LP Lookback: AC/DC’s Masterpiece, ‘Back In Black’ Turned 40 Yrs Old June 25, 2020

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*Original ‘Back in Black’ vinyl, purchased in 1980 by your intrepid blogger

I saw that AC/DC’s landmark album Back In Back turned forty last Saturday, June 25th. I can’t believe it’s been 40 years since that LP came out. Its old enough for a mid-life crisis although shows no signs of one. I knew I had to post about my experiences with that album and I couldn’t help but think, we’re talking about the good stuff now! Looking back at this LP feels like putting out the Christmas dishes for a Tuesday dinner.

1980 was a very important year in heavy metal/hard rock. It was the year the genre re-established its foothold and signified that metal was here to stay. Just to put the monumental achievement of AC/DC in perspective, here’s a list of ten momentous hard rock albums that came out in 1980:

  • AC/DC, Back In Black
  • Black Sabbath, Heaven And Hell – The first album post-Ozzy with Ronnie James Dio on lead vocals.
  • Def Leppard, On Through The Night – Their debut LP. I saw them open for the Scorpions and Nugent on the ensuing tour, my first ever concert.
  • Judas Priest, British Steel 
  • Iron Maiden, Iron Maiden – Another great debut LP.
  • Motorhead, Ace of Spades 
  • Ozzy Osbourne, Blizzard of Ozz – Ozzy’s solo debut with the intrepid Randy Rhoads on lead guitar. And they thought Ozzy would wither and die outside of Sabbath.
  • Rush, Permanent Waves – Rush is probably hard rock and not heavy metal like most bands on this list but this is a kick ass album. “The Spirit of the Radio,” and “Freewill” are worth the price of admission. I also dig “Jacob’s Ladder.”
  • Van Halen, Woman & Children First – A sloppy but great third LP from VH. This was to be my second VH album purchase… I had to circle back later for Van Halen II. 
  • Metallica, Kill ‘Em All – At the time, an overlooked (at least by me) debut album.

Thats an impressive list of albums and yet Back In Black still stands head and shoulders above the pack. That just shows how amazing Back In Black really is. The Motorhead and Iron Maiden are the only 2 albums on this list I don’t own.

As the 70s came to a close I found myself finishing up junior high school (7th, 8th and Freshman years) and starting high school (sophomore, junior & senior years). In the middle of all that my friends and I had discovered and gotten (what we considered) heavily into rock and roll. While early on we thought we knew all there was to know about rock and roll, in reality we had only scratched the surface. Sure, we were into the big bands – Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, and the Who. We were also heavily into Bob Seger because we were from the midwest so the “Heartland Rocker” cast a rather wide shadow. Some of the harder rockers amongst us were into Aerosmith, Black Sabbath and especially Van Halen. AC/DC really hadn’t punctured our consciousness as of yet in say, 1979. I remember someone asking if AC/DC was “bi-sexual slang.” Naive as I was, I said something brilliant like, “Huh?”

Although I must admit they’d started to break onto the radio, even in Kansas City. The album and especially the title track to Highway To Hell was a song everybody liked. I’m sure many of us thought Highway To Hell was their debut LP, so little did we know about them.  Every once in a while if you stayed up late enough to hear Vonn Mack, the late night KY102 DJ, you’d hear “Whole Lotta Rosie” which was like “Freebird” after a fistful of black beauties. We just didn’t know a lot about AC/DC. Of course after that big breakthrough success of Highway To Hell (Album Lookback: AC/DC’s ‘Highway To Hell’ Turns 40 – Bon Scott’s Bon Voyage), tragedy struck AC/DC and original lead singer Bon Scott passed way from “death by misadventure.” He choked on his own vomit, the way the classic rocks stars went out. Looking back I can say that I’m a huge fan of the Bon Scott years of AC/DC (and my favorite LP may be Powerage, LP Look Back: The Overlooked Gem, AC/DC’s “Powerage”). In 1980 I might not have been able to tell you who was singing an AC/DC song, Bon or his replacement, former singer for Geordie, Brian Johnson. The Rock Chick loves the Brian led AC/DC… I’m slowly getting her into the Bon stuff, starting with “Gone Shooting,” but that’s another story. Bon had a better sense of humor… and perhaps was a little more gravelly than Brian. I know the difference but can’t describe it.

After losing iconic, messianic lead singer Bon Scott, AC/DC – lead guitarist extraordinaire Angus Young, his brother rhythm guitarist and Riff Meister Malcolm Young, bassist Cliff Williams and drummer Phil Rudd – were at a crossroads. At first they considered breaking up. They held auditions and immediately discovered Brian Johnson, who I once heard Angus say in an interview Bon Scott had heard and liked. Of course Bon liked him… they sounded similar. They decamped to the Bahamas and recorded one of the best selling albums of all time, Back In Black. The entirely black album cover was to supposed to signify their grief over the loss of their comrade at arms, Bon Scott. Back In Black, like Highway To Hell was produced by (soon to be legendary) producer Mutt Lange. He had gotten them away from the blues-based stuff of the early records. Mutt always seems to have an ear for a hook and there are plenty on Back In Black. I don’t know if punk was an influence but the songs were shorter – no more long, long guitar solos, there were more economical solos – and for lack of a better word, the songs seemed punchier. After losing Bon just as they were ascending the world stage, AC/DC seamlessly found a new singer and were poised to break the entire planet wide open…

By the time Back In Black came out, I was in high school and had even gotten my driver’s license. How anybody thought it was a good idea to allow me to drive is a bit of a mystery. One thing that driving allowed me to do was to get a job. I went to Oak Park Mall, the closest shopping center to my house, and got a job at a place called York Steak House. York can only be described as “fast-food steak.” I was a busboy. Awful, filthy, mindless work but an honest wage. The guys who managed the place were all in their 20s. Rather than authority figures, these guys used to party with us. On break we’d all jump in the car and go get a 12 pack of beer and drink in the walk-in cooler. One of the managers, who I’ll call Ron, found a car stalled on the side of the highway and took the license plate and put it on his car. I can still remember the cops walking him out of the restaurant in handcuffs. Things were… loose at York Steak House. One might describe it as a den of thieves.

One warm, late-summer Saturday, one of these miscreant managers threw a keg party out at Lake Quivira, in western Shawnee, Kansas. Back in 1980, this was out in the boondocks. I seem to recall it was a gated-community so I have no idea how this guy got a bunch of drunken high school kids onto the property. I remember someone saying KC Royal George Brett lived out there… it was a wonder he didn’t come out and join us. I was likely one of the first to show up and I know I was one of the last to leave. But that night, out on that ritzy lake… on a little picnic area, someone put the cassette of Back In Black on the stereo and I was transfixed. Well, as transfixed as someone full of keg beers who kept falling down and hitting his head on the picnic table could be. It was not my finest hour. We just kept playing that tape over and over again until the beer ran out. The next day, at work, I remember asking the host of the party if that had been an AC/DC mix-tape or a greatest hits thing. There was no way every song on an ordinary album was that damn good…I heard that album at every single party I attended after that in high school. I remember it was playing when one of my friends vomited into the fire place at a guy named Kurt’s house. I’m sure his parents were thrilled. I went out my first chance and purchased the album pictured above. I’ve since also purchased it on CD. If you love rock and roll, you have to love AC/DC and Back In Black. Its the essence of rock… you don’t absorb the music through your ears, it comes in through your groin.

That first track, “Hells Bells,” with the actual church bell ringing was so ominous. The tolling of the bell… the slow build of sawing guitars. It was really a great way to kick the LP off. It quickly shifts to “Shoot To Thrill,” who some say was about heroin, but I’m not so sure. That track is fast and hard-driving. Which led to the admittedly misogynistic “What You Do For Money.” I shouldn’t extoll that track but I just love it. The hard rock duo of “Givin The Dog A Bone,” and “Let Me Put My Love Into You” round out a perfect side one. Side two is even better. “Back In Black” kicks off side two like a punch from a righteous fist. On any album without “Hells Bells” the title track would have opened the album. The huge hit, “You Shook Me All Night Long” that made “American thighs” famous is next. I never get tired of that song. One has to wonder if it’s still played in strip joints? One of the deep tracks that’s an unofficial theme song of B&V is the great, swinging “Have A Drink On Me,” with the great line, “with a glass I’m pretty handy.” “Shake A Leg” is another “race to the finish line” hard, fast rocker. I love the closer, “Rock N Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution.” AC/DC fighting for the permanence of rock music and it was 1980. I think it was here to stay.

Phil Rudd’s drumming just swings on this record. He was such an important secret weapon. Angus’ lead guitar tangling with the great riffs coming from Malcolm… they’re just perfect. Like a hyped-up, Australian Keith and Ronnie from the Stones. Cliff Williams’ bass keeping everybody from completely descending into chaos… and Brian Johnson. He took the mantle from Bon Scott and kept the world-conquering momentum of AC/DC going. If they could reach a bunch of drunk high school kids in the boondocks suburbs of Kansas City, where could they not conquer? I think this record has been certified Platinum 25 times. Hearing that record right after it dropped is what people must have felt like in the early 70s when Zeppelin released a new album. I felt like I was a part of something.

Happy Birthday AC/DC’s Back In Black. It sounds just as good to me forty years on as it did that night at Lake Quivira. I guess it proves that you can take the rocker out of high school but you can’t get the high school out of my rock. Or something like that. I think you get what I’m talking about.

“Join me for a drink boys, we’re gonna make a big noise.” Indeed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tribute: KC Public Radio DJ Bill Shapiro and His Saturday Show, Cyprus Avenue – Kept Me Company In My Bachelor Days

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*Photo taken from the internet, from KCUR’s website, and is likely copyrighted

**I usually address more general music topics here at B&V. Or perhaps better said, more universal topics. Today I’m bringing it home to Kansas City but I think the themes remain universal.**

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“Well, I’m caught one more time, up on Cyprus Avenue…” – Van Morrison, “Cyprus Avenue”

The Rock Chick put on a mask and slipped the confines of lockdown this weekend. She jumped solo into her car and headed for points West to see our daughter where they plan on an isolated, socially distanced weekend together. There will be hiking and sitting on the back patio but no shopping sprees in crowded malls or fancy dinners in small cafes on this trip…or so that’s what they’re telling me. Somehow this will still cost me a lot of money. While I’m happy for them this leaves me here at the house, “on my own…by myself” as Michael McDonald and Patti Labelle sang in a treacly way many years ago. Unfortunately the Rock Chick left me with an empty fridge, no ice, a full dishwasher and a hungry cat. Somehow I think this may have been by design… She did get me a bottle of Four Roses bourbon before she left… Mixed messages? Ah, marriage.

