Review: Neil Young, ‘Archives Vol. 2 (1972 – 1976)’ – An Epic Deep Dive Into The Ditch Trilogy And Beyond

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“Heart of Gold – This song put me in the middle of the road. Traveling there soon became a bore so I headed for the ditch. A rougher ride but I saw more interesting people there.” – Neil Young, from the liner notes of his superb greatest hits LP, Decade.

I have been extremely impressed with some of the archival releases we’ve seen over the last few years doing B&V. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the wonderful sets we’ve seen from Tom Petty and Prince who both released some great stuff from “the vaults” last year – Tom Petty: ‘Wildflowers & All The Rest – Deluxe Edition (4 CDs)’ – A Petty Masterpiece Lovingly Revisited and Review: Prince, ‘Sign O’ The Times – Deluxe Edition’ – An Embarrassment of Riches respectively. However, with Petty and Prince there’s the sad undercurrent that both artists passed recently in an untimely, surprise fashion which has allowed the guardians of their estates to cull through the archives for those releases. With all due respect to those artists, nobody has an “Archive game” like Neil Young. I love what Springsteen has released over the years, in particular Tracks and all the live vintage concerts he’s released (especially from 1978). Similarly, Dylan’s Bootleg Series has been full of spectacular finds (Dylan’s Bootleg Series – A User’s Guide). All of that has been great, but Neil Young’s archive stuff truly ranks right up there with them, if not above them. The thing that is astounding to me is that all three of those artists – Bruce, Bob and Neil – are still alive to curate the archives which makes it more fascinating. We get their perception and take on their history.

Springsteen has, of late anyway, been focused on releasing vintage concerts in their entirety from 1974 to the 2010s. There are rumors that Tracks 2 is in the works for 2021 in lieu of a tour. Dylan has done that as well, releasing singular concert documents but he’s also released batches of unreleased material usually covering a certain time period in his career. I actually think Neil started all of this with his superb “greatest hits” package Decade from 1977. Neil eschewed any formulaic “greatest hits” record and turned it into a 3-LP vinyl set that was more career retrospective than greatest hits. It culled tunes from almost every LP he’d done up to that point, over the previous decade (hence the name) with the Buffalo Springfield, CSNY, with Crazy Horse and solo. He included deeper albums cuts but more importantly he included a handful of unreleased tracks. I have Decade on vinyl… I bought in college as it seemed like the right place to start my Neil Young collection and I cherish it. I think the make-up of Decade is what inspired Dylan to put out his first box set, the brilliant Biograph, which was made up of hits, deep cuts, unreleased stuff and live tracks… hmmm, sound familiar? And, as I’ve said before, Biograph launched the “box set” industry. It begat Crossroads (Clapton) which begat Storyteller (Rod Stewart)…but perhaps I’m getting off track here. Suffice it to say you wouldn’t have Clapton combining his work with the Yardbirds, John Mayall, Cream and Blind Faith on one big box if Young hadn’t given him the idea on Decade. 

There were rumors dating back to the early 80s that Young was going to do Decade II. For years I’d heard he was “working on it.” I think at some point the technology changed and the ability to pack a box set with 10 or 12 CDs appealed to Neil. It allowed him to really dig into telling the retrospective story of his career. Eventually he shelved the whole Decade II project in favor of his Archives series. Eventually he even launched an archive website, https://neilyoungarchives.com, that is simply astounding in the depth and breadth of material. There’s a subscription fee, but if you’re into Neil, it’s worth it. Finally in 2009 Neil released The Archives Vol 1 1963 – 1972. It not only contained discs dedicated to one concert but it also, like Decade, had previously released cuts – “hits” and deep cuts – alongside previously unreleased material. It’s kind of a blended approach of Springsteen (concerts) and Dylan (previously unreleased/released from a specific period) mentioned above. The sound quality is so good it may induce weeping… Vol 1 had stuff from his first band, the Squires…but I was disappointed it didn’t have any material from the Minah Birds, his Motown cover band that featured Rick James. It covered much of the same time period of Decade. I was excited about Vol 1, but in the lead up, he kept releasing live albums and I kept snapping them up (Live At the Fillmore East (with Crazy Horse), Live At Massey Hall and Live At Canterbury House) and when it came out I was surprised and disappointed to see they were all included in the box set. I didn’t want to double buy all of this… (The same thing happened with Vol 2 and I failed to warn people about this to my shame, but I’d forgotten). I was also slightly turned off by all the previously released stuff. I owned all of that already. Vol 1 covered some of Neil’s most popular work including stuff with CSNY and his biggest selling LPs, After the Gold Rush and Harvest. In the end, I chose not to buy Vol 1. The hefty price tag was also an inhibitor at the time.

While it could be argued that Vol 1 was really Neil’s commercial zenith, I was always more attracted to his work in the 70s that came after that. I was eagerly awaiting a Vol 2. Neil is not a man who worries about deadlines so it took 11 years for him to release the next major set, Vol 2. Some of you may be wondering why I’m only writing about this now as the release date was Nov 20th, 2020. Yes he put out Vol 2 last year but it was a limited “collector’s” release of 3000 copies for $250. I love Neil Young, but hey man, even I have a limit. On March 5th he’s actually releasing a more reasonably priced (but still expensive) “retail” version. Only then will everybody have a chance to buy the physical copy or download music from the box set. Seeing the track list, I bit the bullet and purchased the physical copy, which I’m still waiting for but it came with a download. I’ve spent the last two weeks in a Neil Young 1972 to 1976 haze. Vol 2 didn’t cover the 10 year time frame of Vol 1, such was Neil’s huge output in the 70s, it only goes from 72 to 76, but what years those were.

