Box Set Review: Prince, ‘1999 (Super Deluxe)’ – A Tour De Force, Must Have

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You might not know it from looking at me, but I am a funky motherfucker. Oh yes, I dig the funk. I couldn’t say that to you if it weren’t for one man’s music I stumbled upon haphazardly during the early months of 1983… Prince and (of course) his landmark LP, 1999. I’m on the record as a Prince fan, Another Giant Gone, RIP Prince. All of us down here at B&V are still bereaved at his loss. I feel I have a very special relationship with the original LP, 1999. To think there was a time before Prince, before I knew his music…like many things, it was a lifetime ago.

Life has a strange rhythm of its own, speaking of funk. We’re all born and then when we’re around five they march us off to elementary school. You progress from grade to grade until finally you’re a senior. When you’re a senior, you’re on top the world, it is indeed your oyster as the saying goes. Then you graduate… you either get a job or you become a freshman in college or join the Army… but whatever you do you go back to the bottom rung on the ladder. From first to worst so to speak.

I hated high school. I was the classic rebel without a clue. I got good grades so my parents left me alone. I would speed home from school every day, do my homework, and then go to work, wherever that was. I gravitated toward the food service industry as you could drink on the job… whoever is serving you that Big Mac is probably fucked up, folks. All I wanted to do was to get away from high school. Most the people in my high school went to a college 45 minutes away… Shawnee Mission Lawrence we jokingly called it since that particular college seemed like a mere extension of our school district. I chose a college two hours away. My parents didn’t want to spring for out of state tuition and the whole “college application” apparatus hadn’t sprung up yet. My parents were like, fill out the forms, get into a state school and get out of our hair. Felicity Huffman, they weren’t. Naturally with my instincts to flee, and Karma being a bitch, I fell I love with someone in a class behind me. It was indeed the cliche’d, teenage affair… But suddenly I went from wanting to get away from home to thinking, hey, I could stick around for this for a while. I always seemed to be swimming against the tide.

It’s hard for some some of us to move on. It’s hard to acknowledge that a stage in our life is over and that it’s time to face forward. Fear of the unknown, I suppose. I guess I’m in that group. Maybe I was just never good at going from first to worst. Suddenly, I was a young adult facing college and all the responsibility that goes with it, like say, laundry. The pressure to succeed was immense…”Don’t flunk out” was the advice I seem to remember from my father… which ranks up there with, “get her pregnant and we’re throwing you out,” in the pantheon of advice I got. I saw people react in all kinds of crazy ways to that first taste of college life and freedom. I saw kids turn to booze and drugs to cope… not my style, I was already a hardened alcoholic by the time I got to college. I knew a guy who found Jesus…”men go crazy in congregations, they only get better one by one.” I felt completely out of place in this new phase of life. Admittedly I was wildly immature (as I remain today), and so subconsciously decided to go backwards. I put everything I had into the relationship I was still inexplicably in… never do long distance in college, people. It wasn’t about her, I was just looking for a lifeline. I shudder when I think what immense pressure that must have put on the young lady in question.

Eventually, at the semester break that freshman year, the man who wanted to get away from home, transferred to Shawnee Mission Lawrence, a school I despised, because I wanted to make the grand romantic gesture, save a failing relationship and also to be closer to, yes, home. “What fools these mortals be…” I moved into the dorms with a buddy of mine, apparently intent on ruining another relationship forever – never live with friends, people. Thankfully the young woman at the, ahem, “heart” of this story put me out of my misery and broke up with me on April Fool’s Day. I remember pathetically saying, “April Fool’s, right?” No.

I was crushed. Probably more because I was being forced to face up to the fact that it was time to move forward into… life… the great beyond. The only way I could see forward at that point was lots and lots of sweet Bacardi rum. My friend Doug and I drank enough 151 proof rum to float a fucking battle ship. These two groovy black guys lived across the hall – Brian and Rob. I had gotten to know those guys and would drop by their room every now and then to avoid my roommate. Things had gone south with my buddy too. I awoke one afternoon, hungover as usual and I heard blaring from across the hall…”Mommy, why does everybody have a bomb?” Now, again, I only mention that the guys across the hall were black because I want to underscore how segregated music was back in those days. Despite the fact that those guys did borrow a weird Pat Benetar album someone had given me and kept it all semester, you really didn’t hear black artists like Prince on predominantly white, rock n’ roll radio. I remember standing in those guys room, in a rum haze, and doing what passed for dancing for me – my feet rooted to the ground, white man’s overbite, arms pulled up to my chest while I gyrated my torso in what looked like a grand maul seizure. I was really mesmerized by Prince and his breakthrough track “1999.”

Sadly though, I didn’t stick around even for the entirety of side one… It wasn’t until I was in a bar with MTV when I saw the video for “Little Red Corvette” – iconic now, but stunning when I first saw it – and realized I had to check out the rest of this album. The next time those guys were around, and Doug and I were loaded on rum, I asked if they’d put it on. Wow, what an album. 1999 was the sound of an artist, nay a genius, bursting into a supernova. The “hits” were on side one, “1999,” “Little Red Corvette” (which I found particularly alluring as a spurned man), and of course “Delirious” (which my neighbors told me was a song about a blow job). But the rest of that album was amazing. It’s a double vinyl album… with only 11 songs. Prince finds a groove and just keeps it going. “Delirious” is the shortest song on the album at 4 minutes and it seems to go on forever unlike well, most blowjobs. I can still remember dancing around Brian and Rob’s room to the funky romp, “DMSR.” “Dance, music, sex, romance,” hell yes! That album pulled me out of a dark, dark place I was in… that album and a lot of rum. When the semester ended and I finally “moved on,” I went out and bought that album. I was a little scandalized by the inner sleeve album art… In one provocative pic, Prince is laying on his stomach with his ass in the air… That Prince, he’s a character, is what I was thinking at the time.

Now, all these years later, the vaunted Prince vaults have opened up again with a Super Deluxe version of the album. I’m a huge fan of vault releases – as long time readers know – but I have to admit I was underwhelmed with the Purple Rain deluxe box, Review: Prince’s ‘Purple Rain – Deluxe Collector’s Edition’ – Is It Worth It? . There were moments of brilliance but only moments. There have been a couple other releases featuring demos that Prince recorded… actually one whole album of tracks he gave to other artists. Neither of those really grabbed me. This box set for 1999 has grabbed me completely.

The box starts with the original album remastered. Disc 2 is probably the most disappointing as it has a bunch of those “7-inch stereo edit” kind of tracks. There are three great B-sides on disc 2: The ballad, “How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore,” “Irresistible Bitch,” and my favorite “Horny Toad,” a funky track that sounds like a cousin of “Delirious.” After you get past that second disc, there are two more additional discs of unreleased music. There are twenty-four tracks here. Usually on a box like this you get a bunch of different takes on songs from the original album. There is an extended version of “Delirious” here and a few stray instrumentals which I usually consider fillers, but most of these tracks are fully realized.

Prince was quoted at the time 1999 was released that he had enough material to release the follow up and it’d be more popular. Who releases a double-LP and has another double LP in the can? Prince, that’s who. These tracks sound like that 1982-83 period – synths, drums, drum machines and long grooves. The opening track could have easily fit onto the original album both in sound and spirit – “Feel You Up.” Prince is at his most libidinous on this material. “Money Don’t Grow On Trees” would have been a huge hit, it’s catchy as hell. The rather unfortunately titled “Vagina,” a song about a hermaphrodite, sports a punky guitar. Likewise, for those who like Prince’s more “Hendrix-y” guitar driven stuff, “Rearrange” is a great track. I can’t stop listening to the happy funk of “Bold Generation.” “If It’ll Make You Happy” could have almost qualified for the B&V playlist, B&V Playlist: Rockers Playing Reggae: It’s Not Just For Vacation Any More. “Possessed” is an almost 9 minute funk work out. “Yah, You Know” is another synth/guitar marriage that works. The first five minutes of “Do Yourself A Favor” maybe qualify as amongst Prince’s best… although the last few minutes are weird…editing would have helped. “Don’t Let Him Fool You” is funky wonderful with a great Prince falsetto. “Teacher, Teacher,” is another example of Prince singing about someone he wants to sleep with.

