Review: Cheap Trick, ‘In Another World’ – The Solid But Predictable New LP

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It’s strange these days when I read anything about Cheap Trick. They are forty-plus years into a career but invariably every article about them or review of their music now describes them as being “power pop” or “pop rock.” Usually the article goes on to compare them to Big Star. Apparently the term power pop is defined as ” a form of pop rock based on the early music of bands such as the Who, the Beatles, the Beach Boys, and the Byrds.” It was apparently coined by Pete Townshend to describe the Who’s music in the mid 60s. My fandom of rock music runs about as long as Cheap Trick’s career. I started listening to rock music in roughly 1978, so I was a year behind their debut LP. I know a lot about rock n roll but I still can’t identify which music is considered “power pop.” I think it’s just rock n roll that is more melodic with perhaps an eye toward the charts? I think it’s funny that critics fall all over themselves to mention Big Star as a reference point… in the mid-70s I think only five people knew who Big Star were and four were in the band…I certainly didn’t learn anything about Big Star until the series ‘Quarry’ on Showtime…and that was embarrassingly recent.

I was turned onto Cheap Trick the same way most people were: their smokin’ live album At Budokan (which naturally made our list of greatest live LPs). I first heard that record on 8-track tape, gads. To think they weren’t going to release that album except as a small promotional thing in Japan. Like Tom Waits sings, they were indeed “Big In Japan.” To me, Cheap Trick – Rick Nielsen, guitar; Robin Zander, vocals; Tom Petersson, bass; Bun E. Carlos, drums) – were just a straightforward rock band. Based on At Budokan alone I would have said they played garage rock. Although – and this also gets mentioned in every review or article (because it’s true) – they were very Beatlesque. You could tell from the jump that these guys were heavily influenced by the Beatles. On their debut, eponymous album they reworked the Beatles’ “Taxman” as “Mr. Taxman, Mr. Thief.” They even went on to hire legendary Beatles’ producer George Martin to produce the album Dream Police. One could be forgiven for thinking the term “Beatlesque” was invented just to describe Cheap Trick… which is wrong, it was probably invented to describe E.L.O. (the Electric Light Orchestra, the band most shamelessly derivative of the Beatles). 

To me, Cheap Trick always had a bit of a split personality. And I’m not just talking about how they’d put Zander and Petersson (the good looking guys) on the album covers and stick Bun E. Carlos and Rick Nielsen (the goofy looking guys) on the back cover. A strategy I’ve always felt worked for our annual Christmas card… the Rock Chick on the front, me on the back…but I digress. I’ve always felt Cheap were also musically a bit of a split personality. On the one hand you had muscular, guitar riff driven songs. Rick Nielsen looked like the cartoon rendering of a runaway accountant with his big-billed ball caps and multi-necked guitar but he’s a great guitarist and songwriter. He wrote tough rocking riffs. On the other hand you had these, yes, Beatlesque, melodic tunes. Zander’s multi tracked vocals could pull off those sunny harmonies the Fab Four were so fond of and adept at. They drench those tunes in strings. Personally, I’ve always liked their more rock-oriented tunes… which comes as a surprise to exactly no one… 

Cheap Trick, for good or bad, are defined by their first four or five LPs. They had a pretty damn good run at the beginning: Cheap Trick (1977), In Color (believe it or not, 1977 also), my favorite of their albums Heaven Tonight (1978), the live At Budokan (1978) and finally the George Martin produced Dream Police (1979). Everything they’ve done since then gets compared to that stretch of music. After those albums, things went up and down for Cheap Trick. They kept touring and recording albums. Occasionally they’d have a hit like “She’s Tight,” “The Flame” or “Can’t Stop Falling Into Love” but they never seemed to have that consistent success that they’d experienced in their late 70s heyday. But, they kept “keeping on” as the saying goes. I know a lot of people who own some version of Cheap Trick’s greatest hits. 

It was 2006 when a friend turned me onto Cheap Trick’s then-latest record, Rockford. That album was a real return to form. It’s top-notch, start to finish. It marked the beginning of a strong, rebirth era for Cheap Trick. Since that time they’ve put out a series of strong albums. Sadly, 2009’s The Latest was the end of Bun E. Carlos’ tenure in the band. They hired Rick Nielsen’s son Daxx (yeah, who would hang that moniker on their son?) to play drums. He made his debut on 2016’s Bang, Zoom, Crazy…Hello. To me it felt like with Daxx behind the drum kit, the band rocked a little harder. They seemed to be leaning back to that lean and hungry early sound. This “renaissance” for Cheap Trick reached full flower on 2017’s We’re All Alright!, one of our earliest reviews here on B&V. Cheap Trick’s latter day albums were the kind of music that I started this blog to evangelize. We’re All Alright! stands amongst their best work, period. 

Although I must admit, We’re All Alright! recalibrated my expectations for Cheap Trick. Which leads me to their new record, In Another World, which I’ve been listening to constantly since it dropped last Friday. Don’t get me wrong, this is a good, solid Cheap Trick record. However, I can’t help but feel a little disappointed after We’re All Alright! which was a GREAT Cheap Trick record. Apparently In Another World was recorded over 2018 and 2019 for release in the dreaded 2020 but was delayed because of COVID. There are some great moments on this album. 

