Shocking, Sad News – Christine McVie of Fleetwood Mac, Gone at 79 – Our Thoughts & Memories, RIP Christine


*Photograph above taken from the internet and likely copyrighted

I was on the phone and had just hung up when I checked social media and saw that Stevie Nicks had posted the statement from Fleetwood Mac that Christine McVie, long time keyboard player and vocalist and former wife of bass player John McVie, had sadly passed at the age of 79 which is way too soon. The news hit me hard. Christine McVie’s beautiful voice and wonderful songs have been a part of my life for as long as I’ve been listening to music. Just yesterday I posted about losing unsung, pub rock, guitar hero Wilko Johnson last week and now this… I am, as they say, gutted. The woman was a legend and wrote some of the greatest songs of the rock n roll era. It appears she passed after a “short illness.”

Christine Perfect was considering quitting her band Chickenshack and retiring from music when she started playing with Fleetwood Mac. She contributed some keyboards on the album Kiln House but didn’t fully join the band until the 1971 album Future Games and coincidentally that happened to be after she’d married bassist John McVie. By the time Fleetwood Mac met the dynamic duo of Lindsey Buckingham (guitar/vocal) and Stevie Nicks (vocals) the band was down to just Mick Fleetwood (drummer), John McVie (bass) and Christine (keyboards/vocals). Originally the band only wanted Buckingham to join but he was steadfast that he and Nicks were a package deal. McVie put her ego aside and agreed to a second woman singer joining the band which is perhaps one of the most gracious acts in rock history. The rest, as they say, is history. Over the years Nicks would garner a lot more attention than Christine – Nicks didn’t have to sit behind a big keyboard and could dance around at her leisure – but Christine McVie’s contributions to Fleetwood Mac are immeasurable. She wrote some of their biggest hits including (personal favorite) “Over My Head,” “Say You Love Me,” “Don’t Stop,” “Songbird,” “Think About Me,” “Little Lies” and the newly popular song by way of a car commercial “Everywhere.” That song list goes on and on and I could have kept going with more titles.

I can remember as a little kid, my mother taking us to the neighborhood pool and dropping us off for the afternoon. God knows the poor woman needed a break from her rambunctious boys. I don’t even think she stopped the car… she just rolled through the pool parking lot and sort of pushed us out the open door like Starsky or Hutch. This was in the mid-70s and if I close my eyes I can remember hearing Fleetwood Mac almost every day at the pool. They’d predominantly play both Stevie and Christine… oddly I don’t remember a lot of Lindsey at the pool… no “Go Your Own Way” while we went our own way off the high board. It was only a few years later, after my rock n roll awakening that I traded Supertramp’s Breakfast In America (a fine record that I had sadly worn out by repeated plays) to my brother for his copy of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours. Naturally, I became a life long fan. Stevie was kind of spacey, she was the chick you’d probably end up smoking with behind the school. Lindsey was like weird genius kid nobody really knew and his music over the years became more and more experimental. But Christine was just a steady, superb talent… she was like the beautiful girl next door who despite being out of your league was super nice to you anyway… You could always count on her to deliver some great tunes.

On Rumours, the song that jumped out at me was “Songbird.” It was such a gorgeous, tearjerker of a tune. While “Don’t Stop” and “You Make Lovin’ Fun” were big hits I was always drawn to “Oh Daddy.” Rumours was of course made during the break up of the McVie’s marriage and the end of Buckingham and Nicks’ relationship as well. That drama fueled some great autobiographical material. Two couples breaking up and all of it set to music. It was breathtaking stuff. Oddly I didn’t buy the first LP to feature Buckingham/Nicks, the self-titled Fleetwood Mac until I got to college. I picked it up after seeing Stevie Nicks sing “Rhiannon” in concert in Wichita. But after picking up the album “Over My Head” quickly jumped to the top of my favorites list. I also remember really liking “Sugar Daddy” and the lyric “And if I needed whisky, He could serve it to me neat…” which is how I take my bourbon… “Say You Love Me” solidified her and that album in my mind as legendary.

My brother went out and bought Tusk when it came out in 79 and I taped it, only to purchase it in college a year or so later. Tusk is where Buckingham, influenced by punk, decided to take an artistic left turn. Much of his music puts people off but I love that double album and consider it one of the best 2-LP sets ever. It may have been a stylistic change-up but the album starts off with Christine McVie’s “Over And Over,” one of her most comforting songs. I knew things got weird on Tusk and it was nice that McVie was there to keep everything stable. “Think About Me” was just a great rock song. By the time Mirage came out in 1982 Nicks was a superstar and Buckingham was just petulant. It was McVie’s songs that held the thing together, like her first single “Hold Me,” or the deep track “Love In Store.” While the others did their own thing she stayed true to the Mac’s signature sound. That even carried over to 1987’s Tango In The Night. Her tracks were some of the greatest highlights of that record. “Little Lies” was a hit. “Everywhere” which is now literally everywhere because of the aforementioned car commercial, is a great song as is “Mystified.” I’ve always loved “Isn’t It Midnight” her most rocking song. Say what you want about Buckingham-Nicks, but Buckingham and Christine had a great chemistry when they collaborated on songs and that continued all the way to their LP together (with Mick Fleetwood/John McVie as rhythm section, Fleetwood Mac in everything but name only) Lindsey Buckingham Christine McVie.

I heard Christine interviewed on a radio show and she said she really liked to write songs that say “I love you.” I don’t think I’m the first nor shall I be the last to say, we love you Christine, rest in peace. Her music and her voice certainly enriched my life. My heart goes out to her family and all of the Fleetwood Mac fans like me out there.

It’s a long dark ride. Take of each other and tonight, put on a little Fleetwood Mac to get you through it…

“For you, there’ll be no more crying, For you, the sun will be shining…And I love you, I love you, I love you, Like never before” – Christine McVie, “Songbird.”



Album Lookback: Wilko Johnson (12 July 1947 – 21 November 2022, RIP) & Roger Daltrey, 2014’s ‘Going Back Home’


This piece is dedicated to my dear friend T.A. who is heroically battling cancer.

As long time readers know I was inspired to start B&V out of my sheer love of rock n roll music and the joy that it has and continues to bring me. Doing this blog sort of guides my listening. If I’m “researching” an artist or an album it typically means I’m sitting in the B&V music lab sipping something dark and murky, listening to music and prepping my thoughts about it. Although admittedly, events other than LP releases can drive my subject matter. I’ve been away for a week for the American holiday Thanksgiving so I’m a bit behind. This year the Rock Chick informed me we’d be sharing a cabin with our daughter and her boyfriend and his parents “up in the mountains.” Close quarters indeed. Not exactly my “thing.” I mean, I saw Deliverance, rural spaces make me nervous.  Roughing it to me means staying in a hotel without room service… Anyway, I didn’t hear much rock n roll this past week… and I don’t know, I just sort of feel better when music is around (if I may paraphrase the movie Barfly). I did manage to hear Frank Sinatra’s “The Way You Look Tonight,” one of the greatest songs ever but there weren’t many musical interludes on Thanksgiving.

