New Single: The Rolling Stones’ Great Pandemic Song, “Living In A Ghost Town”

Living In A Ghost Town - Single

“If I want a party, it’s a party of one” – The Rolling Stones, “Living In A Ghost Town”

I’ve been under the weather this week. Thankfully it’s not anything COVID related (knock on wood). This is a malady I’ve encountered before. I realized it was happening and quickly got the right meds and am thankfully, on the mend. It is scary to be ill during a pandemic. I managed to talk my doctor into a script without any visits to his office or any hospital, ground zero for COVID. Basically I slept for 48 hours. I’m feeling a little like Rip Van Winkle today… I slept so long the Stones actually released a fabulous new song. If my being unconscious is the price we have to pay for a new Stones tune, I’m certainly willing to take one for the team.

I’ve been waiting and hoping for new Stones’ tunes (dare I pray for an album?) since before I started B&V. I’ve freely admitted in these pages that the Stones are my Alpha and Omega when it comes to rock and roll. I can’t believe it’s been since 2005 that their phenomenal late period album A Bigger Bang came out. That album should have got a lot more airplay than it did. They haven’t put out anything new since, except the two bonus tracks on their greatest hits package GRRR! in 2012, “Gloom and Doom,” and “One More Shot.” I think we can all agree, 15 years is too long to have only put out two tracks even though they are great songs. Sure, we lauded their blues album, Blue And Lonesome, but that brilliant LP was all covers (LP Review: The Rolling Stones, The Superb “Blue And Lonesome” – They Come Full Circle). At last, the Stones have put out a new original song, “Living In a Ghost Town,” and it is amazing. Blues-rock in a time of cholera…

People can say what they want about artists, but as I’ve seen in recent pandemic memes, what would you be doing now without movies, television, books and music? Art is indeed important. To paraphrase the famous 80s Michael Douglas’ character, Gordon Gekko from “Wall Street,” “Art, for lack of a better word, is good.” I think our current circumstances have highlighted to all of us how important Art is (and yes, I’m capitalizing the word) in dark times. Picasso’s most famous painting ‘Guernica’ was done in the midst of the Spanish Civil war and is perhaps the greatest indictment of war ever put to canvas.

During America’s horrible nightmare on 9/11, it was Bruce Springsteen who first emerged with his brilliant album The Rising in response to the tragedy. It was a great source of solace for a lot of us. I still can’t hear the title track without a tear in my eye. I saw Springsteen the other night on the ‘Jersey4Jersey’ charity broadcast to raise money for the pandemic… great acoustic versions of “Land of Hope and Dreams” and “Jersey Girl” with his wife Patti Scialfa on harmony vocals. During this current pandemic, it was Bob Dylan who first emerged with his 17-minute epic, “Murder Most Foul,” a brilliant allegory about America’s lost hope and loss of direction as a result of the JFK assassination (Bob Dylan: The Dark, Mesmerizing 17- Minute New Single, “Murder Most Foul”). It appears our older artists are the ones leading the way these days…

I awoke from an awful fever dream yesterday…sweating and confused, like you do when you’re ill. I peaked on social media to see what if anything had changed in my absence due to unconsciousness. Amongst the usual daily futility around the pandemic, I saw what I thought was a hallucination… “The Rolling Stones Release New Song.” I sprang to my feet and after some momentary dizziness, staggered to my computer and immediately downloaded “Living In A Ghost Town.”

On Instagram, Jagger, Richards and Wood all released videos talking about the new song. Charlie Watts is indeed, too cool for social media. Ronnie’s video was the usual, “Hey, check out our new song.” Keith seemed to indicate this track was recorded a year ago in Los Angeles. The basic track may have been, but the lyrics seem to indicate that Mick has tinkered with this more recently. With references to the “lockdown,” this is obviously fresh off the press. The Stones have been working on a new album for what seems like forever and this track was obviously in the mix there. Keith recently said the work they were doing on the new album was “basically like carpentry.” I love when Keith says, “Mick and I decided this one really needed to go to work right now.” Indeed, Keef, indeed.

I don’t typically read other reviews before I write my own, but I saw the Guardian describe this as a reggae tune… I don’t hear that. The bass line is insistent and perhaps a bit funky. It reminds me of the bass line on “Has Anybody Seen My Baby.” It’s a haunting, mid tempo number… Jagger starts off singing, “I’m a ghost, living in a ghost town.” He evokes a once vibrant world where music was everywhere and people were out enjoying themselves, “Once this place was humming, And the air was full of drumming, The sound of cymbals crashing, Glasses were all smashing, Trumpets were all screaming, Saxophones were blaring, Nobody was caring if it’s day or night.” But now all is quiet…”living in a ghost town.”

The sound of this track is vintage Stones. Jagger’s vocal is fantastic. He melds frustration and longing together seamlessly. Keith and Ronnie’s guitars circle each other, weaving together like smoke rising from a fire. There’s even a harmonica solo. I love it when Mick plays harmonica… he’s one of the best on the planet and it seems only Keith Richards realizes it. Charlie’s drums are the heartbeat of the track. I don’t know whose playing bass – whether its Darryl Jones, Keith or Ronnie but whoever is playing is killing it. There’s a great gang backing vocal that pulls the whole thing together. At one point the music falls to hush and only Jagger’s voice carries the tune forward… I got fucking goose bumps.

