B&V’s Favorite MTV “Unplugged” LPs

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As a kid growing up, my parents didn’t even have basic cable. All the TVs at the house had the old rabbit-ear type antenna. When there were multiple football games being broadcast on New Year’s Day, my dad would bring three TVs down to the living room and watch all three major networks (yes, only three) to catch every game. If one of the TV’s screens was out of wack, I’d often have to stand in the corner, one hand on the TV set, one hand in the air, just to make the picture clear. I was the Human Antenna. Thankfully in those days I wasn’t facing the New Year’s Day hangover… that didn’t come until later.

Eventually, shamed by other parents, my parents got basic cable so we kiddos could watch Sesame Street to build our young minds. We had the most bare-bones cable package you could get. My father, who closely modulated the thermostat to save cash, wasn’t about to “piss away money” on cable TV. There was no HBO or Showtime at the house. If I wanted to see any R-rated stuff, I had to do it the old fashion way, sneak into a theater (thank you Bo Derek for 10). The neighbors had HBO and on a sleepover I once saw Lynda Carter, the original Wonder Woman, in a biker movie and she was topless. It was like “discovering plutonium” as they say on Seinfeld. I couldn’t help but think, at that tender age, “fuck yes, I’m getting HBO when I’m on my own…I’ll never leave the house.”

It wasn’t until I was in high school that I discovered there was something called MTV, short for Music Television. My buddy Matthew and I went up to Kansas State to visit some older friends of ours who were already up at University. As I was wandering around the labyrinth of the dorm filled with hallways and separate rooms (it was like walking in a human-sized ant farm), I came upon a room with like 5 guys crammed around a TV. They invited me in and lo and behold, they were watching MTV. Back then MTV was like radio with videos, one after another… Mostly the videos were crude concert footage with low grade effects, but I thought it was really cool.

Eventually, much to everyone’s surprise I graduated from high school and was accepted to a state university. Where I lived, they had the opposite philosophy as my father and bought the most expensive cable package available. We had every channel on the planet, save for pornography, on the TV in the common room. Invariably, late at night on weekends, I’d end up in the basement in front of the TV with a few of the other drunken, lonely heart’s club types and we’d watch MTV videos until the sun came up. The crowd down there got thicker during finals week… we all needed something mindless after exams so after drinking we’d end up watching countless videos. Of course, there were great videos and then crappy, pop music type videos. I can always remember thinking, “Ok, if the next video sucks, I’m going to bed…” Invariably one more decent video would come on and I’d be stuck for another thirty minutes. It was so relaxing it could be described as mind erasing.

When I moved into exile in Arkansas, there was literally no rock and roll radio. MTV, who had begun to schedule some regular broadcast shows into their programming was still predominantly playing videos. Nowadays you’re more likely to see a music video n the weather channel… MTV got me through the tough years down there. MTV is where I discovered Guns N Roses, the Black Crowes and many other bands. They certainly weren’t playing that music on the radio in Ft. Smith, Arkansas. It was around that time, I believe in 1989, that MTV began what may be their greatest legacy, the ‘Unplugged’ series. I’d always heard they were inspired by a video awards show where Jon Bon Jovi, looking coke-addled (he always looked that way to me) and Richie Sambora got on stage with only two acoustic guitars and played “Wanted, Dead Or Alive.” That was cool, lets do a show like that… The concept was simple, put a band on stage, give them acoustic guitars and let them play stripped-down versions of their tunes.

They started the series with some minor to semi-big bands. I think Squeeze was on once. But it wasn’t until 1991 when Paul McCartney performed on ‘Unplugged’ that the show took on some “next-level” kind of rock and roll credibility. McCartney took the next step and actually released his performance as an album (well, as a CD), the first artist to do so. It was a limited edition of only 500,000 copies and I had one in my hand in a record store in Warrensburg, Mo but didn’t have the cash and passed up buying it, which I obviously regret to this day. After that it was Katie-bar-the-door. Everybody was on ‘MTV Unplugged’ after that. Strangely though, not all the artists released the results on an album/CD.

There were all manner of performances on ‘MTV Unplugged’ from the sublime to the questionable. It got to the point where ‘MTV Unplugged’ became “appointment television” for me and my friends. If there was a band we really loved, we’d make sure we were together, beer iced down, in front of the television ready to watch. I remember I was flying back from St. Thomas the night Robert Plant and Jimmy Page did their Unledded episode of the show but I got stuck in a hotel in Atlanta and missed the show. I was in the only hotel on the planet without MTV. I was pissed.

Thinking about those ‘Unplugged’ shows I decided to compile a list of the B&V favorite ‘Unplugged’ albums. This is not a list of the best performances from the show – many acts chose not to release an album after being on ‘Unplugged.’ But, for the ones who did, and there were many, these are the 10 albums I find myself going back to after all this time. Again, we’re only talking about actual LPs here, not performances on MTV. Yeah, they’re a little mellow, but who cares, a good acoustic evening is just what the doctor orders sometimes.

Honorable Mention

  1. Pearl Jam – Eddie Vedder was simply unhinged on this performance. He writes “Pro-Life” on his arm in magic marker while teetering on a very unstable bar stool. They put a blu-ray disc of the performance in the rerelease of Ten, but have yet to release it as an album. I wish they would.
  2. Aerosmith – I have a bootleg of this performance and it’s awesome. They were still bluesy and sounding like the old 70s Aerosmith at this point. Huge mistake not to release this one.
  3. The Rolling Stones, Stripped – The Stones never deigned to be on MTV’s ‘Unplugged,’ but they went ahead and recorded their own, predominantly acoustic album and it’s one of their better live documents.