While I was up in the mountains in this cabin, in what I considered the middle of nowhere, much occurred in the world. Petty released his long awaited live box set Fillmore ’97. Bowie put out another vault release centered on the creation of Hunky Dory, entitled Divine Symmetry. Both those items will likely find their way to these pages in the near term. Although I may have to wait for Santa’s Little Helpers and Xmas Day for those sets. It always makes for conflict on Xmas when the family is standing around sharing eggnog and I’ve disappeared into the music room to rock out on the new stuff. “Take off those headphones and get down here and help me…” Holidays require compromise or so I’ve learned… but again I’m getting off track here. While I was out “roughing it” I heard the sad news that one of rock n roll’s unsung heroes, guitarist Wilko Johnson (nee John Peter Wilkinson) had finally succumbed to his long battle with cancer and had passed away. In this case it appears B&V is once again driven by sad events rather than just the simple joy of music. Rest In Peace Wilko!

As long time readers also probably know, I like to tell stories about my experience with the artist and their music. I’ve talked about the first time hearing peak mid-70s Aerosmith or Guns N Roses’ Use Your Illusion albums or having my mind blown by the Beatles on Revolver. Listening to music really has two components – the personal and the shared experience. I am attempting in these pages, by sharing my feelings about albums and artists, to take my personal experiences and put them in that shared place in the hopes that others have experienced similar things. And if by reading something here you manage to discover something you haven’t heard before and dig it (as the hippies say) then my job is more than successful. However, in the case of Wilko Johnson I don’t have a long history with him or his music. I’d like to tell you I got in on the ground floor of the genre of music known in England as “pub rock.” I mean, was there ever a more perfect genre for B&V to get into than pub rock? I love to hang out in bars (or pubs) and listen to rock music. Pub rock was apparently a return to stripped down, raw, R&B rock. It was meant to be a rebellion against over produced, slick music, particularly Prog rock. It was largely considered a precursor to punk rock. I’d love to tell you I secretly compiled all of the albums put out by Wilko Johnson’s band Dr. Feelgood and how much it meant to me. Unfortunately, I have heard some Dr. Feelgood, but not a ton. Most people are likely to know Wilko more for his small part in Game Of Thrones as Ilyn Payne who I think was the executioner who cut off Ned Stark’s head.

I do have one connection to Wilko Johnson’s music. Back in 2013 Johnson found out he had cancer. Doctors gave him less than year to live. Rather than give up he kept gigging. He went to an awards show where he sat next to Roger Daltrey of the Who. They hit it off immediately. The next thing you know they’re in the studio together. They knocked out the 2014 album Going Back Home in a week. Wilko had written a handful of new tunes and he wanted to cover Dylan’s “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window” but this album is predominantly a collection of covers from Dr. Feelgood (Wilko’s aforementioned first band) with one track from another of Wilko’s bands, the Solid Senders. I remember when this album came out, I bought it immediately. It went to No 3 in the UK. It may have been a sad diagnosis that propelled this album but it is unabashedly joyful rock n roll. I hadn’t heard Roger Daltrey rock out like this on a collection of 3-minute rock songs since he was a young Mod on My Generation. Wilko’s stuff was more blustery and ballsy than stuff written by the at times overly self-analytical Pete Townshend and you can tell Daltrey is having a blast rocking out. Wilko certainly holds up his end. His guitar is at turns crunchy and snarling then soulful. Wilko and Daltrey are the perfect foils for each other.

There is not a dull track on this record. The title track “Going Back Home” starts things off and it just jumps out of the speakers at you. You immediately can tell these guys are older but maybe (hopefully) not wiser. Daltrey’s husky voice engages me immediately. This is no holds barred rock n roll. Steve Weston’s harmonica punctuates the tune perfectly. “Ice On the Motorway” is a chugging rocker and keeps the party going. Dylan Howe’s drumming drives the great “I Keep It To Myself.” Wilko’s guitar is outstanding on this one as well. Listening to this music reminds me of the old dudes at the end of the bar who are talking and laughing too loud but nobody fucks with them. I put “Won’t You Climb Out Your Window” on my Dylan Covers playlist and I’m glad I did. “Turned 21” is a nice change of pace ballad. Wilko alternates between subtle playing and shredding on guitar on “Keep On Loving You.”

“Some Kind of Hero” jumps and struts. I love the line, “I was lookin’ for a good girl, somehow I ended up with mine.” “Sneaking Suspicion” is another “my baby is up to no good” tune. “Keep It Out of Sight,” and “Everybody’s Carrying a Gun” (that recalls some of Dylan’s early electric stuff to my ears) keep things rolling. “All Through The City” ends the album on a rocking note. If you haven’t checked this album out before, here’s the link:

The best news of all is that Wilko didn’t pass in 2014 as the doctors suggested he might. The man held on through 2022. It’s sad we’ve lost this underappreciated, unsung hero but good for him fighting cancer and winning for almost a decade. And for me the best way to commemorate the loss is to crank this album up as loud as I can. It conjures to mind a small, sweaty bar where the band is cooking and the dance floor is full of people with their arms in the air in front of the band and nobody’s dancing, they’re rocking out. That’s not a bad image to leave behind as a rock n roller.

I started off by saying that Wilko’s passing was a sad event and that it was sadness driving this post. But as I sit listening to this album, I realize there is a lot of joy in this music and maybe that’s what’s driving me to post this, joy.

Cheers! and of course, RIP Wilko Johnson!


Review: The Jimi Hendrix Experience, ‘Los Angeles Forum – April 26, 1969 (Live)’ – An Evening of Loose Jams For An Unruly Crowd


Only a few days ago I posted about the new Guns N Roses box set celebrating the Use Your Illusions albums. I’m still waking up with the words “With your bitch slap rapping and your cocaine tongue you get noooooothing done…” lodged in my head every morning and yet here I am already posting again. Knowing I’m headed to points out West for the upcoming Thanksgiving Holiday I holed up all weekend in the B&V labs listening to the new archival live album put out by the folks down at Experience Hendrix – who really do a nice job with Jimi’s legacy – entitled Los Angeles Forum – April 26, 1969 so I could post before I leave. I think I’m like most folks when I think about Hendrix, I just think about Jimi the Guitar God. I tend to overlook the fact that it wasn’t just Hendrix, it was the Jimi Hendrix Experience. And the Experience were quite a band. Listening to this live album one might say that seeing them live was quite, well, an experience. Joining Jimi in the band were Noel Redding (a frustrated guitarist) on bass and Mitch Mitchell on drums. One of our very first posts was about a Hendrix live album/documentary, Freedom: Atlanta Pop Festival (Live). Although by that show in Hot’lanta on the Fourth of July 1970, Noel Redding had split and had been replaced by Billy Cox on bass. We do so love our live LPs here at B&V.

Ah, April 1969, what a time to be alive! Well, technically I was alive in 1969 but I was just an infant so not really cognizant. I’d have probably been frightened by the sound of an electric guitar turned up to 11. It was a stressful time for Jimi and the Experience. They’d released Electric Ladyland in 1968 and it was an absolute masterpiece. But the follow-up proved to be elusive. Jimi was searching for something. He had built his Electric Ladyland studio in New York, a state of the art facility which he felt he needed to get the sounds he wanted. However the recording process was terribly erratic. They’d go out on the road for a few days, fly back to New York and record for a day or two and then back out on the road. Touring was still a bit of a hodgepodge in those days, not the organized machine it is today. They couldn’t really just focus on making a record. Hendrix would often go out to clubs to party and end up at the studio in the wee small hours with a bunch of hangers on and try and record. It was tough to get anything done and Noel Redding for one was very frustrated with the chaos. By April of ’69 when this concert was recorded Redding was a mere two months away from leaving the Experience.

