Movie Review: ‘David Byrne’s American Utopia On Broadway’

In junior high when I started listening to rock and roll music, the Talking Heads were not in high rotation. At least they weren’t in Kansas City. This is the heartland where Foghat, Styx and Journey ruled the day. I’m sure the radio moguls in town considered the Talking Heads music to be… well, “subversive.” That said, I’ve often stated that music evokes very powerful memories in me and vice versa. I woke up every morning to my clock radio which was tuned to the local station KY/102. I would leave it on while I drug myself zombie-like out of bed and into the shower. Music would be playing in the background while I got dressed and feathered my hair (oh yes, it was glorious). Because of the evocative effect of music on my memory, I can still remember the first time I heard the Heads’ version of Al Green’s “Take Me To The River.” I was sitting on the edge of my bed, pulling my socks on… if I close my eyes I can see the old garish green shag carpeting and striped wall paper (my room was decorated in a manner that makes me suspect my mother was mad at me). Those drums, that voice. It was like nothing I’d ever heard. It made me realize that maybe the world was a little bigger than we’d all realized… there was something that cool out there, somewhere. There was such a lack of Talking Heads on the radio, I was convinced “Take Me To the River” was from their debut album until I was in college. Their debut, Talking Heads: 77 got no love from Kansas City radio. “Take Me To The River” was from their second album, More Songs About Buildings and Food, which still sort of surprises me. 

It’s still astounding to me that music as important as the Talking Heads first two albums were all but ignored in my home town. Perhaps that’s why lead singer/guitarist/songwriter David Byrne wrote a song like “Heaven” where he sang, “The band in Heaven, they play my favorite song, they play it once again, they play it all night long.” That sounds an awful lot like the place I grew up. It wasn’t until college that the Talking Heads pierced my consciousness again. MTV had taken over the world and when Speaking In Tongues came out the Heads were all over it with the video for “Burning Down the House.” In one scene Byrne stands in front of a video tape of a crowd. I dug the song but I remember a roommate of mine saying, “They had to use a videotape because the Talking Heads can’t draw a crowd.” There’s one in every group of friends… I will say the Talking Heads were made for MTV. Their videos are iconic. 

All that said, I didn’t buy my first Talking Heads LP until the live album, Stop Making Sense came out. A friend of mine who I’ll call Rambert had that album and played it once when I was at his place. That album and the movie it came from were in my mind as iconic as their music videos. The film version, directed by the late, brilliant Jonathan Demme, was truly ground breaking. The show starts with just David Byrne, dressed in his big suit, singing over a boom box and slowly builds as they add instruments for each song… they roll out the drummer, next track here comes the bass player. By the end, there’s nine people on stage. I just watched it again in the early stages of lock down… the Rock Chick had never seen it. 

When Little Creatures came out, I was ripe for a Talking Heads takeover. I heard “Road To Nowhere” and it immediately resonated for me. After hearing “And She Was” that was it, I was hooked. It took me a long time but I finally purchased every single Talking Heads LP. They rank amongst my all-time favorite bands. The band broke up rather acrimoniously a long time ago and I don’t think that rupture will ever be repaired. David Byrne is more of an “artiste” really. I can’t imagine he wants to go backwards. This is the guy who at the height of their popularity pulled Brian Eno in to produce the Talking Heads. When you’re at that stage of your career where you collaborate with Eno (Bowie, U2, Roxy Music)  you’ve reached the next level in artistry. 

Byrne’s solo career has been much less visible than his work with the Talking Heads. Much like Robert Plant (who also won’t reunite with his band) Byrne follows his muse where it takes him. His first solo LP, a collaboration with Eno, was My Life In the Bush of Ghosts. Likely not an album a lot of you have heard. His first “proper” solo album was the Latin-flavored Rei Momo that I just love. Check out the track “Dirty Old Town.” I will say that I am familiar with a number of the albums Byrne released as a solo artist but I’m like most people, I haven’t followed them as religiously as I should have. A few years ago, he put out a great LP, that we loved here at B&V, LP Review: David Byrne, ‘American Utopia,’ A Surprise Gem. It had come as a surprise to me because I wasn’t paying attention. 

Afterwards, much like Springsteen, he took his show to Broadway. When did musical theater get to be so cool? I’ve never been a fan of musical theater. Early in my marriage the Rock Chick took me to see ‘Phantom of the Opera’ where I promptly fell asleep which is still a point of contention in my marriage. I won an award at the corporation where I work and they flew me to New York. My flight was delayed and by the time I got to the hospitality suite they only had tickets to ‘The Drowsy Chaperone,’ all the ‘Spamalot’ tickets had been snapped up. It was enjoyable but its hard for me to get my head around a scene where there’s action happening and suddenly everyone breaks into song… “the Jets are gonna winnnnnn.” Recently over Christmas, I saw ‘The Book of Mormon’ and I may be turning around on the whole musical theater thing but I digress. 

Springsteen and now Byrne are putting some rock and roll into the “Great White Way.” After a wildly successful run on Broadway, Byrne invited director Spike Lee into film the performance. Spike does a really great job with this. It’s clear that ‘American Utopia’ is the spiritual descendent of the Talking Heads’ ‘Stop Making Sense.’ The stage is bare, very spartan. Byrne, and the rest of his backing band, are all in identical grey suits. At least the suit fits him this time. Lee does a great job of capturing close-up shots juxtaposed with wider shots to capture the movement and energy on the stage. There is no drum kit, there is no keyboard set up. The instruments are all carried by Byrne’s on-stage band so everyone is mobile, all the time. There are a few overhead shots, straight down on the stage that I felt were very effective. Despite the monochromatic stage and outfits, I found this movie very enticing to the eye. There was something very striking visually to the look and all the choreography and Spike Lee captured it perfectly. It was also certainly fun to see Broadway fans on their feet, rocking out in a venerable old theater. 

The songs Byrne selected to play are a mix of Talking Heads songs and solo tracks. It’s not the entire American Utopia album although there are a generous number of tracks from that record. Byrne pulls tracks from all over his catalog and yet, they cohere into a story. There’s a socially conscious message Byrne is conveying through this selection of songs and it comes across without being preachy. I was actually truly blown away by this show. He has brief spoken word intervals between a number of the songs where he covers a range of subjects: Dadaism, fascism, racism, television and the human brain, just to name a few. If I was going to suggest an overarching theme, it’s simply, connection. We are all connected. We all need to come together to make this world a better place. When Byrne, “a white man of a certain age” and his band perform a Janelle Monae cover, “Hell You Talmabout” it hits with the force of a blow. 

Other highlights for me were “Lazy,” because, well, I am. “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” has always been a favorite of both mine and the Rock Chick. The speech leading up to “I Should Watch TV” is just fabulous as is the performance. The Talking Heads’ chestnut “Blind” was also a personal favorite. Byrne is charismatic and at turns serious and funny. He can be self-effacing which I would not have expected. There is so much to love in this film and on this sound track. I haven’t bought the album of the cast-performance yet but I’m planning on it. This is a great performance but what makes its exceptional in to me, was it was also a very thought-provoking performance. 

When the show is over, Byrne, after exchanging a few awkward hugs with his bandmates, gets on his bicycle and rides off into the New York city night time, headed for home like the true citizen of the world he is… I urge everyone to check this movie out. If you can’t see it, give the live-LP from the soundtrack a spin. It’s time well spent. 

Be careful out there… be safe. Stay connected. Open your minds and you’ll find that “every day is a miracle.” 

 

 

New Single: Greta Van Fleet Return With “My Way, Soon”

I’d like to think there are at least some positives that have come out of being quarantined and semi-locked down the last nine months. I guess I am working out more… I think I’ve been reading more. I’m almost done with super-producer Ted Templeman’s autobiography. I’ve actually started reading magazines again, ‘Uncut’ and ‘Classic Rock Magazine’ were new discoveries for me… I need to get out more, if only we could. And while rock bands are all on hiatus from performing live in front of crowds, we’re starting to see the fruits of being off the road blooming as many acts are releasing music. Older bands with nothing new to share are going into the vaults and releasing archival material – U2, Lou Reed, Elton John and Neil Young all have box sets coming. Many acts have actual new albums coming out – Springsteen, the Smashing Pumpkins and (thank heaven) AC/DC all have new stuff on the way. October and November are going to be great rock n roll months – and when was the last time we said that? Today I’ve been staring out the window like the guy in the song “Please Mr. Postman.” I’m not waiting for a letter from a lover but for my Tom Petty Wildflowers & All The Rest box set. I was thrilled and surprised last week to discover that Zeppelinesque, Michigan rockers Greta Van Fleet have a new single out, “My Way, Soon,” heralding a new album that will be “coming soon.” 

The fun part of writing about music is, naturally, listening to music as “research.” Well, at least that’s what I’m calling it when the Rock Chick asks why I haven’t mowed the lawn…”I’m doing very important research, my dear.” I know it looks like I”m just laying on the couch with headphones on because, well, that’s actually what I’m doing. As I prepped to write about this new GVF single, I went back and listened to their EPs – Black Smoke Rising  (Greta Van Fleet: Kids Channeling Zeppelin On ‘Black Smoke Rising’ EP) and From The Fires (Review: Greta Van Fleet, ‘From The Fires’ LP, er, Double EP). I loved those EPs… I still remember the moment the Rock Chick famously burst into my office and said, “I don’t know who this Greta Van Fleet chick is, but she sounds like Zeppelin.” 

I put on their first “proper” album, Anthem Of A Peaceful Army and was somewhat surprised how much I dug it. I went back and looked at my review and it was sort of lukewarm, Review: Greta Van Fleet, ‘Anthem of the Peaceful Army’. As I listened to the LP over the last few days, I remembered my responses to it but I quickly remembered that the album did grow on me. Admittedly, it had been a while since I’d listened to the whole thing but damn if it’s not a great album. I love the ecological theme of the whole thing. It’s very groovy hippy stuff which is surprisingly up my alley. I pondered the disconnect between what I was hearing and what I’d written. First, I’ll admit, I think Anthem was what we call a “grower,” it didn’t wow on first listen but opened itself up after repeated listening. But I think the main problem was I fell victim to the evilest influence of all – expectations. 