It opens with a rocker, “The Summer Looks Good On You,” which I’ll have to immediately add to my Summer/Sun playlist. While “Summer Looks Good On You” is a rocker, it’s got those Beatlesque flourishes as well. Its drenched in strings and vocal harmonies such that it wouldn’t be out of place on Abbey Road side 2. “Boys And Girls and Rock And Roll” and “The Party” are also tough punchy rock songs. I really like the guitar on the first of those tracks. “Light The Fire,” reviewed earlier on B&V, remains the pick of the litter here. Zander’s vocal is unhinged on that song. The guy sings like a man half his age. “Here’s Looking At You” is another great rock song. “Final Days” is an ominous, creepy rocker with big choruses and some well-placed harmonica. 

Cheap Trick do mix it up a bit as well. “Passing Through” has spooky backing vocal and a vaguely Moroccan feel. “So It Goes” is an interesting acoustic-guitar driven ballad that has a touch of a psychedelic vibe. I will admit the track didn’t grab me at first but grew on me with repeated listens. “Another World” is a strong power ballad with a great guitar solo. 

I will admit there are some clunkers here. The second track on the album, “Quit Waking Me Up,” (which for this insomniac was a title that held a lot of promise) with all of its horns leaves me utterly cold. It’s almost campy… I kept waiting for Anthony Newley to prance out on stage surrounded by go-go girls. On “Another World – Reprise” they employ one of the most annoying backing vocals I’ve ever heard. “I’ll See You Again” is a dirge like ballad that misses the mark for me. It sounds more like a Coke commercial from the late 60s than Beatlesque. They indulge their Beatles fetish most fully on their cover of John Lennon’s solo track “Gimme Some Truth.” I like Lennon’s original, but I thought it was questionable to add it here. I mean, I get it – in this age of misinformation and craziness, we’d all like some Truth. The tune name checks Tricky Dick Nixon… it just felt dated. And that is coming from someone who likes Beatles covers

When Cheap Trick is on, they’re very very good, like they are on “Light The Fire” or “Boys and Girls and Rock and Roll.” I found this album slightly uneven and a bit predictable but still worthy of a few spins. I’d urge everyone to check out the highlights I’ve mentioned above. In Another World is a solid effort and these guys should be applauded for rocking out this hard this far down the road. We need more music like this in the world. I think this is a sign 2021 is going to be really good year for rock and roll. 

Cheers! 

 

 

 

Surprise Single: Mick Jagger With Dave Grohl Deliver Lockdown Lament, “Easy Sleazy,” Pure Punk Energy And Humor

What a nice surprise yesterday, on a Tuesday no less…

I’m on record as hating Mondays. And Tuesday is always a bit of a “meh” day for me. Just another day punching the clock get to Friday when all the new music comes out. For most people, Friday kicks off the weekend but who am I kidding… my weekends tend to start on Thursday, “weekend-eve.”

I took a brief coffee break from “workin’ for the  man,” doing my usual corporate Tuesday stuff when I noticed on “the social media” that Mick Jagger had released a surprise song. I’ll admit my initial response was, “Wait a minute… I was hoping for a new Stones album in 2021…” After getting over that initial hissy fit, I read his statement about the song:

I wanted to share this song that I wrote about eventually coming out of lockdown, with some much needed optimism – thank you to Dave Grohl for jumping on drums, bass and guitar, it was a lot of fun working with you on this – hope you all enjoy Eazy Sleazy !

As I wondered why I wasn’t hearing a new Stones song I began to think back to Mick’s last surprise single, “Get A Grip”/”England Lost.” It seems when Mick has something topical to say, politically urgent if you will, he doesn’t wait to put a song through the Stones laborious creative process. Although I suppose “Sweet Neo-Con” is an exception. So was the Stones’ “Living In A Ghost Town.” I’ve seen some venerable rock stars releasing some songs about lockdown and the pandemic that I considered kind of… stupid (I’m talking to you Van Morrison and you Eric Clapton). But when I saw that part of Mick’s statement about “much needed optimism” I knew I had to check it out.

I don’t think I’ve heard Mick do anything this infused with humor since “Far Away Eyes.” His tongue is obviously firmly in his cheek as he makes fun of anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists in the line “Bill Gates is in my blood stream.” He literally sums up the world’s collective lockdown experience with lines about gaining weight, drinking too much, cleaning the sink and pacing in the yard. Zoom even gets a mention. This is the kind of light hearted, rocking tune we need to kick off spring. Especially this particular spring which shows us all some signs of hope.

And speaking of “rocking,” this tune does. Mick plays rhythm guitar and vocals and he’s joined by that Fighter of Foo, Dave Grohl. Grohl plays drums – exceptionally I might add – and bass and lead guitar. I’ve never dug the Foo Fighters. I had their first LP but sold it at the used record store and never really got back on the bandwagon but I’ve always liked Dave Grohl. He seems like one of the nicest guys in rock n roll. And again, he’s a phenomenal drummer. He and Mick clearly work well together.