Vol 2 picks up right where Vol 1 left off, the latter half of 1972 right after Harvest. Neil did not react well to the enormous, breakout success of Harvest (Artists Who Changed Their Music to Escape Fame), it freaked him out. He formed a band of session musicians in New York to tour behind Harvest. Drummer Kenny Buttrey demanded $100k in payment, to make up for missed sessions and the rest of the band followed suit. Neil said, in the original, deleted liner notes of Decade, “Money hassles among everyone concerned ruined this tour and record for me but I released it anyway so you folks could see what could happen if you lose it for a while.” He’d hired Crazy Horse’s guitarist Danny Whitten to join the band – he probably needed a friend in the band – but Whitten was lost to drug addiction and couldn’t pull it together, he couldn’t remember the songs. Neil fired him and a day later Whitten died from mixing booze and valium (not quaaludes as Rolling Stone reported at the time). Neil, freaked out about being a superstar, feeling intense guilt about Whitten and at odds with his backing band made for an… explosive tour. Young had discovered tequila, which even I refuse to drink. Add to that the angst of the death of the ideals of the hippy dream and Nixon’s reelection and it made for a heavy time for Neil. On the tour, instead of an evening of laid back country rock like “Heart of Gold,” Young was rocking out to tracks like “Time Fades Away” with it’s famous opening line, “Fourteen junkies too weak to work…” Naturally Neil brought along a tape recorder and that’s how he recorded the follow up to Harvest, a unique approach.

That’s exactly where Vol 2 starts, with the material from Time Fades Away (Neil Young: The Elusive 1973 “Time Fades Away” LP). It was recorded in 72, released in 73 and it is the first in what is now called “The Ditch Trilogy” based on Neil’s quote (above) from Decade. Neil has never really liked Time Fades Away, and I think it’s telling there’s only really one song from that album on disc 1 of Vol 2. There are a number of unreleased songs on the first disc, subtitled ‘Everybody’s Alone.’ “Letter From Nam” opens the set (a track he redid and released as “Long Walk Home” on Life). He does a great acoustic version of “L.A.,” that perhaps he should have subbed in for the version on the album. “Come Along And Say You Will,” and “Goodbye Christians On The Shore” are two great unreleased tracks. The disc ends with a version of “Human Highway” with Crosby, Stills & Nash from their aborted studio followup to Deja Vu. Supposedly, in 1976 when they made another attempted stab at a new studio album,  Neil became frustrated and was said to have erased Crosby & Nash’s backing vocals on this track and the others they recorded… it’s the thing of legend but apparently that’s not true. I have to wonder if there’s been any interest from that camp to try and reassemble that album, which was tentatively titled Human Highway… I can dream. Disc 2 is the previously released concert album from the Time Fades Away tour, Tuscaloosa, reviewed here, LP Review: Neil Young & The Stray Gators’ Live ‘Tuscaloosa’ From the Archives. Including the live album with the unreleased material really gives us a feel for where Neil was as 1972 waned.

Disc 3, subtitled ‘Tonight’s The Night’ is just that – tracks from the album Tonight’s The Night. The angst and despair Neil expressed on this album is irresistible to me. While Time Fades Away and Tonight’s The Night were sort of designed to destroy his commercial standing and the expectations that went with it, they’re still stunning records, favorites amongst his fans. Although they sold abysmally. I’ll willingly admit here that “Albuquerque” and “Roll Another Number” rank among my favorite Young tunes. There is a tasty unreleased track where Joni Mitchell shows up and Neil and the boys play her “Raised On Robbery.” Why it’s here is anybody’s guess. I’m the rare fan whose not crazy about Joni, but I dig the track. Disc 4 keeps the focus on the Tonight’s The Night period with another live concert, Tonight’s The Night Live At The Roxy, Review: Neil Young’s ‘Roxy: Tonight’s The Night Live’. While Neil recorded the album in 1973, his record company refused to release it until 1975 but the fans react enthusiastically to all the tunes and Neil almost sounds… happy?

Disc 5, subtitled ‘Walk On’ takes us to 1973-74 and the sessions for the third installment of the Ditch Trilogy, and another of my favorites, On The Beach. He throws in the Decade track “Winterlong” which was recorded at the time but not included on the album. There’s also a great version of the unreleased track “Traces.” Like Tonight’s The Night, this album didn’t sell very well so it makes sense that he’d include most the tracks from the album with this box. There’s always been this feeling that all truly brilliant art comes from pain. I would suggest that this album is proof of that. I like that this disc is entirely dedicated to the sessions for On The Beach. While it’s received a positive critical reevaluation, it’s time it gets a commercial one as well. Again, there isn’t a Neil Young fan worth his salt who doesn’t revere this album.

Disc 6, subtitled ‘The Old Homestead’ focuses on 1974. Neil reunited with Crosby, Stills and Nash for what was at the time the biggest stadium concert tour ever. They spent most of the money they made on coke, but it was a great tour. There are a couple of tracks from the tour here that didn’t make the great live album they put out a few years ago, 1974. For the most part though, this disc is all stuff that Neil recorded by himself with an acoustic guitar or piano. Towards the end we find a reconstituted Crazy Horse with Frank “Poncho” Sampedro on second guitar. I love the way Sampedro and Young’s guitars intertwine. This disc may be my favorite, there’s so much unreleased here. Or versions that were unreleased like “Homefires” and “Love/Art Blues.” “L.A. Girls and Ocean Boys,” one of his more famous unreleased songs, about his break up with actress Carrie Snodgress is here as well. Neil goes through all of the emotional hell of the Ditch Trilogy only to find his girlfriend/baby mama has cheated on him and they break up. The guy couldn’t get a break in the 70s but man did it fuel some of his greatest music. None of the solo, acoustic stuff here sounds like a demo, these are fully realized songs.