There’s a stray instrumental “Colleen” that did nothing for me. “Purple Music” is a 10 minute track that felt like filler. “Moonbeam Levels” was previously released on a greatest hits package. Other than those tracks there is sooo much here to like. I’ve been listening to these tracks almost non stop.

Disc 5 is a concert from 1982 in Detroit and it’s great… Prince should have considered releasing that as a live album. The final disc is a Blu-ray of another show and I’m embarrassed to admit, I haven’t seen it yet. Even the live stuff works. Prince plays all the instruments in the studio but he plays the live stuff with an early version of the Revolution: Dez Dickerson (guitar), Lisa Coleman (keyboards), Bobby Z (drums), Mark Brown (bass), Dr. Fink (keyboards). They bring it live.

This is the rare, perfect box set. Any Prince fan or any fan of the album 1999 should seek this music out immediately. Maybe if you been nice Santa will put it in your stocking? Although… Prince would have probably preferred it if you were naughty!

Happy Holidays!

 

 

LP Review: The Who, ‘WHO’ – A Triumphant Return & Perhaps Farewell?

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“All of this music will fade like the edge of a blade” – “All This Music Must Fade,” The Who

I am so thrilled that I’m able to write about a new Who album… There was great anticipation for this album down here at B&V and man, did these guys pay off…

Of all the early British Invasion bands, I think the Who rocked the hardest. They described their music as “Maximum R&B,” and indeed it was. This band, in their prime hit like a sledge hammer. Big anthemic songs like “My Generation,” “I Can’t Explain” and later “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and “Baba O’Riley” defined rock and roll. A large part of their sound was the titanic rhythm section of Keith Moon (drums) and John Entwistle (bass). In the press run up for the new album, WHO, naturally Townshend had to say something controversial. In Rolling Stone magazine he said he was glad Moon and Entwistle were dead. I had to rub my eyes to make sure I was reading that correctly. I’m sure the families of those guys were thrilled to read that…

The only way I could get my head around it, was to try to put myself in Pete’s shoes. I think what he meant – and I’m not trying to be an apologist for Townshend – is he’s glad that he doesn’t have to play with them any more…and the only way to leave the Who, it appears, is to die. Moon was the most energetic drummer ever… he makes Neal Peart from Rush look like a timekeeper. Keith Richards always said about Moon, “You couldn’t jam with him, he wasn’t capable.” Pete says that his rhythm guitar was what kept time in the band and it was a relief to work with more sedate drummers after Moon passed. And let’s face it, Moon was quite a handful in the end… the demon alcohol had control over him. Entwistle was equally aggressive on bass. I would think as a singer and guitar player, that’d be hard to play against. So while I’m sure Pete is relieved to play with a less aggressive rhythm section, I would hope he regrets saying he’s glad they’re both dead. There had to be some shred of friendship there? Right? It was a stupid and insensitive thing to say. Rock stars, what are you gonna do?

When I had my rock and roll awakening, it was the late 70s. The Who were still a working band. My first Who album, and this will surprise a lot of people, was Face Dances. By then Moon was long gone and ex-Faces drummer Kenny Jones had replaced him. I hadn’t even heard of the Faces at that point. For many people the Who should have hung it up after Moon died, but I love Face Dances. The single was “You Better You Bet” and it’s one of my favorite Who tracks. Townshend was heavily into heroin by that point and his big guitar is mostly missing, but there’s just something about your first Who… Another of my favorites on that LP is the ending track, “Another Tricky Day.” The lyric, “this is no social crisis, this you having fun” could pretty much sum up my social life, pre-Rock Chick. “Daily Records” is a quiet classic. For a long time Face Dances and the greatest hits package, Meaty Big And Bouncy were the only Who albums I owned.

I was supposed to see the Who on that tour in ’79 with my buddy Brewster and a couple other clowns. We’d spent every dime we had on concert tickets. As teenagers, the big thing was to come home at curfew, wait an hour, and then sneak out through the back door. I was very good at tip-toeing through the house and out the door like a pimply ninja. Brewster and I and another pal decided to sneak back out the weekend before the concert to do some alternative gasoline procurement. Naturally we got caught. My father took my Who ticket away. I gave it to the two smart guys who didn’t join us on our midnight foraging expedition to sell to see if I could recoup the money. They sold my ticket and bought beer with it and later told me they hadn’t sold it. I was literally in a gang of thieves.

My knowledge and love of the Who didn’t really expand much until I got to college and met one of my roommates, Drew. He was a Billy Joel/Who fan and I was a Springsteen/Stones fan. Naturally we cross-pollinated our rock tastes. Suddenly I was out buying Who’s Next and Quadrophenia. Drew led me to some of the lesser known albums, Who By Numbers and Who Sell Out. I finally backtracked and picked up their last album with Moon, Townshend’s reaction to punk rock, Who Are You. I even picked up, It’s Hard…but that was mostly for two songs, “Athena” and “Eminence Front.” I’m nothing if not a completist. Yes, you could call me a huge Who fan. I do miss my college days hanging out in the vinyl store with Drew, but who doesn’t?

I didn’t get to see the Who until 1989 when they toured with a huge backing band. It was almost like seeing a Who Revue starring Townshend, Daltrey and Entwistle. I think there were 30 people on stage. I ended up making out with the kind woman in front of me… luckily her boyfriend was too into the show to notice. Gads…I blame strong drink. It wasn’t until 2000 that I got to see what I thought was a genuine Who show… It was just Townshend/Entwistle/Daltrey and Ringo’s kid Zak Starkey on the drums. I flew out to Denver to see them and it was worth every penny. They rocked HARD that night. It wasn’t Live At Leeds, but it felt like it. Townshend was especially impressive that night.

I wondered if the Who would ever record again. Townshend, in the same Rolling Stone interview said, “The Who aren’t a band any more.” I hate to admit it, but he’s kind of right. They hadn’t put out an album since 2006’s Endless Wire. That album has always left me a little cold. My old friend Drew says it’s a great album and I trust his musical instincts implicitly. I did go back and give it a spin… I like it better than I remembered but I digress. Last year, Daltrey put out a solo album As Long As I Have You. He’d been working on it quite a while and health issues had prevented him from finishing it… he was going to give up but Townshend heard the demos and volunteered to play guitar on a number of the tracks. That got the “juices flowing” and Townshend decided it was time for a new album. When Daltrey heard Pete’s demos he felt it was a fine Townshend solo album and there was nothing he could add. Pete said, “just sing Roger, you’ll be happy you did in 10 years.” I’m certainly glad he did. Apparently they recorded the album without ever being in the studio at the same time. It’s been a long road, can’t we all get along guys?

I don’t know if this is the Who’s farewell album but it certainly feels like it. I doubt anybody’s around if they wait 13 years again. For two guys who apparently stay in separate hotels on tour, they still make fantastic music. If this is farewell, it’s a much more fitting end to one of the greatest rock bands ever than Endless Wire. The opening lyric on the first track could almost be Pete talking to Roger, “I don’t care, I know you’re gonna hate this song.” I had hoped that it was the touring band in the studio – Pino Palladino (bass), Zak Starkey on drums with Townshend’s brother Simon on second guitar. They do show up on select tracks (well, not Simon) but they’re replaced with studio players on most tracks. Benmont Tench of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers fame plays keyboards on three tracks.

I can’t say enough about Daltrey’s voice on this album. I hear him talking about his voice and concern about losing it in the press all the time. He’s always either recording something or touring to keep it up. If you don’t use it you’ll loose it, the voice is a muscle. Before As Long As I Have You he did an album with Wilko Johnson Going Back Home that everyone should own. He’s in absolutely fine form on this album. While Townshend sings quite a bit here it’s Daltrey who vocally steals the show here… of course the best Who songs are the ones where they sing back and forth… at least I’ve always thought so.

