Review: Lou Reed ‘New York: Deluxe Edition’

“It’s hard to give a shit these days…” – Lou Reed, “Romeo & Juliette”

By the time I got to college, I thought I was a rock and roll expert. I suppose all of us in our late teens/early 20s think we know everything. What’s that old saying, “When I was young I thought I knew all the answers…as I got older I realized I didn’t even understand the questions.” Of course I still have a few friends who think they know it all, but maybe that’s unique to me. As a college kid I’d never even heard the music of the Velvet Underground let alone Lou Reed. I’m not sure I’d even heard of the Velvets. I thought Lou Reed was a “one-hit wonder” with only “Walk On The Wild Side” to his credit. It was the only song of his they ever played on Kansas City radio. I went to college in Manhattan… unfortunately it was the one in Kansas, not the island in New York. In fact, at that point in my life I’d never even been to New York City. To me it was like a dirty Emerald City in a magical world of Oz (B&V Playlist: Songs For New York City). Somewhere over the rainbow, indeed. It was big, violent, scary and ruled by guys like Kojak, those guys in ‘The Warriors’ and the mob. It was druggy and decadent. At least that’s what I’d gleaned from television cop shows and the movies.

If there is an artist who embodied that New York underbelly it was Lou Reed. And yet in college my slate was blank on Lou. It wasn’t until 1984 that I got into Lou Reed. I’m embarrassed to admit this now, but I got into Lou Reed through MTV. After an evening of drinking and being ignored by women, I returned back to my place and planted myself in front of the television, watching videos and eating a convenience store sandwich (the famous Chuckwagon). As the sun burst over the Kansas’ plains, the video for “I Love You Suzanne” came on. Something about that track just clicked for me. I loved the lyric, “you do what you gotta do, you do everything you can.” The next time my roommate Drew and I went to the record store I decided to take a chance on this Lou Reed guy and I bought his then current LP New Sensations. It was one of the most upbeat, warm LPs in Reed’s catalog. The title track, about the joys of riding a motorcycle is one of my all time favorites and I have never been on a motorcycle…well I’ve been on a mo-ped but I don’t think that counts…you don’t want your friends to see you on a mo-ped. “Down At the Arcade” was another big favorite. The whole disc is just amazing…well, I’m not crazy about “My Red Joystick,” but that’s just me.

I was on the bandwagon. I soon discovered Lou had been the principle songwriter and lead singer/guitarist for the ground breaking Velvet Underground. It’s been said the VU didn’t sell many albums or have many fans but each of them seemingly went out and formed a band. Such was their influence. It took years before I screwed up enough courage to buy all of the Velvet’s albums. I was afraid it would all be abrasive noise. I don’t know where I got that idea. I had the same fear about punk and now the Clash are one of my all time favorites. In 1967, during the “Summer of Love” when everyone was dressed in Day-Glo orange and singing about love, Lou was writing songs about heroin (B&V Playlist: Chasing the Dragon – Songs About Heroin) and bondage. Instead of buying the VU’s debut, I actually wimped out and merely purchased Lou Reed’s then greatest hits disc, Walk On The Wild Side: The Best of Lou Reed. And truth be told I never connected with it the way I had with New Sensations. I guess I wasn’t ready for Lou yet.

I wish I’d started exploring Reed’s back catalog more thoroughly in college. He’d put out some great albums in the 70s. Transformer produced by Bowie was the most famous of the lot. The bleak Berlin is an album that took me a while to warm to, but is one I truly love now (B&V’s 10 Favorite Grim And Sad Albums). But there were other gems I wish I’d discovered earlier. Coney Island Baby is a great record. I had an ex email me about it just a few years ago. She was geeking out about how great it is… I envied her that first time listen. Street Hassle was all beautiful parking lot poetry and has a cameo by Springsteen. I also dig The Bells. After getting sober Reed released the masterpiece The Blue Mask (that I recommended to that same ex) and followed it up with the strong Legendary Hearts. I wish I’d discovered all of this earlier because it would have given me stronger roots into the genius of Lou Reed. All I had was New Sensations and a greatest hits record which somebody absconded with.

I tell you all this because, I eventually turned my back on Lou. I bought the follow up to New Sensations the day it came out. I don’t know if you can describe Mistrial as Lou Reed’s worst album – for me that will always be Metal Machine Music, which is all feedback – but it’s probably a close second. I actually sold Mistrial down at the used record store in short order. It was around that time that Lou did a tv commercial for, of all things, Honda scooters. He even allowed them to use “Walk On the Wild Side” for the commercial. That may not seem like a big deal now – but back in the late 80s, rock stars who sold their songs for commercials were considered heretics. John Mellencamp was particularly outspoken about the  evils of songs being used in commercials. He later sold “Our Country” to Chevy for a truck commercial. Be careful what you criticize… you may just become it.

Because I hadn’t done the work to go back through Reed’s prior albums I didn’t have that great of a connection to the man I now think of as the King of New York. My dalliance with Lou was over almost before it started. I thought of New Sensations a one-off…a great record by an artist I just wasn’t that into. I graduated from college and spent a summer in Boston. One weekend I went to New York – my first trip there ever – and I’m embarrassed to admit I don’t think Lou even entered my mind. Any more he’s kind of synonymous with that city in my head. By 1989, I had been sent into exile in Arkansas by the corporation I was serving at the time. Arkansas is even farther away from New York spiritually than Kansas is.

There I was, miserable and lonely in Arkansas. I’d been sent to Ft. Smith but even the faceless corporate drones I worked for realized that was a mistake. They’d moved me up to Fayetteville which was better but not much. Then, one late night, after too much beer and too much time spent staggering up and down Dixon Street being ignored by women (I see a trend) I went home and yes, turned on MTV. This black and white grainy video came on…I’m not sure I was paying attention to who it was. It started with a strumming electric guitar riff… my ears perked up. And then I heard that unmistakable voice… “Pedro lives out of the Wilshire Hotel, he looks out a window without glass.” I felt that old magnetic pull. I knew I was headed back to “The Dirty Boulevard.”