“Living In A Ghost Town” is what I hope to be the first track from a new stellar Stones album. I think we could all use a kick ass Stones album to get us through this dark time. While I wish this tune arrived under better circumstances, it gives me hope and it makes me grateful for whatever music we can get from these guys. It’s a big fucking deal when the Stones put out new music… and this song is a big fucking deal.

Cheers! Stay safe and healthy out there! I look forward to a time when I want a party and it’s a party of all my friends and loved ones.

 

 

B&V’s 10 Favorite Grim And Sad Albums

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“Down in a hole and I don’t know if I can be saved, See my heart I decorate it like a grave” – Alice In Chains, “Down In A Hole”

A few weeks ago I posted a playlist about heroin, entitled “Chasing the Dragon,” B&V Playlist: Chasing the Dragon – Songs About Heroin. When I was compiling that playlist I ended up thinking a lot about Alice In Chains and their best album Dirt. Yes, I’m with everybody else in thinking that Jar of Flies was their creative peak, but that was an EP like Sap (another great bit of music), not a full blown album. When doing a playlist about heroin it’s hard not to think about Alice In Chains and their late lead singer Layne Staley who died of an overdose. When I put that list together I realized that I had put not one but two Alice In Chains tracks on it, both from Dirt. I really dug those two tracks on the playlist, “God Smack” and “Junkman.” I hadn’t listened to that whole album in quite a long time and so with those two tunes bouncing around my skull, I had to put it on. I love that record, but I realized about halfway through…this is an unrelentingly dark album. Why they didn’t just name it Smack I’ll never know.

It slowly began to dawn on me, I really like music on that dark edge. It wasn’t always that way. When I first started listening to rock and roll on KY/102 and then later when I started actually buying and consuming music, my tastes ran to the more upbeat. I wanted something that “RAWKED!” Van Halen, Boston and ZZ Top were amongst my early purchases. I wanted that good time, party music. I couldn’t understand why anybody would want to listen to anything acoustic. I think most of my friends’ musical tastes ran in that same direction. We were all young, testosterone driven maniacs. What’s that phrase, “young, dumb and full of cum.” My friend Drew and I used to joke that our pal Matthew’s record collection when he got to college was all heavy metal with one Fleetwood Mac album thrown in. His fixation on Kiss back then still baffles me. For my  part, heavy metal did play a big part in all of my early listening from Black Sabbath and Judas Priest to AC/DC.

I have to admit, looking back, that even then I was a sucker for a good ballad. I would have never admitted to liking sad songs back then… no, no, give me songs about chicks with a guitar solo. My first Springsteen album purchase was The River and while I loved “The Ties That Bind,” “I’m A Rocker” and “Out In The Street,” I was really, really into “Drive All Night.” The mellow tunes drew me to that album as deeply as the rockers. It’s hard to explain. You could say I was always secretly drawn to great lyrics, hence my early interest in Dylan, but I don’t think that tells the whole story. I was that odd person who could relate to songs about broken hearts and sad endings to relationships before I’d even kissed a girl let alone had a girlfriend. Maybe I was slightly depressed as a kid and thus I had this feeling that my heart was already broken from a very early age. No one ever really wants to share the dark parts of themselves, especially when you’re young. There are just some of us who feel things more deeply and life itself can break your heart sometimes…

In college I started to branch out in terms of musical tastes and that’s when I started to buy some of the darker music in my collection. I mean, in truth,  it’s not all “dark,” some of it is just sad or melancholy music. It seems even at that tender age I was like Tom Waits who famously said, “I like beautiful melodies telling me terrible things.” In the old days, when things weren’t going well, I’d put on some mellow, generally sad songs and hearing these artists sing about their heartbreak and losses made me feel, well, less alone. Someone else out there had been through what I was going through now and survived. Of course, you can take the sadder end of the musical spectrum too far sometimes. After one break up, my friend the Accountant (who lived three floors below me at the time) came up to my apartment and I was listening to some funeral dirge, moping about when he said, “Say man, uh, maybe all this downer music is affecting your mood… do you have any Van Halen you can put on?” The Rock Chick used to pretend to weep every time she caught me listening to Ryan Adams.

I realize that now may not be the time to share this particular list of albums. Many of us are feeling isolated and alone (B&V’s Pandemic Playlist – Rock n Roll To The Self-Isolation Rescue). If you’re prone to depression, I would suggest maybe avoiding these albums until we’re all free to walk outside without looking like extras on the set of the television show ‘E.R.’ I know the Rock Chick feels like I do, stuck at home and slightly bored. I take my life into my hands every time I go downstairs… like they say about a blowout football game when the teams start taking cheap shots at each other, it’s getting a little chippy down there. I have always either found solace in these records, or they’re just kick ass albums that everyone should hear. Take the gold where you can find it.