I think all of us bring certain expectations into most the situations we face. We expect certain events to go certain ways. Whether it’s a first date or a work of art – a movie or a play – we think we know how it’s going to go. Or we try to predict how it’s going to go. Nowhere do I see the insidious expectations interfere more than with music. My dear friend, Arkansas Joel was the biggest U2 fan when I met him. This was during the Joshua Tree era so it wasn’t hard to be on that bandwagon. Since then, every time they’d be ready to put out a new album his expectations were so heavy that whatever they did, he’d be disappointed. He didn’t like How To Dismantle an Atomic Bomb.  He wanted that thrill of hearing “Where the Streets Have No Name” for the first time… I get it we all want that. The Rock Chick suffers from this same malady. If the music doesn’t hit her lower brain stem on that first listen, she deems the record a failure. I’ve played U2’s last LP for her and she kept saying, “Hey, that’s a good song, I don’t remember that?” As was said in ‘The Big Chill,’ “sometimes you just have to let art… flow over you.” 

When I went to play “My  Way, Soon” I tried to release myself from any expectations. GVF have been flogged for being “derivative” of Led Zeppelin and I suspected they’d be evolving their sound some this time around. I hadn’t heard anything from them since I saw them live (Concert Review: Greta Van Fleet, Kansas City’s Starlight Theater, Sept 21, 2019). They did release a great single on a soundtrack, “Always There” that I really dug (Friday New Music DJ’ing & Greta Van Fleet’s New Single, “Always There”), but I’m not sure it got much attention. It’s definitely worth checking out. 

“My Way, Soon” is a great rock and roll track. It’s got everything you’d expect from these guys, crunchy guitars from Jake Kiszka anchored by the solid rhythm section of Danny Wagner (drums) and Sam Kiszka (bass). I especially like Sam’s bass line. I would describe it almost as a shuffle. It’s got a “Misty Mountain Hop” vibe – I know, I know, I’m too quick to go to the Zeppelin comparison. I’m a huge fan of vocalist Josh Kiszka. He was amazing live as was the whole band. What’s not to love here – great, crunchy riff, rollicking rhythm section and wailing vocals. It’s got a great guitar solo as well. I love the whole “I’ve packed my bags, I’ve got my freedom,” out on the road ethos of the track. We need to be encouraging and supporting kick ass rock and roll like GVF or Dirty Honey or Starcrawler. I can’t wait for this album. 

I think this bodes very well for the new album. I can’t wait to crank this track up later this afternoon when work is done and I’m watching for the postman…”stop, wait a minute…”

 

 

 

AC/DC Returns With “Shot In The Dark” From The Upcoming LP ‘Power Up’

They say that timing is everything…

On November 22, 1963 the American President John F. Kennedy was famously assassinated in Dallas, Texas. The youthful President seemed to embody a bright and energetic future for the American nation and people were hopeful in a scary world. The entire nation mourned his death like a family member had passed. We were once a united nation… Even my Sainted Mother can tell you where she was the day John Kennedy died. So could Lou Reed, apparently…the only thing Lou and Mom have in common. Nobody in America knew at the time but there were four lads in Liverpool who were about to change the world. By February 1964 when the Beatles arrived in America they had exploded onto the American consciousness like nothing else before or since. A grieving nation looking for something happy and hopeful grabbed onto the Beatles like a man about to fall off a ledge reaching for a railing. I’m not saying JFK’s assassination made the Beatles as popular as they were, but  you gotta wonder if it helped?

I was sitting on my back patio this Tuesday when the surprising news that rock and roll guitar legend Eddie Van Halen had passed away reached me (Guitar Legend Eddie Van Halen Gone Too Soon at 65, RIP Eddie, #EVH ). I guess I should have seen that coming, he’d been battling cancer for five years. I just hadn’t heard that news about his cancer returning. I foolishly thought he’d beaten it. Prior to that news, I knew that AC/DC had a new single coming out and I was excitedly waiting for that to happen. They released it at noon on Wednesday. The new track, “Shot In the Dark” (it’s original, not to be confused with an old Ozzy tune of the same name) is from the upcoming AC/DC album Power Up. It’s no surprise, but I love this new AC/DC song. I’m guessing I would have loved it anyway, but like the Beatles coming after JFK, I do wonder if the Eddie news affected me? I can say, that after Tuesday, I was in the mood for some good-time, up beat, old school, fucking rock and roll!! Who else but AC/DC to deliver the goods!?!

I’m on record as a huge AC/DC fan. They were the first band I took my wife to see in concert when we’d just started dating (AC/DC’s Stiff Upper Lip Concert – I Discover I’m Dating The Rock Chick). I will admit that while the Rock Chick and I share a love of AC/DC she’s firmly in the (leader singer) Brian Johnson camp while I straddle both worlds. I love Brian but I will always be on the original singer Bon Scott’s bandwagon. As an aside, the Rock Chick does a fabulous impersonation of Bon Scott on stage, but I’m getting off track here. It was indeed the Rock Chick who reconnected me with AC/DC after I’d lost track of them during the period after For Those About To Rock. The mid to late 80s were not the prime of AC/DC in my opinion. But starting with the great “comeback” album Razor’s Edge AC/DC returned to form. Frankly, everything they’ve done since has been fabulous.

I do owe this band an apology. After 2008’s Black Ice, AC/DC ran into some issues. Sadly, rhythm guitarist and founding brother Malcolm Young succumbed to dementia and eventually passed away (RIP Malcolm Young, Rhythm Guitarist Extraordinaire of AC/DC). Shortly after that, founding drummer Phil Rudd – who had left AC/DC after 1983’s Flick Of the Switch and returned on 1995’s Ballbreaker – ran afoul of the Australian legal system. He participated in the recording of Rock Or Bust but wasn’t able to tour. Rock Or Bust was the first AC/DC album recorded without Malcolm… Angus Young (lead guitarist) was able to replace Malcolm for that album and tour with their nephew Stevie Young on rhythm so he kept it “in the family.” During that tour it, Brian Johnson was diagnosed with a severe hearing disorder and was told if he played one more show, he’d be deaf for the rest of his life. Believe it or not, old friend of the band Axl Rose took over the lead vocals for AC/DC so they could finish the tour. It was at that point – Malcolm had passed, Brian was going deaf, Phil Rudd was likely going to prison – that in a post on bands who should call it “quits,” I named AC/DC as one of those bands (BourbonAndVinyl List of Bands Who Sadly, Should Call It Quits). In my defense, even bassist Cliff Williams had indicated he was going to quit since his road partying buddy Brian was gone. I was clearly not alone in thinking AC/DC were over.

Late last year, which seems like another lifetime pre-COVID, I started to hear rumors that Angus Young and nephew Stevie Young were up in Vancouver recording… Further, I heard that bassist Cliff Williams, despite threats to quit, was also with them. Soon I heard stories in the press that not only Brian Johnson had been spotted in Vancouver but Phil Rudd was with him too. “We’re getting the band back together,” flashed through my mind. I had wondered if Axl might pop in to sing until I heard that Brian had undergone an “experimental procedure” to cure the hearing problem. You know it’s never going well in any medical situation when they start talking about experimental medicine, but I guess in this instance, it worked. On the “Rock And Roll Albums to Purchase Soon” list I carry around in the back of my brain – I don’t dare write it down in fear that the Rock Chick will realize how much I’m spending on music – I added AC/DC to the top of the list. Then I guess I just filed it away…

About a week ago on “the social media” I started seeing these cryptic posts from AC/DC. It was just a neon lightning bolt (stylized to look like the bolt they use between the AC and the DC on their logo). The light was off and the it popped and hissed into life, fully lit up in red. I knew, as most people did, the time had come. The new AC/DC was almost here. AC/DC actually put up a billboard outside the school that Angus Young attended (sort of) as a child with the words “Power Up” on it so we almost immediately knew what the album’s title would be. Now we just had to wait for the tunes…

First singles from this band tend to be some of the greatest songs in rock and roll history. Even if you just look at them since the comeback, their lead singles have been great, great songs:

  • Razors Edge, “Thunderstruck” – An iconic Angus Young riff and a great track.
  • Ballbreaker, “Hard As A Rock” – After sort of ignoring AC/DC for 10 years, I loved this track so much I actually went to see them on this tour. I’ll never forget Brian carrying Angus around on his back while the latter solo’d.
  • Stiff Upper Lip, “Stiff Upper Lip” – This album is where I fully got back on the AC/DC train. Great track that always takes me back to a great concert. I’ve gotta thank the Rock Chick for buying this album on one of our first dates… she played it and I thought, “Hey, wait a minute, this is awesome.”
  • Black Ice, “Rock N Roll Train” – One of the greatest AC/DC late-career anthems. If this song doesn’t bring you to your feet with devil horns extended on both hands, well then you’re not a rock and roll fan. And you might wanna check yourself for a pulse.
  • Rock Or Bust, “Play Ball” – I love this track despite the fact they let Major League Baseball use it on commercials. It’s just solid rock and roll.

I couldn’t wait to hear “Shot In the Dark.” There is nothing greater than dropping the needle, or in this case pushing “play” on the Spotify app and hearing that great riff-age come blasting out of the speakers. Angus teases out a signature little guitar when suddenly the band kicks in with full force. Even the Rock Chick looked up at me and said, “Oh man, that’s really good.” Phil Rudd is the only drummer that should ever play in this band… he’s right in the pocket and his drums, as always help drive “Shot In the Dark.” He’s not the fanciest drummer, but there’s so much rock n’ roll swagger in his drumming. And let me just say, it’s great to hear Brian Johnson back on the microphone. It’s a big chunky riff and Angus’ guitar solo is quick and incisive. “A shot in the dark, beats a walk in the park,” indeed.

AC/DC long ago found out that they do one thing but they do it to perfection. Hard ass rock and roll. I think this will probably be their swan song but I am very optimistic that in this dark world, AC/DC’s Power Up will be that rock and roll rescue we all need.

Turn this one up loud!! Cheers!