I know that many of you are thinking, What another live album from Hendrix? At this point it seems like Jimi could have dropped a guitar in 1970 and if it made a sound through the amplifier that was recorded in anyway, it’s been remixed, remastered and released on a record. Every note the guy played that was committed to tape is out there somewhere – some on bootleg, some officially released. This show from the L.A. Forum has been around on bootleg for a long time but it’s new to me and I can only assume the sound quality is much improved over any boot. I love any live stuff we can get from Hendrix because every show and every solo was different. Listening to the Experience live – or later incarnations of Hendrix’s bands – is like listening to jazz masters jamming and improvising. Every nuance is wrung out of every song but different every time. Hendrix was a rock star with a jazz guy’s approach to live performing. So for me the short answer is, Yes! Another live album from Hendrix! If you’re a fan of Hendrix or a fan of guitar, this album is for you.

I get the feeling from listening to Los Angeles Forum – April 26, 1969 that the crowd was pretty unruly that night. The cops come over the PA a few times and Hendrix himself addresses the crowd to mellow out so the band could keep playing. It was spring and I imagine that’s a pretty wild time in California. Especially in ’69. With Redding frustrated and probably contemplating leaving it’s not a stretch to suggest this is the sound of a band who weren’t getting along. Although even that doesn’t stop Hendrix from laying down some tasty riffs. Listening to this album what jumped out at me was how great a drummer Mitch Mitchell was. I don’t ever hear his name mentioned in the same whispered tones of reverence that Keith Moon or Charlie Watts are, but the guy is feral on the drums. He and Hendrix soar on this record while the aforementioned Noel Redding plays the bass almost like a time keeper. Redding’s bass acts as the foundation here while the Hendrix and Mitchell play off each other like Jimmy Page and John Bonham.

I don’t know if it was the chaotic energy of the crowd pressing up against the stage but this album is a loose, jammy affair. There are several long (over ten or fifteen minute) jams. The band is introduced and much like another live LP by the Experience that I have, Winterland, Hendrix comes out and has to apologize while he gets his guitar sorted out. I don’t know if Jimi was too cheap to hire a proper guitar tech or they couldn’t find one but did he ever get on stage ready to play? Once he sorts out his instrument they launch into what must have been a live staple for them, a long, jammy instrumental “Tax Free.” It’s also the opener on the aforementioned Winterland. The song even come with a drum solo. It’s interesting to listen to the guys play off each other but it’s not going on the greatest hits album. I wonder if that tune is just how the band warmed up?

After the jam, they launch into a compact, snarling yet slinky version of “Foxey Lady.” I love Hendrix’s solo at the end of the track. Hendrix was quite chatty that evening. He seems to be having a lot of fun despite the crowd issues. The version of “Red House” is worth the price of admission in my mind. It’s a long, extended blues tune and I am here for it. It gets almost jazz like in the middle. I could listen to that track all day on a repeating loop. Hendrix then dedicates “Spanish Castle Magic” to the police at the show. It’s an impressive version of the Axis: Bold As Love track. Hendrix then launches into his soon to be iconic “Star Spangled Banner” which segues into the righteous riffage of “Purple Haze.” Once again with the cops on his mind he sings, “Excuse me while I kiss this policeman.” The extended fiery solo could possibly melt your face off. After that searing song Hendrix has to ask the crowd to mellow out again. They must have been rushing the stage again. He asks everybody to sit down which I think would be impossible at a Hendrix show.

Mitch Mitchell unleashes some tribal drumming on “I Don’t Live Today.” This is a wildly chaotic version of the track which probably fit right in on this particular night in front of these unruly hippies. The show wraps up with my all time favorite riff from Hendrix on “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” which segues into “Sunshine Of Your Love,” a Cream cover and then back into “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).” While the second half of “Voodoo Child” is only three minutes it’s some of Hendrix’s most ferocious solo’ing of the show.

While the setlist is shorter than other live sets I’ve seen from Hendrix – I’m guessing they had to cut it short because of the lack of crowd control – there is still a lot to love here. I’m always up for a good Hendrix live concert recording. Like I said, if you’re a fan of the guitar – and especially hearing what the absolute farthest someone can take the instrument – or of Hendrix this will be essential listening when you’re trying to drowned out your fractious Thanksgiving dinner conversation. “What Uncle Tim, you think serving the meal family style is socialist? Frankly, I think Mitch Mitchell is a criminally underrated drummer…” Or something like that.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you out there who are celebrating this week in the States. Even if you’re not celebrating Thanksgiving we have a lot of to be grateful for in this life not least of which is rock n roll music. Be kind to each other. Eat a whole lot this Thursday, drink something brown and murky and play this one loud!!


Review: Guns N Roses, ‘Use Your Illusions – Super Deluxe’ – Like The Band, An Enjoyable Hot Mess of a Box Set Featuring 2 Complete Shows From 91-92


Guns N Roses dropped the hotly anticipated (by me at least) box set for Use Your Illusions last weekend and I for one am stunned it’s been over thirty years since those great, albeit flawed, albums came out. I’m on record as a big Guns N Roses fan, even this current incarnation of the band with only Axl Rose (vocals), Slash (lead guitar) and Duff McKagan (bass) remaining from the incandescent original line-up. I actually saw that line-up on the ‘Not In This Lifetime’ tour over six years ago at Arrowhead Stadium (can it have been six years?). I saw that super cool blended cover art – strips of the yellow LP cover interchanged with strips of the blue LP cover and I fell immediately under it’s spell… I must have this box… until I saw the price tag. This was going to require some research…

I can still remember when Use Your Illusions I and Use Your Illusions II were released. I was working for a medical supply company out of Chicago that was owned by guys that had to be criminals. No matter how much product I sold I never seemed to see the commissions, working for the company store indeed… ah, the life of a traveling salesman. Anyway, in 1991 as soon as my day spent in hospitals and nursing homes was over I headed straight to the record store. This may be my faulty memory but I think I only purchased Use Your Illusions II (the blue one) on that late summer, September day. I had heard and loved the epic track “Civil War” prior to the album’s release as it had been put out on a charity album for Romanian orphans spearheaded by George Harrison’s wife, Olivia. I remember seeing my brother at the time and “Civil War” came on the overhead speakers at a sub shop where we were eating. I began cavorting in my chair and playing my always handy air guitar. I happened to look up at my brother who was sitting across the table from me, blank faced, staring at me impassively. I said, “Don’t you dig this?” Without even blinking an eye he said, voice full of contempt, “Yeah but I don’t have to look like an idiot to prove it.” Family…

I had also heard the rocking track “You Could Be Mine” from Use Your Illusions II since it also had been released prior on the Terminator 2 soundtrack. Having heard two songs that I already thought ranked amongst their best, Use Your Illusions II was an easy buy. I would like to think I’d have just gone ahead and bought both albums that day, but as mentioned, money was tight. I think I was in the “living with my parents again” phase of my life – always a sign of big time success. Much like when I was back  in junior high and even high school I always had a hard time committing to a double album or in this particular case two CDs released on the same day with the same title. And admittedly I was weirdly cautious about GnR. It took me until I heard the third single from Appetite For Destruction, “Paradise City,” before I bought that CD. The video for “Welcome To The Jungle” had me thinking these guys were just another hair band. “Sweet Child O’ Mine” caught my ear but it was a ballad and this was back when I was, let’s call it ballad-averse. Once I bought it, I was in, I was a fan but still cautious. By 1991 when the UYI albums were released it had been four years since their debut came out. That was a long gap in my mind.