It didn’t take long after she left for me to start eating like a 13 year old. Dinner last night consisted of peanut butter and a bowl of Cheerios. As she was leaving I felt like quoting Bill Murray’s character in Stripes, “You can’t leave! All the plants will die.” I decided this weekend would be a clear-eyed, sober time for reading and reflection. In the past when the Rock Chick has left me she returned to find me slathered in bourbon, weeping while watching 1980 video of Springsteen and E Street Band muttering, “I can’t believe the Big Man is gone…” We don’t want another one of those. I hunkered down to read last night with the Royals’ game on but muted with the Stones on the stereo. Although I will admit, after a mere one chapter of a great new book I just started, I was at the fridge where I discovered the Rock Chick had left me a cold bottle of chardonnay… wine, that’s not really drinking, right? Of course the hungry cat woke me at 5 am this morning… He’s like my guilt, always lurking and making noise when I’m trying to sleep. I couldn’t help but think to myself, pull yourself together man you were a bachelor forever.

Although now it’s Saturday and I must admit, I’m at loose ends. I began to wonder what I used to do on weekends in my groovy, hipster bachelor days. Early on, there was always something happening on Saturdays. I had all these friends to hang out with. We were like a big, disorganized gang. But like the old song, “Wedding Bells Are Breaking Up That Ol’ Gang of Mine,” all my buddies got married and many started pumping out children. Gone were those days of hanging in a bar all Saturday afternoon, watching sports, “probably playing poker, drinking,” as the Stones sang. While I like to romanticize my bachelor days, I was single until well into my 30s and there was a lot of “me” time, where I was just plain alone.

Oddly, those Saturdays puttering around by myself are the ones I tend to remember. I tried to inflict some sort of regimented routine that would help me kill the hours until I headed out for the usual Saturday night debauchery. On Saturday during the day I would run errands. I would go to the gym to sweat out Friday night’s poison. I’d go to the dry cleaners. I usually slept kinda late having been up most of the night prior so these “chores” occurred late morning or early afternoon. Somewhere along the line, I turned my radio down to the small numbered stations, to the public radio end of the dial. I discovered this radio show on KCUR 89.3 in Kansas City, hosted by Bill Shapiro, ‘Cyprus Avenue’ named after the Van Morrison track on Astral Weeks. I can’t remember, but it might have been my groovy hippy friend the Jean Genie who turned me onto ‘Cyprus Avenue’ but it was a long time ago.

While ‘Cyprus Avenue’ was a local KC show, I know at one time it was syndicated to at least 50 stations. Regardless, I think everyone can relate to a radio show or DJ that really hooked you. When I was growing up there weren’t many radio shows that were consistently on the air to tune into. I remember Sunday nights in high school listening to ‘The Dr. Demento Show.’ Every now and then a local station would broadcast ‘The King Biscuit Flour Hour,’ a live concert program. I remember hearing April Wine one night on that show but those broadcasts weren’t really consistent. I remember that whenever David Lee Roth was on ‘Rockline’ that was “appointment” radio. You had to hear Roth call a joint a “behavior modification device” to understand. Later as terrestrial radio faded from my life and satellite radio took over I did listen to Bob Dylan’s ‘Theme Time Radio’ and the late, great Tom Petty’s ‘Buried Treasure.’ Dylan once said on his show of Bob Seger, “many call him a poor man’s Springsteen, but I think of Springsteen as a rich man’s Bob Seger.” I don’t know why, but that just stuck with me.

While I was rambling around Kansas City on those, let’s admit it, lonely Saturdays, Bill Shapiro’s ‘Cyprus Avenue’ kept me company. In Shapiro I found a kindred spirit. He came on at noon. The first hour was always a new show with the second hour was an encore presentation of a previous show. Often I’d find myself driving around on purpose, detouring downtown or through the River Market, just to keep listening to whatever music Bill was playing. The man knew more about music than I can ever dream of. He was a lawyer by trade, but wow he was a music aficionado. He had approached KCUR at a fund raising event and they gave him a show. He broadcast ‘Cyprus Avenue’ for 40 years. He knew, played and spoke about some of the most obscure stuff I’d ever heard. He played rock n roll, jazz, blue grass, folk, country rock… literally everything.

I learned a shit ton about music from listening to ‘Cyprus Avenue.’ I’d heard about Sam Cooke but it wasn’t until I heard Shapiro play cuts from Sam’s The Man And His Music did I realize that all those hits were the same man. I only stopped my car after that show to stop at the record store and buy the album. The same could be said for Jimi Hendrix’s Live At the Fillmore East or Van Morrison’s vault collection The Philosopher’s Stone. I first heard both albums on ‘Cyprus Avenue.’ I first heard Neil Young’s Silver And Gold on the show and bought it the same day. Same goes for the Clash’s Sandanista! I can’t tell you which albums he played but I know he turned me onto some Dylan, Bob Marley and Buffalo Springfield. I’d never heard of Chuck Prophet until I heard him on ‘Cyprus Avenue.’ I knew who Gram Parsons was, but had never heard his music until I heard it on 89.3 KCUR on a Saturday afternoon.

Sadly, Bill Shapiro passed away in January of this year at the age of 82. A musical prophet slipped his mortal coil. The amount of musical knowledge that went with him is incalculable. I had heard the news – my friend the Jean Genie told me about it and said I should apply to replace him, high praise indeed – but with all the crazy stuff going on in 2020 I didn’t get around to saying anything in these pages, my bad. It had slipped my mind, which I’m embarrassed about until I realized that once again I was going to find myself alone on a Saturday afternoon. Only this time my old “friend” and radio companion wasn’t going to be around to turn me onto something new or something classic that I missed. And that is truly sad. I wanted to sit down and pay tribute to the man who turned me onto so much music. This post may not be read far and wide, but I felt it was an important one to do as Bill had such a big influence on me.

It’s a crazy world and things are nuts right now. I urge everyone to find those things that bring you joy and revel in them. Take care of each other out there. If you’re not driving, take a nip or two and turn up the stereo. I just wish today I could slip “one more time…up on Cyprus Avenue…”

RIP Bill Shapiro.

 

 

LP Review: Pretenders ‘Hate For Sale’ – A Late Career Classic With Attitude!

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“He’s got a curly tongue and a curly tail, but mostly he’s got hate for sale” – Pretenders, “Hate For Sale”

Could any of us expected, this far down the line, this gift of a fabulous Pretenders’ album? I, for one, needed this record!

I was an early adopter on the Pretenders. Their seminal debut album Pretenders came out when I was in high school and I bought it immediately. I think of the album cover as iconic. I have always considered the Pretenders to be a punk band, but since their first record didn’t come out until 1979 in the UK and 1980 in the US (and I’ll admit I thought it was 1978) perhaps they were post-punk or even New Wave or Next Wave? Labels be damned in this case. Ohioan guitarist/singer/songwriter Chrissie Hynde was living in London in the 70s immersed in the punk scene when she formed the original Pretenders’ with James Honeyman-Scott (guitar), Pete Farndon (bass) and her once and future drummer Martin Chambers (if I can sneak in a T.H. White reference).

The songs on that first album still blow me away. The Kinks’ cover, “Stop Your Sobbing” was the first single, but that isn’t the track that sticks out in my mind – although it is great. The opening salvo “Precious” was a call to arms. When she sang in “Tattooed Love Boys” the lyric “I shot my mouth off and you showed me what that hole was for…” I was smitten. “Kid” and “Mystery Achievement” remain favorites today. Although I’m going to admit – with a touch of embarrassment – the song that drew me in was the big hit single, “Brass In Pocket,” an admittedly “pop” tune.

There’s a reason that song hooked me. I was a sophomore in high school and in my Study Hall (aka “free period”) there was a girl who was a senior. She was tall with long legs and dirty blonde hair that always seemed to be in a fashionable mess. As a lowly sophomore I never had the temerity to even look her in the eye let alone speak to her, she was a vaunted senior, high above me socially – such is the fear and inexperience of youth. There were two sides of Study Hall, the silent side for well, studying, and then the social side. I know this can’t be true but I have this memory that they played music on the social side of Study Hall. While it may be apocryphal, I have this memory of her walking toward me in an angora sweater, to her gaggle of friends – who I viewed with a mix of awe and fear – while that song played in the background…its like the whole world slowed down… My memory is like a scene from Fast Times At Ridgemont High. There’s just something about a strong woman like Chrissie Hynde singing and that senior who was also pretty damn strong that stuck in my psyche. Paging Dr. Freud.

The Pretenders’ success continued on their strong sophomore effort, creatively named Pretenders II, in 1981. “Message Of Love” and “The Adultress” continued the riff rocking theme established on the first album. Especially commendable is the guitar playing of James Honeyman-Scott. Then tragedy struck. The band fired Pete Farndon because of his drug addiction…namely heroin. I read somewhere that Honeyman-Scott was the one who insisted on Farndon’s dismissal but who really knows outside the band? Ironically, two days after sacking Farndon, Honeyman-Scott died from what Wikipedia calls “cocaine-intolerance,” which sounds like an O.D. Less than a year later Farndon drowned in his own bathtub. That’s Allman Brothers level tragedy. And then, as the saying goes, there were two – Chrissie Hynde and drummer Martin Chambers.

Somehow, Hynde and Chambers were able to shoulder on. It took three years, but the follow up, 1984’s Learning To Crawl with Robbie McIntosh manning the guitar and Malcolm Foster on bass may have been their biggest album. It had the huge songs “Back On the Chain Gang,” and “Middle of the Road.” The latter song finds Chrissie confessing, “I’m going home, I’m tired as Hell, I’m not the cat I used to be, I’ve gotta kid I’m thirty-three.” I have to admit, after that stunning success, I sort of lost track of the Pretenders. I was always aware they were out there. I’d hear the occasional hit on the radio like “Don’t Get Me Wrong,” but I wasn’t paying the same level of attention to them. I also knew that there had been numerous line-up changes, including Chambers coming and going. When they were inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame – Chambers thanked the “drummers who’d been keeping my seat warm” and Chrissie quickly jumped to the mic and said, “I had to remain true to the music.”

It would be easy to describe Hate For Sale as the Pretender’s best album since Learning to Crawl or quite possibly since Pretenders II. Its really that good – in this case, believe the hype. However, that does discount some of the fine music the Pretenders have put out since the early, salad days. Their last album, 2016’s Alone produced by the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach felt more like a Chrissie Hynde solo project. The record companies like to press artists into “staying with the brand” and force people like Billy Corgan or Chrissie Hynde into putting out solo albums under the moniker of the old band. However, if you go back to 2006’s Breaking Up the Concrete you’ll discover a great Pretenders’ record. Despite Chambers being replaced by famous session drummer Jim Keltner, Concrete felt more like a “band” record.