Guitar Legend Eddie Van Halen Gone Too Soon at 65, RIP Eddie, #EVH

*Photo taken by your heartbroken blogger of the inside album sleeve from ‘Fair Warning’

I am simply gutted by the news that I heard today. Eddie Van Halen, guitar legend and band leader has died after a long battle with throat cancer at the tender age of 65. I was just sitting down to read a chapter in Ted Templeman’s autobiography about Van Halen recording Diver Down when I saw on Twitter we’d lost Eddie. Eyes full of tears I couldn’t possibly read that story at this moment so I put the book down. I love Van Halen and I always have. Van Halen was the ultimate party, good-time band and Eddie Van Halen was like a God to many of us… a Guitar God. For those of us who came of age in the late ’70s/early 80s, Eddie Van Halen is our Jimi Hendrix. My heart goes out to his whole family and all of his fans out there. I was literally thinking this weekend, I wish Eddie would put out some music.

My love of Van Halen – the band and the guitar player – dates as far back as my love of rock and roll. His playing is a part of the rock n roll DNA for me. I think their debut, Van Halen, was like the second or third album I ever purchased (Album Lookback: Van Halen – The Smirking Menace of Their Debut at 40). It was the first time I bought a band’s debut album when it was actually debuting. I’ve been on the bandwagon ever since. Everybody loved David Lee Roth’s class clown act but the real reason we liked that album was the guitar. We’d never heard sounds like that before. I think every guy in my junior high school owned that first Van Halen record… and anybody who didn’t, well you didn’t want to know them anyhow. I listened to that album continuously. I was drawn in by “You Really Got Me” but let’s be honest, it was “Runnin’ With the Devil” that caused me to finally buy the album. The song that made the Eddie Van Halen legend was track 2, simply and appropriately titled “Eruption.” It is perhaps the greatest guitar solo ever recorded. The sound was otherworldly. Nobody played that fast. We had all heard the rumors that when Eddie played he didn’t face the crowd, he was hiding his technique (which turned out to be true, he didn’t want anybody to see his revolutionary method of “finger-tapping” up the neck of the guitar which literally changed how the instrument was played). The power and menace of his playing is palpable. Van Halen is the perfect guitar record.

I have so many memories… I didn’t buy their second album (until later) but I had Woman And Children First on cassette. I’d blast that album in the car. I never realized Eddie was playing keyboards on “And the Cradle Will Rock…” until years later. I’m not sure any of us knew that Eddie played keyboards until “Jump” came out. Van Halen was the perfect blend of Eddie’s guitar (and keyboard) sound and Roth’s sense of humor… “His folks aren’t overjoyed” has always been a favorite lyric. Oddly enough, when my girlfriend and I would go to the drive-in with beer and pizza, I’d always take a boom box and Woman And Children First was the cassette I always played. Fond memories of that…”In a Simple Rhyme” is an under appreciated gem. Years later, the Rock Chick and I would love cranking up “Everybody Wants Some” and just reveling in the “awesomeness.”

Fair Warning was for me, simply a masterpiece. Eddie’s guitar playing was perhaps at it’s most muscular and menacing. The tour in support of that album was the first time I saw Van Halen in concert. I think after that the only tour I missed was the one for OU812 because I was in exile in Arkansas. I can still close my eyes and see the band playing “Mean Street.” We had great seats off to the side of the stage. Roth was standing an elevated platform on the opposite side of the stage. He went into the rap at the end… “Now a gun is real easy, in this desperate part of town…” and when he gets to the end and says “Lord, Strike that poor boy DOWN,” Roth fell to the floor like he’d been hit. Suddenly a spotlight flashes on and Eddie Van Halen is standing on the platform on my side of the stage. His playing was incendiary. That guitar solo is etched in my mind like it was last night. What he did to that guitar that night may be illegal.

Diver Down is an album I have always associated with summer. It came out the year I went to college and it was the soundtrack to my post-high school summer. It was rightly on my ultimate summer LPs list (Memorial Day Kicks Off Summer: Go-To Summer LPs (Beach Boys Need Not Apply)). 1984 is the album they’re probably most remembered for and it was an absolute classic. “Jump” their foray into keyboards was a wildly popular track but I always preferred the other keyboard track “I’ll Wait.” Only Eddie Van Halen could conquer both guitar and keyboards. That was the first tour that I saw Van Halen twice, once in Wichita and once in Kansas City. While they’d reached new levels of popularity, alas tensions with in the band – that began when Roth objected to Eddie marrying actress Valerie Bertintelli – erupted into open conflict and Roth and VH split.

Van Halen continued on with Sammy Hagar on lead vocals – commonly referred to as Van Hagar. I still dug them, In Defense of Van Hagar, No Really… Complete With a B&V Van Hagar Playlist. I think they were fundamentally a different band, obviously, but still a great guitar sound. Eventually relations with Hagar soured as well and eventually Van Halen went silent. Now it appears the mighty guitar of Eddie Van Halen has been silenced forever. I saw them in 2012 on the reunion tour with Roth… Roth had mostly lost it but Eddie’s guitar was still razor sharp and worth the price of admission.

There will be debates about where he ranks in the pantheon of guitar greats. He’s top 2 or 3 to me. I never saw Hendrix but I did see Van Halen so I’m biased. Eddie absolutely changed the way lead guitar was played. Every rock and roll guitarist who came after him was influenced by Eddie Van Halen. There would have been no Randy Rhoads without him. Every guitar player in the 80s should be sending royalty checks to Eddie. Make no mistake the world has lost one of the greatest guitarists to ever play the instrument. Van Halen and Eddie’s guitar were and will always be a big part of my love of rock and roll. He brought great joy, excitement and beautiful noise into my life. So many beautiful notes… from “Spanish Fly” to “Cathedral” to the intro for “Little Guitars.” I am deeply saddened tonight, as I’m sure most rock fans are. The Rock n’ Roll flag will be at half mast here at B&V for quite a while… A part of my youth has died… As my friend Doug texted me, “Bummer… this feels really close.” I think we all feel that way.

It’s a dark ride folks, enjoy it while it lasts. RIP Eddie Van Halen, the greatest.

Review: Prince, ‘Sign O’ The Times – Deluxe Edition’ – An Embarrassment of Riches

At the faceless corporation where I work, I used to know this guy who, like me, was a big music fan. That’s pretty rare where I work. Potentially there are more people there that are into music but nobody really discusses it much. The guy I’m thinking about used to actually ask interviewees what music they listened to when he was hiring. I really believe how they answered that question impacted whether he hired the person or not. We were talking about music one day and I said, “What do you think about Prince?” He answered, “I really only like his “Hendrix-y” stuff.” I don’t know why every black man who plays guitar eventually gets compared to Hendrix – well, I know why but its too sad to articulate – I think Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page have more in common with Hendrix than anybody from Vernon Reid to Gary Clark, Jr, but I digress. This was probably in the late ’90s/early 00’s so I’m not sure why Prince even came up… by that time I had largely lost track of him. But I think my work colleague’s response is the way a lot of fans of Prince’s ’80s music would respond. We all dug his stuff that was more rock oriented than his later focus on dance music or soul. 

I’m on record as a huge Prince fan. I was deeply saddened at his loss (Another Giant Gone, RIP Prince). I’ve recounted several times how I discovered Prince during what I call “the dark semester” when I was at KU my freshman year when some guys turned me onto 1999 (Box Set Review: Prince, ‘1999 (Super Deluxe)’ – A Tour De Force, Must Have ). For once I was ahead of the maddening crowd. It wasn’t really until the video for “Little Red Corvette” came out that everybody started getting on Prince’s band wagon. To follow up 1999 Prince, realizing the value of “video,” put out the full length movie and LP to support it, his masterpiece, Purple Rain (Review: Prince’s ‘Purple Rain – Deluxe Collector’s Edition’ – Is It Worth It?). I don’t even think Prince was prepared for how big that record became. It spawned two number one singles and booted Springsteen’s Born In the USA out of the number one spot on the album charts. Suddenly everybody dug Prince. “Oh, I’ve been listening to Prince for yeeeears,” I’d tell people. 

That kind of fame affects an artist or a band. Many artists will retreat from the sound that made them that famous and successful as a natural reaction probably out of fear of needing to outdo that success (Artists Who Changed Their Music to Escape Fame). Prince and his great backing band, The Revolution (Wendy Melvoin on guitar, Lisa Coleman on keyboards, Brown Mark on bass, Matt “Dr” Fink on keyboards and Bobby Z. on drums) retreated to Minneapolis to record Around The World In A Day. There was no press and there were no singles released to promote the album. It just appeared one day in the record stores. And on that day, yes, I purchased the album excited there was more Prince in the world. I remember the brightly colored, psychedelic-tinged cover art gave me pause but it did not prepare me at all for what inside. Prince had largely abandoned his trademark sound and gone… psychedelic? Odd sounds and weird melodies permeated that album. I remember thinking, “what is this shit?” I liked “Raspberry Beret” but that was about it. I did everything I could to connect with that record, but eventually sold it at the Used Record store.

Needless to say, I was shook. When an artist disappointed me back in those days it was hard to get me back on the bandwagon. So when Prince followed up Around The World In A Day with Parade, another soundtrack, I had largely moved on. I heard “Kiss” on the radio and thought it was catchy but by then like a lot of people (I suppose) I thought Prince had lost his mind. I saw the movie, ‘Under the Cherry Moon,’ or more appropriately, I saw the first thirty minutes of the movie before walking out and it didn’t do a lot to restore my confidence in Prince. The fame and success had clearly gone to his head. 