The BourbonAndVinyl Top 10 ‘Unplugged’ Albums

  1. Nirvana, MTV Unplugged In New York – This is simply the best MTV Unplugged ever. This was a sublime performance. Stripped of the sturm und drang, Cobain’s brilliance as a songwriter and dare I say, writer of melodies rises to the fore. This is not only a great acoustic concert it’s just a great concert. Bittersweet as it was released after Kurt Cobain’s tragic end.
  2. Alice In Chains, MTV Unplugged – I love AIC when they’re heavy, like on “Man In A Box” but I always loved the acoustic based Jar of Flies. This performance was a perfect extension of that. While I’m the first to admit nobody probably needed an acoustic version of “Frogs” there are some great versions of “Killer Is Me,” and “Over Now” just to name a few. It would be Layne Staley’s last concert.
  3. Paul McCartney, Unplugged – I love McCartney in this stripped down show. Like his recently released Amoeba Gig (Live) album (LP Review: Paul McCartney, ‘Amoeba Gig (Live)’ – His Best Live Album?), playing in front of a small audience brings out the best of him. Beatles tunes, solo hits, and rare covers make this a special performance.
  4. R.E.M., Unplugged: The Complete 1991 and 2001 Sessions – This album only got released in 2014 and I’m hoping it serves as an example to all those bands who held back on releasing their performances. R.E.M. was a very strumming/acoustic based band to start with… They’re perfect for the ‘Unplugged’ setting. I probably lean more toward the 1991 session, which was when they were touring for Out of Time. However, the 2001 set, when they were touring behind Reveal has some beautiful and melancholy moments that are irresistible. Obviously, I’d play one disc at a time.
  5. Rod Stewart, Unplugged…And Seated – Rod has always had that perfect melding of acoustic and electric, folky and rocker. The thing I love about this album is he brings back Ronnie Wood, his erstwhile band mate in the Faces and they return to Rod’s best period, when he was on the Mercury label, and tear it up! I believe there was a lot of drink involved.
  6. Eric Clapton, Unplugged – McCartney may have given ‘Unplugged’ it’s credibility, but Clapton showed that these albums could be a commercial juggernaut. This thing sold a ka-jillion copies. At the time we all loved the acoustic version of “Layla,” done here as a shuffle… It kind of got worn out. I like the older blues covers he throws in here. Chuck Leavell who plays with the Stones now is on piano and he has a fabulous solo in the song, “Old Love.”
  7. Page/Plant, No Quarter (aka Unledded) – These guys turned the whole concept of ‘Unplugged’ on its head. Some tracks are live, electric versions of their old Zeppelin tunes. Some are straight up acoustic and some are just great experiments, fucking with their sound, i.e. “Nobody’s Fault But Mine.” The spirt of experimentation ran through three new tracks released on this album, the first Page/Plant collaborations since Zeppelin broke up. It would have been nice to see John Paul Jones here too, but that’d have upped the pressure.
  8. Eagles, Hell Freezes Over – I may be fudging a little here… this started off as an ‘Unplugged,’ but there is really only one acoustic take on a classic, on a sublime version of “Hotel California.” This was the first time in 14 years the Eagles got together, if they want to plug the electric guitars in and go for it, why not… It’s certainly what Springsteen did on his ‘Unplugged’ with much less spectacular results.
  9. Bob Dylan, MTV Unplugged – People will scoff at this entry. Dylan was coming off two great, unappreciated folk/acoustic records when he did this ‘Unplugged.’ He’s engaged and playing faithful versions of classics here. It was, for me, the beginning of his recording come back. It seemed like he cared for the first time in a long time. There are great versions of “Shooting Star” and “Dignity” on this record too.
  10. 10,000 Maniacs, MTV Unplugged – I’m like most guys from this era. I don’t have any 10,000 Maniacs, I never liked the 10,000 Maniacs, I never bought their albums. However, almost every woman I dated, and there were a few, had this or some of their other albums. After  hearing a few times… because I was a bit of a man about town in those days, I realized Natalie Merchant’s vocal performance makes this the only 10,000 Manaics album you need. I love the cover of “Because the Night” written by Springsteen but made famous by Patti Smith.

Cheers!

 

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LP Review: Creedence Clearwater Revival, ‘Live At Woodstock’ – Released 50 Years Later

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As time passes by here at the B&V labs, I begin to feel more and more like Jeff Bridges’ character in the movie The Big Lebowski, The Dude. Famously, the Dude’s car is stolen from the parking lot of his local bowling alley. He reports it stolen along with his briefcase that was in the car. When asked by the cops who show up at his house, if there was anything valuable in the car, the Dude replies, “Yeah, uh, a tape deck, some Creedence tapes and uh, my briefcase.” The cops, deeply amused, say they don’t hold much hope for finding the tape deck… or the Creedence tapes… and then burst into uproarious laughter. I feel like I’m the last person alive who is willing to admit I still dig Creedence, other than the Dude. Ironically I was a league bowler at one time… but that’s another story.

I guess it’s easy now, after all this time to dismiss CCR. John Fogerty (guitar/vocals/songwriter), his brother Tom Fogerty (guitar), Stu Cook (bass) and Doug Clifford (drums) had been playing together since 1959. It wasn’t until 1967 that they changed their name to Creedence Clearwater Revival. They’d broken up by 1972 after a brief five years and did so with an acrimony only rivaled by that of the Beatles. Tom Fogerty had actually quit the band a year prior to the break up. None of them were getting along. They sued their record label, they sued each other. John Fogerty is famously one of the most pissed off men in rock and roll, or he was. For years, as a solo artist, he refused to play Creedence songs on stage because he didn’t want his former record company to get any royalties. He was once sued by the label for plagiarizing himself. It wasn’t until Dylan told him he needed to start playing those CCR songs again, “unless you want people to think “Proud Mary” is a Tina Turner song,” that Fogerty relented and started doing the CCR songs again.

All of that bad energy has seemingly combined to erase the legacy of CCR. We tend to forget they were, for a brief time, the biggest band on the planet, except for the Beatles. It’s like Bruce Springsteen said when he inducted them into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame, “they weren’t the coolest band around, but they were the best.” I think that comment may have been a reference to the band’s habit of dressing like lumberjacks and John Fogerty’s bowl cut hair. They were from San Francisco, but they sounded like they had come out of the swamps of Louisiana or Mississippi. There was so much hoodoo voodoo vibe in their music they sounded like a southern rock band. Their music was very “meat and potatoes,” straight up rock and roll, just two guitars, a bass and drums. A lot of “chooglin'” in that music…no psychedelic period for these guys.