I decided to take another chance on this Lou Reed guy. I hedged my bets and bought New York on cassette something I rarely did. The liner notes said – and I apologize my current copy is in a box in storage – advised us to listen to the album in its entirety, in one sitting, “like you would a novel or a movie.” He said the songs had been recorded as they were written, like chapters of a book… at least that’s how I remember it. The first track, “Romeo and Juliette” grabbed me immediately. I knew that Lou was back. New York is simply put, a masterpiece. He covers a range of topical subjects that mostly still resonate today: poverty, predatory landlords, child abuse, AIDs (which was relatively new ground back then), the ecology and politics.

My friends and I still quote this album the way most men do movies. Instead of quoting ‘Caddy Shack’ I find myself saying, “It’s hard to give a shit these days” instead. There’s a road in Kansas City, Southwest Boulevard, where there used to be a few strip joints and massage parlors. I still call it, the “Dirty Boulevard.” I also occasionally say, when in a bad situation (usually the holidays), “It’s hard to run when a coat hanger beats you on the thighs.” Such a visceral image. The entire album is cinematic in its scope. “Busload of Faith” is a big rocker – and a favorite of my friend Stormin – that Seger eventually covered believe it or not. “Strawman” is another huge rocker. Reed keeps it to his favorite configuration here – two guitars, bass and drums. The backing band lacks guitarist Robert Quine but still makes this music come alive – bassist Fernando Saunders, drummer Fred Maher and guitarist Mike Rathke. The mellow tracks are great and hard hitting as well – “Halloween Parade” (about AIDs), “Endless Cycle” (about child abuse), and “Last Great American Whale” (about the ecology). That final track has a line I’ve quoted directly to my sainted mother… “You can’t always trust your mother.” There is a light hearted moment, “The Beginning of a Great Adventure” where Reed muses about being a father. “It might be fun to have a kid that I could kick around, a little me that I could fill up with my thoughts.”

A few of the tracks are so topical as to be somewhat frozen in time. “Good Evening Mr. Waldheim” is very late-80s “current event-y.” Lou was very deeply affected by Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Last Temptation of Christ’ and responded with “Dime Store Mystery” an almost religious mediation on “the duality of nature, godly nature, human nature.” Great art inspired a great artist. All of that topicality aside – most of these songs are so universal as to be poignant and relevant even now, thirty plus years later. He even name drops Trump in “Sick of You.”

Last weekend they released a ‘Deluxe Edition’ of this landmark album. If you’ve never heard or owned New York I urge all rockers out there to buy this album. In terms of bonus material, I can’t lie, there’s nothing here. There’s a few “single version” of a few tracks. There’s some “Work Tape” versions of tracks here but nothing that will change you’re perception of this brilliant album. The “secret sauce” for me on this ‘Deluxe Editon’ is – like it was for recent releases from U2 (Review: U2, ‘All That You Can’t Leave Behind (20th Anniversary Edition)’) or the Rolling Stones (Review: The Rolling Stones, ‘Goats Head Soup Deluxe’ Box Set) is the disc of live versions of the songs from New York. While the live tracks are all taken from different performances and concerts, because of the continuity of the material, they hang together well. I love how Lou speaks to the meaning of a lot of the songs prior to playing them live. I love all his on-stage patter. “There Is No Time” is particularly rocking live. Many of the tracks expand quite a it when played in front of an audience. Lou was nothing if not a rock and roller at heart. He and his band playing brilliant music, enthusiastically is always a treat. Lou even says, everything played on stage is live, “not sampled by someone whose been dead for years.” Ah, Lou, thank god you never changed. Lou continued the brilliance after New York when he reunited with the Velvet’s John Cale to record the tribute to Andy Warhol, Songs For Drella. Another album from this period worth a listen.

While this isn’t the treasure trove of unreleased tracks I might have hoped for – although I doubt anything was left over here – it’s a great ‘Deluxe Edition.’ There is one unreleased track but it’s an instrumental… mostly noise. The original album and the live stuff more than make up for the superfluous bonus material. This is an album that should be celebrated like ‘The Great Gatsby’ or ‘The Last Tycoon.’ Politically charged, poignant, and rocking. What more could we ask for?

If you love Lou, check out the movie ‘Blue In The Face’ where Lou has a few cameos and discusses being raised on Long Island. He says, “I remember being born in Brooklyn and thinking it was terrible. But then my family moved to Long Island which was infinitely worse.”

Things are getting crazy out there again with this COVID stuff… be safe and stay strong out there! Cheers!

Review: U2, ‘All That You Can’t Leave Behind (20th Anniversary Edition)’

I can’t believe it’s been 20 years since U2’s (Singer Bono, guitarist the Edge, drummer Larry Mullen, Jr and bassist Adam Clayton) monumental LP All That You Can’t Leave Behind came out. At the time, people tend to forget that U2 had been knocked back on their heels a bit. It was a comeback of sorts for them. I think I’ve always been fond of this record because on a personal level, I had a comeback of my own in those days. 

I like to think I was an early adopter on U2. I purchased War (on vinyl) when it came out when I was in college. I taped a copy of The Unforgettable Fire which at first had disappointed me – it was a bit of a stylistic left turn from the straight-up rock of War and I was small minded. I guess I wasn’t ready for “Produced by Brian Eno” when I was 20. I can still remember listening to my brother’s cassette of The Joshua Tree on my Sony Walkman, laying on the floor of my bedroom in the dark, illuminated only by the light streaming in my door from the hallway. Oddly, I thought it was a stronger album than The Unforgettable Fire, but felt it lacked the kind of anthem that the previous LP had, like “Pride (In The Name of Love).” The more I listened to it back then, the more I realized I was wrong. I think every track on side one of the album was released as a single. The Joshua Tree changed everything for U2, it was simply put, a masterpiece. I can still remember looking at their earnest, serious gazes staring at me from the album cover. I think after that album came out they were so big they were probably on postal stamps in some of the smaller countries around the world. Deservedly so. 