By the time March of 1987 rolled around I was on the verge of graduating from college and there was just a lot going on for me. I’m not even sure I was aware Prince had released his second double-studio album, Sign O’ The Times. By fall of that year, I’d been exiled to Arkansas and lost touch with all music. I can vaguely remember seeing the video of “You’ve Got the Look” a duet with Sheena Easton but I wasn’t drawn back to Prince. I also remember hearing “I Can Never Take the Place Of Your Man” and thinking, hey, maybe Prince still has something left in the tank. I loved the guitar solo at the end. It wasn’t until 1990 when I was taking the Grand Tour across Europe and ended up in Berlin at the Roger Waters’ performance of The Wall (I Attended: Roger Waters & Special Guests, ‘The Wall’ at the Berlin Wall, July 21, 1990) when I heard the track “Sign O’ The Times” over the PA system before the show started. I was absolutely mesmerized. Granted, it was a hell of a sound system, but Prince giving us his grim state of the union address over minimal but hypnotic guitar was when I thought, perhaps I needed to give this album another look. Naturally, I didn’t investigate it for thirty years. 

At the end of the tour in support of Parade tensions were running high between Prince and the Revolution. I have never satisfactorily discovered why… Prince was dating guitarist Wendy Melvoin’s sister Susannah and they had broken up. Maybe it’s that simple. I’ve read where some theorize that the Revolution was getting too much credit for Prince’s success, they were the only thing keeping him from the bad impulses that created Around The World. I’ve heard the opposite, that Prince and his grand genius were being held back by the limitations of the Revolution. I don’t think that’s true, the Revolution was Prince’s most sympathetic backing group but then I never dug the New Power Generation. Prince had brought in other players for Parade, notably Sheila E. on percussion, Miko Johnson an additional guitarist and a horn section. Maybe that destabilized things. 

Prior to their dismissal, Prince had been working with the Revolution on a new album tentatively titled Dream Factory. I say working with them but as usual, Prince was playing all the instruments in the studio. At the same time he was working on a weird concept album where he speeded up his vocals to sound like a woman, Camille. “Camille” was his female alter ego. I don’t know why anybody thought that was a good idea. He sounds more like he’s on helium to me. Prince always wrote great songs for women (The Bangles, Bonnie Raitt, Vanity 6, Sheena Easton, the list goes on) maybe he thought he’d go ahead and sing the songs himself…as a chick. He scrapped both of those projects, fired the Revolution and recorded a triple album called Crystal Ball. Much of what was recorded for Dream Factory  and some of what was recorded for Camille (“If I Was Your Girlfriend,” “Housequake”) ended up on Crystal Ball. His record company rejected the idea of a triple-album and so Prince edited it down to a double album and voila, Sign O’ The Times was born. 

Last Friday Prince dropped a “Super Deluxe” edition of Sign O’ The Times and I’ve been in the B&V lab voraciously absorbing this thing. The Rock Chick walked by the lab yesterday and said…”You’ve been listening to Prince non-stop for like a week now?” Indeed I have…I may not be a “Sexy M.F.” but I am a funky one. This is an embarrassment of riches. First and foremost, the original album Sign O’ Times is a tour de force and certainly Prince’s magnum opus. To my ears its his last masterpiece. He’s all over the place like the Beatles’ White Album. There’s rock, soul, funk and under currents of jazz on this album. As I listen it feels like I’m at the greatest after hours party ever. To see someone work on that level and take so many chances is breathtaking. The title track, “You’ve Got the Look,” “If I Was Your Girlfriend” were the most well known hits but there is so much more here. “Strange Relationship” is now amongst my Top 5 favorite Prince tracks. “Baby I just can’t stand to see you happy, Yeah, I hate to see you sad,” may sum up every bad relationship I’ve ever had. “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker” is another brilliant, brilliant track. “Slow Love” is a classic soul ballad. He could literally do it all.  How I didn’t include this on my list of essential double-albums is a mystery, The BourbonAndVinyl Essential Old School Double Vinyl Albums

The bonus material, like the 1999 Super Deluxe is copious. There’s so much here to absorb. The first disc of extras is the remixes and edited singles, really nothing to hear there. It felt a little like filler, although I did like “Shockadelica.” Following that there are three discs with 45 tracks. There’s some amazing stuff that Prince left in the vault. It all starts with an earlier 1979 version of “I Can Never Take the Place of Your Man” which serves to show how much that tune developed up to 1987. To underscore Prince’s jazz leanings at the time, Miles Davis shows up on “Can I Play With U?” There are so many great, funky tracks here – “Witness For the Prosecution” (in 2 different versions), and “Blanche” are highlights. There’s a great pop-rock track with that trademark Prince guitar on “Cosmic Day” which has that “Camille” voice… I wish he’d sang it in his normal voice but it’s still a great track. “Walking In Glory” touches on gospel. There is just so much and it’s all such high quality music. 

To round out the “Super Deluxe” set is a live concert from the tour supporting the LP, recorded in Utrecht. Prince only toured Europe for Sign O’ The Times largely because Parade had actually been a bigger hit there than in the U.S. Sheila E. had graduated from percussionist to drummer and I really dig this concert. Prince could certainly deliver. After running through some of the material from the LP, they go through the hits. This is the only live version of “Purple Rain” I think I have and it’s a killer. He manages to deliver the falsetto in “Kiss” in an impressive fashion as well. It’s a strong and aggressive performance even without the Revolution. If all of his shows were this good, I’ll take all the live Prince I can get. 

The ultimate question I always ask for a box set is, “Is it worth it?” For any fans of ’80s Prince or this album in particular, it’s a must have. I will admit, freely and up front, the price tag on this package is a little staggering. There are a lot of box sets coming in 2020 – U2, Lou Reed, and Neil Young all have big packages coming. Because of that I went with the download vs the CD version of this box. The price on the vinyl was so high it gave me a nose bleed. I understand in these hard times that this would be a hard pill to swallow but I urge all fans to at least go out and stream this stuff it’s a must hear. There is literally something for everyone in this box. 

Cheers! Stay funky people but be safe doing so. 

 

Review: Ozzy’s ‘Blizzard of Ozz, 40th Anniversary Expanded’ – Is It Worth It?

I recently wrote a piece reflecting back on my first Led Zeppelin LP purchase (LP Lookback: In Praise of Led Zeppelin’s ‘In Through The Out Door’). In it, I discussed the uphill battle I faced trying to catch up with all the great music that had come out in the twenty years before my “rock awakening” in the late 70s. It’s not like I could stream back then. I was busy buying what was current and trying to selectively and quickly build an album collection of all those great, older records at the same time. I will admit, the emphasis of my purchases back then was more slanted toward what was current. I had the Stones’ Some Girls, Van Halen’s debut LP and ZZ Top’s Deguello, to name but a few. I didn’t realize it at the time, but most of what I was drawn to in the early stages was blues based. Not to put too fine a point on it, but I even had the Blues Brothers’ (John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd) LP, Briefcase Full of Blues. That was a great backing band – Steve Cropper and Matt “Guitar” Murphy on guitars. 

I don’t know why but I was very slow on the uptake when it came to a genre that I absolutely love now, Heavy Metal. Certainly the Van Halen album I had qualified as Heavy Metal, but not much else in the record crate really came close. Metal was where the link between blues and rock and roll was permanently severed, so maybe that was what caused my early hesitancy. My mother had a friend who I’ll call, “Mrs. Smith,” whose kids were the same age as my brother and I. My brother had been buying music for several years prior to my getting into music and I was always taping stuff from his collection. It was a cheap way to build my own music collection. I remember taping and subsequently wearing out Hot Rocks, the Stones greatest hits package that my brother owned. Mrs. Smith heard I was monastically up in my room taping any music I could get my hands on and kindly volunteered to bring a stack of her kids’ records over for me to tape. I’m sure my mom was down in the kitchen complaining about me being “music crazy,” when I should have been, in her mind, “girl crazy.” Mom probably wasn’t wrong. 

A few days later when Mrs Smith dropped by, and she always seemed to be dropping by, she had a stack of records with her. I thought I was open to anything and hauled them up to my room with some blank cassettes. I started glancing at some of these records and I will say, they gave me pause. I recall scratching my head when I looked at the cover art for the first album in the pile, Black Sabbath’s Sabbath Bloody Sabbath: 

“What the Hell is this? Is that a 666? What is going on at the Smith house?” I wondered aloud. Anybody who knew me when I was younger would probably tell you, I was a bit of a wild child. Actually people would probably say that about me now as well. Most people would have assumed I’d see that album cover with its ghoulish images and been all in on Sabbath. Oddly, I had enough exposure to the Catholic church that the whole thing freaked me out a bit. I’m not proud of that. When I dropped the needle on the LP, I quickly stopped taping the album. The music sounded like an invading army. The lead singer, whoever that was (I had no idea who this Ozzy Osbourne was), sounded like he was in pain. The next record was Judas Priest’s British Steel and I’m sad to admit, it didn’t fare much better to my young, tender ears. It was too fast, too hard. I don’t think I taped any of those albums that day. 

As fate would have it, only a few months later I was in the car and heard this great track, “Neon Nights” on the car radio. Who is that? That’s a great track. I mean, this couldn’t have been more than six months after Mrs. Smith’s album visit and now I was into metal? I bought that great Black Sabbath LP, Heaven And Hell, their first with amazing vocalist Ronnie James Dio almost immediately after that (Artist Lookback: Black Sabbath, 1980-1981, The Superb Dio Era). The cover art on that album didn’t inspire fear in me… it made me smile. Oh, how soon I was corrupted! I’m not even sure I realized that I’d held an LP from the “classic” line-up of Black Sabbath merely six months earlier. In fact, with the change of vocalists I’m not sure I even knew they were the same band. Dio was so much more…operatic than Ozzy and I was a clueless teenager. 

Ozzy, mired in alcoholism and drug addiction had been fired from Black Sabbath. Living in a hotel, drinking and drugging, a record company guy Don Arden sent his daughter Sharon out to sign Ozzy. She would later become his manager… and his wife. Ozzy quickly formed a band that was supposed to have been a new group named Blizzard of Ozz. The record company wanted to call it “Sons of Sabbath,” which Ozzy rejected. Somehow Ozzy found one of the greatest guitarists ever, Randy Rhoads to lead the band (Artist Lookback – Ozzy & Randy Rhoads: A Match Made In 80s Metal Heaven). The guy played nothing like Sabbath’s Tony Iommi. He was powerful yet nimble… more in the Eddie Van Halen style. He also recruited Bob Daisley to play bass and Lee Kerslake (who just passed away, sadly) to play drums. Rhoads and Daisley wrote a majority of the songs that would appear on Blizzard of Ozz while Ozzy continued drinking and drugging (and mostly sleeping under the drum riser during rehearsals). The results were nothing short of spectacular. Blizzard of Ozz became the name of the album, not the band, and when released it was released as an Ozzy solo album. He was the name, but it’s a shame they couldn’t hold the band concept together. 