  1. Alice In Chains, Dirt – I’ve already talked about this album above, but it’s truly AIC’s finest full length album. “Down In A Hole,” “Rain When I Die,” and “Them Bones” are all great tunes. It’s clear the theme of this album is heroin. The only lighter moment is the song “Rooster” about Jerry Cantrell’s father surviving the Vietnam War…if you can consider that upbeat?
  2. Nirvana, In Utero – This album was certainly Cobain’s reaction to being named the “voice of his generation.” They were trying to shrink the size of their fan base by recording some really abrasive music. You don’t record a song like “Rape Me” if you’re trying to bring people onto the bandwagon. “Heart Shaped Box” was the tune that actually turned me around on Nirvana. Something clicked for me when I heard it. I still love that song even with lyrics like, “I wish I could eat your cancer when you turn black.” While some of the tracks on this LP are impenetrable, “All Apologies,” and “Pennyroyal Tea” are amongst their best. The art work told you all you needed to know about this record. I bought it in a used CD store downtown by the bar Harlings and it took me to the rest of their catalog.
  3. Pearl Jam, Riot Act – I may be wrong about this but at one time this was Pearl Jam’s worst selling record. It’s no coincidence that the first three albums on this list come from the Grunge era. That generation came of age on lithium (hence the SiriusXM station by that name that plays the music of that era). This is a later record by PJ and I’ve always considered it a bummer from start to finish. There are a few light moments like the humorous “Bushleaguer” about George W. Bush (“born on third, thinks he got a triple,” a line I use often). I’ve been listening to this album again and while it’s intense, it’s still a damn good Pearl Jam record.
  4. Big Star, Third/Sister Lovers – Big Star’s Alex Chilton was so disillusioned about the music business and Big Star’s failure to connect with a larger audience, he holed up and recorded this set of despondent songs. It wasn’t released until years after they broke up. There still isn’t an agreed to, official running order of the songs. “Thank You Friends” drips with sarcasm. “Holocaust” is despair exemplified. Big Star was a band I didn’t discover until after in life, but man I’m glad I did.
  5. John Lennon, Plastic Ono Band – Lennon’s first proper solo album after the implosion of the Beatles. He’d been going to Primal Scream therapy and the vocals bear that out. He often goes from a whisper to a scream. “Mother” is haunting. Songs like “Isolation” and “Working Class Hero” reveal a pretty jaundiced world view. I love the song “God,” where he lists the litany of things he doesn’t believe in any more… until he ends with just he and Yoko…”I believe in me, Yoko and me.” I like this album significantly more than Imagine, but that may say more about me than John Lennon.
  6. Nick Drake, Pink Moon – Drake was another artist I came to later in life. In his short tragic life he only recorded three albums. Pink Moon was his third album and it was a departure from his two power-pop albums that proceeded it. Pink Moon is just Drake’s vocal and an acoustic guitar. He was despondent his career didn’t take off but he largely refused to ever play live… He died shortly after this album came out from an overdose on antidepressants. I think that says it all.
  7. Neil Young, Tonight’s The Night – One of Young’s famous “Ditch Trilogy.” This is one of my absolute favorite Neil Young albums, if not my favorite. Drowning in despair, guilt and tequila after he fired original Crazy Horse guitarist Danny Whitten, who then died of an overdose, this is Young at his most raw and emotional. This album knocked me out the first time my friend Drew played it for me and it continues to do so today.
  8. Elton John, Blue Moves – People forget how huge Elton was from 1970-1975. This album isn’t dark but it’s certainly laced with a ton of melancholy. Many people feel it was Elton feeling sorry for himself after the backlash he got for admitting he was Gay. The 70s were at once a freewheeling and closed-minded time. I think he was just feeling some fatigue after 5 tumultuous years. He was bound to have some kind of let down… It’s not a great album but it’s a good one. It’s a double-LP and probably suffers in the shadow of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road that preceded it by two years. The second album is particularly down. This album has the saddest song ever recorded, “Sorry Seems To Be the Hardest Word.” I’ve got my own story about that song…but again, we can’t share all the darkest parts of ourselves.
  9. Lou Reed, Berlin – This is the bleakest, most despondent thing I’ve ever heard. Reed’s concept album about a couple (Jim and Caroline) who are German drug addicts. It’s got some great songs, “How Do You Think It Feels,” and “Caroline Says I” amongst them. But this is hard one to get through. It has grown on me significantly over the years but there is no fairy tale ending here… I dare you to listen to the song “The Kids” and not be haunted by it…
  10. Bruce Springsteen, Nebraska – I was a huge Springsteen fan in high school. I had all of his albums up to that point. The River had hooked me. Then I went away for that difficult freshman year in college. I struggled my first semester due to some self-inflicted wounds (love gone wrong). I got home at Christmas and was in the mall when I saw that he had a new album out. Ignoring the stark imagery of the front cover, I thought, here we go The River 2.0. When I dropped the needle on the album and heard the stark, depressing title track I remember having the opposite feeling of the joy I felt when I heard The River for the first time. I liked “Reason To Believe” and almost immediately dug “Atlantic City,” but it took me years and years to come to appreciate this collection of songs about outlaws, losers and outcasts. Everybody feels left outside of society here. It’s a masterpiece, but I’d sure like to hear the “Electric Nebraska” – the version of the album recorded with the E Street Band… maybe we can hope for a boxset…

There you have it, my top bleak, depressing albums. Sometimes you’ve got to go dark. Again, if you’re prone to depression, you might wanna wait on these records. I’ve always loved these albums and I hope you do too. If there are albums like this that you’re into, please let me know and I’ll check them out! Otherwise, sit back, put one of these on, pour something dark and murky and contemplate…

Stay healthy and safe out there. Cheers!