They had an amazing run. In 1969 alone, they released three fantastic albums: Bayou Country, Green River and finally (my favorite of their albums) Willy And The Poor Boys. They toured and recorded constantly. They had a string of hit singles that rivals any band you can name. John Fogerty wrote one of the greatest protest songs ever, “Fortunate Son” that has been covered by Pearl Jam and Bob Seger, to name a few. It’s probably the most enduring protest song of the 60s. There are just some artists, like Bob Dylan who are cultural antennas, they pick up on the tension and angst of their time and translate it into music or literature or poetry. The late-Sixties were a heavy time in the U.S. with Civil Rights, the Vietnam War and gads, Richard Nixon. The songs John Fogerty wrote reflect those times. Songs like “Commotion,” “Bad Moon Rising,” and “Effigy” crystalized those difficult times into song. While he denies it, “Lookin’ Out My Back Door” is one of my favorite songs about drugs. “There’s a giant doing cartwheels, a statue wearing high heels,” c’mon John, you were high. CCR’s version of Marvin Gaye’s “Heard It Through the Grapevine” is one of the most epic ten-plus minute jams ever. John doesn’t get his due as a guitarist, he’s amazing.

I was introduced to CCR when I was in college. My friend and at the time and future roommate Drew came bursting into my room and said, “You’ve gotta get out to Walmart. They’ve got Creedence Clearwater Revival’s double-LP, greatest hits album on sale for $5.” Who could resist an offer like that? I was familiar with CCR, but didn’t know that much about them. I trusted Drew’s musical advice implicitly. I went out immediately and purchased Chronicles Vol 1, and I was amazed at the number of great songs these guys had. I think everyone I ever met who dug Creedence started with that greatest hits package. Drew, naturally, slowly amassed all of their individual records and he let me tape them on cassette but they’ve long since disappeared. So yes, I too am missing my Creedence tapes. I don’t hold much hope of finding them…

CCR was always a ferocious live band. Despite that, during their brief career they really didn’t have a seminal live album. They put out the much maligned Live In Europe in 1973. It was recorded on the tour for their last album, Mardi Gras which was also viewed rather dimly so that probably effected the critical reaction to the live album. Finally, in 1980 they released The Concert a show from Oakland in 1970. As “research” for this post, I went back and listened to it. It’s a really great live album. For some reason you don’t ever see it on any “best of” list of live records… not even my own, BourbonAndVinyl Comes Alive: The Epic List Of Essential Live Albums, although it certainly deserves consideration. Now, after leaving it mouldering in the can for fifty years, CCR has finally released the tape of the full set they played at the historic Woodstock Festival, aptly titled Live At Woodstock. CCR, much like Neil Young, refused to be a part of the film or sound track album so this was big news to me.

The reason it took so long for any of this music to see the light of day: John Fogerty didn’t like it. Big surprise there… He’s described the performance as “sub-par.” Well, if this is Creedence on a bad night, one has to wonder how explosive they were on a good night, because this is an awesome concert document. Creedence was slated to play Saturday night, August 16th. Unfortunately they were following the Grateful Dead. While most bands played fifty to sixty minute sets, the Dead played over an hour and a half. They ended their set with a 50-minute version of “Turn On Your Love Light.” They played 1 song that lasted the length of everyone else’s complete set. That performance pushed Creedence’s start time to 12:30 am on Sunday the 17th and Fogerty was pissed. He said the Grateful Dead put everybody to sleep and compared what he saw in the crowd to something out of Dante’s Inferno. Bitter, John? I imagine when they hit the stage, CCR was pissed, well at least John was.

Despite that, or perhaps because of that Live At Woodstock is a fabulous live album. John Fogerty’s guitar playing in particular is unhinged. His guitar is literally worth the price of admission on this album. Oddly the set list is similar to the one on The Concert, they both open with a fiery version of “Born On the Bayou” and then “Green River.” CCR were such a touring machine, they must have kept a consistent set list, only updating it as new  music came out. They play the big hits, and play them well I might add, like “Proud Mary” and “Bad Moon Rising.” I love the version of “Commotion” here, it sort fit the setting. They also play some great deep tracks like, “Ninety-Nine And A Half (Won’t Do),” and “Bootleg.” They play all of this with great passion. I can’t believe anybody slept through this set.

The show ends with not one, but two, epic ten-plus minute jams. They end the main set with a fantastic “Keep On Chooglin'” that includes some epic harmonica. Again, John’s guitar is phenomenal. The encore is equally as epic, an almost 11-minute version of “Suzie Q,” their first big hit. When CCR decide to stretch out, they don’t do that endless noodling thing the Dead did, they just flat our rock. I can’t believe they left this epic performance in the can for 50 years.

I know they were pissed about how late they had to play that day… but when you look at it, the Who didn’t play until 5 am… the Jefferson Airplane didn’t come on until 8am the next morning. It was Woodstock, go with the flow, baby. This is a testament to how great some of the playing at Woodstock really was, despite the adverse conditions. This is a great live album for all fans of CCR, like the Dude and me or for fans of rock and roll everywhere. Not to mention this is a historically important rock and roll artifact from the most famous musical festival ever. Turn it up loud.

Cheers!!

It Was 42 Years Ago Today… The Loss Of The King… Elvis Presley. Where I Was…

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I can’t believe it was 42 years ago today, we lost the King. Elvis Presley died. I remember where I was when I heard the news.

I was a kid in junior high school. I played in a YMCA sponsored football league. We had already started practicing three times a week, with games on Saturday. My coach, Coach Taylor, who drove a blue Mercury, would come and pick me and my neighbor Jeff up. His son Paul was always already in the car. We must have looked like something else driving down the road in a blue Mercury. This older dude with big side burns driving a car full of helmets and shoulder pads.

Coach had just picked me up when the announcer on the radio came on and announced that “Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll has died at his Graceland home in Memphis.” The Coach was so shaken he had to pull the car over to the side of the road. He looked at his son in the passenger seat and then back to Jeff and I in the back seat as if searching to see if this was real. It was clear he thought he was in a bad dream. He stammered, barely verbal…”Elvis… gone… he was my age?”