That band feel carries the day on Hate For Sale. It’s really nice to see Martin Chambers back on the drum kit for the first time in ages – although he does play drums on tour, its nice to see him back in the studio with Hynde. I think they have a chemistry that can’t be duplicated. Joining Hynde and Chambers are James Walbourne on guitar, Nick Wilkinson on bass with Carwyn Ellis on keyboards. Hynde’s wit and wisdom are fully present in these lyrics. What I really like is that she cowrote all the songs with Walbourne which again, gives this more of a full band feel. The rockers are energetic and punchy. The ballads are beautiful and wistful. This is truly a complete Pretenders’ record without a dud on it.

The title track opens the record. They actually have a false start that they kept on the song. It sounds like a band jamming, losing the thread but being tight enough to pull it back together. I thought it was kinda cool. “Hate For Sale” is punky, energetic with a great riff. It’s the perfect kick off to this album… and even has some nice harmonica. “Turf Accountant Daddy” is another strong rocker with a big riff and galloping gait. “I Didn’t Know When To Stop,” with crashing drums and guitars (and again, harmonica) has a great guitar solo and simply rocks. I also liked the atmospheric “Junkie Walk,” with its fuzzed out guitars and heavy riff. I actually added that one to our Heroin playlist, B&V Playlist: Chasing the Dragon – Songs About Heroin.

“The Buzz” was the first single from the album and it’s a great pop-rock tune. Hynde provides us with her typical great vocal on the track. The woman is a legend. It’s their best single in a long, long while. “Lightning Man” is a great reggae tune. I saw the Pretenders open for the Stones in Chicago years ago and Hynde said on stage, “The Stones have brought us a lot of great things but one of the best was spreading reggae to a bigger audience.” The Pretenders certainly deliver on this track – I put it on my Rockers Playing Reggae list, B&V Playlist: Rockers Playing Reggae: It’s Not Just For Vacation Any More. “Didn’t Want to Be This Lonely” may be my favorite track here. It just sticks in my head. It’s got a great rockabilly feel and Bo Diddley beat. I find myself mumbling “I didn’t want to be this lonely but losing you was a relief…” Ah, mixed emotions. “Maybe Love Is In NYC” is another bang up track. With all of these great songs, this record should be as big as Learning to Crawl. 

There are the classic, Chrissie Hynde ballads, sung with full emotion. “You Can’t Hurt A Fool” has another great Hynde vocal. “Crying In Public” is a heart wrenching track with Hynde singing over piano. Ballads aren’t for everybody, but I dig these two. The Pretenders do everything they do well perfectly on this album.

Hate For Sale is the kind of late-career gem that B&V was created to extoll. It’s just so great to hear a classic band pull it together and release something this vital and alive this far into their career. I’d love to see some of this played live, but alas, pandemic. I urge every rock fan out there – or Pretenders’ fans out there – to check out this rewarding album.

Be Safe!

 

 

 

B&V’s Favorite ‘Live At the BBC’ LPs – Classic Bands, Classic Performances

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I think I’m like most working-stiffs. I put in my 10-hour work day for the benefit of my corporate masters then stagger out of my home office to dinner followed by the inevitable collapse on the couch in front of the television. My ten year old self would be amazed at the plethora of viewing options I have now. When I was a kid we had three channels – ABC, NBC, and CBS. I grew up middle-class but my dad was one of those, “close the door we’re not trying to air condition the entire outside” kinda guys. The thought of spending extra money for “basic cable” was outside my dad’s wheelhouse. I was in my teens before I ever saw HBO at a friend’s house on a sleepover. We watched Linda Carter, the first Wonder Woman, in a movie where she appeared topless which changed my life… It was like discovering the formula for nuclear fusion. Now, perhaps as a direct result of seeing that Linda Carter movie, I have all the movie channels, Netflix, Amazon Prime and god knows what else. I am continually amazed that with all these options I still can’t find shit to watch on TV. I am continually bored, which I’m told is a sign of a weak mind.

Radio was a different story, it was free. We had all kinds of selections to choose from on the radio. There was AM radio, which was a favorite of my father. It featured a lot talk radio programs. My dad is huge sports buff so whenever we were in the car he’d crank it all the way up to hear people talk about the Royals. I don’t remember people discussing the Chiefs much when I was kid… they kind of sucked. Then there was the FM side of the dial, “FM, no static at all” as Steely Dan used to sing. The first radio station I can remember was Q104. They played pop music. When we were real little kids my brother would have my mom tune into Q104 whenever we were in her car and it was his turn to pick the station. We never really listened to the radio in the house, we weren’t a musical family, sadly. My mother liked KUDL, aka “Cuddle,” the shitty mellow pop station. Yacht Rock would have been considered thrash-metal on “Cuddle.” Before my rock n roll “awakening” the only time I turned on the radio was when I was listening to a Royals’ baseball game in bed at night. After discovering the Rolling Stones and rock n roll my station was KY102. I had to have the radio on for all waking moments except when doing homework… I had to focus.

Despite my family’s rather narrow radio focus, there were a lot of choices. There were the weird Public stations and weirder still college stations at the smaller end of the dial. Any radio station broadcasting under the number 90 was weird in our eyes. There was a classical station. There was an oldies station. I’m gonna guess that there was a country music station but who really cares? I grew up assuming that everybody had this wild, varied selection on their radios… well, not in Ft. Smith, Arkansas. When I lived there they didn’t have a decent radio station by anybody’s standards. It wasn’t until I was in college that I started reading about Britain, the BBC (The British Broadcasting Company) and pirate radio stations when I realized the airways were ruled differently in far away places.

I know the BBC does TV also, I get that channel here at the house (thank you Linda Carter). But for purposes of a rock and roll blog, I’m only thinking about radio here. I think, and can’t verify this, but the BBC was the only radio station in Britain up until the late 60s when the Pirate Radio movement happened. Pirate Radio were a bunch of outlaws who set up radio broadcasting equipment on ships off the shore of Britain who broadcasted all kinds of stuff that the BBC wasn’t broadcasting. I think in the late 60s other radio stations emerged over there which seems late in the game but my research on this is inconclusive…

Even so, I think the BBC was quite a big deal for popular music in the UK. I’ve read all about artists who talk about being on the Beeb. They would appear on Top of the Pops or on a program with legendary DJ John Peel. Even a rock and roll obsessive from Kansas knows about John Peel… he was friends with a lot of the rock and roll bands I worshipped. Not only was getting your records played on the BBC a big deal, often bands would go into the BBC studios in London and play live. Either live in studio or sometimes they’d play live in a theater to a small crowd and the BBC would broadcast the performance like a British “King Biscuit Flower Hour,” complete with rather posh-sounding accents from the DJs. Broadcasting a live performance to a largely “captive” audience had to be a huge boost to the band’s career. I mean “captive” in the sense that there was no where else to hear this stuff.

It’s my understanding in bootleg circles these BBC performances were somewhat widely circulated. These radio broadcasts would be the perfect fodder for a bootleg recording. Finally record companies realized they had a treasure trove of unreleased music from these BBC recordings and started releasing the performances. I don’t know what the hold up was on this, it seems like a really good idea that was way overdue. Maybe the BBC wasn’t cool with it or the artists were concerned about sound quality. I am a huge fan of live music and live albums (BourbonAndVinyl Comes Alive: The Epic List Of Essential Live Albums). And there are a few of these BBC releases that I just love, much like my ardor for the old MTV Unplugged series, B&V’s Favorite MTV “Unplugged” LPs. I feel like these following six “BBC” albums are essential to each artist’s catalog. The sound quality on these are very bootleg-like, in spots it can be a little rough. But if you can handle that, there are some revelatory performances to be found here… amidst some, as I said before, rather posh British accents which are really cool. As you would expect, my favorites are generally the greatest bands of all time. There were plenty of recordings to select from. Honorable mention goes to the Faces (who put all their BBC stuff on the superb box set Five Guys Walk Into A Bar), Cream and the Peter Green-led Fleetwood Mac. The latter are 2 great recordings, just really hard to find. Queen and Free released most of their BBC stuff as “bonus material” on later remasters of their LPs and deserve mention here as well.

  1. The Beatles, Live At the BBC – The Beatles are, arguably, the biggest band of all time. It’s hard to estimate how big they were and remain today. In the latter half of their career, they holed up in the studio. They stopped touring all together. They made some of the most imaginative, creative music in all of rock, truly elevating this “pop” music to the level of art. On Live At the BBC, we go back to the days when they were “Fab.” This is the sound of a working band. They play their asses off. There are so many covers songs that they never got around to recording that everyone needs to hear. I even love their banter with the DJs, its all very Beatlesque. This album, along with Live At the Hollywood Bowl (LP Review: The Beatles, “Live At The Hollywood Bowl”), puts a little meat on the bones of the legend.
  2. Led Zeppelin, BBC Sessions – During their lifetime as a band, I’m not sure that Zeppelin ever captured an “essential,” must-have live LP. The Song Remains The Same was certainly a snap-shot of a point in time. I think BBC Sessions might be that essential live LP. It covers their career through the first four albums. They expand “Whole Lotta Love” to over 13 minutes. The power of this music is unmistakable. They also have a few unreleased, rare tracks – “The Girl I Love She Got Long Black Wavy Hair,” “Traveling Riverside Blues,” and “Something Else.” The sound quality is pretty great throughout as well. .
  3. The Jimi Hendrix Experience, BBC Sessions – I know there’s a ton of live Hendrix out there but this is yet another essential album for Hendrix fans. The opening track on this collection, “Foxey Lady” explodes from the speakers. The Experience is so tight on this thing and yet so powerful. Hendrix does some great covers, “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window” (Dylan), “Day Tripper” (Beatles) and “Sunshine Of Your Love” (Cream) proving Hendrix could do anything. No matter how psychedelic his music became he was firmly rooted in the blues and he plays a ton of it on this album.
  4. David Bowie, Bowie At the Beeb – This one may be my favorite… We trace Bowie from his early, early career (pre- The Man Who Sold The World) to the superstardom of Ziggy Stardust. There are some rarities that I’d never heard – “Cygnet Committee,” “Karma Man,” and “God Knows I’m Lucky” – to name a few… although I’m not the deepest expert on anything Bowie put out before The Man Who Sold… I love the version of the Velvet Underground’s “Waiting For the Man” here. There isn’t a ton of great live Bowie out there so this is a great addition to anybody’s collection.
  5. The Who, BBC Sessions – The Who muscling through hits (“My Generation,” “Substitute”), cover songs (“Good Lovin’,” “Just You And Me Darling”) and rarities (“Leaving Here,” “See My Way”). The Who started by playing a lot of R&B stuff and you really hear the influences on this album. I love that like the Beatles it chronicles that early period of the Who’s career. They end with a great version of “Long Live Rock.”
  6. The Rolling Stones, On Air – A BBC Recording – Like the Beatles and the Who on this list, the Stones entry focuses on the early part of their career. This disc chronicles the blues-heavy, Brian Jones’ days of the band. I will say, disc 2 seems a bit short at only 35 minutes (and the sound quality gets rougher on disc 2 as well). I love it when the Stones play the blues. They also do a lot of great Chuck Berry covers. I dig the version of “Memphis, Tennessee” and “Hi-Heeled Sneakers” found here.

