honkin’ On Bobo – Arriving three years after the over-produced Just Push Play, this album was a welcome return to Aerosmith’s sleazy, bloozy, early sound. It was touted as a blues covers album but it’s more like covers of songs by groups who covered the blues… but I’m splitting hairs here. Aretha’s “I Never Loved A Girl,” “Baby Please Don’t Go” and a rockin’ version of “Road Runner” are some of the highlights. I haven’t been a fan of much that Aerosmith has done since Permanent Vacation, but this one is a fun record.
  2. Gregg Allman, Low Country Blues and Southern Blood – Gregg’s 2011 LP, Low Country Blues was a T. Bone Burnett produced blues album that I just loved. It’s the perfect pairing of material and artist. Gregg was made to sing the blues. His 2017 follow up, Southern Blood was supposed to feature all new material, but alas, Allman was overcome by cancer. Both of these albums were late career gems… My thoughts on the latter, LP Review: Gregg Allman, ‘Southern Blood’: A “Brother’s” Beautiful Farewell.
  3. Billie Joe Armstrong & Norah Jones, Foreverly- Billie Joe Armstrong heard an old Everly Brother’s album, Songs Our Daddy Taught Us, a covers album the Everly’s did after they got famous. As a master stroke he brought in Norah Jones to sing the harmony vocal that Phil sang. I love “Roving Gambler,” “Silver Haired Daddy of Mine,” and of course, the old standard “Barbara Allen.” This is a quiet, laid back, rootsy treat.
  4. David Bowie, Pin-Ups – This album was considered at the time to be Bowie in a holding pattern. It’s basically Bowie doing a bunch of late-60s blues based covers. He also does a Springsteen track, “Growin’ Up” and an early Syd Barret Pink Floyd track, “See Emily Play.” I love the song selection and Bowie rocks on this album.
  5. Johnny Cash, American Recordings – Rick Rubin pulled Johnny Cash out of career oblivion and exile to record this fabulous set of covers, including songs by Danzig, Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen. It still sends chills up my spine to hear The Man In Black return. His follow-up, cut with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, was another gem, Unchained. If you dig those albums, I also highly recommend the box set of out-takes, Unearthed, that has some mind blowing stuff including Cash singing Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” backed by the Chili Peppers (sans Anthony Kiedis). This is essential listening.
  6. Eric Clapton, From The Cradle – Clapton returning to where it all began for him, the blues. The critics suggested he was a tad too reverent on some of these blues chestnuts, but who wouldn’t be reverent with a song like “Hoochie Coochie Man,” a track written by Willie Dixon and first done by Muddy Waters? Clapton sounds more engaged on this record than anything he’s done since Layla.
  7. Bob Dylan, Shadows In the Night – The world’s greatest song writer doing covers from the great American songbook that are all related in some way to Frank Sinatra? This should be a disaster but it just works. He went on to record four more discs worth of these covers,which like Rod, was overdoing it. I still love this one though…
  8. The Hindu Love Gods, The Hindu Love Gods – R.E.M. (sand Michael Stipe) backed Warren Zevon on his album, Sentimental Hygiene. They had some extra studio time and decided to bang out this grab bag of covers. They’re mostly old blues or country standards but he also did “Raspberry Beret” which became a surprise hit. I don’t think this music was ever supposed to see the light of day and it’s release soured Zevon’s relationship with R.E.M., which is too bad because this is a great record.
  9. Alison Krauss & Robert Plant, Raising Sand – Another T. Bone Burnett produced gem. T. Bone paired Plant and Krauss at a benefit and Plant was so enthused by the harmonizing, they decided to cut an album. I always wished they’d come back in and recorded some original stuff, but this covers album is super. Oh, and I think it won a Grammy or two.
  10. John Lennon, Rock ‘N’ Roll – Lennon returning to the music of his youth, the music that turned him onto rock n roll in the first place. This music is so joyful. I think people were put off by this album when it came out, but I think it’s aged very well. Lennon owns “Stand By Me.”
  11. Paul McCartney, Run Devil Run – Dylan always returns to folk music in troubled times… McCartney always seems to return to the music of his youth, early rock n roll when he’s facing tough times. This was the first album he cut after the loss of his beloved wife Linda. David Gilmour plays guitar. What’s amazing are the three originals McCartney penned sound like oldies… I didn’t realized he’d written them until later.
  12. Metallica, Garage, Inc. – This started as a five song cassette tape and evolved into a sprawling two disc opus. They cover a lot of early British heavy metal from bands I’d never heard of. They also do a great job on Thin Lizzy’s “Whiskey In a Jar.” They even throw in “Turn the Page” by Seger and “Tuesday’s Gone” by Skynyrd for good measure. Wild, heavy good times.
  13. Harry Nilsson, Nilsson Sings Newman – Harry Nilsson’s voice was one of the most amazing of the 70s singer/songwriter genre. He was, to put it lightly, eccentric. He was a huge fan of Randy Newman, also a tad idiosyncratic. Harry did Randy’s “Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear” and became so enamored with Newman he did a whole album of his songs. Harry is largely credited with breaking Newman to the rest of the world. I love this record. The vocal overdubs are the thing of legend.
  14. Robert Plant, Dreamland – After pairing with his old guitarist for the Page & Plant albums and tours, Plant re-emerged as a solo artist with a covers album of old blues tracks and sixties songs he liked/admired. Dylan’s “One More Cup of Coffee” sounds like it was written for Plant. I love his take on “Hey Joe,” which has more in common with the original than Hendrix’s cover version. “Darkness Darkness” and “Morning Dew” are definitive here. I also saw Plant on this tour and his voice was sublime.
  15. Rage Against the Machine, Renegades – Rick Rubin pushing a band to do covers, who’d have thought? At least this wasn’t his usual acoustic approach. Tom Morello’s guitar dive bombs through Zach de la Rocha’s vocals on some great tracks from “The Ghost of Tom Joad” (Springsteen), to “Maggie’s Farm” (Dylan) to “Down On The Streets” (Iggy & The Stooges). RATM never did a bad album.
  16. The Rolling Stones, Blue & Lonesome – The Stones going back to their blues roots… It’s like hearing them in London at the Marquee Club in 1965. This album was, again, the perfect pairing of artist and material. This is essential listening for Stones fans, blues fans and fans of rock n roll. I would recommend their album, On Air, a compilation of live takes from their early days on the BBC, as a companion piece. My thoughts on Blue & Lonesome, LP Review: The Rolling Stones, The Superb “Blue And Lonesome” – They Come Full Circle and On Air, LP Review: The Rolling Stones, ‘On Air’ – An Exciting Look Back To The Early BBC Performances.
  17. Bob Seger, Smokin’ O.P.s – The title purportedly was supposed to mean “smokin’ other people’s songs.” Seger takes on oldies, “Bo Diddley” to takes on contemporaries, Stephen Stills “Love The One Your With,” and Tim Rice’s “If I Were a Carpenter.” This is an upbeat rocking album, and a must for fans of Seger’s rockier stuff.