It was a weird football practice. I remember running a lot. I don’t think Coach came out of the fog until long after that practice was over…

I remember the next few days watching all the mourners on television. There were so many crazy Elvis fans. I remember watching the funeral procession on TV. My parents, who were always more a product of the 50s than their younger siblings (who were clearly more influenced by the 60s), were very shaken. My father didn’t own many albums, but he had Elvis: Live From Hawaii and I remember that album being played quite a bit around that time.

I was just starting to get into music. The Stones and the Beatles and Zeppelin were more my thing. It took years for me to return back to the man who had influenced so many, Elvis Presley. He has so much brilliant music out there. Everyone should own any of the myriad greatest hits packages he’s got out there. From Elvis In Memphis should be required listening for everyone. If you can get your hands on his debut album on vinyl, Elvis Presley, do so immediately. Being older now, and realizing what a tragic, preventable loss this was really brings the tragedy home. A few years earlier, Barbara Streisand had asked Elvis to play the male lead in her version of A Star Is Born. The Colonel had Elvis turn it down. He was done in the movies…the Colonel was going to work him on a Vegas stage until he dropped like an old mule… I always wonder if taking that movie role might have turned Presley around. He’d have had to lose weight and ween off the chemicals. Sadly, we’ll never know.

As Americans we can argue about who should be President all day long… but I think we can all agree, especially on this anniversary of that sad day, there was only one King… Elvis.

It’s a long dark ride out there folks. Take care of each other. Especially someone suffering like Elvis did, hooked on opioids.

 

New Band Alert: Starcrawler – Edgy Punk Rock From Los Angeles

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“Out of the mouths of babes…” – From, surprising to me, Psalms 8:2. Who knew?

As most of our intrepid, regular readers know, here at B&V we tend to focus on older, more established artists who are still putting out new, vibrant rock and roll. Admittedly, we’re also fond of “vault” releases from those same older artists. But every now and then we need to get out of our comfort zone and explore some of the new and sadly, increasingly rare rock and roll out there. I might be pushing some of you to an uncomfortable edge here, but this is a band you need to hear, much like Greta Van Fleet (for very different reasons and very different music).

In my life of musical spelunking, it’s become apparent that I discover music in the weirdest ways… Earlier in the year, the Rock Chick bought us tickets with our daughter to see Beck, Cage the Elephant and Spoon at Fiddler’s Green in Denver in late July. Because I’m a neanderthal, I wrote that down on my calendar instead of posting it on my work calendar. At the time I had months and months to worry about July, it was a lifetime away. Sigh. I ended up scheduling a very important meeting on the day of the concert. There was no way around it, I had to skip the show.  I haven’t been to a concert all year, so there was deep anguish associated with this decision. Not to mention my family was not pleased.

When the Rock Chick got back from Denver and I returned from my business travails, she told me the highlights of the show. Spoon rocked, Cage the Elephant was great and Beck was well, Beck. She even put a Spotify playlist together featuring the combined setlist for each band together. In the arc of the story about the show she mentioned the opening act, Starcrawler. She mentioned they rocked and were fronted by a woman, two things that were bound to pique my interest. She said the performance was “something else.” At one point, the lead singer, Arrow de Wilde spit out fake blood. She crawled around on the stage. At the end she collapsed and had to hold onto the railing to crawl backstage again. She said, “You know, I’m not sure if their set was any good, it was kind of overwhelmed by the spectacle.”

She immediately went to YouTube and started pulling up their videos. As I sat there, mesmerized by the physical appearance and performances of the show, I started focusing on the music. And damned if I didn’t hear the Runaways. As I’ve admitted previously on this blog, I was late to getting into punk or punk-influenced rock. I live in the American midwest, where we didn’t discover punk until 10 years later, like we were encased in amber. The Clash and the Ramones were my gateway punk bands. After that I was in – the Stooges (and Iggy solo), X, and The Sex Pistols, I love all of them. The more of the Starcrawler videos I watched the more I knew I had to check this band out.

Formed in L.A in 2015 by literally children, Starcrawler is a foursome consisting of Tim Franco (bass), Austin Smith (drums), Herni Cash (on nasty guitar) and Arrow de Wilde on lead vocals. Arrow’s mother is a photographer and is friends with Beck… that’s his daughter on their debut album cover (pictured above). They have, according to Wikipedia, the funniest origin story since Hendrix founded the Experience and hired Noel Redding because he liked his hair. From Wikipedia:

“In the summer of 2015, Arrow de Wilde and Austin Smith came together to collaborate in making music. When the school year began in 2015/2016, the two decided to recruit new members, a guitarist and bassist. One day during school Wilde saw Henri Cash and asked: “You look cool, do you play guitar?” Cash was actually carrying a tuba. Wilde later recruited bassist Tim Franco.[7]” 

“You look cool, do you play guitar?” may just go down in the annals of rock and roll. The fact that he was holding a tuba is the funniest fucking thing I’ve ever heard.

I immediately started crashing through their entire catalog of recorded music. I love this band. They’re punky and edgy. They can be vulgar and in your face. They conjure up the Runaways, or at least that was my first impression, but I also hear some Ramones and a lot of Hole in this music. I am not suggesting in any way they’re derivative like Greta Van Fleet, these are just the bands they remind me of. This is elemental, primitive rock and roll played extremely well. It’s visceral music. There’s not a lot of solo’ing or really any solo’ing on guitar it’s all just big riffs, played fast and aggressively.

Their first single from 2017 was “Ants” backed by “Used to Know.” Both tracks are that nasty, fast guitar rock that I just fall for. “Ants” kind of reminded me of the Ramones. From 2018, the had the single, “Hollywood Ending” and “Tank Top” both of which reminded me of Celebrity Skin-era Hole.

Their first LP, eponymously titled, is harder and has less obvious influences. There is a lot to like here. “Loves Gone Again” has a desperate, edgy riff. “I Love L.A.” (no, not the Randy Newman song), reminds me of Missing Persons with guitar. I’ve heard this first album compared to Sabbath, and I don’t particularly hear that except maybe for the big, monster riffs that drive “Chicken Woman,” another highlight here. I love the song “Pussy Tower,” but with a chorus that begins, “She gives me head,” how could I not love it. “Full of Pride” is another vulgar putdown, “‘Cause you’re a pretty little bitch, no matter how I word it, You’re always full of shit and everyone has heard it.” I like where these kids are coming from. Total punk attitude. The album ends on “What I Want” a declaration, “I don’t wanna be anyone but me.” At almost 4 minutes long, this amounts to an epic for this band. There are 2 songs on here that clock in under 2 minutes. Keep it up!