Playlist: An Old Friend Inspires The BourbonAndVinyl 30 Day Song Challenge

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In my early 20s I was living in exile…in Arkansas no less. I had moved there for that first corporate job out of college. I couldn’t stand it and as Bob Dylan once sang, “one day the axe just fell.” I walked in and quit. On a random Tuesday. My father was utterly distraught. I don’t remember specific conversations with him but I seem to remember rending of clothes and gnashing of teeth. His anger was biblical in scope. I used to joke I could never get a date while I lived in Arkansas as I didn’t have any relatives down there. That probably goes a long way in explaining why Arkansas wasn’t a fit for me… or maybe vice versa. I had to get out of there and my father never understood that. I did what many post-college kids in their twenties do, I showed up at my parents front door in a U-Haul with all my earthly possessions and moved into their guest room. I don’t think that event ever made my parent’s Xmas newsletter. It’s never a proud milestone: moving back in with your parents.

After about a year of living with my parents, during which time my father rarely spoke to me, I finally got a job. Yes, I was unemployed for a year which was also a big hit with my “parental units.” The tension dropped after I got a job for a dubious medical supply company out of Chicago. I think they did most of their recruiting at prisons…”So, it says here on your application that you assaulted someone…did you happen to steal anything too?” One afternoon, I was in a cramped corner of my father’s home office where I’d carved out a small space as my “home” office doing some paperwork. The office door burst open. My father had this strange ability to come through a doorway without turning the knob which is a skill I wish I had, but I digress. It was startling, his sudden appearance in the office as he never came upstairs. He looked around the room as if seeing it for the first time. His eyes finally rested on me…his face screwed up with that familiar distaste he registered when he spoke at me…”I know this woman from work, she’s a friend of mine. She knows a lot of people. You’re meeting her for drinks tomorrow.” I was sitting frozen in the position I was in when the door burst open, paralyzed with surprise and could only mutter, “Huh?”

Apparently my father had taken it upon himself to help my social life. Perhaps he was concerned about me hanging out with all my old college friends who were, as Jackson Browne sang, “the fools a young fool meets.” (I still love those guys, don’t get me wrong). I faced this meeting with great trepidation. In my paranoid young mind I assumed this woman was being sent in as a spy, to inform my father of my miscreant ways. I drove down to the dreaded meeting at the Levee, a bar in midtown. The woman in question, who I’ll call the Jean Genie (to protect the guilty), was sitting at an upstairs table nursing a longneck. And lo and behold, we clicked. I mean, it took me a while to trust that she wasn’t a spy but rather quickly we became good friends. She was like the sister I never had. Who’d have thought after my father’s rough intro that it would end up this way.

We’ve had a lot of rock and roll moments, the Jean Genie and I. From drinking until two on her thirtieth birthday… on a Wednesday no less, to celebrating St Patrick’s Day together in Chicago with my good friend Doug we cut a wide swath. The Jean Genie married a wonderful man who happens to be a huge Neil Young fan. When she was pregnant, and I mean like 8-months in, her husband had a work conflict and she called and asked if I wanted to be his stand-in at a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young concert. Yes, please. Of course I’ve never gotten over the hateful stares of people who thought I’d drug my very pregnant wife out to a concert. Judgmental bastards.

Needless to say, the Jean Genie’s rock and roll bonafides are in place. When we became mired in our current quarantine, I saw that the Jean Genie was doing a 30-Day Song Challenge. Every day you have to go out and pick a song that fits into that day’s theme. One day it was about color, one day it was a song with a number in the title… you get the drift. The only caveat or rule – you can’t pick the same band twice. I found myself looking forward to her selections each day. What else do I have to do? Last Friday in a vodka-fueled frenzy, trying to kill time in quarantine, the Rock Chick and I decided to take the 30 day challenge in one night. Well, I was vodka fueled anyway. The Rock Chick would pick a song on the assigned theme and then I would do mine and so on through all thirty songs. That’s sixty songs between us for you math people out there. We actually played all sixty songs while we were choosing them. It made for a great, long evening.

I will now share with you the Rock Chick’s choices (annotated as “RC”) and then my choices (annotated as BV) in order. Below are our selections, with my usual commentary. I’ll post the B&V list and also link in the Rock Chick’s list as she’s already posted hers. I encourage everyone to Google “30-Day Song Challenge” and try this yourselves, either day by day or all at once. It’s fun and what else do you have to do? With my thanks to my dear friend the Jean Genie as inspiration! Some of these categories are hard… Good luck!

Day 1: A song you like with a color in the title

  • RC: U2, “Red Hill Mining Town” – The Rock Chick has always dug side 2 of The Joshua Tree
  • BV: Porno For Pyros, “Black Girlfriend” – Perry Farrell’s other band.

Day 2: A song you like with a number in the title

  • RC: Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs, “Zero” – Technically, zero is not a number but I’m not going to overrule the Rock Chick on a playlist… ever.
  • BV: The Beatles, “The Two of Us” – One of my favs off of Let It Be. They were doing a riff on the Everly Brothers and I love it.