For the follow-up, while touring in the U.S. they filmed a documentary. They intended to record a live album along with the doc but ended up recording new music. Rattle And Hum was, to my ears a brilliant “hybrid” album – part live, part studio (The B&V List of Essential “Hybrid” LPs – Part Live/Part Studio Albums). The critics however, were a bit more savage in regard to their indecision, live vs studio. There were great songs on that record and they shouldn’t take any shit for it from anyone. It was, to me, the sound of a band finding their roots. They’d formed around Larry’s parents kitchen table when Bono had never sung before and the Edge was learning guitar. They were a blank page. Rattle And Hum seemed to chronicle the band absorbing America and rock and roll all at once. Stung by the criticism of R+H, they did what I now view as a very U2 thing… they retreated for 3 years and completely changed their sound. They released yet another masterpiece, Achtung Baby. They’d included electronica, dance and alternative rock elements to their music. Grunge wasn’t gonna kill U2 they just adapted and got stronger. 

The ‘Zoo TV’ tour was my first time seeing U2 in concert. I had a chance to see them in late ’87 in Atlanta on the tour for The Joshua Tree but declined. Arkansas Joel tried to talk me into going down and scalping tickets at the Forum. But, like ‘Good Will Hunting,’ I said no… “I had to see about a girl.” I dated her for a year but like most of my relationships back then it didn’t work out. On the upside, my relationship with Arkansas Joel has lasted 35 years. And to be clear, he never let me forget that bad decision, what are friends for? While in the middle of touring Europe on the ‘Zoo TV’ tour, they decided to keep that tour momentum up and duck into a studio. At first they were just going to record an EP but it ended up turning into a full fledged album, Zooropa. I loved that record but it felt like an EP. It didn’t seem to match the usual epic scope of a Joshua Tree or an Achtung Baby. I don’t know why but everyone seemed to feel that way. Zoopropa while great, just confused people. Because of that the expectations for their next album were huge. We all wanted a big, bad ass, new U2 album. We didn’t want it, we needed it. And, it fit their up/down pattern – Joshua Tree/Rattle and Hum to Achtung Baby/Zooropa. 

When it took four years, until 1997, to get the follow-up expectations were driven through the roof. When Pop finally dropped, it was a huge disappointment. Even though it took that long to finish, the band had set some aggressive deadlines and its completion was rushed. The first single “Discotheque” didn’t give us a lot of hope. I have to admit, all these years later, stripped of those mammoth expectations Pop is a much better record than anybody gave it credit for being. The ensuing tour, called Pop-Mart, saw U2 playing to stadiums that were not full. I’d seen the ‘Zoo TV’ tour in Arrowhead Stadium where the Chiefs play and it was packed to the rafters. There were empty seats in the upper deck on Pop-Mart. Starting with Achtung Baby, rather than continue their earnest, serious approach, U2 began to immerse themselves in irony. It worked at first but on Pop no one got the joke. U2 had been in the south of France partying with Michael Hutchence of INXS and supermodels and, as Bono said at the time, they “wanted to capture the party but they only captured the hangover.” 

Once again, U2 retreated. While they were recording All That You Can’t Leave Behind, their good friend Michael Hutchence died under strange circumstances in Australia. They had already largely stripped their songs of the irony they’d tried on, but his death affected this album deeply. As U2 typically does, when their back is against the wall, they emerged with one of their greatest albums… 

As the 90s waned, the wheels were starting to come off my gypsy lifestyle. I changed jobs in ’96 but my career had basically sputtered to a halt. I didn’t have much money to show for the effort. I started dating a woman in 1997 who was simply wonderful… but unfortunately wasn’t the right person for me. We were locked in this death knell of being together, breaking up and then reuniting… rinse, repeat. Towards the end we were bringing out the worst in each other. Finally, I made the difficult choice to end the affair for good. I had to work on myself. I finally got out of that relationship, which caused a lot of pain, and started a more inward focus. Within a few months I had a better job with more pay. And a few months later… I met the Rock Chick. When I first met her, on our first date, we both enthused about this new U2 song, their first new single, “Beautiful Day.” It was a return to the earlier, rocking sound. There were rumors that they’d almost rejected it because it was “too U2 sounding.” Luckily those guys have a sensible man like Larry Mullens, Jr in the band who put his foot down and insisted on releasing the song. 

The Rock Chick and I broke up after a few months. She had a daughter and I was still rather untethered to adulthood. I was pretty gutted but then All That You Can’t Leave Behind came out and as usual U2 helped me get through it. I ran into her one night in one of my favorite watering holes…we had both been looking forward to the new U2 and I had wondered what she thought about it. Naturally, after a few awkward exchanges we started talking about how much we both loved the new record… “Wild Honey,” a rare sunny moment on the album, a driving acoustic number, was a favorite of both of us… One thing led to another and the Rock Chick and I were back together. A new job, a well-propertied woman… things had finally changed for me. We played this U2 album incessantly and it remains a personal favorite to this day. 

The first single was spectacular and remains one of their biggest hits. “Beautiful Day” was a great way to announce their return. Bono had joked about ATYCLB that U2 was “reapplying for the job as best band in the world.” “Beautiful Day” was a great resume builder in that regard. “Elevation” was another great rock song that proved the Edge hadn’t forgotten how to play guitar. “Stuck In A Moment You Can’t Get Out Of” was written for Hutchence and is another favorite. “Walk On” was another hit single. The lack of irony, the straightforward way they sang about grief and loss would prove to be universal after the tragic events of 9/11. It was almost as if U2 had felt something sad coming… I saw this tour with the Rock Chick, we were living together by then on November 27th 2001 in Kansas City and it was one of the best shows of theirs I’ve seen. 