This album is the first Who album that’s just a collection of songs since It’s Hard. Unlike Endless Wire there is no concept here or mini-opera. I’ve seen a lot of people playing the “it’s the best Who album since xyz” game. In my opinion it’s the best record they’ve done since Who By Numbers but I’ve always been extremely fond of that record. Needless to say, if you’re not like me and weren’t utterly into Face Dances, this is the best Who album in a very long time. It may not be Who’s Next or Quadrophenia, but it’s a great album and even better – it’s a great Who album. By that I just mean, it sounds and feels like a Who album. The songs are anthemic and there’s a bluster here that they haven’t had in a while. It’s a better album than many of us thought it would be.

The album opens with three outstanding tracks – perhaps ranking amongst their best ever – “All This Music Must Fade” (an ode to the death of rock?), “Ball And Chain” (political and perhaps my favorite, Daltrey almost growls the lyrics) and finally their statement of purpose, “I Don’t Want to Get Wise.” But the good music keeps rolling – “Detour” is a punchy little rocker. “Beads On One String” is a beautiful ballad, sung by Townshend. I don’t know why, but on many of Townshend’s backing vocals he’s using Autotune. It’s annoying. He should have just multi-layered his vocals and it would have been much more effective. He also raps (mercifully) briefly on “I’ll Be Back” an otherwise nice ballad. “Hero At Ground Zero” is another soaring track that just sticks in my brain. I’ve literally woken up two days in a row with that song in my head. I played the record for the Rock Chick and she felt the back end had too many ballads, but she’s never been one to be sentimental which is why she’s the Rock Chick.

“Break the News” is a lilting little rocker that makes me think of the Lumineers. They resurrect a track they recorded in 1966 “Got Nothing to Prove” that producer Kit Lambert had rejected at the time. They don’t rerecord it, it’s literally as it was in 1966. The sentiment of having nothing to prove may be actually more accurate now. It was a weird moment and the Rock Chick hated it, but I find it interesting. “Danny And My Ponies” is perhaps my favorite ballad on the album. It was a strong finish to a great album.

Everyone needs to purchase this album – it’s that good. It makes me sad that it took them 13 years to come to terms and record a studio album. I find myself in the “what could have been…” frame of mind when I listen to this album. This will certainly be on the B&V “best of” list this year. It’s so great to see a band I’ve loved, literally my whole life, put this much passion and grit into a late period album. This is like Bowie or Dylan’s late career triumphs. I hope the Stones are paying attention…

Cheers! and Happy Holidays to all of you out there!

 

LP Review: Ex-Byrd Gene Clark, ‘No Other (Deluxe Edition)’, Forgotten 1974 Masterpiece

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I’m alway surprised – and amused, I might add – when, all these years into my journey through rock and roll I find an artist or album that I know absolutely nothing about. Not that I’ve ever claimed to know everything, despite what my wife would tell you. There are artists I don’t like (the Beach Boys, the Moody Blues) that I’ve sort of ignored. There are some bands that I’m just not cool enough to listen to like say, King Crimson, the Smithereens or Elvis Costello that I’ve sort of turned a blind eye toward. I’ve always thought eventually I’d listen to them later down the road. I always seem to be listening to something else at the time. But it’s exceedingly rare (and getting more rare) that there’s someone I haven’t heard of at all. Since somewhere along the line I appointed myself rock n’ roll “Town Crier” I like to think I’ve got a broad view of things.

I watched the Jakob Dylan documentary about the music that came out of Laurel Canyon in the mid-60s a few weeks back, Echo In the Canyon (Movie Review: ‘Echo In The Canyon’ – Flawed, Enjoyable Look at Cali ’65-’67). I really enjoyed that documentary. It led me to start listening to some of the featured music in the film. I’ve always hated the Beach Boys but I found myself adding “In My Room” to my iPod. Somehow I ended up with their “Greatest Hits” (and I use that term loosely) so it was an easy song to add. I was already a fan of the Mamas and the Papas and I found myself listening to “Go Where You Wanna Go” which played a significant role in the movie along side “California Dreaming” and “Monday, Monday.” Michelle Phillips, we love you down here at B&V.

More importantly I went back and rediscovered the Buffalo Springfield – Stephen Stills, Neil Young and Richie Furay – what’s not to love? I say rediscover, but I really only previously owned Buffalo Springfield Again which I hadn’t listened to in a while. I had their greatest hits too, but it really doesn’t do them justice. I quickly bought their eponymous debut and their third and final album, Last Time Around and am absolutely in love with those albums. Everything those guys did was great. It’s a shame they didn’t get along better. Of course Stills and Young ended up working together in Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young so alls well that ends well.

I thought perhaps that would be the end of the road, the musical vein I was mining based on the movie had run out… But something was bothering me… The Byrds played a prominent part in the movie and I’d never really checked them out. The folk-rock, country-rock they helped popularize played a big part of that Cali sound. David Crosby and Roger McGuinn were both in the movie. My brother had been into the Byrds when we were young. I mistakenly thought of them as only a Dylan cover band. I had to investigate these guys… I quickly bought Mr. Tambourine Man and Turn!Turn!Turn, their first two albums and was really blown away. Yes, they did a lot of Dylan covers while inventing folk rock, but they had a lot of great originals. The guy who wrote most of those originals wasn’t Roger McGuinn, but a guy named Gene Clark.

Gene Clark actually grew up in my hometown, Kansas City but migrated, like so many of his generation to California where he found himself forming the Byrds with McGuinn (guitar/vocal), Crosby (guitar/vocal), Chris Hillman (bass) and Micheal Clarke (drums). While in the Byrds, he wrote some of the best tracks, especially on their first two albums. The most popular of which was “I’ll Feel A Whole Lot Better,” eventually covered by Tom Petty. But there are other great tracks – “I Knew I’d Want You,” “Set You Free This Time,” and “She Don’t Care About Time,” just to name a few. Like Neil Young, Clark wrote a lot of the songs for this band but unlike him, they let Clark actually sing on most of them. Eventually, because he was making more money on the publishing the other guys came to resent him. When his fear of flying got too bad, they booted him from the band, likely because of that built up enmity. As Roger said to him, “If you can’t fly you can’t be a Byrd.” Which for some reason makes me think of the TV show ‘WKRP in Cincinnati quote, “my hand to god I thought turkeys could fly.”

Once booted from the Byrds, Gene Clark started a solo career that can only be described as “star-crossed.” Coincidentally while I was mining all this music from Laurel Canyon – the Buffalo Springfield and the Byrds – the record company 4AD released a deluxe, three-CD version of Clark’s album No Other. The serendipity of my listening to the Byrds for the first time in a long, long time and Clark’s album being rereleased was irresistible to me. I listen to the deluxe version of No Other and was completely, utterly blown away. How in the world was this not a smash hit? The phrase, “overlooked masterpiece” or “forgotten masterpiece” is used a lot nowadays but it completely applies here. This is a stone cold classic record that until a month ago I’d never even heard of it let alone heard it. I had barely heard of Gene Clark… I knew there were two guys in the Byrds named Clark (or Clarke) but I thought they were just like Duran Duran where everybody had the last name Taylor.

I came to discover that Clark released a series of fabulous albums that nobody listened to or purchased. I’ve sampled Roadmaster and White Light (aka Gene Clark) and I can’t believe this guy’s name isn’t whispered in the same reverent tones as Neil Young or Gram Parsons (who later joined the Byrds after Clark’s departure before forming the Flying Burrito Brothers). Gram Parsons wanted to fuse country and rock and roll into a “new American music,” but Gene Clark was actually able to do so. I guess since Gram hung out with Keith Richards  he got more publicity. The Eagles, who Parsons hated, owe more of a debt to Clark, based on what I’ve heard. They even covered his song, “Train Leaves Here This Morning” and Bernie Leadon played with Clark a little. I think I can say, unequivocally, that Gene Clark may be the most under appreciated man in rock and roll.