Of course, in the time since their debut they’d released the odd follow up G N’ R Lies. While I had liked the song “Patience,” you couldn’t get away from it so who didn’t dig it, I had shied away from G N’ R Lies at the time because it seemed like a stopgap between “actual” albums. And admittedly I was deeply uncomfortable with some of the lyrics on “One In A Million.” Axl’s world view is certainly paranoid and misanthropic. I did go back to that same record shop and purchase Use Your Illusions I (the yellow one) a few weeks later after I heard “Dust N Bones.” Most people rushed out and bought that album for “November Rain,” which is a great, epic ballad but I preferred my GnR more menacing. On Appetite For Destruction they seemed like the most dangerous, threatening band on the planet – kind of like Aerosmith at their peak which coincidentally I had been listening to prior to this GnR deluxe release… It’s turning cold, the holidays are creeping up and I’m jumping around singing “‘Tis the Season for Hard Rock!”

The Use Your Illusions albums, taken together, to me sound a bit like the story of the Beatles’ self titled LP, aka The White Album. I’m not suggesting there is anything musically in common between The Beatles and the Use Your Illusions albums, but what has been said countless times about the Beatles’ record can certainly be said about the GnR albums: this is the sound of a band pulling in different directions. Use Your Illusions I seems to have the shorter, more focused, harder hitting rock songs. “Back Off Bitch,” “Bad Obsession,” “Dust N Bones” and “Perfect Crime” hit you like a prize fighter working the speed bag. I think that’s the direction Izzy Stradlin (rhythm guitar), Slash and Duff wanted to go. They wanted to stay in their lane. Axl, who had turned extraordinarily paranoid – he’d had beefs with neighbors, ex girlfriends/wives, the press, and had been excoriated for being racist and bigoted for “One In A Million” (rightly so) – wanted to indulge his Freddie Mercury/Queen/Elton John fantasies and go big. Use Your Illusions II is full of epic tracks: “Estranged,” “Locomotive” and “Civil War.” Of course “November Rain” and “Coma” were in that epic category and they were on the first album.

Axl’s paranoid vision for GnR was diametrically opposed to the rest of the band which never bodes well. By the time they recorded the UYI albums they’d already fired addled Steven Adler for heroin addiction. They’d tried to wait for him to pull himself together but in the words of Neil Young “He tried his best but he could not.” They replaced him with former Cult drummer Matt Sorum. Izzy always said they lost a key ingredient when they lost Adler, who had more “swing” in his drumming than Sorum, who is more of a plodder. Axl’s megalomania eventually drove Izzy Stradlin, who had also gotten sober, out of the band shortly after the two LPs came out. Losing him was a tremendous blow. Not because his replacement Gilby Clark couldn’t play but because Izzy was key for their songwriting.

In the end, I think you can say about the Use Your Illusions albums what they say about most double albums. There is probably a perfect, single-LP masterpiece lurking in this double album. I will admit, I’m happy to have as much GnR music from that classic line up as I can get so I’m still glad they sort of vomited all of this music on us back then. As I said when I saw the price tag on this box set I couldn’t help but think, “I have these records, what is the bonus material like? I was hoping like the Black Crowes on Shake Your Money Maker we’d get some unreleased tracks and some live stuff. Alas, I think GnR threw everything they had at the time on the two original LPs so scratch any unreleased studio gems from your wish list. However I would have loved to have heard some stripped down demos of these songs (especially of “November Rain”) or if there were outtakes (like Axl taking lead vocal on “Double Talkin’ Jive”) I’d have liked them included… especially at this price. I will admit I was a little disappointed when I heard that they would only be releasing two complete shows from the era, New York from May of ’91 and Las Vegas from January of ’92, and I can’t explain that disappointment. I don’t know why I felt that way? Rush just put out a great live concert with the 40th anniversary edition of Moving Pictures and it was sensational. Where was this feeling coming from?

Maybe it was the checkered history of the Use Your Illusions Tour? They actually started the tour before the albums came out because they were taking so long to finish. They couldn’t agree on a final mix. As I read somewhere, if Axl liked the mix Slash didn’t and vice versa. The Use Your Illusions Tour started in early ’91. I think one of the things that fueled my disappointment in hearing the bonus material was just two live shows was my memory of the troubled history of that tour. All the iconic bad behavior that we associate with Axl and the band stems from that tour. The tour was marred by GnR showing up late, Axl being drunk, Axl having vocal issues, Axl jumping into the crowd and fighting audience members, Axl walking off stage after only a few songs and in the case of the July ’91 show in St Louis, Axl starting a riot. Hence in the liner notes of the Use Your Illusions you can find the immortal words “Fuck St. Louis.” As someone from Kansas City a mere car ride away, I can tell you, they weren’t exactly wrong about St Louis.

GnR had been out on the road for eight months when the albums actually came out that balmy September. By November, Izzy Stradlin had quit the band. Before he quit, he had stopped riding on the tour bus and would just follow them on his motorcycle. I remember after he quit, one of their videos showed Izzy’s picture on milk carton under the words “Have You Seen This Man?” During the summer of ’92 GnR teamed up with Metallica for a joint tour that lasted from July to October that saw James Hetfield being burned up by the pyro. There was just some bad juju around this band and this tour back then.

That said – and I’m not a big bootleg guy any more, so I’ve never heard either of these two concerts before – I enjoyed these two concert recordings. Now admittedly, GnR never put out a definitive live album – and we know our live albums around here – and these two concert documents aren’t going to change that. They’ve confounded the issue by releasing separately, beyond the box set, remixes of the individual version of I and II with a hodgepodge of live cuts from different shows than the ones released in the box. I guess they’re trying to get folks to buy the box and new versions of each album all at the same time. Cashing in? I will say on the individual new release for Use Your Illusions I they have a nice live cut of Lenny Kravitz joining the band to play his tune “Always On The Run” from Paris. Lenny and Slash were buddies in high school and Lenny was the drummer in Slash’s first band. I’m not sure the live cuts would be enough to get me to buy the individual albums again unless I didn’t own them already, which I think is going to be a limited number of people.

In terms of the box set bonus material I probably like the New York May ’91 set best. It’s almost like hearing them rehearse. Axl even admits it’s only like the third time they’d played the songs since he “never shows up to jam with these guys.” Axl certainly has a bad case of LSD – Lead Singer Disease. People may be sort of “meh” about these two concerts but any time you can listen to Slash, one of the most melodic guitarist of all time and Axl one of the greatest voices in rock history rocking out it’s a treat. They throw in snippets of covers songs from Alice Cooper (“Only Women Bleed” an interesting choice), Rod Stewart (“I Was Only Joking”) and Jimi Hendrix (“Voodoo Child (Slight Return)”). It’s a great mix of tunes from all their albums from the debut to the two then new LPs.

On the Las Vegas Jan ’92 we get more of what we got on GnR’s live album Live Era ’87-’93 with back up singers and horns. There are actually five tracks from Live Era from this Vegas concert so there is a bit of duplication. We even get a little taste of “Hotel California” on this set. While this may not be GnR at their absolute peak it’s still an enjoyable listen if you’re a fan and it certainly holds together than the live stuff they cobbled together for the individual LP releases. I’ve never understood why Axl chose to bring in back up singers and horns? During one track he yells, “Give me some reggae,” which is something I never thought I’d hear at a GnR show… and the band drops into what sounds like a meth fueled attempt to slow it down and play a reggae thing. Sigh.