This song has a great punk energy I haven’t heard from Mick or the Stones since Some Girls. When punk came along it challenged the established rock authorities and well, the authorities in general, but the Stones managed to absorb that punk energy. When grunge came along it merely destroyed all that came before it. Established rock bands didn’t know how to react… It shows the full circle of rock n roll that Grunge Survivor Dave Grohl is playing with Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones who managed to survive punk.

Topical songs don’t tend to have a long shelf life. But I have a feeling “Easy Sleazy” will stick with me for quite a while. Heaven knows memories of lockdown certainly will. As Mick says, “it’ll be a memory you’re trying to remember to forget.” I would urge anybody who needs a blast of punk energy and good laugh and a smile to check this tune out.

Cheers!

Review: Fleetwood Mac ‘Live (Deluxe Edition)’ – Revisiting The Expanded Double-Live 1980 LP

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*Photo of Fleetwood Mac’s original, vinyl 1980 LP ‘Live’ taken by your intrepid blogger

There was a time, believe it or not, before the internet. In those dark ages, the only places to buy a ticket to a concert was the box office of the theater/stadium or to go to an “authorized” ticket selling outlet. Usually the places that sold concert tickets were record stores which was convenient since even I knew where they were and I was pretty geographically challenged in those days. I knew where places were located, but I didn’t know street numbers. I had to give directions based on landmarks. “Drive straight on the street by the school until you see the big gnarly tree then turn right…” and so on. I was in high school, what did I know? While I had become a huge music fan in the late 70s, it wasn’t until June of 1980 that I was able to attend my first concert. Def Leppard opened (their first tour), the Scorpions were next (“The Zoo” was the only track I knew) and finally Ted Nugent in a loin cloth was the headliner. Needless to say, I was hooked on live music from that moment on, despite the hearing loss caused by Mr. Nugent… For that show, I bought the ticket from my friend Matthew who had a conflict of some sort and couldn’t attend.

Generally, that’s how I got tickets early on. I bought them from friends. It wasn’t until 1981 that I got the experience that every concert goer went through at least once back in the 70s/80s, I camped out overnight for tickets. Concert tickets generally went on sale at 8am the morning of whatever pre-chosen date they announced on the radio, usually months before the show. People would start to form a line for tickets the night before they went on sale. They’d have sleeping bags, food, lawn chairs… likely some beer and there was always weed. Once again, it was my friend Matthew and I who somehow convinced our parents that late summer of ’81 to sleep out for Van Halen tickets. We hadn’t seen them yet and when Fair Warning dropped, we knew we had to see this band. We were camped out in front of Tiger’s Records in the suburbs of KC with a nefarious looking, “unwashed and slightly dazed” crowd waiting for the record store to open so we could get our “choice” Van Halen tickets (and boy, we did). There was this old hippy in line behind us… I say old, but I was a teenager, the guy could have been 25 for all I know. He certainly looked old to my teen eyes. We started chatting over a couple of beers and I asked the codger, “What’s the best concert you’ve ever seen? What band is best live?” His answer evoked quite a bit of surprise in me, when he responded without hesitation “Fleetwood Mac.” And this guy had supposedly “seen everybody.” I didn’t think to ask which tour he saw them on… The Mac may seem mellow to some ears, but my college roommate had all heavy metal albums with a couple of Fleetwood Mac LPs so they couldn’t have been that mellow.

Fleetwood Mac’s story is the thing of legend now. The Mac was formed by former members of John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers: guitar legend Peter Green with a rhythm section of Mick Fleetwood (drums) and John McVie (bass). Green was the star – he was the singer/guitarist – but he named the band after the rhythm section… prescient as they are the only members who stayed for the entire Mac career. Green, who sadly passed away last year, eventually left and that led to a revolving door of singers and guitarists. Eventually Christine Perfect joined on keyboards and vocals… and then married John McVie. After their then current guitarist Bob Welch split to go solo, the McVies and Mick Fleetwood were left to look for yet another replacement. They discovered a little band creatively named Buckingham-Nicks with guitarist/vocalist Lindsey Buckingham and vocalist Stevie Nicks. Their debut album didn’t sell many copies (although I do have one on vinyl) but attracted the remaining members of Fleetwood Mac because of the album’s producer, Keith Olsen. They were not only shopping for a guitarist, they were shopping for a producer. He gave them the Buckingham-Nicks LP as a “resume” of sorts. They hired him and offered Buckingham the job of singer/guitarist… he refused to accept unless they included Nicks in the band…

That lineup: Buckingham/Nicks/Fleetwood/J. McVie/C. McVie, known as their “classic lineup” now I suppose, was an almost instant hit. The first LP, which McVie refers to as “the white Fleetwood Mac album” yielded the hits “Rhiannon,” “Over My Head,” and “Landslide” amongst others. They say when a band does a self-titled LP in the middle of their career it’s usually symbolic of a “rebirth” for the band… I’d say that was definitely the case here. They were bigger than they’d ever been. The success wasn’t without cost however. During the recording of the follow-up, one of the best selling LPs of all time, Rumours, Buckingham and Nicks who were a couple broke up. The McVies’ marriage also ended. All of those crazy passions and breakup recriminations found their way onto the album in songs like “Dreams” and “Go Your Own Way” and perhaps more positively on “Don’t Stop.” It was beyond a smash hit. I actually traded my brother Supertramp’s Breakfast In America for his copy of Rumours. I think we both won on that trade.