In 1974, after a brief Byrds reunion album, Clark signed to Asylum records, led by the notorious dick, David Geffen. Clark chose producer Thomas Jefferson Kaye who was notorious for cost overruns. They spent the then unheard of sum of $100k (over $500k in today’s dollars) to record No Other. When Geffen heard it, furious about the cost, he refused to promote it. The album was basically stillborn. Geffen also said, he couldn’t hear a single…kind of like the guy who rejected Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The people who played on this album are pretty impressive. The guys who later backed up Jackson Browne and Don Henley are here – Danny Kortchmar (guitar), Craig Doerge (piano), Russ Kunkel drums and Leland Sklar (bass). Jesse Ed Davis who sat in with Rod and the Faces plays some guitar. Pre-Eagles Timothy B. Schmidt shows up to sing back up vocals. Butch Trucks from the Allman’s plays drums on a track. Hell, ex-bandmate Chris Hillman plays on a track. Rumors were that Sly Stone was hanging out at some of the sessions… and there is a funk vibe on some of these tracks. It’s pretty damn impressive.

Clark, raised a Christian, had veered toward Zen and Buddhism and the lyrics here reflect that. I think the songs are deeply rich in meaning. There’s a soulfulness here that really drew me in. His singing throughout is plaintive. He’s got an amazing voice. The music veers from country to folk to borderline prog rock. The album starts out with the country weeper “Life’s Greatest Fool.” It’s a track with hard learned truths… “Children laugh and run away while others stare into the darkness of the day.” I’m surprised the Eagles didn’t take a crack at this one. The second track, “Silver Raven” is a beautiful acoustic track that literally, fucking soars. The title track is the one that borders on prog-rock and funk. It’s got a great keyboard/guitar riff that fuels the track. Clark’s voice is slightly distorted. The lyrics are the trippiest and most spiritual, “If the falling tide can turn and then recover, all alone we must be part of one another.” To my ears, “No Other” was the single. It comes with a great guitar solo. “Strength of Strings” is another soaring track. When Clark sings, “Fiery rain and rubies cooling in the sun,” it’s epic. There’s an almost Native American vibe, it’s incantatory.

What would have been side two starts with “From A Silver Phial.” It’s another beautiful, country-rock/folk-rock track. It’s just a wonderful ballad. It also could have been a single. “Some Misunderstanding” is a great mid tempo track that makes me think of Young’s “Out on the Weekend.” It’s plaintive and haunting. “True One” is an upbeat country rock tune. The album ends on another epic, “Lady of the North” written for Clark’s wife who’d stayed up in North California while he recorded and partied in L.A.

That’s the original album… the deluxe material is all interesting. It’s different versions of the tracks that ended up on the album. All of the tracks are complete. Some you hear Clark directing the band or calling out to band members. It’s a fascinating look into the man’s creative process. There are two versions “Train Leaves Here Tomorrow” on the deluxe version of the album. I can’t help but wonder, if he’d completed that one, maybe that could have been the single. This is all just fantastic music. There were rumors this was meant to be a double-album, but there’s nothing here that isn’t on the original record.

When Geffen pulled support and this album tanked, it hurt Clark, badly. He never recovered really. The booze and drugs took off. He lived until 1991, but things were never quite the same for him. Commerce was not his friend. I can’t help but again compare this guy to Neil Young. The writing and the music was all there but for Clark, no one listened. Thankfully we all have a chance to revisit his masterpiece, No Other. If you’ve heard Gene Clark, you know. If you haven’t, you need to check this guy out. Having just written about Leonard Cohen (LP Review: Leonard Cohen’s Posthumous ‘Thanks For The Dance’ – A Haunting Elegy) and Iggy Pop (LP Review: Iggy Pop’s ‘Free’ – An Atmospheric, Stylistic Left Turn) at least now I’m writing about someone who is a beautiful singer!

It’s a dark ride folks, be good to each other!

 

Rock N Reunions We’d Love To See But, Alas, Will Never Happen

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*Images taken from the internet and likely copyrighted

The dreaded Holidays are upon us. With Thanksgiving on the books, we can now officially shift our focus to Christmas. Actually once Halloween hit, the stores shifted their focus to Christmas so I guess we’re behind schedule? Ah, unchecked materialism’s high holy season. The Holidays seem interminable. I have long ago confessed my feelings about the Holiday season, Confessions of an Ex-Grinch: My Christmas Epiphany. I will say, meeting the Rock Chick aka Mrs. Claus has helped turn my Xmas attitude to a more positive place. I will also admit, I’m a huge fan of Thanksgiving. I show up, drink a bunch of wine, eat a bunch of turkey and sit drowsily in front of football games on television. I give thanks knowing not everybody can celebrate like that these days. Other than St. Patrick’s Day, where I go out and drink in the streets with the rabble, you can’t beat Thanksgiving.

The Holidays can be seen, through a gimlet eye, as a mini-family reunion of sorts. On Thanksgiving, we always head over to my parents’ house. I see my brother, an in-law or two, and my aunt and uncle. They’re all great people. It’s a nice, small, controlled group. We all had enough practice veering the conversation away from politics in the Bush era that there aren’t any screaming fits accompanied by thrown plates anymore. And in our defense, that only happened once and it wasn’t in the presence of my Sainted Mother, thank God. Invariably, this small gathering of relatives and occasional stragglers turns the conversation to reunions.

For as long as I can remember, my dad’s family has been having family reunions every August. I’ve never understood the need to get everybody together on an annual basis, but hey, it’s what they do. And then they talk about the reunion for the rest of the fucking year. It’s inescapable. When I was a kid, like 12, every year I was drug out to a little farm house on the outskirts of a small town in Southeastern Kansas that was filled with people. I was a shy kid and going to this reunion was like watching someone give a cat a bath…unpleasant doesn’t cover it. My parents procreated right out of the chute – I was born 9 months after the honeymoon. Nobody else had kids with that kind of alacrity. The family reunions consisted of adults – from their 30’s to their 90s – and children who were infants to kids maybe 5 or 6. And then there was me… I was right in the middle. Not adult enough to get drunk with these semi-strangers, not young enough to play with the kiddos. My brother, the old soul that he is, would sit with the 90 year olds and talk about the heat. For me, it was 12 hours of wandering around a large farmyard, or across the street to a strip-pit (created by coal mining) that was basically a small lake that we weren’t allowed to swim in. The strip-pit’s water glimmered in front of us like the window of a closed ice cream shop. Cool and wonderful in the August heat but you couldn’t get in. I had nothing to do out there.

This has naturally colored my opinion of reunions of any kind in a very negative way. It wasn’t until I discovered that many rock bands have reunions that I realized there could be positive reunions. I’ve never even attended a High School reunion. And believe me, there have been plenty of opportunities, I graduated a long time ago. I grew up in Kansas City, but on the Kansas side, then moved to the Missouri side as an “adult”… It’s like I moved to Paris. I never see any of those people, but I know they’re out there just over the state line. I went by my 10 year reunion only to meet a friend. I thought we’d slip away from the maddening crowd and get a beer only to find out my friend had gone sober on me which was bracing because the guy could really party back in the day. I ended up sitting in a hotel room surrounded – and I mean surrounded – by sleeping children. It’s not that I was upset about it, but when I was that young, children frightened me. I still demure when someone wants me to hold a baby… I fear I’ll break it. I figure I’ve stayed in touch with anybody I wanted to from high school and I don’t need to hit the reunion circuit to compare myself and how I’ve done with everybody else still standing.

The only reunions I’m down for involve rock and roll bands. I was so immersed in music as a teenager and young adult, it felt that these guys (and gals) I was reading about in liner notes and Rolling Stone were like friends of mine. I was emotionally invested in these bands and many of their members. I certainly feel that way about the Stones. I recently saw that the feuding Robinson brothers have reunited the Black Crowes for a tour next summer. I greet that as good news. Motley Crue caused a ruckus when they announced they’re taking back the “no more tours” contract they all signed to much fanfare and are going on tour next year. I say bravo! We need kick ass hard rock in our lives. Many people long for bands to reunite, get back together, record and tour… Wasn’t it Billy Joel who once sang, “Oh baby you got nothing to play on your stereo, “Why don’t the Beatles get back together.””