Disc 7 is the recently released vault album that Neil pulled in favor of releasing Tonight’s The Night entitled Homegrown (Review: Neil Young’s ‘Homegrown’ – The Lost Masterpiece, In The Vaults 45 Years. Again, I don’t know how I didn’t include a warning that this album was going to end up in the next box set when I reviewed it so if I enticed someone to buy an extra copy of the album, I’m sorry. I do love this album and wish it had been released a long time ago… we might be saying Ditch Quartet. Undecided whether to release this album or Tonight’s The Night, Neil played both for a group of friends and on the advice of the Band’s Rick Danko he chose Tonight’s…

Disc 8, subtitled ‘Dume’ focuses on 1975 and the great Zuma album. This was another great record that was a commercial disappointment but it showed signs that Neil was moving on from grief. He’s got Crazy Horse along for the ride on most the tracks. There’s an early version of “Ride My Llama” which eventually appeared on Rust Never Sleeps in a completely different version. Its interesting to hear tracks that were released later in different forms. Every session for each album has a distinct sound and the songs that are recorded and rerecorded tend to take on the sound of the sessions for which the versions are recorded which is an interesting glimpse into Neil’s creative process. Another “famous” unreleased track, “Born To Run” is here… no, it’s not Springsteen’s track. An early version of “Powderfinger” is here. I like the Rust version better, it’s truly definitive. There’s a full band version of “Pocahontas” here and again I think the acoustic version is definitive. I think Neil generally makes the right decision as to when a song is finally right. Zuma is at heart a break up album with tracks like “Drive Back,” “Pardon My Heart” and “Stupid Girl.” Neil was moving on from grief but it appears he chose anger as his next predominant emotion.

Disc 9, subtitled ‘Look Out For My Love’ is another great collection of songs. Many stem from the Stills-Young album. There are versions of the tracks I mentioned above, that have Crosby and Nash singing harmonies that Neil legendarily purportedly erased, notably “Ocean Girl,” “Human Highway” (again) and “Midnight On the Bay.” I have to admit, I like these versions even more than the ones that Neil released with Stills. “Like A Hurricane” one of Neil’s most epic guitar jams is here…recorded but unreleased until 1977. There are a number of tracks who wouldn’t see the light of day until Comes A Time. It’s another favorite disc in this collection of 10 CDs of music.

Disc 10, the final disc, subtitled ‘Odeon Budokan’ is a live album of sorts. The first half, all acoustic Neil, recorded at London’s Hammersmith Odeon. The second half, with Crazy Horse and full on rocking, was recorded in Budokan, Japan. I love all live Neil and I think this music has been widely bootlegged. I was glad it was included but couldn’t help but wish that maybe Neil would have included an additional disc of studio stuff… 1977, anyone?

I’ll admit you have to be a bit of a Neil Young fanatic to dive into this 10 disc boxset, but man is it rewarding. It’s an immersive way to get into and understand Neil as an artist from 1972 to 1976. I highly recommend this set to any Neil fan but to hose who are more novice Neil fans, this is a way to learn about him. To me it’s his most tumultuous, rawly emotional period but also one of his most rewarding. While I love his Gold Rush/Harvest stuff, I guess I’m just more fascinated in the ditch… you really do meet more interesting people there. I can’t wait until Vol 3 where we’ll ride out the 70s and the dawn of the 80s…

Stay safe and more importantly stay warm. If you’re in Texas, my thoughts are with you.

Sequel: Pleased To Meet You 2 – Our Epic List of Debut Solo Albums, “Let Me Re-introduce Myself”

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As long time readers know, a few weeks ago I posted about our B&V favorite debut albums, Pleased To Meet You… The Epic List of Our 40 Favorite Debut Albums. As I was compiling the list of all the great debut albums out there, well, the list began to get a little unwieldy. I was somewhere around 80 albums when I realized I needed to put some rules around the thing to thin it down to something manageable. How I settled on 40 albums and not 50, I’m unclear about. One of the first rules I laid out for myself was to exclude any solo debuts. If a singer or guitar player had been in a band, and was thus an established artist, it seemed like cheating to include them on the debut list. When Ozzy went solo and recorded Blizzard of Ozz he had already established himself as the Prince of “fucking Darkness” (his words, not mine) through his work with Black Sabbath. It seemed unfair to compare that album with say, R.E.M.’s Murmur. When Michael Stipe and company were recording that album they were a bunch of pimply faced kids and certainly no competition for the Dark Lord. 

The Rock Chick was the first person – since she’s always the first person to see what I write, despite her life long ban from reading B&V due to her unfair grammatical criticism, to cry foul on the rule barring solo debuts from the list. In her view a debut is a debut. As I sat staring out at the frozen tundra that is Kansas City in February watching dry, powdery snow flutter through the sky like some giant human had shaken my city like a snow globe, my thoughts as always turned to rock n roll. I had to admit the Rock Chick’s argument was persistently tugging at the edge of my mind. I had excluded a lot of really great solo debut albums from the list. Since the high temperatures this last week were in the single digits with -15 degree wind chills, I had a lot of time on my hands. I was already hiding in my attic from Covid… now bitter cold has me pinned in my attic as well. 

Going solo can be a dicey proposition. In the late 60s and early 70s audiences often struggled with the whole concept of doing a solo record. You were either in a band or you were on your own and apparently never the twain shall meet. If you did your own album it meant you were leaving the band. When Paul McCartney put out McCartney, his homespun, lo-fi debut it was considered the announcement that the Beatles were over… which perhaps contributed to the critical backlash at the time. It was Rod Stewart who was the first artist to juggle the whole solo vs band career when he was a member of the Faces. He’d do a Faces album and then six months later he’d do a solo record. I think his solo stuff ended up overshadowing one of the world’s greatest bands, the Faces, and that’s a shame. People thought the Faces were just his back up band, which utterly rankled the other guys, especially Ronnie Lane. Rod was the first to try the split career but based on the fact his solo albums sold so much better I can’t say it was a screaming success. There’s always the constant allegations that you’re saving your best stuff for the solo albums. 