What to do next? That kind of success usually breeds a lot of pressure to repeat it and I think Buckingham decided to take a creative left turn to avoid the pressure of that success. He was also highly influenced by punk rock and that also fueled his decision to make some changes to Fleetwood Mac’s sound. The resulting LP Tusk was a surprise to a lot of people expecting Rumours 2.0. Tusk was (in my opinion) a sprawling masterpiece of a double-LP. While Nicks and Christine McVie continued to write and perform songs in the vein of the previous two albums, Buckingham went for a more experimental sound. Nowhere is that more evident than on the title track. The album didn’t reach the successful sales numbers of Rumours, how could it have, and the other members of Fleetwood Mac were pretty upset with Buckingham who had helmed the project and even recorded some songs at home in his bathroom. The LP still sold 4 million copies – one to my brother who was always way ahead of everybody when it came to music – which sounds like a success to me.

The Fleetwood Mac tour for Tusk rolled through Kansas City a mere two months after my first concert (Nugent/Scorpions/Def Leppard) at the exact same place, Kemper Arena in the West Bottoms. Sadly, I did not see them on that tour. I still don’t know if the hippy outside of Tiger’s was talking about that particular show as his greatest concert. The review in the paper said they looked tired and only Buckingham and Fleetwood, who they said played off each other, were able to generate any excitement. They said it looked like Christine McVie was about to fall asleep at the piano. Cruel indeed, but let’s remember you can’t always trust the newspaper. I have to admit, I’ve never seen Fleetwood Mac in concert and that pains me. The closest I ever got was seeing Stevie Nicks solo on her Wild Heart tour with no less than Joe Walsh opening. She sang “Rhiannon” as an encore and it was sensational.

But lucky for me, Fleetwood Mac like many bands who have spent a lot of time and money in the studio recording an album, decided to follow Tusk with a double live LP, creatively titled, Live. I’m on record here at B&V for loving live albums. Many people have a differing view of live LPs… I had a college friend who complained to me once, in response to hearing Springsteen’s Live 1975-85, that the live songs didn’t sound enough like the studio versions. I said, “Uh, Stew, you should be looking for a greatest hits LP, not a live LP.” Even Tom Petty said a live LP was just “your greatest hits sped up.” But for me, the 70s and even the early 80s was the golden era of the double-live LP. Not every live LP broke a band wide open like Kiss’ Alive or Frampton Comes Alive. Not every live LP made the list of “greatest live albums ever.” But there were so many great double live albums where the band could stretch out a little and it gave you the experience of seeing them live. Everybody did double live LPs in those days from Skynyrd to Neil Young. LPs like Aerosmith’s Live Bootleg or Fleetwood Mac’s Live were solid, if not occasionally spectacular live documents of a point in time in the life of a band. I never bought into the critics who dismissed live albums as merely “tour souvenirs. 

When I first bought Live in 1980, on vinyl, I was thrilled that they had some new songs on the album. “Fireflies” written by Stevie Nicks is one of their best tunes. She wrote it about the struggles and battles the five members had in creating Tusk. The band didn’t breakup because of splits in the romantic entanglements but it almost did over the writing and recording of Tusk. Buckingham resurrected a Buckingham-Nicks chestnut, the rocking, “Don’t Let Me Down Again” which sent me on a journey to find their debut LP. Christine McVie contributed the (somewhat typical for her) ballad “One More Night” which sounded like it was done in a studio. Likewise their Beach Boys’ cover “Farmer’s Daughter” also sounded like a studio outtake (turns out it was)… But I was so into Fleetwood Mac I was just happy to have those new tracks. 

While Live wasn’t a live album that was going to change your life like say, the Allman Brothers Live At the Fillmore East, it was a really good live document of one of the world’s greatest bands at or near the peak of their popularity. Lindsey Buckingham’s guitar skills on this album are insane! On songs like “I’m So Afraid” the solo’ing is mad good. He stretches out a Tusk track, “Not That Funny” to 9 minutes. I also have to say Mick Fleetwood’s drumming is amazing as well. He’s really under appreciated. I don’t know if that KC Star newspaper review helped make those two performers jump out at me, but they leave an impression. I love that they do “Oh, Well” a track recorded before Lindsey and Stevie joined the band. There’s a great selection from the three previous LPs this line up had put out from “Dreams,” and “Over My Head,” to “Over and Over” and “Sara.” This lineup of the band always sounded so good and this LP is no exception. And as a bonus for me, “Over My Head” was recorded at Kemper Arena in KC… I probably know people that were in the audience. Hell my friends Bob G and Brewster were probably there and didn’t tell me. 