They followed up in 2019 with three new singles, “She Gets Around,” “Pet Sematary” (which has to be from the movie I’d guess), and the pick of the litter, their latest, “Bet My Brains.” “Brains” has a loping gait and I dare you not to become addicted to Arrow singing “Bet my brains, I’ve gone insane.” I have to say, “Pet Sematary” is catchy as hell and probably the most polish thing they’ve done… it almost sounds like arena rock.

I’m not sure where this band is going, they’re still awfully young, but I like where they’ve started this journey. Hopefully all of the singles released this year are pointing to another LP, I can’t wait to hear what they do next. Check this music out and keep an eye on this band.

Cheers!

Editor’s Note: It came to my attention that Starcrawler indeed have a new album coming out, ‘Devour You,’ on October 11th. We’re all looking forward to that here at B&V! 

 

 

Playlist: The B&V 50 Favorite Songs About Trains – “that lonesome whistle blows…”

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“Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance, everybody thinks it’s true.” – Paul Simon, “Train In The Distance”

There’s just something about a train.

I spent my early years right out of college, after a brief summer in Boston, living in Northwest Arkansas. First in Fort Smith, then later in Fayetteville, Arkansas. I met a fetching young woman, full blooded-Thai with a southern accent, who lived in Shreveport, Louisiana. She was a lovely woman, but as many of us do in our youth, I was chasing something I would never attain, which turned out to be a pattern but those sad records are sealed.

Almost every Friday while I lived in Ft. Smith, Arkansas, (aka Ft. Hell), I would leave, usually before work was over and head down the two-lane blacktop of Highway 71. It ran the length of Arkansas and eventually into Louisiana and to my goal of Shreveport. I would typically spend as much time as I could in Louisiana before I returned to the dreaded Arkansas so I usually left Shreveport after the sun had gone down…even the sun split before I did. Highway 71 cut through Texarkana, first on the Arkansas side and then the Texas side. My memories of those days are faulty but I can remember on some of those dark nights, the highway turning into surface streets in Texarkana and being stopped by a train crossing the train tracks. I distinctly remember getting out of my car to use a discarded napkin to wipe dirt off my headlights, so dim was my view. I’ve always treated my car like a golf cart so its perpetually filthy. I can remember sitting in my car, watching those trains roll by. I would wonder where they headed. I was wondering why I was out there on the lonesome road headed somewhere I didn’t want to go.

Years later, after a brief stint living with my parents in Kansas City (after returning from my Arkansas exile), I rented an apartment at the junction of I-35 and I-635. I was high on a hill in a top floor apartment. In the spring and summer, I’d open the windows (who could afford A/C back then) and listen to the trains roll by on the tracks that ran parallel to I-35. There was something about that sound. The train chug-chugging by and then they’d blow that whistle. Is there a more lonesome sound than a train whistle in the darkness? I was alone at that time of my life and it was if the train was accentuating the point. There was so much it evoked: travel, movement, goodbyes, leaving, distance…

I was driving out to my parents new house, which is way south of Kansas City and lo and behold, I was stopped by a train. I sat there at the tracks, frustrated because I was already running late, when all those memories of driving dark roads around the south came back to me. I found myself just sitting there, enjoying the sight and sound of a freight train passing my field of vision, a car at a time. My thoughts wandered to Johnny Cash. That guy wrote more great train songs than anybody.

It was then that it hit me – there are shit-ton of great train songs. It doesn’t matter what genre you look to – rock and roll, classic rock, blues, country, country-rock (the Eagles, naturally), heavy metal (even German heavy metal), reggae… Hell, I’m certain even Sinatra probably has a great train song or two. If the sound of train evokes so much emotion in me, with all these great songs out there, maybe I’m not alone. Over the next few weeks I started to compile a list of songs with train references or about trains. Again, I could have just listened to Johnny Cash’s entire catalog and been satisfied, but we like to mix it up here at B&V. Pretty soon I had over 100 songs, and this was just off the top of my head. I whittled it down to just 50 tracks. As usual, you will find this list out on Spotify, under the title, “BourbonAndVinyl.net B&V 50 Favorite Songs About Trains.” While I quote the amazing Paul Simon track, “Trains In the Distance” above, it didn’t make the cut. It was too mellow. If you have suggestions for additional tracks, I missed, please recommend them in the comments. My thoughts on each track below.