I know there are some Siouxsie and the Banshees fans out there who clapback at me on my list… Her BBC album is three discs long. Thin Lizzy has a great box of BBC performances but it’s like 5 discs long… I stuck with my favorites here. If I’ve missed one that you love, let me know in the comments.

Be safe!

 

 

 

The Rolling Stones New Single From The ‘Goats Head Soup’ Sessions – “Criss Cross”

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“I think I need a blood transfusion…” – The Rolling Stones, “Criss Cross”

I knew coming into the lockdown that only rock and roll was going to keep me sane. However, if you’d told me it was going to be the Rolling Stones (who haven’t released a new album of original material in 15 years) who would be releasing tunes that would save me, I wouldn’t have believed you. Admittedly, Dylan and Neil Young have both helped with some new music (Review: Bob Dylan, ‘Rough And Rowdy Ways’ – The Spell-Binding 1st LP of All Originals In Eight Years) and a vault release (Review: Neil Young’s ‘Homegrown’ – The Lost Masterpiece, In The Vaults 45 Years) respectively. But it was the Stones who released the very pandemic-centric brand new track “Living In A Ghost Town” that just blew me away the most, New Single: The Rolling Stones’ Great Pandemic Song, “Living In A Ghost Town”.

Last Thursday, while I was focused on and listening to Dirty Honey’s great, new, rocking EP, creatively titled Dirty Honey (Review: New Band – Dirty Honey’s EP, ‘Dirty Honey’ – Sweet, Filthy Rock N Roll), the Stones released a “new” song from the vaults, “Criss Cross.” “Criss Cross” was an outtake from the sessions for 1973’s Goats Head Soup. An outtake is basically a “leftover” track, one that was recorded for an album but for whatever reason didn’t make the final track list. “Criss Cross” has finally seen the “light of day” and gotten a proper release in advance of the Goats Head Soup deluxe edition that will becoming out in early September.

“Criss Cross” has apparently been widely bootlegged over the years. It was known as “Criss Cross Man” and in one spot I saw it described as “Criss Cross Mind.” I realize bootlegs are a bit taboo. I have admitted my past crimes in this area, and yes, I have some bootleg recordings. Most of my bootleg stuff was live recordings most notably by Springsteen. But I had some cassettes (God, remember cassettes?) of live stuff from Van Halen and a rough recording of the Stones’ concert in Hyde Park after Brian Jones died… Mick reading Shelley and releasing white butterflies. The 60s folks… I can’t make this stuff up, but I digress. Anyway, for years I’ve read about all these folks who had bootleg recordings of studio stuff. Either early versions of songs or outtakes and leftover tracks. I’ve never once held in my hand any studio bootlegs. I guess I really was a novice bootleg collector having never even seen a studio boot.

I love that all these great artists are clearing out their vaults. Dylan has his superb “Bootleg Series” (Dylan’s Bootleg Series – A User’s Guide). Neil Young has curated his entire history on his website, neilyoungarchives.com. Springsteen has released some of his vault stuff on Tracks and yes, all those old live Springsteen bootlegs I had… they’ve been released though his “First Friday” concert series. I have rectified my old outlaw ways and purchased many of them… well, around 10 of them… I may have a problem. At least I can sit up at 2 a.m. and debate the nuances of different performances of “Prove It All Night” over a glass of dark and murky spirits. I’m thrilled that slowly but surely the Stones – truly my all time favorite band – have started sharing some of their unreleased material as well. The Stones are like Neil Young in that they often return to their unreleased material, punch it up a little bit and release it years later as “new.”

I’d been reading about the rumors of the Goats Head Soup deluxe release for quite some time but I couldn’t find anything concrete on the inter-web. Then this week on the “social media” I started seeing clips from a video that seemed to indicate a new release was coming. I thought for a minute it might be their long awaited new studio album. While I’m bummed that we’ll have to keep waiting on that, I was thrilled to see this long rumored deluxe edition of Goats Head Soup is finally coming. I first heard “Criss Cross” on Thursday when I watched the video on YouTube… Mick must have directed this video… no band members are in it. It follows a fetching young lady who lives as we all should – mostly naked or topless. Here it is…

I played “Criss Cross” for the Rock Chick and she looked up at me and said, “This is a great song… why didn’t they release it for 50 years?” It’s a good question. Predictably, I love this song. It harkens back to the Stones’ sleazy rock of the early 70s, which is one of my favorite Stones’ eras. Mick certainly sounds like he’s having a really good time on this track. It starts off with some funky, way-wah guitar and keyboards by probably Billy Preston. I know Nicky Hopkins and Ian Stewart also played keyboards on the sessions but I think they play predominantly piano. The track rides a riff that reminds me of “Happy” or “All Down the Line.” You could have blind-folded me and I could have guessed it was from the Goats Head Soup – It’s Only Rock N Roll era.

I love when Mick sings, “Here comes a woman, givin’ me a criss cross mind…” The woman in question must be dangerous as Mick continues to sing “Save me” throughout the song. “Mama walkin’ around in the rain, she want you every night, an’ think I need a blood transfusion.” I think we’ve all been there… Goats Head Soup was recorded in Jamaica where the Stones set up for a number of weeks in a studio to write and record tracks. Most of the songs came out of jams and this track certainly sounds like it evolved out of a jam. It has that loose, sloppy feel that a lot of Stones tracks had back then. It’s more about feel than technique. The last part of the song devolves into the guys riding the riff to the finish line with Mick improvising over them. Surprisingly there is no guitar solo…odd when you’ve got Mick Taylor in the band but it still all works.

This is a great addition to the Stones’ catalog and just a great song by the greatest rock n’ roll band in the world. The deluxe box set of Goats Head Soup has a pretty hefty price tag and I wasn’t going to buy it. It was the Rock Chick who said, “What do you mean, you’re not going to buy it? You have everything else, you have to buy it. I’ll buy it for you if you don’t… with your money.” Marriage is all about teamwork folks… when I stumble the Rock Chick picks me up. So, yes, I have the box on order. While pricey it has the first official release of the concert known in bootleg circles as The Brussels Affair. I actually have that boot, but I’m somehow two songs short of the full recording. There are only two other completed outtakes – one track “Scarlet” has Jimmy Page playing on it so I’m pretty excited about that. Only three new tracks and a heavily bootlegged concert comes with a pretty steep price tag… but don’t worry your intrepid blogger at the urging of the Rock Chick will take one for the team and buy the thing, dissect it and report back to you, our faithful readers.

Stay safe out there… and during this crazy time you might want to avoid being “cheek to cheek, oh yeah, tongue to tongue” with anybody you don’t already know…

Cheers!

 

Review: New Band – Dirty Honey’s EP, ‘Dirty Honey’ – Sweet, Filthy Rock N Roll

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It’s sometimes an odd trip I take to find a new band…

I recently let my subscription to Rolling Stone magazine lapse. That isn’t news that will get anybody to scream “stop the press” anytime soon but for me personally, it was kind of a big deal. I was always aware of Rolling Stone, even as a kid. As I got older I’d see the iconic covers in record stores (especially used record stores). There was of course the cheesy Dr Hook & the Medicine Show song, “Cover Of the Rolling Stone” that came out when I was a little, little kid. I seem to remember my folks “grooving” to that song but I’m getting off track here and only I should have to re-live that horrifying memory. I actually started reading Rolling Stone when I got to college. I found one in a stack of Playboys where I lived and thought, “Wow, what’s this…” Odd that in my late teens, I’d page past the nude women for the rock and roll but some of us are just wired differently. Well, who am I kidding, I probably read the Playboys too… or more accurately, looked at the pictures. I’m human, folks.

I loved what I read in Rolling Stone that first time I picked it up. By the time I got out of college and had been fully exiled to Arkansas with my first corporate job, I had a subscription. I’ve literally had a subscription to Rolling Stone ever since… from the late 80’s to now. That’s a long time. I’ve even had a letter published in Rolling Stone. I used to think of Rolling Stone as a magazine “about” rock and roll. Sadly, it’s really just a magazine about current “popular” music and sadly, that doesn’t seem to be rock n roll any more. I have nothing against Hip Hop, but I don’t care enough to read about those artists. The bands that pass for rock now all have that gauzy, synthesizer washed, Coldplay thing going on. Give me some guitar, man. I want somebody to play rock music like they feel it in their bones. I think I may have finally found somebody like that…

A few weeks ago, I was going stir crazy in this self-imposed isolation I find myself in. I needed something to read and I didn’t want a book. The Rock Chick and I put our protective masks on and went down to a book store in midtown. I perused the magazines in a socially distanced way and I found one I’d never heard of but sounded perfect for me, Classic Rock magazine. I remember thinking, “Hello Classic Rock, where have you been all my life?” This particular issue had Chris and Rich Robinson on the cover and an in-depth article about the Black Crowes on the inside. I’ve loved those guys since the beginning so I was in. As I read Classic Rock cover-to-cover, I saw a one-page article, very brief about the “new” band Dirty Honey. The lead singer Marc Labelle talked about meeting Steven Tyler at a radio station and wondered in the article, “Why isn’t there a present-day AC/DC or Aerosmith?” Indeed, why not?

I was extremely intrigued. This band looked cool, all long hair and shades. They looked the part… I was going to check them out immediately but once I read the Black Crowes article I fell down a rabbit hole of listening to their entire, amazing catalog. Lions still leaves me a little cold, but that is one amazing catalog. I’m thrilled they’re back together and more importantly Chris and Rich’s relationship is much better now. Anyway, I was in that Black Crowes fog for quite a bit. Then Neil Young released an album from his vaunted vaults (Review: Neil Young’s ‘Homegrown’ – The Lost Masterpiece, In The Vaults 45 Years) and Bob Dylan released his first album of all-originals in 8 years (Review: Bob Dylan, ‘Rough And Rowdy Ways’ – The Spell-Binding 1st LP of All Originals In Eight Years). Needless to say, I’ve been busy down in the B&V labs.