Today the Mac released a Deluxe Edition of Live and you know how we love our “deluxe editions” here at B&V. I’ve spent the last 8 hours doing nothing but listening to this version of the album and I really like it. For all the tracks on the original album – and the selection was great – there were so many more you could have wished for and they’re now all on this expanded version. There’s another 15 songs and there’s no overlap (save one song), these are all different songs than the original. It elevates Live from a mere double-live album to something more akin to the aforementioned Springsteen Live 1975-85 or Petty’s Live Anthology. It should be noted that there not only tracks from the 1980 tour, but a smattering of songs from as early as 1975 and as late as 1982 found here. 

The deluxe stuff starts with maniacal version of “Second Hand News” with Lindsey and Stevie doing harmonies. “The Chain” is epic here… I always wondered why it wasn’t on the original. They even go back to the early Fleetwood Mac stuff with “The Green Manalishi With The Three Pronged Crown,” a track later covered by Judas Priest. What a great nod to Peter Green. Another Tusk track that I always liked, “What Makes You Think You’re the One” sounds great live. “Gold Dust Woman,” “Angel” and “Sisters Of the Moon” rank amongst my favorite tracks from Stevie Nicks and they’re all on this expanded edition. Finally Stevie gets her “live” due. “Tusk” was always a hard track to pull off live, without a marching band, but I dig the version here even though it’s accordion driven. Maybe all those old guys at the family reunions playing polkas paid off… 

Christine McVie plays a very affecting version of “Brown Eyes.” Her 1982 performance of “Hold Me” from Mirage may seem out of place here but man, I like it. Her track, “Songbird” is as beautiful live as it was in the studio. Call me a softy but I love that song. As an added bonus there are two more tracks recorded in Kansas City… I know, I can be a geek sometimes about stuff like that… The only song that seems superfluous is an extended version of Stevie’s “Fireflies” that I’m not sure was necessary. 

If you’re a fan of live music and miss concerts or just a fan of Fleetwood Mac, you must check out this expanded edition. There’s a chance many of you haven’t heard the original so I believe this will be a treat for you. In this age of streaming, everyone should be going back and revisiting those classic, fabulous double-live LPs and this is no exception. Pour a glass of something you enjoy, turn this one up loud, close your eyes and maybe, just maybe you’ll feel like you’re at the show…and if you really feel it, hold that lighter up over your head and sing along. 

Cheers! 

 

Playlist: B&V Epic Big Bad Rockin’ Blues – Our Favorite Rock Artists’ Blues Songs

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*Photo of “master bluesmen practicing their craft” taken from the internet and likely copyrighted

As a young fan of rock and roll, I’m not even sure I knew what “the blues” were. I had always associated the term “blues” with depression, i.e. “he was in a blue mood” or “I’ve got the Monday blues.” I associated the music with old guys singing songs about heartbreak and despair with some great guitar work thrown in for good measure. At the age of 15 I would have insisted that I wasn’t into the blues and didn’t know anything about them but at the same time I was listening to the Stones, Led Zeppelin, ZZ Top, Aerosmith and AC/DC. I was a blues fan and didn’t even know it. When the aforementioned bands played blues tunes like “Down In The Hole” (Stones) or “A Fool For Your Stockings” (ZZ Top) I just thought those were kind of slower, more intense, “change of pace” kind of songs… almost ballads. But make no mistake, I loved those bluesy numbers. I was so young and naive I hadn’t learned (yet) about the immense influence the blues had on all that great 60s and 70s rock and roll I was devouring.

Believe it or not it was the Blues Brothers who first really brought blues music into focus for me. The Blues Brothers, Joliet Jake and Elwood, were actually John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd. They debuted the band on Saturday Night Live. During the filming of Animal House Belushi had been turned onto a bunch of old blues records and decided he wanted to play some music. Since they debuted this music on SNL I thought it was a spoof. But I really dug the first single “Hey Bartender.” I couldn’t bring myself to buy the album because you couldn’t be caught dead with music that was “uncool.” And I’ll admit “Rubber Biscuit” left me cold. But they had some great musicians in that band: Matt “Guitar” Murphy, bassist Duck Dunn, guitarist Steve Cropper and future uber-producer Steve Jordan on drums. I was intrigued but didn’t make a move in terms of a purchase…

I came to the blues the way I came into many things in my life… through a woman and an unrequited crush…which sounds like a perfect setup to a blues tune. One Friday night I went over to one of the half dozen or so friends of mine whose name was Steve’s house. Steve had a big sister who was a senior, two years or three years older than us. She was buxom and we all thought she was attractive but we were 15, everybody was attractive. She was indeed one of the “popular” kids in the neighborhood in that high school way, so her opinion meant something to us. The girl drove a Trans Am, for heaven’s sake, she was cool. She was getting ready for a Friday night party and she was blasting… Briefcase Full Of Blues, the debut LP from the Blues Brothers. If Stacy (named changed to protect the guilty) who was cool was listening to these guys, then they were by extension of high school logic “cool.” I hate to admit to being subject to that kind of peer pressure but I was just a teenager, all hair and testosterone with no brains. I bought the album on my next trip to the record store and the light bulb finally went off… I finally realized virtually every band I listened to was influenced or inspired by the blues. That’s when I realized the Stones had basically started off as a blues cover band.