Now the band is looking back with a box set “20th Anniversary Edition” of the album. The original album is remastered and expanded with a great track that wasn’t on the original LP in the U.S., “The Ground Beneath Her Feet” which has always been one of my favorite U2 deep tracks (U2’s Ten Greatest Non Album Tracks & 5 Best Covers, In Honor of Joshua Tree 30th Anniversary). It was originally released on the soundtrack to a film Bono and the Edge were involved in when recording ATYCLB, entitled ‘The Million Dollar Hotel.’ If you haven’t heard it, you definitely should. Spacey and sexy it’s one of their greatest tracks. Salmon Rushdie wrote the lyrics. 

The box also contains a disc of bonus tracks. In the interest of full disclosure, I have not purchased this box set – I already have everything that was on the bonus disc. I joined their fan club somewhere along the way and when I did they sent me a “fan club exclusive” double CD, U2 Medium, Rare and Remastered” that contained six of the tracks contained here. I already owned the original LP, “The Ground Beneath Her Feet,” and six of these tracks. There are some great tracks on the bonus disc. “Levitate” starts things off… it’s a bit of a woozy number but kicks in towards the end. There’s an early version of “Summer Rain” later released on a compilation. “Big Girls Are Best” is an upbeat danceable number. “Stateless” was one of the few tracks I hadn’t heard and it’s a meandering ballad. I love the acoustic version of “Stuck In A Moment” here. “Flower Child” is a great, hippy acoustic love song. “Don’t Take Your Guns To Town” is a Johnny Cash cover…reimagined as an almost reggae song. Its rather curious. 

There is also a complete concert from the 2001 tour from Boston. Again, I bought the DVD when it came out 19 years ago so… while this is a superb concert, I already own it in one form or another. It did remind me of what a force they were on that tour. They had a giant, heart-shaped catwalk that surrounded most of the floor. Towards the end of the show they projected the names of all the souls lost on 9/11 and it was one of the most moving concert experiences of my life. Hearing this concert again I’m reminded how remarkably aggressive and spectacular the Edge’s guitar playing is. U2 continues to grasp for relevancy or current popularity… if the Edge would play guitar like this where they sound like, well, U2… they wouldn’t have to worry anymore. I love the acoustic version of “Stay Faraway” on the live disc. If you don’t already own it, this concert is reason enough to buy this box set. 

While this is a beautifully packaged (from what I’ve seen) commemoration of a masterpiece album, it wasn’t worth it for me as I own almost every component of the box set. Well, I don’t own the remix disc but that’s always crap anyway, no matter who the artist. However, if you haven’t heard this concert, it’s worth the price of admission here – much like the Stones’ recent box for Goats Head Soup (Review: The Rolling Stones, ‘Goats Head Soup Deluxe’ Box Set). If you don’t own the bonus tracks, the ones I mentioned above are all tracks you’ll want in your U2 collection. 

Be safe out there… these are turbulent times. I’d love to see all of us pull together as a country and a planet like we did in the wake of 9/11. We are always stronger together, when we’re united… Hang in there, people.. we’re merely “stuck in a moment,” but we will get out of it. 

 

Review: Pearl Jam Release ‘MTV Unplugged’ (Finally!)

*Image taken from the internet, may be subject to copyright

I like to pride myself on rarely being surprised when music gets released. I like to think I’m “in the know,” as they say. With my borderline OCD I usually know when music is coming out – new or from the vault, typically I’ve read somewhere that the new stuff is coming. Over the years I’ve gone from reading magazines to following bands on social media to searching the web to find out which bands are planning to put out albums. Too many times in my youth an album would come out, local radio would fail to play it and I didn’t realize it was out until much later. I used to hate it when that happened. Perhaps I have a problem…

While 2020 has been an awful year for everyone, at least in music it’s actually been a great year. Sure, I didn’t get that new Stones’ LP I’ve been waiting for, but acts from Ozzy to Dylan have put out new, quality albums. Bands, unable to play live, have been emptying their vaults… so many box sets, so little time/money. While I’ve been blissfully listening to Springsteen’s new album, Letter To You, and battling with Amazon to get my Tom Petty Wildflowers: All The Rest delivered (Tom Petty: ‘Wildflowers & All The Rest – Deluxe Edition (4 CDs)’ – A Petty Masterpiece Lovingly Revisited), a deluge of music has come out. I just discovered an album I was anticipating coming out, Lou Reed’s deluxe edition of his brilliant 1989 album New York had already come out. What’s a poor blogger to do when the music is coming this fast and furious? My only answer is to sip some bourbon and enjoy it immensely. 

While I was out trying to get a handle on everything that’s come out, I realized that Pearl Jam has finally(!) released an LP version of their 1992 MTV Unplugged performance. I had no idea that was even in the works, and as I said, I’m rarely surprised. For you long time readers, you know two things, (a) I’m a huge Pearl Jam fan (Review: Pearl Jam’s First LP In 7 Years, ‘Gigaton’ – My Conflicted Thoughts), and (b) I love the old MTV “Unplugged” series (B&V’s Favorite MTV “Unplugged” LPs). While there were literally over 100 ‘MTV Unplugged’ shows recorded and broadcast, only around 30 were actually released as albums. 

The whole “unplugged” concept, I’d always understood, was inspired by (of all people) Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora performing “Wanted (Dead Or Alive)” acoustic at an MTV awards show. It wasn’t until Paul McCartney appeared on the show in 1991 that anybody noticed it or attached any import to it. McCartney released an album from the performance – and I think he was the first to do so – but originally only in a limited 500,000 copy release. I actually had a copy of that CD in my hands in a record store in Warrensburg, Missouri and I didn’t buy it, I didn’t have the cash back then. What could have been… It was Clapton’s Unplugged that made the whole enterprise a commercial juggernaut. I think that album sold 10 million copies in the states. For me, ‘MTV Unplugged’ in many cases became “appointment television.” From Rod Stewart (who reunited with fellow Faces member Ronnie Wood) to Alice In Chains to Robert Plant reunited with Jimmy Page there were some great, great performances. Some artists stick pretty close to the original blue print of their songs but some like to deconstruct or take liberties with the music. I have a version of Lenny Kravitz doing “Are You Gonna Go My Way” from his Unplugged as an acoustic blues stomper that still blows me away. 