I was over at a friend’s house when he put Blizzard of Ozz on his mom’s stereo. I had heard “Crazy Train,” and for whatever reason didn’t take it seriously. Through out the years I was guilty of not taking Metal acts, songs or albums seriously, a malady I’m gladly over now. All I knew about Ozzy was this “wild and crazy guy” act. Yeah, we get it Ozzy, you’re crazy. But then I heard the album. It is simply one of the landmark Metal LPs of all time. “I Don’t Know,” “Mr. Crowley” and “Crazy Train” were radio staples and stone cold classics. “Goodbye to Romance” was a surprisingly great ballad, meant as a farewell to his former bandmates in Sabbath. It’s the deeper tracks that hooked me though… “Suicide Solution” about the late Bon Scott drinking himself to death was great had showed some depth. “No Bone Movies” was actually an anti-porn song. “Revelation (Mother Earth)” is probably the first Heavy Metal track about the environment. After hearing the album at my friend’s place… yes, I taped the album. Sadly, my first actual Ozzy LP purchase was to be the follow-up, the equally majestic Diary of a Madman. 

I find it hard to believe that it’s been forty years since this legendary album came out. In that time the LP has seen its share of controversy. Sharon Osbourne being the ghoul that she is tried to minimize Daisley and Kerslake’s contribution – going so far as to release the album with new bass/drum parts recorded by other musicians. A sin she fixed in the 30th anniversary edition. Daisley had to sue to get credit as a songwriter. Both Daisley and Kerslake helped write Diary of a Madman and played on the LP – but weren’t credited on the album sleeve, they weren’t even in the photos. Thanks Sharon. Those four guys – Rhoads, Daisley, Kerslake and Ozzy had an amazing chemistry. It would have been nice to see what would have happened if it’d been allowed to continue… Sharon’s greed and Randy’s untimely death will keep us all wondering it seems. 

To celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Blizzard of Ozz Ozzy had released an “Expanded Edition.” A momentous album of this stature deserves a big 40th anniversary package… If you don’t already own this album – by all means, purchase it immediately! However, if you do, and most of us do own this record, the question remains, is there anything in this package that would drive you to rebuy it? I have to say, no. There is a B-side track, “Looking At You, Looking At Me,” that’s been out for years that everyone should check out. There’s a live track “You Said It All” that was released previously on an Ozzy live EP. There’s a couple of studio outtakes that were included in the 30th Anniversary Edition. Then there is a handful of six live tracks from the Blizzard tour. They’re nice tracks but its all a bit disjointed. There just isn’t that much new material or compelling reasons to rebuy this 40th Anniversary package. It seems like this is Ghoul Sharon’s latest cash-in. I would have hoped they’d have an entire show from the Blizzard tour to include here, the way the Stones included Brussels Affair in the latest Goats Head Soup box. That would have been worth the price of admission here. I hear Daisley has some tapes but Sharon didn’t want to have to pay for them… I think she’s hurting Ozzy’s legacy. 

Regardless of Sharon’s shady financial motives, Blizzard of Ozz remains one of my favorite Ozzy albums and one of my favorite albums period. This is one to play extremely loud… maybe with a pint of something strong to nip at while you’re flying your Devil Horn hands in the air! 

Cheers! And be safe out there! RAWK from an acceptable, safe distance folks. 

 

 

 

 

New Single: Springsteen’s “Letter To You,” The 1st Track From New LP & A Look At His 1st Singles ’80-’20

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As I’ve often documented in these pages, before I heard the Rolling Stones’ Some Girls the only time I turned on the radio was to hear a Royals’ baseball game. Then I heard “Miss You,” and later “Shattered” and then “Beast of Burden” and suddenly I wanted a stereo for Christmas. I consider that moment when I first heard the Stones on the car radio, riding with my mother no less, as my rock and roll awakening. It was late 1978 when all this happened and by then rock and roll was a good 20 years along. When you step into the middle of something, it’s really hard to catch up. 

Most of the rock and roll acts I dig (by 1978) were deep into their careers. There had been a lot of great music released in the previous 10 years, let alone the previous 20 years. I was newly into my teens and on a weekly allowance of $10 it’s really hard to purchase the entire back catalogs of rock bands/artists (especially with the constant refrain of, “You didn’t clean your room son, no allowance this week…”). In high school, my fledgling vinyl collection – and I was all vinyl, don’t give me those 8-tracks or cassettes – consisted of the albums that were being released at the time, the current stuff. My first Who album was Face Dances. My first Zeppelin album was In Through the Out Door. And while many of you rock aficionados may hold your nose for those records, they will always have a place in my heart (B&V’s True Confessions: The Dirty Dozen – 12 Albums That Only I Love… Time to Re-Evaluate?). 

While Springsteen’s landmark album Darkness On The Edge Of Town also came out in 1978, some how I missed it. I lived in Kansas City and it was never a huge Springsteen town. I did hear “Prove It All Night” and “Badlands” on the radio but I’m not sure I even knew they were both by Springsteen. There was just so much to absorb it was hard to keep track. All of that changed in late 1980 with the release of The River. I remember the first single “Hungry Heart” caught my attention. It was pure ear candy. Bruce had originally written it for the Ramones but his manager told him he best keep that one. I didn’t rush out and buy The River however because its was a double-album. Twice the music but alas, at twice the price. That was a major financial commitment on my allowance. I hadn’t even bought The Wall yet due to similar financial constraints and it had been out a year by then… Plus I didn’t know much about Springsteen… was he cool? did he rock? You had to be sure you didn’t buy any lame artists and I was always cautious. I had seen too many of my friends buy Kiss albums and I considered them suspect at the time. I feared history would not treat them well… naturally I was wrong. I was 13, what did I know?

Luckily, the local rock radio station started playing more deep cuts from the album. After hearing the title track, “Point Blank” and “Out In the Street” I knew Springsteen delivered the goods. He was a special kind of artist. I plunked down the hard earned dough and bought it. I nervously dropped the needle on side 1 of the first album not knowing what to expect. I can still remember the rush I felt when “The Ties That Bind” burst out of the speakers. It hit me in my lower-brain stem and I knew I wanted more rock and roll… nay, I knew I needed more rock and roll. It was that moment I knew I was bonded with this artist. Sadly, he came to KC in February ’80 and played Kemper Arena. They say more people slept out in line for tickets than had seen him on the Darkness tour but how would they measure that?The Kansas City Star described it as “the concert of the year” and again… it was only February. My dear friend Brewster had also secretly gotten into Springsteen and assuming I wouldn’t like him, after buying two tickets… took someone else. After all these years… yes, I have forgiven him… I haven’t forgotten… some wounds don’t heal completely. 

Even though I was a newly minted Springsteen fan, I didn’t go crashing through his back catalog. I’d heard “Born To Run,” “Jungleland,” and “Rosalita” – those were about the only older tracks they played in KC – but I didn’t even know what albums to look for. I thought “Blinded By The Light” was a Manfred Mann tune. About a year after I bought The River a friend of mine and I met two older, senior girls in our Study Hall. Somehow these fetching young women ended up sitting with us and on the surface, seemed to enjoy our geeky-ness. They invited my friend and I to meet them at that year’s Senior Skip Day party. It was where all the seniors blew off school and someone had a keg of beer, insanity ensued. We weren’t seniors but oh yes, we were in. I remember drinking a beer and talking to one of these beautiful girls and it was going great, at least I think it was… when I heard over the speakers propped up on the back deck…”The screen door slams, Mary’s dress waves…” I was mesmerized…”Is this Springsteen?” Nothing happened with the girls and it may have been my utter distraction from hearing the masterpiece Born To Run for the first time. I was gobsmacked. I bought that record the next day. Who thought Springsteen could “cock block” me?

I’ve been a big Springsteen fan ever since. I’ve followed him from big, anthemic albums with the E-Street band to acoustic, introspective solo records to detours like Western Stars (LP Review: Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Western Stars’ – Born To Bacharach?). I have live albums and official live bootlegs. I’ve seen him a number of times in concert. I’ve even gotten the Rock Chick slightly into him…she’ll never be counted amongst the converted but she does have a ‘Bruce’ playlist she likes to crank up. I was thrilled to hear during this awful year, that Springsteen had a brand new album coming out. God, how we need new music! I was even more thrilled to hear the E Street Band would be on the album. I figured the new LP, Letter To You, would probably come out around Christmas. Thankfully I was wrong. I was pumped to see that the first single dropped last Friday with the album coming October 23rd.

I have to admit to you, and this will be no surprise, I really like “Letter To You.” The E Street Band is such a sympathetic medium for Springsteen to bring his songs to life. The song finds Springsteen looking back and writing a letter to his first band, the Castiles. Living in isolation, who doesn’t welcome a letter or an email from an old friend. After all these years, the sound of Bruce and the E Street band still gives me chills. It’s like an unexpected call from someone you’d like hear from but haven’t. It’s an upbeat track but I might call it mid tempo. Springsteen’s vocal is particularly inspired. The entire album was recorded live in the studio over five days, supposedly without any overdubs. This is their classic sound, dripping with earnestness and strength. When the band kicks in during the early part of the song, goose bumps, baby. It only lacks a sax solo from the Big Man’s nephew, Jake Clemons. The song is catchy and it sticks with me. It’s not a big anthemic thing like “Born To Run” or “Dancing In the Dark” but it will seep into your brain. 

I reflected on what this might mean for the new album. As I did I found my mind wandering back to 1980 and “Hungry Heart.” Eventually I found myself mulling over every Springsteen first single since The River in an effort to predict what the new LP might be like. I thought I’d share my thoughts on this music travelogue through those singles and my experiences with them… what it means for the new album – probably nothing but it was a fun thing to keep me occupied in mind-numbing times…I skipped the Pete Seeger thing because I despise Pete Seeger and struggle to even acknowledge that Bruce recorded that thing. 