The blues had sprung from the fertile soil of the Mississippi river, invented by the freed slaves after the Civil War. Originally just vocals and acoustic guitar (or diddly bow) the music was influenced by spirituals and work songs. There was a lot of call and response. When juke joints – bars where Black people could gather and socialize – began to proliferate so did the blues. Legends like Charley Patton and Robert Johnson roamed the earth playing songs that bands still cover today. The blues made its way up the Mississippi River and to its spiritual home, Memphis. A young man named Elvis probably heard a lot of that music growing up there… The blues wasn’t all sad music, there was a lot of innuendo in that music. It didn’t take long until Preachers, unnerved at the effect this music was having on women, began to denounce it as “the Devil music.” That had to just draw more people in… it always does. Sabbath’s career was completely founded on that Devil stuff.

Eventually, during the Great Migration, the blues headed north to Detroit and more importantly Chicago. I didn’t actually see a live blues performer until I was out of college. I flew to Chicago to see my best buddy Doug and we went directly to the legendary blues bar, the Kingston Mines…where I saw Magic Slim and the Teardrops. Life changing! But I digress… The blues went through that Golden Era with Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Howlin Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Little Walter and Willie Dixon and so many others. Alas this music didn’t hit it big in the U.S. Thankfully a bunch of post-war British teenagers were listening and they loved the stuff. Alexis Korner and John Mayall were spreading the word on blues music. Pretty soon you had the Stones, the Animals, the Yardbirds and the Bluesbreakers all playing blues covers like “King Bee” and “I Just Wanna Make Love To You.” Eventually during the British Invasion the English bands brought the blues back home, like a disciple returning to the temple. Pretty quickly American bands like the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Creedence Clearwater Revival, the Doors and later Aerosmith popped up in the wake of those British acts.

You could argue about the Brits and “cultural appropriation” but this is a music blog not a political one. The early bands who started covering the blues had a reverence for the blues and the Blues Masters who played it, and frankly I share that awe and worship. This was more of an imitation is flattery thing. It does say something that this wonderful American art form, nay, African American art form had to go to Britain and then come back to make it to the mainstream in America…kind of like Jimi Hendrix. There are some who would argue that in the 80s rock and roll severed its close ties to the blues and that’s when rock music went into decline. I’m a lover not a fighter so I’m going to veer away from all of that. All I can say about it, and as I’ll probably repeat in this post, I just love the blues and the rock and roll it inspired. I love phrases like, “my tears they fall like rain” and “my baby she shakes like a willow tree” and the Rock Chick can testify I sprinkle those throughout my conversation even now. I still have people tell me they don’t dig the blues but love Cream… Um, then you dig the blues, you just don’t know it.

Since the inventor of the cassette tape passed away a few weeks ago, I’ve been thinking a lot about all those old mixtapes I used to make for my car. I used to have this great tape of different bands playing blues songs. They were mostly slower tunes so the tape held together for a great listen. Using that as a base I decided to expand the list and share some of our favorite bands playing some of our favorite songs in our favorite genre, the blues. I wanted to highlight different artists than just the Stones/Zeppelin/Clapton continuum to demonstrate just how far and wide the influence of the blues is and was. Artists as diverse as James Taylor and Harry Nilsson to Sam Cooke and Aretha have done blues tracks. I just love the blues and the raw emotion and  the strength of the singing on many of these tracks moves me to this day. It’s my hope that they’ll move you too. I love that so many different artists took the blues, adapted and changed it and yet it remained the blues. With Easter and Passover coming up this weekend and all the family that entails, let’s face it we’re all gonna need some rockin’ blues to get through this thing. These are just our B&V favorites… and just the tip of the iceberg… Always remember though, if you get into the blues, as John Lee Hooker and Van Morrison sang, you’ll “Never Get Out Of These Blues Alive.” You’ll be a fan for life.

Here is our list of some of our favorite blues tunes by rock artists. I tried to limit this to at most 2 or 3 songs by one artist but believe me that called for some hard choices. I could have made this just all Stones tunes but I limited myself to some of their latter day stuff. I tried to weave in covers of songs by Blues Masters with some of these great band’s original songs. I just started with what I could remember from that old mixtape and blew it up large. As always this playlist can be found on Spotify (“BourbonAndVinyl.net Epic Big Bad Rockin’ Blues”) and can be shuffled or played as is. If you have a blues rock tune that isn’t here, please mention it in the comments section and I’ll add it to the Spotify list… it’s a bluesy dialogue people.