Day 3: A song that reminds you of summer time

  • RC: 311, “Sunset In July” – The Rock Chick’s selections are much hipper and more current than mine.
  • BV: Van Halen, “Ice Cream Man” – “I’m usually passing by right around eleven o’clock…I never stop…”

Day 4: A song that reminds you of someone you’d rather forget

  • RC: Boston, “Don’t Look Back” – A song about not looking back under the category of forgetting someone… The Rock Chick’s selection here blew my mind for the depth of the symbolism. She’s an onion, soooo many layers.
  • BV: Don Henley, “You Don’t Know Me At All” – “You took my breath away and now I want it back, you should have killed me, you always looked so good in black.”

Day 5: A song that needs to be played loud

  • RC: Motley Crue, “Primal Scream” – Perfect again for the theme. The Rock Chick was on fire during this process.
  • BV: Dio, “Last In Line” – Dio’s best track.

Day 6: A song that makes you want to dance

  • RC: Michael Jackson, “Rock With You” – A fine choice.
  • BV: Bee Gees, “Stayin’ Alive” – Nothing will ever make me want to dance. Ever. When pressed I went to a primordial disco track from my childhood… and yes, I like this song. I don’t know why.

Day 7: A song to drive to

  • RC: Siouxsie and the Banshees, “Passengers” – Superb Iggy Pop cover.
  • BV: The Allman Brothers, “Ramblin’ Man” – Clearly my heart remains stuck in the 70s… like my musical tastes.

Day 8: A song about drugs or alcohol

  • RC: Social Distortion, “Drug Train” – The Rock Chick’s favorite Social D track.
  • BV: AC/DC, “Gone Shootin'” – Bon Scott singing about his woman’s heroin addiction.

Day 9: A song that makes you happy

  • RC: The Go-Gos, “Our Lips Are Sealed” – A good time track from the 80s.
  • BV: Bob Marley, “Three Little Birds” – Bob Marley’s music makes me happy.

Day 10: A song that makes you sad

  • RC: Ryan Adams, “To Be Without You” – Ryan Adams, the king of sad songs.
  • BV: Bonnie Raitt, “I Can’t Make You Love Me” – Cribbed from the Jean Genie’s list, yes. Reminds me of those tragic, melodramatic break up days…sitting in my car staring up at the moon.

Day 11: A song you never get tired of

  • RC: The Cult, “She Sells Sanctuary” – Her favorite song from her favorite band.
  • BV: Bruce Springsteen, “The Ties That Bind” – Every time I hear this song it takes me back to high school and the first time I dropped the needle on the vinyl…

Day 12: A song from your preteen years

  • RC: Queen, “We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions” – Yes, technically this is two tracks, but I felt you have to play both. Her big brother owned the album.
  • BV: Elvis Presley, “Jailhouse Rock” – This takes me back to my brother playing my dad’s old singles in our shared bedroom.

Day 13: A song you like from the 70s

  • RC: Jerry Rafferty, “Right Down the Line” – A truly great song and an inspired choice, yet again from the Rock Chick.
  • BV: Jim Croce, “Operator” – I love almost everything from the 70s except disco… This was a song by an artist my parents owned not one but two albums by. He just reminds of that era.

Day 14: A song you’d love to be played at your wedding

  • RC: Whitney Houston, “Your Love Is My Love” – The song the Rock Chick wanted to play for our first dance but never told me… I wish she had.
  • BV: Rod Stewart, “Have I Told You Lately” – Rod singing Van… and the song my wife humored me with for our first dance at our wedding.

Day 15: A song you like that’s a cover by another artist

  • RC: Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Higher Ground” – Great Stevie Wonder track from the Peppers.
  • BV: U2, “Paint It Black” – U2 doing the Stones!

Day 16: A song that’s a classic favorite

  • RC: AC/DC, “Back In Black” – Living up to her nickname…
  • BV: Led Zeppelin, “Stairway To Heaven” – After several vodka drinks, it just seemed that if I was going to pick a classic favorite, it needed to be the classic favorite.

Day 17: A song you’d sing a duet with someone on karaoke

  • RC: Johnny & June Carter Cash, “Jackson” – Their greatest duet.
  • BV: Kenny Rodgers & Dolly Parton, “Islands In the Stream” – First off, like dancing, singing karaoke is something that will never happen again. Kenny Rogers just died so I picked this one. Blame the vodka.

Day 18: A song from the year you were born

  • RC: Tom Jones, “It’s Not Unusual” – I love Tom Jones.
  • BV: The Rolling Stones, “It’s All Over Now” – This one took some internet research, I won’t lie. I’m glad I saved the Stones for this one.

Day 19: A song that makes you think about life

  • RC: Bruce Springsteen, “You’re Missing” – From the phenomenal LP, The Rising. 
  • BV: Jackson Browne, “Sleeps Dark and Silent Gate” – OK this song is actually about death but what makes us think more about life than death?

Day 20: A song that has many meanings to you

Day 21: A song you like with a person’s name in the title

  • RC: Steve Winwood, “Valerie” – A great tune. I never pegged the Rock Chick as a Winwood fan… You learn a lot when you’re putting music lists together.
  • BV: The Cars, “Candy-O” – Title track from my favorite Cars LP.

Day 22: A song that moves you forward

  • RC: Oasis, “Champagne Super Nova” – Their best track.
  • BV: Triumph, “Fight The Good Fight” – Gets me up and going.