I have people all the time who say, usually in a bar, “I wish XYZ band would get back together. I never got to see them.” I personally prefer these old bands record a little something new… if the chemistry is there, fuck radio, record an LP. Motley Crue had three or four good, new tracks on ‘The Dirt’ soundtrack. Hell, yes! However, even though I enjoy a band reunion as much as the next rock n roll fan, and certainly much more than a family or high school reunion, I’m pragmatic about it. There are just some bands who are never gonna get back together. While I’d love to see anybody on this list reunite even just to tour, I fear it’s just not gonna happen. I’m here with a wake-up call for you rock n roll dreamers. If any of these bands are on your Rock Reunion Wish List, alas, I’m afraid you’re not gonna see them. I limited this list to bands who have all or at least a majority of their key members still alive… I don’t have the Beatles on here as its only Paul and Ringo now. As much as I love Ringo (Peace and Love), without John Lennon or George Harrison, it ain’t much of a reunion. If a band has all original members on this side of the dirt, one has to wonder why won’t they try and make it work again? Whether it’s egos, money or chemistry gone sour, these bands just aren’t going to stage that reunion.

  1. Led Zeppelin – Even Pete Townshend said recently, “Robert (Plant) would make a lot of people happy if he’d just agree to a reunion tour.” While true, I think Plant has refused to reunite with Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones for a Zeppelin tour because he fears the massive expectations that come with it. I loved the 2012 Celebration Day concert/album…they’ve still got the fire. Jason Bonham, John’s son filled in admirably. Plant won’t even record with Alison Krauss because they had such wild success he can’t face those expectations. He’s never coming around on this.
  2. Pink Floyd – After years of slagging David Gilmour, Nick Mason and the late Rick Wright, Roger Waters has pursued a reunion with these guys like a teenage boy pursing a cheerleader on prom night. Gilmour has wisely refused save for a 1 off concert years ago. With Wright gone it’s likely too late. But lets face it – there’s no way Gilmour is going to forgive the hateful shit Waters has said over the years.
  3. Van Halen – Roth can’t sing anymore. Not that he ever really could. The last time I saw these guys Roth looked like he’d had a lobotomy. Dr Rock once described their live album as sounding like a “pet store burning down.” Eddie and Alex Van Halen have become the Howard Hugheses of rock n roll… who knows wtf those guys are doing. Eddie has even bagged on Michael Anthony, the only nice guy in the band. Hell, I don’t think the the VH brothers would even entertain working with Sammy again. Sad, indeed, sad.
  4. The Faces – Rod’s management has him focused on money, money, money. It’s a shame he Ronnie Wood, Kenny Jones and while still alive Ian McLagan couldn’t have worked it out. Even with Ian gone, I’d have rather heard a Faces record than this symphonic crap Rod just put out. It’s just too late. Ronnie Lane has been gone a long time too… maybe that’s why Rod refused… but my gut feel is his management was demanding the lion’s share of the money. Sigh.
  5. No Doubt – I saw these guys in concert with the Rock Chick and fell in love with this band. Great bass, drums and guitar… alas Gwen Stefani is more focused on building her own brand and cosmetic surgery to actually commit to her original band.
  6. R.E.M. – After recording two great, late period albums these guys called it quits with more of an exhausted sigh than a bang. They seem content to just release archival stuff,  and revisiting old albums and the accompanying bonus material. They all still get along and Bill Berry is still knocking around out there. It’s baffling but these guys seem done.
  7. Rush – The same story for R.E.M. could be told for Rush. The Prog-Rock giants did their last tour and that was it. I read that Neil Peart doesn’t even have a drum kit in his house anymore. Geddy has written a book and is doing a book tour… Alex Lifeson is likely loaded somewhere in Canada. They were great the last time I saw them but as the kids say, “they done.”
  8. Simon & Garfunkel – I’m not a huge fan of these guys, I actually prefer Simon on his own. But these guys were old friends… I hate too see this kind of animosity near the end.
  9. The White Stripes – Sure, I love Jack White on his own and with the Raconteurs (LP Review: The Raconteurs’ (Jack White) ‘Help Us Stranger’) but I miss that primal White Stripes’ sound, driven by Meg White’s drum… Come home Meg, all is forgiven. She’s the Greta Garbo of rock, she wants to be alone.
  10. CSNY – I don’t think anybody will talk to Crosby, let alone work with him. He’s even admitted what an asshole he is. When Young left his wife for Darryl Hannah, Crosby was vocally critical. Hint: Don’t bag on your friends squeeze if you ever wanna see them again… trust me on this one, I learned the hard way.
  11. Oasis – Despite Liam’s begging Noel will never work with him again. Liam actually questioned the paternity of Noel’s daughter. I have loved Liam’s two solo records but he’s a terribly unpleasant man… don’t ever air guitar in the front row at his show, he’s brutal.
  12. Jeff Beck & Rod Stewart – For odd reasons Rod turned his back on the Faces but has always been receptive to working with Beck. Jeff even showed up and played a 5 or 6 set encore at Rod’s last Hollywood Bowl show. I’d love to hear these guys tear into some blues, with or without Ronnie Wood on bass. Jeff Beck is just too much of a stubborn asshole to make something substantial happen.
  13. Fleetwood Mac and Lindsey Buckingham – Stevie Nicks is now the spiritual leader of this band. It would appear that her distaste for Buckingham has spelled his doom with this band. He also recently had surgery that may have damaged his vocal chords… I hope not. He’ll never work with Fleetwood Mac as long as Stevie is alive.
  14. Guns N Roses – I was delighted Axl finally reconciled with Slash and Duff. I get that Steven addled Adler doesn’t have the chops anymore but I’d sure like to see Izzy Stradlin back in this band. He was one of the key cogs in the songwriting and if they ever want to do a new album, they need him. From what I hear, the evil money is the reason they won’t let Izzy come back. They offered him a salary vs a full cut not the ‘Not In Our Lifetime’ tour.
  15. Red Hot Chili Peppers & John Frusciante – Come back John, we need you. They wouldn’t even have to fire Josh, they could morph into a 5 piece. I think Josh is a better rhythm player anyway and then Frusciante wouldn’t have to do so much heavy lifting. Never going to happen though. Frusciante, rock and roll’s Vincent Van Gogh is clearly never coming back and it appears the Peppers have moved on albeit in a less rocking direction.

Those are my top 15 bands I’d love to see reunite who, alas, will never get back together? Who are yours? Let me know in the comments section.

Cheers!

LP Review: Leonard Cohen’s Posthumous ‘Thanks For The Dance’ – A Haunting Elegy

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“Settling at last accounts of the soul” – Leonard Cohen, “The Goal”

When I first started collecting records, I was like everybody else I suppose. I was drawn to melody and great singers. I had some Journey, with Steve Perry’s operatic vocals. I had a record or two by those haircuts in Styx. I had a Doobie Brothers album… say what you want about the Doobies but they could harmonize. The Eagles were big for me early on. I think we all like something we can hum along with. Somewhere along the line I began to find singers who were less “perfect” in tone and pitch more to my liking. I got into David Lee Roth with Van Halen or Ronnie Van Zant in Lynyrd Skynyrd. Brian Johnson from AC/DC had a howling scream that was awesome.

Eventually, as the serious young man I was, I began to really get into lyrics. It was inevitable, I suppose. Springsteen was my gateway drug. He had such great lyrics, his songs weren’t just about, well, chicks like VH. Springsteen is a pretty good singer all things considered but soon I was listening to Dylan. Of course that wasn’t until I was in college. When I was in high school singer/songwriters like Dylan or Neil Young were to be scrupulously avoided. You couldn’t get chicks with “The Needle And the Damage Done” playing on the stereo. Somewhere along the line I began to realize that these singers with deeper lyrics, who sang passionately and with real emotion were the better singers. Today I’d much rather listen to Neil Young than say, Michael McDonald. It’s just more interesting.