That’s it folks! If I missed an album of covers by an artist you know and love, let me know in the comments. I recommend everybody check out or buy these albums. If you’re thinking there’s a lot to love here, well, “you took the words right out of my mouth…”

 

 

RIP Aretha Franklin, The Queen of Soul: Another Legend Gone

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Another day, another legend gone.

And make no mistake people, Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul was a legend. She’s the first person outside of the Beatles (John, Paul, George, Ringo) who could be identified with only one name… Aretha. You didn’t need to include the Franklin, people knew.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve been traveling a lot lately (Thoughts From The Traveling Salesman And A B&V Playlist: Hanging On The Telephone). I was in the airport on Monday, waiting for a plane, when I heard the news that Aretha was in hospice. “How could that be?” I asked myself. She was only 76, way too young to pass. My thoughts the rest of the week were centered on Aretha and her brilliant career. I was moving slowly through the labyrinth style security line at DIA on Thursday morning, yesterday, when I heard this scruffy kid with a really sorry excuse for a mustache, who looked thirteen, say “Aretha Franklin just died.” I spun around quickly…”When?” was all I could say. “Just now…” He went on to say, “I can’t really think of any of her songs…” I considered striking him and challenging him to a duel, but he was a TSA agent and I didn’t want to end up in a padded room in the basement of the airport. Instead, I walked in sad silence to my gate. The Queen of Soul was gone.

I couldn’t help yesterday, flashing back 41 years to the day, on a similarly sad August afternoon. I was in junior high school and I was piled into my football coach’s car, along with what seems like ten other players, all shoulder pads and helmets, on our way to football practice. The news came over the radio that Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll had died. My coach, Coach Taylor, pulled his blue Mercury over to the side of the road and we all listened to the radio news report. “How could this be, the coach uttered, Elvis was my age?” Indeed, coach, how could this be?