Overall at the price their charging I can’t recommend this box set. Like a gambler in an old time western movie, I’m pushing away from the table while mumbling, “Too rich for me…” However, I do recommend everyone at least stream this stuff. Especially if you’re a GnR fan or if you dig live music. A definitive live album doesn’t exist for these guys but these two shows provide us a snapshot of a time when GnR and hard rock were on top of the world and spiraling out of control. What’s not to love? Also if you don’t own Use Your Illusions I or II now might be the time to pick up those essential hard rock albums.

To everybody in the U.S., Happy Thanksgiving next week. I’m being held hostage by family in a remote location… Anyway, turn this one up loud to drowned out the political arguments during your Turkey Day. “What’s that Uncle Bob, you think I’m a communist but you love Slash?” Well, who doesn’t love Slash? Finally something we can all agree on!


Lookback: The True Peak of Aerosmith – 1975 – 1976, ‘Toys In The Attic’ and ‘Rocks’ – Spectacular Rock N Roll


I was at a party a while back and I got into a discussion with this guy about rock n roll, per usual. I was talking with this guy a little younger than me – although not much younger than me – and he wanted to talk about Aerosmith. I’m always down to talk rock n roll and especially Aerosmith – Steve Tyler/vocals, Joe Perry/lead guitar, Brad Whitford/guitar, Tom Hamilton/bass and Joey Kramer/drums – who I consider to be one of the greatest rock bands America ever produced. This guy I was talking to was trying to convince me that Aerosmith’s 1989 album Pump was the greatest rock album ever. The guy was about 10 years younger than me so it makes sense, Pump was big when he was coming of age. I had managed to get on their bandwagon in the late 70s quite a bit before Pump. I had to tell the guy Pump wasn’t even one of Aerosmith’s greatest albums let alone one of the greatest rock albums of all time… “The conversation,” as Bob Dylan once sang, “was short and sweet.”This is why I don’t go to many parties any more.

It makes sense that Aerosmith has different sets of fans or perhaps better said fans of different eras of the band. They had a meteoric, incredible run through the 70s and then fell apart as drugs, ego, exhaustion from touring and infighting all took their toll. By the time I was in high school in ’80 we were already asking, “What happened to Aerosmith?” Both guitarist Joe Perry and Brad Whitford split, Perry for his Joe Perry Project and Whitford formed Whitford St. Holmes with Nugent’s old rhythm guitarist/vocalist Derek St. Holmes (check out the tune “Sharpshooter,” great stuff). Aerosmith finally put out another album Rock In A Hard Place in 1982, a three year gap since 1979’s A Night In The Ruts which was an unheard of amount of time between albums in those days. At that point they had Jimmy Crespo and Rick Dufay on guitar. Most bands were on the album-tour-album-tour treadmill and put out an album every year. My roommate bought Rock In A Hard Place and other than the song “Lightning Strikes” it was a disappointment. Tyler looked perilously thin in the video for “Lightning Strikes.”

Then something utterly improbable happened. Perry and Whitford returned. The band toured at that point and I saw the mighty reconstituted Aerosmith at Starlight Theater over on the East side of town. They were amazing that night but when we went to rush the stage, one of my buddies passed out. I had to baby sit him from back in the cheap seats while my other two friends stood in front of the stage basking in the power of Aerosmith. The place was only half full that night. They finally got off drugs – Tyler and Perry delighted in using cocaine and heroin such that their nickname was the Toxic Twins – and then they made what may be the greatest comeback in rock history. Personally I really dug Done With Mirrors, it was more of an old school Aerosmith album, but the comeback didn’t really take hold until Permanent Vacation which came out when I was just out of college. That led to a pretty big run from the late 80s to the late 90s. That second era of success for the band tends to dwarf that run in the 70s where Aerosmith established their reputation.

As we sit here now when Aerosmith hasn’t put out an album in 10 years – and really haven’t put out an interesting album in over 20 years – it’s easy to forget about those great Aerosmith days in the 70s. Today the guys in Aerosmith with their highlighted, poufy hair and flowing clothes look more like the Scary Housewives of Rock N Roll than the menacing rock band of the 70s. I don’t think these guys get along very well anymore. I think drummer Joey Kramer even sued the band. Why can’t hard rock bands get along the way Rush did? With all these horrible ballads like “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing,” a song so garish I once hurt myself lunging at the radio to change the station when it came on, it’s easy to overlook their killer hard rock origins. Like this guy I was talking to at the party many people think that late 80s to late 90s run was the entirety of the Aerosmith story. Well, I for one, have not forgotten those glory days. I have not forgotten the true peak of Aerosmith – 1975 to 1976.

I didn’t get into music, as I’ve shared, until I was in junior high so about 1978 or 1979. While we didn’t know it, by ’79 Aerosmith was musically a spent force… at least in terms of their initial run. A Night In The Ruts was widely considered a disappointment to their hardcore fans. The cover song “Remember (Walking In The Sand)” was the only track that got radio play. They had made the mistake of joining the cast of the 1978 musical movie Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band with Peter Frampton and gads, disco kings The Bee Gees. At least they did a great cover of “Come Together.” Even though they were fading at the time, when I was in junior high Aerosmith still cast a long shadow. They were huge to us. They were menacing and seemed dirty and druggy. Everything a junior high kid in the late 70s could ask for. Tyler’s lyrics often sounded nonsensical but we read all sorts of innuendo into them. The first record of theirs I ever bought was their 1978 live album Live Bootleg. I listened to that a few weeks ago and it’s still mighty. But then I love live albums.

While Aerosmith’s eponymous debut LP was widely overlooked upon it’s release it’s one of my favorites. Their second album Get Your Wings was even better. The constant touring and playing finally began to jell in terms of their songwriting. It was in the mid 70s that Aerosmith finally burst through the clouds and into the stratosphere. If they’d never recorded again after the two albums they recorded in 1975 and 1976 respectively they would still be considered one of the greatest rock bands in American history. So dude at the party – these are the two greatest albums Aerosmith ever put to tape and thus, are two of the greatest rock albums ever.

Toys In The Attic (1975)

For Aerosmith, it turns out the third time was the charm… Everything came together here. This album contains not one but two of their greatest rock anthems, “Walk This Way” (the original, not the one ruined by Run D.M.C.) and “Sweet Emotion.” When people think of 70s rock and think of Aerosmith, this is the music they think of. Let’s look at the tracks.