Day 23: A song you think everybody should listen to

  • RC: Green Keepers, “Lotion” – Its not very many bands who can put dialogue from ‘Silence of the Lambs’ into song…
  • BV: Iggy Pop, “James Bond” – I wish everyone listened to Iggy Pop.

Day 24: A song by a band you wish were still together

  • RC: The White Stripes, “Hello Operator” – Meg White, come home, we need you.
  • BV: The Faces, “Ooh La La” – Written by Ronnie Lane, sung by Ronnie Wood. Rod’s best music was when he was with the Faces.

Day 25: A song you like by an artist no longer living

  • RC: INXS, “The One Thing” – The one and only Michael Hutchence.
  • BV: Tom Petty, “Breakdown (An American Treasure version) – This version was released to radio stations only as a promotional deal. It was the version KY/102 played when I was growing up.

Day 26: A song that makes you want to fall in love

  • RC: Sonny & Cher, “I Got You Babe” – Like I said… you learn a lot about someone playing music on a Friday night.
  • BV: Frank Sinatra, “The Way You Look Tonight” – If you’re gonna talk about love, you’ve gotta talk about Frank.

Day 27: A song that breaks your heart

  • RC: Nirvana, “Something In the Way” – I’m especially fond of this track in it’s Unplugged incarnation.
  • BV: Neil Young, “Out On the Weekend” – “Woman I’m thinkin’ of, she used me all up and I’m so down today…”

Day 28: A song by an artist whose voice you love

  • RC: Eurythmics, “Love Is A Stranger” – Annie Lennox has a sublime voice.
  • BV: Norah Jones, “Come Away With Me” – The voice of an angel. I’m looking forward to her upcoming album.

Day 29: A song you remember from childhood

  • RC: Elvis Presley, “Suspicious Minds” – The King singing to Priscilla…
  • BV: Peter, Paul & Mary, “Blowin’ In the Wind” – My parents fucking loved these guys and I don’t know why. This track takes me back to that time.

Day 30: A song that reminds you of yourself

  • RC: Cyndi Lauper, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” – Yes, indeed they do. And the Rock Chick and I had a lot of fun with this playlist.
  • BV: Mick Jagger, “Wandering Spirit” – “I’m a wandering spirit, yes I am a restless soul.”

For those of you interested, here is the B&V playlist on Spotify:

And, the better of the two, here is the Rock Chick’s Spotify playlist:

I hope all of you enjoy our picks and hope you will also take this challenge… I mean, again, what else do you have to do? Stay safe, stay healthy, stay away from people. Let’s all social distance now so we can see each other at concerts later.

Cheers!

 

A Brief Word On The Passing of Bill Withers (1938-2020), RIP…”Ain’t No Sunshine”

Photo of Bill WITHERS

Man, I was bummed to hear that singer extraordinaire, songwriter, producer Bill Withers had passed away on March 30th. His family announced it yesterday. As we sat around last night in quarantine playing music, Bill was never far from my thoughts. Withers had walked away from the music business in 1985, just left it, after a 15 year career that saw him take home at least three Grammys.

The guy was one of a kind and simply one of the coolest people to walk the earth. He was born in Slab Fork, West Virginia which, forgive my saying this, sounds like a godforsaken spot if there ever was one. I think of my exile years in Arkansas and think, thank god I wasn’t in West Virginia. He enlisted in the Navy and served nine years. Afterwards he got a string of jobs in different factories in Los Angeles. He finally started singing and writing songs but refused to quit his day job. The album cover for his first album is a shot of him holding his lunch box outside the factory. We have to presume the record company man grabbed a photographer and drove to the factory to catch him on his lunch break. Fame came late to him and I don’t think he ever cared for it. Becoming famous at 32 didn’t change the man. He kind of remained, lunch box Bill.

I was always aware of Bill Withers without connecting the fact that all these hits I heard on the radio as kid were him. It was my friend Doug who first turned me on to Withers. He let me tape his Greatest Hits CD back in the late 80s and that connected the dots for me. Ah, cassettes… Bill sang the iconic “Lean On Me.” One of my favorites of his was “Lovely Day.” That is the most positive song you’re ever going to hear. But I liked Bill’s more… temporal songs. He liked to sing about love, baby. His second best song was the funky “Use Me.” It’s a song about a woman who treats him terribly but he’s ok with it as she uses him for sex. I guess that’s not a bad gig if you can get it. The song is so great that Mick Jagger, yes, Mick Jagger and Lenny Kravitz covered it on Jagger’s LP Wandering Spirit. 

His crowning achievement was the masterpiece “Ain’t No Sunshine.” I can’t believe that song is only two minutes long. It’s a great, great song but nowadays it makes me slightly nervous when he sings, “Hey, I oughtta leave young thing alone.” I mean, I know the 70s were a different time but let’s keep our hands off the kinder. Back then we called it “jailbait” but ahem, that’s not cool now. I mean we have to assume he’s singing about a woman in her 20s. I’ve heard Sting and Paul McCartney cover that song. McCartney did it live on his Unplugged album but I don’t think Sting ever released a version. It’s as soulful and sad a song as you’re ever going to hear. I truly believe that my wife’s cat has this song running in his head every time she leaves the house to go to the store…”and she’s always gone too long, any time she goes away.” I think he’s afraid I’ll forget to feed him which, let’s face it, might be true.