Rod’s career does underscore the fact that chemistry matters. When an artist is in a band its a collective. There’s a give and take. The guys in the band interpret what you’ve written. When you go solo you’re captain of the ship. Where as in a band some of your worst instincts as an artist may be curbed by the members of the band when you go solo there’s no one to say, maybe you shouldn’t have a spoken-word interlude in the middle of a rock song, Mick. I think Lennon always made McCartney tougher and McCartney always made Lennon not softer but perhaps more melodic, less caustic. When you go solo you’re putting your reputation on the line. You’ve established a brand and going solo can really tarnish your reputation. I think about Sting in this realm. We all loved Sting until Dream of the Blue Turtles came out. Looking back it wasn’t that awful of an album but that jazz-lite stuff induced a lot “what the hell is this shit?” moments. His solo career has been largely a disappointment for a lot of people. If I never hear “Love Is The Seventh Wave,” it’ll be too soon. 

Sometimes though, the risk of going solo is worth it. In many cases the artists on this list were kicked out of their bands or the bands broke up. A solo project was thus inevitable. I remember Mick Jagger, when asked in the 80s whether he’d ever do a solo record, saying something about doing a solo album when he had enough material that the band thought was “too stupid” to record. Who knew he was actually telling the truth there. Some of the artists on my list below had great solo careers, some only had this one great debut album. This is in no means a commentary about the solo careers of these artists it’s merely about their debut album as a solo artist. For example, the aforementioned Mick Jagger’s solo debut was, by any stretch of the imagination bad, he has put out a few great records. 

For the purposes of this list, which is randomly laid out, I’ll list it like this: Solo Artist Name (Former Band Name), Debut Album Title. If there’s a great debut solo LP you’re into, let me know what that is and I’ll check it out. I hope there are a few gems on this list of 25 that if you haven’t come across them, you’ll discover something you like. 