My introduction to Pearl Jam was somewhat circuitous. When the whole grunge thing started to take over, I remained wary and skeptical (which may be the words on my tombstone). I’d seen a similar thing happen in music when punk surged in the late 70s and I wasn’t sure if this was going to resurrect music or destroy all that came before it. It ended up being the latter… but I digress. I was a big fan of a lot of the music that had come out in the 80s including “hair bands” and so I was dismayed that bands like the Cult or Motley Crue were being pushed aside for this new music. Even venerable acts like Springsteen struggled with grunge and its effect. In the 70s when the punks challenged the established order, the older rock bands absorbed the energy and survived (How The Biggest Bands In the World Reacted Musically to Punk Rock in the 70s). With grunge, the established rock bands seemingly crumbled and indulged in massive self-doubt. I was always slow to accept change and remained somewhat aloof from Pearl Jam and the other new grunge bands. I will say, I had already adopted their clothing style… I’d been wearing flannel shirts and blue jeans since high school. So I had the grunge threads, anyway. 

In the early 90s, Kansas City got an “alternative rock” radio station. I think it was called 96.5 The Buzz. I had a cheap radio walkman that I would use when I went to the gym. I would bounce from the hard rock to the classic rock and finally when bored bounce down to the alternative station at 96.5. I was working out so I wasn’t terribly focused but I started to hear songs I really liked down there on the Buzz. I had no idea who the bands were I just liked the tunes. I’m usually hyper inquisitive when I hear music I like but I guess I had too much going on to figure out who these new bands were. I really liked Alice In Chain’s “Man In A Box.” That was the first grunge track I actually loved. Then I started hearing these other tracks, “Black,” “Alive,” and a track named “Jeremy.” I couldn’t help but think, not knowing these were all from the same band, “these grunge bands all sound alike.” I didn’t know who Pearl Jam was until I saw the “Jeremy” video on MTV. 

I started dating a woman in early 1992 who had an out-of-town boyfriend who I thought had she’d broken up with. We started hanging out… those records are now sealed until twenty-five years after I’m dead. She brought over Pearl Jam’s landmark debut CD, Ten and just left it over at my place. I can remember listening to that brilliant disc for the first time and a light bulb went off in my head. All of these brilliant songs I’d been hearing were on Ten. Grunge bands don’t sound alike, I’d been listening to the same band. When the affair ended, she left the Pearl Jam CD at my place… it was a sad day when she showed up and demanded I return it. I had hoped it was a parting gift, but oh, well. 

In March of 1992 Pearl Jam entered the MTV studios and recorded their version of ‘Unplugged.’ I don’t remember when they finally broadcast the show, but I was simply mesmerized. Other than the “Jeremy” video I hadn’t really seen these guys. I had heard they were amazing in concert and Vedder was often unhinged, more like a shaman than a front man, physically willing the crowd to elevate. Despite the fact that the suits at MTV edited the order of the songs, the show blew my mind. Vedder seemed like he was barely containing himself, like he was about to physically explode. At one point he stood on his stool and wrote “Pro Life” in black magic marker on his arm. I couldn’t help but think, this is the birth of a legend. He was that charismatic. I was also thinking, I hope that wasn’t a permanent Sharpie, that stuff never comes off. Even acoustic, these guys had an intensity that told me they were an important band. 

While some bands lose that intensity when they go “unplugged” or acoustic, not so for Pearl Jam. Stripped of the loud, squalling guitars their songs emerged seemingly stronger. The melodies really came out, much like when Nirvana did their Unplugged In New York City. Vedder’s vocals were deep and resonant. I have to give props to the drummer at the time, Dave Krusen, his insistent beat keeps pushing this music. Jeff Ament’s driving bass cements the great rhythm section. Guitarists Stone Gossard and Mike McCready’s guitars, though muted, deliver on each track. McCready’s solo’s in particular are great here. The sheer energy emanating from this band is palpable over the speakers and simply infectious. I find myself up and moving around the room when I turn this album up. 

While the performance was, to me, legendary, they never released it as an album. Maybe because it was only seven songs (actually, eight) they kept it in the can but I still think this would have been a great EP. The first album was so popular so fast they probably didn’t want to look like they were cashing in. Grunge bands were all very earnest back then… no big cash, no rock star act, no groupies… they might have wanted to rethink that last part but hey, no judgement. When they did an anniversary release of their debut album Ten Redux, it included the DVD of the ‘Unplugged’ performance but they didn’t release an LP or CD version of the show. I remember telling the Rock Chick, “I wish they’d put out the ‘Unplugged’ show on vinyl.” Apparently a year ago, November 2019, they did put out a vinyl version of the MTV Unplugged for Record Store Day, in a limited release. Record Store Day is always a mirage for me with great releases I can never get my hands on. RSD is just like driving down a two-lane country road in summer…you see what looks like water on the road up ahead but it’s just an optical illusion. Anyway, as I just discovered last week by sheer accident, PJ put out the show on a broader basis just last Friday. In a fit of excited amazement I bought the MP3 version but now, finding this on vinyl is my new “white whale.” 

Listening to this concert all these years hence, it’s still an awesome performance. They open with the muted, “Oceans” which Vedder describes as “a love song for his surf board.” After, they launch into “State of Love And Trust” from the ‘Singles’ movie soundtrack and it rocks, even acoustic. “Alive” seems all the more moving in this setting. “Black,” always my favorite track, soars here. At the end of “Black,” Vedder sings “we belong together” repeatedly, you feel it man. They round it out with “Even Flow,” “Jeremy” and “Porch” all of which deliver in this acoustic setting. This was a band becoming superstars right before our very eyes and ears. They did record an acoustic version of Neil Young’s “Rockin’ In the Free World” at the performance but alas, its’ not on this release. It remains locked in the Pearl Jam vault. 