  • The River, “Hungry Heart” – One of Bruce’s signature songs. It was very pop oriented but it heralded one of his greatest albums ever. It’s still a fun sing-a-long at concerts if you’re into that sort of thing. 
  • Nebraska, “Atlantic City” – I was home for Christmas break during my very awful freshman year of college. I was walking past the record store when I spotted a display with Nebraska albums stacked up to the ceiling. I left my then girlfriend standing there and went lunging into the store. I didn’t even know Springsteen had a new album out. I bought it and went home immediately. I was stunned at the difference between the sound of this dour album compared to The River. It’s one of the most grim listens ever (B&V’s 10 Favorite Grim And Sad Albums). Even the video for “Atlantic City,” which does not feature Bruce is grainy and black and white. No sunshine to be found here… However, the single, “Atlantic City” will always be one of my favorite Bruce tracks. The Band did a nice little cover of it as well. 
  • Born In The U.S.A., “Dancing In the Dark” – The song that made Springsteen a superstar. I can still remember how starved, after the grim Nebraska, we all were for a new rock album from Bruce. We were all so thrilled that we might get to see an actual concert vs listening to bootlegs. I remember partying all night and sitting  up at dawn just to see the video. 
  • Tunnel of Love, “Brilliant Disguise” – By this time I was living in Ft Smith, Arkansas. I can remember the first time I heard this track, driving into the office on a cold, winter morning. I knew he’d gone back to the more introspective Nebraska style. This album featured more instrumentation and remains a favorite of mine. One of his greatest songs. 
  • Human Touch/Lucky Town, “Human Touch”/”Better Days” – Two Springsteen albums released on the same day. We’d been waiting for what seemed like forever. He’d disbanded the E Street Band and we didn’t know what to expect. “Human Touch,” at six and a half minutes is a big epic track. It’s much maligned but I still like it. “Better Days” is grittier, more immediate. It remains a favorite from a rather discounted period of Bruce’s career. 
  • The Ghost of Tom Joad, “The Ghost of Tom Joad” – Another from Springsteen’s grim solo projects. This is my least favorite Springsteen album but the title track remains one of my favorites of his. Rage Against the Machine have redone this track as well. It’s a perfect song even today. 
  • The Rising, “The Rising” – The title track from the 911-centric album that saw the return of the E Street Band. I got tears in my eyes the first time I heard this epic title track. It ranks up there with “This Land Is Your Land” as a populist anthem. This song and the album it came from are American treasures. 
  • Devils And Dust, “Devils And Dust” – I’ve noticed that Springsteen likes to release the title track as the first single of most of his albums. Good marketing if you think about it. This album is ripped from the headlines. It sounds like an update from the front lines. One of Springsteen’s best solo tracks and albums. 
  • Magic, “Radio Nowhere” – One of the more rocking first singles of Springsteen’s career. I really liked Magic but I think many critics were divided on it. It’s a great, late-period E Street album. And who could argue with the theme on this song of radio slowly dying (Playlist: Memories of and A Requiem For Rock And Roll Radio). 
  • Working On A Dream, “Working On A Dream” – Another title track! This song has an irresistible melody. It’s as catchy as the old Motown singles. While the album itself was uneven, this single ranks amongst Bruce’s best. 
  • Wrecking Ball, “We Take Care of Our Own” – Another great rocking song with a spectacular message. Springsteen is the quintessential American artist. I remember he played this song on the Grammys. That night I had an old friend who I’ll call, “The Bat Cat” who had dropped by with his family. His daughter wanted to watch the Grammys. When Springsteen came on, Bat Cat paused and said, “Hey, I like that, it sounds like Darkness. Indeed it does. Classic Springsteen. 
  • High Hopes, “High Hopes” – The only cover song Springsteen has released as a single. He’d done it once before on an EP but I like this version best. High Hopes was a reimagining of songs Springsteen had previously written for earlier projects. I think critics discounted it for that reason but there are great songs on this album and I include the title track in that number. 
  • Western Stars, “Hello Sunshine” – The rare ballad as a first single. It was a true harbinger of what the album was like. This beautiful song quickly became one of my all time favorites (LP Review: Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Western Stars’ – Born To Bacharach?). 

What does this tell us about the new Bruce album? “Letter To You” is another title track as first single for Bruce, but other than that, we’ll just have to anxiously await late October. 

Be safe out there! 

 

Review: The Rolling Stones, ‘Goats Head Soup Deluxe’ Box Set

“Can you hear the music? Can you feel the magic hangin’ in the air?” – The Rolling Stones, “Can You Hear The Music?”

It seems like only yesterday that I cajoled a friend of mine with some connections into helping me get tickets to the see the Rolling Stones’ 50th Anniversary concert at Newark’s Prudential Center in December of 2012. Springsteen jumped on stage to perform “Tumbling Dice” with the band. The Black Keys and Gary Clark, Jr each did a blues number with them. Lady Gaga even impressed me on “Gimme Shelter.” It was a truly exceptional evening. I just realized we’re creeping up on their 60th anniversary in 2022… Hopefully we’ll get an album of new stuff before then. They released a great new single during this global pandemic, New Single: The Rolling Stones’ Great Pandemic Song, “Living In A Ghost Town”, to tide us over but it only whetted my appetite for more.

When you have a career that spans six decades it gets hard for rock historians or music critics to get their arms around it. Inevitably they tend to break up the Stones career into three phases based on who was playing lead guitar. There’s the early, blues-cover centric era with Brian Jones on lead. There’s what is considered their “golden” or “classic” period when they did most of their biggest and best music with Mick Taylor (formerly of John Mayall & the Blues Brothers, Artist Lookback – John Mayall’s Blues Breakers: The Guitar Hero Trilogy 1966-1967). And finally there’s the current period with their longest tenured lead guitar player, Ronnie Wood. I love the Ronnie Wood-era of the Stones – and I’m in the minority here – but that’s who was playing for them when I first got into rock n roll. Some Girls was my gateway drug into rock and roll. I love the way Ronnie and Keith practice what Richards calls “the ancient art of basket weaving,” by intertwining the two guitars.

If we buy into this categorization, the rock intelligentsia has also made a point that the Mick Taylor era is the ultimate era of the Stones. And true, the  Stones penultimate period began as Brian Jones was drinking and drugging his way out of the band. Starting with Beggars Banquet (Jones on lead when he showed up…brilliant slide on “No Expectations) and stretching through Let It Bleed (when Taylor joined), Sticky Fingers and their magnum opus Exile On Main St, the Stones were indeed the most brilliant rock band in the world. With Taylor taking over all the exceptional lead guitar during his tenure he allowed Keith to become, again in his words, a “riff-meister.” When rock critics talk about the Stones’ golden period they actually mean these four albums.

While all these guys laud the Taylor-era of the Stones, they are all also of a mind that the Stones creativity failed them after Exile On Main St. In truth, Mick Taylor stuck around after the arduous process of recording that classic double album for two more records, Goats Head Soup (73) and It’s Only Rock N Roll (74). The common claim is that these albums, despite the presence of the guitar-wizard Mick Taylor, signal the moment when the Stones stopped being true rock artists and became arena-filling, sell-out rock stars. Mick became a jet-setter and Keith a full blown addict. We tend to build up our heroes only to tear them down on this planet. I will admit, I always thought – before the internet – that It’s Only Rock N Roll came out after Exile and before Goats Head because I always felt It’s Only was the stronger album. The more I listen to Goats Head today I’m not sure what I was thinking.

Despite all the critical haters, when Goats Head Soup came out in 1973 it hit number 1 in the U.S. The lead single, “Angie” also hit number one. It was produced by Jimmy Miller who had done all of their albums from the “classic” period. The album sold well. The Stones were continuing their “tax exile” status and were living outside the U.K. at the time. Keith Richards drug problems were increasing and there weren’t many countries where they could record so they ended up recording a lot the album in Kingston, Jamaica. It was the only place they could get in if you believe Keith. Marshall Chess who was leading Rolling Stones Records (the group’s own record label) was stunned to find out the band hadn’t played together in six months. He rented out a studio in Kingston for months at a time so the band could just jam. He said after only a few minutes they locked into that “Stones synergy” as if they’d been playing together every day.

I think the reason for the collective critical “meh” – Lester Bangs famously hated Goats Head Soup like it was a personal betrayal – was that anything the Stones did after Exile was bound to be a letdown. The sessions for Exile had drug on forever. Keith was ensconced at Nellcotte in the south of France and while Mick had as much input it was clearly Keith in control of that record. For the follow-up Mick wasn’t interested in doing that again. On Keith’s part, with his heroin problem worsening, he wasn’t capable of a leadership role with the band. Mick took over. He wanted to explore some different avenues with the band so we have a lot more ballads on Goats. Critics always laud Blood On the Tracks from Dylan as a requiem for the Sixties. It was actually an album about the end of a marriage. They like to describe The Last Waltz as the drunken (or coke-fueled if you’re Neil Young), Irish wake for the Sixties. To my ears, Goats Head Soup sounds much more like a requiem for the hippy idealism of the Sixties. It’s the come down record… like the day after the party. “Comin’ down again, where are all my friends?” as Keith sings.

There are great rockers on this album – “Dancing With Mr. D” about dancing with the Devil which may be slightly silly but it’s still a great track, “Silver Train” covered so nicely by Johnny Winter, and “Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo, Heartbreaker,” a track everybody  loves. “The police in New York City, they chased a boy right through the park, and in a case of mistaken identity, they put a bullet in his heart,” sounds like something that could have been written for today’s long, hot summer. “Star Star” (aka “Starfucker”) is a wonderfully vulgar Chuck Berry-style track. But for me, it’s the ballads on this record that shine. Keith’s vocal turn on “Coming Down Again” is one of my favorites. “Winter” is spectacular and ended up on my Stones deep tracks playlist (Playlist: B&V’s Favorite Rolling Stones Deep Tracks). “Angie” was the monster hit.