I was drinking rye whiskey and playing cards with the Rock Chick a few Fridays ago. We were taking turns picking out an album. Suddenly, Dirty Honey popped into my head. When my turn at the music came, I put them on. When Dirty Honey’s old school rock n roll burst out of my speakers I was transported! Fuck yeah, these guys Rawk! I quickly texted my friend, Drummer Blake and said, are you aware of Dirty Honey? Naturally he’d discovered their debut EP, Dirty Honey when it came out in 2019. If I hadn’t let my subscription to Rolling Stone run out, I would have never even heard of these guys…

Dirty Honey, who formed in L.A. back in 2017 are: Marc Labelle (vocals), John Notto (guitar), Justin Smolian (bass) and Corey Coverstone (drums). Their name was inspired by Robert Plant’s side project, The Honeydrippers. Like Greta Van Fleet a few years ago, I’m delighted to hear a young band play rock and roll like this. And like that aforementioned band, you can definitely hear the influences here. I hear shades of Guns N Roses, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, and yes, Aerosmith in these guys. I even hear some Black Crowes in here, but then again, I’ve been listening to them a lot lately. When I say I hear their influences – I don’t mean that they’re derivative or ripping anybody off – I’m just trying to provide a frame of reference most fans can relate to. These guys definitely have the chops to play loud, nasty rock and roll. It’s great guitar rock with loud vocals. It’s nice to give the speakers a bit of workout!

The EP is only six tracks long but Dirty Honey make the most of them. The opener, “When I’m Gone” is some great AC/DC-style “riffage.” Marc has a real cigarette smoke texture to his vocals on this track. I hear a touch of GnR, Axl Rose scream on this song too. It’s a great song with a soaring chorus. “Rolling 7s” is just a great, dirty boogie. It’s the most 1974-Aerosmith thing you’ll find here. The line from the song, “When I need a little lovin’, all night long…” is just stuck in my head. When I walked this morning I kept mumbling it over and over again… people on the trail tend to avoid me. “Heartbreaker” is another great, melodic rock track. I felt like I was riding in my Camaro, up and down the main drag listening to KY/102, with the t-tops out… OK my Camaro didn’t have t-tops but roll with me here. That track has an infectious riff.

“Down the Road” is a slow burning blues track. I really dig it when a rock band plays something so blues-based. All the great bands have a track like this, a “goodbye to the woman who treated me wrong” song. The EP ends with two rock tracks. “Scars,” a loping hard rocker and “Break You” which brings the tempo back up with a very AC/DC or GnR type tempo.

I’m embarrassed it took me almost a year to stumble upon these guys. Sometimes I just gotta get out of the rut I’m in and look in a few different places to find new rock and roll or a new band. I think Dirty Honey is definitely a band you want to keep your eyes and ears on. When I hear a band like this I begin to think maybe, just maybe, rock and roll ain’t dead yet! Straight up guitar-vocals-bass-drums four-piece rock and roll… yes, please!  I look forward to a new, full LP from this band.

Cheers!

 

Playlist: Virtual Summer Vacation Tour – 50 Songs For 50 States

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I only recently realized that the year is half over. I was terribly busy at work and knew that June was ending – its a big deal for my Corporate Masters when the first half ends – but it wasn’t until I woke up on July 1st that I thought, wow, we’re now starting the back half of the year. I can’t believe that the July 4th, Independence Day Holiday is upon us. It tends to sneak up on me. I’d like to wish all my American readers a happy and safe 4th of July. We posted a playlist for the 4th a few years ago, BourbonAndVinyl iPod Playlist: 4th of July, American Independence Day. Remember folks, watch those firecrackers, we want all of you out there to keep all of your fingers. And also – sparklers are really hot so be careful with those. I burned my hand really badly one year… #clumsy.

For years on the 4th of July, we used to take our daughter out to my sister-in-law’s house in the country for that time honored tradition of “blowing shit up.” Now that she’s grown and moved away that tradition sort of withered. At night, out on that little farmstead, we’d climb up on the roof of the house which was on a hill and you could see every small town fireworks display in the three county area. It really was awesome to behold. I don’t even know if in this time of pandemic that towns and cities will be doing fireworks displays? I know east of where I live somebody has been enjoying lighting firecrackers for a few weeks now. Usually at 2 a.m., thanks kids.

For me, the calendar rolling to July tends to signal the start of summer. I know that most people associate the start of summer with Memorial Day and the end of summer with Labor Day, but for me the start of summer was always July. By July school was over, when I was older I was into whatever summer job I had. I was a bus boy for a while, filthy work, really. I also did light construction at my best friend Doug’s father’s company building tennis courts. That was even filthier work. Dirty jobs seemed to be my specialty back then. As the Who sang, “I’m getting put down, I’m getting pushed around…” In the tennis court days I prayed every summer day for rain. Joe Zona was the weather guy on the AM station and I used to listen to him every morning like he was the Oracle of Delphi hoping he’d say it would rain so I could have a day off.

When I think back (mostly fondly) of summers I think of my father’s tradition of taking us on a family vacation. I was a…let’s call it… “difficult” child. My father, brother and I weren’t terribly close at the time. We weren’t a fly-on-a-plane somewhere family. We’d load up the car and drive wherever we were going. Locking me, my brother and my father in the same car had to be pretty tense for mom. A lot of testosterone in a small space. It’s a wonder we all stayed alive. We drove as far as Cape Cod to visit my aunt one year. Thankfully my grandparents were in a second car… we communicated with toy walkie-talkies I’d gotten for Christmas the previous year. My brother and I would switch cars every time we stopped, like a prisoner exchange. We were like Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold’s family in ‘Vacation.’ I will say, after that trip we only drove that far one other time, to Florida. I think everybody realized the long drive was a difficult plan to execute.

The place we went probably more than any other was in southern Missouri. It was a western/cowboy themed amusement park named Silver Dollar City near Branson. I think it’s still open. This was before Branson became, well, Branson. It was nothing tremendous but we really loved going there. The problem was the three or four hours in the car getting there. My father, the poor bastard, would load us up in the car and before we’d hit Grandview he’d already run through his greatest hits: “Stop jiggling my seat,” “Don’t make me come back there,” or my favorite, “If I have to stop this goddamn car…” That was the most menacing of threats. His face would be red and I couldn’t even imagine how batshit crazy he’d have gotten if he ever did have to stop the car. I imagined being flogged with a belt beside the highway until the cops showed up to drag our rabid-dog-angry father away from us to prevent our death. I was so obnoxious the cops might’ve helped dad beat me. We didn’t have iPods or iPads or TV’s built into the back of the driver’s seat. It was 4 hours of billboard bingo… I spot an A… These kids today don’t realize the struggle was real. I feel sorry for my dad having to work 50 weeks a year only to face his hostile family for 2 weeks while we vacationed “together?”

Here I am all these years later and “summer vacation” means taking a few extra days off around the 4th of July so I can sleep late and go for a walk. These days it’s more likely a “staycation” instead of actually traveling somewhere. This year there really is nowhere we can go. I have a brother in Houston… nope, COVID is spiking there… I hope he’s wearing a mask. My wife will go out and see our daughter at some point but I’ll probably hang here at the house… Usually when she leaves me alone like that for a weekend she finds me slathered in peanut butter and bourbon, weeping over an old video of Springsteen and the E-Street Band, muttering, “I can’t believe the Big Man is gone…” I need adult supervision.

I know some people are planning to travel anyway, despite the pandemic. I see those crazies at the Lake of the Ozarks. I was never really a “lake” person. My pal Doug’s dad had a boat and that was fun, but my parents never took us to the lake. For those of you who are stuck at home – or hell for those of you on a long car drive, threatening members of your family for invasions of your space (“he’s on my side of the car”) – I thought I’d put together a playlist that takes us on a virtual tour of the United States. I know it’s trite, and it’s been done before, but never by us down here at the B&V labs. I tried to pick one song for every state. Usually I looked for songs that had the state in the title but the rules were pretty loose, to be honest with you. I actually got the idea listening to Neil Young who seems to have more songs named after states than seems normal. And yes, there are many songs about states, but these were my favs… and as usual I’m all over the place stylistically. You can find this playlist on Spotify, just search on “BourbonAndVinyl.net” and you’ll find it. Wherever you are out there, traveling or not, I hope you all have a great and safe summer. We’ll be here at B&V listening to rock and roll, locked in our attic like a modern day Boo Radley. Leaving our little gifts in the form of these humble posts. Enjoy!