From Springsteen to Dylan to Neil Young was a pretty easy evolution. For some reason as time passes by and I get deeper into this monolith called rock and roll, I’ve become more and more attracted to singers who aren’t regarded as “great singers.” As a guy said to me in a bar once, “I like Dylan’s poetry but I can’t stand his voice…(Humor: The Helena, AR Town Hall Meeting & Playlist: The B&V Favorite Dylan Covers). Sigh. Lately I’ve been listening more and more to guys like Iggy Pop LP Review: Iggy Pop’s ‘Free’ – An Atmospheric, Stylistic Left Turn and a guy I got into, very, very late in the game, the immutable Leonard Cohen. I didn’t know anything about Cohen until his final album came out, released three years ago, You Want It Darker (LP Review: Leonard Cohen, “You Want It Darker” His Farewell Note, RIP). Until that time I thought he wrote musicals and poetry… Obviously I was wrong…well, about the musicals anyway.

Sometimes when I’m “binge-listening” to an artist I start with the debut album and move chronologically through a catalog. That’s pretty sound reasoning… although I don’t really think there are any rules when it comes to getting into an artist’s back catalog. I bought Closing Time by Tom Waits and have been slowly moving forward through his catalog. He’s another in the “interesting” vocals vein. With Cohen, I’ve done the opposite. I started with his late work – You Want It Darker to Popular Problems which led to Old Ideas. I realize his legend was  made with his first few folk albums, but my favorites are the newer ones, where his voice gets craggier and more ragged. I realize that my penchant for these kind of vocals can only end with me sitting alone in an attic listening to recordings of Robert Frost reading his poetry.

Encouraged by the excitement and exultation caused by the 2016 album You Want It Darker, released a mere three weeks before Cohen’s death, Leonard recorded most of these vocals in those remaining three weeks and left instructions for his son, Adam, on how he wanted the music to sound. I can’t say enough about how lovingly this album has been produced. It’s the sound of the culmination of Leonard’s career. It’s hard to believe he wasn’t more involved in crafting the music than a list of instructions. Adam Cohen brought in some top notch collaborators to play the music here from Beck and Daniel Lanois on guitars to Leslie Feist and longtime Cohen collaborator Jennifer Warnes on vocals. This album is truly stunning.

I don’t think there’s an artist, other than Prince, who could combine the spiritual with the sensual the way Cohen does. He could write a song about Janis Joplin giving him head at the Chelsea Hotel (“Chelsea Hotel #2”) or spend years living quietly in a Buddhist Monastery. Much of Thanks For the Dance sounds like a whispered prayer. This is no collection of outtakes, this is a fully realized album. The instruments are hushed and the voice – like that of a grave or a tomb – is center stage. Everything on the album is in the service of the vocals. And while I feel a spiritual tug when I listen to this album, Cohen comes across as that really cool uncle who might just steal your date at Thanksgiving. So powerful are his vocal performances I had listened to the album four or five times before I realized Cohen speaks his lyrics more than sings them. The cadence of the words has a melody all its own. Lyrically, he’s up to his usual arresting best.

The album opens with “Happens To The Heart” which I consider to be one of Cohen’s greatest songs. As I mentioned, the song is like a summation of all that came before it. It’s sexy and yet world weary at the same time. To think that he could summon this kind of creativity while literally dying is pretty amazing. To describe his vocals as sepulchral is an understatement. I’m reminded somewhat of Bowie’s Blackstar as I listen to this. There’s a lovely piano figure and acoustic guitar on “Happens to the Heart.” It’s a perfect song.

There’s so much more to like here. “Moving On” is a wonderful track about lost love. The line that will always haunt me here is, “Now you’re gone, as if there ever were a you…” He sings here, in a line that makes me think of the rock chick, “I loved your face, I loved your hair, your t-shirts and your evening wear.” I’ve had more than one conversation like this in my life time… too many breakups to even count. “Whose moving on, whose kidding who?”

“The Night of Santiago” is almost like a period piece set in a Latin capitol somewhere. It’s about a night of passion shared with a married woman down by the river… “her nipples rose like bread.” A lot of great Spanish guitar. His close mic’d vocals on this track are really the star. “Thanks For the Dance” is a great farewell from Leonard…in a plea to not get too deep about it all, “stop at the surface, the surface is just fine.” His own mortality was clearly present on his mind in two tracks here, the brief “The Goal” and “The Hills.” In “The Hills” he sings, “I’m living on pills for which I thank God.”

Perhaps the most powerful song here is Leonard’s rumination on politics and the state of the world, “Puppets.” Adam Cohen brought in both a Jewish choir and a German choir on backup vocals. Its pretty chilling to hear him sing, “German puppets burned the Jews, The Jewish puppets did not choose,” especially in light of the rise of nationalism around the globe. I recommend everybody check that tune out.

This is a truly beautiful statement from one of the greatest artists, poets, and yes, singers in my lifetime. I know the vocals aren’t for everybody but if you’ll focus on the lyrics and the emotions inside them, you will be rewarded.

Cheers!

B&V Playlist: Rockers Playing Reggae: It’s Not Just For Vacation Any More

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*Image of Mick Jagger (L) and Peter Tosh (R) taken from the internet, likely copyrighted. 

When I was growing up, despite being a lost-cause miscreant, my parents dutifully woke me up every Sunday morning to go to church. It wasn’t until I was 17 and driving that I convinced my parents to let me drive to church by myself on Saturday nights instead of with the family Sunday morning. Naturally I drove to the church, picked up a program and promptly went to McDonald’s and ate some fries, killed an hour and then went home. French fries and eternal damnation sounded better than killing an hour listening to a Priest drone on. Blasphemy? I’m not sure. It all just seemed like whistling past the graveyard to me. Don’t get me wrong, I think religion is like sex: practice whatever brings you joy, just keep it to yourself. Don’t try and convert me. Only my Sainted Grandmother could get me back inside a church and sadly, she passed 20 years ago.

But prior to my taking the “Highway to Hell,” before I could drive, my parents, my brother and I would load up in my father’s Oldsmobile ’88 and drive slowly and quietly to Mass. My father is a drivers-ed text book in motion…hands at 10 and 2, people. I doubt he’s ever hit a pothole. Well, not when I was younger. As he’s gotten older he’s become more menacing behind the wheel but haven’t we all? My parents realized early on I was a hellion. To their credit, they never held me down and shaved my head to search for the three 6’s. I wouldn’t have blamed them if they had. Instead, on those unpleasant Sunday mornings (made unpleasant by my bitching about going to church), they attempted to placate me by turning the radio to the FM side of the dial and putting on Casey Kasem’s American Top-40 Countdown radio show. It would delight my brother and at least divert my attention.

I know what you’re thinking, Faithful B&V Readers – wait a minute, you’re a rock and roll guy, what were you doing listening to the Top 40 Countdown? I know, I know, it sounds bad. But beggars can’t be choosers and I was a captive in the backseat of an Oldsmobile. “Keep your feet on the ground but keep reaching for the stars,” my ass. You have to understand, music was better than the talk radio my father was so found of. In later years upon discovering girls, the back seat of that Oldsmobile became a den of inequity, but I’m getting off topic. You have to remember this was the late 70s and while there was a lot of disco and schmaltz, there were still rock and roll artists on the Top 40. You could hear Paul McCartney or Rod Stewart on the countdown. I would just have to hope the three or four songs I got to hear on the quiet ride to church would be good ones and not say, Donna Summer. Because whatever I was going to hear on the way to church was going to be the song or songs that stuck in my head for the next hour. It was going to be bad enough without “Saturday Night Fever” bouncing off my cranium for an hour.

It was on one of those dreaded Sunday morning rides that I first heard the Steely Dan song, “FM.” It was from a movie soundtrack of the same name. I was in my early stages of digging Steely Dan, but at that point in the game, we were all afraid of declaring that we liked something that wasn’t rock and roll… the fear of being uncool was intense and they are kind of “jazzy.” Anyway, I hear this Steely Dan song, and they sing the line, “Give her some funked up music, she treats you nice.” Well that caught my attention. Besides rock and roll, as an early teenager, my other obsession was these strange, foreign, indecipherable creatures named “girls.” What did they want? What did they like? These seemed important questions. And the word “funked” sounded like “fucked up music,” and I was always drawn to subversive vulgarity. Anyway, they go on to sing the next line: “Feed her some hungry reggae, she’ll love you twice.”