Aretha Franklin was a titanic talent. She got her start, like many singers, in church. In this case, it was her father, the Reverend C.L. Franklin’s church. Aretha could sing but she was also a self-taught pianist. Frankly, I’ve always felt, like Elton John said on social media yesterday, that she was an underrated pianist. Rev C.L. Franklin was actually a preacher of some renown and had a touring tent gospel show, preaching the word. Aretha would sing. Because of that renown, many other famous people would stop by the Franklin residence in Detroit. The Soul Stirrers featuring none other than Sam Cooke were friends and occasional visitors. Martin Luther King, Jr was also a guest in the Franklin home. I read somewhere, that when she was 12 years old, Aretha actually sang for the first time publicly for MLK. That moment, if that’s true, sort of crystallizes a lot of things that Aretha conjures in my mind- singer, gospel, and civil rights advocate. In 1968, she also sang at Reverend King’s funeral cementing her connection with the Civil Rights Movement.

It wasn’t long after beginning her singing career, inspired by Sam Cooke’s switch from gospel to secular, pop music, that Aretha was moved to do the same. She transplanted to New York and signed with Columbia Records. But it wasn’t until she moved to Atlantic Records, and teamed with Producer Jerry Wexler, that things clicked. And boy did they. My frame of reference and focus on Aretha’s catalog has always been the must-have albums, I Never Loved A Man The Way That I Loved You and Lady Soul. There are so many other great Aretha albums from that late-60s early 70s time period, that are essential soul: Aretha Now, Soul ’69, Spirit in the Dark, and Young, Gifted And Black. It was a criminal omission on my part, to not include her fabulous live album Live At The Fillmore West on my Essential Live LPs list (BourbonAndVinyl Comes Alive: The Epic List Of Essential Live Albums). I advise everyone to dive deeply into this woman’s catalog. So many hits, so many great songs. My favorite might be “Baby, I Love You,” but it’s hard to name just one. She sold over 75 million albums in her career. That’s a ton of records. And like Elvis, Aretha would occasionally return to her gospel roots on records like Amazing Grace.

When you think about Aretha’s career, it all boils down that voice. What Wexler was so genius at in terms of producing was that he brought her gospel roots out in the soul music she performed. No matter what genre Aretha was interpreting, blues, soul, jazz, you could always hear the gospel in her voice. The Stones, both Mick and Keith, commented in their tributes yesterday, the same thing, that Aretha “took you to church.” My buddy Stormin’ once said that same thing to me about Aretha, years ago. I know what they all mean. She was one of the most brilliant interpreters of other people’s music, no matter who it was – Sam Cooke, B.B. King, or Otis Redding – Aretha would make the songs her own. And her mastery of the call and response with her back up singers is another thing she just owns for me.

The most famous song she did, was Otis Redding’s “Respect.” When Otis heard the Aretha’s version of the song, he muttered, “Damn, that girl just stole my song.” He knew it wasn’t his any more. “Respect” indeed became Aretha’s “signature song,” much the same way “Satisfaction” is for the Stones. It was the perfect song for Aretha. She fought her whole life as a black woman for civil rights but also for women’s rights. It was such a strong statement in her voice, demanding respect as a proud, black woman. That’s why Aretha is such a legend, she transcends music and soul. She was the voice of America, not just musically but culturally. It’s a shame so many of the issues she fought for remain problems to this very day… but I digress. I could literally listen to this woman sing all day. In fact, the last two days, that’s what I’ve done.

It’s going to be a very soulful weekend here at the B&V labs, sipping dark, murky fluids and listening to the Queen of Soul into the early morning hours. I do like to think, if there is a “Heaven,” that the King of Rock n Roll and the Queen of Soul are reunited today… singing a great, great gospel song. That’s a service that even I’d attend…

RIP Aretha Franklin! Long live the Queen!

 

 

 

Thoughts From The Traveling Salesman And A B&V Playlist: Hanging On The Telephone

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When I was a kid, my dad and his friends used to tell Traveling Salesmen jokes because, well, they were traveling salesmen. I didn’t really listen to much that my father said when I was young, so there’s not one of those jokes I could tell you today. I guess I should have been listening, because for some unfathomable reason I followed in my father’s footsteps. I didn’t want to be a doctor, too much blood. My father told me to be an orthodontist, “that’s where the money is, son,” but I didn’t want to have my hand in people’s mouth all day, tightening wires, although I could see where a sadist could get into that. I think I lean a little more on the masochistic side of the equation… for all you Dominatrix out there… ahem. I considered teaching, but I didn’t want to starve or worse drive a cab. Sales is where all the wretched refuse end up. The folks who don’t have that crystal clear vision when they’re 10 of what they want to be when they grow up, the people who’s major gets selected randomly, they all end up in sales. I’ve met more Psych majors, former teachers, and architects in sales than in psychology, teaching or architecture. You eventually reach that stage in life where you decide to, as Jackson Browne once sang, become “a happy idiot, and struggle for the legal tender.” Sales pays the bills. But sales also requires travel… lots and lots of travel.