  • Alabama: Lynyrd Skynyrd, “Sweet Home Alabama” – Well, you knew I’d go here first. I considered Neil Young’s “Alabama” but I knew I’d be using him later.
  • Alaska: Maggie Rogers, “Alaska” – I actually stumbled across this tune by accident. I know nothing about her but I dig this track.
  • Arizona: Scorpions, “Arizona” – From their great album, Blackout. 
  • Arkansas: Bruce Springsteen, “Mary Queen of Arkansas” – I actually had the pleasure of seeing Bruce play this deep track live in Little Rock (aka La Petite Roche).
  • California: 2Pac featuring Dr Dre, “California Love” –  We like to turn this track up as loud as it will go. Simply brilliant.
  • Colorado: Stephen Stills with Manassas, “Colorado” – From the country rock side of the double album… I love Manassas.
  • Connecticut: Aerosmith, “I Live In Connecticut” – I totally cheated here… this is just a song fragment. I like Aerosmith tho…and there aren’t a tremendous number of songs about Connecticut, the Wonder bread of states.
  • Delaware: George Thorogood, “Delaware Slide” – A really long song for a small state. This is George’s first appearance on a B&V playlist, welcome George.
  • Florida: Eric Clapton, “Mainline Florida” – I stayed in the guitar hero area here. I love this track.
  • Georgia: Willie Nelson & Ray Charles, “Georgia On My Mind” – I had to go with this live duet as most of Ray Charles’ music isn’t on Spotify. I don’t know who is running things at his estate but they might wanna look into that.
  • Hawaii: Neil Young, “Hawaii” – From the brilliant vault release Hitchhiker, LP Review: Neil Young’s Album From His Vault, ‘Hitchhiker’.
  • Idaho: B-52s, “Private Idaho” – Fun song from a fun band.
  • Illinois: Tom Waits, “Johnsburg, Illinois” – I was late to the Waits’ party but I’m all in now.
  • Indiana: Melissa Etheridge, “Indiana” – Kansas lady singing about Indiana…I loved her debut LP.
  • Iowa: Mal Blum, “Iowa” – I only picked this track because Manfred Mann’s “Stranded In Iowa” is not on Spotify. Sigh.
  • Kansas: Big Country, “We’re Not In Kansas Anymore” – I considered cheating and putting a track by the band Kansas here, but I dug this song.
  • Kentucky: Elvis Presley, “Blue Moon of Kentucky” – Many have sung this song, but none like the King.
  • Louisiana: Randy Newman, “Louisiana 1927” – Newman was from southern California but he spent summers at his New Orleans’ grandmother’s house.
  • Maine: Rudy Vallee, “Maine Stein Song” – Consider this track “intermission.” It sounds like a school fight song. There just aren’t many tracks about Maine.
  • Maryland: Good Charlotte, “There She Goes” – I don’t know if these guys are from Maryland but this song is about it.
  • Massachusetts: Modern Lovers, “Roadrunner” – “I’m in love with Massachusetts” was not how I was feeling after the Cap Cod trip of 1976…
  • Michigan: Red Hot Chili Peppers, “Especially In Michigan” – Kiedis’ mother lives in Michigan… I’m so glad Frusciante is back!
  • Minnesota: Tom Waits, “Christmas Card From A Hooker In Minneapolis” – Minny is a jewel of a city and this is a jewel of a track.
  • Mississippi: Bob Dylan, “Mississippi” – This track was also covered by Sheryl Crow but Dylan’s version trumps that.
  • Missouri: The Beatles, “Kansas City” – I went with this because, well, I’m from KC and I feel that the rest of the state outside of Jackson County is a no man’s land.
  • Montana: James Taylor, “Montana” – That voice…
  • Nebraska: Bruce Springsteen, “Nebraska” – The title track from Springsteen’s bleakest LP, B&V’s 10 Favorite Grim And Sad Albums.
  • Nevada: Billy Joel, “Stop In Nevada” – From his Piano Man album, which not surprisingly I love.
  • New Hampshire: Sonic Youth, “New Hampshire” – It’s about time we get some Sonic Youth on a B&V playlist!
  • New Jersey: Tom Waits, “Jersey Girl” – I didn’t realize I had so much Waits on here… Obviously I could have gone with Springsteen’s version but I dig this one.
  • New Mexico: Johnny Cash, “New Mexico” – I considered “Albuquerque” by Neil Young but you can’t beat the Man In Black.
  • New York: Frank Sinatra, “Theme From New York, New York” – So many NY songs to choose from, B&V Playlist: Songs For New York City, but you have to go with the Chairman of the Board on this one.
  • North Carolina: James Taylor, “Carolina On My Mind” – I did research here and this song is about North Carolina…
  • North Dakota: Lyle Lovett, “North Dakota” – A song about the “girls from North Dakota” and perhaps the saddest track on this list.
  • Ohio: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, “Ohio” – Written by Neil…”Tin soldiers and Nixon’s coming, we’re finally on our own…” Powerful even today!
  • Oklahoma: Merle Haggard, “Okie From Muskogee” – I got to see Merle open for Bob Dylan. He had a voice like smooth whiskey. I’ve also been to Muskogee… a good place to be “from.” Merle was probably on the wrong side of history with this song, but I love the man’s music.
  • Oregon: Loretta Lynn, “Portland, Oregon” – From an album produced by Jack White. Great duet! Loretta and Jack, singing together? Yes, please.
  • Pennsylvania: Heart, “Pennsylvania” – A track I was unfamiliar with until I started researching this list a few months ago. Kind of a haunting track.
  • Rhode Island: Ike & Tina Turner, “Rhode Island Red” – Ike is a bad man but I dug this song.
  • South Carolina: The Raconteurs, “Carolina Drama” – From Jack White’s original side project. Great little band. This is my favorite song by the Raconteurs. And yes, he name drops South Carolina in the song so I’m good here.
  • South Dakota: Liz Phair, “South Dakota” – The 90s “It Girl” rocker.
  • Tennessee: Chris Stapleton, “Tennessee Whiskey” – On a blog with “bourbon” in its title you knew I’d be drawn to this track. My friend Drummer Blake turned me onto this one… This might be my favorite track on this list, right now anyway.
  • Texas: Stevie Ray Vaughn & Double Trouble, “Texas Flood” – The title track from the great bluesman/guitarist’s debut album.
  • Utah: The Beach Boys, “Salt Lake City” – It shows you my desperation on finding a track about Utah that I went to the Beach Boys (who I despise) for a track.
  • Vermont: Willie Nelson, “Moonlight In Vermont” – From the wonderful Stardust album. Willie was the first country singer I actually liked.
  • Virginia: Foo Fighters, “Virginia Moon” – Virginia is for lovers and fighters of Foo. Kind of mellow for them.
  • Washington: Nirvana, “Frances Farmer Will Have Her Revenge Seattle” – I don’t know where Cobain got his inspiration for this song but the movie ‘Frances’ starring Jessica Lange might just be it… It was a harrowing, unblinking look at how Frances was just betrayed by everyone around her. I’ve always connected with this abrasive track.
  • West Virginia: John Denver, “Take Me Home, Country Roads” – The karaoke, sing along favorite. I had to reach deep on this state.
  • Wisconsin: Ben Iver, “Minnesota, WI” – Two states in one song…
  • Wyoming: Neil Young, “The Emperor of Wyoming” – From Neil’s debut album. 100% country-rock instrumental and a nice way to take us out of the 50 states.

Enjoy this little virtual tour of the fifty united states of the U.S.

Cheers!

Editors Note: No children were harmed or abused in the writing of this post, least of all me, your intrepid blogger. Corporal punishment was used sparingly in my house in the 70s and only when I deserved it. The threat of corporal punishment was used quite a bit. 

Review: Bob Dylan, ‘Rough And Rowdy Ways’ – The Spell-Binding 1st LP of All Originals In Eight Years

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“I fuss with my hair and I fight blood feuds…” – Bob Dylan summing up my life on “I Contain Multitudes”

What a week it’s been for music fans or perhaps more accurately for classic rock music fans. Not only did Neil Young pull Homegrown his “lost album” from 1975 out of the vaults (Review: Neil Young’s ‘Homegrown’ – The Lost Masterpiece, In The Vaults 45 Years), but Bob Dylan also released his first album of all originals in eight years. I read somewhere that Dylan and Young are number 1 & 2 on the UK charts right now. Those Brits have always had better taste in rock n roll than anybody else, cheers mates! I locked myself down in the B&V labs and have been blissed out on this great music for about a week now… it might be time to take a shower… maybe eat something.

I’m on record as being a huge Dylan fan. One of my first posts was about Dylan’s Bootleg Series, Dylan’s Bootleg Series – A User’s Guide. It’s hard to believe there’s been three or four new Bootleg releases since I wrote that guide. Looking back on my Dylan fandom, it is perhaps odd that I became so enamored with his work. I always had a sense that he was “important.” And truth be told, I’ve always been intensely focused on lyrics. But when I had my rock and roll awakening, it was the late 70s. I actually discovered Dylan when he was in his Christian period. I thought “Blowing In The Wind” was a Peter, Paul and Mary song. Those were the “Puff The Magic Dragon” group for fucks sake. The first Dylan album I ever purchased was Slow Train Coming. I had no idea it was religious music. I just thought “Gotta Serve Somebody” was a great track with a lot of wisdom. Because in the end, everybody does have to serve somebody…”and it may be the Devil, and it may be the Lord…” although in my case it’s probably the Rock Chick. I’m not a religious person. At best I could be described as a hippy pagan dancing naked in deserted fields in the moonlight. But that album just clicked for me… well, maybe not “Man Gave Names to All the Animals.” How that led me to a lifelong love of Dylan is a mystery.

From Slow Train Coming (the title track is just as relevant today if you push out the religious implications), once I got to college and became “serious,” I started working backward through Dylan’s catalog. I bought the iconic Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits the single album compilation… as if his “hits” could be contained on one thin volume. After working backwards through his catalog I eventually sold that album because I didn’t realize “Positively 4th Street” wasn’t on Blonde On Blonde. Youth, sigh. It’s probably good that I was so backward focused in my collecting because the late 80’s and early 90s were perhaps Dylan’s weakest period. I was just getting into him and pretty much everything after Empire Burlesque was… terrible. I bought and actually still have a fondness for Knocked Out Loaded, his album released to try and cash in on his tour with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers backing him up. “You Wanna Ramble” is a great bluesy cover. I bought and promptly sold Down In the Groove. Other than “Silvio” cowritten by Robert Hunter and played with the Grateful Dead, that album was aaaaawful. Other than Oh Mercy there weren’t many albums that caught my interest in those dark Dylan days. And yet despite weathering a Christian period and Dylan’s creative nadir, I remained a devoted fan. I even told someone in the late 80s that only Dylan could save music. That might’ve been the vodka talking.

At that point I just figured Dylan’s career was over. He was one of those catalog guys, like the Beatles, whose old LPs would have to suffice. I completely lost track of Dylan. But then an interesting thing happened. Dylan recorded two albums of traditional folk tunes, Good As I Been To You and World Gone Wrong. When things get weird for Bob he always goes back to his folky roots. Jimi Hendrix was the same way but with the blues. Folk was Dylan’s foundation. That reconnection with his roots sparked something in Dylan. His next LP was the Daniel Lanois produced Time Out of Mind. After almost 10 years in the wilderness Dylan pulls off the biggest comeback in rock n roll history (with the exception of perhaps the King, Review: Elvis Presley – ‘The Complete ’68 Comeback Special: 50th Anniversary Edition’ – The Return Of The King). “Love Sick” from that album ended up on a Victoria Secrets’ ad which caused a lot of heartburn for some people. I just thought he was lucky to be there…

Dylan put out a string of phenomenal records in what can only be described as a late career renaissance. Time Out of Mind (97), Love & Theft (01), and Modern Times (06) were the best trio of albums he’d released since the late 60s. Together Through Life incorporated Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo’s accordion and Heartbreaker Mike Campbell’s guitar to wonderful effect. I particularly like the bluesy “My Wife’s Hometown.” In 2012 Dylan released Tempest another triumph but it was rumored to be his last LP. ‘The Tempest’ was Shakespeare’s last play. People have been reading stuff into Dylan’s stuff since The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. 