Now, I grew up in the American midwest, as I’m fond of flogging. We didn’t go on exotic vacations to the Caribbean. If we were going to go on vacation we went to southern Missouri to Silver Dollar City. I was more liable to hear “Dueling Banjos” down there than Bob Marley. I had NO idea what reggae was. I thought it was a booze or a drug, like say, this rumored Spanish Fly. According to Steely Dan, this “reggae” had an almost aphrodisiacal effect on women… “she’ll love you twice?” I couldn’t get anybody to even kiss me… let alone love me, well, once. Things got more complicated when I heard Stevie Wonder sing “Boogie On Reggae Woman.” What? “I like to reggae, but you dance too fast for me, I’d like to make love to you so you can make me scream…” Wait a minute? What is this mysterious reggae? How do I get some? Er, reggae that is, how do I get some reggae.

Thankfully, somehow I got myself straightened out that reggae was a music style from Jamaica. Eric Clapton’s “I Shot The Sheriff,” a cover of a Bob Marley tune did a lot to help educate me on what it was. And let’s face it the Stones helped a lot as they have with so much for me. I saw the Stones with the Rock Chick in Chicago once and the Pretenders were the opening act. I remember Chrissie Hynde saying, “the Stones have brought us so much music, but they should be applauded for bring the world reggae music.” She’s right. Even before Clapton brought reggae to the mainstream the Stones were playing it.

People tend to forget how big reggae got in the 70s. Bob Marley and the Wailers blew up, especially in Britain back then. People don’t realize today what a huge influence that reggae was on the punk movement later in mid/late 70s. Bob Marley and the Wailers were singing about actual revolution and rebellion, guns in the street kind of fighting. Punks were rebelling against the established order, piercing things and shaving Mohawks into their hair, but the Wailers were involved in actual gun play. Reggae’s popularity has shrank and you’re likely to only hear it on vacations and cruises in the Caribbean. As Keith Richards said in an interview I saw, “Bob Marley was so big, when he died reggae kind of went with him.”

I think everybody has some reggae in their collection. Likely if you look, you’ll find Marley’s Legend greatest hits package on everybody’s CD shelf (Humor: Bob Marley’s “Legend” and the Confessions of the Evil Stepdad). I went to a New Year’s Eve party once and the host had all of his studio albums from Catch A Fire to Uprising. Not to be outdone, immediately I started amassing Marley’s catalog and it’s pretty fucking amazing. When Peter Tosh, guitarist and vocalist of the Wailers quit, the Stones eventually signed them to their label and Mick famously duetted with him on Saturday Night Live… it was like being hit with lightning when I watched live as Tosh sang and suddenly Jagger was standing next to him. Totally surprised me. But I dug the song,”(You’ve Got To Walk And) Don’t Look Back” an old Temptations song, redone. I was starting to get into the mysterious reggae.

While people sit listening to Legend, many don’t realize that they own more reggae than they realize. There have been a ton of rock and roll acts who have done a reggae song. Well, either a reggae song – be it a cover of a Marley song – or a heavily reggae-influenced track. I realized I really liked a lot of those songs… who doesn’t like “hungry reggae?” So, as usual, I put together a list of my favorites. Some of these are on the list only because they’re actual Marley covers. Some are faintly, slightly reggae-tinged. There is something about each song on this list that make me think, reggae. It’s more of a vibe thing. As always you can find this on Spotify under the title “BourbonAndVinyl.net Playlist Rockers  Doing Reggae: It’s Not Just For Vacation Anymore.” The list slightly varies from what you’ll see below because as usual I couldn’t find everything. I think this, musically, holds together better than most my playlists and is perfect for a summer afternoon… or a cold winter afternoon when you’re dreaming of summer… As always, if you have additions, please mention them in the Comments section and I’ll add them to the Spotify list.

And yes, there’s a lot of Stones here. This thing could have been all Stones, the Clash (who have a ton of reggae songs), and the Police…

  1. Joe Strummer, “Get Down Moses” – I failed to mention strongly enough above how huge the Clash were in terms of playing reggae and bringing it to the world…Naturally Strummer carried that into his solo work.
  2. Little Steven, “I Am A Patriot” – My favorite political track… captures the rebellious spirit of reggae.
  3. Eddie Money, “Running Back” – I’m so bummed we lost the Money-man this year.
  4. Sublime, “Pawn Shop” – 90s rockers and one of the Rock Chick’s favs!
  5. John Lennon, “Borrowed Time” – This is one of those reggae-influenced type tracks. I don’t know if its reggae, but it feels like it to me.
  6. Johnny Cash, Joe Strummer, “Redemption Song” – The Man In Black and Joe Strummer singing a Bob Marley song… you don’t get more righteous. Rick Rubin asked Cash if he wanted to change the lyrics as they’re very Jamaican… Cash said, “you don’t mess with the words of a Prophet like Bob Marley.” Well said, Johnny, well said.
  7. Robert Plant, “Lively Up Yourself (Live)” – The fact that Plant was covering Marley in  concert in the 80s makes me love Plant that much more.
  8. Blondie, “The Tide Is High” – Again, not sure it’s actual reggae, but it gets me in that vibe.
  9. April Wine, “Say Hello” – Great track by an almost forgotten Canadian band.
  10. The Police, “One World (Not Three)” – Great, political reggae from Sting and the gang…”regatta de blanc” indeed.
  11. The Rolling Stones, “Hey Negrita” – From the Stones’ Black And Blue. 
  12. Mick Jagger with Peter Tosh, “(You’ve Got To Walk And) Don’t Look Back” – Mick, “I’m walkin’ barefoot…”
  13. Robert Palmer, “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” – Palmer reinventing a Dylan track as reggae. Brilliant. The guy doesn’t get enough credit.
  14. Keith Richards, “Love Overdue” – From his great, last solo record.
  15. Eric Clapton, “Revolution” – Great reggae tune from one of Clapton’s endless string of bad albums from the new millennium.
  16. Keith Richards, “The Harder They Fall” – A great Jimmy Cliff cover.
  17. No Doubt, “Underneath It All” – While I despise Gwen Stefani’s solo work, I love No Doubt. They’re more Ska than reggae, but they nail it on this ballad.
  18. Bob Dylan, “Jokerman” – From the great and mildly overlooked, Infidels. 
  19. The Rolling Stones, “Cherry, Oh Cherry, Baby” – Again from Black And Blue, there’s gonna be a lot of Stones here, I can’t help myself.
  20. The Rolling Stones, “Hot Stuff” – See #19…
  21. Sting, “All Four Season” – A rare Sting track on B&V… and the perfect song to describe the Rock Chick’s many moods.
  22. Dirty Heads, “Love Letters” – I could have put most of Cabin By The Sea on here.
  23. 311, “Who’s Got The Herb” – Also found on the 420 playlist, B&V Playlist: Happy 4:20 To All!.
  24. Black Crowes, “Time Will Tell” – Great Bob Marley cover.
  25. Eric Clapton, “I Shot The Sheriff” – This might be the biggest rock crossover reggae hit ever?
  26. The Rolling Stones, “Send It To Me” – The Stones never stopped playing reggae. “Start Me Up” started as a reggae song.
  27. The Police, “Shadows In the Rain” – I actually also like Sting’s solo version of this song, but that’s rock. This is reggae.
  28. Rod Stewart, “Love And Be Loved” – Rod on a lovely track from his recent Another Country. 
  29. Paul McCartney, “C Moon” – Reggae-ish?
  30. No Doubt, “Start The Fire” – Gwen, come back to No Doubt… all is forgiven.
  31. The Rolling Stones, “Luxury” – Another great reggae song from these guys.
  32. David Bowie, “Tonight” – A reimagined track he wrote with Iggy Pop whose version is much, much different. Tina Turner can be heard duetting on this track.
  33. Elton John, “Jamaican Jerk-off” – This sounds like it was recorded on a Casio… but it has its charms.
  34. Ronnie Wood, “I Can Feel the Fire” – It’s amazing how many solo Stones tracks are also on here, birds of a feather… you can hear Mick on the harmony vocal.
  35. Keith Richards, “Wicked As It Seems” – Speaking of solo Stones’ tracks…
  36. The Clash, “Police & Thieves” – My favorite of their many, many reggae tracks.
  37. Bob Dylan, “License To Kill” – Again from Infidels. 
  38. Lenny Kravitz, “Eleutheria” – A song about an island, not a girl. Great Kravitz track.
  39. The Clash, “Rudie Can’t Fail” – An ode to Rude Boys?
  40. Little Steven, “Solidarity” – Little Steven doing a Jamaican style reggae tune about a Polish Labor Union.
  41. The Rolling Stones, “Too Rude” – A Stones cover with Keith on lead vocals… I couldn’t resist.
  42. 311, “Amber” – The Rock Chick said, summarily, “That’s not reggae.” I like it too much not to include it. Its like reggae… and “amber is the color of your energy.”