  • “Toys In The Attic” – The album’s rollicking opening track. A statement about their mental health at the time. This thing is a “meet me at the finish line” kind of racing rocker. It’s such a nasty riff. There’s no Pump type polish here.
  • “Uncle Salty” – This may be one of my favorite deep tracks from these guys. It’s midtempo but gritty. The sad tale of a fallen woman. “And when she cried at night, no one came…”
  • “Adam’s Apple” – A song where Steven Tyler teaches us about the Garden of Eden. Another great riff rocker. Eve gets a bad rap but when it comes to the apple… “she ate it and Lord it was love at first bite…”
  • “Walk This Way” – Joey Kramer’s drums start us rocking but then the guitar comes in like a Howitzer. Aerosmith were always considered a poor man’s Rolling Stones but I sure hear a lot of James Brown in their music… “I was high school loser never made it with the ladies” was a lyric that resonated more than it should have when I was in high school.
  • “Big Ten Inch Record” – Resurrecting a tune from 1952, this is one of the rare moments of comedy from Aerosmith. I still love the tune. Great harmonica solo. “Liquor just make her flinch…”
  • “Sweet Emotion” – I rank this up there with Joe Walsh’s “Turn To Stone” as one of the greatest guitar riffs of all time. “Talking ’bout things and nobody cares” could describe most of my conversations these days…
  • “No More No More” – Another great deep track with heavy riffage and boogie woogie piano.
  • “Round And Round” – One of the hardest tracks they’ve ever done. This points the way toward where they would go on Rocks.
  • “You See Me Crying” – A lovely piano ballad and I’m told Liv Tyler’s favorite Aerosmith tune. I don’t know why I like this ballad more than most of their late period balladry. With the piano and strings this almost sounds like Queen.

Rocks (1975)

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better than Toys In The Attic Aerosmith returned with the amps turned up to 11. This is their hardest rocking statement ever. It makes their 80s stuff look like the Bay City Rollers.

  • “Back In The Saddle” – The Rock Chick’s favorite Aerosmith song, to her credit. “A lusty cowboy song.” Joey Kramer is drumming like he’s barely keeping the guitars connected to the earth. Perry and Whitford’s guitars careen off each other. Amazing tune… “Barkeep give me a drink, that’s when she caught my eye…” is almost the story of when I met the Rock Chick.
  • “Last Child” – The funkiest hard rock you’ll ever hear. Maybe it’s just me but I feel the influence of James Brown here. A song about getting out in the country. “Hands on the plow and my feets in the ghetto.”
  • “Rats In The Cellar” – This track seems like an inherent sequel to “Toys In The Attic.” If I ever have a heart attack, throw me on a speaker and turn this racing rocker on the turntable and crank it up.
  • “Combination” – Another heavy rock riff tune. Tyler sounds like he’s being tortured on the vocal.
  • “Sick As A Dog” – One of their best, most overlooked tunes. “Sick as a dog, cat got your tongue?” I love the live version on Live Bootleg as well. This song should have been a monster hit.
  • “Nobody’s Fault” – Side 2 kicks off with this ominous rocker. I don’t know what happened but it sounds like somebody is in trouble and is very sorry. Another tortured vocal from Tyler over Perry and Whitford’s equally tortured guitar.
  • “Get The Lead Out” – I’ve always wondered if this funky rocker was a sly nod to Zeppelin. They were friends with Page and had covered the Yardbirds’ “Train Kept A’Rollin’.” I love the first line, “Got good boogie…” Yes they did. You can move to Aerosmith, I defy you to try and sit still during this record.
  • “Lick And A Promise” – They rock this one so hard and fast the band sounds like they’re on the verge of collapse.
  • “Home Tonight” – Like Toys In The Attic we end with a ballad. Perhaps my favorite mellow tune from Aerosmith.  A tune so longing in getting home it was on our Songs of Home playlist… gorgeous track.

If you’re ever at a party and someone starts talking about the hard rock artistry of Get A Grip or Nine Lives, sneak over to the stereo and crank one of these albums and simply behold the majesty and the power of the true peak of Aerosmith. And know, that in that moment I am somewhere out there on the dark road flashing the Devil Horns for you… “and I’ll be home tonight…”


Review: John Mellencamp, ‘Scarecrow – Super Deluxe Edition/2022 Mix’ – Revisiting His 1985 Classic With Bonus Tracks


I saw yesterday that John “Cougar” Mellencamp had released a “Super Deluxe” edition of his superb 1985 album Scarecrow. Man, does this one take me back. If you look up “heartland,” Midwest rock n roll in the dictionary you’ll like see a picture of the Scarecrow album cover.

I must admit, when I first became aware of John Cougar, as he was known then, I was probably in junior high or early high school. My friends and I didn’t think much of ol’ Johnny Cougar. We all thought his third album John Cougar was his debut. It had the iconic rock song “I Need A Lover” with that great guitar driven lead-in. However if you’d quizzed us in 9th grade, like thinking “Pinball Wizard” was an Elton John song, we’d have told you that “I Need A Lover” was a Pat Benatar song. Her version got more airplay for some reason. Then he put out his next album, the aggressively titled Nothing Matters and What If It Did. It had that great tune “Hot Time In A Cold Town” but was marred by that cheesy ballad “This Time,” (“This time I really think I’m in love, I’m in love”). Try getting that earworm out of your head. You couldn’t get away from that song. 

When Cougar toured behind Nothing Matters… somehow my buddy Brewster ended up going to the show with a couple of guys we knew from the neighborhood – I’ll call the first guy Carter to protect the guilty (his name was the same as an ex President, so why not) and the second guy was the weirdest guy in our neighborhood and I’ll call him Weird Nick. This was another instance where Brewster went to a rock n roll show and didn’t ring me. By-gones. Anyway, Carter was a young con man in the making and somehow he talked his way into the hotel where the band was staying and they all ended up drinking with Cougar’s manager. I assume it was the same guy who named John Mellencamp after his favorite car, the sleek Mercury Cougar. That night they actually met John Cougar and he signed a copy of the album for Brewster but unfortunately he signed it, “Don’t Forget Me, John Cougar.” It just seemed needy and confirmed what we’d already thought about him – he was soft. I watched Brewster destroy the album in a fit of youthful rebellion the next day. I was taken aback but that’s probably just because I was pissed I hadn’t been invited. That story didn’t really help us get in to Mellencamp (nee Cougar). Even Weird Nick was cold on Cougar. Nobody wanted to jump on the bandwagon of an artist who wasn’t considered “rock.”

A couple years later, still in high school, I had started dating a young lady from the neighborhood much to the delight of my parents. They felt me having a girlfriend would be a good influence on me. They weren’t fond of my miscreant friends. Well this girl’s parents both worked – my mom was a  homemaker and was home every second of every day. After school we’d go over to this girl’s house and drink  her folk’s booze and… Netflix and Chill before it was a thing. This girl had like three records but one of them was John Cougar’s then current LP American Fool. That album really broke Cougar big. “Hurts So Good” was a damn good song. I still hate “Jack And Diane” but it was huge too. This girl would put his album on and I have to admit, I didn’t hate it. There’s a deep cut on there “Thundering Hearts” that’s an overlooked gem. So my disdain for Cougar started to wane. The local radio station even started playing his version of “I Need A Lover” more than Benatar’s… so that’s something.

I was in college when the now John Cougar Mellencamp put out his raucous, sloppy album Uh Huh. I heard that first song – probably on MTV – “Crumbling Down” and thought, hey this rocks. I remember during those early 80s, Rolling Stone magazine was comparing anything that was sprawling rock to Exile On Main Street. They compared Petty’s Let Me Up, I’ve Had Enough and Mellencamp’s Uh Huh both to Exile. I don’t hear that but reading those words spurred me to buy the album, my first Mellencamp LP purchase. That was a great album. His backing band was great. While they didn’t have a cool moniker like E-Street or Silver Bullet, it was the same guys who played on all of his early stuff: the amazing Kenny Aronoff on drums (who went on to play with John Fogerty and Smashing Pumpkins), Larry Crane and Mike Wanchic on guitars, and Toby Myers on bass. “Play Guitar” was a fist pumping album. “Little Pink Houses” grew to be one of Mellencamp’s biggest songs. I was drawn to “Authority Song” because well… I was always fighting the man. “Serious Business” is an overlooked rocker, one of Mellencamp’s best. At this point I was on the bandwagon. I didn’t rush out and buy his back catalog like I usually do but I played the crap out of that particular album.