At my friend Matthew’s first wedding, I was best man. At the reception I tracked the band down on a break and asked if they knew “Ain’t No Sunshine.” I was kind of obsessed with the track during that time period. Naturally they did and they were gracious enough to indulge me. I actually asked Matt’s mother to dance with me, a memory that is hazy and clear at the same time. I think every band probably has a version of “Ain’t No Sunshine” worked up. If they don’t they should.

I remember Bill being inducted to the Rock Hall of Fame a few years ago. He came up on stage, looking cool as usual in a tux and he just stood there. A number of other artists were singing his songs, songs he wrote and he just hung out on stage. He didn’t sing or even approach the microphone until it was over. Then he grabs the mic and says a humble “thank you.” Bill personified cool, man.

And now at 81, Mr. Withers has left the building. My condolences to his two kids and his wife and all of us out here who dug his music. He wasn’t a titan of rock but man, he sure could have been. He was too cool to take the reigns. Rest In Peace Bill! There truly “ain’t no sunshine” today.

Stay safe, healthy and isolated out there people… If you need something to help fill your time, try this: B&V’s Pandemic Playlist – Rock n Roll To The Self-Isolation Rescue.

 

Review: Pearl Jam’s First LP In 7 Years, ‘Gigaton’ – My Conflicted Thoughts

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I have to admit, up front, that I’m a huge Pearl Jam fan. I subscribe to the great man theory of rock and roll and I think Eddie Vedder is one of those great men, so to speak. But it hasn’t always been that way.

In the old days, I was always slow to get into new things. I didn’t buy in on Guns N Roses until I heard their third single, “Paradise City.” In my defense, Appetite For Destruction came out during my Exile Years, when I was living in Arkansas. My exposure to GnR was strictly via MTV and every band sort of looked the same. It was hard to get my attention and besides I was deeply into the Allman Brothers and the Band at the time. It wasn’t until I heard “Paradise City” from the other room – without the visuals – that I thought… wait a minute, these guys are something special.

It was the same with the Grunge era bands. I was always suspicious of these new “movements”… call me paranoid. I always thought the bands that were lumped into this new “Grunge” thing were wrongly characterized. Nirvana was a punk band in my mind… certainly that’s where their influences were. The first time I heard Soundgarden I remarked to a friend, “this is the new version of Black Sabbath…” They were a metal band in flannel. I really didn’t have a description for Alice In Chains, they were perhaps uniquely Grunge.

In the early ’90s I had just returned from my exile in Arkansas. I was living in an apartment by the highway where I’d lay in bed at night listening to the sound of trains in the distance behind the constant buzz of semi’s barreling north and south. It certainly contributed to my feeling of restlessness. My musical tastes were somewhat rootless as well. At the dawn of the ’90s there was a new radio station in town that specialized in “alternative rock” which was, at the time, Grunge bands. I’d tune in to that station looking for something “new” and I kept hearing these songs I liked…”Black” was  especially a favorite. “Even Flow,” “Alive,” and this song “Jeremy” were amongst my favorites as well. I hadn’t realized all of those songs were by the same band until I started dating this woman – whose boyfriend lived out of town – who loaned me Ten. I was listening to it for the first time while I worked out and with every song that played I thought, “Wait, that’s Pearl Jam too?” How could all these kick ass songs be on the same album. I became one of the converted… When we ended the affair I kept that CD for a long time… until the young lady came by and forcibly retrieved it. It was all very friendly but she was having none of my absconding with her Pearl Jam disc. Apparently I’m the only one who loses CDs during a breakup. Remarkably, I danced with her at her wedding, sadly not to Pearl Jam.

I was amongst those who were at the record store the day Vs and later when Vitalogy came out. Pearl Jam was the Grunge band who were so firmly rooted in classic rock, how could I not become a huge fan? They had so many soaring anthems – “Even Flow,” “Jeremy,” “Go,” “Animal,” “Rearview Mirror,” “Better Man,” and “Not For You.” I could go on. They could also go acoustic and just slay it – “Daughter,” or “Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town.” Vedder’s vocals were amongst the best I’d ever heard. He conveys so much emotion when he sings, from despair to simmering rage. I thought rock and roll would last forever with these guys. I happened to be lucky enough to see them at Red Rocks on the Vitalogy tour, a personal concert highlight for me. From the machine gun blast of the opening number (fittingly), “Go” until the last strains of “Yellow Ledbetter,” it was an amazing night. They even started the encore with “Leaving Here,” a cover song made famous by the Who.

As inevitably happens, Pearl Jam decided to stretch out in new musical directions by the time No Code came out. I liked that album but for many fans it was a creative stumble. So much so the follow up Yield was seen as a comeback (an album I loved but the critics didn’t). After Yield it seemed that Pearl Jam was content to just record straight-up rock and roll to please themselves rather than connect with their audience. Binaural and Riot Act were grim, mirthless albums. Although I must admit, both albums grew on me over time, especially Binaural. Listening to their archival release Lost Dogs, its clear those albums could have been less… intense. It wasn’t until 2006’s eponymously titled album that they seemed to even want to connect with an audience. For me that album was somewhat overshadowed by the Chili Pepper’s Stadium Arcadium. A friend remarked to me at the time, “If you’d told me 10 years ago I’d be more into a Peppers album than a Pearl Jam album, I’d have told you were crazy.” By then Pearl Jam was considered a premier live act, but there was never a ton of enthusiasm for their studio stuff anymore. Which is a shame because both Backspacer and Lightning Bolt were, in my opinion, exceptional. The ballad “Sirens” on the latter album is one of my all time favorite Pearl Jam tunes. There seem to be two kind of Pearl Jam fans anymore: the fans of their epic early records who have stuck around for the live shows and then fans who stuck around for the latter day studio stuff. I’m kind of both.