  1. Gregg Allman (The Allman Brothers Band), Laid Back – I just repurchased this one on vinyl! Frustrated with inter-band conflict, especially with Dickey Betts, Allman recorded this solo gem while also recording Brothers And Sisters with the band. More soulful and less guitar-centric, Allman even redid “Midnight Rider” and turned it on its head and into a classic on its own right. 
  2. Jeff Beck (The Jeff Beck Group), Blow By Blow – Tired of squabbling with lead singers, Beck pulled in George Martin of Beatles fame to produce and put out one of the only instrumental albums outside of jazz that I can listen to. There is such a rich and beautiful tone Jeff pulls out of his instrument. This is a fascinating listen. 
  3. Robbie Robertson (The Band), Robbie Robertson – It had been almost a decade since the Band had broken up and Richard Manuel had recently committed suicide when Robbie finally put out his solo debut. He had a lot of help from producer Daniel Lanois, U2, Peter Gabriel, and members of the Bodeans but the songwriting on this record is all Robertson. “Somewhere Down the Crazy River” is my favorite song here. “Testimony” is an epic statement of purpose. 
  4. Jack White (The White Stripes), Blunderbuss – Listening to the White Stripes’ greatest hits LP makes me miss that band and Meg White even more (Review: The White Stripes ‘Greatest Hits’ – A Lovingly Curated Romp Through Their Career) but Jack White really comes through on his solo debut. He’s one of rock’s most important artists. 
  5. Paul McCartney (The Beatles), McCartney – Depressed as the Beatles imploded McCartney retreated to his home and invented DIY, indie rock. I love this little lo-fi gem. It’s heavy on instrumental jams but as usual with McCartney the melodies bore into my brain. He just released his second sequel to this one, Review: ‘McCartney III,’ A Homespun Gem, the perfect lockdown project. 
  6. Joe Walsh (The James Gang), Barnstorm – I know that Barnstorm was considered an actual band but I think of this as Joe’s solo debut anyway. I left Dio’s Holy Diver off the list because I actually did consider them a band not a solo artist so perhaps I’m bending the rules a bit. I had to include this album as the song “Turn To Stone” which is the greatest riff in the history of guitar makes it debut. It’s a surprisingly laid back affair which makes his joining the Eagles makes sense.
  7. Rod Stewart (The Jeff Beck Group), The Rod Stewart Album – With that title it’s pretty easy to see this as Rod introducing himself to the world post-Jeff Beck Group, pre-Faces. With his sidekick Ronnie Wood on guitar this album has always seemed like an interview for the job as Faces lead singer. He does some great interpretations on covers (“Man of Constant Sorrow,” “Street Fighting Man”) but the originals are just fantastic. The passionate “Blind Prayer” has always been a personal favorite. I think he should have stuck to the original title, An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down.
  8. George Harrison (The Beatles), All Things Must Pass – The single greatest Beatles’ solo album. Harrison had been largely stifled as a songwriter in the Beatles – they typically gave him only 2 songs per album (if that) and he had a huge backlog of great material as evidenced by the original 3-vinyl LP package. (Yes, I’m ignoring his Wonderwall project). 
  9. Ozzy Osbourne (Black Sabbath), Blizzard of Ozz – Everybody thought Ozzy was finished after Sabbath fired him for being out of control on booze and drugs. Along came Randy Rhoads and the rest was history (Review: Ozzy’s ‘Blizzard of Ozz, 40th Anniversary Expanded’ – Is It Worth It?). 
  10. John Lennon (The Beatles), Plastic Ono Band – I tend to ignore those 2 awful records he did prior to this with Yoko. For me this is his first solo album. Fresh from primal scream therapy Lennon delivered this, his most raw, brutally honest album. “Mother” sears itself into your memory. He’s exercising every demon in his soul here. Riveting listen. 
  11. Eric Clapton (Yardbirds, John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Cream, Blind Faith), Eric Clapton – After playing in virtually every British blues-rock band ever, Clapton finally put his solo debut LP out. He recorded this with members of Delaney and Bonnie who he’d met when they opened for Blind Faith on their tour. “Bottle of Red Wine” is a personal fav. 
  12. Stephen Stills (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young), Stephen Stills – Stills, alongside Neil Young, had established himself as a guitar hero but surprisingly he leaves the solo’ing to his guest stars – Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix on his last studio recording. This is just a great, great eclectic record. The rest of his solo career was up and down but he was on the money here. 
  13. Paul Simon (Simon & Garfunkel), Paul Simon – Surprisingly, I don’t think this little gem of an album sold that well. “Mother And Child Reunion” and “Me and Julio Down By the Schoolyard” hint at his world music influences that we’d eventually see blossom on Graceland. 
  14. Graham Nash (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young), Songs For Beginners – I considered David Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name but left it out as I feared it sounded like too much of a hippy clambake for most people. Nash is probably my least favorite songwriter of the CSNY family (Artist Lookback: Crosby, Stills, Or Nash – The Essential Solo and Duo Albums), but I love this album. Its informed largely by his recent searing heartbreak from his split with girlfriend Joni Mitchell which is what makes this one so poignant to me. As I’ve often admitted, I’m a sucker for recent searing heartbreak. Well, I was until I met the Rock Chick… but those records are sealed. 
  15. David Lee Roth (Van Halen), Eat ‘Em And Smile – Kicked out of Van Halen for making a solo EP and wanting to make a movie, Roth’s split with Eddie is probably one of rock’s ugliest divorces. He recruited some top notch musicians – Billy Sheehan on bass and most notably Steve Vai on guitar wizardry – and actually treated this like a band project. After this it looked like Roth would be the one with the long, more successful career, not his former band. Alas, on his next record his megalomania took over and he started indulging his worst instincts. 
  16. Stevie Nicks (Fleetwood Mac), Bella Donna – I love this album. Every man of a certain age has/had a crush on Stevie. Sure she had help from Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and Don Henley but this is a uniquely Stevie album. This thing was so big I’m still surprised she returned to Fleetwood Mac. The disappointing sales figures for Tusk is what drove her to record solo, not the break up with Buckingham which I always found fascinating. 
  17. Gram Parsons, (The Byrds, The Flying Burrito Brothers), G.P. – Gram never met a band he couldn’t quit. He bounced from band to band in an almost Clapton-esque fashion. This, his final LP before his death is a country-rock masterpiece. The Eagles were clearly listening…
  18. Peter Frampton (Humble Pie), Winds of Change – When compared to Humble Pie’s boogie rock classic Smokin’, which was their first album without Frampton and this largely acoustic album it’s easy to see that Peter was moving in a different direction than the band. I don’t know why his pre-Frampton Comes Alive studio albums aren’t more popular. This is a really engrossing listen. 
  19. Liam Gallagher (Oasis, Beady Eye), As You Were – When Liam’s band Beady Eye, which was basically a Noel-less Oasis, imploded I remember reading Noel saying, “Liam needs to put out a solo album, put his own name on something, put it all out there.” I guess Liam was listening. I described this album as a pleasant surprise from an unpleasant man. As much as I dislike Liam, I love his solo stuff, LP Review: Liam Gallagher, ‘As You Were’ A Pleasant Surprise From an Unpleasant Man
  20. Robert Plant (Led Zeppelin), Pictures At 11 – We were all still pretty raw that John Bonham had passed and Led Zeppelin had broken up. I remember guys in my high school were renting a bus to see them in Chicago when the news of Bonham’s death broke. This was such a great album and it helped us all move on. Phil Collins showed up to play drums and help Plant figure out how to produce an album. Plant seems embarrassed by his early albums but this is a classic. “Burning Down One Side” is an absolutely fantastic track. 
  21. Natalie Merchant (10,000 Maniacs), Tigerlilly – I hated the 10,000 Maniacs, they never made any sense to me. But this solo debut from Natalie Merchant was a stunner. A friend of mine described the guitar work on this record as “smokey.” I even saw her on the ensuing tour for this record. This, for me, is the lone gem in her solo catalog. 
  22. Van Morrison (Them), Astral Weeks – Brilliant, poetic, transcendent, Celtic mysticism. One of the greatest albums of all time. 
  23. Mike Ness (Social Distortion), Cheating At Solitaire – If you dig the “cow punk” of Social Distortion, you’ll love this record. The duet with Bruce Springsteen, “Misery Loves Company” is a classic. I remember texting the Rock Chick, who turned me onto Social D, “worlds collide, Springsteen/Ness together!” The whole record blows me away. 
  24. Iggy Pop (The Stooges), The Idiot – Iggy and Bowie on the loose in Europe recording Iggy’s classic first solo album. Some say Bowie’s influence is too pronounced here but that’s just crazy talk. Iggy comes through on classics like “China Girl” and “The Dum Dum Boys.” 
  25. Keith Richards (The Rolling Stones), Talk Is Cheap – The solo record Keith never wanted to make. Tired of trying to get Mick interested in the Stones again, Keith put together a great band with Steve Jordan (drums) and Waddy Watchel (guitar) and put out a classic (Keith Richards: ‘Talk Is Cheap (Deluxe Version),’ The 30th Anniversary Edition With Bonus Tracks). 

Stay safe but more importantly stay warm if its cold where you are. I don’t think the son is going to shine again here until late next week. I’ll be gritting my teeth to get through it… Hopefully some of this classic rock and roll will help keep you warm! 

Cheers! 