For the last few weeks my life has been, in a nutshell, Planes, Trains And Automobiles. I’ve been in Austin, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. I’ve been home just long enough to unpack and repack and head back out on the road. This week is no different. I’m here just long enough to annoy the Rock Chick and then I’m off to Denver for meetings. The problem with being a traveling sales guy or gal, is that your spouse most likely sits at home at night with the kids or in my case, a cat. When you get home from the road, (and I must say, the Allman Brothers were right, “the Road” truly does “go on forever”), all you want to do is lay down on the couch and eat a sandwich. Well, you should probably sit up while you eat, but to each their own, I don’t judge. I had the inevitable conversation with my bride just last Friday. She copped to being a little bored sitting at home while I’m out on the town in some faraway city and wanted to go out for drinks. This is the fallacy of work travel. No matter where I go, as much as I like the people I work with, my travel isn’t fun despite what my wife thinks. There is nothing glamorous about going to yet another restaurant to eat and drink with strangers whom you’re trying to convince to give you money. I will admit, there are rare occasions when I get to dine or have a few drinks and talk a little treason with a friend, like my buddy RK in Chicago, but those nights are few and far between.

Unfortunately all of this travel has kept me away from B&V and music in general. Sure, I have my phone or my iTouch, because it’s really hard to get the turntable into the overhead compartment on the plane, but it’s not the same as being here in the B&V lab, listening to obscure R.E.M. b-sides. Being on the road with my iTouch does give me time to reflect on playlist ideas. What else am I going to do on the noon flight from San Fran to Orange County. I will say, having my smart phone has changed my life. I get emails and texts so I can get up to the minute updates. Although in the old days, when my travel was just driving around from small town to small town peddling medical supplies, it was nice to get away from the constant noise and be “unreachable,” a concept that is sadly gone now. The phone is so much more these days – a camera, a virtual radio station’s worth of music and a forum for the social media… It wasn’t always that way.

Phones have become a uniquely personal experience. “Where’s my phone” are words uttered around here every day… It used to be “where’s the phone.” Even at concerts, people tend to view the live action through the lens of their phones – something that Jack White and I both deplore – rather than just being in the moment and being a part of the experience by actually watching and absorbing what’s happening on the stage. I mean, sure, even I, your intrepid blogger will snap a few photos at a concert, but that’s because I need a pic for B&V – if I don’t do it, who will teach the children about rock and roll? Anything for the people… Anyway, my point is, everyone has their own phone. We take our phones everywhere. I even heard a guy in a bathroom stall in O’Hare Airport taking a business call…he was sitting down. I’ll let you do the math on that whole scenario. I won’t be borrowing that guy’s phone any time soon. I watched two college kids eating at the Shake Shack in LAX (and lets all admit what an awful, primitive airport that is… I think I saw someone trying to board a plane with a live chicken under their arm), and these two kids were sitting across from each other and they were both in their phones, not just on the phones. I don’t think they even looked at each other.

In the time when dinosaurs roamed the earth, the phone was not a personal experience, it was a shared experience. Most homes had a phone, but it was on the wall. A rotary phone with a really long cord was a must have in every kitchen… you could cook or sit at the kitchen table and talk on the phone at the same time. You had to share the phone with your whole family, from parents to any siblings that were hanging around. I remember being on the phone talking to a girl and my brother, the insolent bastard, kept picking up the line because, in all likelihood he wanted to call a girl too. I seem to recall all of this inability to share the phone line leading to fisticuffs but that’s water under the bridge. My mother put time limits on us for how long we could use the phone at night. When school started everybody got a directory with the home phone of every student… it made dating easier. Or at least, in my case, trying to date easier.

If you lived in a rural area, the phone was even more of a shared experience. The Rock Chick lived so far out in the country she had to have what was called a “party line” where it wasn’t just you on the phone, you shared it with your neighbors. If Edna, down the road was talking to Enid, gossiping about the bowling league, you had to wait for her to finish so you could make a call. I can’t imagine what that was like. You were literally blocked from calling anybody until the neighbor got done. I can’t fathom the eavesdropping that went on in that small town. No secrets… I try to picture my daughter in that scenario. She would have run away from home.