It stuns me that Pearl Jam waited seven years to put out another album. Lightning Bolt came out in 2013 which seems like another lifetime. I had heard they were struggling to come up with new material and had a couple of stillborn attempted starts at recording new music. That all might explain why the new album Gigaton sounds well, so different. The title refers to the gigaton of ice lost by the polar ice caps. The theme here is clearly around climate change. You hear a lot about water, oceans, rising oceans, and rivers on this album. If anybody needs something to channel some good ol’ fashion Pearl Jam anger, climate change is as good as any. I think it helps Gigaton hang together. The politics of this record are more subtle than most bands, like say vintage John Lennon. And I will say, there are plenty of songs that sound, dare I say, hopeful.

I will say, at the outset of my comments about the album, this one is a grower. My first taste was the first single, “Dance of the Clairvoyants,” which I reviewed (Pearl Jam: New Song, ‘Dance of the Clairvoyants.’ Old Dog With New Tricks?). That track was like nothing I’d ever heard from Pearl Jam. I won’t go back into it as I’ve written about it before, but it sounds so much like the Talking Heads that David Byrne must be drawing royalty checks. That made me think, “Mmm, this might be a tad more experimental than I’m emotionally prepared for.” The next track I heard on satellite radio was “Superblood Wolfmoon.” That track, at first, sounded like the Vedder barking vocal style that he adopted after befriending the late Johnny Ramone in an attempt to sound “punk” (“Mind Your Manners” or “Can’t Deny Me” for example). After my first listen to the entire album, I will tell you, I hated it. After seven years I wanted a big, epic, arena-rock album. The Rock Chick rejected the album immediately. I wasn’t even going to post about it. But there were a couple of tracks that had stuck with me… I couldn’t leave it alone. I’ve spent the last week with this album, giving it repeated spins and I’ll tell you, I like this record. It’s not going to change the top of a “Pearl Jam Albums Ranked Best To Worst” list but it’s a damn fine rock and roll record. We all want that endorphin hit we got when we first dropped the needle into the groove and “Once” burst out of the speakers and went right to our lower brain stem…it just doesn’t happen that often any more.

The album kicks off with one of my favorites, the rocking “Who Ever Said.” It’s an old fashion, Pearl Jam, turn it up rocker. That leads to the aforementioned “Superblood Wolfmoon” that has grown on me. I will say that Mike McCready is an all-star lead guitarist. He should be mentioned more often in the great guitarist conversations. His solo’ing is exceptional on this album, like always. “Never Destination” is another great rocker about climate change denial. It hits hard and again McCready shines. “Quick Escape” is another great rock tune but it’s guitars and vocals are distorted. The song is about an immigrant’s journey away from his home. Rather than singing a song about immigration, Vedder narrates the song from the personal perspective of the immigrant and it hits so much harder. It’s always best to make a political point by making it personal. The distortion of the vocals and guitar almost generate the feeling of fear and being upended that the lyrics depict. “Take The Long Way” was written by drummer Matt Cameron and it sounds like Soundgarden (in a good way). I can’t help it, that’s what I hear.

For me, Pearl Jam has always done exceptional ballads. If I have a complaint about Gigaton, it’s that the last four tracks are ballads. The back end just mellows out. My favorite of the mellow tracks is “Seven O’Clock” the most political track here. He gives the current occupant of the White House his Native American name, “Sitting Bullshit.” The song penned by bassist Jeff Ament, “Alright” is also a highlight. Rhythm guitarist extraordinaire, Stone Gossard’s penned “Buckle Up” almost sounds like a lilting children’s tune until Vedder, over loping drums and acoustic guitar, sings the first line, “I got blood, blood on my hands…” Happy music delivering disturbing words… Tom Waits would be proud. “Comes Then Goes” is a simple vocals over acoustic guitar track. Who does that any more? Vedder plays an old time pump organ on the closing track, “River Cross.” “Retrograde” is a lament about how the world is falling apart.

If you’re a fan of the early, early Pearl Jam, you might want to skip this one and just buy the concert ticket, if concerts ever happen again. But for those of us who have been along for the whole ride, this is an exciting, mature effort by one of the world’s greatest bands. I’ve never faulted any artist who wants to expand the aperture on what and how they create – I’ve always loved David Bowie and latter day Paul Simon, just to name a few examples. Simon’s last album (Review (Full LP): Paul Simon’s “Stranger To Stranger”) was as far away as you can get from “Still Crazy After All These Years.” I hope this new found experimental mood sparks some creative burst from these guys and we don’t have to wait until 2027 for the next Pearl Jam album. It may not be what everybody wanted, but it’s great to have a rock and roll album to be excited about in 2020, arguably the suckiest year in my lifetime.

Cheers!