  1. The Blues Brothers, “She Caught the Katy” – About a hardheaded woman who “left me a mule to ride.” Its the background for the iconic beginning of their movie and I’ve always loved it and hardheaded women.
  2. Bob Seger, “Long Twin Silver Line” – A rocking deep track that takes us across America.
  3. The Rolling Stones, “Silver Train” – The Stones riding a Chuck Berry-esque riff like it’s an actual train. Johnny Winter did a great cover of this song.
  4. The Band with Paul Butterfield, “Mystery Train” – I love this live version of Leon Helm duetting with Paul Butterfield from The Last Waltz. Butterfield did the studio version on his band’s first album.
  5. Bob Dylan, “Slow Train” – Dylan bringing an apocalyptic train round the bend.
  6. Velvet Revolver, “Sucker Train Blues” – Ex-GnR members and Scott Weiland of the Stone Temple Pilots on their most rocking tune.
  7. The Velvet Underground, “Train Round The Bend” – Lou Reed could even make a train song sound dirty.
  8. Crosby, Stills, Nash, “Marrakesh Express” – OK, it’s more of a drug song, but it works.
  9. Neil Young, “Boxcar” – Beautiful track from Chrome Dreams II.
  10. The Eagles, “Midnight Flyer” – Country rock from the band that made it famous.
  11. Steve Winwood, “Night Train” – I love this song. It’s long and so evocative. The production is “of its time,” but who cares.
  12. AC/DC, “Rock ‘N Roll Train” – One of AC/DC’s great late career jams.
  13. The Allman Brothers Band, “All Night Train” – A bluesy, stellar track from the Allman Brothers.
  14. Jimi Hendrix, “Hear My Train a Comin'” – Any version of this blues epic will do.
  15. Rush, “A Passage To Bangkok” – Ok, like “Marrakesh Express” more of a drug song, but I wanted to show that even prog-rockers do train songs.
  16. Van Morrison, “Evening Train” – A jaunty train song from Van who even sounds like he’s having fun on this ride.
  17. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, “Runaway Trains” – “I’m down here changing lanes…” a song that still haunts me.
  18. Paul Butterfield Blues Band, “Two Trains Running” – Such a great song by such a great blues band.
  19. Bruce Springsteen, “Tucson Train” – One of the happier songs on Bruce’s latest album, Western Stars, which find our hero waiting on his woman whose coming in on the train from Tucson.
  20. Social Distortion, “Drug Train” – The Rock Chick’s favorite Social D song… and one they never play live, alas.
  21. Scorpions, “Catch Your Train” – I had to go all the way back to Virgin Killers for this one.
  22. Grateful Dead, “Casey Jones” – “Drivin’ that train, high on cocaine…”
  23. The Who, “5:15” – From the fabulous Quadrophenia. One of my all time Who favorites.
  24. John Fogerty, “Big Train From Memphis” – Great track about the loss of the King, Elvis Presley.
  25. The Rolling Stones, “Love In Vain” – I debated about whether to put the Faces cover of this Robert Johnson track, but ultimately, the Stones version is definitive for me.
  26. Jeff Beck & Rod Stewart, “People Get Ready” – I wish these two would work together again in some capacity.
  27. The Rolling Stones, “All Down the Line” – A track that should be on their greatest hits. Yes, there’s a lot of Stones here, but I love the Stones and they love trains.
  28. Little Feat, “Two Trains” – Lowell George was a genius.
  29. Robert Plant, “Win My Train Fare Home (If I Ever Get Lucky)” – Plant covering a track made famous by Muddy Waters. What’s not to love?
  30. Bob Dylan, “Duquesne Whistle” – This track from Tempest starts off old-timey but takes off a minute in. Benmont Tench does a nice cover version too.
  31. Rod Stewart, “Downtown Train” – I was tempted to go with Tom Waits’ original, but this is better known and I have a story about this song… The Downtown Train to Wichita: The Road to Drew’s Wedding and the real Mayor of El Dorado, KS.
  32. Elton John, “Tell Me When The Whistle Blows” – Great Elton deep track, Playlist: B&V’s Favorite 20 Elton John Deep/Album Tracks.
  33. R.E.M., “Auctioneer (Another Engine)” – From their mumble the lyrics phase…there’s a train song under here somewhere.
  34. Lenny Kravitz, “Freedom Train” – More of a riff than song, but irresistible for this playlist none the same.
  35. The Doobie Brothers, “Long Train Runnin'” – The Doobies don’t get the love they once did, but they used to be as big as the Eagles, in my opinion.
  36. Joe Walsh, “At The Station” – Joe Walsh is just so solid. This is such a great riff and great song.
  37. Aerosmith, “Train Kept A Rollin'” – First done by Jimmy Page and his Yardbirds. I like this one.
  38. Gary Clark, Jr, “When My Train Pulls In” – A great, “I’m leavin’ here” track. Gary gives me hope for the guitar.
  39. Johnny Cash, “Hey Porter” – I almost went with “Orange Blossom Special.” There are so many great Johnny train songs. I had to limit it or his music would take over the playlist.
  40. The Cult, “Medicine Train” – From their biggest record, Sonic Temple. They’re out touring playing this record in its entirety right now but I haven’t caught up with them yet. I will…mark my words.
  41. Jethro Tull, “Locomotive Breath” – My favorite Tull song.
  42. Chuck Berry, “Let It Rock” – A railroad song from the perspective of someone working on the line… with a runaway train on its way…”gotta get the workers out of the way of the train.” The Stones, Bob Seger have both covered this track.
  43. Bob Marley, “Zion Train” – From his last studio album when alive. He was a giant.
  44. U2, “Zoo Station” – The opening track from Achtung Baby. 
  45. Guns N Roses, “Night Train” – More about the cheap wine of the same name, but I love these guys and this is one of my favorite songs by them.
  46. Ozzy Osbourne, “Crazy Train” – His signature song and an NFL stadium favorite.
  47. The Beatles, “One After 909” – A song they wrote in their early days but only went back to record during the jams around Let It Be. 
  48. Bob Marley & the Wailers, “Stop That Train” – It says Bob Marley, but this is Peter Tosh on lead vocals.
  49. Sting, “Twenty-Five to Midnight” – A song I first heard after wandering into a bar in Amsterdam. It was a bonus track from Mercury Falling that wasn’t put out in the U.S. until it came out as a b-side.
  50. Bruce Springsteen, “Downbound Train” – Beautiful, haunting ballad from Bruce to end our proceedings.

You can easily shuffle this playlist, which is something I always advise. Again, I probably missed about a million songs that could have been on here… Please make your suggestions in the comments section. This might be a good playlist for the car, when you’re out on that open highway, chasing something you just can’t catch…but again, those files are sealed.

Thanks and as always, Cheers!

LP Review: Paul McCartney, ‘Amoeba Gig (Live)’ – His Best Live Album?

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Some of us out here just love live albums. The first live album I ever got was Frampton Comes Alive. Admittedly, my Sainted Grandmother bought it for me… My friend Drummer Blake on several occasions has cited Humble Pie’s Performance: Rockin’ The Fillmore as a favorite. Dr. Rock once told me that the J. Geils Band’s Blow Your Face Out was essential listening (he was, as usual, correct). Now, I realize that not everybody feels that way. Here at B&V, the Rock Chick does not like live albums and usually says something like, “Something sounds wrong with this song,” when I play a live track. Matrimony, sigh. Tom Petty once famously drawled, “Live albums are just your greatest hits played faster,” which was a pretty snarky thing to say from a performer whose live music is just phenomenal.