For me Goats Head Soup and that time is the iconic era of the Stones. They were the personification of and the album is about decadence and decay –  perfect for the 70s. This album is the Keith Richards, long-hair, shirt off, teeth rotting-out best. I wanna take my shirt off, grow my hair long and dance around playing air-guitar with a broom for a lot of this material. When rock bands imitate the Stones it’s this era they’re looking at. Mick may have steered them in a more down beat direction, but damn it worked. And his partner was holed up with Anita Pallenberg doing smack.

Last weekend, the Stones released a “Deluxe” version of Goats Head Soup. I wasn’t going to buy it but the Rock Chick said, “You know you want it, get it.” It’s nice to be married to a woman who encourages your decadent tendencies. The question is – is it worth it? For me it was but it has a hefty price tag. I like the hard-bound book that came with it. The concert posters in the box will be framed and hung in the B&V lab. For the first time ever on B&V, my recommendation for everyone who isn’t a Stones’ addict, is to eschew the physical box – either vinyl or CD – and definitely go the download route. The box is $150 and in these dark times that’s a lot to ask. Especially with boxes from Petty, Prince, U2 and Lou Reed coming.

From a bonus material perspective, you’re probably thinking, $150 for 3 new tracks? True there are only 3 new, unreleased tracks, but they’re all fantastic tracks. “Criss Cross” was reviewed here a few weeks ago, The Rolling Stones New Single From The ‘Goats Head Soup’ Sessions – “Criss Cross”. “Scarlett” is another groove track that obviously grew out of a jam and features Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page. I’d have loved to been a fly on the wall for those sessions. The final unreleased track, “All The Rage” has a great riff and is just classic Stones. The rest is probably for completists, but I love the piano/vocals demo of “100 Years Ago,” its more haunting that way. I like the alternative version of “Hide Your Love,” Mick Taylor’s lead is more prevalent. There’s a couple of instrumentals that are a fascinating glimpse into the creative process but the three tracks labeled “Glyn Johns 1973 Mix” add nothing to the party.

The real reason to buy the box (download), is the widely bootlegged live album The Brussels Affair. Because of Keith’s drug issues/arrests stemming from his days at Nellcote (Anita Pallenberg and Bobby Keys the Stones’ sax player had similar issues), the Stones had to play in Belgium instead of France. While many people have this album in bootleg form, I know many people don’t. And if you don’t, it is their best live album – better than Get Your Ya Ya’s Out. I played the boot for my friend Stormin’ once and he declared the version of “Gimme Shelter” as the definitive. I think the Stones released this as a download-only in their “Live Archive” series, but I’m not sure if it’s still available. For me, it’s worth the price of the download for this live LP only. The entire package is like $25 on Apple… Lots to love here at that price.

As summer winds down and beloved football begins, please be safe out there. Wear a mask, stay six feet away from each other and crank up this album… Me, I’m still out here on the edge, “down in the graveyard where we have our tryst, the air smells sweet, the air smells sick…”

Cheers!

Review: Smashing Pumpkins Release 2 New Songs, “Cyr,” “The Colour of Love”

*Image likely subject to copy right

I was recently writing about a difficult period in my life, 1994-1995 and some of the great music that got me through those rough times (Tom Petty: New Vault Song, “There Goes Angela” From The Upcoming ‘Wildflowers’ Box). When I think about that rough patch in my life one of the bands that I think about, who got me through it, is the Smashing Pumpkins. In 1994 I had one of those milestone birthdays that make you start to ponder your life and the direction you’re heading. My good friend Doug flew in for that birthday celebration at a live-music bar down in Westport, the Hurricane. It was indeed epic but those records are sealed. As a gift Doug brought me 2 CDs. While Doug grew up in KC like me, he was living in Chicago at the time and had adopted that city so thoroughly that we referred to him as “Mr. Chicago.” Naturally this led him to gift me two CDs from Chicago-based groups. The first was from singer/songwriter Ralph Covert who eventually started recording music for children. The second CD was from this group I hadn’t really heard of named the Smashing Pumpkins.

The album he gifted me on that difficult birthday was the Pumpkins’ masterpiece second album Siamese Dream which had come out less than a year prior. I have to admit that Doug, despite not owning a stereo, has turned me onto some great music over the years. I’m trying to talk Doug into buying a turntable so we can disguise our beer drinking jaunts as trips to the used record store and yet he resists the idea, but I’m getting off topic here. The Smashing Pumpkins hadn’t really broken through on KC radio yet in 1994. Their debut Gish was so broadly ignored here that I have to admit I thought Siamese Dream was their debut (at least I did in ’94). It was years before I picked up or even listened to Gish, which I love. In 1994 I had vaguely heard of the Smashing Pumpkins. I was aware they had a video involving an ice cream truck (“Today”) but that was about all I knew.

Well it’s no surprise but Siamese Dream knocked me out. Not only the big songs like “Today,” “Cherub Rock” and “Rocket” drew me in, but some of the deeper album tracks grabbed me too – “Mayonnaise,” “Space Boy,” and “Hummer.” Needless to say, I was on the bandwagon despite still being blissfully unaware of Gish. A year and half later, the Pumpkins – Billy Corgan,  vocals/guitar/bass/keyboards/mastermind; James Iha, guitar; D’Arcy (Wretzky), bass; and Jimmy Chamberlin, drums – exploded when they released the 1995 guitar magnum opus Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness. After that album everyone was on the bandwagon. Tracks like “Zero” and “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” were everywhere. That was the first tour I saw the Pumpkins and I was extremely impressed. Some friends and I were on the floor – there were no chairs – and we got up close to the band and they were on fire. It was scorched earth with guitars. 

Alas, toward the end of that tour the wheels came off. Jimmy Chamberlin’s heroin addiction got the best of him and he and their touring keyboardist Jonathan Melvoin both O.D.ed. Melvoin died and Chamberlin was subsequently fired from the band. And I thought I was having a rough time? On their next LP, 1998’s Adore, the band took a stylistic left turn and adopted a more electronica based sound. I always thought it was symbolic of how pissed Corgan was at Jimmy (who he described as his “musical soulmate,” the two had roomed together on the road in the early days) that they’d choose a musical direction that didn’t really require a drummer. A lot of people were put off by the new Pumpkins’ sound on Adore. My friend’s wife, when we saw them on that tour, turned to me and said “What is this shit?” How Greil Marcus of her! I dug that album and that tour. I was especially impressed with James Iha at that show, he was coaxing wild, bizarre notes out of his guitar. He reminded me of the Edge from U2.

Unfortunately, Chamberlin’s departure from the band began what has continued to be an almost constant churn in the line-up of the band. Chamberlin came back for Machina and a more rocking sound but then D’Arcy left. The band finally broke up in 2000 only to reform in 2007 with only Corgan and Chamberlin as members. Before I knew what was happening Chamberlin was out. The band was down to just Corgan and a guitarist named Jeff Schroeder for a while. They actually brought in Tommy Lee of Motley Crue fame to drum on 2014’s Monuments To An Elegy, an album I really dug. So it was a big deal when it was announced that both Chamberlin and to my delight Iha were returning to the fold in 2018 for Shiny And Oh So Bright. I liked that record – LP Review: Smashing Pumpkins, Iha’s Surprisingly Tentative Return ‘Shiny And Oh So Bright’ – although I have to admit, it was not the guitar assault I was hoping Iha’s return would have suggested. The line up at the time was Corgan, Iha, Chamberlin and guitarist Jeff Schroeder so you do the math – 3 guitarists and 1 drummer – I just thought it would rock harder. 

I’ve been waiting with great anticipation for what I assume will be called  “Shiny And Oh So Bright Vol 2.” I was delighted last week when I saw that the Pumpkins had released two new songs, the mysteriously titled “Cyr” and “The Colour Of Your Love.” And I have to say, like the last album, only Billy Corgan can have a band with three guitarists and record two songs that are keyboard based. “Cyr” is all keyboards and what sounds like drum machines. It sounds like what U2 has been grasping for lately, a current sounding song. I played it for the Rock Chick trying to find a modern equivalent in terms of sound – I was thinking the Killers, Imagine Dragons or someone like that. When she heard “Cyr” she said, “That sounds like hopped-up Coldplay.” Withering criticism at least in this house. I despise Coldplay. To me, it sounds like a song that would have fit nicely on Adore. Yes, I’d like more guitar but this song has such a great beat (something I never thought I’d write) and melody it drills into my brain. It’s very poppy. “Cyr” signals to me that Corgan is going to do whatever the Hell he wants to do. 

The better of the two tracks to me, is the second track, “The Colour Of Your Love.” On this track I can at least discern Chamberlin’s drumming. Again it’s not the guitar-assault you’d expect or hope for when Iha and Corgan are on guitar… It’s got a lot of keyboards. It’s of the same smooth, polished music that Corgan has been doing since Oceania. It doesn’t seem to matter whose in the band. There isn’t even a guitar solo on this track which is disappointing. It is a hooky song and again an infectious melody. These aren’t bad songs they’re just not what I expect when I think of the classic Smashing Pumpkins. 

For any of you hoping for “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” these tracks aren’t for you. If “Daphne Descends” from Adore is your thing, then you’ll really dig these songs. Again, they’re not bad, they just aren’t songs I’d recommend to anybody who isn’t a die-hard Pumpkins fan like me. One has to wonder how involved Iha really is with this new music or really with the last album if I’m being honest. I’m starting to wonder if they’re just paying him to be in the publicity photos. While I am still greatly looking forward to whatever these guys do next, I’m the last person to predict what the next album will sound like…I guess it’ll be whatever the Hell Billy Corgan wants to do. 

Be safe out there, Cheers! 