After Tempest, Dylan took another left turn in a career of left turns. He released Shadows In the Night, a collection of pre-rock tracks that are all associated with Frank Sinatra. I bought and really liked that album. It was like listening to a bar band at 2 a.m. in a seedy joint down by the border in Laredo or maybe El Paso. This wasn’t a Rod Stewart Great American Songbook exercise. Sinatra always had a boozy, late night, heartbreak group of tracks and Dylan fully inhabited those songs. But then he put out a second Sinatra-themed LP, Fallen Angel. And then another – a three disc album – Triplicate. I have to admit, I got off the train after the first one. I dig it, but not literally four discs worth.

I had begun to wonder if we’d ever get any original stuff from Dylan. Van Morrison has had quite a run doing mostly blues and jazz covers over the last few years. He finally put out an LP of originals last year to great success, LP Review: Van Morrison’s New, All Originals, ‘Three Chords & The Truth’ – A Laid Back Groove. A month or so ago, Dylan dropped a surprise almost 17-minute masterpiece, “Murder Most Foul” (Bob Dylan: The Dark, Mesmerizing 17- Minute New Single, “Murder Most Foul” My antennae immediately shot up. I quickly found out a new album was coming!

Rough And Rowdy Ways dropped last Friday and I’m simply blown away by Dylan’s continued late career genius. One can only compare him to perhaps Bowie for great music this far down the line. I read Jagger say in an interview once that the Stones’ latter work will never “acquire the patina” of their older stuff… and sadly he’s right. Although I think music fans will be talking about this album in 50 years. Dylan is backed by his road band and I was thrilled to see that guitarist Charlie Sexton has returned… he’s perhaps Dylan’s most sympathetic guitarist since Robbie Robertson. With Sexton in the band: drummer Matt Chamberlin, longtime bassist Tony Garnier, multi-instrumentalist Donnie Herron, and Bob Britt on guitar. Listed under the “additional musicians” list were among others, Heartbreaker keyboardist Benmont Tench, jazz pianist Alan Pasqua and Fiona Apple (!) who must be playing piano as we don’t hear her voice on the LP… seems like a squandered opportunity. I loved her duet with Johnny Cash on the American Recordings box.

The album’s first track “I Contain Multitudes” is a hushed affair. I get the vibe of a village elder sitting down to drop wisdom on me. The title is drawn from a Walt Whitman poem and it has the feeling of literary genius to it. The song, like the album is overflowing with cultural references. I found the track hypnotic… “I’m just like Anne Frank, like Indiana Jones and those British bad boys the Rolling Stones.” He goes on in the same stanza to name-drop William Blake. Every song on this album is like an onion… so many layers.

The soul of this album – and I don’t mean the musical genre soul, I mean the soul – are two epic tracks. “Murder Most Foul” has been reviewed here. I won’t go back into that but it’s just grown and grown in my estimation. It’s one of the most important tracks Dylan has ever done and that says a lot. The other “epic” track is “Key West (Philosopher Pirate)” a nine and half minute deep rumination on death. Key West seems to be a metaphor for the end of the road. You can’t go any farther. “Key West is fine and fair,
If you lost your mind, you will find it there, Key West is on the horizon line.” As we all get older, death appears on the horizon line… As a side note, I’ve been to Key West and uh, I’ve lost my mind there, but never really found it. Both tracks, “Murder Most Foul” and “Key West” are pretty amazing statements by Dylan.

If those two tracks are the “soul” of the album, the beating heart of this thing are a trio of blues based tracks that I loved immediately. “False Prophet” is a blues stomper that has been stuck in my head since I heard it. Dylan was so different from most folk artists in the 60s who were all doing “We Shall Overcome.” Dylan was doing acoustic country blues… on his first album he did “In My Time of Dying.” “False Prophet” is one of his best blues tunes to date. “Goodbye Jimmy Reed” is a great tribute to the blues artist. It’s the most rocking moment on the album. “I can’t play the record ‘cuz my needle got stuck,” is maybe my favorite lyric here… “Crossing the Rubicon” is a wonderful snarling blues number and statement of purpose.

The other tracks here are all knockouts. “My Own Version of You” is a ‘Bride of Frankenstein’ treatise on love. He references gangster characters of Brando and Pacino (The Godfather and Scarface) all the way to Freud and Karl Marx. It’s a great lilting track. “I’ve Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You” is a lovely track that may have been influenced by eight years of singing Sinatra covers. “Black Rider” is a hidden little gem here…

This is another in a string of great original LPs from Dylan. At this stage of the game this all feels like hard won wisdom gained and now shared. The album, like the first single “Murder Most Foul,” is brimming with cultural references. It’s got elements that feel like commentary on the American situation and experience. Mortality is all over this record. “Black Rider” sounds like an argument with Death itself. This is a great, great album at a time when the world needed a great Bob Dylan album.

Perhaps, back in the 80s, sitting a bar called Auntie Mae’s, I was right when I said only Dylan can save music… “Black rider, black rider, all dressed in black, I’m walkin’ away, try and make me look back.” It’s a dark ride. Take care of each other out there…

Review: Neil Young’s ‘Homegrown’ – The Lost Masterpiece, In The Vaults 45 Years

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It was a little too personal…it scared me.” – Neil Young on not releasing Homegrown

While I’m like most of you out there – a huge music fan – there is something about the inner music geek in me that gets really pumped for the release of a “lost album.” By lost album I mean a record that an artist has recorded and for whatever reason decided to keep in the vault instead of release to the public. There’s a lot of reasons for shelving an album that’s already “in the can,” as the saying goes. Usually it’s the record company… the dreaded suits. It almost always gives the unreleased record an enormous amount of mystique. Ryan Adams completed Love Is Hell and when his record company refused to release it the word on the street was that it was “too dark.” Naturally that led the music geeks and Ryan Adams’ fans to clamor for its release…too dark, yes please! The record company finally relented and it was released. It’s a really good record… but uh, I’ve heard darker albums. Put on Big Star’s third album if you want bleak.

Typically an artist (or a band) will gather to write and record a group of songs. When they have enough tunes or perhaps better said, a cohesive group of songs, they release an album and go on tour. Rinse, repeat. There are those artists who are so prolific they record more than enough songs for the album. They record until the creative well is dry before stopping and going on tour. They pick the best tracks and leave the rest in the vault or save them for the next album. The aforementioned Ryan Adams is merely one of those type of artists. There are several others like Prince, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Neil Young who had such an overflowing creative font that they have vast amounts of unreleased music. All of that unheard music leaves the music geek in me wondering… what’s going on in that vault and how do I get in there to listen? I’ll bring my own beer… These deep and full vaults are what bootleggers live for.

While there are many artists with a ton of unreleased tracks in their vaults it’s still a bit more rare for an artist to go through the entire creative process to record a full album – finished production and completed down to the track listing – and then rescind the record. Springsteen sent a single disc version of The River to the record company and changed his mind and pulled it back. While most of those songs got on the final 2-LP album, the original single disc version was still of interest because of the unreleased track “Cindy” and the rockabilly version of “You Can Look (But You Better Not Touch).” Prince pulled The Black Album and released the tepid Lovesexy. The Black Album, which was eventually released, was purportedly too X-rated to be released. It was widely bootlegged and finally saw release.

While pulling back an entire LP is rare, I would have to say the king of recording an entire album only to put it on the shelf is Neil Young. He’s got more unreleased full albums than any artist you can name: Chrome Dreams, Toast with Crazy Horse, Homefires, and Oceanside Countryside to mention but a few. Finally, through his superb Neil Young Archives, he’s started releasing some of these albums. The famous Hitchhiker recorded in 1976 just came out in 2017 (LP Review: Neil Young’s Album From His Vault, ‘Hitchhiker’). It seems at long last one of Neil’s most famous unreleased albums, 1975’s Homegrown has been released after 45 years of sitting in the vault. It was worth the wait.

Now as a “warning label” I have to echo a comment I got a few weeks ago on my post on the first single “Try” (New Single: Neil Young’s “Try” From the Long Awaited Vault LP, ‘Homegrown’), from a reader, “Introgroove.” Neil is about to release his second box set of vault material, Archives, Vol. 2 in late summer/early fall. He’s teased the release of this follow-up to 2009’s Archives, Vol 1 for quite a while, so we’ll see if it comes out… As a warning, some of these archival releases are probably going to be included in Archive Vol 2. During the build up to Vol 1, Neil released a series of previously unreleased live LPs which I snapped up. When Vol 1 came out I was crestfallen to find that all 3 LPs I’d purchased (including Live At Massey Hall, Live At the Fillmore East with Crazy Horse, and Sugar Mountain: Live At Canterbury Hall) were all in there. I wasn’t going to buy them twice. We’re 11 years down the line and I’m willing to take the leap for the studio stuff, but I wanted everyone to know these will probably be in the box set if you want to wait. The inner music geek in me won this current argument and I’ve been turning up Homegrown since last Thursday.

Homegrown has a storied history. It was recorded toward the end of Young’s darkest period marked by the three albums known as “the Ditch Trilogy.” Hearing Homegrown makes me wonder if we’re going to need to recalibrate that to The Ditch Foursome. Neil became a world wide superstar after the release of his landmark country-rock album Harvest. Neil didn’t react very well to his new found fame. He hired a band of mostly session musicians who he didn’t get along with, took them on the road, turned it up loud and recorded his next album, the first of the Ditch Trilogy, Time Fades Away (Neil Young: The Elusive 1973 “Time Fades Away” LP). Prior to the tour, he had to fire guitarist Danny Whitten, his only friend in the band, because Whitten’s drug use was out of control. A day later, Whitten was dead from a lethal combination of drugs and booze. Young was guilt-ridden and depressed… and he did what artists do, he turned his grief and anger into music… while drinking a ton of tequila. I avoid tequila. I’m either gonna fight you or kiss you when I’m on tequila… and possibly both at the same time…

It’s been said that the Ditch Trilogy was a reaction to his new found fame and his inability to deal with that success. It was certainly also a chronicle of the personal problems he was going through including but not exclusive to Whitten’s death. In many ways the music could also be seen as a metaphor for the angst felt by the 60s generation as they watched their ideals and idealism slowly die away as the greed and narcissism of the 70s took over. The greatest artists always seem to be an antenna for what’s going on in the world (subconsciously or not) and one has to wonder if Young was just overly tuned into that.

In ’73 Young recorded the masterpiece Tonight’s the Night but the record company didn’t want to release it. It is a truly bleak record but I love it. In early 1974 he released On the Beach which isn’t much more cheerful. That summer he went on tour with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young for a stadium reunion tour. At the end of ’74 and early ’75 he recorded what would become Homegrown. The album is all about the end of his relationship with Carrie Snodgress who’d inspired many of his great songs including “A Man Needs A Maid.” They’d had a child together, Zeke. But things had finally ended and Neil recorded Homegrown to chronicle his heartbreak. At the last minute, Young pulled Homegrown and decided to release Tonight’s the Night instead. I’ve heard two stories on why he made that decision: a) he had a listening party and people liked Tonight’s the Night better or b) Rick Danko of the Band told him he should release Tonight’s the Night instead of Homegrown. I can’t imagine a group of people at a listening party picking the former so my money is on the Danko story. Neil has always said Homegrown was “too personal” to be released.