  1. Eric Clapton, “The Sky Is Crying” – Many have done this Elmore James’ tune but few as well as Clapton. Stevie Ray Vaughn did a nice version. This whole list could be Clapton tunes…
  2. ZZ Top, “A Fool For Your Stockings” – From the first ZZ Top LP I ever purchased… and yes, I’m still a fool…
  3. The Rolling Stones, “Back of My Hand” – Great latter day Stones’ blues tune. It was just Mick, Keith and Charlie in the studio when they were recording this song. Keith went to take a nap and thought he was dreaming about Muddy Waters. Actually he was just hearing Mick work out this song… he told Mick they weren’t overdubbing anything, “Leave it like it is, it’s done.” As usual, Keith was right.
  4. Led Zeppelin, “Since I’ve Been Loving You” – This may be the greatest blues rock song of all time. Titanic blues.
  5. Derek & the Dominos, “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out” – Clapton under the cover name Derek slips back onto the list with a great Jimmy Cox tune.
  6. The Doors, “Back Door Man” – People tend to think of the Doors’ music as psychedelic, acid jazz. They forget what a great blues band these guys were.
  7. Warren Zevon, “Rub Me Raw” – An artist you don’t associate with the blues delivering a spectacular blues track on his final LP, The Wind. That’s Wichita’s own Joe Walsh playing the lead guitar which may just melt your face off at certain high volumes.
  8. Billy F. Gibbons, “Standing Around Crying” – A great blues cover from Billy’s last solo LP, Big Bad Blues. 
  9. Peter Wolf, “Too Close Together” – A great duet with Keith Richards. Wolf has some really great solo LPs everyone should check out.
  10. The Rolling Stones, “Down In The Hole” – A blues tune I loved before I knew what the blues were…
  11. Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, “U.S. 41” – Petty got into the blues late in his career. Nowhere is that more evident than on the great Mojo. 
  12. Big Brother & the Holding Company, “Turtle Blues” – Janis Joplin’s first and best band. This is just a piano and Janis’ voice, the way God intended you to hear the blues.
  13. Harry Nilsson, “Early In the Morning” – Like the previous tune, just a fabulous voice and a keyboard. I saw Randy Newman interviewed about Harry and he said he was never confident in his singing which blows my mind. This song is proof of his vocal talents.
  14. The Black Crowes, “Bad Luck Blue Eyes Goodbye” – From their masterpiece second LP, The Southern Harmony and Musical Companion. 
  15. U2 & B.B. King, “When Love Comes To Town” – I’ve devoted this list to rock bands but it was an absolute pleasure to sneak blues royalty B.B. King onto the list.
  16. Creedence Clearwater Revival, “Feelin’ Blue” – A nice little shuffle.
  17. The Jeff Beck Group, “You Shook Me” – The Zeppelin version of this song is more well known but Jeff, Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood did it first so its the version I included here.
  18. Cream, “Born Under A Bad Sign” – Probably my favorite Cream tune. A sweet Albert King cover.
  19. Neil Young and the Bluenotes, “One Thing” – I may be the only one who loves this album. It signaled the beginning of a creative resurgence for Young. I even bought the live LP from this tour, released years later, Bluenote Cafe. 
  20. John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, “I Can’t Quit You Baby” – How many great guitar players did John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers have? I chose this track, vs the Zeppelin version, to highlight a pre-Stones Mick Taylor on lead guitar.
  21. The Black Crowes, “Seeing Things” – As long time readers know, I’m currently still obsessed with the Crowes’ first LP. 
  22. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, “Walkin’ Blues” – One of the finest bands to ever come out of Chicago originally done by Robert Johnson.
  23. Free, “Goin’ Down Slow” – From Free’s debut LP, their most bluesy effort, Tons Of Sobs. 
  24. Fleetwood Mac, “I Believe My Time Ain’t Long” – I felt it imperative that I include a blues tune featuring Peter Green, the founder of Fleetwood Mac, who passed last year.
  25. James Taylor, “Steamroller Blues” – Laugh, but this is a great tune and underscores my premise that so many rock acts play the blues… and yes, I know I’m stretching when I call Taylor “rock.”
  26. The Allman Brothers Band, “Jelly Jelly” – I’ve always described the Allmans as a blues band who played with a jazz band ethos. This is a fine, fine straight-up blues tune.
  27. Sam Cooke, “Little Red Rooster” – I could have included so many other versions of this track from the Stones to Tom Petty but Sam was one of the world’s greatest singers and its nice to hear him sing a blues track.
  28. Stevie Ray Vaughn & Double Trouble, “Leave My Girl Alone” – From one of the greatest guitarists of all time. Gone too soon.
  29. The White Stripes, “Little Bird” – Epic punky blues. I was lucky enough to see them play this track live.
  30. Lucinda Williams, “Still I Long For Your Kiss” – Lucinda really feels the blues on this song. When she wails, “I goooo down tooooown” you almost physically feel her pain. It’s my absolute favorite vocal performance by her.
  31. Paul Rodgers and Buddy Guy, “Muddy Water Blues” – An acoustic blues tribute to Muddy with Buddy Guy on guitar.
  32. George Harrison, “Cloud 9” – A nice little bluesy number with George’s friend Eric Clapton noodling on guitar along with him.
  33. The Beatles, “For You Blue” – Another Harrison track… The Beatles didn’t play the blues often, but man is it fun when they did.