Cheap Trick: Incendiary New Single, “Light Up The Fire” From the Upcoming LP ‘In Another World’

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In the late 70s when Cheap Trick was at their true zenith, I was in junior high school. As the 80s dawned, I began my mostly mediocre high school years. When I was in junior high school everybody rode the bus to school. I suppose there were some kids who were close enough to walk, but my junior high was way over by the Kansas-Missouri border and so every day I begrudgingly boarded the bus. Finally as summer of 1979 waned, I became a high schooler. The main difference between junior high and high school, other than the sheer size of the place, at least for me at the time was that you didn’t have to ride the bus. You could drive a car, catch a ride with someone else in their car, or I suppose you could ride a bike if you were that sort of person…and I didn’t know that sort of person when I was in high school. 

I desperately wanted to drive to school. There was only one small problem. My parents wouldn’t let me get near a car. I knew how to drive, I’d been driving their car for years. It wasn’t like they’d have me drive up to the convenience store for beer and cigarettes or anything weird like that but we’d go out to the country when visiting relatives and they’d let me drive. In those years, especially oddly in junior high I was a bit of a…well… hellion. I’d actually mellowed out a little bit by high school, but I’d never get any credit for that from my parents… not now and especially not then. Since my misadventures typically involved beer drinking of some sort my parents were extremely apprehensive about allowing me to drive a car, any car. Looking back I secretly suspect my father just didn’t want to help me buy a car. I still wonder if they thought I was going to down a six-pack on the way to school… I mean, who drinks beer in the morning in high school? That’s clearly a college level gig. 

This situation left me sadly standing at the bus stop when high school rolled around. I’m not ever going to say only “losers” rode the bus because well, I was riding the bus, but it was a tough crowd. I watched two guys get into a fist fight on the bus one day… they were arguing about whether or not Hendrix, were he still alive, would have gone “jazz” and abandoned rock n roll. While the fight was crazy, I have to admit it was a subject worth fighting for. There was a guy at my bus stop who later went down for murder. Seriously, he killed a guy. That was the bus stop. I’m a lover not a fighter, I was lost in that crowd. A few weeks into high school this guy I knew, who I’ll call “Jimbo” stopped in his green VW bug and said, “What are you doing, get in.” And like that, I was rescued from the yellow hell. He came by my house every day and drove me to school. Alas, Jimbo moved to Oklahoma early in that sophomore year. That wasn’t before we’d wrecked the green VW bug… because of well, beer.  Don’t drink and drive folks. Learn from Springsteen’s mistake. 

Luckily, I had another friend, an industrious guy who always had a job, who I’ll call Brewster. Brewster owned a Monza. I think he bought it with his own cash. Shortly after Jimbo moved I was leaving my house one morning, bummed out, headed back to the bus stop and back to the yellow exile. I was quietly  hoping that there’d be no Hendrix “discussions” that morning as I was tired. When to my surprise, up pulls Brewster in his Monza. He’s got a couple other dudes in the car. Our friend RW was there and I think there were like seven guys named Steve who road along too. That’s how I remember it but that would have had to have been a huge Monza. In my defense, 90% of the people I knew in high school were named Steve so I get confused. After that, Brewster picked me up every school day morning. Oddly there was never a discussion about it. There was never a, “Hey, you can ride with me,” or “Get in” moment like with Jimbo. Every now and again my mom would slip me cash and I’d give it to Brewster for gas money. These were the “Cash, grass or ass” days so I wanted to get that money on the table early. Since there was never a discussion, occasionally if Brewster was sick, I’d be left standing at my front door. My mom was always super pissed, “Can you guys not communicate this stuff?” Alas, Brewster was never a wordy type of guy back then. 

Most days found me riding along happily in the Monza. I was tall so they’d let me ride up front most days. RW and the Steves would all ride in back. The best part of riding to school in the Monza was Brewster had sprung for a good stereo that played 8-track tapes. For those you unfamiliar with 8-tracks, Google them. They were the most confounding musical delivery system ever. Brewster had a recently new live album that we’d listen to almost every day on our way to school by a band called Cheap Trick. The album was called Cheap Trick at Budokan. We all knew it simply by the title “Live At Budokan.” I had only been vaguely familiar with Cheap Trick up to that point but man did we love that live LP. Although since we were listening on 8-track tape, it was years before I actually knew the running order of the songs on the record. It was like it was on random. I never figured that thing out. “I Want You To Want Me,” and “Surrender” were the big tracks but there wasn’t a bad moment on that LP… it easily made my list of “Essential Live Albums,” BourbonAndVinyl Comes Alive: The Epic List Of Essential Live Albums

Needless to say I was a big Cheap Trick fan early on and remained so even after that late 70s – early 80s heyday. By the early 90s their albums had become a tad inconsistent. They always seemed to have a stray hit or two, even in the low points. Since then there have been a number of albums that were hailed as their “comeback album.” Starting with 2006’s Rockford, which was superb, I found myself interested again. After all these years Cheap Trick still has almost all of their original members: Robin Zander on lead vocals, Rick Nielsen on guitars and Tom Petersson on bass. Original drummer Bun E. Carlos has left the band rather acrimoniously and was replaced with Nielsen’s son Daxx. At least they kept it in the family. Their last album (not including a xmas album) We’re All Alright! was another triumph (LP Review: Cheap Trick’s ‘We’re All Alright!’ – Pure, Rock Delight

Cheap Trick have returned in 2021 with a new single, “Light Up The Fire” from an upcoming album In Another World. I’ve gotta tell you, I love the new track. “Light Up The Fire” just simply rocks. I was playing it one day and the Rock Chick wandered into the B&V Lab and said, “Wow, these guys are rocking.” Cheap Trick do so many things well. There’s obviously a Beatles’ influence in a lot of their music. I would say, now that I’ve discovered Big Star, there is also a huge influence there as well. Call it power pop or rock that feels pop-y, call it whatever you want Cheap Trick can do it. But one thing I don’t think they get enough credit for is how much they just flat out rock. I hated to see Bun E. Carlos go, but ever since Daxx Nielsen has taken over the kit, these guys have leaned a little harder into the rocking stuff.