In ’85 protest and charity were the order of the day. Live Aid had been a global event and inspired by an off-hand comment from Dylan that night in Philly, September of that year saw the inaugural Farm Aid. The only thing I remember about Farm Aid is Eddie Van Halen and Sammy Hagar appearing together for the first time and covering Zeppelin to boot… The 80s were a tough time. Corporate greed was choking off the opportunity of the little guy. Nobody was more hard pressed in those days than the local, small farmer. Mellencamp, who was from Indiana and probably surrounded by farmers, didn’t play at that first Farm Aid, but had absorbed the struggling and anguish into his songwriting. In early August of ’85 he dropped Scarecrow and I bought it the day it came out. They’d been playing the video for “Lonely Ol’ Night” a wonderful track about the need of human connection in tough times. I’d tell you Scarecrow was Mellencamp’s masterpiece but he saved that for his next album, The Lonesome Jubilee. That was quite a run – Uh Huh, Scarecrow followed by The Lonesome Jubilee – but I digress. It’s hard to explain how widely Scarecrow resonated with folks in the Midwest but I’ll tell you this – my parents, who don’t generally don’t like music, looooved the song “Small Town.” But then they’re from… well… a small town from southern Kansas.

“Rain On The Scarecrow” is one of the best protest songs ever written. I dated a woman from St Joseph, Mo and when we saw Mellencamp play this song, 12 years after it had been released, she went nuts during this song. She was pumping her fist in the air and screaming something about her family being farmers. I thought her dad was school teacher. I was too afraid to ask her. I can only imagine how real farmers felt when they heard that one. Plus it’s a great rock song. “Small Town,” “Lonely Ol’ Night” and “R.O.C.K. in the USA” (which I wasn’t crazy about but it still ended up on my 4th of July Playlist) got all the attention but there were some great deep tracks. “Minutes to Memories” is a great track in the vein of the Faces’ “Oo La La” where a grandfather recounts to his grandson advice of his grandfather… if that makes sense. “Between A Laugh And A Tear” was like a sad sequel to “Jack And Diane” and features Rickie Lee Jones as a duet partner… although I’ve always felt she was under utilized on the song. These tracks showed what tremendous growth in songwriting Mellencamp had gone through.

Not all the songwriting was perfect. While I always loved the tune “Justice And Independence ’85” the lyrics were a little clunky. I’ve never been a fan of allegory. “You’ve Got To Stand For Something” has a great message but is very “of it’s time” lyrically. He sings about Sly Stallone and Vanessa Williams. “Face of the Nation” is good but a very serious tune.

I love Scarecrow but as we always ask, is this 2 CD “Super Deluxe” edition worth looking into. For me it’s always about what the bonus material looks like. I have to say – if you don’t have this album, definitely splurge on this version. However, for those of us who already have the record I don’t see much in the way of bonus material that would entice me. So many anniversary and deluxe editions have come out lately. Both Rush (Moving Pictures) and Keith Richards (Main Offender) have given us great deluxe packages with a concert recording from the era the album was released. Mellencamp has merely rounded up a bunch of previously released B-sides and demos. I look at these tracks to me more like a curio than a collectible.

He includes the bonus track “The Kinda Fella I Am” and “Small Town (Acoustic)” that have been out there for a while now, I think since they released this on CD. A cover of “Under The Boardwalk” which has been out there for a while as a B side, kicks off the disc of bonus tracks and it doesn’t do much for me. I like his version of James Brown’s “Cold Sweat” better but again, I’ve already got this track. There are several “Writer’s Demo” versions of tracks from the album and they’re nothing I’ll ever seek out to hear again. There are several “Rough Mix” versions of tracks from the album and they do nothing for me either. He does throw in a cover of “Shama Lama Ding Dong” that was performed in the movie Animal House and that was enjoyable. There are two new tracks I’d never heard before – “Carolina Shag” which I’ve added to my Playlist, Songs About Dancing which I like and “Smart Guys” where Mellencamp chooses to speak the verses vs sing that I don’t like.

There are simply no revelations amongst this bonus material. Why Mellencamp chose to not include a concert recording from that era like those other Deluxe Editions I mentioned is a mystery. But then, I don’t think he’s ever done a proper Live Album. This package is hard pass for me, but again if you don’t have Scarecrow it’s an essential addition to any rock n roll catalog and this is a nice version to have. And remember…

“Days turn to minutes And minutes to memories
Life sweeps away the dreams That we have planned”




Review: The Beatles, ‘Revolver Super Deluxe Edition’ – Is It Worth It?


What a great fall so far for rock n roll. I’ve been celebrating new releases from the Cult, Bush (which really surprised me) and a second album from the Chili Peppers and then the Beatles dropped the superb new box set focused on one of the greatest albums of all time, Revolver. This is the fifth Super Deluxe box set focused on a specific album that they’ve released (so far) and we always ask the question, is this thing worth buying? The first set released was focused on Sgt Peppers and it was a skip for me as was the set for Abbey Road. I’ve never purchased Abbey Road, that side 2 medley puts me off. The box sets for The Beatles aka The White Album and Let It Be were absolute must have’s for me but I’ve always been more of a fan of their later work. Like all previous sets, this one is produced by Giles Martin, famous Beatles’ producer George Martin‘s son.

Growing up in my parent’s house I merely had to walk down the hall to the next bed room to find a font of Beatles music and wisdom. My brother was a huge Beatles fan even before I started listening to rock n roll. I was always a late bloomer. When you walked by his room you could almost always hear tunes slipping out from under the door or through the wall adjacent to my bedroom. I remember, once I started listening to music and got my turntable/receiver/tape player combo stereo, boldly entering my brother’s room with a blank cassette tape and announcing my intention to tape his Beatles collection – but only their “good songs.” I’m sure my brother was sitting there thinking, “All Beatles songs are good, you knob.” Needless to say, I didn’t bring as many cassettes as I needed…it turns out you can’t condense the Beatles’ career into one cassette… Youth is sometimes wasted on the young.

Despite living next to the Yoda of Beatles fans, when I finally did get into music I turned out to be more of a Stones’ guy. My brother and I tend to head in opposite directions. Although I was never religious about it, Stones vs Beatles. I liked the Beatles too but the Stones were my alpha and omega probably because they were more blues centered. It wasn’t until I was in college that I started buying Beatles records. Believe it or not, my first Beatles’ LP was Let It Be purchased at a Used Record store. From there I went on to buy Rubber Soul, Revolver, and several of the early LPs. Despite having grown up next to the foremost Beatles expert in my house, I had no idea that many of the Beatles LPs were different in the US than in the UK. Those rapacious bastards at Capitol Records who distributed Beatles albums in the States for their parent company EMI would change the running order of albums and often pull tunes off the UK versions and put out Frankenstein-style, cobbled together albums like Yesterday And Today, which I also purchased, not knowing any of this.