Naysayers aside, there are a lot of us who used to huddle around the radio if the local station was broadcasting a concert. There were some of us who stayed up late on Sunday night (at least here in KC), to listen to the King Biscuit Flower Hour to hear our favorite bands live. I remember hearing April Wine one night. I think every band was on that show at some point. I didn’t have money for concert tickets, hell, let’s listen to a live broadcast. Although I will admit, hearing those concerts on the radio usually had me so jacked up I was a wreck on Monday morning from lack of sleep. The sacrifices we make for rock and roll.

Every great band can bring it live. Every great band usually has a great live album. The Who have Live At Leeds, The Stones have Get Yer Ya-Yas Out!, and the Allman Brothers Band has Live At the Fillmore East. When playing live, bands can stretch out, jam a little bit. It’s always fun to hear a great energetic crowd and how the band feeds off of that – I can’t help but cite B.B. King’s Live At the Regal here as an example. Sometimes it’s just hard for a band to capture the energy of their live performances in a studio. A song that may have been a dud in its studio incarnation becomes an international hit, like say, “Turn The Page” from Bob Seger’s Live Bullet. This post is for all of you who are like me who love a good live album.

I consider Paul McCartney to be one of the greatest artists in rock and roll, ever. Some might say that he’s never really put out a great live album. I would argue that point. McCartney (& Wings, no less) released a 3-LP live album in 1976 from their tour in support of Wings At the Speed of Sound, entitled Wings Over America that I would argue is a great live album. It’s often dismissed as his stab at “arena rock” or a “concert souvenir”… and I say, what’s wrong with that? Arena rock, yes please. I think there was still critical backlash for McCartney with the rock press because he was the one who announced the Beatles had broken up. Move on, people. Anyway, Wings Over America is a sprawling trip through his solo hits, Beatles tracks, and a few odd covers. He even lets other band members sing a few tracks. He even does an acoustic set that takes up one whole side of the album. Very cool, indeed.

Since then, though, the story isn’t as great. Other than his fabulous Unplugged album – which I had in my hands back in 1991 in a record store in Warrensburg and didn’t buy (it was a limited release and I blew it) – his live albums have been spotty. The Stones are in the habit of releasing a live album after every tour. There are some of those live albums I’ve enjoyed but they feel like contract obligations after a while. McCartney of late has followed the same album, tour, live album cycle. Live LPs like Tripping The Live Fantastic or Paul Is Live weren’t great examples of what Paul could do live. Good Evening New York was a little better but none of these improved on Wings Over America. 

A short while ago, Paul finally released the full length recording of a show he did in a record store, Amoeba Records in Los Angeles, CA. He’d released Amoeba Secret a 4-song EP excerpt from the show back in 2007 when they recorded the show, I believe as a Record Store Day special. I don’t know why they sat on the entire recording for over a decade, but Rock Stars, what are you going to do? I can’t believe this performance wasn’t more widely bootlegged… The new release is entitled Amoeba Gig (Live) and despite my low expectations it’s a very pleasant surprise.

McCartney was on tour for his then current LP, Memory Almost Full, which is probably my favorite of his late period albums. I’ll be the first to admit that McCartney hit a creative lull in the 80s and early 90s. I have to wonder if the death of John Lennon in 1980 didn’t affect Paul more deeply than anybody realized. It wasn’t until 1997’s Flaming Pie that Paul found his groove again. Every record he’s put out since then has been compelling. Chaos and Creation In the Backyard was a bit downbeat and took a few listens to get into, but even it is a brilliant record. Memory Almost Full is chock full of great songs. As part of the promotion, McCartney and his backing band set up in this big record store and played for a small crowd. Even Ringo showed up for it. Although this must be a pretty big record store, it sounds like a bigger crowd than I’d have expected.

Playing in such an intimate setting, which McCartney describes as “the most surreal gig,” seems to really ignite McCartney and his backing band. I like to call his backing band, the Haircuts, mostly because of Rusty Anderson (lead guitar) and Brian Ray (guitar/bass). Those guys use more product in their hair than Motley Crue. They look like hot soccer moms from my old neighborhood. Although that moniker, the Haircuts is probably unfair as drummer Abe Laboriel, Jr is bald. David Arch on keyboards rounds out the outfit. McCartney plays bass, guitar, keyboards, and I think, ukulele.

McCartney and the backing band tear through a bunch of Beatles tracks and solo hits. They open up with one of my all time favorite Beatles’ tracks, a rollicking “Drive My Car.” What I like about this performance so much is they play a broad selection of songs from Memory Almost Full, including “Dance Tonight,” “Nod  Your Head,” “Only Mama Knows,” and “That Was Me.” The then-new material really stands up well. He also digs a little deeper into his solo catalog for this show. He plays “Calico Skies” a deep track from Flaming Pie. McCartney chokes up during “Here Today” from Tug of War, a song he wrote for John, and dedicates it to him, George and Linda. Its rare you see that kind of emotion from a rock star on stage. It’s a beautiful moment. He does the reggae-tinged “C-Moon” which I just loved.

What translates most here was that on this day in L.A., McCartney was having a great time performing. When the Stones play a big arena or stadium, Keith always wants to dig deeper into the catalog and Mick wants to play the well-known tracks as he feels people expect it. Personally, I prefer the deep tracks… McCartney, I think, gets stuck in that Mick-style thinking too. It’s great to hear him kind of play what he wants to.

That said there are great Beatles tracks here. He plays “The Long and Winding Road.” That songs lead to “I’ll Follow The Sun” which was always kind of a sad song, but so exuberant is McCartney it almost sounds happy here. The song I was most thrilled too see on the track list was “I’ve Got A Feeling,” although I’ll be the first to admit you really miss Lennon’s vocal part, taken by the Haircuts here. He does a rocking version of the Carl Perkins’ tune “Matchbox” that almost sounds punky, except for the horns. The show ends on a great version of “I Saw Her Standing There.”

Call me crazy, but the intimate setting, the great album he was touring on, and the excitement in that room all combine to make this a great live album. Its certainly easy to say this is his best live album since Wings Over America. Well, except maybe that Unplugged album, which was also a smaller show in an intimate setting. In these small shows, it’s clear he feels less pressure to please and more freedom to do “his thing,” which paradoxically pleases the crowd more. If you dig McCartney and you like live stuff, this is definitely worth your while to check out.