I would be remiss not to call out Zander’s almost unhinged lead vocal. That was what first caught the Rock Chick’s ear. The track starts off with a fuzzy bass and then the drums and guitar kick in. Its’ galloping along when Zander’s yelp comes in. “So light up the fire, but don’t burn my love to the ground.” Oh, hell yes. Nielsen does his usual manic guitar work here. The solo feels buttery slippery but powerful and its all anchored by such a solid rhythm section. Daxx and Tom aren’t flashy but they’re in the pocket. This is a full-out, fun, race me to the finish line rocker. If you like Cheap Trick’s harder rocking stuff, this will fill the bill. 

I am extremely  hopeful this is a great kick off to a great album and what could be a great 2021 musically. I’d heard rumors they had this album done a year ago but held off release because of Covid. If so, I’m glad its finally seeing the light of day. It’s great to hear the Rock Hall of Fame stalwarts come out guns blazing to start off our year. It’s certainly a hopeful sign for the Rock New Year. I’ll be keeping my eye out for this album, for sure! 

Be safe out there! Cheers! 

Mental Jukebox: Songs In My Head When I Wake Up – January 2021… Come Inside My Mind

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*Image above from the internet and likely subject to copyright. 

According to the Urban Dictionary, the term “mental jukebox” refers to:

“the effect of a random song playing in your head for no reason, often followed by another song completely unrelated to the first, much like a jukebox on random. For example, “Why the hell was Rick Astley just playing in my head? I haven’t heard any of his music in ages! I had Slayer playing before that! Wtf!””

I’m not sure anybody has ever come up with a better encapsulation of the concept of the “mental jukebox” than the Urban Dictionary. I mean, when you describe a musical swing from Rick Astley to Slayer you’ve managed to capture the essence of the random, wild shifts the brain can take you through musically. I am no stranger to the mental jukebox. In fact, sleep or perhaps better described as my attempts to sleep, seems to be the trigger for my brain’s music center. I awake every day with a fresh, new song in my head. I don’t know if this is a common phenomenon, but I do know my friend Doug has the same thing happen to him. I can awake with the biggest hit from U2 or the Beatles to a deep album cut from the Black Crowes to a jingle from a commercial playing in my mind. I’ve awakened to the sound of show tunes ringing in my head and trust me, I despise musicals of any kind. I have to turn on music in the morning merely to cleanse my brain, much like mouthwash especially if I’m hearing “Oklahoma” in my mind. I never know what song I’ll wake up to in my head. I have no control over any of it. I seem to be at the mercy of my brain. As George Harrison once said, “It’s all in your mind.”

The mind or (if you will) man’s capacity for reason is what separates us from the other mammals. I’ve been reading, or rather trying to read, Marcus Aurelius’ Mediations. Marcus, if I’m reading him correctly, seemed to think that our reason was the godly part of us. He had a lot of thoughts about well, thinking. “You have the power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this and you will find strength.” I dig that, but I don’t think I have any power over the mental jukebox. Marcus also said, “The happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts.” Apparently we can all think ourselves happy according to Marcus… I think Oporah believes in this line of reasoning. Somehow I think it’s more complicated than that. I guess I’m less a Stoic like Marcus and more of a Hedonist. I certainly spend more than my fair share of time thinking about rock music. One quote I’ve always liked about the mind is Plutarch, “The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled.”

I have a friend who is into reading books about the structure of the brain. He likes to explain a lot of human behavior as being a function of the different parts of your brain reacting to stimuli. Of course he was an early adherent to the whole “evolutionary psychology” thing. I have begun to suspect that my friend reads so many books about brain chemistry because he’s trying to explain and rationalize some of his own behavior. Sometimes we do things because we want to… not because our hypothalamus is driving us to. Although in these pages I have often joked that music has hit me in the lower brain stem. I get it, brain structure and especially the frontal lobes can affect the way we think and behave but there has to be more to the story. We’re not just human lab rats with automatic or learned reaction to stimuli.

All of that said, I don’t think the mental jukebox is of the rational, conscious mind. I certainly don’t think it has anything to do with brain structure. There’s not a tiny little bar hidden in my cerebellum with a great jukebox in the corner. I like to imagine that if there is a bar hidden in my brain it’s the coolest dive bar you can find, with dark wood and peanut shells on the floor and a cool but gruff barkeep…maybe a menu with only hot wings. My thoughts are cluttered, why shouldn’t my imaginary brain bar be as equally messy? I’m getting off topic here… Since the mental jukebox is not structural or of the rational mind the only answer is that it stems from the unconscious mind. While he didn’t coin the term “unconscious mind” Sigmund Freud certainly made the concept popular. I was once bored in an airport waiting for a delayed flight when I picked up Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams. I enjoyed the book, although it became a bit of a slow slog in the back half. It gave me my first real insights into the unconscious mind that I’d had since college psychology. Freud believed that things like verbal slips (aka Freudian slips) or dreams come from that uncontrolled, unconscious part of the mind where all of our hidden wishes and desires reside. Even Cinderella said “A dream is a wish your heart makes…” Oh God, I hope I don’t wake up with that song in my head tomorrow…

I will say, that reading Freud’s book on dreams has helped me interpret some of the wilder, more disturbing dreams my unconscious mind seems to conjure. I have a recurring nightmare where I’m visited from someone from my past. The nightmare always comes during times of great stress or loss. Freud’s book helped me realize that the person in the nightmare is merely a manifestation or symbol of pain and loss and has nothing to actually do with the person I’m seeing in the dream. It’s really helped me to shake off that particular nightmare. I wake up and realize my brain is trying to tell me I’m suffering and struggling and I just need to bear down. Even in the resolution of that nightmare, I’m not controlling the unconscious mind, I am merely using it as a tool to navigate obstacles in my life.