Because of Capitol Records slicing up these albums like they were playlists, I always sort of liked Rubber Soul better than Revolver. In my defense, Capitol had stripped out three songs from the UK version of the album that I consider some of my favorite tracks – “I’m Only Sleeping” (which inspired our Sleep Playlist), “And Your Bird Can Sing,” and “Dr Robert.” No wonder I was confused. Of course Rubber Soul was equally chopped up. The US version starts with “I’ve Just Seen A Face,” which is one of my favorite Beatles’ acoustic tracks but it’s not even on the UK version. Now that I’ve heard and own both of the UK versions of Rubber Soul and Revolver, I’d have to say, while I still love the former, the latter is now my favorite of the two. While this may seem strange to the Beatles’ faithful out there, I’ve always had those two albums linked in my mind – I sort of consider it the most critical period of the Beatles career.

If the Beatles had called it quits after releasing their great early LPs, when they were still the lovable “Mop Tops,” and their two soundtrack LPs (Hard Days Night and Help!) they’d still be considered the greatest band ever. I mean, there’s no getting around how fantastic they were. They exploded onto the music scene like a super nova. I remember my uncle telling me that he and his buddies couldn’t get over their “long” hair. In 1965 when they put out Rubber Soul they completely changed the way artists and fans approached the entire concept of the album. An album previously had been a collection of singles and well, filler. People bought singles not albums. The Beatles went at Rubber Soul in an attempt to create an entire album that hung together as an artistic statement. Well, it worked. It inspired countless other artists. I’ve always considered Rubber Soul to be the Beatles pot album. I mean, not that it’s about pot… but they’d started smoking pot, turned on by Bob Dylan, and it expanded their artistic consciousness. Drugs aren’t always bad, people… I never use it as I’m naturally ebullient, but I’m off topic. Rubber Soul revolutionized the whole idea of an album and it’s a landmark LP. What do you do for an encore?

Well, first, you move from pot to LSD, yes, acid. Unwittingly turned onto LSD by a rogue dentist – I once knew an evil chiropractor – John (especially) and George really opened up their minds to creative possibilities. The Beatles were scheduled to film their third movie at the start of 1966 and luckily for the world, it was cancelled. With all this free time, besides taking acid, the Beatles were able to take some vacation time and recharge the batteries. They also had a lot more time to focus on the studio and producing another mind blowing album. At the time when record companies were expecting two albums a year even from the Beatles, they pumped the brakes and started to exert more control over their artistic lives.

Revolver may just be my favorite Beatles album. They say that listening to The White Album is like listening to a band growing apart and listening to Let It Be is the sound of a band breaking up – I sort of agree about The White Album, but I’m not so sure about Let It Be – the sound of Revolver is the sound of a band coming together with a singular focus to create the greatest variety of sounds they may have ever produced. The band comes together like a team. And, my god, they were so far ahead of their time. Everybody shows up strong. I’m going to start with George, because nobody ever starts with George. He gets the opening track, the iconic “Taxman” and it’s truly one of his best. He really shows his development as a songwriter here. I’m not a huge fan of his Indian stuff, but “Love You To” may be my favorite of that variety. I think it’s his first full blown Indian style track, although I know he’d flavored a few earlier songs with sitar. “I Want To Tell You” is one of his most underrated songs.

Listening to this album again I’m amazed at what a great drummer Ringo is/was. I always dismissed him when compared to guys like John Bonham or Keith Moon when I first got into rock n roll, but the guy is money. He drumming is always in service to the songs. He is also the perfect person to sing “Yellow Submarine,” a “groovy uncle.” McCartney’s song craft is perhaps at a pinnacle on Revolver. “For No One” is perhaps his saddest song ever and the sound of the clavichord points the way towards Sgt Pepper. “Eleanor Rigby” is simply iconic. “Got To Get You Into My Life” is psychedelic soul at it’s finest. While all of that is great, my highest praise is for Lennon. “Tomorrow Never Knows” – with its way ahead of it’s time tape-loops – where he quotes the Tibetan Book of the Dead may be the greatest Beatles’ song ever. What a trippy tune. “She Said, She Said,” inspired by a conversation he’d had with Peter Fonda who kept saying, “I know what it’s like to be dead” is another stellar track. The aforementioned tracks that were left off the US version are absolute knockouts, “I’m Only Sleeping,” “And Your Bird Can Sing,” and “Dr Robert” about the rogue dentist who gave them LSD. There is no Sgt. Pepper without Revolver. All these years later it’s still a breathtaking listen.

On this Super Deluxe Edition, I must say, this is a must have, not just for Beatles fans. As mentioned, the remix is produced by Giles Martin. His new stereo mix sounds fantastic. I’m not one of those Beatles audiophiles that can tell you if he dropped a backing vocal here or a drum beat there – I can only share my feelings about the listening experience. The Beatles, as was the custom of the time, were more focused on the mono mixes back in the 60s. Predominantly all music was released in mono. People were listening on transistor radios or stereos with one speaker, it was the dominant style. It wasn’t until the late 60s and really into the 70s that stereo came to the fore. Frankly I don’t know if there has been a really good stereo mix of the old Beatles records, until now. It sounds fabulous, especially turned up loud. There is also a mono version of the album for those of you who want to compare. And there are some subtle differences between the mono mix and the stereo mix if you listen carefully…

Like previous Beatles box sets, the two discs beyond the stereo and mono remixes of the album are all outtakes of earlier versions of the released tracks. This isn’t like say, Prince’s 1999 where there are a bunch of unreleased never-heard-before tracks. And while I know it’s cliche, I have to say this is a fabulous glimpse into the Beatles’ creative process, which I for one find fascinating. There’s so much cool stuff here. “Tomorrow Never Knows – Take 1” sounds like a baby singing from the womb over his mother’s heartbeat, like a singing sonogram… it’s amazing for a first take. There are several versions of “Got To Get You Into My Life” – “Take 5” is driven by Paul driving the tune on an organ with Ringo’s loping drums. The second version of the song is fuzzy guitar driven and I might like it better than the released version… George’s “Love You To” strummed on an acoustic guitar is a great demo. “Rain – Take 5” sounds like it was recorded on speed, way too fast, but the next version “Rain – Take 5 (Slowed Down),” brings out all the trippiness of the song.

The different versions of “And Your Bird Can Sing” bring out the rock n roll in the song. Once again Ringo’s drumming is perfect for the track. Not everything they do works. “Taxman – Take 11” has some additional backing vocals that were best left in the can. The versions of “I’m Only Sleeping” take us on a journey from acoustic, folky strummer to the full blown rock tune. “Eleanor Rigby – Take 2” is just the strings… and I kind of dug that but I’ve been listening to more classical stuff of late. The versions of “Yellow Submarine” are nothing short of a revelation. It starts with John singing with an acoustic guitar on “Yellow Submarine – Songwriting Work Tape Part 1” and “Part 2” and it changes the song to me. Paul wrote it, John demo’d it, and Ringo sang it. The demos almost sound kind of sad. I also really found “She Said, She Said – John’s Demo” fascinating listening… it’s just John again with only an acoustic guitar. To think where that song went from such humble beginnings.

The last disc in the box is a mocked up single with just “Rain” and “Paperback Writer” – in both a new stereo mix and the mono mix. I love both of those song – which weren’t on the actual album, they were released as a single – but even I’ll admit it feels like they’re padding the package to charge a bit more. I don’t usually comment on packaging but the book in this box is something else!

This is a set of songs and demos that I know I’m going to be returning to and listening to over and over much like I did with Let It Be Super Deluxe. I advise everybody to listen to this and remember Xmas is coming…this would look good under any tree. This box is certainly worth it.