Cheers!

 

Album Lookback: AC/DC’s ‘Highway To Hell’ Turns 40 – Bon Scott’s Bon Voyage

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Not all heroes wear capes, people… Some don’t even wear shirts or if they do they cut the sleeves off and keep them completely unbuttoned, hairy chest out, gold chains proudly displayed, blues jeans pulled up to their navel to accentuate their…well, this is a family blog. There wasn’t a shirt out there that could contain the magnetism of Bon Scott. And in my case, I prefer my heroes a little sleazier and “bloozier” than Superman. As an aside, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Rock Chick does a fabulous impression of Bon Scott…

I can’t believe AC/DC’s masterpiece, and sadly Bon Scott’s swan song, Highway To  Hell turns 40 this month. I think it was Bob Dylan who once sang, “time is a jet plane, moving way too fast.” I was in junior high school when this album came out. Although, admittedly, like most people in the United States, I was probably only aware of the title track, which was the only song the local radio station played by AC/DC. We knew “Highway to Hell” was a great song by a band whose name was slang for bisexuality but that was about it. Who were these crazed Vikings? From Australia no less?

It wasn’t until 1980’s Back In Black came out that we all discovered AC/DC for real. I’m frankly embarrassed to admit that it took us all a while to discover that there was a new lead singer in the band, so closely did replacement singer Brian Johnson sound like Bon Scott. Well, at least to our untrained ears. When Back In Black came out, I was old enough to drive but was rarely allowed to do so because of, well, beer. My friends and I were into sneaking out of our houses. We’d be home by curfew, wait an hour and then I’d hear rocks at my window signaling Brewster and Robert (names changed to protect the guilty) were outside ready for some miscreant bullshit. Those guys had sliding glass doors which made it easy to get out. I had to tip toe down creaky stares and unlock and open a back door whose hinges sang like a church choir. I remember one Saturday when some late night show as showing crude, grainy videos of AC/DC doing “You Shook Me All Night Long” and a few other tracks. I had to tell Brewster and Robert there was no way I was coming out. It was Brewster who said, “You know that’s a new lead singer right?” Revelations come in the darkness.

To this day, the Rock Chick prefers Brian Johnson AC/DC to Bon Scott AC/DC. The only album with tracks she likes with Bon on vocals is, not coincidentally, Highway To Hell. Although admittedly, I’m working hard to get her into Powerage, an overlooked gem of an album (LP Look Back: The Overlooked Gem, AC/DC’s “Powerage”). Like me, she loves the song, “Gone Shootin’.” In her defense, there is a real difference between the two singers. Brian comes across as a dirty old man. I always felt that Bon had a better sense of humor. He also brought a certain menace and bluesy vibe that is clearly distinguishable from latter day AC/DC. And let’s admit it, Bon does come across infinitely sleazier which for some reason I find appealing. The fact that the Rock Chick’s favorite Bon tracks are “Shot Down In Flames” and “If You Want Blood (You Got It)” fills me with pride. And she does a wonderful, comic impression of Bon Scott, gleaned from watching old video clips of him that I just love but I’m getting off topic here.

Bon was actually the band’s chauffeur when original singer Dave Evans quit AC/DC. Bon was quickly promoted to lead singer, quite a jump upward in stature. After Bon took over the lead vocals, AC/DC never looked back again. Bon was originally born in Scotland but his family migrated to Australia, exactly like the Young brothers, Angus and Malcolm, which instantly gave them something in common. After their first album, High Voltage, they became popular in Australia. With each succeeding album they got bigger and bigger around the world. The only seeming stumble on the road to superstardom was the aforementioned Powerage, which was a dark, little album. While Bon’s death after Highway To Hell has always imbued that album, and especially the title track with the mystique that Bon was prescient about his own death, I think Powerage was the signal he was in a dark place. The themes are all about desperation, drugs and poverty.

The album and the title track certainly got them a lot more exposure in the U.S. The band had gone to England to record the follow-up, this time with producer Mutt Lange when tragically Bon’s life was cut short. After a night out drinking, he passed out in the backseat of a friends car. His lifeless body was discovered the next day. The police ruled that he died of alcohol poisoning and called it a “death by misadventure,” which if you’re Bon Scott, is really the only way to go… the Rock Star way to go. There have been conspiracy theories about his death and how much of Back In Black he might have written ever since. Some questions, we’ll just never have answers to.

His final album as AC/DC’s lead singer was indeed his crowning achievement. The title track is one of the greatest rock songs of all time. There’s nothing like turning up “Highway to Hell” and driving down the interstate. Perhaps that’s why, inexplicably, I never purchased the album on vinyl. I bought it on cassette because I had to have it in the car. Years later I bought it on CD, remastered with beautiful sound. I have to put this on the list of used vinyl to look for.

We all loved that album, even the deep tracks. “Girls Got Rhythm” was always a favorite, with Bon’s usual flare for lyrics, “she’s got that backseat rhythm.” Which was sadly where most of us had our assignations with women back then…ah, high school. “Shot Down In Flames” could have been my college theme song. “Touch Too Much” has always been my secret favorite on that album. It was almost a pop song and the closest thing you’ll find to a ballad here. Bon didn’t do ballads, he only did blues tunes. Speaking of which, “Night Prowler,” the epic six and half minute track that ends the album, is a bluesy, “Midnight Rambler,” track about a serial killer that only Bon could come up with. “If You Want Blood (You Got It)” should be played in every football locker room before every game. It gets you up and ready for fighting.

This is simply one of the greatest albums ever. Every one should own this record and play it loud. From “Love Hungry Man” to “Get It Hot” there is not a bad track on this album. The fact that AC/DC found another great lead singer, and in a matter of months released the epic Back In Black in honor of Bon Scott is staggering. It’s the only album in their catalog that trumps Highway To Hell. 

This is an album whose fortieth anniversary should be heralded as a major rock and roll milestone. Me, I might put this album on, turn it up, drink a little bourbon and sneak out after curfew for some miscreant bullshit… I wonder what Brewster and Robert are up to these days…”’cause I’m the night prowler, I sleep in the day…”

Cheers!