That all said, I wondered if the mental jukebox was trying to send me a similar message to ones that my dreams do? Is there some message or theme to the music that pops up in my head every morning? If so, what is my mind trying tell me? I decided to keep what I’m going to call a “Song Journal” during the month of January. Every morning when I woke up and some random tune assailed my brain I would stagger down the hall to my office – before even going for coffee – and I’d write down the song and any impressions of where it came from. Usually I had no idea but sometimes I’d merely heard the track the day before. While I hoped that this process would help me get to a deeper understanding of where my head is at, in the end I think it just tells me what I already know… I’m really into music. While I may not have discovered any fundamental truths about myself, it was an interesting process. I will say that I participated in my usual Dry January which may or may not have influenced how vivid the songs were and how varied the music selection was. I guess I’ll never know.

Here then, is my Song Journal from January 2021 chronicling every song I heard in my head every morning. I considered a playlist, but thought it was too disjointed, even for my disparate tastes. Most of these tracks came out of nowhere unless otherwise noted.

  • Jan 1st – Robert Plant, “Angel Dance” – I had actually heard this track the day before, so no real mystery.
  • Jan 2nd – Black Crowes, “Only A Fool” – I’ve been a little obsessed with the Crowes since I heard Shake Your Money Maker 30th Anniversary was coming out. This track is on a later LP, not sure where it came from.
  • Jan 3rd – AC/DC, “Big Gun” – From the soundtrack of a Schwarzenegger movie, something I was working on a post for…Playlist: Missing Going To The Movies?: Our Favorite Soundtrack Songs.
  • Jan 4th – The Police, “King of Pain”
  • Jan 5th – Stills-Young Band, “Long May You Run”
  • Jan 6th – Genesis, “I Can’t Dance” – I’m not crazy about this tune… I’d had a nightmare about a wedding I was being forced to attend. Could there be a connection?
  • Jan 7th – Kenny Wayne Shepherd, “Blue On Black”
  • Jan 8th – Eagles, “Too Busy Being Fabulous” – I’d read about this song online the day before. I think we can safely draw a straight-line between that and hearing it in my head.
  • Jan 9th – Steve Winwood (with Joe Walsh on guitar), “Split Decision”
  • Jan 10th – Foo Fighters, “My Hero” – I’m not a huge fan of the fighters of Foo and had to actually search to find the title of this track. Totally random stuff.
  • Jan 11th – Lindsey Buckingham, “Holiday Road” – Despite the holidays being well past me, this one popped into my head. Lingering issues over Xmas?
  • Jan 12th – Bruce Springsteen, “High Hopes”
  • Jan 13th – Beatles, “Across the Universe” – This track pops up often. It seems to be on regular repeat.
  • Jan 14th – U2, “Stuck In A Moment”
  • Jan 15th, Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Roadtrippin'” – Great acoustic track about friends on a road trip… I’d had a dream about some friends of mine from the old days.
  • Jan 16th – Elvis Costello, “Alison” – Was listening to LPs for my post on debut albums, Pleased To Meet You… The Epic List of Our 40 Favorite Debut Albums. This had to be a connection to that.
  • Jan 17th – Bruce Springsteen, “Ghost of Tom Joad” – Dreamt I was a cop investigating a murder at the inauguration the night before… Strange connection if there is one?
  • Jan 18th – Fiona Apple, “Extraordinary Machine” – I’d just repurchased this album, the title track seems to have lodged itself in my brain.
  • Jan 19th – Avett Brothers? “There Was a Dream”? – There’s a song that sounds like the Avett Brothers used in an insurance commercial that I see a few hundred times each night. I woke up with it in my head. Not sure if its the Avett Bros or what the name is. Ironically, I have no idea which insurance company.
  • Jan 20th – Pink Floyd “Not Now John” – The previous day I’d posted about “The Gunner’s Dream,” Roger Waters: New Recording/Video OF “The Gunner’s Dream” Originally From ‘The Final Cut’, and had listened to the whole album. This track stuck. Great riff, it came to me first.
  • Jan 21st – Neil Young & Crazy Horse, “Come On Baby Lets Go Downtown” – Danny Whitten from Crazy Horse on vocals.
  • Jan 22nd – Pink Floyd, “Gunner’s Dream” – This track stuck with me a few days. One of my all time favorites.
  • Jan 23rd – Moody Blues, “Lucky Man” – I despise the Moody Blues and this song. How this ended up in my head is a mystery. I’m just glad it wasn’t “Knights In White Satin.”
  • Jan 24th – U2, “Mysterious Ways” – Another common track I wake up with… I don’t know why but it may be Edge’s riff.
  • Jan 25th – Van Halen, “Big Bad Bill Is Sweet William Now” – Been thinking a lot of Eddie Van Halen lately.
  • Jan 26th – Black Crowes, “Welcome To the Good Times” – Same LP as Jan 2nd’s entry… no connection.
  • Jan 27th – Rod Stewart, “Man of Constant Sorrow” – From his debut. It was our first snow of the year… which always make me feel well, sorrowful.
  • Jan 28th – Blind Melon, “No Rain”
  • Jan 29th – Sam Cooke, “Chain Gang” – I’d to tell you this stems from the movie One Night In Miami but I haven’t seen it yet.
  • Jan 30th – Frank Sinatra, “New York, New York” – Perhaps feeling some little town blues since I can’t travel.
  • Jan 31st – Led Zeppelin, “Candy Store Rock” – The music came to me first and while I was laying in bed the lyrics finally popped in.

That’s my Song Journal for January. No real patterns of thinking that I can discern. My mental jukebox doesn’t seem to want to tell me anything, I guess it just wants to rock. I had hoped perhaps for some existential insight but as always that seems to elude me. As we move into February I wish all of you pleasant dreams and great music when you wake up. I know this post was something a little different but it’s winter and I figured, why not?

Cheers!