Homegrown then sat in the vaults for 45 years. For once we can say that Neil was holding on to a true masterpiece. Even on the first listen this record had the feeling of an instant classic. That may be because we’ve heard some of these tracks before as Neil put many of them out on other records “as is” or slightly altered. “Homegrown” rerecorded with Crazy Horse and “Star of Bethlehem” (as is) both came out on American Stars N Bars. “Love Is a Rose” came out on the compilation album Decade. “Little Wing” came out on Hawks And Doves. I really like hearing these songs in this album setting which is what Neil originally intended. Making Homegrown, for me, an essential Neil Young album.

The break up theme is established immediately on the opening track “Separate Ways.” It’s a mellow, acoustic track that reminds me of “Out On the Weekend.” Levon Helm of the Band plays drums on this track and he’s just extraordinary. “We go our separate ways lookin’ for better days sharin’ our little boy who grew from joy back then…” Heartrending stuff. The next track, “Try” strikes a more hopeful tone and has quotes from Snodgress’ quirky mother throughout. “Mexico” is a stark ballad set to piano, where Neil tells his son goodbye as now he’s a “travelin’ man.” “Love Is A Rose” sounds like a sweet ballad but really is a “swearing off love” song. “Little Wing” and “Star of Bethlehem” make more sense as the last two tracks on this album vs the way they were sort of tossed onto other LPs. “Kansas” is a short, acoustic song where Neil seems to be singing to a groupie with whom he’s sought some comfort. As someone who was a fool for love and suffered through more than what I consider my fair share of breakups, I’m knocked out that Neil could put almost a full album worth of heartbreak together and make it so emotionally affecting. (Or is it effecting? I never know…)

There are lighter moments. The title track, an ode to growing your own pot isn’t as heavy as the version on Stars N Bars and has a more rustic feel here. “We Don’t Smoke It” is a bluesy vamp of a track… I’m sure it’s fun to hear live. “Vacancy” is probably the heaviest rockin’ tune on the album but it does carry that break up theme. It’s the one angry moment in a collection of classic Neil laments. “I look in your eyes and I don’t know what’s there.” He goes on to sing, “You come through in the weirdest ways.” True frustration seeps into the core of that song. “White Line” a track that was rerecorded with electric guitars by Crazy Horse is acoustic here with a fantastic bit of guitar work by the Band’s Robbie Robertson. You forget how virtuoso all those guys in the Band were. I love this quieter version of the track.

The only track here that should have been left off is “Florida.” It’s a weird fever dream of a song. Its a spoken word piece where Neil rambles about hang gliders in a downtown area of a city in Florida… maybe Miami? As he’s speaking someone is dragging a wet finger over the rim of a glass. While I don’t dig it, my wife’s cat got up, meowed at me and left the room when it came on… I think he hates it and he’s pretty open-minded. I can’t imagine dogs liking that track either. Including “Florida” here just gives us a snapshot of where Neil’s head was at back then. He would soon come out of his funk with the release of Zuma in 1975. Although with tracks like “Stupid Girl” and “Drive Back” perhaps by Zuma his grief had merely morphed to anger.

I’m certainly glad we got this important document from one of Neil’s darkest and yet most interesting periods. Somehow as we all face these current heavy times, it makes me feel better to get this dark little postcard from Neil…like the post office just discovered it and finally all these years later delivered it. It’s as if it’s saying to me, it was dark back then but it got better. It always gets better… it can’t get worse?

Be safe out there. Wear your masks. Cheers!

 

 

Review: Norah Jones ‘Pick Me Up Off The Floor’ – Yet Another Brilliant LP

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“I sing my songs, I hope someone sings along…” – Norah Jones, “I’m Alive”

When I was just beginning my rock and roll journey as a middle-teenager, maybe all of thirteen years old, it was sort of an unwritten rule that you didn’t buy music that didn’t “rock.” It was all Zeppelin, Sabbath, Rush and Van Halen back then. Anything outside of that was considered weak. It was all about the power and majesty of the guitar solo. Guys my age wouldn’t even admit to liking Elton John back then because he played piano. You didn’t want to appear “soft” or a worse fate, to be branded as an admitted pop music fan. It was all about street “cred” back then. And sadly, I don’t know if it was some sort of nascent sexism but as a young teenage boy you generally didn’t buy music by women artists.

By the 70s there were plenty of cool women artists out there. Janis certainly was cool but other than “Mercedes Benz” you didn’t hear much of her on the radio, which was odd because you heard plenty of Hendrix and Doors from that same era on rock stations. Pat Benetar had some credibility in the rock and roll circles. I bought one of her albums at the mall but I had to wear a fake mustache and glasses to feel comfortable doing so. Fleetwood Mac was cool and by extension Stevie Nicks won us over with Bella Donna. Of course with Stevie there may have been more… visceral reasons we were drawn to her, one can never tell about teenage boys. Of course in middle America you never heard of Patti Smith or the Runaways… well, not when you were in high school at least. Nobody knew what to make of Blondie.

It wasn’t until college that any of us had the confidence to walk into the record store and come out with Horses or a Joni Mitchell album. Naturally, we were all still buying Stevie Nicks albums… I think as you grow from, literally, boys to men you just become more confident in who you are and what you like. As a friend once said to me, “Fuck ’em.” From college I’ve branched out in all sorts of different directions and to different artists. I’ve even discovered (and really like) jazz. I’m not sure what 13 year old me would say about my music collection these days… I think jazz would have made my 13-year old head explode. If I know my teenage self, I’d probably call me a lurid name. I was not a nice kid.

As many long time readers here now know, I am past that teen-machismo-angst and openly embrace a lot of music and artists, including (yes, 13-year old me) women (Women In Rock: My Search For Female Singers Leads to the Rock Chick’s Top 10). Almost from the earliest days of B&V I’ve been on the record as a Norah Jones fan. Her voice is, in my opinion, an all time great. She’s up there with Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday or Joni Mitchell in my opinion. One of our earliest pieces was to laud her great 2016 LP Day Breaks, LP Review: Norah Jones’ “Day Breaks,” The Piano Strikes Back!I was thrilled to see last Friday her new album was out, Pick Me Up Off The Floor. 

I’ve often wondered what it would be like to have a career like Norah Jones? Her first album was an immediate classic and sold 11 million copies in the U.S. alone… I think it sold over 27 million copies world wide (per Wikipedia). Many established bands struggle with success like that (Artists Who Changed Their Music to Escape Fame). The massive success of Hotel California or Rumours fundamentally knocked the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac off their trajectories. It’s hard to be that big. But for Norah, it was on her first album! One could argue the same thing happened to Guns N Roses, and that didn’t turn out exactly great. Of course, Norah was a solo artist vs a band with all the egos that entails.

Norah has responded by simply putting out a string of superb albums. Instead of trying to please people she clearly took the momentous early success for what it was: Freedom. She’s often experimented and has taken her music in different directions. She’s collaborated with a lot of different artists and really done it her way. But her way ended up being a perfect course for her. She branched out and changed to a more “pop” sound on The Fall. From there, she really expanded upon that pop direction on the Danger Mouse produced …Little Broken Hearts. She’s formed a country-rock side project with other liked minded musicians called the Little Willies (apparently named for Willie Nelson, in case you’re wondering). I especially loved her duets album of Everly Brothers’ covers with Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day fame, Foreverly. Well, in truth I’ve followed her through all the twists and turns. In the middle of it all is that spectacular voice.

After all of that, in 2016 she released the aforementioned Day Breaks. That album was a return to the rootsy, jazz-based, piano driven sound of her first couple of albums. After the tour for that album I read that Norah was going to collaborate with other artists and just put out singles. Those were finally collected on the EP, Begin Again (EP Review: Back On The Mellow End With Norah Jones’ New ‘Begin Again’). I loved that she was taking a more spontaneous approach, releasing singles as she recorded them. I will say the EP left me wanting a whole album. Apparently during those sessions there were a number of songs that were “left over,” or perhaps, “left on the floor,” so to speak. Norah has collected those songs and fashioned another in a string of superb albums.

I put this album on the first time with the Rock Chick. I wanted her to hear it with me. She does not share my devotion to Norah, although she likes her. This music and this album is a return to that early jazz-based sound from Come Away With Me that Norah returned to so successfully on Day Breaks. The music on this album transports me. I feel like its late at night and I’m on an avenue, perhaps in Paris. This music could be coming out of a cafe where cigarette smoke still fills the air and the ashtrays crowd the tables with empty glasses and bottles. There’s no doubt I’d loosen my tie while listening. There’s an immediate sensual aspect to Norah’s music on this album.

The album starts off with a trio of sexy tracks. “How I Weep” starts slowly but its simple vocals, piano, strings arrangement immediately draws me in. “Flame Twin” is a an aptly named torch song with the vocals and piano underscored with an organ. I love the lyrics, “I’m your twin, I’m on fire, come put me out…” Oh indeed! “Hurts To Be Alone” just chugs along keeping the momentum up.

The heart of the album, for me, was the two tracks in the middle, “This Life” and “To Live.” When she sings “This life as we know it is over,” one has to wonder if she’s talking about a break-up or society at large. “Heartbroken, Day After” has a nice pedal steel and sounds like something a country star could have done or perhaps the Little Willies. “Say No More” has a subtle horn section and I completely relate to her lyrics when she sings, “Maybe I’m deranged.” “Were You Watching” is another stand out track with a haunting violin weaving in and out of the piano/vocals. Another stand out is “Stumble On My Way” which could have fit right in on Come Away With Me. Jeff Tweedy collaborated with her on the acoustic strummer “I’m Alive.” A little subtle electric guitar mixes in perfectly on that track.

There’s so much to like on this album. I heard Tom Petty say once the reason the Heartbreakers and he weren’t “bigger” was because they had such a high quality and consistency on the albums they put out. He said people might have taken them for granted somewhat. He wasn’t bitter, just trying to explain his career. I wonder sometimes if people are taking Norah Jones and the high quality of her music for granted. Don’t be like 13-year old me and do that – Pick Me Up Off The Floor is a great album that everyone should hear. It’s sitting on the couch with someone and a tumbler of whiskey good…

Cheers!