If you were expecting a call, you couldn’t leave the house, to continue to live your life. You had to stay home, hanging on the telephone line, as they used to say, waiting for the phone to ring. If you were out in public you had to have a dime, and later a quarter, then you had to find a pay phone to make a call. I remember being a freshman in college, I had to leave the place I lived, we were all on top each other, so I could talk to my girlfriend in private. I had to walk two blocks to the convenience store, get change for a dollar, and call from the phone booth outside. I spent hours standing in phone booths back in those days. There was something romantic about that… late at night, standing in a small glass booth, making that long distance call… I think I was on a first name basis with the operator. Nowadays, I just text my wife when I’m traveling. It’s just not the same…

I was in a hotel room recently, shuffling on my iTouch, when I heard back-to-back songs about being on the phone. The songs took me back to those old days of late night calls from phone booths along the highway to either some place I’d been or to some place I was going. Even David Lee Roth said that the entire time he was in Van Halen, he’d known that it would end with him in a lonely hotel room, with nothing but a busy signal on the other end of the line… (Note to Millennials, if you didn’t want to talk to someone, you took the receiver off “the hook” of the phone, and it would produce a busy signal). I’ve been in that hotel room… I’ve heard that busy signal.

So without further adieu, here is my Hanging On The Telephone Line playlist. As with all my playlists, which I finally posted on Spotify,  this playlist will be posted there as well. Go out and search on BourbonAndVinyl.net and you’ll find it… And as always, stylistically I’m all over the map here, but that’s what makes music fun… Enjoy.

  1. The White Stripes, “Hello Operator” – Visceral blues-rock with Meg White pounding out the insistent rhythm like an impatient caller on the line.
  2. Bob Dylan & The Band, “Long Distance Operator” – This is a Band song that Robbie Robertson grafted on the original 2 album release of The Basement Tapes. That doesn’t make it a bad tune…
  3. Robert Cray, “Phone Booth” – This one takes me back… many a night I spent in a phone booth.
  4. Kiss, “Beth” – “Beth I hear you callin’…”
  5. Blondie, “Call Me” – The theme song from American Gigolo. My mother once said to me, “I don’t know what all this talk about Richard Gere is, you’re just as handsome as he is….” Thanks mom, but I have a mirror.
  6. The Allman Brothers, “Please Call Home” – “…if you change your mind.” Sublime blues.
  7. B.B. King, “Waiting For Your Call” – We’ve all been there.
  8. Rod Stewart, “Oh, God I Wish I Was Home Tonight” – Rod imagines calling his girlfriend, from his neighbors apartment, which I’m pretty sure was breaking and entering and petty theft. Great song, tho.
  9. The Pretenders, “The Phone Call” – My friend Drew turned me back onto the Pretenders… those first two albums are priceless.
  10. The Kinks, “Long Distance” – What playlist is complete without the Kinks?
  11. Muddy Waters, “Long Distance Call” – The King of Delta Blues calling from far away…
  12. X, “You’re Phone’s Off The Hook, But You’re Not” – Kick ass, funny, Southern-California punk rock.
  13. Foreigner, “Love On The Telephone” – This is one of the two tracks that inspired me to write this screed…
  14. The Beatles, “No Reply” – This is really a song about an ex-boyfriend stalking his ex… which is not cool, but the Beatles were so cute people dug it still.
  15. Al Green, “Call Me” – Al Green did not record one sad song, even this plea for a lover’s call.
  16. The Vaughn Brothers, “Telephone Song” – Stevie Ray and Jimmy tearing it up. What a loss Stevie Ray was…
  17. Billy Idol, “Crank Call” – Is your fridge running? Yes… You better catch it, it’s getting away. Ah, innocence lost.
  18. Blondie, “Hanging On The Telephone” – Parallel Lines is essential listening, and this is a key track.
  19. Paul McCartney & Wings, “Call Me Back Again” – A jammy, rocky, big horns track from Sir Paul, Linda and Denny Laine.
  20. Lou Reed, “New York Telephone Conversation” – As brief as I would imagine a conversation in NY going.
  21. Chuck Berry, “Memphis, Tennessee” – Also done beautifully by the Faces. “Long distance operator can you put me in touch with…” Fabulous song.
  22. Cheap Trick, “She’s Tight” – A song where our hero receives a call from his girlfriend whose parents are apparently gone for the evening… ahem… I think we’ve all been there. Youth is sometimes not wasted on the young.
  23. ELO, “Telephone Line” – My friend Doug takes umbrage when I describe them as being derivative of the Beatles, so I’m going to say it, they’re derivative of the Beatles. That doesn’t mean this isn’t a great song.
  24. Jim Croce, “Operator” – The saddest, best song on this list.

Call someone you haven’t talked to in a while and just say, hello. It’s worth the quarter…