 

LP Lookback: In Praise of Led Zeppelin’s ‘In Through The Out Door’

*Picture of my original vinyl of Zeppelin’s ‘In Through The Out Door’ taken by your intrepid blogger

I like to think that I had to be drug onto social media. I am not nor will I ever be on Facebook even though I think it would help spread the word on B&V. A number of years ago my father called and asked if I remembered a girl I’d dated in college who I’ll call Tisha (name changed to protect the guilty, ie, me). “Why yes dad, of course I do, why?” He replied in the chilling words, “She hit my Facebook page.” At the time my father was 72. I don’t know what surprised me more, that Tisha would have reached out (it ended…poorly) or that my father would be on Facebook? A week later my father called me again and said, “Do you remember a woman from San Francisco named Karen (name changed to protect, well, me)?” I couldn’t help but reply,”Let me guess dad, Facebook?” Apparently the woman in question had left the message, “I only know one person with this name…” My father, ever the wit, replied, “Now you know two.” I think that sufficiently frightened the poor woman but I had to tell my father to either a) close this portal to my past, I’m married now or b) put a much clearer picture of yourself out there so these woman stop thinking I’m a 72 year old man. I mean I’ve lived hard, but not that hard…

All that was enough to keep me off Facebook forever… it’s a jungle out there. But when my daughter was old enough she started to dip her toe in the water on social media which, as night follows day, led my wife to a number of social media outlets. After a couple of hundred instances where my wife waived her phone in front of me to show me a picture of the Stones, I realized, ok maybe I should relent and get on a few of these things. So the actual reason I got on social media was to follow the bands I loved. It’s always rock n roll that drives me. Many bands would announce new music or new tour dates on Twitter or Instagram. It was just an alternative way to keep up with rock and roll now that terrestrial radio has all but died. As a side effect of being on social media, you can never really get away from the anniversaries of key events – birthdays, death anniversaries, album anniversaries, etc – of your favorite bands, albums, and rock stars. The month of August has been a momentous one: Springsteen’s Born To Run turned 45 last week and the anniversary of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s tragic passing was this week (Lookback: Stevie Ray Vaughan, Lost 30 Years Ago, Aug 27, 1990), all of which was duly noted, celebrated and memorialized on social media. I could have written something nice for Born To Run but the album whose release date was August 15th, a few weeks ago, is the one that caught my eye: Led Zeppelin’s final studio album In Through The Out Door. 

This blog is usually focused on new or vault releases from bands that have been around for a while. There are a lot of bands that I love who just haven’t released anything since I started this endeavor. Suffice it to say, I’ve never written anything about Led Zeppelin and I admit it might seem strange that I’d pick In Through The Out Door as a starting place, but this album will always hold a special place in my heart. I included it on my “Dirty Dozen” list of albums that only I seem to love, B&V’s True Confessions: The Dirty Dozen – 12 Albums That Only I Love… Time to Re-Evaluate?. The album came out on August 15, 1979 just as I was beginning my rock and roll journey. I had only been buying albums for about a year. In Through The Out Door was the first Zeppelin album I ever bought. If that’s how I started my actual journey through Zeppelin’s catalog why shouldn’t it be my first Zeppelin post here? When I was 13 I didn’t have a big back catalog of albums. And Zeppelin were always kind of mysterious to me… I knew “Stairway to Heaven,” “Dazed And Confused,” and “Whole Lotta Love” but not much else about them. A guy named Matt showed me a picture of Robert Plant in Biology class and I said, “Who’s that?” In Through The Out Door was the first record released after I’d started buying music so naturally it was my first Zeppelin purchase. I’m just happy I was alive when Zeppelin, the Who and so many other bands were still active. I wasn’t “all in” on Zeppelin yet, but in August of ’79 that was all about to change…

I remember in the summer of 1979 my parents got a new ‘Time’ magazine. I’d always flip through the pages. For once, that summer they had an actual rock and roll article and I was always starved for knowledge about this powerful new music that had changed my life. I remember the article cited a slump in album sales in ’79 and all the hopes of the record companies were pinned on Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk (which came out in Oct ’79) and Led Zeppelin’s In Through The Out Door. It’s odd what I remember. Fleetwood Mac were coming off the mega-success of Rumors and expectations were running high. Tusk ended up being a somewhat bloated double album and Lindsey Buckingham took them in an experimental direction. The album was considered a bit of a disappointment (not to me, I love that flawed, brilliant album) but it sold 4 million copies which is amazing. Granted, it probably pales in comparison to Rumors’ sales of a kajillion records. 

The Zeppelin story is a bit more complicated. I remember the Chili Peppers’ video for “Scar Tissue” where it looked like someone had beaten the shit out of the band. It made for a great video, but in the case of Led Zeppelin, by the time In Through The Out Door came out, that was virtually their exact situation. By 1979 it had been three years since they’d put out an album, 76’s heavy rock album Presence. Prior to Presence, Zeppelin were riding high on 1975’s double-album Physical Graffiti. On hiatus before a second sold-out tour of America, Robert Plant and his wife Maureen were involved in a car crash in Greece and Plant broke his ankle (which inspired the lyrics for the epic “Achilles Last Stand”). The band, really frustrated they couldn’t return to the States and the adulation and groupies went headlong into the studio and recorded that pent-up frustration on what became their heaviest album, the aforementioned Presence. 

Finally back in America for a tour in support of Presence, the band got the tragic news that Robert Plant’s son Karac had died of some mysterious disease. That was a tough blow. The rest of the tour was cancelled and Plant returned home to grieve. The mighty Zeppelin went silent for three years which was a huge absence at the time. A lot changed in music from ’76 to ’79. Punk had come to the fore. The Punks singled out Zeppelin in particular as “bloated, dinosaurs.” People were actually wondering if Zeppelin would return at all. There were rumors that Page was going to replace Plant with Roy Harper, a singer who Page had produced an album for (and Plant sang about on “Hats Off To Roy Harper”). 

When Plant finally came out of seclusion he was keen on taking Zeppelin in a new direction. He was deeply effected by the criticism of the Punks. I should have included Zeppelin on my post about rock bands who reacted to punk (How The Biggest Bands In the World Reacted Musically to Punk Rock in the 70s), because Zeppelin were a band who did react to Punk in a big way. Things within Zeppelin had also changed. Drummer extraordinaire John Bonham’s alcoholism had deepened to the point where it was becoming a problem. Jimmy Page’s heroin addiction had also gotten a lot worse. There had been a time of tax exile as well that had stressed the band. Cue up my “Scar Tissue,” video reference. This band was in a bad place. 

I tend to think about Presence and In Through the Out Door as the yen and yang of Led Zeppelin. Presence was heavy, hard rock, helmed by Page and Bonham. In Through The Out Door was lighter, experimental (almost art) rock, helmed by Plant and in a first, John Paul Jones. This was the first album where Jones had a writing credit on most of the songs. The sound had fundamentally changed as well on this record. In Through… didn’t sound like any of the previous Zeppelin albums. That’s partially because Plant was energized and pushing for a new direction but it’s mainly because neither Bonham or Page showed up very often in the studio, bogged down by their addictions. John Paul Jones had a new keyboard, the Yamaha GX-1 synthesizer and he and Plant sat around writing songs, playing with the synth. 

While long time Zeppelin fans were disappointed with this album it did single-handedly save the music industry in ’79. It sold 1.7 million copies right out of the gate and went on to sell six million copies. It was a number 1 album for Zeppelin. Despite all that, Bonham and Page had said that on the next album, they were going to take over again and the mighty Zeppelin would rock again… alas, that never came to be. 

The first track that ever got played in Kansas City from the album was the single, “All of My Love.” People may consider it lightweight but I always dug that ballad. Zeppelin didn’t do many ballads. I was always told that the person Plant was singing about wasn’t a woman but his late son, Karac. I don’t know if that’s true, but I bought that rumor. It made it a more poignant song for me. Yes, it’s synth washed but it’s a great ballad. I didn’t buy the record immediately though, when you’re 13 you have to buy macho albums with macho songs… I had to wait for the second single, “Fool In The Rain.” It had something Zeppelin rarely had – a sense of humor. This was Bonham’s shining moment on this album for me. Sure the small drum solo isn’t “Moby Dick,” but it showed for me that he could still be captivating. 

The track that makes this album a must-have for me is the epic opener, “In The Evening.” When I told the Rock Chick I was writing about this album she crinkled her nose and said, “Its an OK album but I do love “In the Evening.”” Indeed. It’s got a great riff and an infectious melody. Having started with a great track the album also ends on a great song, the bluesy “I’m Gonna Crawl.” I have to admit, “I’m Gonna Crawl” sounds like the only track Page was fully engaged on. He seems kind of checked out for the most part on the record, I’ll fully admit. But when he did show up he kills it. 

A lot of people don’t dig “Hot Dog” a rockabilly, country rock throw away but it always makes me smile (Playlist: Favorite Country Rock Songs – Rockers Going “Country-ish,” Hidden Rhinestone Gems). “South Bound Suarez” may not be “Rock And Roll” but it’s a solid a rock and roll tune. The only track on this album that leaves me slightly cold is “Carouselambra” but that’s probably because it’s such a long track. I can remember my buddy Matthew playing his cassette copy of the album at the drive-in theater at a “Row Party” we had out there and just cranking “Carouselambra.” It’s a fond memory… 

There were other great songs that came out of the sessions for In Through… that they held back and eventually came out on Coda. “Wearing And Tearing” was directly addressed to the Punks, “Ozone Baby” and “Darlene” were all tracks that would have fit in well on the album. I remember reading in ‘Hammer of the Gods’ Plant wanted to release an EP with those three tracks prior to the actual album coming out. I think that’d would have been interesting. 

In Through the Out Door isn’t Zeppelin’s finest album. I think it can be seen as a transitional album. Zeppelin was leaving their blues rock past and heading in some new and exciting directions. It is a very forward looking album. The roots of Plant’s early solo work can be certainly heard here. The sad part of the story is we never got to hear where Zeppelin would have taken this next. During the rehearsals at Jimmy Page’s house for the American tour to support this album, John Bonham consumed a superhuman amount of vodka and died. The band couldn’t see a way forward without their mate. John would have been really hard to replace. 

While this album might not be anybody’s favorite Zeppelin album it’s still a worthy selection from their great, great catalog. I urge everyone to put this on and evaluate – or probably more accurately re-evaluate – this great album. 

Be safe out there. Cheers!