With 2020 being, for me, the worst year of my life, Pearl Jam releasing this album after 28 years is the perfect tonic I need. I urge everyone to check this delightful surprise of an album out. It is really something to behold, a full on aural acoustic assault all these years later… 

Stay Safe out there… Cheers! 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

*Image likely subject to copy right

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be safe out there, Cheers! 

 

Review: Liam Gallagher, ‘MTV Unplugged (Live At Hull City Hall)’ – Unplugged Redemption?

image

Relationships can be very complicated. The most complicated relationship, in my opinion, has to got be marriage – the intermingling of two, non-gender-specific souls for (maybe) life. Love is love here at B&V. I mean, if it lasts any amount of time marriage is certainly going to be complicated. As I’ve stated here before, I’ve always viewed marriage (and all relationships, really) as the classic Venn Diagram. If you remember from grade school, a Venn Diagram is two overlapping circles. The two circles each represent individuals in the relationship. The overlapping part is what they share – common interests, goals and likes/dislikes. The non-overlapping part is that part of ourselves that sustains itself outside of the relationship or better put, it’s the extra stuff we bring to the table.

Really, any aspect of your relationship – and this could be any relationship not just marriage – could be represented by the Venn Diagram. This is never more true than when we talk about music. When I met the Rock Chick, luckily we had a ton of shared, loved music. But there was a lot of great music she turned me onto that I had missed. She turned me onto the Cult, Motley Crue, and helped me rediscover Green Day, amongst many other bands. I like to think I turned her onto some music, but other than expanding her interest in the Stones, I can’t really say what that might be. Now, if I may continue the whole weird Venn Diagram thing, there was music that was…”outside” the overlapping part, if you follow me. No band represents the Rock Chick and my musical divergence more than Oasis. My God, she loves Oasis. And I was, well, lukewarm at best.

Speaking of difficult relationships, Oasis was founded by two siblings, Noel and Liam Gallagher in Manchester, England. If ever there was a poster child for brothers not forming a band, it’s Oasis (The Mark of Cain: When Brothers Form Bands). These guys made the Robinson brothers in the Black Crowes look like the Walton family. Any time they were on MTV being interviewed they had to use subtitles. The brothers Gallagher argued so much they imploded any goodwill and momentum they had in the States. Despite that, their late career albums were kick ass – especially Don’t Believe The Truth and Dig Out Your Soul. In the early ’00s, whenever we had a party I’d labor over playlists, mixing and weaving all these great tunes together to play for the bash and mesmerize my friends. Invariably 30 minutes into it my wife’s friend, who I’ll call Rich because that’s his name, would sidle up to me and say, “Say dude, can we put on the new Oasis’ album?” Apparently the Rock Chick was not the only fan of Oasis in my new reality of being married. So much for my playlist, crank “Lyla.”

It didn’t help that the Rock Chick and I trekked all the way out to Denver to see Oasis live at Red Rocks. I will admit they were amazing that night – it helped that we were in the front row, which really makes you feel like you’re part of the show and its a majestic venue. Unfortunately, the evening took a sour turn when Liam caught me air-guitaring to one track and mocked me shamelessly… he put up one hand, strummed the other and sort of shimmied his hips. I laughed, but clearly I was wounded. I keep promising the Rock Chick I’ll get over it… and I will admit the whole “air-guitar” thing wasn’t exactly cool. I’ve sort of stopped doing that… every time I did the Rock Chick would do that same Liam imitation with the feminine hip shimmy. It took the joy out of it but I’m getting off point here.

Oasis finally broke up. I read somewhere that Liam had gone so far as to question the paternity of one of Noel’s daughters. Really ugly stuff there. And while I’ll always begrudge Liam ruining my air guitar jones, Noel is no saint. I’ll probably never forgive him for calling Michael Hutchence of INXS a has-been at that European awards show (Review: Documentary, ‘Mystify: Michael Hutchence’). Karma did catch up with Noel and Oasis is no more. I know a lot of fans clamor for Oasis to reunite – especially in the UK and well, in my house – but to me, the farther Liam has gotten away from Noel, the better I think he gets.

When Liam and the rest of the gang from Oasis split with Noel they formed Beady Eye. While the second album never saw release here in the U.S., and I may be crazy but I thought Different Gear, Still Speeding was a great record. When Beady Eye imploded I read somewhere, in response to Liam suggesting Oasis reunite, Noel said that Liam needed to go solo and “put it out there.” Apparently Liam was listening because he released a solo album shortly after that, his first. Now, I have to admit, of my own volition I would not have followed Liam into his solo career but I am still married to the Rock Chick, thank God, and she bought his first LP As You Were and to my surprise that album delivered the goods (LP Review: Liam Gallagher, ‘As You Were’ A Pleasant Surprise From an Unpleasant Man). Then, he did it again on the follow up Why Me? Why Not. (LP Review: Liam Gallagher’s ‘Why Me? Why Not.’). Again, the farther away from Noel he gets, the better his music gets. Even I have to admit, the guy was one of the best vocalists to come up in the 90s. And his “angry young man” thing has turned into a sneering curmudgeon-y thing that I can sort of relate to. “You kids rock but get off of my lawn.”

Just a few months ago (in June), Liam released a new live album, MTV Unplugged (Live At Hull City Hall). Many of you may remember in August of 1996 that Oasis performed on MTV Unplugged and it was an unmitigated disaster. At the last minute the band announced that Liam “wasn’t feeling well” and that Noel would sing all the songs. “Wasn’t feeling well” was a euphemism for Liam being drunk… utterly shit-faced. While Noel gamely tried to sing all the big Oasis tracks he just was, well, not Liam. For his part, Liam sat in the balcony, drinking, throwing limes at the band and heckling them. And people wonder why I couldn’t get into Oasis? Kind of a dick move, Liam.