  34. Steve Miller Band, “Mercury Blues” – When people think about the Steve Miller Band they tend to think of his more ethereal 70s hits which is a shame. He actually started as a blues guy and does a phenomenal job on this one, just to remind us of that.
  35. Bruce Springsteen, “The Fever” – I don’t know if this is technically the blues or not but it has a languid, rolling bluesy feel. Clarence Clemons’ sax is remarkable. One of my all time favs.
  36. Rod Stewart, “I’d Rather Go Blind” – Rod’s best blues tune… a cover of Big Mama Thornton if I’m not mistaken.
  37. Stevie Ray Vaughn & Double Trouble, “Texas Flood” – I don’t remember whether I included this on my Rain playlist or not. I hope I did.
  38. Pete Townshend, “Secondhand Love” – A nice little blues scorcher from Pete… and a song that I only recently discovered the Rock Chick loves. Marriage is a journey of discovery.
  39. The Jimi Hendrix Experience, “Red House” – Jimi never moved too far away from the blues.
  40. The Doors, “Cars Hiss By My Window” – On their last two LPs the Doors got back to being that great blues rock band they started as…
  41. Blind Faith, “Sleeping In The Ground” – This great blues tune didn’t even make the only LP they did. Winwood’s piano and vocals are exceptional.
  42. The Animals, “Dimples” – A John Lee Hooker cover from another great English band.
  43. J. Geils Band, “Serves You Right To Suffer” – Speaking of great John Lee Hooker covers.
  44. The Rolling Stones, “Keep Up Blues” – A great outtake from the Some Girls sessions.
  45. Gary Clark, Jr, “When My Train Pulls In” – This guy gives me hope for the future of the guitar. I hope this is on my Train playlist.
  46. Peter Frampton, “She Caught The Katy” – From his great LP, All Blues
  47. Bob Dylan, “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat” – Dylan doesn’t get the credit for being a great blues guy.
  48. John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers, “A Hard Road” – Another great Peter Green tune from his work before forming Fleetwood Mac.
  49. Little Steven, “Blues Is My Business” – Springsteen’s right hand man out on his own covering an Etta James tune on his great LP Soulfire.
  50. The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, “Mellow Down Easy” – Another great tune from Chicago’s finest. The Black Crowes also did a live version of this song with Jimmy Page that’s worth checking out.
  51. Aretha Franklin, “I’ve Never Loved A Man” – The Queen handing down the blues. Aerosmith actually had the temerity to cover this song.
  52. The Yardbirds, “I Ain’t Got You” – Speaking of songs Aersomith covered… The Yardbirds are famous for having at different times, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page on guitar.
  53. Aerosmith, “Reefer Head Woman” – Well, I kept mentioning them, you knew they had to have a bluesy track here.
  54. David Lee Roth, “Sensible Shoes” – Again, like the Springsteen song above, I’m not sure this is blues, but it sure feels like it. And it’s Diamond Dave, what’s not to love?
  55. Led Zeppelin, “I’m Gonna Crawl” – The last track from the last album and they went back to the blues…
  56. Cream, “Sitting On Top Of the World” – I love it when bands cover Howlin Wolf.
  57. Humble Pie, “Rollin’ Stone” – Such a great overlooked band… and on this tune Peter Frampton was still in the group and playing lead guitar.
  58. Gregg Allman, “I Can’t Be Satisfied” – Gregg Allman, a man with a voice that sounds like eternity calling singing a song by a man whose voice sounded like…well, eternity calling, Muddy Waters.
  59. John Fogerty, “A Hundred And Ten In The Shade” – I feel hot and sticky just listening to this track.
  60. Mick Jagger, “Checkin’ Up On My Baby” – From a great blues album that Jagger did with L.A. blues band the Red Devils that remains on the shelf save for this great tune. I wish Mick would put out the whole thing.
  61. Van Morrison, “Roll With the Punches” – The title track from one of Van’s latest LPs.
  62. ZZ Top, “Blue Jean Blues” – It was going to be this or “Sure Got Cold When The Rain Came.”
  63. Bob Dylan, “Goodbye Jimmy Reed” – From Dylan’s fabulous studio LP last year, his first in 8 years, Rough And Rowdy Ways. 
  64. Faces, “Love In Vain (Live)” – The Faces doing a Robert Johnson tune via the Stones. Ronnie Wood on lead guitar, Rod feeling it.
  65. The Raconteurs, “Blue Veins” – Great blues track from Jack White’s first side project.
  66. The Jeff Beck Group, “Blues De Luxe” – Their most epic track. I don’t know why they dubbed in the audience. Rod’s vocals are sublime.
  67. Jimi Hendrix, “Hear My Train a Coming” – I chose the version on People, Hell and Angels but there are quite a few versions of this tune to choose from by Jimi.
  68. Van Halen, “Apolitical Blues” – I probably should have chosen the original Little Feat version but I couldn’t resist putting the late Eddie Van Halen on this playlist…
  69. Robert Cray, “I Wonder” – Simply a wonderful blues tune. Maybe a little outside the parameters of this playlist but Strong Persuader had such great crossover success I felt I could include it.
  70. Nirvana, “Where Did You Sleep Last Night” – Yes, Nirvana doing the blues. Cobain was a big Huddie Leadbetter fan… It’s the perfect song to end on to underscore my point that all great rock bands play some blues.

I hope you guys have as much fun listening to this playlist as I did compiling it. My greatest hope is that over this Passover, Easter weekend this playlist will get you a little farther down the road in the direction you’re heading. Pour something strong, light something up if you’re in New York, turn this one up loud and enjoy!

Cheers!