Enjoy this one folks and stay warm out there! Cheers!

 

 

LP Review: Iggy Pop’s ‘Free’ – An Atmospheric, Stylistic Left Turn

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It’s been a crazy fall… Iggy Pop’s latest album Free came out over two months ago, early September to be more exact and I’m just now getting around to saying something about it… I realize I’m late, but I feel this music merits some attention.

Now, let me start off by saying, people, don’t fear the Iggy. It’s no secret that I grew up in the American midwest. Iggy Pop wasn’t played on the radio out here. We really had no concept of what his music was like or who he was. People knew his name but he was some noise-making punk who only people in New York and underground rockers knew anything about. When I was in college, listening to vaunted “college radio” they didn’t even play Iggy Pop out here. I’m not sure you could even find his albums in the midwest… I wouldn’t know, I never looked for them. The first time I saw or heard any Iggy Pop might have been when Carnival Cruise used “Lust For Life” on their commercials. Well, actually that can’t be true, I’m sure when I was in college, up all night partying, I had to have seen Iggy Pop on MTV at some point. Most evenings ended with me staring mindlessly and drunkenly at music videos, eating a microwaved Chuckwagon sandwich… Yeah, I was a real chick magnet.

Iggy, aka James Osterberg, hails from Detroit Rock City. He was a pioneering hard rock/punk singer in the legendary band the Stooges. The Stooges never really caught on in the mainstream, but they did catch the ear of one, David Bowie. Bowie mixed their last album, the legendary Raw Power. All my life I heard about Iggy and I heard about the Stooges and yet it took me forever to summon the nerve to check him out. Every rocker looking for some credibility name drops Iggy and/or the Stooges – GnR have covered the Stooges and the Chili Peppers are big fans of the Stooges. Iggy and the Stooges have a built-in cool. I urge everyone to check out the Stooges first three albums, The Stooges, Fun House, and Raw Power. That’s some menacing, fucking music there.

After the Stooges imploded, Iggy found himself at loose ends. He decamped to Europe with Bowie where they continued their creative partnership. Bowie produced Iggy’s landmark first two solo albums, The Idiot and Lust For Life while also working on his own “Berlin Trilogy.” Iggy has had more ups and downs in his career than most rock and rollers. If there’s anything that has been consistent with Iggy, it’s his inconsistency. After those first two superb albums from the 70s, it wasn’t until the early 90s that he put out two, back to back, solid records, Brick By Brick and American Caesar. I loved his last album, produced by Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme, Post Pop Depression. It’s the best thing he’s done since those first two albums with Bowie, Review: Iggy Pop, “Post Pop Depression”.

I was somewhat surprised when late this summer I heard that Iggy had a new album out. Post Pop Depression had sounded like a retirement notice to me. I mean, how long can you hop around on stage without a shirt on? On the new record, I was hoping he was collaborating with Josh Homme again, but no, Iggy has decided to take a stylistic left turn with this new LP, Free. He started collaborating with multi-instrumentalist Noveller (real name Sarah Lipstate) and perhaps more importantly in terms of the sound of this album, jazz trumpeter Leron Thomas. Iggy’s music has always been very guitar-riff centric. Iggy is loud and aggressive, in your face rock n’ roll, hence his influence on so many punk bands and heavy metal bands at the same time. That harder rocking sound is not the sound here. The music, for the most part is hushed. In many cases Iggy goes spoken-word vs singing. The solo’ing here is all on trumpet, not on guitar. This record has a jazz vibe to it. You get the feeling of wandering down into a basement in the Village and catching a beatnik reading poetry over musical accompaniment.

I realize at the outset here, that this album won’t be to the liking of a lot of you faithful B&V readers. This album is different on so many levels. When the Post Pop Depression tour was over, Iggy was physically and (it sounds like) spiritually exhausted. He was longing to be free from it all… Fittingly, the new album starts with its title track, “Free” which upon first hearing, I thought, maybe the cops need to drop in on Iggy to make sure he’s ok. It might be time for a welfare check on ol’ Iggy. It’s the sound of a muted trumpet with Iggy merely repeating the phrase, “I want to be free.” Ok, so it’s not “Lust for Life,” but on an emotional level, I was drawn in. I’ve been listening to this album for a couple of weeks now and every time the Rock Chick walks by and hears it she asks me if I’m ok?

The next three tracks are amongst the best Iggy tracks ever. They’re the reason I’m writing this post. I know many of you will breeze past this post and probably this music, but this trio of songs are tracks everyone should hear. “Loves Missing” sounds like it could have been an outtake from Post Pop, sinewy guitar over a slinky rhythm section. It’s a straight up, mid tempo rock song. The next track, “Sonali” has some of the most poetic lyrics of Iggy’s career. It’s a softer track where Iggy is practically crooning. He sings in a lower register. The song is ethereal…it just takes me places, “we must find parking, or stay on the freeway, stay in your lane, that’s what you want…” This shimmery song will be studied in college music classes. It evokes a certain sadness in me that I’ve become fond of over the years… The third track in this knock-out trio is “James Bond.” “James Bond” just makes me smile. It’s catchy as hell. It’s upbeat and Iggy keeps singing, “She wants to be your James Bond, its not for a price and it’s not very nice, she wants to be your James Bond.” I love the melody, I love everything about that song, especially the bass line. I even love the trumpet solo instead of the traditional guitar solo.

Unfortunately, the next track, “Dirty Sanchez” is a rather jarring misstep. It starts with mariachi horns. Iggy sings in an almost strained manner. I don’t mind vulgarity, but the line, “just because I like big tits, doesn’t mean I like big dicks” is a little juvenile, even for me. The sing-along with the backup singers becomes pretty annoying. “Glow In the Dark” is better, but he never gets back to the level of those three landmark tracks that kick things off. “Glow In the Dark” has an insistent bass line and some nice trumpet. It’s lyrically strong. The whole album, save for “Dirty Sanchez” is lyrically strong. The themes of isolation and loneliness pour out of this album but it’s not grim…despite the line, “your sense of community is going to kill you.” “Page” is another strong track lyrically. Iggy digs deep and once again goes to a deeper vocal register here. “Dreary causes, yield all the applauses, you’ve done it before, you’ll dread the encore.” It’s nice to hear an artist express his world-weariness in musical form.

The last three tracks is where I think I’ll lose most of you. They’re all spoken-word tracks. Iggy puts a poem by Lou Reed to music in “We Are the People,” While it was written before Reed died, it certainly maintains political relevance today. Iggy said he’s giving voice to other artists on this album, this is what he’s talking about. He then put some musical accompaniment to a reading he did of poet Dylan Thomas’ “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” which if you’re going to have someone wave their fist at death and “rage against the dying of the light,” it ought to be Iggy Pop. “The Dawn” is also a spoken word thing… I know, it’s not to everybody’s taste.

Iggy Pop is an important artist. The sooner you set aside any fear of this music the faster he’ll expand your mind. This is an interesting, challenging album. I love it but I’ll understand if most of you don’t agree with me on this one!

Cheers!