As many regular readers know, I’m a big fan of the Unplugged series, B&V’s Favorite MTV “Unplugged” LPs. And, in conjunction to that, I’m a huge fan of live albums, period (BourbonAndVinyl Comes Alive: The Epic List Of Essential Live Albums). Who doesn’t love a good live album? And folks, this is a really good live album. Liam has returned to MTV Unplugged and has yes, redeemed himself this time. He even asks, “Who gets to do MTV twice?” – the answer Liam is R.E.M. and Neil Young – before mumbling “Actually, once.” His great voice, which only seems to get better with age, paired with acoustic guitar and strings (the orchestra is really top notch here and would make classic Elton John jealous) is just fantastic. As a bonus for the Oasis fans, Paul Arthurs aka Bonehead (a rather unfortunate nickname), a founding member of Oasis shows up on four of the songs. Maybe not the Oasis reunion we want, but perhaps the Oasis reunion we deserve? (I just can’t resist a Batman reference, can I?).

The tracks are an even mix of Liam solo tracks (5) and Oasis tunes (5). After starting with the great As You Were opening track “Wall of Glass” Liam jumps into the Oasis catalog with “Some Might Say.” I have to say, the audience is adoring. Between tracks they yell “Liam, Liam” lustily. After a couple of Why Me? Why Not. tracks Liam does the Be Here Now track “Stand By Me” to the delight of the crowd. Then in a cheeky move, he sings “Sad Song” a Noel-sung bonus track from the deluxe version of What’s the Story Morning Glory. Great deep track and yes, much better with Liam on lead vocals, sorry Noel.

He weaves from solo to Oasis tracks seamlessly until the inevitable, yet still beautiful closer “Champagne Supernova.” It was a really great ending. The first time the Rock Chick played this for me, I thought, man that’s good. But I never dreamed I’d go back to it. However, whenever I decide to go musically exploring out on Spotify, to hear things I haven’t listened to in a while or haven’t ever heard at all – I find myself returning to MTV Unplugged Live At Hull City Hall. This isn’t Thin Lizzy’s Live And Dangerous or the Allman Brothers Band Live At the Fillmore East, no this is nothing that epic. But it is a great, solid live album with fantastic vocals. It’s an addictive listen and I recommend any fans of Oasis or Liam to check this one out. I think you’ll be rewarded.

Be safe out there! Cheers!

 

Review: Showtime Documentary – ‘The Go-Go’s’… And How I Briefly Met Belinda Carlisle In 1984

maxresdefault

*Above image taken from the internet and likely copyrighed

I am not currently nor have I ever been a huge fan of the 1980’s girl group the Go-Gos. However, I think every woman who came of age in the early ’80s who likes music, loves the Go-Gos. I remember a girl I dated in high school who loved their debut album. It was one of the few albums she owned. Even now, all these years later, the Rock Chick digs the Go-Gos. I think she had their greatest hits CD when I met her. Every woman I’ve ever known loves that moment in “We’ve Got the Beat” when lead singer Belinda Carlisle yells, “Jump Back… Big Time!” I think it’s a chick thing. I have to admit, even though I’m not a die-hard fan of their music I was curious to see the new Showtime documentary creatively titled, The Go-Gos. When I hear their music these days, I admit I smile probably out of a hoary sense of nostalgia, but I smile nonetheless. Their music certainly evokes a specific time and place for me.

The concept of the “Girl Group” is as old as rock and roll itself. You can go back to the 50s to the Shirelles who may have been the first ever Girl Group, as far as I know. They launched a whole Girl Group movement, which ended up being a huge influence on, of all people, the Beatles. Most of the early girl groups were merely vocal groups, they didn’t play their own instruments. There was usually some shadowy producer in the background. Barry Gordy had the Supremes and Martha and the Vandellas. Phil Spector had the Ronettes. The shadowy producer wrote the songs, hired the session musicians. The “girls” just had to show up and  sing. Oh and then go out on grueling tours to perform live.

The concept of an all female band, who played their own instruments came later. I’m sure it was also considered a bit of a novelty at the time as well. I just hear fans saying, “Look girls playing guitar and drums… it’s like a dancing bear.” I can’t help but think of the Runaways – with Cherrie Currie, Joan Jett and Lita Ford – as an early example. They still had the shadowy producer/Svengali in the background, Kim Fowley who wrote much of their early stuff. I think in a lot of ways, punk rock helped take the novelty out of the girl group. Punk attracted and yes, welcomed all the outcasts. It didn’t matter who you were, you could pick up an instrument and play punk rock. There were bands with men and woman members like the Talking Heads or X.

The Go-Gos were, to my ears, always pop or pop-rock. One of the revelations of the documentary for me, was that they formed and grew out of the L.A. punk scene. Lead singer Belinda Carlisle, guitarist Jane Wiedlin, lead guitarist Charlotte Caffey all met at the same L.A. punk club, the Masque. After replacing original bassist Margo Olavarria and original drummer Elissa Bello with Kathy Valentine and Gina Schock respectively, the band’s line up crystallized.

The documentary follows the usual rise and fall narrative. I didn’t realize how quick and one might say, meteoric the Go-Gos rise to prominence was. After touring England they came back to the U.S. and recorded their debut, Beauty And the Beast in 1981 and it was, to put it mildly, a smash hit. I liked that they wrote and recorded their own stuff, no mysterious Producer lurking in the background. The Go-Gos were one of those bands whose rise coincided with that of MTV. The Go-Gos and MTV were made for each other. Many times girl groups were presented as “saintly” or “good girls.” I like that the Go-Gos were never like that. Or at least, I don’t remember them that way. The documentary talks a lot about their drinking and drug use. In my high school mentality, I never thought of these women as cheerleaders, I always thought they were the chicks smoking, drinking and making out in the parking lot.

Eventually the relentless touring, fights over song-writing royalties, and the drinking and drugs took its toll on the interpersonal relationships in the band. Charlotte Caffey’s deepening heroin addiction increasingly became a problem. I was amused to hear how many times reporters asking the group how they were getting along. You never heard people ask the Who that question and they didn’t really get on that well. Reporters always injecting drama. Jane Wiedlin eventually quit in a dispute over song writing credits. The band didn’t last too long after that.

The documentary interviews every member of the Go-Gos from their prime line-up. They also go back and interview the past members. Paula Jean Brown who replaced Wiedlin (although she played bass, Valentine moved to guitar, her first instrument), was also interviewed. Their first manager and their latter day manger Miles Copeland of I.R.S. records are both interviewed. Hell, even Stewart Copeland of the Police, who the Go-Gos opened for early in their career gets his 2 cents in. The documentary came off to me as an advertisement to get the Go-Gos into the Rock Hall of Fame. They do come across cooler than I remembered… hey, if you have a band member on heroin you gotta score some cool points somewhere. I thought it was an interesting and well done documentary. I think its definitely worth watching for any rock and roll fan.

As I watched the documentary, I couldn’t help but think of the time I saw the Go-Gos and actually went backstage, and met Belinda Carlisle. I wish this was a more salacious story, but alas, it’s pretty tame. In the fall of 1984 I had just moved back to Manhattan, Kansas to start my next year in college. The weekend after Labor Day, most of the people in the place where I lived had left for a big, organized road trip. I wasn’t allowed to go on the trip because I was on some  sort of “social probation” for debauched acts of some sort, I don’t recall. I was like anybody else in college, I had my clique or my gang. But on this particular weekend, I was sort of all by myself.

There was a guy we all knew, who was a few years older than I was, who I’ll call Dan (named changed to protect the guilty). Dan was a track & field athlete and was actually quite exceptional at his event. He had actually gone to an Olympics. Since he’d gone to the Olympics, his ego was through the roof. In short, he was a colossal asshole. He once came out and played a game of tackle football with us drinking schlubs. Trying to tackle him was like trying to tackle a horse. His knees came up to my chin and at one point his knees treated my skull like a boxer working the speed bag… There was never a weekend where I would have imagined I’d hang out with Dan the Olympian. But, I was on my own, which was never good in those days… there was always trouble lurking. Dan, who liked to say things like, “We’re going to the club tonight, I’ll probably have chicks all over me because I’m an Olympian, you guys will have to fend for yourselves,” burst into the living room where I lived. “Who wants to go to the Go-Gos tonight in Kansas City?” I had nothing else to do so I tepidly raised my hand. The next thing I knew, I was in a van hurtling toward Sandstone Theater – an outdoor venue, referred to in the trade as a “shed.”

I remember drinking a ton of beer in the ride up to KC. I was in the back of the van and wasn’t driving. Dan was driving which was good because he was really straight-laced. It was like going to a rock concert with a narcotics agent. He apparently had an Olympian friend who was romantically linked to Carlisle and she set him up with tickets. True to his word, there were tickets and to my surprise backstage passes waiting for us. We were down in the middle, some 20 rows back from the stage. This was September 7th, 1984 so the Go-Gos would have been touring in support of Talk Show, their third album. They had to be exhausted. I remember Belinda Carlisle danced maniacally. The place was probably 2/3’s full, so even I was dancing in the aisle, there was plenty of room… of course that may have been because we were surrounded by girls. It was a heavy female crowd… which was fine with me.

After the show we went backstage. There was one room that was full of adoring fans. Dan barged into a smaller, empty room where there was a food table – the supermarket trays of veggies and cheeses. I was too afraid to touch anything, thank God. I suddenly realized, we were in the Go-Gos dressing room. When the five band members came into the room, the looked at us with a combination of disdain and exhaustion. If Dan had been cooler maybe there might have been some partying to do here… but we were a bit of a band of misfits. Belinda, very diplomatically, introduced herself and asked us to give the band some space.

We quickly left the dressing room, to the delight of the rest of the band, (Jane Wiedlin, most notably, was aggressively pleased we were leaving), and probably secretly to the delight of Belinda Carlisle. We drove downtown to KC, as directed by Belinda to the Crown Center hotel, a posh spot in midtown. We hung around the bar. A couple hours later, cleaned up and looking lovely, Carlisle appeared. I remember thinking how classy she looked. She was so nice to us and we were nobody. Dan the Olympian was buying in order to impress Belinda so I started ordering Jack & Cokes 2 at a time. You gotta strike when the iron is hot, folks. Sitting there listening to Dan and Belinda chat about their mutual acquaintances who were in Europe somewhere I couldn’t help but think, I’m sitting here with this Rock Star… what should I say? What should I ask her?

I was barely 20. I was young and dumb. I wasn’t a huge Go-Gos fan so I had nothing to ask. All I could think to ask her was, “Do you know David Lee Roth?” That was the best I could come up with? Sheesh! She smiled politely but I think she had to be thinking, who is this moron? “Yes, he’s really intelligent.” She quickly turned back to Dan. I think that was all she said to me. Looking back, knowing what I know now, there’s so much I would have asked about touring, the grind of the road and the music business. But alas, all I could think to ask was a question about Van Halen’s lead singer. I blame the Jack & Cokes. There was no drugs or sex in this story, just stupidity.

You know, come to think of it… I probably would vote for the Go-Gos to get into the Rock Hall… they deserve it just for putting up with Dan, me and our band of rock and roll misfits in Kansas City on a hot September night in 1984.

Hats off to all of you, Ladies! And yes, God Bless the Go-Gos. Check out this Showtime documentary, its B&V approved!

Cheers!

 

 

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

image

“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!

 

 

 

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

Dirty Honey - EP

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

81r8Hxz5lQL._AC_SL1500_

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.